"It is easy to go down into Hell; night and day, the gates of dark Death stand wide; but to climb back again, to retrace one's steps to the upper air - there's the rub, the task." -- Virgil
So it's up the hill to check out the baths. The inner gate between the lower and upper city is open, and well trafficked. The guards are wearing red (blood red) pantaloons and red tunics. Hunter: "Why have we gone to the baths? Are you trying to tell me I smell bad?" Cena: "First, we can get some soap to take with us, which is helpful for a number of reasons." Hunter: "Right, like hygiene." Cena: "Second, I wanted to get a look at the upper city. And third, we all need a nice bath." And it's coed!
There's a really large square up here. Acres and acres of marble. Sort of match the forty foot tall walls. Hmmm. There is something out there these people really want to keep out. The mosque is in a walled courtyard, and the minarets are clearly visible from up here. On the other side of the portico in the courtyard is the entrance to the bath house. Cena had purchased soap down below, but Ariana had not, so she goes to one of the vendors and purchases some.
Everyone is keen to take a bath, but Ariana is a bit on the shy side, but she is able to dart into the water using her towel for coverage, and then Robert takes her off into a corner to 'protect' her. Boy, does the bath feel good! Ghaer's choice of bath oil rather than soap works really well, and he's all fluffy like. Get in, get clean, get out, is Hunter's thought. Cena can't help but think about all the bacteria in the warm water here, but ah well - if it means getting clean, whatever.
Once the party is all clean and squeaky, it's time to continue the quest. Out of the baths, and into the burnoose clad citizens. Even the Vargrs are wearing burnooses (burnoose?), but that makes sense, since it means less sand in their fur. There is a cry from the mosque as the group gathers outside of the baths, and the locals head that way - it appears to be the call to prayer. Hunter: "Do we really want to go into the mosque when they're praying?"
There's a large gate in the wall surrounding the mosque, with more of the guards. Beyond the interior courtyard is a two-story tall door into the dark mosque itself. Most of the people are kneeling down in the courtyard, and Robert follows suit, since "when in Rome...." There are some acolytes in white, very young looking, but no priestesses apparently.
There is another call from the minaret, the people lower their heads to pray, and there is the sound of what is not Solomani prayers at all, but sound like Vilani - at least to Robert and Cena. It's Solomani Islamic forms, but with Vilani language. How odd. Hunter and Cena go outside the courtyard, to not bother the praying the people, and so Hunter can smoke and adjust his bits. Hunter sees a group of people, and a man looks at Hunter, talks to the four blond haired blue-eyed men with him. The man then does the "there he is!" (the tone of voice, rather than the words) and the group runs towards Hunter and Cena. Hunter grins and waits, spear poised. Cena makes sure they're backs are covered (they are, by the mosque wall), then takes a relaxed stance and waits for the bad guys to get closer.
Inside the courtyard, Ghaer, who can see one level into the ultraviolet and one into the infrared more than humans can, can see a glow from inside the mosque that is not 'normal'. Robert is trying to memorize all the spatial coordinates of the mosque. So he can navigate it later, no doubt.
The expressions of the charging party resemble the Regina "social" brawl, as opposed to the "I'll kill them" concerted attack. So Hunter prepares for his second favorite form of social interaction, and grounds his spear in favor a a "friendly" brawl. Two of the five are coming after Cena, and three after Hunter. He's the dangerous looking one (and the man), and since he put his weapon down, he must be surrendering. Cena hits first, pulling her blow as she didn't intend to kill anybody at this stage. It's a good thing she did, as she straight arms the first man running towards her, and hits him in the chest. OOF! He drops (which was her intention). Hunter hits the first of his opponents on the arm - very hard. Now it's the bad guys' turns. The second man going for Cena was surprised by her stepping forward to engage, and he grabs thin air, then stares at his fallen comrade. The other two men on Hunter grab him - around the waist and by the right upper arm. Hunter kicks the leg of the man holding his arm, with his off-world boots. He hits him in the upper leg - whack that femur! Cena turns her attention to her second target, spins and does a quick stomp to his foot and ankle. There's an unpleasant couple of cracks. (That would be his foot and ankle.) Followed by a scream that is heard inside the courtyard. Oops. Oh well, both of her assailants are down now.
Hunter is punched in the chest by the man holding his arm (he hits like a girl), and the thigh. Now that hurts! Hey, no fair - they're triple-timing Hunter. Hunter <to the kicker>: "You kick like a <bleeping> girl." This carries into the courtyard, but the faithful are going inside the mosque. Robert <to Ghaer>: "That was Hunter. Should we check it out?" Ghaer: "Do you think they need help?" Robert: "They didn't ask for help." They can take care of themselves.
