“Gods… I’m never going to get this smell out of my hair!” moans Constance as we slosh through the endless terain of blood and gore. “This place reeks like a charnal house!”
“Which is why I never come back home without something to plug my nose,” I reply in a nasally voice, since I’ve long since stuffed my earplugs up my nose to cover the smell.
“You try to never come back home at all,” Hodey jokes.
“True…” I laugh, “but one should always be prepared for the worst.” I pull a small bright orange and red bottle from one of my pouches and shake it invitingly at Constance. “You could always put some of this rot pepper sauce under your nose… you won’t smell anything here, I guarantee it.” I shake the bottle and rear back as my eyes water. “In fact, you probably won’t smell anything at all for a few months, at least!”
“That’s enough, you two… I’m seeking some activity ahead, so we need to be quiet!” Annika admonishes as she looks up from the trail.
We dutifully obey our guide and as quietly as possible flit from outcroppings of rocks to various ruins as we just manage to avoid a rather large Bone Devil as it trudges by.
“Hey… who’s that guy?” Hodey whispers as he nudges Annika and they look at a roughly human-sized figure crouching atop one of the crags some 20 feet above us on the path ahead.
“I don’t know… but best we try to avoid him.” Annika replies. “We’ll take another path.”We trudge along through the gore when Hodey happens to look over his shoulder again. “I think he’s following us… I spied some black & red armor before he disappeared.”
Constance and the others look to where Hodey saw the creature when suddenly a pale skinned male in Baatorian style armor appears out of thin air (behind) in front of us on the path as he leaps towards Annika with a large translucent blue sword sparkling with psionic energy.
“Look out!” I yell as I just manage to dodge out of the way, muttering the words of an Infliction spell as my braid lashes out to touch him. He grunts in pain for a moment before he flickers in and out and appears amidst us, his sword blade shattering into multiple pieces that fly out and strike us like shrapnel before disappearing.
“Screw this!” Annika yells as the sword begins to reform in his hand. She strikes him with a viscious blow from her scimitar as it glows with a black light that runs up her arm and over her body, but before the rest of us can retaliate the creature disappears. At least he left us his equipment, anyway. I wonder if there’s anything useful? Shame that sword is no where to be found… must be something he generated with his mind.
“Cool boots!” Constance exclaims as she uses Hodey for balance and slips them on.
“Don’t you want to know what they do, first?” asks Annika.
“What could go wrong?” Constance asks with a grin and a shrug.
I chuckle and shake my head as I pick up a pair of magical bracers of protection and some magical bandages. “She’s got a point… it’s not like we’re not already in Hell.” Annika stuffs the armor into a bag of holding as fireballs smack the ground not far away. “I think that’s our cue to keep moving.”
We continue on for what seems like two hours more through the stench and rot, passing the ruins of more dead gatetowns that fell into darkness and over the edge of the abyss. “You know, I think I finally remember where I’ve seen that guy before…” I mutter as I kick a horned skull out of my way. “The way things are going I thought it was another cousin at first…” Annika snorts and I glare at her before continuing, “but I believe he was a Dampyr.”
“Great… half vampires…” mutters Constance as the wailing of hundreds of voices in agony echoes in the distance. “As if Hell wasn’t bad enough.”
“I think I see the Pillar of Skulls… we just need to cross the River of Blood and we’ll be on the right track,” Annika looks over her shoulder to tell us as she continues scouting. “Just… don’t talk to it, ok?”
“Don’t talk to… the pillar?” asks Constance with wide eyes.
“Stories say that it holds all kinds of knowledge about things… but if you tried talking to it I’m sure it would just bore you with a thousand different creatures lamenting about its death all at once.” I smirk and shrug as Constance looks at me with mouth slightly agape. “So yeah… last thing we need is another insane person in this group… so probably best not to talk to it.”
No one says anything as we make our way past the wailing pillar of writhing skulls and we round a craggy corner to finally reveal the aptly named River of Blood… as well as two rather large Bearded Devils with glaives in hand charging towards us from both sides.
We quickly form up back to back in a circle and my fingers crackle with energy before a Lightning Bolt lashes out to strike one in the chest. Hodey activates one of his devices that sends a rush of energy through the group and we speedily strike out with sword and spell.
One of the devils growls in Infernal and I wince… because I know a summoning spell when I hear one. Annika slashes out with her sword after suffering from a burning wound as I strike two more with another Lightning Bolt… causing one of them to tire of our match and disappear. Constance runs over and grabs another one, the surprised look on his face visible for only a moment before he momentarially disappears from time.
Hodey runs over and quickly heals Annika with another of his strange devices as another of the devils spits at our feet. “Volkovs!” he mutters before he too disappears. Mother…what didn’t you tell me about our family?
“The other one is about to come back!” Constance warns as I shake myself from my thoughts and we all gather around where the devil will reappear when Constance’s powers wear off. When he reappears, we lash out with sword and spell once again… but it doesn’t kill the creature. It grunts and sneers before stepping over Hodey and disappearing.
“By the Gods… they’re just playing with us!” I groan as I crouch down and try to gather my breath.
“Looks like our friend is back too,” Hodey warns as he points at a human sized figure in black and red armor in the distance. “Let’s get a move on, shall we?”
“Ah yes… through the…ugh… River of Blood.” Constance deadpans. “I don’t suppose there’s a bridge?”
“That’s a good one,” Annika says with a chuckle. “Let’s go.”
A mile and a half we trek through the flow of blood and guts from the neverending battles, Constance doing her best to keep her balance and Hodey riding on Annika’s back. I’d have loved to have flown over it… but the powers that be, bastards that they are… have seen fit to make sure that all avenues are blocked except walking through it.
