The Ecology of the Destrachan (unpublished 3.0 version)


It's time for another of my unpublished "Ecology" articles. This one is a direct sequel to "The Ecology of the Chuul." If you haven't read that one yet, you might want to read it first. (The link is in my signature.)

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In the stillness of the Underdark, there was a sound.

It was a muffled sound, barely discernible even in the cavern from which it emanated. It lasted but a moment and was gone, leaving any who might have been there in the cavern unsure whether they had heard anything at all.

For a while, silence ruled the cavern.

Then the sound returned.

It was louder and lasted a bit longer this time; somehow, the tone managed to sound angry, projecting a sense of fury into the otherwise still atmosphere of the lightless cavern. The sound remained muffled, as if coming from the other side of a thick wall.

It wasn't a wall, though - it was an eggshell.

The egg was one of three, a small cluster of thin, leathery ovoids each about the size of a child's skull, laying unnoticed and unattended in the corner of the wide cavern.
[1] While there was no one attending the eggs at the moment it was apparent that they were cared for, for a ring of small stones formed a low wall enclosing the eggs. The wall's purpose soon became apparent, for one of the eggs suddenly buckled and warped as the creature inside struggled to be free. Its thrashings jostled the leathery egg about, and it rolled up against the wall but went no further.

The shrill sound emanated from the egg for a third time, and a crack appeared on the egg's surface.
[2] A wet muzzle appeared in this crack, pushed, and widened the opening until it was large enough for the creature within to escape, to enter the stale atmosphere of the Underdark that would be its home for the rest of its life.[3]

The creature was bipedal, built roughly like a dinosaur, one of the two-legged theropods who had once been the undisputed masters of their world. There were differences, of course: this creature had no eyes, for one thing.[4] As if in compensation, it had what no true theropod could boast: a pair of external ears, and complicated ones at that, perhaps the most elaborate set of auditory organs nature had ever devised.[5]

Free at last of its leathery prison, the creature stood proudly on wobbly legs and let the muck of its egg dry upon its pebbled skin. It repeated its sonic cry a fourth time, and this time there was no egg barrier to muffle it; this time, it echoed and reverberated across the darkened cavern.

This time, it was answered in kind.

The hatchling sensed a creature approaching. The newcomer was built like itself only much larger, and it repeated the hatchling's sonic cry exactly, right down to the precise pitch and tone. It towered above the hatchling and stood silently, as if in anticipation of an upcoming event. The hatchling stood silent as well, waiting to learn what would occur next.

A few moments more and another of the eggs started buckling, as the creature inside attempted to make its escape into the world. It, too, used a sonic scream to disrupt the fabric of its prison; it, too, ripped its way out of its leathery egg and stood for the first time on its own two feet, sticky and wet. It, too, repeated its sonic cry in triumph, and the firstborn noticed that its sibling's cry was several microoctaves higher than its own and lasted a good seven-thousandths of a second longer.

That was all the larger creature was waiting for. Without hesitation, it repeated the secondborn's cry and struck out with a clawed forelimb. The third of the eggs, just now starting to buckle and warp, was lifted and ripped asunder. The struggling creature inside fell to the cold stone with a wet plop, then was pierced by sharp claws and roughly pulled to pieces. These pieces were fed, bit by bloody bit, to the hungry hatchling siblings by the larger of the beasts, the mother of all three.

For such was the way of the destrachans: the last to hatch became food for the others.

1. Destrachans are normally solitary creatures, coming together only to mate. The male departs after mating, leaving the female to see to the raising of any young resulting from their brief union.

A female destrachan lays a small clutch of 3-5 eggs, usually in the back corner of a dead-end cavern where there's likely to be little traffic. She haphazardly guards the eggs, usually staying close enough that she can keep any predators at bay until they hatch. If up against a more powerful adversary, however, a destrachan mother is more than willing to abandon her eggs to save her own hide.

Hatchling destrachans spend their first three years in their mother's care, after which time they go off on their own, never to return.

2. Destrachans are born physically weak and usually cannot break through their leathery eggs by strength alone. Rather, they instinctively use their sonic abilities, shattering a portion of their egg's shell with a harmonic burst of intensified noise. This initial noise, or "birthsong," is the closest a destrachan has to a personal name. No two birthsongs are exactly the same, although the differences are far too subtle for humanoid ears to differentiate. While destrachans have no formal language, they often repeat their birthsongs to identify themselves to others of their race.

3. The subterranean environment is a destrachan's preferred home; the creatures are rarely if ever encountered above ground.

4. Destrachans are born blind and remain blind throughout their lives. As a result, they are immune to visual-based spells like darkness, hypnotic pattern, and glitterdust, and cannot detect visual-based illusions like dancing lights and silent image. They cannot tell the difference between invisible beings and those that can be seen normally.

5. A destrachan's overly-developed sense of hearing more than compensates for its inability to see, granting it an auditory blindsight that allows it to sonically "see" everything in a 100-foot radius. A destrachan's hearing is so acute that it can pick up the natural vibrations of ambient noises without having to produce vocalizations itself; in that respect a destrachan's blindsight is better than a bat's radar.

As a result of their incredible auditory abilities, destrachans have 25 ranks in the Listen skill, 10 points of which are a racial bonus.
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"How much?" the gnome wanted to know.

