Path of the Planes Episode 8: The Pillar Of Skulls

The party stares down the dark shaft previously concealed by the statue of Bel. Odos, with a sidelong glance at Lux, jumps down the shaft, deftly catching himself with hands and feet outstretched just before the bottom. After verifying that the ground is solid, the rest of the adventurers follow him on a rope Bruilindë lowers.

They are faced with a fork on the path. To their left, a door through which Bruilindë hears (thanks to the Tongues spell) two demonic voicing arguing over pursuing ‘those from outside’. Turning, she questions Moriet – the towering Orthon bounty hunter – who tells them their actual quarry went down the other path, which leads into a lava-filled room dominated by six pillars and yet another statue of Bel. AFter watching Moriet plunge into the lava and – very unsuccessfully – attempt to jiggle the Bel statue to see if it had a hidden secret – the party carefully followed, sticking to the edges. Odos again showboated and leaped across a 10 foot gap with ease, while Lux rolled her eyes and deftly stepped across a smaller gap on the other side of the room. Unfortunately, Heinrich’s plate armor weighed him down, and as he tried to jump the small gap, he tripped – causing his feet to sink into the lava, melding his boots to his skin and giving him massive burns down both legs.

Frantically, Lux pulled out one of the potions stolen from Mordenkainen’s tower. Testing it on her tongue, she realized that while it may not be a healing potion, this could certainly help reinvigorate the old fighter. Heinrich downs the whole potion, and suddenly feels 20 years younger, with a vigor to fight that he hadn’t felt since he was a young man.

Following Moriet’s lead, the group ease into a side chamber, where they suddenly see – filthy, bloodstained and shambling – three figures in Scarlet Brotherhood robes. Hopeful that they had found their prey, Bruilindë called out – but when the lead figure turned, it was not Tragar Hax. They seemed to be stragglers from the fight at Tovag Barghu, however, so Bruilindë attempted to speak with them, even asking for Odos’ rope of entanglement to tie up the lead Brotherhood figure. However, as they approached and spoke, it became clear to Lux first that none of these were actually what they appeared – and Moriet confirmed they were no longer fully human.
The party leapt into battle, and with lux’s potion burning through his veins, Heinrich cut through one of the figures with ease. Between the rest of the party and Moriet, quick work was made, with very little effect or damage to the adventurers themselves. AFterwards, as Odos looted the bodies, Moriet identified the beings as maurezhi, demons who consumed and took on the appearance of their victims.

As Moriet and Bruilindë searched for a way forward, Lux noticed that Odos had found on one of the maurezhi a fine buckle inset with a ruby. She recognized it as a Scarlet Brotherhood symbol, and with uncharacteristic politeness, asked Odos if she may have it. Searching her expression, he hesitated, then handed it over. Lux immediately turned to the brazier heated by lava in the center of the room and dropped the buckle in. As she watched it burn, trancelike, the ruby caught the fires of the lava and reflected a wavering Scarlet Brotherhood cross on her face….which shattered as the buckle was destroyed. Odos and Heinrich watched this all, silently.

Meanwhile, Moriet had caught the scent of what they still hoped was Tragar Hax, which ended at a blank wall. Scouring the area, Bruilndë found mark on an anvil embedded in the floor. After a couple of attempts, Moriet wrenched it around and the wall slid open, revealing a dark passageway within. Lighting a torch, the party followed him into the relative coolness of the dark tunnel, which emerged back into the blasted hellscape of Avernus. Sniffing the air, Moriet declared that the man they were chasing had flown – or been lifted – into the air, and he could scent him no longer. Weary from the battle and the long journey, the four heroes lifted their eyes to the horizon, where they could see a thin pillar wavering like a mirage in the heat.

After walking for hours that felt like an eternity, they finally approached the pillar – a seemingly endless column of faces, gibbering and screeching in unknown languages, smacking their lips, and screaming. Moriet declared he hated this place, and plopped down on a ledge to wait out the questioning. Bruilindë approached, and the pillar fell silent. The faces caved in and swirled until a larger face, a man’s face, pushed through. The bard declared that they were here to have a question answered. Smiling, the face replied that the question could certainly be answered, for payment. Recalling Bulyabat’s words, but hoping she was wrong, Bruilindë asked their price.

“LIFE.”

Moriet angrily bellowed his disbelief at them not bringing payment for the pillar, as all of thousands of faces began screaming, first in unison, and then in a cacophony – “PLEASE! PLEASE!”

Meanwhile, Heinrich stared at the column. “We need answers,” he declared. “And even I know I cannot be of service much longer.” He began to unbuckle his armor, which caused Lux to panic and try to grab at his hands, while Bruilindë screamed at him and dashed off around the pillar, frantically scanning the sky for a living soul to drop to feed the pillar. Odos surveyed the column of faces and decided he would try to affect his own answer by ripping one out. Gripping the face of a woman, he began to pull at it – and as it cried out at him, a sudden paralytic shock ran up his body, locking his muscles. With stoic resolve, the monk resisted and summed to size up the pillar for another try, while Henrich walked to him to try and reason with him. Moriet, seemingly annoyed to the point of rage by the screaming pillar, began to pace back and forth, covering his ears. Using message, Bruilindë tried to see if Lux and she could down Moriet to offer him – however, the rogue admitted that was too much even for her formidable skills.

Suddenly, Moriet bellowed and pulled out an amulet. Reaching out his hand towards the pillar, a sudden shock reverberated from it, causing the party to fall prone where they stood, unable to move, and only able to breathe and speak in small gasps. Reaching down, he wrenched Lux up by her hair while chuckling evilly to himself and stretched her prone body out towards the face in the pillar.

Suddenly, all sound ceased. The large face is the middle opened it’s eyes wide and gazed longingly at Lux, who was frozen, terrified and unable to move. Heinrich managed to gasp out, “No! Moriet! Take…me!” Moriet paused before turning Lux to face him and leering at her, before throwing her back down by Bruilindë. As the two women stared in paralyzed horror, Moriet picked up Heinrich and carried him to face the pillar, who looked hungrily at him. In a last effort, Odos spoke his command word and his Rope of Entanglement flew up to try and trap Moriet. Alas, the effort was in vain and the orthon shrugged off the rope, and began pushing Heinrich into the pillar.

Slowly, the lips began to crawl up Heinrich’s body. He turned his head to look directly at Lux and Bruilindë, powerless to help him at all. As he was slowly pulled in, his body began to bend backward, until with a pronounced snap he was folded in half and his eyes became lifeless as his body went limp. The party watched in agony as Heinrich was completely devoured by the pillar. Sighing in contentment, the face turned to Bruilindë. “Ask.”

Odos and Lux looked to Bruilindë. Choking back tears of rage, and spat out, “Where. Is. Tragar. Hax?” Suddenly, her mind raced across the plains of Avernus…across the battlefields and blasted landscape…over the River Styx, and down. Down into the Abyss. Rushing through armies of demons, her vision cleared as she saw a giant black fortress. ALmost blinking in swiftness, she was taken inside, to a cell. A cell in which sat, alone and filthy, Tragar Hax. He was not on this plane anymore. The contract with Bulyabat was void. And Heinrich was gone.

With a gasp, her vision snapped back to reality, looking at Lux next to her on the ground and Odos paralyzed a few feet away. As their eyes all trailed upwards, a new face pushed out of the pillar. The face of an old, honorable fighter they knew. His blank, white eyes opened, and he opened his mouth as if to talk…

…but all that came forth was chittering gibberish.

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