Part 139: Fake UpdateFake Update:
There's several other options available to you that I didn't show, simply because they're too horrible to contemplate. Initially I wanted to end up murdering everyone and feeding them to the Pillar as part of an April Fool's joke, but we're so close to the endgame now that I'm too eager for the finish to do that. In any case, here it is: all the other stuff that happens with the Pillar of Skulls...
The pillar's head all turn to leer at Morte. "THE SKULL... WE DEMAND THE SKULL AS TRIBUTE. RETURN HIM TO US, AND YOU SHALL HAVE YOUR ANSWER."
"Don't put me back in there, chief. Please!"
"CEASE YOUR FEEBLE PROTESTATIONS, SKULL! THE DECISION IS NOT YOURS!" The pillar's many heads swivel slowly to face you, their eyes narrowed. "TOO LONG HAS HE CHEATED HIS FATE; HE IS *OURS.* WERE YOU TO RETURN HIM, WE WOULD BE MOST WELL-DISPOSED TOWARD SUCH A GIFT... WE WISH TO SAVOR HIS SCREAMS..."
"All right... you may have him."
"Whoa there... wait! Not so fast! Pillar... I could tell you where Fjhull Forked-Tongue is! Come on, don't you want to know? So what if he gives you that, instead of me? Eh? What d'ya say?"
"Hold it, Morte. We're not selling out Fhjull."
"What? Are you *barmy?!* You'll sell *me* out, but not that *FIEND?!* The only reason he helped you is because he's bound, cursed! What about *me?* Who got you out of the Mortuary, pal? Who's gonna stand -- er, float -- beside you when you face down whatever's waiting for you at that Fortress of Whatever?! Huh?! Huh?! NOT FHJULL FAT-ARSE, THAT'S FOR DAMNED SURE!"
"Sorry, Morte. You're going in."
"YESSSSS..." The stack of heads begins to writhe and boil, heads thrusting to the surface to howl and babble before sinking back down. They drool and chatter: "I cannot wait to savor his screams!" Another: "Screams be damned! The *torment* is what's best for one so annoying as he! I shall yank his teeth out, spit them into his brain pan and shake him like a babe's rattle!" And another: "Oo! Oo! I'll eat his eyes out!"
"Chief?! No! No! You *can't!* Come on!"
"Don't worry, Morte - I'll just pull you back out later."
Morte looks at you skeptically. "You *sure?* You *swear* it? Hey, what am I saying?! No! No way! C'mon, you *can't* put me back in there!"
Grab Morte, thrust him into the Pillar of Skulls.
The pillar heads cackle and sputter with unholy glee as Morte is sucked screaming into the thing's awful core, doubtless to suffer endless torment at the 'hands' of the other severed heads. As the commotion begins to die down, its heads begin cooing and whispering to one another. Suddenly, Morte bursts howling to the surface:
"Aiieeee! Get me out! Please! Please! I swear I'll never lie ag-!" ...and just as quickly as he arose, he is pulled back beneath the pillar's surface.
At this point you can leave Morte to his grisly fate, but return later to hear him begging and whimpering. It's about as sad as that picture of the puppy yowling over the body of his dead puppy friend.
You take another cautious step towards the pillar, and all their conversation abruptly *stops*. The dozens of heads that lines the pillar's surface slowly turn to face you in unison. They regard you silently then, with a horrid scream, Morte bursts howling to the surface:
"Gaaaah! Chief! Get me out! Please! Please!"
Though if you really want to be a jerk, you can ignore his pleas.
Ignore Morte, wait for him to sink again.
Morte, tears streaming through the blood and stinking slime which coats him, begs for release. "Chief, please, I'm begging you! You've got to get me out, please, I swear I'll never lie ag-!" ...and just as quickly as he arose, he is pulled back beneath the pillar's surface.
Try and pull Morte out.
Your hands shoot out and grab Morte before he can be sucked back into the pillar's core. The heads cry out in rage: "NO! NO! STOP! YOU SHALL NOT TAKE HIM AGAIN!" The heads begin to lash out at you, biting at your hands and wrists with cruel, jagged teeth...
Getting Morte out depends on what class you specialized as all this time. If you're a fighter, you rip him free with brute strength. Wizard, you blast the pillar with arcane energy. Thief, you feint and dodge and rip him free. Overall you still permanently lose Max HP, but only 5 instead of the 15 you lose when you let the pillar feed on your moist, tender flesh.
Keep fighting, tear Morte free of the pillar.
The Pillar of Skulls puts up a tremendous battle, yet you prove too mighty a warrior for it to best. Hammering away at the attacking heads, you strike them, kick them, butt them with your own head, even biting them until you've managed to pull Morte free with the sound of tearing flesh. The battle, however, leaves you drained, exhausted... somehow, you know you're now weaker than before.
Use your mastery of the Art to channel raw power into freeing Morte.
The Pillar of Skulls puts up a tremendous battle, yet your magic proves too powerful for it to best. You channel pure, unfocused mana through your hands and into the Pillar, battering it away until you've managed to pull Morte free. The battle, however, leaves you drained, exhausted... somehow, you know you're now weaker than before.
Pull back as if you would relent, feint in one direction, and then wrench Morte free before the Pillar knows what's hit it.