"Ah, an excellent choice!" replied the dealer. "This is an exceptional vintage, sure to meet all required specifications as to duration, potency, and potability: so sweet, so clear, it glides down the throat with such a delectable piquancy I marvel that people don't purchase it for the taste alone!"

"How much?" the gnome repeated impatiently.

"My good sir, I can see you're a man of exceptional breeding: for you, a mere trifle, a pittance, a triviality, a piddling insignificance hardly worthy of mention."

"How much?" the gnome persisted.

"Why, it's a steal at a mere sev-- uh, 850 pieces of gold."

"Eight-fifty?" squeaked the gnome. "That's one hell of a markup!"

"Ah, but kind sir, look at the fine workmanship on the vial alone: this is handblown glass, made by an undisputed master of the art! See how it sparkles in the sunlight! No impurities there, let me assure you!"

"You can keep the blasted vial," snarled the gnome. "All I want's the potion!"

"Ah, but this no ordinary potion, none of the common dross that flows from many an alchemist's lab around here; no, good sir, this is made only from the choicest ingredients, guaranteed to dance down your throat like a fine elven wine!"

"I don't care if it tastes like frogswill! All I care's that it does what it's supposed to."

"My dear sir, you have my absolute guarantee on that."

"How many've you got?"

"Ah, preparing to stock up in quantity! A most wise move, my good sir; your intelligence shines like a beacon for all the world to see! Yes, I guarantee that once you've tasted the excellence of this fine vintage, you'll be--"

The little gnome didn't let him finish. "I need two vials," he said.

"Two it is, my good sir. That'll be, uh, let's see--"

"That'll be 1,700 pieces of gold, if your figure of 850 apiece is accurate, which I highly doubt. Fortunately for you, I don't have time to argue. With the 150 for those three healing potions, that comes to 1,850. I assume you don't mind being paid in gemstones?"

"My dear friend," replied the dealer, rubbing his hands in glee, "I would expect no less from such a dignified client as yourself. What, pray tell, is your payment of choice? Rubies? Emeralds? Pearls, perhaps?"

The gnome muttered quietly to himself and pulled out a glimmering gemstone of lustrous beauty, shimmering in the sunlight and sending multicolored shafts of light dancing this way and that. "It's a Barlenni diamond," he whispered, as if in awe. "Valued at over 2,000 pieces of gold. Since I'm in such a hurry, you can keep the change for yourself if you hand over the potions at once."

"At once!" agreed the dealer, wrapping the two glass potion vials in soft vellum to keep them from breaking. "With utmost haste!" he added, slipping them into a drawstring pouch with the three healing potions the gnome had selected previously. "Taking neither one further jot nor tittle of your most valuable time!"

He passed the pouch over to his impatient customer with a flourish and received the glittering gem in return.

"You've definitely earned it," the gnome said, grabbing up the pouch and hurrying on his way, not bothering to tell the potion dealer that "Barlenni" was a gnomish word for "false jewel." He figured the dealer would figure it out himself once the hastily-cast illusion expired and the diamond became once again a small lump of coal.

After all, anyone trying to overcharge Javorik the Bold, Illusionist Extraordinaire got what he deserved.
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The destrachan sucked up a huge lungful of air and let loose with a sonic outburst which shattered the stone floor at her clawed feet.[6] Little splinters of rock flew in all directions. The hatchlings were hit with a falling rain of sharp stone debris; squealing in outrage, they backed away.

Again, the mother expelled a sonic cone of energy at the stone floor, shattering and cracking the solid rock at her feet. She then examined her handiwork, bending over to lift several small pieces of stone in her foreclaws. Lifting them up before her children, she again gave a stone-shattering scream, pulverizing the stones she held in her claws into dust.

Choosing another pair of small stones, she dropped one each into the foreclaws of her two offspring. They held the stones awkwardly, the weight unwieldy to their young limbs. The mother simulated the sonic scream again, going through the motions but producing no noise. Her offspring just stood there stupidly, so she repeated her actions. When this got no result, she slammed her tail into the side of her firstborn's body, then picked up a rock of her own and noisily screamed it to powder.

The firstborn got the idea. He tried to emulate his mother's sonic outburst, but failed. It wasn't that he had the tone wrong; with his advanced hearing he had the exact stonebreaking frequency down pat. Rather, it was inexperience and vocal cords that hadn't been used at that range yet.

This didn't matter to his mother. Another vicious tail-slap punished him for his failure, and one for his sister got her motivated to try it for herself. Eventually, with much trial and error and a multitude of punishments for failure,
[7] each of the two hatchlings mastered the exact pitch and tone required to shatter solid stone into dust. And with their impressive hearing and memory for individual sounds, once they mastered a sonic tone they could use it again any time at will.

Together, the three destrachans worked on the stone floor in the back of their lair, the mother shattering the floor into chunks of stone and the young ones blasting each hunk of rock into powder. Over the course of many hours, they crafted a shallow, circular pit.

In the weeks that followed, the pit grew deeper and deeper.

6. Destrachans learn at a young age to focus the harmonics of their sonic attacks to affect different substances. One specific harmonic can shatter solid stone, and three similar frequencies have the same effect on wood, metal, and glass. In either case, the shattering sonics expand in a cone up to 80 feet long, and objects made of the substance in question must make a successful Fortitude save (DC 15) or shatter. Only objects (or portions thereof) having up to 30 hit points are affected by these disruptive harmonics.

