Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

The wind from the void contrasted bitterly as it rushed with gale force over the burning slopes of Khalas. Beneath its rage, unyielding in its face, an iron city crawled upon legs of grafted flesh over the landscape of Gehenna’s first furnace. Titanic and eternal, the Crawling Citadel had existed since before the rise of Dis in Baator and Tu’narath in the Astral. Of those cities that still existed upon the planes, only Sigil could truly claim to have utterly predated it.

Within the depths of the city the first Ultraloth, the General of Gehenna himself sat and pondered over a great table of maps, diagrams and figures. He sat tracing out the desired path of the armies of both the Baatezu and Tanar’ri, and the required actions of the Yugoloths in order to balance both sides in the war, yet make it seem as nothing more than the eternal stalemate between the sides. Let no pattern of influence fall to the eyes and minds of the other fiends. Let them remain ignorant of the truth, and even ignorant of his existence. After all, his very hand had played a role in their very creation as the waste left over from his purification of the Yugoloths.

Around his neck upon a chain of cold iron hung a black sapphire that gleamed with an inner luminescence, the Heart of Darkness, the artifact that he had created at the tutelage and instruction of his makers, the Baernaloths, the Gloom Fathers, the first fiends. The inner light of the Heart shed its faceted patterns and shadows across the maps before The General, the rest of the chamber a study in inky darkness, and empty except for its maker.

With brilliant ease the prince of Ultraloths balanced armies and tugged upon the strings of power that would profit his race and provide the raw data of their grand experiment into the nature of evil that was the Blood War. This time however, something weighed upon the being of The General, a subtle but persistent tug upon his black soul. For the first time in eons he was uncertain and troubled by this. Whatever it was, it seemed oddly familiar upon his mind as if he had once before felt its touch. The General paused and pondered, his eyes shifting in patterns of malign color, with not a drop of emotions behind them in the cold and detached clinical evil that permeated the thoughts in his brain.

In the darkness behind the General, the shadows stirred suddenly and took form, congealing rapidly into a figure that stood heads above the ultraloth prince. Milky, cataract filmed eyes gazed down upon the General as the form placed its bony hands upon his the shoulders. The General did not react at the touch, seemingly unfazed and unconcerned at the being’s sudden presence.

It lurked above and behind him, gazing silently across his work with a mad and knowing gleam in its features and its mannerisms. Despite the fact that the greatest Yugoloth since the very beginning of time stood beneath this second being, the chamber felt polluted and sullied by its presence, something more foul than its normal occupant by far.

“You have a feeling in your brain that you cannot shove to the side, or destroy or dominate or explain. That troubles you my child, does it not?”

The General spoke without turning to face his better, “Yes it does. And I’ve felt it once before, when I was newly formed from the Waste, when you first spoke to me. It was there then, but I never felt it again till today. Tell me, what is it?”

The Baernaloth, Lazarius Ibn Shartalan, The Architect smiled a rictus grin down at his creation and tool. Diseased and noxious thoughts bubbled to the surface of his pit of a mind and he spoke once more, “Something stirs my little chosen one, first of your kind. Something that stirs the winds of the lower planes and forces events and processes into being in its wake. Something that would destroy you if we allowed it to do so. But that is not what we wish, and not what we have planned. You are destined for much that has not come into being yet, and neither will this deviate you from your destiny. No, it will forge it.”

The General of Gehenna turned and looked up at this one of his makers with respect bordering upon awe, “Tell me what I must do then.”

The Architect leered and replied as The Heart of Darkness dimmed at random, but seemingly in response to his words, “Then listen and do as I instruct. This is what you must do…”

*****

In a forsaken corner of Krangath, the frozen and dead 4th furnace, a bitter wind stirred the ash of a vale cut into the flank of the mount. Sitting upon the broken block of stone that was once, and would be the foundation stone of a buttress to the shattered cathedral whose ruins stood before him, Sarkithel Fek Parthis looked up from his musings. The ashes upon the ground stirred in agitation with the fevered thoughts of the Baernaloth as his dead white eyes sparkled with madness.

“It begins, finally it begins.”

The Chronicler, 5th of the Gloom Fathers screamed aloud into the sky, a manic bellow of exultation passing from his wasted lips and echoing out across the ravaged foundations of the city that surrounded him. The incinerated and frozen ashes of fiends and celestials alike stood around him as well with expressions of shock, panic and fear patterned across their faces, statues of solid ash all of them. Sarkithel paused in his excitement as a fit of phlegmatic coughing overtook him and several minutes later he stopped and wiped flecks of blood from his sallow lips.

“Just as we said, just as we planned, everything will fall into place. All that remains to be done is to wait and to watch for the signs to manifest themselves. Isn’t that right?”

The Baern chuckled to himself and gazed once more around himself to the city of ash and its dead as the wind began to rise and the ashes began to whisper back to him in fear and apprehension of it all happening again.

*****

At the same time deep in the hinterlands of Pluton, third layer of the Waste, the fiend once called Oinoloth, then and now called Anthraxus the Decayed seethed in displeasure. Gazing across the blighted, dead landscape of stunted trees and despair taken physical form, he felt a surge of purpose. Too much time had passed since he had stepped down from his position as Oinoloth of the Wasting Tower of Khin-Oin in favor of the Ultraloth Mydianchlarus. The words that his usurper had whispered to him had, at the time, filled him with fear and shock. At their potency alone he had abdicated the Seige Malicious and surrendered his position to his lesser.

Those words had spoken of his own doom in the shadow of Khin-Oin, of prophecy whispered by the Baernaloths, and things to come. But none of it had come to pass, not a single bit of those truths had become a reality. He had been deceived and his hunt for confirmation of those same words had come to naught, a chase after shadows, legends and half-truths. His search for confirmation had even led him to approach the deities of the Waste, those spawn of mortal belief, and to abase himself before them in hope of being granted their power as a proxy. All of them had spurned his attempts. The Godless Yugoloth had remained so.

Anthraxus turned away from his gazing across Pluton and the Hill of Bone and towards the city of Center. There it would start and it would end at Khin-Oin when he reclaimed his throne and rightful position as lord of his race. Lies would not stop him this time. The once and future Oinoloth would come into his rightful place again.

*****

The tortured screams and agonized howls of the petitioners molded to form the walls of the Tower of Incarnate Pain were music to the ears of a jet black Arcanaloth who sat and smiled within a chamber at its apex. Vorkannis the Ebon looked with the reddish pink eyes of an albino, oddly contrasting with his shadowy coat, at the projected images of his guests. They were a cross-section of their rank within the Yugoloth hierarchy, the powerful and the influential, all unable to take their proper role under the yoke of the faceless masters of Khin-Oin.

The Ebon stood and spoke, “Mydianchlarus is worried over reports that Anthraxus seeks to regain his position atop Khin-Oin. Good, that’s how it was meant to be. Anthraxus has a burning hatred now and an eagerness for allies and old connections to fall to his side. He needs to build his base of power before he can challenge his successor.”

He sneered and bared gleaming fangs, pausing for effect as he looked at the other two looking back to him. “This is where we have our chance to play them both for fools and claim what is ours.”

The image of the red robed, chocolate furred Arcanaloth to The Ebon’s left spoke, “You sound as if you planned this from the start, or at least know more about this than you’re willing to let on. I can certainly muster a significant force on my own, and you as well from Bubonix’s old position. We all still wonder how you managed that. But again, how can you be so certain of this?”

Vorkannis smiled, amused at the question, “You sound so much like Larsdana when you have doubts. She would be proud of you, is proud of you. You will tell her I give my regards after our meeting, yes? Such a light upon your work she is still.”

Helekanalaith the Keeper of the Tower of the Arcanaloths looked taken aback and once again he pondered how in the hells his compatriot knew certain things. He’d been asking himself that question for centuries now as The Ebon had climbed the ladder of power quickly and without question. It didn’t entirely make sense. For starters he’d simply walked out of the Waste without a past, at least as far as he could tell.

“Indeed. Send me the information you promised and I’ll set the wheels into motion from my own position, only if you can assure me of certain things. And if I receive certain things. You’ve yet to ask my price for aid in this gamble, I’m risking everything.”

The Ebon glanced away from the Keeper and towards the other image where the 3rd Arcanaloth sat and slowly preened before a mirror, her ears tilted and pivoted towards her colleagues.

“And my most elegant Marauder, is your self imposed exile in Sigil still as enjoyable a game as ever? I know you’ve managed to advance your self more there than here within the lower planes, and you’ve enjoyed yourself to no end, despite other mitigating factors, despite other persons.” He smiled at her sneer at the last point.

She turns and regarded him arrogantly, “You know full well what I’m capable of, but you haven’t given me the tools I asked for. You just told me what you wanted from me, and the reasons. Now tell me how to do it and with what. Otherwise I’m content enough here dodging shadows and blunting ogres and titans. And like my erstwhile superior in Gehenna,” she smiled at Helekanalaith, “I’ve not yet been told what I will receive from our little deal. I’ll grease the wheels from my end, but I only give favors in exchange for others. You better than most others should know how we work.”

“Indeed I do, better than anyone else I assure you I know how we work.” Vorkannis glanced down and smiled inwardly before looking back to his conspirators.

“I have a question for you both, answer me and you will have what you ask and we will set this third wheel into motion, a wheel among wheels of conspiracy, the wheel within wheels.” His eyes flashed more red than the dim corpse light of Carceri and The Ebon snarled and barked out a series of words that grated the air and caused the walls to ache and distort.

The other two Arcanaloths looked disturbed at the incantation, “What was that, and in what language, I’m unfamiliar with it.” The Marauder said, dropping her typical pretense of vanity.

“That my fellows, was a question. Spoken in the tongue of the Baernaloths, the Gloom Fathers. I know it well, fluently in fact.” Vorkannis smiled again.

Helekanalaith, looking once more at ill ease replied for himself and Shemeska, “And what does it mean?”

The light of Carceri through the window sparkled in his eyes as he answered that question with one of his own, THE question perhaps, the root of damnation, “What is it you want?”

The two other fiends paused and answered their future lord in turn.

And thus it all began, bits and pieces of the puzzle sliding into place across the lower planes, all part of something greater, all the players claiming to know the answers, the plots, the details and contingencies. Thus it began.

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

A slow and wet sensation crawled across the man’s face like the caress of a lover, but a foul smelling and gritty one… He blinked and opened his pale blue eyes, a slow drizzle of water cascading onto his face from the drainpipes of the ramshackle building that he was sprawled next to.

He brushed the mud from his face and sat up, wincing as he did so from a soreness that pained his body from no specific source. Glancing around at his surroundings, confused and uncertain, a worry ran through him of things he should have been frightened or angry over, but they had fled his mind.

He blinked again at the realization that everything had fled his mind. His name, where he was, what he was doing here, his memories were an empty slate devoid of these things.

“Huh?… what the hells…”, he looked down at himself, damp and spattered in mud as he was for any clue of what had happened. As he glanced down, the back of his head began to throb under his rain spattered blond hair. The pain suddenly made him aware of the bruise and bleeding at the back of his skull from a heavy blow that had knocked him out. A second pain erupted from his left ankle from underneath the rough homespun trousers he wore.

He was dressed in dirty peasants clothing, nothing special about them to distinguish him from any random beggar or bubber on the streets. A simple shirt and a dirty cloak completed his attire of anonymity. Hanging limply from his waist were the leather ties upon which a belt pouch had hung, though only a few inches of severed leather remained.

“Shit…” he murmured as he glanced down the cluttered alleyway, wondering if the thieves that had bobbed him might still be close. The two buildings he sat between in the muck were poorly cared for, dilapidated and largely bleached of any colors besides muted grays, browns and blacks. In fact, everything around him seemed infested with a wet melancholy that festered on the air. He shrugged it off and stood up, his trim and athletic build flexing subtly and mostly hidden underneath the simple clothes. He winced again at a sudden pain in his ankle as he rose to his feet and put his weight upon them.

He looked down at his ankle but didn’t see any blood on the ground, or on his feet. In fact his feet were both bare and cold, the thieves evidently having gotten away with his boots as well as his jink. “Sod it all, why was I in this… wherever this is anyways?”

His ankle still throbbed and the muscles felt sore, something had happened to it even if nothing showed. He reached down to pull up the pant leg to examine the flesh, and found something that seemed even to his amnesiac mind out of place. Embedded in the flesh and perhaps bone of his ankle was a single, smooth, egg shaped cobalt blue gem. It was cool to the touch but gave off a slight tingling sensation when touched. It didn’t feel right, it didn’t seem like it should be there.

His inspection of the gem was suddenly interrupted by the sudden noise of a door swinging open into the alleyway. The abrupt noise caused him to start as a black, reptilian humanoid stepped out of the opening and hurled a hissed curse back towards the occupants of the building he was leaving. The language was dark and guttural, conveying force and authority, and the man understand every word of it.

“You’ll have better bub next time for me or I’ll see to it you and my teeth get acquainted! That swill isn’t good enough for a piking Tanar’ri!” the reptilian creature spit at the last word he spoke and a name or designation, of ‘black abishai’ came bubbling up to man’s senses from.

The Abishai slammed the door behind itself and strode down the alley towards the man. It stretched out its draconic wings and shrugged off the effects of whatever it had drinking and strode forwards, ignoring the man who backed up against the wall to avoid it.

It passed him with a thick smell of brimstone and acrid reptile odor that washed over the air. He followed it as it passed, and as it reached the end of the alleyway it paused and turned to him with narrowed eyes.

“What exactly are you staring at mortal?” it spoke in another, less harsh language that the man also understood and knew to be planar common.

“Nothing, I just… no, nothing, sorry.” He looked away as the Baatezu growled and walked down the street.

He breathed a sigh of relief, straightened his back and stepped away from the wall out towards the main street when he stepped upon something cold and hard underfoot. He looked down to see a long metallic object partially buried in the muck that he had been sitting over. A sword of a dull greenish steel, otherwise sharp and well manufactured. He reached down to grasp it and found it familiar feeling to his touch, comforting even.

He cleaned the sword off on the edge of his cloak, then removed the garment and wrapped the sword carefully bundled in the rough cloth. “Odd that they left that, it looks nice. Hell it’s mine, at least it feels that way and I obviously took care of it.” He looked around and kicked at the mud to test if anything else of his had slipped into the mire, and finding nothing else he walked out of the alleyway onto the main street some twenty feet distant.

He gazed out of the alleyway down both sides of the street, the buildings all with the same color bleached and apathetic feeling. The few people wandering the streets were dressed in similarly muted colors, none of them seeming to be in either a hurry or to have much motivation in their movements. The dim grayish light from overhead was filtered through fog and clouds, and its mood seemed to say that the sun had withdrawn to sit and pine away the loss of the blue sky, depression taking over the roll of sunshine and washing down to light the city itself.

The street itself was muddy with the slight drizzle, but not as muck-laden as the alleyway had been. To his left the street seemed to incline slightly, and decline to the right. Looking to the right, some twenty meters distant, the Abishai walked down the street. As it closed to within distance of a small man huddled on the stoop of a building, a thin plea of “Jink?” carried on the wind. It was answered by a whistle and a crack as the fiend responded with a sudden backhanded crack.

The begger slumped, unmoving against the wall of the hovel, and the fiend continued walking, barely pausing its stride. The amnesiac frowned and moved towards the slumped figure, muttering a cautious, “…are you ok?” as his hand closed tentatively over the blade of his sword. For whatever reason it seemed that his hand was naturally gravitating back towards the hilt of the blade, unconsciously settling over it.

But pausing to kneel next to the begger, he reached out his other hand to touch and check to see if he was alive or badly wounded. There was no response but the begger’s chest rose up and down in a slow pattern. At the very least he was alive, just not responding.

"...hey. Are you... well. That's a really stupid question for me to be asking isn't it. I mean clearly you aren't ok, you got knocked out... um."

He frowned again and brushed aside the cowl over the other man’s head to reveal a thin angular face, uncertain now if they were male or female. Their hair was thin, stringy and dappled with muddy water, their eyes closed but slightly almond shaped.

"Cause if you were ok - you'd be telling me where I was I bet." He looked around and sat down on the stoop beside the unconscious man and cradled his bundled sword in his lap. "... great."

As he sat, drizzling rainwater falling across his head and shoulders he sighed. Between glances down at the unconscious beggar he strained to remember who he was, why he was here, and anything else at all. The Abishai as he now firmly remembered it being called had seemed to be in a hurry. But to be honest he wasn’t really sure why he’d be in such a hurry. After all, what would be the use of it all. Why bother when whatever it was wouldn’t matter anyways…

“Are you gonna wake up now?” But it wasn’t as if the sword had helped him at all. What good was it? He’d still been left for dead in that alley, cold, wet, muddy…

“…yeah, but if I was hit from behind… I wouldn’a been able t’use it…” He paused abruptly and looked around again in confusion. His thought running all the more depressive and apathetic. Somehow he knew this wasn’t normal, even if he couldn’t even remember his own name. It was almost as if by sitting down and brooding upon things he was unconsciously reflecting the depressive, color leeched and gritty surroundings, or that wherever he was was similarly leeching the color and feelings from him.

"... don't like this place. Ok - you're coming with me - you'll wake up in a happier place - then you'll tell me where I am, right? Right." The begger remained unconscious, but despite not getting a response he put his sword across his back, bundled in the cloak, and picked up the man at his feet.

"I mean, I was awake and this place is getting to me. You're asleep - can't imagine what it might be doing to you.”

The man hefted the rag bundled figure without difficulty, most of their weight apparently being clothing. They seemed unhealthily thin and malnourished. Under the cloth they had to have been a stick figure of a person.

“You're thin. And you still can't hear me, so I'm still being silly."

Coming further into view as the clothing slipped and settled as they were lifted up, one of beggar’s feet was a white cloven hoof, bony and emaciated. The sudden word, ‘tiefling’ sprung into his mind along with the idea that he was still somewhere upon the planes. Wherever that was. His mind was supplying words, terms and ideas without encasing them in their original context that he had apparently known before.

"Ok. So you're a tiefling, I wonder why they call em' tieflings." He picked up the beggar and carried him down the muddy street in the hopes of finding a place seemingly less depressing, or at the least safer than in the middle of the street where a fiend had passed by only minutes before.

The street continued on moving downwards slightly for several blocks before opening up onto a wider square. Four streets branched out crosswise from it with the buildings surrounding the square appeared to be a mixture of boarded up, abandoned and burnt out shells. Several people milled about the square, all ignoring the man and his unconscious partner, either passing through as quickly as possible or sitting still, looking as despondent as the man’s own thoughts had been minutes before.

The man glanced around and up, suddenly filled with the odd prickling sensation of having been watched from above and behind. He stiffened to see a large blot of shadow dance across the square as something large tracked across the rainy sky but was gone by the time he turned around. He shuddered and make haste down the widest of the four streets.

As the street grew wider it was filled with more foot traffic, a strange mixture of depressive looking humans, tieflings and full blooded fiends, lots of fiends. Uniformly they ignored him and he passed uneventfully down the street till it split into two forks.

Passing down one of the forks at random he kept his eyes wide and alert, looking for an alleyway that if it were possible in this place, was less depressive than the one he had woken up in. Gradually the rain stopped but the sun, if there was a sun here, had failed to emerge from the gloom overhead. However as if to spit the city and shame the sun, the wind began to pick up making it that much more colder and uncomfortable.

He stopped and glanced down the street to where a freestanding stone archway rose in the center of the street to a height just over the rooftop level of the surrounding buildings. Over the top of them he could also make out the rise of a similar stone arch down the path he had not taken when the street had split.

Glancing up at the archway as he neared closer to it he put the tiefling down and shook him slightly, “Hey. You awake now?”

The tiefling gave little reponse but a slight moan. However, this near to the archway that dominated the center of the street the air was laden with a sense of wrongness and despair.

Something sparked in his memory and firmly told him not to proceed. Nothing definite or elaborated upon, but a creeping dread related to some past knowledge or experience. The feeling grew more intense as a tall human strode past to stand before the archway. The figure held up something indistinct in his hand, spoke a word and then vanished into nothingness through a swirling portal that appeared in the center of the archway.

The portal lasted only a few seconds, but the apathy of the town was a drop of water in an ocean compared to the sudden flood of despair and agony emenating from out of the archway. The man hesitated and backed away several steps before collecting the tiefling in his arms again.

“…oh. This doesn’t look good. Ok, no.” he turned and walked back down the street the way he had come, the portal to his back still casting traces of misery into the grief saturated air. Back towards the fork in the road, the other street seemed less drained of life than the others he had entered thus far. In fact in comparison to the area that surrounded the portal, this street seemed almost a polar opposite. He smiled.

As he somehow expected, a second similar portal stood a block away down this second path of the original fork in the road. Several minutes later and he stood at the base of the obvious portal entry and smiled up at it, his spirits perking up as he placed the tiefling against the side of the archway.

“Hey, you, wake up.” He poked his companion, “Come on…”

While there were a few random splashes of actual color on several of the building on the street, the street was still cold and unattractive. The archway was composed of a smooth, deep white marble whereas the other one had been of grayish black granite. Glancing up at the arch, the keystone seemed to be engraved with a symbol that resembled a single large torus.

“Wake up.” He poked the tiefling again who seemed to be regaining a portion of his color, a mild green hue. Eventually he groaned, wrinkled his face and twitched as his eyes opened.

“…hi… oh wow, I was right – you would wake up when you were in a nice street.” The amnesiac smiled cheerfully. The tiefling blinked his eyes, their pupils having the appearance of cats eyes.

“You got hit pretty hard by that Abishai. You’ve been out for a while. I didn’t think it would be good for you to just lay there in the open. It was wet.” Another smile at the tiefling and he simply sat there looking down and waiting for a reply.

Seconds later he got one. The tiefling’s eyes widened and he rolled out from the archway. Backing up and crouching against the wall of a building opposite his would be savior.

“What’dya want berk…” he snarled and glanced around nervously.

“Umm. Were you there when I got hit on the head?”

“Leave me alone, I don’t have anything. I ‘aint done anything to anyone, I’m clean with the Mocking…”

“Umm… were you there when I got hit on the head?”

The tiefling relaxed partially as he saw that no blades were being drawn and spells cast in his direction. He smiled, “…why yes. Just saw the last bit of it I did. Don’t you remember me sitting there when you walked down that alley?”

“…just wanting to confirm what I remember…”

The tiefling grinned as his eyes flashed from side to side and then refocused back on the man. “I don’t have much, what’s that bit of dark worth to you?”

“Well, I coulda just left you there unconscious on the street where I got robbed before…” he glared suspiciously at the tiefling, “look… I’m lost. Not stupid.”

“Who said you got robbed? You was out of it when they dumped you there…”

“…” he sighed and got to his feet, “Look. I just don’t know where I am, or how I got here.”

“Fine then Clueless, ignore me and soak up the greys why don’t you.” With that the tiefling awkwardly stood up and began to walk away down the street, pausing for just a second to look back.

The man began to follow him, looking annoyed, “Damnit… I just need a few questions answered… they’re really simple ones…”

“Talk is cheap for those who have something, not me. Make it quick… I have places to be.”

The man looked down and pointed at the two slashed cords on his belt, “I don’t exactly have much of anything either. Where am I exactly?”

The tiefling edged away a step, barely noticeable by anyone not acquainted with thieves, “You’re where, is what most of us are, Hopeless.”

The word struck a chord within the man’s hazy, enigma riddled mind, Hopeless was the gatetown to the Grey Waste in the Outlands. Wherever that really was, but he remembered those places, just not much about them.

The man blinked a few times then nodded, “Ok… um, can you tell me who dumped me on the street?”

The tiefling balked, “Then you can come back and ask me when you’ve got something to give now Clueless.”

He grated his teeth together, “..ok. you’ll be in the same place right?”

“Sure, it’s as good as any other place in this sodding hole. Just look for the starving tiefer.”

“…why do you stay here if you don’t like it here? I mean, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot to hold you here.”

The tiefling walked away slowly without much purpose or eagerness, it simply didn’t appear as if he actually had any places to be or things to do. A block later he vanished off into an alleyway and out of sight.

The man sighed, “Ok…” He stood there for a moment, collecting his thoughts and trying in vain to recall much of anything. Nothing as it related to his own person seemed to be within his grasp. At best over the next ten minutes of pondering he was able to apply a bit of context to his current location, Hopeless, the concept of gate towns and the plane they inhabited, The Outlands. But beyond that, all was still a vast blank.

He walked a few steps away from the arch idly, then paused abruptly as when he did so there seemed to be a pull, a resistance, a slight tug upon his whole body as he put distance between himself and the bound space.

“..whoa.” he muttered and stepped around the border of the arch, testing the feeling and the boundary of it. A few minutes of testing and the feeling seemed to be emanating from the gem that was embedded into his ankle. He continued to test the feeling before walking to the side of the street and sitting down on a stoop to think again. The gem hadn’t opened the portal, or told him anything at all besides throb slightly. Nor had it changed color or anything else.

“Well. You know what. I don’t think I’m gonna get anywhere here.” As he talked to himself, several people approached the archway from down the street, most of them shedding cloaks of muted gray and brown to reveal dress of more varied and brighter colors.

The first in their line turned around, looked at his surroundings and showily spat at the street, giving a disdainful glance to all around. Then he abruptly vanished into a swirling whirlpool of color centered within the arch.

The man blinked from where he sat upon the stoop and then watched the others proceed to perform the exact same ritualized display before they too vanished through the portal. An idea sparked in his mind that he might have just witnessed the portal key in use, and so he approached the archway again.

The tug upon his ankle returned. He walked through the archway with little effect, but at the other side, the polarity of the tug on his ankle reversed back towards the portal.

“Ok. That’s not it then. Can’t just walk through. Let’s see…” he walked around to the other side of the archway and then performed the same exaggerated routine he had witnessed the other group perform. As he did so the archway was flooded with a pale blue white light that swirled in an intricate clockwise flow. The tugging upon his ankle began to drag him forwards, urging him on towards the portal insistently. Then he stepped through.

Connecting with the swirl of colors he was immediately struck by a momentary but breathtaking COLD that vanished in an instant as he stumbled out onto a wide square in a decidedly warmer location. The air was mildly humid, and the light a pale diffuse glow casting out of the sky. Looking up there was no sun that he beheld, just that pale glow and… city streets high above him in the distance.

As he stood there gazing upwards in wonder, several people jostled him and cursed quietly as they bumped into him. Tall buildings rose up from the cobblestoned streets, most of them being curious examples of architecture. Most had tall, peaked eaves, guard spikes on their walls and roofs, barred windows, and a gothic otherworldly feeling. Somehow it all looked very familiar, the style of the buildings though not this particular street per say.

“…ok…” he murmured as he began walking across the square with a feeling of relief. There was also no longer that insistent tug upon the stone in his ankle.

“Ok, that’s weird…” he said to himself, looking down curiously at his leg where the stone sat beneath his pant leg cool and familiar now.

“Sometimes things can be!” came a reply from several steps behind him, a slight amused chuckle to the unfamiliar voice.

He turned around to look at the speaker, seeing a thin, elvish looking woman with red sparkling eyes, a faint golden skin tone and wind tousled auburn hair. Something about her seemed nonthreatening, and he had a vague sense of being familiar with her race, some kind of celestial that he couldn’t place.

A half smile from him was followed up by a bemused, “I’m a little lost right now actually. I just followed some folks here because it was better than where I was… where am I actually?”

The Firre Eladrin fell in alongside him, matching his slow wandering pace as she glanced back towards a ragged patch of torn gray stone in the wall of a building from where he’d emerged.

“Fresh out of the Hopeless gate I take it? Can’t blame you for coming through, though you don’t look like a regular for traffic through there. Neither fiendish enough or despondent enough. Business?”

He chuckled and adopted a much more friendly attitude, finally free of the effects of Hopeless and his encounters therein.

“Well… I kinda woke up on the street with a cut on the back of my head there – so I’m not exactly sure how I ended up there in the first place.” He wrinkled his forehead at the thought, still vainly trying to place those missing memories and events.

“Ahhh…” she chuckled slightly, “Clueless, but not A Clueless I take it then? I wasn’t quite so sure when you jumped through. …but I’m being terribly rude.” She extended a hand for him to take which he did without a pause as she introduced herself, “Terelia Vistari, Lady’s ward tout by trade.”

He smiled back, her hand feeling quite warm to the touch, almost unnaturally so. “Hello and nice to meet you. I’m…” he abruptly trailed off, blinking in confusion.

“Not sure?”

“Umm… yeah actually.” He replied, perplexed and embarrassed at being unable to give her an answer. As he did so, he felt a sudden nagging sensation at the back of his head. Something about the color of her eyes, but beyond that he wasn’t sure quite where to place it.

“Need help placing yourself? I might be able to help you out. It’ll be easier if you’ve been in The Cage before, more people to have seen you. Or, if not, there’s some… specialists I know who might be able to pluck the answer from your head.”

“Um… it would be appreciated, but I can’t really pay you for it. I…” he paused and gestured vaguely at the portal behind him, “… the guy there I asked, was focused on coin.”

She waved it away with her hand, “Psssh, you’re lucky to have gotten greed in Hopeless and not some more overt action towards feeding some berk’s greed. That’d likely be a knife in your back. Rotten folks. But, not being able to pay for my services, which would normally be an issue, there’s ways to get around that as well. I get paid by the facti… guild and I can certainly afford, and enjoy just helping someone because. You could use it I think, and you’re cute on top of it. That always helps.” She winked and smiled.

He smiled back warmly, happy to have someone seemingly willing to give him a chance, “Thank you.”

"Well, come on along, the day is long, 'tis not even peak yet, a few people we can talk to and a ways to walk if you'll follow me." She took his hand in hers and strode down the street.

The man’s smile grew steadier as she began to pull him gently along, catching up quickly enough and taking an evaluation of the place as they both walked along. Her tug was gentle, not insistent and her hand was smooth with no calluses. Still it was abnormally warm it seemed and her hair was more active in moving like a collection of frozen flames wrapped around her head rather than normal looking hair.

He couldn’t help watching her as she walked. There was a practiced and subtle sway of her hips, probably to snag customers from the competition. Still she was dressed in a practical sense, not anything for seduction. Mostly leather and some brighter spots of cloth and adornments to the outfit.

As they walked, he glanced over at one of the buildings at something that looked like black ivy spilling out onto the street and crawling up the side of the structure. He walked carefully, fully aware of his bare feet considering that the slithering vine stretched out onto portions of the street.

“…what’s that?” he asked, “…some kinda ivy?”

As he took notice of it, she fell back a step and nudged him aside with a hip, making sure that he gave the plant growth a wide berth as they walked down the street.

She glances over at him as they passed by the main outgrowth of the plant, “Ivy? Anything but. Razorvine is what it’s called. Looks fine enough, but touching it’s not a good idea, the stems anyways. Falling into it’s like taking a bath in a tub full of razors. It’s a pest at best, a public hazard at worse, and it grows like mad here in Sigil. We have to keep it cut back all the time.”

She glanced down, “Damn, we need to find you some shoes too. Got them stolen back in Hopeless I take it?”

He nodded, “Nasty stuff that sounds like. And yeah, I woke up without my boots. Actually I think that I might have gotten robbed *before* Hopeless. I’m not so sure.” His toes wrinkled self-consciously as she looked him over, running her eyes up and down and frowning a bit when she reached his bare feet. In fact, her gaze lingered for a moment upon his ankle, but she said nothing about it.

“And I have no idea what *that* is. It was there when I woke up.” he said as he noticed her peculiar interest in the stone in his ankle, deliberately not looking at it himself.

“Hmm? Oh, your ankle. I learn to not ask too much about most bloods if I don’t know what something is. You don’t know what it is either?” she queried.

He shook his head. “Not a clue. I haven’t tried to get it off my yet either. It’s in there pretty solid. I’m not sure it *can* be removed, not easily anyways. I guess that’s something I should keep in mind too?”

“Hmm… another question to get answered then.” They both nodded and continued to walk, passing through a number of streets, smaller squares and then finally down a long street towards a large towering building.

As they walked, his mind was once again puzzled by something. Not the reddish color he had seen first in her eyes that had triggered a vague memory of something else. No, though that still nagged him. This time there was something rattling around in the back of his mind that had been woken up by the razorvine he had seen just then. Something about it looked hauntingly familiar but the puzzle was still jumbled.

He looked over at Terelia, “…you know – I think I’ve seen that kinda vine before. Does it grow anywhere else but here?”

“All over Sigil, and all over the whole of the lower planes, maybe some prime worlds too. Doesn’t really pin down much for you I’d say.”

He shrugged, “Guess not – oh well. So… where’re we headed anyways?”

“Well, here’s the first stop.” Terelia motioned up towards the tall structure and walked towards the wide, tree-flanked path to the main gates. “Tis the Hall of Information, a better place here now than the Hall of Records was under the Takers. Been a full cycle since then that that lot of thieves doesn’t have the place anymore. The information here is actually accessible now, which for us is a very good thing. Besides, it can’t hurt in asking.”

The doors, each fifteen feet high, opened into a large reception chamber with hallways going off up and down stairwells to other levels, and down to other vaults of books and records. To one wall, there was a number of windows, at which a number of lines formed with people waiting to request certain records or information from the clerks that milled about behind their counters and desks.

He nodded as they entered the building, “Yeah, I guess it can’t hurt to ask.”

Approaching the lines, Terelia smirked, “Look’s like it’ll be a wait, hope you don’t mind. Good thing we started early. She blinked and a glimmer of flame sparkled within.

“…I guess. Do they actually have a line for folks who can’t remember who they are?” his eyes grew wide then looked back at her, “I guess so. Wow.”

She smiled back, amused at his good natured naiveté, “No, this is how it usually is, but it's a longer wait if you aren't paying, or paying much. The sages take jink, the Dabus work for free, but it also means a longer line."

Pointing towards the clerk at the nearest window she continued, “See him, or her, or it, whichever there at the window? That’s a Dabus. Ubiquitous little servants of The Lady.”

“Dabus?” he looked and nodded, another question already forming in his mind, “Who’s the Lady?”

Her eyes quickly glanced over and she nudged him in the ribs gently, “Not so loud there…” she makes a half unconscious sign over her heart, “I’ll explain later, or you can ask the Dabus. They’ll be happy to explain, though it might not be as informative as you might hope. But She’s a question without an answer really.”

“I…ok.” he nodded and held back more of a similar question.

“After here if we don’t find what we’re looking for, we can always try the Gatehouse. Amnesia and that sort of thing, head problems, are their strong point in a way. We might also try the Civic Festhall, see if your name pops up there in any of the sensory stones.” She smiles particularly at the mention of the Festhall.

“That sounds fine with me.” He looked up a little bemused, then back at her, still not exactly sure what question to ask when they reached the top of the line.

Eventually after about ten minutes, the line split in two as another window opened. Soon enough they both stood before the window looking up at the mostly expressionless face of the creature that stood behind it as a clerk. A shock of white hair stood upright upon its head over two pairs of horns, one goat and the other ram. It wore simple robes with little decoration or ornamentation, and seemed to bob up and down very slightly behind the window. In fact it almost seemed to be floating on the air rather than standing.

As both of them stood there looking up at it, the air over its head shimmered and the following string of symbols appeared, floating in mid air. First an arrow pointing to the man, then [hat –T + VE, (a man climbing a mountain then slaying a dragon and being rewarded by a king) + (a man being ignored by a crowd and thrown out of a town)]

The Dabus continued to patiently hover as the two translated, eventually folding its arms into the sleeves of its robes.

Clueless (by default he’ll be referred to that) slowly mouthed out the words and symbols with his head tilted to the side before blinking with sudden insight, “Oh! Yeah, um. Well, I don’t actually remember who I am. Is there something here that can help me find out who I am? Or even just find out what my name is?”

The Dabus projected more symbols and pictures over its head, “No stranger are you, for you have been here before, though with different questions then. Your name you did not leave. Though your answers lie both within Sigil, without and within. I cannot tell you more, save that some questions are best left unanswered.”

“Oh…” Clueless nodded with faint disappointment in his voice. “Can’t you tell me what questions I asked before?”

The Dabus nodded and projected another string of rebus symbols, “Before you asked us the portal key to one of the spheres of Carceri. You left without fully receiving the answer to that question.”

“Carceri? Ok… odd. Thank you.”

Tarelia looked up at the mention of Carceri, “Well, razorvine grows there, if that jogs your memories any.”

Blocked memories stirred slightly but in the end, nothing budged and nothing revealed itself. Clueless spoke with disappointment again, “No, only vaguely.” He frowned and nodded in thanks to the Dabus. “Nothing’s really fitting together yet as to what happened.”

As they began to step away, Clueless paused and looked back to the Dabus, “Oh yeah…”

Terelia stopped as well, “He had one other question you could answer for him. He wishes to know about The Lady.” She cringed just slightly as she mentioned this as if uncomfortable with it.

Above the head of the Dabus, a single picture appeared in answer to the question. A face, female in appearance, stoic, grayish or dull metallic, surrounded by a halo of jagged, slashing, razorsharp blades that sprouted like hair and seemed to merge with her head rather than being worn like a headdress. He felt instantly uneasy for having asked the question and the rebus image vanished after a few seconds.

“O…k….” he murmured quietly, still ill at ease before looking back to the Eladrin.

“Well, that’s probably about all the answers to your questions that we’ll find here.” She motioned with her head to the door.

Clueless nodded back, “Yeah, still it gives me a few clues. Like where I may have gone looking for something before whatever it was got me in trouble. Something like that.”

They walked on and out of the building but he still couldn’t help but feel cold and unnerved by the Dabus’s answer. Eventually the Eladrin led them back towards The Lady’s Ward, eventually working her way towards a similar section of the city shed repeatedly referred to as The Clerk’s Ward. It was, as she explained, the quickest way to the Gatehouse without having to pass through the bulk of the Hive as she called it.

“The Lady’s ward is the rich part of the burg, the clerk’s ward can be in some places too. That’s got more businesses than homes though. Then there’s the Lower Ward, mostly shops, workshops, and the Great Foundry. Then there’s the Hive, the slum of the city and the location of a good chunk of the lower planar portals.”

Clueless nodded as she gave him a general overview of the city’s different areas as they passed through them. Most of the information was coming back to him in regards to the city itself, just no specifics. Sometimes it just felt familiar as if he’d been there before, but just couldn’t say when or why.

She continued on, “And of course there’s my own home, the Market Ward. It’s a little ways off from here, we’ve already passed through it when you weren’t looking really. The name says it all though. Most of the guilds in the city make their home one ward over in the Guildhall ward. Tradesmen and all. Make sense?”

“…I guess it does, is there a Tout’s guild?”

She smiled happily, “Sure is, I work as a sort of go between for them and the Entertainer’s guild at times. Though I work with the entertainers most often.”

Clueless continued walking along, his sword still wrapped up in the bundle of his cloak kept under his arm or over his back. Every so often he commented on the city as they traversed it, “…ok –wow-, there must be a *lot* of people here…”

"Lots, it's the center of the multiverse, the hub of the great wheel, it's to be expected I guess. Some good, some bad, some neither, but lots of them."

He nodded back hopefully, "... well, someone here's gotta know who I am then, right?"

Terelia smiled again and brushed a hand against his face, "Well we know you've been here before, so most definitely someone knows you, we just have to find them."

Clueless’s ears turned red at the brush and he gave a sheepish smile as they passed through the Clerk’s Ward. Along the street, all of the buildings seemed well maintained. Some of them were ornate, even garish in their exteriors. A few things seemed familiar to him, mostly it felt as if he’d seen them before in passing, rather than having been there enough to have known them in depth. But as they continued, about hallways down one particular block in the Administrator’s district, as Terelia had called it, they came into view of a small outdoor café of sorts. There were a fair number of cutters seated at its small tables, all of them talking, drinking, and generally having a good time.

A few loud, boisterous voices rang out over the street and the rest of the other patrons, their conversation drowning out those of the others around them. As Terelia got into range of the tables she turned to Clueless and made a face. Her ears seemed to perk just ever so slightly as she picked up the strains of the loudest conversation. She muttered unhappily under her breath, “Self aggrandizing trollop of a fiend, damn headdress looks like a Gelugon crawled atop her head and died…”

As Clueless get a better look at the group making the noise, he noticed first two people sitting down on one side of a table, one human and dressed in robes, the other some manner of tiefling and dressed in leather armor. On the other side of the table stood four well-armed tieflings, dressed in leather armor, blades at their sides, flanking one figure lounging in the other chair at the head of the table.

A single, jackal headed fiend sat in the chair, animatedly talking to the two others at the table, dressed in a garish blue-green gown that constantly sparkled. A large number of rings, bracelets, and other jewelry were almost stacked and layered to the point of absurdity over her figure. A tangle of what looked like living razorvine sat curled atop her head, perched between her two perked, and multiply pierced ears. Loud portions of her conversation spilled out into the street, mostly consisting of boasts, insults towards names that seemed somewhat familiar to Clueless, many of them names within the city’s hierarchy.

His eyes widened a little at the sheer amount of glitter and he muttered a muted, “…whoa…” But as he passed by, that familiar nagging sensation was back in his mind, but much more urgent this time, and very much closer to home. Clueless paused and concentrated on the feeling, his eyes unfocusing slightly as he tried to hunt the root of the feeling down mentally. Losing track of where he was and what he was doing, he finally came to his senses and looked back up, finding himself looking firmly across the way into the jackal headed fiend’s eyes.

The familiar sense he had felt from the outgrowth of razorvine earlier in the streets drew his gaze back to the fiend’s headdress then back down to her eyes, matching gazes with her. She noticed and turned to gaze back at him, her eyes narrowing and her conversation trailing away as she did so.

He knew her. He didn’t know how or why, but the eyes glaring back at him were like burning coals in his memory. Sparkling green doors to some hell. Not red like the color in his memory, but somehow that too was linked to this fiend. A Yugoloth, that’s what she was he now remembered.

Clueless nodded politely and took a half step back, confusion and alarm crossing his face. He still didn’t know how exactly he knew her, but butterflies were raging in his stomach either way as she glared back at him. A slow grin spread across her muzzle and recognition dawned in her eyes. Good or bad, Clueless hadn’t a clue.

“Umm, do I know you?” he asked, a sense of dread growing in his stomach that his association with the fiend was not a pleasant thing, and that perhaps he didn’t care to remember. Then he gave a startled yelp as he was latched around the arm by Terelia, who drug him quickly away from the fiend and her entourage.

As he was accosted away and into a side alley out of plain view he looked down with alarm at the Eladrin, “I know her, somehow… I don’t know how… I just…*do*. And she recognized me…”

He had a frightened, spooked look in his eyes as he glances back down the street, a drop of cold sweat running down his forehead. “What does that mean? I don’t know if I knew her on friendly terms of anything… she makes me nervous…I…” one hand came up to rub at the drop of sweat on his forehead.

As Terelia took Clueless around the corner of the block she stopped to push him against a wall, looking into eyes and appearing more than a little nervous herself.

“Trust the Dabus to be right… some questions are better left unanswered. I don’t know if “I” want to know just how you ended up in Hopeless without a name if you knew the likes of Shemeska the Marauder. The damned fiend runs half the crosstrades and backstabbing deals in the whole sodding burg. You just don’t know her or deal with her and come out on top. I’d put jink that whatever happened to you, she had her claws all over the deal. And that can’t be good. Nor can that.”

She glanced down pointedly at the blue-black stone embedded firmly in Clueless’s ankle. He nodded back and followed her eyes down to it as well, “…I…” his voice trailed off and he bit his lip, freaked at the sudden turn of events.

“Come on, let’s gain some distance on the ‘loth, we’ve got some more places to ask questions anyways, if you still want to find your answers.” She spoke firmly but calmly, hinged on what Clueless wished to do at that point.

“…agreed.” He replied and breathed heavily as he followed her down the street, eager to indeed put some distance between himself and the Arcanaloth.

However, as they retreated down the street, somewhere in the back of his brain he could hear the voice of that same fiend whispering to him from a memory, “But of course I can make a deal, there's never a deal that Shemeska, the king of the crosstrade, can't make. Just the price is all that it hangs on."

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

Tarelia led Clueless from the Clerk’s Ward and into the fringes of the Hive. The air gradually became more… pungent, the buildings less kept and the persons wandering the streets more shifty, downtrodden and in some cases more fiendish.

“We’re going to the place with the memory people… right?” Clueless glanced around at the persons that passed them by, most of them either ignoring them or glaring sullenly.

The Eladrin had yet to slow down her pace since Clueless and her encounter with the Arcanaloth.

"Now, we're going to the Gatehouse, which just unfortunately happens to well, be in middle of the bleeding Hive. But yeah, it's got the people who just might be able to help your head, one way or another, being that you're not just plain barmy."

She grinned at Clueless with that final statement and her eyes glowed just a little redder to match a slow blush to her cheeks as she poked his nose. Clueless returned her grin and looked back curiously at the new surroundings unfolding around them.

Glancing up he eyed a black streak of soot extending across the sky that seemed to bubble up from overhead on the far side of the city like a black gash across the sky.

“What’s that across the ring there?”

The tout glanced up and pointed to details on the opposite side of the city, details that she could clearly see or know by experience, but that Clueless had difficulty in discerning.

“That group of smokestacks there across the ring, that’s the great foundry, haven’t been inside the gates myself since the Godsmen packed up and left, disbanded the whole lot of them when Factol Amber got mazed"

“…Godsmen? Mazed?” Clueless’s expression combined a number of questions in his confused look.

Tarelia gave a grin again and launched into a friendly rendition of her oft used lecturing mode as a tout, “Oh, one of the old factions. They ran the foundry and thought they could, anyone could, with enough hard work, ascend to divinity. Well, lets just say none of their members working the forge ever got close, in fact none of the lot did.”

"...ok.... sounds... barmy, you said the word was?"

Tarelia nodded at his use of the local cant, “And Amber got mazed, sent packing, unwilling, into a demiplane of the Lady's construction, always one way out they say, just may take you a hundred years to find it, they also say you don't age, hunger or thirst inside either... makes you wonder....I hear some Bladelings from Ocanthus run the forges now, either way business has gone smoothly.”

She paused to look down from the sky at a street sign indicating a few lackluster streets before chipping back, “And yep, barmy is the word. And don’t get too comfortable here, we’re about to hop over to the other side of
the city there and then back. I know a shortcut.”

Clueless followed down an alley before pausing with her before a boarded up window. Tarelia knelt down to retrieve a bit of broken glass from a window pane that had once graced the now covered opening and deftly cut a thin mark into the wood. It immediately glowed a fierce orange light as the boards vanished.

“Portals don’t just have to lead outside Sigil, they can go between points inside too. You first.” She motioned him through before dropping the broken glass that had served as a portal key back onto the ground.

They both stepped out into a haze of yellow, filthy air laden with soot and smog. Clueless coughed immediately as he followed her down another street. “Shortcut or not, maybe next time we can just walk a little longer?”

“Oh the air in the hive isn’t much better, just different.” She smirked and twitched her nose at the sulfurous tinge to the air from the smokestacks of the Foundry and the numerous cooking fires and workshop chimneys that dotted the tops of many of the buildings surrounding them.
Several minutes and two blocks later, she paused and pulled off onto another side street, casting sidelong glances down the previous.

“Sorry, not going down that street any more…” she muttered then, something about a friendly fiend.

“…why not?” Clueless said with a glance down the previous street.

Tarelia pointed down that way to a sign hanging above a shop a half block down. The carved and brightly painted sign read, “A’kin’s The Friendly Fiend. Magical Curiosities and Treasures of the Planes.”

“…isn’t that an oxymoron?” Clueless raised an eyebrow. “My last two run ins with fiends didn’t give me a super great impression of them you know…”

She shrugged, “The OTHER resident 'loth in Sigil. I don't know which I'd rather choose not to be involved with, at least Shemeska acts like you’d expect. And I've never seen A'kin get angry, or yell, or be mean, makes me trust him even less..."

Clueless nodded before coughing slightly to get rid of some of the soot.

As the two continued walking, the air became clearer of soot, but the smell became worse as the buildings slowly transitioned from utilitarian stone and wood to more beat up, ramshackle tenements and hovels. Every so often, a burbling puddle of muck dotted the road, each of them given a wide berth by any passers by.

“…I should really start watching where I step shouldn’t I…?” Clueless glanced down at his bare feet and then nervously at the burbling puddles, consciously avoiding them.

"Ooze portals, watch 'em, they like to send bloods on a one way trip to the inner planes, and one of the least pleasant ones. Half of them are bricked over, but not all of them. And we're in the Hive now, so watch yourself. Least it's not the slags..."

As they continued into the Hive the population of fiends and fiendspawn slowly increased and the dwellings became poorer. The number of beggars, and potential thieves grew, not to mention drunks and the occasional corpse.

"... okie." murmured Clueless - quieter now and shifting the bundled up sword on his back just the slightest so, that in the event of a fight, it would be more accessible.

As they passed one of the corpses, they watched it being rapidly picked clean of anything remotely valuable by a few rag-covered humans and tieflings who then begin to drag the body onto a rude cart drawn by ragged and skeletally thin horses. Clueless’s eyes grew wide as they walked past the scene and he found himself tracking the event out of surprise.

Tarelia soon motioned down another street which they took deeper into the Hive, avoiding several fights along the way in the middle of the street between what appeared to be rival gangs, or in one case, street urchins fighting over what might have been called food in the very loosest sense of the word. But some time later, rising over the top of the local buildings off a few blocks they could see the spires and towers of possibly the largest building Clueless had seen in Sigil, or most anywhere else. Solid, black, and forbidding.

Tarelia pointed out the huge structure as soon as it came into full view, "There's the gatehouse, as depressing as the inhabitants."

"Oh. So that's what that is." Clueless gazed at the gargantuan central tower and the two wings extending out to its sides like the wings of a gigantic looming dragon. He felt a little baffled at the numbers of people that waited or milled about at the base of the building, but he felt at once both out of place and not out of place in the shadow of the towers. "I have to wonder = is the architect still alive..." Clueless said dryly.

"I sure hope not... nobody who's still around knows who actually built it, or why, just that the Bleakers used it, and still do, though they dropped the name and stayed mostly the same. They do good work, even if they lack a bit in the personality department. Not as bad as the Dusties though."

As they walked closer they noticed lines of rag clothed persons of various races entering the structure through several lines leading towards the main central tower and its truly massive rusted iron gate. Some of the people stood apparently in line for food, others for reasons unknown. All in all, the Gatehouse had the look of a giant homeless shelter and soap kitchen.

Drawing closer towards the outer walls though, from the wailing coming from several of the towers closest to the streets, it served as a giant asylum as well. Screams and shrieks echoed out across the street from several high, barred windows, drawing Clueless’s wary gaze, but none of the other persons milling about the base of the walls or waiting in the block long lines seemed to give it any heed.

He shook his head and looked over to Tarelia, "What kinda work do they do here?"

"Unthanked work, but good work nonetheless. They take care of the poor, the hungry, the sick, the barmy. I like their work, don't like their philosophy though. They don't think the universe has a purpose, that there's no grand plan for anything."

"So they just do good stuff... just because?"

