One of the Arch-Dungeons of Adel, the Hellmouth is a member of a family of massive, seemingly living spaces that exist beneath each Nation of Adel (and the Abyss Isle and Noshiki), their exact positions shifting, shrinking and growing as they are sealed or “destroyed” and thereby forced dormant, until such a time as their evil can resurface months or (if lucky) years away. Each Archdungeon is a piece of the Lost World so foul that it continues like a cancer within the land, spawning corrupted presences, and endangering the population as its tendrils rise to the surface, opening new entrances. Their size, shape and what a brave and foolish soul may discover within will vary greatly each time the dungeon resurfaces.
The Hellmouth is the “iconic” dungeon of the Republic of Andaliel, dubious as that honor is. The Andalians believe themselves masters of their land, building their vast and great capital of Oomash within a vast hollowed-out circle in the cold Hetuku Mountain, and taming the lush Southland that is the fertile and beautiful breadbasket of their nation. This is not mere hubris – they understand their relationship with the land, and they care for it. But the Hellmouth still seeks to punish them for their accomplishments. Heralded by the rising of entrances that seem like toothed maws, the Hellmouth is a living corruption of the element of Earth, one of the cardinal elements in the Adelian Wheel of Life. Read on for more details of this cursed place.
Basic Features And Powers
The Hellmouth is a dungeon many, many levels deep and dark. It is often tight and cramped, only to open up suddenly, seeming to offer relief, but in reality likely springing a trap. The Hellmouth corrupts Earth, and it appears to have the traits of a living entity. While every Archdungeon has an evil, animating presence, the Hellmouth is the only rocky dungeon that is also frightfully alive. The walls, though rocky, may shudder or dribble. Striking the rocks, such as to clear away debris blocking a path, causes a roar and a gust of wind as the dungeon feels pain. Sometimes, the floors and walls will take on the distinctive texture and pliability of flesh or muscle, despite being, to the eye and to the blade, entirely rock.
As with most Archdungeons, the geography of the Hellmouth is impossible. It is much deeper and larger than external observation would suggest. You cannot dig it out of the ground or dig into it from the surface, but yet you can dig a hole from one of its tunnels and arrive at the surface. The Hellmouth fits spaces into the corrupted Earth that would be otherwise impossible. You can turn a corner from a series of ornate stone halls of the old, extinct Dwarven races, and suddenly find the gray and blue stone meshing with brown dirt walls, and exit into a pit of ichor or a bubbling muddy field.
There have been untold numbers of attempts by the foolhardy, unscrupulous and criminal to seek respite from society within the Hellmouth. While most of the construction within are ancient halls of the humans, elves and dwarves, which were swallowed into the land during the Cataclysm, there are some newer passageways made by Adelians and Sorians, which have endured (as the Hellmouth has allowed them to). How many and what they hold is anyone’s guess. Sometimes a Hellmouth spawn has been very convenient for terrible rogues. People have been disposed of by throwing them into the Hellmouth, and few have escaped such cruel fates. Criminals have used the Hellmouth tunnels to navigate quickly and covertly from one area to another, escaping the guards in Oomash’s governing first circle and arriving at the near-barren fifth circle district high above, through a Hellmouth spawn that wound around the Hetuku like a clamp on the capitol city.
While the common sorts of demons, like the hyena-faced Gnoles made entirely out of the essence of despair, cackle and howl throughout the Hellmouth, corrupted earthen beings are more common within the dungeon. Conglomerates of rock and jewels that dash brains with their sharp fists, mud-born slugs that seek to swallow travelers whole, vermin and certain undead, and other mutated terrors wander the place in search of a meal, though they never need one. The Hellmouth’s demonic heart is the only provider they need, but it makes sure to keep them good and hungry.
Somewhere deep inside the Hellmouth is the key to its death. Its “heart,” a “machine” of wretched and incongruous design, part flesh, part rock, part steel, designed by a combination of elven, human and dwarven engineering, perpetuates the energy that keeps the Hellmouth alive. Found and destroyed, it will “kill” the Hellmouth.