Cena: "Hey, I'm a girl." Hunter goes for the man hanging on his right arm, grabbing and breaking the man's pinkie. OW! Since Hunter is dawdling with his guys, Cena goes for the man who is apparently the ringleader, and is not currently engaged with Hunter. She decides it's time to find out what's going on, so she gets the man into a pain compliance choke hold. The man is bright enough to realize that it's time to stop struggling when it hurts like that. Hunter is hit in the chest, which is armored, by the man with the broken finger, who does damage to himself and not to Hunter. The waist hugger tries to knee Hunter, missing the main target, but hitting Hunter in his upper leg. That's going to bruise.
Cena: "Could we perhaps chat about this?" Man: "Simon, let him go." The man holding Hunter's waist lets go and backs off. Hunter, being from Regina, feels Simon let go, and elbows him in the spine as he starts to stand up. Simon is unhappy, but backs up. Hunter dusts himself off and spits.
Cena: "Now, who are you?" Ringleader: "My name's Benjamin." Cena: "Why did you come after us?" Benjamin: "Because you took my brother." Hunter offers the men a drink or a cigarette, and Simon takes the cigarette, pulling on it for dear life once it's lit. Hunter: "Some of us take our time and enjoy it, like pleasing a good woman. You'll learn about women some day." Simon: "I know more than you about how to handle a woman." Hunter: "Some women fake it." Simon: "Only your women." Hunter: "Hey, that's my woman right here" <pointing at his tattoo> Benjamin: "A man who wears his woman on his arm, now that's a really pathetic form of sex." Cena <to Benjamin>: "Are you terminally ill or just stupid? Hunter, do you have someone 's brother? Because I don't." Hunter: "I don't have anybody's brother. Not from around here." Benjamin: "Andrew....?" Andrew: "<nursing his broken foot> I saw their caravan take him from the ditch!" Cena and Hunter: " OH, that brother!" Hunter: "He should be in town." Benjamin: "Did you sell him?" Hunter: "Sell him what?" Benjamin: "As a slave." Hunter: "Where we come from we don't do that kind of shit. I don't know what it's like here but....Shit, with brothers like you, no wonder he disappeared. He probably doesn't want to get near you." Benjamin: "You know if you leave your woman out of this, we can settle this ourselves..." Hunter: "I bet this dainty little female here can take all of you." Benjamin: "We didn't know she belonged to the temple." Hunter <to Cena>: "Do you belong to the temple?" Cena: "No, I don't think so." Hunter: "We're from across the sea. You're just lucky she was holding back." Benjamin: "Do you know where Aaron is?" Hunter: "I don't think he wants to see you. Why don't you write him a message?" Benjamin: "Give me some paper and I will write a message that you will deliver to Aaron." Hunter: "Where we come from, it's not a good idea to make demands of people who just beat the crap out of you. Isn't that right, Cena?" Cena: "It's certainly not bright." Hunter: "Maybe if you asked nicely, and maybe begged us for forgiveness, then we might be more inclined to do you a favor." Benjamin promises to behave, so Cena releases him, but stays ready to stop him if he gets stupid again. Hunter: "Just a word of friendly advice, before you get into more trouble like this. Make sure you know what you're going up against before you just charge into the fight." Cena: "In other words, don't fuck with strangers. Oh, and your friends will be all right - no permanent damage." Hunter <to Cena>: "Good thing you didn't use the Jenghe Death Claw. <to the men> I hate it when she does that." The men leave, with their now semi-conscious companions. Hunter: "Well that broke the monotony. Ow. I need an ice pack. I blame the Imperial Marine corps." Cena just rolls her eyes.
Meanwhile inside the courtyard, Robert: "Well, it's all quiet, so either they're all dead, or it's finished." Ariana takes a seat near the doorway and is watching people. Ghaer can really discern the glow from inside near the front of the room. They go in, and it's a big open room with a lot of pilgrims. At the far end, there is a mosaic, and an object of worship. They go closer. Inside, Ghaer sees the source of the 'octarine' glow. It's an archway with what appears to be a Therian gate. But the runes are not glowing. The gate looks like half a hexagram, and it appears to extend below the floor. The Bargr [well, he is...] stops in front of the gate. Robert has been looking at mosaic, adjusting his focus, and he got a flash of purple from the gate, sort of.
There is one priestess in the room, wearing a royal blue robe. She has long brown hair and green eyes. She's talking to three acolytes, near a door on the far edge of the wall with the gate. None of the pilgrims go up the steps to the altar itself, but stay about 10 feet away. Maybe by custom, maybe because they've learned about the bad things that happen if you do...
