"Midway this way of life we're bound upon, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, where the right road was wholly lost and gone."-- Dante, The Inferno
The burning sands aren't really burning - the fire falling from the sky, however, is. Ghaer doesn't sleep at all thanks to the screaming, and may never do so again. The others sleep fairly well, probably due to exhaustion. Aaron is very hard to wake up, and his pupils are responsive to light once he's roused, but he wakes up very slowly. Food and water is shared. Hunter goes to do his morning ritual, which involves peeing in the bleeding stream. Well, whatever works.
Camp is packed up, and it's on to the path through the burning path. Fortunately most of the burning rain falls off of the path. Mostly. A couple of times a larger chunk of brimstone will hit one of the group, and it has to be scraped off with a knife to avoid melting the body armor.
A band of people appears, staggering across the burning sands. The searing flame had baked their limbs and in the hardened flesh new wounds were formed with every flake of brimstone. Up ahead there is a group of about ten mercenaries (wearing TL 7 or 8 stuff) in a tiger-striped patterned camo uniforms (green, and black, thin stripes). One Aslan, one Vargr, and one human in sergeant's stripes. They are down the path, and headed up it towards the party. Cena: "Heads up. Non-combatants to the back." That means Aaron, Bob, and Ariana. Hunter, who is in charge of the shooting of people, goes prone, and the others follow suit. Robert will protect Ariana, with his own body.
Hunter draws a bead on the most officer-looking person in the other group. Speaking of the mercs, they have spread out onto the sand, and also have gone prone. Robert now believes it is a good thing that he took the 12mm, although he didn't want it at first. He unsnaps the full flap on his holster. Hunter takes a shot at the sergeant, there being no apparent officer, aiming for a non-lethal arm hit. When Hunter pulls the trigger he gets a pop and no kick. Oh-oh. Well, this is hell. Ghaer hits the man with the grenade attached to his rifle, in the torso, Cena gut shoots another of the targets, and he's not shooting back. The mercs now return fire, and Aaron is hit in the leg, but fortunately he's just grazed. (This is hell for both sides.) A round goes whizzing right by Cena's head, and no one else is hit in this exchange. Ariana fires in the mercs' general direction, not hitting anyone. Robert also fires, down range, and accidently hits some one.
Hunter tosses the rifle to one side, and goes for his ACR. Shots are called, Ghaer takes down the sergeant, Cena hits the Aslan in the chest. The Aslan burbles. One of the mercs, armed with a grease-gun, is dashing forward, so Hunter targets him. The ACR obviously had not been sighted in, since the merc is shot in the foot. But he's no longer advancing, he's laying on the sand, screaming. Robert's next shot goes wild, but there are no more moving mercs.
Hunter goes up to check on the enemy wounded, making sure they surrender. Merc: "Please man, I'm hurt." Hunter disarms him, and takes his weapons, tossing the .38 revolver, a couple of knives, an e-tool, and his rifle. Hunter: "Medic! You sir, are my prisoner." Cena first medics Aaron, who just has a through and through hit, so it's easily patched up with bandages. The mercs surrender, without arguing. They all have significant gunshot injuries, for which no one is equipped. Hunter wants to render minimal 'comfort care' only - stop the bleeding, get them back on to the path, and uses one of their ponchos to rig a cover. Looking at their weapons, it appears that they have had a lot of use. Some of the group's bandages are used up on the mercs, and food and water is left for them too. It's the right thing to do.
The mercs are left behind, and the party continues. It's flat going until the horizon, or at least that's the way it appears. Robert takes out his spyglass, and sees two pillars and the head of a staircase in the distance, several miles away. It's hard to tell, since there's nothing to use for scale, but the corinthian fluted columns of a white spotted stone, and appear to be about 10' tall, maybe more. Robert: "Hey Ghaer, take a look." He passes Ghaer the spyglass. Ghaer looks, and sees the columns and the head of the stairs, and the horizon continuing beyond it. Robert: "Well, what do you think?" Ghaer: "I think we're going that way." Onward. Aside from Aaron, who's limping slightly, the party is intact. Robert and Ariana help Aaron.
