The Fall of Faith

Gleaning the Cube

The night and second day in the torn lands of the Kuffu

The night burned steadily onward. Having found no recourse to infiltrating the odd cube which is the font of the horrors, the one calling himself Jaq’n settled into a fire-scorched ruin, putting his back to a mostly-solid wall, and examining the strange box which brought him to this land. Hours passed and eventually, the rogue coaxed some of its secrets to light.

There was a name attached to the Will that had done all this now. A name and a telling piece of information. Alien or demon though it might be, it felt love and wonder and fear, all the same. It is a man, or close enough as to make no difference. There would be a pulse, a warmth, and a reason for this madness. Blood drops, three in count, struck the rogue’s misty cloak from far above, as another poor wretch was flown high overhead in the darkness. Soundless, and hopefully dead. The rogue was certain these poor souls were being eaten, being fed to the clockwork and gear-driven devils inside the smoldering cube.

The miniature cube, the box that brought him here, provided names, some thoughts, and a bit of string. This string seethed with the Will of its Maker, the owner of the Cube, as he was certain it would prove useful in more than one way. It was quickly secreted into a fold in the rogue’s glove, and he who is now named Jaq’n Hahhr set off to find the Magus and those who he presumed to be the others in his gathering, the distant figures who had battled the Mantises in the evening’s waning light.

Within an hour, the rogue was quietly forcing his way into a brilliant, pristine domicile which bespoke more of the vast power of the Magus. Clean, defended and entirely whole, it was the only safe structure in the shattered town, and voices could be heard raised in debate within.

The rogue entered and watched, taking the measure of the men assembled by what must be an opposing will to the madman within the Cube. A vast, but lithe knight templar of some faraway world, tremendously regal in bearing and carrying some inner glow that is somehow hard to look at. The rogue has seen people who are as this man is, and things hardly ever end well for the rogue’s kind in such combinations, but at least there is a known quantity here now and one who will be at piece with his lot and purpose. The knight quests for his lord or his God and is clear on where he must go and what must come next.

The Magus smokes his clover and otherwise burns down the world with his eyes. The rogue sees in this man all the power, arrogance, and demeanor of wizards everywhere, particularly in the far east of the rogue’s own home, where wizards are cannibals who will devour any power they encounter. This wizard makes what must be ironic comments of a “War College”, twisting the logic of words that are supposed to represent higher learning and culture, and instead inferring there are places where the gentlemen and the elite of his world go to learn their death-dealing. More’s the horror if this is the truth of the matter. He bears watching.

Then there is the priest. Of the Forged race, and old-yet-not. He carries with him an eon of tradition, and the words of his fathers and grandfathers etched in the stone of his ruddy face. Another oddity is the darkling light that bellows from his recent acquisition, the war-blade named Vamut. This dwarf is steeped in the rites and times of his land, and the rogue quickly realizes that the Forged one hails from some far-off savage Karak from the rogue’s own world, in the lands of Ruus perhaps. The will that bore them all here has a long reach to find and snare this one.

They discuss the horrors of the day and what tomorrow will bring. Jaq’n Hahhr steps neatly into the conversation when the time is full and introduces himself into their august presence. The unreality of the situation intensifies even more. Within a heart’s beat, he is accepted without question into the gathering. This very simple assumption puts the rogue fully on his heels. No one ever, in either of his histories, has so completely, easily, and quickly accepted the itinerant bowman into their company before. The rogue strokes the mask that makes him appear as a simple manling Bedouin and sighs inwardly. At least they share salt, bread and water with him at ease, and that is worth the deception. Any deception.

The day begins with the Magus again ensorcelling more fell imps to their undeath, this time rescuing the Vizier from a well-deserved fate. As the party’s companion, he is a fool, and should watch his life more carefully. His familiar Goff, is a mageling and he analyzes the totems of priest and knight, all the better to help them understand the why’s of their summons. Although the box and his true totem (the string) burns a hole in the secret fold of his belt, the one calling himself Jaq’n Hahhr offers neither for inspection. Secrets and wills manifest themselves in their own time, and what’s more, the rogue lacks the requisite wealth the others have in abundance.

They assault the Cube. The Magus harrowingly transforms the rogue into a baleful, poison-engorged spider, and speaks directly into his mind. The priest protects him from heat (without knowing such is redundant for the eldritch desert dweller) and borrows the rogue’s eyes for himself. Such is the powerful company who is still forced to wait without while the killer scouts ahead. Blast furnace tunnels and dead ends and frustration are the only discoveries. They must dare the Mantis gate.

Again, it is Jaq’n who begins, scurrying himself beyond the Mantises into a clockwork nightmare. Dozens more of the golems hang in storage, quiet in the dark. A huge still place, dank and dark, built of some odd metal. A room at the far end, a devilish cage, the butcher’s table itself. Blood and viscera drench the small room, replete with the supreme oddity: scatters of white feathers. One vanishes into the rogue’s hidden pouches, as does the sacred charm of one of the priest’s fallen battle brothers. There is nothing else here but the gear-shorn maw of the devil below.

They return without and clamber up the side of the Cube itself, rope and gauntlets charring with the intense heat. More of the bastard imps descend and the rogue grins humorlessly to see that this trio of such incredible might can be put off by what amounts to a Djinn’s fleas. The Magus finally loses his patience, grants himself the ability to soar like a falcon, and incinerates the pack of them with his eyes alone. The rogue’s own misty covering burns off as the imps scream their last, and the group finds the second eating hole.

