Type: World Region: Elspeth's Hellmaw Setting: Timeless pocket of hell
Wildlife: There's no such thing as a "weak" creature in the hellmaw. Every creature, no matter how large or small, has its own strengths and natural defenses. Listed in order from most to least common, these are the fauna of the hellmaw...
Spoiler: Dim gnats
Fuzzy dark gray gnats. They're present nearly everywhere, especially near plants, and flock slowly toward any light source. Dim gnats emit a low whine from their bodies, which has a deleterious effect on other creatures' ability to focus and eventually induces sleep.
Spoiler: Burn moths
Yellow-winged moths that thrive in the hellmaw's sky and forests. With wingspans anywhere between two and five inches, they're the primary food source for imps and horned gulls. Unlike many living creatures, burn moths are completely unaffected by fire, able to fly into and through it, and even catch flame, without any danger to themselves. Burn moths secrete a long-burning, napalm-like oil onto their wings, and often carry a flame on them as a form of passive defense.
Spoiler: Black skitters
Flat, insectoid black reptiles with ten pairs of legs and a long tail. The skitters can grow to be up to seven inches long, and dart around in the shade. Ecologically, they seem to fill a role similar to squirrels.
Spoiler: Wasp imps
Tiny humanoid creatures covered in yellow, black and red chitin with large wasp-like wings and a long, segmented tail that ends in a vicious stinger. Though intelligent, wasp imps are nonsentient, living only by a complex set of instincts and unconscious thoughts. Wasp imps vary between six and nine inches tall, and derive sustenance from both eating the dim gnats and burn moths, and from the suffering of sentient beings. They live in paper-like nests in groups of ten to twenty, but travel away from their nests as individuals. A wasp imp's stinger injects a venom that causes extreme pain and inflammation, and though the venom itself is rarely lethal, multiple stings can induce a state of shock that renders victims unable to defend themselves.
Spoiler: Horned gulls
Featherless avians more like horned lizards than they are like birds. These birds have wingspans of up to twenty-two inches wide, and live on a diet of burn moths, wasp imps, black skitters and wolves, but only if they can find the latter already dead.
Snake-like dark gray fish with large jaws and eel-like teeth. Their bodies are covered in long, sharp spines that resemble coats of hair, and that deliver an anticoagulating agent into their victims. Spinefish travel in schools and are driven into a hungered frenzy by the smell of blood.
Spoiler: Scorpion imps
Tiny humanoid creatures covered in dusty gray-brown chitin with four arms with sharp pincers and a long, segmented tail that ends in a vicious stinger. Though intelligent, scorpion imps are nonsentient, living only by a complex set of instincts and unconscious thoughts. Scorpion imps vary between eight and fourteen inches tall, and derive sustenance from both eating the dim gnats and burn moths, and from the suffering of sentient beings. They live solitarily, in holes dug out of the ground and cactus-shrubs. A scorpion imp's stinger injects its victims with a poison that induces fever and mild delirium. A single sting is harmful, but the effects are lethal due to the fact that the normally very hot temperature in the hellmaw makes it difficult to reduce the fever.
Spoiler: Quilled wolves
Large canine predators that live, travel and hunt in packs, these creatures look as much like wolves as they do like porcupines. They have all the features of a predator, with strong jaws, sharp eyes and pack mentality, but their backs are covered by long quills that protect them from their would-be attackers. Quilled wolves hunt by chasing and surrounding their prey, tripping them and bumping into them to stick them with their quills. Their quills contain a mild poison that causes dizziness and loss of motor control, but is only effective with multiple deliveries.
Spoiler: Brim squid
Chitinous squid-like creatures that can grow up to two feet long, brim squid are the predators of the hellmaw's river. Their skin-like shells are impervious to the spines of the spinefish, and they can slip easily through the grasp of the hellkelp. Brim squid grab onto their victims and squeeze them tightly, but kill by puncturing the skin of their prey with their screw-like beaks and sucking out their blood until there's nothing left.
Massive creatures which resemble elephants and travel in herds. Adults can grow to be as large as twenty-five feet tall at the shoulder, and weigh several tens of thousands of pounds. A bablugor's skin is thick enough that it is nearly impenetrable, and most of one's torso and lower legs are covered by a turtle-like shell of deep brown to dull green color. They have long tails which end in bony clubs, and trunks lined by short, sharp, axe-like tusks along their lateral sides. Despite their imposing appearances and territorial natures, bablugors are herbivorous. The hellmaw is home to only two herds of these brutes, each of which has about fifteen members.