Aaron asks to rest once they reach the top of the stairs. Aaron <to Robert>: "Do you know the book fairly well?" Robert: "Not really." Aaron: "Me neither. My mother was always telling me stories from the book, but now I wish I'd paid more attention. And I wish that I'd read the book more recently." Robert vaguely remembers a book he read in school that had something like this in it. From what he can remember, they're in the 7th Circle of Hell right now. The good news is there are only 9 Circles. The bad news is there are levels within the Circles. Aaron thinks when they reach the 8th Circle that they'll find his fiancée there. Robert: "Then what?" Aaron: "That's why I asked if you'd read the book. I want to bring her out, and I was wondering if there was anything in the book about what happens when you try to do that." Robert: "Not that I've seen, but it does remind me of a book I read in school, and I think they had to go all the way through to the end of Hell before they could get out." On the lowest level of Hell there was something involving climbing. He doesn't remember what they climbed, but they needed to climb to get out of Hell. The party rests, drinks water, and Robert tries to read ahead in the book a bit.
Ghaer: "Hot enough for you?" Hunter: "Yeah, but it's a dry heat. Want a smoke?" Hunter lights up, using his Zippo instead of a hot coal of brimstone. A little shooting people, a post-combat smoke - Hunter is almost enjoying this. Hunter: "Well, that broke the monotony. And our buddy Arnold." Cena and Ghaer: "Aaron." Hunter: "Yeah right, whatever. Any how, he's gotten his first injury under fire." Aaron: "Thus isn't the first time I've been hurt in a fight." Hunter: "Yeah, but you let your family beat you up. You sure lost that one." A fist fight does not break out amongst the party. This time.
According to Aaron, and the book, Hell has nine Circles, each with multiple layers. Aaron: "And we're on one of the levels of the Eighth Circle." Hunter: "How much worse could it get?" Cena just looks at Hunter. Hunter: "Okay, it could get worse. Who the hell is thinking this shit up? Whoever it is, is one sick son of a bitch." This is almost a vacation for Hunter though, who goes on about how "at least it's warm".
Time to go down. Aaron, as the guide, will go first, and decides to slide down the bannister since his leg is injured. No, he's not going to slide down quickly, he doesn't want to out distance the group. Down the stairs, down the stairs, through a fog layer. Those with a military background (no, not the pilot) hear artillery and small arms fire in the distance. Hunter: "This must be my dream. Except Cena isn't wearing the formfitting black leather outfit." Cena: "I'm sorry, next time I'll bring the warrior princess outfit." She is wearing the fitted leather armor under the cloth armor, which is why she didn't get burned.
They have a purpose and a mission, so they move on through the 'war zone'. The path is coming up to a bend, which looks like an entrenched fighting emplacement with sandbags, and the path goes right through. Three people are crouched down behind the sandbags, on the side the party is coming up on. One is wearing a suit, one is a woman, and one appears to be a soldier carrying what looks like standard issue Imperial gear. The woman yells "Hunter!" and runs towards him. It's Pepita, his daughter's mother. She runs up and throws her arms around him. Hunter: "I'm workin', okay? What the hell are you doing here?" Pepita: "I don't know, but it's a bad place to be." Hunter: "Who are your friends?"
The marine looks really familiar. He's wearing a REACT uniform - he's Cena's old drill instructor, Sergeant Warvia. Hunter: "I'm guessin' the guy in the suit must belong to you." Actually, he belongs to Robert. It's his Uncle Randall Shelzie. Hunter: "Ghaer, I hate to tell you this, but I think you've been screwed. I sense a serious speciest trend, a significant lack of fuzzies down here, at least the round kind. This isn't right. <to Cena> What do you expect the chances are that a whore I used to know a long time ago, your old drill sergeant, and his uncle are all here? On this interdicted world? Right at this moment?" Cena: "Not very high." Robert does not say anything to his uncle, who Robert believes deserves to be in Hell. Sergeant Warvia: "Cena - we need to move that way. Can you lay down some covering fire?" He's indicating the direction the party's going any way. Hunter takes a few minutes to run the spent round out of his gauss rifle, test fire it, and zero it in.
