Hinterlands, part XIII - Gehenna

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Just SurvivingHinterlands, part XIII - GehennaCopyright © 2000 by Sheula Ralom'pa and Alan Goldfarb

2nd Lady of SavorusDuring this horribly traumatizing time, Nuntius has been really supportive. Everyday the poor cutter is by my side, making sure I feel all right, that my sodding stupidity has not overcome me so that I will plunge to my inevitable foreboding doom. I feel lucky to have him; such a caring person is hard to find in the jaded cage.

Ever since I returned from the Hinterlands at the Gray Waste, I have been thinking of what transpired. The encounter toward the end came out of nowhere, and it still sticks out as unexplainable, a nagging splinter I just can't seem to peel. Also, things have never been clearer – my success in navigating the Hinterlands, my survival rate, and all the luck I've had. I feel almost ready to be a priestess of the Great Unknown, with my luck. Fortunately, I sustained almost no wounds during the entire trip, though I remain slightly dehydrated. Being gone for such a long time worried everyone, and that' makes me feel even worse, knowing the endless worrying I gave those who actually ventured to care for me. Somehow, I feel the factory did not suffer an explosion at all, but rather that it sits there, functional, waiting to spring variables upon the world.

The best thing to come out of all is my Mercykiller membership. Somehow, the shifts at the prison have relieved some of the stress and constant headaches I am feeling. I informed my superior officer, Laver about my trips to the Hinterlands. She informed me of several escaped criminals I might find there "We gots to make dees trips oe yers usefil somehow" So on my next sojourn, I will be along on a search for a certain Vigb Utch, a renegade githyanki

2nd Clerk of SavorusNuntius has insisted on accompanying me on this latest trip. He says he is much too worried to let me go alone. 'Sides, a certain curiosity has risen, he says, to find out what I am so engrossed in. Rather disturbing mine ears, I don't want anyone else to get hurt. He doesn't have the natural propensity for it that I have, sadly. I wouldn't wish this gift on anyone, though.

2nd Low of SavorusLaver sent for me, very excited. It seems the Lady has given us both a windfall. Chant has it that Vigb Utch was hiding out on the Outlands. His last known whereabouts were somewhere around Torch. Could he be headed into the Gehenna Hinterlands? Since I was heading there after I'm recovered from my trip to Hinterlands Gray Waste, it seems we can skin two Anarchists with one stone. One of Laver's assistants thinks the chant is just the screed of someone who'd had too much bub.

But Laver wants this Gith in the worst way and has asked me to lead a party of six Mercykillers into Torch and possibly into the Gehenna Hinterlands to scrag this cutter. This party will be top-shelf bloods, each with a specialty. One is a scout, one a navigator, one a tracker, one a master swordswoman, one a wizard, and the last one is by no means least, being a suave talker who can charm a Smoke Mephit, and he can gather chant like almost no other-even darks meant to stay that way. We leave on the 3rd Hive of Savorus for Torch. Nuntius wants to come along. Laver insists I not let him come, but she's considering letting him come just to keep him from tying me up in his kip and not letting me go until she relents.

3rd Lady of SavorusWe are all midway to whatever destination we are bound for. Even now, the mystery of the unknown still excites the eager blood in me. The six traveling with me are {In the order described in my previous entry} Shulug, Brald, Diara, Norrin, Eutolpe, and Bojcin. So far we have seen nothing in the way of civilization, but with my past luck, I expect we'll find something soon.

So far we have been walking along a rather unexceptional plain, with occasional hills here and there. The grass is mildly yellowed out, as if dehydrated and deprived of normal soil nutrients. At the same time, other plants like weeds and some other peeling plants are thriving, unaffected by the singular drought. For as far as we can see, there is only a plain. Of course, that could be a simple peel, as anything and everything can and will happen. Spontaneity is quite an impressive feature.

