February 19, 2020
Caller of Path and Orla Ondine awake in a barren space. This sunless place seems endless, and there is little feature to the ground beneath them. As their eyes open and the confusion of their being settles, they recall the moments prior to their apparition here; the battle that cost their lives.
Orla feels on her body, recalling where she was stabbed in the moments before her death. Caller feels a bittersweet loss as he remembers bargaining with his god to save the lives of his friends, now with full knowledge of what the exchange had cost. Although Orla and Caller recognize their demise, it is a small satisfaction knowing that somewhere else, Luxia Fielding, Sava Smallman, and Magic the Dwarf remain alive and well.
Although the wizard Orla has reached this place with none of her magical totems, Caller finds a candle in his pocket. Perhaps it is a gift from his god, or some offering sent from the grateful living, he lights it and feels a humble bliss.
Together they wander by candlelight, but not long before encountering another odd paid. Before them, a woman and a halfling; both scarred by weapons still stuck in their torsos. They introduce themselves as Jora the Whip and Jillian Jailhound, tell of their deaths in the heat of combat at high sea. Jora had been a hearty shipmate and Jillian an escaped convict.
Four of them then encounter yet another odd couple; an elven woman escorted by a nearly decapitated goat. She introduces herself as Almathea, and her companion as Sir Cudsworth. Although she is not sure how she arrived at this place, the group informs her that she is most probably also dead, which comes to her easily as the last memories she has are of wandering away from a battle, the last of her group to survive and only barely. Almathea presumes that it was not long afterward some hardship of the wild took the last of her health.
Altogether unsure what to do with themselves, the sextet wander the empty place and contemplate the meaning of their demise. Jora and Jillian eject the weapons from their bodies and in doing so realize that in their current form, they are able to manifest objects that they once held dear in the land of the living. Jora produces a javelin more fitted to his small frame than the unwieldy spear, while Jillian plays with her newly procured rapier.
Caller calls them to hush as they approach another figure. Hooded in dark robes not far in the distance, a skeletal being hovers and beckons them. It speaks very little, but is of some authority in this domain.
The being presents the party a choice; accept their death and move on to the afterlife which they most deserve, or face the challenge of death's gauntlet for a chance to return to life. Succeeding would give an opportunity to return unto the land of the living, but failure assures their eternal souls be lost forever.
After moments of deliberation, none feel ready to accept their passing, and thus the band of heroes hastily agrees to the being's challenge. It gestures to a massive skull in the distance, its mouth open and large enough to enter and suggests that their challenge awaits through its gaping maw. They part with the skeletal entity and prepare themselves to descend into whatever depths await.
At the mouth of the skull, loud screams echo through the plains. It is unclear to them if they are hearing the sounds of tormented spirits within the gauntlet below, or merely the harsh winds whipping through the giant skull's parted teeth. Looking into its mouth provides no clue to the horrors that await them, but with brashness and gusto Jora leads the group downward into the depths.
Descending a stairwell for sometime, the screams fade away, and a chatter of voices begins to rise. A collection of familiar voices surround the group. As if pulled from distant memories of forgotten friends, lovers, and relatives the voices are a fascinating array of nostalgia and curiosity. It feels as if every lingering wonder over a lost connection could be answered if only one would stop and listen here for long enough.
At the base of the stairs, still surrounded by these voices, the group finds themselves at an intersection and unsure of which way to go. Jillian looks to her god for guidance and receives a warning about dangers awaiting down a corridor to the right. She asks again, asking for more knowledge, but finds only anger and obliges the group to wait a moment while she prays for forgiveness.
During this time, Jora hears a familiar voice but can't quite place who they were. He remembers their importance, but no face comes to his mind. This puzzle in his mind begins to take hold, and he tries long to put answer to his curiosity until he remembers his purpose in this place. Many more questions could be answered, once he escaped from death's grasp.
Heading down a corridor to the left, the group finds themselves in a hallway of indiscernible length, seemingly filled with infinite doors of various make. To their side, an open archway leading elsewhere.
Almathea studies the doors, looking for something familiar from her life but finds nothing. Mystified by the multitude, she ushers the group instead toward the archway and peers through to see a hallway full of nooks. Inside each, a mummified corpse stands erect. Jora is spooked by this sight and urges her to turn around immediately.
Upon reversing course, Jora notices one of the many doors begin to open. With less sense than most, he calls out and approaches to greet whatever is coming through. A moment later, a spectral entity burst forward through the doorway and skitters up the wall to the ceiling. It has a ghostly figure and shifts as it moves. It lets out a screech and dives toward Almathea, slashing her down.
