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Dead End - A report by Angel

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19 Vultria, 8972 Ta

Source: Angel

Going to Hell
I am reporting back frrom ze latest suicide mission und I am pleased to say zat ve completed ze mission objectives, vich ver as follows:
Eins: Speak to Necromancer Lazarus und Enter ze Gates of Hell. Avoid ze dog mit ze three heads. Trink lots of Schnapps.
Zwei: Asking ze vay thrrough ze highvay ov Hell to ze exit. Trinking lots of schnapps.
Drei: Killing ze verry vell prrotected exit to hell und somehow leaving all ze ded peoples behind. Trink lots of schnapps.
Vier: Landing in a random location in Idenia, surviving long enuff to take a picture viz a strrrange device zat has never bin used bevor. Vaiting to be rescued. Trink lots of schnapps.
Zere vere some interesting zings vich happened on ze vay. I vill keep it qvick, because I need to go back to ze ladies und ze schnapps.
Ve found ze camp of a necromancer called Rotlin M. who vas maintaining ze necrotic portal. Ve also found some of ze correspondence viz ze Cult ov ze Seven Souls. A necromancer called N.K. vas sending assassins to kill him because of experiments his ex-apprentice Marius in Dark Sun had carried out on ze sea of lost souls. Rotlin said zat if nobody maintained ze portal, it vud become unusable in a month. N.K. said it vas a useless portal, out of ze vay und zere vere uzzer und better portals. Ve should interrogate ze bodies of ze necromancers ve killed to find out vhere zese uzzer portals are, Ja. I vud be verry happy to be helping in zis.
Ve never found Rotlin but ve did find a form of spirit jar vich could hold vun hundred souls. It vas built by a necromancer called Venuscus togezzer viz Rotlin. Ze main purpose for ze keeping of ze souls vas to suck ze power frrom zem. Alzo I vud haf liked to trry zis out, Mrs. Pettiweather vud not haf allowed zis, so I did not trry. Mrs. Pettiweather is verry gut at kontrolling ze undead by ze way. I strrongly recommend zat sumvun high up frrom ze Sanktum goes und collects zis Spirit Jar bevor vun ov ze uzzer guilds gets vind ov it und destroys it. It cud be verry useful in ze fight against ze Illurians, Ja. I vud be very happy to guide ze vay…oh, und in order to cross ze power vard, hold ze breath, Ja!
I also found sum bones vich are belonging to an enemy of Rotlin. I am sinking zis could be ze bones of a lady Paladin. Depending on vezzer she is a screaming loonie who hates everysing evil or vezzer she just vants to be killing ze undead sings, I vill either hand ze bones over to Mrs. Pettyweather or to ze Sanktum.
Ve also found ze notes to ze plane of lost souls. It is verry useful und I attach zem to ze back ov zis report. I vill also submit zem in ze Barracks because ven I asked for ze information bevor our mission, I got sum verry silly responses…it is better zat auxiliaries know vat zey are fighting und how to vin against zem. Ve met ze following undead:
- Revenants; Zey only attack if you trry to stop zem. Zey haf a sad final purpose vich zey vant to complete.
- Zombies; move verry slowly. No special defences but lots of hits.
- Skeletons; Hit only by blunt or ze power vepons. Not as many hits as ze zombies
- Spirits of wounding; Only damaged by ze healing spells. Neutral curing verks too.
- Ghouls; Verry qvick. Damaged by blunt und power (maybe sharp vepons too). Zey cause ze power damage mit ze paralysis
- Skeletal warrior; Like a tough skeleton zat goes berserk if hit viz power or magic damage.
- Eviscerated Spirit; Fully armoured und verry purposeful movements viz a big two-handed Schwert!. On ze plane of ze dead severed ze limbs, at night brroke ze limbs und in ze daytime brought ze limbs to zero.
Anvay, ze portal opened up in ze Thornspine Forrest, in Havdan. Ve discovered zat ze Cult of ze Seven Souls had been in operation for 8 months und had convinced ze local hill-billies zat zey vere heroes zat could kill ze undead. Needless to say, ve attracted ze attention of ze Necromancers und so ve killed zem und zeir undead minions.
