The Black Pool
On the afternoon of the Mouse in Wolf’s Moon, a riverboat floated down the Zola Fel in the direction of Ogre Island and the broken ground nearby called the Devil’s Playground. On board were:
Beaching the boat on the west bank of the Zola Fel, the ‘River Voices’ and their companions (Teuche’esta remained with his boat) climbed the escarpment to the tumbled-down ruins overlooking Ogre Island, where the second geyser had erupted the night before. The source of the geyser was a crack in the earth, choked with rubble, but the group had brought picks and shovels. Within a couple of hours the hole was big enough to enter. A foul stench and a faint gibbering wailing sound wafted up from the darkness.
Yucta secured a rope which trailed down the black hole. Davros Thanatos went ahead. The shaft descended for about twenty-five metres then levelled out slightly. A great split or rift in the tunnel seemed to open out into a large cavern, from which the stench and the wailing noises emanated. The stench of gangrenous wounds was so bad it made Davros retch. Nimbly avoiding this rift, Thanatos followed the tunnel to where it submerged in black water which seemed to swallow the torchlight. He then returned to the stinking, wailing rift. Yucta had descended with his glowing globe strapped to his back and stood on the opposite side. Davros threw torches down to illuminate the cavern.
The cavern was large and its floor was composed of a series of limestone terraces, slick with moisture and slime. The source of the wailing was not yet visible in the light of the sputtering torch. Davros began a cautious descent from the tunnel. The floor was extraordinarily slippery, and Davros lost his footing more than once, but managed to right himself. Yucta followed cautiously, and the light from his glowing globe illuminated a hellish sight. At the bottom of the fifth terrace ledge, about fifteen metres down was a pool, black as blackness. Mindlessly milling around the pool were many stunted things, wailing like tormented infants. They would occasionally take bites out each other, or pause to feed on the corpses of the fallen. At one point, a huge arm-like tentacle emerged from the pool and swept three of the stunted things beneath its oily waters.
“Storm Bull! Storm Bull!” yelled Ockasiola the Zebran and his Chaos Hunters. They emerged from above following Kannan Kannanson, who deftly climbed down the terraces to join Thanatos a few metres above the ledge where the stunted manlings milled. As the Chaos Hunters stumbled and slipped and bumbled their way down the ledges, Davros observed large oozy bubbles emerging from the pool — the unmistakable outlines of gorp. Two medium sized gorp and two smaller ones oozed toward the ledge where the warriors were gathering. Kannan, being the best shot, grabbed flasks of purified water and began hurling them to good effect at the gorp. Davros flung a flaming oil jar at one of the smaller ones and it burned and exploded, unfortunately splashing all with vicious acid. Big Weho accidentally slipped off the ledge into the path of another large gorp emerging from the black waters, but managed to climb to safety while the heroes pelted the gorp with pure water until it too was destroyed.
With the gorp destroyed, the stunted wailing creatures were easy to kill with a few volleys of arrows from the assembled warriors, though Kannan slipped and accidentally wounded Ockasiola with an arrow. The dank cavern was suddenly, ominously quiet. Thanatos and Axotylata cautiously descended to to level of the pool. A narrow and dark passage led down and away beyond the pool, seemingly deep into the earth. Yucta followed it for quite a few metres before turning back. Both he and Davros knew that the thing in the black pool must be dealt with. “Sight be granted by Zola Fel,” whispered Davros as he plunged his scarred hands into the water.
The murky water became clear, and Davros could see at the bottom…something colossal; something hideous, covered with bud-like protuberances like eyes and monstrous jointed tentacles. At that moment Davros, Yucta and each of the warriors peering down from the ledge above heard in his mind a great voice. It spoke in an unknown language with a strange blasting musical quality, incomprehensibly moving. Davros and Yucta nodded to one another, invoked Zola Fel’s power of water breath. As they dived into the black pool, they saw Kannan Kannanson vault down, spear in hand, take a deep breath and dive in with them.
Six metres below the surface of that black water, the cool light of Yucta’s glowing globe illuminated a foulness which had not seen light for millennia. The three heroes attacked the monster, their minds filled with its insane magnificent babble. Davros thrust his rapier at its eye-like protuberances and Kannan pierced it repeatedly with his spear. Axotylata’s great mace was useless underwater; he poked at it with a borrowed spear. The ancient thing was far from defenceless. It battered them with its mighty tentacles, and directed spells at Davros which wracked his body. When Kannan Kannanson swam upwards to get a breath, a great tentacle swatted him like a fly and, unconscious, he began to drown. Another tentacle smashed against Yucta, breaking his ribs, and as he swam desparately the surface he saw another of the creature’s vile limbs strangle the life out of Davros Thanatos.
Yucta Axotylata surged from the pool and the cheers of the Chaos Hunters died on their lips. “Retreat!” he gasped. He felt Weho’s strong grasp and pain and he knew he was blacking out. Somehow through the haze of pain he stumbled and climbed was carried by someone and smelled the fresh air of the Big Rubble and he knew no more until he awoke on the temple barge of Zola Fel in Pavis.
Three weeks passed, and Yucta’s injuries healed, with the help of the Zola Fel worshippers and his own herbal poultices. Of Davros: “He is the Cleansed One and he is Glubaw Drowner,” intoned High Priest Chen. “He is safe in the bosom of great Zola Fel, who will take his spirit to the Heart of the Sea.” But Yucta did not believe it. For his friend’s sake rather than for the god, he planned the destruction of the thing in the pool.
With the help of High Priest Chen and Teuche’esta, Yucta recruited a squad of newtlings brave enough perhaps to face the denizen of that dark cave where Davros and Kannan had met their dooms. The most determined of these newtlings was Ge’hechya, who owed Davros Thanatos a life debt for saving his life at the gorp pool near Raus Fort.
A few days out from full Seed Moon, Yucta, Teuche’esta, Ockasiola and his Chaos hunters journeyed once more into the Big Rubble. Axotylata paid the Lunar tax without speaking, and he needed no ‘River Eyes’ to imagine his squad of newtlings swimming unseen below. They arrived at the Devil’s Playground and descended once more to the deep cave where the abomination lurked. A few small gorp and stunted manlings had formed on the lowest ledge, but they were easily dealt with by Ockasiola and his men. Yucta had armed himself with a two-handed spear. Upon his signal, he, Teuche’esta, Ge’hechya and the eleven other steadfast newtlings dived into the dark pool and impaled the vast monster with their tridents again and again until with a final mental shriek of rapture and terror it was no more.
Spring turned to summer and then autumn in the Year of the Titan, and no more gorp attacks took place. The menace was ended and there was celebration amongst the followers of Zola Fel. Their ‘River Voices’ (or voice, now) had saved them. Yucta’s fame grew in Pavis. His wealth too, for he had found many undissolved jewels and antiquities in the muck of the pool, treasures which his newtling allies had been all too pleased to smuggle upriver beneath the feet of the Lunar tax collectors. Some of this wealth he paid to Kannan’s widow. Chen followed through with his promise of free training, perhaps hoping that Axotylata would agree to become an initiate of Zola Fel. But Yucta was full of doubt. He did not trust the gods. Where had Zola Fel been when Davros Thanatos — who seemed to truly believe in him — was drowned and slaughtered far underground? No, he, Yucta Axotylata, would not serve such a one, or any fickle god. Or so he thought.
But the River of Cradles is long and Zola Fel is a patient god.