Jaq’n manages to undo the lock and trigger the door, keeping himself from plummeting in, and chuckles at its simplicity, unaware that the Will that has brought him here dislikes such haughtiness. He would pay for that and for the whim he entertained watching his fellows struggle up the charred ropes outside. The universe has no place for hubris, a man must be taught his place.

The rogue finds the abattoir, a horrid, horrid cave-like room filled with the dead and dying of the town, the priest still stealing the light from Jaq’n’s eyes, displaying to all the scope of the evil taking place in the belly of the cube. The way down is only for the doomed, the Will owning this place is elsewhere. He must be found and ended. Soon.

The one calling himself Hahhr returns to the group and attacks one of the gorgeous byzantine doors nearby. This is where his lesson arises, and he is nearly killed by an intricate and somehow horrid but fascinating trap involving metal wires of some strange make. The rogues plummets to the ground bloodied and immediately humbled, and the soothing, grumbling words of the priest are what keeps Jaq’n from finding the solace of unconsciousness. His lesson learned, the rogue promises himself that he will bleed this will, this Xascoratu, whatever form of clockwork horror or man he might be.

And that he will be more respectful around the doors of floors of this nightmare.

Comments

Our first day in the desert ended with a well deserved rest. Fynias conjured a nicely appointed shelter for us to take some solace from the devastation outside, but it did little to calm the soul.

It is odd how quickly my new companions and I have settled into the role of comrades in arms. Only some great unifying purpose can be the explanation, though we are each at a loss to say what that purpose might be. Xascoratu is the common thread, but who or what that actually is bears further exploration.

We were an impressive assembly to be sure. Dorak of the Bofcral Clan, another man of faith and though he was from a land I had never heard of it seems the hearts and minds of the mountain folk are unmistakable no matter their origins. Then there is Fynias the War Wizard. He is by far the most formidable mage I have seen from the College in Cormyr, but I think he has yet to learn the patience and humility that must come with power.

Our discussions continued with more appropriate introductions and, of course, many questions about what the ominous cube outside the city could be. The only answers were inside, that much was certain. As best I could tell, the cube was an artifice of Mechanus, but that was where all sense stopped. The retrievers, though machines themselves, were certainly not created by the same architects of the cube. Beyond that, it made no sense that any craftsmen of the Machine World would so directly aid the designs of the lower planes. The conspiracy theories began to spin out of control so I quieted my mind and let the others discuss the issue.

As the conjecture was reaching a dead end, another voice entered the discussion. It should have caused some shock, or at the very least an inquiry, but the one called Jaq’n was folded into the conversation without so much as a pause. Perhaps recent events have desensitized the group to the unknown, or perhaps as far as the unknowns we are faced with, the appearance of a man from the shadows was far down the list of threats.

He has the look of the desert folk from the lands east of my home, but he is from some other far-flung place on the Astral Sea. Called here to the “gathering of will” as he calls it. He seems ready enough to help and I sense nothing sinister about him, despite the theatrics of his entrance, to be put off.

I am far from home, no doubt, but as the desert sky darkened I was filled with comfort as the moon came into view. Though the stars are different, even in this unknown place Her light finds me and is a source of strength so I spent the night outside our shelter to give thanks. My prayers go to Father Dariel and I hope he can survive in this place until I can discover his whereabouts.

There was little need for conversation in the morning. There was no question what our course of action had to be. Each of us had our own reasons for investigating the fiendish cube, and if there was any need for further motivation, there was still a slim hope that some of the innocent townsfolk could be spared a horrible fate.

As we approached the cube we could spy more imps circling the top-most face, some in groups clutching unsuspecting locals in their razor sharp claws and dropping them inside. The closest face had a large door with more Retrievers standing sentry.

The malevolence that radiated from the cube was more overwhelming than the heat which cast a haze around the entire perimeter. The sheer magnitude of vile will would have seared the mind of a weaker man, but She is with me always, and thus strength of heart is never in waning.

There would be no easy way to gain entry to the cube, and Jaq’n’s reconnoiter of the interior revealed only a “nest” of Retrievers that was dispatching them periodically into the desert, no doubt to spread terror and destruction to other settlements. Beyond that there was some sick device that seemed to be used to devour the unfortunate victims of the imps.

We would have to scale the outside and try to enter through the imps’ aviary. There was no end of difficulty dealing with the imps as they did everything in their power to deter our ascent. After several minutes of interference Fynias reached the top and incinerated the lot otherwise Dorak and I may never have crested the top.

The inside of the cube was like looking into Hell cast in metal. If the heat and twisted metal wasn’t enough, the walls were covered in murals and carvings depicting all manner of carnage and infernal punishments. All that was easy enough to dismiss, after all I had come to bring the fight to the denizens of the Hell. However, the long, vacant halls of the cube echoed with the tortured cries of its victims. Some were still alive, but were they better off?

I had too much time as Jaq’n searched through the halls for access to the heart of the cube. Standing and waiting as innocents suffered and a stranger took the risks of this place upon himself did not sit well, and no sooner did the thought cross my mind than a vicious trap sprung from the floor pinning our scout to the ceiling and cutting a meshwork of searing wounds along his exposed flesh.

Fortunately Dorak’s compassion is equal to his zeal, and any permanent harm was averted, but who knows what other dangers lay in wait for us further inside. Everything about this machine is lethal not to mention despicable. It is time to marshal our strength and push deeper into this thing and take the fight to Xascoratu itself.

Gleaning the Cube
The Mad Viking

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