Robert can't take it any more. Robert: "What are you doing here?!" Randall: "I just woke up here. I don't know where I am, or how I got here. There are people here who are trying to kill me, on a regular basis." Robert: "Besides family?" Randall: "I don't think they're family. Why? Are you here to kill me?" Hunter decides that it's been a while, and here's this professional woman he knows, and she's draped all over him and feels really good. Hunter: "I'll go check if we're being followed. Why don't you come with me?" The last is addressed to Pepita, who he takes up the stairs far enough to be above the fog and out of sight, and he takes care of a few um, needs.
Robert <to Randall>: "Why did you do it?" Randall: "Do what?" Robert: "Break the family tradition." Randall: "Get a life! Maybe I didn't want to be like everyone else. Maybe I wasn't good enough. Don't you ever want to be something more than a squid? Never mind, you're just a cookie-cutter for the family, just like every other Shelzie out there." He's touched off a nerve, and Robert lunges for Randall, who hits him once in the chest, dropping him like a rock, on his face. Cena: "Could you back off, please?" Randall backs off. Randall: "Hi Cena. Don't worry, I'm not going to do anything to the kid now. He just needs a little world experience away from the family to wise him up. That's probably why he's here." Cena checks to make sure Robert's okay, and moves him onto his side. Ghaer: "You know this person, Cena?" Cena: "Yes I know him." Randall<pointing at Robert>: "He's my cousin." Cena: "Ghaer Raller, Randall Shelzie." Ghaer: "Shelzie." Cena: "Yes, they're everywhere."
Sergeant Warvia finds it interesting that everyone knows each other. Warvia: "I think the artillery barrage is moving this way. That's why I wanted to get going." Good plan. Hunter <to Pepita>: "You know, I'm sort of worried about our guide, he's obsessing about his girlfriend - maybe you could do a little something for him? In fact, be real nice to him. Don't let on you're a pro - maybe he'll forget about his dead girlfriend." Pepita: "He is cute." They return to the rest of the party
Hunter offers the use of his canteen cup to splash Robert. Cena: "Are you quite done now?" Hunter: "Wake up, lazy boy. I'm gone for ten minutes, and the squid's asleep. <to Robert> You take the rear with Ghaer. Cena, you take the civilians in the middle, I'll take point." The sergeant was going to go first, but he and Hunter don't trust each other yet. Hunter takes point with Aaron, and the sergeant goes back with Cena. They move up the path, without Randall (he's not a joiner) and encounter concertina wire. Hunter: "So, does this match up with your book?" Aaron: "I don't know, I told you I didn't read the book." Hunter: "Well, you should have, now shouldn't you?" Aaron: "I already said I wished I'd read it." Hunter: "Hey, this isn't my idea. I'm here to get the bag, grab her up, and get the hell off this shit-hole planet. I'm sure it's all very nice for you, but..." And so on. Aaron just thinks Hunter is off his nut. It's that head injury. Hunter is thinking that "it just isn't as good since I'm married." Yes, Angela was better, especially on the honeymoon. Hunter and Aaron reach the concertina wire, where there is a sign warning of the minefield. Hunter: "I can't believe there aren't any sheep in hell. I'm not even sure I believe there's a minefield." He throws a few rocks out, and the second one explodes. Hunter: "I guess there are mines. Okay, we go around. Mr. Guide, where do we go now?" Aaron: "I don't know, I was planning to stay on the path!" Hunter: "I am not going to play skip to my Lou down the garden path there. Maybe you don't have any use for your cojones, but I do." The minefield is only seventy meters across, so it should be doable without losing track of the path. Warvia: "I've tried to go around this minefield, but it's also covered by that fighting position over there, and I've lost a lot of people. They have machinegun nests set up to cover the other approaches [how classic]. I'd rather take my chances with the minefield." Hunter: "Why don't we just shoot the shit out of the people up there?" Warvia: "Because they have machinegun nests with cover." Hunter: "Okay, then you go first, and we'll follow you through the minefield."