7. One commonly-asked question about destrachans is: why are they so evil? While there doesn't seem to be an easy answer, several facts provide clues to their temperament.

First of all, there is something to be said about the environment in which a destrachan is raised. Destrachans learn punishment from their first days out of the egg, but there is no balancing notion of praise. A destrachan mother attacks her children with vicious slaps of her tail or even deep scratches with her sharp foreclaws if they fail to perform as she expects, but if they please her the best they can hope for is a lack of punishment. Such a childhood is sure to have a negative effect upon the maturing destrachan's outlook in life.

Secondly, destrachans have highly sensitive taste buds and can detect subtle differences in the flesh of their victims. Victims who have been tortured sadistically, or who have at least been forced to experience extreme fear before their final demise, have their flesh infused with pheromones that add exponentially to the destrachan's enjoyment of the flesh. This serves as a "reward" for the destrachan's evil ways and naturally reinforces such behavior.
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Javorik and Federico ran headlong through the underground tunnels, the everburning torch in Javorik's hand making their shadows bob and weave along the rough stone walls. They made good speed, not only because of their familiarity with these particular cavern passageways, but also because Federico had eschewed the use of his normal plate mail armor. Instead, he wore a new set of gnome-sized leather armor, choosing speed and agility over protection, for this particular mission at least. His trusty short sword was belted at his side and his metal helm sat upon his head; he was ready for whatever the Underdark could throw his way.

Javorik's heavy breathing was the loudest sound made as the two gnomes ran through the empty corridors. He wasn't as fit as his fighter cousin and he knew it, but he refused to slow down even as the pain in his side increased with every stride. There'll be time to catch my breath once we get to the pool, he told himself. Right now, they couldn't spare the time; it had taken long enough - too long, in Javorik's estimation - limping back to the surface with the wounded dwarves, dealing with their injuries, and obtaining the blasted potions for him to waste any more time than he had to for a little thing like his own comfort. Strengthened by the thought that every moment counted, he raced a few scant paces behind his cousin through twisting passageways and connected caverns.

As he ran, though, the recent battle played over and over in his head. They had been taken unawares by the armored beast when it rose up out of the pool like some forgotten lobster god, and though Federico and the three dwarven warriors put up a good fight they were outmatched by the creature's crushing claws and paralytic tentacles. It was those tentacles that caught Shandrilla's eye; thinking to immobilize the chuul the same way she had that carrion crawler, she had Javorik load up her leather backpack with rocks and leapt willingly into the tentacles' embrace.

Only things didn't quite work out as planned. Sure, the little thief became paralyzed, but unlike the carrion crawler the chuul had no trouble carrying the extra load, and it started dragging Shandrilla and the three dwarves deeper into the pool, toward the swiftly-running stream that fed its dark waters, hoping no doubt to drown them and win an easy victory. Javorik, in desperation, managed to kill the chuul by launching a fireball at the cavern's ceiling and blasting loose a number of low-hanging stalactites which pierced the creature's armored hide, but when he and Federico went to pull their paralyzed comrades from the waters of the pool only the dwarves could be found. Hours of frantic searching produced only Shandrilla's backpack, its straps severed by the chuul's wicked pincers. Shandrilla herself was gone, no doubt washed away down the underground stream. Javorik hoped and prayed - something he didn't do often - that she was somehow still alive; he might frequently tease her for being a "silly human girl," but she was his best friend and he didn't know what he'd do if she were truly gone.

Javorik snapped out of his reverie as the two gnomes finally reached the vast cavern with its darkened pool and rushing stream, part of the underground spring that wound throughout this part of the subterranean caverns. At the far edge of the pool, near the invisible boundary where pool met stream, lay the corpse of the chuul, half-buried by fallen stalactites and hunks of rock that had been blasted from the ceiling by Javorik's fireball spell; the extra weight prevented the current from sweeping the beast away.

Federico stopped at the edge of the water and bent over, hands on knees, catching his breath. Even with his fighter's training, that had been quite a run! Javorik caught up to him moments later and unfolded Little Biggie, his bag of holding, and pulled a drawstring bag from its extradimensional interior. Folding Little Biggie back up and securing it in his belt, he passed one of the newly-purchased potion vials to Federico.

"Bottoms up," said the illusionist, still panting from the long run. The two clinked vials and downed their contents, then waded into the pool, toward the dead chuul.

"We gonna try to swim for it, or just let the currents take us where they will?" asked Federico.

"Better leave it to the currents," answered Javorik. "With any luck, we'll all end up in the same place."

The two gnomes submerged, Javorik's everburning torch illuminating the murk of the underwater world. The illusionist's first breath of water was tentative; he half expected the potion dealer's wares to be as phony as his asking price. Fortunately, the potions of water breathing worked as expected, and the two cousins had no difficulty breathing as the currents swept them away downstream past the dead chuul and on the ride of their lives.
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The destrachan stalked silently across the cavern, searching for prey.[8] Or at least she was silent to the poorly-equipped ears of other beings; she, on the other hand, could make out quite distinctly the touch of each toe-pad on the stone of the corridor (she was careful not to let her toe-claws touch the stone as she walked), the intake of each breath she took, even the beating of her own dark heart. She could also hear the twittering of bats several caverns away and the soft pad-pad-pad of a spider walking across the ceiling of the cavern dozens of feet above her.

