Remember to read these in order...PART 1 : The Smallest Plaything
PART 2 : The Gate of FearPART 3 : Meeting the FamilyPART 4 : Making a Man...PART 5 : Face in the Crowd
Of course, Captain Varlos went back on his promise to Helixson to take Dustpaw to Qeynos, pocketed the coin and dumped Dustpaw on the Isle of the Overlord where he would be bound on a slaveship to Freeport.
Helixon was a bit miffed when he found out (in RP only of course since this is a fixed game mechanic). He paid for an Agent to travel to Freeport and infiltrate the City and Guild there to see what had happened to Dustpaw. Was he being held against his will? Could he be extracted safely and bought back to Qeynos?
Helixson had underestimated the resources the SIlver Circle Guild had at their disposal and although the Agent was able to find Dustpaw's apartment and get into it, the Silver Circle Enforcers were hot on the Agent's heels! They even turned the tables on Helixson! He woke up bound and surrounded in a storage area for frozen meat and got an in-character interrogation to ascertain his motives for what the Silver Circle viewed as the attempted kidnap of a Guild member.
Fortunately they accepted his explanation, blindfolded him and bundled him back out of the City and released him unharmed. Eventually Helixson became a "sponsor" for the young Dustpaw but never saw him in Qeynos.
Dustpaw was terrified by his encounter with the “Spy from the Qeynos-Nest”. This event coincided with the appearance of the Avatars of the New Gods. Dustpaw decided that he needed to travel to “The Gate of Fear” to obtain a powerful magical dagger to defend himself in case the spy ever returned.
A foolish objective indeed...
DUSTPAW, THE GATE OF FEAR
===“Years of surviving the perils of the Underfoot
had taught him well, but by now, he was
smothered in cloying mud. The stink of decay had
made him virtually nose-blind. His eyes streamed
and hysterical sobs threatened to break from his
throat at any moment...”
The Herald on the Freeport Docks had spun a fantastic tale... the Gods were coming! Yes, the Gods were coming! For those who were especially brave, the rewards were great indeed...
... great indeed, muttered the drunken adventurer in the Bloodhaze. There was even a cave in a dark forest where a crazed Iksar would give the Faithful an enchanted dagger. A dagger so magical that it could bestow the wielder with the power of the Mad God of Fear himself! No enemy could bear to strike someone protected by the Faceless... the Fleshcrafter!
A useful blade indeed, thought Dustpaw as he padded up the sloping cartway rising above the smokes of the Harbor to the heights of North Freeport. With such a blade in his possession, there would be no way that Ratonga Spy would dare sneak up on him again and touch all his things...
The Drund outside the Temple of War looked down at Dustpaw and laughed. Great guffawing bellows made tears slide down the flabby grey cheeks of the Ogre's face.
"You wanna know where da Temple of da Faceless is? You wanna go dere? You?!?" the Ogre growled between fits of laughter. "You? Da Feerrott is not for da likes of you, youngster - da Thulians would gobble you up in a single bite! Go home, Ratling! Forget about da Temple of Cazic Thule an' da Cave of da Gate of Fear - go home!"
Dustpaw turned away and thought... the Feerrott, the Temple of Cazic Thule and a secret cave...
"Stupid Drund," he chirrupped to himself... "If yus had any brains yus would not have told I's all I's needed to know..."
The Clerk in the Academy of Arcane Sciences looked down at the young Ratonga in front of his desk. Pushing his spectacles up the bridge of his nose, the Erudite sighed...
"You want..." he began, glancing down at the note Dustpaw had proffered... "a map of the Feerrott showing the terrain and hazards in the area of the Temple of the Faceless? Why?"
Mindful of the mocking he had just received from the Drund, Dustpaw tried some subterfuge. Raising his voice and trying to sound young and unsure, he said "Excuse I's, but it is for a project I's been set for I's schooling. Master has asked I's to write an essay mimicking the journey of an adventurer from Freeport to the Temple of the Faceless, paying especial attention to the terrain and wildlife in the Great Jungle..."
He trailed off, trying to sound as though he hoped the Clerk would send him away without the map so that he would not have to do the assignment.
"You are in luck, Ratling... I have here an old map of the Feerrott from several years ago. It is already a copy, so it is no loss if you ruin it. In fact, you can keep it - I have a newer one and the adventurer who penned this copy is long dead."
He passed over a folded parchment which Dustpaw took with trembling paws.
"Thank yus, kind sir. Thank yus..."
Bobbing and bowing as he went, Dustpaw fled from the Halls of the Academy.
Now all he needed was permission to go...
Clutching his Guild Pendant in the way Mister Xzott had showed him, Dustpaw cleared his throat and spoke...
"Um, General? I's was wondering..."
The tones of General Jalnur's voice echoed from the Pendant.
"Because of the... er, trouble the other day, I's promised not to leave the City without permission, yis? Well, I's would like to speak to one of the Prophets who have come to teach us about the Gods..."
"You can leave the city Dustpaw, just stay safe."
Dustpaw took a breath then spoke the rest of his words in a rush...
"The one I's would like to talk to is very far away ... in a dangerous place too... I's think I's Invisibility spell would work... but well... the Feerrott is a nasty place for I's... so it would be good if I's told yus where I's was going, yis? From talking to other adventurers, it should be possible for I's to reach a hidden cave somewhere deep in the jungle safely enough..."
