Harishek Apt Thul’kesh, the Blind Clockmaker: Baernaloth of The Demented (8 of 13)

Shemeska the Marauder's picture

"For the thing that I have greatly feared has comeupon me. And what I have dreaded has happened to me.I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, fortrouble comes." Job 3:25,26




            The elder Ratatosk stood and looked down at the clouds that swirled below him down the vast trunk of the World Tree, Yggdrasil, the Great Mother of his people. One of the so-called squirrel folk who populated the limbs and branches of their plane spanning home, he had lived nearly a century, his fur streaked with lines of gray, and he was feeling his age now like never before. It was growing time again as it always did. Their duty to the Great Mother was paramount above all things, even their own lives, which they willingly would give in Her defense. But the pain of that sacrifice at times was great enough to make him wonder if it was worth it what they did, if it was too hasty, or if there might be another way.


            He sat down on the branch and waited for the arrival of those who he knew would be coming shortly, knowing or unknowing, they always came when time was due and what was necessary would be done. Good, evil, chaos, law it didn’t matter to him and his people, only their Great Mother who created and sheltered them mattered. She was them and they were her in so many ways, leaves and fruit upon the trunk that created them, fed them, and they in turn watched over her. But sometimes…


            He shuddered and wept, a single tear dropping from his eye and falling down the miles to strike ground on one of the planes that the World Tree touched with its branches and roots. As the single drop of saline spread down the miles and froze in the passing air, the elder remembered the tale told to him by his grandfather five times over before that one’s passing, a tale passed down the generations from time unknowable to when the Great Mother was first injured.


            The branches had shaken, the Mother had trembled and her pain was felt keenly by Her children when the Serpent had coiled about Her base with its unending hunger and rage, seeking to destroy the World Tree in the hopes of destroying the universe that had created it. The blood of the Great Mother had flowed in rivers in those days as Nidhogg clawed and ravaged the roots of the Tree where they had sunk into the soil of the Waste.


            The Ratatosks had been helpless, for nothing they did could harm the Wyrm, and it ignored them while spawning its own children with the fiends of the lower planes and evil dragons who flocked to its call. It and its brood seemed like they might succeed in killing the Great Mother, and they, the Ratatosks, they wept in their impotence.


            But salvation came to them unasked for, but needed, and wrapped in nightmare. His people had never spoken its name since that time, neither in thanks nor in fear, but its existence still haunted them through the millennia. They had never written it down, but somehow they all knew its name. They had never drawn it, nor carved it, nor passed down tales that described the Horror than was the giver of the salvation of they and their Great Mother, but still they knew its face in their nightmares and when the time came for their bargain to be paid again, they all would dream of it, hearing its whispers in the darkness.


            The Elder looked down and sighed, knowing how close that time was, and the dreams that had come the night before like a black winged angel, one wing dipped in blood and the other glowing with their love for the World Tree. And he, one chosen of his generation, the first in many years, would go willingly with whatever would come in the following days. He and the others they did so with a glad heart, knowing that it was necessary.


            Those old tales of that first meeting, the elders of a hundred hundred villages, the leaders and wise ones of their race who had gathered to discuss their last attempts of desperation to stop the Wyrm that feasted upon the Great Mother. They had been desperate, willing to do anything to save all that they knew, everything they cared for, and everything that they knew. Desperation was all they knew at that moment. Somehow their anguish, frustration, fear and misery was heard, and something came to save them, but not out of mercy…


            The elder shuddered at what had been implied in the latter half of that tale. That it might not have heard them and come to save them, but had waited till their fear had collapsed into desperation and they no longer cared what they would have to give of themselves to save what they loved. The darkness that had blindly clambered up the trunk of the World Tree and offered them a way to save the Great Mother.


“We agreed… we willingly agreed…” The Elder said out into the void beyond the branches as he cried once more, a broken man who had long ago resigned himself to the cross that he would willingly bear if the darkness came to give its bloody and poisoned salvation once again. “It always does, and we agreed, we willingly agreed…”






            The six stood before the open gate and glanced at one another with a mixture of bravado, hesitancy, and worry tinged with necessity. The swirling gate burrowed a hole through the planes, nearly across the whole breadth of the multiverse, there from the Outlands and into the depths of the deep ethereal where the demiplane of time beckoned them.


            They did not hazard the storms of that pocket dimension without need or cause, and they had only considered the trip due to having reached an impasse in a quest of their own that was largely unconnected with the demiplane. They needed to discover a method of understanding and deciphering the dread and nonsensical operation of a device in the Gray Waste known only as the Oblivion Compass. Nestled in a valley on Oinos, the bizarre and sprawling machine seemed to jut from the soil of the plane itself with ancient and rusting mechanisms that still ran smoothly and coldly with a progression and purpose shrouded, but born of nightmares. The device within that desolate valley somehow held a way of determining events key to their larger aims and goals, their own holy quest in a manner of speaking.


            But, holy quest or not, the motley group of six seemed hardly a group to typify anything holy whatsoever. There was the half-fey bladesinger, known half-jokingly as Clueless; prone to good one moment, and cold, machiavellian rationality the next. A decidedly neutral being with his black, iridescent, dragonfly wings betraying a fey heritage that was unquestionably Unseelie. There was Toras, the half-celestial fighter and servant of Andros, an obscure deity from Ysgard, a protector of children, the weak and infirm. Though sometimes overzealous in his methods, the warrior was true to his patron’s goals.


            Next there was Tristol Starweather, the aasimar mage from a wizard nation on the prime world of Abeir-Toril whose vulpine tail and ears betrayed his guardinal descent. Still, his heritage aside, his hunger for magic and his upbringing had instilled in him a largely ambivalent personal attention to good and evil. All said, he was more attuned to the goals of his own goddess of magic than to the multiversal conflict of good and evil.


            Standing next to the wizard was his wife, Nisha Starweather, a quirky and spontaneous tiefling rogue who dabbled in some magic herself, but dabbled more in Xaos than anything else. But, as much as she might have typified a member of her faction, she was good at heart nearly as much as she was random.


            Standing almost apart from them was a relative newcomer to their fold, a blond haired cleric of Brigit and member of the Ring Givers, Aiden. Though good and serving a goddess of good, he was, more often than not, prone to revelry and charity more for the gifts it brought, than out of a purely noble desire for good.


            Finally though, standing opposite the half-fey like a bookend of neutrality to cap off their party and define its character, was the fallen lupinal, Fyrehowl. The lupine humanoid exemplar of pure good was, in many ways, jaded and disillusioned rather than fallen. She had long ago lost the idealism of her race, and lost faith in her race’s ability to do what needed to be done. Since her fall from grace, she had adopted the philosophy of the Transcendent Order and preferred to think that she was simply doing what had to be done, what was, on the grand order of things, the proper action to do at the proper time. Her own race, in her opinion, had spent too long pondering what to do without ever acting.


            Through various unsavory routes, long examination of obtuse lore of the planes, and perhaps in no small measure a hunch, they sought out a location deep within the demiplane of time. A stable bubble within the roaring and unending storms of the temporal plane, almost a demiplane within a demiplane. They had spoken at length to a wizard known only as the Sapphire Mage in his floating tower at the edges of the demiplane itself, and asked for his advice upon entering the plane. Finally, given his own experiments with broaching the borders of the fickle and dangerous demiplane, they now stood at the open end of Tristol’s gate into the plane’s interior in order to avoid physically breaking the barrier themselves. Whether it would work or not remained to be seen.



In the space of seconds they were through the gate, and its burst of utter cold, as they burrowed into the depths of the trackless sea of the deep ethereal, far from the shores and shallows that surrounded the prime, and down to the waiting darkness of the Demiplane of Time. They emerged into madness.


            All around them raged a storm to dwarf any hurricane of the prime, and winds to make the screaming of Pandemonium seem like a spring breeze. Glowing, burning lines of copper and gold, blue and red, erupted from each of them and spiraled out of sight into the maelstrom. Legends claimed that the lines represented the timeline of a person, their past and future, with themselves tethered to the present, and that to wander along it would lead them to either of those two destinations. But such idle speculation on the legends of the plane was gone after barely a moment when Tristol teleported them all through the near infinite stretch of the demiplane and into the stable bubble that seemed to hold their destination, and perhaps promised to hold their desired answers.


            Once again there was a sudden wash of cold over their senses before they reappeared, but unlike before there was a sharp tugging sensation immediately before they passed into the interior of the Clockwork Gap.


            Nisha blinked as they reappeared, then looked over at Tristol. “Umm… you’re off. Just a bit.”


