BEARDED DEVIL

Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Tag: monsters

Hex Session XXII – 5th Edition Actual Play – “Château de la Marche, Pt. 1”

The characters in this session were:

  • Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III, a suspiciously pale, apparently human noble and sorcerer, and certainly not a ghoul (how dare such a thing be suggested).
  • Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with Queen Titania of the Faerie.
  • Viridian “Grove” Greengrove, changeling druid, exile from his former druidic circle for unknown transgressions.
  • An ancient and enigmatic Lengian cleric of the Mother of Spiders, name unknown. She wears bulky ecclesiastical garments covering an uncertain number of limbs and goes by “Sister.”

XP Awarded: 400 XP

The long winter gave way to a quick spring and a quicker summer. The season seemed to burn itself out in furious intensity, as if compensating for the long chill. Now the Month of Owls waned, leaves falling from the trees. Rain and heavy fog had replaced the oppressive sunshine with their own damp claustrophobia, a blanket of heavy grey covering Hex and its hinterlands.

Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III sat in his study, perusing The Book of the Void, when one of his servants knocked on the door and approached with a letter, freshly delivered by waspkin courier. The letter was marked with the seal of his family on your mother’s side – the de l’Abespine coat of arms. Usually this marked a letter from his mother. The sorcerer opened the letter and read carefully.

Grandson,

I hope I do not trouble your studies in Hex unduly, but I am sad to inform you that your presence is required here at Château de la Marche. Your mother’s condition seems to be worsening. Since your father’s passing, as you know, she has been delicate of constitution, both physical and mental, and recently she has taken a turn for the worse. She spends long hours shut up in her menagerie of glass figures, refusing meals, even locking the doors; I am afraid we have been forced to confiscate her keys, and, at times, treat her almost as a prisoner in her own home.

It pains me greatly to see my daughter so diminished. Despite our attempts to keep her pacified and restricted to her rooms, she has taken to wandering parts of the house which are no longer safe – including the burned southeast wing, and even the disused northeast wing where, we suspect, the air has gone terribly bad. She continually foils all attempts to keep her from such midnight ramblings, at one point even overpowering a servant come to change her linens, and there has been a string of other, similar incidents. She has spoken of seeing your father’s shade, of horned figures, of beasts prowling “the endless dark” – and of other things which I will not commit to writing. She has taken to scrawling strange signs on the walls, abusing her belongings, and vandalizing the estate. The staff, I am afraid, are quite alarmed.

To be blunt – I fear she may hurt herself, or lose what reason she still possesses.

I can’t say whether your presence will do her any good – perhaps the sight of her son will restore her, or relieve her condition. At the very least I am sure you would be a comfort to her.

I would strongly advise that you travel accompanied, as the roads have become terribly perilous of late; unseasonable cold weather has left many washed-out and nigh-unusable, and driven men to banditry. They resent us at the estate, of course, and more than once the servants have driven them off with shots from the old arquebuses. There are wolves as well, in greater numbers than normal, and other wild creatures roaming the countryside; the memory of the terrible incident that befell your parents shortly before your birth still haunts me. Best, then, to bring with you companions suitably skilled in arms, in case you encounter anything dangerous on the journey.

Your grandfather,

Percival de l’Aubespine, Baron de Beresford

Fuming with rage at the ill-treatment of his mother, Armand leapt from his chair and, without ado, began preparations to leave the city. Gathering several companions along with horses and a small band of mercenaries, he set out for his ancestral estate as soon as possible.

To the south and west of Hex, the land became progressively hillier, dotted with pastures and thick oak forests, some remnants of the Tangle, cut off from that sprawling mother-wood. Towards the further south the hills eventually climbed into mountains known as the Dames Blanches, the White Ladies, for their snowy caps. The thick smog of Hex dissipated into an autumnal mist in this region, a subtle, silvery haze from which the reddening trees emerged like russet spectres.

Though the Old City of Hex was built millions of years ago during ancient prehistory, the city built atop it felt almost new compared to the venerable towns and ruins of this region. Though Hex exerted a degree of control over these lands, the folk here maintained a sense of rugged independence, more loyal to the noble bloodlines who have ruled the realm for centuries than to the distant city with its strange technologies and sinister wizards.

Away from the libertine confines of Hex, worship of the city’s strange gods declines rapidly. There were still a handful of roadside shrines to the Magistra for the first few miles from Hex, but these were soon supplanted by fanes and churches dedicated to the Lady of the Mists, a local goddess.

The population also noticeably shifted. At first gnomes, dagonians, and others could be seen in fair numbers, but these quickly dwindled, replaced by humans.

The party stopped for the evening at the White Wyvern inn, a three-storey inn at the edge of a small oak forest. Within, a fire flickered in the hearth, warming a common room crowded with travelers – the Wyvern was the only inn for some distance. Most of these wee merchants and farmers, folk heading north to Hex to peddle their wares. The innkeepers were identical twins, two men with the same thin, clever face and the same close-cut greying curls, distinguished only by the ugly scar that marked the face of one of them.

brothers

Charles and Bertrand. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

Caulis and Armand spoke with the brothers, Caulis now in illusory human guise, and learned that wolf attacks had been on the increase of recent.

“Mark me words, the Beast of Vaorigne has returned,” Bertrand, the scarred brother, declared. “I should know. I’ll remember that thing’s howls till my dying day.”

“The Beast of Varogine?” Caulis asked, curious. Viridian likewise perked up at the mention of an exotic creature.

“Aye, the Beast that gave me this scar,” Bertrand said, gesturing to his face. “A monstrous werewolf, that roamed these parts with its pack some twenty years past. But young Master Eustace de la Marche here can tell you all about that.”

The other looked to Armand, surprised.

“The Beast wounded my father, left him lame and weakened,” Armand said, gazing into his glass of wine. “And left mama… changed. It attacked them, late one night, on the road not far from here.”

“Could this Beast be related to revent events at your home?” Viridian asked.

“I see not how,” Armand said. “But I find this topic displeasing. I think I shall retire for the evening.”

The sorcerer drained his glass and departed for his chambers.

That night, Armand’s sleep was troubled. He awoke in the early hours of the morning, sweat soaking through his nightclothes, the memory of a disturbing dream still fresh in his mind. It was a vision of his father, Armand II, trapped in some tenebrous chamber, some twisted parody of his family home. Something was restraining him – long, writhing forms, lashing tendrils or serpents – binding his limbs. As Armand watched, powerless, wounds blossomed across his father’s body, long claw-marks blooming crimson. Some invisible force devoured his right leg, the limb he had amputated in life, and a festering, gangrenous rot began to spread up his body, consuming him, creeping across his skin until he was a grotesque shell of his former self, a diseased husk. His eyes glowed with some vile effulgence as he struggled against the gruesome organic bonds that held him, and his gaze fixed upon Armand, his eyes piercing into your mind.

“Son! Help me, please!” the elder Armand pleaded – before Armand III awoke.

Descending from breakfast on the morrow, Armand did not speak of his vision, but insisted the horses be readied immediately. Once again the party set out, riding hard for Armand’s ancestral home. Soon mist clouded the path, and mid-morningv loping shapes emerged from the fog – a pack of a dozen hungry wolves, thin and ferocious. They howled and leapt towards the horses, but Sister conjured a phantom scent, deterring them from the chase.

Shortly later, another shape materialized from the mist. The broken remnants of a carriage lay by the roadside, a dead horse rotting slowly in the mist, savaged by some wild beast. The ornate carriage appeared to have been thoroughly looted; there were no signs of any occupants, though bloodstains and vicious claw-marks on the wood suggested a violent abduction.

Viridian inspected the claw marks and footprints carefully, and deduced that the assailants had been bipedal.

As the day drew to a close, the party entered Lutin, a small village of Lutin along the road to the de la Marche estate. An old stone wall, crumbling and moss-eaten, served as meagre protection for the tiny hamlet. There was an alehouse – the Goat’s Head – along with a handful of homes and craftsman’s workshops, as well as an old church dedicated to the Lady of the Mists, her sorrowful stone visage looking out across the town.

Working Title/Artist: Pirna: The Obertor from the South Department: European Paintings Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1721-1780 photographed by mma in 1991, transparency 2 scanned by film & media 6/16/03 (phc)

The group rested here briefly, though Armand was determined to press on to his estate. He paid a brief visit to the town’s magistrate, informing him of the broken carriage, before ducking into the Goat’s Head – rather quiet, with only a few locals drinking the black brew of this region, or cups of the greyish wines made in the hills. The tavern-owner and barkeep was Rosy Maude – a stout, handsome woman with long red hair now streaked heavily with white. She greeted Armand warmly, but when he pressed her for word of his home, her expression grew dark.

“We haven’t seen anyone from Château de la Marche for a fortnight, which is strange,” she said. “Normally at least some of the servants, Old Hugh and Thibault, usually, come down to Lutin once a week at least, for food, drink, and other sundries. There’s been… well, I hate to speak ill of your family, sir, but there’s been some queer rumours of late.”

“No offense is taken, Maude,” Armand assured her. “What have you heard?”

“Well, there’s been tell of some sort of sickness among the staff. When Thibault was last down here, he was coughing terribly, and poor Hugh couldn’t make it out of bed. Said something about mould and bad air. There’s been word your mother ain’t full herself.

