***Warning Parental Content -- Gruesome Imagery***
Jekkoe vs. the Displacer Beasts
A Tale of DDO
Snip the Shadow
Torchlight cast dancing shadows across the limestone walls. A Dwarf, a Half-Orc, a Half-Elf, two Humans and a Halfling walked the cavern passageway. Jekkoe was the Halfing. He walked at the back of the line. Since when did the Rogue walk last in a dungeon?
"Shouldn’t I be the one to lead?” he asked.
“Nonsense!” said Zellinar, the Human Fighter of the group. “You are called Jekkoe the Stiletto, no? What does an Assassin know of traps?”
“More than a dumb Fighter by far,” said Zanileah, his attractive sister. She was a Bard and a Sorceress. The woman could both sing and toss spells, and every Human male they had run across before their outing to the dungeon complex had huffed and flexed around her like rutting bulls during mating season. “Isn’t that right, tiny one?” she asked, looking at Jekkoe. She tucked black hair behind her ear and smiled.
Jekkoe bit his lip. Even Human women talked to him like he was a child. If she only knew, he was twenty years her senior!
“A bridge!” This was declared by the Barbarian Half-Orc, Dugarr. “We found the bridge!”
The Half-Orc ran out ahead.
Jekkoe jumped left and right, trying his best to see past legs and wide torsos. He spied the bridge the Barbarian spoke of. It was of natural limestone, arched and closed in on each side by carved walls. The walls were too close, Jekkoe thought. Why so close? At the other end of the expanse he saw a carved archway that led off into shadow. Five feet down the bridges expanse, he noticed a disturbance in the floor and a misplaced collection of stones. They wiggled as the Half-Orc ran.
Brother Danoc, the Dwarven Cleric of the group called to Dugarr. “No lad, not so fast! Let the Rogue – ”
But it was too late.
Jekkoe pushed his way through long legs and tall, standing forms only to see Dugarr trip the trap on the bridge. Sound blasted out from each side wall. The sound rippled the air from both directions. Jekkoe saw blurry, Sonic rings. All down the way, the rippling rings cut across the stone bridge. Dugarr managed to slowly turn around, hunched over in stunned surprise. He looked back at the waiting group watching him in horror from the safety of the cave mouth, looked back at his companions.
The Sonic waves of sound slammed into the Half-Orc.
*WANWANWAN, WANWANWAN, WANWANWAN*
The loud reverberation made Jekkoe’s teeth hurt and his scrotum draw up.
Dugarr reached for them. It took a great effort. To Jekkoe it looked like there was a tremendous draw pulling the Half-Orc’s arm down as he tried to lift it up to reach for help. His eyes beseeched them. His mouth moved, his tusks going up and down but the loud Sonic trap made it impossible to hear his words.
Stuck on the trapped bridge, his eyes started to bulge. Jekkoe saw blood trickling from ears and eyes and Dugarr’s pig snout nose.
Dugarr’s head exploded.
Chunks of flesh and skull shot out in every direction. Brain matter splattered off stone walls. The group gasped as one. Zanileah clutched at her brother and looked away.
Brother Danoc, the Dwarven Cleric, stepped forward, almost giving in to his natural instinct to practice his calling and heal. But it was too late and too dangerous. Jekkoe grabbed at his friend before the Dwarf made the same mistake and stepped on the bridge.
Dugarr’s headless corpse vibrated in place, still caught in the Sonic trap. The rings of sound waves danced it gradually to the side, blood pumping out of the shredded throat like a macabre fountain. The body danced and wiggled, arms flapping slightly. And then it tumbled off the side of the bridge into the chasm below.
“Oh Gods, lad!” uttered Brother Danoc.
Jekkoe glared at the group. “Now can I lead, please?”
No one met his eye.
“This is the last one I see,” said Jekkoe.
The last trap across the bridge was now disabled. The five remaining members of the party cautiously continued. Jekkoe walked in front and spied left and right with his goggles perched squarely on his nose. The Human Fighter, Zellinar was next, followed by Brother Danoc, mace in one hand and shield in the other. Next was the Half-Elf Druid, Black Clover. He was an odd sort. The man hardly said a word, and only occasionally whispered to his pet ferret, Grease. Last walked the Bard/Sorceress, Zanileah.
