Yesterday we gave out a taste of the duplicitous underterror, but today the AaWBlog dares to be even more bizarre with the otherworldly hoyrall! Back in January you might remember The Blessings of Zagn, where the insectile aliens are mentioned in passing. Jacob Blackmon is turning in the rest of the artwork this week, and it's just too darned good not to share with everyone immediately.
Moreover, this player race takes up a very big role in the near future of Aventyr, and are a major part of PATHMASTER contest winner Michael Allen's upcoming adventure path! They've terrorized Picollo in the past, and infest various regions of the Underworld—but where did they come from? What are their plans for the surface world? Why are they in Aventyr, and what keeps them here?
Today an unwitting band of apprentices dare to learn some of these secrets, perhaps biting off more than they can handle...
It was a rare day indeed, Markos thought. Not only had he, Sylveni, Karris and Jorall managed to sneak out of their rooms beneath the notice of Master Halwoan—he who bemoan, the quartet often joked—but down off of Cape Fin, jammed into a watery cove, they had found a true wonder.
The capsule (which it was Markos' idea to call) was actually quite large, maybe 60 feet longways and another 15 across, laying at rest on a sandy beach at the far side of the watery cavern. Its exterior was pocked and marred by rocky abscesses in between chitinous scales that seemed to move ever so slightly of their own accord. Sylveni and Karris were very careful, unwilling to enter into the cove at all—it took foolish Jorall and his mischievous sling to convince them, but when the capsule didn't show any signs of reacting to his stones their natural curiosity was sufficiently peaked.
Cautiously, Markos produced a scroll, an invisibility spell he produced when Professor Kambrudge dozed off the other afternoon. As the others waited, he conjured forth the arcane magic and disappeared from sight, leaving only shallow footprints in the wet sand around the cave's edge in his wake. Initially it seemed as though the entirety of the capsule was solid, but once he was quite sure that it would not react to his presence, Markos ran his gloved fingers along its edges and eventually found a large fold. With a bit of working he managed to work first one, and then both of his arms into it and with a bit of leverage, the whole thing made a large slopping noise and stretched open to make a portal within the capsule.
Giving a thumbs up to his companions, which Markos quickly figured was actually kind of silly given that he was invisible, the apprentice mage carefully peered into the interior of the strange thing hidden in the cove of Cape Fin. A soft orange glow filled the cramped expanse, just enough that he could make out what was on—or rather, in—the walls. Chitinous statues, their eyes made of large red rubies, peered outward from strange insectile faces. Each sculpture was slightly different, but all had antennae and four arms in repose, standing on two powerful legs seamlessly encased in the wall.
Seeing the gems was one thing—Jorall would undoubtedly be pleased—but this was unlike anything Markos had even read of before! One night when they snuck out to a tavern on the far side of the gate, a minstrel told tales of similar bug-men, four-armed warriors that terrorized Picollo before he had been born. Very little was known of them to the scholarly world, however, and suddenly the student in Markos leapt to the fore—this could be his mark of distinction! The founder of an alien artifact such as this was sure to be laden with rewards and laurels for their efforts, were they not?
While the cramped confines undermined his confidence, that urge for academic recognition spurred Markos deeper into the capsule and further on, even after the opening behind him slowly closed back up. The layout made no sense to him and denied a sense of the cardinal directions. Even in so small a space it only took him a few minutes to get lost, but he came upon a room filled with carvings and hieroglyphs that demanded Markos' attention. A great, strange serpent of some kind sailed across the stars with crowds of dozens of the insect men on its back. Once arrived on the planet, the thing tunneled into and through the sphere as its passengers spread across the surface. With a sense of dread, the apprentice mage followed the next series of symbols, but they were the same, cycling through the sequence in nonsensical directions that covered every surface of the room he was in.
Yelping in surprise, something in Markos' peripheral vision caught his eye; a small movement in the hallway. Creeping closer he peered at the carved statue on the wall and breathed a sigh of relief, seeing that the gems on its face were still.
But then the scales above the gem moved, and whatever pretense of safety Markos once had evaporated in an instant.
Still huddled against the entrance to the cove, Sylveni, Karris, and (most of all) Jorall were getting impatient. He looked at his fellow apprentices sternly and said, "Markos should be back by now; I say we go in and make sure he's okay." The conviction of his words matched the resolve on his face, and Sylveni could tell right off he wouldn't be dissuaded. Markos had always been sweet to her and if one of them didn't return, she knew that Master Halwoan would be furious beyond description.
"Karris—you stay here near the entrance. If Jorall and I aren't back within the hour, run back to the academy and tell them what you saw here." Sylveni pressed her prized hourglass—a silver-gilded ornament bestowed to her for being scholar lariat a few years ago—into Karris' trembling hands and squeezed them briefly. For her part, the timid novice mage gave a nod and shrunk behind some stalagmites, watchful of her friends as they approached the capsule.
Jorral practically sprinted up to it, running his hands along the edge like his friend Markos had done. With a victorious shout he found it, prying his arms inward and unfolding the doorway. Unlike what Markos had seen, however, no sculptures lined the walls—instead, standing insectile four-armed men briefly regarded him with ruby eyes. For one brief moment, everything stood still as Sylveni gaped in horror at the things within the capsule—Jorall's scream broke the reverie as half a dozen of the creatures leapt out and dragged him inside.
Sylveni began to run for the beach, yelling for her friend to get away. The bug men were on to her too, though, and the last thing she saw as they wrestled her into the capsule was Karris' cloak flitting out of view, whipping away in the direction of Nyamo.
What did the hieroglyphs mean? What are the hoyrall's intentions with Karris' friends? Where are the alien bugs from and why are they on Aventyr?
The answers to these questions (and so much more!) are in the upcoming Underworld Races: Hoyrall! Keep an eye out for it and the other Underworld Classes and Races books hitting the digital selves soon!