She nodded back in the affirmative, "Because they think that in the absence of any meaning in the world, they only way to find any meaning is to find it within yourself. Even if that's meaningless. I don't get them, like I said."

As he looked over at his guide, Clueless noted a small tattoo on her left shoulder. He couldn’t make out much detail though as it seemed obscured by either a scar or a burn. He made a note to ask her about it later. Lost in that thought he nearly stumbled over a loose cobblestone in the courtyard as they walked across it, avoiding the lines.

Tarelia moved away from the main lines and off towards a gated entrance beside one of the smaller towers. As they approached she paused to palm something to one of the guards who nodded at her and motioned them both through past the open portcullis to his rear into an open-air courtyard.
Long strides and echoing footfalls heralded a robed, dour looking human who approached from another entrance to the courtyard. He nodded to them both patiently before asking, "May I help the both of you my children?"

"... um, Hi. I..." Clueless glanced at Tarelia, unsure how to handle the situation and greeting. Finally with a blush he nodded to her slightly "...I don't know my name."

She motioned towards him at the prompt, "Yes actually, my friend here, while he's not actually one of the Clueless, he took a blow to the head in Hopeless. And, well, he's lost his memory of who he is, or how he ended up where he did."

The man nodded and listened to Tarelia recount the story, glancing up into Clueless’s eyes periodically and giving him the odd impression that he was looking right through him a few of those times.

At the conclusion of the story he nodded, betraying little emotion on his long face, "Perhaps I can help, follow me if you will."

Having said that he swept one of his arms to the side over towards a smaller entryway leading deeper into the building’s interior. Accompanying Clueless and Tarelia he walked them down the dimly lit, mildly damp corridor to a small office, that was sparsely furnished with little more than a chair, a bookcase set with a number of book and bottles, and a single burning torch with a flickering blue-white light.

Clueless followed like a puppy, still awkwardly gaping and looking at everything.

The man motioned for Clueless to sit, “Please be seated if you would, this should not take very long.”

As Clueless got comfortable in the offered chair, for the first time he noticed that the man’s face was not quite normal for a human. His facial bones were more elongated than normal, his hair stringier, and his skin more sallow in the light.

As the man wrote several notes down within a journal or log book at his desk, Clueless sat down, taking the moment to wriggle his toes against the floor while absently watching him. Finally the man turned and walked over to place a hand on Clueless’s forehead. Carefully he took his patient’s right hand with the other and began to murmur to himself in a language Clueless couldn’t recall having heard before.

"mm." Clueless’s eyes half drifted shut, a sleepy look crossing his face as the Bleaker spoke, the words making his head feel drowsy and his hearing like everything was being filtered through a thick layer of cotton. The Bleaker’s eyes gradually began to shift from the solid shiny black that they were, to a cloudy, swirling pattering of duller black and milky gray as he continued to intone.

As he continued to speak in the same strange language, Clueless began to hear his voice within his head, but clearly, and in planar common.
"This is strange, but not unprecedented. Your memories have not been stolen from you by injury, though an injury you did receive. Rather, your memories have been blocked by magical means, and by one of no small skill in such matters. I will attempt to remove that which was placed in your mind, however my removal of it may not be entirely complete, and it may only come back fully with time. You may soon see flashes of memory as I attempt this."

There was a sudden flash of light in Clueless’s mind's eye, a bit of resistance imagined rather than felt, and an image came unbidden to him, one of several.

Clueless stood upon a battlement in the midst of a raging battle, an army of Tanar’ri stretched out across the plane before him, battered and mindlessly hurling themselves at the Baatezu fortress and its seemingly impenetrable defenses. The fiendish commander of the Baatezu forces began to bellow an order out to his forces, but paused, sensing motion behind itself. Before it fully turned Clueless drove home the point of his greensteel sword through the chest of the Cornugon. As it collapsed to the stone of the battlement, a dim glimmer of recognition flickered in its eyes as it comprehended the betrayal.

- Another flash and another image –

A hairless, gargoyle-like, dog headed fiend nodded in his direction, or rather to someone behind him, as Clueless fell forwards onto the ground and his vision faded to black under a deep, crimson red sky.

- A third flash and a third image –

Clueless walked under an archway that he dimly comprehended at present to have been under the ruins of the Shattered Temple. His companions exchanged nervous, wary glances, and seemed kept in place only by the considerable profit to be made on this scavenger hunt as he had called it. Suddenly then a flash of light burned out from an adjoining passage and the scene faded.

- A forth flash and a forth image –

Clueless sat in a bar, sipping on a deep amber colored ale, listening to the tales of a drunken bariaur sitting next to him. The bariaur kept going on and on about the same night in Arborea that he’d heard him speak of many a times before, but he just let him keep talking, it made the Ysgardian happy, and to be honest, he was happy too.

- A fifth flash, and a fifth image –

The sky was a burning crimson red overhead, cloudless and Clueless could see the distant orbs on the far off horizon. But that is not what drew his gaze as he and his companions were led along, unwilling, but rather the massive hexagonal tower breaking through the red stone bedrock of the valley before them to jut up into the sky. Black, forbidding, and seemingly woven through with iron spikes like thorns on a rose bush.

A single thought raced through Clueless’s mind in the present, echoed by one in the past, “This cannot be good.”

- A sixth flash and a final haunting image before he awoke –

Clueless rested in a darkened room, surrounding by cold thin air and shadows. Out in the darkness he could hear the sounds of barefooted, clawed feet on the smooth chilled stone floor. A deep, resounding, and mirth filled voice whispered into his ear, whiskers brushing against his face, "Any deal can be made, but all that matters is the price to be paid. No? Payment is due."

The words in the memory were similar, but not exact to the words spoken to him earlier in the day in the Clerk’s Ward by Shemeska the Marauder. However the voice was NOT hers in the last memory. The voice was masculine and even in a memory sent shudders through his mind like trickles of ice freezing across a still running river. The memory alone left him feeling cold and befouled by its presence, and solely on account of the voice.

“I was a REAL crazy sob… her voice?… no… Damn…uh oh…” the thoughts and implications of the recovered memories rattled around inside Clueless’s mind as he struggled to rid himself of the unsettling, and lingering feelings of corruption that had pervaded the last flashback…

Clueless blinked and opened his eyes to see the very disgruntled face of the Bleaker standing before him, his thin and knotted arms crossed in frustration.

“The block on your memories is… extremely strong. I was unable to fully remove its presence, only weaken it. Whoever placed it upon you, they exceed my own abilities. However the block does not appear to be permanent, and in time it will remove itself. My efforts will hasten this process, though I cannot tell you by exactly how much exactly. You will have to wait and accept what comes to you as it does. That is the best I can do.”

Clueless nodded slowly, still shaking off the effects of a few of the memories. “Thank you…”

He turned to Tarelia, “I think I need to just sit down somewhere and think for a while.”

She nodded back to him, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you. Just follow me and you’ll be fine, right?”

She handed a few jink to the Bleaker who reluctantly accepted the payment and found her way out of the Gatehouse with Clueless following alongside her.

“Are you ok? You look nervous. What’s coming back to you, anything?”

Clueless shivered despite the warm air surrounding the Gatehouse from the masses of the crowds, “You could say that. I was nuts. I mean I did some barmy stuff that I can’t much understand how I had those kind of balls. Seriously. And some of the stuff was disturbing. I’m not so sure I really want to remember all of it…”

Tarelia looked with concern at that last statement and led him back through the Hive and towards the Clerk’s Ward. “I have a place you can lie down for a while, don’t worry.”

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

[Here's the latest update, but let me preface this a bit, I've moved the location of the Ubiquitous Wayfarer / Portal Schmortal from the Lower Ward to the Clerk's Ward. Don't ask, just accept it.]

The two spent the next twenty minutes walking back from the Hive into the Clerk's Ward. In fact, the particular section of the Clerks Ward seemed to be almost a small ghetto of sorts, a small insular neighborhood situated right on the margins of the Guildhall Ward. Close enough to commute easily to either ward for whatever reasons, but away from both the bustle of the Guildhall Ward and the... order... of the Clerks Ward.

Clueless looked around with a slight smile, “…this is a nice place…”

Tarelia smiled back as they arrived at the front of a small, two story building where several children sat and played on the front steps of the next door down. They appeared to be Aasimar by the look of them, and they giggled as they tossed a blue ball amongst themselves.

Tarelia returned a mutual wave to the children, “Good evening to you Misha and you too Tarel. Tell your parents I said hello will you?”

Clueless waved to the children as well, feeling faintly shy as the Eladrin greeted them warmly. But Tarelia removed the awkward moment as the knocked a few times on a blank doorplate on her door, no handle apparent. She closed her eyes and held her hand to the metal plate and several seconds later some unseen mechanism gave a soft ‘click!’ and the door swung open inwards. Clueless gave a fascinated look at the whole affair, his head tilted just slightly as he pondered just how the door lock worked.

Tarelia ushered Clueless inside to a slightly small but cozy room containing a table, a few chairs and a tiny cooking area. Clueless was still looking back curiously at the door, “…how did you do that door thing?”

She smiled back as she set down a few things on the table, “A little magical gift I got from a wizard I knew a few years back. I originally rented this little kip from him, then eventually I bought it when I’d finally made enough jink for myself. The door actually keys off a memory or two. You hold your hand against it and think. You remember the correct memory and the door opens for you. Pretty simple.”

Clueless grinned, “Now that’s a neat trick…”

Tarelia closed the door as a soft amber glow filled the room and flowed dimly from the doorway of another one adjacent. The glow wasn’t really centered, but seemed to fill the rooms from the air itself. Magic obviously. Meanwhile, sitting in the center of the table, on a cushion, was a large and multifaceted globe of crystal. The sphere shed a very slight white light as it refracted back the amber light of the room itself.

Clueless blinked his eyes several times as he panned around the room trying to focus on the light source. Eventually he gave up and instead began to mentally catalogue the various articles in the room.

“Table, chair, door, glowy light thing…” he muttered to himself.

Tarelia walked over to the globe as Clueless watched and placed her hands over it. She closed her eyes and relaxed for a few moments, then opened them again and covered the globe with a soft yellow velvet cloth.

"...what is that?" Clueless still peered curiously at the globe as it flickered softly beneath the cloth.

"Oh, it's a diary I guess you could call it."

"Oh, okie." He smiled at her trying his best not to do the pushy curious thing most people have a tendency to do.

The Eladrin chattered with her guest while in the process of putting down her things. She unconsciously slipped off her shoes and kicked them into a corner. “You must be famished, can I offer you anything?"

Clueless looked around a little for a place to put down the bundle he’d been carrying, finally putting it in a chair near the door, and looking down just to make sure he didn't end up tracking anything in onto the floor.

"Hmm... lets see what I can offer you. I have some fruit, some bread of course, some other little things. Please feel free to take what you like, I have more than enough for both of us."

"Are you sure?" Clueless asked, wanting to check first before he took anything.

"Would I have offered if I wasn't?" she grinned.

Clueless answered with a wry smile back, "... point... very good point..."
The food was already set out in a few bowls with a tray for the bread. A slim knife sat near to the bread ready for use. All of it seemed to have been waiting there since the morning, likely set up ahead of time for whenever the tout came home and might have been too tired to sit and prepare anything.

Wandering towards the food as he found a chair to settle in, "Wan' me to cut you some of this?" He motioned to the bread and glanced at his host.
"Oh please if you would."

While Clueless sliced the bread, he heard the soft clink of glasses or mugs being taken down and Tarelia’s voice call to him from where she crouched on the floor in front of a small cabinet, "Care for a drink? It's nothing fancy, but it's fresh."

He nodded in the affirmative, relaxing now that he was someplace warm and safe. "It's probably be the best thing I've tasted today."

Tarelia took a slim glass bottle, popped open the cork and poured out something rich and teal colored into a small copper cup for herself and Clueless alike. She brought one of them over and offered it to him, then took a small sip of her own.

Clueless took it and sipped, relaxing further at its taste as he cored and sliced up an apple for the two of them to share. She smiled at him as she watched him slice the apple, just standing there patiently observing, looking quite relaxed. When he finished slicing the apple he held one of the wedges up to her, one eyebrow raised.

"May I?" she asked as she stood up on her tip toes and opened her mouth.

"Yep!" Clueless replied and popped one in with a grin of his own as she closed her mouth around it and happily munched away.

"Mmm, dith gut.." he said around bites from his own slice of apple.
When he finished his first bit of the fruit, she picked up one of the other slices he’d made and held it up to him, offering it. He smiled further at the game she was making the whole situation into and tilted his chin up, opening his mouth up for the slice.

She took a slim piece and popped it into his open mouth, then took a finger and pushed up on his chin to close his mouth for him. Clueless smirked at her as he munched. She proceeded to repeat this little game of hers with the rest of the fruit, clearly enjoying the mutual teasing.

After the both of them seemed to have had their fill of food, on the last slice of the apple as Clueless opened his mouth and waited for her to give him another piece, she paused a second.

"Well, I hope this isn't too forward of me, but maybe I could help you remember a few other things you might have liked." With that she leaned in, and instead of popping a bit of bread or fruit into his mouth, she planted a kiss on his lips and laid a hand on his shoulder.

By the last slice Clueless seemed to have reached a conclusion of sorts, "...I think I liked apples. Or at least... I like ‘em now."

There was a startled sound from him for a split second before he relaxed and his lower brain caught up with his upper. He leaned in a little as he tried to remember just how to handle such things.

She waited to judge his reaction and then tentatively gave him another kiss, a little longer this time, waiting to see if he’d go along or if she’s overstepped some unspoken boundary between two people who’d only met that day. It seemed she hadn’t as Clueless relaxed with it and slowly his instincts come back. He lifted one hand to frame her face, the other placed at her waist to steady her as he leaned into it, old skills resurfacing.

As he did so, she placed one of her hands on his chest and the other at the back of his head while she leaned in fully against him, delicately slipping her tongue into his mouth. With that, her skin flushed warmer as he responded and a happy murmur escaped her throat.

Finally after a few moments she broke off the kiss to catch her breath. Clueless smiled slightly at her sounds of approval and stroked lightly at the skin over her ribs as she broke away.

She looked down and smiled to herself before looking back up, "I think you've done that before, remembering anything more yet? Do you think I should try a little harder?"

"As for remembering... I think I was a bit distracted.... might have to have another go at it..." there was a wry yet giddy note in his voice as she smiled coyly into his eyes then took his hand and led him towards the other room. Clueless followed her but glanced behind himself briefly, just to make sure that his sword was still in place near the door, wrapped in his cloak...

The room she led Clueless into was clearly her bedroom by the look of it. It was lit by the same amber light as the other room of her kip and was arranged with a small mattress made from several cushions and some blankets towards the rear. Clueless scanned the room out of curiosity, noting little out of the ordinary except for a small household idol of sorts situated in the corner and a small, sheathed dagger on a chair near the doorway.

As the two of them reached the bed she smiled again and looked up, "You can say no now. I wouldn’t want to force anything. But if you would like...." she trailed off and her eyes sparkled with a tiny orange flicker within.

Clueless raised an eyebrow and lifted up the hand of hers that she was still holding. Gently he kissed the knuckles lightly, and replied while still looking up into her eyes, "... I would, very much so." She gave a rosy blush at the kiss.

"Lets see if this sparks any memories." She said as she reached over and started to remove his shirt. Her hands gently wandered over his muscles while she worked the clothing up and over his head. Clueless helped her with a lithe little stretch, and half ducked out of the shirt as a large series of tattoos became visible covering his back. Her hand brushed and traced over some of the lines that comprised the elaborate and obviously arcane markings that crisscrossed his back in a swirling pattern of knotwork.

“Oh now that’s interesting. Last time I saw something like that, the only time I saw something like that was on that fellow in the Tir on the Outlands. You don’t look like an elf though… maybe you grew up somewhere with a lot of elves?” Clueless gave no reply to her question as his eyes got stuck somewhere below her chin as she examined his back.

After sating her curiosity and examining her partner’s back for a few more moments she slowly started to remove her own shirt and bodice, obviously enjoying watching Clueless’s eyes play along.

"... you're beautiful..." murmured Clueless as he helped her undo the laces to her top.

"Thank you... I should say the same of you. How someone like you ended up in Hopeless is a crime." Her sentiment was genuine as her eyes traveled over his obviously well tended physique.

Clueless laughed at that, "Well… the lump on my head agrees with you on that one!"

He looked down to her hands and then traced back up her arms to glance at, well... other things. She tossed her shirt off to one side, stood there for a second just admiring the muscles on his chest, and then ran the tips of her fingers over it. They seemed unusually warm on Clueless’s skin and in turn she sighed happily as he ran his own hands over her skin.

[Intentional fade to black and shift to outside the room. I had to cut out around 4 pages worth of fairly well written porn here so as not to offend anyone’s grandma. Oh well, all of your loses. *waves the pages of pr0n teasingly*]

Heard from outside the room:

Clueless - "If I may?"

Tarelia - "Definately I'd say."

Clueless - ".... I meet approval?"

Tarelia - "Care to help me now?" followed by the sound of breaches being unlaced.

A sound of giggling can be heard through the door.

Clueless - "...I'm gonna have to revise my previous statement... georgous."

Tarelia - "You flatter me, thank you..."

Clueless - "... you deserve it.."

Clueless - "And so do you, let me give you something."

Tarelia - "Mmm!"

Clueless - "That's... nice..."

Clueless - "Do lie down..."

Various noises can be heard dimly through the door

Tarelia - "This seem familiar at all? Or shall I try again?"

Clueless - "... oh... some of it's familar... some of it wasn't ... but... oh..."

Clueless - "... this isn't fair you know... oh..."

Some assorted and distinctly happy noises on both of their parts

Tarelia - "Ooooohhh....Not... fair....please... keep doing... that...."

Clueless - "... good… no fair?"

Tarelia - "Remembering anything more? Surely you've done this before..."

Clueless - "Oh... *quite* a bit..."

Tarelia - "Please don't stop...."

Various assorted happy noises

Clueless - "...huh? what? Um..."

Tarelia - "Oh my! This is unexpected!"

Clueless - ".....what did I do?"

Tarelia – “Look back dear, we’re flying, hovering actually, mmm…” There’s a giggle from her

Clueless - "...I have wings@?!"

There was a loud ‘thump!’ of two people hitting the ground onto something padded but not quite padded enough to completely cushion the fall.

Clueless - "...um... I have... wings?" said in a bemused voice

Clueless - "... those... are sensitive..." murmured

Tarelia - "Well, looks like I helped you remember. Well to remember ‘something’ anyways."

Clueless - "Guess so..."

Tarelia - "Mmmm..."

[Back inside w/ full view again]

Both Clueless and Tarelia sat in each others’ arms, flushed and smiling, clearly basking in a serious level of afterglow. Somewhat difficult to see fully over his shoulder, but there nonetheless, were a pair of shimmering black or dark blue in color, almost iridescent, thin wings. They seemed almost like larger sized versions of those you might expect to see on a sylph, pixie, or fairy. To a person knowledgeable in such matters they would have immediately pointed to a distinctly ‘Unseelie’ origin.

But time passed and they enjoyed each other’s company for the remainder of the evening before finally falling asleep. The next morning as the both of them awoke, however, one thing was different in the kitchen and readily apparent. Sitting upon the chain on which Clueless had, the night before, left his sword and cloak, directly on top of them was a singular sealed scroll.

Tarelia gathered a robe around herself in the cooler morning air and immediately checked the door. It was closed and the locking spell didn’t appear to have been tampered with.

Clueless’s eyes widened as he followed her and glanced at the scroll with a confused look. “…um… could someone have put that in here magically?”

“Possibly… but most magic like that generally doesn’t work reliably within Sigil.”

As they both examined the scroll, the seal was cast in a fiery red wax that glittered slightly. It almost seemed as if a crushed red stone or glass had been mixed in with the wax while it was still warm.

“…still.” Clueless murmured while looking closely at the seal, “…do you know this sigil?”

He showed Tarelia the scroll and its seal. The symbol was clearly a wizard’s sigil looking almost like a small flame.

“Never seen it before…” she said with a bit of apprehension.
Clueless broke the seal to read the scroll - wings fluttering behind him absently - half rubbing against each other in ill concealed nervousness.

As his eyes scanned over the first line of the letter, they widened considerably.

The letter read: “Greetings my memory deprived fellow.”

“I first of all urge descretion in the reading and showing of this scroll. Your location and identity would fetch a high price in some hands, and so unless you wish those parties to be informed of said details you will follow my following instructions.”

"....I'm.... being... blackmailed..." there was low surprise in Clueless’s voice and he looked at Tarelia in surprise, "I can't believe this..."

The note continued: “Firstly, I desire to meet with you. Secondly, I have a task which requires completion, and one which I will admit to not wishing to undertake myself. Blackmail is not my ideal method of action, but in this case it suits me nicely. I wish for completion of a certain task by yourself, and others procured into my service in similar fashion. Once completed, you will be sent upon your way, and by which time, those seeking you will have been... sated by other means. Again, I urge your discretion. I will meet you, and your soon to be companions at the third room on the left at the top of the stairs at the former location of the Ubiquitous Wayfarer. You will be there, for I doubt that the Baatezu will act slowly upon finding out you are still quite alive. The door to the building shall be unlocked. Meet me there at Antipeak, come alone.
– B. Trenevain”

Clueless turned again to Tarelia with astonishment playing across his face, "...I'm being blackmailed...Um... where's the…" he paused to read; "…*Former* location of the Ubiquitous Wayfarer?"

She paused to think “... well that's the old name... changed to 'Portal Schmortal' after The Lady scrambled every sodding portal in the burg after mazing the factols. Name didn't have the same ring though, and business dropped off with the portals vanishing. It went out of business shortly afterwards. It's a ten minute walk down a bit more into the Clerk’s Ward, down between the Workers district and the Administrators district.”

Clueless nodded, "... do you know who ... B. Trenevain is?"

"I'd doubt that's a real name, but no, never heard of him."

He nodded again and looked down at his sword, "... well. Whoever they are - they know who I am... or at least know enough about me to know that I don't know who I am..."

[With one intro finished, on to the next poor soul in our slowly unwinding, and progressively more complicated story.]

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

Toras of Andros sat at his desk, away from the thin light that current waxed through the window into his room. The fog and haze of Sigil made that light a sallow, sickly mockery of the light he was used to experiencing upon Ysgard and many of the other planes. As such, he shunned the light and relied upon the abilities granted to him by his own blood-line.

For the past hour he had eaten his breakfast, washed and now sat reading over his daily meditations and holy scriptures of the power whom he served, and who as far as he was aware, was by way of His proxies, his sire. That Toras was a half celestial was certain to most observers, though his unique appearance might have led some less keen observers to ponder deeply just ‘what’ it was that he was descended from. Many might have guessed at some form of Archon, Eladrin, Aasimar or even an Asura. In fact the last two might have gotten the most guesses from those who wished to guess. Guardinal was right out, he simply possessed none of the slightly animal traits that defined the children of such matings, rare as they might be.

To the eyes, Toras stood at nearly 7 feet tall, pushing the limits of what a normal human might reach. His skin was a smooth almost unnatural white, making him seem chiseled from marble like some statue rather than being normal. His hair was long and jet black, and contrasted heavily with his pale skin. Most striking perhaps though were his eyes whose pupils flickered with an inner flame, not unlike those of some fire genasi or tieflings. However there was nothing fiendish or indeed elemental about his being as he sat and prayed, dressed even then in the brushed steel and red lacquered armor of his particular militant branch of the clergy of Andros, self proclaimed protector of children, the innocent, and the infirm.

But several hours passed by, and as he neared to the end of his devotions, there was a knock at the door. Firm but not insistent, practiced but not arrogant. The strength behind them might have been enough to wake him up, had he been asleep, but clearly it was unlikely to come from anything larger than a human.

Toras stood up and walked to the door, pausing only to place his sword to one side, away from the door, but within his own reach should he need it. Sigil had so far been a surprisingly unwelcoming place to those who seemed to not fit in with the local populace.

There was another knock at the door just as he unlocked and opened it. The knocking paused and there was a shifting of feet as the open door revealed a slim, well dressed tiefling standing in the hallway. The man was smiling politely and clothed in a suit that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a master of ceremonies at a banquet hall, or upon a lawyer in a courtroom. Despite his purple colored eyes and small horns curling back over his hair like a ram’s, he seemed a model of courtesy apt to put at ease even the most wary person.

“Toras of Andros? I do apologize sir if I woke you.” The tiefling smiled and his vaguely reptilian tail swished slowly side to side behind his back.

“And you might be?” Toras asked

“A humble servant of greater persons, though my employers have a matter they wish me to discuss with and inform you of. I dare say that you will be most intrigued. If I might sir?” he motioned with an empty hand past Toras into the room.

Toras hesitated then nodded and stepped to the side, walking first back into the room. The door remained open behind the newcomer.

“First of all, I wish to say that my employers have noticed you and your past accomplishments. You have raised their attentions since entering Sigil. To that end I have an offer of employment from them to give you. However first…” he held out a sealed scroll, then lowered it as almost as an afterthought he removed a small gemstone from one jacket pocket of his suit. He handed the gem to the half-celestial with another smile. “This may persuade you into accepting our offer. A sensory stone of a memory, as witnessed by another of my employers functionaries.” Another smile, this time almost with a knowing smirk.

Toras touched the gem and activated the memory in the form of a projected illusion in the palm of his hands. He blinked and swallowed hard involuntary at scene unfolding in his hands.

“Surely you remember your time upon the prime world of Toril a good number of years ago. During that time you fell in love with a young woman and indeed she returned your feelings. Sadly she died, and in such a manner that prevented her return to life by the most common methods. Energy drain… such a way to pass. You honored her memory and have allowed her to enjoy her rest and enjoyment of her promised reward in the beyond as a petitioner upon the upper planes. You’ve neither sought her out in her innocent now form, but allowed her her peace and reward rather than seeking to draw her back into this life and its complications and pains. As I said, you’ve chosen to honor her memory.” The tiefling smirked and raises an eyebrow, craning his neck to see the image floating in Toras’s hands that was now playing and repeating slowly in sequence.

“Sadly the priests of Bane my employer has contracted for this present job have not chosen to honor her in the slightest. No, they prefer to raise her, torture her till death and then repeat the process quite happily. They’ve done so a dozen times or more by this point. I’ve honestly lost count.”

Toras was shaking visibly as he stared down at that scene of torture and the clear enjoyment on the faces of the Banite clergy in the illusory image playing out in his hands from the sensory stone. It was indeed her, and the look upon her face…

“Mother fu*****…”

The tiefling smiled once more, the same polite geniality showing through but tainted with an obscene confidence that belied an enjoyment of his present work.

“Harsh words, but save them for the task my employer wishes to set you upon. The terms are this: read the scroll I have given to you and obey its terms to the letter. If done so to my employer’s satisfaction what you have seen in the gem will cease immediately, and those who carried it out will be killed. That young, and currently suffering woman you still by your reaction hold some feelings for, she will be allowed to rest and return to blissful ignorance upon the planes, wherever that might be. Am I clear?”

Without looking up from the scene looping once again in his hands, Toras spoke with grim and steady tones, his frame rigid and tensed, “Run now, it’ll make it more fun when I catch you.”

The tiefling was already stepping back, “Read the scroll sir and you’ll have a chance to change things. Killing me, were you capable of doing so, won’t stop her suffering. I dare say it’ll prolong it because I hold use to my employer. Enjoy the coming days sir, she won’t.” And with a brief motion with his index finger towards the illusion, he moved out the door in a burst of speed. The footsteps echoed down the hall and then abruptly stopped.

Toras gripped the gem tightly dispelling the harrowing images and bolted after the scum, sword in hand. Out in the hallway there was no one in sight, but a glimmer from a doorframe, two rooms down, spoke of the hallmarks of a just closing portal.

“Fu****…”, Toras cursed numerous times and slowly walked back to his room to sit with barely contained anger. His eyes flared with a need to right a serious wrong. Before it was over he would have that man and his puppet master on the end of his sword.

“Now what in the 9 Hells was this damned employment offer I’m being fu***** blackmailed into doing?” he muttered and spit as he broke the seal on the scroll. It looked like sparkling reddish wax, emblazoned with a wizards sigil shaped like a stylized flame.

“Dear Toras of Andros,”

“I first of all urge discretion in the reading and showing of this scroll. The eventual fate of a certain young woman lies very much on your hands at this point. The clergy of Bane in that particular location she is being held at specifically train torturers and interrogators, and even were I not paying them well they would likely continue with her for some time before moving on to another unwilling victim. If you do not wish for her to be tortured to death and routinely torn unwillingly from her afterlife to return to a mortal hell you will follow my instructions.

Firstly, I desire to meet with you. Secondly, I have a task that requires completion, and one that I will admit to not wishing to undertake myself. Blackmail is not my ideal method of action, but in this case it suits me nicely. I wish for completion of a certain task by yourself, and others procured into my service in similar fashion. Once completed, you will be sent upon your way, and the priests of Bane who hold your former beloved will be silenced and their current charge returned to her ‘eternal reward’ in the upper planes.

Again, I urge your discretion. I will meet you, and your soon to be companions at the third room on the left at the top of the stairs at the former location of the Ubiquitous Wayfarer. You will be there, for I doubt that you can live comfortably with the images that you’ve just been shown by my servant. The door to the building shall be unlocked. Meet me there at Antipeak, come alone.
– B. Trenevain”

“Bloody hell…”, he spat again and whispered a prayer to his deity. A prayer of vengeance to by action and deed see to justice and punishment those who would harm those who did not deserve such. Andros would forgive him allowing such to happen to the girl, but He would not forgive those who made her to suffer, nor would this humble servant of Andros either.

Before then however, these new ‘employers’ would need to be met and sated in the short term. Blind rage and violence, though likely fulfilling, would not bring an end to this.

“Well, Antipeak then it is. I want to see your face, if only to see how it looks before I decide to break it. You deserve that much I swear.”

Hot with anger, Toras stood up and gathered his belongings to leave. After paying for his room and tipping the cook for the morning’s meal which current circumstances now had set to churning in his stomach, he needed time to learn more about the location he was to meet at, and more about his ‘employer’ if possible as well. And so full of simmering, righteous zeal he stalked out of his room.

****

Around the same time in the spireward end of The Lower Ward a silvery blue furred Lupinal was sitting down for her morning breakfast and a drink in the common room of the Green Mill situated in the heart of Little Bytopia as the squat was called by the residents. It wasn’t Elysium, but it was closer to home than most of the city, especially more so than the fiend cluttered, soot choked streets of the rest of the Lower Ward.

She was dressed in little but to make for the local social standards, in this case a white tunic over a thin layer of fine, celestial forged chain and a short chain skirt of the same manufacture. Over the bottom she wore a colored and beaded belt and cloth of a pale ivory color, chased in places with black and silver. Pretty to the eye, but not garish or presumptive as some in the City of Doors seemed to prefer to dress. Tales of warriors in red colored, spiked and bladed armor had filtered to her ears from tales she'd been told in her travels. However she'd seen none of these 'hardheads' yet as the storyteller in Ecstacy had relayed the tale to her nearly a decade ago. She shrugged and chalked it up to an invented or embellished tale on the part of the drunken bard years ago.

Fyrhowl sipped at her thin, sweet ale and smiled. As she pondered the various places within Sigil she had been told to visit, and which to avoid, her ears involuntarily swiveled to the noise of the chair opposite her being moved. Her eyes followed suit as she beheld a smiling, well dressed and genial looking tiefling standing across the table from her.

His hand resting lightly on the top of the only other chair at her table he nodded his head to the spot, “Might I join you for breakfast? If you have a moment for me, those I represent have some information for you that they wish for me to deliver to you? If I’m intruding I can wait elsewhere till it is convenient.”

She blinked and put down her ale. He only smelled faintly of brimstone, unlike most of his kind in the ward, and unlike most of them he seemed to have dressed and presented himself in a way not intended to disturb anyone or seem confrontational. As well, he wasn’t wearing a weapon.

The lupinal nodded and gave a curious smile across her muzzle, “Please, join me. How can I help you?”

The tiefling smiled graciously with practiced ease and took his place across from her and placed a thin, red waxen sealed scroll in the center of the table between the two of them…

“I realize that you are newly arrived to Sigil. However my employers are in need of the services of one such as you. They are apparently well aware of your past services upon the planes on behalf of your celestial race, as well as your own prowess in those endeavors. Coupled with your own nature as a guardinal, they are interested in procuring your help.” He smiled again.

“Oh? Thank you, though I’m surprised they found out where I was so quickly, I’ve been in Sigil less than a day or two already. What do they need me for? I might not need payment from them depending on what they wish.” She looked curiously at the scroll lying before her.

“My employer’s words can probably explain their wishes and needs more clearly than I can. Please read if you would.” Again the tiefling smiled then flagged down one of the servers and ordered a drink of his own.

Fyrhowl broke the odd looking waxen seal, noting the sparkles of glass in the wax and how the symbol upon it seemed to flicker in the morning light like a living tongue of flame. The paper even had the smell of wood smoke to her sensitive nose as she unfurled it to read.

“Dear Fyrhowl of Elysium,”

“I first of all urge discretion in the reading and showing of this scroll. I am well aware of your sister and pack mate, Lightdancer. The last you were aware she was still on Elysium, hoping to venture off plane to follow in your own footsteps. Sadly her travels did not go far before she was taken alive by those in my employ. She is currently being held well, but confined tightly. She will come to no harm, and offers for her… purchase will be rebuffed assuming you following my instructions herein to the letter. Otherwise I begin to entertain the offers of a number of fiends and wealthy but depraved mortals.

Firstly, I desire to meet with you. Secondly, I have a task that requires completion, and one that I will admit to not wishing to undertake myself. Blackmail is not my ideal method of action, but in this case it suits me nicely. I wish for completion of a certain task by yourself, and others procured into my service in similar fashion. Once completed, you will be sent upon your way. Your sister will be released and unharmed except for some selective memories of her captors faces erased. Otherwise, no harm will come to her.

Again, I urge your discretion. I will meet you, and your soon to be companions at the third room on the left at the top of the stairs at the former location of the Ubiquitous Wayfarer. You will be there, for I doubt that you would wish your sibling to come to harm. She does so admire you, and has whimpered several times that you would rescue her. Such idealistic heroics aside, I offer you a simple and potentially bloodless way to secure that release. The door to the building shall be unlocked. Meet me there at Antipeak, come alone.
– B. Trenevain”

Her fur was bristling rapidly and an involuntary snarl was rising in her throat as she looked up from the scroll at the still smiling face of the tiefling as he sipped at his drink.

“No need for that here, it won’t solve a thing I can assure. Your kind can act pleasant in public yes? That would be good, a scene would not endear you to this establishment, nor to ‘our’ employer, rest assured.” He downed the last of the mug’s contents as Fyrhowl simmered and bottled her anger and worry alike.

“So… what now?” she smoothed her fur back down to normal and gritted her teeth as the fiend-spawn opposite her smiled with that same damnably cheerful innocence.

“Now I walk away, leave you to pick up my tab and you do as your told if you wish for your sister to come to no harm. You would be amazed at the demand for a young celestial such as herself, and who might make such demands.”

He smirked, stood up and walked away from the table with a confident and steadfast stride. If he had anything resembling qualms or conscience, they certainly didn’t show in the least as he walked out the tavern door with a smile on his face and a spring in his step.

Shortly thereafter in the Hive…

(man I wish I had the schmooze of that tiefer... )

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

“Blessings of the Festhall Maiden upon you,” the young woman smiled and made a gesture of good tidings in the air before the kneeling worshipper who smiled back, kissed her hand and rose to leave.

Aren turned around and snuffed a small candle before the shrine to the Mother of Cats and whispered a prayer. As soon as the supplicant had left and the door closed with a soft knock of wood upon wood, she smiled and placed a new candle upon the wax-spattered altar. Without so much as a word she rubbed her thumb and index finger over the wick which sparked and ignited with a sudden rush of flame from between her finger, those two fingers which she withdraw without so much as a scorch or blackened mark upon their alabaster surface.

Standing there in the dim light of the shrine, Aren’s eyes glowed softly red in the gaze of the idol before her. Any who saw her would have seen just a young woman with raven black hair and strikingly smooth, creamy white skin that stood in distinct contrast to it. She was dressed in close fitting and revealing garments of the clergy of Bast, and except for the holy symbol that hung from a thin golden chain and dangled between her cleavage, she would not have seemed out of place at one of the many brothels that filled the Hive.

It was a rough area of Sigil, but the land here was cheap and it was the only place upon which she had been able to lease property to build the shrine she ministered to. It was a terrible, beautiful contrast to her former existence, one that as much as she wished to put it behind her, forced her daily to hide herself, watch her words, and look for the signs that she might have been discovered. But the price of absolution was worthy of the struggle against that which ran in her veins, pumped through her blood, composed her very being. The Tanar’ri within howled in rage at the betrayal of her birth. Sometimes it brought depression, other times it brought agonizing pain, but the realization that she was something ascended over the mindless destruction and corruption that was her birthright, that was a worthy trade. Her patron deity spoke within her heart daily, reassuring her and bringing comfort within these uncertain times.

A rapping of wood on stone brought Aren out of her thoughts. She looked out at the pews of the sanctuary to see a tiefling standing in the center aisle with a long, black cane tapping upon the flagstone under his feet. She hadn’t heard the sanctuary door open, nor had she heard his footsteps leading up the aisle where he now stood, halfway between herself and the entrance. She hadn’t heard a sound at all. Her thoughts had put her at a loss it seemed, she would atone for the lapse in her duties later.
She blinked as he smiled and approached. “May I help you sir?” she asked, bowing with a flourish and slipping back into her place as priestess and guide to the impoverished of this place.

The man smiled back, “Indeed I think you can. Might we speak somewhere in private for a few minutes? I come on business, not as a parishioner. If I’ve disturbed some ceremony I apologize and can wait, or return later if you wish?...” His purple eyes reflected violet in the candlelight and his long shadow stretched down the aisle behind him. But despite the harsh light he seemed polite, genuine and courteous, especially as he was dressed in the clothing of an advocate.

Aren nodded and motioned him off towards a door that led to one of the small rooms used for private ‘counseling’, or her own personal devotions. She held open the door and ushered him within, then took a seat opposite him upon one of the small pillows scattered around the periphery of the rug in the center of the room.

“So, what exactly may I do for you, Mr…?”, she offered him a small bowl of almonds and reclined across the floor. He smiled but ignored the bowl as he reached into his jacket pocket to produce a slim scroll case that glittered with magic under her vision.

“You’ve done a fine job here in the Hive, providing a bit of hope and a bit of comfort to those who come to see you. Contrast I should say with the face of things, no?” he placed the scroll next to the almonds but kept his hand upon it. She looked up at him curiously but said nothing. The Tanar’ri inside was wary all of a sudden.

“That said, you and I both may drop our pretenses. I’m fully aware of your nature, as is my employer. It would be a pity were your former Balor liege to become aware of your continued existence, especially within a place that eluded his own personal grasp. Am I wrong? I can only postulate upon the tortures reserved from a traitor in the Abyss…” he smirked triumphantly as Aren’s face grew ashen.

“What do you mean, I kn…” she sat upright and glared at him, trying to appear angry despite a rush of fear spreading through her veins like ice upon the Styx.

“Please, you needn’t try. Bluster is lost on me, because frankly my dear I don’t care if you wish to admit anything to me or not. My employer only wishes for me to deliver his knowledge, his threat, and his demands. Ignore them at your own peril. Your usefulness in my employer’s current situation might become rapidly out valued by the price upon your head to the right buyers in the court of Ashrathul Soultwister.” He smirked, placed the scroll before her, tossed an almond into his mouth and bit down onto it with an emphatic crunch.

At an utter loss for words, her heart pounding within her breast she snarled at the tiefling, a pair of fangs suddenly showing over painted lips. He stood, kicked the scroll towards her and walked confidently towards the door without any seeming concern. However he paused at the door while she still snarled at his back, “Admission noted. However my dear I would keep a lid upon your nature, after all, the brimstone will frighten away the congregation…”

With that, he slipped from the chamber and his footfalls receded into the distance. She never did hear the sanctuary door open and shut this time either. But now gradually the pounding in her chest slowed and her rage ebbed to uncertainty. She reached out to open the scroll case that bore a red, glittering wax seal with a mage’s symbol upon it shaped like a flickering flame.

The scroll read:
“Dear Aren, my wayward corrupter of mortals”
“I first of all urge discretion in the reading and showing of this scroll. Any attempt to involve any others besides yourself will sadly force me to reveal your current location and identity to those in the Abyss that would see you stripped down to a dretch and skewered upon a spit for eternity for your crime of transcending the evils of your race. I could care less, I simply require you for a task.”

“That said, I desire to meet with you. Secondly, I have a task that requires completion, and one that I will admit to not wishing to undertake myself. Blackmail is not my ideal method of action, but in this case it suits me nicely. I wish for completion of a certain task by yourself, and others procured into my service in similar fashion. Once completed, you will be sent upon your way. Your identity will be kept secret and you will have no more contact with myself or my agents. If you do not trust me after we amicably part ways, you are always free to retreat to the upper planes or even the domain of your fostering, redeeming patron.”

“Again, I urge your discretion. I will meet you, and your soon to be companions at the third room on the left at the top of the stairs at the former location of the Ubiquitous Wayfarer. You will be there, for I doubt that you wish to be handed over to your former Abyssal master. His power has waxed since you last knelt before him in supplication to his will, and other things…The door to the building shall be unlocked. Meet me there at Antipeak, come alone.
B. Trenevain”

“Sodding hells…why does it all have to haunt me?” The risen Tanar’ri placed the scroll off to one side and slumped on the floor, letting her wings spring out behind her, not bothering to hide her form as she felt a wave of depression wash over her. Kneeling there in the dark, she whispered a soft prayer to her patron deity and wept for the burden of her blood rising once again to tread upon her back. Maybe though this time it would end well and she wouldn’t be forced to kill, that was what her kind did. They killed and they ravaged.

“I don’t want to bring myself to that again. I left that behind. What do they want me to do anyways? Well, I’ll find out tonight then won’t I, Bast forgive me if I have to bring harm to any…”

And thus the group of wayward PCs was brought together, along with one other to join them shortly. The hours passed and the clock grew near to Antipeak. The shadows grew long and separately they said their goodbyes to those who knew them and set out to darken the doorway of the Ubiquitous Wayfarer, known for a short time as Portal Schmortal.

The first to arrive there was Clueless…

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

The ‘sky’ of Sigil sparkled overhead with the glow of streetlamps, torches and the pyres raging in the stacks of the Great Foundry clear across the other side of the Cage. They glittered artificially as the haze that blanketed the Clerk’s Ward that evening washed over and periodically obscured some of them. It was under that mottled, fire speckled sky that Clueless walked as he navigated the streets leading up to address of the former Ubiquitous Wayfarer, briefly known after the Tempest of Doors as ‘Portal Schmortal’.

The darkened profile of the tavern stood at the corner of two intersecting streets, neither of which held any appreciable traffic at that period of the evening, and had likely seen less since the inn had finally closed its doors. A wooden sign hung from iron brackets above the doorway, slowly swinging in the light breeze. Bits of graffiti had collected on the boarded over windows and walls of the building in the past few years, little collections of epitaphs running the gamut from crude jokes about ‘Cipher Quickies’ to random names, faction symbols scrawled, defaced and scrawled again in various substances. A few scraps of paper rustled in the wind, all of them advertisements for shops and other still successful inns located in the ward.

Clueless paused and stopped beneath the sign as it swung in the breeze, then looked at the door. His hands gripped tightly on the wrapped bundle of his cloak that held his sword.

“Looks like I’m the first to arrive, apparently I’m prompt.” He glanced up the two streets, looking for any of his soon to be companions. Not seeing anything but a single rat scurrying into an open sewer grate he turned his attention back to the door.

“Or I might be late and they’re already inside…” he put his sword underneath one arm and reached out to try the door handle.

“You were instructed to arrive at the stroke of Antipeak. It is not yet antipeak, and this door will not open until that time. In the future you will pay attention to orders more closely. It is currently twelve minutes till the time at which you were instructed to arrive. Patience is expected by your employer.”

“Too prompt maybe…” Clueless paused before the door and stood there awkwardly for a few minutes, staring down at his new shoes that Tarelia had bought for him that morning after he’d gotten his blackmail note. His concentration on the new boots was broken by the muted sounds of someone or something padding softly down the street towards the inn. He looked up to see a silvery-blue furred lupinal walking confidently in his direction. Clueless nodded to her as she approached.

“I assume you’re one of the victims here as well?” she spoke and bowed slightly. Clueless put out his hand which she looked at oddly for a moment before taking and shaking it in return.

“Yeah, I’d be one of them, you too I assume.”

“Indeed”

“So, umm… I’m Clueless. You?”

She blinked at his name, clearly being uncertain if the word was an adjective or a noun, along with the meanings they carried in either case.

“Oh, that’s my name, kinda.” Clueless smiled like a rube. Fyrehowl chuckled back with a hint of confusion but her tail began to slowly wag back and forth amiably.

“I’m Fyrehowl, pleased to meet you, though I wish it was under better circumstances.” She growled softly and looked towards the inn. “So what was it they used to bring you here?”

Clueless replied with some hesitation, “These people, this Trenevain person, says he’ll turn me into the Baatezu if I don’t do what he says. Umm…I had some differences of opinion with some rather powerful Baatezu at some point in the past, and at the moment they think I’m dead. I’m safer right now assuming Trenevain is telling the truth. That’s not something you toss aside…”

Clueless frowned and the lupinal gave a nod of concerned fellowship. “Me? They have my sister, so they claim. Yeah…”

“Ouch, I…” Clueless stopped as Fyrehowl’s ears swiveled to face one of the adjoining streets. Clueless looked in that direction but saw nothing as Fyrehowl looked as well.

Walking down the street looking at the same moment both mildly paranoid and comfortably fitting in was a slim tiefling woman. Her legs appeared to be goat-like from the knees down and her footfalls gave a soft but distinctive ‘clip-clop!’ noise as she walked towards the two already gathered companions. As she drew into the light they could see that she was dressed in the typical attire of one of the denizens of the hive, more specifically one of the tiefling denizens of the Hive. That was to say, not too terribly much. However the style though, she was a bit more modest than most, and clearly not destitute by any means. If anything it could be said she was well dressed for comfort and practicality, while giving a nearly perfect appearance of being less than what she was. From the bits of leather armor just barely visible under her clothing and the concealed sword strapped to one thigh, and her quick and dodgy stance, she screamed out ‘thief’ and a not unskilled one.

The tiefling walked up, the light from one of the streetlamps falling on her mildly olive toned skin, shoulder length dark hair, and glittering in her greenish eyes. She smiled as a thin, reptilian tail jerked from side to side behind her, wrapping around one leg seemingly every other moment.

“So… you here for the ‘we’re getting pealed’ party too? I know I certainly am.” She said matter-of-factly as she pulled out a set of lock-picks and moved past Clueless and Fyrehowl to the door.

“You can’t get in there, I’ve already tried, I…” Clueless spoke as she crouched before the lock and seemed to ponder its shape for a half second before choosing a few select picks and bars.

“Suuuuure you have. That’s probably why I’m here. That and the fact that they’ve got me bent over a barrel. I woulda showed up just because if they’d asked me. Buuuut no, they had to be typical. Oh well. Anyway, you can call me Nisha. This should be easy, I…”

‘tink’ Her lockpick firmly hit the wall of force layered in front of the door and she blinked.

“Told you. And it’s gonna get preachy here in a second I think.” Clueless said as if on cue the same magic mouth appeared once again. Nisha was already making an almost comical face at the mouth as it started to rattle on.

“You were instructed to arrive at the stroke of Antipeak. It is not yet antipeak, and this door will not open until that time. In the future you will pay attention to orders more closely. It is currently six minutes till the time at which you were instructed to arrive. Patience is expected by your employer.”

Clueless shrugged, “It did that to me too. Our employer is a control freak apparently.” Fyrehowl smirked and then tilted her head to the side slightly as Nisha rose to her feet and started pacing over the front of the inn.

“What are you looking for?” the lupinal asked with perked, inquisitive ears.

“Oh I’m just curious if Mr ‘Ooooh I’m a scary powerful wizard who likes force walls’ bothered to lock the windows on the second floor or block the chimney. I’m gonna break in otherwise, just because.” She chuckled and winked as she plucked a spider from a web on the side of one of the drainpipes of the inn.

Clueless looked at the tiefling oddly as she examined the tiny arachnid, “What’s that…oh eww…” Nisha recited several words under her breath and swallowed the wriggling bug with a sour look on her face. After a moment in which she looked somewhat sick to her stomach she walked to the side of the inn and scampered lithely up the flat surface without bothering to use a rope or anything else. Just like the spider she’d swallowed, the girl skittered up the sheer rock and wood without so much as a stumble and vanished over the top of the roof.

“Awwww, they sealed the chimney with one of those blasted force walls too. All the sodding luck in the planes, we had to get a competent wizard with something on us. Shoot.”

Below, on the ground, Clueless and Fyrhowl both repressed an honest chuckle and then turned in the direction of heavy footsteps walking up an adjacent alley towards the inn. Striding up the alley was a tall, heavily armed and armored man with a grim, extraordinarily displeased look upon his face. He walked up to Clueless and Fyrehowl, nodded in a preoccupied manner and looked at the door.

“So, Trenevain get something on you too?” Clueless asked.

“Yes, you could definitely say that. He’s earned himself a sword in his gut, which is better than he deserves.”

“Umm, yeah, I take it he has something personal on you then?”

“Very much so.” Toras gritted his teeth in a manner that effectively silenced any more questions about his own blackmail particulars.

Fyrehowl broke the momentary tension, “Pleased to meet you, I’m Fyrehowl, this is Clueless. And Nisha is around here… somewhere. You are?”

Toras nodded and smiled at the celestial, “Toras of Andros, humble servant of the protector of children and the weak.”

“Wow… you’re pretty… well armed for the job.” Clueless raised an eyebrow as he looked at the massive sword strapped to Toras’s side. Toras smiled in a way that likely would have made a fiend shiver. Fyrehowl suppressed a smile.

A small shower of dirt from above gather the attention of the three as they looked up to see what the commotion was.

“Oh pike it! They greased the sodding roof! Woah that’s slippery!” there were some muted sounds of sliding and the clatter of hooves on stone and iron.

“Uhhh, you ok up there Nisha?” Fyrehowl said with some alarm. Several seconds passed without any reply. Clueless and the lupinal exchanged glances with each other and then both turned to look at the newly arrived half-celestial.

“What’s she up there doing?” he asked.

“Trying to break into the inn through a window or the chimney I think. The door’s blocked.” Clueless replied.

“Have you just tried breaking the door? It can’t be that sturdy.” Toras asked and walked over to the door with a single gauntleted fist raised and tensed back.

“Huh? Oh it’s not locked, it… aaand there it’s gonna go again.” Clueless sighed and Fyrhowl’s ears laid flat against her head and to the side.