Depending on where the Hellmouth spawns, how its tunnels interact with the local population, and what landmarks it decides to represent within its bowels, it could cause chaos, or merely silently consume. Below we will discuss some of the prominent landmarks of the Hellmouth. Each of these could be several levels long and deep and connected to any other landmark or to the surface itself, depending on how the Hellmouth spawns. They are not the only permutations of the Hellmouth. Merely the most common – many rarer, and even more dangerous locations exist within.
The Pit of Wrath
One of the more common landmarks of the Hellmouth is the Pit of Wrath, a network of concentric tunnels and connecting bridges over and around a bubbling pit of oozing black ichor. The substance drips from the walls in places, dribbles from the ceiling, and washes up from the earth in geysers and over-inflated bubbles from the ground, or even the walls. The ichor does not burn, though it looks hot enough to kill at a glance. Adventurers are likely to be covered in the gunk after a bit of exploring, and though it smells and is unpleasant to touch, it seems harmless. But after a while of being coated in it, the traveler grows weary, irritable and strained. The smell turns unbearable and sickening, and the body stiffens from the wretched coat.
The Pit of Wrath is home to black oozes, terrible demonic presences that are like living black ichor. They can take the forms of people that become too consumed by ichor, and in their natural state are like quick, crawling globs of the foul gunk. The longer one stays in the Pit of Wrath, the more the oozes will have to be fought. While not very powerful or durable, they are essentially unkillable. When they are sent back from whence they came, they merely rest and renew themselves in the pit, and return for vengeance. Travelers who descend far enough into the pit should bring soap, water and flames.
The Pit is considered the stomach of the Hellmouth. It is said that at the bottom of the pit, within the pool of ichor, is an extremely rare and precious metal that can only be created in its unique pressures. Furthermore there is much treasure and knowledge to be discovered along hidden passages in the tunnels. While cavernous and seemingly natural, the Pit has hosted numerous unscrupulous researchers who thought they could hide within the Hellmouth unscathed. Their passages, hewn into the wall and covered in tiles and supported by well-wrought stone blocks, may lead to interesting discoveries.
The Diamond Reaches
An ethereal place, lit only by the dim and intermittent blue and purple of various gemstones embedded into its walls, the Diamond Reaches is a complex of caverns and tunnels with walls rich in ore and jewels. Precious stones and rare metals can be found in abundance here. Underground rivers, clean enough to drink and bathe, rush beneath natural bridges and down small waterfalls coming out of walls. The tunnels alternate in direction, some leading further down, and others forward, and some both opposite ways. It is like a scene out of a surreal portrait, a paradisaical landscape.
Yet it is still the Hellmouth. Dangerous creatures lurk the darkness, adapted to the glowing of the gemstones. They spring when they see the light patterns they are so used to change, denoting the passage of a creature blocking that light. They pounce when they hear gems beaten against by tools, the reverberations going through the walls and alerting gross tunneling things that leap from the earth like sharks spring from water. The Diamond Reaches are perhaps the most dangerous of the Hellmouth’s many landmarks. Their allure is the greatest, the environment seemingly the safest. Yet many of the treasures within are not so safe. Certain jewels will vibrate when struck, giving off waves that may confuse and disorient the ones mining them. Some of the ores are unstable and might even explode, while others are poisonous to be near. Those who seek modest gains may be able to leave quickly, quietly and with good money, certainly enough to live humbly a while. But most people never do – they seek awe-inspiring riches, to return with the ransom of the old God-Kings.
Those who pursue such dreams seldom leave the Diamond Reaches alive. And the inhabitants are so delighted for the meal, they consume all of it, such that evidence of previous Expeditions rarely survives. The Diamond Reaches are the limbs of the Hellmouth, and the tunnels reach, tangle and turn in unexpected ways.