“And there’ve been… queer sounds in the night. Distant, mind you, but… strange. Voices heard in the hills, echoing. Whispers in the mist, which ain’t cleared for days and days. Once, a high squealing sound the like of which I’ve never heard made by man nor beast – woke the whole village. And sometimes a rumbling through the earth, like a tremor.”

“And then there’s Ankou,” an old man by the bar declared.

“Quiet, Reynard,” Maud chides.

“Ankou?” Caulis asked, curious.

“I seen him, up in the hills. Ankou, the soul-collector. Death’s henchman. A thin man, all in black, with a broad-brimmed hat. His voice is the scream of the damned. That’s what’s been wailing in the night. I saw him when I was driving my cart. He was up on a little hill, his back to me, but then his head turned round on his neck till he faced backwards. Gave me quite a fright he did!”

“Superstitious nonsense,” Maude declared.

Meanwhile, Sister and Viridian visited the local church. Though the Lengian was regarded with alarm and even terror by some of the locals, her careful questions soon put the local priestess at ease. They learned that the Lady of the Mists was a goddess protecting the region of Varoigne from harm from the outside world – though the region had more than its fair share of troubles, and the faith seemed to be dwindling, the church ill-attended. They also noted that some of the graves in the cemetary behind the church had been disturbed. Viridian examined them carefully, concluding that the same creatures that had attacked the carriage were likely responsible for the body-snatchings.

Troubled by these signs of dark doings, the party set out once more, hastening for the de la Marche estate. The sun sank low as they followed the path upwards into a series of misty hills. They glimpsed horned figures amongst the crags – alpine goats. They watched the party’s ascent with their horizontal-pupiled hircine gaze, unperturbed by their presence, but they made for an eerie welcoming party to this mist-shrouded place.

Then, briefly, another figure could be seen among the goats. At first they thought it was a goatherd, but then they saw its billowing black cloak, its masses of white, stringy hair, its eerie, broad hat shadowing a face that looks skeletal. White eyes roved in the bony visage’s sockets. The being carried a rusted scythe. No sooner had they glimpsed this macabre being than a bank of fog rolled in, obscuring it from sight.

“The Ankou…” Caulis muttered, as, at last, Château de la Marche came into view.

Chateau de la Marche-min

The estate looked decrepit – far worse than Armand remembered. The roof was missing tiles, and some of the windows were broken and boarded up. Attempts to repair the burned southeast wing were clearly abandoned, as it remained a charred shell. The lawn needed a cut and the gardens looked sickly, some of the bushes dead, others succumbing to blight.

In short, the house looked… dead. There weren’t any lights visible, nor any smoke from the chimneys… except, that is, for a ghastly red light in the chapel in the southwest wing.

“Something is very wrong,” Armand growled. “There should be servants here, to take our horses. Come, let’s stable them.”

Nothing awaited them in the stables – a conspicuous nothing. There were no horses here; all of the pens lay open.

Further investigation did reveal a number of hoof-marks and claw-marks on the wooden walls and doors, as well as some bloodstained hay. Something had snatched the horses.

“More troubling still,” Viridian said, touching the marks carefully. “The same creatures that disturbed the graves, and attacked the carriage, I’d say.”

Armand, now furious and intent, marched up to the door of his familial home.

On the steps leading up to the front doors, he saw a rock, weighing down what looked like a piece of parchment.

On the parchment was written:

Dearest Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III,

Since you paid my home a visit, I thought it only proper that I paid a visit to yours.

I shan’t do anything so gauche as to break your beautiful possessions, as only an uncouth brute might.

Nor would I ever be so ungallant as to roast your mother alive, as only a murderous wretch would.

Nor even would I exhibit such atrocious manners as to burn your estate to the ground, as only a mad and cretinous arsonist would dare!

I am, after all, still a gentleman of good breeding. Unlike some I could name.

No, no – I have a different fate in mind for the de la Marche estate and its denizens.

I may have plucked my own eyes from my sockets to please She Who Writhes in the Outer Darkness, but I have been watching you and your little friends all the same, and learning much of your doings, and of what you have done to my home and my family.. The Charnel Goddess has many servants – worms and rats and creeping insects– and those of us in Her favour know their secret speech, can see even see through their eyes when it pleases us. I know much about you, dear Armand. More, perhaps, than you know about yourself.

I was so charmed by the little gifts you have been sending to your mother – your dear, sweet mother.  It was a simple enough matter to provide her with one of my own, disguised as one of yours.

I do hope this little visit meets with your approval. I’m quite sure we’re going to have the most delicious fun!

Yours most sincerely,

Jasper Van Lurken

The letter was accompanied by a lock of hair that Armand recognized as his mother.

Armand carefully put the hair into a handkerchief and placed it in his pocket, then crumpled the note in his fist. He turned to the party, seething with a cold fury.

“He got away,” Armand snarled. “Jasper Van Lurken.”

“Who?” Viridian asked.

“A nobleman, although unworthy of that distinction. He corrupted his family, transformed them into vampiric monsters, servants of the Charnel Goddess. I thought I had burnt his filth from the city, but it seems he escaped.”

“The front door will be guarded,” Caulis reasoned. “Where should we enter?”

“We need to find my mother. Her safety is our priority. Come.” Armand led the way west, towards the Rose Garden. As a child, this was where he had spent most of his hours – the east wings of the house had mouldered, abandoned, after his father’s death and the family’s slow decline.

The party approached a servant’s door, leading into the block of rooms surrounding the Graden. A demonic visage had been scrawled on the door, crude but menacing – some sort of ward.

“Hmm, let me try something,” Sister said, and with a whispered prayer to the Mother of Spiders, she blinked to the other side of the door.

This antechamber beyond was filled with pictures of the de la Marche family, including a very prominent painting of Armand II fencing with an ornate duelling sabre. Crouching in one corner with its back to the door, hunched over the decaying remnants of what might once have been a person, was what remained of a woman in a maid’s uniform, her body weirdly elongated, her neck stretching with horrific flexion. She twisted round, staring with bulging eyes, sensing Sister’s presence, but the cleric had concealed herself in the shadows, her goddess weaving darkness like a web about her.

worm-thing

The Maid. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

Sister carefully opened the door to the outside. The worm-thing twisted round and fled through an open door as the party stormed in. Armand led them through, fingers twitching, a spell hovering on his lips.

Beyond, a simple chamber once served as the servant’s common room. Its current use was far more macabre. Bodies were laid out on the long tables where servants once sat. They were clearly being prepared for some sort of necromantic ritual, as they had been stripped naked and mutilated, with sigils carved into their flesh.

“This way,” Armand said, pointing to a stairway leading upwards.

In this room, two paintings looked down upon them. One was a family portrait of Armand II, Helena, and the infant Armand III, all dressed in historical finery as a chivalric knight, a virtuous lady, and their child. The young Armand had a face which seems wiser than his chubby cheeks and infant curls might suggest. The second painting, however, looked newly hung – a picture of the Van Lurkens.

Annette Van Lurken was shown as a beautiful dark-haired girl of sixteen or seventeen, pale of complexion and dark-eyed, wearing a green dress and holding a small, three-headed pug dog, one of the cerberi bred by the alchemists of Caulchurch, next to her brother Jasper – a sallow, handsome but rather gaunt man of about nineteen, clad in a black doublet, a sly look in his eyes. He posed with a memento mori. Their parents, Leopold and Nicolet, sat to one side; Leopold a well-fed man with a cunning look, perhaps because of his neat, pointed beard and clever eyes, wearing colourful garments of purple and green and has short, greying curls; Nicolet, a stern-looking grey-haired woman whose once-great beauty had only been somewhat diminished by a lifetime of disapproving frowns and exasperated grimaces, wearing a luxurious burgundy dress.

From this portrait gallery, windows faced out upon the Rose Garden below, which filled the courtyard in the heart of the western half of the house. Beautiful in spring and summer, the roses were now dying, their decline facilitated by some sort of blight which had taken hold of the blooms. However, some new breed of roses appeared to be supplanting the old, still seeming healthy despite dropping temperatures. Grotesque black roses veined with red, their stems not green but vivid crimson, teemed amidst their etiolated cousins. At the innermost whorl of each flower, a tiny mouth cou;d be glimpsed, dilating hungrily.

Tending to these horrible vampiric blooms was a man Armand dimly recognized as the former gardener of the estate, Maynard – or, rather, what Maynard had become. A vast, swollen shape, inflated like an obscene balloon, Maynard was bloated with blood, his body transformed into a sac-like, vermiform shape. In place of his fingers were slender proboscises, mosquito-like, from which he periodically squirted blood, feeding the vampiric blooms. As they were fed the hematophagic flowers sighed contentedly; others, sensing an imminent feeding, moaned and muttered in ravenous anticipation. Maynard also carried a heavy sack, bloodstained and filled with human and animal body parts – limbs, organs, and other gore. He periodically removed some morsel from this bag and tossed it into the flower-patch, at which point the blood-drinking roses all converged, swivelling on eerily muscular stems to gorge themselves on the feast.

the gardener

The Gardener. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

“Mother of Spiders, was that a person?” Sister said, horrified.

“We will deal with such abominations later,” Armand said. “Come, this way.” He led them deeper into the house, through another anteroom and a series of galleries, all luxurious but decayed, until they reached his mother’s apartments.