Toras’s fist feel short of the door, slamming directly into the invisible barrier with a hollow thud. The half-celestial didn’t seem to particularly phased or hurt, though he did seem surprised as the magic mouth reappeared on schedule.

“You were instructed to arrive at the stroke of Antipeak. It is not yet antipeak, and this door will not open until that time. In the future you will pay attention to orders more closely. It is currently four minutes till the time at which you were instructed to arrive. Patience is expected by your employer.”

“Told you.” Clueless leaned back against the wall next to the magically barricaded entrance.

A few seconds later, Nisha dropped down to the ground next to the group with little more than a dull clatter of hooves on the ground. She brushed off her hands on the front of her vest and looked at Toras.

“Wow, you’re tall. What are you actually? Oh, and there’s a fiend headed this way.” She sat down next to the door and looked completely unphased by anything so far, despite the unease that seemed to percolate through her companions. Fyrehowl smiled down at the tiefling and glanced over in the direction she had pointed. Walking sullenly down the street was a young human woman dressed in a cleric’s traveling robes embroidered with the holy symbol of Bast. She looked out of place in the Clerk’s Ward neighborhood, and she looked equally at ease as she approached the group assembled outside the door of the inn.

“She’s a fiend? Since when did they get good looking?” Clueless poked Nisha’s shoulder and looked past Aren as she approached, clearly looking for a Vrock or Hamatula or something a bit more overt. Fyrehowl poked him back on the tiefling’s behalf, “She’s right actually…”

The woman approached, only pale violet eyes betraying that she might be anything more than the comely woman that she appeared to be. Fyrehowl looked oddly at her for a moment, tensed slightly, then relaxed greatly and extended her hand.

“You’re the last one here. I’m Fyrehowl, this is Clueless, the big one is Toras, and that’s Nisha there making faces at the door.”

Aren smiled and nodded her head, looking better to have company and seemingly reassured to have met those in the same situation as herself. However she said nothing besides quietly introducing herself and bowing.

Seconds later the quiet was broken by the pronounced ‘click!’ of the door’s locking mechanism as it was sprung open by some unseen device, hand, or more likely, spell. The magic mouth on the door appeared one final time.

“It is now Antipeak and your employer is expecting you. Proceed inside to the top of the stairs and enter the third door on the left, do not tarry.” There were several muted snorts and rolling of eyes and angry twitches of tail as Nisha nudged open the door with her foot planted firmly in the jaw of the illusory mouth.

The door swung open and the five newly met companions walked into the darkness of the taproom of the inn. Light filtered through the spaces between the boards that covered the windows that faced the street. None of them however seemed to have any difficulty in making there way around in the dim light that faded into shadows near the back of the room. Several pairs of eyes gleamed red, purple or white as they made their way inside, betraying hints of darkvision and their own varied bloodlines.

Fyrehowl wrinkled her nose as she stepped into the room, “Smells like someone set a fire in here, there’s wood ash all in the air. Not fiendish though, there’s no lingering sulfur scent.”

One of the pair of reddish eyes blinked at that last comment, but otherwise said nothing. They all collected in the center of the room, letting eyes grow fully accustomed to the gloom and looking for the stairs.

The room was a shambles. Tables and chairs that had once seated patrons were scattered and tossed at random, and fully half of them seemed to have been partially consumed by flame. A layer of ash was scattered across the left side of the room and almost seemed to have been rolled in by some creature and scattered around.

“Alright, who let their pet fire mephit loose?” Nisha remarked as she moved towards the back of the room.

The old front desk and bar was on the far left of the taproom, and doors to adjoining rooms and likely the kitchen or wineceller were ajar behind the bar, under the flight of stairs at the rear of the room and stuck in the right far corner behind a charred stack of chairs. A loud ‘thud!’ echoed through the room as the tiefling collided with an invisible barrier to the right of the stairs.
“I’m getting to hate these things…” she rubbed at her forehead and winced as her tail flicked in annoyance.

“There’s another one over here too.” Toras laid his hand upon another invisible barrier, this one to the left of the stairs. Both force walls effectively blocked any access to the doors leading off from the room and only gave a single path from the entrance towards the stairs at the back.

“Cute.” Clueless rolled his eyes as he kicked at some ash and walked towards the stairs. Fyrehowl sneezed at the sudden scatter of soot into the air.
As the group paused and gazed up at the stairs and Nisha poked around the wood, looking for traps or other hazards, another magic mouth rose into existence behind one of the force walls.

“My patience is not unceasing. Not only were you to be prompt in arriving, but you had specific instructions as to where to go once you arrived. See to it that you follow - all - of your orders and not just some of them. Proceed. Now.” With that, the mouth vanished back into thin air.

“I really do hate him, really really do. Let’s go.” Toras walked past Nisha up the stairs, his weight giving way to soft protesting creaks from the wood.

“Ok, you set off the traps then. Not my way of springing any, but that works too.” Nisha waiting till the half celestial had passed then stuck out her tongue at his back. Clueless and Fyrehowl chuckled softly as the walked up the stairs as well, Nisha beamed a grin back at them.

The stairs ascended a story and then took a 90 degree turn to the left into a long corridor lined with doors and with a second set of stairs at the far end of its length. Several of the doors at even intervals were open while others seemed shut, perhaps locked. The third door on the left was closed, but through the space between the door and the floor, a pale yellow light washed out over the hallway in a semicircle.

“Looks like we’re expected people.” Clueless gripped the bundle under his arm and looked nervously at the others. Toras was already walking down the hallway, much to the chagrin of Nisha who sighed once again, rolled her eyes and put away her lock picks along with another small pouch.

The five of them clustered around the door and listened for a moment. Fyrehowl’s ears perked and strained, but she heard nothing except the sound of their own breathing. She nodded to the others and they opened the door which swung open to reveal a small twenty by twenty room. The room was lit by a bright magical glow and devoid of anything except five evenly spaced chairs along one wall opposite another door. Where there was once a window, it had been bricked over since the inn had closed.

“So much for them being prompt either,” Clueless said as he walked into the room. As he did so, yet another magic mouth activated, this one on the face of the room’s other door.

“Enter and be seated, your new employer will be meeting you shortly. This meeting will be short. You will be given a task and you will complete that given task without argument. You however, having made your betters wait, will wait yourselves. Be seated.”

Toras stood back up from where he had taken a seat and glowered in the direction of the door, but otherwise said nothing as Fyrehowl and Aren took their seats to flank Clueless. Nisha sat on the floor in front of her seat, her tail flitting side to side nervously. After a minute or so she plucked a copper piece out and flicked it across the floor towards the door opposite her. It rebounded without a sound several feet before it would have struck its target. Another wall of force.

“Yet another amazing surprise to shock and astound. I wonder what the next act’ll be?… someone kick me my coin back?” she made a face when no one did and muttered the phrases of a spell under her breath to snatch it back without having to stand and move. After she retrieved the coin she smiled and began to play with it on the floor.

“Apparently he likes force walls, a lot. Guess he thinks we might try to just kill him.” Clueless mused as he watched the tiefling spin her coin on the floor.
“I would.” Toras replied quickly, breaking his silence.

“I have to say I wouldn’t blame you…” the guardinal commented as the door across from them all opened and three figures entered.

A red robed fire genasi entered first, followed by two hulking Nycaloths who stood behind him, one to either side. Each of them held a single massive broadsword to their sides and gazed out to match the five where they sat. The wizard’s hair was a deep shade of orange and fluttered like an open flame, while his coal black eyes contrasted with his very obvious theme. Embroidered flames spiraled across his robes and dark fabric fringed the edges of the fabric like singe marks on burned cloth. Fyrehowl growled softly in the direction of the wizard’s bodyguards.

He smiled haughtily and spoke, “Welcome my little puppets. As you’ve all read my scrolls and seen my sigil upon each of them, my proper name is Bartol Trenevain. I’d apologize for the circumstances of your employment, but I don’t have to. Suffice to say, I’ve selected you all for various reasons that I needn’t share with you. But you’ll all work well together to obtain something of mine that was lost…”

“And if we say pike it to you?” Clueless asked, interrupting Trenevain.

“Then in your case you’ll end up either in the hands of the Baatezu, or a pile of ashes on the floor here as an example to your companions. Whichever I feel more appropriate at the moment.” The genasi snipped back and held up one hand that flickered with a sheath of flame he gestured out of thin air. Behind him, the Nycaloths glanced at Clueless, then to Trenevain, then oddly to each other. Diverting his attention from the wizard, Clueless blinked at that last detail.

“That settled, this is what I require of you. This… property… of mine was in transit across the first layer of Acheron when it was ambushed and taken by force by a host of orcish petitioners. They don’t have a clue what it is they possess and if my property is not recovered within a short period of time it may face irreparable damage. I will not stand for such to happen to that which is mine.”

“We can’t exactly find something of yours if you won’t tell us what it is?” Fyrehowl said as she gazed past Trenevain at the Nycaloths who had been staring at her with a lecher’s eye. Whether they intended to do such or not, their presence was making her horribly uncomfortably. And they clearly enjoyed it.

Trenevain paused and glanced back at them momentarily as one of them repressed a snicker. Both of them in turn glared back at him, and oddly he swallowed, recomposed himself and returned to his new employees. Again Clueless blinked at the play between bodyguards and their employer…
Trenevain pursed his lips angrily and continued, “You’ll find it because you’ll be provided with a planar compass that I’ve attuned to the property, or at least several items present in the same shipment. All you’ll need to do is follow the direction it gives to you. You’ll find it will hum when in close proximity to the package, and this will increase as you grow closer. When you locate the package you’re to take it safely to the nearest portal out of the plane.”

“And we…” Clueless began before Trenevain cut him off.

“Shut up boy. When in possession of my property the compass will point the way to the appropriate portal. You’ll follow its directions and it will serve as a portal key that one time, giving you access to a safe location to hand over my possessions to me.”

“You’re awful talkative for a dead man.” Toras said while looking directly at the wizard.

Again, one of the Nycaloths glanced down at Trenevain and the other drew his gaze though nothing was said. Aren narrowed her eyes at them as she sat quietly in the corner, not having said anything during the meeting as of yet. Fyrehowl glanced over at her curiously before Trenevain coughed to regain their attention.

“The door out of this room is a portal to Acheron. In this box, aside from your compass is the portal key. You’ll be leaving directly from here to that plane. However a word of advice before you go. You’ll likely be cube hopping so I’d advise you to utilize the Styx if possible. One of the ferrymen will accept you upon payment, and don’t be cheap if you wish to stay above water during your trip. Additionally, I’d hurry because the group or orcs in possession of my property are likely to be swamped by a force of goblin petitioners washing across several of the cubes presently. Getting caught in the wars between their respective pantheons would be unfortunate and likely deadly to you. Hopefully though you’ll be able to use that chaos and confusion in both of their ranks to slip in and reclaim what is mine.” With that, the genasi drew a small box out of his robe and held it out as he walked up to the boundary of the force wall.

“Take it one of you, you have placed to go and I have other matters to attend to.” He pushed the box through the force wall and held it out. The five blinked at him penetrating the barrier.

“How did you…?” Nisha asked. Trenevain ignored her question as Clueless walked up to take the box.

As he took it however he smirked at the wizard, “And oh… tell your minders we’re sorry if we have to kill you after this is over. Oh… did I say minders, I meant bodyguards. Truly I did.”

The wizard snarled at the half-fey and threw a punch through the barrier separating them both that caught Clueless across the face. Clueless fell to the ground clutching his jaw as the box clattered on the ground and Trenevain spat at him.

“Fool, I’m your owner and you’re an idiot to think any otherwise. Don’t make the mistake of taking me for less than I am ever again. Get out of my sight.” He walked towards the door he had come from originally and passed through still scowling. But sure enough as he passed his bodyguards they both looked at him in unison before following after him. Again, Aren stared in their direction with a look on intense concentration on her face.
Clueless slowly recovered and smacked the once again solid barrier with an open hand. “That’s just not sodding fair.”

“You’re telling me, I want to know how he did that!” Nisha chirped from where she still sat on the floor playing with the same copper piece. Toras muttered a string of curses and walked over to offer Clueless a hand up. “He’s dead, and so are those two Nycaloths.”

“I’ll help you, believe me. I just wish I knew more than I did about this.” Clueless replied as he stood up and opened the book that Trenevain had given them. Inside was a dried and broken bird’s wing, from its color, likely that of an executioner’s raven, now little more than a collection of feathers and bones; presumably the portal key to Acheron. Next to it and glowing a faint green was a smooth pearly orb, roughly the size of a large hen’s egg. Clueless took the wing and handed the orb to Fyrehowl then looked over towards the priestess of Bast.

“What was it that had you so quiet during that little speech?” Clueless asked.
Aren nodded back in the direction of the door that Trenevain and his bodyguards had left through. “Those two Nycaloths were talking to him most of the time he was talking to us. I couldn’t catch what they were saying, but they seemed to be telling him what to say and how to respond. Almost like they were coaching him. Bodyguards don’t do that sort of thing.”

“That was what I was thinking too. Who wants to bet that he’s as much a pawn in this as we are?” Clueless said back.

“Sounds reasonable, but I wonder just who it is we’re working for if it isn’t him.” Fyrehowl nodded and rolled the compass around between her paws.
“Just three more people to go along with that tiefling who’re going to die.” Toras said as he drew his sword and walked towards the exit, “Shall we get going?”

“Lighten up big guy, you might get to take out some of that anger here in a few minutes. Acheron has plenty of that stuff.” Nisha said without looking up from her spinning copper piece. “Plenty of that stuff, just hopefully not right on the other side of the portal, that would be bad.” She stood up and palmed the copper coin back to wherever she’d pulled it from in the first place.

The group gathered around the door and waited as Clueless took the broken bird’s wing and pushed it past the plain of the bound space of the doorway. Instantly the door vanished and was replaced with a swirling whorl of colors, mostly rusty browns and reds mixed with gray. The five companions looked at each other, drew their weapons and jumped through the portal.

Shemeska the Marauder's picture
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Joined: 2004-04-26
Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

In an instant Sigil was gone and replaced with a singular moment of darkness, a sensation of weightlessness and instant, terrible cold. Barely a moment later and it was gone as they all emerged onto a surface of pitted iron, a patch of ground upon the flat surface of a massive cube floating in the endless expanse of Acheron’s first layer of Avalas. Overhead the sky was pitch black but dotted with distant cubes, all in slow states of motion hung there in the sky like bloated modron corpses under a new moon.

Fyrehowl shivered despite the warm temperature emanating from the metal underfoot. The celestial was clearly uncomfortable within Acheron, but she was not the only one of the five to appear so distressed. Both Toras and Nisha looked anxious to be gone from the plane and while the fighter did his best to stomach his discomfort, the tiefling was actively pacing and hoping from thin hoof to thin hoof. Her tail fully betrayed her feelings as it whipped from side to side fitfully.

“I really, really don’t like this plane… where’re we going fuzzy… you… celestial lady… Fyrehowl, yeah. Where’s the compass point?”

Fyrehowl smiled despite her unease with the conflict of her very being with the nature of Acheron. She took out the compass and held it in her hand, then spun in a slow circle before pointing off in one particular direction. That direction wasn’t to a point on the current cube, rather it went up slightly, roughly in the direction of another cube that drifted distantly in the sky. “That way, maybe that cube off in the distance. Shall we fly, or …?”

She let the question hang and looked at her companions. Clueless was looking away and towards a glimmer perhaps a mile distant that cut across the face of the cube, drifting more or less in a line towards the direction the lupinal was pointing towards.

“I think the Styx is over that way if we don’t want to fly, I don’t think all of us can.” Clueless said as he pointed towards the infernal river.

“I can solve the can’t fly part, but I only have so many of the potions for it. I don’t carry around more than I expect to use in a week or so. I work alone usually, no sense to carry more.” Nisha pointed towards the small satchel slung around one shoulder that dangled near to her hip.

They bantered some more, discussing the benefits and risks of going by way of the Styx. Fyrehowl seemed adamantly against it, but the others seemed to think it was best, despite the dangers involved. Finally, despite the lupinal’s ill ease with travel upon the black, infernal river, they set out across the warped steel surface of the cube face towards the serpentine river as it cut its way across the landscape.

Some twenty, uneventful minutes later the group stood upon the banks of the Styx where it had worn smooth and deep the metal of the cube by untold millennia of passage. The water ran unexpectedly fast, surging along in places to send up a mist of syrupy water. The water itself was black as the void above them, foul smelling and thick with hints of shapes reaching out of the currents to snatch at anything foolish enough to swim its depths. Nisha blinked hard and shook her head as they stood upon the bank, Toras and Fyrehowl both stood some feet back from the bank, while Clueless and Aren stood close to the edge, only inches back from the water. The mist off of the river made them pause and shift as its memory sapping influence sought to insinuate itself, only a few seconds of this made all of them step further back from the bank.

“So, what now? I don’t see anyone sitting around with a boat looking friendly and wanting to give strangers rides.” Nisha sat near the bank and questioned aloud to her companions.

Clueless looked back at her, then back to the river with a vague nagging feeling in the back of his mind concerning his own loss of memory. He said nothing, but at his pause, Fyrehowl spoke.

“You just need to stand near the bank and hold out a coin, the fiends know where you are. If they want to ferry you, they’ll appear. Don’t expect them to be trustworthy though.”

The others nodded and waited near the edge. Nisha began playing with the same copper piece she had before at the inn and Toras held a pair of stingers in his hand. Aren looked over at him, “They’ll take your money, but you do know that’s going to burn them to touch, yes?”

Toras smirked, “That’s why I’m paying in silver…”

“You try that at a few bars in the Hive I know of, wow… they won’t take kindly to you. Just don’t get us capsized ok?” Nisha mused up at the half-celestial.

Barely a minute had passed by when the waters some distance upstream seemed to flicker slightly and the ripples across the surface heralded the sudden appearance of a previously unseen skiff. Seemingly emerging from the river itself, or out of thin air, a slim, flat-bottomed skiff drifted with the currents downstream. Standing motionless at the back of the craft was a tall, rail thin figure wrapped in a tattered brown robe. It held a boatman’s pole cradled in its arms but the craft seemed to move of its own accord down the river without any action on the ferryman’s part.

“Why is it I suddenly feel more like flying?” Nisha’s tail twitched nervously as the boat drifted closer, slowed its approach and came to a silent rest on the metallic riverbank.

The boatman stood motionless in the skiff, only lifting its cowled head to reveal the jaundiced, skeletal face of a Marraenoloth. Twin burning reddish eyes seethed silent and malign from its skeletal eyesockets as it slouched forwards slightly, resting its weight on the pole in its arms. It seemed to be waiting for some word or request from the group.

Aren spoke first, “We need to buy passage from here to –that- cube there. Can you take us there?” she pointed up into the sky at the distant cube. The Yugoloth ferryman turned to look up in the direction of her hand, then back to her with its emotionless gaze. It said nothing, but stepped to the side and extended one of its hands out to her, palm up as if waiting for payment.

“Thank you.” Aren said as she nodded to the rest of her companions and placed a small gem into the palm of the Marraenoloth. It closed its hand and allowed her to step into the boat before repeating its stance for Toras. When it opened its hand for the fighter however the priestess’s gem was gone even though none of them had seen the fiend stow the gem anywhere visible.
Toras placed both of his coins in the palm of the ‘loth which then curled its hand around them and let him step into the boat. As he passed by however, its gaze followed him for a moment before it turned to accept payment from Fyrehowl.

The lupinal paid the fiend its money in gold and never once turned her gaze away from staring directly into its face, unwavering and slightly confrontational. The fiend said nothing, nor did it give her a response as it allowed her to enter the boat. Nisha paid next in a number of small gemstones that another ‘collector of donations’ might have noted to have apparently come from rings or other jewelry, pried from their original settings.

Finally Clueless was the last standing upon the bank of the river, waiting to pay the fiend for passage. He paused as his hand closed around his severed purse strings still hanging upon his belt. He stiffened and shut his eyes in frustration, only now remembering that he hadn’t a copper to his person. Still, the fiend was rigid with the same hand open for payment, two small discolorations on its flesh from where Toras’s silver coins had touched its palm.

“I can’t pay you, I don’t have any coin. Can one of my companions pay for me?” he seemed wary and self-conscious. The boatman didn’t move but kept its hand open for him as Fyrehowl began to take out several coins to pay for the bladesinger. As she did so, the ‘loth turned on her and shook its head. Angrily she put away her coin.

“How is he supposed to come with us if he doesn’t have coin, and we can’t pay for him?”

The Marraenoloth smiled grimly and touched its pole upon the edge of the bank as if to push the skiff off into the river and leave Clueless behind.

“Wait! I can’t just, I mean…” Clueless looked alarmed and so did his companions at the ferryman’s threat. Then, something odd happened. The boatman turned rapidly to look at Clueless and paused, gazing at him. He had the sudden impression that the fiend was looking -through- him, not at him. It canted its head slightly at an angle, blinked its crimson eyes and withdrew to the front of the craft to allow Clueless room to enter.

Not one to reject such an offer, he jumped about the ship and took a seat next to Fyrehowl. All of his companions looked curiously at the boatman’s back as the vessel moved away from the riverbank and rapidly moved downstream with the current.

“You’re one with words, I just hope he doesn’t drown us all now. I’ve never known them to give free rides either.” Fyrhowl bared her teeth and silently scowled at the Marraenoloth’s back as the craft sped down the river. Beside her, Clueless sat and wondered what in the hells the last minute or so meant. He couldn’t well answer it.

The boat moved across the face of the current cube till the group could see the approaching end of the current face several miles downriver. At the edge gravity seemed to flip over to the new orientation and soon they made the transition without so much as a jolt. Unexpectedly though an hour later the vessel sped off down a tributary to the sound of raging water. The boatman gave no warning and suddenly the vessel passed through a pocket of mist and churning water. The boat rocked and there was the sensation of weightlessness for a moment of two before the skiff re-emerged onto the river seemingly on another cube entirely.

Toras looked up, “The sky is different, we’re on a different cube. What does the compass say?”

The tiefling took out the compass and glanced at it. “This is the right cube I think. It’s starting to get warm actually.” She turned around in her place next to Toras and felt out the compass points for a direction. Finally, she pointed in a place roughly fifteen degrees off from where the vessel was headed. The compass –had- been held by the lupinal, and she hadn’t given it up as far as anyone had seen. Fyrehowl said nothing but quickly checked her other pouches for their proper contents.

“This is our stop.” Toras said to the fiend’s back as the vessel was already slowing and drifting towards the edge of the bank. As the boat alighted on the bank and stopped, the Marraenoloth gestured to the shore and turned away from them, making as if to put out onto the waters again. The party complied with its unspoken wish and stepped out onto the shore of rough, knobby iron dusted with reddish black rust.

Nisha held out the compass again with a pointed grin at the celestial. “That way. Getting pretty close it seems.” Behind her, the boatman and its skiff silently glided away with the current. Almost imperceptibly it glanced in their direction as it drifted away without a sound, its eyes glimmering like hot steel.

As the group traveled further from the Styx, the steel of the cube became warped and disrupted. From a distance it might have seemed as if some massive hand had reached down and crushed and bent the surface. And considering the unending wars of extermination between the orcish and goblinoid pantheons on the first layer of Acheron, the cause of the damage might have been less natural than deific. Regardless of the proximate cause of the warped metal, the normally flat surface of the cube was folded and rippled into a series of sharp hills, valleys and vales. A perfect place for hiding troops from the sight of armies marching on the flat surfaces of the cube, or even from hostile forces in the next valley over.

An hour later, having traveled in the direction of the compass’s more and more urgent pushing, the five crept along the base of a series of sharp, shallow hills. Halfway along their length, the lupinal stopped and perked her ears. She signaled for the group to pause as she strained to listen to some otherwise imperceptible sound that eluded her companions.

“There’s something ahead, I’d guess a camp or a group of people. I can barely make out some fires, maybe some drums, pack animals maybe, iron shod boots on the cube surface… try and be quiet once we get near the top of the ridge ahead.”

Toras drew his sword as she signaled the possible danger ahead. Aren sighed slightly and took out her wand again as Clueless drew his own blade. Nisha played with the compass some more.

“Yep, whatever we’re looking for, that seems like where it is. Umm…” she looked at Toras specifically. “Yeeeeaaaahhh… it might be nice if we could be quiet and all sneaky like for this? I don’t do sieges, and well, even all of us couldn’t if there’s lots of people on the other side of the hills here. I can make us all invisible, and if you can fly, all the better.”

Nisha passed around a number of vials and potion bottles, all of them in a different style and color of bottle, none of them likely paid for in the first place. Clueless spread out his wings and muted their colors to a pure, deep black without any other illumination as Fyrehowl lifted slightly off the ground. Toras looked up at the both of them and smirked as he quaffed two of the potions Nisha had given him. He too began to hover slightly as he faded from view.

“Try not to bump into each other, invisibility doesn’t let you see anyone else you know. And there’s a story there I’ll have to tell you later.” Nisha likewise quaffed two potions and soon the entire group was aloft and hidden from view. Silently, riding the wind they edged over the top of the ridge.

Stretching out below them, situated on the other end of the small bowl of a valley was a walled encampment. Orcs sprawled across the camp and groups of dozens of them marched in squads outside the hastily erected fortifications. Each of the four corners of the site had a squat observation tower, more for noticing anyone approaching over the hills than seeing beyond them so as not to reveal the location of the camp itself beyond the valley. Disorganized clusters of tents surrounded cookfires and several small wooden buildings seemed to comprise the barracks of officers and perhaps weapons storage.

However, that was not the site that most garnered the group’s attention. Their gaze, and the pull of the compass in Nisha’s hand was drawn towards an iron building sitting on a small, artificial mound at the center of the camp. The building was surrounded by guards at its single gated entrance, and a great banner was erected overtop of it, emblazoned with a symbol of a crushed goblin skull within a field of red with black watery curls surrounding the primary image. Orcish runes recounted recent victories in battle by the Blood River orc clan.

Cloaked by Nisha’s potion, Toras’s voice whispered to the others, “There’s a lot of them, but I think we can distract them enough to get into the center building. Looks like their clan trophy room and treasury. Anything important would be there, and looks like our package is there as well. Any ideas?”

Aren spoke up, “They’ve got a mix of mortals and petitioners for what its worth. I can tell anyways.” Fyrehowl nodded unseen.

“Looks like there’s a number of clerics walking around as well. Hopefully they expect something large, like a siege, and not a smaller pack… group, like us.”

“Pack? We must be growing on you.” Clueless chuckled back and tried to reach out to poke the lupinal. He only grabbed on thin air though.

“Well, I think that…umm… what in the sodding hells is that?!” Nisha’s train of thought derailed suddenly as the far side of the camp erupted in chaos. Beyond the far wall of the camp the sky was lit with the telltale flashes of teleportation magic and screaming goblins and hobgoblins descended on the orc encampment. The companions could only stare and watch in abject shock as an explosion suddenly erupted on one of the guard towers and it toppled inwards. The camp became a mass of screams, shrieks and bellows as the goblin raiders poured into the camp to meet the larger, but haphazardly organized orcs. Blade met blade, and more often than not, flesh as the mixed mortal and petitioner forces clashed openly.

In the chaos, the guards surrounding the center building rushed from their posts to repulse those goblins that had breached the walls. As they did, a number of teleportation flashes burst near the rear of the building. The orcs seemed not to notice, but the companions did.

“Oh pike it! They’re getting in where we need to be! Best distraction ever, move!” Nisha lamented as she flew over the walls towards the fortified building with the rest of the party in tow.

They reached the outer door as an explosion shook the building from its rear and the sound of tortured steel rang over the din of battle. Hurriedly, Nisha picked at the lock for several seconds and it fell to the ground as Toras battered against the frame. Unlocked, the door fell inwards with the force of his blow, likely weakened in some way by the damage to other side of the structure. Several flashes of light washed over the group as they barged inside to nearly stumble over several dead orc bodies and listen to the scream of others outside rushing towards their location.

The inside of the building, peppered with soot and burning iron as it was from the explosion that had torn a rough hole in the back wall was a sight to behold. At least seven barrels sat on the ground, each of them packed to overflowing with silver and gold coins. Open crates filled with iron and gold ingots stood opposite them on the other wall. A pile of carved and decorated goblin skulls, each inscribed with the name of the former owner stood stacked above a pile of stolen weapons, heraldry, banners and standards taken in battle from a goblin clan identified on the banners as the ‘Venom Fangs’. The standards on the items on the floor matched those borne by the goblins currently attacking the campsite.

“What’s the compass say? Which of these is it?” Fyrehowl shouted as she and Toras moved to block the entrance against the group of five orcs rushing the hill to fight what they seemed to presume were goblins.

Nisha’s now visible face was a mask of large, overwhelmed eyes and a giddy grin as she looked at the wealth surrounding her. She blinked and shook off the luster lust as she examined the compass. Giving a confused look she glanced back to Clueless and Aren as she moved to the back of the room and stopped near to the hole blasted in the iron wall at the rear.

As Nisha fervently looked for the object they had come for, orcish bellows at the main entrance were suddenly cut off as Fyrehowl and Toras turned visible, their swords impaled solidly in the chests of two orcs. Those behind them screamed curses and rushed the doorway. Three fighters fought against the lupinal and half-celestial, hard pressed despite their larger numbers. Behind them however a single orc dressed in vestments of Shargaas the Nightlord pointed into the room, directing a towering, heavily tattooed companion that hefted a massive greataxe.

Aren turned visible as she stared intently at one of the orcs. He blinked, suddenly confused and looked at his sword then up at Fyrehowl. He started to apologize for mistaking her for a goblin when Toras cleaved through his arm and into his upper chest, dropping him in a bloodied pile.

Fyrhowl had slashed one of the other remaining orcs as the larger one laughed and approached, greataxe in hand. Behind him, the cleric was waving his hands and chanting a spell in deep, intoning language. Shouting a curse he hurled his hand out towards the party as a black wave burst outwards in the center of the room. Fyrehowl faltered and her defense dropped as she grimaced in pain from the spell, Toras seemed to mostly shrug it off as he parried the first whistling cleave of the largest orc’s axe. Clueless likewise seemed to mostly shrug off the spell’s effects as he rushed forwards, flying over the heads of the orcs at the door in an attempt to reach the spell hurling cleric.

Behind them all, Aren and Nisha seemed to be out of the range of the spell’s effect. Over the fighting Nisha shouted in frustration. “Pike it all, they took it!” She glanced at the ground and several items scattered there, then back to her party.

Back at the door, Fyrehowl, sickened by the cleric’s spell, took a spear jab in her left shoulder as one of the several thrusts at her broke through her defense. Toras bellowed and swung at the orc chieftain, wounding it heavily and wiping the smirk of arrogance from its face.

Clueless dove at the cleric, slashing his sword up the length of its forearm and disrupting its spellcasting. Landing behind the wounded orc and ducking into a crouch, several upward thrusts silenced its screams to its patron deity as it slumped heavily to the ground.

The death scream of the cleric gathered the attention of the chieftain, and with its brief look of concern behind it, its greataxe dipped slightly as Toras jabbed his blade between its ribs. It jerked and turned to look at him, then the blade lodged in its ribs. It seemed incredulous as it tilted forwards with blank, glazed over eyes, dead.

As the cleric and chieftain lay dead, the resolve and moral of the remaining two orcs failed and they died by Fyrehowl’s blade as they turned to run. Toras touched some minor wounds he had taken in the fight, then helped steady Fyrehowl who grimaced at the wound in her shoulder. Aren touched the wound and whispered a soft prayer to her patron, calling on her to close and heal the wound. Her hand began to glow with a pale rose light and in seconds the wound had vanished.

“Better?” the priestess asked. Fyrehowl nodded, “Thank you. We should hurry though, they’ll be sending more soon.”

Outside the battle still raged and dimly, the lupinal’s ears perked to listen for the sound of other approaching orcs or goblins. “We need to leave now, there’s more coming this way. What’s back there Nisha?”

The others glanced warily at the door and approached the tiefling where she crouched on the floor next to an iron ring in the wall. A broken length of chain and a single snapped leg shackle dangled from it next to a small spattering of blood. The compass in her hand flashed with an intermittent light.

“The what was a who… and the goblins took her.” She frowned and her tail jerked side to side in irritation. A chorus of disappointed groans echoed from the others.

“Does the compass point to where she is now?” Clueless asked with some concern in his voice.

“Yeah, looks like they teleported to another cube. More flying for us at the very least, and it’s down.” She pointed towards the floor. “Either the bottom of this cube, or maybe even the next layer of the plane. This isn’t going to be as easy as we’d hoped.”

Nisha stood up and held out a long wooden case with a lock dangling open at its side, “This was chained to the wall too. The compass hums when it goes near some of the stuff in here so it looks like it was the stuff of the prisoner here. Grab some of the gold and we should leave.”

The inside of the case held several items lain over the top of a folded black robe that swirled with runes burned into the dark velvet. A long, golden etched sword and a matched, red bladed dagger lay on top of the robe along with a set of simple but visibly glowing bracers and a pair of sparkling rings. Nisha pushed the robe to one side to reveal a slim leather spellbook or two underneath the robe.

“Somebody had themselves a wizard…and our employer evidently wants them. I’m not so sure I want to meet them though.” The tiefling frowned as she closed the case and slipped it into her satchel.
“Why is that?” Aren asked curiously.

Nisha pointed back towards her satchel as she moved to quickly dump coins from one of the barrels into it. “Because that robe was a black Archmage’s robe. Doesn’t do a think for a mage who isn’t evil, in fact, I think it hurts anyone who isn’t. And the dagger was poisoned. Lovely huh?” Then Nisha’s greed quickly got the best of her.

For a frantic minute or two, the group gathered as much of the gold and silver as they could before they rapidly bolted from the building. Outside the orcs were beginning to rout the goblins that had begun to teleport back from where they had come from. Presumably they had spellcasters with them capable of the task. In seconds though, the five had flown beyond the range of the archers and any spellhurlers from the orc encampment and were moving with rapid speed to the east across the face of the cube, skirting the land as much as possible.

The compass drew them onwards and as they approached the rim of the cube it became readily apparent that their target had been taken to another cube entirely. In fact, based on the direction the magical bauble was pointing them in, their path led down into the void past the point where the cubes hung solid and whole. Down in the darkness, the cubes began to appear broken and battered, incomplete and unwhole; somewhere in the depths of Thuldanin their quarry was waiting.

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

With a slight bit of trepidation as the five looked at each other, they hurled themselves over the edge of the cube face to fly down into the ebon void. The air grew chill as they flew further and further into the darkness and away from the last cube. The continent sized block of metal receded at a rate far quicker than it should have, and when it began to grow suddenly distant and far off there was a slight shudder in the air as they passed the ephemeral dividing line between the first and second layer of Acheron.

Fyrhowl looked over at Nisha as they flew onwards. The tiefling seemed even more disturbed than before, shivering every so often and looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“Are you ok there Nisha?” the lupinal asked. The tiefling shrugged and looked around at the broken, weathered cubes and the other less distinct shapes that hung like dulled ornaments on sackcloth around them near and far.

“No, the planes getting to me. I’m about as chaotic as they come, and well, Acheron isn’t… I’ll be fine though. It’s just going to make me feel a bit sick if we stay here much longer. If that’s all I feel though while we’re here, that’s fine. Believe me, it could get a lot worse than it has.”

Perhaps the plane heard the Xaositect (yet though she it to hadn’t that companions she was mentioned her) and sought to pick out the chaotic irritation blundering about upon it, or perhaps true to form for the tiefling, things simply happened by random chance just because and without any real reason. As she and her companions flew down in the dark, following the direction of their planar compass, something saw them and acted.
Turning visible at the last possible moment as it dove screaming out of the void, a green skinned, thin winged beast careened towards the group with a mind-piercing shriek. Seated upon its back in a cushioned saddle sat a richly robed, tiger headed humanoid. Before they could react, the Rakshasa loosed a spell from a wand in one backwards-pawed hand and its Yrthrak mount bellowed a cone of deafening sound.

A tiny flaming bead closed the distance between the companions and their attacker, growing larger as it sped towards them before exploding in their midst with a pyroclastic roar. Already in motion, they avoided most of the flames, but none of them escaped unsinged or unhurt.

“Oh son of a bitch!” Toras exclaimed as he glanced at the rider and its mount wheeling around for a second pass. Nisha’s eyes grew wide as she recognized the type of fiend attacking them and she dove downwards and away from the group should it loose another area affecting spell.

Clueless and Fyrehowl, both of them used to flight, and attacking while doing so, shot off to intercept the Rakshasa as Toras hovered next to the priestess as she began to invoke the name of her patron power. Halfway to the fiend, the bladesinger and the lupinal saw two spells strike at the greenish, screaming mount. Tiny, flaming barbs shot out from a wand in Nisha’s hands as a golden burst of light erupted on the Yrthrak. The mount stumbled in its flight, slowing down long enough for the two fighters to close within striking distance.

The Rakshasa bellowed a string of curses in heavily accented infernal, all of the words being half roared and half spoken. A bolt of lightning struck out at clueless and Fyrhowl as the fiend held up one paw, half an invocation for the magic, and half in a crude gesture. The bolt flung wide as the Rakshasa’s mount jerked in pain, barely missing Clueless as he rolled to his left and slashed at the mount with his sword. The blade bit deep on the creature, as it made no attempt to avoid. In fact, the Yrthrak seemed to be still in some state of shock or disorientation following Aren’s spell.

The fiend roared again and slashed with a black bladed scimitar at Fyrehowl as her sword carved into the mount twice in long slashes across its flank before a third slash buried itself into its back. A spray of black blood drifted out, falling into the void and the mount screamed madly in pain, convulsing as it died.

Abandoning his shuddering mount, the Rakshasa hurled himself off the mount and into open space, hurtling downwards in a flying rustle of black robes flapping in the updraft. Fyrehowl moved to return to the other three party members as the fiend fell out of sight, still snarling impotently in fainter and fainter outbursts. Clueless however did the opposite and hurled himself downwards, chasing after the sorcerer with his sword out and aimed for its heart. The half-fey’s black wings shimmered in the darkness and swept back behind him as he sped downwards towards the fiend. A second later he struck and nearly skewered the fiend through to the hilt of his blade.

The fiend choked and spasmed as Clueless perched atop him, driving the blade in deeper till the hate in the Rakshasa’s eyed dulled and died as it did too. Before launching himself back up with a flurried beating of his own wings, the bladesinger paused to snatch at several rings on the fiend’s hands and grab the wand clutched in its rapidly hardening deathgrip.

“Hmm… have to look at these later…” he muttered to himself as he looked up at his fellows in the distance slowly retreat as the corpse of the fiend slowly plummeted into the void. A moment later and he was speeding back towards them with the Rakshasa’s former possessions stuffed into his pockets.

Back together, Aren was slowly healing the burns suffered by the group during the ambush. There were winces as her spells took effect, but soon enough they had all mostly recovered. Nisha was fiddling with the compass again, regaining her sense of direction and bearings.

“Where’s it pointing towards? I hope we’re not running into a cube full of those things…” Fyrehowl said to the rogue as Toras gripped his sword and muttered a soft, “I wouldn’t mind it…”

“Somewhere I’d rather not be? Which is about anywhere on this sodding plane?” she mused and flicked her tail to one side derisively.

“Oh it’s not that bad. Well it is, but you get to kill things and know that they’re all better off dead. You just can’t pass that up when you have the chance.” Toras smiled as Fyrehowl did the same and nodded, “Yeah, well there is that. I can’t say it isn’t true…”

Aren simply shrugged and Clueless chuckled, but with that momentary pause they moved in the direction indicated by Nisha. The planar compass, attuned to their target, drew them closer and closer to one specific cube that hung in the void, battered and forgotten. Deep furrows scarred the surface on three sides as it slowly spun and drifted, reflecting dim light and casting deep, long shadows over a pitted landscape burrowed through with holes like a rotting apple of cast iron hurled into the night to be feasted upon by great steel worms.

The air was silent as they neared the surface and one of the larger holes that burrowed deep into the core of the cube.

“Umm… damn. You go first Toras.” Nisha said as she paused at the lip of the cave mouth. Toras raised an eyebrow and looked down into the darkness.

Fyrehowl and Aren scanned the depths of the hole before shaking their heads in concert. “It’s deep, but there’s nothing down there that I can see.” The lupinal said.

“I really hope whatever made this hole isn’t down there… goblins I can deal with, but anything that ate its way down into there… no.” Clueless breathed deeply as he snuffed the faerie fire dancing over his wings before following Toras downwards.

The cave was steep but oddly smooth as the party descended into the depths. After several hundred feet the air grew warm and slightly humid. Patches and dots of rust were speckled across the walls around them from the moisture, and somewhere far off in the distance they could make out the faint sounds of rushing water. Fyrehowl’s ears perked to the noise.

“Well that’s not natural. Not for this layer of the plane anyways. And it smells… it smells nauseating almost, and there’s soot on the air as well. I’d say more but its too far off still.” The lupinal sniffed at the air and looked curiously at her companions as they continued.

A quarter mile down the tunnel, the passage began to widen and the sound of faint water became a closer rushing of a river or waterfall. A slow and lazy mixture of warm steam and thin smoke wafted up from the depths the closer they grew to their target. Fyrhowl paused abruptly, moments before she and Nisha stopped the others with a frantic waving of the tiefling’s arms and a finger over the lupinal’s lips.
“SSssshhh! G-o-b-l-i-n-s. A-h-e-a-d. B-e, q-u-i-e-t.” she mouthed as she pointed towards two lips of stone some thirty yards or so down the tunnel where it began to curve into a horizontal passage rather than a vertical shaft.

The others looked towards the spots the tiefling had motioned towards. Painted to resemble normal stone, and largely obscured by several outcroppings of iron saturated rock sat two guard posts. Manning their bases and roofs were a half dozen goblinoids each, armed with pikes and wicked looking crossbows that glimmered in the darkness.

Unspoken between them, the five crept slowly and laboriously against the cave walls above the sentries, hoping to avoid detection. The guards seemed bored and utterly at ease at their posts. In all likelihood the cube had never before been under siege by their orcish enemies, and their lax attitude worked to the advantage of the companions as they made their way past.

Creeping along at a snails pace now, the tunnel gradually became filled with a flickering greenish glow that filtered through a haze of smoke and steam that clung to the roof like a flowing, living thing. The sounds of rushing water grew louder along with the sounds of repeated blows of metal against metal. As the tunnel opened into a large cavern, the source of the noise, light and heat became clear.

Bisecting the cavern was a rushing black surge of syrupy water, likely a wayward tributary of the Styx. Lines of goblins made their way from the river, collecting buckets of the foul fluid, and made their way towards several squat buildings to one side of the infernal waterway. Furnaces built into the structures belched gouts of roaring greenish flames into the air along with rushes of smoke and steam that cast brilliant but harsh, flickering, and sporadic surges of light and shadows across the cavern. Another, longer line of goblins and non-goblin slaves stretched from the furnaces towards the far side of the cavern to collect raw ore cut from the cube itself.

Sitting upon a rise in the cavern floor and stretching nearly to the roof above, watching over the whole of the forgeworks below, sat a double towered keep of bluish black steel and dressed stone. At the rear of the party, Nisha looked at the planar compass and muttered, “No, it couldn’t be one of the slaves. It had to be someone stuck in the heavily defended and fortified keep. Wonderful.”

Clueless held back a snicker at the tieflings obvious enamored feelings about the plane and their current task. “Do you have any more invisibility potions? I really don’t think we’re going to just waltz past all of those slaves, their handlers and any guards watching from that keep and… shit! Get down, they’ve got beholders!”

The bladesinger ducked back behind a ragged chunk of rust frosted iron at the opening of the cavern. Drifting slowly into view from behind one of the clouds of smoke that rose from the furnaces was a pair of chitinous orbs, each dotted with eyestalks and a single central eye. A number of soft curses resounded from the companions as they snuck glances out to count a total of three eye tyrants patrolling the area, along with one slightly different and larger example.

“What in the Nine Hells is that one?” Nisha asked, pointing to the larger variant orb.

“Not good, they’ve got a spectator… it’s probably directing the others, keeping them in telepathic contact with each other. Sometimes they can see through illusions.” Fyrehowl growled softly after answering the tiefling’s question.

“It’s a pretty regular pattern of patrols they’ve got. I think we can wait, go invisible and then make a run for it. We can make it assuming we can find a quick way into the keep. And… you do have more invisibility potions, right Nisha?” Toras said quietly with some confidence.

“Yeah, not many more. But I carry extra, this week anyways. This gnome in the Lower Ward wasn’t… I mean to say, this potion making fiend in the Hive wasn’t being careful with his bags when… don’t look at me like that, all of you.” Nisha replied with a grin equivalent to a child being caught with their hand stuffed into a jar of cookies. She flicked her tail in the lupinal’s direction as she handed out potions.

Toras looked at her in a mildly disapproving manner before glancing at the keep and commenting on their plan of action, “The gate’s pretty well sealed up it looks like. How about one of the towers there? They don’t look defended and there’s a stone lip around the top of them. So unless there’s guards stationed at the top, it’s probably a safe spot to hide till the beholders make another pass through the area. I’d bet there’s got to be some sort of entrance on the top there as well.”

“Sounds good to me. Ready? On the count of three.” Nisha nodded, quaffed a potion and faded from view to leave only a faint impression in the dusting of rust on the ground, subtly moved and broken by the shifting of her tail.

“Two, One, Three!” and with the tiefling’s out of pattern count, they bolted from behind their hiding space and launched themselves out across the cavern as the beholders moved out of direct line of sight. The smoke that billowed out across their path burned their skin and stung their eyes with fragments of burning coals and stray sparks of forge iron. But undaunted, they sped across the cavern, upwards towards the keep, to bolt over the lip of one of the towers just before the roving squad of eye tyrants returned to gaze across where they had just been.

The group sat motionless on the iron-laced stone of the parapet until the many-eyed guards passed overhead before more closely examining their surroundings. The lip was broken by arrow slits angled out towards the main entrance to the cavern, and an iron trapdoor sat in the center of the floor. Otherwise the ramparts were unoccupied and undefended.

“So, this time are you going to let me pick the lock?” Nisha asked, looking up towards Toras as she bent over to examine the trapdoor.

“I wasn’t planning on it, no.” he replied matter-of-factly as he nodded down towards the trapdoor where Clueless’s green steel sword was tapping at the obvious lack of a lock on the latch.

“Oh… good, you noticed… yeah,” she stuck out her tongue at first Toras then Clueless, then turned to the other two women and repeated the process for good measure. “Showoffs. Fine go right ahead, do my job for me.”

She gave an amused smile as the trapdoor swung open, and then cursed as the entryway gave off several multicolored sparks. “And this is why you let me check these things…pike it… they set an alarm spell on the other side.”

Fyrehowl and Clueless jabbed blades into the opening as the heavy plate was moved to one side to show a set of stairs leading down into the main structure of the keep. Magical torches burned in their sconces at regular intervals down the stairwell, but otherwise nothing marred the progression of steps as they descended downwards.

“I hope noone was paying attention to that ward…” Nish sighed and kicked at the trapdoor. “Hells, we’ll know soon enough.”

Blades drawn, they descended the stairs quickly, trying to be as quiet as possible, all but Toras floating rather than walking. The fighter was too large simply said, and would have collided with the ceiling above him considering the fortress was built for goblins, perhaps hobgoblins at the largest.

The stairs ended at a shallow portal into a connecting chamber between several hallways. Walking out into the hallway, still cloaked from vision, Nisha consulted the compass and pointed down one of the halls at an iron portcullis and several chatting hobgoblins.

“Go kill the hobgoblins, we gotta go that way…” Nisha whispered under her breath. Several seconds later Clueless, Fyrehowl and Toras suddenly reappeared as blood marred the stone of the passage and the guards collapsed with looks of shock on their faces. Clueless gazed down the passage warily and Fyrehowl sniffed at the air with curious intent as a pair of invisible tiefling fingers grabbed a ring of keys from one of the corpses, and then fished around quickly for two coin purses with a soft whisper of success.

Nisha unlocked the gate hurriedly and Toras raised it with a rough heave for the group to pass. Nisha paused to kick at one of the corpses, returning to visibility as she consulted the compass and floated down the corridor, going directly to where it pointed as quickly as possible.

“You couldn’t very well follow me if I was invisible…” she said as Clueless shot her an odd glance. Behind him, Fyrehowl’s ears perked back in the direction they had come from.

“There’s footsteps coming from down two of those corridors we ignored. Pretty distant, but there’s a good number of feet behind them.”

Picking up speed now, the group passed several empty, mundane cells and one that contained a rotting orc corpse, before finally pausing in front of a massive steel door with an oddly glowing lock plate that seemed to swirl in random patterns of color. Nisha stopped and landed with a number of soft, abortive clip-clops of her hooves as she skidded to a halt in front of the door, to look at first the compass, then the door.

“And here we are… so now just who are you we’re here to get?” she pocketed the compass and took out her lockpicks and sat down in front of the cell door.

Fyrehowl glanced down the hallway again with concern as the sound of footsteps grew closer and the others began to notice it as well. Toras glanced at the group and walked down the hallway, back towards the portcullis. “If someone comes this way, I’ll stop them or warn you all. I’ll be back.”

Before he did so, Aren took out her holy symbol, kissed it and made a sign in the half-celestial’s direction, blessing him. Toras smiled and gripped his sword with slightly more conviction than before as he walked off.

Paused to pick the lock on the door, Nisha stopped and put down her picks to quaff a small vial. She shook her head at the evidently bitter taste and then narrowed her eyes to examine the door and the lock.

“Strange… there’s not a drop of magic on the door, not even the lock. Ten stingers in an osyluth’s palm that whoever’s behind here’s sitting in the middle of an anti-magic field…” she wrinkled her brow some more and poked at the lock tentatively. It warped and distorted as she touched it, her pick simply sliding into it for an inch or two and moving around. She might as well have been attempting to pick a lock made of jellied arborean apples. Her head tilted curiously to one side as she poked at the lock some more, fascinated by its behavior. Down the hallway the sound of footsteps grew louder by the second.

“Weird, seen of I these never one… oops, sorry. Bad habit… but hells, if someone cared this much to bottle you up, I’d really like to meet you. Or maybe not; doesn’t matter if can’t pop the damn lock though.”

Above her, Clueless held his ear to the door, straining to listen for any clue of the occupant of the cell. He gave a curious look and motioned over to the lupinal to try to do the same. She pressed one of her own ears to the cold steel to try and came back with an odd look. “Sounds like someone’s chanting or repeating something over and over again behind the door. It’s faint, so they’re either whispering or there’s a space between the door and their actual cell.”

As Nisha made more and more frustrated noises and abortive attempts to pick the door’s ever shifting lock, somewhere in the depths of the keep the peal of an alarm bell was raised and reverberated through the walls and echoed down the halls.

“Hurry up! Somebody knows we’re here! That someone’s probably the entire sodding fortress.” Toras ran back towards the party, drawing his sword and glancing back over his shoulder. Nisha glared up at him in abject frustration.