Ven ve used ze communication device from ze college of air, it attracted ze storm crows, who thought it vas shiney. Because it verked, I did not haf to kill mr. Sqveal und he und I are now ze best of friends. Ja.
So! If you vant more informations, please be finding me in ze Inn vhere I vill be trinking lots of schnapps und shouting "Up ze Bum!" to all my friends, Ja!
Your most unimportant und most expendable new recruit!
Angel Freefall.
Attached to Angel's report:
Introduction to The Sea of Lost Souls:
Necromancers have a bad reputation. It is not unjustified. We do bad things. We have no regard for society's rules. We place our immense ambitions over the petty concerns of others. And yet like all ambitious people with dreams and aspirations we are still sentient individuals. We have passions and feelings, which so easily betray us, tear our grand designs apart and burn them to ashes and dust. This work is constructed from diary extracts from my time spent navigating the sea of lost souls. I hope they will be of value to others as a guide to navigating this dark and inhuman realm and as a guide to the denizens and other pitfalls you may face if you dare venture within. Perhaps it will make possible your dreams. But beware your passions, lest they betray you as did mine.
1. Background
My Passion, my weakness, was for an item, a great item, a legendary item of Necromantic power - The helm of Niggurrat. Rumoured to grant the ability to control a summoned undead so completely one could even see through it's eyes and cast through it's limbs. It had been created in the distant past, perhaps by those mysterious guardians that rest eternal within the haunted hills. It is rumoured Seven Souls himself had possessed it long ago and solved the riddle of it's use, but then lost it again through trickery - the how and why of that story too long and implausible to be told here. I remain certain it to be a mere work of fiction.
Of course any of us would desire The Helm of Niggurrat. All necromancers, even the quiet majority who pursue their own ends and are not active members of the Cult know we are feared by the populace, rooted out and hunted down by establishment forces. With this helm one could spy on or even assassinate one's foes, explore hidden and dangerous places, scout unfamiliar territory, and so on... all without any risk to oneself. Slowly it began to consume me, this idea, a slow rot eating at my proud black heart, and so I searched. I could find so little, only ghosts of rumours -
It was hidden in the sea of souls, it was torn apart along with seven souls. Was it in fact the Pale Duke's crown or woven into the fabric of the liche’s gown? All avenues I had explored to no avail.
But then on Cult business I found myself guest of a certain Lady M, a darklands noblewoman and necromancer sympathetic to our cause. She offered me free reign of her personal library, and there amongst mouldy tomes I found it - an obscure reference - a spear's thrust in the darkest lake, a heart for the helm. I knew what it referred to, a spirit lake known as the pierced heart, a recognisable landmark amongst countless featureless, lifeless lakes.
Power lurks within the lakes. It can be drawn upon, but carefully. Some think it is these lakes which give the sea it's name. Myself I believe that idea a gross simplification. The lake called the Pierced Heart was supposed to be deep within the sea of lost souls, far from anywhere the plane of Eden links with it. Mine would be a long journey through an increasingly harsh and alien realm. I shall spoil the suspense and tell you now that it was a fruitless search that cost me dearly in health and mind, yet I learned much about the sea of lost souls and about my own art whilst I travelled. The purpose of this work is to share some of this knowledge, not dwell on past follies.
2. Planar travels: the creation of a necrotic portal.
I needed a portal to the plane, and one that linked to somewhere as far within it as possible. If you are not familiar with the workings of planar portals, the principles are fairly universal. I suggest you read Tallinnis' text on the topic. All I shall say here is that the effectiveness of necrotic portals are linked to darkness, and of course death, undeath and places of high necromantic influence. The portal I sought to create would need to be in a place and at a time when the necrotic plane was drawn close to our own. I found reference to a battle ground on the darklands border, a place where celtish hordes had swept down from the north and caught a darklands garrison unawares. The people were unprepared. Confusion, fear, horror pain and despair... hopes and dreams - the regrets of those who had never accepted their own mortality. Many souls never found their way to any sphere and became lost on the sea that grim day years ago.
