Arrival +13 days, 6 hours, 01 minutes - +13 days, 6 hours, 07 minutes – The party struggle up the stairs to the dancing skin of the portal, and feel the strange currents of dimensional interactions crawling like leaden static over their skins. Limping, wounded, dizzy and near to collapse, they grimly steel themselves to face whatever lies beyond, and step through...
...The entire chamber is made, it seems, of glistening raw meat, though from the stench and the cloying humid heat, it is clear that the meat is alive. A vague coppery light bathes the entire place, seeming to drench everything in a bloody glow. Vast pipes of muscle and sinew, tangle across the ceiling, twitching in time to the ponderous beating of a massive heart the size of a cottage, that hangs from vast tendons in the ceiling 100' above the ground. Massive ribbed arteries snake across the floor of this place, pulsing with their heavy cargo of blood, and gargantuan ribs, oily with fluids and carved with bleeding runes, form the frame of the chamber. The floor is a grey membrane, streaked with yellow fat and surging veins, which twitches from time to time, and with sickened horror, the party realise that the chamber has been built within the living body of vast being of incalculable power and resilience.
In the far right hand corner of the chamber rises a horrific semi-circle of rotting stones almost identical to the menhir used by Gor'Kuul. A psychic breeze that tugs at the group's minds veritably roars into this, channelled it seems through the robed and armoured abomination that stands just behind and above it, upon a platform of raw, bleeding bone, dark magic flowing around him. The group notice that two similar platforms rise on either side of this chamber, glistening in the coppery, misty air of this place.
Standing over 20' tall, it is a withered gorgom, clad in robes of corroded chain armour, and bearing a monstrous maul of black steel, carved to resemble a mass of wolf's heads clustering outwards. Dark runes gleam and burn along its handle, and Ulframm grows pale as he reads its name.
“The Sender. The Final Death. A weapon of legend, capable of killing even one of the old gods. A soul eater. That monster must be Ganulf, Senior of the Gorgom.”
Just in front of the robed gorgom is the monster that Schnecke caused to fall back through the portal. It is clearly undead, its life force obviously drained and unholy animation put in its place. A shadowy aura reaches from it within which the flesh of the chamber immediately bruises and weeps large pools of gore. It's flesh has withered and sticks to its bones like ancient parchment, and it grips still the massive axe it bore in the corridor.
At sight of the party, pale flames burn in Ganulf's empty eye-sockets, it's wintry voice a curse.
“Ah. I have been expecting this. You're the ones that slew my human son. You're the ones that undid the outer edge of my Mythal! YOU'RE THE ONES WHO ARE TRYING TO KILL ME!!!!”
His voice is a psychic gale that send black waves of weakness through the entire band, and as his anger presses against the fabric of the chamber's reality, so three blobs of winking, bloody light appear; motes of unstable death energy drawn from the Path of Shadows – the source of the rushing psychic breeze.
“I CANNOT DIE MORTALS, BUT YOU, I CAN STOP YOU FROM ENTERING THE PATH AND MAKE SURE YOU ARE NOT ONLY DEAD, BUT ANNIHILATED!! YOU AND ALL THE CHILDREN OF THE MOUNTAIN WILL RUE THE DAY YOU SOUGHT MY DOOM!”
And with that, he and his undead companion attacks.
Arrival +13 days, 6 hours, 01 minutes - +13 days, 6 hours, 06 minutes – It is a battle that no one in the party truly expects to survive, for both the undead are terrible opponents.
The zombie is a simple brute, who's attacks are capable of opening anyone in the party up to their viscera with a single blow. It emanates a deathly shroud of negative energy that rots the living flesh of anyone within twenty paces of him, and stops them receiving any healing as long as they remain there.
He is taken down under the combined fury of the warriors, who quickly surround him and chop him down like a vast, roaring tree, as well as the spells that the drakven and priest hurl over their heads, blasting and burning its head away, charring its defunct lungs and liver to ash and bitter smoke. However even after its second death, the shambling thing proves a potent foe, for to the group's surprise it reanimates from its own apparent demise to strike at them; stumbling clumsily to its feet a few moments after falling – a headless nightmare bearing a sweeping, dismembering axe with deadly effect. Momentarily taken by surprise, the horror manages to land several crippling blows against the party before it is blasted back to the floor, where finally, it remains.