The Ocean of Oil
A wretched, downward sloping land within the cavernous maw of the Hellmouth, seemingly dotted with pools and geysers of water, but which are instead a slimy and hot oil. It is a series of overlapping, gently sloping flatlands, like scales on armor or flat mushrooms one atop another on a trunk. The stench of the place is pervasive, and seems to force itself up into one’s head, where it will addle one over time. Harvested oil makes a good fuel, and ancient drilling mechanisms and platforms seem to support the cavern walls in places, and await vigilant for a time when they will be used again.
Mud covers all the ground that is not already covered in oil, making for a slippery descent, and for dirty and wretched combat. To the Adelians, whose religious traditions promote a good amount of cleanliness for the health of the body and soul, the Ocean of Oil is nightmarish, even moreso because the goo is difficult to clean off one’s clothes and body. The warm pits of oil, temptingly clear and pristine as water, are a treacherous ruse for the weary adventurer. Because the place is so dark, there is also the risk of lighting oneself aflame, or turning the cavern into an ocean of flames. Great care must be taken with firearms, magic and lights within this level of the Hellmouth, or it could become an infernal tomb.
Though sometimes, the place is already aflame when one arrives. The Ocean of Oil is considered the bowels of the Hellmouth, and perhaps the blood and death from other areas has gone right into the Oil.
The Halls of Dead Kings
Evidence suggests that in the Lost World, unlike in the egalitarian Adel, no woman was allowed to rule the Old Kingdoms, though some evidence suggests reverence of women, or at least effeminacy, such as in the forms of the Cephaetera Angels (and perhaps ultimately the Adelians themselves, or at least, some of the physiology of Iomadi, Droemedae and Cuporo). Much of this evidence comes from the society of Elves on Adel, which is patriarchal, as well as the artifacts found in the Halls of Dead Kings in the Hellmouth, which are uniform in depicting males in vast statuary, overwrought poetry and liturgy (poorly translated by Adelians) and in other artistic depictions. As such, the hall earned its specific moniker. It is a place where the Kings and only the Kings of the Lost World were interred and worshiped in death as divine figureheads of mankind, their unholy wisdom continuing to corrupt even past their time. The blue and grey stone is perfectly arrayed, and the design of the Halls is more of a grand castle or temple, than that of a mausoleum. To the Adelian’s horror, this is a place of worship.
Regardless, at least this piece of the Lost World is equal in its treatment of all who arrive – it is hostile and well-guarded. Mindless clockwork things seem to patrol the halls, guided on far past the consumption of their fuel by the demonic energy permeating the Hellmouth. It is their duty to forever hide the men interred within, and all of their secrets and worldly possessions with them. Horrific discoveries had been made in the Hellmouth, such as discovering tombs of women and children and animals buried alive with their patron, or mass burials of human sacrifices to the god-kings, slain by the dozens so their blood could soak into the burial pits and feed the kings. Such shocking horrors are quickly studied and then purged, but the Hellmouth seems to store an infinite amount of kings, and an infinite amount of their tortured vassals with them.
Complicated traps line the hallways and rooms, which are otherwise filled with old workstations and materials rooms for the priests who must have maintained it, and performed the grotesque burial rites and sacrifices. Roaring pendulums coming down from the ceiling, cruel spiked plates launching out from the walls to eviscerated passersby, pits trapping adventurers in dark, hidden passages below, and much more await those who do not travel carefully.
This part of the Hellmouth is said to be its head, and contains knowledge, and a glimpse into the horrible minds that designed the Hall, and the blighted souls that are worshiped and maintained within this foul tomb.
Select History of the Hellmouth
A.C. 1420: The Hellmouth is first discovered by an early modern expedition group. Only one person survives the trip, and recounts the horrors within. The Hellmouth appeared near what it is now the city of Impel.
A.C. 1492: Deliberate expeditions into the Hellmouth uncover more of its secrets and claim more lives.
A.C. 1534: The first Death of the Hellmouth. A military expedition by the Aptoa kills the Hellmouth in Andaliel’s lands, at the request of its imperial subjects. The soldiers descend deep into the dungeon, and destroy the demonic engine that powered its heart. This level as they described it has never been found again.
A.C. 1578: The Hellmouth resurfaces, this time in the Southland.
