Chapter 8: Rage Against the Shadows!
by Jeff Grubb
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Each of the various theories about the gods have to deal with a common problem -- the existence of evil. Ellasmius of Torgapella states quite succinctly that evil, like good, has its own perfect forms, which are embodied by great, powerful, brooding beasts. Trianna Golston of the University of Blint, with her theory that gods are nothing more than enlightened mortal creatures, has admitted that under that theory even the malicious and petty can attain godly power. Kirrixar the Library Wyrm comfortably notes that if the gods are nothing more than conceptual manifestations, then of course there would be powerful evil, for is evil nothing more than a concept itself?

Regardless of theory, the fact remains that evil beings of godly power exist, and the challenge of the other powerful beings is this: What are they going to do about them?

-- Amandar's Great Big Book of Divine Power

Smoke began to boil out from the ripped opening of the inner wall, and darkness blossomed into the room.

Within that darkness eyes glowed. Single cyclopean orbs. Rows of hive-latticed jewels. Huge sets of flame-rimmed pits. And the darkness coalesced around the eyes into solid, nightmarish shapes.

Twisted forms emerged from the smoke. Shadow panthers with yellow, pus-filled maws. Spiders made of human hands. Hackwork abominations, their sutures leaking blood and bile. Pale-visaged vampires and albino werewolves loping out of the darkness, pumpkin-headed bugbears looming behind them. A bull in dull bronze armor surged forward, a foaming chemical cocktail dripping from its muzzle.

Jest's reaction was immediate and natural. He vaulted over the back of a couch. Only when he had the added protection of five inches of upholstery between himself and the nightmares did he raise his head to look for the others.

Rust stood there, stock-still, staring upward as the dread thunderhead of shadows rose over him. Great reptilian eyes glowed red in the heart of the cloud, and columnlike smoke-tendrils solidified into scaled claws.

"Crappity-Crap-Crap," muttered the small god of entropy.

The shadows pulled back from the claws to reveal serrated talons, and, with a snarl, the dragon plunged down toward him, like an eagle diving on a fear-frozen rabbit.

Something else slammed into Rust, knocking him sideways as the now-solid claw slammed into the ground. The something else and Rust rolled to one side, and Jest saw that it was Hammer who had broadsided the godling.

"Snap out of it and get up!" shouted the forge god (ignoring, for the moment, that she was sitting on top of him). "We have problems!"

"Problems" would be an understatement. The smoke from the inner chamber was solidifying into a myriad of dense creatures, great and small. Pincer-handed goblins and plague wolves gathered at the feet of greater cyclopean giants with multiple arms and scaled hides. Tentacles and tendrils abounded, along with pox-marks and plagues. Horrors and hellbeasts poured out of the inner wall, gaining reality.

The darkness towered over the assembled guests like a great wave, threatening to overwhelm them.

A sudden tremor seized the room, and Jest grabbed the overly plush sides of the couch. A golden tree erupted from the ground. Its foliage unfurled with metallic leaves and golden flowers, each flower exploding with the power of a small star and brilliantly lighting the area. The surging hordes of darkness quailed at the sight, and those that had manifested hands threw them up to cover their newly created eyes.

The boughs of the great golden tree snaked down among the invaders and pulled up some of the smaller ones -- scaly, reptilian kobolds; bat-winged and beautiful succubi; and tentacled panthers. It held them aloft and tightened its grip upon them. One by one, the shadowy figures burst into flame, scattering streamers of burning ash as the limbs waved them about.

Before the golden tree stood Leaves, her arms crossed, a golden radiance surrounding her and her face a clouded storm.

"No one," she snarled, "But NO ONE spoils my party!"

Jest found his voice. "Party crashers!" he shouted. "Throw them back!"

The Weird Sisters picked up his chant. "Throw them back! Throw them back! WAaaaaaay back!"

