I Had a Face Once
Look at this stone cursed room. Still can’t figure out why any of these monsters stay in Athuk-hole at all. Not a bed nowhere. Where did those mind suckers sleep – hanging by their tendrils from the ceiling? What with that rushing river making a racket all the time, ain’t none like any could sleep anyway – not that I can see an ear on any of these tendril encrusted heads. Sure are all nice and soft, now that they’s all been kilt. Good riddance – let whatever swims in this river eat them and choke on those blasted tendrils. Don’t know why Mertat won’t let the things just lay here and rot, no ways. Plenty of nasty things like that gelatinous cube sliming things up, or maybe that shit monster will come down here fa’ a taste. Oh, that’s funny.
“What are you cackling about now, Eccial?” Sever demands.
Oh, that Sever sure is in a testy mood – can’t take a joke about his boots, can he. “Eat – bootz – Sev’r.”
Cursed, it’s near impossible to talk. Blasted Vrocks. One thing we’ze got in common with Mertat – love killing Vrocks. Poor Sever – lost his boots and now he cries. Good thing – I’ll remember that, yes fer sure I will.
That’s the last mind sucker – go in the water fa’ a ride, you tendril sucker, you. And what, not a single coin among any of the suckers? Makes no sense why they would be here. And to not even need to eat or drink – that ain’t natural. Ol’ Mertat might think he knows everything about that magic that sustains us down in here, but it sure is weird not needing to eat or drink or nothing when down here in Athuk-hole. It just ain’t none natural. Ain’t none at all.
“Alright, let’s move on. We’ll try and get back to that triangle room, and go down that side passage we haven’t explored yet.”
Old Abban, sure is taking charge. Well, that’s fine with me. Got a sense fa’ maps and directions, and we sure do need it around here with all these confusing tunnels and stepping into a doorway and being sent off to who knows where. Here off we go again, back down this tunnel we just came down. Triangle room? Don’t remember no room like that. Don’t none matter anyway. Just give me some softies to slice into, and I’ll be fine.
How many groups come down here? Ain’t none many, that be sure. We ain’t none seen none others all the while we’ve been roaming down here. Sure, the Fire Hawks – cool name, yes fa’ sure – when is that Sabus going to get it together and figure out our name. He’ll probably come up with something after I’m long dead and gone. Call us Eccial’s Avengers or some such nonsense. Not that I’d care then. Oh that’s funny.
What that Sever angry with me now again fa’. I ain’t none said nothing. Can’t I not have a little chuckle to myself. Ain’t none nothing to see here, Sever – best keep an eye on the ground in case you step in another trap. Oh, that’s funny. Oh, there he goes again lookin angry at me – what did I do?
Fire Hawk types claim they come down here. But they seem to be a pretty powerful group. Any group that makes it all the way down here, and past a doggone Hell Hound! Why, if I were one of those Scourgers, I sure as bacon wouldn’t want to wait here to get fried by some powerful group of adventurers like us. Ain’t none make no sense, yes fer’ sure.
Ah, the triangle room, we made it back here. Now I remember. Doors leading off every which way, and there’s that grate down near the bottom of the wall. Leads off somewhere we’re not sure where. But it looks like old Abban wants to go through one of those doors we ain’t none tried yet. Looks like Sever gets to go first down this hallway. Pretty narrow, this one is.
Ah, here we are, nice little room. Dead end. Nothing to do but head on back.
“Very clever” whispers Sever.
What’s that? Ah, old Sever, I guess we’ll keep him around after all. Looks like he’s found a nice secret door.
“It’s heavily imbued with magic, Sever” Mertat cautions.
“Yes, that I would expect. But here is what I was looking for. There’s a nice slot neatly carved natural into the rock. This bit of rock slides, and reveals an indentation for some sort of key. We haven’t come across any keys that would fit this lock, though.”
Well, Sever, even I can see that. Of course now I can, anyway, since you figured out where the keyhole was – very clever, fa’ sure. Might as well head back and see if we can’t find the key.
“Go – bck – find key.” Whew. Talking ain’t none easy. Looks like we’re in agreement, cause there goes Sever back down that narrow hallway.
