Chapter 53: Natimbi

Violet clouds swam across the dark sky. Hills rolled green and thick over the lands. The temples of the Taelosians lay scattered across the hills. Each ancient temple was a vault of priceless and unseen magic. Statues to gods long forgotten guarded the once sealed doors of the temples. Infesting these temples of nobility and light were the Muramites.

They stood in sharp contrast to the beauty around them. Powerful beasts of orange skin and white hair roared in battle lust. Huge werewolves the size of giants wielded massive axes. Scarred gray-skinned assassins knocked barbed arrows in huge bows. And behind them all the black-robed priests floated on atrophied legs with telepathic serpent enchanters slithering at their sides. Few worlds could endure the perfect savagery of the Muramite hoards. There was only one last hope for the survival of Taelosia, the adventurers of Norrath.

Loral stepped onto the stone dock of Natimbi. He brushed back a rogue lock of his white-gray hair and looked out over the strange lands and the sky above them. A breeze of hot air blew over Loral from the deep river valley. Every sight, every sound, and every smell told Loral one thing.

He was no longer on Norrath.

Loral traveled to the outer planes many times. Weeks in the Plane of Nightmare, Disease, and Torment trained Loral's senses to detect the changes between worlds. The differences were far more subtle here than in the alien worlds of the outer planes but they were there. Loral could not place when he shifted out of Norrath and into this strange world. Somewhere in the black night and unrelenting storm of the Abysmal Sea they had sailed across the ethereal plane and to this alien land. Perhaps the Grozmok Stone led them across the gray spaces between worlds.

Dozens of adventurers gathered at the familiar quarter-dome bent-wood Wayfarer tents. Loral saw a small elf-like being half the size of Loral with a rounded face, almond-shaped eyes, tall pointed ears, and white hair pulled back into a topknot. Loral recognized the creature as a Taelosian, the small native beings of this war-torn land.

"The Wayfarer's wave him like a flag." Loral heard the gruff voice and turned to the speaker, a human swordsman, who stepped up next to the elven cleric. "Come see the plight of Taelosia and bleed for their liberation." Deep scars, only weeks old, lined the man's face. The armored swordsman's left arm was gone at the elbow. "The Kings of Freeport had a parade for us when we left. They gave us jewels and flowers and told us what a great adventure lies beyond the seas. Then this land devoured us."

The swordsman looked to Loral with dead gray eyes. "I left for the lost temples with seventeen companions. We made it as far as the Hanging Gardens. Four of the demon-dogs, the Ukuns, hit us like a wall of knives. Only I and two others survived.

"They sent us here to seek the power of Taelosia but we find only death." The man walked up the stone gangway and stepped onto the Wayfarer's landing skiff. He sank to the benches on each side of the craft, his shoulders sagging and his head down.

A cry from the camp shot a line of adrenaline down Loral's spine. People in the camp shouted and pointed across the river. Loral looked in the direction of their horrified gazes and saw the hills of Natimbi.

One of the hills moved.

Loral shook his hand and looked again. It wasn't until the huge beast turned its head that Loral understood what he saw. It stretched over two hundred meters from tale to head, and naerly forty meters wide across the chest. It took four huge steps. The vibration in the earth followed a few seconds later. It tilted its head to the sky and opened its massive mouth.

"My lady Tunare." In response to Loral's whispered prayer, the beast's cry broke across the camp like thunder. Wooden struts in the tent quivered. Rocks on the shore cracked against each other. People dropped to their knees and covered their ears.

"Impressive, ain't she?" Loral turned and relief flooded into him. Stonehewer the stout dwarven paladin stood leaning on the cross guard of his double-bladed sword. The high-elf, Illudar, stood behind the dwarf holding his own sword over his blue-armored shoulder by the scabbard in a style known to the swordsmen of the east. Like Loral, Illudar's hair was pulled back in an efficient battle ready pony-tail. Both of the Healers United paladins smiled at Loral's expression.

"They call her the Queen." Another of the creature's cries rolled over the camp.

Loral could almost see the black poison of the Muramites flowing over these once green lands, creating mutated beasts like this one from simple rock-lizards. Somewhere deep in the mountains a rift to a world of darkness spilled poison and shadow over Taelosia like a festering sewer.

Loral looked to the Taelosian in the Wayfarer's camp. This land could be Faydwer. The Taelosians could just as easily be Koada'Dal. Perhaps in fifteen or twenty years it would be Felwithe that filled with the diseased clouds of the Muramites.

Loral saw the look of defeat and sadness in the eyes of the Taelosian. Perhaps Felwithe was right to send him here.

"There is a city entrance to the north-west." Stonehewer seemed to have already concluded this debate for himself. The fire in Illudar's eyes spoke of the same conclusion. "The Taelosian's call it Qinimi."

Loral looked again at the massive beast standing on the horizon of the alien landscape, a beast that would crush Felwithe to the ground in a day.

"Let us go."

The three armored adventurers began their trek along the foreign shores of Natimbi. They did not see the shadow flowing through the cracks between rocks that followed behind them.