Occasionally, in the distance, small wisps of tall yellow grass falter and fall in the wind, wind that is not even noticeable. It has an eerie beauty to it. I've gotten to know the Mercykillers over the past week, preparing for our duty. Shulug immediately took offense to me, and to Nuntius traveling with us. He tends to be a dislikable sort of blood, very capable in terms of his profession, but a clueless berk in his people skills. Likewise did Eutolpe. When I was a schoolgirl, she would be everything I disliked. Beautiful, haughty, arrogant, dismissive of those she thinks inferior. Every day she'd walk into the meetings strutting her red hair, as if it were a momentous crown of some sort. I'll attempt to work with her, but it won't be easy. Norrin and Brald are great cutters, on the other hand. Both immediately took to us. Brald is a follower of Odin and is a hearty sort of fellow, who loves to talk of Portal Polo . Nuntius spends a lot of time chatting with him. Norrin is a shy sort of girl, but she carries a powerful presence. Diara and Bojcin seem only interested at the task at hand – I take it they did not volunteer for this assignment. Both tend to withdraw. This doesn't bother me too much; they seem nice enough.

The past week was spent in the meeting halls of the prison, deciding our actions, the spells memorized, what weapons would be brought. To be honest, I've never spent so much time planning my life and what to do, it seems cumbersome and not worth the wait. Laver chastised me for this, saying I had to be more patient. She is probably right. Patience has never been one of my strong suits.

So right now we are transversing the Hinterlands once again. With so little left in my self-assigned journey, I am beginning to wonder whether I will continue exploring the Hinterlands beyond the 16 trips I decided upon initially. That was about a year ago. Powers, I've been traveling a whole year.

3rd Void of SavorusTorch has got to be the most depressing gate-town I've been in. The sense of *gloom* in this place is almost unparalleled, except maybe in The Gray Waste, although even The Waste isn't so piking hot. That volcano near here spits a lot of ash and smoke into the air, more than is normal for even an active volcano.... Whoever named these gate-towns around the Ring really knew what he or she was doing.

Bojcin has been schmoozing with the locals, and he's found out some interesting things. Chant is that Vigb Utch has been seen around the town. He was spotted at the Crimson Flame Tavern, chumming up to a Yugoloth said to be adept in mental powers. How even a Githyanki can stomach the swill they serve in that tavern, I'll never know. I just know I wouldn't serve it to a cranium rat.

3rd Void of SavorusShulug and Brald have accompanied Bojcin on some of his patrols around town. They've already got half the layout of Torch memorized. Should come in handy if we run afoul of a drunken local and want to run away from him instead of pick a fight and end up with half the population out for our blood. Unfortunately, the gloom of the locals is starting to rub off on them... Shulug barely tolerates Nuntius and I now. After this job, I'm going to recommend he get a vacation in Elysium. He needs it. Brald is still pleasant enough, but seemingly a bit distant the past half-day.

4th Lady of SavorusShulug and Bojcin penetrated a high-class establishment I'd never have gotten into. Locals say you have to be really nasty and evil at heart, bent on dominating some settlement on the Outlands. Maybe schmoozing with the locals wasn't so bad for them after all, Powers know Shulug has become harder and harder to put up with since he started going around with Bojcin. If he wasn't so piking good a scout and I didn't need him, I'd likely smack some manners into his brain-box but good.

Bojcin found out something interesting... Vigb Utch has been studying with this Yugoloth... Apparently he wants to learn to dominate his enemies in a most decisive manner. This Yugoloth has a hideout about four days' journey into the Hinterlands. Just where I've been planning to go once the job was over, though now it seems I'll be going in there as part of the job.

4th Hive of SavorusShulug has been continuing to snarl at the rest of the party, with a segmenting of sorts resulting from that. Surprisingly, Diara has taken my side, while Eutolpe is talkative if she says more than 2 words a day. I've also been spending a lot of time trading chant with Norrin. The girl is intelligent beyond what any of us thought. She carries an uncanny ability to just grasp things – riddles, subtle innuendo, calculations, and different weapons. She also favors the halberd as a weapon of choice and has provided me with many invaluable sparring suggestions. I think I could remain friends with her for a long time after this mission is over. Brald has continued to be a steadfast ally.

After traveling for just a short time, we have come across something that may be considered significant. Looking strangely impressive, it is a hill that comes up to a height of about 20 feet, continuing on for about 20 more, then receding back into the earth at a rather sharp angle. It is obviously a cave entrance, but there is no light visible from beneath it's dark domains. The initial descent seems quite sharp, almost as if could be one of these chute-like structures that trap unprepared adventurers. The walls are made of a hard yet smooth type of brown rock from our initial inspections. Trying to chip away a piece had no effect, so we are to assume it's unbreakable throughout the initial descent.

