Where a chin should have been–maybe the pointy bottom of an elf’s skinny face, or perhaps the wort encrusted knobbly bottom of a troll’s jaw–there wasn’t a chin at all. Instead, there were long dangling tentacles. For the briefest of moments, Haryk thought he had been attacked by an octopus.
But that thought didn’t last long. He was in mid-spin, his mind just being freed from some magic he still didn’t understand had happened, when he saw the beast that had been standing behind him. It was as tall as the 10-foot ceiling and as grey and dark as it’s surroundings. It wore a long black cloak made of some fabric that looked like the webbing of a bat’s wing. It’s legs, and arms, were long and cruelly deformed and at the ends of his hands were fingers that ended in bladed nails, like dagger points. Around its waist hung a belt of what looked like human skulls. But the worst was above its waist. If its body was the cursed mutilation of what might have been considered “man-like” it’s head was the same as that of an octopus. It had two blade-like eyes, which throbbed with evil energy. Its head was pointy and slick with some foul slime, and along its jaw, where a mouth and a nose should have been, hung the dangling tentacles that Haryk knew had been wrapped around his head just a second ago. In the center of those tentacles, now splayed outwards, writhing with fury, was a sharp proboscis which was now in motion downward towards his head!
“I’m getting really fucking tired of phalluses hanging right in my damn face!” Haryk blasted out just as he squeezed the trigger which was perfectly primed under the creature’s mouth. He pulled his finger back so hard that he felt the metal trigger buckle and bend slightly in recoil. I want you out of my fucking mind!
The flash of Haryk’s gun resounded off the tunnel walls, and he saw the creature’s head both snap backwards and explode in green and blue cerebral matter. And even better, the whole of the monster’s body flew backwards, out into the dark cavern. There it seemed to hang suspended by it’s motion before falling–what was left of it’s torso pinwheeling over the bottom part of it–down it fell into the black.
“That was some bullet!” Haryk cried out, breathing for the first time in awhile. Then he realized he could still think something. “Holy shit, I still have my brains too!”
“Let’s not be too hasty,” sighed Andril, who looked like he had just come out of a hangover.
“How’d I do it?” asked Haryk searching for his breath. “How’d I break free. That thing had me, Andril!”
“You just needed a little help from your friends, Haryk. Let’s call it mind over cerebral matter. But more to the point, where’s the boy, Haryk?”
“How in Ket should I know, I thought he was with you!”
“Negative,” sighed Andril, thinking. “Hey, but what’s a good adventure without a mystery, right?”
“Wait a second,” Haryk grinned pointing at his head, and then at Andril. “You aren’t in my head anymore! I got you out!”
“Indeed, Lord Haryk. You may very well be onto something here. That was some bullet too by the way.”
“Right? I was just thinking that myself! Hey are you saying…?”
“No my Lord, I was not in your head that time. You just…aren’t that good at a Pocken’s face.” Andril moved his hand to his side, and spoke a few words of magic. In his hand appeared the staff that he had found in Abraxas’ laboratory. Archaic, pulsing with power. Haryk could feel it! The feeling was too foreign for him to keep to himself. “How in Ket do I know that?” He said to himself.
“I think you’re currently, technically, in Ket,” said Andril, peeking out from the tunnel’s ledge. “Look!”
What they saw, now that they could take it all in, was a grand affair. It was industrial. Around them and below was little to see, save the blackness of a great and cavernous space. But above them, there was an orchestra of movement. Inside the large dark tunnel openings, hung what looked like long cocoons made of some foul thread-like substance. Each look liked the tangle of seaweeds that one saw on a beach washed in with the tide, but they were too well constructed to be accidental. Besides, each were mounted on strange metallic apparatus, suspended from above. The whole of them reminded Haryk of the bodies which hung on the ceiling of the lair of Inara Goldpetal, the foul hag. These however, were not suspended from the ceiling, exactly, and each could hold many men inside, perhaps a hundred of them. In each tunnel in which the cocoons swayed, there were on the ceiling long metal girders, supported by strange sticky strands of what seemed to be webbing of some kind. It may have been the same material as what made the cocoons, Haryk couldn’t tell. The girders ran out of the tunnel and up and along the walls of the cavern up to the ceiling of the the massive complex. The whole of the construction creaked while chains clinked along loudly underneath the girders, pulling the cocoons along with them. The monstrous chains had links as big as a man and Haryk knew, because he and Andril had become industrious in Three Harbors for several years, that this was not some fly by night operation. This was work on a massive scale.
