Remember you can hear this session on the podcast HERE.
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It is only now that they become aware of all the other corpses.
22:15 – 22:18 – It's a morgue, or at least, a dumping place for corpses, and within the choking confines of this rot spoiled chamber, lie at least thirty cadavers – some fresh, some little more than writhing slime and festering mess. The air burns when breathed; so thickly polluted with corrupt gasses and disease as to be inherently dangerous to the group. Every surface is alive with the hypnotic writhing of insect larvae, the entire chamber rustling with them, the bodies seeming to lie beneath a dull, organic static.
Ormid, his mind already wearing thin with the constant worry and horror, suddenly loses it; the dismal core of suspicion which has kept him alive for so long, emerging like some foul insect within him, its imago state a malformed thing of utter distrust and suspicion. The Veteran moves to examine the fresher corpses, noting that they are all human – though some bear racial differences that suggest they come from wildly different environments to the ones he knows – and that they all died in battle. At this same time, the chamber suddenly resonates with a dull roar, and a rhythmic thumping begins to dully gong through its stone ceiling, getting faster and faster until it becomes a random thunderous drum roll suddenly drowned out by the muted roaring of a huge crowd somewhere above this room.
“It's an arena.” Whispers the warforged suddenly, “Above. I'd know that sound anywhere.”
Zaruel frowns, and Shadevia nods. “The Carnifex. A huge arena where slaves – often directly off the boats – are made to fight one another as well as the horrors gathered for the battles.”
“Isn't that dreadfully wasteful?” Asks the dundorin, trying to breathe through her mouth.
Shadevia shakes her head. “No, for if your slaves are victorious there is a huge prize. Also, the gambling that accompanies such battles often turns a better profit than selling them on for other...uses.”
Llewellyn slops his way through the loathsome mess on the floor and to the heavy, stained, stone door that leads from this room. Placing his ear gingerly on its sweating surface, ignoring the jumping of some of the larvae, he listens, and over the now constant rumbling of the unseen arena crowd, faintly makes out the sounds of a patrol in the place immediately beyond the door. He lets the group know, and Ormid, surrounded it seems with people he suddenly, illogically cannot trust (and internally at war with himself for such strong and strange feelings) reacts with blind panic; accusing the group of trying to get him killed, his voice taking on a screeching, unbalanced note that is impossible to miss. Almost at once he crams his feelings down, noting the hostile glares of his former allies (in truth they are deeply concerned by his outburst, and beginning to realise that the thread of his sanity, pushed to its limit, is in danger of snapping).
“So, what do we do now?” Asks the vyrleen through the crook of his elbow, his arm held as a barrier against the filthy, diseased stink of this charnel house.
“I could use my belt to tunnel a way out?”
“Sounds like a plan metal man. Anyone else got any better ideas?”
No one has, and so the warforged awakens the magic in his belt, his hands becoming surrounded in potent blades of force. With the group watching the door (save Ormid, who keeps away from them, his eyes haunted and feverish), Veteran begins to carve into the soft, weeping stone of the floor, and to burrow down into it...
22:19 – 22:30 – Soon a dripping tunnel has been cleaved from the stone, and a way made into chambers below the level of the mortuary, but above the ghoul warrens. Realising that he is running a risk of bursting through a wall into a guard room, or even a gladiator's bunk, the warforged slows down, allowing the vyrleen and shadeling to check out any cracks in the face before him for spaces beyond, and eventually, Llewellyn reports that they are about to break into the back of a steel cage – a steel cage inhabited by a huge, armour plated beast that looks something like a snapping turtle crossed with a rhino.
Zaruel moves to peer through, and spots the massive beast – just one it seems of a number of deadly creatures held in rune-carved shackles within large cages set in the walls of a vast, dim room.
“It's a Land Shark. A Gordrak. A Bulette. A...”
“Thanks angel.” Interrupts the warforged, “We get the picture.”
“Let's try and see if we can emerge from somewhere not inhabited by something that will try to eat us eh?” Asks the vyrleen earnestly.
Veteran seems like he may argue, but turns and opens a hole into the chamber a few feet further round, between an empty cage and the one holding the Gordrak.
