The Well of the Halfhollows, Part Seven

Our gaming group was back in Google + for our most recent leg of the adventure, trapped in the Torlish ruin and on the search for escape. The adventurers had been working on ensuring a safe descent into the pit, and in this next installment, they find more than they bargained for in the “halfhollows” below.

The seventh session consisted of the following player characters:

  • Hodjai, “Ji-HO”, the Djenndan fighter and tug-of-war trainer, played by @Evan
  • Lemur-o, “Lem”, the kahlnissá ghost and resident ruiner of lanterns, played by @Terri
  • Ts’uviti, the viantu savant and instrument care specialist, played by @saelbrin

Additionally, the party was accompanied by two NPC adventurers: Dars “The Plank” Mardagin, the Ad’Tai survivalist, and Ser Rory “Runt” Untarr, a Pelmoran Knight who traded places with our own PC Sookta (normally played by @xSubNuke, who I think is back in the States at this point, yes? Welcome back!). The adventurers press on after rest and then navigating more trouble with the dragon kin, only to find themselves back at the pit and contemplating the best course of action for their descent.

Lemur-o explained the locale below to the best of her ability, but in truth was unable to describe what lay beyond the mist that enveloped her in the chasm below. When her tunnel opened into the large cavernous space, she could see points of light at the outer edges of the mist, but below her was only darkness. And when she began to swing and bounce on the rope as she was suspended in the shrouding mist, that’s when Hodjai pulled her back up. Beyond all that, she couldn’t really tell what was there. The group decided worked out a system of codes via tugging on the rope, and sent Lem’ into the pit another time.

Hodjai lowered Lem’ with the rope once again into the dark pit, watching her lantern disappear from sight and feeling the tension in the line change as she reached the cavern below. Lem’ approached the mist and watched the points of light disappear. Moments later, she discovered with a shock the source of the darkness at the bottom of this cavern. She was dipped into the coldest water she had ever encountered. It almost made her muscles seize up, it was so cold. Lem’ swam to the surface gasping, treading water, and gave the rope a solid tug. Above, Hodjai, who was nearly out of rope, felt the tension go change when Lem’ hit the water, and then when she pulled the rope to signal her companions in the ruins above.

Lem’ swam around but quickly ran out of rope; above Hodjai had all but let go of the rope as it was completely extended by the time Lem’ was swimming around below. Just as Lem’ was creating tension in the full extent of the line, she felt a brush of earth below the water with her feet. But the tension in the line caused her to be pulled back. She decided that she should tell her companions about the water below, so she tugged the rope three times and Hodjai began the task of pulling her back toward the surface. It proved a far more difficult task this time, because Lem’ and all of her belongings were soaked. Ser Runt and Dars “The Plank” Mardagin grabbed the rope and helped the struggling Djenndan. All the while, Ts’uviti took out his harp and played the inspiring melody, “The Gleam of Bright Mare’s Peak,” a song about hope, challenge, and victory. The inspiring music helped boost confidence and made hoisting the rope seem like less of a difficult task.

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The adventurers met a soaking wet Lem’ who relayed what she had seen below. Ser Runt came up with the idea that they find the point on the rope that was waterlogged, and then count a number of arm-lengths from that point up the dry part of the rope and then fix a lantern to that point, so they might have a point of reference within the cavern below. The adventurers did this, and then Hodjai proceeded to lower the rope to its full extent. Some among the group decided to leave behind their more valuable belongings–Ts’uviti’s harp, for example–in favor of not allowing the precious cargo to become waterlogged. Once they had situated themselves for a descent into the abyss, they began to head into the water.

Without the security of being lowered by an affixed rope, Lem found the climb slippery and after a few feet of travel she lost her gripping and fell, soaring into the darkness below. Luckily, the tunnel was quite wide, so the kahlnissá ghost fell straight to the bottom, hitting the cold water with a forceful kersplash and sinking to the bottom. She rushed to the surface, once again gasping for air. Looking up, she could clearly see the lantern cage near the top of the cavern as it was fixed to the rope and illuminating the tunnel. Knowing that the rope was touching the eastern side of the tunnel, Lem’ swam north.

