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THE ECOLOGY OF THE DEATH KISS (unpublished Monster Hunters "Ecology" article)


Well folks, this is it: the absolutely last Monster Hunters Association "Ecology" article I have in my inventory. It was one of the handful (six, I think) of articles that were on the Dragon editor's desk when the policy for "Ecology" articles was changed from "fiction and footnote" format to "dry encyclopedia entry" format. (Actually, the format did get a bit better over time, but those first few "Ecology" articles were some dry reading indeed.) As a result, it was bulk-rejected along with the others, and I didn't contribute another "Ecology" until the very last print issue of the magazine. (I was asked to co-author "The Ecology of the Tarrasque" with Ed Greenwood, which I jumped at the chance to do. I was even granted 550 words with which to squeeze in a brief Monster Hunters sidebar.)

This particular article is a bit of a "prequel" to the Monster Hunters, as it documents the first meeting of Buntleby and Rhionda, back when they were adventurers. The monster this time around is a type of beholder-kin known as the death kiss (among other names).


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Dreelix banged three times upon the head table with his beloved wooden gavel and said the ten words that brought all eyes focused upon himself: "I hereby open this meeting of the Monster Hunters Association." Immediately, the assembled Association members silenced their pre-meeting conversations and gave their illustrious President their full attention.

Or at least most of them did. Seated in the back of the room, Rhionda the Swordmistress whispered sidelong to the shaven-headed wizard seated next to her, Buntleby of the Western Grove, "You know, Bunt, I never really noticed it before, but you know who Dreelix reminds me a little of? Remember Jasper? From the days with the Battleblades?"

"Jasper Redplume!" Buntleby whispered back, grinning broadly. "Boy, that takes me back! Remember when we ran into that bleeder?"[1]

"Sure, that was the first monster we fought together," remarked Rhionda, smiling at the memory. "And that was some time ago."

"Yeah, it sure was," agreed Buntleby. "But I still remember it like it was yesterday...."

1. Death kisses are known by a variety of other names, "bleeder" being the most common, as well as "blood-orb" or "blood-eye." An older name for the death kiss was the "eye of terror," but over the years this term has been used to refer to all manner of beholder-kin, so it's no longer particularly useful in differentiating between species.
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"Okay, listen up," said Jasper Redplume, gathering his band of adventurers around him. "First of all, you'll be pleased to learn I've signed on a little extra muscle for this delve: everyone, this is Rhionda. Rhionda, may I present the mighty Battleblades: Frollick, our cleric; our twin scouts, Kip and Skip; and the guy in the blue robes over there is Buntleby, our spell-monkey. Oh, and his little rat, Oslo."

"That's 'Ozzie,'" corrected the wizard stiffly. "And as you well know he's not a rat, he's an osquip. Furthermore, I am not a fan of the term 'spell-monkey,' as I believe I've pointed out on numerous occasions."

"Whatever," replied Jasper with a wave of his hand as if shooing away an irritating fly. "Rhionda, welcome to our illustrious ranks. I'm sure you'll do the Battleblades proud."

"Hello," said Rhionda, nodding to the others. She was a young woman, having seen maybe 18 or 19 summers; thin; with long, auburn hair tied in a simple braid. She wore combat leathers, a dagger in her boot, a sword on her back, and a smile on her face. The other Battleblades seemed charmed to have such a pleasant young fighter in their midst. One of the halflings approached and stuck out a hand in greeting. Rhionda shook the proffered hand and asked, "And which one are you?"

"I'm Kip," replied the halfling. "That's Skip over there," he announced, thrusting a thumb in the direction of his identical twin behind him. "It's easy to tell us apart; he's the one with the headband." Skip turned and obediently tapped his headband, drawing her attention to it.

"I'll remember that," promised Rhionda, making a mental note: Headband = Skip.

"Now listen up, everybody," commanded Jasper. "We're going to explore the Dread Ruins of Shattered Abbey." It was obvious from his enunciation that Jasper was Talking In Capitals again, an affectation he obviously thought made him sound imperious but most others merely found amusing. "Frollick has managed to pump the local tavern-dwellers for information and has a rough idea of what we might expect. Good work by the way, Frollick."

"Always 'appy to do me bit," replied the dwarven battle-cleric, licking his lips in memory of the many fine ales that he'd consumed in his recent quest for information. "In any case, them ruins date back several centuries, an' there's quite an extensive network of catacombs under the abbey. Most of it's prolly been picked clean over the years, but ye never know, there might well be an 'idden passage or two that Kip and Skip can winkle out."

"Any known inhabitants?" asked Buntleby irritably. "You know, like ghouls or such? I'd certainly like to know in advance this time, if at all possible."

"Pshaw! Nuffin' we cain't 'andle, lad," replied the dwarf, slapping the wizard roughly on the shoulder. "Only some rumors, an' rumors cain't 'urt ye none."

"Still and all, rumors of what?" pressed Buntleby.