And with that the godlings surged back against the solidified darkness. The Norns waded into the fray, their knitting transformed into barbed-tip whips. Storm and the Thunderjockz, for their part, had regrouped at the bandstand and were flinging lightning into the heart of the black mass. A gathering of antlike dark sprites on snakeback slithered forward toward Leaves, but Tears ringed her with his glooms, sweeping them up with a wave of remorse and sending them tumbling back.

And then suddenly something large and furry blocked Jest's view. Looking up, he saw the face of a shaggy-coated owlbear looking down at him. Around its eyes and hooked beak bristled sharp knives in the place of feathers.

The ancient owlbear let out a rumbling squawk.

Jest smiled amiably and held up his index finger. A long strand of fire danced on his fingertip, coiling in on itself until it formed into a fiery ballerina.

The owlbear's metallic brows scowled in irritation, and it cocked its head and bent down for a better view. Within its beaked maw coiled yellow, poisonous vapors.

Jest blew on the pirouetting pixie flame and it erupted into a jet of solid flame wrapped around jellied petroleum, which adhered to the owlbear's sword-feathers and set it alight.

The owlbear screamed, and Jest launched himself over the edge of the couch and kicked the owlbear in the midsection. His intent was merely to drive it back, but instead the beast exploded in a cascade of ash.

"They're brittle," said Jest, then realized what it meant. "They're brittle!" he shouted to the others. "Hit them hard and they will fold!"

He looked around and realized that the others had already understood that point. Cat was dancing in the throng of albino lycanthropes, claws extended and leaving trailing rents in their flesh. He saw black blood crystallizing as it spread out among their fur. Rust was ripping the bronze bull asunder, and it dissolved at his touch. Three more trees had sprung up from Leaves and the other nature gods, while Tears had ringed the trunks with more of his glooms, driving back hordes of small, barefooted, axe-wielding gremlins.

Above the battle swayed a titanic figure -- a horn-scaled giant with a cephalopod's head, tentacles hanging down its lean face like a beard. As Jest watched, Hammer suddenly appeared at the crown of the creature's head, and, wielding her mallet in both hands, drove it deep into the creature's skull. The head collapsed in on itself like a stomped grocery bag, and the entire creature began to deflate, bits of cinder and ash leaking from rents in all side.

Both Jest and Rust shouted as Hammer plummeted earthward. But there was another flash of light and Storm was there, catching the surprised forge-goddess before she hit the ground. Storm set her gently on her feet, bowed deeply, shot a smile in Rust's direction, and dashed back into the fray.

Jest looked at Rust, but all he saw was the entropy godling's back as Rust plunged into the battle in the opposite direction.

Now wind kicked up, and Jest saw that it was Sand's doing. She hovered about ten feet way, her arms extended, pushing every bit of dust, every speck of ash, every mote of cinder backward into the tear in the inner wall. The great torus-shaped room was made for one of her mini-hurricanes, and bits of shattered monster were spun back the way they came.

Then Whisper shouted, "The doors! Get the doors!"

And Jest saw that the main doors were still open. Several of the larger shadows noticed it as well, and attempted to spring, fly, or otherwise vault over the party to make their escape.

Most were dragged down immediately, their newly spun bodies collapsing under the godlings' counterassault. Some, however, made it -- the larger ones, big and blocky and only semireal, trailing bits of their dark reality behind themselves as they vaulted for the exit. Jest saw the tail of the dragon that had tried to destroy Rust earlier vanish out the doorway, and as he ran for the doors, another great lumbering shade burst from the assembled godlings and made its escape.

He grabbed one side of the door and pushed, and he saw Cat at the other side shouldering her half of the great orichalcum door. He hefted and strained and the great door eased shut a foot, then two.

Then it stopped, as if it hit a block.

Jest looked into the opening, but he saw nothing there. Then he looked up to see a great horn-scaled arm overhead. The squid-headed giant, its head a flopping, broken baggie, had partially reformed. Sores in its side wept black ashen tears, but it still had enough cohesiveness to match Jest's strength.