Ts’uviti began to climb down next, and was doing well until he, too, lost his footing and slipped, falling to the water below. When Lem’ heard the splash of Ts’uviti resurfacing after his fall, she called out for him to swim north. Swimming toward the sound of Lem’s voice would have proved impossible due to how the sound was echoing all over the cavern, but with north as a destination and the lantern as his point of reference, Ts’uviti knew just what direction to swim. He found Lem’ in the mist and moments later they had found the shoreline and walked out of the freezing cold water and huddled up next to the fire that was burning at the north point. From here they could see that there were fires at each of the cardinal directions. The warmth of the fire was soothing as they waited for their companions to join them.

As the fire began to cut through their chill, Lem’ and Ts’uviti heard the roaring fall of a large Djenndan; apparently he had slipped when very near the top of the pit and fallen the entirety of the distance to the water. He resurfaced after a dangerously long time, coughing and sneezing water from his nose. Ser Runt climbed down the rope with seeming ease, though he was taking his sweet time about it, so The Plank began to climb down at the same time. Dars, however, lost his grip halfway into the climb, so he fell, howling and narrowly missing Ser Runt as he flew by the Pelmoran Knight and landed belly-first into the water only feet from Hodjai. Barely able to swim, the Ad’Tai survivalist cursed and scrambled to find his beloved plank floating near him in the dark pool. He and Hodjai paddled their way to the shoreline. By the time they made it to the rest of the party, Ser Runt had reached the point on the rope where they had tied a lantern. He waited there to see what direction made the most sense to go.

The adventurers searched around the cavern, discovering that it was essentially a cave with a deep pool of cold water at its center. In the south, just beyond the fire that marked this cardinal direction, they found a passageway leading up and out of the cavern. The group communicated to Rory to head south, and so the Pelmoran Knight drenched his armor and swam to their location.

The southern passageway sloped upward some fifty feet before finding a large open part of the corridor lined with bright torch sconces. The large room was extremely well lit compared to the cavern they had just left behind. In an alcove on the eastern part of the room the adventurers found several tables similar to the ones they had seen upstairs earlier, as well as a few more barrels of the dark, flammable blood-bile that had been in the stairwell.

Also on the east the adventurers found a passageway that quickly turned to the north, and so they decided to explore it carefully. The northern leg of the passage was pitch dark, in an almost noisy contrast to the main, torch-lit area. It was here that the group unwittingly stumbled upon a group of three dragonfolk who were apparently eating a meal around a small fire pit. The dragon kin did not take kindly to being cornered in their corridor, and immediately attacked the group. What followed was an artful defense and counterattack on the part of the adventurers. One of the reptilian attackers launched a lance at Ser Runt, which tore into the Knight’s shoulder. Ser Runt grunted in pain, grabbed the lance, removed it from his shoulder, and threw it into his assailant’s shoulder. Hodjai then rushed at the attacker and slammed its lanced body into the wall of the corridor. Meanwhile, Ts’uviti fired a slingshot at one of the other attacking dragonkin; the bullet pierced the eye of the beast, sending it to a sudden death. Lem’ fired a crossbow bolt at the other reptilian aggressor, killing it with a single bolt to the throat. The last dragonfolk stood after its collision with the cave wall, clutching its lance wound. Ts’uviti had a sling bullet waiting for the creature; the bullet grazed its forehead, a cutting and dazing blow. It regained its senses in time to see Ser Runt slash his sword, and in a blink, the beast’s head rolled off its shoulders, a spurting wound pointed back toward the corridor wall as the reptile’s body fell away and returned the fireside to silence.

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It seemed as if the adventurers had caught these reptilians by surprise. They likely had the some kind of role here, but what, exactly was unclear. The adventurers decided they should head back to the torch-lit chamber and continue to head south to find a way out of these caves. Lem’ scouted ahead just past the alcove with the tables while Ts’uviti grabbed a torch from the wall. The kahlnissá ghost turned and ran back toward the group, about to communicate that she heard a noise, when all of a sudden the entire adventure party heard an intense, high-pitched screaming sound. Each of the adventurers stopped and clutched his or hear head as if in intense pain. A word seemed as if branded into their minds: “D E S T R U C T I O N.” Each of the adventurers struggled with the intensity of it as they saw the source of the evil mind blast–a thin, dark-robed figure with bony fingers. The High Priest of Destruction! The High Priest stood next to an intensely grotesque mutation. They and four angry dragon kin approached the torch-lit hall.