None of these would do, though; she wanted something bigger than a bat or spider, something she could drag back to the lair and leave to rot, so she wouldn't have to worry about a food source for her offspring for awhile. It had been years since she'd needed such sustenance herself, and she found it tiresome having to constantly keep her children fed.

Luck was with her, for a kobold patrol stumbled across her path almost immediately. She resisted the impulse to take them alive so she could draw out their torment;[10] such pleasantries would be better left until the pit was complete. Besides, she was after solid food for her children, not misery-based sustenance for herself.

The kobolds didn't have a chance. There were only three of them, and despite their weapons they were no match for the destrachan's sonic howl, especially since she could attack at range before the kobolds were even aware of her presence.
[11] Flesh-ripping harmonics focused on the little humanoids' bodies and shattered their bones; they fell to a heap on the floor before they could even utter a yelp.[12] The destrachan scooped up a kobold in each hand, leaving the third to rot where it was. She made a mental note to return to this area soon, on the off chance that the carrion would attract other beings, other potential victims for her to feed upon....[13]

8. Destrachans have 10 ranks in the Move Silently skill. Their exceptional hearing is invaluable in performing this ability.

9. As hatchlings, destrachans require food like any other animal and are fed such fare by their mother. Since all destrachans lack teeth, the food must be ripped into tiny chunks and swallowed whole. Rotting, putrescent carrion is easier to rip and tear, and is therefore preferred.

As destrachans mature, they become less and less dependent upon physical sustenance and develop the ability to feed upon negative emotions, predominantly fear and misery. This is an extension of their ability to taste the fear pheromones released by their victims; as they mature, destrachans can "taste" such fear even at a distance and actually derive nourishment from it. Destrachans are cruel sadists, inflicting great pain upon their prey and stretching out their victims' agony as long as possible, that the destrachans may derive the most sustenance from their efforts. As a result of these cruel tendencies, most living creatures are unwilling to ally themselves with a destrachan, fearing (quite rightly) that they'll become the creature's next victims. Undead creatures, feeling neither fear nor pain, are useless as destrachan victims and can occasionally be found working with these vicious beasts.

10. Destrachans can focus their harmonic attacks into a cone of sonic energy that plays havoc with a victim's nervous system. Such an attack causes 6d6 points of subdual damage; victims that make a Reflex save (DC 15) take only half damage. Destrachans use this attack to render their victims unconscious so they can take them back to their lair for torture and imprisonment.

11. Most creatures with darkvision can see in the dark to a range of 60 feet, and those with powerful olfactory abilities can usually scent prey up to 30 feet away. Since their sonic cones extend up to 80 feet away and their blindsight has a 100-foot range, destrachans can often attack their victims before they're even aware of the destrachan's presence. Destrachans, being highly intelligent and crafty foes, put this advantage to frequent use.

12. The last of the destrachan's sonic attacks actually disrupts flesh and rends bone, dealing 4d6 points of damage to all victims within the sonic cone that fail their Reflex save (DC 15). Those that save successfully take only half damage.

13. Destrachans often lay such traps for future victims. Since they have no use for treasure themselves, destrachans also frequently place valuables taken from previous victims in a dungeon corridor and wait nearby to attack anyone who approaches.
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Shandrilla awoke in darkness and in pain.

At first she had no idea where she was or how she had gotten there. Certain things came to her immediate attention: she was wet; she was cold; there was a line of searing pain across her back. Only when she noticed the sound of the rushing water behind her did everything fall into place.

At once, she recalled her recent battle with the chuul: her paralyzation ploy that had worked so well against the carrion crawler failing miserably when she tried it on the lobster-thing; its serrated claw ripping through her weighted backpack and drawing a line of blood and pain across her back; being flung into the rapid waters of the underground stream while still under the effects of the chuul's paralysis; being helpless; being afraid; most of all, being sure that she'd never make it through this alive.

Well, she was alive all right, that was one point in her favor. On the other hand, she was wounded, lost, and unable to see a thing in the absolute darkness. And where were the others? "Javorik?" she called out hesitantly. "Federico?" There was no answer but the echoes of her own frightened voice.

"Oh great," she murmured to herself.

Shandrilla sat up with a groan and took stock of her situation. She still had her short sword and dagger in their scabbards on her belt, but that was about it. Her backpack was gone, and with it most of her gear. No rope, no hammer or pitons, no tinder box or torches...Hell, what was she thinking about? - no food!

Even without light, the stream was easy enough to find. She imagined the winding waterway had disgorged her along one of its sudden sharp turns, throwing her up onto a smooth, waterworn stone beach. Shandrilla cupped her hands and drank some water, doing her best to fill her stomach while she could - there was no telling how long before she'd get another chance to do so. She half considered entering the stream again and letting it take her where it would, but then realized it was less likely to take her back to the surface than it was to take her deeper into the Underdark. She shivered at that thought; she'd heard tales of the many evil denizens of the Underdark: the cruel drow, the vile mind flayers, the insane beholders, the wicked duergar. She had no desire to meet up with anything like that!

Drawing her sword with quivering fingers and shivering all the while, Shandrilla tiptoed through the lightless cavern, awkwardly feeling her way with an outstretched hand, praying she'd find a way back to the surface. Or, failing that, that she'd find her companions, or at least stumble across a lantern or a torch or even a candle so she could actually see what she was doing.