At this point, Cena and Hunter limp in. Cena: "Are you okay? Hunter: "That hurt! I've got a big old fucking charlie horse in my leg." Sigh. Ghaer tries to concentrate and not concentrate on the gate. Now his brain hurts. Robert goes outside to sit with Ariana, and takes out their copy of the holy book to read up on this stuff. He begin reading about the star hitting the planet, etc. Hunter is bored, wandering around and rubbernecking. There are no naked chicks in the garden in the mural. But there are some young babes in the corner, with a tall, lithe woman in blue. The younger girls are in white tunics, and showing a lot of legs. All four of them are good looking, so off goes Hunter, toward the group. Hunter: "Hello ladies." Priestess: "Yes? Are you a pilgrim?" Hunter: "You know, I'm not sure I know what the hell a pilgrim is. I don't know. I'm new around here." Priestess: "Are you searching?" Hunter: "Yeah. How about you? Do you come here often?" Priestess: "Then you may go through the door" <motioning to the small doorway behind her.> Hunter: "Are you going through? Maybe you can show me around. Do you work here?" Priestess: "Are you afraid of me?" Hunter: "No, but you do look nice. So, what time do you get off?" He's leaning against the wall, all casual-like. Oh lord.
At the rear of the sanctuary, Robert whispers to Ariana "Go along with what I say." She nods. He snaps the book shut, and says in a very loud stage whisper "I swear. I saw it change." Some of the people in the back sort of look at him, but no one says anything directly, and they go back to meditating or whatever.
Hunter then leans over towards the three acolytes. "So, when do you girls get off? We can have dinner, maybe take in a show." Acolyte: "We don't leave the temple." Hunter: "Not ever?" Robert, having had no success, goes over to the mural and the priestess, with Ariana in tow. Priestess: "Are you a pilgrim?" Robert: "Yes." Why not? Priestess: "Then you may pass." She indicates the door, and Robert starts off that way. Hunter sees this. Hunter <to the acolyte>: "Would you hang on here a moment? <yelling to Robert> Hold on there you cocksucker!" He strides off after Robert. Cena chases after Hunter. Priestess: "Excuse me, are you a pilgrim?" Cena: "Yes." Priestess: "You may go through the door." She does.
Ghaer comes over to the Priestess Ghaer: "I seek knowledge, and some one who is lost. You may have seen her." Priestess: "You seek excitement. You can't help yourself." Ghaer: "So some people have said." Priestess: "It's is not for me to stand in your way." Ghaer goes through after the other members of his party, after politely saying "thank you" [so his mother doesn't show up and beat him for rudeness. The Raller family is all polite].
There is a grand spiral staircase going down. Bob is the first man there, and now realizes he doesn't know what his goal is. Ariana is following him. There is nothing but black marble on the walls, and white marble on the staircase, which is 20' wide. He heads down, about a level and a half down. Downstairs there is a large room with woven oriental carpet on the floor, cushions on the carpet, and at the end of the room a woman in a chair with arms. (She and the chairs both have arms.) She has long, blond wavy hair, and looks like some one who bucks bales for fun on the farm. She's 6' tall, and 4' wide, and has large tracks of land. She looks like a Viking woman. Robert takes two pillows and puts them close to the chair; he and Ariana sit.
The noisy one of the party arrives. Hunter: "Sorry I was late. No reason to hold the show. So when does the it start? You got anymore chairs here?" The viking woman motions at the pillows. Hunter: "I'll stand." Valkyrie: "You in a hurry? Hunter: "Uh, no. I guess not." He lays down on the carpet. Valkyrie: "Are you pilgrims?" Hunter: "You know, everyone keeps asking that. What the hell is a pilgrim?" Valkyrie: "One who travels in search of something. Are you afraid of me?" Hunter: "I see no reason to." Valkyrie <to Cena>: "And you?" Cena: "Should I?" Valkyrie<to Ghaer>: "You?" Ghaer: "No ma'am." Ariana is the only one who answers yes. Valkyrie <to Hunter>: "Are you good or bad?" Hunter: "That depends on who you ask. Most of the women I know would say good." Valkyrie <to Cena>: "Are you good or bad?" Cena: "I'm human. A little of both I guess." Valkyrie<to Robert>: "Are you good or bad?" Robert: "I like to think that I am decent." Hunter: "Oh yeah, he's definitely evil. He just wraps himself in a cloak of goodness." Cena: "Hunter..." Valkyrie <to Ghaer>: "Are you good or evil?" Ghaer: "I try. I fight against evil." Valkyrie: "Each of you will have to decide. You travel together. What proof of THE GOOD can you produce for the last ten days?" Hunter: "I didn't kill those five guys who attacked us." Cena: "Good work, Berk! That's diplomatic." Thinking... "I haven't strangled him yet." Hunter: "There isn't going to be any group hugging is there? No offense, but I thought we were here to do a job, not reach for the higher plane or whatever." Ghaer: "In his own way, he's right. We came here to find someone to rescue them from harm." Robert: "We did save the guy in the ditch." Valkyrie: "The man you rescued will be your guide. Many travel the path, few come forth. None that go, return unchanged." Ghaer looks down at his orange and black fur, thinking "I don't know if I can handle much more change, lady". Valkyrie <motioning to a doorway behind her>: "You may chose." Robert gets up and starts to go. Cena: "Robert. We go or we stay, but as a group." Robert: "Well, what are we waiting for?" Cena: "Have you seen an old oriental woman who was a pilgrim?" Valkyrie: "Yes, she has gone before." Cena: "That way?" Valkyrie: "Yes." Hunter: "Then let's go."
