The Once King, Hidden Ways, Meeting the Usurper

00:28 – 00:50: Frowning, the group carefully limp towards the doorway, and peer down the huge steps that drop away beyond it. Below is a (relatively) small chamber, lit by a huge smoky brazier. The acrid stench of ammonia and faecal matter assails their nostrils, and they hear once more the plaintive plea, coming from the east of the steps. Cautiously, they descend, weapons at the ready, soon finding themselves stood before a gigantic cell, who's bars are as thick as tree trunks, the spaces between them wide enough for two men to pass through. However, it is immediately obvious that this cell was not built to hold men, for the monstrous thing that begs for aid can be seen, huge as a mountain, in the darkness beyond. It is another gigorim, though even more massive than the Vulgorim, its flesh stony and grey like granite. Hairless, it seems to be hewn from rock, though its impressive form is covered in sores and wounds, and seems diminished in its misery and infirmity.
“It's a Morgog'Gigorim,” whispers Ormid, eyes wide, “A stone giant.”
“Malogg.” Rumbles a voice, deep as stone, “Once King,”
The morgogorim's words trail off into a dribbling wail – though only Llewellyn understands what he says. With further questioning the group learn that this giant was once the King of this place. However, his clan was small, and when Skrung attacked, backed by a huge army as well as the dark magic of his youngest Son, they did not stand a chance. The morgogorim fought the Vulgorim as best they could, but ultimately, they were overwhelmed and Malogg taken prisoner – a play thing for the new “King” of the keep. He knows not the fate of the rest of his clan, or his wife and two children, though he was told that if he resisted his captors, they would be the ones to bear the brunt of Skrung's displeasure.
A Bargain is struck. The group agree to free Malogg, and in return, he will show them an ancient portal that leads directly to the throne room from a hidden section of the stronghold – that is, assuming that the Vulgorim and their allies have not already found it.
The first obstacle however is freeing the morgogorim King, for he is shackled with Tenebrium infused Cold Iron, which has been enchanted in such a way that any serious disturbance of its substance will result in a deadly jolt of necrotic energy passing through his body, wreaking terrible ruin (it also drains the giant's strength, removing his ability to break free). Removing it requires Ormid to apply every last bit of his skill as an artificer, alchemist and spell caster, and even then, he makes several mistakes which see Malogg scream and writhe as his flesh suddenly fills with corruption and blisters. Choking through the stench of the unnatural decay, the artificer is able, eventually, to unpick the magics within the bonds, and they fall away with a sigh and a rush of foetid ash.
00:51 – 00:15: It takes Malogg some time to get up, his limbs wasted and sore from being held in the same position for so long. The stink that comes from his wounds is incredible, and all fear he will not be able to last long. However, he seems to kindle his fires as he recalls the terrible fall of his keep, and the theft of Gruniir – the Mountain' Heart – a crown of old magic, and the taking of his Queen and children. Speaking through the rogue's translations, he guides the party along the death haunted corridors of the keep, smirking at every vulgorim corpse they pass, and eventually stops by a section of slime streaked wall. With a deep grunt, he gestures towards the wall, in an “off you go then” type way, and Orimd quickly realises that an illusion covers a hidden corridor. One by one, with Malogg in tow, the group pass through the glamer, and find themselves in a steeply sloping tunnel of ancient, crumbling stonework, the air strangely fogged by shadowy mists.
“What is this?” Wonders the warforged out loud, sensing the tenebrous energies around them.
“He says this area does not strictly exist within the physical plane, but in a shadow of it.” Replies Llewellyn after conferring with the crouching behemoth. “He says it is nothing to worry about. Just one of many such 'shadow paths' in the keep”.
The Veteran and Ormid shudder, memories of Black Hook and its horrors, as well as the mad shade Maelphazan rising unbidden.
