Eternal Winter

In which we destroy an entire dimension

Well well well. Where to begin? Let’s start with the most important single fact in the entire story: I am alive, and as so sorely wished while in that dusty, hot, and womanless dimension, I am indeed awash in wine and pussy. (It’s gnome pussy, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.) I hate to break the suspense like that, but the very existence of this entry must tell you, faithful reader, that I was neither dissolved, nor boiled, nor plummeted, nor chopped, nor exploded, nor oublietted, nor Angel’s-Blood-overdosed to death while in that hellish place. And you also knew that were I ever lucky enough to escape there, I would make a beeline (if bees are lustful) for the pleasures of non-hellish civilisation. So the moment you saw my handwriting, you knew that I must be alive, and if I were alive, I must be enjoying an ample reward. So I have really only told you one thing: I am alive.

Let’s return to whence I left off my story. There we were, recently sprung from jail by a suspiciously reluctant Grimm, and we were sauntering off, arm-in-arm-in-kind-of-dead-arm-in-spiny-arm-in-horse-arm with our brave party, the faithful and loveable Marris, and the nightmare horsie. Except the horsie told Grimm to fuck off at that point, as I recall, and said I never really liked you, and now that you got us thrown in jail I am certain that you are a lousy date.

At this point the lovely and helpful Marris suggested that we find someone named Skai, the assistant to our erstwhile jailer, Arc, as surely she would help us find Maurus. So off we traipsed. We went through a few ugly and scary rooms, including one full of chains, one with a shaky floor, and then one with more chains, and your usual décor… brazier, torture equipment, crucified Danthu… wait, a what?

On a cross of Herdecus was nailed a Danthu, looking more dead than usual, but stirring. Then began a debate about what to do with him. My philosophical treatise on the nature of just war was interrupted by Talithe attacking the helpless Danthu. I replied by healing the Danthu and continuing my treatise. The Danthu woke up and set a bad example by struggling with his chains in an attempt to attack Talithe—I daresay in revenge. We continued our debate but I was in a minority. And here I had the misapprehension that I was in a party of people devoted to the principles of good. Silly me. We agreed to kill him if he attacked us again, and I made this clear to the Danthu. This agreed, I healed him again. He writhed and his flesh bulged, and the chains binding him started to cut into his flesh, and he went unconscious. Then Steeple and Marcus, saying a jumble containing the phrases, “he’s in pain and it’s hopeless and he’s obviously evil”, attacked and killed him. At this point I told them all to fuck off and they were horrible people, and I am still not sure I am incorrect. I was sulky and angry towards them for the rest of our adventure, more so after they pointed out that I killed that Succubus when she was pleading for her life. After some fruitless attempts to point out that she was an immediate threat, a creature of admitted and pure devilish evil, who was capable of again charming us into oblivion any moment, while the Danthu was not certainly evil, and unable to harm us, I ended up winning the argument by getting drunk.

We ventured on! I was already starting my hangover! Ah, the adventuring life. We found some barrels, which are always good for an hour of distraction. Then a long cell block full of rioting Danthu being suppressed by demons and devils. It was a bit chaotic. We got into a few scraps as we tried to move through.

We ended up in a huge, cavelike, swampy room. I thought I recognized some rare psychotropic mushrooms {rolled very low on my Wisdom check} and decided to eat one. My tongue swelled up and I began to drool copiously. As we picked our way around the swamp, Wreth and I mistimed our jumps (I spend my gym class getting stoned under the bleachers) and ended up stuck in very sticky mud. Sticky in more than one way: as we got out, clawing hands came out of the glop and grabbed Wreth. Talithe thought fast and used her Everybody Move power to knock the grasping things back and free Wreth. Then big ugly slimy things arose and started stumbling and moaning toward us, and in the middle a big female form who must have been a water sprite Siren type, because the dark air seemed to fill with giggles as she moved. My notes are ruined by swampwater so I cannot be more detailed. Besides, in my then-bereft state, even a nasty wet giggle-inducing woman looked pretty damned good to me, so I was a bit distracted. My more rational companions and I retreated, fighting off the seemingly endless waves of slow stumbling creatures. Being without anyone who could lay waste to groups of weak enemies (where O where are you, Aria? Is the Pokeball really so much nicer than this place?) we saw the slimy writing on the muddy wall and buggered off. We returned once they settled back into the swamp, then the stealthy and dim Markus snuck ahead and led us through the maze of mud until we found a way out. (By “dim” I mean Markus was using his magical dim-light candle, not that Markus is dim in the sense of having low intelligence. To call Markus dim would be an insult to dim people.)