Warvia gets about a third of the way down the path and is thrown back by a blast. He gets up, shaken, but is able to move. There's blood on the front of his flak vest, and has some leg wounds, but he continues on, and makes it across. Hunter follows next, being very careful. Everyone makes it across without any more booms, and Cena immediately goes over to medic Warvia, who has his own bandages. Warvia: "I'll be fine tomorrow." Hunter: "And what was your MOS? Leave that to the doctor. We don't want you getting sepsis." Warvia: "I'll be all right tomorrow." Cena: "What do you mean you'll be all right tomorrow?" Warvia: "I mean I won't have any of those holes in my chest tomorrow. You go to sleep wounded, you wake up healed. You go to sleep with a missing leg, it's back in the morning. You can't die here. You just wish you could."
They travel a ways, and get to a river. It's not a river of blood, or fire, so they can fill the canteens. Hunter: "That's what filters are for, if you're afraid of getting ghiardia or whatever." Cena: "Hunter." Hunter: "What? You guys are taking this Hell stuff way too seriously." The river goes over a waterfall. Warvia doesn't want to go down, and can't figure out why anyone would want to, it might be worse there. Ghaer: "Because that's the way out." Now that Warvia can get behind! He'll go.
Ghaer helps Hunter go down the waterfall first, (not gracefully, but nothing is broken). Hunter sees rolling hills, and a group of people sitting around with purses around their necks. Big heavy purses. Hunter: "What is this, some kind of fag heaven?" Man; "No, no. We were loan sharks." Hunter: "And now you're...?" Man: "We're chained to our purses." Hunter: "Hey, what happens if you just say screw this, and take it off?" Man: "You try. Go ahead."
Cena yells down to Hunter to find out what the delay is down below. Hunter: "Hang on, I'm helping this guy get his purse off!" Cena decides they should wait to see what happens. Hunter finds that the 'purse' is super-glued to his skin. Ewww. Hunter: "Hang on, this might sting a bit." When he cuts on the purse, the man screams and grabs for the knife. Hunter: "Get your hands off my knife. Get your own damn knife. Hey, you were a loan shark, what the fuck do you expect?" The man tries to hit Hunter, who attempts to kick the man in the balls - however, many people in the man's previous life had tried to kick the loan shark in the balls, so he dodges. Hunter misses and goes down, and the man kicks him in the lungs. The fight is on. Cena: "Damn. One of us better go down." Ghaer: "You go." Ghaer belays so Cena can go down fast, which she does, only to find Hunter and one of the guys brawling on the ground. Evidently Hunter can't interact with anyone without getting into a fight. Cena decides this is nonsense, and goes over to take out the unknown person, since Hunter is on her side. Hunter and the man are rolling around punching each other, and Cena walks over and snapkicks the man in the chest, knocking him unconscious. Hunter doesn't notice this right away, and hits the man in the neck. Cena: "Hunter." Hunter: "Yeah? Hey he started it." Cena: "Can we focus on the job at hand here?" Hunter: "What was I suppose to do? The man went for me!" Cena goes over to help bring the others down. Hunter: "Let's just find the elevator to level 9." Warvia <quietly, to Cena>: "He's kind of testy, isn't he?" Cena: "That's one way of putting it, yes." The others get down, in one piece, if not unbruised, Ghaer manages to free-climb down to save the rope, and off into the rolling hills they go.
They see two lines of people who are being driven at an endless walk by horned demons, who hurry them along with great lashes. This begins the Hell of the fraudulent and malicious. The Hell of military contractors? Some of these people are probably recognizable from the cover of Military Times. Damned lowest bidder.... Hunter: "Okay, Romeo, lead the way. You know, I haven't seen hide nor hair of Ming-Na, the bitch." She's probably in the Mega-corp, First Class Hell. The party walks for several hours. One of the washes between the hills has the flatterers, up to their necks in excrement. On the downward side of one of the washes are holes in the ground, with people upside down in them, and their feet are on fire. Just keep moving.