As the group move deeper into the gloom, they become increasingly aware of the stink of oxidised metal and rot. Their growing suspicions are confirmed as they enter a series of massive chambers filled with grimy piles of rusty dung, and moments later, the ones who made it – Rust Monsters – arrive, attracted by the noise and the smell of fresh, refined metals.
There are quite a few of the wretched things, one of which has grown to truly monstrous size and learned a nasty trick; somehow able to briefly emit potent magnetic fields, drawing anyone carrying metal (all the group) towards it with brutal, disorienting speed. Fortunately no one loses any armour or weapons to the monsters, as they are ripped apart with magic and the morgogorim's stony fists, and soon the group stand before a massive portal, carved in Adaric glyphs, into the stone of the wall.
Malogg warns the group that the portal will take them directly to the throne room where Skrung will be waiting with his two sons. He tells them that one son – Zuggob – is daemon sworn, and wields foul magic born from the dark planes. The other, Gustor, is a young and aggressive lout, all muscle and no brain, who adores his father and has the raw power and skill to seriously ruin their day. He also warns them about Skrung's chosen warrior; a canny and deadly monster called Gulk. A veteran of many battles, this brute wears the armour of his slain foes, worked into a single massive suit of plate armour, and wields a great maul of stone and ebonwood. Indeed, although Skrung, especially with his stolen magic and sons, represent a deadly group, it is Gulk that worries Malogg the most.
01:15 – 01:30: Taking a few moments to centre themselves, the group enter the portal...
….The throne room is vast beyond reason, dominated at one end by a colossal throne carved from the heart of the mountain. Simply decorated, it bears runes in the Adaric alphabet that even Llewellyn does not understand, and bears the symbol of Morgorath; Adar of the Living Stone. Huge pillars, carved with the grim visages of Morgog'Gigorim hold a high vaulted ceiling aloft, the huge space litten by several huge braziers. The throne sits atop a high platform, and the portal exits between the foot of this, and the massive double doors that lead from the area, roughly 70' from each.
The room is thick with smoke from the braziers, and the stench of unwashed giant, rotting flesh and ordure. Several piles of tacky bones – unmistakably those of gigorim – rise in rough pyramids either side of the chamber, alive with gnawing rats and swarming roaches, and blood, both old and new, spatters many areas.
Skrung is sat on the throne; a truly massive vulgorim. He is morbidly obese, his leathery, filthy flesh folded into thick rolls under his chin, arms and belly. Sores and acne cover his skin, and the group can see that his thin, lank hair is alive with massive lice and swarming maggots. His eyes are watery and bloodshot, and when he bellows his shock at the group's appearance, it is in a surprisingly nasal, wheezing voice for one so huge. He wears floor length robes of once fine cloth, now filthy and tattered, over armour made from stitched together animals hides. Despite clearly being made for someone larger than him, they appear stretched as he pulls them protectively about his bloated form.
To his right and left stand two very different brutes.
To the left is a giant that can only be Zuggob. Small for his kind, he wears layers of animal pelts, dyed in shades of black and dark red. Skulls, daemonic talismans and fetishes hang around his form, and his brutish features are made more hideous by the scars and blood that cover him. His eyes glow with a malevolent light, and he seems to shimmer strangely, as if caught within a constant heat haze. His hair is long and slick with oil and gore, and all can clearly feel the raw evil emanating from him; the signature of one who is given utterly to (and likely possessed by) daemons. He carries a great staff of fused bones, upon which are carved elder glyphs of daemonic power. Just looking at them directly fills everyone with a deep rooted dread, and Ormid knows that prolonged exposure to them would likely instil permanent madness.
To Skrung's right roars a solid brick of a vulgorim. Gustor is much taller than his brother, and has the frame of a pit fighter, his muscles straining against the thick jerkin of drake hide he wears. He wields an impossibly huge triple-headed flail, each of its heads larger than a man, his massive arms sending it swirling with the vengeful howl of a tornado towards the party. Almost neckless, his head is shaved and tattooed with swirling designs. He has few teeth, and bears more than a few scars on his face.
