Tellurian Tales (vol 06): Madness Beneath the Pylon

When we last left our heroes, Luceo and Invellios had succeeded in reaching the Library of Nuchal through tunnels beneath the Maracan Plains. They slayed the unliving necromancer, and fled with the few books of her library. As they regrouped in the dark tunnels, Luceo began to peruse the tomes while Invellios dozed. Invellios awoke to find Luceo mad. When Luceo unleashed a flash of cold fire, fear seized Invellios, and he fled away into the darkness.

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After a few minutes of panicked flight, Invellios regains his composure. He carefully sneaks back, listens, and clambers up the natural chimney to their camp. It is deserted. Luceo, his familiar Rasputin, and the tawny book are gone. Invellios pauses in the dim, lonely light of his lightstone for a number of minutes. Then he packs up his gear and gathers a few items of value from Luceo's pack, including the found spellbooks and Luceo's sketch of the tunnels.

He then leaps down the chimney again, and begins to wind his way back out of the tunnels. The trek takes hours, but he encounters no one else. As he hikes, he begins to feel feverish, then cold and shaky. He notices that areas around his joints and lymph nodes are swollen, tender, and grey. It takes him over an hour to cautiously ascend the 60 foot chasm wall, and an hour more to reach the cave entrance. It is late afternoon, the cave is empty, and the only sound is the crickets among the stunted trees and dry grass clumps upon the slopes.

Invellios sits an hour, then begins to wander through the hills, back towards Selil-Lelal. At the first green glade, Dea is suddenly beside him, throwing back the hood of her dappled elven cloak. "You're going to get killed wandering around out here alone. You look terrible. Where's Luceo?"

They sit in the grass near a small stream, and Invellios tells her what happened--the tunnels, the ghouls, the Library, and Luceo's madness and attack on him. Then Dea asks, "And so you have left him?" Invellios watches the stream, then nods once.

"You may stay here in the Selil with me until you recover from whatever corruption affects your body. But then you must go, for this is not your place. Where will you go? Will you return north, to find the rest of your Circle?" Invellios imagines returning alone to Rorik and Sarah and the Alvorin tribes, and shakes his head.

"South, then, to your past in Celidor? East, to death on the Plains? Or will you wander once more, through the Wilds and among the towns of Men?" Invellios bows his head between his hands. "Darkness comes," he says. "Let me rest, and I will consider it this night."

They make camp in silence. Invellios washes the filth of the caves from him, then he trances first. Afterwards, he sits awake and watches the stars move overhead as Dea dozes in the elven way.

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As the first birds begin to announce the coming dawn, Dea opens her eyes. Invellios speaks:

"As I have traveled with my party--my Circle, as you call it--I have done many foolish things. I often fail to consider and plan; instead, I am caught up with their human pace, their snap decisions. I have been blinded, and I have nearly died three times. Were I alone, I would have avoided these fates.

"And yet, each time I nearly died, another of my Circle has saved my life. And with them, the disquiet I have felt my entire life is dulled. But now I am alone again, and my disquiet clamors once more. I have nowhere to go, nowhere to call home.

"Dea, will you help me? Will you help me return to find Luceo, and save him if we can? Only then do I have a hope of returning to my Circle, and making it whole once more."

Dea considers, her head cocked on one side. Then she smiles, and wrinkles her nose. "I don't like undead. But, yes, I'll help you."

They break camp. Dea leads them first to a small box canyon, its entrance concealed with brush, where Gretel grazes contentedly. Invellios stores the spellbooks there in her saddlebags. They return to the cave. Before they enter, Dea touches the grey, flaky patches of Invellios's skin with her warm, glowing fingers, and they shrink away. "This is only temporary; the corruption still lurks within you." They enter the tunnels.

They meet no resistance, other than the oppressive dark and the distant dripping of water. The chasm and the chimney are a little less daunting using Dea silk rope. They return to the remains of Luceo and Invellios's camp. It appears undisturbed since Invellios left it. Invellios packs what remains in Luceo's pack, leaving it behind a boulder to pick up on the return trip. Dea searches for signs of Luceo's trail. They pass through the Chimney crossroads to the Ghoul crossroads . After some searching, Dea finds a partial footprint in a muddy depression--Luceo has taken the unexplored path. Invellios and Dea follow.

The tunnel twists to the right, then cuts back to an area where the entire right-hand wall is covered in a thin sheet of water trickling down from a crack at the edge of the ceiling. The water covers the floor, and as the tunnel descends, the water quickly grows much deeper. Dea looses her footing on the slippery rocks, and the thigh-deep water quickly becomes chest-deep as the stream sweeps her away. She manages to avoid the submerged boulders and is dumped into a still pool. Standing up, she draws her scimitar and murmurs the words to cover it in Light. She is in a new, narrow cavern ; it is mostly dry, as the water swirls out a narrow channel to the left.