“I’m picking the piking lock as fast as I can! I don’t think I can pick it, it’s made of some sort of chaos matter. Normally I’d think that was pretty swell, but not when I need to open it and I’m guessing that it won’t take a set form of tumblers till you think a certain thought. If I knew what that was I’d have a chance to pick it. But I don’t, and I’m not a psion or a gith so there’s not a fiend’s chance in Celestia of me popping it! I can’t, so if you have any better ideas, go right ahead.”

Nisha spat at the door and slumped backwards angrily in defeat, staring at the glowing liquid metal patch on the iron door. A chorus of muttered curses and sighs echoed amongst the group, but in their concentration on the door, none of them looked back at Clueless.

Standing at the rear of the group, the bladesinger’s eyes suddenly glazed over. He tilted his head to look at the door, sneered, and then, without incantation or gesture, hurled a single burst of green pulsing light at the door. The disintegration ripped the door from its hinges and incinerated it into dust before it was flung inwards more than several inches. Slowly the rest of the group looked backwards in shock at Clueless who simply stood with one hand raised out to the door, looking confused at what had just occurred. His eyes were no longer glazed over as they had been just moments before.

“Well why in the nine hells didn’t you do that before?!” Nisha exclaimed as she stood up.

“I… don’t have a clue…” Clueless answered honestly, feeling perplexed than he tried to let show. He didn’t know the spell he’d just seen himself cast, and when he had, he was only a spectator in it all, watching himself rather than doing it. Shaking it off he moved towards the open cell door.

Past the door was a long stone corridor that ran some twenty feet towards a single dimly lit and cloistered cell. A frayed mat of rags lay in the center of the small cell upon which its sole occupant sat. Nisha glanced at the person, then at the planar compass, and finally nodded to the group who walked to the edge of the cell’s entrance.

Sitting in the center of the cell, perfectly still and with their back turned to them was a single woman dressed in ill-fitting rags. She was thin, exceedingly so, likely from lack of food. Still it was obvious that she had once been in prime physical condition since her muscles were lean and taught despite her circumstances. Her skin was a pale, milky white that turned to a tiefling’s gray/green hue in places, almost a blue pallor in the dim light of the cell. Her ears were thin and pointed, further betraying the blood of a fiend running in her veins, but otherwise she would have passed as a human with tangled locks of brown hair mixed with reddish highlights tied in a loose knot at the back of her head.

Nisha’s eyes suddenly grew wide in their sockets at her first unobstructed glance at the other tiefling. Her tail was rigid and her mouth quivered slightly in nervous fear as the others crowded around to look and meet the prisoner.

Still unmoving as they approached her, she sat there, calm and seemingly meditating. In between soft, measured breaths she was carefully and deliberately reciting a series of mantras.

"I will uphold Justice before all else, purging the multiverse of those who break the law.”

“In all situations I shall weigh the rights and wrongs with a clear and impartial mind.”

“I shall decide where Justice must fall under the law, and I will mete out that Justice with a firm and unyielding hand.”

“I believe in the righteousness of my faction; we alone answer to the higher law of Justice.”

“I will not pass judgment on good or evil, only on law-abiding and law-breaking, for therein lies wrongdoing.”

“I will punish the guilty as the crime demands.”

“I will be diligent in my pursuit of the guilty, and while so engaged I shall remain innocent of any wrongdoing in the eyes of others.”

“I will never release a lawbreaker until his sentence has been carried out.”

Nervous glances were exchanged behind her as she paused from her recitations, rose to her feet and turned to face her rescuers. The glimmer of madness danced in her eyes as she looked at each of them in turn, all of whom were painfully aware of the identity of the woman standing in front of them.

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Barmy as a sack of rabid squirrels... guess who...

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

Having done so she gave the faintest of bows as she gave her introductions, though in truth, few of the companions required her name to recognize her nor the the scope of whatever it was that they themselves had now become embroiled in.

“Factol Alisohn Nilesia. You all have my thanks for the righting of an injustice. Who sent you? My faction? Or did Rowan send you all?” subdued insanity danced in the factol’s eyes as she smiled at some memory and stepped forwards.

The factol glanced to the box stuffed into a sack at Nisha’s waist, “I see you recovered my belongings. Again, my thanks to you all.” She extended her hand expectantly to the other tiefling who faltered and handed over the box without a word. The entire group was clearly still in some manner of shock.

“The rulers of the fortress will be coming, they don’t wish to lose me. They view me as something of a prize since they recognized me when the orcs did not. Their guilt is not in question, but I have judgment to provide to them before I may leave.”

Nilesia slipped on her rings, quickly donned her robes and gave her blades each a few quick and precise passes through the air to test her skill and hunger sapped strength. At first unsure of herself, within a few deft slashes and cuts through the air she seemed satisfied with herself and a level of skill that garnered respect from her rescuers. The factol glanced at her spellbooks longingly before slipping them into an inner pocket of her robe and sifting quickly through a small bag of spell components nestled in another pocket of the black garment.

“I still have spells in memory, but I’ve had no components for some time. Still, the goblins thought it wise to place my cell inside a blanket of antimagic. Guilt leads to overprotective sheltering of crimes, and I have lingering crimes to punish when we are away from here. You will have to tell me what changes Sigil has seen since I last saw it. Someone in my faction has my blood on their hands and I will find them for what has happened to me.” She grinned with a look of eager anticipation of bloodshed that would have made a Tanar’ri feel warm by comparison.

“It will be good to see Rowan again…” she smiled and gained a starry eyed glitter over her expression before casting a glance down the hallway and making for the exit from her cell. Her rescuers paled slightly at her last phrases.

“She doesn’t know, does sh…” Aren glared at Nisha and silenced her verbal train of thought as all of them exchanged nervous glances.

“Obviously no, she doesn’t. And frankly I don’t think now is the time to break the news to her about what happened. She doesn’t have a faction anymore, Darkwood is dead, and she was sold into slavery by someone, probably Darkwood himself. He never loved her, but she was, and is, clearly still head over heels in love with him. She’s BARMY!!” Aren’s voice rang clearly inside the minds of her companions without her lips moving as they followed Nilesia out into the hallway. They all exchanged nods of agreement on Aren’s thoughts on the matter.

Fyrehowl’s ears twitched slightly as they moved to enter the corridor and Nilesia held up one hand suddenly and glanced down the hallway. She muttered something harshly under her breath and turned the corner out of the cell.

“Factol I…” Clueless glanced at the Factol, only to find her vanished, nowhere to be seen, as several figures came into view turning the corner into the hallway. Five hobgoblins in ornate armor and carrying spears advanced before several goblins with a brilliant bluish tint to their skin. None of them wore armor, or much more than loose fitting clothing, but each of them had a small crystal hovering about their body as they approached. Behind them, towering over even the hobgoblins was another of the blue colored goblins. However the larger one was naked, heavily muscled, and with a slight dog-like shape to its face. Its four arms were already making small motions in the air and fiendish looking spikes jutted at random from its back. It turned its luminescent, reddish eyes towards the group and bellowed out a mixed bestial roar and command to its subordinates to attack.

As the half-fiend roared, Toras, Clueless and Fyrehowl charged to meet the Goblins. They had gotten perhaps ten feet before a blue glow erupted from the forehead of the goblin leader and an invisible force detonated in their midst. Without a sound the walls and floor vibrated with concussive force and the three were dashed to the ground, dazed and bloodied from the attack. As they struggled to regain their feet the more mundane goblins advanced, weapons out and one of their blue skinned kin touched a small gem on its forehead. Instantly there was a glowing green mass of semi-transparent filaments that burst into being around Nisha and Aren, wrapped around them and suddenly growing more solid and tangible. Nisha squirmed and rolled forwards across the floor, shedding most of the sticky material before it hardened, but Aren was not as quick in her movements. In seconds the material had formed a solid cocoon around her as she toppled to the floor, struggling but making little progress in freeing herself.

As the group struggled to make themselves ready for the next attack, with only a bloodthirsty, crazed scream as a warning, Nilesia reappeared at the rear of the group of goblins as her invisibility spell dropped and she charged one of the psions, wreathed in a circle of blue flames and swinging her glowing, black bladed sword. Three quick cuts to the back of one of the blues and a sharp stab into the arm of one other and she vanished again. In her passing, the one blue that had taken the brunt of her attack was left crumpled on the floor and struggling to staunch the blood pouring from its back, its other companion was more stoic in its endurance of the shallow stab on its arm, but still it cradled the limb and was hampered in its movements.

Surprised by the factol’s sudden attack and her just as sudden disappearance, the goblins faltered for a moment, disorganized and dazed. Nisha took the opportunity to draw her blade and begin cutting Aren free from the psionic entanglement she was trapped within. Rising to their feet in that moment and charging forwards were Clueless, Toras and Fyrehowl, blades drawn and faces grim. The lupinal, quicker than her two other companions, struck first. Her first cut bit deep into the shoulder of one of the goblins and a second thrust to his side drew blood as well, tearing through both armor and flesh alike. Off balance and in pain the hobgoblin barely raised his shield as she leapt for his throat and clamped her jaws down with a wet crunch; her opponent went instantly limp.

Clueless struck next, darting up into the air as his wings suddenly sprung into motion. Several of the hobgoblins made jabs at him with their spears but he deflected them and cut at the heads of several of them. In the confusion of suddenly facing an aerial opponent as well as having lost one of their front guards, Toras managed to shoulder his way past to attack one of the psions. As he charged one of them he swung at it a single time and nearly cleaved its arm off when it raised it up defensively. It fell backwards and spit out a single curse at him, somehow manifesting a power despite the pain of effectively losing a limb.

As Toras was struck by a burning ray of light that made him stagger backwards in pain, the half-fiend turned its attention to him. It gestured with its hands and a second pulse of light manifested from its forehead to send a wave of concussive force against Toras and Clueless both. It cackled and looked around the vanished factol.

Clueless was flung backwards by the half-fiend’s blast and took a moment of lying on the floor before he managed to recover. Fyrehowl was already on her feet and carving through the hobgoblins with ease while Toras had somehow managed to stay on his feet despite the two attacks against him. The fighter backhanded one of the hobgoblins, killing it in one stroke, before finishing off the psion whose arm he had already separated from its shoulder as its head joined the other limb on the ground.

The half-fiend roared as most of its fellows were left dead or dying on the ground. It closed its eyes and vanished in a burst of light, only to reappear several dozen feet away to hurl another, larger blast of concussive force at its opponents, this time not caring that it killed the remaining two of its hobgoblins in the process. Toras dove to one side as Fyrehowl ducked to avoid the rippling wave and they both seemed to avoid most of the blast, though it left them bruised and dazed in its wake.

It was at that moment as the psion prepared to unleash yet another attack that something glimmered on the ceiling and dropped behind it into a crouching position. The sound of first one blade and then another being sheathed in flesh could be heard next as the psion stumbled forwards and coughed a spattering of blood across the floor. Nilesia stood behind it, calm and composed with both her sword and dagger dripping with the half-fiend’s blood. She looked expectantly to Toras as the psion stumbled forwards, dazed and stunned from the wounds the factol had given it. The half-celestial could only comply with her unspoken order as he followed up her attack by burying his own sword in the fiendish goblin’s chest.

“Good, you have some measure of skill. I commend you on that.” Nilesia stalked forwards like a hunting predator before swiftly severing the head of the half-fiend without so much as a sound apart from the snap of vertebrae and the sharp report of steel on stone as her blade grazed the flagstones before she whipped it back in a spray of blood across her face. She didn’t seem to notice it at all and left the gore to speckle her face like hellish freckles.

“They’ll have more of those, though the fiend-spawn was their leader as far as I can tell.” The factol remarked as she glanced down at the blues. As she looked back at the half-fiend, her newfound companions made no comment at the soft giggling chuckle that escaped her lips. They ignored her out of a mixture of respect and fear as they gathered their wits about them, as most of hers seemed to have fled with her sanity some time previous.

While Nisha examined the planar compass that would tell them the direction to their exit, Aren cast a few quick spells to heal the worst of the wounds they had all suffered in the fight, and Clueless quickly picked at a number of the items their attackers had been carrying. Nilesia made certain of matters by going from corpse to corpse and brutally, but efficiently, slitting their throats with a single thrust of her sword. She looked up at the others, the flames of her fireshield flickering and dying down, spattered in blood but with a calm, almost pleasant smile upon her face, “Let’s go, shall we?” The others could only smile and nod as they hurried down the corridor the stairwell back towards the tower.

As they ascended the stairs, the sounds of more goblins in pursuit echoed up from below, a mixture of angry barked orders and bellows of shock and dismay as it seemed that one group had discovered the bodies of at least some of their leaders down below. Hearing the sounds of the goblins behind them, Toras emerged from the trapdoor and up onto the roof, shouting back for his companions to hurry. He looked around quickly and then willed himself to rise into the air to flee. Nothing happened…

“What the hell?” and then he glanced over the lip of the ramparts to look directly into the central eye of the Spectator orb and two of its thralls as they began to move into flanking positions on the tower and where their targets were clambering out into view.

“Stay under the cover of the walls out here, the damned beholders are pinning us down. Flying isn’t an option…” Toras shouted as the others clambered out onto the top of the tower and took cover.

Nilesia glanced down the stairs into the tower and began to softly chant before hurling a bolt of lightning down the stairwell. Screams and agonized dying curses filtered up from the lower reaches of the tower as a half dozen advancing goblins danced spasmodically and died amid a cloud of ozone reeking smoke. “Take care of the beholders, I have the goblins handled…” the factol’s statement was calm as she glanced down the stairs, though her face was contorted in a fanatical grin.

Toras risked another glance over the rim of the tower, looking to one side as Fyrehowl glanced over the opposite side. “How’s it look over there?” Toras asked, fishing around in a pouch at his waist.

“One of them on this side, but they’re just holding position to keep us pinned here. Probably thinking we’ll be overwhelmed by the goblins from down below. Too bad for them it’s not going to happen.” The lupinal said as she ducked back down for cover.

Clueless gripped his sword and looked over to Toras as the half-celestial took out a large metal ball studded with spikes in a pyramidal arrangement; an oversized caltrop. “What’s that… oh…” he said as Toras smirked and stood up to hurl the unconventional weapon direction into the eye of the spectator beholder. It struck dead on and impaled itself up to the ball on one of the three-inch spikes just off the center of the spectator’s pupil. It let out a startled scream of pain and surprise while it turned away from the tower as blood began to well up and cloud over its iris in a smeared reddish haze.

"The problem with being covered with eyes is that getting things in your eyes really hurts…” Toras remarked as he dove for cover as suddenly deprived of the spectator’s leadership and coordination the other two beholders moved forwards to bombard the tower with their own eye-rays.

One of the beholders grimaced wickedly as it approached in closer range and swung half of its eyestalks towards the party, even as the spectator writhed in agony. Streaks of color and lines of distortion passed through the air and struck at its targets, narrowly missing some of them, though Toras, Nisha, and Aren were barely struck. Toras gritted his teeth and dove for cover as the offending ray caused his exposed skin to blister and erupt in angry red welt wherever it touched. Nisha collapsed to the ground with a scream and clutched at a deep furrow cut into her shoulder, though she had managed to avoid being disintegrated by the attack. Aren was struck in the back by a single ray and seemed for but a moment to stiffen and turn slightly grayish before she dropped to the ground breathing heavily and shaking off the effects of the petrification attack.

Nilesia glared at her rescuers as they bore the brunt of the beholder’s attack before she stood up and flung out her hand at the other eye tyrant approaching them from opposite the first. With a few arcane syllables a cone of glittering, silvery frost ignited from her outstretched fingertips to envelop the beholder in its chilling embrace. The beholder, its central eye closed in order to hurl its eye rays at the tower only saw the incoming spell at the last minute and could only attempt to dodge. It was only partially successful and the cloud of frost crystallized across nearly ¾ of its body with a sound of shattering, cracking ice and tearing exposed flesh. Though it was still clearly alive and howling in agony, several of the tyrant’s gas sacks had to have ruptured in the attack as its ice-covered body began to quickly lose altitude and drift off to one side abruptly.

Nilesia returned to cast a withering gaze at the others before Fyrehowl stood up and repeated the same gesture as the factol had done. While the lupinal’s spell was more an innate ability and lacked most of the arcane gestures and all of the incanted words, the effect was the same as a cone shaped burst of freezing mist billowed out to strike the beholder. Having seen the fate of its companion though, it was not struck as heavily and managed to avoid any crippling damage, though several of its eyestalks hung limp and covered in a layer of ice, frozen and nonfunctional. As Fyrehowl dove back for cover and the tyrant raised another four stalks in her direction Clueless tossed a wand to Nisha.

“Try and get that to work, it should take out the beholder if you can. Trust me!” he said to the tiefling as she caught the wand and turned it over in her hands with a curious, if slightly perplexed look upon her face. Abruptly the curiosity turned to mischievous intent as she stood up and pointed it directly at the beholder. All the others saw, taking cover as they all were, was a brilliant flash of red and orange flickering light and the boomed sound of the fireball’s detonation at close range as the shockwave passed over the tower’s top. Nisha dashed to the edge of the ramparts and looked down with an impish grin and a wave, soon joined by her other companions as they watched the beholder’s frozen and charred corpse plummet downwards before landing with a sickeningly wet crunch and bursting from the force of the impact upon the lower walls of the keep.

“You’ll have to buy me one of these when we get back to Sigil you know, I like it.” Nisha said with a briskly twitching tail as she handed Clueless back his wand. Nilesia was by this point casting a flying spell upon herself and looking down the stairs. Fyrehowl perked her ears and joined her, “I don’t like that noise… they’re bringing something heavy up those stairs. Lets go.”

“I couldn’t agree more, as much as they deserve for us to stay and slaughter them to the last… another time.” The factol sighed with far too obvious regret at having to leave with some of her captors still alive.

As the companions and their rescued Mercykiller alike rose into the air above the fortress they looked around at the scene below. The spectator was still floundering about in the air, hurling a half dozen rays out at random, most of which struck the cavern floor below to send goblin slaves and guards alike running for cover as the beams kicked up scatterings of rock and gravel, and occasionally killed one them unfortunate enough to have been in its path. No longer any real threat to themselves, they ignored it and made for the exit.

The group retreated with the swiftness of foxes fleeing a henhouse and dashed overhead of the field of petitioners and furnaces. Nisha glanced nervously at the planar compass every few seconds as they passed into the more confined space of the exit tunnel.

“Sodding luck… the portal isn’t on this damn cube! Back the way we came in!” she shouted out to the others as she flew as quickly as possible back towards the exit passage back up to the cube’s surface. As she and the others continued, Nilesia turned backwards and loosed a fireball onto the field below to detonate in the midst of a rapidly organizing group of guards making a hasty pursuit. The blast of the explosion was barely a ripple on the air by the time it reached them, such was the speed of their flight. The Factol’s gaze lingered on the carnage and she cackled with manic delight before turning back to gaze over the tunnel. As she sped up to the rest of the party, Fyrehowl glanced at her warily but said nothing.

Out of sight of the main cavern floor the group approached the point at which the tunnel sharply sloped upwards. The guard posts that lined the floor and walls of the tunnel were brightly illuminated now by a series of spells and brilliant torchlight. The metallic tips of crossbow bolts and at least one ballista were visible as the group closed the distance between themselves as the goblinoids defenders. As they grew to within the distance of the torchlight there was a loud blast of a horn from one of the fortified guard posts and the sudden sound of something heavily scraping the floor of the cavern as it launched itself up into the light.

Rising up from the floor of the cave with a sudden and unexpected burst of speed was a gray-green reptilian form with thin, membranous wings. The draconic bulk of the creature hovered in the thin light drifting down from the opening of the tunnel, several hundred feet above. Ruby colored eyes sparkled and it roared, rust colored mist drifting from its own maw. Goblins raised crossbows and aimed them down the passage from where they huddled defensively behind the rust-dragon as it blocked the center of the passage with its bulk.

Clueless’s eyes went wide as the dragon rose up and its roar buffeted him and his companions. Toras’s eyes grew wide as the beast’s throat convulsed slightly and it prepared to breath a cloud of metal corroding gas. The bladesinger tilted his wings abruptly to one side and veered to the wyrm’s right as a dozen crossbow bolts cut the air and hurtled towards him. All of them missed horribly as the goblins deliberately aimed low to avoid hitting their own pet drake. Clueless cut upwards at the last possible moment and slashed with him sword at the rust dragon’s flank and underbelly. The blade met resistance from the beast’s scaled hide and then bit deep. The dragon roared and shook its head, breaking its concentration as it swallowed the belch of rusting gas it would have breathed out in the next several seconds.

Seeing his chance and already ahead of the others except for Clueless, who was now barely dodging the beast’s claws and a swipe of its barbed tail, Toras raised his sword and charged directly for the dragon. Already distracted by the pixie-winged pest to its one bleeding side, the rust dragon made no attempt to defend against the fighter till it was too late. At the last moment the dragon whipped its head around to snap at Toras as he charged through the air, but as it did so it felt the sudden, oddly cold sensation of the fighter’s greatsword buried to the hilt in its neck. The blade had to have hit the beast’s spine and snapped it almost instantly because almost as if in slow motion the dragon’s eyes glazed over, its limbs went slack, a death rattle of greenish brown gas passed from its lips, and it plummeted to the group as goblins on the cave floor screamed in terror and scrambled to avoid its body.

In the momentary break in the crossbow cover of the tunnel as the dragon’s corpse crashed into the ground below, the group darted for the exit. As fast as they could fly they ascended the quickly sloping passage and within minutes broke out above the surface of the cube. All eyes went to Nisha as once again she paused, hovered in the air and consulted the planar compass. “There, that cube,” she pointed towards a broken, pitted cube hanging in the distance, alone in the darkness.

“Pray for no company along the way, I’m eager to get back somewhere safe…” Nisha shivered slightly as they all hurtled through the void towards the location of the portal promised to them to exist somewhere ahead. It took them nearly two hours of constant flight to reach their destination where they paused on the rusted iron surface as Nisha surveyed a crevice leading down into the cube’s guts. The sides were lined with stone concretions that seemed composed of, or carved into the likeness of weapons of all types, chariots, parts of ships, siege engines, and other things unrecognizable. All of them turned to stone and plastered together in the darkness.

Toras looked over the edge of the crevice, “You sure its down there Nisha?”

“Yeah, that’s what the compass says. Not the first time I’ve said it today, but … you go first?” she gave a weary smile and looked down as the compass gave a soft hum the closer it got. Clearly something at least was drawing the compass.

The group drifted down the cleft in the cube and into a surreal place that resembled the graveyard of some massive battlefield frozen in time and turned to stone. Bizarre shapes that had once been weapons on the battles of prime material worlds now stood broken, shattered and tossed aside here amid the fragments of other devices best left undescribed. If the tools of war could have souls, this would be their perdition.

Toras poked his sword at several of the petrified weapons that stuck up at odd angles from the bulk of the stone. Clueless looked around with a soft sense of awe at the surroundings. Nilesia smirked.

“The mines of Marsellin make this all pale by comparison. You have no idea of the things that we’ve dug out of the rock there. Or the things that have dug their way –out- of the rock either.” The factol walked on, largely oblivious to the same sense of wonder that her companions displayed. “Where is the portal you said you had waiting for you?”

Nisha glanced towards a ragged square-shaped outcropping of rock on the other side of the chasm from where they now stood at the bottom of it. “There…” she said as she approached it. The planar compass began to shine with a pale, flickered blue light as it neared the proximity of the space bound on the face of the rock. The portal activated as Nisha touched the surface of the stone and the others gathered alongside her.

“Let’s go, we’ve done our part of this.” Clueless said as he stepped forwards through the portal, but not to where he was expecting.

Meanwhile in Sigil…

Shemeska the Marauder's picture
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Two more into this tangled web I weave...

Florian Schneider sat in the tap room of the Drunken Dabus, picking at his breakfast, his mind repeatedly returning to the events of the past year that had finally grown far too much to handle. Family. It was always about family. Such things you couldn’t simply handle by spells or swords, you had to either deal with them or run from them. Well, you –could- handle it by violence, but he wasn’t going to do anything of the sort. The Foe Hammer already had to be looking poorly on his servant’s inability to deal with relatives on the whole matter that had finally led him to throw up his hands and take his leave of them. He’d eventually return, at least that’s what he’d told himself at the time before he went through that portal in a back alley of Athkatla. To run off to the capital city from Esmeltaran hadn’t been enough since both his own family and the gaggle of harpies that seemed to compose the family on the other side of that arranged marriage had followed him there. Hell, if they managed to follow him here then he’d chalk it up to the will of the gods and face it all. Otherwise he needed some space and a time to reflect on it all. He shuddered for a moment as he contemplated having to look at, let alone do anything else to, that …

His internal debate was suddenly interrupted by the soft tapping of an ale mug being set down on his table. He glanced up into the smiling face a well dressed tiefling. “I do hope I’m not intruding sir…may I?” he motioned towards the empty seat across from Florian.

The stocky, sandy haired cleric of Tempus shrugged, “Be my guest. Can I help you with something?”

“Yes actually, though I can wait if you’re still eating your morning meal.” He took out a letter of sorts and fingered it softly in his hands.

“Don’t mind me, go right ahead, I’m almost finished anyways.” Florian took a few quick bites of eggs and ham before sliding the plate off to the side. The food at the inn was remarkably good this morning for some reason.

The tiefling nodded, “My employer has directed me to look for persons in the city who might be in need of either jink, diversion, escape, some mixture of them all. He requires interested persons to recover something of his along with a larger group he had already sent out on this task. They were partially successful but sorely lack certain skills that he foresees them needing in the immediate future. They lack a dedicated arcane and divine spellcaster. The temple of Tempus here in Sigil was gracious enough to inform us of your presence here in the city. And being that you’re new to Sigil and as of yet not serving in any official capacity with your church here, my employer felt you to be more than fitting his needs.”

“Interesting… I might be in need of a bit of work, if more to take my mind of some things than for the money. So what sort of thing is your boss looking for me to do exactly?” Florian bit down on another bite of his breakfast, all of it delicious. In fact he’d nearly cleaned the plate by that point. The tiefling smiled, looked at the letter he held, and then pointed with it at Florian’s food.

"And you should be aware as you consider my proposal for employment, that the food that you've just eaten was poisoned. Oh, it won't have any immediate effect, but without the antidote, or anything short of a wish, you'll be dead within 15 days. The toxin is very... specific… normal curative magic will quite simply fail in ridding it from your system. Without us, you will wither and die in the space of two weeks. That said, this letter is for you, I suggest you read it and do as asked." He smiled cordially and passed the letter across the table to the now sick looking cleric.

“What the hells? You could have just asked you know, I would have said yes!” Florian pushed his plate of food away and glared angrily at the unconcerned tiefling.

“Bluster all you like, you have two weeks at best before the poison runs its course. Take my employers offer or do not, it’s only your life at stake here, not mine, and frankly it matters little in the grand scheme of things. I have other people to see today if you’ll excuse me. Show up at the appointed time or do not. Good day to you cutter.”

And with that the tiefling tipped his hat, smiled and walked confidently to the door of the inn and vanished out into the street leaving the shocked looking cleric behind with only a sealed letter.

“Only me…” Florian sighed and opened the letter angrily. It was sealed with an odd blue wax bearing the symbol of an open palm. Though the fingers seemed unnaturally long and possessed of an extra knuckle each. The letter read: “Greetings to you my newest employee. If you wish to find yourself free of the toxin now coursing through your veins you will meet another of my latest acquisitions this evening at the former location of the Ubiquitous Wayfarer. Once there enter the front door and proceed to the second floor and enter the fifth door on the right. Further instructions will be found there, as well as any others you will shortly find yourself working with. – Patriarch Dalmar Imshenviir”

Twelve hours previously and an entire plane removed, Tristol Starweather sat brooding in his parents’ tower in the southern Faerunian nation of Halruaa on the prime world of Toril. The wizard sat sullenly in a chair and rubbed the head of his familiar, a small twintailed fox who yipped softly up at its master. The unique little fox tilted its head to one side in that ever so typical canid manner of questioning. He didn’t understand fully why Tristol was upset.
The mage looked down and gave a weak smile mixed with more than its own share of arrogance. Certainly he’d shown that trait over the past week, all coming to a head that morning. An outsider might have found a curious dichotomy between mage and familiar, since both of them had black tipped fuzzy ears and fox tails…

Tristol Starweather was a bit of a rarity in his nation of mages, being not quite fully human but an odd little type of Aasimar, descended down from a type of celestial known as a Vulpinal. Reclusive beings found on the plane of Elysium that served as sages, inventors and artists of their kind. The aasimar heritage was passed down from his father, Kefnar Starweather, himself an aasimar. His mother, Lutra Starweather, was as purely human as you might find. How the mages who paired his parents together had made the match, Tristol wondered about it still since they were nearly opposites in so many ways. Ability came first over fondness in Halruaa, and under the laws of the land you didn’t easily shirk responsibility to produce the next generation of capable wizards.

Tristol pondered what exactly his parents were going to do with him. Whatever it was it wasn’t going to be pleasant, nor was it likely to be the idea of his father. Lutra was both the more powerful mage of the pair, and the dominant personality. Whatever happened he would likely be able to have his mother alone to thank. In fact what had started all of this coming trouble was his mother’s idea in the first place. Stupid illusion magic…

It had all started a month or so before. Tristol’s chosen area of magic was evocation; a perfectly respectable school of magic, but not at all one of the politically favored schools. Kefnar was an abjurist and Lutra was an illusionist, a powerful illusionist. This fact was apparent from the illusions that constantly flitted over the face of their tower and wandered around inside half of the rooms therein. The problem was that Tristol loathed the little wastes of magic with a passion. He didn’t find them useful, and they were one of the schools of magic that he’d forsaken in their entirety. His mother had never really gotten over that little snub. She’d wanted an illusionist or a diviner, not some hurler of flames and lightning.

“That’s what you got though, someone who uses real magic…” Tristol scoffed and thought back again. Lutra’s little figments were amusing to him as a child, but as he grew older and more skilled in magic they seemed like shadows of real spells, tricks without real use or substance. In time they grew to be very shallow seeming to him. As his open contempt for them grew his mother became displeased and put it upon herself to have her wayward son instructed in such things and made to understand that all magic had its place. And in Halruaa some magic had its place more than others.

To that end they had provided him with a tutor by the name of Jengo, the last in a long line of wizards that had instructed him in the various schools of magic to supplement the teaching of his own parents. It had been clear by that point that their son’s prowess was approaching the point where it would soon outstrip that of his father, and potentially that of his mother as well, and that it was aspected firmly opposite to her own. Tristol had resented being lectured over and over in tolerance for all forms of magic, being told that all magic was an equally powerful blessing that Mystra had granted her servants, and that illusions had real uses. He scoffed at the waste of magic he saw them all as, but still Jengo persevered in trying to mitigate some of his pupil’s more extreme views.

Everything had come to a head when Jengo had drug Tristol along to a mage fair and carnival of sorts on the other side of the city, specifically to guide him around a house of mirrors and illusions. It had been three hours of misery for the young evoker in which he’d been mocked by phantasms, stumbled through illusory doors just to hit his head on a real wall, all the while getting lectured on the positive aspects of illusion magic. Eventually he’d had enough. He looked in the direction of Jengo’s voice and shouted at the top of his lungs, “This is what I think of these lessons and this is what I think of this waste of magic!” His shouting hadn’t been for naught as he’d woven a greater dispelling incantation into his words and hurled them outwards into the illusions cloaking the room. Walls melted away, Jengo appeared from behind a suddenly dissolving stand of trees, and there was a shower of sparks from above them both.

Both Tristol and Jengo looked up to see a silver sphere come crashing down to the floor where it burst into a dozen sparking pieces. The sphere had been the focus for the entire house of illusions. Jengo looked on in horror as the dispelling spread outwards and entire rooms vanished like a house of cards tumbling down upon itself. They both scrambled for the exit before the physical sections of the building finally collapsed upon themselves in a cloud of all too real smoke.

Jengo looked aghast as he looked to the ruins of the building and back to Tristol, “I can’t believe what you did! Why did… how could…” The very act itself was shocking to him, but also the fact that his charge had hurled such a powerful spell on his own. All around there were the sounds of angry merchants, shocked and outraged wizards and the approaching sound of the city guard. Tristol had just a bit of a triumphant smirk on his face even as he was politely escorted away for detainment.

His parents bailed him out as soon as they heard what had happened from a shocked and apologetic Jengo. As Lutra teleported herself, Kefnar and Tristol back to her tower on the outskirts of the city, there was a palpable silence amongst them all. Walking down the halls of the tower towards a sitting room, Tristol was fully aware that a number of the wandering illusions in the tower looked down at him with disapproving stares, no doubt linked in to what his mother was clearly waiting to say to him. Once they arrived and shut the door on their son, Tristol sat and worried about the day’s events.

Back in the present he looked down at his familiar and simply stared out the window in the room, making a face at the illusions that danced over the window frame. Fifteen minutes passed before his parents returned. Lutra walked in and stood in front of her son before she launched into her tirade. Kefnar skulked behind her, not fully party to her rant and clearly feeling some sort of empathy for his son. Whatever might come, if it could be toned done, it was very likely at his doing and not hers.

"Tristol..." his mother began. "I arranged to have all that mess cleared up… but at a very expensive price I must say! However, you are not allowed to set foot in the town proper for at least year, or charges will be filed." She then took a long deep breath. "And your father and I have been discussing things. We both agree it would be wise to send you out on your own for a while, so that you can get into trouble and get yourself out. You might learn some lessons while you’re out there as well since you didn’t listen to half of those we’d paid to have you taught. I’m not quite sure where I went wrong as a mother but…"

Tristol’s father broke in suddenly, stepping out from behind his wife both figuratively and literally, “We’re going to be very hands off on this. We’ve packed some of your things up for you, anything that you’ll need, but please do let us know where you are and what you’re up to so we don’t worry. I hate sending you away, but your mother thought it might be best for all of us for a while.” His ears flopped sullenly to the sides in emphasis on the last part clearly being his wife’s idea entirely. Tristol wasn’t going to let it all seen like a bad thing though, or even a punishment…

"Finally... a chance to be on my own." Tristol said, breathing a sigh of relief. "Where should I go? Waterdeep? Amn? Cormyr? Zakhara?"

"We've arranged for you to get to Sigil. It’s a bit further away from where you’re thinking, but it’s really only a door removed from here you could say.” He tried to smile to make his son more at ease with leaving, “With your ability there should be plenty of opportunity for right... or wrong. Just remember, we won't be there to bail you out." Kefnar let out a sigh and motioned with his tail over towards a table next to Lutra stacked with Tristol’s spellbooks and a travel bag.

Tristol’s mother nodded, "We’ve prepared a small travel bag for you." She then hefted the small brown bag up from the table. "It has a few changes of robes for you, random scrolls, and a few rings to help protect you. We want you to take this opportunity to get to know yourself and find your place in the world. Come back to us when you've figured it out."

The next dozen or so hours were a whirlwind as he stepped through a portal to the Concordant Domain of the Outlands and from there teleported to the city of Trade Gate. It had taken him a few minutes to figure out how to use the portal to Sigil in that bustling city of traders, merchants, craftsmen and gnomes. In the end one of those same gnomes and approached him and handed him several links of silver chain before pointing to the archway and telling him to simply hold out the bit of chain, what he called a portal key, and he’d be in the City of Doors.

He did just that and spent the rest of the day wandering through what he had been told was the ‘Market Ward’ of the city. He’d also been called a number of other things ranging from berk, to clueless, to sodding berk, to spellhurler, to things in languages he’d never heard of before. All of it seemed to relate to his penchant for stopping in the middle of the streets, even the crowded ones, and looking around to stare at most everything in site.

Eventually he’d wandered into a nicer area of the city filled with mansions and fancier buildings, even a few towers. A few more instances of asking for directions led him out of what those people had called the ‘Noble’s District’ into the other half of The Lady’s Ward. By this point he’d been wandering for hours and was getting somewhat tired and more than a bit hungry. Another person stopped and asked for directions, a few blocks walked, and Tristol noticed a sign for what seemed to be some manner of inn. The oversized sign was decorated with a large golden colored wheel above symbols of food and drink. If nothing else it would be a place to sit down and digest all of the things he’d seen so far.

Walking in the front door he was surprised by the number of people in the esblishment that was now clearly both an inn and a gambling and Festhall as well. The sounds of dice cups, shuffling cards, and from somewhere a but more removed, the sound of some snarling animal clouding through the air and mixed with the more mundane sounds of people dining and talking. The occasional shout and groan would be the rare winners at the gambling tables and the much more frequent losers.

Tristol walked to a large desk opposite the entrance and looked up into the face of a large green colored dragon’s head that was either affixed to, or coming out of, the wall over the desk and extending out over a bar to the side. His ears lay flat and his tail jumped for a brief moment when the dragon’s head tilted and smiled a toothy grin at him. “You look new here, can I help you find anything?” the dragon said.

“You don’t look like a green dragon… and you’re nice…” Tristol asked a bit impertinently.

“Well, I’m green today. Tomorrow I’ll be something else likely.” The dragon shrugged, as well as it could do without shoulders anyways. In fact he looked more like a gold dragon, or some odd looking silver. But regardless of his exact species, he continued, “Something to drink? Eat? A room for the evening? Oh, and if you’ll be so kind to sign the guestbook there to your left.”

Tristol smiled back, “Right now a room for the evening. It’s been a long day and I just need to rest for a bit to handle everything this city has tossed at me. Yeah, I’m new here if you couldn’t tell from the way I act, if not for my looks.”

“Very well. If you’ll go up those stairs to your right back there you’ll find the inn over top of the Fortunes Wheel here, properly called the Azure Iris Inn. I warn you it’s a tad expensive, but its very nice. You’ll find a very pleasant wood elf up there, her name’s Verden. Tell her that the big green scaly thing by the bar downstairs sent you up to her. She’ll give you a little bit of a discount.” The dragon, or at least what looked like part of a dragon smiled again and pointed its snout in the direction of the stairs near the back of the common room.

“Well thank you, I think I’ll do that.” His tail twitched happily behind him, kicking up his robes slightly as he dipped the pen on the bar into the ink well and hunted for a place to sign his name in the registry. “Hmm… might be a little cramped. Some Marauder person signed their name over half the page…”

But Tristol signed his name, smiled up at the dragon once more and walked up the stairs to the Azure Iris inn. As he left for an evenings rest, his never saw the well dressed tiefling who emerged from a spot at one of the card tables to walk over and examine the latest name in the registry. The tiefling smiled and knocked a dash next to it as the dragon’s head hovered over him with an altogether disapproving look on its face. The tiefling simply looked up and smirked wickedly at the dragon, but both of them said nothing and the tiefling vanished back into the crowd in the gambling hall.

The night came and went and Tristol Starweather slept soundly in his room at the end of the hall in the Azure Iris Inn. The owner, Verden was a nice enough woman, if seeming a bit cold. Maybe all elves were that way, but he wouldn’t have known since Halruaa had very very few of them within its borders. But she did give him his discount after he mentioned the dragon. As he slept his mind was growing to appreciate in some ways this little excursion from his family. Freedom was sweet as he slumbered that evening. But that, like all things, would soon change.

The morning light slowly crept across Tristol’s face as he blinked at the hazy yellow light breaking in a line across his bed and into his eyes. “That’s daylight? You’d think they could do something about the haze out there.” He yawned and got up out of bed to splash a bit of water on his face to feel a bit more alive. Back on the bed his familiar pounced the now vacant pillow and happily claimed it as its own with a sharp bark of triumph as it curled up atop it.

“Well fine, sleep there all day and I’ll just have to leave you here while –I – go eat breakfast. Hmm?” Tristol chuckled as he brushed out his hair and smoothed the fur on his ears and tail. The fox, at the mention of breakfast, was already at the door and waiting impatiently. Various suggestions of what he wanted to eat were already starting to filter into Tristol’s mind through the telepathic link they shared. Along with it, his own appetite was growing.

“That’s not fair and you know it. Now stop, you’re making me hungrier than I am. Next time I go drinking I’ll do the same to you, and I can hold my liquor more than you can.”

The mage changed into a fresh set of robes and made his way back down to the fest hall area of the Fortunes Wheel. He found an unoccupied table and took a seat. The fox barked at him from on the floor impatiently. “Oh? Mr. ‘I’m making the wizard hungry’ wants his own seat, does he?” The fox barked again in a just so fashion and Tristol stood up and slid out a chair for his vulpine companion.

“What can I get you sir?” one of the servers, a cute looking aasimar of Eladrin heritage, asked.

“Hmm… anything that might qualify for breakfast. It’s my first morning in the city and I’d like to try something I might not have before. But some sort of sausage for the fox over here.” The fox barked softly and wagged his oversized tails.

“Anything to drink sir?” she asked as she jotted down the food order.

Tristol thought for a moment, “Something to wake me up?”

She grinned puckishly, “I can handle that, it’ll be out shortly.”

Several minutes later a different server walked out and placed a shot glass of some fiery reddish alcohol in front of the aasimar. Tristol look at it and the fox hopped up on the table to sniff. It snuck out its tongue to lap at it before its master shooed it away. As he did so, the fox got a single slurp and a small puff of smoke shot from its nose. The familiar looked slightly dazed and flopped down on its side with a surprised yelp. Tristol himself paused and shook off the shared effects of the alcohol.

“Wow, just what the hell is this stuff?” he pondered as he tentatively took a swallow of it, with an almost equal effect to himself. A short period later after he recovered from the bite of the wine he flagged down yet another server and asked them what it actually was.

“Ah… that would be Baatorian firewine sir.” They said matter-of-factly. “What the hell indeed, not bad. Certainly woke me up, that’s for sure.” Tristol said to himself as he looked back towards the still slightly stunned fox. “You alright over there, or just buzzed? I told you I could handle my drink more than you could. Might have to put you in an extradimensional pouch later if you’re too drunk to walk.”

Tristol sat back and watched the various dozens of planar and prime races that populated the taproom that morning as he waited for his food to arrive. Half of the patrons eating breakfast or getting and early start on their day’s allotment of hard drink he’d never seen before outside of some of the books he’d studied when he was learning conjuration spells. He marveled at the existence of such a place where mortals, celestials and fiends walked in shared space, as well as beings such as him with a trace of at least one of those planar races mixed in with their own prime material bloodline.

Soon enough the same server who had brought the alcohol arrived with a tray of food and placed several dishes in front of Tristol and a second, smaller dish in front of the familiar. “I thought your companion here might appreciate a plate of his own. Is there anything else that I can get for you sir?” the tiefling serving girl asked with a smile.

“No no, this all looks very wonderful. Thank you.” He returned her smile and hungrily launched into his breakfast, mouthful after mouthful. The fox was finished with its own smaller plate and sniffing towards Tristol’s food a few minutes later. “Fine fine, you want some more?” Tristol thought as he pushed a few links of sausage over to his familiar’s plate.

Engrossed in his meal, the wizard failed to notice the tiefling approaching his table till the well-dressed man had tapped a small cane on the chair opposite him. “Excuse me sir, I apologize for interrupting your breakfast, but I was hoping that I might have a word with you.”

Tristol started to reply then remembered his manners and swallowed his mouthful of food. “Umm… certainly. Please have a seat.”

“Thank you.” The tiefling sat down and placed a small sealed letter on the table in front of him. “Where to begin, where to begin… again I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, it’s not everyday that one gets to meet a wizard from Halruaa.”

“Wait… did my mother set you up for this? If she went out of her way to have people keep tabs on me while I was here in Sigil, I’ll…” his ears were suddenly a bit flat against his head before the tiefling waved off his concern.

“Nothing of the sort sir, I’m personally not familiar with your family. I was however told that you were in Sigil and staying up in the Azure Iris. Another colleague of mine by the name of Tripicus keeps tabs on prime material residents from a few select spheres, it’s an honest curiosity in him. He studies people from the various primes. But I get ahead of myself.”

The tiefling waved over the server and ordered himself a drink. “My own employers have been looking for help with certain matters, and specifically are in the need of arcane expertise. I was having an evening meal with Tripicus the other day and he mentioned you, and being from a nation of wizards on a prime world noted for wizards, I figured I might as well meet you and see if you might be interested in what my employers have to offer.”

“Hmm… well I might be open to it. What sort of work would I be doing? Let me finish up the last of my breakfast here and we can talk about the details.”

“All of the finer points are in the letter I have here if you’d like to look over it.” He slid the letter across the table to the wizard and took a sip of his own drink as it arrived. A moment after his shot of whiskey he paused and pointed towards Tristol’s plate, “And I believe that I would be remiss if didn’t inform you that your meal was poisoned…”

Tristol stopped, blinked and looked up at the tiefling. “What was that you said?”

“I’ll repeat it again in case you misheard me. I said your food was poisoned, every scrap of your breakfast in fact. The effect will be slow and subtle at first, but without the antidote, or anything short of a wish, you'll be dead within two weeks time. The alchemical toxin is quite rare and has the peculiar ability to resist clerical healing spells that would normally purge it from the body. So I’ll spare you a trip to a temple of Mystra and just tell you now that they can’t help you, but my employer can. Do exactly as this letter spells out and you will be given the antitoxin before it kills you. Choose not to agree to those terms and you’ll have two weeks, at most, to find yourself a cure without knowing what the specific poison was…”

The tiefling stood up, tipped his hat towards the mage, and tossed the letter in front of him. “You’ll be wanting to read that. Good day to you.” And with that, he turned and walked off, vanishing into the crowd and leaving Tristol stunned and staring at the letter.

His familiar looked at the empty plates in front of them both and whimpered softly, its two tails gone limp and curled between its hind legs. With trembling fingers, Tristol opened the letter that was sealed with a shimmering blue wax, impressed with an image of an open palm with an extra digit to each elongated finger. The letter read: “Greetings to you my newest employee. If you wish to find yourself free of the toxin now coursing through your veins you will meet another of my latest acquisitions this evening at the former location of the Ubiquitous Wayfarer. Once there past the front door, proceed to the second floor, and enter the fifth door on the right. Further instructions will be found there, as well as any others you will shortly find yourself working with. – Patriarch Dalmar Imshenviir”

“Lady of Mysteries preserve me…” Tristol put down the letter and help his familiar in his lap as he contemplated just what exactly he would do. Assuming the food was poisoned and what that arrogant prick of a tiefling had said was true, he didn’t have much of a choice but to do what he was being forced to do. First he’d confirm that he was indeed poisoned and see if normal curative magic could heal it, unlikely but he could try in case it was all an elaborate bluff. But for the moment he sat, suddenly quiet, his own ears and tail matching the sullen and worried attitude that his familiar displayed.

And two more were thus snared into the plot, wrapped in the same webs of guile, treachery and lies as the others they would soon meet…

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

*_*

So... many... words...

And it's all great, too.

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

*blinks* That's what I tell myself each week as I'm writing this all up. The stuff here is almost 2 years behind the current campaign and that'll be over by the time I catch up with the storyhour. I hesitate to even consider how long it'll end up being.

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

ooc: Just to let you guys know, the mage in question, Tristol has been keeping a Diary of the game events. There is a bit of a gap between where the Diary begins and the Story hour is currently, but its IMO very well written, (no offense to Shemmy's skills).
You can find it, as well as some character back history here
http://68.16.220.35/~tristol/

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

Definate spoiler warning though for folks what would rather read the storyhour as it comes out.

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

The companions gazed out into an empty gray void stretching out as far as the eyes could see. Several brilliant, glowing orbs of light hung suspended out in the empty space around them, illuminating the large outcrop of rock that they stood upon. Like an inverted mountain it hung there in space, connected to a single black marble bridge that reached out to another, larger hanging rock suspended in the void upon which stood a solid and utilitarian stone fortress.

The temperature was pleasant and a slow, warm breeze drifted across their faces as they gazed up at the castle sitting there hung in the void. The orbs in the empty sky shed their harsh white light over the landscape of the demiplane, stretching out their feeble illumination into the empty expanse of nothing that surrounded them.

Clueless looked at the others, “Well… so much for going right back to Sigil.”

Fyrehowl sighed angrily, “And you believed him? The man dealt with Nycaloths. That doesn’t make him trustworthy as far as I’m concerned.”

“I still hold to my previous statement that he needs to join the Dustmen. You don’t find too many walking dead men outside of that group…” Toras smirked with the anticipation of future comeuppance for the arrogant genasi wizard that had blackmailed them all into this originally.

The group walked on towards the castle, over the connecting span of stone and up to the gates themselves. The demiplane was utterly silent as they stood and gazed up at the closed doors of the fortress. Flanking the entrance stood two square stone towers with clearly visible arrow slits. None of them, nor the ramparts above seemed to be manned. From the exterior the place looked deserted.

Nisha scampered up closer to the gates with a cautious look crossing over her face. She looked back at the group as she tapped the door, “They’re not locked. But there’s some piking strange magic around…” With the words hung on her lips the tiefling suddenly blinked out of sight, vanished.

“Umm…” Clueless’s wings blazed with a concerned flicker of faerie-fire.

“One would expect you to know your employers better, and their tactics. Just step on the stones in front of the gate it’s clearly a teleportation circle worked into the fortress.” The factol said with a bemused bit of irritation as she stepped forwards herself to vanish upon touching the marble paving stones directly before the gate. Shrugging and hoping for the best, the others followed suit.

When the spell’s effect faded, all of them stood inside a large meeting room perhaps fifty feet across and equally long. The unadorned chamber was furnished with only a large table at one end and a shimmering tapestry that hung on the wall to their left. A single door led out of the room near to the end with the table and was flanked by two unmoving dull grayish stone golems, each in the same plain and utilitarian style of the fortress itself. All of this however was not what gathered the rapt attention of the newly arrived companions and their guest.

Standing in the center of the room and flanked by two others of his kind as well as a much more elaborate looking shield golem, was a twelve foot tall, blue-skinned and richly robed humanoid. A mercane. The wizard, Bartol Trenevein was nowhere in sight.

“I congratulate you all on a job completed ahead of schedule. I hope that there were no unforeseen problems.” The voice of the primary mercane rung out loudly in the minds of the group, steady and confident. It then continued, “Factol Nilesia, I am honored by your presence. Your return has been too long in the making. My associates and I, we welcome you. Know that your dream remains alive, even while your faction has splintered. We seek to aid you in your goals and make that dream a reality. If you will follow my assistants, they wish to obtain the details of your absence, inform you as to the changed face of the kreigstanz, and expedite your return to the City of Doors.”

Nilesia paused at the words of the mercane, especially the part about the disintegration of the Mercykillers. A moment later and she steeled herself and walked towards the taller figure with a nod of respect and gratitude. “I extend my thanks to you as well. Whatever your motives may be you have righted a wrong. You have my respect as do those who brought me here. See that they are rewarded.”

Wordlessly and as impassive as ever the lead mercane motioned towards the single exit and the golems moved to the side as the two smaller attendant mercanes nodded to Nilesia and escorted her from the room. As soon as she and they had left the room the golems closed the doors and retook their vigil.

