07:23 – 12:30 – The group spend a little time plucking up the courage to slip into the rancid broth that laps gelatinously against the decayed masonry on which they stand. They then spend another ten minutes or so (those that need to breathe) forcing themselves to inhale the foul stuff; their innate, hardwired fear of drowning overwhelming their knowledge that the artificer's potion is enabling them to breathe fluid.
In the end, Veteran has to hold them underwater whilst they panic and struggle until they have taken a desperate, horrified breath, inhaled the filthy water, and survived.
A few more minutes taken getting used to the alien environment, and they are ready to go – though they realise that they have no idea where they are going.
Pulling themselves out of the waters again, vomiting up slick threads of mucus and water, they try to form a plan. Most just want to head down and try to locate a passage up to the surface, though Ormid is sure that things will not be that simple. They pool their knowledge of the local area – which is next to zero – and what little they know of the Ur'Leth. And it is during this conversation that the artificer suddenly recalls a distant fact that changes everything.
“I have a plan!” He grins, “I think, if my history and geography is right, that there may be an ancient, experimental warship down here – the “Glorious Brick”.”
Everyone fixes the artificer with a level stare.
“Seriously. It's a legend amongst artificers! It was an experimental transoceanic vessel designed to allow for infiltration and stealth assaults. It was supposedly driven by a highly experimental engine system that used taintstone radiations to drive some kind of reactor, and carried highly innovative...”
“Read deadly, unstable and untested.” Interrupts Llewellyn with a sneer.
“Highly. Innovative.” Snarls Ormid, “Weapons. I can enact a ritual to see if I can sense it, though in truth, there is no guarantee that it is anywhere near here.”
“Why would it be?” Enquires the shadeling, her whispered voice clearly expressing her concerns about the answer.
“Ah, well!” Answers Ormid, warming to the subject, “According to historical accounts held in the library's at Lorehaven, the vessel was attacked by a kraken and to quote the report 'pull'd into thee deepe and lost reaches 'neath thee citee of thee High Theocrats throne.'
“Virian is built on the shattered foundations of ancient Crownsport, and if we are truly beneath it, then it is very likely that the Brick – assuming the tale is true and that the vessel was not destroyed or rendered inoperable...”
“Pretty bigs 'ifs' then.” Growls Vladislav.
Ormid glares daggers at the Helldazzler. “You know, if you have any better ideas Vladislav, or any of your for that matter, I would love to hear them.”
No one answers. Mollified, Ormid continues. “Assuming it is still in one piece, we may be able to find it and use it somehow to get to the surface.”
No one speaks, the only sound being the horrible lapping of the water, the bubbling breath of the adventurers, and the edge of consciousness wailing of the local psychic pressures.
“Well, it may be long shot, but it's the only plan we have other than wandering and waiting to drown.” Says Llewellyn slowly, his face showing his doubt of the whole idea.
“Good, then I shall begin”.
Ormid enacts his ritual, and at once realises that the Ur'Leth have seriously warped the local planar fabric. From the moment the spell is complete, he finds himself struggling to orientate his awareness within it, and fights to keep it working. However, after a few moments, a curiously familiar tingle rushes down his spine – a sign that the thing he seeks is definitely nearby. However, Ormid is confused, for if the ritual is right, it exists way beyond its ability to sense – at least 700' below their current location.
Groaning as the ritual's magic is released and allowed to drain away, Ormid realises that one of two scenarios just played out. One is that the spell was accurate, and that it was the localised distortion of the Physical Plane's fabric that allowed his location ritual to pick up on the distant vehicle. The other is that the spell failed, and that Ormid unconsciously injected the reading into his casting.
He decides to believe the first explanation.
“I've got it!” he crows, “Told you it was a good plan!”
With a rough location in mind, the group slip into the clammy waters once more, and begin to swim downward. Almost at once they begin to feel the mounting pressure, and struggle to see beyond the opaque sphere of muted yellowish light that shines from their weapons; muffled and smoky in the soupy water.
