The Alexandrian

Ptolus - In the Shadow of the Spire

IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE

SESSION 10A: THE LABYRINTHS OF GHUL

November 3rd, 2007
The 28th Day of Amseyl in the 790th Year of the Seyrunian Dynasty

The group briefly considered the possibility of returning to the city above to obtain healing services for the poison that was weakening Agnarr’s body. But Dominic testified that the poison would not prove mortal – that it had, in fact, already run the worst of its course – and the tempting enigma of whatever lay beyond the door of blue steel was too tantalizing to resist.

Tee pushed the door open, revealing a long hallway made from the same cream-colored stone. About sixty feet away her elven eyes could dimly make out that the hallway opened out into a larger chamber of some sort.

The sunrod in Agnarr’s hand was sputtering, so he threw it aside and cracked a new one. With his light behind her, Tee headed down the corridor. The shadows flicked and leaped around her as she made her way towards the larger chamber.

Emerging into it, she found the ceiling vaulting more than forty feet above her. In each corner of the room, upon ten-foot high daises, stood immense statues more than twenty-feet high. Each statue was identical, carved from a dark gray rock that stood in sharp contrast to the pale stone and depicting a broad-shouldered figure wearing a skull-faced mask who looked down upon the center of the chamber with his arms crossed proudly upon his chest.

Tee and Elestra both recognized the statues as depicting the legendary figure of Ghul the Skull-King.

THE GHULWAR

The Ghulwar was a legendary conflict which took place in the area around Ptolus sometime during the misty aeons of prehistory. It had long been discounted by serious historians and scholars as a mere fancy entertained only by the gullible and credulous. But recent discoveries in the subterranean labyrinths beneath the city would seem to lend credence to at least some of the ancient tales. The tales vary in their character, but the general outlines are such:

Ghul the Skull-KingGhul – the Skull-King, the Half God, the Sorcerer’s Get – built a great fortress called Goth Gugamel upon the Spire of Ptolus. He claimed to be descended from the Banelord (a still older, malevolent figure whose tale has been lost entirely to the modern world). Within his black fortress, Ghul worked dark arts upon the orcs, raising up a mighty army of them. This army poured forth from Goth Gugamel and laid waste to the all the lands from coast to mountain.

This was the First Campaign of the Ghulwar, and it only came to an end when an Army of Sorcerers stood up to Ghul and stopped his rapacious armies. His goals of conquest thwarted, Ghul then called forth the Utterdark – a magical darkness which blanketed all the lands which he had conquered. Thus began the Cold Quiet, during which Ghul labored within the halls of Goth Gugamel.

The Cold Quiet ended as the Second Campaign of the Ghulwar began: Ogres and trolls and creatures of even worse countenance had joined the army of the Skull-King. The tales of this Second Campaign are even wilder than the first: Armies of dragon-mounted elves. A conflagration which burnt all the lands beyond the Mountains of the West to ash. In the end, the Utterdark was banished and Ghul fled from the Forces of Light which had been arrayed against him. It is said that the Avatars themselves hunted down Ghul and slayed him.

After making sure that the chamber was safe, Tee waved the rest of the group forward. As the light drew closer she was able to look down the corridors leading away from the room. Down the far corridor she saw double-doors of gray stone, but looking down the other two corridors she found halls lined with niches in which stood life-size statues of orcish warriors.

The group ultimately decided to follow one of the statue-lined halls. Tee again took the lead, drifting on the edge of shadow with her keen elven eyes plumbing the shadowy course ahead of her.

She came to another large room – nearly the same size as the last. As she drew near to it, however, she found the air growing suddenly cold. Her breath steamed. She came to a stop and waited for the others to catch up to her.

Looking into the room, she could see that nearly the entire floor was covered with a raised bas relief of black stone that depicted a skull-like sigil:

Sigil of Ghul the Skull-King

Elestra, carrying the light, was able to get a better look at the rock itself: A dark grey granite laced with thick, black cords that twisted like gleaming ebony across its surface. The black cords seemed to draw in her eye like a void beyond emptiness.

When she pointed this out to the others, Ranthir was excited. He suspected (and then confirmed) that the entire bas-relief was formed of shadow-veined rock.

SHADOWVEINED ROCK

Deep beneath the roots of the mountains, where stygian blackness has never known the sun’s warm touch, the shroud of eternal night has forged a primeval connection between this world and the Plane of Shadows. In such a place even the rock itself is changed by the touch of eternal night, its very substance becoming one with the shadows in which it has lain for untold aeons.

Shadowveined rock is literally laced with primal shadow. Thick black cords twist like gleaming ebony across its surface. To the touch it seems both substantial and insubstantial, particularly along its veins of shadow-stuff, as if it were both solid granite and illusionary figment all at once.

