Legends of the Three Pillars
And Into The Nest
We collected our breath and frantically packed up the few items we needed from the camp, knowing that every second the trail was not just getting older but the rain would make it harder and harder to follow. We took a few moments to call on the spirits and heal Kalib’s ribs of the damage inflicted by the bone crushing pressure the coils around him had caused.
Watcher took samples from the gore left behind and cast Scent of Blood and set off on the trail. The first few hours were relatively simple with the trail heading almost due south with barely a curve in their heading until we reached a rain filled and dirty gully that paralleled our course. All trace of the Cree ended with the wild brown water seething next to us. Lacking any clues we continued our course hoping that the creatures too would be unable to cross and our hunch paid off as we again found faint traces from their injuries. During the hours since the fight the only incident of note was when I again caught my foot in a hole, this time grasping desperately at a branch to prevent myself slipping into the potentially deadly waters beside us.
Kraag looked about in the dim recesses of the almost silent bar and grinned as he saw a few more rapt faces, “Now the next bit got a little weird and I was able to piece it together afterwards so if you are wondering how I heard and know things that are impossible for me to tell don’t you worry. I had to do this a few times over the course of our travels. Anyway back to it…”
We walked what we guessed was about 6 hours until we realised that all the forest noises had ceased bar the sound of the stream next to us and the water, from the now stopped rain, dripping down from the trees. We took shelter between the roots of a giant tree and waited for dawn so Azo and Watcher could go ahead to scout. While we rested Cassandra heard a voice from her past, that of an old lady that Cassandra both trusted and adored “Danger here child”. Fearfully Cassandra woke me and I sat with her through the rest of the night trying to calm and reassure her as she wove fog around the tree to hide our presence. While he kept a lookout Watcher felt a sharp pain in his neck and began to feel woozy. He stumbled back into our hideaway and we immediately saw the swelling on his neck. Templar and I conferred and we realised that the boil would need to be lanced immediately. Templar did the deed but when he saw the eggs spill from the incision his hand twitched in horror and I had to quickly summon the spirits to prevent the cut he made to Watchers neck from being more serious.
With the arrival of the false dawn the two scouts moved out to try and locate the hive, Watcher again asking spirits to help him. Only a short distance away they found a mound of earth about ten meters high with two Cree just outside an entrance that was shored up with a well fitted array of stones, Watcher could sense a dozen or more in the ground below. There was a stench to the air like that of meat hanging in a butcher’s shop that seemed to come from the Cree themselves as no other source was visible. The two attempted to move around the hive but a misstep caused the guards to see them. As they tensed to receive the attack they were amazed to see the pair turn and disappear into the darkness to the passage. They continued around the mound and found a second, much smaller, entrance that looked more like a burrow hole than a built tunnel.
While they were gone Cassandra continued to receive warnings and was getting more and more wound up. She tried to convince us that we should leave now as it was too dangerous and the others would be dead. Julian once again made a fevered inquiry and received the answer “Not everything is as it seems.” He took this to mean that the voices that some were hearing were from a false source. At Cassandra neared the height of her agitation Templar noticed two Cree move past the camp and take up a hidden position about sixty meters away but nearer to the entrance to the hive.
In that moment that we were distracted Cassandra summoned spirits to help and snuck out of camp, trusting the last message she had received that she should head to the mound and safety. Watcher and Azo were just in the process of heading back when Watcher sensed the presence of both the hidden Cree and Cassandra as she was sneaking around them and towards the mound.
Back at the camp Julian finally convinced me that we should move out to try and find Cassandra and we arrived in time to see Azo hurl himself across the ground between the hive and the two hidden Cree and throw himself between them in an attempt to distract them from Watcher who ran to where he knew Cassandra to be. Templar and I ran forward to assist Azo but again the Cree fled leaving us all bewildered in their wake.
After a short discussion we determined that Azo, Templar, Cassandra and myself should head down the tunnel while the others remained outside. Julian and Watcher went around back to block what looked like their escape hole with whatever they could find.
Lighting torches we headed down into the darkness. The passage was surprisingly wide and the floor heavily compacted by the passage of many heavy bodies. It curved down and around with occasional smaller side tunnels branching off, at the edge of the torch light we could see large shapes drawing back leaving us to progress further into the earth un-molested except by the voices that spoke silently in our minds. We eventually came to the end in a large chamber, at the rear three large Cree were arrayed with a small door between the left most and centre ones. Before them was a sight none of us had expected, an exotic human woman dressed in less clothes than a courtesan.
In a voice that was sensual with faint susurrations the women began discussing our purpose with “her children” and the chance that we could leave without battle but it became rapidly apparent that our views of the world were so divergent that at times we could not even understand the points being made. Azo and the mystery woman continued to debate but while they did I noticed the slow approach of some more heavy bodies in the tunnel we had left, removing any idea of retreat we may have had. Cassandra too noticed and before anyone could act had summoned a cloud of smoke and heat into the tunnel causing the Cree up it to pull back.
