At the opening of our session, we find our intrepid and “way over their heads” heros on a leaky barge piloted by Charon. We know we need to stop at an iron fortress and get something that will help against the Ixitxachitl, commonly known as devil rays, that are further down the river on the salt flats. This is all in an effort to get to the Gaping Maw, the 88th level of the Abyss, where we will stop the Demogorgon from reassembling a Tarrasque and retrieve the splinter for Bartholomew’s goddess. The bargeman drops us off in a hilly area and points away from the river. Presumably that is the direction of the fortress. He agrees to wait for us. We should not be gone long.
After walking for about a half an hour we see below us a fortress of iron. It is roughly square, about a hundred feet on a and side, and has four dilapidated towers on each corner. Never have we seen anything of this size made of metal. The streaks of rust make is look like it is weeping blood. We know that this was used in the past as a launching off point for astral projecting into the Prime Material plane. Since the Apotheosis, however, such places have not been needed which may account for it obvious disrepair.
We decide to wait and watch. We see no movement but for an avian figure at the top of one of the towers. Within the hour a group of Manes herded by a Balgura, a large gorilla like demon, approaches the fortress. It is evident that some of the Manes are captives of the others. For what purpose? It is hard to feel sympathy for any of them. During their lives they were terribly people. Their cruelties were the reason they traveled to the Abyss entombed in the revolting form of a manes. They get to the gate and the figure in the tower flies down (turns out it is a Vrock), and the large metal doors open and the group enters.
We decide on a plan. We will approach the fortress with the story that we are on a mission for our master, Tarnshaff, a herder of souls near Styros. We branded ourselves with his sigil in our last episode precisely for this type of deception. We will say he wants us to travel to the Gaping Maw and we need help getting past the devil rays.
As we approach the fortress the Vrock flies down and asks us our business. It does not seem inclined to let us in. Cataclysmia browbeats the giant bird and it relents. The doors open and we enter.
We are immediately assaulted by an awful smell. Something (somethings?) has died and rotted away. Perhaps demons find the smell pleasant. Another balgura approaches us. This one is dressed in a finely fitting suit. His fur is orange and his face purple. Again we are asked our business. We tell our contrived tale but it takes a bit more pushing from Cataclysmia to get him to listen. He asks us to stay and walks away through the double doors at the end of the hall.
He soon returns and asks us to follow. He leads us to a throne room. In the room are three figures including the balgura. One is an ettin, a large, ugly two headed giant. The other is a Marilith names Anderial. She is a
two headed, six armed snake lady and seems to be the one in charge. We tell her our tale and she calls Tarnshaff a “petty town sheriff” with no business in the Gaping Maw. But she is open for negotiation.
Her focus is on Bartholomew. She wants him to renounce his goddess. If he does this she will give us five stone that will protect us from the psionic abilities of the devil rays. Bart refuses and we think it is the end of our road, but Cataclysmia convinces here to trade for some of our magic items. In return for an adderstaff, a mattock, a brooch, and a sword of binding. Cataclysmia sort of forgot the the adderstaff was a necessary focus for her spells. Oops.
Anderial takes the items and says she will give us the stones in the morning. Groth (the suited balgura) escorts us to our chamber. It is up a spiral metal staircase and past a large coral ring. We decide to go look around.
Outside our chamber was a manes. Cataclysmia tell it to get lost and it scurries away. The large ring seems to be a device used in travel or astral projection. Off the ring room was a locked door. Never one to let a locked door remain in that state Theodoric starts to pick a lock – and disappears. We rush to the door to figure out what happened to no avail. He is gone and there is no following. Overwrought, Henri finishes the job of picking the lock and we enter.
Through the door is an opulent room with chests all around and a pillow covered dais. There are also three manes who attack. We quickly dispatch the manes but when we turn around we see Groth. He is not pleased and casts a spell to bind us with vines. Most of us avoid the grasping tendrils and Groth leaps in the air over our heads and attacks.
We kill him and search the room and find jewelry, potions, and scrolls.
Exiting the room we find more manes at the top of the stairs. They are very soon all dead. Bartholomew decides to dash down the stairs only to have the Ettin tear them from the ceiling. He falls to the ground laying prone at the foot of the bi-headed beast. Xander leaps down to the rescue and is practically killed for his trouble. Bart finishes off the giant and the others come down a rope through the gap in the ceiling.
Moments later the hallways is flooded by more manes, another balgura, two vrocks, and Anderial. It does not look good. Soon Bart and Cat are unconscius on the ground. Henri and Xander hold off the monsters but one of Anderial’s arrows turns Henri to stone. Xander kills the last Vrock and barely aloie looks up to see it is just him and Anderial left.
He surrenders, and as BArt and Cat come to, they too surrender. Henri cannot bow in his petrified state.
The party is escorted to a cell. Andariel visits and offers them freedom in return for servitude. (Bart offers her a dictionary). They agree and she tells them to wait. In a bit they hear a voice outside their cell. It is Teddy! Turns out he was transported to a maze and only just go himself free and has been wandering around.
Andarial returns and asks for Xander. He sends him unarmed to kill a ‘visitor’ who is approaching the fortress. The visitor is a Shadow Demon in the service of the Demogorgon. He does so and returns where Anderial gives him back his proteon pike and escorts him to his original room.
And they wait.