The result is not only a captivating beauty, but an intrinsic and mystical bond within the rock itself to the Plane of Shadows.  Although this bond does not allow the passage of physical creatures from one plane to another, certain magical and supernatural effects can use the shadow veins to pierce the veil between worlds. And effects which actually involve the Plane of Shadows or its base material are generally more powerful and effective in the presence of shadowveined rock.

Two more corridors led away from this chamber. Although these halls were smaller, the thought of becoming lost in this complex crossed their minds. Ranthir began marking their path back to the entrance with chalk marks. He also took out pen, ink, and parchment and began drawing an ornate, beautiful, and highly detailed map of their explorations.

They carefully avoided touching the skull sigil as they passed through the room (although Elestra was sorely tempted just to see what might happen).

Down this new hallway, Tee immediately spotted a door made of glass and bronze. They had seen a broken door of this nature before (at the entrance to the bloodwight section of the complex), but this one was whole… it was also standing slightly ajar.

Tee peered inside: A long hallway beyond it ended in another door of bluesteel, but she also saw a set of double iron doors near it; a hallway leading off to one side; and, nearer yet, an iron door just off to the right.

Ranthir inspected the glass door, but saw nothing supernatural in its construction (although he admitted that he did not have the best spells prepared for such work). Tee made sure that there were no physical traps and then pushed the door open.

Agnarr followed Tee into the hallway as she made her way over to the nearest iron door.  Opening it their senses were assaulted by an acrid stench. The floor beyond the door was covered two or three feet in rubble – most of it seemed to be large chunks of stone, but mixed into the debris was also a good quantity of broken glass. Here and there they could also see pools where some sort of thick, black liquid had coalesced.

Tee began carefully picking her way through the rubble to see if there was anything interesting (or, more importantly, valuable) to be found there.

Agnarr, meanwhile, started playing with the iron door – moving it back and forth and causing the ancient hinges to squeal horribly. Tee was visibly annoyed. “Stop it. We don’t know what’s down here.”

Tee went back to searching. Agnarr shrugged and pulled some oil out of his bag, spreading it liberally over the hinges of the door. That did the trick and the door stopped squeaking. Agnarr grinned, swinging the door back and forth, and called out: “Tee! Look!”

Tee whirled around: “What?!”

As she turned, the mound of rubble behind her exploded. A foul and terrible creature rose up amorphously behind her – its forms constantly shifting through virulent shades of purplish-blackish horror. Agnarr’s eyes widened and the smile fell from his face as two muscular extrusions slashed vicious claws across Tee’s back, ripping open vicious wounds.

Tee screamed in pain. “I hate you Agnarr! I hate you!”

Out in the chamber of the skull-sigil, Elestra and Tor were discussing the possibility of carving out the shadowveined rock for sale. They heard Tee screaming at Agnarr, but accepted it as a matter of course. (“At least that horrible squeaking has stopped.”) But Dominic, standing nearby, had heard the explosion of rubble and Tee’s cry of pain. “Something’s wrong!”

Dominic ran out of the room, racing past Ranthir – who was carefully measuring the dimensions of the hallway for his map – and into the hall outside the room of rubble.

Agnarr, meanwhile, had drawn his flaming greatsword. But he was too late: Tee, already stumbling forward from the force of the first two blows was hammered again by massive extrusion of club-like bone. She fell unconscious and, more horrifically, her body rapidly decayed into a mass of chaotically oozing protoplasm.

Agnarr moved in to confront the beast. Dominic slipped into the room behind him and began working to pull Tee’s warped body out of the rubble-filled room.

Ranthir, quickly putting away his map, hurried towards the battle, coming to a stop outside the door and sending a blast of arcane energy at the beast.

Dominic pulled out his healing wand, but – looking at Tee’s body – he became uncertain. She seemed to be transforming into something hideous and horrible and utterly unnatural.

Agnarr was holding his own, but where the creature’s ever-morphing claws were striking him, ugly purple wounds were being opened. Pain ached in his limbs.

Tor came charging in, his greatsword already drawn, and took up a position at Agnarr’s side.

Elestra was close on his heels, nimbly ducking between the two greatsword-wielders and picking her way across the mounded rubble while drawing her rapier. Her rapier lashed out. Its puncturing wound did little against the sucking slime of the creature’s ever-shifting hide, but her python viper coiled down her arm and buried its three-inch long fangs into the creature.

The ensuing battle was a taut, close-quarters melee. Tor and Agnarr worked in concert, their mighty greatswords tearing gouts of flesh and sending purplish ichor spraying across the chamber.

But the chaos beast before them – although unable to land any substantial blows – was pounding constantly at Agnarr’s defenses, and every time a claw found a slight opening one of the ugly, purplish wounds would open.