They go into the room, which is small, and full of stuff! Clothing, boots, weapons, food, water. Including higher tech stuff. Hunter: "Help me out here, I'm just a stupid merc. Is this some kind of trick?" Valkyrie: "Some that come leave what they have. Some that come take what is here." Hunter: "That sounds good." He picks up some cloth armor, and it fits just like all the Army gear he's ever had - average. Everyone gets some kind of armor. Valkyrie: "Is there anything you lack?" Ghaer: "Do we have the medicine...?" Cena: "No. It's with our pickup." Valkyrie: "At the fork in the woods you must decide. To the right the good, to the left the bad." Okay, everyone keep right!
People are armed and armored. Hunter: "You know, I feel like I'm being messed with. I'm not dumb, but I just get the feeling that some one smarter than me is doing something." In amongst the piles of stuff are diaries, trinkets, local clothing, etc., to which the group adds some of Angela's cards, local money (gold, silver), and the like. Food and water is packed up, as much as possible (there are some packs here too), low tech first aid equipment is rounded up, some rope, and the like.
Hunter: "So any way, I didn't catch your name." Valkyrie: "You know, our order has gone for thousands of years being celibate..." Hunter: "You mean not at all!?" Valkyrie: "No, there were some priestesses who strayed, they were crushed to death. With their lovers." Hunter<backing away>: "You know that's a great thing, and I admire and respect that, and I would be the last person to say anything against.... This way?" Valkyrie: "Yes, through that door." Hunter<muttering>: "It's exactly that attitude that's caused by a lack of sex. It's like Angela says - you can't bottle it up, it just festers."
There is a side door out of the little room. The party members go through, and into a narrow hallway. Hunter: "Is it just me, or does anyone else get the feeling something is just not right?" Hunter has one more cigarette. Hunter: "I've got a bad feeling about this." He stubs out his smoke. What is apparently the bottom half of the glowing gate is in the hallway, with all the runes glowing a bright red. As they go through the gateway, it becomes really, really dark, and warm. Hunter: "Where's the fucking dragonfly? Whoever put the shit in my cigarette, I'm going to beat the fucking shit out of them. The last time something like this happened to me it was that little dragonfly thing that did it."
It takes a few minutes, but the party's eyes eventually adjust to the lack of light. They are on sandy ground and they feel reflected waves of heat off the ground. As they move down the path, the vegetation thins out, and it's all sandy and blank. There's no animal sounds, no vegetation, no wind, nothing. They stop. There is a path, but that's it. After a short period of time, their eyes adjust to the ambient level. They're kind of moving down a slope and all of a sudden there's a snarling sound and the sand opens up on the right. There's a leopard that's stretching out of the sand, sort of snarling and purring at the same time. Hunter: "Shit!" He opens up on the leopard, of course. Some spotty cat thing had leapt out of the sand, so Hunter's shooting it. He hits it in the paw. Oh, now it's angry!! Cena is keeping track of the noncombatants (Robert and Ariana), who are backing away from the leopard-targets. The leopard attacks Hunter's leg, as Ghaer shotguns it in the spine. Hunter: "I had everything under control. Look at that now - the pelt is ruined. How the hell am going to take home a lampshade to Angela if you keep doing that? But I owe you one, so if a leopard eats you, I'll take a shot." Cena medics Hunter, and ductapes Insta-Ice to his thigh. Hunter: "If I weren't already married...How do you feel about - you know, that thing?" Ghaer: "Monogamy?" Hunter: "No, the other thing." Ghaer: "Polygamy?" Hunter: "Yeah, that's right."
They continue on the path, when suddenly they hear the sound of something off to one side.
When down the slope there came with lifted head
And back-blown mane and caverned mouth and red,
A lion, roaring, all the air ashake
That heard his hunger.
Ghaer can really see the red in the lion's mouth as it charges the party. Fucking weird. Ghaer draws a line in the sand, and if the lion crosses it, he intends to shoot it. The lion stops at the line, paws at it, but doesn't cross. The lion just paces, watching the people. Ghaer: "I can see the lion's mouth glow." Hunter: "So what?" Cena: "Can we not discuss this? The lion isn't trying to eat us or anything, so let's just keep going." Hunter tries to make noise and shoo off the lion. Hunter: "Hey, Bobby, come here." Hunter checks out Robert's pack, in search of lion chow. He finds some beef jerky, and tosses it to the lion. The lion snatches the jerky out of the air and runs off.