As Dea wades ashore, a feral and desiccated corpse bursts out from behind a twist in the tunnel and rushes her. She calls for Invellios, covers herself in magical Barkskin, and begins to hack at the undead creature. As Invellios splashes down into the pool, a second ghoul scurries up the passage beyond. A couple arrows and scimitar slashes later, one ghoul lies dismembered and the other leaps away, scampering back into the darkness.

Dea and Invellios follow, along a rising tunnel. At a bend, Invellios shouts a warning as a writhing mass of tentacles lunges up at Dea. She dodges, then hews at it with her illuminated sword. The rubbery grick recoils, revealing the mangled body of the formerly-retreating ghoul beneath it. It turns and slithers up the wall towards a tiny cave mouth, but Dea hacks it again, and its body splits open to spill its insides.

Even as the grick writhes its last, another ghoul slinks away in the passage ahead. Following it around the corner, the two adventurers find that the passageway opens up--to reveal four zombies shuffling towards them, lowing and moaning. As the zombies surround them, two ghouls slink between them, trying to find an opening to flank the two elves. Yet Dea buries her blade into one, slaying it with a single blow; and Invellios fells the other with two devastating bowshots. They make short work of the lumbering zombies. Invellios worriedly counts his few remaining arrows, as Dea wipes her sweaty hair back from her face.

Luceo's trail leads out the far side of the cavern. Pausing at the entrance to the tunnel, the two elves hear a distant grinding moan. Dea casts a spell that blurs her into the background; with her elven cloak on, she is nearly impossible to see . Whispering to Invellios to stand ready, she slips up the tunnel.

The tunnel ends in a wide space, with two other passages branching off. The area is littered with huge blocks of rock, fallen from above. Daylight pours in from a hole in the ceiling. An slightly rusted iron ladder leads up to this hole. At the base of the ladder lies a pile of decomposing corpses and smashed bones, none of them whole. A single zombie rocks back and forth at the base of the ladder, gently thonking his head against a metal rung. Dea slips up and quickly dispatches him . A loud moaning, shuffling sound comes from above. It sounds like zombies, but a LOT of them. Luceo's tracks lead to the mound of rotting body parts and then clumps of mud show that he climbed the ladder out. Dea slips up the ladder and peeks over the edge.

The area seems to have once been a large, white-stoned courtyard, but at some point it settled drastically, falling about 10 feet down into the earth, creating a uneven bowl about 250 feet in diameter. In the center is a circular well, with walls about 5 feet high, out of which Dea now peers. The surrounding area is filled with a horde of about 70 trapped, milling zombies and skeletons.

The sun is passing from late afternoon into evening, filling the courtyard with long shadows. Dea eases herself over the wall of the well, and drops down to the uneven, boulder-strew courtyard. Slipping slowly from shadow to depression to broken column, she moves among the unwitting undead to the side of the depression. She finds a winding, slippery path, upon which lies Luceo's trail. She hurries up out of the depression.

Upon the edge, she can see she is in the center of a once-great campus--which is now called, in whispers, The City of the Dead. A small village of buildings--now empty, roofless, and fire-stained--lies to the west. Two great buildings lie to the south, one surrounded by a small cemetery. To the north, a ruined shell of a building, the surrounding land gone to seed and overgrown with twisted trees and brambles. To the east, up a rising hill, stands a tall, slender, white tower, tinged orange in the glow of the sinking sun. The empty windows of the tower fill Dea with disquiet. Crouching down, she sees that Luceo's trail leads towards the White Tower, up a dirt path that leads up to the base of the tower, and then beyond.

Rather than face the ominous Tower directly, Dea slips north into the brambles and trees, hidden by foliage from those empty windows. She sneaks around the tower to examine the path on the far side, as it descends again from the Tower hill. She finds signs of Luceo, and breathes a sigh of relief that he did not enter that terrible Tower. The sky in the east grows ever darker as the sun begins to set behind Dea, casting the last of its light into the hills where Luceo has fled.

Racing along his trail, Dea follows the twisting path into the low hills. After a couple twists, she comes upon an open valley. Rising up out of the valley, as high as the surrounding hills, is a rough mound of grey basalt. And anchored on this stone base stands a great monolith of smooth, shimmering, black stone. At its base, she can just see a crumpled form of dark robes. Glancing quickly around, Dea hurries up the path spiraling around the grey basalt base, then cautiously approaches the inert Luceo.