The group was quiet after the loss of one of their own. The gloom of the cave did not aid the mood. After a while, Zanileah’s gentle, silky voice broke out in a soft song behind them. Jekkoe could feel her tender words work their way both into his mind and down to his soul. It was a sad song about a boy that ran off to have an adventure only to come home penniless and wounded after war. But once home, he met a girl and they had a different kind of adventure. From sad to joyful. What a tune! Jekkoe couldn’t help himself, he smiled. The song was uplifting. Zanileah’s Bard song made Jekkoe feel stronger, braver, like all would be fine. He felt powerful too. Like he could charge head long at a Beholder into battle.
All around him the others were smiling and inhaling brave breaths. Zanileah danced her eyebrows up and down at Jekkoe. He realized what she had done. He smiled back at her.
“Your song makes me feel like a hero, human,” he said.
“You are a hero to me,” she said. She winked at him.
“Sister, you’ll put unclean thoughts in our Assassin’s head. Behave yourself,” said Zellinar.
Zanileah stuck her tongue out at her brother. He laughed.
“Come on all of you,” said Danoc. “The hidden temple is this way.”
“That is why we are down here in this dripping, stinky dark,” said Zellinar. “Kill the monsters, purify the altar and go home rich.”
Jekkoe’s eyebrows went up at the Human’s last comment. He had to agree.
Black Clover’s ferret, Grease, poked its head out from the Druid’s leather armor and sniffed around, like it had heard the mention of gold.
The final battle was over quickly.
After Zanileah’s song, the group had moved through the maze-like cavern ways like men possessed. They wandered for perhaps half an hour and then the Half-Elf, Black Clover and Jekkoe heard voices chanting up ahead; they had found the hidden chapel.
The archway was a yawning, fanged mouth fashioned in the likeness of one of the Gods of Chaos. The eyes above the mouth were filled with burning braziers with some added magic that caused the flames to burn a dull indigo, like quaking shadows. The smells that poured out of the opening were a mix of sulfur, lilac and human waste. Jekkoe covered his nose.
The Fighter made hand signals, giving directions on how they would approach.
Black Clover held a wooden talisman in his hand. He stepped directly into the room. Jekkoe saw five Humans in black and red robes standing before the altar. They turned as one and looked at the Druid. Black Clover pointed at the floor. Vines erupted all around the room.
The Necromancers moved.
Undead appeared all around the room in bursts of black smoke and purple light. A Ghoul ran at Jekkoe. It drooled and slobbered as it came on. It got within eight feet of him and fire from behind Jekkoe slammed into the thing and sent it screaming and running away.
“Thank you,” Jekkoe called out.
He heard Zanileah’s laughter.
Brother Danoc moved to the center of the room. Two dozen undead, Skeletons and Zombies and Ghouls alike surrounded him. The Dwarf shouted a prayer and light filled the room in a blinding dome. Wiggling worms of golden light engulfed the Undead. The creatures made no sound as they burst into ashes.
A Necromancer screamed.
Black Clover was near the Wizard. He had summoned three Grey Wolves and the beasts were busy ripping the Necromancer to pieces. Jekkoe grunted in disgust as the Human’s arm was ripped free and the Wolf shook its head and worried at its prize. The Necromancer tried to utter a spell as he died, but the Wolves moved in for the kill.
Zellinar waded in and killed. Lower level acolytes had poured out from alcoves and a side door. He counted elven new enemies to deal with moving in. The Fighter swung a curved Scimitar in each hand, and wherever he struck, blood splattered. Robed men clutched at wounds and died as the Fighter darted forward into the chapel.
Meanwhile his sister cast fire from each outstretched arm. Walls of it shot out in lines, and she created traps for both the living and Undead alike. They danced and curled in on themselves as they burned in the torrent. It was a beautiful sight in its terrible finality. But the stench!
Danoc yelled a final prayer and it was done. With scalp, hair and gore stuck to his mace, the Cleric surveyed the room. “I think that does it,” he said. He had spots of gore in his long brown beard, too. “Now, to fix that accursed altar!”