            They stood on the edge of a huge disk of flat rock centered within the bubble, the exterior boundary of which stood directly behind them. Stretching out before them was a massive, labyrinthine hedge maze that surrounded a large, several story fortress or keep at the very center of the disk. The keep itself seemed to hover slightly above a hole cut into the rocky disk, situated above a swirling morass of ethereal mist that glowed with an almost blinding intensity: an ether gap.


            “No, we didn’t miss anything, we were redirected by whatever made this place.” Tristol said as he stared at the ether gap in the center of the domain. Whatever it was, the gap was truly massive, easily larger than any other such gap they had ever encountered, and it seemed perched on the edge of either expansion or utter collapse.


            “And honestly, I’m not sure what’s frightening. This place itself, or the fact that there’s not a single glimmer of magic from anything here…” Clueless mused.


            “No, there’s magic here.” Tristol interjected, “More than I’ve seen in a very long time, but it’s not any sort that I’m familiar with. I can’t even tell you what school of magic it belongs to, if that would even apply to it really. It feels… wrong… but that’s all I can gather really. It doesn’t want to be seen, and for whatever reason, I’m not seeing it when I should.”


            Taking the mage’s words into account they collectively looked up at the black marble archway that stood above the entry into the mazework of hedges. A single, carved refrain stretched across the stone, written in obscene letters only vaguely reminiscent of the written tongues of the fiends: Baernaloth.


            “Anyone care to translate?” Toras asked.


            The moment he posed the question though, the letters seemed to warp and ripple, like the pitch black stone was made of liquid, and then it was replaced with the same refrain, written in a mixture of infernal and abyssal.


            “What you can see can kill you. What is illusion is reality. Whatyou behold is reality, or is it?”


            “I don’t suppose anyone has a dispel reality spell handy, hmm?” Toras deadpanned as they slowly passed under the archway and into the maze.


            “Hey, think about it this way. We can pretend that Toras sucker punched a Dabus and we all got mazed!” Nisha said with a chuckle as they moved deeper into the hedge work.


            “No thank you, already tried that and it wasn’t what I’d call fun.” Toras said before quickly adding, “Being in a maze I mean. Not sucker punching a Dabus. I don’t want to ever do that, thank you very much.”


            It took them several hours to pass through the twisting verdant maze that grew up from the rock itself, flourishing and alive despite the lack of soil, water, or light besides the ghostly, moonlight glow of the swirling ether gap at the center of the demiplane. They felt watched constantly as they walked, and the interior of the maze seemed to twist the concept of space itself as they found that any attempt to fly above the maze, or to pass through its walls by any but the obvious routes provided to them ultimately proved fruitless.


            Regardless, they passed through a series of puzzles, based upon their own experiences, and others that seemed designed to test their concepts of morality and their own intelligence. At every step they were forced to question what was real and what was not, with illusions that seemed partially real and substantive prowling the mazes and stalking them.


It was not a pleasant few hours as they crept steadily closer to the interior of the demiplane and the waiting castle. At the end of their passage they emerged shaken and disturbed at the gates of the black marble fortress and the whirlpool of light that it perched atop, but now the doors were open, swung wide and waiting for them.


            “Those weren’t open before were they?” Nisha asked as she stepped behind Tristol.


            “No, they weren’t. And you’d think we’d have heard them swinging open.” The lupinal said as she climbed the steps warily.


            “And it’s not stone. It’s solid protomatter, and it’s stable.” Tristol said with amazement.


            “And what? It’s right next to the ethereal, the stuff’s easy to find.” Fyrehowl stated as she tapped the walls of the keep with her sword.


            “Ethereal protomatter isn’t stable. It’s liable to dissolve into nothing or erupt into a living thing at any given second. It’s worse than chaos matter.” Tristol said.


            “Mmmm… karach. Fun stuff.” Nisha interjected.


            “Protomatter is stabilized by force of will alone. When the githzerai solidify their cities they make from chaos matter, they have thousands of chaos shapers working together. Protomatter is more difficult, and I haven’t seen any evidence of a living thing here at all yet.” Tristol explained.


            “So who’s making this stable?” Fyrehowl said.


            “Exactly…” The archmage said with an intake of breath as he walked up the stairs to the massive doors.


            Before they even passed over the threshold of the keep, they heard from out of its interior the faint, steady sound of clockwork. The routine tick and clatter of gears and pendulums echoed from the halls to grace their ears with its eerie refrain, cold and distant. The cipher paused and shook off a feeling of dread as she stepped into the fortress, throwing aside intuition in the name of necessity for a time.


            The others followed and they steadily and warily progressed through the otherwise vacant and sterile halls, all alone but for the mechanical ticking and methodic grinding noises of gear against gear that echoed through the halls and grew louder the deeper they traversed.


            “We’ve been walking for a half hour and we haven’t found anything.” Aiden said, looking up at the walls.


            “Same as the hedges outside, it’s changing as we’re walking, or the space here it’s built in isn’t normal.” Fyrehowl replied.


            “One or the other, it really doesn’t feel right, at all. And it’s been getting worse.” Nisha added.


            Then, seemingly as if on cue, the hallway they had been walking down led to a series of alcoves, each connecting to another chamber. Curious, Nisha approached the first of four doors and swung it open without warning. The tiefling blinked and stepped back. Beyond the open door was a solid expanse of clockwork from wall to wall that blocked entry into the chamber except to watch and observe the gears, counterweights and pendulums all clicking along in sterility.


            “Strange…” Clueless said as he swung open the second door and looked into a round chamber that resembled a laboratory. The walls were covered in glowing script in the same bizarre language they had seen upon the archway leading into the maze, but this time the language did not translate itself for them to read. The center of the room was dominated by a metallic pedestal that held a dozen or so leathery eggs in a field of purple light. Inside the eggs, heavily backlit by the glow to the point of translucency moved black, shadowy forms, very obviously alive.


            “What the hell?” Fyrehowl said as she and the others glanced at the eggs and the rambling notations scrawled upon the walls.


            When they entered the chamber, the things in the eggs seemed to take notice and move to face them; it was unsettling to say the least. Toras paused and concentrated on the eggs before wincing and backing away.


            “What?” Nisha asked.


            “I had to stop.” The fighter answered.


            “Why was that?” The tiefling asked again.


            “It’s like trying to see a candle flame held in front of the sun. The whole place is evil and I couldn’t feel anything except that in the background overtop of anything else.” He replied.


            “And those would be dragon eggs if anyone’s curious. Gold or Red, one of those two.” Tristol said as they all moved out of the chamber and on to the next.


            The next door was open when they stood in front of it and looked onto the wretched scene therein. The chamber was lined with individual cages wrought of some black metal, carved with runes and symbols and each holding a single warped and twisted individual that by all rights should not have existed or should not have been alive.


            “Mystra forbid…” Tristol muttered in shock as he looked into the first cage and the occupant that seemed to have been the result of either a forced attempt at breeding a Vrock and a Hamatula together, or the sorcerous fusion of the two.


            The lupinal stared for a moment at the other cages within the room before turning away, feeling sick. Various other Baatezu and Tanar’ri hybrids, fusions, or grafting attempts were locked within the cages and tanks situated within the room. Volumes of notes were written upon the walls and stacked out of reach of the twisted, sickly occupants who seemed to exist in a state of constant agony, each of them kept alive only by magical interference.


            Nisha turned a slight shade of green more than her already olive toned skin and walked out into the hall, soon to be joined by the others. The lupinal looked at them, “After that I’m not sure I care to know what’s in the other room…”


            “Yeah, but I’m curious. Morbidly curious, but still.” Clueless said as he opened the door opposite the last.


            As opposed to the active experimentation in the last chamber, the next room was more a display of completed work than a lab. Several crystalline tanks held what could only have been described as trial runs and false starts along the way of creating a Mezzoloth. Dozens of books and tomes lay stacked on shelves between two dissecting tables, both of which held magically constrained and still living subjects. One table held a gutted, mewling and struggling Mezzoloth, each of its organs separated out, tagged and levitating slightly above its torso. The fiend was still alive despite the dissection.


            The second table held a series of still living saggital and coronal slices of a canoloth, somehow kept animate and alive by magic, and a nearly solid illusion of a whole example of the subspecies in smaller scale.


            Nisha gagged and dashed from the chamber when the sectioned eye of the dissected yugoloth turned to look at them. The others followed soon after, though Tristol stayed just a second more to note the sheer size of the notebooks littering the room. Each of them was easily four times the size of his own spellbooks, and that worried him simply on the matter of how physically large the author would have to have been.