Further down the road is a large dog. Hunter: "Fuck. Is this going to happen every five minutes?" There's something white on the path further on - it's bones. The path ahead is littered with bones. Human bones. Ribs, vertebrae, tibias or fibulas, that sort of thing. Not a good sign. The wolf looks hungry. Cena: "Backpack!" They get out some more jerky, using small bits to feed the wolf as they pass around her and continue. Hunter: "You better get out the rabbit pellets next, because you never know when some kind of giant killer rabbit is going to pop up." Ah, bunnies! Hunter: "Either that or the plants that eat people. One of those fucking penis flytraps." Cena: "Well, I guess that means Ariana and I are safe." Hunter: "I wouldn't assume anything, sweetheart. Besides, I heard it on good authority that Ariana used to be a guy." Robert glares at Hunter.
They come to a fork in the road, and Aaron is there. Hunter: "Let me guess. You're our guide, and this is the part where we decide if we're good or bad, right?" Aaron: "You must decide which path to take. The left side has pain, suffering, woe." Sounds like a no brainer! Aaron: "The right side has happiness, hope, but I can't go there." Cena: "Why not?" Aaron: "Well, first of all because I'm looking for some one who came before me, and chose the other side. My betrothed." Robert: "Why do you think she went that way?" Aaron: "I just know. There is something in her past that made her want to make amends. So she took that path." Wow! Must have been something major. Hunter: "If you're not really good, and you take the right side, I'm betting something bad happens?" Aaron: "Yes, if you're just shining someone on, and you go down the right, you will perish." Cena: "And does it work the same way on the other side?" Aaron: "No, good people often go on the path to the right or the left." There is some discussion, but it's obvious to the party that Ming-Na should have taken the path to the left. If she took the path to the right, she's toast anyway, according to the legends. And the Book. Hunter: "This stuff is too fucking weird for me. No one said I had to read any damn book." Ghaer: "Then think of the old Terran religions..." Hunter: "Ghaer, that's your thing. If you think she went through the bad side, then that's where we have to go."
Aaron is the guide, and he says that it's all according to the book.
To follow where I lead, and thou shalt see
The spirits in pain, and hear the hopeless woe,
The unending cries, of those whose only plea
Is judgment, that the second death to be
Aaron: "I know that the way down is the way up. There is something beyond the souls in torment. That is what I seek." Robert: "Is there anything else in the book I should know about?"
Further shalt thou climb, and go
To those who burn, but in their pain content
With hope of pardon; still beyond, more high,
Holier than opens to such souls as I,
The Heavens uprear; but if thou wilt, is one
Worthier, and she shall guide thee there, where none
Who did the Lord of those fair realms deny
May enter. There in his city He dwells, and there
Rules and pervades in every part, and calls
His chosen ever within the sacred walls.
O happiest, they!
Aaron: "There is judgement, God weeding out the good from the bad..." Hunter: "This shit happens to me all the time. I need to get a new agent." Down the path to a golden gate
There is a scroll above the gate:
The gateway to the city of Doom. Through me
The entrance to the Everlasting Pain.
The Gateway of the Lost. The Eternal Three
Justice impelled to build me. Here ye see
Wisdom Supreme at work, and Primal Power,
And Love Supernal in their dawnless day.
Ere from their thought creation rose in flower
Eternal first were all things fixed as they.
Of Increate Power infinite formed am I
That deathless as themselves I do not die.
Justice divine has weighed: the doom is clear.
All hope renounce, ye lost, who enter here."
"No distrust must wrong
Its Maker, nor thy cowarder mood resume
If here ye enter. This the place of doom
I told thee, where the lost in darkness dwell.
Here, by themselves divorced from light, they fell,
And are as ye shall see them."
Robert is comparing the book with the gate inscription. Cena: "Don't tell me how it ends. I hate that." Ghaer: "If I start getting off the path, just hit me." Cena: "Okay." They continue, while Robert tries to read ahead. Then he starts looking up and to the back. Aaron: "Stay on the path, and keep moving. whatever happens, stay on the path."
After a while the party encounters a group of people, naked, chasing a banner.
" ...these victims of continued death
- For lived they never - were naked all, and loud
Around them closed a never-ceasing cloud
Of hornets and great wasps, that buzzed and clung,
- Weak pain for weaklings meet, - and where they stung,
Blood from their faces streamed, with sobbing breath,
And all the ground beneath with tears and blood
Was drenched, and crawling in that loathsome mud
There were great worms that drank it. "
Aaron: "They wouldn't make a committment, wouldn't take sides in the battle of the angels." As the party moves on, there are screams, and moans from the people off to the sides of the path. The crowd begins to press in, hands begin to reach out in supplication; the party draws closer, linking up. Aaron: "Don't listen to them, just keep moving." Aaron finally answeres some personal questions, probably just as a distraction. He was the eldest son, as soon as he married, he would inherit (and his brothers would be dispossed). The brothers were afraid he'd get married and they beat him up. But he can't go back without his fiancée, obviously, and so he's here looking for her. Aaron: "I didn't know there were this many dead people." Hunter: "Don't worry about it, because none of this is real. We're going to wake up and wonder what the heck we were drinking." Aaron: "This is real. this is very real."