Unfortunately, Shandrilla didn't find any of those things.

But something found her.
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The torture pit was complete. The dead kobolds were rotting back at the lair, and the hatchlings were big enough now to feed themselves, using their claws to rip off hunks of decaying flesh. They had mastered the various forms of sonic attack but weren't yet big enough for her to take on hunting expeditions. That would come later, after they had grown a bit more.

But they were big enough to start learning the fine arts of torturing helpless prey. That was the destrachan's current goal, to find something she could bring back to the torture pit so her young could gain some valuable practice. Even a kobold would do for starters; they panicked easily and the taste of their torment was exquisite indeed.

She didn't find a kobold, though; she found something even better: a human.

The destrachan had no personal experience with humans, but they didn't seem much different than the other humanoid species she'd encountered in the Underdark. In fact, this one didn't seem nearly as tough as the dwarves she was familiar with: it was slow, taking little shuffling steps as if afraid of falling; its armor wasn't the metal type favored by the dwarves, either, but rather made of leather from some unknown mammal. And what was this? It was feeling along the side of the rough stone wall as it made its painstakingly slow way across the cavern. It was almost as if the human didn't trust its other senses!
[14] Strange indeed!

Still, addle-sensed or not, the human could surely suffer as well as any dwarf, possibly even as well as a frightened kobold. Noticing that the human carried a sword in hand, the destrachan let loose with the first of her harmonic attacks, shattering the weapon in a blast of sonic fury.
[15] The human yelped in surprise and foolishly reached for a second, smaller weapon on its hip; the destrachan obligingly took care of that weapon as well. It heard the distinct clatter as each piece of shattered blade fell to the stone ground, music to the creature's sensitive ears.

"Who's out there?" cried the human, fear evident in its voice.
[16] The destrachan answered with a sonic scream of a different frequency, rendering the human thing unconscious in a heap on the stone floor. With a leap and a bound the destrachan was at her victim's side, scooping it up into a gentle embrace so it wouldn't be damaged on the way to her lair.

That would come later.

14. Blind since birth, destrachans have no concept of sight. They can't grasp the notion that other beings have a visual sense that they don't share; they just assume that other beings rely upon hearing, touch, and (to a much lesser extent) smell to sense their environment.

15. Destrachans often use their metal-destroying harmonics first against victims wearing armor or carrying metal weapons, then follow up with either their subdual or killing attacks, depending on whether they're after torture victims or a quick meal for their young.

16. While destrachans have no language of their own, they are more intelligent than the average human and can easily learn, if not speak, the verbal languages of other races. Most destrachans understand Common, and those whose lairs are close to enclaves of other races often pick up their languages as well.
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"Shanny!" cried Javorik with obvious relief, face beaming in the torchlight. He came rushing up to Shandrilla and embraced her, tears running unabashedly down the sides of his white-bearded face. Shandrilla found herself crying too, big wracking sobs that left her short of breath. "I knew you'd come, I knew you would, I knew it," she repeated. She was vaguely aware of a sharp pain in her right hand, but ignored it as she hugged the little gnome's spare frame to her like a drowning woman grabbing onto a floating log.

But then she felt Javorik's body become insubstantial in her arms. She pulled back in fear, watching helplessly as he slowly faded away to nothingness, taking with him the surrounding light, leaving her in a darkness she knew was filled with twisted, evil monsters from her worst nightmares. "No, please, come back," she whimpered, "Don't leave me here with them...."

But it was too late. The brief dream was over, and Shandrilla awoke back in Hell.

Hell for her was a pit of unknown depth in a pitch black cavern somewhere deep under the earth. Hell was populated by demons, little scaled lizard-things that attacked her in the darkness.[17] One was perched on her hand right now, digging its wicked little claws deep into her flesh, waking her from her sleeping dream and dragging her back into the worse nightmare of her life.[18]

Shandrilla screamed in pain and yanked her hand away from the beast, which scampered back out of range. Cupping her wounded right hand in her left, she felt the warm trickle of blood pooling in her palm. And if that monster had been at her right hand, then the other one must be--

Sure enough, just as the thought hit her woozy brain, the other lizard-thing pounced upon her back and started ripping and tearing with its sharp claws, reopening the jagged gash across her back made by the chuul's serrated claw. Shandrilla cried out in pain and struck at the unseen creature, feeling her fingertips brush against its scales[19] before it leapt once more out of range. This was a game she had long since grown weary of, but her tormentors seemed willing to continue it forever. One beast would attack her from one direction, and when she concentrated on that one it would back off and another would jump her from a different direction. Shandrilla wasn't sure how many creatures there were there in the pit with her, but there had to be at least two...make that three, for whenever she managed to grab hold of one of her tormentors she was struck with some sort of sonic wave that had to come from another of the beasts up above.[20] The noise sent her body trembling out of control, and more times than not it sent her into blissful unconsciousness as well. That is, until she was awakened again by one of the little lizard-things scratching furrows into her flesh with its wicked claws....