"Well, there's talk that there might be a beholder or such down there.[2] Coupla adventurin' types've claimed to've mebbe seen one there once."[3]

"Well, if there is, so much the better!" replied Jasper, wringing his hands together in anticipation. "I've always wanted to test my mettle against one of those monstrosities! And they say beholders have Quite A Bit Of Treasure, you know. Quite A Bit, Indeed![4] Battleblades: Adventure Awaits!" With that, Jasper strode boldly down the path leading away from the village and toward the long-abandoned ruins. The others followed suit.

2. While death kisses are universally recognized as a form of beholder-kin, the similarities between beholders and death kisses are superficial at best. Both have a spherical body with a central eye and float because of an internal buoyancy gas called tiusium. However, while a beholder sports ten eyestalks and a mouth full of sharp teeth, a death kiss has instead a series of ten hollow, retractable tentacles ending in sharp-toothed, blood-draining orifices. Furthermore, beholders possess a wide variety of magic abilities stemming from their eleven eyes; a death kiss' single eye does nothing more than provide the creature darkvision to a range of 60 feet. Anyone confusing a beholder and a death kiss upon first sight either didn't get a very good look or is probably unaware of the existence of both species.

3. While death kisses can be found in nearly any land, they prefer remote places and are often found underground.

4. A death kiss only has the standard amount of treasure stored away in its lair, while beholders usually have twice the norm. Of course, beholders are much tougher than death kisses, so adventurers have to work for the extra booty.
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"So, how long have you been a Battleblade?" asked Rhionda, as they stood holding torches in the catacombs watching the twins probe the ancient stonework for hidden passages. The group had covered just about every square inch of the catacombs under the ruined abbey and found nothing more exciting than the burial niches of the monks who had been interred there centuries ago. Now they stood in an obvious dead end, but Jasper was Absolutely Certain there must be a secret door hidden somewhere in the blank wall that faced them.

"Only a couple of months," admitted Buntleby. "My mentor Spontayne suggested it might be a good way to put some of the spellcraft he's been teaching me to practical use."

"You know a lot of spells?" asked the young fighter.

"A few," admitted Buntleby. "Not that it matters much with this bunch, though. I'm here primarily to fling magic missiles at any monsters we meet up with and otherwise stay out of the way while you warrior types take care of business. Then, of course, I'm responsible for detecting any magical properties of any treasure we might come across. And that's pretty much it." He shrugged. "My life as a Battleblade, such as it is."

Kip and Skip poked and prodded at the stone walls with various instruments, while Jasper stood over them and offered a steady stream of suggestions despite the fact that he had little solid advice to give. "Try over there, lad. No, a little higher up. Hmm, maybe over to the right a bit." Frollick, meanwhile, took advantage of the opportunity to take a hefty swig from his first skin of dwarven ale.

And while the rest of the Battleblades were thus occupied, Ozzie the osquip skittered back along the corridor they had just traversed, sniffing his rodent nose at the stone walls. He stopped suddenly, squinted his beady brown eyes, and poked his head into a narrow crevice hidden in the shadows near the floor. Ozzie's six legs skittered frantically as he tried squeezing his body further into the crack. With the grating sound of iron-hard teeth on stone, he chewed his way through the narrow opening between cavern wall and floor and popped out on the other side. Buntleby caught sight of his companion's ratlike tail just as it vanished from view.

"Hey, guys, over here!" he called to the others. Jasper looked irritated at the interruption, but once he realized the situation he was over there in a shot to oversee the examination of the new wall. "Try over here, lads," he suggested. "Maybe down there a bit." Before long, one of the halflings had found the hidden switch that allowed a section of the wall to pivot along a central axis. There in the torchlight glow sat Ozzie, nibbling contentedly on a few loose pebbles as he waited for the others to find their way into the corridor he had discovered.

"Well, now, who's a good boy, then, Ozzie?" cooed Buntleby, rubbing the back of the osquip's leathery-skinned head. Ozzie hissed in delight.

"Good work, Kip, Skip. Now then, this way, Battleblades!" said Jasper imperiously, striding off down the corridor to the right as if he knew exactly where he was going. Just out of curiosity, Buntleby peered down the left branch of the corridor. It looked absolutely no different than the right branch. Shrugging, he followed Jasper and the others.

Soon the party was gathered in an excited huddle around the twins. "We're getting close!" declared one of the halflings, proudly holding up what appeared to be a small rock. "Look: beholder droppings!"[5]

"That's a rock, Skip," argued Buntleby.

"Kip!" corrected the irate halfling. "I'm Kip! It should be perfectly simple, even for a perfectly simple human like yourself: Kip, headband; Skip, no headband." He tapped his headband for emphasis. "And it may well look like a rock to an uneducated observer like yourself, but trust me, Bumblebee, it's beholder droppings." He flung the rock (for it was only a rock, and the halfling well knew it) to the ground. Buntleby opened his mouth to object to the new nickname, but then just shook his head and let the matter drop. Better not to let them know of his irritation; it would only encourage them.

"Look alive now," ordered Jasper to the Battleblades, then turned and sent the twin scouts down the corridor. He and Frollick followed with weapons drawn, leaving Rhionda, Buntleby, and Ozzie bringing up the rear.

"Now wait a minute, I'm confused," whispered Rhionda to Buntleby as they followed the others. "I thought Skip was the one with the headband."