Helena’s sumptuous room had a massive four-posted bed and a side-table; it was in terrible disarray, as something had thoroughly ransacked the chamber.

A large armoire stood against one wall, adorned with images of armoured knights. The armoire had been locked and seemed to have been barricaded crudely, a halberd pushed through its handles. Something bumped loudly from within the armoire, as if straining to get out.

“Help me,” a strange, double-voice said from within the armoire. “I’m locked in here, help!” Armand raised an eyebrow.

“Who are you?”

“Jerome,” one voice said.

“Blaise,” said another.

“Damn,” the two voices said together.

“Aha…” Armand said, stepping back. “I think we’ll be leaving them be…”

A note lay on the floor, carefully folded, the precision of its placement belied by the panicked words scrawled upon it: “FIND YOUR FATHER.”

Hex, Session XIV – 5th Edition Actual Play – “The Cavern of Fear”

The characters in this session were:

  • Alabastor Quan, a gnome rogue-turned-illusionist and failed circus ringmaster; wielder of a cursed dagger and member of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild.
  • An ancient and enigmatic Lengian cleric of the Mother of Spiders, name unknown. She wears bulky ecclesiastical garments covering an uncertain number of limbs and goes by “Sister.”
  • Sprigley Gilette, a hardboiled, cigar-chomping human mercenary and veteran of several brutal wars, also a disciple of the mysterious Archdemon known as the Engine.

XP Awarded: 700 XP.

Alabastor and Sister looked around madly. One moment their three companions had been there; the next, they had vanished.

Sister had seen something like this before, when Garvin disappeared in the midst of Corvid Commons. But it had occurred when they passed through the portal made by the Antinomian’s sacred chalk. Had the god of chaos whisked their friends Elsewhere?

Shaken, the two resolved to return to the surface for the time being, perhaps to seek out additional companions to replace those who had gone missing. Studying Garvin’s map – fortunately in Sister’s possession – they made for the university catacombs, the tunnels beneath Master Melchior’s School of Thaumaturgy & Enchantment.

Fever Lane Sewers

The university’s tunnels were of grey, worked stone, as opposed to the crumbling, mouldy brick of the sewers. Sister and Alabastor crept through, looking for a way back to the surface, when they happened upon a very distinctive room. Instead of dour grey stone befouled by slime and mildew, the room had walls of gleaming pink marble somehow undulled by dust or mould, and adorned with an exuberant excess of adornments, including hundreds of small statuettes like miniature gargoyles, but with the forms of dogs, cats, birds, miniature manticores and griffins, toads, mice, pseudodragons, and other animals. Many of these had jeweled eyes and were wrought of precious metals or crystal. There was an aura of distinct femininity, and the very air smelled of perfume. At the centre of the chamber was a fabulous sarcophagus of purple and green stone upon which the semblance of a plump, happy-looking woman was sculpted, garbed in scholarly robes that embroidered with lace, meticulously sculpted. An engraving read: “Professor Augusta Fullblood.”

“Uh-oh,” Sister said. “Do you think we’re in some vampire faculty-member’s office?”

“Maybe we should leave…” Alabastor agreed.

“Not a vampire but a ghost, my dear!” a spectral voice said, as Professor Fullblood drifted through a wall, congealing out of ectoplasm into a figure closely resembling the woman on the sarcophagus.

“You’re a, ah, faculty member?” Sister asked.

“Indeed. Well, I was. Emerita, now. I was Professor of Zoomancy and Animal Enchantment. I drift up and teach the occasional guest-lecture. Are you from the university, dearies?”

“Us? No,” Alabastor said. “We’re doing a job for Master Melchior.”

“That old bat’s still hanging about up there, is he?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Alabastor said. “We’re actually trying to get out of here.”

“Ah, I see. You came from the sewers. You’ll want to head out of this chamber and then follow the passage to its end, ignoring any side-passages. That will bring you out under the library.”

“Thanks.”

“You may want to be careful.”

“Why’s that?” Sister asked.

“Well. Most of the university archives are well-kept… but there’s a room down here where the damp got in. Some sort of mildew got into a shelf of old spellbooks. It ate the arcane pages and, well… it got just a teensie bit sentient.” She squeezed thumb and forefinger together to illustrate her point.

“Sentient?! How smart is it?”

“Intelligent enough to cast spells. Books worth of them. There’s been a bit of a ruckus trying to contain it. It’s slow, so you can probably get away from it if it attacks, but it may try to bewitch you, and be careful not to get trapped.”

“Thanks! That’s good advice.”

“I wonder if you might, well, help me with something,” the ghost said. “You have no doubt noticed my collection of little pets,” she says, gesturing to the statuettes. “They are, in fact, quite literally my pets – their remains are housed in these little statuettes I made, you see.”

Quite suddenly they realized that Mistress Augusta was not the only ghost here, as numerous small, translucent heads poked themselves out of their funerary containers – ghost dogs and cats and mice and other ghost-animals, a menagerie of wraiths.

“Unfortunately, a pack of zoogs stole in here and made off with my dear Terrence, my miniature cerberi. If you happen to find the poor lost dear and bring him back, I’d be most grateful. I might even be able to find a little gift for you…”

“We’ll keep our eyes peeled,” Alabastor promised.

Taking their leave of the plump but eminently cheerful Professor Fullblood, the pair made their way past her crypt into an ossuary. A huge number of bones had been stored in the walls of this cavernous ossuary, sorted by type: skulls, femurs, finger bones, ribs, spines, and every other sort of bone.  A chandelier made from human bones was suspended from the ceiling of the round chamber.  This place was truly vast – there were hundreds of dead buried here. Ignoring the remains and the blackly gaping side-tunnels, Alabastor made for the door at the far end of the chamber, skillfully picking the lock with only slightly-rusty thieves’ tools. As he fiddled with the lock a vile smell, as of putrescence, wafted towards them, and nervously the gnome hastened his efforts. As something squelched in a nearby corridor the door clicked open. On the other side, the two found an ominous sign reading “KEEP OUT!” Carefully shutting and locked the door behind them, the two hastened onward. They passed through a round archive-chamber filled with texts – scrolls, books, stone tablets, memory-crystals, and other documents. The place was a bit disorganized, though the texts seem well-preserved given the somewhat dank conditions. Doorways led into other parts of the subterranean complex, but Sister and Alabastor ignored them, making instead for the stairs, which they cliumbed up into the library of Master Melchior’s School of Thaumaturgy & Enchantment.

library4

The gnome and the Lengian entered the first level of the library, though more levels were visible here, linked by spiralling staircases and criss-crossing catwalks. Charmed monkeys supplemented the staff of librarians who ran the place. The reference desk was manned by a thin, heavily tattooed man with a long, blonde beard. Discretely taking their leave, the pair hastened past the ornate, guarded foyer and out to the surface.

“Where now?” Alabastor asked.

“Well, there’s not much we can do for our friends who vanished except hope they find their way back,” Sister said, with typical Lengian nonchalance. “Unless you have any ideas?”

Alabastor shook his head.

“Well, we were told we’d lose people trying to get these books back. We have some other associates. What about Sprigley?”

“I don’t think I met him.”

“He helped us out on a few jobs. Human, big guy, decent shot. Bit strange in the head after we accidentally locked him in a time-displaced cell… I think he became a follower of the Chthonic Gods.”

Resolving to look for Sprigley at the Infernal Basilica, the two set out south for Little Pandemonium.

Little Pandemonium 2

Sprigley had spent much of the winter meditating, picturing the Infernal Engine in Hell, the countless damned souls made to labour at the behest of demonic masters to construct this mechanical malignity, a sentient analytic engine of impossible size. Much of this he accomplished in a small monk’s cell, deep below the Infernal Basilica – a place he felt oddly at home. The small rat Melchior had sent to invite Sprigley to his school had been caught by the priests of the Archdemons and sacrificed in the burning pits of Moloch.

It was to the grotesquely baroque bulk of the Infernal Basilica that Sister and Alabastor headed – a bulbous-domed monstrosity bristling with spikes, its stained glass windows glowing with crimson effulgence. Unlike the secret cabals and cults of demon-worshipers who congregate in less liberal cities, in Hex reverence for the Chthonic Gods is neither clandestine nor even particularly outré – just another philosophy among many. The main mass of the temple was quite open to the public. They entered the dark foyer; impish stone faces peered at them from the walls, while they trod on flagstones sculpted into the screaming faces of the damned. A black robed attendant shuffled towards them.

“May I assist you?” she asked.

“Yes, we’re looking for an initiate here?” Sister said, hoping her ecclesiastical garb would endear her to a fellow cleric. “Sprigley Gilette.”

“Ah yes. I shall fetch him for you. Wait here, if you please.” She shuffled off into the depths of the abyssal cathedral. Alabastor, meanwhile, investigated what appeared to be the guestbook, sitting on a lectern of bone. The book appeared to record the names of any who entered automatically – their own names were recorded here, though “Sister” was simply recorded as “Sister,” her true name somehow still obscured even to this magical text. Leafing through, he noticed several notable guests, including members of the Hexad Council – perhaps meeting with Arabella Sickle in secret? He considered stealing the tome, but then realized that in the busy streets of Hex it would rapidly fill with endless names.