Down and down they go, each increase in depth making breathing and thinking that much harder. All begin to taste blood, and Shadevia in particular suffers as the increasing pressure, cold and exertion take their toll on her. All but the two constructs begin to struggle to draw in enough water to breathe, and all begin to experience a horrible, crushing claustrophobia.
Deeper and deeper, and suddenly, out of the gloom, the bottom of the chamber appears; a lowering wall of stone covered in pale funnel worms, odd anemones and translucent shrimps. Black tunnels yawn in this, and with a growing feeling of horror and trapped resignation, the heroes force themselves to swim down them, their limbs aching and shuddering with the effort.
They push through crushing, choking darkness for an eternity, and at one point are forced to hide as a group of eight humanoid creatures - piscine, wiry things, with wide mouths filled with sharp teeth and the black eyes of sharks – swim by in a patrol. Ormid shudders, recognising them as Shar'Hau'Guin; a predatory race of fish men who hunt for warm-blooded prey in the colder reaches of the ocean.
Shadevia is weakening with each passing moment, her smoky, shadowy blood streaming from her ears and eyes, her movement becoming increasingly weak and uncoordinated. Communication is almost impossible between the group, each hero having to resort to hand gestures in the gloom to get any points across, and all secretly dread any encounter involving combat.
Still deeper they push, the tunnel heading straight down. All (save Ferrous and the warforged) are suffering blinding headaches, and can feel their bones aching in the cold and crushing black, and all think they must be hallucinating when ahead they see a cold, blue-white light; blinking agonised eyes to try and clear them. However, the light is real, and is coming from a chamber beneath them, the tunnels they are in opening into its ceiling.
Slower now, their suffering minds struggling to stay sharp, the adventurer's swim cautiously to the edge of the tunnel and peer into the vast vault beyond. A dull crack announces that one of the Veteran's body plated has finally dented under the crushing embrace of the water, and all wonder how they are going to survive this endeavour.
Then they have other concerns.
Beneath them is a huge cavern, lit by the pale phosphorescence of twenty gargantuan anemone like creatures that form watch towers around its upper perimeter. It must be several miles across, though the group can only see so far through the rich, cloudy waters, and all can feel the unnatural pressures of powerful magic and psychic energies thrumming from the crowded, alien structures that fill it.
Ormid says something, but no one can understand him, his pressured vocal cords managing only a squelching moan. However, all turn to regard him, and he gestures down into the heart of the twisted place – clearly the lair of the Ur'Leth – We must go down through it.
There is no point in arguing, as there are no alternatives. In their current state they are vulnerable to attack, and Ormid would now be unable to enact any kind of ritual to bring them back to safety. Ormid has also realised that moving instantly from the depths they are in, to a normal atmosphere would leave them exposed to a deadly condition that brings about madness, weakness and then death. Compared to this, swimming clumsily through a fortified city of utterly alien telepaths and slavers is the better option.
And so they move, swimming in the open, hoping to pass for another gang of slaves. As they drop, so they get a better view of the horrific city below them; a place of organic, tentacled structures, cyclopean monoliths, and blasphemous temples raised in supplication to monstrous and utterly alien deities. Everything shines with a polluted, rotting radiance, and as the group get closer, they can see the coiling, sickening runes that cover almost every surface of the place; panting and pulsing with dire psychic power. Slaves are everywhere. Many are Shar'Hau'Guin, though there are also thousands of humans, dundorin, aelwyn, gorgoth, and other surface races; each covered in a protective bubble of mucus. The Ur'Leth are also here, though only a few – apparently keeping the slaves focused on their tasks (repairing the sickening structures, cleaning them, or carrying supplies to and fro).
