“Some years ago, when the Blood War still filled my head with notions of glorious, bloody violence, I became one of a rather small number of mortals to ever visit the Screaming Pillars of Oinos. I actually survived to tell the tale.
As fiends measure time, the Pillars are very new, being only a few centuries old. (I confirmed that this was actually in Sigil reckoning – a year in one Prime Material world can be several years in another. While Cagers tend to look down on anything related to the Prime, fiends don’t necessarily share our perspective – they’re very interested in the Prime, indeed.)
According to the baatezu whose coin I was taking at the time, the Pillars were constructed by a trio of arcanaloths working in concert (a rare thing, I’d say), under the direction of a powerful ultroloth. The first of the three was Yazakouris, the Prophet. “Completely barmy,” my guide advised, “barmy to the Spire, that one, but he is a mighty seer, and so the ‘loths have no choice but to tolerate his madness.”
The second? “The Maker, the Creator. He is called Vashanhusur. His hand and mind have forged some of the most fearsome weapons of the War. Kazakonen the Regulator he sold to us, among many others. A tanar’ri princess” (my guide turned and spat into the grey dirt as he spoke) “wields the Abyssal Whisperer. Some claim that he has built clever devices for the gods themselves.”
“But,” my guide went on, “that is not why he was one of those who built the Pillars. He has a special ability to see the exact qualities of any mortal’s soul – whether living or dead. These he uses to forge his creations, as a mundane sword is made from steel. The Pillars, you see, are made entirely from the souls of mortals who possessed the true gift of prophecy. Many were wicked, I am sure, and came to the Waste naturally, but I’m told that plenty of others were those of the indifferent or even the virtuous.”
“And the third?” I asked.
“An architect – I’m not sure myself which one. Probably Zanamric or Arashimul. You see, first they needed someone to identify the souls they wanted to make the place. That’s the Creator. They needed an architect to build the structure itself, and attune it to the energies of the Waste. Finally they needed a fiend who was himself a prophet, to arrange it and shape it to function as an oracle. It’s said that the answers that come from the Pillars are most accurate when Yazakouris is present. If we are especially fortunate, he will be there when we are.”
It is impossible to describe any trek through the Waste as anything but utterly soul-deadening. Between the long journey there and the long way back, I felt at times that I, too, must inevitably become a shade, wandering hopelessly throughout this plane. Most of me, at least, made it through those seemingly endless days.
“It’s never a short trip,” another mortal mercenary explained to me, “whether you actually want to get to the Pillars or not – whether you’ve been there before or not. If the loths aren’t of a mind to have you visit, you will never find it, for the plane itself obscures the Pillars from unwanted visitors. Usually at least one poor sod loses it from either the trip there or the trip back, and never leaves at all, if you catch my meaning.”
So it was that we traveled through increasingly desolate stretches of Oinos. I could literally see nothing but empty grey upon grey for miles in every direction – even the shadow of Khin-Oin was not visible from where I stood. Not even a stunted, lifeless plant or some discarded Blood War spear could be seen.
Finally, we came to the Pillars.
There were four of them, arranged in a rectangle, though they were quite twisted and tortured in shape, and would not support any ceiling I know of. These were covered in carvings – mostly pictures, some writing. After a brief examination I didn’t really want to learn more of either.
I was convinced, though, that the Pillars were misnamed. You see, the only screaming you usually hear in the Waste is from a Blood War battle in progress, or from some recent mortal arrival (living or damned). Once you’ve been here for a while you simply don’t have the energy to scream, and so it is with the souls in the pillars.
They do give out this continuous low moaning and whispering… the whispering. For me, at least, it started out just at the edge of my perception, and got worse. There’s an actual physical sound (not very loud), but most of it goes on at a mental level. Most of the whispering was indistinct, but it was bad enough as it was. I’m told that the ‘loths, unlike us, can actually hear the whispering more or less clearly.
The whole edifice isn’t entirely unlike an outdoor temple, one without walls or ceiling. The ‘floor’ is level, with one of the Pillars at each corner, and raised a few feet above the ground, reachable by a short flight of steps on all sides. In the very center stood a pool, that I thought at first was filled with putrid water. At other times while I was there, it seemed to be filled with gallons of fresh blood; another time it was full of flame. The ‘loths use this as a scrying pool, and it’s said that if someone or something is completely immersed in the pool, you can consider it gone forever. Mind you, I don’t know if you could chuck some powerful fiend in there and give it the True Death, but I’m sure it’d work just fine for mortal berks like ourselves.