            They shook away the images still lingering in their heads of what they had seen on display, and walked deeper into the keep. As they strode onwards, they began to notice that the ubiquitous ticking of the clockwork devices echoing throughout the halls was not as constant as it first had seemed. In fact the pattern and rhythm of ticking would pause, reverse, increase or decrease in volume, and spontaneously change frequency and pattern. What was more, the changes they noticed were not always the same for each of them.


            Fyrehowl’s ears perked at each of the changes, and the motion of her ears was not directly corresponding to that of Tristol’s ears, and he noticed it as well. “You’re not hearing the same patterns that I am, are you?” He asked.


            “Doesn’t seem that way.” She replied.


            “Nisha? You have any opinion on it?” Tristol said to the tiefer.


            “It might seem like an exercise in xaos, but trust me here, it’s not. Is it whatever, not it that’s. … Whoops, sorry, bad habit.” She said as they drew near to a large, vaulted chamber.


            They stopped in amazement and looked up at a series of steel and silver astrolabes that stood at the compass points in the chamber, each of them with several great crystal lenses focused on some distant scene. While half of the lenses seemed inactive at the time, others opened up onto a scene within the ethereal plane. One by one they saw moving images of Lycester’s Gap, the White Ship, the Pyramidal Gap, and the ethereal protomatter comet that hurtled through the depths, studded with shapes reminiscent of buried cities, known only as the Body Luminous.


            Each scene would pan, focus on minor details of each, and then draw out from each scene before repeating once more. Then the ticking stopped, the scenes dimmed and paused, and the inactive lenses rotated and glowed with activity.


            “This can’t be good…” Nisha said with a wince.


            “It’s not…” Fyrehowl said as she glanced around nervously.


            The newly active crystal lenses then showed their contents, each a series of grim and morbid potential futures: Toras watched in one lens as he was torn to pieces by a pack of invisible beasts. Fyrehowl watched as she was devoured by fiends. Nisha watched as she slipped and was ground to meat inside the gears of one of the astrolabes. Scene by scene the lenses played out a dozen or more grim fates, and eventually the six of them stopped watching and continued walking after they watched a scene where they all killed one another.


            “Someone’s having fun at our expense.” Aiden said with a smirk.


            “No, what I worry about is that each of those was an actual possible future, however bizarre and remote.” Clueless said.


            The next twenty minutes were filled only with their own lurking dread at what they might find at the center of the fortress, and the constant ticking of the clockwork that seemed to fill the spaces between the walls. It was uncomfortable, but they pressed onwards because they had to, and finally they reached their destination.


            They entered the grand chamber at the heart of the keep and stopped in their tracks at what turned to face their approach. The air was still and cold, but skirting the edge of their hearing was the combined chorus of innumerable whispers that rushed forth from the swirling ether gap at the very center of the room that opened up below a circular portal nearly thirty feet across. Above the swirling ethereal abyss like a giant iron spider was a great clockwork device of gears, pendulums, and crystalline lenses that hovered and shuddered with its own infernal motions above the pit. Extending out up and across the room with iron rods and spinning gear work, it was eerily silent except for the subsonic vibrations that ran through their bodies with the whir and clatter of a hundred thousand maddeningly spinning and grinding gears.


            But the insensate, unspeakably complex device was not what drew their attention immediately. Rather, it was the creature that peered out at them from behind the machine, standing at the edge of the pit. Nearly twenty feet tall with wasted, elongated limbs, the Baernaloth turned at their approach and flashed a grin of yellowed but razor sharp fangs. It sniffed at the air as it noticed them and flicked it blackened tongue at the air like a serpent, and then they all noticed its eyes.


            The monstrous fiend’s eyes were clouded and opaque, blind and unseeing as they randomly twitched in their sockets, wandering and not focused on them as the fiend blindly felt its way along the edge of the pit by taking hold of the iron device like a guide rail. “It certainly took you long enough to find your way here, though time is entirely subjective in this place. But do not make me wait anymore than I must. Ask your questions and I will give you my price. And stay where you are…”


            The Baernaloth drew close to them, hunched over to lower itself to their stature; otherwise it would have towered above them. When it had drawn to within a single stride of their position, it stopped and lowered its vaguely goat-like head.


            Toras objected first, “What are you doing?”


            The Gloom Father’s head jerked around at the half-celestial’s voice and it lowered itself to blindly examine the source of the objection. It paused inches from Toras and sniffed before abruptly seizing him by the shoulder and licking up the side of his face. Toras struggled before it threw him down to the floor and a chuckle echoed through his mind.


            “Getting to know my guests. Unless you would prefer that I rip your memories from your mind before butchering and devouring you as another method. Mortals typically object to this, not that I care, but I would not wish to be overly distracted at the moment.”


            Toras glared at the fiend as he stood up and watched it similarly examine the others by pawing, feeling, smelling, and looking into their minds without so much as a struggle. Tristol in particular felt his own mental protections buckle and rupture in the space of heartbeat when the fiend’s rancid breath washed over his face.


            “Your question now. Surely you have one, or otherwise you would not be here in my presence. Not willingly anyways, and I know that my brother the Lie Weaver would not have sent you to me.” The Clockmaker said curiously as it sat down upon the stone and faced them with its hands folded upon its lap, spindly fingers tapping against one another in a rhythm to match the ticking of the gears.


            Tristol asked first, “I need to know about the Oblivion Compass. The…”


            The fiend cut him off, “I am aware of what it is, considering that I designed half of the inner guts of the device along with He that designed the other half and constructed it all, The Architect. Yes, I can tell you how to read it and when it will strike a specific time. That is what your thoughts hold of significance at the present moment anyways… yes?”


            Trying to remain standing despite the aura of spiritual filth that radiated off of the blind fiend, the six nodded warily. The Clockmaker smiled back at them, only vaguely positioning its head to grin at each of them as it clasped its hands together and stood again.


            “But, if you do not already know my name, you should since you will very shortly be performing a task for me. I have been known by many names through the eons, but most know me as Harishek Apt Thul’kesh, the Blind Clockmaker. Your names are already known to me, so remain silent.”


            The Baernaloth stood and for a moment its clouded, snake-like eyes jerked towards the ether gap and it unsteadily walked towards its edge before pausing and muttering something about, “…and other wretches. But you will not be silent…fool…”


            The Clockmaker turned to stare down at the swirling morass of the ether gap below where an animate darkness seemed to move of its own accord, and then back to his unwitting emissaries. Drawn from out of nothing, he held a crystal vial in his wasted hand and offered it to them.


            “Take it,” he said, “Pour it onto the wounds in the roots of Yggdrasil the World Ash where its blood drips and the great tree bleeds out into the dust of the Waste.”


            The vial was carved into the shape of a tree with a crystal dragon curled about its base. Filled to the brim with a thick, almost syrupy liquid, it swirled with reddish, glimmering sparkles and exuded a light of its own that felt chill and cold.


            Clueless took the vial and the Baern spoke again, its dead, blind eyes twitching with intensity even as they wandered. “Pour it on the roots but do not allow Nidhogg or its spawn to notice your attempts or else your lives are forfeit. Climb the tree and then follow the tug and pull of the vial to the first ratatosk village you find and accept what they give to you. The vial will know where to go, and the squirrels should be expecting you. Take their gifts and return to me and then I will give you the information you seek.”


            “What is this in here?” Toras asked, concerned.


            “You expect some act of evil. You expect that it is poison. Perhaps you think that I wish you to poison the great tree? No, I do not, and your wretched touch of the divine should tell you that I’m telling you the truth. In fact, what I will have you do might even be portrayed as an act of charity on my part.” The Clockmaker said with a grin, exposing crooked and malformed fangs, its breath like wind over the rotting remains of a hundred fresh battlefields.


            The fighter winced and turned away from the fiend’s direct gaze, which even though it might have been blind, he could feel its mind burrowing into his to paint a picture for its senses that was likely more accurate than their own, even if its sight was useless to it.


            “That’s all? No hidden terms or costs to us?” Tristol asked.


            “None at all. Do with the flask as I have told you, then bring back to me that which the Ratatosks give you willingly. Do that and you will have your answer from me truthfully.” The Baern said with a malign chuckle.


            Toras nodded, the fiend father was telling the truth.