Even in their pained and slightly dissociated states, the group are revolted by the Ur'Leth. Each is the size of a wagon and carthorse, and is a putrid blending of shark, fluke-worm and squid. Their overall shape is very fish like, as they have long powerful tails like sharks, and membranous wing like fins. However, long tentacles cluster around their mouths, and trail from around where their fins join their iridescent grey and green bodies. They have wide, bar-like eyes that bulge grotesquely from their bony, flat faces, and each radiates a constant bubble of the toxic, stinking mucus that covers their slaves. They shine with swirling, fox-fire lights, and a filthy psychic pressure oozes from them, leaving the group feeling tainted at its slimy, moist touch. Although to the foolish they might appear to be mere animals, they exude the controlled and calculated aura of highly intelligent, and perceptive beings.
Fortunately for the group however, the monsters are utterly off guard this deep in their own territory, and the party are able to move through the slimy towers and oozing streets below without being detected. On several occasions they are forced to quickly swim into cover as a patrol of thralls swims or trudges past, and on one occasion a potent psychic probe is deflected by a quickly summoned wall of arcane power by Ormid. However, they soon locate several blocked off shafts that seem to lead to places deeper even that this place – though by now, everyone is distracted and slowed by pain, the water's pressure enough to restrict their breathing, weakening them, and making them dizzy. Shadevia still suffers the most, and seems barely able to stand without drifting to the side in a slow, almost balletic swoon.
The Veteran tears away the stone plug covering one of the deep shafts after Llewellyn and Ormid manage, through their thumping headaches, aching chests and restricted, choked lungs, to erase the stomach turning glyph burned into it with vile aberrant sorcery, and the group slide in, wincing as the pressure seems at once to increase again. These shafts are not so long, though ominous, thrumming darkness lies beneath them, and the group pray to whatever Gods are listening that the Glorious Brick lies nearby. The waters, already cold enough to be harmful, grow colder still, and beneath their feet, and the frail sphere of light that surrounds them, the group make out pale strands of glowing slime, 10' wide and 60' high at least, rising from the depths of another vast cavern, each emitting a pale light that outlines the horrific, alien bulks of the things swimming up from below to greet them.
Everyone groans. It seems they have not escaped attention after all, and despite their seriously weakened state, they realise that they must now face and battle the Ur'Leth themselves in this, their native environment...
12:31 – 12:45 – Time and again, Ormid, Veteran, Llewellyn, Shadevia, Ferrous and Vladislav have found themselves in situations where death seemed a foregone conclusion, only to somehow, against all sanity and odds, pull through (save that one time when the vyrleen was slain by the fey giants of course). This apparently hopeless situation is one of them.
There are six Ur'Leth; four like the ones they saw in the city above, one that appears to command polluted arcane power, and one three times the size of its allies, who's smothering, choking aura of mucus reaches some 25' from it, turning the water to slime and making movement for the surface dwellers all but impossible. They fight with unholy tenacity and strength; blasting the party with direct psychic assaults, projectiles of burning, suffocating slime, and their whipping, hard-fleshed tentacles. Blood smokes the water, and the group are taken to the brink time and again as they absorb the physical, magical and psychical assaults thrown at them. However, veterans of hundreds of battles, the group enter that strange place where all experienced warriors go during battle; a place where every mistake their enemies make and every opportunity they make to harm them is magnified to their perceptions. A place where pain and strength flow into and from each other, and where the normal limits of their mortal bodies are pushed aside, and something akin to deadly, terrible art born.
The battle is surprisingly swift, the party concentrating on the massive monster, their spells and attacks – in many cases hampered by the unnatural environment, the sickening thickening of the waters by the mucus, and the toll the depths have taken on their bodies – slowly but surely opening increasingly critical wounds in its tough, resilient hide. Soon its psychic screams of agony ripple through waters now clouded with oily blood, ink and other organic detritus, and the party, though themselves severely hurt, manage to open the monster's belly wide, and to rip its huge, quivering heart free. With a final, fading psychic scream, the huge monster goes into a paroxysm of flailing tentacles and spurting, ripping contortions, all the while sinking, trailing huge clouds of gore and ink, into the depths.
The death of the behemoth seems to have an immediate effect on the other aberrations, their arrogant minds unable to process the sheer scale of the damage wrought to their most potent ally, and at once the water booms with hollow shockwaves as they summon fields of teleportive magic and flee to the city above, leaving brief spaces where they once floated.
