The idea of smaller, personalized hells of Chinese cosmology seemed much more interesting than the often generic fire and brimstone hells. Thus, do I present the Hell of Dry Bones to be listed along such other luminary hells as the Hell of Boiling Oil and the Hell of Being Skinned Alive. - Thank you
Deep in the underworld, beyond the quiesient cities of the dead, and deeper than the labyrinthine mazes that burrow deep into the cold stone of the underworld lies the Hell of Dry Bones. This is an open hell, one that is hungry, and very much likes visitors. Everything in this hell is comprised of bone, or the remnants of bone. The ground first appears like white beach sand, but it is in fact, pulverized bone, reduced to powder in some places. This powdered bone can rise into white storms when the winds are driven to frenzy.
Bones of all different sort litter the ground. Animals bones are the most common, but only because there are a greater variety of animals than of humans and other races. The hollow bones of birds crunch like brittle twigs, while the larger bones of beasts of burden can be used as clubs, or splintered into spears. Greatest of all are the bones of the long dead giants. No relation to the regular giants, these behemoths once strode the world with strides that could cover three leagues. All that is left are bones that measure hundreds of paces long, and monsterous not quite human skulls large enough to serve as palaces.
Often victims of this hell shelter themselves from the bone storms, and the hailstorms of teeth inside these giant skulls. Unfortunately for them, the demons of this hell often have culled these havens into their own private lounges and lairs.
Bone Eating Demons These are the least of the inhabitants of this hell. Each resembles a hybrid between a bull mastiff canine and a large armored crocodile. Nearly white, they are hard to spot among the bones of their home realm. As their name implies, they eat bone, but not the bone of the realm, only the fresh, wet bone of the mortal souls who inhabit the realm. Particularly strong, or cunning souls, or adventurers, can outsmart, or even kill a Bone Eating Demon as they have only minimal intelligence, and no supernatural powers. Victims consumed by a bone eating demon have the pleasure of being slowly ripped apart and eaten as the demon crunches on their bones. Three to five days after being eaten, the Hell of Dry Bones restores the body of the victim, only to be chased down and brutalized again and again.
Osseoliths - These are the greater demons of the Hell of Dry Bones and they keep personal retinues of their favorite souls, and packs of Bone Eating Demons. most are nine to ten feet tall and resemble thick bodied bone golems. They have multiple layers of ribs, as many as four to six arms, and stare at the world through a variety of skulls. Most are known by their skull and the demons take great pride in having the most rare, or exotic skull. The most powerful of the Osseoliths is known as Crack-Tooth Dragon as he has claimed the skull of a slain Dragon as his own. Most of the Osseoliths serve as administrators in this hell, making sure that all of the souls are suffering properly for their Hellish overlord. They hunt down safe houses, and deal with unexpected visitors in predictable fashion.
Gehenna - This is the Queen of the Hell of Dry Bones. It is said that during her mortal life she was a sorceress of some power, and sold her soul to the Hell Realms for power. Upon her death she descended to hell, where she defeated her demonic master, and turned his domain into the Hell of Dry Bones. This is the official story espoused by the Osseoliths, and half-verbalized by the Bone Eating Demons.
The truth is a little more interesting, and not quite so glorious. In life, Gehenna was a mortal who lived a life of brutal and unforgiving poverty. She lived for sixteen years, surviving as her peers perished to hunger and thirst, illness and violence. Then, in a stroke of fortune she was elevated to a much higher station in life. Perhaps she was even a queen for a time. Rather than remember her roots, and the hardship she endured, she forsook those who had helped her, and even turned to their persecution. In her own defense, none had openly helped her, she would simply keep the tradition alive.
Her cruelty and near barbarism ensured her of a swift passage to hell upon her death. She grew strong in the power of magic, and soon traversed the paths of the damned, defeating demons with wit and skill honed to razor edge by her previously brutal life on the street. She distilled demons into their vital essence, and consumed them. Each made her stronger, more cruel and less human. Eventually in her 300th year of rule, she was struck by a coalition of assassins who sought her death for the misery she espoused. Rather than die, she escaped to a small realm, and shaped it to her will, and peopled it with her first victims.
This action was not unnoticed by the August Personage of Heaven. Gehenna was given her place in the celestial heirarchy, for her hell was to serve a greater purpose than her own private pleasure and font of power. Those souls who had lived lives of cruel wealth and thought of blows of the fist and kicks as charity were relegated to her keeping. Thus do the souls of heartless nobles and cruel merchants wander her realm. They burn with mortal needs, food, water, passion. Their lives have become nothing more than the brutal and hateful lives of the criminally destitute. Their screams are a symphony to Gehenna’s ears.
Gehenna appears as a woman, bone white, and beautiful in an alien fashion. If pressed, she can and will summon warrior caste Osseoliths to defend her. Only in the most dire need will she assume her true form, a writhing pillar of cracked and broken bones, topped with the head of a great hissing serpent.
Escaping from the Hell of Dry Bones
Escape is painfully easy, and almost impossible to find. There are precious few commodities in this hell, and as such charity does not exist in any form save for the giving and sharing of misery, pain, and death repeated. should a soul willingly offer something to another, in the spirit of true charity, their way has been opened. The soul is shortly thereafter taken away from the Hell of Dry Bones by the monitors of the celestial heirarchy. While not all knowing, they are able to cast divinations to auspicious times to observe certain souls in the hell, to witness either another failure and usually death or to escort the now kharmically balanced soul on to its next rebirth.
Alternately, the visitor who entered by accident, or on a mission rather than arriving due to soul debt, cannot escape in this fashion. There are two ways out. One, the visitor can gain release by Gehenna herself. This has NEVER, and will NEVER happen. Gehenna is a cruel and greedy demon and has no intention of allowing anyone who enters her realm to ever leave again. The second way is a daring infiltration into the Castle Ossuary, Gehenna’s personal palace. Somewhere under the palace is a passage out of the hell and into a safer locale. As to be expected, this passage is well guarded by being in the fortress, but its existance is unknown to Gehenna. Some speculate that this is an expression of the August Personage of Heaven’s will.
- This is the difficult part, unless you are playing in a game that regularly deals with traversing hells or the underworld.
To Speak with the Dead - The PCs must find a nugget of information, and only one soul in existance knows it. Unfortunately for the PCs, the soul passed on to the hell realms some time ago and now they must hunt out the soul of the dead sage in the Hell of Dry Bones. Once they gain said knowledge, they must then escape from the Hell without becoming a permanent resident.
A Brief Interlude - Rather than permanently damn a soul to such a hell, sometimes the powers that be will grant them a glimpse of what awaits them should they fail to ammend their ways. The PC, or PCs find themselves in a dreamlike, yet completely realm quest to escape the Hell of Dry Bones and return to their real lives.
Broken Mirrors - Gehenna has become increasingly hungry for more souls. Her minions, Osseoliths disguised as humans, have been spreading gospels of materialism and sadism to further her power. Perhaps the pinnacle of her power comes as a heretical church begins rituals that offer the souls of the living to her in exchange for temporal power. Can the PCs intercede, or due they fall for the lure of quick and easy power?