            “I am not my brother the Lie Weaver, painting you a pretty image with falsehoods and half-truths. I am honest in this and will give you what you purchase with your deeds. But do not fail me,” the Clockmaker said as it turned away from them, its voice taking a darker tone, “For the vial would find its way back to me and I would find others to do my tasks. You are worthless outside of this. Wretched husks of meat and bone wrapped around souls that come to dot the planes like mewling little vermin, impure…”


            But the Baern was talking to itself by that point, turned away from the receding footsteps of his pawns. He couldn’t see them leaving, but he heard them clearly and saw their thoughts as well, as they removed themselves from his presence, uniformly disgusted by the experience.


Harishek pondered for a time after they had gone just how many of them would return to him looking for their answers; just how many of them would sully their values to gain his promised answers, and just how their thoughts would differ at that time compared their expectations currently. The Baernaloth smiled.






            They stood at the base of Yggdrasil where the roots of the Great Tree sunk deep into the dust and ash, solidified with the bloodshed of the war eternal, that passed for the soil of the Waste. The World Tree rose out of sight into the wispy, mournful clouds that hung above the layer of Niffleheim, a thing of plane spanning greatness, somehow drawing sustenance from the frigid dark of the second Gloom. But as they huddled there in the shadows of the roots, they were not alone.


            The base of the World Ash crawled with hundreds of dragons, wyrms, and Linnorms. The blighted progeny of the beast that daily sought to bring down the tree by clawing, gnashing and gorging upon the roots. Most of the scaled terrors seemed content to sit and gnash madly at the roots, though they collectively seemed to do little more than scratch the bark to no great effect.


            “Powers above…” Fyrehowl said as she pointed to the horizon where the trunk of the World Tree curved out of sight. Where the tree met the horizon, the tail and part of a wing of the mother of dragons itself lay upon the Waste amid a river of sticky, slowly flowing sap. Nidhogg’s tail twitched in irritation every few minutes and they could feel the earth shake ever so slightly from miles away as it vented its apocalyptic desires upon Yggdrasil’s roots.


            “Let’s just pour this vial out before that thing or any of its children notices us, alright?” Clueless said.


            “Sneaky would be good right now. That thing would give the Mother of Serpents a dance partner…” Nisha said as she scanned the tree for any recent wounds.


            Toras climbed up one of the roots to where the flesh and bark was stripped raw and sap bubbled forth from a deep slash that went several feet into the massive root, itself thick as a house. Looking around once more for any sign of Nidhogg’s children, or that the beast itself had noticed them, he unstoppered the crystalline flask and hastily poured its contents onto the wound.


            The syrupy fluid was absorbed instantly into the wound, and the wound sealed almost as quickly with a sparkle of cold, violet light.


            “What the hell?” Toras said as he stepped back from the rapidly spreading glow, watching the root seem to regenerate, grow, and shed itself of its wounds and the dust of the Waste itself.


            They watched in amazement as the glow rocketed across the swath of roots in range of their vision, watching the wounds heal and then listening to the confused and angered roars of the drakes that had been madly seeking to fell the World Tree. A moment later the ground and sky rattled as Nidhogg sensed and saw the changes, watching as its centuries of wrath were reversed and erased.


            “Umm… let’s move. Now! Before that thing comes hunting for us!” Nisha whispered harshly as she waved her arms wildly, pointing up the side of the tree into the sky.


            She had little need to say so as Clueless and Fyrehowl were already hurtling up into the sky as Tristol was casting a spell to give flight to him and the others. Moments later they too joined in their skyward flight, glancing downwards only once to watch the healing of Yggdrasil’s roots continue and to watch the blind, but ultimately impotent, hatred of Nidhogg and its children.


            “Guys, slow down a bit. The vial. It’s tugging at my hand like a compass.” Toras said as he caught up with the others.


            “Well, the fiend said that the vial would know where to lead us to. Now we just need to find some Ratatosks.” Fyrehowl said.


            “Big, sodding, squirrel people.” Nisha said, dramatically sticking her upper jaw out in an overbite and twitching her upper lip like one of the fuzzy tailed guardians of Yggdrasil.


            “Heh. Well, regardless, that’s who we need to find. And so far, this hasn’t seemed like a bad thing we’re doing. Hells, we just healed the World Tree, I can’t see any way that would be evil.” Toras said with optimism as he smiled and laughed at Nisha’s pantomime of one of the squirrel folk.






            As they climbed up the Great Tree, led onwards without pause by the pull and tug of the crystal vial they held, they were being watched. Perched upon a branch high above them and looking down was a solitary woman of fey or vaguely half-elven features. Her hair was long and green, tinged with the red of autumn in places, and her skin was a milky nut brown. She was naked but unashamed as she watched the six travel towards her children, her guardians and caretakers.


And there, as she silently watched, unable to act, she wept. Yggdrasil wept. Far below, on another plane or two or three, her tears would fall like glistening raindrops upon the ground and sprout spontaneously into saplings and flowers which then withered and died, blooming and passing in an instant, evaporating in the sunlight or the gloom where they might touch the earth. Yggdrasil wept.






Hours passed as they walked along the tree as the vial led them along, sometimes walking along or between branches, other times flying up the trunk. Several times they would encounter other travelers along the branches, some of them benign and others hostile, most of them using the tree as a method of transit between planes. They would pass some of the portals that dotted the limbs of Yggdrasil like fruit, great spinning pools of light to the other planes where the tree touched with stem or root. But eventually they stumbled upon a pair of those who they sought: Ratatosks.


Barring their path along one of the branches was a pair of bipedal red squirrels. The Ratatosks carried spears and shields carved from the giant sterile acorns of the Great Tree, and the chattered quickly and incomprehensibly to one another as the six approached them.


“Hello, we…” Clueless began, before one of the Ratatosks chattered angrily and pointed its spear at him.


“You no go this place. Go back way came.” The squirrel that was half Clueless’s height said in stunted, broken planar common.


“Well no, this is the way we’re supposed to go, at least it’s the way that this thing is saying.” The half-fey said as he held up the crystalline vial, “Supposedly we’re supposed to find some of your kind and then you’d know what to do. We were told that your kind would be expecting us.”


The two Ratatosks had gone deathly silent at the sight of the vial.


“I take it that you do know what this is about, yes?” Clueless asked again.


The pair of guards had lowered their spears and looked at one another like they had seen a ghost; one of them was trembling slightly.


“Are you…” Clueless began.


“Follow, we take you…” The one more steady squirrel warrior said as it quickly motioned them down the branch.


“Well, something’s got them spooked. But they did recognize us.” Nisha said as they followed the one scampering ratatosk.


The ratatosk scurried onwards along and up the tree at breakneck speed, stopping every so often to allow them to catch up, chattering its high-pitched language at them impatiently to hurry. But eventually they reached a village perched upon a series of branches, sheltered by an overhanging limb and partially tucked into a knot and hollow within the trunk of the tree itself.


As they walked into the town, the curious ratatosk villagers peeked out from their homes and from behind the leaves of the great tree. Their expressions changed from curious to frightened when they saw the glowing vial that Clueless held.


An elderly ratatosk walked out to meet the warrior that had escorted them, nodded and approached. “I am ready to go with you. Pick the others and we will follow.” He said in high pitched but weary planar common.


“Excuse me?” Toras said, “What do you mean follow us? Pick?”


The elder sighed, “You weren’t told…”


The six looked at each other with dread.


“Told what?” Fyrehowl asked as she noticed the entire village assembling around them.


“Our bargain and our curse to keep our Great Mother alive. Our price and self sacrifice to Yggdrasil that we must give when the time arises once every few generations and you, the ones with that vial, come to bring to the fiend what he requires.” The elder sighed heavily.


“What is it you have to give us?” Toras asked with worry.


“When the time arrives, the eldest of us must leave and travel with you. I have dreaded this moment, but I am resigned to whatever may happen. I am ready and I go for the sake of She who gave us life and harbors us as her children.” The Elder said before gesturing to the rest of the village where each mated pair had stepped forward with their children.


“Oh gods no…” Fyrehowl stumbled and choked back emotion as she looked into the worried faces of the innocent, the children of the village being offered to them, being handed over to the Clockmaker.


“You must each choose one of our young ones to go with you. They and we know what we must do, and despite…” He turned from the parents and tried not to weep, “And despite the agony of this, we do it willingly for the Great Mother. We must. The Great Mother would have died…”


Toras stared blankly at the faces of the ratatosk children in disbelief and horror. “I…No… I have to speak with my god…”


The fighter clutched his holy symbol and turned towards an opening gate to the domain of his divine patron, Andros, protector of the weak, the infirm, and of children. “I may not be back…”


Nisha looked at the assembled families and their children, all of whom only vaguely seemed aware of what was truly going on as they looked at their mothers and fathers and then at the strangers who had come to the village. The tiefling walked to her husband and clutched his shoulder tightly as she turned away from the Ratatosks.