Brald has proposed tying a rope to a surface to ensure that we have a way to get out if some berk or thing down there makes it necessary. Eutolpe cast a rock to mud, then stuck the rope in, and reversed the spell, making sure the rope will hold. It's actually a canny thing, made of three pieces of rope, all of superior construction banded together by giant spider wax.

We are at the entrance to a large hall. The descent was quite barmy, as we each hung on to the rope. Norrin volunteered to go first, and we heard her voice say that it was safe, yet once the rest of us descended, we realized none of us had reassured the others of the safety of the descent. In fact, the rope didn't reach down far enough, and everyone fell a large distance. Fortunately, none are hurt. The hall is made of the same material we observed at the top. Sadly, even with a spider climb spell, we could not find our rope. It seems we are quite stuck, but as always there will be an exit. I must reassure myself of that. In any case, the hall has quite a peculiar bent. Swerving around in a manner like a strictly regimented maze, with sharp turns, the hall is barely 6 feet wide. After going to the end and back, the measured length is only 40 or so feet.

Every turn requires a climb of a short staircase, most having only 3 or 4 steps. It is obviously ascending, and seems to form a triangle shape. With so many of us, there is quite a racket resounding from wherever we step, the floor creaks under all the weight. At every turn of the winding hall, there are doors. A pair, mirror images to each other, with identical knobs.

1st Lady of the PivotWell, I do suppose it's Pivot already, I really don't have a handle on time. The barmiest thing in the first room we went into. There, sitting at a small table were two demurely dressed humans, each with a peeled faraway look in their eyes. Besides the table and chairs, the room had no other furnishings. Each had a selection of equipment, which Shulug proceeded to inspect while Norrin stood by in case of trouble. When he looked at the bodies, we noticed they were weak, as if they had been sitting here for at least a month. All the signs of such are there – muscular decay, wan bodies. This is chant to ponder. We spread camp across the far end of the room and are now watching the two for any change.

1st Market of PivotWe looked around, and there are a number of rooms linked by a straight hallway. In each room, we see two people, sitting, their eyes locked on each other. They just sit and stare. Occasionally, we see a bead of sweat roll down one's forehead, so we know they're alive. But they don't respond to any outside stimulus. This seems awfully barmy for the Hinterlands of an ordered plane like Gehenna. We're continuing to monitor the people.

Its not quite a full day later, but we finally saw something. In the second room, one of the people seated at the table began to show signs of struggle. We watched her further and suddenly, her bone-box opened wide as if she were going to scream, and she just.... vanished. The face of the man facing her remained calm, as if he were watching two birds singing in a tree in Bytopia.

By the Powers, that piking leather-headed berk...!! Shulug sat down at the table opposite the man, and now he's like a zombie, just sitting and staring at the man! I want to just lop his head off with my halberd, but I need the sodding idiot, and it would be criminal to do that! Can't be hypocritical! Norrin and Brald will check the other rooms occasionally to see if any of the people sitting at the tables disappear, and I've warned them that they are NOT to sit down at the tables no matter what.

1st Clerk of Pivot....?The man Shulug was facing suddenly up and disappeared. Shulug blinked, gave this arrogant smirk and got up from the table. He says he was locked in some battle of wills with the man at the table. Apparently every pair seated here is locked in some kind of mental combat with each other. The loser is willed literally out of existence. Shulug got some kind of mental rush beating the man, and now he's even more arrogant and irritating than ever. We had a real argument over his sitting down at the table like that without our investigating the situation further, but he's starting to pull out the 'more-adventurer-than-thou' screed. Eutolpe gives a slight nod of her head when Shulug talks, but says nothing. She's taking his side and I know it, even if she isn't aware that I know. Trouble is starting to brew in our ranks, and I don't like it. But what can I do? He's a justicar! I'm just a petty namer!