Jekkoe found two hidden alcoves behind stone, sliding doors. Both had acid traps but their mechanisms were pathetic. In seconds, he had them disabled and the doors open for all to see.
The left alcove held two treasure chests filled with coins and gems. They made five piles. The alcove on the right held a chest, a weapons rack and a tall bookcase. Jekkoe took two Wizard scrolls from the bookcase and a curved kukri from the chest. It was a Keen blade and coated in a poison he’d have to study later.
Zanileah retrieved two wands and three potions from the chest and her brother lifted a Bastard Sword from the weapons rack that dripped tiny fragments of ice when he swung it. Brother Danoc lifted a huge hammer off the rack. It had runes carved in it that Jekkoe did not know. Finally, the Druid, Black Clover, dusted off boots and a cloak.
Now rich and very content, it was time to make their way back out into the light of day.
The group found a cavern corridor behind the chapel. Jekkoe led the way. The new path was more subterranean and gloomy than others they had walked before. Glowing mushrooms dotted the walls and they came across pools of blind fish more than once. Stinking water dripped on their heads. It smelled of dead fish. The rock walls around them glistened with it. Out of the corner of his eye, Jekkoe thought he saw movement. When he turned he saw nothing.
“Look alive,” said Brother Danoc. “The passageway makes me ill at ease.”
Zellinar laughed. “Any place out of the light of day makes me ill at ease, Dwarf.”
Jekkoe came around a bend in the tunnel, the group right on his heels. Tall mushrooms lined the new tunnel, they were very tall indeed. Some looked to be as tall as the Fighter as he moved up by Jekkoe’s side. “I’ve never seen the like,” he said.
“Nor I,” said Jekkoe.
The group slowed and looked around. The fungus was purple in color with spots of pink and yellow up and down the tall stalks. They sprouted from the floor in bunches of three. As big around as a man’s waist, their caps were three feet wide at the crown and they were seven feet high, towering above Jekkoe.
Zellinar cleared his throat to say something.
The mushrooms screamed.
All around them each mushroom split open near the top, a mouth yawning wide. They blasted out an ear piercing shriek. It was the bridge all over again. Jekkoe ducked down, not knowing what to do, not able to think for the penetrating noise. Zellinar cut one mushroom from the floor of the cave with his scimitar. It toppled easily. The others followed his example. One after the next, the adventurers cut down the screaming fungus. Each felled mushroom let out a finite “Eeep” sound as it toppled.
Finally, air floating with fungus pores, the cave was silent once again.
“By the Gods, those things will bring the cave and all its denizens down on us,” said Brother Danoc. “Let’s be on our way.”
“What set them off?” asked Zanileah.
“Movement,” whispered Black Clover.
The group turned. It was so rare that the Druid spoke. He had pulled his hood up. It made him look sinister in the shadowy cave.
They moved on.
Three turns on, a long, wide chamber opened up before them. The space was palatial. Stalactites and stalagmites were all around, and ledges high and low surrounded them as they walked.
The group spread out as they explored. Zellinar and Zanileah moved out ahead. Danoc and Black Clover meandered off to the right. Jekkoe continued on and looked at the high vaulted ceiling overhead. To fall from such a height would be doom.
Up ahead, Zanileah giggled at a comment by her brother and bumped him playfully with her hip. Jekkoe saw up ahead of the siblings an alcove that gradually rose from their level, a raised area full of bone and skulls. Dozens of dead bodies littered it. Glowing green eyes popped open in the shadows there. One set and then two, and then many. The eyes darted at the Humans too fast to follow.
“DANGER!” yelled Jekkoe.
Seven cat like creatures appeared from nowhere. The things had the Humans boxed in. Jekkoe blinked and rubbed at his eyes; for some reason he could not exactly keep track of where the great cats crouched. And what cats they were! Six legs and hunched low, they had darting tentacles sprouting from their black furred backs. The one in the lead growled low.
“DISPLACER BEASTS!” yelled Black Clover. The shout got Jekkoe moving.
Zellinar swung at the lead cat. His new Icy Burst Bastard Sword clanged against the rock floor of the cave and missed. “Gods!” he swore.