We came to a sliding door leading into a laboratory. A great booming ruckus was coming from inside, as if a great beast were trying to get free. Markus snuck in while we skulked in the hallway. He saw a tall, burn-scarred woman in a multi-pocketed coat rummaging around, grabbing potions. In his typically sociable way, Markus stalked and then attacked her, holding her at his mercy as he fired gravelly-voiced questions at her. She told him we are in the huge horn. It’s a shame I was not there to make a witty remark. The crashing was from an entity that Maurus let in, and which she had in a cell. Markus told her we were after the Rift Blade and wanted to close the portal. She thought that was fine, since the Danthu and the demons are not her friends and the place was overrun with them. By now we had decided we had done enough skulking and came in to find Markus. I immediately applied my charm, but thanks to my numb tongue from the mushroom, it sounded a bit like I was saying how her horrific burn scars really bring out the colour of her eyes. {Matt rolled a 1 for Diplomacy.} This did not seem to warm her up. We found out eventually that she is Skai, the assistant to Arc. She saw Marris with us and asked him in Infernal, “Passion?”. Marris nodded. Talithe knows Infernal, and I don’t think they knew that. I figured this was a reference to the link between the way a gnome dies and what kind of Danthu he turns into, and Marris died because of an act of passion. My kind of guy, thought I.

After more chat ending with her giving us a map to the corpse tower, she got a potion from her pocket, threw it down to shatter, and it turned a chair into a pile of hay. Nice trick, we complimented her. She furrowed her brow and dug out a different potion. This one she threw down and it made a huge cloud of smoke. And when it cleared, she was gone. Great. And I never got a chance to hit on her after my tongue went back to normal.

We decided we needed to make haste, since we knew the Gnomes were in trouble and Danthu would be getting through the portal by now. We could not afford another extended rest, so we needed to go right to the heart of the problem without side trips. We did not try to pursue the huge beast in the nearby cell, who by the way had escaped while we were chatting, and burrowed to gods-know-where. We followed Skai’s map to reach the Corpse Tower once again.

This tower was aptly named: the inside was covered with spines, and on most spines was something dead. Some were freshly dead. Some were mouldering. Some were skeletons. They were all gross. It was like a Christmas tree for demons. We went up a spiral ramp along the inside of this towering tower, and it took a very long time. We were getting so high I started getting the munchies.

We came to a gap in the ramp where something huge had fallen from above, breaking the ramp. We had to climb or swing across. Since I am the one writing this journal, I can confidently record that I did this brilliantly, with absolutely no moments of terrifying plummeting, last-second grabbing, and breeches-wetting. Marris was not so lucky. He had a rope tied to him for safety, as he was not the most physically capable guy. Halfway across he slipped. He fell. He did not manage to grab anything. And he plummeted down into the darkness. The rope went taut. We pulled it up. At the end was no Marris. We were struck by tragedy. Some of the more deft members went back across the gap and down the spiral to look for Marris but found nothing. It would have been hard to see him had he joined the jillion corpses already on the spikes. We were bereft to lose our buddy.

While we waited for our companions to come back, Talithe and I passed the time. She’s pretty good at charades, being a mute and all. Our game was interrupted by two huge Rage Devils coming down the ramp. In a panic, Talithe and I stuffed ourselves among the corpses, playing dead. Markus and Wreth, who were just coming up the ramp and were on the other side of the gap, did the same. The Ragers did not detect Talithe and I, thank the gods of deception. But before the Rage Devils could cross the gap to reach the others, something verrrry interesting happened.

