|OUR HEROES:||Tira Wolfsdaughter||Hank Woodman||Gilead||Persia||Khaz|
he party stands firm, bravely awaiting the onslaught. A small party of guards comes charging down the dead-end corridor and gives battle. They are no match for the heroes, but they do manage to give a very loud alarm, summoning even more of the local authorities. Soon the party face the diabolus Virgoth, lord of the gladiatorial arena and chief enforcer of the Nephilim. As imposing as the eight foot tall demonic creature is, he recognizes the danger the intruders represent and cagily holds the corridor while waiting form more reinforcements. Taunts do little to draw him out. Indeed, when the heroes eventually rush him, he seems quite capable in combat. They are unable to make headway and at last they are felled when the Diabolus orders an unseen wraith to shock their psyches into oblivion.
When they awaken they are in chains, humiliatingly designed to force them into a servile bow. They stand stripped of armor and weapons in the audience chamber of Helios the Archangel, Most High of the Seraphim and Lord of the Celestial City. The Seraph makes no effort to disguise his absolute glee at having captured them, particularly Gilead, and infuses every particle of his speech with contempt and mockery of their failure and insignificance. He tells them that their plan, whatever it might have been has failed, and will be ripped from their minds. Afterward, they will suffer such indignities and suffering as are within his considerable means to provide. He taunts Gilead in particular of course, since it was the young man's hand that nearly slew him many months ago. He can sense the care he bears for the female Tira, whom he knows is a Sympath, and threatens to make her into a love slave, a plaything to amuse him. The cat Persia is a lowly beast, and unfit for his touch. The riven Quarra is beneath considering and fit only for violent death in the arena.
Eventually he tires of crowing and orders a probe. The chief psychist is brought forward, a human they have never seen before. Apparently Ossa is out of favor for having let a sympath slip through their fingers uncaught. The psychist is a Brethon named Merlin, a sallow-faced man with dark greasy hair who sneers at them contemptuously. He promises to make the probe as unpleasant as possible. He is utterly without pity; he mockingly comments that he once probed his own mother, "and she was a warrior."
This statement has electrifying results, since it is of course the code phrase they were given by Nigel. The chief Psychist is one of the plotters against the rule of Helios. The psychist pulls back Gilead's hair roughly and leers at him. He really must be a good actor, for there is nothing in his countenance to suggest a shred of pity. He makes the motions of a rough psychic probe and announces that the party is here as an assassination attempt against Helios himself. It is just enough of the truth to be believed and feeds Helios' ego perfectly. "I knew it!" he exclaims. "Take them to Pit of Despair and prepare them for unprecedented suffering! All save the girl, Tira. Take her to other quarters and prepare her... for me."
With these chilling pronouncements, the prisoners are swept away to their various dooms.
All but Tira are taken to a torture chamber. They are chained to the walls and told they will soon be shrieking for mercy. Merlin tells the guards they will not be needed. Evidently the tortures here are so horrific that they are not at all loathe to leave. Once alone, Merlin's manner changes. His contemptuous sneer is replaced by a tired and haunted look. He apologizes for treating them as roughly as he has, but the pretense is necessary. He tells them that they are to be tortured before being eventually sent to the arena for ritual and continual death after death, ever brought back from the brink of mortality by a Saginaw Master. Helios has stated that Khaz' humiliation should help to break the spirit of the recent Devil Merk prisoners. He can do little to help them. The heroes say they understand the situation, but there is something Merlin can do. Among the effects that were taken from them were several small spheres, nascent line-eaters. These must not be revealed or the element of surprise will be last. The line-eaters must be given time to grow and multiply before they are destroyed. Merlin says he will do what he can.