ManWithTheMetalArm

At this point, however, Sprigley and the Infernal cleric appeared from the depths below. Repairing to Chimera Cafe in Gloomway, the pair explained the job to Sprigley, whose eyes gleamed at mention of the Book of the Underworld – though it was somewhat difficult to tell given that he now wore an eerie metal mask. He agreed to accompany them back into the Nightmare Tunnels.

The next day, the party returned to Master Melchior’s School of Thaumaturgy & Enchantment, talking their way past the griffin guards to convince them to let Sprigley inside the school. They headed for the fortified library in the southwest corner, the most well-protected part of the school and a former keep.

Dreamers' Quarter

The party descended once more into the tunnels beneath the university, passing through archive-chambers and back to the door marked “KEEP OUT.” Alabastor once more picked the lock, and the group proceeded stealthily, trying to avoid perturbing the strange, sentient mould that Augusta Fullblood told them now haunted the tunnels.

As they retraced their steps through the ossuary, one of Sister’s many limbs brushed against a femur – and a pile of bones clattered to the ground, echoing through the catacombs and stirring up a cloud of dust.

“Shit.” Alabastor swore.

Something seethed from a tunnel to the right. A stench of sickly-sweet decomposition and mustiness filled the air. A fuzzy, bluish-grey mould, like the fungus on rotten fruit or the mildew eating a piece of parchment, suddenly mottled the walls. It squirmed and writhed, psuedopods lashing from its mycelial mass. It did not “move” – patches of it appeared, while others withered and died, so that it progressed along the walls and floor. Amidst its disgusting, blighted mass could be seen sigils, shifting and flickering.

“Run!” Sister said, as the spellmould moved towards them, arcane puissance suddenly coalescing in its midst, psueodpods waving in a viscous parody of a magus’ hand-movements, squelched intonations replacing incantations. The party had made it to the stairs leading down to the sewers when the spell hit, Sister falling into a deep slumber. Sprigley fired his Verdant Pistol, trying to entangle the thing, but it ate quickly through the vegetation spawned by the bewitched bullet. Alabastor spun on his heels and cast an eldritch blast, pushing the spellmould backwards and singing its mildewed substance. As Sprigley woke Sister the thing cast a second spell, trying unsuccessfully to incapacitate Alabastor with hideous laughter. It seethed forwards in pursuit.

1 pixel = 1.0 uM 10X objective 10X eyepiece Field of view is 1.532 mm in diameter

The party fled down into the sewers, but the spellmould pursued, creeping ever closer.

“We’re going to have to come back this way anyway,” Sister pointed out. “We should destroy it, make sure it doesn’t ambush us on our way back.”

“Fine,” Alabastor said. “Let’s stand our ground. I’ll try and keep it back.”

Sprigley nodded, firing more shots at the approaching horror, shooting off the occasional pseudopod, though otherwise doing little damage. Sister cast sacred flame, searing the spellmould, even as it cast another spell, this time pushing the party backwards with thunderwave. Bleeding from the ears, the party counterattacked, Alabastor’s eldritch blasts pushing the spellmould backwards. Sister readied her crossbow and, using sacred flame, lit several bolts alight, firing them at the mould, while Sprigley continued to empty his pistol.  The spellmould began retreating. Sister took out a phial of griffin lard, coating a bolt, then set it aflame and fired; the bolt exploded, a sizzling improvised incendiary, setting the spellmould alight. It withered and died, a horrible whining sound filling the air as it was reduced to a smear of ash.

As the party caught their breath, a spectral head poked down through the ceiling – Professor Augusta Fullblood!

“Ah, thank you for taking care of that little nuisance, dearies!” she said. “You look a bit over-exerted. Would you care for a cup of tea?”

Thankful for the opportunity to rest, the party returned to the university catacombs and Professor Fullblood’s purple crypt. Here they rested, eating conjured cucumber sandwiches and drinking cups of tea that tasted only slightly of ectoplasm, before returning to the depths.

The party used the portal made by the journey 3Portal Chalk in the grate control room to return to the upper Nightmare Tunnels. Skirting the hollow-boned marrowmoth victims they headed towards the Seven Hundred Steps of Slumber marked on the map, only to find a cave-in blocking their path. Only a meager hole in the fallen rocks provided any way forward – it was either squeeze through this or find another way round. Alabastor cast thunderwave, blowing free much of the debris and opening a path. The party darted through, but the already-weakened ceiling now collapsed completely. Sister and Sprigley made it through, rocks falling behind them, but Alabastor found himself pinioned by a rock, crushing his leg.

“I’m stuck!” the gnome gasped.

Both Sister and Sprigley attempted to free Alabastor, but the rock crushing him was exceptionally heavy. As they heaved, grunting sounds and heavy footfalls became audible. Alabastor grimaced and, concentrating, managed to conjure an illusion to cloak the passage, projecting more rocks to make the tunnel seem blocked.

A lumbering, gigantic creature lumbered into view: a gug, four-armed and shaggy. The beast had a massive, vertical maw, it eyes shaded by bone protuberances, and was nearly twenty feet tall, though stooped. It carried a massive spear fashioned from bone.

The gug sniffed the air as the party remained still, Alabastor trying to suppress sounds of pain. Sprigley cautiously shifted the rock once more, but failed to lift it fully, and it once again pressed on Alabastor’s wound. Despite his best efforts the gnome gasped in anguish, and the gug turned towards the sound. It began poking at the rocks with its spear, causing the illusion to shatter. Sister cast a sacred flame, scorching it badly, and the beast bellowed, stabbing its weapon towards her. The Lengian nun ducked aside. Sprigley, meanwhile, gave a final heave and at last lifted the rock free. Alabastor wrenched himself out from under the rock and aimed an eldritch blast at the gug, pushing it backwards. Sister rushed forwards, healing his wound – conjured cobwebs spun from her fingertips, sealing the wounds shut. Alabastor got to his feet as the gug snarled and charged forwards, lashing out, but Sprigley avoided the blow and fired his pistol point blank, wounding the creature badly. Vines from the Verdant Gun’s bullet entangled the creature. Alabastor suddenly loomed before the creature, eyes gleaming, some unknown magic radiating from the small gnome, as if he were conjuring some otherworldly presence. The gug seemed stricken with terror and began thrashing madly, hooting in a manner that Sister knew would bring reinforcements.

“We’d better move,” she urged. “While it’s still tangled up! Come on!”

The group pressed on, scrambling madly for the stairs. Soon the found them: a series of massive steps winding down into darkness deep below. The steps were remarkably well-carved, and though large and steep they could be traversed by a humanoid without climbing. Judging from the way they were finished they belonged to the Old City, their Librarian craftsmanship confirmed by the pillars of iridescent metal holding up the ceiling, and the abstract geometrical carvings that lined the walls. These carvings were mostly unfathomable, alien and irregular; whatever significance their aeons-dead creators intended by them was lost in this epoch, so many years distant from the carvings’ creation. It was as if someone made mathematics into stone, or fossilized metaphysics. Amidst these bizarre protrusions could be made out images that might be creatures, plants, or buildings which seem to tell a kind of history. Alabastor, Sprigley, and Sister didn’t pause to scrutinize them till they were some distance from the top, but after catching their breath they gave the carvings a closer look.

Sister, with Alabastor’s help, managed to piece together something of the story the carvings told. In effect, the carvings depicted what seems to be an ancient and unfathomable war, a war between the Librarians and their allies – beings summoned from other realities, or bred in the spawning chambers of the Old City – and the inhabitants of the Dreamlands, including what seems to be an ancient proto-Lengian empire. The inhabitants of the dream-plane were amorphous and unreal, beings born of imagination and neurosis, from the collective consciousness of the waking world – including that of the Librarians themselves, the very nightmares of that elder race. Depicted among these beings, terrors born of the minds of the Librarians, was an entity which resembled the Mother of Spiders herself, queen and general of a vast arachnid host, Sister’s patron goddess. It seemed the Librarians were fighting a war of conquest, trying to dominate the shadows of their own psyches, and to this end constructed the portals such as the Gate of Horn to invade the Dreamlands. But they were beaten back and forced to seal the Gates, to keep their enemies from entering the waking world and unraveling the physical multiverse.

“Fascinating,” Sister said. “This has… some serious theological implications for my people. If this is true… we’re descended from Librarian nightmares.”

They pressed on, descending the Seven Hundred Steps of Slumber. Part way down they found something quite odd. Rusting slowly in the dense, dripping blackness of this cavern was a machine – gnomish in make, to judge from its construction. The intricate machine resembled a sort of gigantic clockwork beetle, but where the beetle’s mouth-parts would be was some sort of giant wand-like device, a mechanical protrusion engraved with arcane sigils. It didn’t look damaged – at least not severely – just run down. A bored tunnel in the wall of the cavern suggested its entrance.

Alabastor, recovered from his near-miss with the rocks, examined the gnome construct carefully.

“It’s a dowsing automaton,” he said. “This wand – it detects magic, points towards arcane energy. Gnomes use them for prospecting magical minerals, energy sources. Sprigley, help me get this thing out.” He gestured to the wand-like device. Sprigley assisted and the two of them got the wand free. “This could be useful in finding the Book of Dreams.”

