The night after the Battle of Hope’s End allowed Valdane’s acolytes a few hours to rest and recover their senses while Warden Corren and his men packed their carriages and prepared for the journey north.
By morning, the defenders of Hope’s End would split their forces – with most of their numbers venturing to Maraic. The others, Valdane’s war party included, would begin their journey to the Ossuaria.
The trip to the Great Ossuaria is long and anxious. Throughout the trip, Corren’s men share uneasy glances – clearly uncomfortable so far from the relative safety of Hope’s End, even in it’s half-destroyed state.
As the group makes its way, the blasted fog comes and goes, often shrouding the path ahead. Eventually, after another full day’s ride, they find their goal – Thaur’s once-mighty Ossuaria, or at least what remains.
Now, the Ossuaria is nothing but an enormous clearing pockmarked by giant craters digging deep into the earth. It appears that only a scattering of bone edifices and crumbling monuments seem fortunate enough to have escaped the Inquisition’s wrath. Strangely, the forests here have refused to grow back. Instead, the Acolytes find only decay and tangled roots.
The massive craters – the obvious result of a decades-past orbital bombardment – give way to once-hidden catacombs and tunnels below – many collapsing into long-forgotten tombs or passageways.
This nightmarish honeycomb of bones and ash stretches on for miles on end, as if the very land itself is rotting away. Furthermore, with the addition of the still pouring Ashen Rains, many of these craters and unearthed crypts have filled with foul, brackish waters. In other places, run offs and flash floods have created whole rivers and waterfalls washing down into the depths below.
Traverse the landscape proves to be difficult. Navigating the slick rocky outcroppings and trails, one of the warband’s carts slips, tumbling off sideways into the darkness. Although the Acolytes manage to leap free with their gear in time, their equine companions splatter on the jagged rocks far below. Here, they are forced to leave the other cart behind – lest it suffer the same fate.
Scanning the area, the Acolytes find the cultists’ trail – tracks leading to crude metal and wood handholds carved into a rock face as it snakes its way underground. Positioned beside one of the newly-formed waterfalls of mud and rot, the climb down is perilous.
Eventually, the warband reaches the bottom – lowering themselves down into a roughly-hewn passageway. A few piled bone totems mark the beginning of this tunnel. Once lit by torches now long extinguished, the tunnels are pitch black – a labyrinthian abyss stretching off in all directions. Proceeding in, the Acolytes begin their journey into the very heart of Thaur’s darkness. At first, most of the tunnels are free of debris or water, but soon they come across many passageways that are either unstable or that have collapsed completely. In other places, the Acolytes submerge themselves, squeezing through and under cave-ins or flooded corridors. Even the most navigable passages are cramped – some with no room for more than one abreast. The dampness and darkness pervades all.
Eventually, the Acolytes encounter a river – roughly a dozen metres in width and moving rapidly. Without spending hours doubling back, crossing these subterranean rapids seems to be the only way deeper into the catacombs. Damming part of the river with large boulders, the Acolytes manage to traverse the flowing mud and decay – losing only one of the accompanying Mournful Guard to the mire.
When the Acolytes manage to cross the river of filth they’re greeted by a single strike of the cursed bell. The sound is mind-shatteringly loud, seemingly resonating through the very rock itself. As the bell echoes through their minds, its followed by a monumental moan – like a hundred thousand souls crying out in agony – a sick welcoming.
Proceeding deeper and deeper through more forgotten passageways, the stench of the river doesn’t seem to fade. Instead, it worsens. Now, the temperature has also seemingly climbed, leaving the rock faces dripping wet. A slight fog starts to build and steam obscures the way ahead. Soon, colourful moulds, fungus, and other tell-tale signs of decay cover every inch of every surface. The tunnels quickly become a true assault on the senses.
The Acolytes will eventually a reach a dead end. In the floor, a small circular opening has been carved, crudely illuminated by torchlight coming from below. It appears that a rope ladder has been haphazardly nailed into a nearby wall. Descending, the Acolytes find their goal. Here, in the defiled tomb of some long-forgotten saint, they find a truly horrifying sight – disturbing at levels that their minds cannot even begin to comprehend.
The chamber is large – some hundred metres across and another fifty high. Massive tree roots descend from the darkness above, criss-crossing back and forth and forming slick rotting walkways and alcoves. Black, putrid water pours in from various points on the walls and ceiling while also bubbling up from cracks in the rocky floor. Thick, viscous pools hide much of whatever solid footing may be found below – however, these pools are now more blood and pus than rotten water and mud.
At the centre of this chamber is the true nightmare – an inexplicable sight – a giant mass of bodies, bones, and rot. Like an incomprehensible tumour four stories high, the mass pulsates and shakes. Atop the putrid, dripping pile of flesh and mould, the Acolytes see a single large bell – rusted brass, cracked, and riddled with holes. Unmoving, it rings. The giant mass moans – a sanity shattering cacophony of pain and anguish. The source is clear: almost ‘melted’ into the pile of putrescent miasma, Thaur’s missing villagers scream.
Furthermore, from between the slick, disgusting folds of the daemon-thing, bulbous sacs drop to the ground, striking off the rocks and tree roots found below. Upon striking the ground, the sacs burst open, spilling their foul fluids and birthing wretched plaguebearers and other twisted entities. Scores of undead begin emerging from the chamber’s rotten pools to greet their new brothers and sisters – and the Acolytes too.
Ishamael immediately unleashes a torrent of righteous wychfire, consuming the countless shambling dead coming from below. However, even with the tangled roots turning into a temporary inferno, the rest of the daemons seem unfazed.
Believing that the destruction of the bell may be their only chance at survival, Warden Corren and Talius drop down into the mire and make for the mountain of filth. Slowly, they begin their climb. The rest of the warband sets after the plague-daemons, hoping to buy their comrades time.
The combat is furious, with a multitude of blows traded back and forth. Koth takes a mighty wound from the daemons’ rusted cleavers and Taeric almost loses an arm – his shield and armour dissolved by corrosive daemonbile. Still, they hold their assailants off.
Working together, the Acolytes manage to down a few of the daemons and slay their herald. Then, they hear the buzzing and beating of great rotting wings. Two massive creatures emerge from behind the mountain of filth. The drones swoop in, assailing the warband.
Cornered, Ishamael is even swallowed whole. Somehow, he destroys the creature from within – blasting his way out with molten fire and the rotting afterbirth of the plague-thing.
Slowly, the tide turns.