Ganulf is by far the deadlier foe in the chamber, for he not only wields the Sender, but calls upon vile magics that rot both the living bodies of the group and their soul's strength, leaving them drained of vitality and less able to take the constant harm being meted out to them. He screams and bellows, sweeping his deadly maul from the near impunity of his ossified perch, and it takes teamwork and ingenuity to strike at him; the Nordvyrr giving a charging Emmiven a “leg up”, allowing him to catapult upwards and strike at the horrors armoured legs. His hammer strikes with unerring strength, and Ganulf screams his deafening rage as he receives his first wound.
Throughout the battle, the dimensional distortions summoned by Ganulf's rage randomly drift across the chamber. Now and then, they shimmer and grow briefly unstable, allowing deadly influxes of death energy to sweep through the chamber – corroding the flesh and will of the group when they make contact, and mantling the undead in snarling layers of armouring darkness.
Seeing that the elevated position that Ganulf has taken is making him almost impossible to hit, the swordmage and Mord Bit repeatedly shove the hulking cadaver of the slain zombie towards it; a ramp of ex-animate undead flesh. However, no sooner has this been done than Ganulf hurls another barrage of boiling black and blood red bolts, two of which strike the shapeshifter, almost killing him, and one of which rips into the drakven.
The air above the unholy Senior boils with blinding light, and a streaking meteorite of radiant fire suddenly appears and blasts into the hulking undead as Seren responds to her wounds. The glassy ball of energy envelops Ganulf, and the lifeborn radiance simply evaporates flesh where it touches, spilling across the pedestal and wreathing it in ghostly flame.
The air around Ganulf folds suddenly, and he vanishes, reappearing almost fifty paces away, atop another of the bone platforms. His laughter is manic, and the group roar in anger as their prey escapes.
“FOOLISH MORTAL FILTH. HOW DARE YOU PRESUME TO STRIKE ME IN THIS PLACE OF HOLY POWER. DEATH IS A LUXURY NONE OF YOU SHALL ENJOY, FOR I GIVE YOU OBLITERATION!”
These are the last words Ganulf will speak.
Realising that unless they can gain control of this situation quickly, they are worse than dead, the group quickly move to negate his advantage. Strangely aware once more of the ways of magic, Emmiven surmises that the bones are inlaid with runes that allow the monster to teleport, “We need to get him off them and down here.”, and the party quickly form a strategy.
Grigori summons a healing circle, who's golden light rises like sunlit smoke from the floor; mending the flesh and bones of his allies, and potentially, searing the flesh and unholy darkness of Ganulf if he can be dropped within it. Seren conjures a shimmering field of rainbow lights which form a dazzling zone of confusing colours, and Jaeger summons his shadowy power and with a low growl, hurls it at Ganulf. The dark magic becomes a twisting web of shadows, which engulf the undead warrior. Seeing that he has the fiend trapped, the assassin pulls his magic tightly and warps space around his foe, dragging him bodily from the podium, depositing him – dazed and reeling – within Grigori and Seren's zones of destructive magic.
Everyone piles in.
Despite the unholy shadows that pour from the undead monster, dampening the parties ability to heal from harm and rotting their mortal bodies with its polluted radiance, the group's vengeance is a force far more potent than any single spell or weapon. Ganulf is an impossibly deadly foe, and for many would be overwhelming, but against this unified front of focused, elite adventurer's, he is helpless, and in the blink of an eye, he is smashed to a vast, bloody pulp; a mangled, twitching bulk of shadowy shorting magics and glubbing breaths, continually seared and rendered vulnerable by the magics that seethe and boil from the ground and air around him.
“NO! NO! THIS. CANNOT. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!”
His screams grow more desperate and horrific as he feels his body being torn apart. Seren drops another ball of glassy fire directly onto his prone form, exposing his crumbling ribs as it dissolves the flesh on his back, his desiccated, smoking entrails visible between them. Ganulf tries to rise, but the gnawing radiance summoned by the cleric around him has corroded his arms away, as well as all the flesh and substance on the front of his body, and all he can do is thrash helplessly in the devouring light, his screams becoming weaker and weaker. The roar of the unnatural energies tearing through the chamber towards the rotting menhir grow commensurably stronger as Ganulf energies fade, the decayed stones resonating with an increasing song of tortured magics and vile power...
Emmiven's eyes go wide, and suddenly a malevolence that stifles that of the stricken undead flows from him. All eyes turn to regard him, and grow wide as they see the warlord as little more than a shadow, eclipsed by the hulking silhouette of a rotting, robed figure. When he speaks, it is Jantherak's rotting voice that comes from his mouth.
“On your guard fools, he is not done yet. One of you must die to drag his soul into the Path of Shadows. The stones are singing! It's now or never!”
Numb with the cumulative horror of this battle, Schnecke manages to gasp, “What does that even mean?”