Hodjai was able to shake off the affects of the screeching spell, and ran over to the alcove to grab a barrel of dark blood. The Djenndan warrior poured the barrel into the corridor at the south of the torch-lit room, between himself and the approaching horde. At the same time a familiar and haunting guttural sound permeated the air, accompanied by the chattering of angry dragonfolk. Hodjai looked around at his companions after dumping out the blood barrel. He was hoping that someone could grab a torch and ignite the blood. Four dragon kin rushed into the puddle of blood running right for the Djenndan warrior. Hodjai saw that Dars, Lemur-o, and Ts’uviti were all still moaning and howling and clutching their heads, seemingly going insane from the screeching. The closest dragonfolk reached him and it seemed as if he was alone in this fight.

The Djenndan fighter turned and faced his opponent, attacking with his sword and deflecting the reptile’s momentum toward Dars. Luckily, Dars finally shook off the affects of the screeching spell and raised his plank in enough time to slam the incoming dragon kin in the head, dazing it and angering it immensely. Two other dragon kin were all but on top of Hodjai at this point, and both attacked the Djenndan. Luckily their attacks were hasty, and one of them even lost its balance and fell into a prone position. Hodjai noticed that Ser Runt was also not affected by the screeching spell when the Pelmoran Knight stepped up next to the Djenndan’s side and thrust his sword into the spine of the dragonfolk who had just fallen prone. Runt nodded to Hodjai, a knowing nod to let the warrior know he was not alone. Ser Runt was also catching onto Hodjai’s tactics, and as the Knight withdrew his sword from the reptile ran toward the wall sconce to grab a torch.

Ts’uviti broke from the spell in time to ready his sling. He realized that what had happened to him, and what was happening to Lem’, could be resisted, so he shouted to the group to resist. The viantu scholar began to sing a song unknown to all, but it offered encouragement in spirit. And as the song left his bat-like lips, he released a sling bullet with surprising accuracy and luck; the bullet exploded the eye of the last approaching dragonfolk attacker and killing it instantly and before it had a chance to reach The Djenndan. Hodjai, with renewed vigor, turned to make sure everyone was out of the blood puddle before Rory Untarr lit the substance on fire. But just as the Djenndan turned toward Dars, he watched in horror as the slightly dazed dragon kin delivered a deadly blow. The beast’s lance pierced the survivalist under the chin, thrusting through the top of his head. The Plank gave little more than a gurgled moan of shock as his head came apart, and then he closed his eyes to the terrible battle. Had he the ability to speak, Dars might have uttered his final thoughts: “We’re fucked.”

Hodjai howled in discontent and charged toward The Plank’s killer, grabbing the creature by the throat and then running, dragging the protesting beast in the puddle and coating it with the dark blood. Hodjai turned and hurled the dragonfolk at the High Priest, and then ran away, back out of the blood puddle and giving a nod to the Pelmoran Knight. Ser Runt made his move and threw the torch toward the flammable substance.

The thrown dragon kin nearly slammed into the High Priest, but was caught at the last second by the hideous mutation. The beast twisted the reptilian in a resonant crack and devoured the creature with its gaping central maw. The sounds of gnashing and belching only made the battle tension rise. The High Priest had seen Ser Runt approaching with his torch, and when he did the Priest put his hand on the gnashing mutation, stopping it from stepping into the blood. So when Ser Runt’s torch took flight, and then landed in the blood puddle setting it ablaze, the High Priest and the mutation escaped the burst of dangerous flames, while the remaining living dragon kin still in the puddle seemed unaffected by the fire and continued to pursue Hodjai and Ser Runt. His attack was unsuccessful, however, and so he moved beyond the flames toward a more defensible position close to the kahlnissá ghost.

Lemur-o still found herself crippled by the screeching insanity, but Ts’uviti, still singing his song of awakening, hurled a sling bullet at the fire-dodging reptilian. The bullet grazed the creature’s eye, causing it to screech and bleed, still angrily approaching Lem’ with its lance at the ready. Then in a battle-hushing gust, the High Priest reached into his belt pouch and pulled out some kind of powdered substance. Hurling it into the fire, a red burst resulted that extinguished the flames in a dazzling display. The Priest and the mutation moved forward now over the scorched earth, advancing slowly and determined to destroy… or consume.