Jest cursed and plunged his hand into his pocket. He pulled out a feather, shook his head, and discarded it. He pulled out a joy buzzer, thought about it a moment, then tossed it aside as well. On his third try he pulled out a handful of marbles.

Jest smiled and tossed the handful of glass orbs at the shuffling feet of the titan. Then he eased up on his grip for a moment, letting the door move open again.

The smash-headed creature stepped backward onto the marbles. It stiffened, slipped, tried to regain its footing, then slipped again, then at last released the door and fell, full-fledged, backward into the general melee. It began to break up fully even as it toppled, and those parts that were still complete were soon reduced fully to ash in the ever-violent mosh pit.

Jest slammed his half of the door shut. Cat, on the other side, heaved hers tight as well.

"Great," she said. "We're locked in with them."

"No," said Jest, spreading his palms outwards, his fingers splayed. Fire shot in small jets from each of his fingertips. "THEY are locked in with US."

Jest charged forward, and newly formed nightmares shattered at his approach, the fragments of their bodies picked up by Sand's winds and spun effortlessly back into the great hole in the central column. No more smoke was billowing out of the great tear -- indeed, the winds were driving cinders, ash, and bits of burning and blasted monster flesh back into the pit beyond it.

Black-armored goblins exploded when struck by lightning bolts, clockwork nightmares collapsed into rust, and great headless yeti, their fang-filled maws erupting from their bellies, twisted as they were immolated. All were reduced to a fine dust and blown back beyond the wall.

At this point Hammer was shouting to the other forge gods, and the great power of the young godlings were brought to bear against the inner wall itself. This was no mere repair, but rather a reshaping of the material, and under the prismatic assault of lightning and fire, demolition and death, light and sun and growth, it began to twist and bend in on itself. The result transformed the thick central post into more of an hourglass shape, crimped at the center where the original hole had been pierced.

Their assault relented for a moment, then ebbed entirely. Silence filled the No Place room. Not a mote of darkness was left in the room, having been swept up (unfortunately, with most of the paper cups and all the lighter chips) into the pit beyond the wall. Everything was quiet as the godlings realized what they had just battled.

Then the Thunderjockz sent up rousing cheer. "Break time! Mead me!" bellowed St. Elmo, and as a single being the remaining guests spilled back toward the few untapped kegs that had not been swept up in the maelstrom. The rest of the group poured backward as well, knowledge gods and nature gods and storm gods all congratulating each other and already relating their contributions to the battle.

The nine hosts -- Jest, Rust, Storms, Sand, Hammer, Tears, Leaves, Whisper, and Cat, were left at the inner wall, looking up at the dimpled scar that their fix had made.

Storm, shoved a hand back through his blonde hair, revealing a shallow wound across his forehead. "That," he said, gasping, "was AWESOME."

Sand pursed her lips and said, "That was STUPID. Who's idea was it to throw a party here without checking for angry neighbors?"

Jest grimaced. "I didn't see you make any protest before the ugly-buggies showed up."

"The important thing," said Leaves, "is that we survived. No discorporations on our side. No fatal wounds. A couple broken limbs, but nothing that Idunn apples and athelas can't handle."

"We were all AWESOME," repeated Storm.

"We were all LUCKY," said Tears, his face more solemn than normal.

"We are all IDIOTS," said Whisper, quietly.

The others turned to her and she continued. "Despite what we did to contain it all, some of them got out."

"What were they, anyway?" asked Cats.

"Monsters," said Whisper. "They are the original monsters. The templates of all of those that would follow. And we unleashed some of them on the multiverse."

To be continued...

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D&D Nonfiction Selections, Round 1
Oroon Rising - Chap. 9
Designing Guildpact
Oroon Rising - Chap. 8
Episode 17: The Final Destination
Chapter 8: Rage Against the Shadows!
Oroon Rising - Chap. 7
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