Adventures in the Age of Dusk: The Valley of the Flayer

Between Gal’Alor and Karaash lie the contested Riverlands. More fertile then any within the Lands of Autumn, by its bounty of crops and fish are the numberless thousands of Gal’Alor and Karaash fed and kept quiescent. Its green acres, shrub-topped hills, placid lakes and gently rippling creeks serve to hide an important fact from many a newcomer. The Riverlands are a warzone, a no man’s land where the lives of thousands are spent in a drawn-out war that has gone on for centuries. The native Riverlanders try, often in vain, to protect themselves from marauding war parties, deserters, bandits, rogue war beasts and stray sorcerous or alchemical weapons.

But there is one valley, ringed by high and impassible hills, that is avoided by soldiers of both Karaash and Gal’Alor. Here the forest has long stripped away, leaving miles upon miles of stumps like buck-teeth, the hills have been gutted for metal and stone and the fields have similarly been churned and uprooted. No animal, fowl, deer nor songbird is there to make a sound. In the valley, the ground vibrates with subterranean industry and the topside is quiet as only Final Night could be. So it has been for long decades, growing, gnawing at the bones of the earth, burrowing, consuming.

Among the many strange and ofputting tales to be gathered from the ragged and suspicious inhabitants of the Riverlands is one of a man called Szasin. They say of the chirurgeons of the Purple Guild that have their spies in every city and their healers in every court he was a prodigy, the greatest to have ever joined their secretive order. They say he sought to extend their art to mind and soul, not mere flesh. They say that under his artisan’s hands a man’s mind could be broken down and reassembled in any form he chose. They say the masters of the Purple Guild were overcome with fear and disgust when they beheld the fruits of his labours and rather then laud him for the genius he was they sought to end him. And by trickery and betrayal and his chirurgeons arts did he turn them against themselves as he fled to the Riverlands to continue his works. How many hundreds he stole to be subject to his art is unknown, for who would notice among the numberless thousands that perish with each moon?

It was years later that, by procuring the distasteful service of the Sial-Atun, Szasin was found and brought back to Gal’Alor. And it is whispered that even the Sial-Atun balked at the sight of his works, for they were products of madness and inhuman brilliance. A great mound of rubble, like a vast anthill, filled the valley. Within it, endless tunnels and burrows of packed earth and crudely worked stone, inhabited by things that could no longer be called human. Hideously muscled workers, like man-apes, with empty eyes and drooling imbecilic mouths did toil ceaselessly within the darkness, forever extending new tunnels. Spindly soldiers armed with swords of crudely forged iron they did encounter, but these did not flee from the martial prowess of the Sial-Atun. Immune to pain and knowing no fear or self-preservation, they did throw themselves upon the Sial-Atun, and naught but the gravest and most lethal of injuries sufficed to put them down. And they encountered further abominations in the breeding pens and thus the blood of women joined the blood of men in the cold mud below the earth. Of the hundred Sial-Atun that braved this perilous place no more then thirty returned alive with their quarry. Aged but vibrant as ever, Szasin did not resist and came quietly.

Gal’Alor remembers well the day of Szasin’s execution. It is said that when they lit his pyre he did laugh and proclaim: “Oh ye fools and pettiest of men. Doth ye think to burn Great Szasin on your pyre?” And the flames did lick his flesh and his skin shrivelled and popped with roasted fat but he did not cry out. “Your flames cannot put down Great Szasin.” And the flames did char his flesh until it blackened and split like kindling and still he did not cry out. “Szasin is not a man, oh small-minded and impotent lords.” And he was wreathed in flame like the auras of gods of old and he would not cry out in pain. “Szasin is an idea.”

Today the mound stands within the valley of the Flayer still, growing larger with each moon, ever hungry for wood, food, iron and new flesh. Its children have been stripped of all that is great and all that is terrible in mankind and are little more then automatons. Its brain is a group of men that have been remade under the chirurgeons knives and torturers needles until they are but duplicates of Great Szasin, every bit as brilliant, merciless and skilled as their progenitor. Deep within its labyrinthine structure, underneath the breeding pits, subterranean farms, forges and warrens lies the inner sanctum where men are taken and remoulded to fit a singular vision.

Adversaries/Obstacles:
The Mound is a human anthill populated by the apostles of Great Szasin. They possess no sorcerous arts but rely solely on manpower, strategy and tenacity to defeat any foe. Its soldiers are fearless but poorly equipped. Its workers are strong but indifferent combatants. Its breeders are immobile and wracked with countless births. The Hive will gladly sacrifice its entire population of soldiers to ensure the safety of the inner sanctum. Its most powerful adversaries are the brains, the memetic duplicates of great Szasin, of great wit and hypnotic charisma, who will direct their troops from afar and rely on trickery, deception and diplomacy to win the day. Should they be encountered in battle they are tenacious opponents, every bit as lethal with an open palm or a poisoned scalpel as the most formidable armoured knight. The mound can have anywhere from 300-1200 inhabitants.

Worker(As 0 lvl human, morale 8, Str 18).
Warrior(As 1st lvl ftr, morale 12, gain +2 to hit and damage because of fanaticism)
Scout (As 1st lvl thief, hide in shadows/move silently 45%, morale 6, land speed 1.5 unarmoured human, dex 16)
Breeder(o lvl human, 1 hp, immobile).
Monitor (As 3rd level ftr, 14 int, morale 10, gives intelligent directions via bizarre language of schreeches and clicks)
Brain(HD 10, abilities of a 20th level Purple Guilder[Since i don’t have those yet, substitute 10th level assasin/15th level monk without obvious supernatural powers(teleportation, no aging etc.)]).

It is important to utilize strategy, organisation and the occasional ambush when GMing the (or Old Gods help you) a Hive. Hive-men do not possess sorcery but they are capable of organisation to a humanly impossible degree, and will utilize tactics that cause innumerable casualties to their soldiers if it will bring them victory. In the event of a catastrophic breach of security, it will consider flooding part of the hive[river has been dammed off], filling tunnels with molten iron, set fires if it can contain them, or even send workers to collapse tunnels.

While the mound has collected few treasures, original copies of Szasin’s work might yet remain, which will be all but priceless(100.000gp+) to the Purple Guild.
In addition, enterprising PC’s might think to help themselves to the looted supplies of weapons, stockpile of metal, precious stones that are left in the garbage pits(they have no value), and small stockpile of precious metals(the Hive has not yet figured out what to utilize this for).

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2 thoughts on “Adventures in the Age of Dusk: The Valley of the Flayer

  1. Very creepy, like a mashup of Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear and Starship Troopers with some elements of Vance’s The Pnume. Before I got to the stats section, I was picturing the breeder caste as gigantic, bloated queens, fully capable of crushing intruders under their bulk.

    Mesoamericanly, I got a Xipe Totec vibe from the post title, and was expecting a monstrous harvest god.

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    1. I did envishion them as bloated queens, just human bloated queens with atrophied limbs that need constant tending. As for inspiration, i must cite the relatively obscure Hellstrom’s Hive by the unparalelled Frank Herbert and the novel Coalescent by Stephen Baxter.

      But the point is well made, i shall contemplate the nature of breeders on the tree of woe.

      Edit: Ah Xipe Totec, scariest of all harvest gods. I have slain my gods but there is room galore for the veneration of vile demigods and the wearing of human skin to symbolize fertility is a concept that has a certain visceral appeal. This too will i contemplate on the tree of woe.

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