Hogar’s Journal (Translated from Giant)
Year 781 of the founding of the City
7th Day of Meloramensis – Part III
We stepped over the dying duergar and through the door into a tunnel, perhaps ten feet wide. After a few feet the tunnel abruptly turned to the left and stopped at a set of double doors. Eligos pushed the doors open to reveal a large chamber with a high vaulted ceiling, a temple of some sort. Much of the ceiling had fallen down to carpet the floor in rubble. In the centre of the room, raised upon a dais, stood a large statue of a roaring minotour. Immeasurably old it had lost large portions of its face and upper torso either to age or falling pieces of ceiling. In the four corners of the room miserly torches spat and hissed, drawing on the last of their fuel to send a deep orange glow into the chamber. Shadows danced across the room where the light flickered across the strewn rubble, playing across the features of the battered minotaur. From the corner of one’s eye it almost looked as though he was laughing at us. Directly across from us stood another open door the only other exit from the temple.
Scattered about the room there were six corpses with few signs of decay, whatever had killed them had killed them recently. From high up in the ceiling there sounded the flutter of wings heralding the descent of jet back raven to the centre of the room. As he landed he transformed from raven to elf before our very eyes. The elf was wearing the robes of a druid which bore on them in several places symbols of the Raven Queen. Myself, Vic and Minron all noticed these instantly and glanced speculatively at each other. The elf's fearful gaze flickered about the room searching for an unseen enemy as he warned us
“You fools its a trap”. No sooner had the words escaped his mouth than a sickening tearing sound filled the chamber. With a slam the door behind us and the door on the other side of the chamber closed, sealing us in. All the while the tearing noise continued.
The sound came from the six corpses littering the floor. They began to writhe and thrash about and their skin rippled as though the bones beneath were attempting to tear themselves free. One by one the skins of the corpses split from collar bone to navel. They rose unsteadily to their feet and as they did so bones and vital organs spilled out of the freshly torn torsos to pile on the floor. Immediately the empty shells of flesh swarmed around the elven druid and attacked him.
Before any of us could react Dief leapt to the druid’s defence, running into the centre of the room and savaging one of the shells. The distraction bought the druid time to transform again but not this time into a raven, instead he became a hulking bear. Taking a step back he opened his maw and a swarm of locusts burst forth, engulfing the shells.
Myself, Rodney and Vic followed Dief into the room and engaged with the hideous things, though to little effect until Minron charged in. He barrelled straight into the nearest monstrosity, sending it tumbling to the ground with a wet slap. He then raised his arms at the ceiling, threw back his head and bellowed a plea to the Raven Queen. She responded with a massive column of light that shot down from the ceiling more quickly than we could comprehend. As it struck the ground a great rumble shook the mountain itself, sending more rubble cascading from the ancient ceiling.
Whilst the impact of the column shook the room and sent us scrambling for balance its effect on those abominable shells was akin to being struck by a bolt of lightning. The radiance seared their flesh and the shockwave sent them flying across the room to strike wall, floor or statue and land in a dazed heap.
Glen and Eligos followed Minron into the centre of the chamber to take advantage of the chaos he had wrought. Eligos had once again transformed herself into some sort of diabolical brute. As she passed Minron I noticed for the first time that in this form she is even bigger than the minotaur.
Other than with the assistance of the Raven Queen our attacks were slow to make impression on the shells. After a while the sound of tumbling rubble brought our attention to one of the dark corners of the temple. Here another boneless sack of flesh rose from beneath the piled debris of the fallen ceiling. The distraction allowed the other shells to surround and overwhelm Diefenbaker. I was brought to attention by his yelp as one of the shells enveloped him completely. It draped itself over him via the tear through which it had shed its bones. Once over him it constricted to form a tight bag over his whole body. Dief’s sense of fear and disgust permeated our bond and invaded my consciousness. The smell of blood floated across my nostrils and the gelatinous ooze of internal juices seemed to run across my skin.