She had tried climbing out of the pit, but that was no good either. Shandrilla had enough experience climbing walls and cliffs that she thought she should be able to climb up out of this subterranean hole, even in absolute darkness. The problem was, every time she started up the side she was hit by a wave of pain that sent her flesh crawling and made her bones feel like they were turning to rubber. After several times of that, she had learned her lesson - climbing out was not an option, at least not for now.

Escape was probably not an option either, she thought. Nor, if she was honest with herself, was survival, at least not for very much longer. She was weak and tired, and probably bleeding from a dozen different wounds now. Still, Shandrilla made a vow to herself there in the lightless pit: If I die, I'm taking at least one of you lizard-things with me!

17. When destrachans enter into melee combat, they attack at +9 with two sets of claws, each of which causes 1d6+4 points of damage. Destrachans rarely enter combat without "softening up" their victims with their disruptive harmonics first, though; claw attacks are usually used to perform the final, killing blow, or as an additional form of torment as seen here. Of course, since destrachans are immune to their own types of sonic attacks, they must rely upon their claws when battling others of their own race.

18. Destrachans use a wide assortment of torture on their victims, ranging from physical and sonic attacks to starvation and even sleep deprivation. Destrachans need little sleep themselves, remaining awake 20 hours out of any given 24.

19. A destrachan's scales do not overlap like lizards' scales do. Rather, they lay close together, side by side, forming a pattern like a jigsaw. Scale size varies depending upon location, with smaller scales on the underside and ever-larger ones closer to the dorsal plates that jut up from the creature's hunched spine. Scale coloration is also variable; destrachans are tan or greenish-gray, with vertical stripes of a darker color like a tiger. Such a color scheme helps the destrachan blend in against the underground environment; the creatures have 7 ranks in the Hide skill as a result.

20. Destrachans are immune to the sonic attacks of their own kind, so a mother has no qualms against firing her cone of flesh-disrupting (or subdual) harmonics at a victim if her young are also in the area of effect. This immunity also forces the mother to rely upon non-lethal physical attacks against her offspring as "negative reinforcement" when training them for life.
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The destrachan listened to her handiwork and was content. Such beautiful music! The human's shrieks of pain filled her with delight and permeated her black heart with joy; each yelp and scream that her offspring elicited from the human thing was but another chord in a musical tapestry that she could willingly listen to forever.[21]

The destrachan also cast a critical ear over her young's physical performances. The firstborn was taking to this new game with the skill of an adept; he knew just when to claw and when to jump away. His sister was learning as well, but not as quickly. Twice now, the human thing had managed to grab her when she had approached to do her mischief. The first time, the mother had come to the daughter's rescue, dropping the human with a blast of ultrasonics. The second time she let events take their course, and the human actually managed to get a grip on the secondborn's limb before the firstborn incapacitated it. That showed good judgment on his part; while many would let a sibling suffer for her own stupidity and slow reflexes, the firstborn apparently realized that the game could go on for much longer if he had his sister there playing along with him. The mother hissed her appreciation, then returned her attention to the human's shrieks and the taste of its fear and torment.

The human was slowing down, though, that much was certain. Its reactions weren't nearly as quick as they had been at first. Plus, the destrachan could smell the coppery scent of the human's blood, even from way up at the top of the pit. It wouldn't last for too much longer.

Quite a pity, that. Later on, she'd have to show her young the tricks to prolonging a victim's agony. For now, though, she let them play with their human toy, confident that she could always find another victim so that they could further hone their skills. In the meantime, she intended to enjoy this one's suffering for as long as possible.

21. The screams from a destrachan's torture pit also serve to keep other Underdark predators away; destrachans do not enjoy being disturbed during their feasts of torment.
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Javorik sputtered water out of his mouth as he pulled himself up onto the wet stone of the cavern. Federico followed soon thereafter.

"So, whaddaya think?" asked the fighter, sticking a finger into an ear and shaking it vigorously up and down in an effort to clear it of water. "You think she got thrown up this way, or continued on down the stream?"

"Hard to say," admitted Javorik. "I don't know how long she was paralyzed. I'm sure if she could move, she'd try to swim to the 'shore,' such as it is."

"I suppose it can't hurt to look around," said Federico. "We can always return to the stream if she's not around here, and see where it spits us out next."

"True," admitted Javorik. "Those potions oughtta last a little bit longer, anyway." He swung his everburning torch back and forth, looking for evidence of his friend having passed that way.

"Not likely to find footprints in solid rock, you know," commented Federico helpfully.

"Not looking for footprints," replied Javorik. "Looking for--There! Look!"

Javorik dropped to his knees and held the magical torch close to the cavern floor. Federico bent over to get a good look at what his cousin had found. It was a tiny drop of blood.

"You think it's hers?" he asked hopefully.

"Only one way to find out!" replied Javorik, getting back to his feet and heading away from the rushing stream behind him, plunging deeper into the Underdark. "Look! There's another one! If it's Shanny, she went this way!"

Federico drew his sword and followed.
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It had been a marvelous experience, but now, alas, it was over. The human's suffering had been quite enjoyable, but now it was apparently dead. It had passed out before many times, of course, each time the destrachan or her offspring had sent the appropriate sonic scream to overload the human's nervous system, but each time the sounds of the human's continued breathing confirmed that it had simply been rendered unconscious.