Up the ramp sauntered a Passion Devil. We had learned about these things earlier—it was the huge winged thing that ignored us and then met up with us again when Arc was toying with us. We knew they were high-level agents of deception and spying, and tough opponents. It spotted the hiding Markus and Wreth right away, and with a sinister laugh, mind-controlled them to get up and walk out along one of the spines poking out from the ramp. They were just one little hop away from oblivion. The Rage Devils were moving into position as well. It was time for desperate measures. I used my newly learned power to make me and Talithe change appearance. I made us look like Passion Devils and put on my best commanding, contemptuous voice. I told the Rage Devils and the Passion Devil, “What do you think you’re doing? You found two of the outsiders, now let us take them to Maurus! Follow orders for a change!” My bluffing skills really shone here. At first my voice came out as a terrified squeak {Matt rolled a 1}. I quickly drew from my confidence as a heroic poet adored by thousands {Matt asked the DM for permission to spend his “meta points”, earned through past role-playing commendation, principally from his Succubus Sonnet}, and tried again. At this moment my mushrooms decided to come back up, and I nearly puked {Matt rolled another 1}. I powered through it {Matt spent his action point} and continued. Thank the gods of fakery, they were fooled! {Matt rolled a 17, and with his bonuses beat even the Passion Devil’s insight.} I’ve been called a passionate devil by many a woman, so it is a fitting irony that I ended up betting my life on this role.

After a bit of banter in which I insulted the Passion Devil and the Rage Devils for their incompetence and ignorance of Maurus’ wishes, they agreed to hand over the prisoners, but the Passion Devil insisted on coming along. He asked me, still in my disguise, what to do about the other two outsiders who were yet to be found—by which he meant me and Talithe. I said they will turn up soon enough, they can’t get far without their companions. The Passion Devil said he knew the group well. He had, for a long time, been disguising himself as a Danthu and had been taken to their bosoms as their trusted friend. What the what? I realised the Passion Devil was Marris! Internally, I went rapidly through a few stages of realisation. First I was shocked. Then I admired the skill of the deception. Then I was excited—oh boy, our buddy Marris is a Passion Devil, that sure will be helpful for us to get the jump on Maurus! Then a creepy shiver went down my spine. That would be helpful… assuming that… Marris is on our side. Oh gods, I realised. He’s not on our side. This is what Passion Devils are for. To spy and infiltrate. He’s been leading us astray the whole time, and must be telling Maurus we are coming.

All this took several dreadful seconds during which my drug-soaked synapses tried to sort it all out. I decided it was time to attack Marris. Still bluffing, still playing the role of the master Passion Devil, I turned to Markus. I told him, “I know how to get your companions to show up. I know you have that candle and You Know How To Use It,” I said meaningfully, looking Markus in the eye to try to transmit my secret meaning. “Light that candle and use it now, or else I’ll kill you.” Markus caught on and started to act. But alas, Marris said, “Nice try” and before we could stop him, he jumped off the edge of the ramp, took wing, and flew out of sight.

We had been betrayed, lied to, fooled, hookwinked, duped, let down the garden path. Now I know how several of my ex-girlfriends must have felt. Wow, I’m kind of an asshole. But no time for self-reflection. If Maurus knows we are coming, and Marris is about to tell him where we are, it’s time to move, and fast. We hurried to our destination.

As we jogged we managed to put together the pieces and recall what we were getting into. Asmodeus is the leader of The Abyss. Most devils respect him, and of course there is no love lost between him and demons. Asmo does not like this little dimension, a bubble in the Astral Sea, because it’s a breakaway from the Abyss and a battleground drawing his devils into conflict with demons and Danthu. The mystery is if and why Maurus made this place.

After a few hours this big cock-shaped tower we were climbing came to a droopy end, the shaft nearly horizontal. So much for Maurus’ status symbol. We made it past a bent and battered door. It seemed like something had recently been here before us, bashing its way in—Skai’s prisoner? Who knows. There were lots of dead Danthu and infernals in the next room. They may have been stopped by another big door which was cracked and cluttered with fallen stones from the ceiling. Using Wizard’s Escape—I love to get thin—we slipped through the cracks. We entered a room with a view: open walls and a vista onto the whole plane we had been slogging through all this time. Whoa, we were high up. There we fought a Barbazu. Don’t kiss him; his beard is deadly. There was also a freaky Chain Devil, made of, guess what? Spaghetti! No, chains. I had a girlfriend who was into chains. I never bothered to learn lockpicking, though, since it was more fun to be her captive. That is, fun until I said something I shouldn’t have, and I watched helplessly as she stole all my stuff she could carry, and did filthy things to the stuff she could not. It was a week before I was rescued by the publican from downstairs, who wanted me to pay my large grog bill. Anyway, we killed them, and the Barbazu had keys, and now that I think of it, we never did find what they opened, hmm.