A sudden flash near the back of the room drew the gaze of the group and an unconcerned glance from the mercane. Standing there behind the party were two figures with a curious and wary look on their faces: an axe wielding and armored cleric bearing the symbols of the Torillian god of War, Tempus, and an orange robed aasimar wizard. The wizard’s bushy tail was nearly bottlebrushed out behind him as he looked at the party and then the mercane.
The mercane motioned in the air and a number of simple, unadorned chairs appeared for each of the members of its captive audience. “Be seated.”

“Now wait just a minute. Who in the 9 blazing Hells are you?” Toras asked, remaining standing and even walking towards the mercane a few steps. The mercane seem entirely nonplussed at it all.

“Sit down Toras of Andros before I find myself down one servant bought and paid for. My name to you may as well be ‘master’, but if it makes you sit and listen then you may also refer to me as Patriarch Dalmar Imshenviire. Two of you are already familiar with my name. Now associate a person with it.” Imshenviire gestures one elongated finger at Florian and Tristol where they sat nervously.

Fyrehowl blinked and looked around the room, sniffing curiously at some scent on the air. Clueless looked at her oddly as she glanced around the room for something he obviously wasn’t aware of. Eventually she stopped and looked back towards the mercane but the nagging look of suspicion never left her face.

“Whatever happened to that arrogant son-of-a-bitch Trenevain?” Clueless asked with a flutter of his wings beating irritatedly on the air.

“Nothing you should be concerned with. As far as you must know, you are now my property as you were his previously. The same conditions that bound you to his service apply now to me as well.” Imshenviire’s telepathic voice washed out over the group with arrogance to equal the genasi’s.

“So I take it you were his puppet master from the beginning? What was with the Nycaloths then. Don’t they make better bodyguards than golems?” Clueless egged on but the mercane ignored his questions. Fyrehowl once more glanced around the room with a distressed and paranoid look.

“Be quiet and be seated as your indentured servitude now enters its second phase. Two others, procured in similar fashion, join you in your service. You will require their aid for your next task. Now that we have the factol…” he paused on the phrase with obvious pleasure, “….your next task is this.”

The mention of a second task drew forth irritated sighs from his subjects as he gestured with one hand to conjure forth a shimmering chest out of the air in front of the party. The chest opened of its own volition to reveal a collection of papers inside its misty interior. Nisha reached out to collect them, gave them a cursory glance and then passed them around to the others. Clearly stamped on each of the pages in brilliant but fading red ink were the following words, “BANNED BY ORDER OF FACTOL SARIN OF THE HARMONIUM, Possession of these maps is an offense punishable by fine, hard labor, imprisonment, or death.” The papers were clearly some sort of collection of maps, each of them annotated in elaborate handwritten githyanki script.

“If you will examine those maps, they detail a specific section of the deep ethereal in which your next target lays.” The mercane patriarch waved its other hand towards Nisha and the planar compass at her belt began to glow with a soft light. “You will need that. I would go myself on this task, but I would not be… welcome. The planar compass will give you further instructions once you reach the proper location in the ethereal. From there you will take an ethereal curtain to the actual location of your task.”

Tristol looked up from the maps, clearly about to ask a question, but the mercane cut him off abruptly. “The tapestry at the rear of this chamber is an active ethereal tapestry that will lead you out into a small chamber built on the ethereal proper at the boundary of this demiplane. You may rest there as you feel the need to do so before leaving, and there is an ample supply of food and drink there as well. However I would not tarry there long as your two newest companions are living on borrowed time.”

Florian gave the mercane an icy glare and walked towards the tapestry without another word as Tristol’s face flushed a dozen shades of red and his ears flattened back onto his head, black facing up.

“Hold on.” Clueless glared up at the mercane patriarch, “This last little stunt in Acheron was supposed to be the only thing we had to do before what was taken from us was returned or the situations making us do this were reversed. What assurances do we have that we’re not going to be brought back here after risking our lives yet again just to be sent out to do some other errand?”

“You don’t,” Imshenviire replied as impassively as ever. “And considering the circumstances you have little choice but to do as I tell you. However if it will insure your prompt cooperation then very well, if you finish this next task then I will release you from my service. I have nothing more for you to perform after this nor is it in my best interests to retain your services or the conditions binding you to myself. Business may be harsh at times, but it is not vindictive for any reason. Return here when you are done and we will collectively wash our hands of this. Until then however you are mind to do with as I see fit. Go.”

Under the baleful watch of their mercane taskmaster the group walked back towards the shimmering veil of the ethereal curtain, one by one stepping through and vanishing from sight. Fyrehowl paused to once more look around the room with a wary look before Nisha nudged her forwards.

“Come on, let’s just get this over with. What’s wrong? You’re acting all wierded out and paranoid. At least the first part is my job, find your own shtick.”

“There’s… nevermind.” The lupinal shrugged off her feeling of lingering dread about the whole place, the entire situation really, and stepped through the curtain with Nisha trotting close behind.

The chamber dissolved into a haze of muted colors and in another step vanished altogether to open into a small chamber with crystalline walls beyond which swirling gray mist floated like unyielding fog. A single stretch of wall shimmered like the curtain had before, presumably leading out into the ethereal at large. Otherwise the chamber was filled by a long wooden table carved with scenes of various mortal races eating, drinking and making merriment. Plush cushions and pillows lay scattered around the chamber to allow a person to sit and rest or even sleep on the otherwise hard glassy surface of the small pocket sheltered off from the rest of the ethereal.

“So…” Florian began, “How did those long fingered blue bastards get you all into this mess? They poisoned me over breakfast the other morning. I would’ve said yes to their request for help. Clearly they didn’t do their homework on me. And before anyone asks, no I can’t remove the poison myself. I already made certain that yes I’ve got something in me and that it resists the normal curative spells that I know. But before I start rambling on here like an angry fool, I’m Florian, servant of the Foe Hammer, formerly of Toril.”

“Don’t worry, you’re hardly the angriest person here…”, Toras grumbled under his breath, more to himself than otherwise.

“Blackmail, lovely little thing that it is. All of us they’ve got something on, or they’ve got –someone- that we know and you can guess yourself from there on. Me? I’ve got holes in my memory you could march armies through. I don’t remember everything in my past so for all I know anything they claim they’ve got on me could be true.” Clueless shrugged and put his sword down at his side as he settled on one of the cushions. Fyrehowl and Florian sat adjacent to him and began to expand upon their own situations.

Nisha walked over to the table and looked at it with sudden delight, “Well, Hashkar on a righteous bender! Evil moneygrubbers or not, they know how to feed us before sending us off to our deaths! They’ve got a hero’s table!”

The others broke off their explanations of their own blackmail situations to look over to where the tiefling was now sitting on the table, kicking her hooves out like a child on a chair too tall for them to reach the ground, pondering something intently.

“A what?” Toras asked, giving her an odd look (not the first time he’d ever done that).

“A hero’s table! What’s your favorite food, somebody, anybody?” she grinned like an idiot and glanced around at her companions’ faces before finally Clueless walked over.

“I don’t know actually what my favorite food is.” He shrugged.

“Doesn’t matter, just think about your favorite food. Maybe if you just think about ‘my favorite food’ as an idea it’ll work. These things make whatever it is you ask them for. It’s the greatest thing since Ooze mephits in the guvners’ law library!”

The others just chuckled politely at Nisha’s –exhuberant- opinion on such things and looked at Clueless as he looked intently at the table and put out his hands. There was a small flash of sparkling light in front of him that swirled away to reveal a small platter of food on a golden plate and an elaborate fluted glass bottle filled with a multicolored and swirling liquid.

“Wow, you’ve got exotic tastes. What is that?” Fyrehowl asked as she sniffed in the direction of the newly created food. She stood up and wandered over to the table as well, hunger getting the best of her.

“I’d tell you but I don’t actually know what it is. Apparently I used to like it a lot though.” Clueless said as he sat down on one of the cushions on the ground as the others gradually made their own choices from the table.

True to Nisha’s word as they made their rounds they came away with smiles on their faces and bowls and dishes of food as well as amble amounts of drink to suit their most wild or imaginative tastes. All the while Nisha kicked her hooves back and forth happily. Eventually Tristol walked up with his familiar in tow and looked suspiciously at the table.

“It’s not poisoned is it? I’m a bit overly cautious with these people considering what they did to me to get me here. I mean… I didn’t do anything to these guys! Nothing!” the mage sighed as his familiar hopped up onto the table, apparently being in a more decisive mood than its master. Nisha cooed at the fox and put out a finger to scratch the vulpine’s head.

“Your familiar is cute. Aren’t you cute!” the tiefling said as she descended into babbling at the fox who simply looked at her with the typical canid expression of perplexion with its head tilted to one side. Tristol chuckled and looked over at her with a smile.

“He’s smarter than he looks, he just can’t talk to people. Not yet anyways.” Tristol rubbed the fox’s head lightly as a small dish of some sweetmeats popped in front of its nose. It barked happily and swished its tail as it promptly buried its muzzle in the bowl and munched away at its meal.

Tristol looked back at Nisha, “So what got you into this? I’ve heard from a few of the others. It seems like Florian over there, he and I have the same situation. And we’ve got a time limit too…” He shrugged off the gloom and tried to smile for the overly perky tiefer who sat there still swinging her legs cheerfully.

“Well, I’m mostly a thi… collector of donations from overly rich perso… overly rich evil fiends who like to punch small children in the mouth and laugh at old people. Exactly.” He chuckled and blushed slightly as she glanced over at Toras who looked at her with skepticism. “Yeah, as I was saying… I do that and I’m pretty good at it if I do say so myself. Yes I do. Well thank you Nisha you’re very kind. Oh you’re certainly welcome.” She babbled back and forth to herself a bit more, even supplying gestures for each persona switch. Tristol tried very hard not to laugh.

“But I also know a little bit of magic. Just a bit, and I’m mostly self-taught and from a few other mages I knew from here and there. However I’m at a distinct lack of my spellbook right now since that piking genasi stole it from me. Without it I know maybe two or three spells that I’ve used enough to remember without studying the book. But that’s what they’re blackmailing me with, my spellbook.” She shrugged, “I don’t think my situation is as harsh as some of the rest of you all though, you especially. That’s harsh.”

Clueless looked up from where he sat tentatively tasting his apparently favorite food. “Well, from what I remember I used to be able to cast spells as well. Only problem is I didn’t wake up with a spellbook on me…”

Tristol looked over towards Clueless as Nisha poked his familiar with her own tail and the fox tried to bite it. “Are you sure you needed a spellbook? Not all casters need one. Some have an innate command of the spells they know, but they usually can’t learn new spells easily. Maybe you fit into that sort of mage?”

Clueless shook his head, “No, I remember having a book. I don’t have any spells left in memory so I can’t just write them back down to preserve it all. If I live through all of this I’m going to have to start over from scratch it seems.” With that the bladesinger took a deep draught of the bottle he’d been given by the table. With a startled look he gasped for breath as a mixture of sparkling light and colored smoke wafted from his mouth.

“Woah…” came his response in a weak voice after he took a few moments to steady himself. “I have no idea what this is, but that’s the first time I can remember any alcohol actually doing anything to me. I tried to get drunk back in Sigil and I couldn’t. This… probably could though.”

Fyrehowl looked at Clueless and laughed as she took a seat next to him with her own meal. Florian did the same and silently said a small prayer before taking a first few tentative bites before he dug in with gusto.

“So… Tristol. Once we’re done with this could I possibly get you to teach me some more magic? Once I get my spellbook back that is. Kind of useless to learn stuff and not be able to write it down and all.” Nisha said with a hopeful grin.

Tristol paused for a moment and looked over at both Clueless and Nisha before taking out his own spellbook along with some other bits of paper, thread and ink. “I can’t give you both back everything you had, but I can get you started.” With that, the wizard carefully and deliberately began tearing out blank pages from the back of his own book as well as a few selected pages already filled out with spells from his own repertoire.

“This should start you out… if you have anything left in memory you can put them down on paper again here after you’re done eating. If there’s a few that you really liked or want again I’m willing to part with a few of them since I’ll still have all of the more powerful ones in here to play around with. I can replace the lower sphere spells easily once we’re done here.” Tristol paused and sighed, “I also won’t really need them all unless I can get an antidote to the poison they gave me.”

“Thank you… I’m not sure what to say besides that. That’s a real sacrifice for you to give up parts of your own spellbook.” Nisha accepted the pages that Tristol bound together with string and handed out to Clueless and her. “Maybe a little bit of your favorite drink might cheer you up? You’re getting too gloomy and we need you in better spirits if we’ll be running up against something with an allergic to fireballs out there.”

Clueless accepted Tristol’s donation with equal humbleness and offered a drink from the bottle he held in one hand. “And if you want something that’s just… different, and potent too, there’s always this. Firewine has nothing on this stuff…”

Tristol’s familiar’s ears perked at that mention and it
would have dashed over to pilfer some of it from the half-fey before Tristol firmly grabbed it around the waist and placed it in his lap. “I don’t think so. The last time you tried Baatorian firewine you sneezed smoke and I saw stars. I don’t even want to think what –that- stuff would do to you, or me for that matter. Don’t even think about it…”

The fox whined softly and even made one last ditch attempt to leap up onto the magical table itself to try and request some of the same alcoholic witches brew for itself. Tristol’s hand on one of its tails ended that adventure before it started. But it got Nisha and Toras both to laugh at the tiny canid’s failed exploits.

As Tristol helped Nisha recall the spells that she had once had in her own spellbook, presumably recalling a few of them from his own memory to write down with her, Clueless laid back and tried to relax. His stomach was full and his head slightly buzzed from the fey-wine he’d just drunk. Fyrehowl and Florian both looked down at him and smiled, then they both looked up at each other and glared for a fraction of a second. Fyrehowl looked oddly at the human for a moment before looking back down to Clueless.

“Can I try…” both Fyrehowl and Florian said simultaneously before pausing and looking at each other again. “So tell me…” again, both of them repeated the same words and yet again glared at each other.

“Hmm?” Clueless looked up lazily at them both, still slightly buzzed on the effects of the fey-wine the hero’s table had provided him.

Over the next half hour, Clueless sat and randomly chatted with Fyrehowl and Florian. Had Clueless not lived up to his namesake in that regard, nor had he been slightly inebriated, he might have clued into the fact that both of his companions had gradually been edging closer to him as they chatted about their own experiences and asked him to talk about his. In fact, both Florian and Fyrehowl both seemed to be attempting to outdo each other in terms of getting to know the bladesinger that they both crowded around there on the floor of the chamber.

Nisha noticed and rolled her eyes, Tristol and his familiar were both too busy studying the wizard’s spellbook, Aren was deeply in prayer, and Toras was slumped and brooding to himself. Eventually however, Fyrehowl stood up and walked over to the table in the center of the room.

“Anyways… I’ve not had the chance to bath since before we went to Acheron. And I’m sorry; I can’t stand the stink of that place in my fur. I feel like I’ve got a band of imps creeping up on me. Except the smell’s on me and not from any imps. Can anyone here see in the dark?” Fyrhowl grumbled as she walked over towards the far end of the table. She held out her hands and produced several goblets of water and a large bowl of the same.

“Don’t tell me you’re going to take a bath in here…” Nisha said with a bit of exasperation. “There’s probably a joke I can make about revealing the glory of the heavens and all, but nude celestial isn’t something I like to see.” Behind her, Tristol’s familiar whined and covered its eyes with its forepaws.

“That’s fine.” Clueless said and continued to look in her direction, seemingly oblivious to the idea that she desired some level of privacy.

“Very funny.” The lupinal replied as she stepped to the far end of the room and a globe of darkness suddenly popped into being around her. Unphased and still not getting the hint, Clueless turned away to ponder over the spells that he knew he once had.

Under the cover of magical darkness, all the others could hear were sounds of water hitting the floor and the occasional pleased murmur from the celestial as she washed herself. A small puddle gradually seeped out from the confines of the globe of darkness and inched its way across the floor, spreading along the bottom of the small chamber until the splashing noises stopped and Fyrehowl presumably stopped pouring out any more water.

A drenched and water slicked hand groped out of the edge of the darkness, feeling along the top of the table to finally land upon a towel and drag it back into the darkness with the pile of clothing left on the tabletop as well. A minute later and the globe of darkness faded to reveal Fyrehowl drenched in water with her fur limp and matted down with the added weight. She stepped back a step and without warning rapidly shook from side to side like a mortal dog in from a rainstorm. A spray of water shot out from her fur as she flung the water every which way to dry herself off amid sharp and sudden howls of protest from the others in the room as they scrambled for cover from the sudden unwelcome shower of water droplets.

“Ewww, you could have warned us. But I do approve of the spontaneity!” Nisha chuckled and patted herself dry with a cushion that she had used as cover a moment before.

Fyrehowl smiled from under a mess of still wet fur that flanked both sides of her muzzle like a mop tossed over top of her head. “Hey, I needed it, trust me here. I don’t feel trailed by smelly imps anymore at the very least.”

“You just look like a damp puffball now.” Clueless said as he snickered.

“Drink less. Trust me here, drink less.” The lupinal sniped back, none too amused as she smoothed down the errant and honestly overly poofy fur that covered her.

“Actually it’s probably a good idea to not get soused on that wine Clueless, I don’t care how good it actually is. It won’t do us any good to actually have you drunk while we wander around the ethereal here soon. I don’t want anyone to be at less than his or her best before we throw ourselves in harms way. I won’t, because I have every intention of living through this to pay back the bastards for what they did to me.” Toras sullenly growled and gained some curious looks from the others in return.

“Just what exactly did they do to you Toras?” Aren glanced up from where she had been praying and largely ignoring the conversations of the others.

The half-celestial chuckled very grimly and looked over at her, “It’s not pleasant. Do you really care to hear it?”

“Please do, if it’s on your mind we should hear it.” Aren spoke up softy from where she sat opposite the fighter.

“Well, they don’t have anything on me. Rather, they have something on the one woman I’ve ever had feelings for. She died years ago and I never got the chance to ever really tell her I loved her. I lost it after she was killed. I stormed the keep that the enemies of my local lord had occupied and I killed them to the last mine. I’ll spare you the details of what I actually did to the people directly responsible for her torture and execution, but it wasn’t pretty and I’m not proud of my rage that day.”

Toras took a deep breath and continued as the others looked on with a mix of concern, empathy, and pity, “Trenevain, or the mercanes, or maybe both; they found her body or maybe just called her back from the dead without need of it. But they returned her to life and then tortured her to death a second time! And they’ve been repeating that each day since they first blackmailed us all. Every day that has passed I fear that they’re doing the same and there’s no way that I can stop it unless I do what they tell me. For the first time in a very long time I feel utterly powerless.”

He slammed his hand down with a loud ‘crack!’ on the top of the table before he sat down to clear a few tears from his eyes. “They gave me a sensory stone that showed them doing that. They may have only done that once, or they may, like they claimed, be doing it over and over again, dragging her back from her rest and putting her through a hell she never deserved.”

A palpable silence descended over the chamber as the other six looked at Toras with shock on their faces. “They’ll pay. I will put them through far worse than they’ve done to her and me before this is over. I swear by my god that I will make them pay.”

“And we’ll help you. All of us owe them something and they’ll be paying for each and every thing they’ve done to us and put us through. I know I want to be there at your side when you get that chance.” Fyrehowl cleared a tear from her own face as she looked resolutely at Toras then glanced at the other nods of agreement from the rest of the group.

No other real conversation could truly begin after the emotional catharsis of Toras’s story and oath, and so the group gradually drifted off to sleep. Nisha curled up under the table, Tristol gathered his familiar and spellbook close to himself and curled up with them. Clueless drifted to sleep with one hand curled around his sword and the other curled around the bottle of fey-wine. Fyrehowl and Florian both slept adjacent to Clueless, perhaps closer to the half-fey than might be considered normal for traveling companions but even had he noticed it, Clueless would have been exactly that. Finally, Aren and Toras slumped against the walls of the chamber, propped up by cushions and as content as they might be with the blackmail lurking over them omnipresent in their waking minds.

Several hours passed and the group slept as well as they could, bracing their bodies for whatever they might soon face. They woke eventually and ate a small breakfast to suite their appetite and taste, the food once again supplied by the magical table. There was little conversation amongst them before they gathered their things, consulted the maps the mercane patriarch had provided, and left by way of the ethereal curtain at the far end of the chamber. They all felt more or less the same: uncertain of the immediate future, but resolute that they would all live to return what had been done to them. All of those feelings had no need to be placed into words as they all emerged onto the ethereal plane.

The demiplane behind them shimmered with a blurred orange and white haze that flickered softly against the muted rolling white banks of formless fog that drifted across the void.

“Alright Nisha, you have the compass, which way are we headed?” Clueless stretched his wings and glanced over at the tiefling.

“Umm…” Nisha glanced at the compass and spun around in a circle before pointing at one otherwise featureless spot in the slowly swirling ethereal clouds. “There.”

Toras floundered slightly off to one side, uncertain how to actually move about within the ephemeral ether surrounding them all. “How do we actually move around in this? Anyone?”

Tristol glanced over as he helped usher his familiar into a small dimensional pouch, “Either fly, or swim, or just think about moving in one particular direction and you’ll go that way. No solid ground on this plane, so there’s nothing really to grip onto. But you can still move around regardless. Anyone else need help?”

Clueless grinned and fluttered his wings slightly as Florian took a moment to get used to the odd mechanics of the plane. “Oh by the holy breasts of Sharess! Stop showing off you. That’s not fair and you know it.”

Clueless laughed at the unexpected and novel swear before Aren turned and glanced at them both unapprovingly. “Sorry…” they both said simultaneously.

“Alright, come on you three, we need to get moving. Some of us are on a restricted timetable here.” Fyrehowl said firmly with the smallest hint of a growl and marshaled the group together as they all went diving headfirst into the ethereal shallows surrounding them in all directions.

Hours upon hours passed and ever so slowly the ambient light in the swirling clouds of ether grew more muted and more like an odd partial moonlight they deeper they dove. Periodically the group stopped to consult the compass and/or the maps they had been given by the mercane, but otherwise the travel went smoothly and without incident. But everything has an exception…

Some eight hours into their travel through the ethereal, diving ever deeper into the trackless sea, the group of seven was tested in battle together for the first time as a group. Hurtling out of the misty ether and screaming in their own alien tongue, a group of eight red skinned, four armed creatures emerged. Looking like some unholy crossbreed between reptiles and insects, the Xill swarmed over the party. Natives to the deep ethereal and rumored to use living humans as host for their young, they were formed of a group of seven blade wielding warriors and a single, heavily ornamented cleric who hung back, hurling spells and supporting his lesser.

The battle was brief and spectacular. Before the Xill had closed ranks they were struck by an explosive ball of flame conjured to life by Tristol’s sorcery in their midst. Toras, Clueless and Fyrehowl met them blow for blow as the Xill warriors surged forwards. Florian’s protective spells warded away many of the blows from the two largest Xill that might have otherwise hit before he finally conjured a blinding column of holy flames atop his Xill counterpart some twenty yards distant. Badly injured, the Xill cleric’s invocations to whatever god he served were silenced by another eruption of flame that crossed the distance between Tristol and himself before exploding in pyroclastic fury.

Breathing heavily and smiling with the sudden release of pent up rage and anger, Toras glanced across the ethereal battlefield as the bloodied, inert and scorched corpses of the Xill slowly drifted out of view to vanish into the featureless fog from which they had first emerged.

“Damn we’re good.” Nisha grinned with glee as the group drifted back together fresh from their first combined victory.

Fyrehowl wiped her blade free of the thick black blood of one of the larger Xill as Clueless darted from one side of the group to the next, emotionally high from their success as a group. The half-fey’s wings glimmered with dancing flickers of faerie fire as his passage left tiny eddies in the ether.

“Anyone need to stop and rest after that? If you do, you’ll have earned it. Otherwise we should probably keep on going.” Tristol asked and looked at each of his companions. Upon hearing not a single request to pause and rest, the group resumed their travel deeper into the ethereal.

Hours more passed but little of mention was encountered as they passed from one unremarkable bank of ether to the next. They talked on and off during the time as they suffered no attacks, nor any natural obstacle on the plane to slow them down. However some nine hours after the encounter with the Xill, they found something that drew their attention.

Swirling through the mists surrounding the group were flocks and clouds of shimmering, multicolored beetles. Each of them the size of a human’s thumbnail they lazily drifted with barely a sound through the ether, glowing in ever changing swirls and hues of rainbow colors from one end of the spectrum to the other. Nisha chased after a few of them for a moment before giving up as they swam in circles around her. Compared to them she was clumsy and slow, and she stuck out a tongue at one of the flocks of bugs as she came to the same realization. Florian held out an open hand to one of them and it lighted down on his hand. “Pretty. I’ve never seen one of these before.”

He paused and looked at it closer, “They’re harmless right? Not flesh eating or anything, yes? Tristol? Clueless?”

Fyrehowl laughed, “They’re as harmless as fireflies, and you can pretty much think of them as the ethereal equivalent. I think Aren can back me up on this one.” She looked over at the priestess who nodded and smiled as a cluster of the glowing insects buzzed lazily around her outstretched arm.

“Actually… hold on a second and let me try something. Can you keep that bug on your hand comfy Florian? I want to talk to him for a minute.” Clueless grinned and hovered for a moment in the ether, concentrating deeply on something as his wings flickered with a distinct pattern of colors.

“Try talking to it? They’re not really intelligent. I can normally talk to just about anything, but it still has to be smart enough to speak to someone in the first place.” Fyrehowl blinked and looked curiously at the bladesinger as he stopped what he was doing and floated over to Florian’s side with a flutter of his wings.

“Hello there little one,” Clueless thought more than spoke towards the single ether scarab perched happily on Florian’s hand. He hadn’t tried this trick since waking up in Hopeless and so he wasn’t honestly sure if would work on the tiny animal, or if he’d be able to make it work even if it normally would.

There was a buzzing noise from the sparkling insect as it moved to face Clueless. Clueless smiled at it and it buzzed again. All the others heard was silence from the half-fey and a sporadic buzz and dancing by the ether scarab, almost like the ‘speech’ of a prime material honeybee.

“Hello large winged swimmer. You rare here. Not see many your kind this deep.” The ether scarab’s movements and buzzing somehow made perfect sense to Clueless and he smiled widely before replying in his own mind to the little creature perched on Florian’s hand.

“Hello to you too little one. My friends and I are looking for something deeper still, do you know if anything is down in that direction that we should be wary of.” Clueless mentally remembered the maps that Nisha had been carrying, and then glanced in the direction that the group had been traveling in. The beetle buzzed rapidly in return and danced around on Florian’s hand animatedly.

“Danger. Large angry great huge large one there. Devours things swimming that way. Great ugly one.” The ether scarab seemed extremely insistent about the creature it was describing. In his mind Clueless had a sudden image of a gigantic crab-like beast with claws and a great fanged maw that glowed in the same strange colors as the ether scarabs. Likely all a lure to attract prey.

“How can we avoid it if we’re going that way? We need to dive down below it.” Clueless projected into the bug’s mind and it paused for a moment and flitted about on Florian’s hand once more before buzzing in several distinct patterns.

“Swim along edges of swirling whirlpools and currents in the deep. Great hungry thing not go there, slow swimmer. Tricks food come to it. Not hunter.” Clueless smiled as the beetle imparted its advice.

Florian looked to the bladesinger, “What’d it say?” As she asked her question the scarab lifted its wings and buzzed off to rejoin its fellows as they flitted through the ether. Clueless waved to the rainbow shimmering insect and flitted his own wings towards the flock with a rush of faerie fire sparkling over them in imitation of the beetles’ own patterns.

“Well… there’s something large and hungry in the way that we’re heading. That’s the bad news.” The others in the group groaned and glanced warily in that direction. “The good news is that the beetle knew how to avoid it and still not be too far off from where we’re going on our map.”

Nisha pulled out the maps and drifted over towards Clueless, “Lead on, I’d rather not get eaten in transit.”

Clueless grinned, “Thank the beetles, not me. I’m glad I remembered how to do that. Anyways, on the map here there are some areas marked as dangerous because of some storms in the ether, if I’m reading the gith here right.”

“More ‘tornado’ than storm, but close enough.” Tristol remarked as he drifted close and glanced at the maps.

“But all we need to do to keep away from whatever it was the scarab mentioned is to skirt along the marked area here and we should be fine. Apparently for a hungry monster this thing doesn’t like to leave home. Good for us.” Clueless tapped the center of the map with his finger where the creature likely would be lairing. Nisha marked it with the words ‘here there be monsters’.

Hours upon hours passed while the group drifted through the nearly endless expanse of misty ether, each mile as unremarkable as the last. The trackless sea certainly was living up to its moniker as they found no landmarks, no denizens and nothing to mark their way. But eventually the ether began to drift and swirl with some unseen turbulence bubbling within its unknown depths.

A wave of trembling mist brushed against the party as they paused, something like the electric calm before a storm seemed to be lingering out among the misty clouds in the deep surrounding them. “Ok… this would be the edge of those storms. Which way does the compass point now back in the direction that we’re headed towards? I’d rather avoid an ether cyclone just as much as I would something with sharp teeth…” Clueless’s wings shimmered with a faint purple as he spoke.

Nisha pointed off in one direction and the rest followed along, leaving wispy trails in the ether as they continued on, brushing the edges of the more turbulent region. Over the next several hours they nearly plunged headlong into the ever fluctuating boundary of the roiling deep, the invisible winds and currents of the storms lurking within constantly making them correct their movement to avoid being lost in the churning mists that served as both a constant threat and a protection against the things that lurked out in the featureless regions surrounding them. But eventually, with frayed nerves being the only penalty for their passage, the group emerged in a more tranquil section of the ethereal.

“Praise be to the foe hammer, now we just need to find that portal and perhaps kick some ass.” Florian touched his holy symbol as he drifted along within the remarkably still fog that marked their current region.

“I’ll second you on that one. How do we look on the map?” Toras floated past Florian, holding his greatsword out like the figurehead slung at the front of a sailing ship.

“Well, the writing here mentions that the area gets darker and more calm as we approach the portal. Again, that’s if I’m reading the gith right. Sodding maps in piking languages that none of us speak natively.” Nisha smirked and offered the maps to Fyrehowl who happened to drift by at that moment.

“More or less that’s what it says.” The lupinal rolled up the maps and tucked them into her belt before plunging along with the others headlong into the mist as they all continued on following after Nisha at the urging of the planar compass.

Three hours later the area had indeed grown darker, almost murky and hazy as opposed to the otherwise light expanses of the ethereal that they had thus far swum though. But till now they had in truth only been skimming upon the surface of the near ethereal, close to the prime and not into the unknown depths of the ethereal deeps. Now with a tentative push they plunged into the darkening mists.

As they progressed into the darkening portions of the ethereal deep it seemed even more clouded and murky than the rest of the deep ethereal in which they traveled. As they dove still deeper and deeper, by the minute the ethereal seemed… congealed, thicker somehow. Nisha glanced warily at the planar compass as they dove deeper into the murky haze. “This is where it says we’re supposed to be going. Nothing else besides that yet. The portal has to be in here somewhere though.”

Deeper still they could begin to physically feel the space around them condense into a tenuous consistency. Less a solid fog of ether than thickening strands of it with a feel like passing one’s hands through water. The place was utterly silent as they descended into the deep, devoid of life and lit from further in by a pale white luminescence that reached out through the denser stretch of ethereal fog like grasping fingers and tendrils.

“Anyone know what this is? This really doesn’t feel good. Tristol? Clueless, don’t you have some connection to the ethereal?” Florian asked with a worried look before he touched his holy symbol out of reverence and a need for reassurance.

Clueless placed a hand on one of the thicker filaments of congealed ether and watched as his fingers slipped through it to leave fickle and transient lines of passage in their wake. “I don’t have a clue. This isn’t like anything I’ve ever heard of before.”

Continuing tentatively, the strands and filaments of ethereal mist grew thicker and more numerous, almost like a spider’s web or cocoon of some sorts slowly condensing out of the ether the further they dove in. Gradually the light became less diffuse and more definite in source. The majority of the ghostly light still shown from deeper within the mass of filaments, threads and shapes that rapidly emerged out of the ether, but some of those same structures had begun to shed that same pearly luminescence of their own. Those that did were more defined in shape and structure. Tangled through the morass of ethereal protomatter were distinct shapes that resembled blocks and columns of white, translucent glowing alabaster.

“What the hell are those?” Toras remarked as Fyrehowl squinted to make out any further details.

“I don’t know. I can’t focus on them. They’re blurry, or the ether around them is. That’s not natural though.” The lupinal glanced at a number of the columns before rubbing at her eyes and glancing instead deeper into the core of whatever it was they were within.

“Hold on, I’m going to go take a closer look at them.” Clueless volunteered and dove down towards the nearest column where it hung suspended among the threads and filaments of semi-solid ethereal protomatter. As he drew to within a dozen feet or so he stopped and hovered. Something about it all didn’t seem quite right. He hesitated to approach it further. Some malign but indescribable dread held him from getting any closer to the structure.

“Can you see any more detail?” Aren’s telepathic voice drifted into Clueless’s mind as he stared intently at the sides of the column where writing or decoration of some sort seemed to scrawl across its surface. Letters, runes, pictograms; all of them blurry and hazy. For whatever reason he couldn’t seem to focus his eyes properly on them.

Clueless flicked his wings briefly and drifted closer to the column by a few feet and descended down a half dozen more towards where the bottom of the column might be more visible. As he moved he noticed one detail that had eluded him before. The letters or runes upon the column were not in fact written or carved into the material. The letters floated nearly an inch removed from the ghostly glow that emanated from the stone.

Clueless strained his eyes to focus in on the nearest patch of floating pictograms. His eyes seemed to sting from the strain and the glow from the column and runes alike turned a sudden shade of deep red. He blinked and looked back at his companions only to find that his vision itself had turned that solid color. His eyes had begun to bleed internally from simply focusing on the letters, whatever in the names of the powers they were. A streak of fear passed through the bladesinger then and he prepared to dash back to his waiting fellows to have either Aren or Florian heal the damage that stung the back of his eyes like a burn from hellfire. But he stopped dead in his tracks, his wings motionless, unmoving and covered in a flickering faerie fire cover of dread as his blood suddenly ran with ice at what he saw at the base of the column as he drifted into view.

Near the base of the column the glowing alabaster-like stone changed and shifted in structure and appearance. The stone turned to a dull metallic sheen and from its surface sprouted –blades-. Hundreds of them. Razor sharp and very, very familiar in their appearance…

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

Hey, Shemmy: Maybe once you're finished, you can go and sell this to WotC as a novel...

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At the sound of the beep, you've been mazed

Clueless screamed and jerked back with a sudden flutter of his wings as they furiously swept at the ether. “Holy crap!”

“What? What do you see over there?” Aren’s telepathic voice reached out into his mind once more with alarm.

The others hung within the ether and looked at Clueless with a mixture of curiosity and fear as he flew back to within range of their voices. He was pale and shaking, his wings covered with an unhealthy sheen of yellow faerie fire.

“I don’t know what the hell this place is, but I’m not going near any of those things. There’s… blades… growing out of the stone on that pillar over there. And there’s only one place I’ve ever seen blades that look like that. And we’re not in Sigil right now…” Clueless shuddered as he exhaled. His companions blinked and turned towards the pillar.

Tristol seemed confused, but given the expressions on the others’ faces, his own ears flattened back against his head. “What do you mean? I’ve only been in Sigil for a day at the most, and I don’t remember seeing anything like that…”

“Her Serenity.” Nisha deadpanned with a slight tremor in her voice. Tristol didn’t spark a glimmer of recognition. “Her Dread Majesty.” Nisha made one more mention of the Bladed Queen’s various titles but the wizard still hadn’t connected the phrases to the blades that grew like leaves from the column some twenty yards distant, suspended in the tangle of solidified protomatter.

“I don’t…” Tristol murmured as he and the group drifted closer to the structure, Clueless hung back to their rear and only followed them at a distance.

“The Lady of Pain.” The tiefling shuddered and looked distinctly uncomfortable as she invoked The Lady’s name. Tristol jerked back several feet from the column where he had been slowly floating towards it before his mind tumbled to the dark of the matter.

“Mystra preserve me…” Tristol whispered softy, invoking his patron deity’s name like a shield against his uncertainty and his fear.

“Somehow I don’t think that’d be enough, given past history…” Fyrehowl inhaled deeply and turned away from the column.

A palpable silence descended over them as they hung motionless amid the tangle of ethereal webbing and the blocks and columns that seemed to emerge out of it seamlessly. They gazed around to gather the full scope of whatever it was they had wandered into. The region that surrounded them like a gigantic spider’s web with its own trappings of captured insects had to be miles across at the very least and still continued inwards. Deeper into the core of the cloud, the strands of ethereal protomatter grew thicker, denser, and seemingly more patterned.

The more dense the strands and chords of ether became, the more blocks and columns seemed to emerge from the mass itself. All of the discrete structures glowed with the same ghostly white pallor, each of them detailed with the same burning lines of runes, and more and more they sprouted blades.

“Turn around if you want, I don’t have that option. I have a week or so before I die of the poison in me. I don’t know what this is here, and yes it scares the hell out of me, but a frightening unknown is still better than certain death.” Tristol said with sudden conviction as he began to drift forwards.

“Oh hell, why not. It’s not like I haven’t done stupid things before… today.” Nisha glanced around at her companions and smiled. “That was a joke, but still, I’m in. How about the rest of you.”

“I’m not doing this for myself, but to save the life of a loved one. My own fright doesn’t mean a thing. I’m going through with this even if my own life isn’t at stake here, it might as well be.” Fyrehowl said and nodded towards Toras as he began to drift forwards after Tristol with a grim look on his face and his sword drawn.

“You all know how I feel already…” He said without looking back.

Clueless blinked, “I’m in. But I’m not going near anything that even reminds me of The Lady while we keep going. Not much scares me except the unknown, and that’s an even bigger unknown than what I’m being blackmailed with. Still, I can’t let you all go on alone. You go in there, so do I.”

The bladesinger flicked his wings to follow the others as Aren softly sighed to herself, touched her holy symbol and hesitantly followed along. “You’ll need me. Hopefully not as much as I think though.”

Together they all descended down into the murky depths of the cloudy, semi solid ether that spun out around them. Flies descending into a spider’s webbing. They altered course several times to keep their distance from the bladed structures that sprung up in greater frequency from the latticework of protomatter as they went deeper. While the area soaked up light and grew darker as they continued on with trepidation, there seemed to be a single point of light growing within the depths below. A single point of light that sparkled dimly like a candle seen through smoke or clouded glass.

As they made their way downward still, the mass of congealed ether finally grew thin and evaporated as they entered a hollow within the center of it all. Within the cavernous open space was a massive, slightly egg shaped bubble that shed a pale, silvery luminescence. Hazy lines and flaws traced across its surface like afterimages on the eyes after staring at a bright light. They wandered across the egg’s surface like a patchwork of pipes, roads or bundled tubules. Nothing moved, nothing stirred. There was only the pale ghost light of the egg and the hollow bubble of space at the core of the semi-solid ether that surrounded the party.

“What in the 9 Hells is that?” Clueless whispered to himself with more than a touch of awe in his voice. His sentiment was returned by similar comments from the others as they all slowly drifted towards the edge of the massive glowing bubble.

Nisha put out her hand to touch the surface as they came into reach of it, then she hesitated and stopped. The surface rippled and warped like it was made of liquid as her fingers stopped within a few inches of it. Whatever it was, it wasn’t solid. As they watched the ripples pass through the surface, the hazy details that they had seen within seemed to move and jostle like things suspended in a liquid. The bubble was more a membrane than anything else.

“Nisha? Where’s the portal that was supposed to be around here? Please check. This doesn’t feel right…” Fyrehowl glanced over her shoulder warily. She shuddered as the light from the egg glittered and reflected tiny motes of light on the surface of the blades that dotted the ether at the fringe of the hollow like stars upon a mist-covered sky.

Nisha fiddled with the compass for a moment before looking back at the lupinal, “In there… it’s pointing dead center of this… whatever this is.”

“Oh hell!” Toras swore as he looked at the surface of the bubble that gave back no reflection of himself, or the rest of the group. He slowly realized that fact and backed away from the liquid surface of the egg.

“So, who’s going in first?” Florian asked with a wry grin to offset his own fear.

“Tristol, can you tell us anyth…” Clueless began to say before the aasimar cut him off with a shake of his head.

“That thing, whatever in Mystra’s name it is, it isn’t magical…” Tristol said with genuine unease.

“Not magical? How so?” Aren asked and drifted closer.

“Just what I said. It’s not glowing with any magical aura. The spell works because some of us are lit up like candlesticks. But aside from us, nothing in this place glows of any magic. Not the bubble, not the light it’s making, not the strands of ether out there, not the columns, not the blocks and dare I say, not the blades…” Tristol lowered his voice for the final remark and turned back towards the bubble.

Fyrehowl breathed deeply and reached out towards the surface of the bubble out of instinct. As her fingers brushed the surface the surface rippled like the waves made from tossing a large stone onto the surface of an otherwise tranquil lake. There was a spark of light from the point of contact with her fingers and an abrupt sucking noise as the lupinal vanished from sight without a trace. Her companions jerked back, startled at the effect and worried for her safety.

“Well… umm… who’s next?” Nisha chuckled uncomfortably as she reached out to touch the surface. A moment later she was gone with similar effect.

One by one the others followed suit with doubt and fear running heavily through their minds before all of them were gone and vanished into the interior of the egg with not a mark left behind to detail their passage.

All of them stood confused and disoriented on the dirty cobblestones of a city street. Buildings rose up on either side of them while the street extended for some way in either direction with frequent intersections. The air was stale and heavy with dust and age. The buildings seemed vacant, unoccupied and abandoned. The style was strikingly close to those within the Clerk’s Ward of Sigil, but the architecture was old and archaic. Many of them appeared in some manner of decay, with broken windows, rotted doors and collapsed roofs along with several buildings along the street that appeared to have been burned to their foundations. Imagine a section of Sigil spun off on its own, locked away, abandoned and moldering amid the aftermath of a war.

“We’re in Sigil… but…” Tristol looked up, expecting to see clouds drifting overhead, partially obscuring the familiar curve of the opposite side of the city high above. Instead, he saw nothing but a black, starless void hung above them. There was no other side of Sigil to see.

Awe, wonder and confusion strummed the air like a musician’s fingers upon a harp. The group stood there in silence, trying to contemplate just where they were and how the place had come to be. Not a sound echoed across the empty expanse of the city, only the soft noises of their own breathing and movements. Looming in the distance and rising over the rest of the cityscape, towering over the other ancient buildings like a black spear stabbing at the void above was a single, monolithic ebony tower. From their distance it barely stood out against the sky above, all of its windows as black and vacant as the void it reached out towards in either spite or supplication.

“What the?!” Nisha dropped the planar compass as it began to glow a harsh blue in her hands and hover on its own volition. The bauble gave a rhythmic hum as it projected a recorded message to its owners.

“Our apologies for this little deception. There is no portal here waiting for you. Rather, congratulations for having just now willingly mazed yourselves. If you have not yet realized this charming fact, you now stand within one of the mazes of The Lady of Pain, having just entered from its exterior in the deep ethereal. It took us some time to divine the exact location of this particular maze. Do not despair; there is yet hope for your escape provided you do as instructed. Listen well, this will not repeat.”

The group came to sudden attention and glared angrily at the hovering compass as it continued, “Several centuries ago, there existed a faction, now almost entirely extinct, called nowadays ‘The Incantifers’, then simply as The Magicians or The Wanters. They believed that magic, specifically arcane magic, was the key to power, indeed the only power that mattered in the multiverse. Gain enough knowledge of magic and skill in it and you could do anything. Even challenge The Lady….

According to legend, at least two members of the Wanters tried just that. They died, horribly and spectacularly. Legend also says that one of them almost succeeded. Duke Rowan Darkwood was well aware of these legends. According to our agents within the Takers, some might say he was obsessed with them. At some point in the Wanters’ history they rose to such collective heights that the other factions simply played the game according to the rules the Wanters set, everyone grasping for table scraps comparatively.

Then one day, they vanished. Cutters looked up one morning and the Tower Sorcerous, the faction headquarters of the Wanters was simply gone. Nearly all of their members vanished with it, though a scant few remain to wander the planes. Between the information the Duke gleaned from his obsessive search of Sigil’s darks, and others employed by us, you now stand in the maze to which the Lady damned the Wanters. If any of them yet live, find them and any information relevant to the mage Shekelor, once Factol of the Wanters. Engage any persons in combat only if hard pressed, and above all do not aid any of them in escape from the mazes.

The Tower Sorcerous is likely to yet be magically guarded even these many centuries later. And one more warning: even the most apprentice Incantifer is at the very least an accomplished mage. Most, if not all of them, do not age and so many are likely to yet remain alive, pending certain variables, and they have both a high resistance to magic, and an ability to absorb spells cast at them.

Upon finding any relevant information return to the spot of your entry using this planar compass, at that point you will be guided from the maze to the one exit that every of The Lady’s mazes carry. Assuming of course there is one. We are willing to take that risk. If you escape the maze and return to Sigil you will proceed immediately to the Styx Oarsman, a tavern in the Lower Ward.”

With that, the compass sparked with a release of its last bits of magic, sputtered and died. Nisha caught the now useless trinket in her hand and frowned at it. “Sodding mercanes…”

Toras grit his teeth, Fyrehowl snarled and Florian threw up his hands in the air before whipping out his axe. “Well, that history lesson aside, let’s get moving because I’m no closer to a cure otherwise. Tempus forbid there’s many of these people left…”

While Florian had been speaking, Tristol had wandered over towards one of the buildings that lined the street and crouched down to examine something laying in the rubble where part of its structure had collapsed inwards. He paused, looked closely at something there in the debris and stood back up. “I don’t think there’s going to be many people left here, if any…”

Tristol pointed with his staff towards a withered, gnarled body lying in the rubble. It had once been a human of what could only be described as ‘advanced’ age, turned to stone by some ancient spell. The rotting remains of a wooden structural support still jutting out of the corpse’s chest from where the building had collapsed down upon it. Cracks radiated away from the point of impact and the head was no longer entirely connected to the rest of the body. Even had it been returned to flesh it would have been dead. However that would have been merciful given the apparent condition of the corpse when it was struck by the spell that had petrified it. At their death, the corpse, clearly that of a wizard given its clothing, had been starving. The limbs were thin and decrepit, the face’s cheeks were caved in, the ribs clearly showed through the flesh of their torso. Starving, anemic and withered.

Tristol pointed towards a crater opposite where the first figure had fallen. “There’s another corpse over there, looks like it was burned to cinders by whatever leveled that part of the building here. I’d say a meteor swarm or fireball cast by a very, VERY powerful mage.”

“Why do you think that nothing’s going to be left alive though? Ok, two people died fighting each other. Tempers flared when they all got mazed, I’m sure I would have been enraged as well. My temper can take down a room or two, an angry wizard’s argument can level the whole building, it happens.” Florian quipped as he walked over to look at the body.

“Think about it though. This place is as silent as a tomb, these buildings look like they suffered through a war. I think they did.” Tristol continued.

“How so…?” Aren asked.

“They all ate magic. They ate other people’s magic. Spells, items, anything they could buy, steal, or otherwise get a hold of. This place is sealed off from everything. There’s no way out and you’ve got an entire faction of magic eating wizard suddenly bottled up with each other and no food source… except each other.” Tristol prodded the corpse at his feet with his staff.

“Oh hells…” Nisha paled as she looked at the petrified corpse that appeared to have been starving at the time of its death.

“Sure, they could have eaten items they had stored up, but eventually they would have fallen over each other like a pack of wolves, the more powerful ones killing and consuming the magic of the less powerful. Most of the damage to these buildings looks like it was done by spells. I can tell you in a few cases just what spell might have done the damage, some… I couldn’t begin to tell you. These people starved to death and turned on one another. Who knows if there are any of them left… Certainly not if these two are any indication.” Tristol shrugged. “There’s not a spark of magic left in here. Even the tower over there is dead from what I can see with the spell I’m using. They ate everything they could, even each other.”

“Still, we have to find out. If there’s anything left, it’s probably in their faction headquarters.” Clueless said, pointing towards the tower looming off in the distance.

“Agreed, even if there’s not a living soul left from this mess there have to be books, logs, journals, notes taken by the wizards. We might find a library or faction records that have what the mercanes are looking for and…” Tristol trailed off as he stared at Fyrehowl. The lupinal’s ears were suddenly perked and twitching, she was staring off past the group towards the end of the street where it intersected with another branch of the maze.

“Fyrehowl? You ok?” Nisha asked curiously.

“Sssshhh!” Fyrehowl waved her off and narrowed her gaze towards the direction that her ears were so intently focused upon. An uneasy hush fell over the group and slowly they too began to hear what it was that had perked the celestial’s attention. First Tristol with his own more keen ears, then the others.

Softly, coming in jerky spurts followed by a return of the deathly silence that cloaked the maze, there was something approaching from deeper within. Something that sounded, as faint as it was, like the scuttling of insects or the rustle of dead, dry leaves on a frigid winter’s morning.

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Mazes, Spellhaunts and Incantifers, oh my!

The group clustered closer together and raised their weapons in the direction of the approaching noise. Seconds later they could see the creature emerge around the corner of a building, partially floating along, partially scuttling like an insect between the wall of the building and the dusty cobblestone street. It was a tangle of twisted black lines suspended in a moving, fluid, jelly-like cloud that seemed as insubstantial as a ghost. With the same rustling, skittering noise is closed to within some thirty feet and paused, wavering slightly as it hovered and seemed to examine the group before it.

Tristol warily eyed the creature and he shrugged as Clueless and Toras glanced at him with unspoken questions. The wizard muttered several words in draconic and examined the creature for any latent dweomers. The surprise and confusion on his face was startling as the creature darted forwards.

Clueless held out his hand and gestured at the approaching beast. A flick of his sword carrying hand and a whisper under his breath called forth a crackling bolt of lighting that struck the surging form full in the bulk of its nebulous body; it made no attempt to evade. Like water to a sponge the spell was absorbed into the creatures bulk, lines of energy crackled along the black streaks within the creature’s body, and aside from the pungent reek of ozone there was no effect. The creature stopped, reoriented, and began to snake towards Clueless. The bladesinger began to backup…

Aren invoked a spell of her own, sending a cluster of burning missiles of orange light into the beast’s side that elicited only the same effect. She too backed up as Tristol’s eyes went wide and a single word came rushing into his memory, “Spellhaunt”. With shaking hands he reached into his memory and formed the patterns for a greater dispelling. With any luck he thought he might be able to undo the structure of the living spell that would otherwise hungrily devour the magic of his entire party and himself. Meanwhile Clueless and Toras hacked ineffectually at the beast, their blades passing clean through the ephemeral body of the Spellhaunt.

“This isn’t doing anything, there’s nothing to sodding hit!” Nisha exclaimed as she crouched at the rear of the living spell and repeatedly jabbed her sword into its interior. For all of her efforts, she may as well have been stirring a soup kettle with her blade. When the dweomers on the sword began to flicker and fade she withdrew it with a sharp exclamation and backed away hurriedly.