At this point Sister became aware of something, prickling at the edge of her senses. Something was moving in the darkness behind them. Following them. Neither of the others seemed to sense it. She said nothing, but hurried on, outpacing her companions.

journey4

The party next came to a great rent in the earth which had broken the Steps, plummeting down into abysmal blackness. To proceed they would need to find some way of traversing the gap. The fissure continued into the walls on either side.

Using mage hand Alabastor secured a rope to a stalactite, so that the party could swing across. He went first, then Sprigley. Sister prepared to swing – when the presence she had sensed made its appearance. A strange figure strode into view, still several steps above, stocky and powerful, nearly twenty feet tall. Its body resembled that of a gigantic, muscular humanoid, wrapped with barbed chains that cut into its flesh; it twirled loose strands of these chains in one meaty hand, while in the other it carried a cruel net of razor-wire. The true horror of the thing, however, was its head – or rather, its lack of head, for in place of a head the monstrosity has only a cage. Mouldering within lay a Lengian skeleton, some former inmate trapped by the creature.

Sister paled and grapsed the rope, swinging wildly. She landed hard on the other side.

“Go go go!” she urged.

“What? Is something back there?” Alabastor and Sprigley looked behind them, but seemed unable to see the figure. Sister said nothing.

“Just go!” she said.

The steps up ahead were strewn with numerous gnawed bones, vaguely humanoid in size and shape, marred by ugly gouge-marks. Remembering the ossuary, Sister called on the Mother of Spiders to bless the group with arachnid stealth, casting pass without trace. They picked their way daintily past the bones. Then, looking above, they saw something else: pale, winged shapes nestling near the ceiling, roosting like bats.

“Marrowmoths,” Sister whispered. They slunk on, still bearing the spider-goddess’ blessing. Behind them Sister heard a sound of rattling chains and a heavy thud – Cagehead had made it past the chasm. She raced onwards, scrambling down the steps as quietly as possibly, Sprigley and Alabastor struggling to keep up with the elderly Lengian woman. A minute later they heard shrieks and chitters of pain – the marrowmoths, perhaps, awaking.

At last, the Seven Hundred Steps of Slumber finally came to an end, and a subterranean enormity opened ahead – a massive cavern, seemingly far too large to possible fit beneath Hex amidst the rest of the Old City. The air was clammy, tomb-like, and moist, and the vast walls of black stone seemed to quiver as if breathing. A greasy grey-green phosphorescence illuminated much of the cave, exuded from cracks in the walls and floor. Such was the size of this cyclopean, chthonic space that they could not see the far side of the cave, and the ceiling was so high it could be mistaken for sky were it not for the tooth-like stalactites drooling downwards, or the pillars of primordial stone which extended from the floor.

Distantly, to one side, rose a series of grim crags and pockmarked mounds of earth and splintered rock – a series of hills, rising to become mountainous peaks in the distance whose pinnacles were lost in darkness as a surface mountain’s might be lost in cloud. To the other side outspread a far stranger sight: a seemingly endless field of alien obelisks, grim monuments rising from the floor, marked with crude, menacing glyphs. Beyond the rows of primordial monoliths could distantly be seen a larger series of structures – some sort of underground city.

Beyond both the hills and the strange city flowed a silvery river, gurgling through the eerie emptiness.  They could see no bridge across the queerly gleaming water, though the other bank was just visible.

“Well, best get moving,” Sprigley said.

The party set off, using Garvin’s map as a guide. They tried to skirt the edges of the Quiescent Hills and the Gug’s Cemetery. As the clambered around the borders of the Quiescent Hills, the mists parted for a moment, and they glimpsed a huge shape slithering amidst the crags – a massive, slime-covered thing somewhere between a gigantic worm, a snake, a centipede, and a kind of monstrously elongated squid, tentacles writhing from a lamprey-like maw that drips with corrosive spittle, a vile, ganglial lump suggesting a brain or some other organ, and an immense, segmented body propelled by stubby limbs. The creature was quite distant. As they watched, it suddenly dove into the rock, burrowing deep into the hills, disappearing into a newly made tunnel.

 “Let’s stick closer to the cemetery,” Alabastor suggested with a shudder. They soon passed something sticky and viscous clinging to the rocks – perhaps the mucilaginous residues of one of the worms.

The Gug Cemetery proved just as foreboding. Monoliths of glyph-graven stone rose from the earth in endless profusion, arrayed according to complex, irregular patterns. These were obviously not the constructions of the Librarians – they were far too crude, too primitive, too coarsely wrought, though like the architecture of the Librarians they felt like the product of an inhuman mind. There was a thick stench of death about this place, a noisome putridity that wafted in miasmas of greasy, greenish fog, mingling with the phosphorescent vapour that drifted through the Cavern of Fear in soporific banks. Suppressing nausea, the group hurried onward.

As they plunged into the putrescent mists, Alabastor heard something behind them – something skittering. Filled with sudden dread, remembering the chittering, insectile horror of the Whorl in which he was long-imprisoned, Alabastor suddenly tensed. Sister noticed, wondering if perhaps Alabastor had seen something similar to the phantasm she glimpsed earlier.

“Hide!” Alabastor insisted. “Something’s coming…” Still shadowed by Sister’s spell, the group hid behind gug gravestones, just as the thing appeared – though only Alabastor could see it. A tall, thin-limbed creature stalked out of the fog, a slender, gangly-limbed horror swathed in a tattered grey cloak. It had few discernible features, though a glint of teeth can be glimpsed in the blackness of its cowl. Its skin was sickly yellowish-grey, its hands overlarge, its talon-tipped fingers uncannily long and clever. Its lower body was that of a grotesque, gigantic millipede. It hauled a huge, black sack around with it, slung over its shoulder.

The Snatcher paused. It sniffed the air, tasting it with a long, black tongue. Fortunately, the miasmatic reek of the graveyard proved sufficient to mask the scent of Alabastor and his companions. The living nightmare scuttled away. Alabastor let out a breath.

“You too?” Sister whispered, looking over at Alabastor.

“Yeah.”

“What are you two talking about?” Sprigley said.

“This place… it’s giving our fears form,” Sister said. “Keep an eye out. Yours is probably on its way.”

monolith

After waiting a few minutes in hopes of putting distance between themselves and the Snatcher, the group continued, deeper into the Cemetery. The stench intensified as they approached a huge shape looming out of the mists – their first thought, incongruously, was a beached whale, but it was too long, too covered in glistening slime, and no whale had the masses of tentacles at its jaws, or a poisonous sting at its tail. The corpse was that of one of the huge worm-things they glimpsed earlier, partially rotten and teeming with grave-worms. In addition to maggots, a pack of monstrous, long-limbed, gaunt creatures were savaging the dead worm-thing’s putrid entrails. They had powerful hind-legs, almost kangaroo-like, and crude, scabrous, noseless faces. They reminded the party of ghouls, but even more malformed and warped than the dog-rat-humanoids of Hex’s sewers and undercity.

“Ghasts,” Sister muttered to her companions. “Dreamland scavengers. They’re feeding, they should be distracted. They won’t fight if we leave them alone.”

Stealthily creeping past, the party was noticed only by a single ghast; it chittered angrily, defending its feast, and the group passed by unmolested. Moments later, however, the skittering returned behind them – followed by shrieks of pain and fear, as the Snatcher discovered the ghasts!

“Fuck it, run!” Alabastor urged.

Skirting an unearthed grave, dug up by something with gouging claws, in which he mouldering remnants of a gug skeleton lay, the party dashed through the Cemetery and reached the shores of the Lethe.

“The River of Unmindfullness,” Sister said. “Anyone who drinks from it experiences complete amnesia, and even brief contact will bring about temporary forgetfulness.”

“No swimming, then,” Sprigley said.

The scuttling sounds had receded, but it was only a matter of time before the Snatcher – or Cagehead – returned.

“Before, it seemed like we could reshape reality a little down here,” Alabastor said. “What if we tried to make a bridge?”

“Good idea,” Sister said. “Let’s concentrate.”

The first effort proved unsuccessful, the party drawing both banks of the Lethe together with their minds and forming a bridge of rock between them; the bridge was swept away immediately, and the banks snapped back to their previous position. On the second attempt, however, the bridge was formed successfully. Sprigley and Alabastor hurried across. Sister followed, but then the bridge gave way beneath her. She leapt but fell, crashing into the river. She struggled with the current, feeling years of memory leeching from her mind as she swam. Fortunately she was close to the far shore, and hauled herself sodden and only partially amnesiac from the water.

“Good thing I have centuries of memories,” she said, shaking her head.  Alabastor, however was not listening, but staring at the far bank. The Snatcher was back, and its sack writhed with fresh captives. With a shudder, the thing began extending its greyish-yellow arms, elongating them impossibly, so that they stretched across the entirety of the Lethe. They grabbed for Alabastor, missing by inches, and the group turned and ran from the River of Unmindfullness.

No sooner had they evaded one phobia-spawned daemon, however, when another appeared, this one visible only to Sprigley – a mass of arachnid arms radiating out from a shadowy central figure. Extending from the tips of the creature’s fingers were long, spidery claws. Currently, one of these talons extended into the head of a pallid, scarified ghoul, while another entered the cranium of a monstrous gug. The overall impression was of a monstrous Puppeteer. Fortunately, the thing had not yet seen them.