Hodjai scanned the torch-lit room and saw the dragonfolk approaching his mind-warped companion. Growling a most fierce war cry, the Djenndan charged ahead of the reptile’s position, waited for it to draw close, and then with his greatsword delivered a powerful swing that tore the creature in half at the midsection. Either Ts’uviti’s song or the wash of blood from Hodjai’s kill was enough to rouse Lem’ from her waking nightmare. She raised her crossbow and fired at the mutation that was now nearly on top of Hodjai’s position. The crossbow bolt sank deep into the creature’s mutated flesh, causing it to bleed a dark ichor.

Ser Runt boldly stepped between Hodjai and the mutation, and swung his sword in attack, but narrowly missed. The High Priest hissed and threw a strange substance at the Pelmoran Knight, which exploded when it touched him. The singed Knight stepped back, dazed, and vulnerable. The mutated creature then engaged Runt with a devastating blow that crushed down on his already injured right side. The attack tore through armor and peeled back the Knight’s shoulder and brought him to his knees, within inches of his life.

Hodjai ran past the mutation and attacked the source of all this madness with his greatsword. When the sword made contact with the Priest’s robes, it stopped screeching for a moment and recoiled. It seemed as if the attack was successful, but no blood was visible and the Priest’s face was shrouded. Inside his cloaked hood there was only darkness, a nothingness, a black hole. The Priest reached into his pouch and then bolted his hand forward and around Hodjai’s neck. The Djenndan warrior felt his skin begin to boil and blister as if he were resting in the embers of a fire. It caused the fighter to scream in agony, feeling and hearing his flesh sear and burn. Meanwhile, Lem’ and Ts’uviti fired their missile attacks at the mutation standing in front of Ser Runt; it gurgled and bled, but still seemed as if it was about to attack. Ser Runt attempted to attack as well, but could only attack with his left hand and was barely able to lift the sword. When Lem’s crossbow bolt slammed into the creature’s flesh, it turned its attention toward her, vomiting from its trapped face as it clamored ahead.

With his throat still searing in pain, Hodjai wrapped his arm around the High Priest and then rushed forward toward the southern wall of the cavern. The Djenndan fighter pointed his greatsword at the Priest’s chest and slammed it through as they smashed the rock wall. The warrior, growling, held his position, keeping the sword lodged firmly in the Priest’s midsection. The screeching subsided, and the High Priest of Destruction lost his grip on Hodjai’s neck, falling limp and dying on the warrior’s greatsword. What happened next was shocking. In death, the High Priest’s dark shroud faded, and for the first time the adventurers could see the aggressor’s face–it was that of a teenage Kimenian boy. He couldn’t have been more than thirteen years old, thin, and frail. What was so daunting only moments before now appeared pitiful.

Equally as shocking was the mutation, who moments after the High Priest’s death exploded in a burst of foul bloody bits. Ser Runt fell back moaning, and Hodjai removed his sword from the dead Priest. Their ears ringing, the adventurers looked around at the gory scene and began to mourn for their fallen comrade. Hodjai picked up Dars’s Plank and then returned to the Priest’s corpse. Slamming the oiled wood into bloodied chest, the Djenndan said coldly, “You just got planked.” Lem’, too, approached the High Priest, and in a surprising twist of gore chopped off the dead boy’s head and stuffed it into a sack. Ser Runt wondered for a moment if they had, indeed, been condemned to live the rest of their days under the foul torture of the halfhollows.

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But, it would seem, that was not the case. After scouting a southern tunnel that sloped upward quite a way, she saw light that signified there was an exit to this tunnel. Lem rushed ahead and poked her head out into the fresh air. The entrance to the cave was several hundred yards from the Torlish ruin, and shrouded in grass and earth. The bloody happenings of the halfhollows then seemed to melt all away when the kahlnissá heard a familiar barking. Dogedan rushed over to greet her, licking the sweat from her brow and wagging her tail. There were some nearby dragon kin that appeared to be foraging for food, oblivious to Lem’, Dogedan, and apparently the Torlish ruins. Had they been reborn? What hold did the High Priest have on them?

Now the adventurers are left with a difficult task, one with political ramifications. Can they ensure Lady Grilea’s escape through this tunnel system, as well as that of the Ad’Tai prisoners? And where will they decide to go from here? Only time will tell as our surviving adventurers continue their saga. Join us next time!

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Fractalform is the gaming handle of Bret Woods--ethnomediologist, author, and lead developer of Augur's Lore RPGs. Bret is Thing 1 at http://descrypt-studios.com.

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