Merlin also visits Tira. Again he apologizes for her treatment and her fate. Merlin is not powerful enough to challenge the Most High, and he cannot jeopardize the whole Resistance to save a handful of people. He cannot keep her safe from Helios' attentions. He can do one of two things. He can do as he was told and alter her Psyche so that she really does love Helios desperately. She will do as the Most High demands of her without fear or loathing. Or he can place a Glamour on her so that she appears to love and desire Helios. No matter her expression tone or psychic state, all of her actions and spirit will appear to be those of adoration. The disadvantage of this is that she really will endure the revulsion she will undoubtedly suffer from his attentions. She grimly opts for the latter.
Tira does make one request. She knows that in the palace gardens grows the flower called Silver Hellebore. She begs of Merlin to procure enough to make an infusion for her to drink. She explains that it may restore her lost abilities. Merlin acquiesces, grateful for the ability to ameliorate her dreadful situation by any small degree.
She asks Merlin if he will not contrive to escape with them. He says that he cannot. He has done too much evil in his life ever to be accepted by decent folk. Tira says that anyone can start again, but he gently contradicts her, telling her she is young and knows little the harvest one reaps from a lifetime of sowing sin. His redemption is beyond possibility and only his work in the resistance gives him any solace from the ghosts of deeds past. He will not elaborate on the nature of his misdeeds, but he assures her they were unforgiveable. He has nowhere to go but here.
Over the next few days, Merlin is good to his word. He recovers and releases the remaining line-eaters. He makes an infusion of the hellebore and gives it to Tira. Eventually, the Most High orders a public display of the degradation and suffering of the heroes. There is to be a grand arena spectacle. All the notables of the city will attend. The assassins will be forced to fight and die for the amusement of the crowds again and again.
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The arena is packed. No one is allowed to miss this. Some of the crowd seems rabid for blood, some bored by it all, others seem to watch it with grim resolve. Whatever their reactions it does not matter, for the show is really all for the benefit of Helios. He sits upon a high golden throne, Tira "adoringly" draped at his feet. He is flanked by his children and Virgoth the diabolus. His daughter appears as haughty and cruel-featured as ever. His son however is different. The last Gilead had seen of him, the man's head had been separated from his body. Now he stands tall and glorious in armor that fairly glows with golden light. He looks magnificent, but his face too boils with hatred and loathing for the prisoners, who are marched onto the sands to the jeering of the crowd. As before all the prisoners can see of the arena are weirdly magnified faces floating above a vast expanse of sand surrounded by towering walls. In reality, and to the senses of the audience, the arena is quite small, and the spectators quite nearby, the better able to see the gore and death.
Looking squarely at Gilead, Helios forces a long and sloppy kiss upon Tira who, to all perception, appears to reciprocate willingly. "Let the fight commence!" he cries. "Bring out the conspirators all!" The other arena door opens and out march Kamlak, Po and Batilla, the other survivors of the assassination attempt upon Helios. Kamlak looks at Gilead with unconcealed rage upon his handsome face. "Gilead! You have brought pain and torture upon Kamlak for the last time. Now Gilead will pay for all of the time Kamlak has had to die at his hand!" Apparently Kamlak has had his psyche altered so that the desire for vengeance the Kaladorian would feel toward Helios has been somehow transferred to Gilead. He will have no compunction about slaying him. The last time these two met, they refused to fight and were voided into the jungle below. Now they will truly fight to the death.
Gilead says he will not slay Kamlak, but realizes he must defend himself. Persia and Khaz do likewise against their opponents, who also seem intent on slaying them. Quarra is slower to react than the others and uses this to avoid engagement as long as possible. Kamlak rushes Gilead and closes with him, locking swords in a deadly embrace. Once they are in a clinch, Kamlak lifts aside his long blonde hair just enough for Gilead to see, perched upon his neck, a line-eater. Kamlak is free of coercion and is faking his hatred as much as Tira is faking her desire. Likewise the others. Everyone is holding back and stalling, but for what?
The answer is not long in coming. Noises begin to sound from beyond the far arena door. Moments later it falls open with a crash to reveal freed gladiators and a huge and bloated line-eater. The crowd (at least those who recognize it for what it is) begins to panic. The line eater suddenly increases in girth as the leyline holding the glamour upon the arena are consumed. Suddenly those upon the sands can see the death pit for what it truly is, a small and intimate theater of brutality.