“I feel sick Tristol… I can’t look at them…” She said softly.


Clueless and Fyrehowl looked at each other and then walked towards the others.


“We need to talk, all of us.” The half-fey said, motioning them together.


“Clueless, I can’t do this. My fall wasn’t an embrace of evil, and that’s what this would be. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I willingly handed over a child to one of the Baernaloth… I can’t imagine what that thing would do to them…” The lupinal said with anger and grief carved into her face.


“We don’t have a choice though.” Clueless said.


“But what kind of choice is that?! Damn it all, I won’t sacrifice one of them, any of them! If I have to give over a child if I go back to the Clockmaker, than I won’t be going back there.” Nisha said as she looked up from Tristol’s shoulder, tears in her eyes.


“They’re choosing to do this, evil as it might be, it’s a sacrifice on their part to save Yggdrasil. Even if the means is blasphemous, in the end, the lives this will save are greater and more precious. They’ve chosen their way of life willingly.” Clueless said with a sigh as he glanced back at the villagers.


Tristol nodded softly, “The information we would buy with this… it would prevent a greater evil from happening. Even if we don’t do this, it will still happen eventually, it might even harm the Tree and them as well in the short term if we refuse.”


Nisha looked up at Tristol and he stroked her forehead as he tightly clutched her hand, “But that doesn’t make we want to do this, or like it, or think it any less evil. I may never forgive myself for doing this, but I won’t force you to take part it in.”


Nisha nodded and kissed her husband, “I’ll see you back in Sigil. Thank you… I just can’t do this.”


Tristol nodded and handed her a scroll. She unfurled it, whispered awkwardly over the incantations and vanished in the glowing halo of planeshifting magic to the Outlands, and then to Sigil.


“Aiden?” Tristol asked to the cleric.


“I don’t know,” He said as he stared up into the sky, “I understand your point, but I need to know how my god feels. Let me ask Brigit, and if she would approve, I’ll stay.”


Clueless nodded and looked at Fyrehowl again, “You don’t want to stay here for this, and that’s fine. The Clockmaker just said to accept what they give us and return to him, but if we don’t return then we don’t have to bring a child. You can leave and we’ll meet you back in Sigil when it’s over…”


The lupinal nodded, “See you then, I’m sorry you have to do this…”


            Fyrehowl ran her fingers over an amulet around her neck that swirled with colored light, like a miniature color pool, and she vanished in ripple of magic as well. The three looked at one another as she left and sighed.


            Clueless gestured to Aiden, “Take your time in consulting your power, Tristol and I have some things to talk about as well.”


            “Alright, I’ll be over here concentrating for a while.” The cleric said as he walked over to a spot to pray and invoke his divinations.


            Tristol looked at Clueless as they removed themselves from Aiden’s presence and from the immediate local earshot of the Ratatosks. Almost simultaneously they said, “Toras…”


            Tristol continued, “Yeah, my thoughts as well. This is blasphemy to his god and his beliefs.”


            “But it’s going to happen eventually, and it’s not something we can stop. We need the information that we’ll get from the Clockmaker.” Clueless said.


            Tristol nodded sullenly, “I know, but it doesn’t make it any easier at all. I will hate myself for doing this as much as I’ll hate the Baernaloth.”


            “It’s the Ratatosk’s choice. They made whatever deal they made, and they’ve been doing this for eons it would seem. They know what they’re doing.” The half-fey replied.


            “Is it a choice on their part? Or do they even have a moral right to make that choice?” Tristol said. “Should they rightly have the choice to sacrifice their own children to save their others? And this is assuming the fiend is even doing what is good for them in exchange for their sacrifice.”


            “I think we have to assume it is. And even if it’s wrong, we can’t stop it now. Maybe in the future, but we can’t afford to stop it now.” Clueless said.


            Tristol nodded sullenly, “I know, I know. You’re right. But it still leaves us with how to deal with Toras if he decides to end this now in some way.”


            “He’s strong, very strong, and the best fighter amongst us except for perhaps Fyrehowl.” Clueless said as the Unseelie portion of his heritage started to speculate.


            “And she’s not here, so it’s you, me, and maybe Aiden.” Tristol said, looking over towards the Cleric.


            “Assume no Aiden, just to be safe.” Clueless said.


            “I won’t hurt him, or at least I’d prefer not to hurt him.” Tristol said as he mentally cataloged his current spells in memory.


            “Best then to keep him away or entrap him so he can’t get to us, or anyone else.” Clueless replied.


            “Force bubble would do the trick, and he doesn’t have any real way to get out of one of them. A forced Planeshift as well if it comes to that.” Tristol said. “Hells… an imprisonment if it comes to it.”


            Clueless looked back towards Aiden before continuing, “Alright, and I can pull out a few walls of force myself if we just need to box him in. But something tells me that we won’t be seeing Toras till this is all over.”


            Aiden basked in the mental attentions of his goddess and asked his questions. He was troubled about the moral quandary they had been hurled into, needing to balance the immediate but horrid evil of sacrificing willing innocents, versus the need to find information about a greater evil that they might be able to prevent. Bridget’s attentions were like the fluttering, warm light of a freshly lit fire, and Aiden listened to every nuanced feeling that he felt from the goddess.


            In the end though, the answer he received most clearly was less firm that he had been hoping for. “It is their choice, and you likewise have your own choice. Make your own fate my child and I will support you.”


            No firm ‘do this’, or ‘do that’, a decision still left to him. He sighed and stood up and walked over towards the mage and the bladesinger. They turned at his approach and the mental question of the moment went unsaid.


            “I’m in this till the end.” Aiden said with a sigh.


            “Alright, we’re glad to have you with us.” Clueless said.


            “Thank you,” Tristol said as he laid a hand on the cleric’s shoulder.


            They turned and walked towards the Ratatosks assembled. The village elder returned to their side as they gazed at the villagers who went rigid and tense at the uncertainty. Would their children be among those taken away from them?


            “We shouldn’t take children from families who only have one.” Tristol said.


            Clueless and Aiden nodded.


            “Agreed, we can at least try to minimize the cruelty of this.” The half-fey added.


            Tristol addressed the villagers, “Any family who has an only child, go back to your homes, we won’t take them. We can’t bring ourselves to take away an only child from you.”


            There was the sound of several parents weeping in gratitude as a number of families hurried away from the center of the village and back to their own homes, clutching their son or daughter with profound, loving intensity.


            One child, a young ratatosk girl of perhaps six years of age still stood alone. Perhaps an only child, but no parents or family stood near her. An orphan. Clueless looked to Tristol.


            “If it comes to it, we go with the orphan since there’s no family involved.” The half-fey whispered.


            “As difficult as this is for you and ourselves, we don’t want to force a child from its family. So… if any of you wish to willingly volunteer to go with us…” Tristol said, fighting back tears.


            A silence echoed across the assembled before one child stepped forward, a young boy of perhaps nine. His parents chattered imploringly at him, his young sister began to cry, and turned back. He didn’t stay long, only giving his parents a last hug and his sibling a kiss before he walked quietly and without a word to stand at Aiden’s side. Tristol squinted his eyes tightly at the sobbing of the child’s parents.


            A second child, a boy of perhaps seven, stepped forward and chattered to his parents and younger brother proudly. Aiden whispered a spell to allow them to understand, and they listened.


            “I’m going to be a hero and go with them.” The child said to his younger brother. “I’m going to go so someone else doesn’t have to go, whatever happens I’ll be brave.”


            The boy’s parents said nothing as they fought back tears.


            “You’ll see. When you grow up you can tell people how brave your big brother was, and you had a hero in your family.” He said, biting his lower lip and fighting back his fear and second-guessing.


            “Aiden, I wish I didn’t know what he was saying… gods I’m going to be haunted by that…” Tristol said as the boy hugged his family, lastly clutching his younger sibling tightly and spinning him around before telling him to be brave when he was gone. His farewells said, the child proudly walked towards the three and stood at Tristol’s feet, coming up to his thigh at most.


            “Are you sure little one? You can go back now if you wish. It’s not too late.” Tristol said down to the child as he rubbed its head comfortingly with a hand.


            “No. I’m going to be a hero. I’m going to be a hero so my little brother doesn’t have to go.” He said as he clutched the mage’s tail. The boy was trembling with fear but not willing to show it in front of his younger sibling and the others. Tristol clenched his fist in anger at the Clockmaker that such had to happen.