22:31 – 22:55 – This chamber is almost dark, lit only by a couple of guttering oil lamps set in greasy wall alcoves. Despite Zaruel's initial assessment, of the dozen or so cages, only two are inhabited; one by the Land Shark, the other by a diseased and emaciated Manticore. Another holds the skeletal remains of some creature; long dead and partially mummified.
Two doors lead from this place. One heads to a corridor at the end of which can be seen great wooden gears and cogs, whilst the other is closed. Moving carefully across the room, the group decide to risk the closed door, opening it a little. At once, the sounds of angry voices, speaking in the croaking Black Hook tongue ring out, as well as the roar of the arena crowds (though distorted as if heard through a length of tunnels), the jangling of chains and a low, murmur of despair. Peering through, the group can see that they are at the back end of a long room who's walls are hung about with a variety of weapons, breastplates, shields and helms. At the opposite end is a hatch that opens into a wide corridor filled with despairing men chained together. At this hatch are two Black Hook natives, who are grabbing gear from the racks and shoving it at the unfortunate nearest at the time – clearly slaves destined to be murdered in the arena in a short while.
The group enter the chamber, and at once one of the men turns to regard them. At sight of the warforged and Ormid, his pale eyes widen. Before he can speak however, the group barrel in, projecting an air of belonging and “don't fuck with me", and thinking that they must be gladiators, the man backs down without a word.
A door in the left wall of the armoury leads to a long dark corridor. At one end the line of doomed slaves shuffles on towards the hatch. The other end is closed by a heavy door of steel that bears writing in the native tongue.
After a moments quiet deliberation, the group head towards the doomed column, and find themselves in a wide corridor stained by the urine and vomit of the terrified slaves. They can see that the chained men and women are being moved towards a vast chamber, within which they are being released from their shackles and helped with their armour and weapons by massive warriors dressed in the dark armour of the city guard. The column it seems has come from beyond a large metal door set into its opposite end – a door which is now closed and watched by five soldiers and two of the vile smelling canids. Afraid of losing their momentum or nerve, the group boldly swagger past the slaves and towards the cluster of guards. As they get closer, the vomit stink of the dogs reach them, and they are forced to steel their stomachs against their rising gall. Perhaps seeing this, the guards stiffen and give a warning in a low growl. For a moment the group are dumbstruck, for no one speaks the local tongue. However, Shadevia speaks up suddenly, her voice a whip crack that makes even her allies jump in shock. She addresses the guards in a thick brutal tongue that seems even more wrong by being spoken in her soft, feminine voice. At least one of the guards however seems to understand it, and replies, his nasal voice clearly dripping with suspicion.
Tense moments pass as the shadeling speaks to the guard, the rest of the party doing their best to look both relaxed and threatening at the same time. At one point it seems like a battle might break out, as something Shadevia says causes several skinny swords to be drawn by the soldiers. However, the timely intervention of the Veteran's spiked bulk drains their enthusiasm for bloodshed, and the lead guard, reluctantly, allows the group to pass through the rusting door and into the darkness beyond.
“What language was that?” Asks Zaruel as the door gongs shut behind them.
“Gorgoth. It's the closest thing to a universal tongue you can learn.”
22:56 – 23:02 – The group are in a wide tunnel of black, dripping stone. The air is humid and smells strongly of seawater and rot. It slopes away for some 40', ending in a stone quay, beyond which is some kind of subterranean canal. Sitting in this are three wide, low barges, each with large steel boxes set on their decks – boxes which faintly chime with the muffled and despairing voices of slaves.
From the end of the corridor, the group can see that the barges are watched over by soldiers in plate armour, and at least one robed figure on each. Moving quietly forwards, the group can see that the robes are either black or dark purple, and bear symbols depicting stylised eyes with spirals emanating from them like exotic eyelashes. Their faces are hidden behind beaded masks of amethyst.
There are more guards than the group first realise, for to the left of the tunnels end, in the corner, four more guards game with dice. A fourth robed figure and a soldier stand at the edge of the canal to the groups far left chatting with one of the men on the barge furthest to the left.