Sprigley hissed. Sister and Alabastor looked to him. They could see the shambling victims of the thing, but not the Puppeteer itself.

“Another one,” Sister said.

“Alabastor, can you create an illusion of the party?” Sprigley said. “Then maybe we can picture a pit, try to make it fall in…”

“I’ll try,” Alabastor said, conjuring an illusion of Sprigley. The Puppeteer took the bait, picking its way daintily towards the illusion. Sister and Sprigley, meanwhile, focused on producing a pit beneath the illusion. The ruse worked and the Puppeteer tumbled into the hole, limbs thrashing, its victims pulverized by the fall. It began picking its way out, but the party did not pause to wait, rather hurrying on towards the Great Pallid Pit and the Deathcap Forest.journey6

To the right yawned the bony vastness of the Great Pallid Pit, as the map proclaimed it: a seemingly endless charnel heap, the bones of giant worms, humanoids, and other fauna mingling in a slimy profusion, mountains of bones rising form the cave-floor. They could glimpse shapes, moving among the osseous mounds: ghasts, perhaps, or feral ghouls, roaming the Pit in scavenger-bands. Marrowmoths circled overhead in vast flocks.

To the left and straight ahead, on the other hand, festered the Deathcap Forest: a pestilential morass of spores and gigantic, mottled mushrooms, green and black. Thick fungal mats coated the forest floor, while myriad growths sprouted from every surface. Donning gas-masks, the party entered the spore-infested depths, sticking close to the edge of the Great Pallid Pit.

journey5

The trio had only been in the Deathcap Forest for a few minutes when Sprigley began coughing – then spluttering, then choking. Sister turned to see him wheezing, his face turning black, body spasming. Despite his best precautions the spores had found their way into his lungs, taking root, the poisons within ravaging him horribly. Ulcerous lesions appeared on his flesh, black and gangrenous-looking, budding with fungal growths. Horrified, Sprigley ripped his gas-mask off and quickly downed a healing potion, temporarily reversing some of the poison’s effects – though the spores would still be festering in his body. As he tugged his mask back on, something emerged from the verdurous depths: a quivering mound of decomposition, some kind of rot-elemental, creeping towards them with slick, grasping tendrils, moaning softly, the mushrooms on its back issuing forth a profusion of spores. Sister hit the thing with a sacred flame while Sprigley, coughing, lured it towards the edge of the Great Pallid Pit, still visible nearby. Dodging its lashing tendrils, he dove to the side as Alabastor cast a thunderwave, pushing the mound of fungal horror into the Pit.

All was still – and then the group heard footsteps, heavy, crashing from the left. Something had heard the concussive blast of the thunderwave. Sprinting as best they could, the party cut their way through the thick vegetation, rushing now, exhausted, something hot on their heels. As they stumbled out onto the plains they heard a growl behind them, the appearance of their pursuers imminent. Thinking quickly, Alabastor again created an illusion of the party, hoping to distract their pursuers. They emerged from the Deathcap Forest: a pair of gugs, both utterly infested with black fungi, growths of the stuff splitting open their bodies, sprouting from every orifice. The imbecilic fungus-riddled things lumbered after the illusions.

“Now!” Alabastor said, and Sister and Sprigley once again focused their concentration to reshape the dream-world, this time forcing a crack to open beneath the feet of the gugs. They tumbled into the chasm, which then snapped shut like a pair of stony jaws, obliterating the two loathsome creatures.

The party caught their breath, now utterly drained of energy, Sprigley still coughing. Up ahead loomed the Plateau of Frozen Thought.

“We’re almost there,” Sister said. Slowly, painfully, they made their way towards the massive protrusion of what looked like ice. As they drew closer they saw it was some kind of crystalline substance; trapped behind its surface swirled a kaleidoscopic slurry of images, faces and animals and buildings, light and colour, a confusion of oneiric effluvium. Huge steps were carved roughly into the Pleateau, leading upwards. Grimly, the party began the ascent.journey2

After an hour of climbing, Sprigley, Sister, and Alabastor reached the top of the Plateau. Here the structures of the Old City rose in alien spires before them. No fungi or fauna disturbed the eerie stillness. Looking back across the Cavern of Fear, however, the party saw something which filled them with dread. Their phantasmic assailants, embodiments of their worst fears, were distantly visible below, having made it through the Deathcap Forest: Cagehead, the Snatcher, and the Puppeteer.

“Looks like we were followed,” Alabastor said.

“Let’s find a place to use the Portal Chalk,” Sister suggested. “We need to get out of here before those things catch us.”

“What if they’re waiting for us when we get back?” Sprigley asked.

“We’ll fare better against them once we’ve had a chance to rest,” Sister said. “We’ll come back. And then… down to the Egregor Vaults.” She looked towards the entrance to the Old City and to the Vaults below: a black, spiraling stair, leading downwards into the heart of the Plateau of Frozen Thought, a primeval darkness seeping from within.

Images: Klementinum Library by Bruno Delzant, Mycelium of an Unknown Mold by Bob Blaylock

It Follows

My, this place is looking dusty!

I will hopefully be doing a bit more posting here soon, as I’m hopefully going to DMing a 5th edition game sometime in the not-too-distant future.

For now, check out this blog post I wrote on It Follows for the International Gothic Association.

Townsfolk Story

I wrote a story for Bronwyn McIvor’s brilliant Townsfolk Project. You can read it here.

The Savour of Madness: Attic and Basement

 Faust 4

Attic

Attic Map

There’s not much of value in these old storerooms, but they do provide a stealthy means of navigating the third level of the asylum.

34 – Storeroom

Dusty old crates and trunks swathed in cobwebs fill this mouldering attic storeroom.

If the characters decide to investigate the crates and trunks, roll on the following table to determine their contents:

Roll 1d20 Crate Contents
1 Yellow mould
2 Muzzles
3 Fetters and shackles
4 Bedclothes
5 Parchment, somewhat mouldy
6 Orderlies’ uniforms
7 Spare rug
8 Bandages
9 Straitjackets, musty but useable
10 Spare parts for the rotary chair
11 Rusty carpentry tools and nails
12 Rusty surgical tools
13 Rusty kitchen implements
14 Lamp oil (6 jars)   and a hooded lantern
15 Healer’s kit
16 30 candles
17 50 ft. of coiled hemp rope
18 Rolled painting worth 25 gp
19 12 silver candlesticks worth 10 gp each
20 Floor plans of the asylum (basement only)

35 – Study Storeroom

XIR216130

This dim attic storeroom has a large trapdoor in one corner.  The storeroom is mostly empty save for an old chest gathering dust.

The chest is locked (Disable Device DC 30 or use the Heart key).  Inside are a number of phials containing drugs of various sorts: 6 doses of Æther, 6 doses of Opium, and 6 phials of Oil of Restfulness.

36 – Hole in the Roof

A hole in the roof lets water into this old storeroom.  Years of rot have caused a partial collapse of the ceiling below – it’s a short drop down into what looks like the mould-infested remnants of the asylum’s library.

1d6 non-lethal damage unless a DC 15 Acrobatics check is made to jump down.

37 – Tower Garret

Three small dormer windows look out over the asylum grounds in this cramped garret.

The Basement

Basement Map

Soundtrack

38 – Cellar

cellar

Large barrels and kegs fill this cellar, and there’s a small wine-rack with some dusty bottles in it as well.

There are 20 bottles of fine wine here (10 gp each), and a lot of lower-quality wine.

39 – Storage

This large chamber holds supplies for the asylum above: linens, bedclothes, tools, machine parts, curtains, cutlery, spare pots and pans, and other miscellaneous objects.

There’s little of actual value here, though if the players need improvised weapons for whatever reason, some spare kitchen knives could be used as daggers.

40 – Wardrobe

This extensive storage chamber contains hundreds of suits of clothes, ranging from the white straitjackets of inmates to the plain uniforms of the orderlies to the fine coats, vests, wigs, and other garments of the alienists.  All are neatly folded on shelves or hung on pegs or hooks.

This room is perfect for characters to turn the tables on those above and disguise themselves.  In addition to 50 straitjackets and 25 orderly uniforms there are 20 doctor’s outfits and 12 courtier’s outfits here.

41 – Makeup

This small room includes a table set before a large mirror, with several smaller mirrors on its surface.  An array of cosmetics are arrayed on the desk, along with brushes and tools for applying them.  A small cabinet along one wall is filled with a variety of perfumes and colognes.

The makeup is the equivalent of a masterwork disguise kit.  The perfumes are worth 50 gp apiece (there are 30 bottles in total).  They are very delicate and bulky, however.  The Intellect Devourers use this room to disguise their rotting flesh when required.

42 – Larder

This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30, Strength DC 25 to force, or used the Hand Key).

This refrigerated room is obviously a larder.  Several shelves are devoted to mundane foodstuffs, but other shelves contain more gruesome victuals: severed limbs, human organs, and dozens of brains.  All are well-preserved; some are picked in jars, and large haunches of meat of uncertain origin dangle from meathooks on the ceiling.

Sanity check (0/1d3) for the mangled body-parts and brains.  The brains are an “emergency store” for the Intellect Devourer – they prefer to consume the brains of still-living or recently deceased hosts, but will feed on refrigerated brains if necessary.  The body parts are, of course, for the Grimlocks.