This time was different. The human had collapsed of its own accord as the secondborn clawed at its side, and the destrachan couldn't pick up the rasping and panting of the human's labored breathing any more. The firstborn approached the human thing cautiously, ready to jump back if it showed any signs of life. It sniffed, bent over, and placed a single claw on the soft flesh of the human's left arm, exposed where the leather sleeve had been ripped nearly off. He drew his claw slowly, agonizingly, toward the human's wrist. The secondborn cautiously approached as well, ready to leap upon the human as soon as it woke up and attempted to fight off her brother once more.

But this time the human didn't wake up, even though the firstborn had drawn blood from his long scratch along the human's arm. This time, there would be no attempt at retaliation against the young tormentor.

Pity. It looked like playtime was over.
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C'mon, what are you waiting for? thought Shandrilla furiously. She knew she could never prevail against her tormentors unless she could get them both at once; every time she managed to lay a hand on one of them, the other one knocked her senseless with that teeth-rattling sound they made. She'd have to kill them quickly, too, before the other one up at the top of the pit incapacitated her. Shandrilla ground her teeth together to prevent herself from crying out in pain as one of the little lizard-demons slowly clawed its way down her arm, drawing another line of blood. Tears escaped from her closely-shut eyes, but she gave no other outward sign of her pain, nor did she release the breath she had been holding. C'mon, I'm dead, she thought, Get over here and feed on my corpse already, you vicious little lizards!
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The secondborn approached the dead human-thing. It seemed safe enough; her brother was digging into the flesh of its arm with no response, and she could no longer hear the human's ragged breathing. Still, she'd been tricked one time too many to take this human for granted; it was faster than she had expected. She adjusted her complex ears to see if she could detect the human's heartbeat without actually touching it,[22] just in case it was a trap.

In doing so, her tail brushed carelessly against the human's other arm.

22. A destrachan can adjust the structure of its ears to make them either more or less sensitive to sounds. With such auditory control, destrachans gain a +4 circumstance bonus to all saves against sound-based attacks.
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That was all Shandrilla had been waiting for. Releasing the pent-up scream - of equal parts pain, terror, and hatred - that she'd been keeping bottled up inside her while she played dead, she lunged at her unseen tormentors. The one that had been clawing her left arm she grabbed by a leg; the other one she was lucky enough to snag around the throat. Squeezing hard with her right hand, she crushed what she hoped was the creature's windpipe, or at least its voice box, with any luck preventing it from using any of the sonic attacks it had used against her so frequently.

Shandrilla wasn't able to do the same to the other creature, as she only held it by its lower leg. So she improvised and swung it back and forth, bashing its head into the stone floor with each swing. That seemed to do the trick as well; at least she wasn't being attacked by a sonic scream from either of these two demon-lizards, nor was the third one attempting to render her unconscious with its nerve-wracking harmonics. She didn't waste time wondering why that was, though, concentrating solely on bashing the brains out of her now-helpless tormentors.
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The destrachan heard the human's scream of attack and inwardly marveled at its ability to withstand such intense pain. She'd definitely have to find another one of these humans; this one had been wasted on her two offspring, to let them grasp the basics of a good torture session. She could only imagine the pleasures to be had if she took over the torturing role herself!

The destrachan was about to intervene on her offspring's behalf - the human had, surprisingly, taken them both unawares - when she heard a different sound from the cavern behind her. It sounded very much like a human, only with a deeper voice; perhaps a male?

"Shanny?" it called out from far away, its echo reverberating throughout the stone corridors that led to the destrachans' lair. "Can you hear me?"

Abandoning her children to the enraged human in the pit - after all, it was weak from its ordeal, and had no claws to speak of; surely her young could manage to fight it off as they'd done so many times in the past - the destrachan turned to face this new threat.
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The first sonic wave took both gnomes by surprise.

It seemed to come from nowhere; in truth, it came from just around a corner in the tunnel before them.[23]

Federico, in the lead, crumpled instantly. Javorik, partially shielded from the blast's full effect by his cousin's body, felt a numbness travel through his body and a dizziness steal the strength from his limbs. On impulse, he dropped to the cavern floor alongside Federico, feigning unconsciousness but keeping his eyes open a slit. He let the words to his magic missile spell come to his lips.

The little illusionist didn't have long to wait. Around the corner stalked an upright lizardlike creature, a good nine or ten feet long from nose to tail, come to check on its handiwork. In the flickering light of Javorik's dropped everburning torch, it looked like nothing so much as a dinosaur.

Javorik let the dinosaur have it. Magic missiles screamed across the short distance between the illusionist's fingers and the monster's flank. It roared in pain and surprise, and Javorik took the opportunity to dive between the creature's legs, where he couldn't easily be attacked. Pulling out his trusty dagger, he skittered out from under the monster's legs and leapt up at its flank, stabbing his weapon in deep and using it to pull himself up onto the beast's back, where he figured he was even safer still.

It looked like he was right, for the creature couldn't reach him with its clawed forelimbs from his current position; maybe it could have had he been bigger, but that was one of the advantages of being a gnome. And now, Javorik fully intended to capitalize on one of the advantages of being a spellcaster: he started the words to a blindness/deafness spell.

Javorik had intended to blind the creature with his spell, but fortunately he got a good look at its head while it thrashed around trying to dislodge him, and noticed the stupid thing didn't have any eyes! Altering the spell effects in mid-casting, he chose to deafen the beast instead.[24] At least he was certain the creature had ears!