There is a relaxed atmosphere here, the guards clearly not expecting any kind of trouble this deep within their fortress city, and the group are torn as to what to do next. The Veteran wants to charge out and destroy everyone, freeing the slaves clearly held on the barges and unleashing chaos in the city. Zaruel and Llewellyn seem to favour a far more subtle approach, and put forth the idea of simply using the plentiful shadows to slip into the canals and to use them to move under the city towards their destination (Shadevia confirms that in the version of Black Hook she knows, the canals run under the entire city, serving as a secure route for the transport of slaves, as well, in some parts, as an adjunct to the main sewer system). In the end, the group decide that causing a major incident here could severely compromise their ability to complete the mission, and so, to try and bypass the guards here.
Of course, it is at this point that one of the guards playing dice hears something, and comes to investigate. Seeing him approach, the group quietly pick their way back up the corridor, forcing the guard to enter the tunnel, out of sight of his allies. The moment his pale eyes focus on the warforged, his mouth opens and he takes a sharp breath – a breath which dies in his chest as the living construct swiftly grabs his face, pulls him into a crushing embrace and brutally cracks his neck against his spiked and armoured forearm. The guard goes limp and soils himself, and his corpse is lain quietly on the floor.
“So, it's now or never” whispers the paladin harshly, stowing his flaming sword.
23:03 – 23:04 – Using the plentiful darkness and the inattentive attitude of the guards to their total advantage, the party creep swiftly from the end of the tunnel to the water's edge, crouching below the level of the barge's decks to break line of sight. Despite the hulking forms of the warforged and artificer, and the constant whisper of their servos and components, the group make it undetected, and soon they are sliding into the brackish, brown soup that fills the canal.
23:05 – 01:30 (17/5/13268 K.C.) - The canals are a wretched black maze of stinking water, scurrying vermin and diseased air, and were it not for the dundorin's incredible sense of direction underground, and Shadevia's prior knowledge of the future version of Black Hook, it is likely that the party would have got lost there or fallen prey to the natural hazards and diseased albino crocodiles that lie in wait almost everywhere. However, after over two hours of wading in the filthy water, the group become aware of a growing stench; an oddly organic and yet chemical reek that makes them all feel truly sick. They also become aware that the water is growing warmer, greasier and is starting to make their skin itch, as if it carries a faintly corrosive element within it. Along the slick stonework of the tunnels, weird growths of orange and brown fat become more and more common, and soapy stalactites of the same stuff cluster around rusting flues in the roof – by-products of the horrifying industry done in the structures above.
Soon, up ahead, the inky black begins to lighten; a dismal green glow emanating from almost exhausted globes of witchlight, set into a wall either side of a slimy door of metal and stone, which bears a quintet of sigils – the marks of the tanneries that use this dock. Zaruel recognises the symbol of House Malfrect amongst them, the owners of the tannery beneath which Mishazael is kept; a hook, a thread and a human skull (the latter within the curve of the hook, the thread forming a circle around the whole device). A small quay, thickly covered in growths of solidified fat and shaved hair, rises before this, watched over by four skeletons with red lacquered bones and curved hooks instead of hands; two at the edge of the structure, and two by the door.
Nose running, eyes burning from the caustic waters (the group now realise that the tanneries are using this stretch of canal as a dumping ground for the urine and faecal matter used in the tanning process), Ormid allows his senses to slip into that strange place where the threads of magic become visible, whilst the rest of the group tread water, trying to ignore the burning of the waters on their skin and the burning of their tired muscles. At once he spots a potent web of evocatory magics woven between the undead, the door, and the stones of the quay.
“The skeletons are part of an alarm system or trap. We need to make sure we don't destroy them, though we can probably disable them with a good tap in the right place, and myself and the thief,” (Llewellyn looks shocked when the mentally stressed artificer calls him this) “can use our particular skills to disconnect them from the magics they are tied to.”
Llewellyn jumps up onto the Veteran's shoulders.
“Take me closer Vetters. I can't reach the things from this horrible water.”
01:31 – 01:37 – The group swim closer and closer to the quay, noting as they near that the bones of the red skeletons are carved with intricate lines of silver, and that the patterns are echoed in the rusting, mouldy metal of the door. First to reach the side of the quay is the warforged, and as soon as he gets there, he lifts the vyrleen up like a child, and holds him out the water so he can try to manipulate the warding lines worked into the monster.