43 – The “Marionette” Room

This room is very cold – it must be refrigerated somehow, rime coating every visible surface.  Meathooks line the ceiling, dozens and dozens of them, every one of them holding up a naked human corpse.  A wide variety of ages and body types are evident, and there are slightly more male corpses than female ones.  Some of the bodies have been severely mutilated: some are missing fingers, limbs, eyes, or other features, while others sport grotesque grafts and augmentations harvested from other human corpses or from animals.  One corpse dangling near the entrance sports two heads – one male, one female – and a stitched body exhibiting characteristics of both.  Another has had its mouth replaced with the beak of a large bird and its arms replaced with massive wings.

Sanity check (1/1d4+1).  This is the “marionette” room: a chamber used by the Intellect Devourers to store hosts when not in use.

44 – Alchemical Laboratory

lab

Counters covered in alchemical apparatus dominate this laboratory, whose walls are lined with shelves stocked a variety of reagents – herbs, preserved organs, bottled chemicals, tinctures, oils, and essences, live insects, dried body parts, and similar components.  Beakers, crucibles, burners, boilers, mortars and pestles, and other equipment cover the counter-tops, and gaps between shelves are papered with alchemical charts.

Alchemist’s laboratory; no finished potions here.  If the alarm hasn’t been sounded there is a high probability of encountering an Alienist here.

45 – Potion Storage

This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30 or open using the Brain Key).  Anyone attempting to open the door who isn’t an Intellect Devourer activates a Symbol of Insanity placed upon it (Perception DC 33 to notice, Disable Device DC 33 to disable, Dispel DC 19).   In addition to a Confusion effect such a Symbol drains 2d6 Sanity points.

Racks of glass syringes line the walls of this chamber – they’re labelled using alchemical symbols.  Some of the syringes are empty, but many contain coloured liquids.

There are a lot of potions here: 30 Potions of Disguise Self (Human), 5 Potions of Cure Moderate Wounds, 5 Potions of Delay Poison, 5 Potions of Lesser Restoration, 5 Flasks of Oil of Restfulness, 3 Potions of Neutralize Poison, 3 Potions of Remove Paralysis. 3 Potions of Remove Diseases, 3 Syringes of Mindfire Serum

46 – Embalming Chamber

This chamber smells of formaldehyde and other preservatives.  Jars of embalming oil sit on shelves around the periphery, while at the center lies a partially embalmed body sprawled on a steel table, its organs carefully piled on a tray nearby, its torso split open.  Various tools, pumps, blades, and other instruments are arrayed on a worktable along one side of the chamber.

There are 10 large jars of (flammable) embalming fluid here.

47 – Delacroix’s Study

This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30, Strength DC 25 to force, or used the Hand Key).

This old storage room has been converted into a small study, with an antique wooden desk strewn with papers, some of them scrawled with occult symbols and formulae, others with anatomical illustrations, and others still with notes.  In one corner stands a naked human corpse, stuffed and mounted on a wooden base, its face frozen in an expression of terror.

Pages of Delacroix’s journal can be found here:

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In addition to Delacroix’s journal the following scrolls can be found in this room: 1 Scroll of Insanity, 1 Scroll of Phantasmal Killer, 1 Scroll of Feeblemind, 2 Scrolls of Confusion, 2 Scrolls of Touch of Idiocy, 3 Scrolls of Fear, 3 Scrolls of Touch of Madness, 4 Scrolls of Lesser Confusion, 6 Scrolls of Cause Fear

There is a good chance Delacroix is here, or else in the Grafting Laboratory.

48 – Grafting Laboratory

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Three long, steel slabs dominate this room.  Lain upon them are inmates that have been hideously mutilated, surgically altered in uncanny and disturbing ways.  One has been given a dog’s snout, grafted incongruously to the lower half of his face, and his hands and feet have been replaced with hairy, canine paws; a second bears suckered tentacles in place of forearms and a gaping lamprey maw on his stomach.  The third victim has had her lower body replaced with some kind of overgrown grub-like creature.  At first you take them for dead, but then you see that they are breathing, barely – they’re likely sedated somehow.  Cabinets with an array of bottled chemicals line the walls, and trays of surgical instruments – scalpels, bonesaws, needles, lancets, calipers, hand drills, and more – are affixed to the slabs.

The sight of the grafted bodies requires a Sanity check (1/1d4+1).

The chemicals are mostly sedatives similar to Oil of Restfulness.  There are 12 jars of the stuff, along with 4 Potions of Cure Serious Wounds (each restores 3d8+5 hp).

If awakened, the inmates become very distressed and probably violent, refusing to believe that the characters aren’t Intellect Devourers in disguise.  The Alienists have grafted them for two reasons: firstly for their own depraved amusement, and secondly to further traumatize the minds of their victims, cultivating the delicious madness they long for.

A thorough search of the tools turns up a Wand of Sculpt Corpse with 13 charges remaining, made from a human ulna.

Delacroix/Quasiriant is often in this room with another Alienist or two, working on the inmates.

49 – Examination Room A

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This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30 or open using the Eye Key). 

A large cage occupies the recessed centre of this round room.  Within, gibbering and raving in the throes of lunacy, are two inmates who have been surgically grafted together, their legs removed and their torsos fused with stitches and eldritch puissance.  The miserable pair are forced to walk on their hands, crab-like, their heads forever facing upwards, gibbering incoherently.  Curved benches are arrayed around the room.

The Dyad, as the pair are called, provoke a Sanity check (1/1d4+1).  The door to the cage is locked (Disable Device DC 30 – can be opened with the Hand Key).  The Dyad is/are basically incapable of fighting in any meaningful way.  However, if the alarm hasn’t been sounded there is a high likelihood that two of the Alienists are here, observing their creation.

50Examination Room B

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This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30 or open using the Eye Key). 

A brass cage sits in the middle of this round viewing chamber.  A solitary figure writhes in the cage; at first you take him for an inmate struggling in a straitjacket, but then you realize the straitjacket is made from flesh stretched over the man’s limbs.  He’s been muzzled, again with grafted flesh.

The figure provokes a Sanity check (0/1d3).  The door to the cage is locked (Disable Device DC 30 – can be opened with the Hand Key).

51 – Examination Room C

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This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30 or open using the Eye Key). 

In the middle of a brass cage at the recessed center of this round viewing chamber stalks a figure that has been afflicted by twisted magic.  Though obviously originally human, the creature is metamorphosing into something else, tentacles sprouting from its limbs, flesh mottling and turning a sickly greenish-purple.  The inmate’s mouth has been replaced by a fanged lamprey maw that mewls and salivates, dribbling bilious spittle.

The figure provokes a Sanity check (0/1d3). 

This inmate is becoming a Fleshwarped creature.  If released from its cage (Disable Device DC 30 – can be opened with the Hand Key) it goes berserk and attacks the nearest Intellect Devourer or orderly; otherwise it simply attacks the characters.  Its base statistics are those of a regular inmate but it has a Strength of 16, Intelligence 9, Charisma 6, and a Tentacle attack (+6, 1d6+3).

52 – Examination Room D

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This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30 or open using the Eye Key). 

A large glass box dominates this room.  Within writhes a disgusting conglomeration of tentacles, eyes, hooves, talons, and gnashing teeth – an amorphous abomination that hurls itself repeatedly against the inside of the glass, tendrils flickering, claws scratching.  Benches are arrayed around the room where observers could sit and examine the thing.

The figure provokes a Sanity check (1/1d4+1). 

The creature is a Chaos Beast, a former inmate exposed to too many mutagenic compounds.  If released from its cage (Disable Device DC 30 – can be opened with the Hand Key) it attacks the nearest creature.

53 – Implantation Chamber

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This dingy, stone chamber is dominated by a single chair, a leathery monstrosity with straps and other restraints that sits in the middle of the room in the glare of a lamp dangling from the ceiling on a chain.   A selection of bloody tools are evident on a nearby trolley – forceps, hammers, clamps, hand vises, retractors, and the like.  Strapped into the chair is a man wearing inmates’ garb, obviously sedated.  The man’s jaw has been dislocated and his lips and cheeks forcibly pulled back with metal instruments.  Nearby stands a large, glass tank on rollers, containing a sallow alchemical solution.  Swimming within the tank are four strange creatures resembling undersized human brains equipped with writhing tendrils and small, squirming limbs.

The sight of the inmate requires a Sanity check (0/1d3).  If awakened he reacts with panic and struggles, trying to flee from the room as swiftly as possible.

Four Intellect Devourer larvae swim in the tank.  This chair is used when one of the Alienists needs to switch bodies, or when a young Intellect Devourer is to be implanted for the first time.

54 – Tunnels Entrance

This square storage room reeks of rotten meat and animalistic musk.  A hole in the wall gapes like an open wound, leading into a roughly-dug tunnel winding down into darkness.  You can hear dripping from within, and the vague splash of something moving in water.

55 – Symbiont Chamber

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Half a dozen glass jars are arrayed on counters along the edges of this room, canisters brimming with bilious liquid.  Suspended the jars are various creatures, each seemingly more alien and disturbing than the last.

There is a high chance of finding an Intellect Devourer in an Alienist host in this room if the alarm hasn’t been raised, carefully injecting one of the Symbionts with a syringe containing an alchemical mutagen.