Up ahead are a group of really freaky-looking people who keep bumping into each other, as their heads are on backwards. These are the fortunetellers and diviners. Hunter: "And they're on the bottom of Hell? They're all crooks anyway." Robert: "They weren't very good if they didn't see this coming."
Hunter: "So, Aaron, you figure we'll find your dead girlfriend here soon?" Ghaer: "She didn't die, she came here on her own to work out something." Hunter: "This probably involved some kind of relationship, didn't it?" Aaron: "Well, yeah, with me." Hunter; "I knew it. The second a woman mentions 'relationships', it's time to get the hell out of Dodge. Women. Can't live with them, can't kill 'em."
They sit down to rest, drink, and eat. Then Ghaer sees a Barlow approaching, in a photographer's vest. Barlow <perkily>: "Hi!" Ghaer: "So, just looking around?" Barlow: "Yes. Mind if I join you?" Ghaer: "Why not?" The Barlow sits down and observes the group, looking quite happy until Ghaer offers him a piece of beef jerky. Barlow: "Ewww! How can you eat that? Is this how you got here? Eating meat?" Hunter: "Fuck, I don't know. I hope not." The Barlow pulls out a notebook and starts taking notes. Hunter: "M-E-E-T" Barlow: "M-E-A-T." Hunter offers cigarettes and booze, which the Barlow declines, unless he can use the alcohol as a massage tool, which Hunter will not allow. Hunter: "So, when are you due? It looks like you're what, nine months along?" Barlow <to Ghaer>: "Can you translate?" Ghaer: "He's referring to your build." Hunter: "Don't take it the wrong way, but you make Ghaer here look all thin and buffed." Ghaer<to the Barlow>: "We're looking for some one who came here, possibly looking for your generation, a very old female." Barlow: "I haven't seen her. At least, not yet." Ghaer: "She had a Flute Tree." Barlow: "Oh, very fine. I like the Flute Trees. There aren't any here. I don't think you can get anything to grow here." Cena: "Do you have anything to contribute to lunch?" The Barlow pulls a tray of oysters on the half shell out of his vest. Uh-huh. Fine. The party is too damned tired to care.
After lunch, it's on towards lots of smoke - it's the fourth level of the 8th Circle. There is a pit of burning pitch, with trenches that demons are pouring burning pitch into, onto people. Other demons are carrying people and throwning them into the trenches. The path leads to a bridge that goes across the trenches, and across a large lake of burning pitch. Not only are there clouds of hovering smoke, but there is lightning in the clouds. There are people in the lake, leaping and writhing like fish jumping. And there are flying demons that swoop down and carry off the people who leap too high. Probably to somewhere worse. Aaron asks to use Robert's spyglass, which he takes up onto the railing of the bridge. Ghaer and Cena steady him as he looks for his fiancée. Ghaer: "What is this hell, then?" Aaron: "I'm not sure how this works, but I think she might be here." Ghaer: "Why would she be here?" Aaron: "She believes she's responsible for some one's death. This is the hell of murderers." Everyone is looking at Aaron now. Aaron: "She's not a murderer, but she thinks she's responsible for her child's death. She had a baby, I took the baby, and she thinks I killed it. One of the things that is done when a child is born out of wedlock is to expose the infant, but I couldn't do that, so I gave the child to a family to raise, but she doesn't know that." Sure enough, the girl in question leaps out of the pitch. Cena<to Hunter>: "Hunter, rifle up! How are you at skeet?" Hunter: "Bloody awful. I'm all right at moving targets with a rifle though." Aaron dives over the rail into the burning pitch to retrieve his fiancee; Ghaer and Cena lean over the railing trying to grasp their hands as they leap up from the lake of fire toward the bridge railing. The demons see this and begin heading toward the bridge.
The demons are getting closer as Aaron and Ann are pulled onto the bridge. Ghaer: "By Christ and St. Michael, leave them alone. They do not belong here." Hunter: "Isn't that one of those flat-faced monkey religions?" Ghaer: "It's worked before." Hunter: "Hey Ghaer, when you grabbed that Regen, you didn't happen to pick up a can of BurnFoam?" Barlow: "BurnFoam? I have BurnFoam." He takes out a can, which Cena snatches and sprays down Aaron and his fiancée.
