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The Journal of Zong-Tossu, Entry 3 - Survivors of the Moongate

*This is the journal of Zong-Tossu, a master ghav-urath (life-shaper) from the Rhul-thaun capital of Thamasku. Zong-Tossu was sent by the har-etuil (judgment-makers) along with a detachment of junior life-shapers and lawkeepers to investigate a mysterious ring of standing stones and the strange creatures said to occasionally appear within. The expeditionary force was accompanied by a thri-kreen emissary known as Cho’ka.*

After stepping through the vortex within the ring of standing stones, Zong-Tossu and his retinue find themselves is a strange new land.

A NOTE FOR READERS: The journals of Zong-Tossu, though fascinating, should not be taken as accurate. Even though he was considered a great ghav-urath, eventually many of his writings were dismissed as the products of severe psychosis by the ruling council of Thamasku and simply regarded as fiction or parody. It was rumored Zong-Tossu had a mental breakdown caused by his usage of the narcotic cam-rahn.

What follows is the account of Tr’Shadai, a young ghav-urath and a pupil of Zong Tossu, as relayed to the master ghav-urath (lifeshaper).

As the vortex collapsed, I was the first of the ghav-urath to pass through it, following close on the heels of Jari Tlekiee and Xelno, the two slowest of the vher-etuils (lawkeepers). The three of us made it through at nearly the same time, but when we arrived on the other side, the other vher-etuils were nowhere to be seen, and my master and his Kreen guide never arrived. I would eventually come to realize that we must have been transported to a different location than the rest of the exploratory force.

Jari, Xelno and I found ourselves exiting the vortex in a clearing deep in a scarlet jungle and running downhill, and we came to a stop to take stock of our surroundings. It had been midnight when we entered the vortex, but it was daylight now, so clearly we had been transported a great distance.

As we took stock of our surroundings, a strange noise could be heard coming from the forest: meaty slurping and crunching sounds, ominously similar to those of a predator consuming its prey. From the volume of the sounds, we knew the creature must be quite large and hungry.

Not wanting to disturb such a beast, we began to sneak away back to the gateway. But as we turned away, Jari Tlekiee tripped on a rock and crashed to the ground and it was as if time itself stopped - the sounds of eating stopped and the forest grew still. From the forest came an abominable howl, as if a chorus of bestial voices was released at once in a strangely harmonious roar. We instantly broke into a run, plunging into the jungle in a desperate attempt to escape this predator.

There was a great crashing and rustling amongst the trees but the creature had yet to be seen. From the sound of it, we were only a few meters ahead of whatever unseen titan was chasing us. The beast could be heard releasing ear splitting roars and deep guttural rumbles, and seemed to be ecstatic with the hunt.

The slowest of us was Jari Tlekiee. The vher-etuil was somewhat chubby at the midsection and his shell armor groaned and creaked as he sprinted across the wet rainforest floor, huffing with gasping breaths as his heavy armor took a toll on his speed and stamina. It was obvious he could not run much further.

Suddenly his foot snagged on a root in the forest floor, almost sending him tumbling but he quickly caught his footing and kept running. The thunderous footsteps of the unseen monstrosity were gaining on the group and it sounded so very close to Jari Tlekiee as he gasped ragged air from his open mouth.

Boughs were violently ripped from trees and great furrows were ripped into the earth from invisible talons that struck the forest floor. We could all feel the shuddering earth from the pursuing foe.

Again Jari lost his footing and this time stumbled violently to the earth, his armor creaking and grinding in agony as he slammed and rolled into the forest floor.

I looked back and was horrified by what I saw. Suddenly from the jungle air appeared a massive, eyeless, reptilian terror with a great gaping maw and fearsome fangs. The beast slammed one of its massively oversized talons down on Jari, pinning him mercilessly into the muddy soil.

The gargantuan predator bent down with its mighty fanged snout and bit into the warrior, lifting him into the air with its great maw and violently shaking Jari in the air, crushing his armor and shattering it with ease. The beast bit Jari’s body in half and violently flung the other half of his corpse into the trees in a crash of gore. We could only look on in horror.

