5e Planescape: Tales of Devotion

Hollow Path

Of All the Routes

Wishing to push through and escaping back home, away from Sigil, the heroes refuse to decline the challenge presented by the Mercykillers and their Prison. Having little in terms of plans and a number of less motivated members, they stall until the inevitable happens and Sterling decides to take matters to his own hands. Having learnt discretion from his previous encounters with those who would tackle him mid-charge, he decides to try and see whether any lonely Mercykillers are scanning the alleyways in the vicinity of the Prison. While successful to a degree, the plan backfires because the one Mercykiller he finds relieving himself on an alley is one of the two who witnessed his attack on Nail of Dis. Faced with the brute in front of him and the crowd of enemies who would swarm him if alarmed out back, Sterling attempts to disorientate the solitary enemy by claiming he was working for the Harmonium all this time. This move allows him to walk past the Mercykiller before he realizes to ask for concrete evidence of Sterling’s allegiance. Feeling cornered, the guardsman draws his rapier and furiously assaults the foe in front of him. Had this man been your average member of the Red Death, he would surely have perished in this initial assault packing all of Sterling’s accumulated prowess. Sadly, such is not the case, and thus, the wounded Mercykiller is able to back towards his comrades and alert them to the wanted criminal’s presence.

Facing impossible odds, Sterling flees but decides to hide in the shadows of the alleys near the Prison. Meanwhile, the Mercykillers dispatch a number of units to surround and scour the area. Inevitably, Sterling is found and brought to justice. As he is dragged to the wide streets surrounding the prison, the rest of the party witness their beloved if rash comrade captured and surrounded by a group of five Mercykillers. Some, like Erdan and Vanhedra, ponder whether they should finally give in with the addition of this nail on the coffin of any plans they could have hatched, had Sterling waited for them to think matters through. Dantilus and Teera, on the other hand, keep a close eye on Sterling and his guards. The half-elf bard even disguises himself as a member of the Red Death and approaches the group, intending to read Sterling’s mind before he is taken inside the walls of the unapproachable fortress known as the City Prison.

Much to his surprise, Sterling witnesses something most peculiar just as he is being dragged around the corner of the prison. He sees the tall figure of a woman clad in flowing robes, her head surrounded by a multitude of jagged blades, float over the walls of the prison. Not fully comprehending the meaning of this event but deciding that it might grant him one last chance, he opposes being taken inside with all his might, forcing the Mercykillers to literally drag him. Dantilus manages to catch a glimpse of this scene and the hope it has seeded inside of Sterling’s mind before all hell breaks loose. Squirts of blood can be seen flying over the high, high walls of the prison, and even the less perceptive can hardly escape the screams and wailing of the Mercykillers inside. The question on everyone’s lips seems to be the same: But why? Alerted by this turn of events, the Mercykillers around the prison rush towards its main gates while it seems most of those inside are attempting to escape something. Abandoned by his captors but still shackled, Sterling is aided by the disguised bard who unlocks his manacles. In front of their eyes, the mass of Mercykillers by the gates is reduced to a splatter of blood and fleshy bits, extending across the whole wide street in front of the prison. In the blink of an eye, only the open gates remain where there was an impenetrable mass of people.

Having noted the recent turn of events, everyone joins Sterling and Dantilus. Confused and unnerved, they decide to peek inside the prison, having been granted this chance. Inside, they see how whatever decided to attack the Mercykillers has reduced the courtyard to an abstract piece of art, splattering bloody strokes with a wide brush of death and carnage. Since whatever caused all this is nowhere to be seen, the party proceeds deeper, intending to find their way to Zincir during this mess. The occasional, panicked Mercykillers they come across seem to be babbling that the Lady herself has unexpectedly attacked the prison. Deciding to risk the certain death encountering her in this context would seem to entail, everyone pushes on. Indeed, when they notice a squad of Mercykillers bent on capturing any escaped prisoners, they decide to draw these people’s attention in order to have at least someone show them where Zincir might be waiting. Having few options, the Mercykillers decide to let the group tag along as they sweep the hallways.

Everyone finally reaches the stairway supposedly leading to Zincir’s dungeon where the most heinous of criminals are being kept. As they prepare to enter, something hulking, loud, and rancid emerges from the shadows of the stairway. It quickly becomes obvious that there is indeed a troll in the dungeon, and this thing is not exactly happy to encounter a group of Mercykillers now that it has finally managed to escape. Grasping a bloody sack of flesh with patches of white fur, it roars and prepares for combat. Everyone approaches the troll, only Giggles not throwing caution to the wind. There is no time, and they have the advantage. Dantilus and Teera cast their respective spells at the thing, Teera’s fiery magic proving a bane to the tough beast. Using the chance provided by this distraction, both Vanhedra and Erdan pepper the thing with their respective ranged arsenal. Vanhedra scores a dangerous hit with his axe, and Erdan takes out the troll’s right eye. The Mercykillers have a more reserved approach to the situation which leaves Sterling to charge in and be forcefully flung against the wall as the troll backs down to recuperate from this onslaught of fire and steel. However, as it tries to disengage Sterling, the warrior sees an opportunity and lunges at the green beast. Momentarily, the troll is downed which gives the party reason to cheer, although the Mercykillers are still collecting torches, warning that nothing is over yet. Vanhedra also grabs a torch and flings it towards the troll, ultimately unsuccessfully. It manages to get up one last time, trying to gut the dwarf in front of it, before the thing is taken down by everyone, its fate sealed by more of Teera’s magical fire which blows its head off its shoulders, covering Vanhedra in its foul blood.