The ten-foot tall demons with 15' wings are starting strafing runs at the bridge as Cena tries to get Aaron, his girlfriend, Ariana, and Pepita off the bridge. Hunter shoots down one that falls onto the bridge and still goes for Hunter. Hunter: "What the fuck does it take with you guys? Silver bullets?" The Sergeant shoots one in the head, and it falls into the burning pitch, Ghaer shotguns one in the arm which screws up his wing and sends it into the burning pitch. That leaves one airborne one. Ghaer misses, but Hunter hits it in the center of mass, sending demon blood gushing all over the place as it tumbles into the lake. As the others get to the end of the bridge, the wounded one on the bridge comes very close to slashing open Hunter's chest (he misses), and Hunter flips the rifle to full auto and shoots the creature in the upper leg. This does not drop the demon, and Hunter gets lightly slashed in the neck. The Sergeant finally drops the demon, and the rest of the group runs off the bridge after the others, pursued by other demonic "reinforcements". The Sergeant takes care of the those with a well-placed demo charge. Sgt. Warvia: "Let's go!" Hunter: "Fuckin' A!!"
"The poets swiftly flee from the angered demons."
On the other side, Hunter sees the Barlow drinking something out of a flask, and thinks that's a good idea so he takes his own out. The Barlow offers his, but to Hunter it smells like one of those foofy umbrella drinks. The Barlow insists that he try some. Hunter figures that it might at lest help to relieve pian, so what the hell. It's a wonderful burning. Lightning bolts could shoot out of his fingertips, he just knows it. The Tralyaka has a medicinal effect too. Barlow: "You weren't supposed to drink all of it!" Hunter: "I didn't drink all of it. I wonder how that would taste with a bourbon chaser." He takes a swig of his own flask, and it just sits there in his stomache, burning it's way through his intestinal tract. Evidently bourbon and Tralyaka do not mix well at all.
Time to continue away from the area, past thieves wrapped in snakes. Hunter: "Oh, I've seen this. It's that snake worshipping stuff." Who's responsible for introducing Hunter to the nature channel? Ghaer<to the Barlow>: "Do you have anything to eat or any medical supplies?" The Barlow produces from his pockets: a loaf of French bread, a thermos of coffee, a folding coffee table, a camp stove, three folding chairs, a tent and a med kit. Barlow: "Here it is! I knew it! I always take it with me." Hunter: "What? No tent?" As the Barlow reaches in, Hunter stops him. Hunter: "Only if the tent has airconditioning." Barlow: "Let me check the pouch. I have a heat pump. It's much more efficient, and I find it uses much less power. And it's quieter." The Barlow is dissuaded from pulling out the tent, at least for now, as the party needs to continue to move on, in search of Ming-Na. Barlow: "Why are you looking for her?" Hunter: "We got hired to find her." Barlow: "Does that involve money?" Hunter: "Yeah." Ariana <to Ghaer>: "He's fuzzy just like you." Ghaer: "Yes, he is."
Past the thieves and the snakes, then up a rather steep, rough path that goes up a narrow cleft in the hill. They come up onto a rim around a giant pit. This would be the 9th Circle. The path goes to the edge of the pit. No elevator, no escalator, just a ladder carved into the side of the pit. It goes down maybe 200 feet. Yikes.
Cena: "Do you have any climbing equipment? Rope? Spidersilk? Ladder?" Barlow: "I have a reel of braided steel cable, would that help?" Cena: "I'll take it." Ghaer: "How long have you been camping?" Barlow: "Six or seven months." He takes out a piton, but he doesn't have a hammer. Barlow: "I used to have one, but I must have set it down somewhere and someone picked it up because I wasn't using it." E-tools are used instead to hammer in the piton. But something needs to be done about securing the people to the cable in case of falls. Barlow: "Or we could use the tent and try to make a hang glider." Cena: "Are you channelling a Pikhan?" Barlow: "Well, it's an interesting theoretical problem." He goes on about vectors, etc. with Ghaer for a few minutes.