Victory - though each member of the party knows that the fleeing Ur'Leth will soon return with reinforcements. A few moments are spent whilst Ormid does his best to heal the worst wounds; struggling as his alchemical components and restorative powders become soaked or denatured by the filthy, snot-like waters. Then, with adrenaline born of desperation surging through their tired, pressure fracturing limbs, the group fight to sink still further, towards something Shadevia just spotted within a tunnel that yawns below – a strange formation of rocks that could, possibly be something else!
12:46 – 13:00 – It is something else; the rear propeller array of a huge, cigar-shaped vessel, stuck, upside down, within a tunnel-like cavern at the bottom of the chamber. As the group swim towards it, hope daring to flare within their hearts, they see an ominous ring of writhing glyphs etched in pale flame into the stone at the mouth of the tunnel. Drifting closer, one eye always on the dark waters above, the artificer and rogue set about trying to fathom what the runes do, and quickly come to the conclusion (clumsily explained with weary hand-gestures and feeble charade) that they are designed to keep something in rather than out. Weakening by the second, the group realise that they must still risk trying to board the ancient experimental vessel, and hope that it has a breathable atmosphere within, for if not, this place will become their tomb – and soon.
To this end Llewellyn and Ormid work to disable the glyphs, struggling as their hands, numb with the cold and stiff with pain, are clumsy and quite unsuited to the task. Despite this, they help each other, and with a burst of bubbles and a noticeable, instant relaxing of the local aether, the glyphs vanish....
...And at once a terrible, bone chilling keening echoes through the water; a desperate, hollow, soul drenching ululation that seems to draw what little heat remains within each adventurer's bodies.
13:01 – 13:08 – As the ghastly screams begin to fade, the group float there, oozing clouds of blood, their flesh discoloured by bruising, and seriously consider turning back. The horrific wailing, so agonised and filled with endless despair, rises again, turning their blood to ice and their bowels to water. However, with an angry army of Ur'Leth and their thralls almost certainly heading their way, the group realise that they have no choice, and must find a way into this clearly haunted vessel.
They move along the side of the huge thing, marvelling at the resilient metal from which it is forged (a metal they recognise from their time amongst the warriors of the Faerie as Fae Bronze), and soon find a stubby tower, on top of which is set a large domed door of metal, sealed with a heavy valve lock. Pale anemone, funnel worms, crabs and shrimp luxuriate on the surface, making it slick beneath the Veteran's feet as he moves to turn the ancient valve, and for a moment he struggles, the metal having corroded somewhat. Another peal of harrowing wailing resonates from within the submarine, and waves of darkness hover about the edge of each adventurer's vision as it almost overwhelms them. Veteran strains, steam bubbling and crackling from his joints, and suddenly, with a sharp snap, the valve begins to turn, bubbles of ancient air, bursting from within.
Clearly aware of the violation of its lair, the source of the wailing steps up its aural assault, its cries increasing in volume, the sheer psychic weight of them withering the sponges and other invertebrates growing on the hull, sending them floating away in a black, lifeless cloud. Despite every sense in their bodies telling them to run and hide, the exhausted adventurer's pile in through the pressure door, and Veteran struggles to close it again, his own strength finally leaving him.
13:09 – 13:10 – A few panicked moments as Ormid and Llewellyn fumble to fathom out the ghaerduun controls set on a corroded panel in the tiny – and now very cramped – chamber. The only illumination comes from two dark red light gems, and this is diminished significantly when Llewellyn, seeing how shiny they are, pries one loose – the crystal immediately crumbling to ash as its magics devour it. However, despite their desperation and the poor light, they quickly locate a lever they believe will drain the water from the room, and pull it. To their relief, they are right, and within moments the party are vomiting up the fluid within their lungs, their retching and bubbling breaths filling the stale air of this place with the stink of sick. Out of the water, they also begin to feel the cold, their teeth chattering as they shiver and steam in this place.