Then Tristol’s spell struck. With a rush of air the creature seemed to implode and the lines within its body coursed with a black radiance. As it collapsed upon itself it coalesced and with a ragged rush of cold, black fire a black bolt of force erupted from its withering form to arc to the closest target. The bolt hit Toras clear in the chest and made the fighter stagger and have to steady himself.

“Toras!” Aren shouted his name and helped to steady her larger companion as he grimaced and tried to remain standing.

“I’ll be fine… that just took more than a bit out of me.” He waved away any further help and steadied his grip on his sword. “Just what in the hells was that?”

“Something I never want to see again.” Tristol deadpanned.

“Hmm? Do tell.” Fyrehowl asked as she made sure that Toras was fine.

The aasimar took an unsteady breath. “A spellhaunt. A living spell. They’re mistakes and accidents. Every so often under the right, or wrong, circumstances and conditions a spell gets miscast and doesn’t just fail. When that happens the spell becomes alive in some sense, but it fades away eventually unless it can find magic to sustain itself.”

Nisha looked at her sword with a worried expression.

“It eats spells. It’ll drain the charges of scrolls, staves, and wands. It’ll pluck spells from my memory. The only way to destroy them is to either dispel them like any other spell, or counterspell them if you know what spell it was that went wrong originally to create it. This one was some sort of enervation spell… sorry Toras.”

“Not a worry, I’ll be fine.”

Fyrehowl paused and looked at Tristol. “But the faction that got shunted to this maze also ate magic. Either that thing was a mistake during their war against each other, or some bloody fool made one on purpose to take down his enemies.”

“Oh pike it all. If it’s the second case, there’s probably more.” Nisha cursed at her magic-dead sword.

“And if so, we’re probably the only things left alive in here, not counting any spellhaunts. They’d have drained the entire maze dry centuries ago and the wizards would have starved to death even if they could have fought off their own mistakes.” Tristol sighed with resignation.

Florian walked over to Toras, whispered a prayer and laid a softly glowing hand on his shoulder. Toras seemed suddenly more invigorated and thanked the cleric.

“Hope there aren’t more of them, I don’t have any more restoration magic for another half a day or so. Healing wounds, not a problem; causing them, even less of a problem; but restorative magic, that was all I had.”

“We should get moving to that tower. And everyone stay alert, there might be more spellhaunts lurking around here…” Fyrehowl said as she moved down the street, pausing to glance into each building, especially the ruined ones that would have provided dozens of hiding spaces for an ambush.

As they moved through the maze, they realized that true to its name, the streets seemed to double back upon themselves and warp in bizarre fashion. One intersection might lead to three blind alleys, then bring them back to a point they had seen, or thought they had seen, some twenty minutes and a mile earlier. While quiet and dead, the cityscape labyrinth was hardly unoccupied. As they gradually made their way towards the looming edifice of the Tower Sorcerous, the maze came alive around them.

Spellhaunts, dozens of them, seemed to stir from a hibernating torpor instilled on them from centuries of starvation in the magic-dead maze, devoid of any prey but themselves. Each of the ravenous creatures glowed with a color corresponding to the school of the spell whose disastrous warping had birthed it. The spellhaunts seemed to unerringly seek out the magic of the group and rather than fight, they ran.

Eventually the companions reached progressively widening streets and finally they paused at the outer defensive walls that had originally surrounded the block of land upon which the Incantifers had constructed their faction headquarters. Beyond the walls stood the Tower Sorcerous, rising dozens of stories overhead like an infernal black pike awaiting a cavalry charge from the heavens. Not a glimmer of light marked the windows that dotted its exterior.

“Alright, here’s the damn tower. And no welcoming committee…” Fyrehowl growled and glanced back down the broad avenue behind them. Already her ears could listen to a dozen or more spellhaunts crawling like great scuttling insects, hungering for their magic.

“Except for the welcoming committee that we’ve already been acquainted with…” Clueless smirked and stared up at the tower’s defensive walls. “Wow…”

Even with the steady approach of waves of Spellhaunts then being heard softly in the distance, they all looked up at the fortifications surrounding the tower with awe. Most of the thick, heavy walls were intact, but they were uniformly scarred by flames, pitted by acid, and gouged with the telltale traces of lightning strikes. Craters pockmarked the streets surrounding the battlements and one or two sections of the walls, each nearly 10 feet thick, had collapsed from the ravages of time or the original war that had washed over the tower when its makers turned on each other.

Still standing in silent vigil atop the walls were the dead and crumbling remains of twelve stone golems, each blindly looking outwards into the maze. Several iron golems remained in their own guardianship near the ravaged and crumpled remains of the main gate, the golems now little more than piles of vaguely humanoid rust. Also littering the battlements were nearly twenty human skeletons, each still dressed in the frayed remains of wizardly robes, though some had been obviously killed by spells that had incinerated their bodies ages past. One body was partially fused into the stone of the exterior wall, either the result of a failed teleportation or an insidious attack by another while the mage had been hiding within the stone by use of some now forgotten spell.

“Umm… yeah. Let’s stop looking at the dead people and make for what used to be the gate and get inside. The spellhaunts aren’t going to stop and stare here like we are.” Nisha gave a nervous chuckle and began to move toward the twisted remains of the main gates some twenty yards distant.

Each of the gates had once stood some twenty feet tall, crafted of glittering greensteel and embossed with runes of warding. Little was left of them. The once proud gates were both piles of twisted scrap, partially melted from heat or acid, their hinges barely clinging to the stone of the defensive walls, blasted loose by the force of the explosion that had rent them asunder.

“There’s not even a glimmer of magic left on the gates, even where I can make out some old warding symbols. Either devoured or discharged years ago.” Tristol sighed as they picked their way through the twisted metal and entered the courtyard.

Florian and Clueless were the first to stride across the courtyard between the gates and the tower. Thirty feet ahead of them, the silver doors of the tower still stood intact and closed. Florian stopped and turned back to look at Tristol as Nisha poked and prodded at the lumpy remains of a clockwork animal that had rusted in place on the grass that covered much of the courtyard.

“Tristol, are the gates warded? They’re still intact and closed. There’s a pretty stark contrast between them and the gates we just walked through. I don’t think the place is as dead as we thought.”

Tristol recast his spell to detect latent dweomers and gazed at the tower’s entrance curiously. After but a moment of concentration his head tilted sideways and he furrowed his eyebrows. “Clueless… don’t move.”

“Huh? What did I… oh…” The bladesinger paused on the steps of the tower and looked over his shoulder to see that the nimbus of faerie fire that normally washed over his wings had died except for a glimmer of sparks at their very tip.

Clueless’s sudden concern was broken by the overly enthusiastic laugh of the tiefling as she walked up to Clueless. “Oh wow!”

“Wow what? Can I move Tristol or is something going to blow up?”
Tristol shook his head, “Nothing’s going to blow up at all. Step back though.”

“Whatever you say…” Clueless flicked his wings and fluttered back to the base of the steps. As he cleared the boundary of the cracked marble portico, the faerie fire on his wings reignited. As the other’s noticed and began to understand the exact effect, Nisha was busy with a wand of light, happily extending and removing the glowing tip from the extinguishing boundary at the foot of the stairs.

“Antimagic… they blanketed the entire tower in antimagic. That’s incredible.” Tristol’s voice rang with frank astonishment.

“Except didn’t they eat magic to stay alive? That’d be a self-imposed death sentence for them to do that. That doesn’t make sense.” Toras said as he walked up next to Nisha.

“Clueless. Do me a favor and walk to the top of the steps. You’ll be fine.” Tristol walked to the fringe of the antimagic and stopped there along with the rest of the party. Clueless looked back warily and walked up slowly, step by step. As he reached the top of the stairs, a distance of perhaps ten or fifteen feet the magical fire about his wings flashed back on suddenly.

“That’s no death sentence. They sealed themselves in a –shell- of antimagic. The spellhaunts can’t pass it. Whoever did this was trying to protect themselves from the spellhaunts they’d either created by accident or as a weapon against their fellows. No wonder the entire tower looked magic-dead from the maze.” Tristol’s eyes glittered with fascination.

“Anything magical would be snuffed out like the cover over the light in a bullseye lantern.” Fyrehowl added with equal amazement.

“Speaking of which, I’m not touching that door. There’re active spells on the front door. Get up here and take a look for yourselves.” Clueless said as he turned around to examine the silver doors with cautious curiosity.

The doors, while not nearly as large as those upon the blasted exterior fortifications of the tower, were some twenty feet tall and ten feet across on either side. Embossed runes sparkled with magic upon the surface of the doors while a flight of dragons cast in silver and onyx soared along the top and bottom margins of the elaborate, but nonmagical decorations on the faces of the doors.

As the group gathered around the doors, Tristol sat and concentrated on the patterns of magic he saw dancing across their surface. Nisha began to examine the fringes of the doors, the stone around where the recessed hinges of the doors would be, and the stone blocks immediately in front of them.

“No traps, just spells on the door. And the doors are welded shut.” The tiefling pointed with amusement to the vertical line of fused silver that formed the centerpoint of the two doors.

“Oh bloody balls of Tempus…” Florian sighed and leaned against the wall to his left.

“Any progress on those spells Tristol?” Aren asked softly.

“They’re not offensive. There’s a simple mage lock still on the doors. Though not that it matters since the original caster, or someone else, made sure of the doors never opening by fusing them together. There’s also another spell on there, also an abjuration, but I can’t figure out what it is. It’s cast on the inside of the doors, or just inside the tower on the floor. Either way it’ll be sprung by opening the doors or going past them.” Tristol mused as he stood up and dusted off his robes from the dirt and debris that caked the steps.

“Well then it begs the question, how do we get in the place?” Nisha asked.

“I could always just break the door down.” Toras said with a smile, seeming just a bit too eager.

“I’ve got a spell that can ferry us in, but it’ll take me a few times of casting it. Who wants to go first?” Tristol smiled, feeling not only useful, but needed.

“Aww, I wanted to see Toras break his arms breaking the door down!” Nisha faux pouted.

Fyrehowl, Florian, and Clueless raised there hands and were the first of group to be transported into the tower. They vanished with a blue flash and moments later Tristol reappeared to do the same for Aren, Toras, and Nisha. Unbeknownst to them all, the moment they breached the doors, magically or not, a single spell activated, triggering an alarm that sounded in the mind of its original caster, and any other that might have been watching.

Momentarily disoriented by the effects of Tristol’s spell, the group stood and regained their bearings. They stood in the well of a massive chamber that reaching up through the center of the tower. Twin sets of spiral stairs reached up into the heights of the tower, each of them pausing at landings at each subsequent floor to link the many levels of the tower. The stairs and the central chamber climbed up to some point around two thirds of the way up the height of the tower. Beyond that it was likely that the areas there had been restricted in some way to the rank and file of the faction.

The chamber was desolate and quiet. Dust rose into the air with each and every footstep the companions took, filtering through the light that streamed down from overhead from the cracked but glowing stained glass window high above that had once held some mosaic, perhaps even the faction’s symbol. Now it was ruined, a mute victim of the violence that had scoured the faction’s former demesne. All around were similar physical remains of ruined glory that served as sad, ancient epitaphs to the Incanterium.

“Well damn if this place wouldn’t have been magnificent during its heyday. Geez.” Nisha gawked at the ruined faction hall’s interior as the others spread out, slowly investigating the galleries and chambers that branched off from the central chamber at ground level.

If they had expected to find any evidence of living faction members they found nothing of the sort. Room after room they found abandoned, cluttered with the debris of former classrooms, laboratories, scriptoriums and personal chambers. Everywhere it was deathly quiet and utterly devoid of magic. Slowly climbing the central stairwell towards the higher levels of the tower they found the same. Rooms cluttered with magical paraphernalia, wands, scrolls, books and random items, hoarded like the place had been infested by packrats or dragons that had long ago died and left their stashes behind. But uniformly all of the trappings of a faction of wizards were drained of their last sparks of magic.

Here and there in the rooms, frequently associated with the magic-dead hoards of drained and devoured items, the group found the ancient and decayed corpses of former Incantifers. They had each died in violence where they had stolen themselves away to, each hoping to live as long as they could before starvation eventually overtook them. Hope against the hopeless inevitability that had claimed them all.

Aren shed a tear and turned to Fyrehowl, “This is horrific. How could someone have thrown them all together like this and locked them away. The Lady had to have known what they would have done to each other!”

Fyrehowl looked back at the succubus, “I think that was Her intention all along…”

The lupinal’s comment seemed to draw a cold pallor over the group as they continued to find more and more victims of the original cannibalistic war of survival amongst the members of the faction.

“Alright, I’m officially getting depressed on behalf of these poor sods as well.” Nisha frowned and her tail drooped sullenly behind her, mirroring the same exact posture on Fyrehowl and Tristol while Clueless’s wings had assumed a solid violet shade of faerie fire to reflect his own mood.

“I’ll agree to that too. I…” Clueless paused mid sentence as they ascended the stairs to the next floor of the tower. Tristol, Aren, Florian, Clueless and Nisha paused immediately as well and glanced around with concern.

“What in the blazes happened?” Toras asked with alarm, not privy to whatever had snagged the concern of his more magically adept fellows.

“We just got hit with a scry.” Nisha said, trying in vain to locate the nigh invisible magical eye that was the telltale sign of the spell.

“No, we got hit by –two- of them…” Tristol said as his tail bottlebrushed and his ears laid flat against his head.

As the five of them struggled to locate the source of the scry spells, Fyrehowl’s ears perked with alarm. “Someone’s walking this way.” The lupinal closed her eyes and tried to discern the location of the noise that only she as yet could hear. “Much higher up, probably at the top of the stairs. Two sets of footsteps, fairly light on their feet and walking –fast-. Both of them are coming from opposite directions at the top there.”

“Well cutters, looks like we found who we came here to find… lets hope that they’re agreeable…” Clueless’s wings shifted from their previous violet hue to a flickering staccato of blue and yellow.

“I just hope that they’re not hungry…” Nisha said with a worried tone.

A feminine voice flooded into the minds of each of the six as they ascended the stairs and into view of the top of the two stairwells. “Hurry! The lich approaches! Hurry this way and I will protect you. He’s insane and will kill you for your magic!”

A second voice echoed through their minds in response to the first, male, angry, and carrying with it an unsavory, but authoritative, taint. “The bitch would sooner carve you in half upon a silver platter! She will protect you only to devour you later. I will deal with you if you will hear me out.”

The group paused and looked up at the top of the stairs where two figures stood upon the railings having just emerged from doors on opposite sides of the tower. The figure to the left was little more than bones wrapped in velvet. The mage had once been human, but long since succumbed to undeath. The ravages of time had stripped his bones of the last traces of flesh and only a crackling web of spidery silver energy bound them into a humanoid form. Where its eyes had once been, there were not the pinpricks of light normally associated with liches, but rather two featureless, glowing orbs of liquid silver.

Opposite the lich, and glaring at him from across the chamber was a blue robed woman, half-elven by appearance. Unlike the lich however, she was alive but didn’t seem a year over forty. Her blond hair was flecked with gemstones woven into the dozen or so braids that trailed down to her shoulders and dodged a number of glowing ioun stones that circled in erratic orbits around her head. While not undead, she shared one trait with the lich opposite her: her eyes were orbs of glowing liquid silver.

As the two wizards glared at each other some thirty feet opposite, the air was charged with a palpable electricity of raw, unbound magic. The lich turned once more to the party and his voice echoed through their minds like a breeze over an open tomb, “She is not as she seems. She started this war that decimated us. We are the last of our faction and our imprisonment has cost me my humanity, and she her mind. I am willing to deal with you rationally. She… she is starving… and you know what we are.”

“Silence Valdros! Lying corpse!” The half-elf archmage snarled in fury and held up one hand towards the lich, violet energy played along her fingertips. The lich snapped up one skeletal hand as a bolt of energy lashed out at him to snarl and gnaw at his hastily erected warding. The woman yelled out again to the group, “The corpse lies. He was responsible for our imprisonment in the first place. He unleashed the spellhaunts upon us! You have to believe me, he will betray you for his own benefit!”

“Will I now Areya? Shall I tell them what you did to your own apprentices?” The lich asked mockingly and hurled a half dozen flaming spheres in her direction. Like her spell at him a moment before, his too was blunted and nullified by her own defenses. A stalemate, one that had lasted centuries…

The companions glanced at each other nervously. Either of the Incantifers was capable of incinerating them as an afterthought, and both clearly hated each other with a passion. Given their opposition, it wasn’t at all likely that they would sit down and talk and not launch into a spellbattle at the drop of a hat. They would need to approach only one of them, and likely come to some agreement with them for protection from their counterpart. Such were the circumstances.

“Quickly now, my portion of the tower is warded against his kind. Hurry!” The sorceress’s voice was tinged with urgency that bordered on desperation.

More spells flew between both archmages and again no damage was done to either. “Examine us, two of you are clerics, then decide who you trust…” The lich’s eyes gleamed silver as his living counterpart unleashed a flaming hailstorm against his wards and shields.

“Aren? Florian? Who’s evil and who isn’t?” Fyrehowl asked as she nervous watched the exchange of spells between both mages.

“He’s lawful, she’s… not. We can probably at least deal with him. Even if he’s out for himself he’ll be honorable.” Florian said as he finished a quick prayer and glanced at both Incantifers.

“No, there’s got to be some way to dealing with them both? If we side with one, they’re going to demand we help them kill the other…” Aren’s eyes flashed red as she expressed her concerns.

“So… who are we more afraid of? The thousands of years old lich? Or the living woman who’s held him at a standstill for all that time?…” Clueless flicked his wings and moved slightly towards the lich’s side of the tower. “Come on, we go now or we risk her blowing us to scraps.”

“No, I can’t…” Aren sighed and stopped talking as her companions nodded in agreement with Clueless and began flying or running up the steps in the lich’s direction. She stood her ground and looked up at the half-elven woman. Her companions left her standing there, already having decided to put their trust in the lich. Clueless yelled back at her once to follow them, to hurry, but she ignored him and stepped towards the stairs up to the female archmage. As Aren watched her companions climb the stairs towards the undead archwizard, the woman he had called Areya shrieked in abject fury. “Damn you to the nine hells Valdros! If I can’t escape this powers be damned maze neither will you!”

As she screamed, her eyes burning with silvery light and she hurled spell after spells at the lich who hovered several inches above the ground, counterspelling or absorbing each and every one of his counterpart’s curses and invocations. They were too well matched against one another. Their assaults had to have been repeated thousands of times over the long years, never with a surprise and never with an end before, nor in sight. They knew each others means and tactics.

“That’s the thing Areya… I gave up that hope long ago…” The lich that was called Valdros laughed and cast out both of his hands. His robes fluttered without any breeze below his fleshless form and a transparent, softly glowing barrier appeared in the center of the chamber, sealing off his half of the tower from the other. He turned to the five who had climbed to his landing upon the stairs and nodded at them. “Follow me. The Spellbreaker shall destroy my barrier in short order if she deigns to expend the energy. My section of the tower is too well warded for her to make an attempt upon us therein. Please, come and we shall discuss terms. I am curious as to who sent you and why you are here. I expect that you want something…”

Clueless looked back to the stairs below and at Aren who was sealed off from them, trapped on the other side of the lich’s defensive wall. Already the succubus had spread her wings and was slowly and warily approaching the half-elven wizardress. The bladesinger looked to the lich and pointed towards the cleric, “What about Aren? We can’t just leave her.”

“She is dead. My fellow factor will drain her of magic and then slowly consume her soul as a delicacy. I cannot easily retrieve her from beyond my own barrier without risking your, and my, safety. She made her choice and must live with it. Just as I have had to live with mine… follow me.” The lich’s eyes sparkled with their lustrous metallic sheen as he nodded slightly and began to silently float towards the open doorway through which he had originally entered.

As the lich walked out of sight with Aren’s companions, the succubus flew up to the other Incantifer and paused several yards from her. She smiled and bowed slightly. “May we talk? We came here looking for information this faction once had, we need it to save the lives of several people. My companions may have followed your rival but I’m willing to strike a deal with you.”

The archmage stared at the succubus with those glowing silver eyes, not a fleck of emotion on her face.

“I’m sure we can come to some sort of agreement.” Aren’s voice was tinged with hope.

Archmage Areya Fenthillis the Spellbreaker, Factor of the Incanterium, began to whisper the words of a haste spell.

“We… we don’t have to fight…” Aren’s voice was pitifully hopeful in the face of impending obliteration.

The Spellbreaker smiled. Aren smiled back and took a tentative step forwards. The Spellbreaker looked the succubus up and down, smiled and licked her lips like she was inspecting a choice cut of meat for a feast. The air hummed with power.

“I…” Aren’s voice quivered as she stepped backwards. The redeemed fiend knew fear and then her world went black.

The lich paused as he ushered the group into a small chamber off from the main hallway he had led them down, higher into the depths of his portion of the Tower Sorcerous. They had passed by numerous wards and guardians on their way, without the lich to allow them passage it was unlikely that they could have breached them and lived, not in a hundred years. “Your companion is no more.” Archmage Valdros Peralthon, Factor of the Incantrium stood silent for a moment out of respect for his new allies though his own statement had carried the emotionless tone of one already well acquainted with death.

There was a long moment of silence among Aren’s former companions before the lich broke the unease by gesturing them all towards a set of chairs against one wall as he sat hovering in midair across from them. “Like it or not we are now allies, and as such do not be afraid for your safety under my watch. This place is sacrosanct. I have had nothing if not time to ward my lairs. Consider yourselves my guests for the time being, I have never had any since I was condemned to this place. That said… my former colleague, Areya Fenthellis the Spellbreaker, will not allow you to leave this tower. So… who sent you and what is it that you came here for? I doubt that anyone would willingly maze themselves or blunder into one as heavily armed and enspelled as you appear to be. I am curious.”

As the lich sat and hovered his guests looked at each other, considering how to answer him. Florian softly whispered a spell to detect evil. He was certain the lich was, but in case he wasn’t, the knowledge would be useful. As expected, Valdros glowed a brilliant, telltale glow of evil. But lawful evil was less prone to random violence and dishonor. His imprisonment had tempered and mellowed his outlook on things if nothing else.

“Well, we’re not here willingly. Our ‘employers’, we don’t really know who they are. Led us here under false, or at least misleading pretenses. They’re blackmailing each of us, some with information, and two of us will die within a short period of time without their aid. Nice people…” Clueless said with a smirk.

The lich nodded. “Can I get you anything? Food or drink? I do not require such, but you appear tired. As I said, I have had no guests nor anyone to speak with for a very long time. This is a joy.”

They looked at each other again, “No” “I’m fine, but thank you.” “Umm… that’s alright.” They all politely declined.

“What happened here?” Toras spoke up.

“We sinned against Her Dread Majesty and were punished. Our power waxed too high, too fast. We dared to brush the steps of the bladed throne and drew the wrath of The Lady. We were given what we deserved and brought upon ourselves. When we were all mazed, all six hundred and thirty of us, we spent the first few months searching for an exit from this hell. The punishments of Her Serenity are not so easily circumvented. Our divinations failed, our mapping of the maze was fruitless and we slowly came to realize that we had little chance of escape.”

The group nodded respectfully and the lich continued.

“Within the maze we did not age, and food appeared in the courtyard of the Tower each and every day. But we do not eat, we consume magic. Slowly we began to realize that we would all begin to starve in a matter of time. Each of us began to covet any magic we could fine, be they objects, scrolls, potions, anything with a dweomers. Each of us took precautions to prolong our own lives against the coming winter, metaphorically speaking, and then the killing began. An apprentice or a namer killed in the hallways, a lower ranking wizard vanishing without a trace, it all started there. Full scale conflict broke out soon thereafter and you have seen its effects outside. The war killed half of us in the space of a week. Something went wrong, or one of us in spite created the first of the spellhaunts to hunt their enemies. They were drawn to each of us like flies to a rotting corpse. But then more and more of them appeared and our spells began to create more and more of them without rhyme or reason. Perhaps The Lady saw a need to slay us by our own means. I cannot say for certain.”

“As the threat posed by our own errant, living spells grew and more and more of us died by their hands we gathered upon the steps of the Tower and sealed it away in a bubble of antimagic to preserve our own lives. The greatest spell I have ever cast, and I did so with the help of my greatest rival. We have never worked together since then. Sealed in as we were, we fell upon each other more and more to prevent ourselves from starving to death. Over the long years our numbers thinned till only Areya and myself survived. Before that point I sacrificed my humanity for undeath to stave away the hunger that flowed in my blood, and still does in hers. I still retain my powers as one of the Eaters, but I will not starve. She retained her humanity, so to speak, but is little more than a brilliant but insane fiend of a woman wrapped in the flesh of a half-elf, slowly dying and consuming the stock of magic she stole from those she killed. You were wise not to trust her.”

Florian glanced down for a moment, feeling pity for the lich and his rival alike, trying hard not to imagine the horror that they had been through. His divinations of law and evil were both still active however and he could not help but notice something odd as he stared down at the floor. A soft glow of evil exuded from Clueless’s ankle, mostly hidden by his trousers. Florian stopped and stared as the glow was slowly growing in intensity, seeping outwards from its spot just above the knob in the ankle. As he watched the taint began to flow upwards through Clueless’s otherwise unmarked body. The half-fey was not evil himself, but with the quickness of a striking asp his entire body was awash in a pyre of evil that passed the intensity of the lich’s by easily an order of magnitude. Florian’s eyes went wide and he stared up at Clueless.

“But we’ve thrown in our lot with you now. We came here seeking information. What do you know of Shekelor?” Clueless spoke to the lich, his tone and stance at odds to his normal behavior. The lich turned and looked at him, paused, and began to answer as the seething glow that had begun at Clueless’s ankle only increased by the second.

Shemeska the Marauder's picture
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Joined: 2004-04-26
Like an episode of Moonlighting, except they hate each other

“Shekelor was our factol in the years before our exile to the mazes. The Spellbreaker and myself were two of his factors and confidants, though our rivalry began during his –prolonged- absence from Sigil.”

Clueless stared at the lich and spoke again, impatiently, “Why did he leave Sigil in the first place. I’m well aware of the circumstances surrounding his eventual return and his death, but refresh us on that matter in case you know the details better then I. Did he say –anything- to you or anyone else within the Wanters before his public incineration?”

Valdros paused and stared at Clueless for a moment. Perhaps something unspoken passed between the lich and the bladesinger, but regardless, the lich answered.

“As you likely know, Shekelor left us at the apex of his and our power. He claimed to have found the location of a black gem that contained the essence of a wizard who had challenged The Lady, and nearly won. It was said that She could not kill him, but only imprison him forever, locked within a gleaming black sapphire prison. That mage was an inspiration to our faction, and perhaps it was he who laid the framework for our eventual formation. Such is lost to the past however…”

“We distanced ourselves from his statements on the matter publicly. In private we hoped that he might succeed. He claimed that he would return to bring The Lady to Her knees. Such was not the case however and he descended into the bowels of Pandemonium. We heard nothing of him for nearly five centuries.”

Clueless stared hard at the lich, “But you did eventually hear from him?”

Valdros paused again, “Allow me to continue and you will learn. You’ve bought my words, you may as well listen to them.”

“The years passed and any of us thought the factol dead. His factors, myself included began a slow jockeying for position and prepared ourselves for him never returning. Eventually we would need to elect one our own rank to take Shekelor’s position. However the factor was supremely powerful. More so than any of us his seconds, and that by itself prevented us from making our ambitions too obvious for the first few hundred years. Age was of little consequence to us, and so we presumed he was out there in the depths of the howling plane itself, wandering and searching.”

“All good things come to an end however, and we eventually began to break down the wards upon his private chamber. One by one each of use would weaken one ward or snuff another, never more than one at a time for fear of being accused of a crime by our fellow factors. Over the years we finally broke them all down with no sign of Shekelor having noticed. With the doors open we tentatively entered and began to plunder the factol’s personal belongings. The Spellbreaker took much of his material before the rest of us did the same, though the bulk of the spellbooks are in my possession currently.”

The lich paused again before continuing, “There was no sign that the factol had returned to his chambers in all of the long years since he departed. We were nearly ready to declare him dead and duel with one another to take his forsaken title for ourselves, but then he contacted us.”

“He returned?” Clueless asked rapidly as his companions continued to stare at his back with perplexed expressions.

“No, he did not. He contacted us. With us inside Sigil, and he outside of the City of Doors, he contacted us.”

“That’s not possible.”

“Oh but it was, and he did. He told us that he was not successful in finding the Labyrinth Stone, but that in his wanderings he had found something else there among the screaming winds and winding tunnels of Pandemonium. Something that had frightened him. He said that he was certain he had found something that would aid him in his claims and that soon he would return triumphantly to us from there. What he said exactly…”

Valdros floated over to a wooden chest of drawers and removed a small gem from the interior. “A sensory stone of the event. I will project the contents to you.”

He touched the gem and a voice flooded into the minds of all within the chamber, a haunting voice that seemed carried upon a nonexistent breeze that emerged howling from nowhere and vanishing back to the same. From the depths of the winds of lament it drifted unbidden into their heads, an eerie echo of the dead from an equally dead and buried past that now lay stillborn within the mazes.

“I call to you, my factors, from the peak of Howler’s Crag here within Pandemonium. The Lady be damned, my words will reach your ears. Of that much I am certain, though the how eludes me still.”

“I have grown weary on crawling through dank, fiend filled tunnels, the winds of this plane howling through my mind. I have failed in my efforts to find the Labyrinth Gem. But I have stumbled upon things of perhaps even greater portent yet. I speak of the Harmonica, and I speak of a path to its center.”

“… is vast, some fifty miles by …. miles…seven hundred seventy seven cubic miles in volume exactly. Legends say that somewhere here in the vastness of it all there lays the secret to true planeswalking without spells, psionics or portals. I nearly wandered to the core of this place years ago before I realized that it was far more than it was claimed, and not what I sought.”

“…was horrified to my core at what I found therein. They… filamentous… burning through the planes…”

“I fled and spent the next two centuries scouring the dregs of creation in Agathion. My wandering brought me to the Crag where I now stand and I tell you that I have found something here that connects some half dozen sites scattered throughout the planes. A bit of writing here within the crag itself that I marked with my own sigil. Mithardir, Pelion, the plane of white dust that is Arborea’s third layer, said to have been the home of a race of titans, or titan-like beings of deific might. They are gone, vanished, and little to no trace of them remains. Nothing but a scattered word, a scattered symbol or phrase…”

“Patches of writing here match those within the massive steps carved into the pillars and crags of the Harmonica… those found upon the infinite spire… 25 miles up, hundreds of yards tall and dozens of yards wide. Not enough to translate, never enough to translate. But they match those on Pelion and those locked within the ice in Cania, buried beneath the foundations of those who would call themselves ancients.”

“…unspeakably ancient, unknown in origin… translate into musical notes? I… my return shall herald the fall of The Lady, though I shudder in fear with what I will find beyond that door in… you will see me in the Tower Sorcerous within a tendays time. If not, then I am dead and for your own lives and souls do not… I shall… the howling winds themselves… I am certain… seek the divine spiral.”

Clueless was perched at the edge of his chair, his knuckles white and his eyes burning with curiosity as the voice faded away.

“Anything else? Anything else at all?”

“Nothing else to us until he returned… a harbinger of our own fate that it may have been. In the middle of the Hall of Speakers, Shekelor emerged from a hitherto unknown portal from Pandemonium that had not existed before that point, nor since then. He was wild eyed, his clothing and hair unkempt and disheveled. And he was shedding light through his skin like his own funeral pyre had been lit and ignited within him. He screamed out a single phrase, “THE SPIDERS!!!!” and dropped a handful of gemstones to the floor before the flames erupted from within and incinerated him to naught but ashes in front of some seventy witnesses.”

“Would that I could have been granted a quick death…” Valdros muttered softly to himself as he turned from the party. “I have a number of those gemstones if you are curious. I made a point of questioning the witnesses and collecting the gems that were recovered from the scene of Shekelor’s death. They are singularly uninteresting. Non-magical, flaws in places, and blank as far as divinations are concerned. They are most definitely of a type only found within the 2nd and 3rd layers of Pandemonium however. I am certain of that.”

As the lich finished his tale, Clueless nodded and then paused. The bladesinger blinked his eyes and for a moment appeared confused. Behind him, Florian watched as the glow of evil that had swirled through her companion’s form moments before to permeate and dominate the colors of his own alignment as it normally stood out fade and swirl down towards his ankle before vanishing. Florian said nothing but glanced nervously at his companions, motioning them to do the same.

“What did I?… nevermind…” Clueless muttered and brushed off any concern. Inwardly though he was frightened by what had just happened. A feeling that he had vanished and been forced to watch himself perform actions and ask questions not of his making.

Valdros looked at Clueless and answered him, “I was just answering your questions.” There was a lingering stress upon the word ‘your’ and if the lich had any eyebrows remaining on his withered and stretched flesh, he would surely have arched them at that moment.

“So… Archmage Valdros. What can you tell us of the Spellbreaker, and what we need to be ready for since we’ve agreed to help you. You told us what we were sent here to find, we’ll hold to our part of the bargain.” Tristol addressed the lich with a mixture of awe and unease.

“Those who sent you here… did they give you the location of the exit portal to this maze?” The lich rotated in the air to address the group bluntly. They paused and a chill passed over the chamber in their minds.

“No. No they didn’t. Supposedly they’ll be sending someone to find us. Supposedly.” Fyrehowl broke the still.

Valdros gave an unbreathing sigh and began to pace the room slowly, “I should not allow my hope to rise unnecessarily. I was placed here for a purpose and I have my doubts that I can escape till I am the last of us here alive. We shall see shortly what fate is to do with me and what She would have me do for the rest of my days.”

“But as for the Spellbreaker. She and I are roughly equal in skill, though my own talents are focused towards necromancy and transmutation. She is primarily focused towards abjurations and conjurations. She has a number of unique abilities and our strengths and weaknesses have largely blunted each others’ advances over the long years to a perfect standstill. She is a master of counterspelling, adept at hurling an opponents spells back at them with the same force or stronger.”

Tristol winced at the Lich’s descriptions of the other Incantifer’s powers. “How can we affect her then?”

The lich, was he capable of it, would have smiled like a teacher to a student, “She and I will blunt each others effectiveness as we have always. All of you however will be able to physically attack her and assault her with additional magics not centered upon her person exactly. She will eventually be overwhelmed regardless of how well prepared she is. You are all a most wonderful and unexpected change into she and my conflict.”

Valdros continued, “Her section of the tower is warded, like mine, against teleportation and summons of all forms, save that of the owner of that portion of the tower. That is less a worry. Most of her traps are designed entirely with myself in mind. Spells designed to rupture my connection to the negative energy plane, to destroy my undead form and then encapsulate my essence before I begin to reform. There are likely spells intended to undo the dweomers upon my phylactery, were I stupid enough to physically carry it into her domain.”

The lich laughed. “Little chance of that…”

“You should rest for the moment and be at your best before we assault the Spellbreaker’s domain. I will leave you and return in a number of hours, then we will make haste.” With that, the lich vanished in a blurred mixture of green light and dancing shadows.

The group exchanged wary looks and settled into the chairs within the room. Florian spoke first, “You know, I’m actually getting worried about them sending anyone to get us. Otherwise we –don’t- have a way out.”

“He’d have found it already…” Toras remarked grimly.

“Well, maybe not. He’s been sealed away in here with her all this time, and the spellhaunts out there were enough to make them cooperate to protect themselves from them.” Nisha mused.

Tristol shuddered, “Don’t even say that word. They give me the creeps.”

“Spellhaunt.” She teased.

“Stop it.” The aasimar protested.

“Spellhaunt, spellhaunt spellhaunt!” She continued with a grin.

“Aaahhhh!” He said exaggeratedly with a cry.

“Don’t keep poking at the wizard that way. They have a nasty reputation of turning people into toads and things like that.” Clueless warned.

“Or incinerating them.” Toras mentioned.

“Or turning them to stone.” Florian said with a smile.

“But… but I wouldn’t be any fun any of those ways.” She smiled and twitched her tail happily.

The others, Tristol included, chuckled at her antics before getting more and more adjusted into their chairs for a rest. Tristol had taken out his spellbook to study and was soon followed by both Clueless and Nisha who made do with the jury-rigged spellbooks they had been given by the wizard in the first place. Florian began to pray softly while Fyrehowl stared off into space, unable to sleep, and Toras gradually drifted off and slumped to one side, eventually followed by the others as well.

Roughly seven hours later the lich reappeared in a sparkle of magic. With their bodies rested and healed and their spells replenished Valdros’s newfound allies stood and followed him down the hallway back towards where they had first encountered him and his counterpart.

“I will stand to the rear. As I said before, the vast majority of her wards and traps are designed to destroy me. Many of them will be unlikely to even harm the rest of you. Those that will I will dispose of them before they give you much trouble. Otherwise, please proceed.”

“Alright then…” Fyrehowl nodded to the lich, Toras drew his blade and Clueless drifted forwards with a push from his wings.

Tristol whispered the words of a spell to detect magic and examined the area surrounding the doorway that the Spellbreaker had first emerged from. Like everything else in the tower they had seen outside of the Lich’s domain, it was devoid of even a glimmer of magic.

“She wouldn’t have wasted her efforts here. Continue.” Valdros intoned as he drifted in the air over to the door. Tristol nodded and stepped into the room cautiously. Seeing nothing erupt in flames or any sound of alarm from their companion, the others guardedly entered the chamber as well.

The room was wide, some thirty feet in diameter with a single staircase starting at its far end to slowly rise upwards, spiraling along the edges of the chamber’s white alabaster walls to a single doorway high above. A pale yellow glow was spread out over the mirror polished black stone floor, radiating from a small crystal sitting at the center of the room. The crystal vibrated slightly as a tiny figure within appeared to beat upon the sides before doubling over and screaming in agony.

“Aren…” Nisha blanched as she saw the trapped form of their companion. Fyrehowl’s ears perked to the soft sounds of the entrapped soul’s torment. All of them turned to regard the gem as one.

“We can’t just leave her.” Nisha protested.

“Ware… the room is heavily enspelled. Aasimar, can you see any visible dweomers within the room?” Valdros warned from the doorway, he had yet to enter the room.

“No…” Tristol replied.

“Then leave the gem untouched. We may return for it after killing the Spellbreaker when we will have the time to deal with any potential traps. She would not have left such an object sitting here in the open to taunt you with unless it was a lure for a trap that we have neither the time nor the resources to spend undoing it or blundering into it.” The lich gestured them towards the stairs and they followed his cue, though not without regret at leaving their former companion entrapped.

“We’ll come back for you Aren…” Nisha whispered as they stepped towards the stairs. Clueless however, either curious or unwilling to leave the succubus in torment darted towards the gem. Before the others could react his hand had closed upon the gem which blinked out of existence to reveal the glimmering lines of a magical rune beneath the illusory image. The center of the chamber erupted with a concussive wave of force that hurled the half-fey back against the wall and staggered the others. Still standing in the doorway, Valdros was not amused.

From somewhere overhead a voice rang out to meet the dazed ears of the party, the laughing voice of the Spellbreaker. With blatant malignancy crawling around her laughs she goaded them, “Oh, but the fun has yet to begin. Climb higher Valdros, I’ve been waiting for this for centuries.”

The lich’s swirling liquid silver eyes glimmered with a flash of light, but otherwise the archmage said nothing as he finally entered the room and ushered his allies up the stairs. As they climbed and nursed bruises, Nisha looked to Clueless. “Not my fault this time. That was entirely yours. Sodding magical traps.”

Several minutes later they emerged at the top of the stairs within a similarly sized chamber. The floor surrounding them was constructed of panes and stained glass, a mosaic that sprawled out around them depicting a scene of hellish magnitude. One quarter of the floor was a scene of infernal dominion and tyranny overlooked by a scaled, whip holding Cornugon taskmaster. The next showed a trident wielding insectoid fiend standing upon the flaming surface of a great volcano floating before the backdrop of three other volcanic mounts. The shadow of the Mezzoloth formed images of a tall, cloaked fiend with burning eyes and a featureless head, and another robed fiend with the head of a jackal. The next panel of the mosaic showed a disgusting, tar dripping fiend standing upon a blasted, rocky wasteland radiating red light up towards a black sky. The final quarter of the mosaic showed a vulture headed fiend wielding a lightning wreathed spear from a boat floating upon a sea of scorpions and flies.

“Great, vacation spots of the lower planes. Perfect for that getaway with the Maralith that you’ve been dating.” Nisha quipped as they looked out at the images on the stained glass floor.

“And why are you looking at me when you say that?” Clueless asked with a bewildered look.

“Because you’re crazy. Trust me when I call someone nuts, I know what I’m talking about.” The tiefling quipped back with a smile.

“Says the person who lived in the Hive.” Fyrehowl muttered.

“Land was cheap.” Nisha said with a grin. “Squatting can get you some amazingly low rates on your taxes. So can punching members of the Fated in the face when they walk in your door, but that’s just nostalgia for you…”

As the last of them stepped onto the black disk of stone that served as the hub of the lower planar mosaic there was a throb on the air as a contingent spell took effect.

“Oh pike it, what is it now…” Nisha muttered.

“Not me.” Clueless said as he readied his sword.

Valdros looked up at them from below, as a glimmering wall of force appeared over the stairs, sealing them off from the lich while a second such wall solidified into place above the only doorway leading out of the room. With a shudder and groan of metal against glass the figures in the mosaic began to peel themselves up from the floor.

“Oh hells…” Nisha muttered again as the stained glass figures of the Vrock, Cornugon, Mezzoloth, and Kelubar Gehreleth advanced on them with jagged weapons at the ready.

Walking towards them ponderously with erratic movements, the fiends attacked. The stained glass Cornugon struck at Toras with its whip of jagged glass fragments to draw a line of blood across the fighter’s arm and neck. The Mezzoloth jabbed its trident at Fyrehowl as the Vrock launched itself at Clueless. The Kelubar had barely moved when Tristol struck it with a spell. A wave rippled the air between him and it and struck the beast with the force of an angry Goristro. The glass on its chest ruptured into dust and it nearly fell from the first blow before slowly standing again with a ragged sound of rending metal and glass.

Tristol stepped back with eyes wide, “That was the only shatter spell I had guys. These things are immune to magic otherwise; so don’t bother casting at them. Just smash the heck out of them.”

Toras hacked at the Cornugon while Nisha kicked at the kelubar and the others divided their time between the other two. As the kelubar finally ceased to move and crumbled to powder, Fyrehowl had nearly dismembered the Mezzoloth on her own though her mouth was cut and bloody from an ill-fated, if instinctual, attempt to bite at the construct’s legs. The vrock was hacked to pieces by Clueless and Florian seconds later and the Cornugon was the last the fall, but not before it had struck at Nisha and Tristol with its whip of broken, jagged glass.

“I like this woman less and less the more she tried to kill us you know?” Nisha said as she stared at a random bit of glass and the way the light sparkled through it. She paused and handed a potion to Tristol and Toras as Florian began to heal Fyrehowl as the lupinal growled and plucked bits of glass from her gums and tongue.

Minutes later after they had all healed themselves they looked at the exit, still sealed by an invisible, if solid wall. Valdros rose up through the stairway after he projected a green ray at the wall that had sealed him off from his allies. A second later he brought down the other wall of force by the same method. Tristol looked more and more impressed by the moment. Valdros said nothing but motioned them through the newly opened door.

As they advanced through the doorway they emerged into a long shaft of a chamber that climbed up into the higher reached of the tower. A crystalline staircase rose up into the darkness above them. Nisha glared at the group as she strode ahead and began to examine the stairs one by one for traps, both mundane and magical, all the while muttering under her breath and chiding the others for their blunderings in the past. Five minutes later she paused her muttering and turned around with an impish grin, “But I still love all you poor sods, don’t worry.”

The crystal was cold to the touch and seemed to hum slightly, shedding a soft white light. Inside, though it may have just been a trick of the carving of the structure, there seemed to be slowly moving and shifting ghostly forms passing through the glassy material. Forced into touching the railings and trodding upon the stairs, the companions avoided looking into the surface to avoid the feeling of unease it gave to them. Nisha made faces at the figures, being Nisha and all.

Some time later they had managed to climb roughly half of the stairs and Nisha had yet to find any traps. “Nisha… I don’t think there’s any traps on the stairs. I think we’re just waiting our time.” Florian said with minor irritation.

“Nonsense, I’m just being careful is all…pike it.” Nisha said as Florian pushed past her. Three seconds later the first trap was triggered.

“Well, vindication is vindication. Malign or otherwise.” Nisha sighed as magical dweomers began winking out on members of the part before her own detection spell faded and vanished from the area dispel that Florian had triggered.

“Good job Florian. Wonderful, you first from now on.” Tristol muttered as his own lingering detect magic spell was snuffed. From below at the base of the stairs, Valdros made no response.

Three steps later, Florian set off the next trap and a wave of glowing energy washed over the entire party, save the lich far below them. They cringed and braced for the worse when the blast hit them but paused as the light felt warm, pleasant even and they found themselves feeling refreshed, invigorated, and their bruises from earlier vanishing.

“Hey… wow! I don’t mind that last one.” Florian said as he smiled.

“Thanks evil magic eating woman! We appreciate it!” Nisha yelled up the staircase.

“Positive energy. As I said, many of the traps are focused towards harming me. While it healed you, it would have had dire effects on myself I assure you. Proceed.” The dry voice of the lich echoed in the minds of the group as the lich began to ascend the stairs to follow behind them.

At the top of the stairs the landing opened up into long unlit corridor. It was difficult to make out any details within from only the dim light shed by the stairs. From the top of the stairs, Fyrehowl wrinkled her nose and frowned. “Who brought their pet fiend? It reeks of brimstone from in there.”

“Don’t blame the tiefling.” Nisha smirked and stepped into the room. A second later she hurriedly stepped back out of the room. “I’m not going in there.” She said as the entire hallway erupted in sheets of flame from wall to wall, illuminating the entire length of the passage. Somewhere at the passage’s end a second wave or rolling explosion erupted and raced down the hallway towards the stairs before withering away and dying a scant few footsteps from the group.

Fyrehowl looked to Valdros, “Some help perhaps?”

“You are perfectly capable of surviving this on your own. You are not perfectly capable of surviving what comes later. My aid will be given if you are incapable of otherwise surviving.” The lich’s response was dry and carried a note of finality.

“So… who wants to figure out when those larger explosions happen, and when to time it to run…” Nisha grimaced as Florian began to pray for spells to ward them all against the flames coursing through the hallway.

“Lack of a plan aside, that sounds like a plan. You first Nisha?” Tristol chuckled.

“Race you all.” Nisha said as she bolted into the corridor with a flurry of curses streaming from her lips as she dove into the raging flames.

“I’m not getting outdone like that.” Toras said as he too jumped into the corridor and ran. The others stared at each other dumbfounded before they too shrugged and ran.

A minute later, breathing heavily, covered in ash and soot, and nearly cooked from their dash through the flame filled corridor the group paused and rested. Valdros hovered back at the entrance to the fire wreathed passage waiting for news of the new chamber before he entered into it himself. The room was small, constructed of blank, gray stone walls that seemed pitted and scarred in placed. Otherwise it was unoccupied and a single door on the far end opened into another chamber.

“Ok, looks all clear in here. You can probably c…wait… oh !” Clueless shouted back to the lich, then to himself as the Spellbreaker herself walked into the room with her hands outstretched and her lips moving in the words of a spell. At once, Clueless and Tristol launched into spellcasting as the others dashed towards the sorceress.

At once, disaster struck as the mage’s and bladesinger’s spells sparked from their minds and into reality. They knew it as the spells left their minds and crystallized into corporeality. Something grabbed at their magic and twisted, hard. Something rewove the patterns and altered the spell’s polarity as a cone of acid flashed into being to wash over the would be assassins of the Spellbreaker, fueled by their spells’ raw energies.

All of them save Toras scrambled for cover as the acid sprayed across armor and flesh alike. Clatters of metal of stone and cries of pain echoed as Toras cleaved through the Spellbreaker… and the image vanished. As his companions grimaced from their injuries as the acid evaporated back into nothingness, Toras of Andros looked up at the doorway the illusory wizardress had entered from to see the real Spellbreaker standing there and laughing at their misfortune. Her spell erupted in their midst and she vanished in the telltale flash of a teleportation before his words of warning reached the ears of his already injured companions.

The spell erupted in a concussive blast of ice and lightning. Of all of them, only Nisha escaped unscathed as she dove sideways back into the hallway where she nearly collided with the lich. The next few minutes were spent by all of them nursing their wounds with potions, gritted teeth, and spells of healing from Florian. Valdros seethed at the delay.

“And she will be even more prepared now as you pause to lick your wounds. You may feel better for the moment but may soon feel nothing if she snuffs your lives as I know she is capable of. This was not meant to kill you, but to slow you down.”

“So be it. I can’t survive more than one of those that she threw at us. It was either stop and heal myself now, or next time I wouldn’t be getting up to do the same.” Florian shrugged to the lich and cast another spell of healing upon Toras.

“Sorry for almost falling into you. Didn’t mean it.” Nisha smiled at Valdros, trying to inject at least a moment of light heartedness into the gloomy affair. Valdros made little response but to float away from the group and say nothing more till they moved on.

Eventually the room opened into a hallway, and from there into a great library. The chamber was stacked nearly floor to ceiling by cases and shelves of books, sample jars and assorted baubles and curiosities. A long golden carpet stretched down the length of the library and into another room at the far end that glimmered with light.

Valdros hung back, uncertain with the circumstances. “Beyond is her bedroom and laboratory. Most of the books here are those on mundane subjects and non magical in and of themselves. They are warded however.”

The words had scarcely left the lich’s fleshless jaws when there was a sharp crackle from one of the bookcases. In front of the books, Nisha was clutching one of her hands and staring daggers at the inanimate objects on the shelves as the sharp stench of ozone wafted over to her companions.

“Bad Nisha. Loot –after- you kill what’s guarding it.” Clueless chided the tiefling and Toras chuckled. Tristol’s eyes were wide as he looked at the contents of the library. Centuries of material and knowledge. A soft tearing sound followed by a yelp, another crackle of lightning, and yet another ozone rich cloud of smoke garnered the group’s attention once again.

“Stupid bookcases… they’re warded from the back too…” Nisha said, sucking on her singed fingers and once again staring daggers at the warded books.

“Anyways, we should get going. And there’s a few wardings to the left and right of the entrance to the room at the far end of the library, so watch out for them.” Tristol said to the others as he stepped onto the carpet and slowly walked closer to the Spellbreaker’s personal chambers. He had crossed roughly halfway down the length when the carpet jerked sideways, sending the mage sprawling on his side with a sharp exhalation of breath. Suddenly sprouting legs resembling tousles of golden yarn, the carpet furled to half of its normal length and began to constrict the wizard trapped within its coils.

“Oh you’ve got to be kidding me…” Toras said as he held his sword up and moved to flank the animated rug.