Now which way is Abban to select going from this triangle room, looks like old Abban wants to try that little grate. Well you jus’ go right ahead first. And let Sever go too. That hole looks mighty tight, and I don’t fancy getting stuck in there. Looks like that gelatinous cube has used this hole recently – now that would be nasty finding that thing on the other side.
Oop, there goes Abban – he zipped away. Another of those blasted transport things. Here we go.
“I’ve got it figured out” Abban says, now that we’re all together again after zipping through that thing. “The grate lead us to the other side of those double doors we didn’t try, leading off from the Hellhound guardian. Fresh area to explore. Sever, will you please?”
Looks like old Sever will lead us this time. Good. Not much my style going first. Best for the experts at such. But these doors – quite nasty. Artwork all carved in the doors, showing more of those mind suckers, them cursin’ Scourges or whatnot. Who would draw art like this – showing them creatures sucking the brains from humans, elves, and dwarves. Pure nasty. Goot thing that Sever leads us down the hallway moving quickly.
… that was strange …
“Did you feel that?” Mertat asks.
Looking at everyone else, looks like we all felt the same thing. Glad it wasn’t just me, else I’d be thinking I’d lost my mind. We were just walking down the hallway, pretty smartly, mind you. And then we go past a door, there seems to be a brief time halt for a heartbeat. We pause, and then continue on. It is almost as if something briefly entered each of our minds and delved, then let us proceed. Very disturbing.
“It’s got to be behind that door” Sever declares. And there he goes, bursting right through the door. Doesn’t that boy think to check for traps every now and then? Nothing for it but to follow along.
Those purple torches sure do cast a pretty light. Sever was pretty enamored with them, too. Snagged one off the hall as we went down the tunnel. But no creatures in this hallway, even all the way to the end. Just a bunch more of those purplish torches.
“Ah, here it is.”
What’s that that Sever says. Ah, the crafty one. Looks like he done found a secret door. At least this time he’s taking a close look before busting through. Can’t hear anything though, all is quiet, so Sever he grabs another one of those torches on the wall and twists it. How’d he see that – it opened up a secret door. Yes, he’s a crafty one. Sever the Crafty Bootless One. Oh, that’s funny.
What’d I say – can’t I have a chuckle? Alright, through the door, another room. Not a huge room, this, but enough for everyone to come into. And in the middle of the room four short stone pillars set up like a cross, connected in a circle by red arcs drawn on the ground. That purplish light sure does make this place look spooky.
And those pillars – pretty squat, only up to my waist or so. Carved like tree roots or something – maybe like them tendrils from those Scourges, something like that. But what’s that on the top – looks like some kind of face, or no, a mouth, wide open. Don’t put ya’ hand in there, Sever, it might bite.
“Give of your life!” Wow – that was something. That pillar up at the top – its mouth just spoke.
“Give of your heart!” That was the pillar off to the right, speaking to. What kind of magic is this?
“Give of your mind!” And now the one off to the left. Well, that leaves me out. But danged – what about that the fourth one? It ain’t none said nothing.
“What – mean?”
“It seems as though this room is asking for something from us, Eccial” Sever says.
“I don’t like this at all” continues Mertat. “Maybe it wants some magic items – something to represent life, heart, and mind. Maybe potions?”
“I don’t think it is that simple, Mertat” Abban says. There he goes again – being the leader. “I feel as though these pillars are wanting to feed on our abilities. And if we comply, a boon will be provide.”
“That doesn’t make me like this anymore.” I agree with that, Mertat. I don’t want to let these pillar things feed on me.
“What path do we pursue?” Good question, Kael. But not sure why he’s poking that last pillar for – not for touching, if you ask me. For me, it’s time to just hang back and watch these fools. “Hey, what hails here? An impression of a key!”
Sure as spunk. There is an impression that just showed up on top of that fourth pillar. It wasn’t there a minute ago.
Sever moves next to Kael and takes a quick look at it “Yes, a key. Perhaps a key that’ll fit that secret passage I found a ways back.”
Oh, they can’t resist that. They’re gonna do it. Oh Abban, think about it!
“I agree that these pillars will feed on us. But they must grant a great boon for a gift such as we would provide.” Then go ahead, Abban. You go first.