Agnarr was feeling the effects of these attacks: Every blow seemed to tear at his soul; his whole body trying to pull itself apart. Finally, as his muscles slowed from the searing pain coursing through them, his guard fell for a moment: His blade darted forward, piercing deep into the bulk of the creature’s pulsating body… but then the amorphous flesh of the creature surged up and around his blade, growing vicious, serrated teeth that closed upon his arm and scraped backwards, opening ghastly wounds.

And, finally, Agnarr’s mental control slipped – his iron will, which had thus far held in check the chaotic transformation trying to rip its way through his body, was blotted out in a blinding flash of pain… and his injured arm slowly began to lengthen and twist with purplish-pink tendrils growing and writhing out of his flesh. His sword fell uselessly to the ground and he doubled over, grabbing at his rebellious flesh.

Tor, seeing Agnarr’s fate and seeing the beast turn its full fury upon him, felt his resolve melt. He fought back towards the door. “Run! Run!”

Dominic, who had been crouched over Tee’s horribly wracked and dying body with his brow etched in concern, looked up at Agnarr’s cry. Seeing what was happening, he darted to his feet and into the room, grabbing Agnarr and fighting to pull him back into the relative sanctuary of the hall.

But even as Dominic grabbed him, Agnarr’s inner strength of will reasserted itself. He forced his body back into its natural form. And, although he could still feel the chaotic rot eating away at his insides, he had enough awareness to grab his sword even while he allowed Dominic to guide him out of the room.

Elestra, meanwhile, turned to watch Tor’s fighting retreat to the door. “We’re running?” Realizing that she was now alone in the room with the frenzied creature, she made a dash for the door.

Meanwhile, in the hall, Dominic looked up and realized that Tor had left Elestra alone in the room. “Get back in there and fight!”

But even as he said it, Elestra appeared in the door. Ranthir darted forward: “Look out!”

The chaos beast was almost upon Elestra’s back. Even as she began to turn, Ranthir spread his hand and from his palm five scintillating beams of light lashed out. They spread around Elestra’s body, and then rejoined to blast at the very heart of the creature. The explosion ripped a hole all the way through the creature’s body, leaving it a ring-shaped abomination. Tendrils flew from it in outraged horror.

Elestra thrust forward with her rapier, but not only did the weak blade seem useless in the face of the chaos beast’s fury, Elestra was horrified to find the blade sticking fast in the creature’s bulk. As she tugged futilely at the hilt, the seething tentacles above her rejoined themselves into a long, sinuous neck of sinewy flesh that lashed forward towards her head. But even as they did so, Elestra’s python viper – still wrapped around her outstretched right arm – darted forward, plunging straight down the creature’s throat and closing its fangs upon the creature’s pulpy tongue.

Elestra and her viper both pulled back with all their strength, even as the creature reared back in unexpected pain, and the tongue tore loose! A torrent of purple ichor gushed forth. The creature spasmed… and then collapsed into a pool of blackish liquid that bubbled foully.

Agnarr and Tor both arrived back in the doorway just in time to watch the creature fall.

But Dominic was once again at Tee’s side, watching the last breath leaving her body… and as it did, her chaotically morphing form suddenly returned to its normal self.

And suddenly the priest knew what he had to do. Getting to his feet and pulling out his mace, he made the sign of Athor before himself, and carefully walked up behind Agnarr. “Sorry about this.”

“What?” Agnarr said, turning just in time to get Dominic’s mace across his face.

“What are you doing?!” Tor demanded.

“We have to kill him! It’s the only way to save him! Look!” Dominic pointed to Tee.

“Oh.” Agnarr thought about it for a moment and then shrugged. He pulled out his sword and tried to ram it into himself. “No, I can’t bring myself to do it.”

But with stoic resignation, he allowed himself to be pummeled down. Finally, Elestra’s python viper – not wanting to miss out on the violence – put him down with a well placed bite to the back of the neck. Dominic immediately dropped his mace, placed his hands upon Agnarr, and healed his wounds. Agnarr’s eyes flew open, and he could immediately feel that the chaotic corruption within him had passed.

(When Tee heard about this later, she was furious. “We all got to beat on Agnarr? And I was unconscious for it?! That’s not fair!”)

With Agnarr back on his feet, Dominic turned his attention to Tee. It didn’t take very long for her eyes to fly open, too, but horrifically her mind had been broken by the experience. She gibbered madly and thrashed wildly.

NEXT CAMPAIGN JOURNAL

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One Response to “In the Shadow of the Spire – Session 10A: The Labyrinths of Ghul”

  1. Sempiternity says:

    I love these campaign journals. They’re a wonderful read in their own right, but add inspiring context to the bulk of gamemastery articles which draw me to the site.

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