Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Mouth of Madness
I was already uncomfortable with the idea of negotiating with a Devil Lord.
We'd tried and failed to parley with the chain-clad fiendess, but now someone claiming to be the "Mouth" of Zul'bar wanted to have a discussion. Our options were limited, of course. We came for Phoenix Items, but all we had found thus far was a pile of strange cubes, several dozen soulless slaves and an unsavoury boudoir. I'll add tackiness to the list of negative traits associated with these creatures.
So, it was decided that we would accept the invitation. We made our way to the second tower, flanked by immense fiends. Some were boney, others had wings. Though their forms were varied and seemingly implausible, there was a military precision to their actions. I can appreciate a chain of command, if nothing else. We were asked to wait in a grand chamber, filled with luxuries. Ornamental fountains, soft couches and a banquet table full of fresh fruit were all on display. One of our number, I think it may have been Ethan the street fighter or Braddoc the noble dwarf, decided to venture into one of the adjacent chambers. He revealed another lounge, occupied by reclining succubi and incubi, all in various stages of undress. Such hedonistic pleasures stirred vague memories, centuries-old, of my early days wandering the meadows of the Feywild. Flushed, I reminded myself that I abandoned my carefree pursuits when I joined Clan Ironbeard. I thought it prudent to chill away such nostalgia with a dip in one of the frosty fountains. In order to protect my companions, vigilance was necessary.
Soon, we were invited to join the "Mouth". I'll admit that some part of me was expecting to be greeted by an animated pair of jaws, or perhaps a free-floating set of crimson lips. Instead, his form was that of a man, regal and confident. He was perched atop Zul'bar's throne. Between us were several immense stone statues and four hellish dogs. Delian of the Silver Flame spoke on our behalf. He was able to verify that Zul'bar was in possession of two of the Items, but that he was currently away from the Keep. Eventually, we proposed a trade: The "crying man" mask we discovered recently, in exchange for the Items. The Mouth conceded that the mask was very valuable, but that it would only be worth one of the Items. We circled this point for some time, but eventually a recess was required. We were asked to leave the throne room, giving both groups an opportunity to consider the arrangement.
Though we were unsatisfied with leaving an Item behind, it seemed to be our only option. When we returned to the throne room, an entire stone wall had been peeled away. The master smiths of Clan Ironbeard would be amazed as the mechanism used to accomplish this feat. I resolved to investigate it further, should the opportunity ever arise. Beyond the missing wall was another chamber, this one with a sigil carved into the floor. There was also a large doorway, marked with a handprint. Chained within the sigil was the fiendess who greeted us when we first arrived at the Keep. She seemed displeased. Nearby were several stone statues, of such craftsmanship and detail that there was no doubt in my mind of their true nature: victims of petrification.
Unfortunately, the true identity of one or more of these statues was considered something of a "deal-breaker". Ethan was the first to lunge at the Mouth. I noticed as his hand reached for his blade, giving me a few precious moments in which to seize the advantage. A fierce melee followed. Hellfire, magical barriers and wicked weapons were flung about in the chaos. Within minutes that seemed like hours, the Mouth and his underlings were mere ichor on the floor. The runes on the floor had been pulsing with increasing frequency, however, so the day was not yet won. We were confident that the Master of the House would be joining us. We set about securing the area with haste while the wise witch Nenia studied the runes.
There were three cells nearby, sealed with doors reinforced with iron. Eager for allies, I called out through one of the doors, asking the occupants to identify themselves.
I was shocked upon hearing the voice of my Lady! Lady Ruby Ironbeard, the fiercest warrior of the Ironbeard Clan! Though I suspected more fiendish trickery, I immediately destroyed the door with my warhammer, revealing the noble (if poorly treated) form of the proud dwarf. She expressed similar astonishment at our having found each other, but time was short. The good wizard Grisp was held in the same chamber as Lady Ruby, and the twin paladins Chippa and Pike were within the next cell. The other six members of our trade delegation were surely nearby!
Beyond the doorway of the third cell, however, lay a tragic scene. Six proud warriors of Clan Ironbeard, proud brothers and sisters of the Hammer, were crumpled motionless on the ground. No doubt considered valueless, they were surely cruelly executed.
It is my turn for fury now. It is my turn for rage. I await Zul'bar's homecoming.
Moradin Guide Thee,
Helia Ironbeard, Clan Ironbeard