Jillian reconnects with her deity and commands the spirit away with her divine might. Orla follows with some magic that fails to affect it, and Jora stabs at the figure. Turned by the might of Jillian's conviction, the spirit flees back from whence it came, leaving the group to scurry away while Sir Cudsworth drags Almathea's body back to the central pathway.
Though fallen, Almathea realizes she is not dead. Or more, she's already dead. Her vitality here is not measured in blood or consciousness, but some other form of spiritual power. Harnessing it, she pulls herself back up and remedies the pain the spectre had caused.
Still fearing the ill omen to their right, the group heads down the central hallway leading to a large space filled with mist. It is so wide that there seems to be no walls or ceiling, but it is most certainly an illusion of the heavy fog. Far in the distance, a large dark shape stands. Caller illuminates his candle and casts a spell to detect evil forces around them. Lighting the way, he leads the party through the mist.
Reaching the dark shape, they recognize it as a large gallows tree. Hung bodies sway from its branches by nooses, though no wind blows them to motion. Caller's vision tells him that this tree is most certainly evil, and wishes them harm.
Crows flap about the bodies, pecking at their flesh and cawing menacingly. One such bird carries a golden coin in its beak. Recognizing the concept of the coin as a token of passage within the world of the dead, Orla tells the group that it's probable such a piece could help them find their way back to life.
Jillian grows curious about the coin the bird carries and casts bewitchment upon the crow, commanding it to 'GIVE'. In kind, the bird flits down to her, placing the coin at her feet. Then, it returns to one of the hanging bodies and pecks out an eye to also lay at her feet. Again, it repeats this with another eye in offer, then an ear, a nose, and more small bits of body for almost an hour. By the time it finishes, Jillian has been gifted a small pile of mutilated flesh and organs.
As the bird finishes, it perches on a branch. Another crow flies toward it, and the two winged bodies merge into a larger one. Then, again another and it grows larger still. While the group wishes time to inspect the coin they received they feel wary of staying longer and head away to their left.
They come to a large brass door, marked with runes of fire and pyramids. Jora recognizes some of the shapes but fears them far less than the crows they just left, opening the door. Inside, he sees a room of polished metal with lewd tapestries hanging from the walls. They depict lustful acts of pleasure, while a large wooden desk and throne-like chair sit in the center.
Upon entering, a very handsome man appears at the desk. With horns on his head, goat-like legs, and red skin, he appears a familiar sight to Orla who had studied some occult writing. He grins at her with a devilish smile and asks how he can be of service. Orla asks him to explain their situation.
The man introduces himself as The Ambassador from Hell, and tells them about the golden coin that Jillian had procured from the crow. They are a currency called Obols, equivalent to one eternal soul.
Summoning one such coin in his hand, he tells the group that they'll need them if they're ever to return to life, but reminds them that the odds of surviving the challenges ahead are slim. He offers an easier course, conscripting their souls to hell in exchange for an easier return to life, suggesting the probability of doing so otherwise would be rather unlikely given what awaits.
Orla tries to make a deal, offering a plethora of souls once turned to the land, but the red man declines as payment in such bargains must be offered up front. It would seem there is no system of credit to be found among the damned.
The Ambassador extends an invitation to his Palace of Innocent Deaths, elsewhere in the land of the dead. He describes it as a place of feasting and pleasure, and recounts the many satisfactions that await them should the party accept.
Jora studies the lewd tapestries with skepticism, and sees a myriad of scenes that depict a wide range of turgid delights. It's tempting, but not enough. Jora rushes to The Ambassador and tries to snatch the golden coin from his hand. This delights the red man and makes him laugh as he hoists it above the halflings hand and away from his reach.
Jillian explores the back of the office, finding a winding passageway filled with mummies similar to the sort they'd found earlier. Meanwhile, Caller and Almathea discuss the merit of offering Sir Cudsworth's soul, but Almathea will have no such bargain claim her companion. Instead, the group bows away from The Ambassador and leave to return from where they came. The Ambassador from Hell reminds them he will be waiting for their return, and that his door is always open for a bargain.
Passing the tree again, the group carries onward to an archway and stone passage that lead to a large wooden door shaped somewhat like a coffin. Through it, they see a relatively small room lined with many shelves of different jars. Though some are glass, and others clay, they are countless in their multitude.
