Chapter 30: Disease

Loral looked with revulsion into the pit that led into the Plane of Disease and the giant pipe that eternally poured forth the black liquid inside. The stench of the pit overwhelmed him, burning the inside of his nose and causing his lungs to constrict. The tainted fountain was a dark contrast to the beauty of the land that surrounded it. The Plane of Tranquility promised an eternal peace. It was the land Loral always dreamed of - a land of green grass, clear waters, and quiet solitude. Like the curled demonic finger of an ancient beast protruding through the ground, the spout of disease-ridden fluid reminded Loral of his task. He would have to enter this infested portal. Loral slipped on his turtle-bone ring and breathed in the clean air that flowed from the ring's innate mystical power. With a final look around, he dove into the tainted pit.

A great splash of the vile liquid deposited the cleric into the Plane of Disease. Loral landed hard on one knee, gritting his teeth. One hand clutched the Symbol of Tunare around his neck and the other gripped an ethereal hammer. If the smell of the sewer in Tranquility was revolting, the smell of this new world was unimaginable. Loral gagged at first, even with the aid of his magical ring. A fog rolled over the stone slab where Loral found himself. A great green lake, foul and thick, surrounded the slab on three sides while a wall of rotting flesh reached into the grey sky above.

A clap on his shoulder shot Loral upright, sending a wave of nervous energy down into his fingertips. When he turned, he saw the grin of two hundred teeth and the emerald eyes of Rasthik the beastlord. If Loral found himself assaulted by the odor of this place, he could not imagine how Rasthik was managing to survive. The lizard-man could smell the blood of a dead Vampyre from a quarter mile away. Loral heard another splash and Warrick the barbarian shaman fell from the portal to the slab. Loral noticed that Warrick had taken the less subtle approach of sticking two twisted rags into his nostrils to avoid the stench. Loral smiled but his smile quickly faded when he remembered where he and his friends had come.

Loral had spent weeks in the Library of New Tanaan upon arriving in the Plane of Knowledge. He had been sent by the Church of Tunare to investigate the new portals manifesting themselves as books on pedestals all over Norrath's great cities. While the ethereal nature of the planes reminded Loral how different they were from Norrath, it was in the old tomes and dusty parchments of the great library that he fully lost himself. For Loral they were a king's treasure, rivaling that of Lord Nagafen the red dragon. For weeks he buried himself in the precious documents, filled with ancient legends written by hands dead for centuries. Large candles burned down to their bases as he passed the days and nights reading the histories of civilizations and gods long forgotten. It was in those magnificent volumes, covered by millennia of dirt, mold, and cobwebs, that he discovered the tales of Lxanvom, the King's Rest, and its exile into the Plane of Disease.

Two wolves ran up the rotten flesh bank of the festering lake. Their paws floated over the surface, seeming to move half the speed of the great distance they traveled. When they arrived, the wolves shifted form into two elven rangers of the Healers, Taey and Brooken. Another splash from the invisible portal dropped Isos the Paladin onto the great slab. Together the companions began their trek over the putrid lands of the Bertoxxulous, the Plaguebringer.

Loral remembered hearing Ciric and Azile talk about the outer Planes. He always found his mind had trouble wrapping around their concept. Ciric explained it best once when comparing it to a scale, with Norrath at the center. Norrath was a balance between good and evil. Many lands and many people, both good and evil, existed all in one world. The further out of the scale you went, the less balance things had. While the Plane of Sky, Growth, and Tranquility were on one side; Fear, Hate, and Nightmare were on the other. There was little balance in many of these planes; they were either good or evil. Nowhere was this clearer than in the Plane of Disease.

Taey's blade severed two of the spined legs of a gigantic insect-like Malarian. The creature returned the attack by spitting an acidic liquid on the ranger through its elongated stinger. Taey recoiled and retched as the acid ate away at her armor and skin. Two of Brooken's crackling arrows slammed into the bloated abdomen of the winged beast as it took flight. A quick prayer from Loral sent a wave of blue energy from his hand to the wounded ranger neutralizing the acid and soothing Taey's wounds. The creature twisted and stared with giant compound eyes upon the meddling cleric, its remaining legs clicking with agitation.

Telepathic visions flooded into Loral's mind - images of the violent insect ripping Loral's arms off and burrowing its extended maw into his chest. Loral breathed deeply, canceling the horrific images from his mind. He raised a hand and a burning red energy of condemnation crushed the beast's exoskeleton. The creature fell to the ground, breaking into a cloud of noxious gasses. The party jumped back from the infectious cloud but then cheered at each other. The victory was short lived, however, when they saw the spiders, diseased rats and beetles, flowing ooze, and deformed humanoids waiting for them across the fleshy hills.

For two days Loral traveled across the vile lands. While some adventurers left and others joined, the party crossed streams of sickly bile and walls of scabbed flesh and exposed bone. The world around them appeared to be a single living thing that simply grew into chaos. Soon they came to a large set of what appeared to be vertebrae and beyond it was the first mortal constructed structure they had seen since the stone slab - The Crypt of Decay.

It was at this ancient structure that Loral witnessed the first sentient beings of this world, the Magi of Bertoxxulous. Empty eye sockets of the Deathbone Magi stared blankly at the party, their rotten chapped lips whispering arcane spells of ancient times. Great fires erupted around the adventurers, but they were quick to retaliate and defeat the plagued wizards.

With trepidation the party carefully made their way into the crypt, having now expanded into two dozen adventurers. It was as they reached the balcony of the great hall that Gryme, the Crypt Guardian, attacked. Gryme was enormous, as wide as a hill giant is tall. His body was covered with exposed bone wrapped in folds of decaying flesh. His chain-wrapped fists slammed into the front-line attackers of the raiding force, sending them sliding across the stone floor or hurling them into the air.

A mighty battle ensued. Dozens of arrows bore deep into the back of the giant but seemed to harm it little. Wizards, both Gnomish and Erudite, called forth huge shards of ice and burning rocks upon the beast. The raiders rushed in, cutting deep into the thick festering flesh of the creature. With a great heaving breath, Gryme vomited a cloud of poisonous gas, sending the attackers to their knees. Loral and the other priests of the raiding force sent wave after wave of healing energy into those who had been caught within the cloud. Soon Loral felt the last amount of Tunare's energy leave him. With little left to do, he drew forth his magical hammer of Judgment and rushed in. Gryme's iron clad knuckles smashed into Loral. The blow shattered his nose and knocked him instantly unconscious.

The crack of his nose being pushed back into place jolted Loral awake but before the wave of pain drove him back to unconsciousness he felt a warmth of energy flow through him, soothing and mending the bone. He sat upright, once again gagging as the smell of the accursed land flooded into his nostrils. The mound of the decaying corpse of Gryme and the recovering raiding party was nearby. Many had fallen to the horrid breath of the rotting crypt guardian and many others had been crushed by his heavily-armored fists.

One of the raiders with the stomach strong enough to approach the corpse of Gryme, a powerful human warrior named Zarcharius, found a tiny key attached to a rope around the beast's engorged neck. The grim warrior looked up towards the stairway that led deeper into the crypt. It was clear that a good part of him wished he never had found the key, just as many of his fellow adventurers wish they hadn't stepped foot into this diseased world. But a gleam in his eye, one of adventure and discovery, drove him forward. He drew his gleaming black-runed blade and walked up the ancient staircase of the crypt. Everyone else followed.