Our local Bard wrote this in response to the recent insane tower chase and the uncovering of his new cohort, Nick Bottom. It’s a neat bit of fanfic, and gives you another perspective on the action.
The Moon Landing
The Devil’s Study
It might have been civilised, if it were not for the smell. Books line the walls, rising above a desk littered with curios – and a body. Stepping through the portal, the tang of iron assaults Will’s senses. The group fans out, looking for danger and booty. Brus is fascinated by the horned figure slumped in a chair over a writing desk. Horribly disfigured as if by acid, this authentic devil spent his last moments writing. With the help of a spell, Will reads the page.
What have we done to draw this lot?
Once an outpost for the Malebranche, we were left to scheme and grow. A civilization abandoned to swell in cold, bickering numbers until war was announced. A valueless life, but an extant one. But idle hands…
Our order predicted the deorbiting of our sister planet, Aydrade, many millennia ago. That would be enough calamity. In their keenness to confirm, deny and eventually confirm, they ignored all signs of the Approach of The Elder One. Ignoring that star after star was winking out, no longer a reference, they squabbled and made laws and unmade laws and shuffled the hierarchy and kept going nowhere. I advised against it but was silenced.
Our order failed to notice the Approach of The Elder One, and to round out the calamity, we failed to notice The Invaders. Brutal, numberless, burrowing… things. Crash-landed an asteroid and spawned from there. They were formal in diplomacy, but cut-throat in war. Aggressive and organized. Our civilization had grown fat and stupid. Devils were strewn world-wide by the rupturing advance of The Invaders.
Instead of clarity, our order found insanity. As The Invader hive overtook most of the known lands, we grew obsessed with the Kiss of Aydrade (as it became to be known). Precise calculations were made. Towers built. Land after land was lost to our Invaders, resources tighter. They completed the Tower to Aydrade. Enterprising young acolytes went the long way around and helped build a town on the other side. In anticipation of the Kiss. Idiots.
The sun and starfields grow darker. The Invaders’ burrows grow more and more vast. Malebranche’s bureacracy has grown silent. Chaos reigns. All is lost, or will be soon.
Yet I live. Somewhat. I was cornered by one of those recent elephantine pests that have been roaming nearby. Its dark blue razor-shell pierced my shoulder. I escaped, but the wound festers. My inner thoughts made flesh. My own flesh. Rotting, stinking… I should have returned to The Pits when I had the chance.
While listening to Will’s dramatisation of Theoloro’s final message, Faugh and John search the room – it is now they miss their burglar, Picklick, who recently went missing with many of their magic keys. Wu-Chi, who understands most of all how these strange gate keys work, eyes the scene warily. Brus is squinting through a telescope swinging from the dome-shaped roof. Will finds himself queuing up for a look, almost tripping over his donkey, who is uncharacteristically in the way. Perhaps they should not have looked.
Not a star shines in this inky-black sky, but some large glowing lights clustered together. A large moon is visible to Brus, but Will has trouble locating it at first. Swinging the eyepiece further around, the dead world becomes visible again, including some sort of tower structure on its surface. After a moment watching it, Will realises it is moving across his field of vision rather quickly – and then there is the glimpse of an immense leathery beast in the sky.
It dawns on them. The moon is setting on this world – permanently and imminently. Will recounts the raving scribbles of a dead half-elf he found on the way to meet up with the party recently. Something about coming through a tower on a moon, and Bhedlam destroying everything – a name also found on a separate note which ordered the party’s deaths. Quickly, Brus and Will jangle out their remaining portal keys, finding one that indicates a nearby door that will lead them out of here. It is pointing at the moon.
Brus is lusting after a trophy, wanting to sever a horn from the head of the devil and risking terrible infection from whatever substance inflicted the horrible wounds. The rest of the group impress upon him that time is scarce, estimating the moon will shortly ‘kiss’ this very place.
As soon as the panicked travellers fling open the exterior door, they see an impossibly thin tower spearing up into the dark heavens of this battle-scarred world. The ground is churned up everywhere, leaving plenty of hiding places for the misshapen blue crustaceans to emerge. Moment later, the spider from beyond springs! Its body alone is bigger than a horse, and it has more legs than anybody wants to look at – a Bebolith. Will and Brus have heard of these arachnid demons before. There is no time to find out whether John is surprised at the evidence of the Blood War in front of them, or it is just that the mandibles of the creature are rending open his armour like a hungry diner would a seafood dish.
The ‘elephantine pests’ deliver their horrid rotting poison and Faugh is also struck by the enervating arachnid. Luckily, Wu-Chi encourages him to drink one of the bottles that had been found inside, and it restores him. Finally the ambush is defeated, and the group presses on towards the tower.