Almathea and Cudsworth enter the room to inspect the jars further, and are shocked when suddenly a very tall and thin humanoid appears. It stands above them, at least twelve feet tall and is placing a jar on a very high rung of the shelf. Its head is naught but a wide mouth of teeth and two golden eyes sewn like buttons on its face.
Cautiously, the elf greets it and is immediately met with aggression. Jillian reacts, cursing it, while the goat pulls Almathea out of the room in terror. As soon as she is beyond the archway of the coffin-door, the being vanishes from sight.
Recalling what he'd done with his javelin, Jora manifests the armor he had worn in life, and the others follow suit, preparing themselves to face this creature once more. Quietly, Jora then sneaks into the room, causing the tall thing to reappear in the group's vision.
Though it doesn't notice Jora's hiding, it definitely sees Jillian fire a bow, striking it in the chest. In response, it grabs a jar from the shelf and opens it to release a ghostly figure. The tall one opens its mouth and drinks the spirit, ejecting the arrow from its body and healing itself of its wound.
Almathea rushes back in and swings her sword, but panics and makes a fool of herself. Orla summons a rope to bind the creature, hoisting it into the air while Caller protects himself in a holy sanctuary. With the beast bound, Jora jumps out from hiding and stabs at it, but slips and poorly misses.
Jillian summons the power of her god to turn the unholy being away, but instead causes several of the jars to crack open, releasing dozens of spirits from their confines and into the air. The monster sucks in some of these spirits and it loosens the bonds Orla had placed on it. Almathea tries her best to recapture it in the binds, but fails, and Orla can't hold it either.
Protected by the blessing of his god, Caller calmly walks in and assesses the situation. He regards the golden eyes of the beast and recognizes them as the coins The Ambassador had been discussing. He then grabs two soul jars, and places them outside the room for safe keeping.
In this process, the monster spots Caller and dives to attack him, but from the cleric's blessedness, the tall creature trips in the process and falls prone before them. Jora sees the coins as well and seizes the opportunity to stab out one of its eyes, claiming one of the Obols for himself. In triumph, Jora shouts, "In the land of the floor, the short one is king!"
Jillian neglects the eyes and again tries to command the spirit to flee but fails to overcome its will, and the beast rises again to suck up more souls in the process.
Almathea and the goats start smashing as many jars as they can, setting loose hundreds of spirits and Orla tries to bind it again in her ropework spell. Meanwhile, Jora and Caller steal more soul jars, and Jillian attacks the beast with her axes. In kind, the monster responds by striking Jillian.
The elf and goat continue breaking jars, now freeing hundreds of souls into the air but barely making a dent in the thousands that are present in the room. Orla gives up on her magic and helps Jora steal more of the jars, to which he assures her they can trade to The Ambassador for coins.
Caller reaches the wounded Jillian and casts a protective spell on her, urging her to battle as he tries to rally the group to a sensible plan amidst their chaos. Almathea summons a second goat.
Jora and Jillian continue fighting while Almathea borrows some luck to rebind the creature in her rope spell. The goats try to knock the tall creature down, but fail and break a horn in the process. Orla stabs at it with her sword, but misses. Caller, Jora, and Jillian all fail to bring the beast to their level.
It continues to repair itself on the souls of the dead, and the battle seems unwinnable. Caller stands dumbfounded and helpless to calculate a strategy, but through the state of doubt Orla manages to bind it with her ropes and Jora pulls it to its knees. Jillian captures her second chance to steal its eye, and pries it loose from its socket amidst her cheers.
The beast rages, and Almathea tries to throw some broken glass in its mouth, slicing her hands in the process while Orla, Caller, and Jora make their quick escape. Jillian continues to stay and fight despite their beckoning, and when she exits it is made apparent that she never collected the coin that fell.
With face in palm, Caller grabs one of Almathea's goats and re-enters the room to see the tall beast sewing its eye back on. Focused on the safety of her goat, the elf casts another rope spell to loosen the threads of the beast's eye, giving Caller enough time to run and grab the coin as it hits the floor.
They all exit and bring their stolen jars back across the misty room and to The Ambassador from Hell.
Certain that they'd earned themselves at least a dozen Obol coins for their bounty, the group proudly offers him the exchange. Unfortunately, The Ambassador informs them that such captured souls are not theirs to give, and laughs at their naivete.
He reminds them that his offers still stand, though with a coin each for three of the six in their group it seems quite possible the the challenges he mentioned may have been overstated.
- As recalled by Caller of the Path