The reply came quickly...
"Oh, yes, Feerrott can be kinda nasty... do be cautious"
"Yis, I's will... the map I's have seen is very old - it does not show the cave, just the Lost Temple of the Mad God of Fear - do yus know where the cave is located?"
Again, Jalnur's tones came from the Pendant.
"Yes, it is past the temple of Cazic, just go past it till you hit a cliff wall, then follow the wall till you find the cave..."
And that was it. Permission...
"Are you sure about this, Ratling?" the Merchant Captain had said.
Dustpaw had been dropped off on the Drowning Causeway on the west shore of the Feerrott. Nodding his agreement, Dustpaw turned away from the ship and looked nervously around him.
The ancient stones of the causeway had been laid down centuries before by unknown hands. Now they were worn and slick with the sea spray. Below in the slimy waters, great shapes moved... waiting for a meal to drop from above. The wind soughed a dismal note as it brought the scent of rot and decay from the heavy forest ahead. The sailors who even now were hauling on their oars had warned him about the Huupics - the great grey blubbery beasts on the sands below the causeway. From this distance, their fat bodies looked comical... until the observer noticed their great fangs and wide, wide mouths.
Muttering a prayer for Belaska to watch over him, Dustpaw drew the Shroud of Invisibility round himself and picked his careful way over the stones...
...into the Jungle...
This part, the map had said, was named the Jungle of Alliz Evol. Of note were the Carrion Dregs - some sort of lizard, Giant Mosquitoes as big as a man and Snakes longer than an Ox cart. Also it warned of something called a Bitter Bloom. Dustpaw looked around at the great orchids - parasitic plants feeding on the decay. They looked toxic, yes, but harmless enough.
Advancing cautiously, Dustpaw was able to slip past several of the great lizards without arousing their suspicions. Even the snakes, green and brown ones thicker than the stoutest ropes he had ever seen, moved through the rotting greenery without spotting him. More confident in his Invisibility, Dustpaw advanced... and stumbled over a root.
A root which had definitely not been there a moment before.
Picking himself up and cursing his clumsiness, Dustpaw looked up and followed the root with his eyes... it trailed across the path and ended in a clump of greenery tall enough to hide a man. But no man was ever made of bark and leaves. As he stared, Dustpaw saw the mobile plant open a maw at it's crown and begin to extend feelers towards him. A Bitter Bloom... though the name "Biter Bloom" would be more accurate...
Scurrying backwards, Dustpaw managed to get out of range of the feelers before they could tighten around him. This plant was definitely aware of him and only chance had spared him from becoming its next meal.
Moving past the deadly Bloom, Dustpaw followed the ancient trail. The wandering Thulian patrols were easy to avoid, but the further he went into the Jungle, the more he realised what a terrible and fearful mistake he was making. More and more of the creatures were aware of him. A tongue tasted the air when he drew near... a change in the whine of the wings of a Mosquito... snuffling of the dreaded Underbrush Fiends, their poison stingers held high ready to strike... a fearful mistake indeed.
The area around the ruined Druid Ring was once a safe camp, according to the map, but one look at the swarms of Jungle Leapers waiting to devour the unwary made him want to hurry on.
Crawling over roots and under logs, Dustpaw made his cautious way east. Years of surviving the perils of the Underfoot had taught him well, but by now, he was smothered in cloying mud. The stink of decay had made him virtually nose-blind. His eyes streamed and hysterical sobs threatened to break from his throat at any moment...
He dragged himself over a pile of rotten bracken and looked down - far below him, the path he needed to follow passed between two high rocky walls. Overlooking the path, barely a few dozen yards away was a camp of Thulians - the Evol Ew themselves. The followers of the Faceless. So dedicated were they, that they clawed out their own eyes in tribute to their Dark God and took his power into their bodies in return. They saw Fear. They sensed their enemies and victims by their fear.
There was no way round the camp - no way past the camp. No way through the Thulians. The gully he was lying in drained down the bank onto the path... perhaps if he pushed himself slowly through the mud he could slip past them all? Making his way carefully, he squirned through the morass of muck untill only single treestump stood between him and the bank.
A single treestump... and a Thulian...
How he had missed it, he didn't know, but there it was. It turned quickly and lowered its sightless head to point its fang-filled muzzle directly at Dustpaw. A sibilant hiss escaped its jaws as it began the workings of a spell.
Panic filled Dustpaw's mind... and also an inner strength.
"I's will not die here in the mud! I's will *not*!"
He lunged with all his strength and darted between the Thulian and the treestump.
Not a second too soon! The noxious bolt the Thulian had aimed slammed into the tree, turning it to boiling goo in moments. Snarling its disappointment, the Thulian readied another bolt, this time aimed at Dustpaw's scurrying form. Losing his footing, Dustpaw fell and tumbled down the bank, bracken and brambles ripping at his face and paws.
The Thulian cast its spell. The Shamans among the Thulians prefered spells of disease and rot which could strike their victims down from afar. They didn't need to be accurate. The bolt itself was surrounded with a miasma of fear and decay, so even a near-miss was usually fatal.
Dustpaw was lifted from his feet as the full force of the spell hit another severed stump next to him. The wave of terrible energy bowled him over and over and flung his limp form right into the middle of the path. Feeling left his limbs as his mind spun... into darkness...