“It means,” starts Grigori in a hushed voice, “that someone must be forever killed in order to see Ganulf slain, it means that...”
He never gets to finish his thoughts, for without missing a beat Ulframm, motivated by his honour and his love for his people, strides over to the body of the gorgom Senior (which he can see is fighting to repair itself within the crackling field of relucent magics) draws the Neck Cutter, and without a single word slits his own throat to the spine.
“And know this. One of you must walk a path darker than the rest, and their soul shall be the price of your salvation.”
As the group watch the Nordvyrr die in horror, the words of the Shaman ring in their minds. Ulframm drops over the gorgom's corpse, and Mord Bit howls in misery as he sees his master and life long friend die. The roaring of the spectral wind increases, the song of the menhir an eerie keening that fills the air. The air temperature suddenly drops, and two ghostly figures suddenly appear above the heaped bodies of the gorgom and Nordvyrr.
It is Ulframm and Ganulf. The spectres are locked in silent mortal battle, the former trying to heave the latter towards the stones. For a moment it looks as if Ulframm's sacrifice will be without meaning, as the gorgom – in death reduced to the size of the barbarian – almost breaks free of his grip. However, in life Ulframm was a champion wrestler, and in death his powers are no longer governed by mere flesh, muscle and blood. Drawing on his rage and love, the Nordvyrr curls his thumbs into the Senior's eyes, sinking them up to his knuckles, and all at once, the two ghosts are caught in the currents of the Path of Shadows, and are swept away...
Arrival +13 days, 6 hours, 08 minutes - +13 days, 6 hours, 09 minutes – The nightmare song of the Menhir Stones fills the chamber. The spectral wind of the Path of Shadows shrieks through the chamber, and above the group's heads, the massive heart begins to beat erratically and madly. The room shakes with convulsions, and the huge arteries that cross the floor strain under the pressure of the blood being forced through them.
“The Blood!” Screams Grigori, “We need to drink the blood!”
“But it will kill us!” Replies Seren.
“Foolish drake-kin!” Bellows Jantherak, his might amplified by the spectral energies screaming through the chamber, and the soul of Emmiven (now given to him, the vial mystically transported into his custody after the dark one's argument with Grigori out on the mountainside) “Maybe this will help you all decide!”
Faster than anyone thought possible, the warlord draws his thundering spear and slashes it across the heaving blood vessel that snakes across the floor. At once, the pounding pressure of the blood within it forces a massive blast of the thick, toxic stuff outwards, and the slice ruptures, the entire artery ripping open in a smothering wave of pressurized death. The entire chamber shakes violently, and the massive heart goes into a mad frenzy, blurring as it becomes dangerously tachycardic. Everyone is thrown to the floor, panic clawing with dizzying fingers at their thoughts, though the thick slime of Jantherak's voice is a constant presence.
“There, the choice is easy. Drown in the stuff, or die quickly and imbibe its toxins!”
Despite knowing that they are now going to die, with no way of escape, everyone resists the urge to do what they know they must. Some inner resistance to the idea of surrendering to death stays their hands, even as the warm coppery fluid rises to their thighs, stickily forcing its way into their armour and clothes, smothering them with its burning, poisoned caress.
“Of course, once you perish, you will be drawn into the Path of Shadows, in truth, a trans-dimensional current which stretches through the psychic plane and leads to a dizzying number of other realities, most of which you would not enjoy.
“Serve me, and aid my return, and I shall tether your souls to the part of me here, and ensure your safe return to your own world. Spurn me, and you can find your own way – an impossible task.”
“I'll come with you.” Gasps Seren, wading through the thick gore to stand by the shadowed warlord.
“YOU TREACHEROUS FUCKING HALF-BREED!” Screams Jaeger. “FUCK YOU JANTHERAK, I'LL TAKE MY CHANCES. AND WHEN I GET HOME, I AM COMING FOR YOU ALL!”
Dark laughter from the arch-necromancer's echo.
“Anyone else coming, or are the rest of you similarly determined to spend a cold eternity lost in the void?”
The blood is up to their chests now, and Mord Bit is yipping piteously, panicking as it struggles to stay afloat in the rising gore. No one says anything, but their hate filled glares speak volumes.
“So be it then. Farewell fools!”
Emmiven and Seren bend over and allow the poison to surge into their throats. A moment later, and the spectral form envelops them both in the folds of its tenebrous cloak, and they vanish.
“BASTARDS!” Screams Schnecke, his beard thick with the blood.
“What do we do?” Screams Varracuda.
“This.” Replies Grigori quietly, before scooping the deadly blood into his mouth and perishing.