"Apparently, it's the other way around," shrugged the wizard. "I can never keep the two of them straight." Unnoticed by either of them, at the front of the party and well outside the radius of torchlight, Skip removed the distinctive headband he'd been wearing and surreptitiously passed it with a grin to Kip, who put it on. They both snickered at their long-running joke.

"'Perfectly simple human,'" sniggered Kip, adjusting the headband.

"'Bumblebee.' We'll have to remember that one!" added Skip.

Suddenly, the uniform stonework of the underground tunnel gave way to natural stone. "Looks like this's as far as them abbey monks got with their catacombs," remarked Frollick, examining the walls with an expert eye. "Must've penetrated these natural caverns when they was diggin' this corridor. Betcha it leads to a whole unnerground cavern network. No tellin' what all's down 'ere." Then a wicked grin appeared in the midst of his shaggy beard. "The plunderin' potential jus' grew a bit on us, Battleblades!"

"This is Most Excellent News," remarked Jasper. "Lead on, scouts!"

"What about the beholder?" asked Buntleby. "Do you think it's around here somewhere?"

"Prolly," replied the dwarf. "Leastwise I hope so!"

"Well, don't you think we ought to plan out our strategy?"

"Pshaw!" scoffed Jasper. "Our strategy's the same as always: flashing blades and mighty thews! You just stay out of the way and you'll be fine."

"But what about its powers?" continued the wizard doggedly. "It's my understanding that a beholder's eyes--"

"Now listen here, Bumblebee," interrupted one of the halflings. "I don't--"

"Do you guys hear that?" interjected Rhionda, interrupting the halfling's interruption with one of her own.

"Hear what?"

"That buzzing."[6]

The Battleblades stopped their arguing to listen.

"I don't hear anything," groused Jasper, cupping his hand over his ear and cocking his head to the side. He even squinted, as if that would help his hearing any. The halflings stood in rapt attention as well, each straining their senses to see if they could detect any odd noise. "Wait a minute! Did you say buzzing?" asked one of the twins.

"Yeah, kind of a low buzzing sound," replied Rhionda.

"Feh!" spat Kip (or Skip). "It was probably Bumblebee here, then!"

"Ha! Good one!" chuckled Skip (or Kip).

"Now look here, you two," began Buntleby. "I've had--"

The wizard didn't get to finish his sentence, for at that precise moment he was pierced in the back by the sharp tip of a grayish tentacle that uncoiled from above.[7]

5. While beholder droppings actually do tend to harden into a rocklike consistency and appearance, death kisses leave no droppings behind. This should come as no surprise, given that the creature feasts solely on blood. Instead, after the death kiss' digestive system has extracted all possible nutrients from the blood, the liquid waste remains are dribbled out of a series of pores on the creature's underside. This liquid waste retains a washed-out red color, and may have contributed to the death kiss' nickname of "bleeder."

6. While death kisses make no vocalizations (not surprising, since their ten tentacle-mouths lack vocal cords), their electrical-based metabolism occasionally gives off a low-level hum, somewhat akin to the noise of a fluorescent light or power line.

7. Because of the buoyant tiusium gas inside their spherical bodies, death kisses fly at Speed 30 feet with good maneuverability as a free action. They also have the equivalent of a permanent feather fall effect on them at all times. Death kisses often drop down upon unsuspecting prey from above, frequently catching their victims flat-footed.
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Buntleby felt an agonizing pain between his shoulder blades and was thrown to his knees.[8] The torch flew from his hand and skidded across the floor. The others paid him little attention, however, for they were under simultaneous attack as well. Frollick was struck at the base of the neck and shoulder, where his skin was protected by neither helmet nor mail.[9] Another tentacle dropped down and attached itself to Rhionda's bare arm, just below the shoulder. Jasper was struck in the back of the thigh, the pointed claw and jagged teeth of the ropy tentacle tearing through the fabric of his breeches. Only one of the halflings avoided a similar fate, dodging to the side at the last possible moment as a tentacle snaked his way; his brother wasn't so lucky, and was struck in the right side of his narrow torso, the jagged protrusions at the end of the mottled tentacle ripping right through the halfling's combat leathers and latching onto the succulent meat exposed underneath.[10]

Slowly, the great beast lowered itself from the shadows of the ceiling, five of its long, flexible tentacles gripping a hapless Battleblade, the other five slowly waving like dancing cobras, ready to strike out at any moment. It pivoted its spherical body forward to focus its red-pupiled glare[11] at the one victim it had failed to snag, but the halfling fled down the corridor at full speed once it recognized the danger and was now well out of range. The floating beast shifted its gaze in turn onto each of the three victims directly in its field of vision.[12]

Jasper, in his struggles, had managed to trip over the tentacle that gripped the back of his thigh. He lay on his back, helpless, his legs hopelessly entangled and his mighty sword on the ground tantalizingly just out of reach. "This is No Good At All!" he complained to no one in particular.

Skip's position was just as bad; weighing so little, it was no trouble for the death kiss to wrap him up in the tentacle gripping his side and dangle him upside-down in the air.[13] The little halfling swore in his own language at his predicament and struggled in vain to pull his short sword from its sheath at his hip with both arms pinned to his side.