“Do – it”. There, so long as it ain’t none me, it’s ok by me.
Looks like Abban is going to do it. Slipping off his gauntlet. Looks like he’s going to stick his hand in there. Yep, there he goes.
That mouth just clamped down on Abban’s hand. Picked the east one, the one that asks of life – that be the last one I would have chosen. But the mouth opens now, Abban looks ok. But he’s shaking his head. Looks a bit confused. Been there, old bud.
“I’m well.” Well, you don’t look so well, now, do you. “But I feel, drained, somehow. It is as if I’ve – regressed somehow. Like my choices will not be for the best.” That’s for sure – sticking your hand in that mouth, not exactly a wise thing to do.
Now what – there goes that crazy Sever. Didn’t he learn anything from Abban – all drained and everything? Now he’s done and put his hand into that mouth on the north pillar – the one what asked for life. Life! That boy’s crazy.
“I feel sapped.” There goes Sever – at least he got his hand out of the mouth. “I feel weakened. I feel tired, more tired than I was just moments ago. I think I’m OK, but whatever happened, it doesn’t feel like it can be cured.”
Now three’s a hex. Mertat Mertat Mertat. Well, at least it doesn’t look painful. There, he’s got his hand back.
“I ain’t know what happens. I also feel like I’m finding – I mean, fine.” Woe. That’s strange. Mertat is always well spoken, all refined right. Good upbringing. But it seems like he’s getting’ his words mixed up.
“Lost knowledge.” Well Mertat, you said it. Ain’t none so smart after all, now, are you? So we gave up life, heart, and mind. What do we get in return?
“Here” Kael says. “a complicated little key.” He’s right. Picked up a key from that pillar in the south. Just showed up as soon as Mertat got his hand free. Is it the right one?
“Let me see that.” That’s right, Kael, give the key to Sever. If anyone knows something about locks and keys, it’s Sever.
“Yes, as I thought. It looks like this will fit that small lock we just found earlier.” Good eye, Sever. Well done. “I hope a great treasure is behind that door, else we just got poorly bargained for.”
Can’t imagine it’s worth it. But at least I didn’t get sucked, or zapped, or snapped. Alright, let the others stand around. I’ve had enough of this room.
“Alright, let’s follow Eccial. Lead the way.” Pretty danged obvious, there, Abban. You stay here, I’m leaving. Check out the rest of this purple hallway.
Didn’t take long. Some sort of t-intersection. Nothing off to the left. Off to the right looks like the passage bends back the way we came. But straight ahead, now that is fancy. Double wide stairs leading up.
“Welcome, warriors from Zelkor’s Ferry.” A voice – echoing, eery. Was it only me to hear it? Looking at the rest of the party, no, we all heard the same thing.
“I am very impressed with your intellect. You did well in retrieving the key. No other party that I’ve feasted upon here has been able to achieve that deed.”
“Where’s it coming from?” Sabus asks.
But it is only all too obvious.
“Why, Sabus, you know where I am. Come, join me. Come, all of you.”
The voice is beckoning us, there’s a tug to go up the stairs.
“The way ahead is open to you. Do not resist. It is futile.”
But other noises other the voice in our heads are there – heavy feet stomping across stone floor, coming towards us, but slowly, as if to seduce us. Or cause us to panic.
“That’s right, Eccial. It is natural to panic. A natural urge to run away. But do not disappoint me, nor my minions. Come up the stairs and join me.”
The tug – it’s irresistible. The force of the mind is strong, pulling us up the stairs. Woe, there goes Sever, racing up the stairs. But he has his maces out. Yes, that’s a good idea. Time to draw the sword, and up the stairs. But not fall prey to the voice, but to destroy it. The evil is clear, for there goes Abban, racing up the stairs with Sever.
“Evil. And what is that, Eccial? You have invaded my home. Intent to destroy me. Should I not defend myself?”
“You – die’!” Cursed throat, can’t even yell a battle cry.
“Oh, poor Eccial. Having difficulty talking now, are you. Let’s make that permanent.”
Up the stairs we’re all charging, but a wave of fear rolls down the stairs. Overwhelming. We’ve been attacked like this before. Not long ago. Not more of those tendril whipping phrenic scourges
“And more. Much more.”