"Slay it! Slay it!" shrieks Helios "It is near to fissure!"
His son Zekial bravely advances, but his father pulls him back. "No you idiot. You will be consumed! Void them! Void the lot!" The door beneath the sands grinds open at his command, and those within the confines of the pit make haste to escape. The line-eater stands confused, uncertain which of the line-rich prey to consume. Nearly all the notable in the room have some enhancement or other. Every flees toward the walls and the exits. Save Merlin. The Brethon walks towards the line eater. Tira guesses his intention and shouts, "No!" But the adept calmly leaps from the short wall and lands upon the back of the thing. Nearly instantly, his lines are consumed. Merlin was old apparently, his life unnaturally preserved by Ukon devotions. He almost instantly turns to dust before the eyes of the crowd. The line eater bursts and suddenly the entire chamber is filled with a myriad of tiny offspring, madly pursuing whatever line seems nearest.
Helios flees the chamber by a door behind his throne, saying, "Enough! Doom shall fall upon the city of Tallon. Doom shall fall tonight!" . His daughter Callista takes to the air and fires her crossbow as best she can in the confusion of flying folk. His son Zekial leaps down to the wall to challenge the heroes. His mirror is magnificent indeed, and seemingly impervious to any harm. To his horror he is thrown to the line-eaters by Khaz. Instantly he goes limp. His armor remains golden and perfect, but apparently he has lost the ability to move. It is now revealed that only his head was recovered from the death Gilead and Jerrick had intended for him. The head was unable to die, due to Ukon skills. Instead it was placed in a marvelous artifact of the demon kings and animated by Merikian devotions to a semblance of life. Zekial lies helpless upon the sands as the hole grows ever wider. "Help me!" he cries in terror, but it is too late. Golden armor and all, he vanishes into the black and stormy void of night which roars below the city.
The rest of the heroes have gone in pursuit of Helios, but the way is blocked by Virgoth. It is a tough and intense battle, for the skill of the diabolus is considerable. Fortunately, Tira comes to the rescue. Employing the skills learned in the Hall of Art, she temporarily shocks his anima, causing him to falter momentarily. It is all the opening the others need and he is quickly dispatched. They manage to force the door open and go in pursuit, leaving the chaos and turmoil behind them.
Or so they thought. The passage quickly takes them to the main open level of the City. Screams shouts and fires can be seen hither and yon. The lien-eaters were well-placed and have been busy. They have multiplied and are devouring all the lines in sight. Enhancements and alterations long in place to keep the lowlies at bay are dropping and the fever of revolution is growing fast. It seems very well-orchestrated. Perhaps there was far more to their mission than they knew? In any case, they seek the Most High. His pronouncements of doom seemed very ominous and imminent. Without a guide, they consider the places they know. The High Seat, burned out and towering over the city is a possibility, but Gilead remembers nothing that might be an instrument of vengeance there. That leaves the Palace and the Temple. They decide to try the temple.
They are rewarded for a good guess. This is indeed where Helios has fled to. In the outer chamber, they discover the nearly lifeless body of the high priest Azrael, eldest of the Seraphim, who claims to have walked with the Celestial. He gurgles out through blooded lips that Helios demanded entrance to the Hall of Reflection. When Azrael refused, saying that none can enter without invitation, Helios stabbed him. He drops into insensibility, perhaps death.
As they speak, the city suddenly lurches. All are thrown to the ground. From without the temple, they can hear cries of "We move!", "The City travels!" The adventurers bar what doors they can, for others are beginning to approach the temple. Quickly they discover the chamber that Azrael spoke of. No other room could be so aptly described as the "Hall of Reflection". The chamber wherein they discover Helios is a vast spherical room, completely reflective. Helios image is thrown everywhere in bizarre distortion. He appears to be arguing and demanding something. Eventually he sees the heroes. He laughs maniacally, his true features distorted with hatred and madness almost as much as his reflection.