A.C. 1650: The Second Death of the Hellmouth. It is said that local men and women chosen by each village of the Southland as Heroes charged into the Hellmouth and braved its depths, killing its heart again. This legend lives on in liturgy and song, and in literary scholarship, taken as factual, which on some level it probably is.
A.C. 1700-1800: The Intolerable War. As Adel descends into world war, with each Nation seeking both freedom from and revenge against the Aptoan Empire, the Hellmouth lies forgotten, and worms its way to life again, this time within the Hetuku Mountains. Some knowledge about it is lost during this period as the Aptoan Empire crumbles, and its Hierarchs cast some of their discoveries into flames to spite the subjects who now rose against them.
A.C. 1895: The Third Discovery of the Hellmouth, in the Hetuku Mountains. The tunnels become almost a feature of Oomash, as criminal enterprises begin to use them to evade notice and transport black market goods around. Many criminal gangs see a high turnover rate as their forces are lost bit by bit into the Hellmouth, but survivors foster a culture of criminal, adventurous pride in being able to survive those deeps to evade the Guard.
A.C. 1957: The Andani Scandal. The Andani Family where an extremely wealthy line, that had lived for generations in the cold city of Oomash, within the hollow circle cut into the Hetuku prior to the Intolerable War. As some of the first settlers of Oomash, they grew quickly wealthy due to their ingenuity in the passing of goods up from the low lands into the mountain city. The Andani were a very strict family, believing in marriage only for monetary advancement. Their sons and daughters must marry and reproduce for political and financial gain. It is their duty only to perpetuate Andani money, regardless of their own feelings. Unfortunately for Arjuna Andani, he would upset this standard.
In love with a young man from a house of lesser bureaucrats, from whom the Andani would gain nothing, Arjuna rebelled against his parents, and sought to marry his true love. The heads of the Andani house would not have it. Unfortunately for Arjuna, he was a second son – to the unnatural and cruel culture of the Andani, this made him disposable. The Andani family first sequestered him in one of their properties in high Oomash, the less-populated Fifth Ring District near the cavern ceiling. Then, as his lover would discover, he was simply disappeared. This “shame” on the Andani House was cast into the Hellmouth for his disloyalty to the Andani fortunes, and especially for refusing a betrothal.
However, fortunately for him, the story wouldn’t end there. His lover used the few connections he had to try launch an investigation. Ultimately, the Arbiters of the Republic discovered Andani connections to criminal networks, and the vast and widespread usage of Hellmouth tunnels for all kinds of illegal activity. All kinds of criminals and organizations were linked to the Andani fortunes and to the Hellmouth. The Andani were ruined, beset by Guards and Arbiters as they tried to flee. They still stand among the few criminals to ever merit Public Execution in Andaliel.
Arjuna survived in the Hellmouth, growing hungry and near-mad for close to a week, but was rescued from his circumstances by the Guard of the Republic. He would go on to marry his love, and though his family fortunes were destroyed, and he was scarred by his experience, he lived humbly with his husband from then on.
A.C. 1963: The Third Death of the Hellmouth. Fed up with the existence of the Hellmouth in the capital, the Army of the Republic initiated a bold plan, led by Pioneer-General Kalynna Mahabaratam. Expedition Group “Katabasis” was formed, armed with Kasowari “Tunnel Rats,” a golem vehicle that walked on two legs and a had a drill upon its face, and braved the Hellmouth. Once inside, her force dug furiously the tunnels, and did battle with many things, over several weeks, but ultimately they reached the Heart. Using a controlled demolition, they killed the heart and collapsed the tunnels, finally ridding Oomash of the Hellmouth. Everyone hopes this will be its final appearance, as it was its most violent death.
A.C. 2012: Today. Perhaps the Fourth Discovery of the Hellmouth? Perhaps its Fourth Death? Or perhaps, another Era of the Hellmouth, where it will live again for hundreds of years, tempting with its secrets? Where will it appear, what will it look like, what secrets could be found, and who will be the ones to traverse it once again?