Grimnir, Traithe, Ash, and Dame (the ginger-haired druidess having finally told the party her name), were startled from their research in the library by the sudden shaking of the ground as Mel and Kevorkian played around with the organ. They ran to the chapel to find their two companions vanished, with the sheet music for the 'Dismissal Fugue' sitting out on the stand.
They discussed attempting to follow, then decided to look into the crypts and the "blob thing" that Mel had described before he and Kevorkian vanished. They wandered the halls, using their map to following in Kevorkian and the gypsy-boy's footsteps until they saw the bloated form rising out of the pit in the shrine. Grimnir seemed very interested in the large book they could suspended against the far wall of the room by the thing's mass.
They returned to the chapel and started experimenting with the music laid out on the organ. Ash sat down to play and, despite the unpleasant droning he urged out of the keyboard, vanished, along with Dame, reappearing in the small water-closet next to the library. A few more attempts from all of the not-so-musically-inc
lined party members revealed that the transportation was limited to within the complex but was basically random. Worse, each time they played the sounds were accompanied by strong tremors from the ground below.
Grimnir suggested that Ash and Traithe keep trying until they were deposited somewhere on the other side of the room with the blob, then open one of the secret doors indicated on the map and attempt to access the book from that side. After several attempts which landed them in toilets and mass crypts, Ash and Traithe found themselves in a small room with a high ceiling, a single unmarked sarcophagus, and a door with dozens of skeletal fists nailed to it.
Of course the sarcophagus was not empty and the occupant, the petrified remains of a squat, wide man in ornate, petrified, leather armor and a large warmask. Traithe hacked at it, only to receive rather taunting, though urbane, comments--"Your formation is preposterous, why do you not simply give in?" and "There is dignity in surrender.” Ash sent Zorch to grab the thing, only to have Zorch sucked--soul, body, and all--into the thing's maw. Ash screamed, alerting Mel and Kevorkian who, excused themselves from their conversation with the Red Architect and came running. Mel quickly unlocked the door allowing Ash and Traithe to make a hasty withdraw from the room. Traithe and Kevorkian then held the door shut to allow it to be re-locked.
They made their way up the hall to the other side of the room with the blob-thing and Ash sent a message to Grimnir informing him that they had finally made it. Traithe threw open the door and Grimnir immediately tried to kick the book out of the room using a series of repelling blasts. Grimnir missed the books, but managed to eject a thirty-foot core sample of the gelatinous monster and the orbs floating in it out into the hallway where Traithe and the others were standing--shattering many of the orbs and sending numerous small slug-like spirits scurrying up the hallway.
Traithe set to work electrocuting the escaping souls via witchbolts. Seeing that Grimnir missed the book, Mel charged the room and, using the semi-solid surface of the thing as a wall, chimneyed up the back wall and grabbed the book. Dame lit the thing (and everything else in the room) up with faerie fire. Now presented with a larger and clearer target, Grimnir blasted Mel out of the room--book and all--and Kevorkian slammed the door.
The blob, awakened, turned its attention to Grimnir and Dame in the opposite corridor, spewing a stream of liquefied time over the two of them, freezing them solid. They quickly thawed and Grimnir teleported himself over to join the others. Dame ran for the organ and played the 'Dismissal Fugue' again, landing her in the Red Architect's room, where she was drawn, apparently rather reluctantly, into a conversation with the undead lady--who was rather non-complimentary about Dame's social skills.
The others wandered back in that direction, but when Grimnir saw the shadows in the Architect's chambers moving independently, he snatched Dame out of the room and slammed the door. They continued to converse with the Architect, though Ash and Grimnir insisted that they do it through the door--Grimnir pointing out that Nazir An-azat was a well-known name in Hell and an ally of the infernal lord known commonly as 'The Betrayer' (often confused with 'The Betrayer in Battle', who may or may not be a distinct entity).