Frollick fared a little better: He still stood on his own two feet, gripping the tentacle attached to his neck with his left hand and hacking away at it with the war axe in his right.

Behind the creature, the two newest Battleblades were also struggling against the tentacles draining away their very lifeblood. Rhionda grabbed the sword from her back and in one fluid motion swung it against the rubbery appendage attached to her left arm. The sword bit deep into the fleshy tentacle, enough to draw blood, although the young fighter realized with a shock that she had no way of knowing whether it was the creature's blood or her own that spilled onto the floor from the wound she had just inflicted. That wasn't the only shock she received, though: a surge of electricity traveled down her sword as she pierced the flesh of the death kiss, causing her teeth to rattle and the few strands of hair that had escaped her braid to stand on end.[14]

8. A death kiss can strike with any or all of its ten tentacles each round, each appendage attacking at +11 melee. If a tentacle hits, it rips open the flesh of its victim with a curved hook at the tentacle's tip and then attaches itself over the wound with a set of fanged teeth flanking a sucking orifice. The tentacles have a 20-foot reach and deal 1d4+3 points of damage when they initially hit.

In addition, whenever a tentacle strike is successful, the death kiss initiates a grapple without provoking an attack of opportunity. On top of this, the death kiss immediately starts draining blood from its victims via its hollow tentacles. A victim of a death kiss tentacle attack must make a successful Fortitude save (DC 18) each round or lose 1d3 temporary points of Constitution. When this occurs, the death kiss recovers 1d6 hit points of damage it has suffered.

Death kisses are often arrogant and overconfident, so sure of their own inherent superiority over other beings that they don't always employ sound tactics against potential victims. Unless sorely pressed, a death kiss seldom uses more than one tentacle against each victim, even if it has tentacles "left over" after attacking all visible prey. The death kiss prefers savoring its meals, and "playing with its food" is one of its favorite pastimes.

9. A death kiss naturally makes it easy on itself by striking at the areas of its victims that offer the least protection. However, even a fighter clad in plate mail with a full visor isn't impervious to the attacks of a death kiss, for the creature's sharp-tipped tentacles have been known to pierce through a solid sheet of metal.

10. Death kisses prefer the blood of humans and horses above all others, but feast upon anything that bleeds. Thus, constructs, elementals, oozes, plants, and undead have little to fear from a death kiss, which pretty much ignores them.

11. Death kisses often remain motionless at the top of a cavern ceiling and wait for prey to pass by underneath. When engaged in this passive form of hunting, the death kiss tips its body forward so that its sole eye points down directly underneath it, the better to see potential prey.

Death kisses also adopt this pose when sleeping. They find it safest to back themselves into the corner of a cavern ceiling where there's less likelihood of being discovered while they slumber. A death kiss' solitary eye is equipped with eyelids; with its red-pupiled eye covered, its overall mottled gray coloration allows it to blend in rather well with the surrounding stone.

12. With only one eye, a death kiss can only look in one direction at a time. However, it also has sensory organs interspersed throughout the sphere of its body that can detect minute changes in air currents and a ring of olfactory pores around its eye that provides it an excellent sense of smell. With these non-visual senses, a death kiss can detect movement around it to a distance of 10 feet as if it had blindsight, even if the creature is blinded (either by damaging the eye itself or through spells like blindness/deafness or glitterdust). This allows a death kiss to target potential victims with its tentacles even if they're not in its field of vision. Of course, the death kiss can also attack enemies outside the 10-foot radius, but suffers normal attack penalties when doing so.

13. As a Large creature with Strength of 16, a death kiss can carry up to 152 pounds as a light load, 153-306 pounds as a medium load, and 307-460 pounds as a heavy load. A death kiss wishing to lift a victim usually wraps him up in the tentacle currently draining his blood. A death kiss finding itself outmatched by multiple foes might fly straight up with whatever victims it already has in its grasp, provided their combined weight is within the creature's carrying capacity. Note, however, that death kisses are too usually arrogant to apply this tactic unless they're being severely hurt.

14. Whenever a death kiss is damaged by a piercing or slashing weapon, there's a 1% chance per point of damage inflicted that the creature's electrical aura sends a jolt of electricity arcing to the attacker. This jolt of energy deals 1d10 points of damage unless the attacker makes a successful Reflex save (DC 15), in which case she avoids the damage altogether. Note, however, that an attacker in physical contact with the death kiss during the attack (primarily, if she currently has a tentacle attached to her) gets no Reflex save and automatically takes damage if the electrical jolt occurs. Fortunately, this is a localized effect; if the death kiss holds several victims, the defensive electrical jolt arcs only at the one who attacked the death kiss, not at everyone currently in contact with it.

