Druselis Smokecatcher

A feral hunter of the Underdark.


Fire. The world was fire.
He was dimly aware of screams around him. Something bad was happening. He was only a third born male, destined for life as chattel, but he could feel the terror of his people around him.
The fires grew larger, the roar of it seeming to grow and swell like the bellows of some mad beast.
The smell of blood was everywhere. His young self had retched more than once. Somehow he was outside, the roar and glow behind him.
Why am I wet? Where is Keeper? I’m hungry. It’s cold here. His young mind either couldn’t or didn’t comprehend what had happened. What was happening.
His ear cocked to the sound of a distant rock fall. Intrigued he followed, stumbling and crawling, to a growing mound and ledge of stone. He felt a warm breeze of a thermal draft easing it’s way done from above. His feet slipped over thin white things, and his nose was filled with the smell of carrion.
That noise again, he thought. He finally made his way to the top of the fell mound.
He was not afraid. Perhaps he was too young, stupid and in shock to recognize danger. Maybe it was something else. The child was not alone.
A rock, a boulder, a mountain broke away from the wall and rushed to greet the intrepid boy. No, he thought, the cave is not alive; caves do not have so many legs. The sheer presence of the creature crashed in on him. It moved with the deadly grace and sure knowledge of a practiced hunter; the arrogance that comes to those living at the top of their food chain.
Frozen in awe, the child felt for the first time the presence of the otherworldly. Being drow he was steeped from birth in the worship of Lloth, but had never felt any resonance. As he stood under the glare and stink of this deep thing, he felt the truth and ancient enduring law of the world: there are hunters, and there are prey, and this is the wheel that drives the world.
It’s segmented eyes came close to his small form, he felt it’s long feathery antennae dance over him. A rushing of air, and the beast had receded, drawing it’s great form back into the darkness it had sat in waiting. The child could feel it’s immensity out in dark, dancing and stalking it’s way through the twisting turns of the underdark.
Without a second thought, the child followed.

Time passed.
He grew, he learned, he listened. The words of man left him, as he learned the language and rhythm of the wilds of the underdark. He walked in the shadows and the wake of that timeless and seemingly eternal creature, a remora until he was strong enough to live on his own.
He saw himself as just another piece of the greater life cycle, as however brutal and harsh, the subterranean wilderness harbored. He walked alone, and sang to himself.
Yet, as he grew into maturity, he began to feel a need in him he could not explain. While his heart would swell at the beauty of great crystal caves he had found, and his blood would still hum when he executed a successful ambush or hunt, they were no longer enough. He began to think and dwell on this feeling. After a long time he decided that it was something he could not understand himself.
First, he looked to the wisdom of the mighty and wise centipede, and dreamed and danced alongside it as it scuttled in the smallest cracks, and explored the deepest and secret places. Surely, I will find what I need in such forgotten and lonely fissures. But, as much as searched, he realized that the wise creature had nothing for him. Why, he is even more lost than me! And, so he went further to answer the question of why his soul was restless.
He continued his search, but none of the Folk he encountered could help him. The mysterious and ponderous fish of the dark rivers had no answers. The swift and gregarious bat, whose wings surely had taken it far and wide, knew not what he needed.
Forget this feeling, they told him. There is food, there is another day. You live still, rejoice. Do not waste your time chasing things that can not be caught; you are chasing smoke in the wind.
But he could not shake the malaise that there was something missing from his life, that there was more for him. He grew restless and wild in his frustration. He began to become reckless, and hunted almost compulsively, an obsession that bordered on bloodlust and madness.
One cycle, as he made his rounds and was checking the traps he set to break his fast, he came upon one of the Folk. It was sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued Inix. His low slung reptilian body was resting on a stone formation near him
Good Dancing to you, Smokecatcher, he said smiling; or as much as the great lizard could smile. Why do you look so troubled?
I am not troubled. Leave me, scaly-one, I want not of your tricks.
Oh, Inix said aloof, then I suppose I will keep the news to myself.
I am no gossip like the chirping fly-rats, I want none of this, he said trying to hide his interest in the activity of resetting the stone dead-fall trap, that was only too empty.
Ho, you are so silly Smokecatcher! Well, I will tell you anyway, if your pride won’t let you ask. The Folk say they have seen beasts of a new smell; beasts they say, who share your shape at times. You should go to them, perhaps they have what you seek?
He had been in isolation for a long time, living by his wits and following the way of the cycle, the natural hum and pulse of the cave-home. He thought long and hard if perhaps he needed to go back to the world he had come from. But when his thoughts turned to his own people, visions of the fire and blood would come to him. He would be filled with a great fear, as he remembered the sounds and terror-stink of that horrible night. Determined, he did his best to repress these feelings. He needed counsel.
Among the Folk, it is known, that there is a deep and biding respect for the massive stalks of fungus and mushroom that grow. They are the life giver, sustaining many different types of creatures, who in turn feed others. Many of them are ancient, and possess an awareness of and memory and movings of the world when it was still a young and new thing. He had heard stories of the Great Stalk, a mushroom of immense size, and allegedly of some renown.
For many cycles he journeyed and plumbed the depths to find the old and primeval tunnels before he finally came to field, a forest of the fungi, dominated at it’s center by the Great Stalk, it’s twisting and old form spiraling upward into the dark of the cave’s vaulted ceiling.
Finally, he reached the Great Stalk and called to the immense growth, O ancient one, wise old stalk, who has lived and seen, what do I do? I eat but am still hungry; I am thirsty despite pure water. What is this need? Do I return to my territory, and live? Take away my pain, deliver me from the fire-blood dreams.
He implored the great plant with everything he could think of for what seemed like an eternity. He made wild promises and oaths; anything for an answer to his searching. Finally, defeated and drained, and began to gather his constitution to make the long twisting journey back to safer tunnels.
There was a sound like the great yawning of some huge mouth and from up on high, a fine and powdery pollen drifted down and coated the once-child. Almost instantly the spores did their work.
Visions, images of things he could not name flew by him in his mind’s eye. Faces, the names of places he had never been, tools and things of their purpose he could only danced across his mind. He saw himself in many different and wondrous places; but also frightening things, twisted and awful shapes he was happy he did not know.
What. Is. This? What do I do with this?

Spread it on your flowers; grow, little one.

He woke sometime later. He was no longer in the forest of the Great Stalk. He had made his way back to his hunting grounds again. He tracked through the wilderness lost in thought contemplating what he had seen. Many of the shapes and images made no sense to him. In his limited exposure to civilization, many of the things he saw he had no base of comparison, and left him with a deep sense of wonder and curiosity.
I must learn the names and ways of these things.
His step became a little lighter, and he once again danced the way of the Folk as carefree as when he was young and before the want had taken his heart. Perhaps the others that clever Inix had mentioned would have or be the things he had seen in the spore-dream. Maybe they wouldn’t. With the fatalism and capriciousness of an animal, or one accustomed to living day to day he set out to explore and find the secrets and names of things he had seen.

Druselis Smokecatcher

City of Splendors & Horrors prints