Clueless took to the air and Fyrehowl moved opposite Toras while Nisha dropped her intentions of pilfering the library. Florian began to chant a spell while Valdros once again hung to the rear and watched the entrance to the Spellbreaker’s room to the exclusion of the current battle. Temporary alliances meant little to a being consumed with a centuries old rivalry.

Tristol was struggling to speak but couldn’t manage a word as the Rug of Welcoming constricted tighter. Already he was starting to turn blue in the face as Toras and Fyrehowl began to stab and hack at the construct’s sides. Florian threw out his hand to conjure a glimmering, transparent battleaxe in the air emblazoned with the symbol of Tempus which began to batter at one of the carpet’s legs.

“Tristol? Crap he’s not moving!” Clueless shouted as he dove at the animated rug and began to slice at the bands of material wrapped around the unconscious mage. Minutes later he was joined by Nisha who barely avoided the rug’s attempts to trip her with a loose coil of carpet before it lashed the heavy material out like a whip to send Fyrehowl tumbling backwards. The attack was the carpet’s last significant struggle though as the combined cuts and slashes of its attackers took their toll and its coils gave slack and then went limp.

“Come on Tristol, wake up for me. Come on.” Florian muttered as he cast a spell on the unmoving mage. Tristol groaned, coughed and inhaled sharply as the spell took effect.

“I hate constructs. I really do hate them.” He managed to say hoarsely as he stood back up. Nisha smiled at him, “If it makes you feel any better I hate bookcases. These ones anyways.”

Clueless landed on the remains of the animated carpet and looked towards Valdros. The lich pointed towards the room and began to float forwards, finally accompanying his allies side by side. “We finish this now or we all die, one or the other.”

The room was part arcane lab and part bedroom, lavishly equipped and lavishly decorated. The floor was crafted of what appeared to be solid slabs of polished adamantium that glistened like a giant mirror underfoot. Two large windows graced the walls on two sides, open to the air of the maze through which a gentle breeze wafted in. An ornate summoning circle, useless within the maze graced the floor in a third of the chamber and stacks of books and piles of jewels, magical paraphernalia of all types and larger piles of the same that had been drained of magic and tossed to the side like rotting food scraps.

The party spread out and look at the Spellbreaker where she stood next to a partially transparent golden globe filled with some manner of liquid. She had not moved an inch but was staring firmly at her undead counterpart who, like her, was simply hovering there waiting for the other to make the first move. Then they launched into a flurry of spellcasting.

Bolts of flame leapt out towards the lich as a half dozen or so multicolored beams erupted simultaneously from the Spellbreaker’s hands. The flames vanished halfway to their target and a snarling loop of lightning from Valdros launched from his hand to strike at her. She made several motions and the lightning snaked back towards the lich to strike him full in the chest to no apparent effect.

Both of the archmages paid no attention to the party as they took out their vendetta on one another. Rage pent up over centuries of isolation in the mazes was being loosed by flame, acid, lightning and energies even more rare yet. Florian threw out his hands to call down a pillar of divine flames that struck the Spellbreaker to some effect. But it also garnered her attention.

In rapid succession she hurled a bolt of black force at Toras and a hailstorm laced with acid at Clueless, Florian and Nisha. Toras nearly crumpled from the blow and he was staggered when he finally cleared his head and looked for the screaming sorceress as she and the lich traded spell after devastating spell. She was covered in blood that seemed to seep back to her and heal by the minute while the lich was scorched and fire blackened but otherwise whole. Then with a sharp gesture she vanished.

Valdros paused and scanned the room, his hands up and ready to defend himself. He didn’t have to wait long before a pair of orange globes flickered into being across the room from one another to fly at him. He dispelled one, but the other erupted in flame across his side. Fyrehowl stopped and eyed one section of the room, her ears perked and her nose testing the air. Toras edged opposite the lupinal to flank the area as yet more spells erupted against Valdros. Toras nodded to Clueless who flicked his sword in the direction his companions had moved towards and a nimbus of flickering faerie fire rushed over an otherwise invisible figure; the Spellbreaker.

Limned by the flickering colors of the bladesinger’s spell, Fyrehowl and Toras rushed at her. Still obsessed with her spellbattle with the lich she failed to notice them fully before they had closed. She took two separate hits from them both before some manner of contingency tripped and she vanished as a fireball blossomed at her feet. Fyrehowl leapt and rolled out of the area and Toras dove for cover, escaping much of the flames. A moment later the Spellbreaker reappeared across the room, a fresh wound still showing on her left shoulder and her gut. She snarled and gestured towards the enemies she only considered to be gnats.

Suddenly a second Spellbreaker stepped out of nothing and turned to hurl a spell at her secondary targets. Her hand issued forth a burst of rainbow colored beams that struck at the group. Clueless narrowly avoided a scorching burst of flames, Fyrehowl was struck by a blue beam to no ill effect, Nisha was struck by an indigo beam to no apparent effect, and Florian was hit by a violet beam with again no effect; Toras however was broadsided by a ray of acid and a cloud of noxious gas. Tristol was untouched by the magic and he quickly took the initiative to aid the lich as he dispelled the second Spellbreaker.

She seemed on the verge of hurling yet more magic against the party, even as a green beam from the lich nearly severed her right arm. But then the room shuddered. The lich ignored the event but his opponent’s gaze was momentarily distracted by something that had shaken the permanent semi-permeable walls of force set inside her windows. Out there, deep out into the maze there had been a massive explosion that her eyes, so well trained in the subtleties of magic, could at once tell had been the death throes of a spellhaunt created from the warped casting of a meteor swarm. Over the fading light of the fiery cataclysm there was a flock of winged beings moving slowly out into the maze.

The distraction was all her opponents needed. Nearly at once the Lich dispelled her physical protections as Fyrehowl and Nisha stabbed her in the stomach and the throat. Contingencies erupted like sparks upon dry wood into flame, and were immediately quenched by the lich as he floated towards her, snuffing the regenerative and healing spells that would have then otherwise taken effect.

Areya Fenthellis, factor of the Incanterium, The Spellbreaker, whimpered and shuddering in pain as her blood washed out over the floor and her magics sparked and died. She looked up into the emotionless face of the lich, her rival and fellow prisoner for the past nine centuries. A tear fell from her swirling silvery globes of eyes as the light in them faded and the lich smiled as she died without a word.

Valdros knelt down and physically picked up the body from the floor, he seemed stunned, uncertain and shaken with the culmination of nearly a millennia of struggle and hate. And then he opened his mouth and his eyes flared in their silver intensity as he devoured her essence, her magic and perhaps even her soul.

Seconds passed on to minutes and Valdros dropped the corpse to the floor and drifted over to a window. He placed his skeletal hands upon the frame and sighed.

“Almost a thousand years. I gave up my mortality to allow this day to come in the blind hope that after all of us had died but myself, that maybe then the lesson would be learned. Maybe after all our struggle, pain, and death at each others’ hands The Bladed Queen might have mercy upon me for my crimes. A thousand years and it is over.”

Valdros seemed to look out onto the maze, looking for answers that seemed as elusive as catching a star in one’s hand or bottling moonlight in a jar. He was given no reply. Had he been mortal he would have wept.

“Freedom is not mine today, nor is death. Perhaps one day the time will come and She will set me free from this cage of my own making. Just… just not today…”

Valdros looked around at the room and its contents. “Thank you. Our deal is concluded then. You may rest within the confines of my tower as long as you wish even if your minders do not come to reclaim you. I will not act against you so long as I am left alone to my thoughts. My mind swims with much at the moment.”

“Thank you for holding to our bargain Archmage.” Tristol said with respect.

“As for The Spellbreaker’s possessions I lay claim to only a few items, the rest you may dispense among yourselves as you wish, provided you can carry it with you. Her more potent spellbooks are mine, as is her staff and the greenstone amulet around her neck. The rest… do with as you see fit.” Valdros picked up a yellow gemstone from the pockets of his dead rival and continued as he held it up for the others to see. “I suspect in some time however that you will have company. Another group has entered the maze looking for your now dead companion Tanar’ri. Her spells that had cloaked her from detection by her former lord are likely gone and the Abyss will come to reclaim the essence of that which it holds to be a traitor.”

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

As the lich took his spoils and drifted back out to peruse his dead rival’s library, the group examined the various items in their fallen foe’s chambers. Drawing lots they slowly split up what seemed useful, valuable or simply unique in the lack of any definable use or value. Tristol selected a metallic quarterstaff that shimmered as if made of quicksilver, Fyrehowl selected a mantle and belt, Toras a gauntlet and amulet, Nisha a pair of boots and a ring, Florian a number of divine scrolls and a cloak, while Clueless picked a ring with a single glistening ruby and missing spots where two other similarly sized stones had once sat. In fact Clueless had picked near to last among the available items and the ring had inexplicably not been selected before then.

Among the next set of items to be divvied up were the scrolls, wands, and gemstones stashed around the chamber. Tristol curled up with his newly found spellbooks while Clueless picked up a set of sending stones and gave the linked pair to Fyrehowl and Toras. Eventually the overtly magical items and overtly valuable items, including several 100lb blocks of platinum, and assorted ingots of gold, silver, mithral and adamantine were distributed and stashed away in bags of holding. The group sat down to fiddle and admire their newfound wealth while Florian and Clueless picked over a few curious items left over.

“Well, if no one else wants this, I’ll go ahead and take it, it’s pretty if nothing else.” Clueless pointed towards a translucent golden org filled with a syrupy liquid. The orb was seamless and hadn’t glowed with any magic under close examination, but the Bladesinger found it interesting and amusing. Just how amusing, he’d find out later.

Florian opened a lead box, carved and decorated with silver etched symbols of masking and a prominent symbol of Carceri overlaid atop a triangular glyph. “Wonder what’s in here… might as well snag it since everyone else seems pretty content with what they have.”

Gingerly, Florian opened the box to reveal a single black triangular amulet seemingly made of obsidian. No mark or flaw graced its surface. Florian picked it up, feeling the surface with his thumb. And something opened its eyes, looking back at him the moment he touched the glassy surface of the charm. “What in the 9 Hells?!” The cleric dropped the amulet back in the box and slammed the lid shut. He turned around to see Tristol looking up from a spellbook, eyes drifting over towards the now shut box.

“Was that what I think it was?” The mage asked.

“What did you think it was? It was a black triangle and something noticed, somewhere, when I touched it… You recognize anything like that?” Florian asked back.

Tristol raised an eyebrow, “That was a Gehreleth triangle. An active Gehreleth triangle…”

Fyrehowl looked at Tristol then at Florian and gave a long, slow whistle. “Umm… leave the box closed…”

“I take it it’s dangerous?” Florian asked as he put the box down with a peery look.

“Each ‘leth has one of those when it’s first made, and at least according to legend, it gives them access to the racial memories of every other Gehreleth, and allows their maker, Apomps, to see through them.” Tristol said.

“…when you kill one of them, the triangle stops working. But if you can steal one of those amulets without killing the ‘leth who had it, the link to their god remains active and the ‘leth will do anything to get it back. And the Spellbreaker has had one of them… geez…” Fyrehowl added.

“Umm… yeah. That stays here.” Florian said, putting the box back on its shelf and placing a heavy paperweight on its lid.

“What’s in the other box next to it?” The lupinal asked. Florian handed her the other, similarly warded box.

“Probably another triangle, watch yourself. Whatever looked at me, from inside my head, did not seem healthy…” Florian gave a slight shudder.

Fyrehowl opened the lid to reveal a number of papers written on fine parchment in elegant ink that glittered from flecks of gold dust mixed with the pigment. “Well, it’s not another triangle, oh my… there’s about a dozen true names here. Oh my…”

Tristol’s ears perked and he glanced over. Written on the parchment were the names of a dozen or more creatures, with their common name and the arcane markings and symbols associated with their true names. The list encompassed everything from a Green Slaadi named Xanxost, a cervidal, a Solar, a Pit Fiend, an Arcanaloth named Larsdana Apt Neut, a modron, an ursinal, a bariaur, and others. The last page however was spattered with blood and charred in places. Fyrehowl handed the papers to Tristol to examine.

“Do you recognize any of these?” She asked.

The wizard examined the pages, stopping at the name of the Arcanaloth. “I’ve seen her before. I don’t remember where, but I’ve seen mention of her name at least once. And…” He trailed off as he examined the last page.

The parchment was written in fine penmanship, detailing wards against detection by the named creature and protection for the mage who penned its true name. Where the common name and true name would have been, the parchment was scorched as if from flame or heat and a second, different hand began to write in a spattering of blood. “The clan of Baern has no names. Now babble and burn…” The rest of the page was covered in dried blood.

Tristol inhaled deeply, shuffled the pages, and handed them back to Fyrehowl. “Keep good care of those, they might be useful later. And keep the box shut too.”

Another hour or so later, the group had collected what they wished to keep from the Spellbreaker’s former possessions. While Tristol wished to keep studying the spellbooks he had been given by Valdros, they realized that they had the information they needed, and that soon their contact would enter the maze looking for them. At least, so they’d been told, and that Tanar’ri were now wandering the maze, looking for Aren’s trapped soul that they now possessed. Every so often they could hear the detonation of a spellhaunt or two as the fiends blundered into one of them and ripped them to shreds, likely taking heavy losses of their own in the process. They were also wary of Valdros attempting to follow them when they exited the maze, though they doubted he would try. The ancient lich seemed resigned to his fate in many ways.

The group gave their thanks to Valdros as they left, finding him waiting at the top of the stairs in the center of the tower. As they descended down towards the first level of the former faction hall, the lich drifted past them and back into the Spellbreaker’s chambers.

“Well, hopefully our minder will be here soon, and hopefully they’ll actually let us out of here…” Florian said as the group descended to the first floor of the tower.

“That’s what I’m worried about. I’m not so sure that they’ll send anyone for us.” Toras said.

“Why do you say that?” Clueless asked.

“Whatever they’re after in all of this, we’re expendable to them from what I can tell.” Fyrehowl said with a sigh.

“Yeah, and Tristol and I are still poisoned. Haven’t felt anything yet though, so hopefully we’ve still got time to chase those Mercane down after we leave here. I don’t think they have plans to cure us, unless maybe to make us do other errands for them. I’m not willing to keep doing work for them in the least.” Florian banged his hand on the rung of the stairwell as they reached the bottom.

Clueless looked down at the single ruby in his ring, then at Tristol and Florian in resignation. If worse came to worse, he could save one of them. But damn if that wasn’t a situation he wanted to even consider at the moment.

The group exchanged sighs and last glances around the tower, as they looked to Tristol to teleport them to the other side of the door. The mage chanted the words to his spell and they vanished. A moment later they stood outside the tower in the slim space between the sealed doors and the blanket of antimagic that surrounded the last stand of the Incanterium in its protective grasp.

“Ok, this is good. No hordes of spellhaunts waiting for us outside of the shell. Not bad. Just keep your eyes peeled for Tanar’ri. They’re out here somewhere. And…” Clueless said as the rest of the group walked out into the courtyard before the tower. At the same moment the emerged from the antimagic shell, a shadow crossed over the green.

A ragged shadow, framed by two massive feathered wings rose over the retaining wall surrounding the courtyard. The Tanar’ri gave a shrieking squawk from its hooked, vulture-like beak and pointed a brilliantly flashing sword at the companions. It locked its coal black eyes on its targets like miniature portals to the blackest regions of the Abyss that it called home. Painted upon its chest and emblazoned on its shield and helmet were the familiar iconography of a burning red downwards pointing arrow and a yellow infinity symbol; the symbol of the Abyss.

As the vrock rose into prominence, two shadows at the base of the exterior wall, clustered around the remains of a battered and broken iron golem, opened their eyes and rose to a height of nearly seven feet tall like holes in the fabric of the maze; shadow fiends. Simultaneously, the open gates of the courtyard were flooded with a living wave of dretches and manes that began to scramble over top of one another, all in a maddened rush to devour their targets.

“Slay them all in the name of Lord Hethradia! Butcher them! Reclaim the essence of the traitor! Wallow in their entrails!” The Vrock commander squawked above the babble of the least tanar’ri flooding into the courtyard and lowered his sword at Fyrehowl.

“Oh, s***!” Clueless said as he stood at the fringe of the antimagic shell. Tristol flung up his hand and chanted off a spell in rapid fashion, throwing up a wall of force across the entrance to the courtyard, hoping to prevent the waves of Tanar’ri from swamping them.

As the wall went up, Toras smiled happily and grinned, drawing upon his own innate, celestial granted abilities in a moment of righteous, if sadly unthinking, zeal. The half-celestial fighter shouted out a single word. A word filled with the holy power of his anscestory to smite those not of a similarly good nature. Unfortunately, of his companions, only himself, Fyrehowl and Nisha qualified under that banner of good.

The Holy Word blasted across the courtyard, slamming into the Dretches and Manes with horrific force. Dozens at a time howled in agony before being banished back to their plane of origin. The Vrock grimaced but otherwise was unharmed; the two shadowfiends seemed untouched as well. Clueless, still inside the antimagic field, could only watch as Florian and Tristol were struck blind by their own companion’s spell.

Toras laughed as he watched the lesser Tanar’ri explode and vanish, but the smile vanished from his lips as he saw Tristol unconscious and Florian staggering around, clearly unable to see. The Vrock cackled and spread its festered wings to dive as Clueless stepped forwards. As the bladesinger cleared the edge of the antimagic shell, something awakened and opened its eyes inside of him. Somewhere inside, Clueless was distantly aware that his ankle was throbbing, but he could only watch inside his own body as he lost his look on concern for his comrades and stepped forwards with an arrogant sneer on his face to throw up his hand at the Vrock and snarl out a spell in a guttural tongue.

Toras raised his sword to parry the Vrock’s first strike as a howling column of whirling, twisting energy roared into life around the demon. A chaotic tornado of crackling lightning, studded with what seemed like teeth inside its columnar maw enveloped the fiend. In less than a second there was a sound not unlike a sausage maker’s meat grinder as the Vrock erupted in an explosive spatter of gore and feathers. Rent fragments of the fiend’s armor and shield scattered across the courtyard while its sword landed point down to sink into the ground up to the hilt as it was violently ejected from the dissipating roar of the spell.

Clueless’s conscious mind launched back into control of himself as whatever had held its claws into his brain vanished back to whence it had come. Clueless looked at his still upraised hand, surprised and shocked at what he had seen himself do. His three standing companions all looked in his direction in shock as well. Unable to explain it, and partially not wanting to explain it, he pointed to the sword in the ground, “The sword is mine!”

Clueless didn’t need to do much more as both shadow fiends hurled themselves at once towards those members of the group that were still standing. The first of the pair raked its insubstantial claws across Toras’s chest and forearm, making him stagger back and grimace as it seemed to draw the very life from him. The other fiend cackled at the damage its companion had inflicted on the fighter and lunged towards Clueless. Noticing the effects of its claws on Toras, Clueless bolted back towards the tower and the antimagic shell that blanketed it.

Still stunned by the ferocity of the fiend’s shadowy claws, Toras managed only a few glancing blows to the demon. The shadow fiend grinned as all but one slipped through its umbral form to no apparent affect. Snarling, Fyrehowl drew her sword and joined Toras in assaulting the shadow fiend on him. Meanwhile, Clueless ducked inside the antimagic shell around the tower and smirked at the shadowfiend that flew to attack him.

“Go right ahead and duck inside here. Won’t do you any good, or me any good. But…” The bladesinger taunted the fiend as he slashed at its face with his sword, broaching the boundary of the shell with the sword enough to reignite its magic while remaining sheltered from the worst of the fiend’s touch. The fiend was not amused and after taking several slashes from the half-fey, it was angered enough, and injured enough already to miss its companion fall to Fyrehowl and Toras.

A moment later the second shadowfiend fell to Clueless and Fyrehowl, but the shadowfiends had taken their toll on Toras and the lupinal by that point. Both had deep wounds from their claws, and a cold feeling that lingered along with the more physical cuts and slashes. Still, they worked to wake Florian and Tristol from their stupor, and get Nisha out of the corner where she’d been hiding from the fiends, unable to truly effect them, but still vulnerable to their claws just the same.

“Next time think, ok?” Fyrehowl deadpanned to Toras as she helped Tristol to his feet.

Toras chuckled with humility, “Yeah. I rather assumed too many things. I’ll keep that in mind next time. My apologies.”

It was then, just as Clueless stepped out of the antimagic field and Florian regained his feet, that a wave of force slammed into Fyrehowl, sending her flying across the courtyard and digging a path through the grass. A single figure shimmered and took form at the entrance, standing amid the torn forms of the dretches as they boiled away into nothingness.

Standing perhaps six feet tall, lanky and thin with rich yellow skin and black eyes, a female githyanki dressed in fine leather armor and swathed in a crimson fringed black cloak regarded the group. She held a single hand in front of her, swirling green energy playing along her fingertips.

“Our employers appreciate your information gained within the tower. And I’m glad that my maps led you to the proper place. However, I regret to inform you that you’ve sadly outlived your usefulness. My condolences.”

The githyanki frowned and shrugged her shoulders as a coil of psionic energy played over her hand. A dozen yards away, Fyrehowl moaned in pain and struggled to stand. The group was almost entirely depleted in terms of spells, they’d been through too many difficult fights in the past twenty-four hours, and the Githyanki bristled with innate psionics. A fight with the Hrakk’nir would be fatal.

“Wait! Why? Why are you doing this? We’ve been used as little better than slaves by whoever is pulling our strings, and yours. What do they have on you that’s forcing you into doing this?” Clueless shouted out.

The gith’s black eyes sparkled but she kept her hand up.

“Please. We havn’t had a choice in this at all. Two of us will die from a slow acting poison they slipped into our food if we can’t find a cure. The rest of us are being blackmailed on threat of death or torture to ourselves or our loved ones that they have. Who the hell are these people? What do they have on you too?” Clueless continued, “Isn’t slavery and tyranny what your own people abhor? Isn’t that what your people fought against to gain their freedom from the Illithids?”

The bladesinger struck a nerve and the gith paused. The psionic charge she had been slowly building up sparked and hissed like an angry serpent. “What’s in this for me? I can’t simply go back, say that I killed you, and have nothing to show for letting you live. I’ll need something to make it worth my while, and worth the risk I’d take on lying to my employer.”

Clueless paused and held up a shimmering, slightly liquid orb that he’s taken from the still cooling corpse of the half-fiend psion when they’d freed Factol Nilesia. “Do you know what this is? I took it off of a psion, a pretty powerful one, and I can’t do anything with it.”

The gith’s eyes sparkled with greed, “Give it to me.” She gestured with her free hand and it quickly flew across to her.

“I have more where that came from.” Clueless said as he held up the ectoplasmic dagger he’d scavenged from one of the goblinoids psions back in Acheron.

“I never want to see you again.” The Gith said as she snatched the item from Clueless’s hand with a motion of her chin followed by a gesture for him to hand her the other items he held.

“The exit portal is twelve blocks past a series of three craters, heading away from the tower. The portal is a freestanding archway of stone with a blue granite dragon carved into a waterspout at its keystone. The portal key is a stone from the building rubble, a shed tear and a drop of blood atop the stone.”

Djhek’Nlarr paused and looked at them again, “If you manage to get free of your bonds, all the better. But I can’t and won’t help you do so. The moment I leave here is the last time I have any contact with you so long as I’m employed by the same people that you’re being wretched around by. Next time you won’t have the chance to pick on my feeling on the matter because I can only reliably lie once on this without drawing suspicion to myself. And I won’t sacrifice myself for you.”

With a motion of her hands and the flaring of a gemstone affixed to her forehead, the githyanki vanished in a blur of yellow light. The street was empty and silent again as the group sighed in relief and started their trek back into the maze of streets.

Some time later, within the now silent chambers of the Spellbreaker, Valdros hovered in the dark and removed a slim, leaden box from the shelves. His luminous silver eyes played over the obsidian triangle within. The lich sighed and looked out over the maze as he picked up the amulet and placed it around his neck, staring at his own reflection in its polished black depths. “If She will not help me, perhaps you will…”

Nisha hopped over a fallen pile of bricks as they made their way through the maze towards the exit portal the Gith had given them to location and portal key for. However, as she jumped, her ears perked to a sound in the distance. She turned and looked; Fyrehowl was already looking in the same direction with a worried expression on her face.

In the distance they saw what seemed to be storm clouds bubbling up and rising over the maze. Flashes of light erupted and the sounds of explosions and discharges of magical energy reached their ears as in the depths of the maze, Spellhaunts began to unravel and erupt back into their base components as they were unmade.

“Oh gods, the maze, it’s falling apart.” Nisha’s eyes were huge as another sound reached their ears, a sound of distantly slashing blades in the heart of the gathering storm.

“Run! Mother****ing run!” Toras shouted as they bolted, uncaring of anything lurking in the labyrinth as they dashed for their lives for the exit portal. Scrambling for their lives they found the set of three craters that the Githyanki had told them about and ran past them, looking for the archway as the storm clouds built on the horizon above the maze. The slashing noises grew louder still and portions of the maze in the far distance seemed to fall away into nothingness.

Nisha grabbed a rock from the ground near the portal and nicked her forearm with one of its sharp edges. She stifled a cry and a tear welled in her eyes. “Here’s hoping it works.” She touched the bloody stone to the teardrop as it ran down her olive skinned cheek and it sparkled as it mixed with the blood. The moment the portal key was formed, as the gith had told them, the gateway erupted into a swirled pinwheel of blue light.

Tristol looked up with dread at the approaching storm as it washed out over the maze; he could swear that he saw shapes and forms moving within the thunderheads as the ringing sounds of metal on metal rang out ever more clear, tolling a requiem for the maze.

Fyrehowl turned him around by the shoulder and pushed him through the portal as she too dove into the swirling depths of the single exit from the maze that had housed the Incanterium. Florian was the last to jump through the portal before it faded out of existence, but before he leapt, he turned back towards the Tower Sorcerous as a funnel cloud descended over top of that monument to faded glory, “Hope you got what you’d been waiting for. Maybe you’ve served your time. Good luck.”

And with that, he stepped through the portal and vanished, as the maze was undone just as it had been made so long, long ago.

As the group tumbled out into the depths of the trackless sea, adrift and nowhere in sight of their previous location, they all paused and rested for a moment, realizing just how lucky they had been to still be alive. And as they all reflected on the past few minutes, something turned in Clueless’s mind. A tumbler fell and the lock on his memory slipped as a blur of his past came rushing back unintended.

Clueless stood with his companions, the same ones he recalled from his memories of the shattered temple and a raucous Sigil tavern. The Bariaur, an elven cleric of Erevan Ilesere, a moody half-ogre fighter and disgruntled former member of the Pax Harmonium, a tiefling diviner, and two twin aasimar fighters. After talking with them and dividing a large sum of jink, something relating to the proceeds of their looting of a storeroom underneath the former site of the Athar stronghold, they walked into a large inn and gambling hall. A sign outside the door read in bright gold paint, The Fortune’s Wheel. One of the bladesinger’s companions held a bag of holding which contained an item recovered from the temple, one which while they had no idea what it is, they knew to be valuable.

Once inside, they garnished a doorman who ushers them all to a small side room to await an audience with a potential buyer. And while she had the jink, none of them were enthusiastic about dealing with Shemeska the Marauder….

All through the meeting, the fiend played around the very issue of the item they were seeking to divest themselves of. She discussed the weather, the state of politics in Sigil, her own appearance, her own appearance again, and if she should wear the lapis bracelets instead of the gold and topaz. An hour or more later she gets to the point and demanded to see the item. She stared at it for several minutes, a claw playing with the fur on her chin idly, before she gave them something they didn’t wish to hear. “I’m not interested.”

The companion’s faces went ashen. They’d just paid for the sole ownership of the item themselves as their only share of their ill-gotten goods, even given away jink on top of their shares. Clueless gathered some courage and looked at the fiend.

“If you’re not interested, surely you have enough contacts and influence to know a buyer who is. Why else would we have come to you, and not say, Estavan or the titan…” Clueless knew the mention of her rivals would gall her to no end, and if for no other reason than to deny them something they might find of interest, she gave a counter offer of sorts.

“But of course I can make a deal, there's never a deal that Shemeska, the king of the crosstrade, can't make. Just the price is all that it hangs on.” She grinned and smoothed the fur under her razorvine headdress. “Of course I can give you a buyer of such items, but I will of course be wanting a finders fee of sorts, AND a cut of the final price. There’s a price to everything.”

And the memory faded to black as once again his mind closed tight again like a vice around his past.

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

Time passed as the group made their slow transit back to the border ethereal before finding, nearly at chance, an ethereal curtain that led to Arcadia. While Nisha complained about the ‘rigid, full of themselves, lawful busybodies of Arcadia’ the place was certainly safer. A short hop onto Arcadia via the shimmering curtain and a Planeshift to the Outlands and they stood in sight of the Spire, roughly 20 miles outside of Tradegate as best they could tell.

Weary and tired they stumbled into the gatetown and made their way to the gate back to Sigil, barely stopping to rest at all. At least in Sigil they didn’t have to worry about anything suddenly gating in on top of them to finish the job that the githyanki had failed on purpose to. Unknowingly though their location was closer in some ways to danger than not.

Florian glanced at the others as Nisha stomped her hooves on the cobblestones of the Market Ward, ‘to get off the arcadia dust’, as they pressed through the throng of merchants and buyers and pickpockets that fed on both. By the by, Nisha wound up with a tidy sum of extra coin before they pressed on into the Guildhall ward. She grinned and counted out the contents of a few purses as they strode towards edge of the Ward.

“It’s getting late and we’ve walked an obscene distance today. My feet are killing me, can we call it an evening and just stop at an inn for the night? I really need to just sleep and collect my thoughts on what to do next.” Tristol asked as they approached a brightly lit inn with a swinging sign above the door that named it ‘The Barmy Bariuar”.

The group looked at each other, each of them weary and tired to say the least. Without saying much of anything they turned and stepped into the inn to stay the evening.

Alone in his room, Clueless sat and looked over the items that he had chosen from the contents of the Spellbreaker’s chamber. He still wasn’t sure what to do about the ring of 1 wish, and so after staring at it for a few minutes he placed it to the side to deal with later as he removed the translucent golden globe that he had selected as well.

“Well, I can’t say that I took you because I had a clue what you were. But you’re pretty, so you can at least be a good decoration.”

The bladesinger brushed his hand over the globe and smiled at it. And then globe opened. “What the hells?”

Seamlessly the upper half of the sphere had rippled and lifted to one side leaving the liquid interior open to the air. It reflected back the room’s light dully, but otherwise made neither sound nor motion. Clueless stared at it, perplexed by it all.

“Well damn. I guess there’s something to you after all. Let’s see what’s inside of you.”

He carefully dipped a fingertip inside the sphere to touch the golden liquid. It was lukewarm to the touch and had a syrupy consistency. The drop of liquid rolled with gravity off of his finger and back into the sphere, leaving not a trace of itself behind, Clueless’s finger was dry in its passing.

“Weird…” He said as he took another drop of the golden liquid and rubbed it between his fingers. He stared at the drop and pondered what indeed it might be, but only random thoughts came to mind. Then the drop shimmered and something appeared in the room with a sudden flash.

Clueless dropped the liquid back into the sphere and spun around with his sword drawn and raised to stare at the squat, green frog-like being that stood in a state of confusion in his room. “Who the hell are you?” The half-fey asked it at swordpoint as the Slaadi gave a lopsided grin, croaked nonsensically and skipped over to the door. Clueless could only stare in confusion as the chaos exemplar opened the door, waved goodbye and walked out the door.

“Ok… what the hell just happened? Summoning doesn’t work inside Sigil. Unless that wasn’t a summoning…” He stared nervously at the still open sphere and its liquid contents with a growing sense of wonder. What he had taken as a pretty little knickknack was probably one of the most valuable items the Spellbreaker had possessed, whatever it was…

Heard through the doorway from down the hall there was a loud “Croak!” followed by a shrill scream, a clatter of dishes and several wet crunching noises.

“Oh s***! Room service!” Clueless winced as he dashed to the door and looked down the hallway where the Slaadi was finishing off one of the maids while it neatly and elegantly wiped its mouth with a bed sheet after the fact.

Slamming the door shut and wincing nervously, Clueless thought of how he could explain what just happened as he heard the Slaadi croak once more and hop down the stairs to the tap room. Almost as an afterthought he closed the globe’s top which sealed itself shut with another ripple through its glassy material and then picked up a blanket and tossed it over the top of the globe to hide it from sight.

A minute later there was a knock on his door and he opened it slowly. Tristol was standing there with bags under his eyes and his ears flat against his head. “Yes?” The bladesinger asked.

“Clueless… why did a Slaadi hop out of your room and just eat one of the inn staff? You don’t really see that every day…”

“Oh, umm, that, yeah. Umm, a portal just randomly opened in my room and that thing hopped out of it. Said hi and then hopped out the door.” He said, trying to sound honest.

Tristol raised an eyebrow and tried to look past Clueless and into the room. “Are you sure everything’s alright in there?”

“Oh yeah, no problems. The portal sealed itself again so hopefully nothing else hops through. Sorry if that woke you up. Sorry about the maid too…”

Tristol tried again to peer past his companion and into the room but eventually shrugged and walked off back to his own room looking like he hadn’t slept in days, and in truth he hadn’t really for any appreciable amount of time.

Clueless waited for Tristol to close the door and leave before he let his jaw drop while he stared at the syrupy liquid inside the golden globe. “Wow. Just, wow. I just grabbed you because you looked pretty. I wonder what I can do with you…”

Dipping his finger into the liquid and pulling up a single drop, he held it and rubbed it between his fingers. He thought for a moment and brought a spell to mind that he’d seen cast before, though he’d never before learned it himself. In an instant there was something inside his mind alongside the few spells he had still lingering in his memory. It stuck out like a sore thumb, seeming far beyond what he would normally have considered himself capable of casting. Nervously, Clueless dropped the liquid back into the container, not having diminished any appreciable amount and concentrated on the new spell.

The dweomers inside his mind was glowing potently in his minds eye, it felt crisp and rigid, and it stunk of necromancy. Only once had he seen a ‘circle of death’ spell cast upon a battlefield, back in one of his hazy memories of a Blood War battle, but it’s effect was devastating to most of those caught inside its area of effect. And now just such a spell was inside his mind, somehow.

“Well damn. That’s interesting…”

A thought struck him then, since if he could use the liquid, whatever it was, to insert spells into his own mind, even ones that he normally couldn’t cast, a spell that he knew of but couldn’t cast himself might help him recover his own memories. He’d seen it cast before, a Vision spell is what he vaguely remembered a cleric calling it, and a Legend Lore was what the same or a similar spell had been termed by a wizard. Supposedly, the spell allowed one to look into the past history of an event, a person, or an item. They took time, but if you had some connection to the thing in question they took less time. And well, since Clueless was as close to himself as anything else, it might not take that long.

Another drop of the golden liquid and a moment of thought and the spell was burning inside his mind. However it felt… odd. With the spells inside his brain, he felt sluggish and mentally fatigued, like he was trying to fit too much into a space that was only capable of holding so much. It probably wouldn’t be wise to attempt the same before he used what he had in his mind at the present.

“Well, we’ll see how this works…”

The spell triggered in his mind as he focused on it and willed the dweomers to tell him about himself. And then the spell in his mind was snuffed utterly. It was cast, but at the moment it did the spell simply failed.

“Damnit…” Clueless sighed and looked over at the globe of liquid. “Oh well, that didn’t work and I was hoping that it would. Maybe on another day it will, we’ll have to see. Might be worth it to ask Tristol just what you are.”

Disappointed but intrigued, Clueless closed the globe and watched it seal itself seamlessly shut before he placed it back within his bag of holding and went to bed. There would be well enough time later to experiment with the unique material.

Early the next morning they all awoke and assembled in the common room of the inn. Little was said over a quick breakfast and soon they were out the door and moving off towards the neighborhood on the edge of the Clerks and Guildhall Wards in which Clueless at least knew a person they could trust.

“You sure we can trust her? I’m not exactly trusting at the moment given what we’ve been through this past while. It’s putting a stain on an otherwise fine city.” Florian asked as the passed a troupe of performers in the center of the street as they turned to avoid directly passing by the Laz School of Vivid Unpleasantness.

“Bleaknicks… ugg.” Nisha said and made a sour face as they passed, interrupting Clueless who only chuckled at the tiefling.

“Well, she treated me to food, a tour of the city, new boots, new clothes, and well… you know.” The bladesinger replied.

“Know what?” Nisha asked, oblivious to his meaning.

“She screwed my brains out on impulse.” He said, without a drop of shame.

“Not having known you even a day at that point? And neither of you were drunk or high?” Florian asked with disbelief.

“Nope, she said I was cute and that it was something she’d never done before.” Clueless said with a smile like it was an opportune event that anyone would have accepted.

“Never had sex? A sensate said this?” Nisha said as she started to walk a silverpiece up her knuckles.

“No no, never picked up someone with amnesia at random and had her way with them.” He replied.

“Clueless, you’re sodding easy.” Nisha said as she stuck her tongue out at him. Toras quietly laughed at her sentiment as Tristol rolled his eyes.

“What?” Clueless asked, oblivious to her meaning.

“I said you’re sodding easy.”

“No no, I head you. I just never heard the term.” The half-fey was being patently honest.

The tiefling snickered and took on a bemused look, “And you had no qualms about going to bed with her after just meeting her?”

“No, not really, why? She was really nice.” Clueless said again with a blank face.

“You’re like a bent copper piece in a thieves’ guild.” Nisha said with a wry grin.

“Huh?” He asked, still not getting it.

“A bent copper in a thieves’ guild. Everyone and their cousin has rubbed it between their fingers or had it in their pants at one point or another.” Nisha said as she stuck a copper piece between her mildly pointed teeth.

“What?!” Clueless asked as he finally realized both the meaning of the phrase ‘easy’ and that he was being not so subtly jabbed verbally by Nisha.

“What’s that light? It’s realization dawning…” Tristol said as he, Nisha, and Toras exchanged glances before laughing. Fyrehowl didn’t reply, seemingly out of politeness to Clueless.

“Don’t worry Clueless, I still think you’re cute. Easy yes, but still cute.” Florian said to Clueless with a smile that earned him a look from Fyrehowl and a doubletake from Nisha and Toras.

In any event, Florian was saved from explaining the comment as they arrived at the doorstep to Tarelia’s kip. Clueless walked up to the door and knocked while Toras sat down on the steps and waved to the two children playing on the adjacent stoop. As part of his faith’s creed, he was overly protective and caring towards children, quite an amusing dichotomy for a nearly seven foot tall man in heavy armor that seemed just at home carving apart fiends.

The door cracked open and Tarelia waved them in, pausing only to kiss Clueless far too deeply, far too much in public. Florian and Fyrehowl both seemed a tad crestfallen, and both exchanged glances.

Tarelia welcomed them into her home as she quickly closed the door to her bedroom and tossed a few items from her kitchen table in before the door was shut. “It’s good to finally meet you. I apologize for the mess, I’ve been learning to cook some different things lately and it’s been an experience, let me tell you.”

Nisha was glancing around the place in a way that nearly screamed out casing the joint before Fyrehowl whapped her with her tail and gave her a look. “Aww…”

Clueless and Tarelia babbled and cooed and looked altogether far too uninhibited for polite society, but the Eladrin tout lectured the group about the city in general, and her thoughts on what was their wisest course of action. All in all it was a prudent trip for them all considering the long term resident of the city giving them a tour in words that even Nisha, herself a permanent resident of Sigil, seemed to appreciate.

Following their discussion, Tarelia managed to procure them several rooms at one of the inns down the street from her own kip, and none too subtly suggested that Clueless was free to sleep with her than evening, or any other time. Again, Fyrehowl and Florian seemed put out by the eladrin’s enjoyment of the bladesinger. Nisha noted the glance and had far too much fun suggesting to the lupinal that if she asked the other celestial, she’d probably be willing to share. Fyrehowl swatted at the giggling tiefling and didn’t bother dignifying her suggestion with a reply.

Later, Clueless sat and pondered over the glimmer of a memory that he had experienced as they left the maze. It hadn’t been much, but he knew that he’d been with another group before, one of whom he’d seen in a memory that the gith in the Gatehouse had unlocked. However the rest of it didn’t make much sense except to confirm that he’d had dealings with the Marauder, and that she very clearly remembered him. That and her words matched almost exactly the words whispered in his ear in another of the fragmented memories he had gotten back by the Bleaker’s ministrations. It didn’t bode well, but it did seem that the process begun by the gith had at least been slowly unlocking the blocks in his memory, regardless of who or what had caused them.

Still pondering over it, he considered going back to the Bleakers, but decided against the idea. He just needed time to sit and think, maybe relax and just stew on what memories he did have and perhaps in that way gain more details about them. Then an idea hit him, one of the things relating to the city that his girlfriend had told him during her little tour of the wards she’d given. In the highest stories of the Great Gymnasium, formerly the faction hall of the Transcendent Order, the Ciphers, there was a chamber in which Ciphers had gone to meditate and isolate themselves to, as they claimed, listen only to their own hearts, mind and body in tune with the rhythm of the planes themselves, the Cadence as they called it.

Clueless considered the idea; certainly the chamber was little known, but it was no longer exclusive to faction members, though they still congregated in the upper floors of the now fully public gymnasium to sit, meditate, and train. If possible, he might manage to gain the peace of mind needed to remember more of his past.

He wrote a short note to the rest of his companions explaining where he’d be if they needed him, said goodbye to his girlfriend and strode off to the adjacent ward. The Gymnasium’s white marble portico was massive, though it was hardly the largest structure in Sigil. The bladesinger walked up the stairs and entered the interior courtyard with its three pools and areas for the arts and for physical training in all manners of sports and martial regimens. The current owners and managers of the hall, two hill giant brothers from Ysgard who seemed to have been cast in bronze from the sheen on their sculpted muscles, strode among the patrons of the gymnasium, aiding where needed and directing others to the appropriate areas of the premises. Clueless strode past them, already knowing where he was going, and faced not a drop of resistance or inquiry as he ascended the stairs to the upper levels of the former faction hall.

The second level of the gymnasium was a series of empty chambers and galleries where in the past, and still at times, higher order devotees of the Ciphers met and meditated. The halls were still well cared for, evidently they returned to keep the chambers in pristine condition, and a few padded cushions still lay arranged in one of the chambers that still received use from former ciphers. But the place was solemn and empty in its entirety as Clueless walked up the steps to the highest level of the halls, to the Cadence chamber.

The door was closed but ajar, and opened into a pitch black chamber that was warmed from some source. Clueless looked into the oddly comforting gloom, and seeing that it was unoccupied, stepped into the darkness and dropped a few inches before hovering from some unseen force that neutralized gravity.

“Well damn, that’s interesting. Like floating in water in here.” He smiled as he then noticed that the flicker of faerie fire upon his wings had been snuffed when he entered the chamber.

“And magic dead too. Interesting… guess they need to seal themselves off from everything possible.” He shrugged with a smile and closed the door to the chamber, floating in the warm darkness, shut off from everything else except himself and the planes themselves.

Silent and dark he pondered what he knew and tried to remember what he didn’t know, all of his past that was sealed off from him. The chamber was relaxing, very relaxing, and soon without realizing it he drifted off into a serene sleep, or something akin to sleep. Whatever it was, trance or slumber, he only heard the beating of his own heart and nothing else. No mystical rhythm of the planes, if indeed it existed, but he felt utterly at peace, regardless of anything else. And then something sparked inside of his mind and he remembered.

“But of course I can make a deal, there's never a deal that Shemeska, the king of the crosstrade, can't make. Just the price is all that it hangs on.” She grinned and smoothed the fur under her razorvine headdress. “Of course I can give you a buyer of such items, but I will of course be wanting a finders fee of sorts, AND a cut of the final price. There’s a price to everything.”

The fiend paused momentarily to adjust her razorvine tiara, staring long and hard into the full-length mirror carried by one of her ubiquitous tiefling escorts. Looking back at Clueless and his companions in the mirror’s reflection, still fiddling with a strand of razorvine, she spoke again. “A finders fee of no less than five hundred Jinx, and a thirty percent cut of the completed sale. I want nothing to do with anything associated with the cult of… well, you have one their items there on the table, you knew full well what you had when you came in here to see me. Valuable, undoubtedly, but I’m neither a sage or a cleric of that religion, and being as how I’d like to not end up mazed, I’ll not so much as touch the priceless filth.”

Tilting the headdress just so, she spun back around to face the three of them, copper colored forearms resting on the table, one hand absently playing with an ostentatious ring on one finger, and elbows pressed in giving them all the uncomfortable position of staring at the fiend’s very generous cleavage. While his companions sat rigid in their chairs, wholly uncertain of how to handle the situation, whether to admire and look, or avoid the sight entirely, not sure which response might draw her ire, Clueless however leaned across the table as well, giving a sidelong, but obvious to her, glance, and grinned as he stared right back into her eyes. “Certainly we can understand your reluctance, given the item’s… nature. We also would find ourselves, and yourself the richer if the sale was made.” Then with extra emphasis, “What is there to really object to on the table, it seems more than ample to me.”

The Marauder grinned, a fanged, fiendish smile and her eyes flashed with unhampered vanity at the half-fey’s remarks. “Well then, that settled, I’ll have one of my guards fetch the proper legal documents to cement our agreement on these formalities.” She snapped a taloned finger in the air and one of her escorts vanished into the rear wall of the room, evidently either illusory or containing an intangible door of sorts.

“But as for a buyer, surely you’ll want to know their name and kip.” She held out a hand and chanted an incantation, conjuring forth a sheet of parchment, quill and inkbottle, along with a bubbling pot of warm wax and a large emerald carved into an odd shape, apparently an expensive seal. She smoothed the paper on the table before her as the pen animated and began to sketch out a map of sorts as she concentrated, drawing forth the image from her mind, literally pouring it out of memory and onto the parchment.

She pushed the paper towards her clients as she affixed her personal sigil onto one of the corners in red wax with the stopper. The seal was of a stylized arcanoloth head topped with a razorvine crown.

“The seal will vouch for you with the buyer, a titan on the plane of Carceri who goes by the name of Jorxanis. Specifically, the sphere of Othrys in the Red Prison. See, he doesn’t get out much, in fact he can’t get out. He’s the very definition of a prisoner, the very type of berk the plane exists for. He’s also both fabulously wealthy, and obsessed with escaping the plane. Your little item won’t do that for him, I dare say nothing but the Olympian deities combined could free him, seeing as how they cast him there in the first place, but your item will do more than pique his interest. It’s… well you know who it’s from, but anything associated with that late would-be master of the City of Doors and self professed deity of portals and planewalkers is certain to command both his attention and purse strings. If a dead, barmy power of portals could help free him, he’s willing to look into it. All said, a prime buyer for you.”

The King of the Crosstrade pushed a second sheet of parchment towards the bladesinger, “This map of the layer should get you to his palace. I needn’t warn you of the ‘leths on the layer,” she hissed out the slang for the Gehreleths with a distasteful expression on her muzzle, “they’ve been out in force recently, though none are certain of why, but it’s an inconvenience. I think the jink to be gained more than makes up for that, wouldn’t you say so?”

Shemeska leaned back in her chair and held up a hand, palm up, which one of her escorts immediately filled with a brimming crystal goblet of blood red wine. The fiend brought it to her lips and delicately sipped then gave a belated toast to her three clients and their agreement with her as she raised the glass towards the three of them.

“The portal to Carceri you’ll find out of Curst, a trivial matter there, then several days overland on Othrys to Jorxanis’s palace. Accept nothing less than seventy-five thousand, highball him at two hundred fifty thousand, then drop from there. With luck, you’ll get over a hundred thousand. And if he proves surly, remind him of the seal on your map and who sent you to him, who sends ALL of his buyers with interesting artifacts to his doorstep. He won’t cross me, I assure it; no one crosses me.” The final phrase was said with utter confidence and nonchalance before she took another long, self satisfied sip as Clueless and his companions were handed agreements to sign by her returning escort from earlier who also slid a silver tray towards them, in expectation of payment of the finder’s fee.

Both of the bladesinger’s companions looked towards him as he nodded and placed the five hundred coins upon the tray, a similar self satisfied grin coming to his face as the fiend’s words and promises sink in, foreshadowing wealth he certainly hadn’t quite expected to find so much of so soon.

Clueless and his companions left the Fortune’s Wheel congratulating themselves on their gamble of buying the Aoskian relic from their original group, and the prospect of its sale on Carceri for far more than they had originally suspected. A short walk later they returned to the inn in which they’d been staying in their time in Sigil, the ‘Bounded Space.’ The ‘Yes! We Have Portals!’ sign hung in the still air of the Clerks Ward, the dimming light indicative of nearing antipeak. The next few hours were a blur, packing their gear, sharpening swords and making sure armor was cleaned and ready for use. As a parting friendly jab to his other companions not making the trip to Carceri, nor sharing in the profit of the trip, Clueless left a sealed letter with the innkeeper, Wilbur Cookenstein. They’d wander back to find him soon and the letter would explain things.

Soon enough the three of them had passed through a portal near to the inn to the gate town to Curst on the Outlands, the portal key being an insult muttered under your breath and a grudge remembered. The portal swirled and deposited them all in a sprawling town of rusted iron buildings, filled with the hateful, dispossessed, manipulative and backstabbing human detritus of the planes. They all moved quickly through the center of the town, narrowly avoiding a fight between a red Slaadi and three primes, and a potentially lethal fight between two Githyanki knights and three Githzerai monks on Rrakk’ma.

Standing before the portal to the Red Prison, Clueless gingerly held his hand tight around the bag of holding containing the relic, and imagined hatred, then stepped through to the other side, passing under the archway of bones that formed the portal boundary.

The first layer of Carceri, Othrys stretched out before the three of them, a red litten layer of salt marshes, swamps, and patches of rocky wasteland. Mosquito swarms filled the air with a dull buzz and dimly heard were the slithering of larger, more serpentine dwellers in the endless muck.

Their maps, provided by The Marauder, pointed off to the north, two days travel through the mire, then rockier territory beyond. The first day was mostly uneventful, save for the bariaur getting sunk to his hips in the mud on three occasions, much to the elf’s mirth. By the second day, the insects felt almost intolerable, innumerable bites tracing red-blotched patterns across exposed arms and the bariaur’s flanks. Dimly, they also realized that they were being followed. And in fact, less than a mile from the border of the swamp they were caught from two directions by a force of Gehreleths, at least ten Farastu and two Kelubar. The fight was long and hard, the bariaur taking a number of deep claw wounds to his side, and the elf was bashed to the ground by a Kelubar, the tar tainting his wounds heavily. Amazingly, Clueless managed to avoid personal injury, though the Gehreleths seemed to target him in particular. Only after dispatching the remaining with several deft displays of swordsmanship, and three lightning bolts, did he come to realize, they could smell the scent of the arcanoloth permeating his clothing and the maps. It must have drawn them from halfway across the layer, such being their hatred of the neutral evil fiends…

But after treating his companions as best as possible, and letting the cleric deal with his own festering wounds with his magic, Clueless ignored the bodies and doubled his pace to higher and dryer ground. An hour later, the swamps receded to dry, red packed soil, littered and strewn with broken boulders and sloping craggy hillocks. As the sky dimmed to a blackish red the group camped at the rear base of a pillar of reddish sandstone, blocking the view from the swamp, and from the direction of the wind, hopefully hiding their scent as well.