They reach the bank of a stream, and see a boat approaching. Hunter: "What now, guide? Aaron: "We wait for the boat." Cena: "Oh! I know this one - don't pay the Ferryman." Ghaer: "Til he gets you to the other side." Hunter: "The old fart on the boat is the ferryman?" As he approaches, the party can hear him berating the unfortunates around him:
To ye, depraved! - Is here no Heaven, but ill
The place where I shall herd ye. Ice and fire
And darkness are the wages of their hire
Who serve unceasing here - But thou that there
Dost wait though live, depart ye. Yea, forbear!
A different passage and a lighter fare
Is destined thine."
Once he gets to the edge of the shore, the old man nimbly leaps out of the boat, and beats the waiting people onto the boat. Hunter: "Okay, now who's in charge - oh hey! Cena!" Cena: "No, I'm in charge of expense money, and issues involving incontinence." Aaron goes forward and speaks with the Ferryman, and then Aaron motions the group forward onto the boat. The boat then fills up with the lost souls from this shore, and then Charon gets underway again.
Seemed that then
They first were conscious where they came, and fear
Abject and frightful shook them; curses burst
In clamorous discords forth; the race of men,
Their parents, and their God, the place, the time,
Of their conceptions and their births, accursed
Alike they called, blaspheming Heaven. But yet
Slow steps toward the waiting bark they set,
With terrible wailing while they moved. And so
They came reluctant to the shore of woe
That waits for all who fear not God, and not
As Charon begins to row, his eyes begin to glow red. That glow that's started to make Ghaer unhappy. Robert reads ahead. Rapidly. Doing their best to ignore the unhappy looking people in the river, the party makes it to the far bank. On the other side, the others get off really quickly. The path continues on, away from the bank, so the party follows it. They reach what is apparently the way down to the next level or Circle, as the path heads downward through the gate.
Dark beyond sight, and choked with doleful sound,
Sheer sank the Valley of the Lost Abyss,
Beneath us. On the utmost brink we stood,
And like the winds of some unresting wood
The gathered murmur from those depths of woe
Soughed upward into thunder. Out from this
The unceasing sound comes ever. I might not tell
How deep the Abyss down sank from hell to hell,
It was so clouded and so dark no sight
Could pierce it.
Ghaer: "Looks like a black hole. Aaron <reciting>: "Downward through the worlds of night / We will descend together. I first, and thou / My footsteps taking." Ghaer: "Follow in his footsteps, literally." Hunter: "You mean like a minefield?" Ghaer: "Sounds about right."
Through the first entrance of the ringed abyss,
Inward, and I went after, and the woe
Softened behind us, and around I heard
Nor scream of torment, nor blaspheming word,
But round us sighs so many and deep there came
That all the air was motioned.
Through the gate goes the party, where it's much quieter. All around them are sighs as of the last breathe - or death rattle. They see a large party of people gathered before a platform, looking up at a figure on it. A tall man (?) with the upper torso of a bull, lower of a man - a minotaur. The judge of the dead. It says so in the book. The path leads right up to the platform. Oh that can't be good.
Those who reach
The second whorl, on entering, learn their bane
Where Minos, hideous, sits and snarls. He hears,
Decides, and as he girds himself they go.
Before his seat each ill-born spirit appear,
And tells its tale of evil, loath or no,
While he, their judge, of all sins cognizant,
Hears, and around himself his circling tail
Twists to the number of the depths below
To which they doom themselves in telling.
The crowding sinners: their turn they wait: they show
Their guilt: the circles of his tail convey
Their doom: and downward they are whirled away.
Aaron: "We have to talk to the minotaur. He's the judge of the dead." Hunter: "But I'm not dead. Am I?" Aaron: "No, but if we're going to get in, we have to get past him."
A big debate ensues as to which member of the party should be the person doing the talking to get them past Minos (mostly people suggesting that someone else should do it). Finally Robert volunteers, and insists on doing the talking, since he figures (although Cena objects) that if something goes wrong, leaving the Marines as the "rescue party" makes sense. Hunter: "How fucking far do we have to go in this place, any way?" Robert: "Well, apparently there's a bunch of levels, and a different bunch of damned people suffering on the different levels." Lovely.