If a piercing or slashing attack brings the death kiss to 0 or less hit points, the chance of an electrical surge rises to 5% per point of damage inflicted.
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Buntleby, meanwhile, was pinned face down to the cold stone floor by the tentacle on his back. He had his dagger in hand but couldn't reach the offending appendage, nor could he get a sufficient view of the hovering aberration to target it with one of his readied magic missile spells. Ozzie came to his rescue, however; seeing his master under attack, the faithful osquip ran right up Buntleby's back and onto the offending tentacle. Biting down hard on the rubbery gray appendage with teeth that could eat through solid stone, Ozzie chewed the end off of the tentacle in no time flat. The rest of the severed tentacle whipped back into the creature's body,[15] while the grip of the detached tip loosened and it slid off of the wizard's back onto the floor.

"Thanks, Ozzie," said Buntleby with gratitude, before rolling on his side and spouting off the arcane syllables that sent a single magic missile streaking toward the hovering death kiss. It struck the beast with a satisfying sizzle of energy.

Buntleby staggered to his feet, woozy from the loss of blood and still bleeding down his back from the open gash inflicted by the beast. His instinct was to help Rhionda, but as he approached her on wobbly legs she pulled herself free with a cry of pain and practically landed in his arms. "Are you okay?" asked the wizard, eyeing the trickle of blood spilling down Rhionda's left arm.

"Better than that thing's going to be," vowed the fighter as she resumed the attack with her sword.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the death kiss, the older Battleblades were making some progress of their own. Rather than the act of cowardice that it first appeared to be (or perhaps merely in spite of it), Kip's headlong flight down the corridor was actually tactical in nature: fleeing just far enough to be out of range of the monster's tentacles, Kip spun around and let fly with a dagger. His aim was true; the steel weapon pierced the death kiss' red-pupiled eye with a wet thud, and an arc of electricity jumped from the point of impact.[16]

"Got him!" cried the halfling in delight, drawing a short sword from his side as he ran back to what he hoped was now a defenseless monster.

"Ye 'n me both!" yelled Frollick, finally severing the tentacle that gripped his neck. "Let's kill the sucker!" The death kiss suddenly found itself under assault from all sides, for as Frollick pushed the flailing tentacle aside and made a dash for the creature's spherical body, Kip leapt up at the tentacle holding his brother and started hacking away at it with his sword. Meanwhile, at the creature's rear, Rhionda had fought her way to the death kiss' body and was quietly and efficiently slicing it up as well, while Buntleby flung another magic missile at the beast. Even Ozzie got back into the action, chomping down hard on a tentacle that swung past his leathery head on its way to attack his master. Only Skip and Jasper were still somewhat ineffectual, the former still bound up in the tentacle that held him and the latter having somehow managed to tie the tentacle attached to his leg into a complicated knot all around him during his frantic thrashing around.

Feeling the pain of the osquip's powerful bite, the death kiss reflexively retracted that tentacle, but that only sent Ozzie flying through the air to land on top of the monster's spheroid body. "Ozzie!" cried Buntleby in alarm, but he needn't have worried; the osquip could take care of himself. In fact, Ozzie managed to get a good six-limbed grip on the top of the death kiss' body, moving only when the monster attempted to pierce him with the tip of a tentacle that stabbed his way. Ozzie skittered away just in time; the death kiss actually penetrated its own skull[17] with its wicked, curved claw in an attempt to gut the multilimbed rodent. Red blood spilled from the gash and dripped to the cavern floor.

Things didn't go very well for the death kiss after that. It took a bit of time, but the Battleblades finally managed to extract both Jasper and Skip, and then the blinded monster had no one with which it could drain blood to heal its wounds.[18] It struck out blindly many times with its tentacles, but the Battleblades had finally learned their lesson and fled out of range, only to strike with hurled daggers and the halflings' innumerable sling stones, flung with uncanny accuracy. Buntleby cast the last of his magic missiles, while Ozzie gnawed determinedly at the root of one of the tentacles growing from the top of the death kiss' body. Under his ratlike feet, the osquip could feel the creature's breathing become more and more ragged as life gradually slipped away from the beast.[19]

"We've got it on the ropes, Battleblades!" cried Jasper triumphantly, watching the erratic weaving of the death kiss' body as it teetered drunkenly in the air, staggering under the heavy barrage of ranged weapons. Frollick took the opportunity to cast healing spells on those wounded by the bloodsucking tentacles. Everyone else, all out of ranged weapons, merely watched as Kip and Skip finished the creature off with a fusillade of stones.

Suddenly, the death kiss crashed to the stone floor, its remaining tentacles flailing about helplessly as bolts of electricity darted about from its body in all directions.[20] Ozzie gave a squeal of pain as he was zapped by a jolt of energy and slid off of the death kiss' body, landing on the stone floor in a tangle of twitching limbs.

"Ozzie!" cried Buntleby, rushing to the osquip's side and scooping him up in his arms. A tentacle twitched spasmodically nearby, slowly inching its way toward the wizard, but he didn't even notice out of concern for his rodent friend. Ozzie was quite the worse for wear: a substantial patch of his leathery yellow-gray skin was scorched black, and smoke wisped from the burn area.

15. A death kiss' tentacles are almost fully retractable. When retracted to their fullest, they extend about the same length as a beholder's eyestalks, making it that much easier to mistake the two. Death kisses can extend or retract any or all of their tentacles with blinding speed.

16. It's possible for a ranged piercing or slashing weapon to cause an arc of electricity as described under Footnote 14 above, but if there's no one within 5 feet of the impact point the arc of energy is impressive-looking but a threat to no one.