A bablugor exudes a thin gray powder along its skin which makes it smell and taste horrible to other creatures. Bablugors find shelter from the rains of fire by immersing themselves in the hellmaw's river, where their foul powder causes the predators within to give them a wide berth.
Spoiler: Ivory leapers
Tall, spindly humanoid predators with extremely long arms and legs, a cluster of bright red eyes on its head and razor sharp claws on its hands and feet. All parts of an ivory leaper's body are covered in a thick shell of white dentine and enamel with many small, sharp ridges, with longer spikes near its major joints. This, combined with the demon's ability to jump up to fifty feet at a time, gives the demon its name. Ivory leapers are hatched from eggs, when they are about two feet tall, and can grow to heights over fourteen feet over the course of their lives. Due to their dentine shells, ivory leapers are extremely heavy creatures for their size.
Like imps, ivory leapers are intelligent but nonsentient, living by a complex set of instincts and unconscious thoughts. They are capable of experiencing the four basic emotions (glad, mad, sad and bad) and learn very quickly. They are sometimes mistaken for malicious by the delight they derive from causing pain in living creatures, but they feed on pain and suffering as much as they do on meat and bones, and regard it with the same desire as many creatures regard honey. Ivory leapers are solitary hunters that prefer to stalk their prey before pouncing on them and using their superior weight and density to crush their prey as they land.
Flora: Most of the stationary flora of the hellmaw can be found in or near its river and streams, although there are some small copses of withered and black-barked canopy trees, which can be up to two miles wide. Near its water sources, the rooted flora consist mostly of viciously thorned vines and cactus-like shrubs. A black rock lichen can be found almost anywhere in the world, and in large stretches of stone, this lichen can pile up on itself until it forms mounds and weaving arcs.
Spoiler: Bramble krakens
Large tangles of carnivorous, mobile plants, which roam around the hellmaw in search of living morsels. These bramble krakens resemble black and green tumbleweeds up to eight feet wide, and move themselves by reaching out with thin vine-like appendages to roll and drag themselves in their desired directions. At the core of a bramble kraken is a knot of woody branches and a collection of large thorns and pouches filled with sticky sap, which the kraken's prey is lashed to and slowly digested. A bramble kraken can smell the life and souls of living creatures from up to a mile away, and it can drag and roll itself at speeds of up to 15 mph (24 km/h) as it attempts to hunt down and capture its food.
Despite their appearances and the actions they take to reach their food, bramble krakens are unintelligent, reacting unconsciously to their surroundings and stimuli.
In the hellmaw's rivers and streams, long strands of a black kelp dotted with shiny red berries grow out from the stones and beds of the waters. Although less mobile than the bramble krakens, this hellkelp is no less aggressive and carnivorous. It waits for vibrations to reach the banks of the water, and then reaches out with several strands to ensnare passing animals and drag them into the water, where the kelp slowly tears its prey to pieces and then curls around it to devour the remaining flesh.
When the gallium bleeds out from the ground near the hellmaw’s streams, its passage often pushes out the irgui, a viscous liquid plant of dark reddish-orange color. Once exposed to sunlight, the irgui awakens, gaining the ability to move by stretching and pulling its liquid body along the ground. Each irgui cell is its own complete plant, but when the cells come together, they act as a single, larger life form.
Once they are mobile, drops of the irgui find their way to one another and combine into larger blobs. When there are no droplets or puddles left to collect, the irgui sets out in search of food. It requires sunlight, air, water and iron to survive and grow. The irgui covers a larger area and moves more quickly underwater, but is just as capable of hunting over land. It hunts its prey by the following the scent of iron in the body and bloodstream, and kills by flowing over and into the body of its victims, drowning them while drawing the water and iron out of the body. Then, the irgui moves on toward its next victim.
A complete blob of the irgui which has recently emerged from the ground weighs between one and three ounces (28 to 85 grams), and is capable of moving at speeds of up to 6 mph (9.5 km/h) on land and 11 mph (17.5 km/h) in the water. Each month, a thriving blob of irgui’s size increases by 30%, and some irgui blobs in the hellmaw have grown as large as 600 pounds (272 kg). The irgui is vulnerable to heat and fire, which dehydrates and kills its plant cells, and to magnetic fields, which disrupts the irgui’s iron-dependent metabolism.