Trading story for story, they learned a bit of the history of the place: The original plan to awaken the 'god' that sleeps below the mountain, which she alternately referred to as 'Duvan'ku' and 'Aurgelmr'. How the first sacrifice became the 'parasite', collecting all the sacrificed souls meant for the god. How the Parasite was near the breaking point of becoming a god in its own right--and that it would be a very bad thing, for them, if anyone else were to die in this place. How she made a pact with hell to betray her former master (though she gave little in the way of details for this one), and how she was trapped in this place until willingly freed by a living, mortal human.
As Grimnir and the Red Architect chatted for over an hour, the others rested to recuperate from their encounter with the Parasite and Kevorkian and Ash set about translating the book. The title read +The Million Violations+ and appeared to record, in disturbing detail, all of the Noga's crimes against the gods and men. The two skimmed through the codex, looking for references to the acts of the Red Architect, only to be stricken with feeble mindedness from the experience--reduces to babbling imbeciles. Kevorkian prayed to the god(s) of Kryptgarten and was healed, but retained no recollection of the contents of the book.
The party rested longer while Kevorkian and Ash recovered from their mind-numbing ordeal and then discussed what to do about the souls trapped in the Parasite, enumerating several possible options, none of which seemed good:
- Allow the souls to pass to Aurgelmr, awakening him and probably destroying the world.
- Allow the souls to remain with the Parasite, giving birth to some new, unknown god of evil.
- Deliver the book of names to one of the Dukes of Hell, allowing them to claim the souls and add them to the armies of the Blood War.
- Free the souls from the orbs entrapping them and destroy them as they come out, probably sending the remnants on to the fugue-plains of Hades where they would be added to the hordes of the fiendish Yugoloth.
- Kill the Parasite and allow the souls to inhabit and animate their bodies buried on the mountain, creating a legion of potentially millions of the undead.
- Find some way to siphon off and collect the souls and use their power for the party's own benefit.
- Destroy both the bodies and the Parasite, but leave the souls intact and allow them to go on to their apportioned afterlife--which would probably have results similar to some mix of 1, 3, and 4, but with less predictability.
Unable to think of any positive options, and, with Grimnir's prodding, leaning towards giving the souls to Hell, the party decided to question the other 'Greater Repugnancies' buried in complex in the hopes of getting better information.
|Art by Jez Gordon|
After some negotiation, the party decided to go with option "5" above, with the assistance of the Blessed Afflictor--asking him to lead the undead army that would be created away from the mountain. They asked the Blessed Afflictor to remain in his chambers--or rather, refrained from letting him out--and went to corroborate his story with the others, leaving Mel behind as 'insurance' (knowing that if they took too long the crazy gypsy would probably free the Afflictor for the fun of it).
First they met the Testifier. Ash vowed "To bring honor to the house of Ellindir and restore it to it's former glory," and Grimnir swore to "Protect this reality and destroy the god Tyr." Then they asked him to enumerate all of the oaths ever made by those entered in the complex.
Twenty-four hours later, they came out of the trance of listening to this enforcer of vows, to realize that they could interpret very little of his archaic pronouncements. Instead they asked for a list only of those vows that currently bound the 'Greater Repugnancies'.
He informed them that the Twin Inquisitors had sworn "to string up the Slaughterer from the Oak of Judgement by his own entrails", and that all of the Greater Repugnancies were bound by the oath of the Red Architect's curse to not leave their crypts until such time as "a living, mortal human requested that the Blessed Afflictor lead the armies of this place on the field of battle". He explained that his role was simply as an enforcer of oaths under the laws of Hell, and that he neither knew nor cared why the oaths were made. He also explained that, should they be freed, he desired to see the destruction of the Red Architect as she was an oathbreaker, due "one million, one hundred and eleven thousand, one hundred and eleven years of torment".
Next they visited the 'Exalted Interrogator', an ancient corpse wrapped in petrified bandages which cracked and crumbled as it moved, who asked each of them their reasons for coming to this place. Once satisfied with the truth of their answers, he informed them that the Blessed Afflictor never lied but that the Red Architect seldom told the truth. When the ascertained that his primary motivation was the punishment of those who speak lies, Grimnir quickly informed him of the perceived duplicity of Markos Mondaviak and the other council-members.