17. Just like a beholder's, a death kiss' skull is a hollow, two-layered affair made not of bone but of a leathery, cartilaginous material. Between the two skull layers are numerous pockets, laid out in a honeycomb pattern, each filled with the tiusium gas that grants death kisses their buoyancy. Because of the many different pockets of gas inside the skull, piercing through the creature's skull releases only a small amount of the tiusium gas, so the death kiss is in no danger of "sinking" to the ground as all of its buoyant gas leaks out.

18. Although a death kiss restores lost hit points by draining the blood of its prey, this does not allow it to regain lost body parts. A blinded death kiss remains blind for the rest of its life; severed tentacles do not grow back.

19. A death kiss breathes through numerous spiracles, tiny air passages scattered equally throughout the bleeder's spherical body and leading to the creature's single lung, situated behind the eye and above the stomach.

20. Upon its death, a bleeder releases all of its remaining electrical charge in one explosive burst. All creatures within 5 to 50 (1d10 X 5) feet must make a successful Reflex save (DC 15) or take 2d10 points of electrical damage.
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"He's not breathing!" screamed Buntleby in alarm.

Jasper walked over to have a look for himself. "Pity about your rat," was all he said.

Buntleby looked over at Frollick, healing the bloody gash in the side of one of the halflings. (Buntleby had forgotten which one was which again, but it was the one without the headband.) "You've got to help him!" he pleaded to the dwarven veteran, cradling Ozzie in his arms.

"Ye've gotta be kiddin' me, lad!" roared the battle-cleric. "I'm not wastin' a perfectly good 'ealin' spell on no rat!"

"Get a life, Bumblebee," sneered Kip.

Suddenly, Frollick felt the point of a blade prick the back of his neck. "He's not a rat, he's an osquip," explained Rhionda patiently. "And you, sir, have a choice: you either heal him, or you'll need to do some further healing on yourself. Are we perfectly clear on the subject?"

Frollick glared up at the young fighter, but she met his gaze and refused to look away. The dwarf slapped Rhionda's sword away, but then grunted and grumbled, "Bring 'im over 'ere then, lad."

Buntleby quickly complied, and the dwarf laid his battle-scarred hands upon the little osquip's burned body. Ozzie twitched under his healing touch, then squirmed out of Buntleby's arms and landed on all sixes. He sneezed violently, shook his head vigorously, twitched his ratlike tail, and was as good as new.

Buntleby cried tears of joy.

"Whatta revoltin' display," grumbled Frollick. "I cain't believe I wasted a spell on that little 'airless freak-mouse."

Jasper, meanwhile, had lost interest in the proceedings and returned to the fallen death kiss. "Hmm, looks like it wasn't a beholder after all," he admitted, rubbing his chin in concentration. "Wonder if its pelt's worth anything?"[21]

"Never ye mind 'bout that," returned Frollick, his mind back on track as to what he found to be really important. "Chances are that thing's lair's around 'ere somewheres, an' if we're lucky, it'll 'ave a bit of treasure layin' about!"[22]

"My very thoughts exactly!" piped up Jasper. "Kip, Skip: lead on!"

The first cavern they came to was empty, and insisted upon remaining empty no matter how long and hard Jasper looked for hidden loot. While the others scoured the place for treasures, Buntleby took the opportunity to thank Rhionda for her help. "You saved Ozzie's life, you know," he said. As if in full understanding, the osquip skittered over to the young swordswoman and licked the ankle of her leather boot with a raspy tongue.

"Well, he's a valuable part of this little troop, isn't he?" asked Rhionda, bending down to scratch the little osquip between the ears. "He did more than his share against that monster."

The Battleblades did no better in the next cavern, which was just as empty as the first. The third cavern was some distance away, joined to the first two by a meandering passageway, but it was definitely not empty. Frollick's keen eyes picked out a familiar silhouette in the gloom ahead, well outside the range of the flickering torches. Its tentacles twitched in an odd fashion, and its spherical body bobbed this way and that as if floating on storm-tossed waves. "Cripes!" cried Frollick. "That blasted thing's got a mate!"[23]

21. While a death kiss' skin isn't worth much, there is a red, multifaceted, gemlike nerve node inside its central upper body (next to the brain ganglia) that's valued at around 70 gp. This hardened node, called a "bloodeye," is valued as an adornment because it glows with increased intensity as the wearer's emotions intensify. In addition, certain death kiss brain fluids can be utilized in spell inks used to record spells dealing with flight and levitation.

22. The treasure in a death kiss' lair almost always consists of the valuables left from previous victims. Once a death kiss completely drains its prey of blood it has no further use for the corpse, which is left in place to rot. Any armor, weapons, or similar loot found in a death kiss lair is invariably still in the unliving hands of its original owner.