The tower is too thin to be unsupported by some sort of magic, and a curiously clean plaza encircles its base. As the group picks its way over the ruined ground, they catch sight of several swooping whale-like behemoths, patched together in the manner of leather rag dolls. Their clusters of eyes have not noticed them yet. The group tries to keep to the shadows as best they can, and Will even magics his donkey, Bottom, invisible. Rounding the tower, they see double doors and more than a dozen walking ant-creatures holding a large, cratered rock over their heads. Will steps on a stick – awkward.
In unison, the ant beings look in the party’s direction and pause. Will tries to make the best of a bad situation by parleying, but finds the hive-mind a tough crowd. Their alien responses seem to fill Will’s head, “Bring your party and your donkey here!” they demand. “What donkey?” bluffs Will. “Look, we just want to get up that tower,” explains Brus, and it is on.
The doors of the tower burst open, and Picklick appears, calling as loudly and crudely as a Hobgoblin can. The group bolts for the doorway and prepares to defend it against the ants’ giant rock. John readies a spell of confusion while Will magics up a patch of grease in front of the door. Faugh disables the mechanism, enabling the doors to be sealed.
Bodies of Devils litter the tower, some on the curving stairs and some in a cage at the back – Pickwick’s handiwork. Grabbing what magical effects they can from the bodies, the group crowds into the cage, having figured out it will raise them faster than their legs on the stairs would take them. Following some amusing sounds from outside the door, the ants knock it down with their portable asteroid, but do not discard it.
A race ensues, and the cage is struck by many javelins as it rises – with one strangely veering away from Brus’s head as if deflected by some unseen force. The ants swarm up the stairs, still carrying their burden. Some fall victim to further patches of magical grease thoughtfully left by Will.
Level after level goes by, and the ants are tireless. Swapping ascending cages, Will finds a powerful necklace of incendiary beads, while other bodies are looted for potions and ubiquitous magical clasps. Will realises these will slow a wearer’s descent if activated while falling. Getting the message, most of the party grab one, but there are not enough for everyone.
As the cage rises, three ant brutes leap from the walls to cling to the bars. Faugh grapples with one, damaging one of its many arms through the cage with his brutal brawler brawn. Brus rends another ant savagely with his terrible tooth, biting it in half. Another is thrown from the cage, but is propelled back to grab hold underneath by a tide of ants peeling off the now-swarming walls. A last grease spell from Will loosens its hold, and it falls into the darkness, which is only lit by the occasional fireball from the necklace beads.
When the chase passes a section of the tower open to the night air, Brus draws the attention of a cluster of eyes belonging to one of the flying whales, which veers towards the tower. The ants have taken the asteroid up the side of the tower, which Will can sense using a locating spell. Whatever they want to do with that rock does not sound like a good thing.
The Patchwork Whale
The monstrous flying whale scrapes past the tower and starts looming from below, its maw opening. It will be seconds before it swallows the group, exposed on the side of the tower. Girding up his loins, Brus invokes the name of Yog-Sothoth and threatens it mightily. His half-orc face pales, as if he hears an answer… For good measure, Will drops the entire necklace of fireballs into the flying whale’s huge gullet. The creature diverts, allowing the party to hustle up the tower.
By now, the cage is broken and can climb no more. Luckily, a potion of spider climb has appeared mysteriously on Bottom’s saddlebags, which Will administers to the now-visible donkey. Bottom scuttles up the broken mechanism, trailing a rope which the party ascend, leaving Brus clinging to it as the cage gives way and falls. During this perilous ascent, Will spots illusory ants pouring in from the top of the tower, and spies a distant blond figure above. Chilling marks reminiscent of the ‘X’ sign at Bhedlam’s last ambush are painted on the wall next to the broken cage.
Having climbed up into a hall separated by long tables, the party is attacked by ant foot soldiers and sergeants. Pinned down in various locations, the party’s strength is divided and Wu-Chi is poisoned. John and Bottom are surrounded while Faugh battles a spell of confusion, which could spell the end of his allies should he turn on them. John climbs off the table and on to the back on the donkey, who adroitly leaps over the heads of the ants to land neatly on a table across the hall. In a manner most unlike a donkey, Bottom joins the fray, scaling a wall and losing John in the process. Faugh, Will and Bottom corner the creature which had befuddled Faugh, and slay it.
Introducing Nick Bottom…
The dust clears from the fight. Moments ago the donkey had been standing there, threatening one flank of the now-dead creature. However now the party sees before them a humanoid figure with large buck teeth, fur around his elongated snout and two prominent ears rising above his head.
Will looks agog at the donkey man, who is dressed in rough simple robes and is slung all about with equipment and saddlebags. A heavy-looking stone cross on a leather strap hangs around his neck.
“Why the long face?” quips Brus. In a thick accent, the portly monk replies, “Wull uf you’d jes pulled summit loik that aout yer arse ye wouldn’t be smilin nayther.”
Turning to Will, who is steadying himself with his longspear, the man bows comically and says, “Nick Bottom, at yer service, Master Shakespeare.”