With so much to take in, Haryk’s eyes followed one chain, until it was twisted around a great wheel. That wheel was cranked around and around by two more of the one-eyed giants. With each clink, the cocoons were brought closer and closer to the center of the vast ceiling. Green gems embedded in the walls of the space began to pulse, emitting dark green flashes of eerie light at steady intervals.
Haryk watched as a single of the gigantic cocoons was pulled up the spiderlike apparatus of beams. Like a dangling poisoned fruit off some massive tree, it hung, and then reaching the top of the cave, it stopped, swaying side to side. In horror, he saw that around the cocoon were more of the mind-flaying creatures that had attacked him. They didn’t stand on anything, nor were upon any structure–they simply levitated, floating around the structure.
The cocoon tilted slightly and that’s when Haryk noticed that there was a small arm protruding from between the meshed strands that made it. He trained his elvish eyes as best he could, and knew then that the cocoon could not just hold a hundred men, it was indeed doing so. And in disgust, he knew it wasn’t just filled with men.
For the first time in all of his adventures, in all of the raids on all of the islands, Haryk knew that he was frightened. And for the first time, he let it be known to others. For the sight of the children was too much for him. Tears ran down the old soldiers weathered face and into his beard. “What is this business, Andril?!”
“This is the answer to our query I think Lord Haryk.” Haryk could see that the mage’s grip upon his staff had tightened. All mirth was gone. “This,” he said pointing his staff at the cocoon, “is why they’ve come.”
Haryk’s mind was reeling, and his thoughts were screaming with rage. Men, women, and children packaged like a butcher would stuff a sausage.! Only they aren’t meat, you bastards! These are people. These are souls. They’re alive. Do you hear me mage?
Andril answered Haryk in his mind. And I think that is the point.
“You’ve always asked me Haryk, how I conjure the magic. How I do what I do. Here is your answer, my friend. Each of us, inside of us bears a light. I simply use the energy of that light, mine, or someone else’s or perhaps that light leftover from someone now gone to the ether. I use the light that exists in the world. I am a magic-user.” He pointed. “Each of them, is a light in the darkness too.”
“And what in the world, is going to use their lights?” Asked Haryk to the darkness. His breath caught in his throat, and he gulped. “They’re not here to take over the world,” realized Haryk. “They are here for collection. This is reaping.”
“And you reap what you sow Haryk. This is what Abraxas knew was coming. This is what came before, it’s what ended Kasille.”
The old soldier, now finding his rage again, “And that fool thought we were somehow going to stop this?” Watching the floating mind-flayers inspect the dangling cocoon, Haryk now saw that other shapes and figures moved up there as well. He saw a giant head, like the great eye beast he had shot earlier, The beholder of the eye. Another beast climbed along the outer covering of the cocoon. Haryk tried to piece together what his eyes saw. A brain on legs, climbing over a cocoon of people. No big deal, Haryk. As if that weren’t enough, the ceiling above the cocoon, behind the mesh of metal girders and chains seemed to come alive. Something large coated in a great thick viscous slime moved along the ceiling, massive tentacles like tree length eels writhed themselves around the cocoon as if inspecting it too. Haryk emptied his spent cartridges as quietly as he dared, and replaced the empty slots in his weapon with more from his satchel. His face twisted in rage and anger. “Ain’t nobody got enough bullets in his satchel for this shit!”
The green gems began to pulse, and then emitted a bright flash of dark green light!
Then, like some sick and twisted gnome ride at the solstice festival, there was a giant twang sound. The cocoon tethered in some way to the ceiling snapped free and Haryk, Andril by his side, watched the faces of the people, the dwarves, the children, their arms reaching out, their tear streaked faces covered in filth, go speeding by him. Down, down they went into the unfathomable darkness–their faint screams followed just behind and then, like a coin thrown into a deep well, they were gone completely.