Something is rigged using looped belts, and the climb is undertaken. It's painful for the burned people, but no one falls to their death. The temp drops as they go down, and at the bottom the entire bottom of the pit is frozen solid, and the path is nowhere to be seen. Bugger. They do see a really huge figure that looks like a classical devil 50 feet tall, but frozen into the ice at his waist level. Ghaer asks politely for the way to Purgatory. Devil<the one on ice>: "It's behind me. It's the crack in the rock, behind me. You have to get up to it. If you get me loose, I'll help you. It's the only way out." Ghaer: "No sir." Devil: "You don't understand. It's part of the punishment here. It's the people who look like the attractive dukes who are the demons that you can't trust. It's the people who look really horrid, like me, that aren't in charge, we're just trapped here." Robert: "Ghaer, don't waste your time with the Father of Lies." Devil: "If I were the Father of Lies, would I make my self look like this?" Ignoring the opportunity for a rollicking good theological debate, the group decides to continue to search the level for another potential exit.
They see a group of people huddled on the ice. These are the evil impersonators - a group of counterfeiters, and a false witness. The last two are arguing with each other. There are a lot of possible ways out, but there's still a lot of the circle to check out, and it's better to keep moving any how, lest the group freeze. Ariana: "What do you thing about going back and climbing out? Do you think it's really the way out?" Ghaer: "I don't know." It will take three hours for the group as a whole to check out the entire pit, but if the group splits up, it can be done quicker. No one really wants to split up the group. Besides, Hunter would just go off and pick a fight with the 40' tall devils.
Around the pit of the 9th Circle of Hell they go. Robert doesn't want to believe the Devil, since he is, after all, the Prince of Lies, and that is not a term of endearment. There are demons and victims all over the place, tormenting, taunting, etc. Several hours later, there are no signs of any way out, other than the way the group came down, and the crack the devil pointed out. In the center of the frozen pit are the banners. Cena: "Well, you gotta figure that the way out is either the crack, or it's right in the center." Robert: "Exactly." The Barlow has been mapping, and polling people about their sins. Ghaer finally has to ask what the Barlow's doing, and is told it's his final exam. He's trying to become a Protector, and if he can handle this place, he has a shot at making it as a Barlow Protector in the Imperium. (As long as no one eats a rare steak in front of him.) Ghaer: "Good luck."
Almost an hour later, past a group of movie critics (the falsifiers), the party comes to the pavillions with the banners. There is a creature with three heads and two wings, chewing on two people - the betrayers (traditionally, Judas, Brutus, and one other - probably Lucan. But only two are currently present). According to the book, the "three-headed beast is the Lord of the Realm." Robert: "So if this is hell (it better be), and if this being is in fact the Lord of the Realm..." Nothing but ice below, nothing but darkness above. Yup - sounds about right.
Being: "Do you want something, or what?!" Robert: "We're looking for the way out." Being: "Wouldn't you like to know." Robert: "Yes, I would." Being: "Tough luck." Robert: "The guy out there said you wouldn't know where it was either." Being: "Why don't you have a nice glass of ice water?" Robert: "No thank you." Being: "You don't belong here. But I'll keep you anyway." Barlow <motioning at the writhing figures being chewed>: "This is bothering me." Ghaer: "It's bothering me too." Barlow: "Can we give them something?" Ghaer: "Yes, we can give them a song." Ghaer's thought is to sing a few hymns. Barlow: "I was thinking of the Tralyaka in my flask. They're in a lot of pain." Cena: "It's never out of place to do something to ease someone's pain." Barlow: "Do you have something?" Cena: "No, but you offered your... Tralyaka?" Barlow: "Okay - here." Cena takes the flask and goes over to try to get the Tralyaka to the men being chewed on. As she does, the Sergeant goes around behind the Being, and carefully shoots the back of the head the farthest from Cena as a distraction. Oh they've got his attention now! Cena gets the remaining Tralyaka into Brutus' mouth. The second head dropped Judas and has seized the Sergeant in it's mouth.