As for the fiends you’d find here (if you’re barmy enough to actually seek out the place), there are always at least five or six arcanaloths in residence, performing the divinations. The Waste isn’t generally known for allowing accurate divinations to be made, but it’s said that here, out of anywhere in the entire plane, you have the best chance of getting one. There are a large number of nycaloths and lesser ‘loths around the place, guarding it. Mind you, a legion of baatezu could raze the place in theory – but I don’t think they’d ever find the Pillars under that circumstance. Years later, I heard a rumor that a one-way connection exists between the Wasting Tower and this place, that in a real emergency hordes of fiends could be sent from Khin-Oin to defend the Pillars if need be. In any event, I’ve never heard of that much fiend on fiend violence occurring on the premises.
Now for the bargaining. You have one price that is standard for every answer you seek (again, if you’re barmy enough to visit the Pillars, berk), and another that varies wildly. The first price is simple: One answer, one soul.
Into the outside stone edges of the ‘temple’ are numerous sets of shackles, that will adjust to fit any sod placed into them. Generally these are fairly ordinary mortal slaves that have ended up in baatezu or tanar’ri hands, but a surprising number of heroes have met a grim end there, as well. For each question to be answered, a living mortal is put into shackles and left to die. I have actually seen the fiends force-feed them water and bread; the intent seems to be that the Waste and only the Waste itself will take them as sacrifices. To become shades, in other words, and wander the plane forever.
A ways behind the pool, there’s a low building, apparently made of the same stone as the rest of the place – which seems like a strange cross of bone and marble. The arcanaloths reside here, probably argue (or even fight) among themselves, and do some of their divinations there. The only mortal I saw enter the place never came out, which is no surprise, as they used his internal organs to perform a reading.
The second part of the price… Despite the fact that so many loths are in the same place, they appear to present a united front to outsiders. After the initial payment (the poor mortal berk who ends up in the shackles) is made, the ‘loths listen to the question or questions, confer among themselves, then name their price. This price varies a lot. It could be something comparatively mundane like four thousand larvae. They might ask for the enslavement of a dozen tribes of peaceful wood elves on a particular Prime world. They may ask for specific rights for themselves on the planes of Baator or the Abyss. They’re not terribly interested in gold, jewels, and so on, but they’ll usually take it as part of a payment – especially if it’s provided up front.
If the Prophet is present (as he was during our visit), the price will probably be especially weird. In one case, before my own visit, the payment was that the baatezu would systematically destroy every work created by a particular mortal sculptor. (I’m also told that it was carried out.)
Given the natures of baatezu and tanar’ri, the ‘loths are more likely to ask for payment up front from the tanar’ri (who are totally unreliable). If it’s something that requires a future service, that’s more likely to be from the baatezu (who generally keep at least the letter of their word), or from the rare mortal ruthless enough to seek out the Pillars and provide the payment. Anyone coming to the Pillars usually comes bringing plenty of treasure that they think the loths might want – gold, souls, spells, lore, but also the ability to bargain for access to less tangible resources held by tanar’ri and baatezu lords.
The prophecies themselves? They’re accurate enough, at least, for both baatezu and tanar’ri to keep coming back to the place and paying a fortune in gold, souls, and services. Only the ‘loths appear to know how to force the souls in the pillars to give them answers. It’s generally agreed that the loths will ruthlessly use the results of their divinations for their own purposes. That is, they may lie outright, tell part of the truth, tell the result of the divinations to both the fiend and the fiend’s most hated enemy, or give the fiend asking the questions just enough prophetic information to hang himself with. But, overall, the information is reliable enough that the baatezu and the tanar’ri continue to come.
As for me? I got back from the Pillars alive, though I can’t say the same for every mortal in our group. A good half dozen of us went to the ‘loths as payment, and two more died on the way back. That visit did a lot to curb my hunger for the Blood War, and I can’t say I miss it.”
-- Zangobrien the Restless, tiefling and ex-Blood War mercenary