He lies face down at the base of the black Pylon. He does not respond when she calls his name. Sword ready, she carefully rolls him over. He stirs weakly, and open his eyes.

Luceo's fingernails are bloody, and long scratches cover his face. His left eye is swollen and bloody. But worse than this is the lacerations and blood on his forehead, matching the bloodstains on the black stone of the Pylon. Against his chest, beneath his crossed arms, he still fiercely clutches the tawny book. His eyes try to focus on Dea. "Michelle?", he asks thickly, through dry, cracked lips?

"It's Dea. Are you okay?"

Luceo's eyes finally focus, and he begins to tremble. "Flee, you fool! I cannot hide from Them, not even in Shadow! They will come for me. They will come for you through me!" Luceo tries to get up, but his eyes roll up and falls back. As he loses consciousness, he whispers, "Do not part me from the book..."

Dea looks up to see the last of the sunlight slide up the tip of the Pylon. Pulling off her cloak, she hefts the comatose Luceo onto her shoulders, then dons her cloak again, covering them both. Even unconscious, Luceo does not loosen his grip on the book. Normally moving as fast as a flitting shadow, the lithe elf maiden now staggers along under Luceo's weight.

Passing down the road through the hills, she reaches the White Tower as the stars begin to appear behind her. In the highest window, a glow begins to flicker--pale violet, indigo, green, and white--known to some as "witch light". As Dea slips again through into the woods, sickly lights begin to move in other windows of the Tower. She hears the tinkling of crystal and a tittering laugh that raises the hairs on the back of her cold neck. Pausing in the depths of the undergrowth, she refreshes her Camouflage and Barkskin spells.

When she reaches the courtyard depression, only a faint glow lingers in the sky to the west. Stars above provide enough light for Lea's elven eyes, but clouds begin to move in from the east. In the deep shadows, she moves slowly among the milling zombies. As she nears the well, however, she glances back to see that the undead she has passed have stopped milling. They stand very still, facing her. She can see the red glow deep in the eye sockets of the skeletons. Luceo begins to stir on her back. He moans very faintly. More undead stop and turn in her direction.

As Dea slips into her next hiding spot, the staring undead behind her begin to shamble forward, and Luceo begins to scream. Dea breaks into a stumbling run, scrambling up over the rim of the well as the first groping fingers tug on her cloak. Just as her feet find the rungs of the ladder, stinking undead hands fall about her shoulders, and one grinning skeleton leans over to wrap his bony fingers into her hair. Then a light shines up from below, and the skeleton's head falls back, one of Invellios's arrows in its eye socket. Dea pulls free and clambers down. Invellios stands below her, arrow nocked, ready to let loose should any other undead try to follow her down. The circumference of the well is surrounded by the silhouettes of bald and decomposing heads, reaching arms, and the low throaty moans of loss.

Dea drops to the floor, Luceo falls silent again, and the two elves turn and hustle out of the cavern, back into the tunnels from whence they came. When they reach the cavern with the pool, they pause to rest. Dea conveys her news of finding the self-mutilated Luceo at the base of the Pylon, and of the undead's strange ability to sense either Luceo or his book as she passed them otherwise unseen. Invellios dribbles some water down Luceo's throat. As Luceo recovers, he begins to mutter and thrash. The elves construct a stretcher from Invellios's bedroll and Dea's rope, with loops on either end to go over their shoulders. They lash the now raving Luceo to the stretcher. It takes an exhausting hour to force their way up stream through the flooded passage. They reach the chimney, and collapse for the night. They post a watch, as much to watch Luceo as to guard against attack from outside.

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At dawn, Luceo is sobbing uncontrollably and trying to tear at his eyes despite his bonds. A grueling day follows, hauling the bound and stretchered Luceo through the caverns and tunnels. They emerge from the cave at dusk. Dea reconnoiters, and then they slip into the box canyon where Gretel waits. Luceo moans, weeps, and shrieks against a gag through the night. Yet there are also strange periods of catatonic quiet, during which he eats and drinks mechanically if food is placed in his mouth.

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In the morning, Invellios notes the last traces of the disease he caught in the caves are gone. The two elves discuss Invellios's options regarding Luceo. Neither have seen madness like this. Powerful magic is likely needed to heal it, if it can be healed at all. Dea ponders, then suggests a source of old magic--The Wishing Well--deep in the forests of Selil. However, old magic does not come without a price. Yet, the alternative of transporting the raving Luceo back to civilization is just as daunting. They set off, deeper into Selil-Lelal.

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