23. Death kisses do not mate with others of their species, at least not in the usual sense. All death kisses produce eggs in their bodies. Whenever two death kisses meet, they immediately fight to the death. The winner injects 1d4 eggs into the loser's body with a retractable ovipositor that extends from its underside; these eggs then self-fertilize by absorbing genetic material from the dead host body. (For this reason, death kisses only implant eggs into others of their species; the eggs won't develop inside anything but another death kiss.) Within one day after having been "planted," the eggs hatch into immature death kisses that each have a quarter of the egg-injecting parent's Hit Dice. A death kiss matures to its adult form within one month. Statistics for death kiss young born in this normal fashion follow:

Standard Death Kiss Spawn: CR 2; Small Aberration (3 feet wide, 6-foot-long tentacles); HD 3d8+9; hp 21; Init +2 (Dex); Spd 5, fly 30 ft. (good); AC 18 (+2 Dex, +1 size, +5 natural); Atk +3 melee (1d2+3, 10 tentacles); Face/Reach 5 ft. by 5 ft./5 ft.; SA Improved grab, blood drain (Fort save DC 15, or temp 1 Con drain plus heal 1d3 points of death kiss' damage); SQ flight, electric aura (only 1d6 points of electrical damage), death shiver (1d4 X 5-foot radius, Ref save DC 15, or 1d10 points of electrical damage); AL NE; SV Fort +6, Ref +3, Will +6; Str 10, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 14.

Skills: Hide +3, Listen +7, Search +12, Spot +7, Wilderness Lore +12

Feats: Great Fortitude, Iron Will
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"Battleblades!" cried Jasper, signaling the others for their war cry. The twin halflings and the dwarven battle-cleric yelled in unison with their party leader: "LET'S KILL IT!" Then they raced into battle, weapons drawn and screaming like idiots.

"I thought we had decided that ranged warfare was the way to go with these things," said Rhionda, confused, running after the others.

"I'm sure Jasper would insist that that last battle was a fluke," explained Buntleby. "'If it hadn't taken us by surprise I'm sure we would have cut it to ribbons in No Time At All!'" he said in an eerily authentic impersonation of Jasper's voice. "Besides, knowing Jasper, he's still miffed that he pretty much had to be rescued from that last monster and wants to make up for it by showing off his combat prowess against this one."

Buntleby and Rhionda caught up to the others just as the battle began. With a fearsome yell, Jasper swung his gleaming sword into the side of the erratically-hovering creature. He fully expected his sword to strike deep into the monster's mottled gray flank.

He didn't expect the death kiss to pop open like an overripe melon.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened. With a sound like a watermelon landing on the cobblestones after being dropped from the top of a four-story building, the monster literally exploded outward, covering the surprised Battleblades in a shower of blood and gore.[24] "What the--?" cried Jasper, momentarily astonished. Then he turned to his fellows and crowed, "Did you see that, men? One blow from my mighty--AAAGH! Get it off! Get it off!"

Jasper pulled at the rubbery beast, a scaled-down version of the creature he'd just slain, which had been released by the explosion and was now attaching a number of sharp-tipped tentacles to various points on Jasper's face and neck. A veritable swarm of the pint-sized creatures buzzed about, picking and choosing among the delicious Battleblades as to which would best fulfill their dietary requirements. One attached feeding tentacles to each of Frollick's hands, binding him up such that he couldn't swing his war axe at the offensive little creature. Frustrated, the battle-cleric bit down hard on the minikiss' spherical body and pulled it away from his hands, ripping off the tentacles and showering him in a spray of his own blood. Several others chose one or the other of the halflings as their targets; one unwisely chose both and was ripped in half when the twins ran in opposite directions.

"Spells?" asked Rhionda.

"Out," replied Buntleby.

"Dagger?" she asked.

"Dagger it is," he replied, drawing his blade from his belt.

The two of them leapt into the fray, blades flashing. Fortunately for them, while these little flying monstrosities darted around much more agilely than either of their larger versions, one good hit was usually all it took to take them out of the fight. Rhionda cut one in twain in midair, then sliced the tentacles out from another that was attached to one of the halflings. Buntleby, for his part, had less success with his dagger, for the darting creatures had a two-foot reach with their tentacles and could get to him easier than he could get to them. He finally tossed the dagger aside in disgust and took to grabbing the monsters in midair and pulling them to the ground, where Ozzie dispatched the things with his powerful teeth. When he ran out of flying monsters, he started plucking them off of his companions. Buntleby took quite a lot of hits that way, but at least he and Ozzie were taking them out, one by one.

Eventually, the two dozen or so monsters had been cut to ribbons, and the exhausted Battleblades lay on the blood-drenched stone floor of the cavern. They were each weakened from their ordeals, woozy from lack of blood, and none too eager to get up just at that minute.

"The mighty Battleblades triumph again," remarked Jasper.

"Yay, Battleblades," commented Buntleby dryly, staring at the cavern ceiling and trying not to think of everywhere he hurt.

"Ye didn't do too badly there, lad," said Frollick. "We'll make a warrior of ye yet, just ye wait an' see."

"Thanks, but no thanks. I'll stick to my wizardry and leave the swordplay to you guys."

"Yeah, good job there, Bumblebee," added one of the halflings, hoping to get a rise out of the young wizard.

"Shut up, Kip."

"It's SKIP! How hard can it be to keep the two of us straight? Look, it's perfectly simple: Skip, headband; Kip, no headband."