As Dief thrashed against the inside of his fleshy prison the shape of paws and the impression of canine maw flowed across the abomination’s skin. If he ever had any real chance of freeing himself it was instantly negated as a second shell enveloped the first, doubling Diefenbaker’s woes. The shifting impressions of a struggling wolf within continued through a second skin but less noticeable and progressively weaker.
As Dief was being enveloped other shells attempted to attack Eligos and Minron. In her demonic form Eligos was simply too big for them to get a grip on. Minron was a similar challenge but one them did manage to envelop his left arm and most of his head. The minotaur lifted his right arm over his head, grasped the sheet of skin trying to envelop him and yanked with all of his considerable might but his grip was not strong enough. His hand slipped free and the shell maintained its tenuous grip. His failure sent the minotaur into a rage. He drew his sword and flailed wildly at one of the shells enveloping Dief with such force that its head was removed from its shoulders. Thus dispatched it relinquished its grip on Dief and slid to the floor, as gruesome a floor rug as you’ll ever see.
His bonds loosened Dief renewed his efforts to break free. Alone and next to an enraged minotaur the last shell engulfing Dief must have sensed his vulnerability and moved towards his allies at the back of the room, dragging the wolf with him. At the approach of helpless prey two further shells turned their hungry gaze upon Dief.
Summoning all of my concentration I quickly loosed two arrows at the head of the shell enveloping my companion. Both struck home but were not sufficient to loosen his grip. As the Dief’s captor completed the journey to his friends two further shells enveloped him, adding their strength to his. Slowly inexorably Dief’s prison contracted around him. The feint sound of cracking bones and the pop of joints leaving their sockets could be heard through the triple layered prison together with shrieks of pain.
Suddenly the world seemed to shrink around me. Noticeable by their absence my senses were no longer as sharp as I had been used to for years. I could no longer smell the blood and gore of the inside of the undead shells but more than that was gone. The half demon Eligos had, I realised, been distinguishable by a slightly sulphurous aroma. The dwarf and the human each had their own scent, previously detectable even through the layered sweat of several days adventure. The sounds of battle; a shifted stance here, an adjusted grip there had reduced to merely the clash and rasp of blades in combat. Everything about me was suddenly further away, less intimate, quieter, duller. Because Diefenbaker was dead.
The three shells that held him peeled away one after the other until finally the innermost, his jailer, released the limp body of my wolf brother. Caked in the organic slime of the human interior, his fur matted, tongue lolling to one side, eyes open in a final lifeless stare, he fell to the floor and I screamed my fury and despair to all the corners of the earth. But violent death was not enough. Indignity had to be heaped upon my friend as well. Barely had he touched the floor when his corpse began to writhe and convulse, movement easily mistakable for the death throes familiar to any who have witnessed a violent demise. But these throes were more sinister in nature. They were followed by the tearing sound that first signalled the perils of this temple. Sure enough his flesh parted to spill canine bones upon the floor and Dief rose from death to menace us as another of these infernal creatures.
Despair quickly gave way to fury, uncontrollable remorseless fury. I dropped my bow, drew my sword and fell upon the abominations responsible for Diefenbaker’s end. I don’t remember what happened, how long it lasted or whether I had any help but after a frenzy of slashing, crying, biting, screaming, scratching and tearing three great folds of skin lay motionless at my feet.
I felt a searing heat to my left and turned to see the risen shell of Diefenbaker smouldering after a flaming assault from Rodney. This was quickly followed by savage attacks from Glen and Vic. I bellowed at them to leave the wolf alone. So quickly after his demise I still hoped to rescue him, tales of mortal resurrection are not so rare as to be impossible. I turned my attention upon Dief as the battle continued on around us. Minron, freed from the shell that tried to engulf him, Glen and Eligos advanced on the three remaining shells, beating them back from the elven druid they seemed so intent on killing.
Undead eyes regarded me from within the shell of Diefenbaker. Whereas before we always knew what the other was thinking and experiencing, at least to some extent, now there was nothing. Just the flat stare of the hungry dead. I reached a hand towards him in the hope of igniting some form of recognition, an indication that some spark of my brother wolf remained within. He flinched but did not attack me. Not I think, because of any lingering affection but because this druid attracted the shells to him in some way. He fled from my presence and barged into the druid with such force that even in the form of a great bear he toppled to the ground.
