It is Dark and Hell is Hot
“My friend, I cannot promise what I will do after your hour spell is up, but I will give you a head start.”
Dem’s message rings in Malory’s ears as he tries to sleep in the deep well that Dem left him in. It’s dark and hell is hot, but underneath, it is a temperate 60 degrees (that’s right, hell uses Fahrenheit).
The climb down was treacherous; a slimy blood drenched rope was the only thing that kept Malory from plummeting to his death. The walls of the well were mortared with skulls and coagulated blood.
After a much-needed long rest, Malory awakens to find that a tunnel has appeared. He follows the tunnel to a river full of souls. Thinking better about touching the water, Malory instead teleports to the other bank where a pair of creatures, humanoids with ribbon-like flesh, approach and chat with him. The creatures are scavengers, revealing that anything that is buried with the dead goes with them to the River Styx, and these creatures steal.
Malory tries to bargain for their stolen goods using the cape of the mountebank, and the creatures offer slaad control gems (which Malory rejects, deducing that the slaads that had them died and so would not be able to be controlled) and the Sartosi Emperor’s crown which would allow the wearer to influence and control the minds of all subjects of the Sartosi Empire (which Malory rejects, recalling that Sartos has been a republic for the last 100 years).
The creatures, Lampor and Dampor, tell Malory he can wait for the ferry. While he does, Malory sees several fish-shaped spirits who look disturbingly like him. He is unable to communicate with them and their thoughts are strange and fragmented. The ferryman arrives, a skeletal creature plying the river with a long staff with flames and smoke at the end.
In exchange for a joke, the ferryman agrees to take Malory to Zulon. Along the way Malory just unloads on him and the ferryman agrees to help him retrieve memories from the spirits in the water who look like him.
These squishy fish like creatures, once dried off, are safe to touch, after a DC 10 charisma check to fend off feeblemind. The ferryman tells him that most reincarnated souls are just that: reincarnated. Very rarely are those souls duplicated and moreover, none of these souls have gone to the next life. They are trapped in the River Styx and the original Whisperbottom has been for 600 years! The ferryman suspects interference, but never has he met a living specimen so he agrees to help out of curiosity.
Seeking to understand what is happening to him, what has happened to him in his past lives, what The Unspeakable One wants from him, how he became this way, whether he can escape this rebirth cycle, whether he should join the Unspeakable One or fight him, etc, Malory taps into the 12 spirits of his past self:
The memories from these 12 past Whisperbottoms come to Malory and he retains a handful of them, for the Whisperbottoms’ lives stretch before him like a set of parchments and slip through his mind like a sieve, not wanting to be held for long:
In life order, not in vision order:
Natalya and Whisperbottom infiltrate The Hidimba’s alchemy labs. They are unable to find the spells that Aramestes desires, the one that will make Aramestes into the Deathless One. Natalya decides to go to the prosperous mining island of Embara to summon an extraplanar creature to help them. The creature gives them a book (Malorys spellbook) and tells them to decipher it.
With their focus being finding the correct formula, Natalya and Whisperbottom are able to cobble together the Interpretations of the Many-Bodied, but not without madness slowly overtaking them. The two alchemists make an undeath pact, with Natalya entering undeath first, sealing herself away in a cube. Whisperbottom continues reading the book, obsessing more and more, until he makes a mistake: the undeath formula on Natalya starts slowly sapping away her memory. She writes her final letters to her brother, and without her memory and with Whisperbottom’s sanity slipping, Whisperbottom never manages to reach undeath like Natalya and does not manage to escape the Unspeakable One. Natalya’s self locked away in the cube protects her from the Unspeakable One. Malory dies, gibbering and catatonic. Natalya flees just as the Hidimba starts up the Demiplane Engine.
Whisperbottom is close to figuring out parts of the book when he loses the book in a river. It floats downstream, and he never finds it again. He goes mad in his search and dies weeping over it.
