Our session begins at the Skull’s Crossing Dam, where our group still faces the decision of what to do about the pit fiend in the ward. Without negotiating with the devil, we have no other apparent way to stop the dam from bursting and killing more of the citizens down the river at Turtleback Ferry. With the group at a perplexed standstill, Eric settles on an idea and cryptically asks Wallace to follow behind him. The only clue as to what he had planned were the words, “Enough of this.”
He heads back into the room and opens the portcullis between us and the pit fiend. Without any more hesitation, Eric charges the devil with his earth breaker. By the time any of the others in the group can do anything other than gasp at this decision, the pit fiend flies up toward the ceiling, pokes Eric with his claw, and makes the paladin disappear. He claims to have sent him “home.” Wallace reports what he saw and heard to Zazz, who believes he must’ve been sent to another plane. The pit fiend offers to bring Eric back to us eventually if we’re willing to free him and pay him a high price. We consider this offer in stunned silence, wishing Eric would simply reappear.
After being touched, Eric finds himself in pitch darkness where the heat is oppressive and everything feels profoundly wrong to him. Luckily immune to fear, the paladin lights the area with a divine bond on his earth breaker. He sees a giant vault 50 feet tall in front of him, covered in infernal runes. Four nasty creatures who stand seven feet tall and look pissed are in this room with him, and they’re more than happy to take the fight to him.
Back at the dam, the pit fiend and Zazz get into a war of words about how long the pit fiend can afford to wait in his cell and how long Eric will last in the horrible place he sent him. Zazz mentions how it looks like a pit fiend in the other ward didn’t fare as well, which sparks a crazy idea for Wallace. He opens the other portcullis and walks into the ward. Zazz follows him, but Aella knows better than to mess around with dangerous magical structures. As a result, she hears a buzzing from the room with the dam controls. She makes her way over to the controls, seeing a sudden glowing green button. She hits the button, causing agonizing pain to both Zazz and Wallace as their life forces are magically drained to power the dam. Meanwhile, the pit fiend is completely disintegrated to dust. The dam is powered back up and the water drains from behind the dam. The town is saved for now, but we’re still quite Eric-less.
Back in the vault, Eric prays to Torag for aid as he fights for his life against the bearded devils. He holds his own for an admirable time, but their ability to teleport all around him and whittle him down with their flanking and reinforcements from spiky quilled-creatures eventually knocks the proud paladin unconscious and drags him off to whatever awful fate awaits him in this awful place.
Back in the material plane, the rest of the group decides to leave the dam after determining we can’t help Eric from there. We trek back to Fort Rannick before nightfall, hoping to continue on to Turtleback Ferry the next day and ask around for help and advice. After spending the night at the fort, Wallace is awoken by the arrival of his mentor Baroque. Baroque claims a fortune teller in Magnimar told him that Ragathiel himself wanted the cleric to go help an adventurer lost in hell. He tells Wallace he made his way to Turtleback Ferry and followed our trail to the fort. He pledges to help us go find Eric, but we still need to obtain enough diamond dust to cast a plane shift spell.
We return to Turtleback Ferry, sell off some of our most recent loot, and speak briefly with Mayor Shreed. We pool our gold to stock up on supplies for the upcoming trip to hell that none of us are looking forward to. Aella in particular is quite reluctant to go traipsing off to hell to save a paladin who brought this mess upon his own head. In the end, however, her inner heroine wins out and the group of us shift planes to the first layer of hell.
As expected, it’s a grim place. Armed only with our new supplies, the knowledge that we’re looking for something called a hellmouth that will enable us to descend to the next layer of hell, and our best estimate from a divination spell that Eric is likely trapped on the third layer where the vaults of the greedy demon lord Mammon await in Erebus, the group takes in the barren landscape. Everything is red, dark, and horrifying here in this terrible place, and it’s only the first layer. The landscape seems to stretch off into infinity, but we can see a river and fortresses out on the horizon. Much closer is a figure 100 feet away that makes its way towards us when it spots us. We’re all on edge, but it winds up being a spectral halfling who begs us to help him. Naturally suspicious because of where we are, we neglect to offer much aid, and the halfling flees away. The devil and hounds who were pursuing him catch him, rip him to shreds, and then carry off the pieces.
We start to walk toward the fortress, encountering a bearded devil and four hell-hounds of our own on the way. Considering we’re in hell, we win this fight more easily than we expected. We loot the devil’s corpse, finding some weapons and an odd item Zazz identifies as a soul gem. We smash the gem to free the soul trapped within, and are reunited with Longjiku Kaijitsu. A descent into hell has not made Ameiko’s father any less of a douche-nozzle, but the old codger follows us at a distance despite his dislike of our group because he has nothing better to do.