Immediately the three remaining shells leapt upon the prone figure of the bear and attempted to engulf it between them. Without any resistance from the druid they managed to enclose most of him and begin their dreadful constriction. Suddenly all three of the abominations collapsed inwards with a jolt as the figure of the druid shrunk to a roughly human size and shape. Clearly he had returned to his elven state.
My companions quickly re-engaged with the druid’s attackers and began hacking them to pieces. The combined assault of my friends was sufficient to get the shells to relinquish their grip on druid who fell unconscious to the floor and transformed into the raven which first greeted us in this accursed place. So intent were the others in their attack that they turned their backs on the shell of Dief. He turned on them with such malice that I became convinced no portion of his mind remained. With my sword gripped in two hands I bore down on the abomination of my companion and swung with all my might. With no skeleton to provide resistance his head was easily separated from his shoulders and he slumped to the floor dead.
Discarded, my sword clattered to the ground as I stooped to pick up the flayed skin of my friend. I carried it over to where his bones lay discarded and draped it over them. Gradually the others, having dispatched the other shells, made their way quietly over to me and we stood in a silent circle around him for a time. Eventually our silence was broken by Eligos who had returned to her Teifling form.
“I think this druid is still alive”.
My companions moved over to the unconscious druid. With a lingering glance I tore myself away from the remains of Diefenbaker and joined them. Dropping to my knees I gently picked up the raven with both hands, he was astonishingly light, no heavier than a single arrow. Minron and Vicreal gathered in close around me to use their healing skills upon him. Suddenly his wings fluttered and the raven flew up to the ceiling before coming to rest on the minotaur statue.
As he did so everything in the room came into sharp focus. Colours became brighter and objects became more defined, even in the furthest, darkest corners of the temple. I could see clearly the details on the collapsed parts of the statue. I could feel tiny variations in the temperature around me and sense fluctuations in air currents, where it was rising to the ceiling and where it was falling to the ground. A male voice, weary but thankful, sounded in my head.
“You are called Hogar?” I turned my attention to the raven perched on the shoulder of the minotaur statue. Intelligent eyes stared straight at me.
“Yes”. I replied aloud, drawing confused glances from the others. “How do you know my name?”
“I reached out with my mind and found an opening into yours, a void if you will”. His voice came to me. “I see from your thoughts that is was occupied by your companion over there. I’m sorry for your loss, these creatures were responsible for the deaths of my companions and would surely have eventually killed me if you had not come to my aid. My name is Rook and you and your companions have my sincere thanks.”
It seems this Rook had been part of an adventuring party looking to stop the bloodreavers just as we are. He and his party fell into the same trap as us but without someone to warn them were quickly overwhelmed by the forsaken shells, Rook was the only one to survive and was only able to do so by transforming himself into a raven and hiding in the vaulted ceiling. I asked whether he could change back into an elf. He says he cannot and is unsure whether he ever will be able to, his state seems to be some side effect of being entrapped by those things.
He and I seem to be bound together. He has somehow occupied the link I shared with Diefenbaker and our minds are open to each other. Though Dief’s mind was sharp, being bound to the mind of an elf is a very different and strange experience that will take some getting used to. For now, exhausted as we are, we are going to barricade ourselves in this temple and take some time to recover.
Shortly before taking the first watch Rodney spoke to me privately for the first time since we met. He said that Dief’s spirit is still present in this temple and that, if I wished it, he could summon it back to the mortal realm as a spectre. I asked him if he could sense Dief’s consciousness and he replied that he could. I said that I did not imagine Diefenbaker would wish to disturb the ordained order of life and death according to the Raven Queen and would prefer to face whatever lies beyond. The mage confirmed that this was so but both he and the wolf would ease my suffering by performing the ritual if I wished it. I admit it is tempting but we will leave my brother to the long rest, he has earned it. For my part I am so shocked a the mage removing his head from the clouds to engage with me that I fear I will sleep little this night.