As to the time, well All Hallows is a date even laymen know and fear. The darkest night is when the sea is "closest" but that date was far off, so the date I chose to create my portal was the lunar anniversary of the dire event that caused the area to be haunted. On that anniversary many of the lost souls who perished are drawn back to Eden, becoming revenants, for a brief time. Maybe they seek answers - a chance to find peace. It costs them much to pass between the planes. They draw on their own power and from the power within the sea itself. Native undead upon the plain are also able to follow in their wake to Eden, just as on All Hallow’s eve. In the locality, on that night, native undead will also therefore appear to act according to their nature. When the night passes however, and the spirits are dragged back, so the undead with it, We Necromancers however, are granted an invocation that allows us to 'anchor' the revenant on Eden. Reinforcing the link through the expeditious use of power and using summoned undead as an unliving 'corridor', we create a gateway into the sea of lost souls. A necrotic portal.
The ritual to create a portal is long and complex, involving rigorous application of a cosmic as well several ritual level invocations. Myself and my two acolytes laboured long through the night, while lost souls howled and screamed, rending their own spectral flesh, reliving the last dark moments of their lives, such is the scope of this endeavour that sacrifices must be made. The most ambitious (and dangerously talented) of my acolytes unfortunately met with some unpleasantnesses. Our portal, once created, would persist for several seasons without any act of sustenance, opening on every night that the sea and eden were close enough to each other for the souls to anchor. Some portals are able to stay open each and every night, but given my portal’s ‘stretch’ mine would be but once every few weeks. To that end I also prepared some power reserves in the form of a spirit jar, to help bridge the gap. It was the point I planned to return to - my exit as well as my entry point.
3. Navigation
Navigation is difficult. Like all the planes what one experiences is not true reality, but the best approximation one's senses can render. The sky; shades of grey and black. There are no stars in the sky to navigate by, though a sliver of a crescent moon hangs lifeless and dim - low in the sky.
There are no accurate maps of the sea of lost souls, for there cannot be.
So how does one even start knowing which way to travel? It’s environments are limited. Firstly there is 'the darkening'. A darker shade of grey towards one horizon. If there is a centre to things then that would be it. If one were to walk towards it, so that the grey filled the sky, so legends go, one might reach a place called the Cauldron of Souls, a place none have ever returned from. Pure fancy. If none have returned how do we know what it is called? My path took me close enough however, that even now, ten winters later, my feet shy from turning that way, such was the unaccountable dread that wrenched at my soul and set my heart a-beating.
The black oily 'lakes' (which are of course not actually lakes in the material sense), which make up great county-sized areas of the sea are ever shifting in size and boundary with each other, sometimes merging, sometimes becoming mere puddles in breadth. There is much power within them. As a navigational aid they are unreliable, for the paths one must take from one point to another change from month to month, season to season. The lakes do stay roughly in the same places relative to each other, yet identifying which lake it is can be challenging when their size varies so. The 'heart' I sought could have been so vast the other side was a dark smudge, or small enough to leap across and indeed only at certain times might it resemble a heart at all, if it had grown such that it merged with another.
The 'further' from Eden, and the nearer the darkening, the less like Eden they superficially resemble. The lakes become swirling, almost sentient things, that reflect back at you what you hate about yourself. If one were to look into them deeply, as I did, once, one may become dizzy, the 'waters' disturbed by your looking at them, things moving somewhere below, pale shapes that rise from fathomless deeps and brush the surface. Beware those who dare tred near them, for there are no shallows to the lakes of the realm of lost souls, only unfathomable descent. Perhaps, as some have posited, the land is mere floating detritus upon one vast sea of spirit, but I have seen too much that contradict this. The ways of the dead are inconsistent and strange.