1st Low of Pivot...?All but two of the remaining battles are over now. The winners calmly sit in their chairs and stare at where their opponents used to be. If we try to talk to them, they look at us, and point to the empty chairs. When we refuse, they give a half-smile, and turn back to looking ahead. Eutolpe thinks they're Yugoloths who sit and wait for hapless berks who wander through here to sit down with them, then they dominate and crush their wills, finally willing them out of existence altogether. Irritating as she is, her insights on this whole place are dead-on. The twelfth and last room we can't seem to get into. Everyone's tried pushing or knock-spelling the door open and it doesn't budge. We have a feeling a master controlling entity is in there. It will hold all the answers to this place.

1st Hive of Pivot…?Losing my mind, I must be. Or perhaps this is what Shulug spoke of. The room, the room looks just like the hall itself. Pillows everywhere and windows. I look out the windows and see myself, just sitting there! When I finally tried the door, it opened. Why do these things single me out? It seems because of my origins; all the things I encounter are designed for me. Well, I opened the door, and then I couldn't move. My legs moved themselves, and plucked my body down into the chair. Through what control I had, I saw that my opponent was clearly Vigb Utch. I am rambling, defeating the purpose of these entries. As soon as I locked glances with Utch, I found myself in a room, with many halls leading off of it. Utch was directly opposite me. He stood there for a while, staring at me, measuring me out in a silent condescending fashion which sent shivers down my spine.

I grabbed my backpack, discovering to my astonishment that I had it, and all my equipment, including you, journal. He spoke to me, in a raspy voice that was filled with utter contempt for all things but himself. 'Do you like the scenery?" as he pulled the shades from one of the windows. I pressed my hands to the pane, astonished. I saw myself, and Utch. My party was standing around me, seemingly astonished. I tried to scream, yell to them that I was all right, for now. They shook me, slapped me, and tried to lift me out of the chair, yet I felt nothing. I heard every word. Shulug pronounced that if I were to succeed, I would be stronger than even he would. Then he laughed. A rustling behind me alerted my attention to Utch again. He had my prized halberd in his hands and was whistling quietly. "Quite a weapon! I collected myself enough to deliver the message, even though it was officially Shulug's job. "By order of the Mercykillers, you are officially under arrest for the murders of Geof Riffinton, Jetra Aylee and Torg Kibun" He laughed in my face and stated with the same sheer force of hatred I had detected earlier. "You see, my dear Mag," My name was pronounced with emphasis on the A " There's no way you're going to catch me! You're much too strong, you'll win, and then you'll have to answer as to why you killed me, when the mission was to bring me back alive. Perhaps you're all lying, you never saw me. Sad, that my body is the key to the portal" He continued rambling, telling me all about the operation. Except, it was all lies. I just knew. After he finished the diatribe, I replied calmly, and retreated to one of the side rooms, to plan my next moves.

Now, I watch the whole of them, arguing what to do next. For me, there is only one choice. Either I lose my life, or Utch. I have many witnesses. This is the only solution. I am not injured, but I need to memorize my spells. I know, I don 't know, but I know Utch cannot enter the chamber while I am sleeping. The combat must be willful, he cannot ambush me. That's why he was saying those things, to make me weaker. I still cannot understand all the mechanics of the place, how my possessions were transferred, where this room exists, or anything.

1st Void of PivotI now consider myself ready. I have all the appropriate spells memorized, like luck, strength, and self-improvement as well. Ah, this is a façade. Which sod am I kidding? To be scared like this… I don't know how to describe the sheer terror. I don't know the rules, how things work. Who knows how many Utch has defeated in this very room? And what kind of room is it anyway? Where is it? How am I going to detail this in the report? There is only one thing to do. I cannot be more ready. I hope this isn't my last entry. I don't know what exactly happened. I'm on the ground; it seems like nothing has changed. Except Utch is gone.

Just as I wrote the last sentence, Heltir appeared. His words started to appear in my mind. This cave will never disappear, I am sure of that. He lingered for only a moment, enough to fill my head with horrors, and that one coherent thought. I thought he died in the factory explosion. Just as he disappeared, everyone seemed to recoil, as if they were stuck in time and were coming loose. Nuntius rushed forward "Mag, what happened?" I responded that I didn't know .. then he handed me a mirror. My hair, a deep shade of bright red prior, was now a stark, dark, black.

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