“Well… while I’m here… might as well fill up a flask or two.” I say as I pull an empty vial from my pouch and Constance looks at me in disgust. “What? You never know when you need blood for a spell… so it’s always nice to have some that isn’t your own.”
It’s hard to judge how long it takes to get through the river… but eventually we do make it to the other end, and a few quick cantrips from Annika and myself quickly remove the blood and gore coating bodies.
“Now that’s over with, we just need to cross a valley filled with battles and the River Styx… and then we’ll finally be out of the safe part.” Annika says as she finishes checking her clothes for any lingering blood stains.
“The safe part, she says…” Hodey mocks as he rolls his eyes.
“You call that safe?” Constance says as she walks to the edge of a valley and looks down at a field filled with everything from succubi to cerebroliths clashing in an endless struggle.
“It will be if they don’t see us!” Annika hisses as she pulls her back into cover. “We’ll just have to use those boots of yours to get everyone across.” Constance looks at her doubtfully. “Yeah… in case you wanted to know… you’re wearing Boots of Teleportation.”
“Ohhh… so we’re going to…”
“You’ve got it. So everybody grab hands so she can click her heels and we can get out of here.”
We make it to the other edge of the valley and before long we can see rows of skulls appear as they line the edge of the River Styx. There’s a jetty out into the river… but currently no boats are docked. There are, however…. two rather sizable Bone Devil guards standing beside a giant skull of a creature used to mark the docks for the ferryman.
“State your purpose,” one of them drones after we finally get up the courage to try just talking to them.
Once again Constance displays the mechanical wares as she explains how we’re a group of travelling merchants on our way to Dis… and once again they show that all they want is the money as the next boat arrives to take us across. I just hope we brought enough for bribes before we run out on the way…
We make our way across surprisingly uneventfully and continue our trek around a hill to come face to face with four short figures that could be distant cousins of Hodey, except for the amber scales and tiny white horns. At least these guys aren’t in danger of calling me cousin…I hope…
“Do you know the way to Newbellum? We got lost after fighting off some Gnomes and can’t find our way…”
I look to Hodey questioningly as he whispers “Petitioners for Kurtulmak probably.”
Ahhh… I whip out a parchment and pen and scribble down some directions in Draconic. “Poor souls… hopefully this will help you on your way.”
“Might you have anything you could give us to aid us on your travels? It is such a dangerous place…” Hodey gives them a set of his old tools, but I am loathe to give anything up.
“Honestly… if they run into any of the creatures we saw, there’s nothing we could give them that would help them.” I whisper to Annika, who nods.
“Thank you for the map and the tools. Fair warning, travellers… if you continue on your path, you will encounter a succubi’s lair. To the right are Erinies… but to the left, if you take the long way around… that should take you where you need to go.”
Fireballs explode in the distance as the Kobolds scamper off down the path which we came and we continue on till we see a valley filled with Maenes… what others fondly call the Maggot Pit.
“Oh dear gods… and I thought the smell couldn’t get any worse,” Constance moans as Annika pulls out a vial of jasmine and places some under her nose.
“Oh that will work,” I say sarcasticallly to Annika. “Now it’s going to smell like jasmine and shit, instead of just shit. I’ve still got the hot sauce if it gets too bad for you.”
“I hope to not have to smell it for that long… that is, if Constance wouldn’t mind clicking her heels again to move us beyond it.” Annika replies.
When we appear again it’s next to a large pile of rocks… with a pair of armored legs sticking out from under it. “Ugh… teleport accident, from the looks of it.” I look around and take in the fifteen to twenty bodies strewn across the ground… some of them sticking out of it at grotesque angles. “Make that a lot of teleport accidents.”
Constance and I scan the bodies as we search the grounds. “Looks like Harmonium… must be that squad that they sent in before.”
“We should get as many identifying badges from them as we can… perhaps we can give them to their families so they can find peace,” says Constance sadly.
“Shame they didn’t come prepared,” says a disembodied voice out of nowhere. “You guys seem better off though… so maybe we can help each other.”
“You must be quite frightening to the eyes if you choose to strike bargains with us without showing yourself,” I taunt as I look around for any traces of the originator of the voice.
“I’ve got to make sure you guys are actually good and not just lucky though… hope you don’t mind a test!” The ground starts to shift and shake as the flesh bodies of the dead Harmonium soldiers fall away to reveal skeletons rising to battle, along with a Bone Devil to lead them.
“Couldn’t have been a written essay, eh?” I mutter as I grab the components for my lightning spell from my pouch. “I love writing essays….” With a blast of electricity from my hands, I manage to take out two of the skeletons and slightly scratch the bone devil before the spell fades. Son of a…
Annika screams out in pain as the boney scorpion tail of the Bone Devil strikes out and hits her in the chest, and her cries are soon joined by Constance as she suffers the burning touch of one of the skeletons.
I shift position as I unstrap by staff and fire my remaining lightning bolt into two more skeletons, turning them to dust. Constance swings at one with the Improbable Mace, but misses as she dodges a slash from its claws. The Bone Devil disappears from view for a moment before appearing next to Annika and slashing her with its claws… and then the blasted thing disappears again.
The disembodied voice chuckles as Constance and I stand to protect Hodey as he rushes to heal Annika from her poison…
…and then another Bone Devil appears.
Roll of Bandages? – Bandages of Rapid Recovery (can heal Ability dmg)
Dhampyr Armor? – +2 Leather Armor
Small black vial? – Bottle of Messages (there’s a message trapped in it)
Magic Boots of Teleportation – 3/day self & 50lbs.