"Better yet," pointed out Rhionda, "It's Skip, tentacle scar over right eye; Kip, no scar. Your little headband head-games are over with, fellows."

"What?" sputtered Skip, digging into his pouch and pulling out a small hand mirror. He stared at his reflection in the torchlight with disbelief, then looked disconsolately over at his twin brother's unblemished forehead. "Awww...."

"In any case, you did well, Buntleby," said Jasper, rare praise indeed from the Battleblade's leader. "You performed Most Admirably, Most Admirably Indeed."

Surprised by the unexpected approval from one who normally considered wizards to be lower life forms, Buntleby was unsure of how to respond. "Well, uh, thanks," he said uncomfortably.

But Jasper couldn't leave it at that. His own personal views on the relative differences between those who mastered the sword and those who mastered the arcane arts compelled him to add a final qualifier:

"...for a spell-monkey."

24. A death kiss usually has 5d10 unfertilized eggs inside its body at any one time. When it meets another of its kind, powerful hormones stimulate 1d4 of these eggs to be ready for self-fertilization, so that if the death kiss is triumphant over its foe the eggs can be injected into the loser.

However, given their solitary existence, there are times when a death kiss won't meet up with another of its kind for years on end. This is unfortunate for the death kiss, for after a decade or so inside its body the eggs spontaneously self-fertilize before being implanted. Unable to extract genetic material from a dead host, the eggs instead take material from the living parent and begin growing inside its body. (And since the parent is the same one responsible for producing the eggs, the death kiss spawn that hatch in this manner are clones of the original parent.)

The death kiss spawn hatch inside the parent and immediately latch their tentacles onto various internal organs, draining blood from the parent's interior. This drives the parent death kiss into a feeding frenzy as it attempts to drink enough blood to satisfy not only its own appetites but also those of its parasitic children. Eventually, the death kiss becomes little more than a pain-crazed husk, such that a single weapon-blow rips it asunder. When a death kiss is slain in this fashion it does not cause the electrical backlash of its standard "death shiver," as most of its innate electrical aura will also have been siphoned off by its ravenous offspring.

When the death kiss is ripped apart, the explosion sends all 5d10 of the tiny death kiss spawn hurling in all directions. Death kiss spawn "born" in this fashion are much smaller than those hatching from eggs injected into a death kiss corpse, and seldom survive to grow to the size of an adult. Statistics for these "minikisses" follow:

Parasitic Death Kiss Spawn ("Minikisses"): CR 1; Diminutive Aberration (8 inches wide, 2-foot-long tentacles); HD ½d8+3; hp 5; Init +2 (Dex); Spd 5, fly 30 ft. (good); AC 21 (+2 Dex, +4 size, +5 natural); Atk +2 melee (1d4-2, 10 tentacles); Face/Reach 1 ft. by 1 ft./0 ft.; SA Improved grab, blood drain (Fort save DC 10, or temp 1 Con drain plus heal 1d2 points of minikiss' damage); SQ flight, electric aura (only 1d4 points of electrical damage), death shiver (1d2 X 5-foot radius, Ref save DC 10, or 1d6 points of electrical damage); AL NE; SV Fort +2, Ref +4, Will +5; Str 6, Dex 18, Con 10, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 14.

Skills: Hide +3, Listen +7, Search +12, Spot +7, Wilderness Lore +12

Feats: Great Fortitude, Iron Will
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And there we have it. This was the last Monster Hunters story I ever wrote, and I had intended it to not only show how Rhionda and Buntleby met way back when, but also to introduce some additional characters from their past that could be reintroduced in a "present day" Monster Hunters story. (One idea I had in the back of my mind: Kip and/or Skip interrupt an Association meeting to ask "Bumblebee" for help in eradicating a tall mouther - from Monsters of Faerûn - that's been plaguing their halfling settlement. I figured a tall mouther was a "goofy" enough monster to warrant a Monster Hunters story, since they've encountered so many "goofy" monsters in the past (flumphs, flail snails, gorbels), and I wanted a chance to try to make the goofy tall mouther somewhat of a respectable opponent.) I never bothered with it, though; once Dragon made it clear in no uncertain terms that they were no longer interested in "fiction and footnote" formatted "Ecology" articles, I devoted my attention elsewhere.

Incidentally, it's fairly obvious that this was written during the 3.0 days, before 3.5 hit the streets - as evidenced by now-defunct terminology like "Wilderness Lore" in the stats. I didn't bother updating it here, as I figured I'd present it in its original form, warts and all. (Taking a quick glance over the stats, I notice I didn't get the number of feats correct - oh well.)

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Well, it would be illegal for me to publish the article, since the death kiss is not part of the SRD (nor, for that matter, are osquips). And since my one avenue of publishing these types of articles is no longer interested in them, I figured I might as well post them here where they can at least be appreciated by those who liked the Monster Hunters stories.

If you're interested, there are several other unpublished "Ecology" articles linked in my signature (see the first post).



Inventor of Super-Toast
And we're very appreciative. I do really like these, and I'm sorry to see that this is the last of your unpublished Ecologies from your reserves.

Demiurge out.

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