If one looks for ways beyond the lakes, one can travel beneath the leafless shade of towering pitch black tree-like entities that grow monstrously huge. They are neither living, nor undead. The belief that they will paralyse with their limbs and suck out your spirit should you touch them without power protection is myth, however the occasional ‘plant’ holding strange and deadly properties does exist and should be treated with caution. The nearer to the darkening one wanders, the 'trees' become less and at the same time more than natural growing things, coiled knots of rotting darkness warped into twisted parodies of beasts and limbs - how trees might seem in the mind of one dreadfully afeared of them. Mists descend often between their trunks, sinuous tendrils which seek; questing, hungering for ways into the material plane. Like the lakes, power is within them, and like the lakes, if one stirs them, enters them, draws upon them, native undead spirits rise up to meet you.
And then there are the places where rocks rise in place of vegetation, and chasms rend the ground. Breeding ground for shadows. Here the hisses of ghouls come from unseen crevices. Shining eyes watch unblinking in the darkness as one scrabbles like an insect across boulders and into ravines. It is a dangerous landscape. As the traveller heads into the darkening these areas become even more so. One invariably finds caves that end in impenetrable blackness, pits which if a stone falls into make no echo as it disappears into endless abyss. Rocks that seemed before so solid crumble easily into dust under foot. making one stumble - ever at risk of tumbling into pits or crevices. Power radiates from those dark voids, and within many of the greatest of the native undead there lurk.
Far from the darkening, at the other extreme, there are vast cold grey deserts, that stretch for endless miles. You may travel a week and see no native undead, a lone skeleton’s footprints marking a path taken months before, for no wind stirs the sands. Only a man seeking death would enter such an unnavigable area, and unlike the material world, the only oasis one might plausibly find would contain only poison and terror. The power is spread thinly there, perhaps held within tiny fragments. Perhaps the power itself is each tiny grain of sand? There is nothing there for anyone, except the lost that roam without hunger or thirst.
One of the best, and yet most perilous of aids to navigation are the domains of greater undead, few and far between - leagues apart if one were to travel the sea. These vary in size from hovels and habitations right up to towns and necropolises, citadels and temples. Sometimes ruled by one of the greatest sentient native undead, a mummy king, a dire wraith, some ancient guardian of undeath. Perhaps by mortals or former mortals from Eden and other non-native planes, a vampire lord, perhaps even an undying liche (of whom the wider world remembers only one). In any case, to enter these places is to place oneself totally in the power of someone or something immensely deadly indeed, even the least of them beloved of the Necrotic sphere and in possession of many boons and much favour. I did so once and was lucky to avoid a grimmer fate than death. The majority of necrotic portals from Eden lead to places such a these, but only a fool would tred such a path without prior invitation.
Truly the only way to navigate surely through the sea is through the use of it’s inhabitants, be they native to the plane, or spirits - those we call lost souls, for the routes between the greatest domains are trod by many an unearthly messenger.
4. Basic Survival
Nothing edible or drinkable washes up on the shores of the sea of lost souls. Things may be found, substances and objects which seem to resemble something familiar but are mere shadows. A dream of a fatal pestilence, the sweet drink which masks a bitter poison, the dagger that found it's way into a lover's bare back. I easily brought water and food to last many weeks, for by drawing on the power of my sphere I reduce my body's needs for life giving sustenance. It does not lessen the hunger however - hunger is a feeling cherished by the sphere. Some have chosen to extend their lives by such a means, but what a miserable existence that would surely be.
Sleep I could not put off however. Although none of the lesser native undead would harm me due to a long running neutrality to undead invocation, they would still pass by. I had my own subordinate minions summoned to fend off such nuisances and to wake me at the first sign of a greater threat. It lead to many interrupted rests, a draining experience.
The cold is tomb-like, for no sun warms the air and no heat comes from beneath. Although I have never known it rain, a chill mist often descends that slowly leaves you frozen to the bones . I advise you to to wrap in many layers and never remove them.
And then of course there are the undead.
5. Native Undead.
It is important to draw the distinction between lost souls and native undead (sentient and non sentient). Both can be perilous to the foolish or unwary. I shall deal with lost souls later, and talk first of what I know.