            There was a pause and a silence as the three looked across the remaining families, hoping for another volunteer so they wouldn’t have to forcibly choose. The remaining parents were clutching their children, and the two families missing children were clutching their remaining little ones and weeping.


            The orphan girl stepped forwards. She had no relatives, she had no family or siblings to say her goodbyes to. The girl, perhaps ten years old, looked at the others and their families and gave a grim, forlorn smile as she walked up to Clueless.


            “I don’t have a family or anyone else here. Let me go with you, I don’t belong here anyways. No one would have me.”


            Clueless’s wings dimmed abruptly and lost their glow of faerie fire. He was at a loss for words, his own childhood having been an orphan of sorts, having not belonged in either of the worlds that had brought him forth. He saw so much in the child that reminded him of himself, and here she was going willingly into the mouth of hell with him. Could he have had the same fortitude in her position at that age? He wasn’t sure, but he looked down at her questioningly.


            “Are you sure? You can turn back now if you want. You know what may happen, yes? You understand what’s going on?” Clueless said to her as his wing’s glowed a soft bluish-purple.


            The girl nodded and took his offered hand tightly.


            “I’m proud of you. They all should be.” Clueless whispered down to her before looking out to the assembled families.


            “We’ve chosen the three that we must. The rest of you, take your children and go home with them. Cherish them and be proud of these three who have gone so that others did not.” The half-fey said as his orphan squeezed his hand tightly.


            “The two families who have lost a child to us, you may take however long you with to say any last words if you wish, and then we will be leaving. These three are heroes, truly; never forget them. And one day please, forgive us for having to do this… I beg of you…” Tristol said as parents wept in relief and ran to their homes with sons and daughters they would not lose.


            Clueless sat with his orphan and talked to her softly as the other two children said their final farewells to their parents and siblings. Tristol was crying as he watched his child proudly boast to his young brother and play the hero, though he knew the boy was terrified beyond belief. They gave the children what time they needed, forestalling if but for a moment what would come for them.






            The three of them left with the three willing children and the village elder in the swirling glow of a gate, opened directly into the heart of the Baernaloth’s demiplane. However, unlike before, the gate opened up at the front gates of the keep, rather than outside, at the fringes of the maze. The Baern expected them, and let them enter more directly. Still, the fiend might have intended for them to walk through the entirety of the fortress to subject the children to the uncertainty and fear of what was waiting for them.


            Tristol, Clueless, and Aiden took their children and comforted them as they walked into the fortress and tried to ignore the mocking whispers that issued from the swirling depths of the gap that the castle was perched atop.


            “It’ll be alright.” Tristol gently said, blatantly lying as the young ratatosk quivered and clutched his tail.


            All three of the children grew more and more frightened as they wandered through the empty halls of the keep, and the vacant passages seemed to stretch onwards just until the young ones’ resolve was at its breaking point. At that moment, timed for the worst, they passed by the chambers that had held the Clockmaker’s twisted experiments and gruesome displays, and at that moment the doors swung wide open. The moans, shrieks and other noises from the still living abominations reached out into the hallway and the children went pale at what they saw. Clueless, Tristol and Aiden quickly clasped their hands over the children’s eyes and ears to shelter them from the assault as they hurriedly moved them down the passageway. Minutes later, as they were still cursing the Baernaloth’s sick pleasure and still trying to comfort the little ones, the central chamber loomed before them.


            The ratatosk elder was whispering a prayer to Yggdrasil as they stepped into the massive, cathedral-like vault with its bizarre clockwork device perched atop the swirling core of the ether gap. The Baernaloth was not present as they stepped hesitantly towards the center of the room. All they heard was the echoes of their footsteps, the maddening whispers from the swirling whirlpool of ether, and the cold grinding of the clockwork.


            They had fully entered the room, standing next to the massive device, when they all turned to look back at the entrance, half expecting the door to be gone, or the Baernaloth standing there. There was nothing when they turned and looked, but then one of the children screamed in horror.


            The Clockmaker stood only scant feet from them, its hands clutching the device above the gap to steady itself, and its blind eyes wide with anticipation. It’s yellowed teeth shown as it grinned widely and sniffed at the air. The ratatosk elder stumbled backwards and fell to the ground in shock at the size of the fiend, its composition ripped from his nightmares and the stories of his race. The blind darkness leered down at him and the three terrified children.


            “We’ve brought what the Ratatosk’s gave to us. They came willingly. We wouldn’t have forced them.” Tristol said angrily. “I hate you for this. I hate you for making us do this for our answers from you…”


            The Baernaloth didn’t seem to care one way or the other as it paused and sent it mind flowing across the chamber to brush against the fearful thoughts of the seven that stood there before it. Harishek tilted his head in either curiosity or irritation as it noted that Toras, Nisha, and Fyrehowl had not returned with the others.


“Only three of you… the godslave, the godpuppet and the halfbreed. Where are the idealist fool, the elysian filth, and the chaos touched bitch?” The Baern looked in Tristol’s direction as he sneered the last name, turning back for a moment to fumble with and adjust the gears of the massive device that sat above the gap.


“You said we could leave the deal at any point without retribution or breaking the agreement. They couldn’t justify this…” The Archmage’s voice trembled slightly with emotion and the Ratatosk child clutched at his leg, cowered in fear. “I can’t fully justify what I’m doing, what you’ve made me do, and I will regret this and seek atonement and forgiveness for the rest of my life. The only thing that makes it ache less is that I might save more people by doing this, and that the Ratatosks give of themselves willingly to preserve their Great Mother as an act of worship. I cannot fathom the sacrifice they put upon themselves out of love for Yggdrasil, nor can I fathom the evil that would make you enjoy your deal with them…”


The Gloom Father smiled and laughed, “So I did say that, promised you an answer… as for the bargain they and I made, some things happen because they must. Accept that mortal and live your life under all those moral pretenses you hold onto. Nothing comes without sacrifice. For anything to happen, anything great to happen, there must be two things: blood and terror.” The Clockmaker paused and turned its sightless eyes towards the elder Ratatosk. “We are well acquainted with both…”


The Baern stepped closer to the elder ratatosk as the children whimpered in abject horror, clutching onto Clueless, Tristol and Aiden. “Uncover their eyes. Make them watch this.”


Looks of revulsion crossed the faces of the three and they paused and did nothing. The Baern slowly snarled, “Do as I command or I shall force it upon them myself mortals!”


Slowly and with an ache in their souls they complied, turning the ratatosk children towards their elder, uncovering their eyes and holding them up to see what would follow.


The Baern looked down towards the adult ratatosk, his eyes unfocused and wandering in their blindness before he snatched the elder up with one hand around its neck. “Give me the vial now and watch closely for what your sacrifice begets you.”


Aiden handed the Baern the empty vial and the fiend flicked one finger and it hovered in the air near the Ratatosk in its grip. The elder struggled for air before the hand around its neck was released and he hung suspended in space, still gasping for breath as his previous resignation broke and was replaced with whimpering fear. The Baern seemed to revel in the change in his spirits as it broke into a wide, almost ecstatic smile and the elder began to writhe and scream in agony. The children and the three could only watch, compelled to witness the torture of the ratatosk suspended before them.


He screamed and his limbs jerked, spasmed and danced as if on invisible puppet strings while his body was struck by such pain that his back arched and seemed at the verge of snapping from the tension. And then it did, with a sickening snap, as first one vertebra and then another and another in turn broke and cracked from the torment. Bones along the length of the elder’s body shifted internally and seemed to shatter and contort beyond their natural limits as the Baern broke him in every sense of the word. He should have died from the damage, he should have felt less pain as his spine broke in half, but he screamed till his vocal chords bled and tore and silenced his agony into bloody gurgles.


With each scream a tiny sparkle of light sprang from his own mouth, eyes and nostrils to flicker on the air and fly into the vial hanging in the space next to him. When his screams finally stopped, his eyes glazed over in death, and his body crumpled to the floor with a sickening crunch, the vial was ¼ full. And the three children remained. Ten minutes that hellish execution passed and the children had to watch it all. A harbinger of their own fate…


The Baern seemed pleased with himself as he crouched next to the body and pawed with outstretched hands before finding it and dragging it close. He sniffed at the ragged corpse and turned it face up before glancing back up towards the children and the three companions who had brought them to their doom. “Send the children over into one of the corners, I will deal with them later.”