Seeing the pillar prepare to put up a tremendous battle, you pretend to back off. Just as Morte starts to sink and the pillar begins to speak again, you leap forwards and grasp Morte. Only a single head manages to strike before you pull Morte away, biting deep into your forearm... you jab it in the eye with your thumb and pull your old companion free at last. The foul head's bite, however, leaves you drained, exhausted... somehow, you know you're now weaker than before.
"See, Morte? Nothing... to worry... about..."
The pillar's heads gnash their teeth and spit bile at you, bellowing with rage. "HE IS OURS! OURS! OURS!" Abruptly, they calm themselves. "FINE. REVEL IN YOUR VICTORY, 'IMMORTAL.' WE SHALL HAVE HIM AGAIN, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER."
Another option is to trade away the Modron Cube. It's a pretty prized possession since the Cube, as a sort of interdimensional rift, can act as an escape route into other planes. It's why Coaxmetal the big siege engine of Entropy asks for it... it would let him escape Sigil. I suspect the same is true for the Pillar of Skulls.
The pillar's heads -- save for the hissing of foul vapors issuing from rents in its rancid surface -- remain silent for a time. Finally, it answers: "THERE IS AN OBJECT IN YOUR POSSESSION THAT WE WISH FOR OURSELVES. THE MODRON CUBE: GIVE IT TO US, AND WE SHALL ANSWER YOUR QUESTION."
"Here... take it."
You toss the cube towards the Pillar of Skulls, and a great, stinking gash opens within its side to receive it. In moments, the gash is sealed and the cube is gone - somehow, you know - forever. The heads gurgle happily, shifting slowly across the pillar's face.
Grace and Annah, being tanar'ri, can also be traded to the pillar. The results are... less than successful.
The pillar's heads frown, their eyes flickering this way and that. Suddenly, they all come to rest on Fall-From-Grace. "SHE WILL DO... YES. THE TANAR'RI. GIVE HER TO US... WE WILL CONSUME HER ALIVE, BATHE OURSELVES IN HER SWEET BLOOD... THEN, WE SHALL ANSWER YOUR QUESTION." A number of the heads begin to moan with longing, calling to Grace: "Yes, Tanar'ri, sweet succubus, wicked thing, surrender yourself to us..."
"Very well. You may have her."
Fall-From-Grace seems unmoved by your statement, merely looking from the pillar to you. "I would never willingly allow the Pillar of Skulls to have me... but I am certain you know this, and were merely jesting. You may not wish to taunt the Pillar so..."
Truth: "I was serious. Get in there, Grace, or I'll stuff you in myself."
Graces pauses, eyeing you cautiously. "Are you certain this is a course of action you wish to take? Would you truly cast me into the Pillar of Skulls?"
"Yes, I would."
Fall-From-Grace's eyes become hard and cold as ice, though her face and form remain perfectly composed. "Then I must bid you farewell, Nameless One. Should you make your way out of Baator, perhaps we shall cross paths again." And with that, she begins to dissipate into a cloud of green mist.
A deep rumbling issues from within the pillar; more heads worm their way to its roiling surface, dissecting you with their scarlet eyes. At last, their gaze finds Annah. "THE FIENDLING! GIVE US THE TIEFLING GIRL, YES... WE SHALL TEAR HER APART WITHIN US, REVEL IN THE BASKING OF HER SWEET, FIERY BLOOD... THEN, WE SHALL ANSWER YOUR QUESTION."
"Very well. You may have her."
"It can *have* me, can it?! I think not, yeh pikin' idjit! What're yeh thinkin', yammerin' about so?" She suddenly stops, narrowing her eyes at you. "Lady's shadow, yeh better not be serious, now... if yeh are, so helps me, I'll feed yeh to it meself, I will..."
Truth: "I was serious. Get in there, Annah, or I'll stuff you in myself."
At this point she goes hostile and you're forced to kill her.
Now what if we learn of our nature with Vhailor in the party?
"OH, YES." The pillar's heads narrow their eyes and smile grotesquely. "EACH TIME YOU DIE, 'IMMORTAL,' YOU CAST A SHADOW... EACH TIME YOU DIE, *ANOTHER* DIES IN YOUR STEAD. THESE SHADOWS... THEY GATHER, HUNGERING FOR YOU, WITHIN THE FORTRESS OF REGRETS. HOW MANY TIMES *HAVE* YOU PERISHED, NAMELESS ONE? HOW MANY HUNDREDS... THOUSANDS... HAVE DIED, BECAUSE OF *YOU?*" The pillar trembles with wicked glee; its heads pull faces and gurgle mockingly at you.Suddenly, the hair on the back of your neck rises... you turn to see Vhailor staring at you, his eyes burning brighter than you've ever seen them...
*YOU. It is YOU. How LONG have I hunted you, Nameless One? And how long would I stand BESIDE you before the DECEPTION was exposed?* As he hefts his axe into the air, pure *power* begins to course through him... his dedication, his incredible conviction is turning Vhailor into the literal, physical embodiment of justice. *It is FATE that has placed me so close to you, CRIMINAL. JUSTICE shall be served. You shall FALL beneath my blade, immortal, even if I have to stand over your struggling remains for ETERNITY.*
Welp, that's that. I'll end here with a tasteful shot of the full Pillar itself. Stay tuned!