Sufficiently satisfied, and now knowing the scope of the undead-on-undead free-for-all that would result from freeing the Blessed Afflictor, they made their way back to his chambers. After some very brief negotiations and Traithe formally inviting him to lead the armies of the Noga once more on the field of battle, the Blessed Afflictor lead the way out and went directly to the chambers of the Testifier where he swore:
"I Praetor-Pontifex Cyris Carnithrax Maximus hereby inculcate this oath to never, by means direct or indirect, nor by inaction, cause harm the mortals I now look upon, who are known by the names Grimnir Gylfaginning, Arasheth Ellindir, Elaira Nightfall, Kevorkian, Dame, and Melastasya. Second, I swear to obey any order given to me by one of these mortals, save where those orders would bring harm to any of those so named, and to extend the execution of any such orders to all those forces under my command. Last, I swear that if any and all of these mortals are by some means destroyed, I shall immediately take myself and all forces under my command to the Celestial Staircase in the city of Dekon Thar atop Mount Duvan'ku and thence commit myself and all such forces to the side of Hell in the eternal struggle known as the Blood War, until either time or our existence shall end.
For these concessions, I request the following oath from my mortal masters: That they swear to aid Praetor-Pontifex Cyris Carnithrax Maximus in his flight from this consecrated mountain, and to protect his safety until such time as he is transported to a place occupied by no less than eight thousand and eight living and mortal human souls.”
His oath sworn, he placed his hand on the head of the Testifier, who crumbled, and handed the Skull of the Testifier to Grimnir. Grimnir swore the requested oath to aid the Praetor in his escape from the mountain and convey him to a human city, then passed the skull around the party. All save Melastasya so swore and the skull was returned to Grimnir's care.
Stepping out into the hall, they saw the Red Architect coming forth bearing her bronze lantern and sending all the shadows in the hallway to dancing free from those who cast them, and the Twin Inquisitors rushing across the hall from their tomb to assault the Slaughterer.
The eyes of the Testifier's skull flashed and the ground beneath the Architect's feet opened up. Grimnir managed to snatch her lantern with a thorn whip and pass it to Dame just before Nazir An-Azat, the Red Architect, was pulled down into the flaming pits of Baator by hundreds of devilish hands. The party then rushed to the aid of the Slaughterer and were joined by the Exalted Interrogator.
The female Inquisitor, Eizethrat Nexx was a huge, pale woman with a somber, defeated expression and undead fetuses crawling in and out of her mouth. Her husband and brother, Gorgulos Nexx was an equally enormous man with the skin around his ribcage rotted away and maggots the size of cats writhing within in him and chewing his skin. The Slaughterer held his own, his armor sprouting new spikes, blades, and flutes with every strike landed on him, but seemed unable to harm his assailants with his undead, life-draining powers.
Ash levitated Eizethrat into the air, pinioning her against the ceiling where she was repeatedly buffeted by Grimnir's force blasts and the Blessed Afflictor's telekinetic powers. Traithe summoned grease which sent Gorgulos sliding to the ground where Mel and the Slaughterer proceeded to pound on him. Swarms of maggots and undead fetuses crawled over the two of them, but seemed unable to harm either.
The Interrogator encouraged Grimnir to "get them talking" and, in response to Grimnir's subsequent taunting, Eizethrat, still floating on the ceiling cried "We cannot be defeated." This, of course, was obviously false and the mere words in the presence of the Interrogator caused her flesh to begin melting away.
In the end, Ash ignited the grease on the floor around Gorgulos, burning away what was left of his maggoty bulk, and Grimnir crushed Eizethrat against the ceiling by launching the lid of the sarcophagus at her.
The battle over, both the Interrogator and the Slaughterer touched the skull of the testifier and repeated the Blessed Afflictor's oath not to harm the party directly, indirectly, or through inaction, and renewed their oaths of obedience.
With their new undead allies in tow, the party then headed to go dispose of the Parasite...
To be continued...