"Fools! Dirt-crawling worms! Try to destroy my city, my perfect city! I'll will visit such ruin and fire upon Tallon that not one stone will be left upon another and gators will gorge freely upon the bloated corpses with clog her harbors! Gaze now upon the last of that which was mighty before your forefathers found the Stones. Within this chamber is preserved the last image of a god! The Celestial saved his reflection in this mighty and impervious mirror. It is his will which moves this city and which I shall now command to bring death to yours!"
Indeed the chamber seems to almost throb with power and menace, so much so that the adventurers find it difficult to approach. Even the bravest heart feels the yawning gulf of emptiness and pitiless intelligence that lies behind the darkest depths of the mirror. What is there? Is it truly the undying will of a Demon King? Or a projection of the madness of the Most High?
An answer comes in a chilling and horrific manner as a Voice deeper than the ocean and more hollow than the vast reaches behind the stars intones, ARROGANCE.
It comes from the chamber, without question, and yet also sounds within their heads. All doubt is removed. This thing must be what Helios said it was. He must be stopped. Gilead and Khaz leap into the chamber, only to discover that they are suspended in the emptiness. They do not fall, but hang in the air of the spherical room. Helios seems momentarily startled and frightened by the Voice, but recovers when he sees his hated enemies approaching. He laughs and streaks by with a knife, delivering cruel blows. He is unhampered by the lack of gravity; his wings give him an insurmountable edge. Indeed even the chamber seems to be against them. Any accidental contact with the surface of the mirror is painful in the extreme. The shock they feel upon impact seems to strike at their entire spirit. If they cannot escape they will be destroyed just by the nature of the room itself. Combined with the distorted perceptions and the malevolent will behind the mirror, they begin to feel sanity itself wearing away.
Still Helios babbles on, giving orders to the Voice. "Arrogance? Impossible. I am the Most High! I command you! You are nothing more than a memory!"
BLASPHEMY, says the Voice.
Persia and Tira turn the balance. Tira uses her devotions, and Persia times a well placed leap that catches Helios by surprise. He is thrown from the chamber. In a moment they are all upon him. In less time than it takes to say it, the Most High is no more, cut to ribbons by the righteous hands of justice.
To their distress, the city still continues to move toward Tallon. The doors of the temple begin to reverberate with the muffled thuds of a battering ram. There is little time before they will be overrun. They toss Helios' remains into the chamber, crying that the blasphemer is dead. That there is no need to continue. Still the city flies onward. They can feel the shudder of movement as the stormy night buffets the swiftly moving towers of the crystalline citadel.
Finally, Gilead implores of the Voice, "What do you want?"
"Please stop! What bargain will it take?"
There is a pause, then, SACRIFICE.
Despite protests, Gilead says, "Sacrifice it is then. I agree."
Instantly, the glass of the chamber shatters with a howling sound. The pieces disappear into a void they cannot comprehend with their mortal minds. On a more visceral level, all their stomachs seem to lurch. They grow lighter and the floor tilts away until they realize with horror than the city is falling! The doors burst open at that point, and they can hear the voice of Callista screaming, "The city founders! Death! Death and ruin!"
Suddenly there is an impact that seems to grind through their very bones. Everyone is dashed to the floor. No one escapes without injury, though the force is not as great as they might have feared. The city itself has absorbed some of the shock. Also, to their mounting apprehension, it seems to have fallen into a great lake. Details are impossible to make out, for there is confusion and destruction everywhere. Black water rushes in as the last of the lumina lights begin to wink out. The storm increases its fury, and the tempest washes over them like the shadow of great black wing.
Note: At this point, the face to face adventures
in the Savage Earth regretfully came to an end.
The players continue portraying their characters and stories
in the online forum, under the heading of
"Chronicles of the Savage Earth"