Brutus<to Cena after swallowing the Tralyaka>: "It's the crack, there. The Titan can give you a lift. Kill me." Cena shoots the man in the back of the head with her 12mm, understanding why he wanted it. Cena then goes after the Sergeant, since he got grabbed. The head that was holding Judas has grabbed the sergeant, the one with the now dead Brutus has dropped his body, and the third head was blown off by the Sergeant's initial shot. Ghaer naturally rushes up and tosses a grenades into the mouth that had been holding Brutus. Ghaer is slashed at, and is tossed away - thank God for the body armor. That leaves Cena, who has a distraction when the one "Brutus" head explodes. She fires her shotgun into the "Judas" creature's throat, so she doesn't hit the sergeant. She hits, so it's jaw drops and allows the sergeant to pry his way out; he's been levering with his boots. He's free but hurt. He tells Cena to go drop his grenades behind them, which she does, as the sergeant limps away, soon helped by Ghaer.
Meanwhile, Robert and the others are headed for the Titan. They're motivated people - with new found sprinting talents, and make it back to the Titan in only 15 minutes. Ghaer, Cena, and the sergeant are not far behind. Devil/Titan: "Hi. You're back. You guys are very exciting to watch. I don't often get anything entertaining to watch, it's usually the same old act." Robert: "I owe you an apology." Titan: "Well, you'd be stupid to take the word of someone here without at least trying to get a second opinion. It's not like I was going anywhere or anything. Brutus will be coming back to life soon, and Lucifer needs to have a mouth to do munchies and crunchies, so you bought him a few hours. You may have even gotten him six hours, and that's a lot here. So what do you think you can do about this ice? Do you have any fire stuff?" The ice looks like it's maybe 10' deep. Ghaer: "Oh, I've got something but I don't think you'll like it." Titan: "What?" Ghaer: "A small explosive charge." Titan: "Bring it on. It can't be worse than being frozen in the lake of Hell." Point taken.
Hunter has a white phosphorus grenade, which is used to melt the ice to form a pocket in which to place the other charges. Hunter: "So who says this guy's not going to rip us a new asshole if we get him loose?" Cena <to the Titan>: "Okay, if we get you loose, do you promise to help us get out of here, and not to hurt any of our party?" Titan: "I promise to not intentionally hurt any of your party." Cena: "Good enough." Hunter places the charges, the hole is allowed to ice over, and everyone gets behind the Titan for cover. The charge goes off, the Titan pulls himself out. He reaches down and lifts people out, in two batches (he can only lift five at a time). Everyone gets up into the crack and the tall, winged Titan follows the party up and out the fissure. Once they're actually in the fissure, it's not too hard of a climb.
Cena asks if the Titan is coming with them, and he is. It's boring as, well, as Hell down here. Titan: "It's always the same whiners, whining the same things about the torture. You just want to sleep all the time. The only time it's ever fun is when some one shows up and stirs things up a bit by provoking one of the demons or something. Now taking on the King of Hell himself, you've got to have balls for that. <to Cena> No offense." Cena: "None taken." There are no tracks, but it's a rocky path. As they move out, they find another gate. Gate as in Therian gate. There are runes on the gate - yellow and glowing. And Ghaer sees the octarine glow. Barlow: "I've never gone this far before. I'll follow you." They go through the gate, and materialize in a forest. It's nice and sunny in the forest, but it's nice and cool in the shade.
Ghaer covers the area, but there is no visible threats. Robert asks the Titan his name, but "no one's ever given me a name." Cena: "Theodore? Ted? Teddy? Terence the Titan?" Titan: "I like Ted. You can call me Ted." Once the party is through the other side, Ted is not longer a huge wingéd demon. Ted is now 5'11", average build, black hair, brown eyes. Very definitely human.
Since they are not in good shape, being exhausted and beat to crap, a suitable place for a camp is sought, and the Barlow tent is brought out. It's decent weather, but it will get cooler as the day turns to evening. Food, water, sleep.