As all know, all undead have ranks which may vary slightly, but only slightly from individual to individual. At lay rank they increase in rank from Zombies (R1) to skeletons (R2), shadows (R3) and finally Ghouls (R4). By far the most common undead, they pose an insignificant threat to any halfway competent kind of necromancer. All of the above should be easily kept neutral to you through a long running neutrality to undead and therefore of no great concern. Despite their vast numbers, lay ranked undead rarely gather on the sea itself, except at portal entrances and other ‘thin points’ between the sea and other planes, and although there are more found in areas which spawn them, where there is an abundant necrotic power source, they tend to move away from them, spreading across the sea as water spreads to fill a container. Be aware however that native undead appear spontaneously in the sea of lost souls, so always be prepared between invocations, particularly with ghouls around. Always keep control undead vocals on the tip of your tongue and never forget they are intelligent, devilishly spiteful, possessed of the feral cunning of man or wolf, and will twist your commands to your detriment.
It is important to note that native undead within the sphere can only be controlled temporarily, unlike your own raised minions, which are bonded to you - the chains that bind them being the very corpse used in their creation. If you take control of one remember you can only do so for the spell’s duration, and if it is even halfway sentient it will be coming for you. On the positive side, do not fear that the undead raised by you into a corpse on Eden will break from your control within the sea - they are yours, bound to their bodies wherever you or they go.
Ritual ranked undead are where the greatest dangers lie to even the most cautious traveller, for your simplest means of destroying/neutralising them cannot be instantly cast. Obviously you cannot dismiss them, for the same reason you cannot dismiss a fire elemental on the plane of fire - they are already home. Ritual ranked undead are less likely to wander aimlessly than lay ranked. They tend to find a space that suits them and settle there - like spiders only revealing themselves if roused or they detect life nearby. They are also found, but rarely, in small groups wandering the sea like roving packs of wolves.
Now having said that native undead are rarely found in numbers, the most powerful undead draw many to them of ritual and cosmic rank. Rank 8, 9 and 10 undead tend to be found in areas of considerable power, and are almost never alone. What compels them to group together, whilst lower rank undead show little natural inclination to is a mystery, although it is true that a Skeletal knight (R8) is a lot closer to sentience than a Skeletal Warrior (R6), which in turn is more likely to parry a blow than a mindless Skeleton (R2). Many of the realms within the sea are ruled by undead of cosmic rank. If you dare enter one of these places, and beware for they are never signposted you may find oneself in the clutches of a Rank 9 Skeletal Djinn, a Mummy lord or Vampire lord, a Champion of undeath, a legendary Rank 10 Guardian of the Underworld or some creature whos necromantic power is beyond ranking. Your best bet if this were to happen is to bargain for your life. While a High Priest necromancer could summon such to the material plane and command them to do their bidding, even they reportedly prefer to strike deals, for such powerful, intelligent creatures do not take kindly to being ordered around. By anyone. Tread carefully.
There are some undead which are more likely to cross your path in your travels. I faced many of them. I shall not waste your time on ones which are straight-forward to deal with such as Skeletal warriors - simply use your own minions to crush them under your weight of numbers. A Shadow (R5), Apparition (R6) or Wraiths (R7) is dangerous for its non-corporeal nature. A wall of other undead is no barrier to it - it can pass unnoticed through your camp, drawn like a huge black moth to your living warmth, and incapacitate you with debilitating effects before you even know it was there. Keep your own power damage causing minions close by, with standing orders to swiftly destroy them, and don’t be shy to let rip with your own power to take them down quickly. Even high ranked undead have to spawn somewhere. A Spirit of Death (R8) wandered into my camp whilst I took rest by the shores of a large spirit lake. I was thankful for my preparations, for it could easily have ended my long and fruitless quest there and then. Perhaps it was the Sphere’s idea of a joke.
Ghasts (R5), Fetches (R7), and within enclosed areas, Tomb Creepers (R6) and Crypt Things (R8) are often encountered, but neutralised simply by the unwavering vigilance of your wall of minions. They are always dangerous however for they are fast, cunning and infinitely patient, The very things which make them so valuable for us to summon. If unchecked, the number of them stalking you can slowly increase such that if some other disturbance distracts you and they spot a weakness, they can strike you down. Unlike ghouls who will only strike to kill paralysed foes when there is no other threat, Fetches in particular will paralyse you then continue to strike you. Hunt them down and destroy each one as soon as you become aware of it lurking in the dark, even if it should delay your journey.