We continue on foot until we’re really tired. Day and night don’t function here, as time just continues to pass without change, but we decide to bed down for the “night” in Zazz’s escape-rope camp set up in an old smashed suit of armor. Other than Longjiku setting us all on edge by climbing up the rope and laying down near us, nothing particularly awful happens as we rest. When we awake, we continue our quest and cut through a cratered area. Jets of flame shoot up and scorch us, and Wallace is quite grateful that Baroque’s presence means two channelers can heal the group together now.
Continuing on, we spot four black-winged erinyes in an aerial dogfight with an elvish flying wind spirit. These fallen angels are ganging up on an azata, and we race in to assist the good being. This turns into a much tougher fight than the devil and the hounds, and Zazz has to dimension-door Wallace away from the erinyes before they can kill him. The azata tells us to flee before exploding to take one of the fallen angels with him. Baroque is fine with leaving this battle behind, but Aella’s rage is just getting started. She roars back into the fray, taking down one angel and severely injuring another. The fourth angel teleports away, while the combination of Zazz’s telekinetic fist and his summoned rhinos take the last one down.
We have no time to catch our breath after this battle before we hear a rumbling noise coming closer. An army of thousands of sludge devils is coming straight for us, as if our luck wasn’t bad enough already. We start running, dodging fragments of rusted weapons raining down on us as we flee. The chase is on, and there are plenty of obstacles in our path. Zazz literally flies through the path with little trouble. Aella maintains a safe distance between her and the approaching army, but Wallace struggles for a time until he casts blessing of fervor to speed himself up. Even with the added speed, he needs help from Zazz in the form of suppressing a wall of flames to make it a safe distance from the nightmarish army.
Everyone has survived to this point, but we’re now in what seems to be a decrepit treasure vault. Baroque stumbles upon a hidden door that reveals a staircase leading down into the darkness. Zazz casts light on Wallace’s face, and the group heads down 100 feet to a room containing a black obsidian pedestal. A box sits atop the pedestal, and it radiates strong magic. Zazz intimidates Longjiku into going to open the box. Doing so sets off a trap that hurts all of us but completely obliterates the Kaijitsu man’s soul for good. We almost feel bad for the old grouch, though in the end we might’ve saved him from a worse fate here in hell. Zazz steps forward and takes the pouch that awaited within the box. Inside, he finds a deck of tarot cards. Ominously, none of us have any idea what these 22 cards do. As we begin to camp out for another sleeping session, Zazz examines the cards more closely. A voice in his head asks him if he wishes to draw some cards, but he resists for now.
After sleeping, we wake up to find the river and the other fortress seem closer than they were before. Another long walk finally brings us to the river. Like everything else in this foul plane, the river isn’t quite right. Nothing grows here, and the water’s currents are all strange. After a short examination, we’re pretty sure this is the River Styx. We also know we don’t want to touch the water. As soon as we start thinking how helpful a ferry boat would be, a ferryman appears. He generously offers us passage across the river for two gold apiece, and we accept. Of course, he decides he wants to renegotiate halfway across and asks us for one of our souls. We’re all rather attached to our souls, however, and are in no hurry to sign an agreement. He asks us to make a counter-offer, and after some back and forth decides to challenge us to combat. He gets our souls if he wins, but has to drop us off on the other side unharmed if we win.
The group works together well in this fight, but the ferryman is no pushover. He inflicts negative levels on both Aella and Wallace, and we have to close our eyes while fighting to avoid having to make will saves against his terrifying gaze. Aella does a great job injuring him, but it’s hard to say whether it’ll be enough. In this desperate hour, Zazz pulls out his deck of tarot cards and draws one. It’s the card bearing scales, and it reverses his alignment to lawful evil. None of the rest of us know yet about Zazz’s paradigm shift, and continue to battle back against the ferryman.
At last, our Styx navigator decides we’ve proven ourselves and he yields. He drops us off on the other side of the river and hands off his staff to Wallace with the request that we not forget him. We bed down shortly after, and Wallace awakes the next morning feeling frigid and horrible. Baroque takes a closer look and diagnoses his student with the devil chills. Wallace pulls out his remove disease scroll and manages to cure himself of the awful disease before it can grow any worse.
The fortress awaits next time on Rise of the Runelords as we continue this branch off from the main quest. We will continue to search for our lost friend even as Eric undoubtedly faces horrors all his own. Whether any of us will manage to continue surviving our vacation in hell remains to be seen, but it’s sure to be a harrowing tale as we search next session for the hellmouth that will take us deeper into the most awful place we’ve ever been.