When last we saw them, the adventuring party of Heinrich, Odos, Lux, and Bruilinde had just been invited to sup with the devil overseer, Lord Bulyabat. As we open our scene, Heinrich walks confidently to a chair to the left of Bulyabat, followed by Lux on his left, Odos across from him, and Bruilinde at the foot of the table.
Speaking of the table….it is covered with viscera, blood, and offal of all kinds. Bulyabat, in his phlegmy, gagging voice, states that he went to some trouble to find food ‘edible’ for his ‘honored guests’ – it appears he is in a constant search to find things to amuse or interest himself and a party of humanoids from the Material Plane – well, that aren’t being feasted upon – is a new novelty for him.
As the party assesses the feast before them, Bruilinde asked Bulyabat for permission to show him how they would normally eat such…delicacies on the Material Plane. WIth permission granted, she cantrips a firebolt to sear off some of the – well, she hopes it is liver – before offering it to him and eating a piece herself. Declaring it different, but not very tasty to him, Bulyabat continues to watch the group’s reaction. Bruilinde smiles and says that since he was kind enough to try the meal her way, she will try it his – and bites into what looks like loops of intestine, raw. She manages to keep it down, and the rest of the heroes -seeing how pleased the attempt made the devil lord – begins to also eat, with Odos and Lux, typically, trying to out-gross each other by eating the most disgusting bits they can find – although Lux’s is only an illusion. Bruilinde and Henrich watch this with exasperated sighs, before Bulyabat, obviously bored of the food, begins to address the situation at hand.
Getting right to the point, he asks them why they are here. As Bruilinde tries to spin him her story of being bounty hunters in search of an unknown artifact for an employer, he begins to get bored, and as he does, starts to lose control of himself. The devils surrounding the group begin to close in, until Heinrich, truthful to a fault, states that the artifact they seek is capable of causing not only the Conflagration but also of stopping the Chained God (much to Bruilinde’s consternation). When Bulyabat scoffs at the existence of Tharizdun, Heinrich assures him that he has seen the Chained God descend with his own eyes. Eyes narrowing in calculated interest, Bulyabat asks if he helped them, would they bring this powerful artifact back for him to see. Odos begins quietly reading the surface thoughts of the devil lord, which appear to run from the violent – crushing Heinrich’s head in his jaws – to the obscene – doing various and sundry deviant acts with Odos – to the calculated – using the heroes to gain advantage over his rival devil lords.
Bruilinde, trying to prevent Bulyabat from getting hands on the staff, tries to claim that they couldn’t show it to them as Tragar Hax only has two pieces of the staff. The Devil Lord begins to anger again, with his legions closing in on all sides. Bulyabat offers help, in exchange for a party member staying behind; Bruilinde objects immediately, citing that they work as a team and are not as capable if they are down one. This only angers the Devil Lord more. Her attempts at deceit and intrigue defeated, Bruilinde slumps back in her chair and tries to calculate possible ways to salvage the situation. Odos then speaks up, stating that while Tragar has two pieces, they have one, so the artifact is complete; Heinrich pulls it from their bag of holding and shows it to Bulyabat. As Bulyabat caresses the piece of the shaft of the Ashen Staff that Heinrich shows him, he proposes a contract to fix the terms of his help in their quest.
He proposes the terms:
- He will provide an escort to get the party to the Pillar of Skulls, a magical place where questions can be asked and answers received.
- The party must in return bring back the complete Ashen Staff for a ‘demonstration’ of its power.
- The party must bring it back or their souls are forfeit to him.
- If the party dies in Averness, their souls are forfeit to him.
Bruilinde counters with:
- Since we cannot guarantee Tragar is still here on Averness, we cannot be held responsible to fulfill the terms to return with it if it has left this plane.
- We cannot determine if Tragar has harmed the artifact in any way, and if he has, we cannot be held responsible to fulfill the terms.
- The party will demonstrate the staff if possible but IN NO WAY will hand it over to Bulyabat.
Smiling and chuckling at the joy of working out a complicated deal, Bulyabat further amends with:
- The party themselves cannot destroy the staff or any part of the staff.
Lux offers to stay behind rather than sign the deal, but to no avail; now that he know the artifact is complete, Bulyabat wants it. Heinrich steps forward and signs; the devil looks at the rest expectantly, saying that only one signature would leave the rest of them free to break the agreement. Lux and Bruilinde, surprisingly, vehemently disagree with this – they will not leave someone behind, not even a soul. Watching them quietly, Odos – who had loudly protested that they did not need the help and he would not sign – steps forward and affixes his signature, stating that he trusts the women to not betray Heinrich and himself. Seemingly satisfied, Bulyabat splits the contract – one piece for him, the other for Heinrich and Odos – and calls forward Moriet, a towering Orthon, to escort the party thru subterranean passages to avoid the blood wars waging above. As they turn to leave, he casually states they will have to offer a living soul to the Pillar to receive an answer – either theirs or one that falls from the sky. As his imps prepare a bag of leftovers, Heinrich somberly puts it in their bag of holding, and the exit the fortress (Eyearae notably refusing a high five from Bruilinde).
They travel for hours in the hot, dry, flaming landscape. Suddenly, the normally recalcitrant Lux speaks up and thanks Heinrich and Odos for signing th e contract and placing their trust in her and Bruilinde. Happy at this small breakthrough, Heinrich hugs Lux and states he was proud of her for having offered to stay behind. Odos watches with apparent approval, while Bruilinde trails behind, defeated.
As Moriet leads them to a narrow bridge, he grunts and points to the horizon, showing them a battle with hundreds of thousands of troops clashing. Having seen many battles, Heinrich especially realizes there would be no way to cross that field – they must follow the Orthon. As they step on the bridge, a spiralling shriek from above causes them to look up, as a tusked, blubbery Nalfeshnee lands on one side of them and a Vrock circles above.
Drawing their weapons, the party prepares for battle – Heinrich takes the first move, charging the Nalfeshnee. As Lux and Heinrich slash away at it, it releases a cloud of fear at them, affecting Heinrich , who finds himself suddenly terrified. The Vrock hones in on what he believes to be the weakest link – Bruilinde, and focuses his attacks on her, nearly downing her in the process. Soon, Odos triumphantly lands a stunning strike on the Nalfeshnee, which allows the heroes to battle it quickly – the deathblow, oddly, coming from Bruilinde mocking it; she is confused, as her words seemed to carry a power far greater than she has ever wielded before. Turning their attention to the Vrock, Odos and Lux try to out-acrobat each other – to the point of standing on the edge of the lava – in an attempt to casually impress the other. Finally, n a fit of fury after she is left bleeding and breathelss from its atatcks, Bruilinde unleashes a flame strike at the Vrock….and lands the second deathblow. Stunned, she stares at her hands. Moriet turns and gestures to a cave at the far wall. As the prepare to go to rest, the normal silent Odos stops the party.
“Heinrich. Thank you for putting your soul on the line for us. Bruilinde, without you, we wouldn’t have been able to make that contract. Lux….thank you, for offering to stay there. It is my will that our paths become one.”
With that, he extends his hand to the group. One by one, Heinrich, then Lux, then the still-confused Bruillinde put their hands in to the circle.
Finally, the party walks their path together.