The colossal monster seemed to become visible only when it attacked and the sight of it was truly terrifying. An eyeless horror, its massive maw was filled with razor sharp teeth and a deep violet tongue covered with hooks and barbs. The horror stood on two long and muscular legs, each as thick as tree trunks, which ended in powerful talons that rent deep gouges in the forest floor. Its arms were tiny and tucked up under its robust torso but still looked strong enough to rip open the trunk of a tree (or a rhulisti). The beast sported no eyes but had a great bony crest that swept away from its face and rose to a frill above its neck. Its skin seemed almost translucent in color: we could see the blood and veins pumping beneath… but the skin also seemed to rapidly change colors based on the beast’s surroundings.

The great predator, still covered in Jari’s blood, roared into the sky for a brief moment before suddenly directing its head at us. The skin of the beast suddenly lost all color and blended back into invisibility. Not even bothering to stop and feed like an Athasian predator would, it surged forward again towards us. I felt the pit of my stomach drop in terror and began to run again.

“Quickly Xelno, we need to flee to water! It’s our only chance!” I believed we could make it: Xelno was behind me as we ran but he was taller with longer legs than Jari and his armor was lighter and made him faster.

Ahead, I could see a vast marsh with golden grass before us, beyond the forest. Both of us sprinted with Xelno closely behind me, his flash lance bouncing wildly on his shoulder as we bounded over the roots of the crimson trees.

Tragically Xelno was somewhat old for a vher-etuil and had suffered a knee injury earlier in life when hunting outside of Thamasku. The injury was generally only a minor hindrance but against such a formidable adversary even the slightest weakness could be a death sentence.

The marsh grew near and we picked up our pace to a fever pitch. Great thunderous footfalls and the crashing of trees could be heard just behind us, resounding the forest and causing the very earth to shake as the gargantuan terror surged after us on it’s murderous warpath. We knew the monstrosity was gaining rapidly on us as, though unseen, it left an obvious trail of destruction in its wake.

Suddenly, a stout bough of a nearby tree exploded with such force that it showered us with thorny splinters of wood and bark. Surely knowing from the thundering footfalls that the beast was nearly upon us, Xelno turned and slammed the butt end of his lance into the earth to brace for the creature’s charge. The beast burst into visibility only a handful of yards from him and, though sightless, seemed to be focused directly on him.

Suddenly Xelno’s body seemed to freeze up, his body stiff and his limbs unmoving, and I realized that he must have somehow become paralyzed. The savage titan reared up in the air before Xelno, its translucent skin showing the pulsating veins and bulging muscles underneath, and then its skin began scintillating in patterns of dark burgundy and midnight blue.

The towering monster opened its maw and its thick, dark violet tongue rolled out from its gaping mouth. The jaw muscles spasmed and the tongue fired out like a harpoon - right at Xelno’s head. I saw the razor sharp hooks and barbs of the tongue dig into his face as it firmly wrapped around him. Xelno’s rigid body was wrenched up off the ground and into that open maw, filled with razor fangs like long blades of translucent crystal. As the creature bit down, razor sharp teeth sundered Xelno’s protruding legs at the knee but he could not even scream.

The sight of Xelno’s lower legs crashing to the earth shocked me back into motion. Tearing my eyes away from the horrific sight, I ran once more. Through the trees I glimpsed a cliff not far away and beyond, golden waters. Xelno’s terrible sacrifice may have given me the time I needed to reach safety.

I glanced back and the horror was once again surging forward. Wasting not a moment thinking about my actions, I kept running and leapt over the edge of the cliff as it rapidly approached.

My heart was pounding violently as I dove into the brackish water far below, but I forced myself to swim deeper and deeper into the swampy sea. Looking back to the surface one last time, I could see the beast, standing visible at the cliff-edge, quietly staring at the water, as if it somehow refused to chase me down into the waters - perhaps it feared drowning in the murky brine.

A great surge of relief came over me, leaving that great horror behind…but then I felt a sudden twinge of pain in my back, like being stabbed by a small needle. I desperately strained to reach for my back but then a warm sensation of relaxation and pleasure spread deep into my sore muscles and tired body. “It’s nothing.” I thought, “Probably just some fish I disturbed, long gone now.”

I swam until I reached a hummock of marsh grass and took refuge there. I crawled, sopping wet and totally exhausted, onto the soft and dense surface.

As my eyes drifted shut, the day’s terror rushed back over me, hitting like a avalanche. I could still see Jari getting ripped to shreds and his armor shattered with a sickening crunch, and still hear the sound of Xelno screaming in terror before being eaten alive.

Sobbing on the hummock, shoulders heaving as tears streamed down my face, I drifted off to sleep upon the marshy island, its golden grass swaying gently in the sea breeze…