It was the best thing he could have done. Immediately, the beast stopped stock-still, as if assessing its new situation and unable to believe it. Then it began thrashing about, grabbing at its head with its talon-tipped forelimbs in an attempt to unclog its hearing.

In all of the beast's thrashing about, Javorik was thrown from its back. He landed next to Federico, and took the opportunity to slap his cousin awake. Good thing, too, for the wounded and deafened beast was thrashing out in all directions, screaming out sonic attacks left and right. One blasted the side of the cavern wall, sending a small explosion of stone fragments flying off like a fireworks display. Another clipped the top of Federico's head, splitting his metal helm into small fragments that rained down from around his head like a cloud of dandruff.[25]

But that only strengthened the little gnomish fighter's resolve. Grabbing up his short sword, he leapt at the panicked beast and drove his blade deep into its wicked heart. The destrachan fell to its side, kicked feebly once or twice, and fell limp to the ground, as lifeless as the stone it lay upon. Thick red blood oozed from its wound and pooled on the floor.[26]

Federico extricated his sword from the foul beast, then heard a primal scream of triumph. He looked at his cousin; Javorik stared back at him in disbelief. "That's Shanny!" they cried out in unison.

Racing toward the sound, they came upon a large, circular pit dug deep into the back of an enormous cavern. A narrow, sloping ramp curved along one side of the pit's rim, providing access to the bottom. The two gnomes raced down into the pit, marveling at the sight they saw there.

Shandrilla was crouched on her knees with her arms at her sides, a dead lizard throttled tightly in each hand. Her head was upraised as if in supplication, her eyes closed tight but leaking tears of gratitude that spilled down the sides of her face. Her black leather armor was ripped and tattered all over; judging from the dried blood caking her skin, so was her body.

Javorik approached her and touched her matted hair gently. "Shanny?" he said in a choked whisper, tears leaking down the sides of his face. "It's me. Javorik. It's gonna be all right now, Shanny."

Shandrilla cracked open her eyes and winced at the flickering illusory flames of the everburning torch; after so much time spent in absolute darkness the unaccustomed light hurt her eyes. She looked down at the dead destrachan young hanging limply in her hands, and was surprised that they were little bigger than chickens; for all the pain they had caused her, she had expected them to be much bigger than they really were.[27]

She opened her hands with some effort; her many wounds and recent exertions were rapidly taking their toll. As her head started spinning and she felt herself rapidly slipping once more into blessed unconsciousness, she managed to get out a few words to her companions, her two loyal friends who had braved unknown dangers to rescue her from the pit. The words came haltingly, from a voice long strained by screams, first of torment and then of triumph:

"Not too--bad for a--silly--human girl--"

Shandrilla pitched forward into the arms of her companions.

23. Destrachans are so adept at using their sonic attacks that they can "bounce" them off of walls, floors, and ceilings with the accuracy of a professional pool player. If it chooses to do so, a destrachan can also aim its sonic cone at the floor directly at its feet and have it spread out equally to a radius of 30 feet, affecting all other creatures within range. Naturally, these effects only work if the surface being used to "rebound" the sonics is itself immune to the effects being produced.

24. For obvious reasons, spells that cause deafness in a destrachan (such as blindness/deafness and silence) render the creature effectively blind. It immediately loses its auditory-based blindsight, and all targets are treated as if they had full concealment, meaning that the destrachan has a 50% chance of missing its target each round regardless of its attack roll.

25. Since a destrachan's many sonic abilities are intricately linked with its exceptional hearing, a deafened destrachan often miscalculates the frequencies of its sonic attacks. DMs should feel free to randomize a destrachan's disruptive harmonics when it cannot hear properly.

26. DMs using exotic ingredients for magical inks might consider having the blood of a destrachan be a component in the inks used to inscribe the spells sculpt sound, shatter, shout, and sound burst (based on the destrachan's association with sonic attacks), and invisibility purge and see invisibility (based on its auditory blindsight ability which negates the advantages of invisibility).

27. Destrachans, when first hatched, stand about 6 inches from nose to tail. By the end of their first year they're the size of a large rooster; at the end of their second year they reach nearly 4 feet from nose to tail. At 3 years, the destrachan stands some 5 feet tall, reaches a good 10 feet from snout to tail, and is considered an adult. Beyond its first three years a destrachan's growth rate slows considerably, but it continues to grow throughout its life. The largest known destrachans reach a length of over 20 feet and stand well over 11 feet tall in their hunched-over stance. Fortunately, such monsters are very rare.
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And there we have it, the last of the "Shandrilla/Javorik" stories I ever wrote up as an "Ecology" article. I rather liked how this one turned out; I thought it really showed the level of friendship between the "silly human girl" thief and the gnomish illusionist. (Federico, despite his gruff attitude toward Shandrilla, obviously holds her in high regard as well.)

Incidentally, I wrote "The Ecology of the Chuul" intending to make it look like I had killed off Shandrilla, knowing full well that she would be captured by a destrachan and rescued in "The Ecology of the Destrachan." That was my first - and only - "cliffhanger ending," and had Dave Gross remained the editor of Dragon for another half-year or so, these two would likely have seen print in back-to-back issues.

Oh well. I hope you guys enjoy reading these. Sadly, I only have a limited supply of unpublished "Ecology" articles, and eventually they're going to run out.

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