Robert approaches the platform, with the others right behind him. Minos: "Why have you entered here?" Robert: "We have come seeking some one." Minos: "But you are not damned. Yet." Robert: "Nor is it our desire to be damned." Minos: "If you continue, you continue at the peril of your own soul." Robert: "Those who we seek we value above our own souls." Hunter/Cena/Ghaer: "What?!?!?!" Hunter: "He meant 'my soul', as in his<Robert's>." They are allowed to continue on, but not merrily. Hunter: "Thanks, Bob. Thanks a bunch. Just remember, if we're stuck in hell, I'm going to be right beside you." Robert: "You heard him, we're not damned yet." Cena: "Maybe not, but I sure as hell don't value Ming-Na Ling more than my soul." Robert: "You came here on a quest for this person. Either you were lying, or you're willing to risk everything to complete your mission." Cena: "I made a committment. That's all." Robert: "A committment of honour." Cena: "I never promised to risk my soul for this." Hunter: "I think we were fucked when landed in system." Cena: "When I got this invitation to lunch..." Hunter: "Maybe we're part of the unify Regina plan, and they just wanted the troublemakers off station for a while." Robert<muttering>: "I didn't say that we'd give him ..."
Up ahead is a ledge, and a whirlwind.
Now was filled
The darker air with wailing. Wailing shook
My soul to hear it. Where we entered now
No light attempted. Only sound arose,
As ocean with the tortured air contends,
What time intolerable tempest rends
The darkness; so the shrieking winds oppose
For ever, and bear they, as they swerve and sweep,
The doomed disastrous spirits, and whirl aloft,
Backward, and down, nor any rest allow,
Nor pause of such contending wraths as oft
Batter them against the precipitous sides, and there
The shrieks and moanings quench the screaming air,
The cries of their blaspheming.
These are they
That lust made sinful. As the starlings rise
At autumn, darkening all the colder skies,
In crowded troops their wings up-bear, so here
These evil-doers on each contending blast
Were lifted upward, whirled, and downward cast,
And swept around unceasing. Striving airs
Lift them, and hurl, nor ever hope is theirs
Of rest or respite or decreasing pains,
But like the long streaks of the calling cranes
So came they wailing down the winds, to meet
Upsweeping blasts that ever backward beat
Or sideward flung them on their walls.
Hunter: "What time do you girls get off?" They're licking his tattoo. Which is apparently all the statisfaction they're going to get. Hunter: "Is it just me, or is it kind of warm in here?" And humid. Ghaer is panting. Water is passed around. There are some people who would really like to share the water nearby.
The party continues on. Aaron: "That was one level. There are many levels." Hunter: "Can we go back and check on that carnal one again?" Now on to the section of stinking snow and freezing rain. Ghaer is never going to get the smell of sulphur out of his fur. There are people laying in the snow, and Cerberus is ripping at their flesh.
The third doomed circle, where the culprits know
The cold, unceasing, and relentless rain
Pour down without mutation. Heavy with hail,
With turbid waters mixed, and cold with snow,
It streams from out the darkness, and below
The soil is putrid, where the impious lie
Grovelling, and howl like dogs, beneath the flail
That flattens to the foul soaked ground, and try
Vainly for ease by turning. And the while
Above them roams and ravens the loathsome hound
Cerberus, and feeds upon them.
The swampy ground
He ranges; with his long clawed hands he grips
The sinners, and the fierce and hairy lips
(Thrice-headed is he) tear, and the red blood drips
From all his jaws. He clutches, and flays, and rends,
And treads them, growling: and the flood descends
Aaron: "Gluttons - wallowed in food and drink and produced nothing, so here they wallow in garbage and are given no food or drink." Continuing on, they see grav-ball players, fighting...
These, who with such squinting eyes
Regarded God's providing, that they spent
In waste immoderate, indicate their guilt
In those loud barkings that ye hear. They spilt
Their wealth distemperate; and those they meet
Who cry 'Why loose ye?' avarice ruled: they bent
Their minds on earth to seize and hoard.
Hunter: "What I want to know is, what are you guys all doing in my fucking dream? Or what am I doing in your dream? And if it's one of your dreams, it's fucking weird. Ghaer, this must be one of yours."
On again, coming to a marsh where there's a firefight going on. It's a major fight - people going at it hand to hand, using bayonets.
Those whom anger overbore
On earth, behold ye. Mark the further sign
Of bubbles countless on the slime that show.
These from the sobs of those immersed arise;
For buried in the choking filth they cry,
We once were sullen in the rain-sweet air,
When waked the light, and all the earth was fair,
How sullen in the murky swamp we lie
Forbidden from the blessed light on high.
This song they gurgle in their throats, that so
The bubbles rising from the depths below
Break all the surface of the slime.
Aaron: "These souls are the wrathful, and <pointing out the bubbles rising out of the slime of the marsh> the sullen are beneath it. The souls who did not welcome the sweet light of the Sun" Hunter: "What are they doing in hell? They should be in Valhalla with those chicks in the metal push up bras." Cena: "That's hell." Hunter: "Hey, have I ever bought you a tin bra?" Cena: "No." They run through the firefight, without shooting." They make it through the marsh, and there are posts at edge of swamp, signal towers flashing across the lake.