Whisperbottom, on his deathbed, has known a long and healthy life, though he has always felt something missing. His life-long depression has driven away friends and family, and as he lays there, in his final months, a man brings him a book. The book has his name written in it in faded ink, and the mysterious man disappears, never to be seen again. Whisperbottom’s lawyer comes over to read it, but Whisperbottom, beginning to read it, clutches at it possessively, realizing that this is what he had been missing his entire life. He died, mourned by no one, weeping over a book, cradling it like a child, a book he thought was the missing piece to his life but that he would never understand, for he had precious few days left with it.
Whisperbottom recalls a fond memory from his childhood. He had a good day with his tutor, learned something new and exciting. As he lay down to sleep, the memory continues. In a blink, Malory in the future sees in the room, every inch covered in worms. The child too is covered in worms, but seems undisturbed by their presence.
Whisperbottom paces his grand wizard tower in Mineos, and at last he has found the missing piece, the final piece of understanding. He is almost there. If he can just finish this passage and retain it. He reads deeper and deeper, and engrossed in the text, the balcony railing he is leaning on breaks and he plummets, still reading the book, not bothering to cast a spell to save his life. In his final moments, he finally understands.
Whisperbottom is reading by candlelight, a man in his twenties. He reads the book and the passage escapes him. As Malory in the future watches the memory, he is screaming at the young Whisperbottom, “It is obvious, can you not see?!” Just then the Unspeakable One, worms and all, appears in the vision, and echoes present Malory’s words. “It is obvious. Can you not see?” The young Whisperbottom, in fear, says, “Give me more time.” But the Unspeakable One says, “The one before figured out this part by this time in his life.” The worms from the creature’s arm enter Whisperbottom’s nostrils, penetrating his brain, until he dies.
Whisperbottom is reading by candlelight, a man in his twenties. He reads the book and the passage solidifies in his mind. He is further than any of the other Whisperbottoms have ever gotten, but he doesn’t know that. Malory knows that now, in the future, but he doesn’t know. This one was bright, promising, so close to figuring it out so fast, maybe fast enough to get it over with and move on to a better life for longer.
As he walks down the street the next morning for breakfast at his favorite cafe, a young man in a mask crosses his path and says, “Rigoberto sends his regards,” stabs Whisperbottom fatally, and takes his coin purse. Malory in the future knows no Rigoberto, and as Whisperbottom lays dying, he only thinks about how close he was, not about his mother or his brothers or his best friend who was meeting him for breakfast. The book was all he thought of.
Malory and the ferryman become pals. Gain one bond. Malory decides to take his fish-souls with him, to set them to rest or maybe even to form some kind of game plan.
Malory arrives to meet Malbec Riesling, on his way to see Zulon. Malbec warns Malory not to let Zulon see the fish souls he collected. Good looking out. Once Malbec reaches Zulon, Zulon instantly teleports him away in a puff of smoke.
“That guy keeps coming back trying to renegotiate. He better not try to weasel out of this. I’m trying to party! You better not be trying to renegotiate.”
Malory says no and asks for help deciphering Malorys spellbook. Zulon tells him he can understand it all perfectly but it is just a bunch of nonsense. Every time Zulon tells him the name of the Unspeakable One, it completely falls out of Malory’s memory. Every time Zulon tells Malory the Unspeakable One’s plan, which is written plainly in the book, it falls out of Malory’s memory.
“Shit. Can I ever understand it?”
“You could let him unlock your brain,” which Malory bitterly remembers was an offer he rejected, “but I don’t know if you would want to, knowing what I know about mortals. Few of you want [static].”
“How can I escape the curse? The multiple lives, the madness, the inevitability of the Unspeakable One’s arrival onto the material plane?”
“Well, you might think to destroy the book. But look,” and Zulon turns the book in his hand and it vanishes and when he turns his hands again it appears again, as though it were just an optical illusion, “it’s not even really a book. If you destroyed the pages and binding and cover, it would still exist.
“What would you do if you were me?”
“If I were you, I would kill this guy. Then maybe he would stop messing with your life.”
Malory thanks Zulon and politely turns down his offer to hang out with him for six days before Zulon’s invasion of the material plane. Instead he decides to chill with the ferryman to await his friends’ return on the material plane, after promising him the first orange of the harvest.
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