Common Weather: Dust storms with winds of 40 to 70 mph (64 to 112 km/h); streamers of fire raining from the sky; skies overcast with red-hued clouds; a thick, cloying gray haze that rises from the ground, following within a few hours after temperatures reach 90° F (32° C); clear skies accompanied by daytime highs of 105° F (40° C) and nighttime lows of 20° F (-7° C); starless clear nights punctuated by the lights of falling meteorites.
Government: None Population: 17 Culture: Most of the people who live here are the ones who were swallowed by Elspeth's hellmaw. Some of them were once accomplished magic users, while others were men and women who simply jeopardized Elspeth's goals. A small handful of the hellmaw's inhabitants were instead trapped there by shifting into the plane, but then found that world-shifting or dimension-hopping magic (and technology) simply doesn't function in the hellmaw. Anyone who manages to survive here has done so by learning to murder, raid and take advantage of newer inhabitants, each other and their environment.
Description: The hellmaw is a vast, hot wasteland of red stone, sandy riverbanks and sulphur flats. The hellmaw seems to be roughly 100 miles wide. At its edges, the landscape drops off into an oblivion of trackless stone with endless crannies, caves and tunnels, where a thick, cloying gray haze blocks out vision after just a few feet. A large red sun travels through the skies with each of the world's 30-hour days, and vanishes for an equal 30-hour moonless night. Any lights in the night come from fires that have erupted on the world's surface, or from the skyglow of the red clouds.
A single wide and sluggish river cuts across eighty miles of the world, originating on one end from inside a cluster of jagged stones and disappearing into a sinkhole on its other end. The river itself is one hundred forty-some miles long, making a winding journey from its beginning to its end. The river has many streams which branch off from it, and these range anywhere from two to thirty miles long. The waters of the river and streams are polluted with gallium, sulphur and the blood of its victims, but the hell-kelp, brim squid and spinefishes thrive, nonetheless.
When the hellmaw's temperatures climb in excess of 85° F (30° C), some of the deep cracks in the red stone will bleed gallium, a silvery-white liquid metal, which flows downhill and forms pools that solidify into massive orthorhombic crystals once the ambient temperature drops below its oddly low melting point. This fact means that much of the skin of hellmaw's few inhabitants is stained into a satin gray color.
The hellmaw itself has a detrimental effect on the minds of sentient creatures. Coming into contact with the ground leeches away sanity and humanity from its inhabitants over the course of several days or weeks, but this is the truth behind why most of the people trapped here are little more than feral animals, themselves. Leaving contact with the ground restores and preserves a person's humanity as fast as the ground takes it away, but even the people living in the suspended dwelling do not realize this is the reason they continue to survive here with their minds intact.
Points of Interest: One trio of individuals still retains a touch of their humanity. They live together in a large, makeshift dwelling suspended several feet above the ground by ropes crafted from hemp-like seaweed. Their dwelling is covered with tarps sewn together from the skins of the world's imps and birds, and crafted from the wood and bones of the hellmaw's trees and animals. A bramble kraken or two can usually be found immediately beneath the dwelling, drawn there by the smell of living souls, but unable to reach the tasty morsels. The people living here use long spears to slay any krakens who venture close enough to them, and traps and bows and arrows to capture and kill birds and imps. These three creatures provide most of the dwellers' meals.
The dwellers have become highly competent fighters and hunters, and although some of the other inhabitants sometimes attempt to raid the dwelling, they usually avoid it until they've gone without food or shelter for several days.
In a secret location inside the hellmaw is a stone vault, inside which Elspeth keeps her own heart. Scattered across the hellmaw are numerous other stone vaults and crypts, each of which is either a decoy or contains the heart of one demon or another. Occasionally, one of these crypts will instead contain the body one of Elspeth's special prisoners, which is held in a state of suspended animation until the crypt is opened.
Resources: The land in the hellmaw is a rich source of gallium, sulphur and iron. The stone stretches of the wasteland are composed mostly of basalt, and the skins of the hellmaw's imps can be used as an insulation against heat and fire.
History: The hellmaw (or more specfically, this hellmaw), came into existence at the behest of the demon lord Kordothir Indu. It has existed for thousands of years as a secluded, nondimensional plane of existence. During that time, it has been tied to various individuals who've made pacts with the demon lord. For now (and perhaps forever), the hellmaw belongs to Elspeth.