13:11 – 13:12 – Suddenly the temperature drops even more, the air becoming metallic with an unnatural energy. Ice begins to creep like crystalline lichens over the metal walls, and the group feel a terrible, empty pressure fill the room. Suddenly the howling is all around them; so loud and near that it is like a physical presence in the chamber. Maddening fear coils within their minds and hearts as they become suddenly aware of another horrific din coming from the other side of the pressure door that leads deeper into the submarine; screams of panic and desperation. Suddenly a multitude of tiny blows ring out against the other side of the interior door, and what appear to be small bloody hand prints appear across its rust blistered surface, each spattering into existence as if made by a violent, blood-soaked blow.
The air resonates deafeningly with the ghostly screams and blows, and panic begins to claw at the six trapped adventurer's. Shadevia and Ormid scream. Llewellyn drops to the ground with his hands over his ears and the Veteran stands there stunned. Yelling in horror, it is Vladislav who defiantly grabs the blood slicked valve on the interior door, and with a yell, begins to turn it. The door suddenly bursts open and for a moment a nightmarish wave of melted, screaming, blood covered flesh – clearly a multitude of individuals somehow melded together – pours in; fleshless hands and twitching tentacles reaching into the chamber to engulf all within. As the psychic horror surges into the claustrophobic chamber, the wailing and screaming increases in volume until is almost obliterates all thought with its sheer weight. Then it flows over the group; its clammy, frothing, filthy energy engulfing them in its icy, screaming embrace before vanishing.
For Llewelyn, Ferrous and Shadevia, this assault is too much. It floods their minds with horror, and they find themselves momentarily overwhelmed by visions of such despair and nightmarish suffering that they are damaged both physically and psychically by it. It only takes them seconds to shrug it off in reality, but to them, they are trapped in a place of suffering absolute for a small eternity.
13:13 – 13:20 – With the water drained, the group spend some time catching their breaths and trying to fathom where to go. The Glorious Brick is upside down, and made for creatures much smaller than most of the group. This alone presents some rather unique challenges for them. Then there is the issue of whatever ghostly presence haunts the ship, its menace clearly evident from the trauma that last psychic assault has caused the entire party, even those not directly struck by it.
With the inner hatch opened, a putrid flood of unidentified organic soup pours through; a greasy, black, tar like material that stinks of ancient decay. Beyond rusting corridors of Fae Bronze, slick with the stuff stretch away towards the front and back of the vessel.
13:21 – 13:43 – With the ghostly howling once again shivering through the dank, pressing corridors of the vessel, the group climb up through the hatch and into the inverted corridor above. They discuss which direction to head in, and Ormid insists they move towards the aft of the vessel, and the engine room. There is some disagreement, but eventually, the party decide to do as he wishes.
As they go, squeezing and ducking along the dripping, rotting passages, the only light coming from more of the blood-red lightstones, the howling continues; sometimes a low, sobbing moan, sometimes a full blown scream that chills the blood and makes the air contort with its horror. The effects are cumulative and by the time the group come to the end of the corridor, their nerves are truly shot. To add to their discomfort many side chambers and corridors lead from this main walkway; empty pools of darkness seeming to coil within them. There are also fragments of the former crew scattered about; small bits of bone, rusted equipment, or ghastly “shadows” where the decomposition of a body has discoloured the metal. As well as the wailing, other impossible sounds echo through the abandoned vessel; distant conversations, laughter, the running of feet, screams and even a female voice singing at one point.
“S-s-so many lost souls.” Laments Shadevia.
“What's that ahead?” Asks the Veteran suddenly.
13:43 – 13:55 – It's a door of reinforced Fae Bronze, that has no apparent handles or other opening devices affixed to it. Above it, in what is actually the floor, is a pressure hatch. Two signs, written in the base ghaerduun language label each door, and although he cannot speak or properly read the language, Llewellyn claims that the one on the hatch warns of “harm” - though he is unsure as to whether it is a warning that what lies beyond can cause harm, or could be harmed.