With that act the Queen shimmered, revealing that her appearance had been an illusion. In its place was a massive female Cree easily twelve meters long, its tail winding around a clutch of egg. Around her the floor changed too to an uneven, spike filled, jumble that threatened to twist even a carefully placed ankle.
Losing no time Azo summoned his courage and charged the queen. At the same time as he began to bellow out a dwarven war chant, his spear struck creating a gaping wound.
Kraag glanced up again at the faces around him “Now I doubt if many of you fine folk have ever heard a dwarven war chant in battle but I’ll tell you now, in my opinion is should be called a death dirge. When you hear it a few things are certain. One, death is about to happen and you are not sure who to. Two, the dwarf’s enemies and possibly some comrades will do almost anything to halt the incredible noise that is emitted. I have been told that in their native language it is a stirring, heartfelt cry of courage that can be profoundly moving and that Azo’s is one of the best. For those that fail to understand them, it’s like a bullock trying to gargle granite. I’m always reminded of those strange high mountain tribes that have one of the warriors play a bizarre array of pipes when they go into battle.” With a rueful shake of his head Kraag returned to the tale…
The Cree all then struck back ineffectually, both Templar and I dodging the blows of the two that charged us while Azo skilfully placed his shield between himself and the raking claws of both the queen and the remaining male.
Then, with the chant still falling from his lips, Azo leapt at the queen coming down with a great thrust of his spear and sunk it deep into her flesh. He was forced to brace his feet and clutch hard to the haft as he rose high when the queen reared back in pain and surprise. Meanwhile the single Cree with her, now deprived of his target, turned and tried to sink his fangs into my arm but I easily avoided him. The one already by me tried to wrap his tail about my legs but failed to entrap me the last again failed to hurt Templar.
Suddenly two more Cree appeared; they had managed to brave the illusionary smoke and emerged behind Cassandra. The first darted forward and wrapped the surprised girl in its tight coils bringing a pained cry to her lips. Templar reacted instantly and, courageously ignoring the second Cree sliding towards him, brought his sword down in a mighty stoke, cutting clean through the coils about Cassandra and releasing her to the now gore encrusted ground below her. As he struck he left himself open to the second Cree to wrap its body around him, once again crushing pressure was brought to bear. Looking at the two I had to decide who to help but the look of great pain on Cassandra’s face decided me and I summoned some spirits to heal away her pain. Now released Cassandra was unable to do more than babble quietly about the floor, it turned out that she was attempting to tell us the rocky floor was an illusion but could not gather her wits.
Meanwhile the queen was madly trying to dislodge Azo from her back, stretching her claws back and trying to smash him on the roof. Once more he artfully used his shield, placing it between himself and harm. Then with impeccable timing Azo released the spear haft and, pulling the axe from his belt, once again leapt at the queens head. Such a short time had passed that, when the axe was buried into the queens skull killing her in a heartbeat, Azo had still not passed halfway through his chant.
With the fall of the queen all the Cree screamed, an almost physical noise rolled down at us through the tunnel which we had entered by. Templar used the momentary distraction to force his way free of the coils about him. Regaining her senses Cassandra dashed forward the eggs and held her short sword over them in a way that was plainly a threat if any Cree should continue their attack. With anger and fear clear on their faces the Cree froze, hissing loudly at the young girl below them.
What followed was a careful negotiation, using gestures only, that ended with the remaining Cree gathering up all the eggs and leaving us and the nest behind. We checked the entire complex before we left and found no living thing. In one chamber were the drained bodies of many beings, some plainly still aware when they died, among them the last of Bentil the dwarven traders crew.
We eventually made it back to the surface and were reunited with the rest of our party, Julian bearing fresh scratches to arm. It turned out that at about the time of our battle Julian and Watcher had still been attempting to block the exit. Watcher had heard the sound of a Cree approaching and, after softly calling to Julian to hide, had done so himself. Julian had failed to hear the call and suddenly found himself faced with four meters of hissing death. The Cree barely had time to lay open Julian’s arm with its claws before Julian summoned some spirits to cloak him from the Cree leaving it bewildered in the middle of the clearing. A moment later it had screamed and raced into the jungle leaving a relieved Julian behind. Watcher then crept to the front of the mound and was in time to see a stream of Cree leave the nest and vanish into the forest, the clutch of eggs nestled in their arms.
Our task complete we looked up at the still rising sun and headed back to our camp to collect our gear and head on to where Bentil had said that his ship had crashed. We travelled another day through the stinking, steaming jungle. The travel was hard but by now we were becoming familiar with the normal dangers and due to the Cree’s predations no other beasts were around to threaten us.