“Hey, this isn't an undead at all! It's some kind of construct, like a golem. Neat!”
Llewellyn's hands blur as he removes tightly stoppered jars of powders and thin wires from his tool belt, and magic flares as he redirects its flow through the runes carved into the construct, gently clipping it from the web of spells that enmesh it. After a few minutes, he is finished, his face set in a wide grin.
“Piece of cake! Simple alarm spells worked into the....ak!”
As he speaks, the skeletal construct suddenly lunges at him, the hook bleeding a thin brownish fluid from minute pores. It rips across Llewellyn's shoulder, leaving a deep gash, and at once, the vyrleen goes silent, the poison now in his wounds causing his muscles to cramp and lock tight. With one of their number awoken, the other three constructs also animate. The pair by the door simply step in front of it, raising their hooks and clattering their teeth menacingly, whilst the other one by the water's edge strides forth to try and slash at Llewellyn. However, it doesn't get that far, for Ferrous by this point has managed to doggy paddle his way to the side of the quay, and with a metallic snarl, leaps up and in the way. The hook, aimed for a target further away, screams off his rune-scribed armouring, and is deflected harmlessly.
01:37 – 01:38 – A brief battle ensues, its heart the artificer and rogue as they work to “unplug” the constructs from the alarm system before they are destroyed. They are remarkably fragile, and once struck, fall to pieces easily – all the better to trigger the alarm if it had not been detected. Llewellyn receives several more wounds from the things, his body burning with the paralysing venom, but most everyone else escapes unscathed. Soon all the skeletons have been reduced to harmless scrap.
01:39 – 01:45 – With the guardians removed, the group gratefully pull themselves out of the putrid waters, and stand, steaming and dripping, on the greasy stones of the quay. Closer now, Shadevia notices something carved into the door, below the encasing fat deposits and bubbles of rust – a subtle spiderweb of carved lines. Ormid moves to explore this at her beckoning, and at once recognises it as a glyph of warding; a lightning trap just waiting to be triggered. Muttering, he manipulates the energies within it, and harmlessly diffuses them; a soft whine and stream of luminous smoke the only thing to emanate from it.
Veteran takes the door – which he discovers is magically locked – off its hinges a moment later.
01:46 – 01:54 - beyond the door is a sloped corridor that leads out into a wide courtyard, surrounded by high brick walls. The stench that curdles the air here is ungodly, and bloodstains vie with the chemical stains for recognition on the discoloured flagstones. Everywhere scuttle large rats, and piles of steaming meat and clotted hair form horrible piles around the courtyard's edges, and around the supports of several massive, and currently empty cages. The floor is slightly slippery, and the group realise that a thin patina of fat and soapy residues covers it. Clouds of obscene steam rise from tall, slimy chimneys that rise from each building, condensing as the warm rain, stinking of urine and death, which drizzles constantly over the yard, lending everything a foul slickness and stinking glisten.
The rear faces of five huge stained brick buildings form part of the walls that surround the courtyard, each stretching away from it like the arms of a star. Massive double doors set into these, all of which are currently closed, seem to be the main way in, and ramps of stone lead from the courtyard to them. Each door is stamped with the insignia of the house that runs it, and the one closest to the party on the left bears not only the symbol of House Malfrect, but the familiar standard of the Chained Syndicate.
Looking carefully around, the group spot a storm hatch to the left of the ramp leading to the main doors in the Malfrect Tannery. Wandering over, they can see that a sturdy bar of mottled silvery metal forms a seal across the two heavy halves of the door – and Shadevia spots that amongst the mottling is a well disguised glyph of warding.
The trap is disabled by Llewellyn with a speed bordering on contempt, and the massive metal doors swung wide...
...A huge mushroom cloud of disgusting smelling steam billows out at once, redolent with the reek of faecal matter and ammonia, and peering through it the group can see a wide brick shaft dropping away into foul steaming darkness, its surface thickly smeared with excrement.
“A cess pit?” Chokes Llewellyn pulling back in disgust.
“Used in the tanning process.” Murmurs Zaruel, “Harvested from the slaves no doubt. Surprisingly valuable.”
“Itsh shtinksh” Replies the vyrleen, holding his nose.