Ormid decides to use his arcane sight to see if he can fathom a way to open the reinforced door, and with practised ease allows his consciousness to slip into that rarefied realm where the energies of magic become visible. At once, the howling begins again with fury, the walls shaking with its volume, and Vladislav is suddenly struck by a spanner that comes hurtling from the darkness behind them, the tool clanging loudly and painfully off his armour.
“You stupid spirit! Show yourself and I will show you that there are things worse than Hell in this world!”
Detached from the “real” Ormid sees the world wrought in strands of light and textured colour. He sees four potent points of magic in the ceiling of the chamber beyond, as well as a smouldering tangle of complex, almost certainly animating, magics in a mass a little beyond the door. A potent web of magic shivers within the door itself, connect to, yet separate from the points of energy, and he realises that there are spells on the door, which can, if handled badly, trigger an automated defence system. Peering deeper, the artificer sees something he has never seen before; a black, pulsing tangle of liquid strands, writhing and coiling around a core of their own compressed form. Around this strange mass, rigid lines of abjuration magic hang like a cage, and he realises that he is looking at the vessel's engine, and that the stories were true – it really does use some kind of tainted energy source.
Suddenly, Ormid's vision clouds, as a shifting array of static like energies impress upon his view, and the howling once again rises to a terrible fever pitch. Spinning round, the artificer finds himself looking at the source of the noise; a floating, vaporous being resembling a twisted and ghostly ghaerduun.
“I see you, you little shit!” Shouts Ormid pointing, “Vladislav, he's right there!”
At once the screaming stops, and the curious pressure that the spirit had been exerting vanishes, leaving all the group dizzy for a moment.
“Hopefully, we shan't have any more problems from him now.” Mutters Ormid.
13:56 – 13:57 – The artificer explains what he has seen, and the group begin to discuss ways to open the door. However, bored, Llewellyn suddenly leaps up onto the warforged's knee, and with a whoop, opens the hatch above. At once a burst of cold, wet air, stinking of rotten eggs and organic corruption washes out, accompanied by an icy deluge of treacle like rusty gunk. The rest of the party scream at the rogue, half expecting the vessel to instantly explode, but he leaps through the suddenly hanging hatch and into the chamber beyond...
13:58 – 13:59 – Foxfire shimmers off the corroded walls of the chamber above, though the rogue realises it was once several separate chambers. Below, the group wonder why the inside of the hatch is layered with stone. Llewellyn knows exactly why.
Once kept as part of an experimental weapon system (a pod with a rust monster wired in, that could, in theory, dissolve a hole in your enemies' hull), long escaped, and slowly eating their way through the walls and hull of the ship (the vessel's crash broke away some of the stone lining keeping them away from it), there are currently four of them; three much like the ones the group faced before in the rotting heart of the Clouded Hills, one a hulking thing covered in black and grey mottled chitin, its eyes flickering with colourless psionic distortion. The empty shells of older generations lie in glowing piles around the room, and a cluster of pale spheres at the other end suggest these creatures have been breeding.
Llewellyn makes a curious mewling sound, and tells the others what he can see. All the Ruster's have stopped what they were doing (wandering around a massive pile of their droppings and rust fragments, trying to reach an interior wall that is currently just beyond their oxidising tentacles), and turn to face him, feathery antennae twitching as they smell the adamantine in his mace.
“Get DOWN!!!” Screams Ormid.
“Move it idiot!” Yells Vladislav.
“For fuck's sake Llewellyn!” Growls the Veteran.
Shadevia says nothing, simply glaring daggers at the vyrleen.
13:59 – The larger Ruster begins to move towards Llewellyn, and the rogue can suddenly feel a tension gathering in the air between him and it. Realising that it is about to unleash some kind of mental assault on him, he leaps back down through the hatch, which is immediately slammed shut by the warforged, and locked tight.
Llewellyn grins sheepishly. Vladislav cuffs him across the back of his head with a tut.