The three put the children down and walked them over into one of the corners of the room. All three of them were pale and shaking, crying out with raw voices, tiny streaks of tears working down their cheeks. They should not have ever been there…


            “I’m so sorry…” Clueless whispered as he put down the orphan. “You three are strong and so very brave. Whatever happens, we’ll remember you and make sure that your people do as well. You can do this.” The bladesinger then had to force himself to walk away, leaving his child to her fate.


Glancing back to the children, their hearts screaming at them to do something other than leave them, the three walked back and past the Clockmaker as it hunched over the elder’s broken body. There was a tearing sound followed by a crunch as the Clockmaker picked up the corpse and began to devour it.


“You promised me some answers to a few questions. How do I read the Oblivion Compass?” Tristol asked the Baernaloth with a hint of defiance in his voice, his loathing for the fiend not disguised in the least.


“Did I?” There was another crunch as the fiend’s naked incisors snapped through the elder’s ribcage to rip out muscle and viscera that it chewed upon noisily. “I seem to recall having said I would tell you when the clock would strike 11, not how to read it yourself. You demand much godpuppet.” Another bloody crunch.


“The clock will strike 11 in two weeks, three days, five hours, four minutes and 3 seconds from now.” The fiend snapped two fingers at the final word of its declaration and glanced in Tristol’s direction again, chewing upon a hunk of muscle from the corpse. “You still wish to know how to read the clock yourself?”


“Yes…” He replied angrily.


The Baern chewed its mouthful of bloody flesh, mixing it with syrupy black mucous before it pulled forth a gobbet of the mass forth and held it up in the palm of its hand towards Tristol. “Eat…”


Tristol grimaced and took the bloody handful without a word. He shuddered as he put it into his own mouth, chewed it twice and swallowed it. He looked sick but otherwise did nothing. The Baern sneered up at him, “You’re as much a fool as I thought. But now as for your answer…”


Tristol nearly fell to the ground as for the briefest of seconds the sightless eyes of the Baern seemed to lock onto him and focus as the Clock Maker’s mind forced itself into his like a burning hot spike of iron. A flood of images rushed into his head from the fiend: images of modrons being welded into place on the compass, the horrified Secundus screaming in agony as it was fused, still living, into the nightmare engine, the moignos being bound into the device’s core, a flurry of chaotic nonsensical mathematical equations and the horrid spinning of the gears and hands upon the face of the machine. And suddenly some pattern seemed to emerge from it all and he understood at least some method of understanding the patterns of it all, if not the purpose.


The Baernaloth laughed harshly at the aasimar while it drew forth a length of slippery innards from the partially devoured corpse like a glistening string of popcorn. “You could always spare the children the pain that will come to them you know…”


Tristol stood up and narrowed his eyes, still staggered from his experience of absorbing a memory from the Clockmaker. “What do you mean? How?”


The Baern chewed on the bloody loop of intestines and then looked over at the whimpering children. “Kill one of them now. Kill one of them with your bare hands. Snap their neck with one clean motion and give them a quick death, a merciful passing into oblivion. You may kill one of them now and spare them the experience at my delicate hands…”


            The fiend punctuated his offer by unfolding its hands as if offering up a sacrifice, the slim, clawed digits drenched in gore. “And your answer?”


            “No…” Tristol said abruptly and angrily. “I’ve already condemned them to death as it is, and I simply can’t live with anything else on my conscience. I can’t do that, and I won’t give you that sick pleasure.”


            “One way or another…” The Clockmaker muttered to itself as it turned back to its meal.


“I have a question now…” Clueless spoke up as the fiend continued to consume the corpse while the children whimpered in the corner.


“Ask away fool.”


“Just what is this place? What’s beyond the ether gap you seem so concerned with? What is it whispering?” He stared at the Baern who glanced up briefly at the question before it scoffed.


“Not all answers are for you to know. That particular question would cost you far more than you have to give. I have other business to attend to. Be gone. But realize as you go that since you have entered I have butchered you seven times each, but such futures were not to be. Probability collapses to a single destined future it seems, one out of many. And while those other futures were not to be, this one is, and I promised you no harm and an answer to a question. I provide both because it suits my wishes in what is to come. Unlike the Baatezu, or their forerunners… I hold to laws only so long as I see fit to do so. Remember that keenly puppets.”


            “You’ll allow us to leave?” Tristol asked it, deliberately trying not to look towards the children.


            The Baern looked in the aasimar’s general direction, its face painted crimson on gray from the blood of the corpse, stray bits of fur and flesh dotting its wasted flesh. “Unless you wish to watch what comes for your little ones, then yes. You are free to go. I’ve had my fun with most of you.”


Tristol said nothing, but motioned towards Aiden and Clueless to leave. However as he began to incant the words to bring them to the Outlands he felt the Baernaloth’s blind eyes seem to focus on him, or at least its mind brush against him as it muttered softly, “Oh what your timelines say…and what they do not…”


            Tristol grimaced in disgust as he stepped through his gate and emerged out into the Outlands. The air and sunlight seemed almost a heaven in comparison to the place that he had just left behind, and he tried not to think of those that he had indeed left behind.


            “Are you two alright?” Clueless asked as he looked out at the spire that graced the horizon.


            “I will be eventually. But damnit! In a universe that holds good as a virtue, that … thing… has no right to exist. And we didn’t do anything.” Aiden said as he cursed.


            “Let’s not tell Toras or the others what all happened. We can spare them what we have to live with at least. Yes?” The bladesinger suggested.


            “Agreed. Toras would go crazy with anger, Fyrehowl has already seen enough loss and doubt, and I won’t put Nisha through that.” Tristol said as he tried to smile at her name. “Still, it’s over for us at least.”


            He exhaled in relief for that blessing. And then he heard a voice echo in his mind.


            “Now my little ones, you belong to me.” The Clockmaker’s voice rang clearly inside Tristol’s mind as if he were still there in the demiplane.


            “…” Tristol clenched his teeth as the voice continued, unwillingly pumping into his mind what he would have heard had he never left the Baernaloth’s presence.


            “You are mine now, and you will all eventually die, one by one. There is nothing for you but pain and then oblivion, if even that.” Harishek’s voice said mockingly to the children, and Tristol could hear their whimpers and plaintive objections and denials.


            “No one will come to rescue you. Those that brought you here have abandoned you willingly. They knew what would happen to you and they left you to me. They chose not to help you and here you are.”


            Tristol screamed out to silence the dialogue within his mind, but it only grew in intensity to compensate. The Baern made him listen, made him hear all that happened, and there was nothing he could do. The Clockmaker’s punishment to him lasted over three hours as one by one each of the children was tortured and killed, slowly and painfully, each of them forced to watch.


            After each death the Baern would sit and talk to them, goading them more and more, telling them blasphemies and stories of suffering, testing their faith and their sanity with each step. He broke them mentally and spiritually before finally snuffing their lives before their time. And Tristol could do nothing to stop it.


            “And now it is your turn, my little one. I’ve saved you until the end so that you would see what became of the righteous, what your sacrifice was for. Nothing. You prolong your people’s suffering and they will never know.” The voice was laughing in Tristol’s mind as he heard the last child start to cry before a hand silenced its flow of air to a trickle.


            “A little tale before you die, to make your sacrifice worth your time. I’ve saved this story just for you my little one. Yggdrasil was never sterile before I came to your people and offered you my poisoned salvation. And you all accepted.”


            A shrill scream broke the sudden silence as the Clockmaker paused, gripped tighter, and provoked a struggle. “And so, my little hero, do you think that your soul will ever see paradise?”


            Tristol’s mind was blessed with silence then as they walked through the portal into the City of Doors in Tradegate, snuffing the Baernaloth’s tainted voice. Tristol wept as the torment ended, and in still silence within its demiplane, the Blind Clockmaker sat amid the bodies of the fallen, its eyes sightless and twitching as it smiled a bloody smile.

            “In the end they accepted my gift and my bargain. They chose willingly, acted willingly, and so do I.”








Harishek apt Thul’kesh:


The Baernaloth known as the Blind Clockmaker, Harishek apt Thul’kesh, is often confused with another member of its infernal brotherhood, The Architect. The two of them do possess similar qualities, though The Architect seems to give to others the methods and insights of their own destruction, praying off of the desire to create, feeding off of the ego and pride of humanity. The Architect may represent the darkness of the creative spark when consumed by pride, wisdom subsumed by ego, and the unrelenting desire to mold the world around us without regard for any save ourselves. Differing from this, The Blind Clockmaker, while also a creator in the same sense as Lazarius Ibn Shartalan, he seems to resemble the slow, faceless, unyielding progression of evolution as the strong and fit overwhelm the weak. Perfection devoid of mercy, survival by sacrifice, blood spilt upon the altar of time to cull the unfit, blood spilt even if it might not be necessary.