Wights (R7) and Mummies (R7) never leave their particular lairs and are so easily avoided. They are both highly territorial. Wights are very aggressive, being particularly jealous of their horded possessions. The debilitating and often fatal disease effects of the slow moving Mummy makes them the far greater threat.
Banshees (R8), unlike many other high ranked undead tend to roam, particularly in the ‘forest’ mists, and are worth being aware of for their shreek, which will leave you unconscious if not dead. Make sure, therefore you are not relying too heavily on another’s summons to protect you. When my fool of an apprentice set all his summons on me, convinced I meant to destroy him I was forced to do just that in order to save my own hide.
6. Lost Souls and Revenants, Vampires and Wendigos
To speak with spirits, harness their energy and gain their confidence and cooperation, that is mostly the concern of Nigromancy - a lesser, weak sect which shies away from absolute control, harnessing the true power that the sphere can bring. It is nevertheless useful for the necromancer to know something of spirits and their nature, for we can control and command spirits that have become lost in the sea of lost souls, just as we can native undead. The nature of spirits also touches on vampires - perhaps the most dangerous native undead of them all.
I shall attempt to explain briefly what I have learnt. Spirits are the remnants of those who have died. When a mortal dies it’s soul is torn from it’s body, but the connection to it remains. Why this is is a mystery to me at least, but it has been proven to be so. When this happens a physical and spiritual projection of the soul, which we call a spirit is manifested. Some of these spirits are accepted into their sphere for shelter, whilst a few, those with no great passions, or those traumatised at the moment of death cannot find their way and become lost souls. Unlike those accepted into their sphere, or sheltered in other ways by means such as nigromancy, lost souls are vulnerable. Their mortal lives and the memories of their emotions seem real, whilst all else seems dreamlike and vague. They know they are lost but know not what they are looking for. If they discover this however their situation is unlikely to improve. A few may possess or be granted enough power by the sphere to bridge the gap between the planes and become revenants or other similar undead (why the sphere sometimes does this is hotly debated - I believe it is to create a path for native undead to follow). Perhaps there they will ultimately escape their fate. The vast majority however are doomed to ultimately madness, despair and ultimately dissolvement into the necrotic sphere, or else enslavement by necromancers and nigromancers for their knowledge or even simply as an easily tappable power reserve.
So how are they a danger to you? Well lost souls may know you by your actions or spherical alignment and seek your downfall - the lost soul of a paladin may conspire to lead you into danger, or else they may be the eyes and ears of some of the greater denizens of the sea, or indeed another necromancer. This may sound small compared to some of the other entities discussed, but in reality the sentient intelligence of lost souls is more likely to bring you into peril than the obvious threat of something such as a Zombie Warrior.
Vampires (R7) and Wendigos (R7) are similar in that from the merger of a soul and a native undead they have true sentience and therefore their own agendas, not just the sphere’s vague imperative to slay the living. The greatest Vampire Lords (R9) have Necrotic power to high rank, the power to hypnotise and enthrall, become incorporeal at will, on top of having blood power in their bite such that they can find you anywhere. If bitten you will never truly be free from them unless you destroy them utterly, for once marked they will surely find you and make you their own, even if it takes years of cunning plotting. They have all the time in the world. Vampire Thralls (R5) are no lesser threat, as although they rarely possess all the powers of their masters, they are still extremely dangerous for they possess the skills of their past life and their own intelligence, combined with the fact they are carrying out the fiendish agenda of their master.
7. Conclusion
The sea of lost souls contains many dangers. If you truly desire to walk its grim, grey paths ask yourself if there is no easier way? Is there not a safer, yet longer route to power? If you cannot be dissuaded from your folly, I beg you, do not shy from visiting me. I am certain I can help with your quest. My master, the great Lord Ludwig Von Middenharken gladly invites you visit me in his domain, the castle Middenharken, found in the crested grey wastes overlooking the great black serpent lake on the borders of the haunted hills and the Darklands.