A description of each Symbiont and its abilities follows:

Jar 1: Suspended in this jar is a grotesque, fleshy thing that looks like a pair of sallow-skinned, bony hands joined at the wrists, long digits spread as if ready to clamp down upon something.  Two small, fanged maws are visible on the palms of the creature.

When placed around someone’s neck, the Necklace clamps down around them, fingers interlacing tightly – it will not choke the person to death, but it does constrict their neck somewhat, making their face slightly paler than normal.  Meanwhile, the small mouths feed on the host’s blood, tongue-like tendrils flickering from the mouths into the host’s neck.  The Necklace can be used to cast the spell Spectral Hand at will.  The Necklace occupies a magic item slot normally used for an amulet or broach.  It has an Ego of 6 and is Chaotic Evil in Alignment.  It has a speed of 1 ft.

Jar 2: Floating in this jar is a segmented, worm-like thing that somewhat resembles a disembodied human tongue, pinkish-yellow in hue.  At its base are a number of cruel organic barbs, while at its tip there’s a small, worm-like mouth.  As you watch the tongue-thing spasms and twitches, elongating itself considerably.

The Tongue is placed in someone’s mouth, it uses its barbed hooks to sever the host’s tongue (1d4 Con damage) and implant itself in its place.  The Tongue endows its host with a Bite attack with a reach of 10 ft (1d6 damage plus 1d4 acid).  It gives its user the ability to speak and understand Aklo.  It has an Ego of 4 and is Chaotic Evil in Alignment.  It has a speed of 1 ft.

Jar 3: A vaguely insectoid creature somewhat resembling a scarab beetle or cockroach swims about in the fluid of this jar, chelicerae wriggling.  The creature has a skull-shaped design on its carapace.

The Roach attaches to its host by burrowing beneath their flesh, dealing 1d6 damage upon attachment.  It feeds on the host’s blood.  The Roach functions similarly to a Scarab of Protection, endowing its host with Spell Resistance 20 and absorbing up to 12 energy-draining attacks, death effects, or negative energy effects before dying (upon perishing it erupts out of its host’s flesh, dealing another 1d6 damage).  The Roach has an Ego of 6 and is Chaotic Evil in Alignment.  It has a speed of 20 ft.

Jar 4: Bobbing in this jar is another hand-like organism, this one with seven extremely long, many-jointed fingers with membranous webbing between them and some kind of suckered tendril at its wrist.  The fingertips of the hand-thing are likewise equipped with suckers.

The Caul adheres itself to the back of a person’s head using its suckers, which is uses to feed.  It gives its user +2 Intelligence and Telepathy 100 ft. (though it does not grant the ability to Detect Thoughts).  The Caul occupies a magic item slot normally used for a cap or helm.  It has an Ego of 10 and is Chaotic Evil in Alignment.  It has a speed of 1 ft.

Jar 5: A leech-like creatures crawls along the inside of its jar, bloated and sickly-looking.  The disgusting creature has a hideous triangular mouth.

The Leech attaches itself to a host simply by adhering to a patch of bare skin.  It secretes healing enzymes that facilitate healing.  It functions exactly like Bandages of Healing but cannot be destroyed.  However, it drains 1d3 points of Con per day, not just 1.  The Leech has an Ego of 2 and is True Neutral in Alignment.  It has a speed of 10 ft.

Jar 6: The thing in this jar looks like nothing more than a fleshy corset, but then the thing twitches, and you realize it is some kind of ray-like creature with two enveloping fins or wings that can join together, interlocking.  Bony joints like struts or ribs give the thing a rigid shape.  The inside surface of the creature is lined with tiny hooked barbs like hairs.

The Bodice attaches to its host by closing itself around their torso and then digging in with its barbs.  When worn, the Bodice enhances the Charisma of its host by +4 but fills its host with lust.  If its host refuses to seek out amorous partners, the Bodice attempts to assert control of its host to fulfill its agenda, as it feeds off emotions as well as blood.  The Bodice occupies a magic item slot normally used for a wrap, robe, or vestment.  It has an Ego of 10 and is Chaotic Evil in Alignment.  It cannot move without a host.

Symbionts feed on their hosts’ blood, draining 1 point of Constitution per day – though since characters generally heal 1 Con per day, this is not severely debilitating; if a symbiont is displeased with its host, or if the host attempts to remove it, it can overfeed (1d4 Con damage once per day).  The Symbionts detailed above cannot attack on their own.  They can be attacked independently of their hosts, and have AC 20 and 10 hp, but gain the Dexterity bonuses of their hosts; attacking a symbiont provokes an attack of opportunity from the host.  Damage to a host never harms a symbiont.  In the event a symbiont is in conflict with its host it may attempt to exert control – a Will save with a DC equal to the Ego of the symbiont is required for the host to remain in control, otherwise the symbiont gains control of its host for 1 day.  While a symbiont can choose to voluntarily detach itself, removing it requires a Will save of the type described above.

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Last but not least comes the tunnels.

Sewerscape: Starsnouts

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The Effulgence brought many gifts to the folk of the sewerscape.  The blind creatures known as Starsnouts were given one of the greatest gifts of all – a second sight, which they call the Mindscent.  Powerful psychics and prognosticators, these Molekin are also amongst the most dangerous denizens of the tunnels.  The mass of slimy tentacles sprouting from about their nostrils are not only physically powerful, able to wrench a Ratkin’s head from his neck with the twist of a tendril, they contain psionic receptors giving the Starsnouts the ability to literally smell the minds of others and, through concentration, the power to manipulate and mutilate them.  As a result, Starsnouts are usually served by a caste of psychically dominated thralls, who perform virtually all manual labour in Starsnout settlements.  The Starsnouts themselves dedicate themselves principally to mystic matters.  Indeed, most Starsnout tribes resemble religious cults, dedicated to ancient idols dredged from the muck, particularly revering ancient machines that exude powerful vibrations: rusted jukeboxes, washing machines, autopianos, stereos, and other devices the Starsnouts are able to psychically power (such machine-deities effectively run on “prayer” – through the collective mental adoration of their worshippers).  Being blind, Starsnouts usually eschew guns and similar weapons favoured by other tribes.  They have few laws save prohibitions against blasphemy and similar malfeasances; heretics, smelled out by Starsnout inquisitors, are punished by having their nasal tentacles severed, leaving them powerless and blind.

Sewerscape: Mouldwights

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There are hundreds of different Mouldkin strains in the sewerscape, but none more common than the insidious Mouldwight.  Shambolic husks reanimated by the fungi that infest them, Mouldwights appear as near-skeletal corpses covered in fruiting bodies, their skulls often crowned by a prodigious mushroom-cap or cluster of puffballs (depending on subspecies).  Displaying rudimentary intelligence and an alien, predatory cunning, Mouldwights roam the tunnels below in search of additional carcasses to colonize.  If they come across living beings they do not hesitate to attack, breathing clouds of toxic spores which, if inhaled, infect a host and slowly eat away at them from the inside-out, necrotizing their organs and spreading beneath their flesh, finally bursting through their skin in a horrific profusion of caps, stalks, and toadstools.  Many Mouldwights also possess lash-like, cankerous tendrils they use to pull victims towards them in order to administer their corruptive exhalations.  Mouldwights rapidly decompose their host bodies, however, and eventually the decayed remnants of their hosts simply collapse.  The Mouldwight fungi linger for a short while before withering and dying, unless a new host wanders by in the meantime.  Because Mouldwights can reproduce quickly they frequently form packs, coordinating their efforts to trap would-be prey – presumably the creatures communicate using spores since, unlike some Mouldkin, Mouldwights do not speak.  They are highly vulnerable to fire, sunlight, and fungicides, and prefer the dampest, darkest areas of the tunnels – fortunately for them, such areas are common in the mildewed labyrinth of the sewerscape.

Sewerscape: Vermigorgons

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Some believe Vermigorgons are mutated humans, warped into their current form by the Effulgence.  Others claim they were birthed in bygone days by the Biowitches of yore as living weapons, experiments that escaped into the sewers and thus survived the conflagration above.  Physically, they resemble human females (indeed, their bodies are closer to pre-Effulgence humans than most Trampkin) but with a mass of writhing, giant earthworms sprouting from their scalps instead of hair.  Through some quantum psychokinesis, a Vermigorgon can use her powers of observation to radically affect the molecular makeup of her surroundings, transmuting almost any known substance into mud simply by looking at it.  In this manner Vermigorgons can dig tunnels through the sewerscape and deliquesce predators and enemies, making them extremely dangerous foes.  The power is activated through the use of a specialized nictating membrane a Vermigorgon can almost instantly draw across her eyes; normally this membrane is drawn back into a Vermigorgon’s face.  Vermigorgons seem to dislike one another and rarely congregate in numbers.  Gatorkin, Frogkin, and other creatures are sometimes adopted by Vermigorgons as bodyguards, consorts, and servants; their lairs are usually labyrinthine mud-warrens with many mud pools where minions frequently lurk.  The motivations of Vermigorgons are frequently inscrutable and highly individualistic.  Certain members of the species have been known to collect large libraries, obsessing over matters of ancient history or mystic lore, while others lead hedonistic lives of debauchery and decadence.  Few seem to aspire to positions of real power, however – something which other denizens of the sewerscape are thankful for.

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