In the next room was a familiar unfriendly face: Skai. But she was ready to help us, and wanted to get the hell out of there. We cautiously took her advice and accepted her potions. Turns out Maurus is immune to all weapon damage. So that was a problem. He is protected by an enchantment, you see. But thankfully that would be broken with one stab of the Rift Blade. And that blade was in the chamber with Maurus, just upstairs. The bad news was that the blade was protected by some kind of magic shell, and probably not the chocolatey edible kind. The good news was that the shell could be removed if Skai got a chance to deactivate five runes around the place while we fought Maurus. So we had a plan.

Upstairs we went and there was the big guy himself—Maurus. He seemed to be expecting us—thanks Marris. He was guarded by some Chain Devils, and some Cambions, which are a mortal/devil hybrid. So it was on. We were very far from him and wanted to get closer before he started flinging spells or the like at us. So I kept talking. And talking. We strolled closer. And I kept talking. We got much further than I think he intended us to get, because of my tremendous charm. {Matt rolled 20 on Diplomacy.} By the time he caught on to our plan, we were just steps away. Skai set to disarming the runes, with only the occasional explosion stopping her. She hurled potions, which sometimes were useful, and sometimes were completely random. We mostly battled Maurus’ minions as hitting him was, as predicted, useless. Eventually Skai got rid of the last rune just before Maurus tried to get rid of her. She survived, barely. And the sky opened above us. Yike.

The fiery orange sky started to dissolve from the top down, like we were at the bottom of a draining bathtub full of fiery orange juice. Where the sky dissolved we could see beyond it the creepily large stars of the Astral Sea. It would have been a nice time to admire the view if we were not having our asses kicked. Markus had grabbed the Rift Blade, though, and, after a few botched tries, stabbed Maurus a good one. His magic protection fizzled and we began to wale on him in earnest.

Something up above caught our eye. And we caught its thousand eyes. It was The Opener of Way, the huge moon-sized eyeball-and-tentacle covered thing we had seen on that mural downstairs. And it was coming our way. We were shaken by a blue fireball shooting down from the astral sky and slamming away a chunk of rock. From it emerged something that clearly was not a local. It was some kind of freaky Star Spawn. It thankfully went for Maurus instead of us. It seems that Maurus had made this pocket dimension in a way to keep out these astral beasties, and now that the runes were gone, so was his protection, and some old war between Maurus and the astral dudes was sparking up again. Those two were going at it hammer and tongs. We decided maybe it was time to leave—whether this thing killed Maurus or not, we had what we needed. Markus slashed the Rift Blade and it opened a tear in space. Okay. We all ran through, Skai included. Oh darn, we never kept our promise to get Marris out of there. Boo fucking hoo.

Turns out this Rift Blade can open a portal to anywhere we know of in another plane, once a day. Markus had wisely (for a change) picked the portal room in the Gnomish Enclave, and after a weird sensation of travelling very far between dimensions, there we were. Markus stuck the Rift Blade into the portal and sucked it up. Job done. Time for beer! Oh wait. The room appeared to be full of dead gnomes and Danthu. Hopefully they were not all dead, or at least there was beer left behind. After dealing with a few traumatised Gnomes whose crossbow bolts amusingly plinked off our hardened heroic bodies, we found the Great Room and once again our very dear, or at least very rich, Gnomish friend Lord Gimblefoot. He tried to conceal his astonishment that we were not dead.

All was well that ended well. We got our charged-up sword. The little bastard was just about to hand it over to this meathead named Garret. We’ll take over now, son, thanks for your help. Next stop: Tarkin Hall, where the Company of Silvermoon awaits us, for our grand assault on Tarkin. Wait, no— next stop: another round for me and my multitude of small but voluptuous female companions!

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MatthewFord

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