Although they have been killing gigorim all day with nary a thought, the group feel suddenly very small in comparison to these monstrous foes, and feel their confidence drain somewhat. However, last through the portal, Malogg wastes no time worrying, and with a scream that almost flattens the group with its force, launches himself towards the usurper, his face a mask of simple hate. This breaks the spell on the group, and taking advantage of the brief window of surprise, they move to better positions, ready to attack.
The battle is long and arduous. Initially the group struggle, even with the aid of Malogg, for Skrung has mastered some of the Gruniir's magic and uses it to hamper their movement and to enhance both his physical strength and resilience. With their father backing them up, his sons are terrifying foes. Zuggob stands away from the main melee, hurling malevolent spells charged with daemonic evil. More than once he strikes the group with withering blasts of necrotic lightning, or spits hexes that impede them. Gustor wades into combat, his massive flail inflicting truly horrific wounds. Lesser beings would be crushed by the combined might of the vulgorim almost at once. However, bolstered by their own magic and their ascension closer and closer to living legends, they soak up everything the monsters throw at them, and give it back – though all, especially the Veteran, bear horrific wounds.
Things however become even more difficult when, as predicted, Gulk enters the fray. He initially stands back, hurling huge jars of alchemists fire into the battle, the entire room soon ablaze with oily flames. Poor Ormid is particularly hurt by these attacks; his body soaked in flaming chemicals, only his potent healing (enhanced by Tartheld's Rod) keeping him and the others alive. The only one unaffected by the flames is Llewellyn, the Flames Essence protecting him utterly against their bite – though he spends much of his time desperately avoiding the crushing strikes of Gustor's titanic flail.
Gustor is the first to fall however, his bowels torn out by the warforged, his screams of agony lighting the fires of fear in his sibling who, still hurling spells at the party, edges closer and closer to the exit, the rage filled cries of Gulk following him out.
Skrung is suddenly in trouble after nearly killing the enraged morgogorim, when the Veteran leaps up the architecture of the throne, and with a mighty bellow (and despite appearing to be almost physically crushed by several of Skrung's blows) tears the Gruniir free of his filthy head. The crown falls, and Malogg grabs it, seeming at once to draw power from its touch. Skrung seems to shrink, and the spells he cast immediately crumble. He screams in fear as he realises what is about to happen, despite his knight wading into combat, maul swinging, to aid him, and soils himself as Malogg, with trembling hands, places the crown on his own head, the opal set in its front immediately flaring with ancient power.
Usurper!” He growls in his rumbling language, his voice sounding like a thunderstorm to the group, “It is time to right what has been made wrong for so long. I will wash your sins away in your blood!”.
Suddenly healed, his stony flesh alive with deep orange runes of eldritch power, his strength magnified to impossible levels, the morgogorim King leaps to his feet and charges Skrung, smashing him several times with blows that make the very air shudder. Skrung hurls backwards, face caved in, abdomen ruptured, crashing into the throne, his head cracking wide on it. Desperately, agonised, he tries to defend himself, hoping to buy time until his captain can save him. Weeping, he swings wildly at the King. However, his life is ended when the Veteran sneaks behind him and splits his spine with a shattering blow, the once King of the East Mountains dying in a rush of blood and urine, a look of abject horror etched on his filthy, broken features.
Alone and enraged, Gulk continues to battle, roaring his despair and anger. However, he suddenly faces not only the entire group (though Ormid is preoccupied with trying to extinguish the chemical flames that still shroud him, his flesh blackened, his artifice parts melted and glowing), but two mountainous beings of living rock, summoned by Malogg with the Gruniir. He still manages to all but disable the Veteran, and actually smashes one of the elemental's to rubble. However, he is doomed, and eventually, with a cry of anger, he is cut down, his sternum split wide by the Annihilator, his lungs boiling and dissolving as it cuts through them, drowning, eyes fixed in hatred upon Malogg, in his own fluids.
Suddenly the battle is won – though Zuggob has escaped unharmed.