“Stay together!” Sabus calls, encouraging his friends. “It’s our only chance. Use the strength of the party – we can champion over this!”
“Yes. Stay together, great warriors. Do not stray. My children are hungry.”
Down the stairs, here come his children. Huge giant-like creatures – eyeless, gray, ferocious. More than I can count. Behind them, stand the Scourges.
“My children. Grimlocks. Quite bestial and strong. They will destroy you.”
Oh, why Sever are you in the front.
“Let – thru”.
“Yes, come forward, my child.”
Another assault on the mind. Those Scourges – can’t get to them. They can’t do this forever – but we’re staying firm.”
“Oh, but they can.”
Sabus is right – stay together – we’re stronger together.
“Most excellent and amusing.”
Sever will never be able to stand in the front for long. The gray monsters are leaping over each other to strike at Sever. Go Abban, help. And sing, Sabus. Strengthen our minds and hearts.
“Yes, go ahead, bring forth all your power.”
“I’ve got him” calls out Mertat. Sever is down. Grimlocks. Inflicting too much damage.
“Tsk. One down. Yes, Eccial, join the front rank. Your turn is next.”
Another mind attack. But now, eat my steel. Thru its breast. Die.
“You killed one of my children. Please continue. Fight strongly. There are many more for you.”
Abban got one now. Two down – a horde to go.
“Abban is weakening as well. It won’t be long now, my child.”
Another mind assault. Stay strong. But it’s not the mind attack. These grimlocks are fearless. Swarming. Can’t stop every attack.
“Come now, Eccial. It is futile to continue the struggle.”
“Sever’s back.” Good job, Mertat.
“We can’t abide this assault much more.” True spoke, Kael. He’s helping, firing that gunstick and hitting those grimlocks. But there’s too many.
“We have to get at the source.” Abban is right.
“Oh. Good plan. And he’s your leader? Oh, so precious!”
“I saw the master. Mertat, ten paces off the left in the room above. Can you do it?” Sever’s back with us. Good job, cleric.
“Yes, come to me. See me in my glory before your death.”
“I can. But I can’t take all of us. One would have to stay behind.”
“Oh yes, split the party. Wonderful plan.”
This thing in my head. It must die. But only I’m strong enough to hold the grimlocks in place. “Go. I – stay.”
“You are the brave one.”
“We must stay together.” Mertat. It must be done. “We’re stronger together. The mind assaults – we need each other.”
“The supreme moment, Eccial. It is yours.”
“Go – now.”
Abban, time to go back to Mertat. He’s still swinging, another grimlock has died. But too many. Too many. “Kill – it – master.”
“Stay strong, Eccial.” He falls back, and I am now alone. The grimlocks are swarming. Above, there’s a commotion. Why, where’s the voice?
“I am here. My pardon for being distracted for a moment. Oh, your friends have arrived. How wonderful. Let me describe the scene.
There are all about me – swinging their weapons, bouncing off the stone basin in which I exist. These weapons are meaningless.
Oh, now look, how pretty. The thief has cast a gem, and a fire elemental has arrived. Come, my children, destroy these intruders.
Now, Eccial, I have called a few of my faithful grimlocks and Scourges to attack your friends. It is amusing how you believe you will somehow be victorious. Wise, that is not.”
Hurry, friends. The mind assaults. The mind assaults. Alone. I’m alone. What has happened? My arm. Lift. Why are you not doing it. Listen to me, arm.
“Ah, Eccial. Without your friends, you have succumbed to my children’s mind assaults. Relax. Release will be soon. Your fight was noble, but it was always futile.
Oh, and now, what have we here? Kael, what devilish trick are you up to. That horn, full of your powder you feed into your gun. What are you doing. A fuse?
Sword, swing. Why do you not listen?
“A fuse into the horn – just a touch of the powder can deadly propel a stone. Sending a spark into the entire horn? ”
The grimlocks are hitting me. Is that blood.
“No. No. NOOO!”
Don’t stay at my side.
“Ahhhh! Isrich yuth fu’gere!”
What? What’s happened?
The voice – in pain. The party. Success. Hurry, friends.