“It also” begins Ormid thoughtfully, “heads in the direction we need to go. Down.”
No one speaks for a moment, the foul drizzle hissing off their sodden cloaks and heads.
It's Shadevia. The group turn to look at her, and without any further word, she steps into the mouth of the cess pit, and floats gently down into the stench. The group rush to the sides of the trap door and peer down, but they quickly lose sight of her as the billowing miasma envelops her...
...In the gloom below, dimly lit by the faint glow of cess moulds and the faint reflected glow of her allies weapons magic, Shadevia's sensitive eyes can see as well as in daylight. The stink as she sinks into a thick stew of hot, festering human waste is too much to bear, and even the stoic seeker finds herself gagging and breathing as shallowly as she can. Looking round, and trying to ignore the warm press of the cess as it leaks through her clothes and runs down her legs and around her feet, Shadevia can see that there is a space of roughly 5' between the surface of the muck and the dripping, dung spattered ceiling. She can also see that there are no exits from this horrific place.
Dizzy with the tropical heat and stink, Shadevia suddenly realises that the gasses boiling from within the stew are making her faint. Blinking, she momentarily sees double, and with a grim growl, prepares to open a magical route out of this foul place, and back to the relatively fresh air of the tannery yard. Alas, it is at this point that something erupts from the surface of the brew – a tentacle as thick as the shadeling, ending in a leathery, muscular, leaf-like structure covered on one side by sharp, downwards pointing spines. Faster than the shadeling thinks possible, the tentacle wraps around her, the polluted fangs on it ripping gouges in her flesh, her dark, inky blood pouring freely into the seething mire.
Shadevia gasps as the powerful appendage wraps around her – a sound that her allies above hear and recognise. They begin to shout to her, and Shadevia does her best to assure them that she is in no danger. However, with the poison gasses making her feel nauseous with vertigo, and the tentacle pulling her down to her chin in the sucking, fetid soup of the cess, she isn't fast enough.
01:55 – 02:00 – Something explodes in the cess a few feet away from Shadevia, and she realises that despite her assurances earlier that she could easily get out, the Veteran has thrown himself in to help her. Around the chamber, in the darkness that only the shadeling can see through, three mounds of displaced filth begin to move towards her and the (still submerged) warforged. She also spots...Something... else in the far corner of the chamber, but is forced to pay attention to her current situation as the monster grabbing her rises and reveals itself.
It's a Groth'Ergulg – A Shit Eater, Otyugh, Gulguthra – a vast filth feeding scavenger who's every part festers with pestilence. A wide mouth, trailing pulped shit and mucus rises from the surface of the mire and moves to bite at the shadeling. However, it never gets chance, for with a roar, the warforged, completely covered in cess, erupts next to it and drives his axe into the monsters body, awakening the flames in the blade...
...All hell is let loose.
The gas, it appears, is highly explosive, and the flames wreathing the axe sets it off with the force of a bomb. Damp, acrid flames shriek through the tight space above the cess, filling it with light and searing heat. Both Veteran and Shadevia are badly burned by it, the air momentarily leaving the small space, and in the brief flash of light, the pair can make out that there are three Groth'Ergulg in the pool, and that a vast insectoid horror has unfurled itself from some dank space in the pits corner – the thing Shadevia glanced earlier.
“What the hell is that?” Gasps Veteran, swatting a questing tentacle thrown out by another one of the shit eaters. Looking at the monster, Shadevia can see it is a worm-like thing, covered in excrement smeared plates of chitin. Its head combines the worst aspects of beetle larvae and sea anemone; compound eyes, scything mandibles, and writhing, coiling tentacles that ooze a thin gleba of venom. Her view is briefly blocked as Ferrous joins them in the pit, his metallic body sounding an off key note as it slams into the filth. Shadevia racks her brains trying to remember where she has seen something like it before, her dizziness lessening thanks to the pain of her burns and other wounds, and the fresh air that has rushed down with the burning off of the gasses.
Then it comes to her.
“Shit. Carrion Crawler!” Replies Shadevia, “The biggest one I have ever...”
But her words are lost as, with a squeal, the massive monster lunges forwards, its tentacles lashing out in a frenzy...