After this scuffle, all but one Merykiller continue on their merry way, leaving a single man to monitor those inspecting Zincir’s alleged involvement in this tragedy. As everyone enters the first room of the dungeon, a hallway of cells lining its walls, they witness how two of the doors have been destroyed and a bloody trail leads towards where they entered from one of them. Inside of this cell, they see the head of an albino woman with somewhat sharp, pointed features. A sly voice from the next cell keeps insisting whoever entered tells it what happened while another opposite to it seems to house a more booming inhabitant who insists it could guide whoever entered. Both are ignored for the time being. Instead, Sterling decides to tease the inhabitants by knocking on their cell doors but otherwise ignoring the denizens. Behind the first door, he hears a rasping voice pleading for water. The second one contains the insistent, squeaky inhabitant demanding to be let out. As he reaches the final door for that side of the hall, he notices its hatch has been left open. Carefully peering inside, Sterling is greeted by the image of a great, yellow-orange eye with a slit pupil. Immediately, he is assaulted by some unseen force and the rest see his body deform slightly, briefly sprouting a tentacle which then recedes back under his shirt. However, he manages to fight off this affliction and close the hatch, leaving the malignant inhabitant laugh maniacally at his trouble.

The next room contains Zincir’s torture equipment, ranging from silvered instruments immediately looted by Dantilus to branding equipment and an iron maiden. There is also the door to his personal quarters, which Vanhedra starts breaking down with his axe. Since the reinforced wood is taking a while to hack down, Dantilus casts a spell to open its lock with a booming knock. No sooner than this side-effect has people covering their ears does the trap on the door trigger and fill much of the chamber with bursting flames. Most of the heroes come away relatively unharmed, particularly Vanhedra despite him remaining right by the door. The same cannot be said of the Mercykiller who is roasted alive and collapses. Left to their own devices, everyone decides to enter the room.

Inside Zincir’s ascetic quarters, everyone finds but a minimalist bed, a desk with simply some note-taking equipment and a note stating ‘Only do what is right and all that is left is to face the consequences’ in Infernal, and Zincir’s records of the punishment he has been inflicting on the poor souls laid to his care over the centuries. Finding no sign of the torturer himself, nor any hidden entrances, the party backpedals. Erdan and Vanhedra skim through the archives while Sterling begins negotiating with the actively annoying resident of one of the cells. This thing calling itself ‘Smelly’ claims it knows the key to a portal Zincir has been using. Not trusting the criminal who turns out to be a jackal-faced half-beast, Sterling forces it to reveal its real name so that the rest may check the archives. Turns out their friend is a serial rapist of no small notoriety. Having little choice, Sterling first attempts to buy its favour using rations but since it refuses to budge on its demand to be let free, he ties its hands to the bars of the hatch and opens the door. Apparently, Zincir had been using ‘Stinky’ – the now dead woman in the next cell – for something whenever he left. Giggler is told to drag the remains of this person who became troll-feed to the torture chamber as the jackalwere is betrayed and locked back in. As it realizes how there is no escape, it tries and successfully stalls Sterling with its hypnotic gaze but Dantilus simply kicks the door to close it and takes care to also lock it after himself. Sterling is slapped awake by the loving hand of this bard who has been aching to smack some sense to him despite the considerable inspiration provided by his antics.

Apparently, no portal is to be found within Zincir’s quarters but instead, one opens inside the iron maiden as Giggler drags the bloody mess by it. Having little choice at this point, everyone enters. They are greeted by a dark hallway with one source of light at the end of the tunnel. Once they reach the light, there are two further hallways leading straight to the left and straight to the right, respectively. In between, opposite to the entryway, is a brass decoration embedded into the wall – or rather, sprouting from it – in the emotionless visage of the Lady of Pain herself. Inspecting this decoration reveals no hidden mechanisms but Vanhedra’s inspection of the hallway itself reveals that the right passage has been used more than the left one. As such, everyone goes right, only to find themselves again in the same spot after a while, as testified by the dwarf who recognizes all the signs.

Acting randomly, trying to test if there is any difference, Sterling rushes to the left and appears again from the third hallway. However, this time there is an ever so small change in the Lady’s expression as a faint, lopsided smile graces her stern lips. Some more random charges are made both to the right and to the left but only when one goes left, does anything change visibly: the smile on the decoration’s face grows wider and more obvious. The third left turn is taken by Vanhedra who actually finds himself ambushed by shadowy things in the darkness before he reaches the light yet again. Their touch saps the warmth from his body as they grab his ankles. These things turn out to be relatively fragile, though, and they are destroyed with relative ease.

More turns to the left have the Lady actually open her lips, although little to nothing can be observed of what lies inside. After three turns since the ambush, her mouth has opened to a full circle big enough to fit a person’s arm. However, people note how the inside of this opening seem to be fitted with razors. Plus, a sudden blot of darkness blocks everyone from seeing deep inside. First, Teera takes her staff and fits it as deep as she possibly can without inserting her hands. She does not reach the back of the hole. Erdan even shoots an arrow inside and based on the time it takes for there to be a thunk of any sort, he estimates that there must be a room on the other side. Taking one for the team, Vanhedra then reaches inside. As he finds himself shoulder-deep inside the mouth of this brass face in the likeness of her Serenity, the blades inside suddenly swirl to life, instantly eviscerating his limb. The mouth also snaps shut, leaving but a malicious smirk. Luckily, there is still enough healing magic available to stabilize his bleeding stump.

Having had enough, the party turns their back to this torturous puzzle and returns through the portal still shimmering at the end of the hall from whence they arrived. If their only way out of Sigil is through the portal to that desert world with its black sun, so be it. None wishes to stay in this Cage any longer.

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