On the other side of the lake there is a reply to the signal and almost immediately they see Phlegyas, the Boatman of Styx. He expects souls to torment but is disponted when he finds the party. Aaron talks the boatman into taking them across the swamp, in exchange for some gold - paid on the other side - he will take the party across. Hunter sees, treading water, a man he would have liked to send to hell - he killed one of Hunter's men. but since the guy's already here, he doesn't do anything.
As the boat gets closer to the shore the party can see the flaming red towers of Dis, the Capital of Hell. The walls of the city block the way to lower hell. They get off the boat in front of a great iron gate guarded by the Rebellious Angels. Aaron: "They aren't going to let us in." There are six of them, even with the six of the party. Aaron: "These are the angels that left heaven with Satan. We need to go through the city to continue, but the angels don't want us to. I'm not sure what to do." They look it up in the book. It requires Divine Intervention. Ghaer suggest Aaron pray for help, but Aaron isn't sure what to ask for. Ghaer: "I think it's a matter of creative visualization, but I don't know." Bob is thinking, really hard, and fingering his St. Christopher's medal. Robert: "I would ask that the angels not pay me any heed. That they not notice me." Cena: "That we know what needs to be done to continue." Aaron: "We need some one who's the equivalent of the angels. Some one who's really kickass." Ghaer: "By Christ and St. Michael, let us pass." The ground begins to shake.
Across the blackness of the putrid bay,
There crashed a thunder of most fearful sound,
At which the opposing shores, from bound to bound,
As when an entering tempest rends
The brooding heat, and nought its course can stay,
As frogs, the while the serpent picks his prey,
In panic scatter through the stream, and there
Flatten themselves upon its bouldered bed,
I saw a thousand ruined spirits that fled
Before the coming of One who held his way
Dry-shod across the water.
His left hand
He waved before him, and the stagnant air
Retreated. Simple it were to understand
A Messenger of Heaven he came. My guide
Signed me to silence, and to reverence due,
While to one stroke of his indignant wand
The gate swung open. "Outcast spawn!" he cried,
His voice heard vibrant through the aperture grim,
"Why spurn ye at the Will that, once defied,
Here cast ye grovelling? Have ye felt from Him
Aught ever for fresh revolt but harder pains?
Has Cerberus' throat, skinned with the threefold chains,
No meaning? Why, to fate most impotent,
Contend ye vainly?"
Then he turned and went,
Nor one glance gave us, but he seemed as one
Whom larger issue than the instant done
By that Power compelled,
The gates stood open, and our course we held
Robert: "Good job Ghaer." Ghaer: "Thank you. Hanging around Michael helped." This confirms Hunter's suspicions about the drugs. Through the gates, tombs on either side on fire, cries from the tombs.
As with old tombs the plains are ridged, so here,
All sides, did rows of countless tombs appear,
But in more bitter a guise, for everywhere
Shone flames, that moved among them.
Stood open, white with heat. No craft requires
More heated metal than the crawling fires
Made hot the sides of those sad sepulchres;
And cries of torture and most dire despair
Came from them, as the spirits wailed their doom.
Robert: "I wonder if any of my relatives are down here...?" Aaron: "The souls being punished are the heretics of every cult. Those who rebelled against their faith."
Through the tombs, then down, down, down. There's rock wall and another minotaur ahead. Aaron starts taunting the minotaur, and motioning Hunter to keep moving. They tie off and carefully move over the wall. They hear roaring noises and every so often stones are thrown. The inexperienced people in the party are put between the experienced ones. Aaron catches up and then it's down without injury, to a river of blood.
Punished here are the violent against their neighbors (war-makers, tyrants, highwaymen, etc.). They must wallow in the burning blood for eternity. Any sinner who raises himself out of the blood is immediately shot down by an arrow from one of the centaurs that patrol the bank of the river. The party is challenged by the centaurs. Centaur: "Who are you?" Cena: "Pilgrims." Centaur: "What do you seek?" Ghaer: "Those who are lost." Centaur: "You may pass. I will send one to guide you." The leader gives them leave to cross and assigns another centaur to help them. A ferry (on the pully system) is set up, and the party goes across.
Aaron: "This place is called the wood of the suicides in which the souls are encased into trees whose boughs and limbs are constantly being eaten and torn off by the evil harpies. When the harpies damage the trees instead of sap, blood comes rushing out, and only while it is pouring are the souls allowed to speak." Hunter: "Oh, that's just fucking charming." Tree: "Hi! Is it teatime yet? I really miss the sponge cakes." The talking, bleeding, suicidal tree is ignored by the passing party. Tree: "You guys are no fun at all."
Everyone is exhausted, and Ariana asks if they can't rest somewhere. It's decided to camp at the outer edge of the bleeding forest - not close enough to be bled on, and before the burning sands.