Zanileah turned in place, a Displacer Beast at every side. She sent a white zap of electricity at one and the white light ricocheted off the wall and fizzled out uselessly at the spot where the cat should have been. She screamed and tumbled to her knees. Jekkoe noticed blood on her ankle, and it pooled quickly out across the stone floor.
“ZANILEAH!” cried Zellinar.
The Fighter stepped toward his sister. A tentacle hooked him in the throat and pulled. A diamond shaped gash ripped free of his neck. The skin grew taut and snapped free. Blood gushed out of the wound. The Fighter screamed and clutched at his neck. Realizing the great, six legged cats were not where they were supposed to be, he swung wildly. His forth swing hit home.
“Raaaaooowwwlll!” cried the Displacer Beast. It winked into existence on its side, suddenly there, suddenly clear and very dead.
Brother Danoc wand whipped at the Humans. Healing light moved in a pink line at both brother and sister. A Displacer Beast snatched the wand out of the Dwarf’s grasp with a snaking tentacle. It growled and raked its paws across the Cleric’s chest. He fell.
Jekkoe ran to his aid. He sheltered the Dwarf, using a Wand of Magic Missile on the Displacer Beast nearby. Three orbs of light zeroed in and found their mark. The creature growled in pain and slinked away.
“Get me to my feet, lad. The Humans...the Humans...they need...”
The Displacer Beasts darted in and out and in and out around her, each beast taking a turn raking her with a claw or whipping a barbed tentacle across her flesh. Every strike hit home. Her robe was a crimson mess. Her black hair was wet with her blood.
“SISTER!” yelled Zellinar.
A Displacer Beast jumped on his back. The man fell forward and crawled with the cat clinging and raking at him. He tried to stand. Another beast hooked him with both its tentacles and pulled his legs out from under him. His chin hit the cavern floor with a crunch. Zellinar dug his bloody fingers into the stone and pulled with two Displacer Beasts on his back. The man vanished as a third and then a fourth bore him down. One sunk teeth into the back of his neck. His screams echoed in the cave around them.
Jekkoe, standing, danced in place. The Displacer Beasts took notice. Six of them broke free from the feeding frenzy on the Humans and slinked his way.
“Brother Danoc, a spell, a prayer, anything!”
But Brother Danoc was unconscious on the floor of the cave. His Blood had pooled beneath him.
And then Jekkoe was flying.
His feet came off the ground. He looked down and saw that indeed his feet were two feet off the cavern floor. His leathers had bunched up near his neck and choked. He was having trouble getting a breath. Was someone carrying him by the scruff of his neck? He craned his head and saw that the Druid had snatched him up. The Half-Elf was carrying Jekkoe and dragging Brother Danoc by the arm. The Cleric’s armor made a terrible sound grinding over stone as they ran.
Behind them Jekkoe could hear the growl and hiss of the Displacer Beasts hot on their heels. A pair of green eyes blinked in and out to their left. Black Clover sent a shaft of what looked like a rain of thorns into the shadows. The cat cried out and fell back.
The Half-Elf ran fast.
He darted left and right throughout the cavern ways. Suddenly he turned and dumped the Halfling and the Dwarf unceremoniously onto the cavern floor. The Druid blurted out a spell, pointing at each wall of the cave mouth behind them. Boulders broke free of the roof of the cave. The tunnel was quickly filled and buried; the path behind them blocked. The angry growls of Displacer Beasts cried out from the other side, muffled and annoyed.
The Druid sat down next to Jekkoe and Danoc in exhaustion.
“We have to go back. We have to save them,” said Brother Danoc, now awake. Blood coated the Cleric’s chainmail all the way down to his groin.
“It is too late, Dwarf. The Humans are lost,” said Black Clover. His ferret, Grease, crawled onto the Cleric’s lap and chattered up at him. Danoc petted it and started to cry.
Jekkoe tried to stand and thought better of it. He looked around and noticed light just off behind them. Daylight! It looked like the sun was high in the sky, like it was a beautiful day outside, warm and breezy. He could see the edge of shrubs and tall, green weeds beyond the gloom.
The exit was only twenty yards away.