The mind assaults. Again. The Scourges. Resist. But my arms. Won’t move. More attacks. Grimlocks. Pain. Blood. Feel weak.
“Ugi’le yuth. Ig’ich fu’gere.”
Mind assaults. More. Dark. Why is it dark? Stone. Cold. On face. Pain. No more. Silence. silence. silence…
Kneeling about the prone body laying a short distance from the gates of Zelkor’s Ferry, the defeated heroes mourn their loss. Kael, Sabus, Sever, Abban and Mertat all bow their heads, their fallen friend unmoving upon the ground.
“I cannot sense his spirit. It is too far away.” Mertat whispers.
“His body, ravaged by the grimlocks. His mind, destroyed and consumed by the Scourges. There is little left of body, and even less of mind.” Abban’s hands lay gently on the body of the fallen hero, prayers unanswered. “A heavy levy has been extracted from us.”
Left to his own defense, Eccial was quickly surrounded by the grimlocks, attacked on all sides, before and behind. Swinging out with his sword, he slew several of the creatures. But the grimlocks continued to swarm, climbing over their fallen to rend the flesh of Eccial.
The party moved with great urgency, knowing that Eccial was exposed. But their progress was too slow, the assaults upon them too great.
And then, mind assaults. Those assaults upon Eccial were constant. Continuous. And eventually, no longer close enough to his friends to utilize their communal bond, his will was broken. And left defenseless, the Scourges and grimlocks had quickly feasted.
“But his legacy will live on” declares Sabus. “That duty to ensure it does is left to us. He volunteered to stay behind, and it was a heroic deed that must not be forgotten.”
“If only my power were stronger” wails Mertat. “I could have carried us all to the mind. We should have all stayed together in our assault.”
“It is not your fault, Mertat” Abban consuls. “Our actions were done at that time the best we knew how. All knew the price that was offered. And Eccial, to his glory, willingly accepted it.”
“Is there nothing we can do?” Sever asks.
Kael places a hand on Sever’s shoulder “Sometimes out duty is but to remember, and to relay deeds performed to the populace.”
“Our efforts were those of legend” Sabus declares. “Though we could not destroy the mind, we were able to spill it out of its container and thereby weaken its contact with its minions. Thus weakened, many of those grimlocks and Scourges we were then able to kill in their natural state. But we could not prevent the mind from re-assembling itself, though we tried in many ways. It was impervious to sword, mace, fire, and even water from Mertat’s decanter. No, what we accomplished is all that I believe we could. Though we had not the power to destroy the mind, we did kill many of its minions. And we were able to snatch its treasure so that it can no longer use the wealth for ill purposes.
It is now in a much weakened state, with far fewer allies. And we did retrieve the remains of Eccial from further defilement – that was a noble deed. And Sever, you were seriously wounded and near death yourself, as were Abban and Mertat. And yet you continued to fight. These all are the deeds that only the noble, in their humility and sacrificial giving to their party, that must not be forgotten.”
Nodding, Sever understands they did give their fullest. But this power that they faced was one that was too great. They were unable to finish the cleansing of the lair of the mind – that evil would continue to fester. Perhaps they had become too greatly accustomed to success.
“This is bitter, indeed” Abban says. “Perhaps we had become too prideful in our actions. Though we have had great successes and have defeated many foes, we must remember that we are but children in the eyes of those who watch over us. Great powers stand against us. We have much to learn.”
The party kneels silently for a while longer, each assessing his own grief and shortcomings in his own way. It does not seem possible that they have lost one of their own, one which they had journeyed with long. Words no longer seemed to be sufficient.
Mertat stands slowly, bringing each party member to their feet. “This matter is no longer within our means to influence” he affirms. “Eccial has been called into the presence of his gods. We do not know what other duties they have designed for our friend.
This is a decision the gods must make. Perhaps it shall be that there are other duties Eccial has to perform here in Golarian. In which case, he may be returned to us. But do not despair, there are many worlds. Eccial’s journeys are not at an end. He has much yet to do, though his part with us may now be separated for a time.”
Raising the body of Eccial from the ground, the party carries it into Zelkor’s Ferry. These last months, Eccial had struggled for the survival of this town, and indeed for all of Golarian. It seems a suitable place for the final rest of his body.