            Harishek Apt Thulkesh is also known as the Exile, though in his case his exile is willing and purposeful, unlike the forced banishment of Apomps the Triple-Aspected. The Clockmaker has at times referred to another member of The Demented, Daru Ib Shamiq, the ‘Lie Weaver’, as being his ‘brother’. Now while the Baern refer to one another as siblings, as brothers and sisters, the Clockmaker uses a specific term in its own infernal language that puts some level of subtle distinction between the kinship between the Lie Weaver and himself and that between the other 11 of their cabal and he. The exact nature of this relationship is unknown, and since the Baernaloth are all unique, individual creatures, all presumed to have existed since the initial moments of their plane’s creation, and devoid of any known instance of sexual reproduction, blood relation is a rather improper term to use.


What’s more, is that the term the Clockmaker uses for the Lie Weaver has been reported in two forms, seemed to encompass both brother and sister when he refers to the other Baernaloth. This is odd since the Lie Weaver has been reported to be distinctly male, while the Clockmaker has either no specific gender, or both at once, the exact state seeming to change from time to time without reason.




The Clockwork Gap :


The Clockwork Gap is something if an enigma, a demiplane within a demiplane, a point of stability within the eternal storms of the temporal energy plane itself. The demiplane itself is bound within an opaque boundary, much like the vaporous curtains of other demiplanes in the ethereal depths, and requires no key for entry.


            Once having braved the storms of the plane surrounding it, the interior of the demiplane is a hollow space of roughly 4 miles in circumference. Occupying the center of the demiplane is a disk or shelf of rock around a mile in diameter that is perched atop a massive whirlpool of ethereal protomatter, an ether gap. Though the disk itself seems unmoving and stable, anything not standing upon its surface experiences a slow but gradual pull from the gap, drawing them towards is unknown depths.


            The sole structure upon the disk is a single keep of dressed stone, unremarkable and otherwise of little note. Surrounding the keep is a massive hedge-maze, passage through which seems to be a requirement for accessing the keep itself and those who attempt to bypass the hedgemaze by magic or flying experience an odd phenomena of never growing near to the keep despite any effort they make. Those who brave the maze have spoken of ‘whispering figments’ and ‘living illusions’ populating the interior corridors of the hedges. The occupants of the maze seem drawn from the fabric of the minds of those wishing to gain access to the keep, and they are frequently challenged in some manner, or their thoughts and motivations explored by the illusory beings before ending up before the entrance to the castle.


            The interior of the keep has been detailed by those few travelers who managed to brave the dangers of the surrounding plane and return to tell the tale, and they, to a man, regret the experience, for something dwells within the keep that is the stuff of nightmares. Once beyond the exterior doors, the interior is cavernous and seemingly deserted, filled only by the ticking, unrelenting sound of mechanical gears and clockwork plodding along in the darkness like the whispers and footsteps of a hundred thousand fiends behind the walls lying in wait.


Visitors describe hallways of empty chambers, rooms filled flush to their doors with gears and indecipherable mechanical objects of unknown purpose. They also describe the laboratories of mangled experiments, both preserved and living in various states of dissection, fiends all of them. Chamber after ghoulish chamber of warped and twisted Yugoloths, Baatezu, and Tanar’ri. Forced crossbreeds, magical fusions of the subjects, and bizarre mutations upon their standard forms, as well as what can only be described as ‘prototypes’ of the Mezzoloth, each stage of its design and creation detailed in voluminous notes in an obscure dialect of infernal. The workshop of a fiend filled with the half-starts, dead ends, and successes formed by tinkering upon a form, evolution enacted by force, and a blind, unfeeling progression of progress in the essence of the fiend’s creations.


            Wandering further through the halls visitors have discovered massive devices that they can only describe as planar orreries such as that created by the Modron deity Primus in Mechanus. These devices however appear to focus on distinct portions of the ethereal, the prime material, and within the demiplane itself. At erratic moments the devices give rise to images of current and past events at the location they are focused upon, as well as events within what have been guessed to be possible or alternate timelines.


            Those looking into the orreries have claimed to witness scenes of themselves being butchered by invisible beasts, with a lingering impression that something within the image is looking back at them through the massive devices before the images wink out. The experience is said to be harrowing, and most turn back upon witnessing such. But progressing towards the center of the demiplane within the keep, the surroundings grow more bizarre yet.


            Further reports of explorers tell that they encountered ephemeral images of themselves or alternate versions of themselves walking through the demiplane, unable to affect or communicate with these fragments of stillborn or collapsed timelines. These figments of things never to be frequently are observed to die spectacularly before fading from view.



            The center of the demiplane is a massive, cathedral-like chamber filled with a great clockwork device that sits perched above the lip of a circular hole in the floor of the keep. The shaft of the precipice looks down into the very maw of the ether gap beneath the surface of the rock upon which the keep itself rests. The swirling depths of the gap give rise to no images or beings, but a low and constant whispering drifts through the air like the death rattle of a world forever trapped in the last moment before oblivion. The whispers of the void, as unearthly and terrifying as they may seem, are nothing compared to the sole occupant and master of the Clockwork Gap.


            A twenty-foot tall, thin and wasted Baernaloth, its eyes milky and sightless within their orbits in its goat-like skull, a thing of living nightmare, occupies the central chamber. Those who have stood in the presence of The Blind Clockmaker tell of how it constantly adjusted and tinkered with the massive devices perched about the lip of the ether gap, whispering to itself, or the gap in an unknown language that ‘burned the senses with a feeling of wretched filth not easily cleansed’.


            Some have claimed that the gap spoke back directly to it, outside of the screams and insensate whispers that normally issue forth from its depths. This voice has always been ignored or mocked by the Clockmaker, and on several instances a spectral figure seemed to manifest out of the gap, clawing its way up from that swirling, misty abyss and stepping out into the chamber. Vague and largely undefined, it appears to have been incapable of acting in any physical manner outside of staring at the Baernaloth and exuding a sense of hatred. The Clockmaker returned the feeling with mutual glee, but never once referred to it by name or nature, simply as a being, or a wretch, or “dead probability, greatness lost in the tumble of the dice and gears of the universe of our molding”.


            Those who do not disturb the ancient Baernaloth may observe it for a time before it makes very clear that while its eyes are robbed of sight, it is far from unaware of those within its domain. It will frequently speak with, and even answer, questions posed to it by visitors, though any information it provides is never without a cost to the listener. Many have left, their minds enriched by the primal fiend’s wisdom, and their souls tarnished by its words and influence.


            The Blind Clockmaker is elusive about its reasons for inhabiting a demiplane of its own manufacture in the depths of the Temporal Energy plane, so far from its native home of the Gray Waste. But the being seems largely too preoccupied with its elusive tasks to actively harm any polite visitors, and it will offer information to them in exchange for the completion of tasks on its behalf. To a fault, the tasks will appear innocuous on the surface but result in morally repugnant situations that may strain a person into breaking their agreement with the Baern, or sullying their souls by the act’s completion.


            In the end, the demiplane is a mystery even in a plane of such primal mysteries as the Temporal Energy Plane. It is ruled and occupied by a being of nearly godlike power with knowledge reaching back to the dawn of the fiends, and one that is willing to share its knowledge to those who seek it out, but that knowledge always carries a cost. Not all who enter the keep leave, and those that do are never whole in the same way as when they entered.



The Clockwork Gap has the following traits:


Normal Gravity


Timeless – Much like the Astral, time does not pass normally within the demiplane, though it retroactively catches up upon leaving. To an immortal being like the Clockmaker, this is largely meaningless to itself.

Divinely Morphic / Alterable Morphic – The Blind Clockmaker is capable of altering the interior and composition of the demiplane seemingly at will. To all others the demiplane is considered Alterable Morphic

Mildly Evil Aligned – Except in the direct presence of the Clockmaker, the plane is only mildly evil aligned. This grows to strongly evil aligned, or more drastic in the Baernaloth’s presence

Enhanced Magic – Divination: All divination spells function at a caster level 5 greater than normal. All spells with a descriptor of ‘Evil’ are automatically maximized.

Impeded Magic – spells with a descriptor of ‘Good’ are impeded, requiring a Spellcraft check of DC 15 + the spell’s level to function.

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