That night, after his watch duties were over and he ceded to the cleric, Clueless’s dreams were unremembered, and his sleep fitful as the plane’s dread emotions poured into him: hate, spite, despair, chaotic rage. But his unremembered nightmares were nothing compared to the one awaiting him as you woke in the morning. Opening his eyes to the blood red din of the overhead sunless sky, a familiar scent assailed his nostrils. He jerked awake and reached for his sword, only to find it missing, and his camp surrounded. Some forty insectoid mezzoloths, two or three dhergoloths, and a Nycaloth captain stood grinning down at him and his two companions, one of them frozen still in place, the Nycaloth’s wand still pointed at him. The bladesinger’s weapons were held by one of the bloated mantis-like dhergoloths.

Clueless jerked to his feet and the mezzoloths inched closer, black steel tridents raised and pointed. His eyes bore into the eight-foot tall, hairless, green skinned and vaguely doglike Nycaloth. He barked at the fiend in abyssal, “What is the meaning of this?! We came here on the guidance and behalf of the arcanoloth, Shemeska the Marauder! Her seal is on our maps and confirms our destination!”

Clueless’s hand moved instantly down to grab the map only to find them gone, along with the bag of holding. His mouth went dry and the emotions of the plane suddenly seemed amiable.

The Nycaloth grinned, flashing rows of fangs and held up both the map and the bag. “We’re well aware of who sent you here half-blood mortal. On your feet fool!”

As he staggered to his feet, still trying to comprehend the turn of events, the Nycaloth hefted a sword in the air with one hand, easily a two handed sword for any human, aimed it at his troops and barked an order. “Half of you, take the mortals and deliver them to the tower. Tell the watch captain that the Marauder has sent them. The rest of you, you have petitioners to scour the plane for, I suggest you get started now! The tower won’t build itself! I will return later, I have things to deliver.” The hulking fiend grinned again in Clueless’s direction, hand clutched around the bag of holding as he vanished from sight and the cold iron manacles clamped around the bladesinger’s wrists and ankles. The Red Prison had claimed another victim of the crosstrade.

Clueless stood in the doorway of the Cadence chamber, the darkness of the room behind him as he squinted his eyes at the light. He didn’t remember floating back over to the door and opening it, but the shock of the memory returning to him made him wince as much as the sudden return to the brightly lit hallway.

“What the hell? You set me up. You bitch, you set me up…”

Back at the inn, perhaps a block from where Tarelia called kip, Tristol sat and nursed a drink. Nothing bad had happened yet, but lurking at the back of his mind was the fact that eventually, and at any minute, he was liable to keel over and die. Nisha sat across from him attempting to hang a spoon on her nose, and Florian sat there as well, amused at the tiefling. Toras was absent, off to find a chapter of his temple in the spiral cathedral since their presence in Sigil was small and they had no freestanding temple of their own at the moment.

Some time later, Clueless walked back into the room and sat down at the table. He seemed preoccupied, and while the others were both concerned and curious, he brushed off the questions for the moment, uncertain as to what exactly his memories meant, or how they fully involved one of the more powerful, and evil, persons in Sigil.

“So, where did you go?” Fyrehowl asked, sitting down with an ale.

“Over to the Great Gymnasium, just to gather my thoughts.”

“Hmm, the old Cipher hall? I’ve heard of them before, only because there’s a number of them on one of the layers of Elysium. Nice group of people, but I don’t know much about what it is they believe.”

“Well, I’m not a member, nor am I likely to become one. But from what I know, they believe in action over thought. Not thoughtless action, but some sort of perfect state when they’re the same thing. I can’t do it justice though, so if you want to learn more from them, you’ll have to ask one of them.”

“Well they’ve got something going on. Not chaotic enough mind you, though of course I’m biased, but look at ex-Factol Rhys. She doesn’t say much, but when she does, it’s almost always the right thing at the right time. She’s had two assassination attempts on her in the past two years. In one case she stepped out of the way just before a crossbow bolt would have hit her head, and she never stopped what she was talking about. The second time she turned, looked at the assassin and –caught- the arrow shot at her. It’s like she can tell what’s going to happen before it does, or feels how to act before she should be able to think of a reaction. Spooky.”

“They’ve been good for Sigil though, never really had enemies, and never really caused problems in the city. More than anything they kept the peace between the factions for a long damn time.” Clueless added.

“Oh, and I almost forgot. Rhys left Sigil a week before the Faction War. Claimed that she felt something bad on the horizon and skipped town before all of the other factols got mazed. Spooky.” Nisha said as she thumped a silver piece over Toras’s head as he walked into the room.

“Whoops, sorry.” She said as he smirked and raised an eyebrow.

“No your not, but you’re just being you, so it’s alright.” Toras said as he joined his companions.

“Oh well in that case I’ll make a habit of it then, except when I don’t.” Nisha chirped gleefully.

A minute of random conversation later a lean man in a uniform of the Runners guild walked into the room and up to the bartender. The barkeep pointed over towards the table the group was sitting at and the man quickly walked over to them and bowed.

“I’m looking for a group of cutters going by the names of Clueless, Nisha, Toras, Florian, and Tristol. If you are them, I have a package to deliver to you.”

“Umm, yes, that would be us. Who’s sending this?” Fyrehowl said, tentatively accepting a sealed scroll case from the man.

“Alas I cannot say, the package was delivered anonymously with payment and delivery instructions. We did examine the package and made certain it had no malign enchantments upon it keyed to activate upon being opened. However I cannot tell you who charged us with the delivery of it. If I knew I would certainly tell you.” The runner said and shrugged.

“Well thank you. Here’s something for your trouble.” Toras said as he handed the man a gold piece that lit up his eyes.

“Thank you sir, good day to you all.” The now smiling courier said as he trotted out the door.

The scroll case was well made of a white, fine-grained wood and stoppered on both ends of red wax. The assembled group looked at the case as it sat on the tabletop with a mix of curiosity and suspicion.

“I wonder if somebody knows that we’re still alive and back in Sigil?” Florian mused.

“Gods I hope not…if so it’s probably trapped.” Nisha said, “Go ahead and open it Toras.”

“Anything magical on it Tristol?” Toras asked the mage who was already chanting a few words in draconic while scanning over the case with his eyes.

“No, nothing that I can tell. It’s probably safe to open.” Tristol said as he popped open the wax stopper on one end and slid a single vellum scroll into his hand. He slid the scroll open and placed it on the table.

The scroll was written in a fine-handed script and signed with a sigil stamped in blue ink. The sigil was of an exaggerated, nearly comical, blue grin.

“Well, it’s not Trenevain or Imshenviir, that’s for certain.” Florian said with relief. If it’s a new boss taking over for the others, by the foe hammer there will be heads rolling.

And then, something happened quite unexpected that took the group, Tristol especially, by surprise. The grinning blue sigil on the paper lifted up off of the scroll and hovered a foot over the table, turning and smiling at the group.

“No, if I was either of those two I wouldn’t be smiling at you now would I?” The grin said with a cheerful voice and the flash of illusory teeth.

“Let’s just say that I’m someone from outside of your current plight who is both well aware of your ‘employers’ and has no love lost for them. I also know that two of you are poisoned and have less than a week or so to live. It’s a pity that I can’t directly offer you the antidote, but I can offer you something just as good, and perhaps even better.”

The group was full of curious stares as they looked at the illusory grin as it wandered around the fringes of the table while it spoke to them. Ever the curious one, Nisha poked out her finger at the grin which opened its mouth and nipped at her finger with tiny blue fangs.

“Eeep!” Nisha said as she jerked her finger back with tiny toothmarks on the tip, “You’re real, sorta.”

The grin flashed its fiendish smile once more, “Indeed I am.”

“So what are you offering us?” Tristol asked, perplexed still by his having been unable to detect the dweomers on the grin.

“Revenge. You’ve been used and tossed the wayside like so much refuse by your so-called employers and as I said, I have no love lost for them myself. They likely never intended to offer you a cure for their poison, though they do have a dose of it with them, but only in case they accidentally ingested some themselves. Mercanes, hmmph!”

“So how do we know we can trust you?” Clueless asked and was elbowed in the side by Florian.

“I can’t asked you to trust me, but I can give you the location of the demiplane where the mercane are bottled up and you can do as you wish from there. It serves both of our ends and everyone walks away from the table with what they want. The scroll I’m currently floating over has detailed instructions on how to reach the curtain leading into the demiplane. The portal in the former Portal Schmortal is both too watched and too infrequently present to serve as an appropriate gateway inside their demesne.”

“And what can we call you, just so we’ve got a name to attach to a face, or a grin in any event.” Tristol said.

“Hmm. You know, name’s are so often impersonal and have little to do with the person standing behind them. You’ll oftentimes find a man with the surname ‘goodman’ who is anything but. They usually don’t reflect the person, so call me what I am and what form I take. The Cheshire Fiend will work well in my particular case.”

“Oh don’t be afraid at the name, I’m helping you for mutual benefit and I’ve no stake in harming you whatsoever. In fact I’d rather like to see you survive just to spite the very people I’ll be helping you get revenge upon. But also on the paper below where my chin would be, if I had a chin, is the name and address of someone I think would be of use to you while burrowing through the ethereal deep to find your former employers. I’ve already bought her services for you, assuming you wish to take revenge.”

Toras smiled, “Thank you. This is appreciated. Can we contact you again after this is finished?”

“Oh don’t worry too much about that, I’ll get in touch with you. I tend to flit about from place to place as it is doing all sorts of things. I’m involved in a lot of late, most of it involved in kicking people till they stay down so they don’t harm other interests of mine. Your former employers are just a few that I can’t easily handle myself without attracting undue attention to myself and those around me.”

“Again, thank you.” Tristol smiled and extended a hand to the grin. For its part the grin took his hand in its semi-solid teeth and ‘shook’ the wizard’s hand as much as it could.

“You’re welcome, I wish you good luck. Now with that, I must be gone. Wheels within Wheels.” And having said so, the Cheshire Fiend vanished in a glimmer of blue sparks that faded out leaving an ephemeral afterimage resembling a series of runes arranged in multiple sets of circles, one within the other.

Upon the paper was listed the name and address within the Market Ward, of one Skalliska, planar guide and finder of expensive items. Beneath that information were a series of detailed instructions on accessing the mercane’s demiplane, as well as details on each of the mercane therein: Patriarch Dalmar Imshenviir, Fartrenz Imshenviir and Kalteris Imshenviir. Three brothers. Also detailed were some speculations about the defenses within the castle itself, and that any antidote to the mercane poison was likely to be found with Kalteris, being the one of the three most adept at herbology and alchemy. As such it was likely he that produced the drug that Dalmar had placed into the food eaten by Tristol and Florian.

Shortly prior to that event, in the Market Ward, Skalliska sat at her desk looking over a similar scroll that had arrived for her by courier that morning. The green, scaly kobold looked at the unmarked scroll case with curiosity before opening it…

*****

Helekanalaith, the Keeper of the Tower of the Arcanaloths sat at his desk, a single massive block of stone carved from the rock of Shacklers Hill in the Waste. What appeared to be the fossilized forms of petitioners in various states of agony leered out from the dull gray stone as he quenched the burning tip of his stylus in the quivering flesh of the flayed petitioner bound and stretched upon the iron frame in front of him.

The fiend blinked as he finished his work and looked up, startled to look into the reddish-pink eyes of his co-conspirator, Vorkannis the Ebon, Lord of the Tower of Incarnate Pain. He hadn’t noticed the other fiend enter his room, nor had the wardings in place upon his chamber so much as registered that they had been breached.

“Just how long have you been standing there Vorkannis?” The keeper asked with guarded curiosity.

“Since shortly after you began to write; long enough. I do hope I’m not disturbing you.”

“Just how in the Baerns’ names did you get in here without me being aware of it. The wards are still in place and it’s impossible to gate or teleport directly into this chamber anyways.”

The reverse albino grinned, the ivory fangs contrasting heavily with his sable coat. “Apparently you didn’t take the time to properly weave them, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to directly teleport here from Othrys.”

“Impossible. These wards have been here since I bottled my darling little Larsdana and I’ve learned them in and out since then as well as reinforce them where I found her original protections lacking.” Helekanalaith said with a scoff as he removed his spectacles and placed them down beside the twitching petitioner splayed across his desk.

“I knew Larsdana. Did I ever tell you that Helekanalaith? You are not her. I suggest you learn fully what she placed within your own walls before you wonder what is and what isn’t possible. I have a habit of breaking such definitions.” The Ebon’s tone carried with it the weight of self-assuredness that normally spoke of boastful arrogance, but arrogance was for those who couldn’t back up their claims when they made them.

“So what is it you need of me? I assume that’s why you’re here.” The Keeper rose to his feet and delicately stroked a blue sapphire orb that hovered several feet above his desk.

“Not this time, no. I’ve only come to inform you on yet another success of ours. Yet another cog in the wheel, and one that both Anthraxus and Mydianchlarus are blissfully ignorant of at the moment because the status quo has remained perfectly unchanged for now.” His eyes flashed red as he left his compatriot guessing.

“How so. I’m juggling not only my own normal work as befits my station, but these little diversions that you’ve handed to myself and our third wheel.”

“The Maeldur et Kavurik is ours. The coup was relatively bloodless and the change of ownership has had no discernable effects elsewhere. But when the time is right…” Another knowing, hungry smirk graced the jackal’s face.

“And how do you suggest we give it back the rightful compliment of names assuming you’ve found some way to leave the Tanar’ri and Baatezu unaffected by this? We no longer have the Vuulge.”

“We have no need of the Vuulge. Why is an artifact capable of translating any words into the language of the Baern necessary when I –speak- the language of the Baern myself. Flawlessly.” The Ebon’s eyes glittered and something inside Helekanalaith shuddered with awe and fear as his colleague recited his last statement in that same language that burned the senses with its ancient potency.

“And the other fiends?” Helekanalaith asked.

“Not a concern, our wayward children won’t feel the slightest bit of trouble.”

Something inside Helekanalaith was troubled and would be for some time. Something about the way the Ebon spoke, the way he carried himself, the things he knew, the things he shouldn’t know but did, and the fact that he had simply come walking out of the hinterlands of the Waste a thousand years ago or so and leapt up the ladder from advisor to Ultroloths to advisor to Bubonix himself in Carceri. The fact that both Bubonix and Cholerix had vanished abruptly shortly thereafter to leave Vorkannis holding the former’s position did nothing to alleviate the keeper’s concern and suspicion, nor to lessen the way that he felt unconsciously drawn to respect and stand in awe of one who by all rights in the hierarchy of the arcanaloths was his inferior. Why then did he feel like the Ebon treated him like a curious child to an adult?

“I trust your plants inside Anthraxus’s growing contingent near the Hill of Bones have been feeding you accurate information on his troop size?” The Ebon’s question pulled Helekanalaith out of his thoughts.

“Indeed, his troops are swelling quite massively. Just how exactly did you goad him into taking back what was his to begin with?” The keeper replied.

“The more pertinent question is what I told Mydianchlarus that made the Oinoloth abdicate his throne in the first place…” Another flash of ivory fangs contrasting with a jet-black coat.

“I’m not so certain that I believe that boast.”

“Whether you believe it or not isn’t what’s important. The seeds are planted in your mind and they’ll occupy your thoughts for days. It places you in the position of holding me in a select light, and isn’t that what a boast is for in the first place?” The Ebon said with a grin before changing the subject, “In any event I’ve dispatched one of my own to Center where she’ll be watching over the buildup of mercenary forces at the hub there. A pity for Dandy Will, she booted him out of his own castle the day she arrived with her ostensible superior, one of the Ultroloths under the Oinoloth. You remember Shylara I assume. She served you as a scribe of no particular note for several centuries before you shipped her off to Khin-Oin, and from there to Carceri shortly before I arrived there.”

The keeper nodded after a moment’s though, “Indeed I do. Did you have a hand in her current… affliction?”

“She plays an important part, and those who don’t fit the role I need them to fit tend to suffer some remolding to do so. She’s convinced that I love her; she thinks her condition endears her to me since she endures it so. It’s a powerful motivating force, wouldn’t you say so Helekanalaith?” The Ebon’s eyes darted from the keeper up to the sapphire gem the other ‘loth was absenting stroking.

Helekanalaith paused and looked at the Ebon, “A powerful motivating force? Which do you mean? Agony or love?”

“Which indeed. Ponder it and I’ll see you again in several days time, there is much to do.” The Ebon replied with a feral grin before vanishing without a word or a gesture to mark his passing.

And as Helekanalaith, the Keeper of the Tower checked his wards once again and detected no lingering presence or hung spells where the Ebon had stood, he relaxed and sat down again before looking up at the sapphire orb that held the essence of his predecessor, Larsdana apt Neut. “Which indeed…”

Shemeska the Marauder's picture
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Joined: 2004-04-26
Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

At the same time, two wards away in the spireward reaches of the Market Ward, a short, green scaled kobold sat at her desk and opened a small, sealed scroll that had arrived for her that morning by way of one of the Bellringer’s messengers. Her feet kicked slowly in the air, nearly a foot above the floor, as the chair she occupied was oversized for her stature. She was dressed in a rather flamboyant coat and vest while a wide brimmed and plumed hat perched atop her head, slightly askance. She was nothing if not fashionable.

Skalliska smiled in curiosity, a reptilian smirk crossing her face as her tiny teeth flashed a line of white across her snout. “Hmm… wonder who sent this, and with advance payment along with it…”

The kobold counted the coins with a practiced eye and spread the parchment out before herself. “My newest employee Skalliska, allow me to introduce myself. Payment should be included with this letter, unless the Bellringer hires untrustworthy runners, in which case he’ll be down a runner by the day’s end. The funds therein should be double your usual fee for a week’s time of services. I hope this is recompense for the short notice of employment. But this would be much easier if we were to speak in person. Please touch the sigil at the end of this document to do just that…”

Skalliska paused and glanced at the twin symbols at the end of the page, one of them a comical looking symbol that resembled a blue grin, and the other a ring of concentric circles composed of runes in infernal and abyssal. A quick glance was enough for her to translate their meaning, “Wheels within Wheels.”

The kobold tapped the center of the symbol and watched as nothing happened. She tapped it again and pressed on the symbol, but still to no avail. Then she heard the thin, “Mrrpphhmmmpphhhh,” emanate from under her thumb.

“Oh.” She said with some amusement as she removed her thumb to see the blue grin symbol rise up off the paper, sneeze, and hover before her, smiling even more.

“Very pleased to meet you my scaly employee. Don’t you think this is a better way of going over things?” The grin said as Skalliska chuckled and leaned back in her chair.

“This works, and it’s amusing if nothing else.” She pointed towards the pile of platinum coins, “You’ve certainly bought your time, so do tell.”

“I thought I’d found your favorite color there, guess I wasn’t wrong. Good.” The grins floated down towards the kobold’s desk and seemed to settle atop the coins like a tiny dragon on its hoard.

“I’ve got a group of other employees of mine that are set to track down a demiplane in which a few people they don’t really like are holed up. I’ve my own reasons to see those berks get their comeuppance, but that’s rather beside the point. I need you to help my employees find that demiplane, make sure they don’t fall prey to any traps, both magical and mundane, and that they get out alive and back to Sigil. I don’t wish to see them come to harm.”

Skalliska nodded and plucked a coin out from under the Cheshire Fiend’s animated chin. “How long do you think this will take? I don’t have a problem taking the job, but if it’s longer than a certain period I start to charge more you understand.”

The grin gnawed on a coin like a small puppy on a bone before answering her, “Heh heh, I could pay you now, or I could offer you a share of what the mercane in that demiplane have hoarded with them… it is substantial and I don’t personally care what happens to it. Money isn’t an issue for me, suffice to say.”

“A share in whatever they… well, no… a share in what we recover? That’s really tempting, it really is. What sort of surprises are these, mercane you said, going to have waiting for us?” Coins danced in the kobold’s eyes and the Cheshire Fiend jumped on that glimmer of gold in her head.

“A bevy of mercenaries, likely some traps, their own magics, and for the eldest of the three brothers a guardian golem and at least two or three stone golems. Beyond that, likely not much more. All of them are wizards, so judge your expectations accordingly.”

Skalliska leaned back in her chair and pushed her hat down over her face as she contemplated taking the offered job. It was ever so tempting, and her illusory, or seemingly illusory employer wasn’t helping any by warping into a blue dragon and snarling and breathing sparks as it sat on top of the pile of coins on her desk. While quirky and amusing, the grinning fiend was shrewd enough to get her hooked on the offer.

“I’m in.” She was fairly blunt as she grinning back at her employer from under the brim of her hat.

“Well, that’s good because they’re already on their way over here. A bit of an assumption on my part that you’d agree to my terms, but, no problems encountered after all. And with that, I have other places to be, do take care of them, they’ll fill you in on any details.”

And with that, the Cheshire Fiend dove into the pile of coins and dissipated into a shower of sparkling blue fragments that melted away into the air. The parchment displayed no lingering traces of magic, nor the grin’s symbol still on the page. But rather than any lingering questions, only the sound of cascading coins filled the kobold’s ears, just as thoughts of revenge and desperation had filled the thoughts of her soon to be compatriots.

****

A few hours later Nisha stood outside the address in the Market Ward, pointing up towards the sign above the entrance. In bright gold lettering, the sign read ‘Five Fellows Market of the Curious and Rare”.

“Apparently I’m doing my Kylie impression today…” Nisha said as she continued to point up at the sign. Her companions chuckled softly behind her as they moved towards the door and stepped inside.

The interior of the shop was brightly illuminated from a series of skylights in the roof which appeared magically augmented; the haze outside the shop wasn’t half as bright as the inside light. Tables and shelves scattered about the room, each of them littered with various exotic and strange baubles from a dozen or more different planes or primes. The desk nearest to the door had a map of the shop and fliers detailing the additional services the shop’s proprietors provided to clients. Clueless was already moving towards the desk, smiling at the elven wizardress who sat behind it. Tristol rolled his eyes as the half-fey bowed and kissed the elf’s hand, inquiring about their contact at the shop in as flirtatious a way as possible. After his question he paused, leaned in and whispered something to the woman who immediately blushed.

“I’m flattered,” the wizardress said as Clueless kissed the back of her hand, “But I don’t think my husband would approve, even if he is out of Sigil for the next few weeks. The attention is appreciated though it’s too bad for you that I’m not a sensate.” She laughed and Clueless chuckled, “Alas, were if you were.”

Fyrehowl chuckled, the tips of her ears growing slightly flushed, as she obviously had overheard Clueless’s whisper. As she obviously found humor in whatever he had said, she and Florian made eye contact as they both looked over towards Clueless. A slight consternation passed between them, not unlike two rag pickers in the hive both looking at the same dropped copper right before leaping for it.

Florian coughed to interrupt Clueless’s amorous pursuits, “We’re here to meet a certain Skalliska that we were told was a partner at your establishment. Is she in at the moment?”

“I believe so, yes.” The elf pointed towards a yellow door on the far end of the display room, “Through that door, end of the hall, and the door on the right is hers. And feel free to browse anything in the shop while you’re here.”

Skalliska looked up at the silhouettes in the glass of the door to her office and smiled a reptilian grin as the door tentatively opened. “We’re looking for a certain Skalliska, is this the right place?” said Florian as he stepped through into the kobold’s office.

Skalliska looked up from her chair, her face mostly hidden by the wide brim of her hat. “That would be me, I take it that you’re the folks I’m being paid to guide into the Ethereal?”

“Yep, that would be us.” Said Clueless as he walked into the office. “I take it that you’ve already spoken to our mutual employer?”

“Very recently actually, he was… rather unique. Smiled a lot.” She replied as her hand picked up her familiar from her shoulder, a small red-orange lizard with tiny tongues of flame licking up from its snout and seemingly at random from the rest of its body.

“Umm… your familiar set itself on fire, you might want to…” Nisha began before Tristol tapped her shoulder and whispered something into her ear and be blushed. “Whoops, nevermind.”

“So tell me about yourselves and where we’re going, after that we can be headed off as soon as you’d like. I’ve coin in my pocket from our grinning friend and nothing else keeping me here for the moment.” Skalliska lifted up her head to show her smile.

“He’s not what I think of when I think of a kobold.” Nisha said, opening her mouth too much for the second time that day.

“She, I’m female.” The very much female kobold snapped back.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Nisha apologized before whispering in Tristol’s ear, “How do you tell?!” Tristol held back his chuckle but ignored her question. “Later.”

“So what –did- you expect?” Skalliska inquired, sitting up straighter in her chair as her fire lizard munched at a bug she offered it from a small pocket in her brightly colored vest.

“Cave dwelling, baby eating, trap setting, pesky elemental?” Nisha quipped before sticking out her tongue sideways. “Joking, mostly.”

“Not me, baby is too piking expensive in Sigil this time of year.” Skalliska fired back without a bit of hesitation and it took the tiefling a moment to realize that the kobold was actually joking. Clueless and Fyrehowl softly snickered.

The rest of their meeting went well with only a few more random, true to form, statements from Nisha. They introduced themselves and their abilities to their guide, and in turn Skalliska told them of her specialties including her knack of finding and picking portals. In truth there was only a very fine overlap in her skills compared to Nisha, and that was in noticing and disarming traps, not something that anyone involved would lament there being two experts in the group on. But having made their introductions, the newly assembled group set out to procure last minute supplies before meeting up back at Skalliska’s office before she had them through a portal to the Ethereal a block or so away from the building and from there into the deep in search of their targeted demiplane.

****

True to her word, and a fine testament to her professional skill, Skalliska had her new companions hovering in the ethereal mist near to the demiplane’s border in the space of around eight hours. During their trek through the trackless sea, they managed to avoid any ether cyclones or even encounters with anything that they considered a threat. More than once they had to comment to the kobold that they were rather happy to have her aid. For her part Skalliska smiled and tipped her hat as her fire lizard gave a squeaky roar like a miniature toy red dragon perched on her shoulder.

“And here we are as promised. One step through the curtain and we’ll be inside the demiplane, though normally you can’t tell just where you’ll appear inside. I can get us inside at more or less where you want to be though, if you prefer anyplace in particular?” The kobold smirked happily and tapped a few implements on her planar compass as she examined the shimmering border of the demiplane.

Fyrehowl and Clueless exchanged glances with Toras, Tristol, and Florian while Nisha ignored them all in favor of making faces and noises at Skalliska’s fire lizard. “Raaaaarrrrr….”, the tiefling was oblivious to anything else, and Skalliska was completely ignoring her as she went about determining the properties of the demiplane’s border.

“Somewhere near the gates? I don’t recall there being any other way into the keep from the outside.” Fyrehowl mused as the other pondered Skalliska’s question.

“That works for me too, there wasn’t all that much solid ground in there, and honestly I’m not in the mood to find out what happens when you fall in there. Andros only knows how big that place actually is.” Toras suggested, his sword already drawn.

“You’d probably hit the border and either slide with gravity around it, or appear out the other side…” Tristol said.

“Can I have a familiar?” Nisha’s random question broke the discussion as they all turned to stare at her. She simply smiled and swished her tail slightly from side to side.

“Yeah… we should get moving, I’m actually starting to feel a little under the weather.” Tristol said, looking first over towards Florian and then to Skalliska.

“Same here, it’s probably starting to have an effect, so the sooner we find the antitoxin the better. You ready there Skalliska?” Florian said, trying his best to be upbeat.

Skalliska turned back and pushed her hat back, the border was shimmering a soft blue where it had been largely colorless before. “Ready when you all are, we’ll be somewhere from a few inches to a few feet from the main gates. After you.”

The kobold pointed to the colored patch in the demiplane border, motioning for her new companions to jump through, then she looked over towards her familiar which was breathing tiny rings of smoke at Nisha. “Best for you to stay somewhere safe till this is over with, alright?”

The fire lizard snarled grumpily and moved towards a small pocket in Skalliska’s vest that opened up into a bottomless extra dimensional expanse. “I’ll let you out to wander around when this is over, and then you can play dragon again on some gold, alright?”

“Can I play dragon on a pile of gold too?” Nisha asked and somewhat startled the kobold.

“Oh, you’re still here.” Skalliska patted the pocket shut and looked a bit oddly at the tiefling. “Play dragon?”

“Yeah, like your lizard, it sounds kinda fun actually, it’ll just take more coins for it to work with me…” Nisha chuckled happily.

“Umm… yeah. How about we get going before this destabilizes, ok?”

“Alright.” Nisha said as she tumbled through the demiplane boundary, grinning all the way.

The passage through the boundary was brief and warm, like a breeze on a midsummer’s day. Once through, they all stood a few dozen feet from the gate of the mercane’s keep. Unlike when they had first ventured that way, the gate was wide open. Clueless was already in the air, his wings extended, and Tristol was already examining the area for latent dweomers while the others drew their weapons and scanned for guards.

The entrance was dead silent and unmanned, the mercane’s apparently saw little need to man the front gate of a fortress inside an otherwise uninhabited demiplane. From their money minded perspective, it apparently made little sense to do so.

“No teleportation spells near the entryway, we should be fine to go.” Tristol said, glancing in each direction as he whispered a spell to detect magic.

“No guards either, let’s go on in before we’re noticed.” Fyrehowl said as she glanced to the windows high above them and their arrow slit features that promised certain death, if only they had been manned.

Quickly and quietly the group rushed into the main entry chamber past the gate and slipped down the central hallway, ignoring the branching corridors except to glance down them for guards. They weren’t there to sneak in and gain an antidote; they were there for blood as well.

The hallways were largely unadorned and utilitarian, though clean and free of even a speck of dust or scuffing on the flagstones. As they approached a larger intersection, Fyrehowl sniffed at the air and perked her ears before pointing to the left and the forwards. “Kitchens that way, and there’s someone sharpening a weapon straight ahead… someone snoring too, barracks maybe.”

Florian hefted his battleaxe and charged off towards the doorway to the barracks with Fyrehowl and Toras right beside him as he kicked the door off its hinges and burst into the room to the utter horror of the six off duty guardsman. The room was spattered in blood in mere seconds and Toras’s blade was at the throat of the one sleeping guard as he woke up to find his fellows dead or unconscious around him.

“Who are…” he said before the edge of Toras’s blade silenced his question. Florian stood over him to ask his own question. “How many guards are here? Numbers and layout of the floors. Tell us and you live.”

“Twelve. Six of us on duty, and six off at any time…” he whimpered as he looked to the left at the bodies of two of his comrades.

Toras furrowed his eyebrows, “Only twelve? This keep is huge. You’ve got to be kidding me. What else do they have guarding this place? What else on this floor?”

The sharp stench of urine hit the air as the mercenary wet himself, Fyrehowl wrinkled her nose and frowned as he replied, “Some traps, but those are in the rooms that are off limits to us. And they don’t let us on the floors above this one. We’re just here pretty much to make sure the serving staff doesn’t wander and to make sure that any Nathri don’t decide to make this demiplane their next raiding target. That’s it, I don’t know anything more… please don’t kill me…”

The guard went limp as Nisha knocked him in the back of the head with a sap. “Tie him up and leave him then? We can always dump him through a portal later.” She tossed a length of rope to Clueless and then went body to body snagging purses while chiding the mercanes on the salary they apparently paid their hired help as she counted out only silvers and coppers.

“Hmm… makes me wonder what’s on the higher floors.” Clueless said as he bound the guard’s hands and legs.

“Same here. I can see wizards being secretive and cloistered, but that sounds a bit extreme.” Tristol said with a shake of his head.

A muffled cry from outside the barracks gathered the groups’ sudden attention as Skalliska poked her head in through the door. “Advice? One of the kitchen staff came to deliver lunch to the guards, and a crossbow pointed at her head is keeping her quiet for the moment…” The kobold grinned.

The others walked out into the hallway to find Skalliska pointing a modified Cho-Ku-No up at the blanched face of a middle-aged woman dressed in a starched blue and gold uniform with the symbol of Dalmar Imshenviir promenantly displayed on her smock. She was holding a full platter of food in her arms and trembling slightly. Her eyes darted to the smirking, crossbow wielding kobold and then to Toras and finally to Fyrehowl. The sight of the lupinal seemed to both reassure and confuse her at once.

“We’ll have our kobold lower her crossbow…” Florian said before Nisha interrupted to add, “And not cook you and eat your children, they do that sometimes if you don’t watch them.”

“We’re not here to hurt you, so don’t scream and we’ll lower our weapons, ok?” Fyrehowl said as Skalliska lowered her crossbow, glowered at Florian, and then even more at Nisha who was snickering, quite pleased with herself.

“Ok…” the woman said, “What do you want?”

“Your employers tried to have us killed and we’re here to take revenge on them, and to find a cure for the poison they slipped into the food for two of us. We don’t need to do anything to you or any of the other people here on the serving staff, but take us there to the kitchens for us to explain this to them too. We don’t need anyone wandering around the halls when there’s going to be bloodshed.” Clueless said as his wings retracted.

“Oh… ok… follow me…” she said, still shocked and a bit confused as she led them back to the kitchens where shocked silence and a few dropped pots met the group. After around ten minutes or so they had fully explained the situation and even gained sympathy from the head of the kitchen staff who introduced herself as Marlene. All of them there had apparently been paid for a stretch of time, contracted out as a group rather than individually. The same had been done with the guards as well, and, like the guards, none of the kitchen and serving staff had ever seen anything above the first floor of the keep.

“All of you stay here and you’ll be fine. If we finish this here we’ll see to it that you’re still paid your full pay and sent on your way to wherever you like. If we don’t manage to survive, well, your employers can’t fault you for having been ‘hostages’ down here, right?” Clueless continued as Tristol and Florian talked to one of the maids about the layout of the first floor and which rooms were labeled as off limits.

Having settled things with the staff without a drop of blood being spilt, the assembled group started back down the main hallway, headed towards one of the hallways that was apparently out of bounds for the guards and serving staff alike. As they moved down the halls, both Nisha and Skalliska kept their eyes peeled for any sign of traps, both magical and mundane, but neither saw much of anything.

As they entered the off limits hallway, the layout and decoration was radically different from the rest of the first level of the keep, which had been clean but otherwise bland and colorless. As they stepped out into the hall, the stone floor below their feet was inlaid with several different colors of stone and woven carpets lay at even spaces down its length. Down the length of the gallery a number of statues, wall mounted carvings and mounted hunting trophies graced the periphery. Preserved and stuffed exotic animal heads from Arborea and the Beastlands were in abundance along with a snarling Gelugon head, an Ocanthan Razorwing, a Hollyphant head, and a stuffed and mounted Sympathetic.

“Oh these guys must be sodding loaded…” Nisha said with sparkles in her eyes and her hands on her cheeks in disbelief as her inner thief did backflips of joy in her head.

Of just a similar nature, but less chaotic in every way, Skalliska looked and mentally cataloged each and every item in the hallway, appraising their worth and estimating how easily a buyer might be found. Jink danced a victory jig in the forefront of her mind as she walked to the oversized raven with glittering red gems for eyes, the sympathetic. She registered that both of the bird’s eyes were garnets or rubies just before the eyes flashed red and she turned around.

“Hey you guys, come take a look at these three statues over here, I think there might be a hidden door behind this one here.” Skalliska said as she put away her crossbow and walked over to the group of man sized carvings on the west wall of the hallway that leered like grinning demons flanking the doorway to another room.

“No there isn’t…” Nisha said, stowing for the moment her running tally of the jink in the room.

“Sure there is, come over here and look. Trust me, I know these sort of things.” Was the kobold’s reply as Toras and Florian wandered over to look closer. They walked within a few feet when the gargoyles sprang to life and attacked the charmed Skalliska’s overly curious companions. A scant few dozen seconds later and Toras and Florian stood over three piles of rubble on the scarlet carpet as Skalliska shrugged off the charm affect that had been enspelled as a proximity trap on the stuffed bird.

“I think this one belongs to you…” Nisha said as she offered the Sympathetic to Skalliska, impaled on the end of her rapier.

“Thanks… but where’s the two rubies it had for eyes?” The kobold replied.

“What rubies for eyes? Dunno what you’re talking about. Haha, it must have charmed you better than you thought!” Nisha bluffed as Skalliska took the bird and snapped its neck to shower the tiefling with the downy stuffing inside with a smirk.

As they moved down the hallway, now more fully aware of the potential for traps, they entered a small room at the end of the gallery. Apparently a waiting chamber or study it was furnished with a number of comfortable tables and chairs and a small pile of books. Pausing a moment to glance their titles, Tristol turned up his nose at the volumes; all they contained were details on the trade routes across several prime worlds, very dry and specialized stuff. At the center of the room a slim spiral staircase led up while at its base there stood a statue of a slim, white marble, Erinyes holding a pitcher of water with her other hand behind her back.

Skalliska nodded to Nisha and the two of them flanked the statue as they motioned the others to stay back. Skalliska chuckled as she noted the hand behind the otherwise slim and demure stone fiend’s back held a very real and very sharp dagger.

“Florian? If you would take down the statue?” Skalliska said as Nisha opened a sack and dumped it over the top of a large silver candlestick sitting on one of the tables in the room. The candelabra began to move and wriggle violently for a few seconds before the tiefling swung the sack around her head twice before smashing the contents against the floor a dozen times till it stopped moving. Back behind her, Florian decapitated the Erinyes that twitched and jerked as its animating magic sparked and died.

Toras checked at the two doors leading out of the room as Fyrehowl stood underneath the stairwell with her ears flat against her head. The same smell she had noticed before when they had first met the mercanes was back and heavily present on the air wafting down the stairs from the keep’s second level. Mezzoloth if she wasn’t mistaken. Yet she hadn’t seen any fiends here at all, or even seen anything that hinted at their presence, except perhaps that the guards and serving staff had been forbidden to enter the higher levels of the keep. More questions, and it wasn’t fully making sense in her mind…

“Something wrong?” Clueless said as he broke the lupinal out of her thoughts.

“Oh, no, just trying to figure out what the scent on the air was. More than mercanes, but I can’t tell just what exactly just yet. So be careful.” She said back as she took a step upwards and motioned the others to follow.

As they followed the stairs upwards the hallways grew even more posh, except for the one hallway they followed, away from the thick scent on the air and towards a smell of unwashed bodies. Fyrehowl was nervous and worried about what they would find, but the alternative was curious as they followed her towards what she was certain might be a slaves quarters or a prison. As they approached an iron-reinforced, thick wooden door she suspected the latter.

“Go ahead and try and kick this one down Florian?” Toras jibed at the cleric and was rewarded with a scoff and “No no, this one is all yours, please.”

“It’s unlocked, you can just open it, unless you want me to knock, I’m sure they’ll be happy to see us.” Nisha said as she rapped at the air like knocking on the door.

The rattle of a chain from the other side of the doorway broke the discussion as the door swung open inwards to a small chamber lit by magelight and holding a corridor of prison cells. The chamber also held a small desk and large chair in front of which stood a nearly eight foot tall Minotaur holding the chain it had opened the door with and an spiked club nearly as large as Skalliska. It laughed at them and rattled the chain, taunting them with a slurred series of insults in planar common.

Skalliska raised her crossbow and Tristol prepared a small as the gaoler lofted his club over his massively muscled frame like it weighed nothing. “Gorvash kill you quick, come and fight Gorvash weak little ones.”

Toras raised an eyebrow, “Gorvash not speak well. Gorvash hit in head as child too many times.”

The Minotaur smiled and replied with a swing of his club in the air that would have splattered Toras’s head with a solid blow had it been aimed at him.

“Hey Nisha, you need some new clothes? I think we could get some good leather out of this guy if you needed a new jacket or some pants.” Clueless said with a smirk as Nisha giggled and raised a wand at the Minotaur as it lost its smile and growled.

Clueless turned back to the gaoler again, smiling all the while before he landed another insult, “Moo.”

The Minotaur dropped its chain and roared at the top of its lungs before charging at the party, exactly what it had been hoping they would do, rather than forcing him to do. As physically impressive as he was, any semblance of tactics was lost in his rage and he was brutally pummeled with several crossbow bolts, a series of spells, and a dozen sword and axe slashes. While its one wildly aimed blow did manage to connect solidly with Toras, the Minotaur was dead on the ground before it had the pleasure of hearing the snap of bone in the fighter’s shoulder as the long bone in his arm was dislocated from its socket.

“Gorash actually pretty piking strong… Florian, some help please, this hurts like hell…” Toras said with both a grin and pained grimace as he dropped his sword to cradle his wounded arm. As Florian first set Toras’s arm back into place with a jarring –pop- and then began to whisper a prayer of healing, Nisha grabbed the thick ring of keys from the dead gaoler’s belt.

“And now the lunatics are in control of the asylum! Mwahaha!” The tiefling cackled with glee as she jangled the keys and clip clopped down the hall with a bounce in her step before turning to look at the first cell and stopping cold.

“Oh, oh s***!” she said, reaching immediately for her blade as her companions rushed over next to her.

As Skalliska raised her crossbow towards the interior of the cell, she noticed that the door was shut and barely hanging upon the hinges recessed into the stone. In fact, beyond the iron bars was only an empty cell containing a broken set of rusted shackles and leg irons attached to a ring set into the wall, as well as a fine layer of dust across the floor. For all she could see, the cell had not been used in some time. But looking around at the reactions of her companions, which ranged from shock and horror, to anger, to disbelief, they very obviously were seeing something inside that she did not. At the very least, something magical was about, perhaps similar to the enspelled sympathetic she had fallen prey to earlier, and either totally hiding something from her view, or, more likely, not affecting her in the slightest.

“Guys… snap out of it. The cell is empty. Listen to me, there’s nothing in there.” Skalliska said, looking to each of her companions in turn as they all began to fall to whatever enchantment or illusion had snagged their attention.

As Fyrehowl looked into the cell, beyond the metal bars she could smell almost before she could see, a spattered mess of blood splayed across the floor and two walls, extending up and out from the ragged, torn corpse of a lupinal laying limp on the flagstones. The silvery blue fur on her ruined body was tattered and shredded from combat or extended torture, and her throat was mangled. What immediately wrenched into Fyrehowl’s heart was not that she was a fellow lupinal, not the bloody hand and footprints of numerous fiends that despoiled and tracked across her coat, but the pale, unmoving face of her own sister that looked back up at her.

She had been dead for some time. The smell of Tanar’ri wafted about the prison cell, permeating the air, and the lupinal’s mind leapt unbidden to the thought of her having been at the mercy of however many of the … things…. since she knew she had been abducted. Tears muddied Fyrehowl’s vision, as the loss struck hard and true and she had to face the fact that despite how hard she had tried, she wasn’t there to save her.

As Tristol approached the closed, and seemingly locked cell door, his keen senses recoiled at the scent of blood and incense, and a deep, cold crawling sensation that set the fur on the back of his ears and on his tail bristling. The cell seemed empty at first, but something was simply WRONG. He could feel it at a most basic level, like some insidious vapor on the air trickling its way into his lungs and filling him with revulsion reserved for the most debased of fiends. Then, the air shimmered.

Standing in front of him suddenly at the very center of the cell was a thin, dusky complexioned woman dressed in jet wizard’s robes. The very light dimmed in the cell, seemingly absorbed by the folds of the sorceress’s robes, or even her dusky skin. Beneath her, her shadow twisted and curled against the floor, rising up in physical form to snake about her side like some twisted fiendish pet or familiar. She sneered and stroked a hand over the shadow creature at her side. Very easily now Tristol could make out on the woman’s robes the prominent symbol of Shar, the Mistress of Loss, Sorrow, Secrets, and Festering Hatreds.

The woman produced from the folds of her robe a single crystal vial and held it aloft. “Something troubles you, servant of the Lady of Mysteries? Seeking this perhaps?” And with that she hurled it against the ground, shattering the vial and contents into a glittering shower of glass and spray of pale liquid. Tristol gasped in horror as what he knew to be the cure he needed was ruined upon the floor of the cell.

“Abandon your Mystra little one. You have much potential, but abase yourself to the Nightweaver and save yourself from the same death as your parents suffered in your absence.”

“All of you, get a sodding grip, there’s nothing in the damned cell but dust.” Skalliska’s voice rose as the effect took greater effect on her fellows.

As Florian stepped closer to the cell door, which from the hallway appeared firmly locked and barred, he smelled the acrid scent of incense mixed with blood. Standing in plain sight in the center of the cell was a black shrouded priestess of Talona, Faerunian Mistress of Poisons and Disease. She chuckled as she made eye contact with Florian and the Aasimar, holding a potion bottle out in front of her. A green speckled quasit upon her shoulders cackled quietly and snapped its fangs as it regarded them. “Looking for this perhaps?” she intoned as she hurled the potion vial against the far wall where it shattered, spraying its contents across the rough finished stone.

Florian gasped in agony as the Talontar turned back to her, “Oh how it must gall you, servant of the Foehammer. To know your death calls and Jergal’s pen begins to write your name in his book in the crystal spire. To know that you will die without glory, without passion, without heroics. That you will simply waste away and die, huddled by yourself, isolated and alone having failed in the handiwork of your god with a death as unbefitting and shameful as his creed could find.” And as Florian began to chant one of her most powerful spells, the talontar priestess threw back her head and laughed, joined in by the tiny fiend sitting upon her shoulder.

“Don’t make me bite your ankles! I’ll live up to the stereotype if I have to!” Skalliska grew more and more desperate to break the spell taking hold of her companions.

As Toras hurriedly approached the cell, the first thing that struck his senses was not that the door hung partially open, but rather the rank, pungent smell of slowly putrefying flesh that hung in the air. As he ignored his comanions and stepped up to open the cell door with trepidation, the slow, crawling sensation of dread from an unhallow spell scittered across his skin like a shower of insects, drifting up from the blood spattered unholy symbol of Bane placed in the center of the floor. And beyond it, slumped against the far wall, slashed, mangled and surrounded by ritual candles was the body of his former love. The bitter taste of bile rose in his throat, galled by this desecration of the one he had loved. And, almost as an afterthought, pinned to the body was a thin scroll case.

“That’s it, I’m biting here in a few seconds damn you all…” Skalliska said with resignation as she dove for Toras’s leg .

Clueless looked into the cell, and beyond the metal bars, at first he could only see pitch darkness, but after a few seconds of staring, the darkness seemed to lift or dissipate and he began to make out details of the cell’s interior. In the shadows that still swathed the cell, he could make out two dim patches of blue glow near the floor, radiating from two figures in the center of the cell. One of them, as Clueless’s stare lingered, seemed to be standing, while the other crouched on the floor in front of it. More shadows lifted and he could tell that the standing one was humanoid, while the other appeared to be either a centaur or bariaur.

Then in that moment a flicker of recognition passed over the bladesinger, clearing the haze of his memories and the dim light of the cell, and he recognized the figures as his two companions from Carceri, each with a glowing blue orb embedded in one ankle, just like himself.

The half-elf stood, a glassy look of concentration upon his face as he leveled his sword to the throat of the bariaur who trembled and struggled versus unseen bonds that shackled his hoofs and arms to the ground. While he silently pleaded to his glassy eyed friend with a look of terror and confusion on his face, the elven cleric pressed the blade to his throat, drawing the slimmest of beaded red lines from the exposed skin. Glancing around quickly as the sword stopped and only the ragged panting of the bariaur broke the still, a third blue glow pierced the gloom, emanating from the far wall of the cell, hovering aloft in front of the robed form of a cowled arcanoloth that seemed to emerge from the shadows themselves like he or they were a part of each other.

The ‘loth looked up, a fiendish smirk playing across his muzzle, and a knowing look flashed in his gleaming, red tinged eyes, as he met Clueless’s gaze and the light played across his ebon fur. He clutched the hovering gem protectively, then inclined his head first left, then right, drawing the half-fey’s gaze to two other similar gems, hovering in mid air and then clutched by the taloned hands of a largely shadow obscured second and third ‘loth, before all three clutched their palms tightly around the gems, snuffing the light and plunging the room into complete darkness once again.

All of them were jolted out of their rage, fear or agony in an instant as Skalliska triggered a scroll to dispel any latent dweomers in the area. It apparently worked as her companions looked around in confused before regaining their senses. Thankfully none of them watched as the kobold spit out a bit of leather that had formerly been attached to the cuff of Toras’s boot.

A sudden crackle of mental static washed over them with a voice that Clueless would later recognize as the voice that had whispered to him in one of his recovered memories.

“Fools. You should be dead, but this is apparently the result of trusting the mercanes to fully lay wardings instead of making them yourself. But regardless, since you’re still alive, please do tie up loose ends for me here. You’ll find one of them at the last cell down the hallway.”

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

The group glanced at each other as the voice faded from their minds. Something about it was unsettling, mental impressions of something indescribably foul that was there and then gone in a fleeting moment. Toras glanced down to the end of the hall and then at the other cells that lined the passage every fifteen feet.

“So shall we start opening cells?” Nisha grinned as she held up a set of lockpicks.

Florian nodded, “Let’s go slow though, some of them might be locked up for a reason. Just because the mercane are evil doesn’t absolutely mean they’re not possessed of some sense.”

“Umm… you could say that…” Skalliska said as she looked into the next cell down the hall. Inside stood three silver robed Illithids, the pale light of the hallway shimmering dimly against their rubbery purple flesh. One of them approached the cell door and gestured to the lock but as its elongated fingers neared the bars and the lock a green field of energy erupted and the mind flayer withdrew its hand.

Clueless stepped up to the cell doors next to Skalliska as the Illithid gestured to the doors again. “The field is probably suppressing their psionics if I had to guess.” Tristol said as the Illithid nodded in the affirmative.

Fyrehowl glanced nervously at the others before looking at the Illithids. “If we release you will you leave immediately or help use?”

“We are only here because of greed on the part of the mercane. Business gone sour… We only wish to cut our losses and depart. You wish to do them harm?” The illithid waved its tentacles as it spoke, seemingly speaking aloud only with some level of distaste.

Nisha looked at the others as they nodded and she began to pick the lock. A minute later the tumblers clicked into place and the door swung open, dispelling the field. “My thanks.” The mental voice of the first Illithid echoed in their ears before all three of them vanished as they planeshifted out of the cell.

The next cell contained a pair of spider-like Neogi slavers, captives of a deal gone bad, much like the Illithids, who were released only after agreeing not to attempt to leave the demiplane with any of the mercane’s former employees enslaved. After the slavers had scuttled off down the hallway the next cell contained a three foot tall, green skinned humanoid with red eyes and long black hair, dressed in a patchwork suit of armor that seemed to have been cobbled together from a mixture of various sets of chainmail and leather, none of which fit all that properly, a Nathri. After some banter with it, the cell was opened and the creature vanished in a swirl of mist as it dove back into the ethereal. But the last cell before the end of the hall held a person of note…

“Please, I beg of you, let me out of here. I’ve been prisoner here for nearly five years, perhaps more.” The man was dressed in brown robes, balding and wearing some sort of faction symbol that he immediately hid when he saw Florian’s holy symbol. Unbeknownst to any of his saviors, it was a symbol of the Athar.

“So, who are you?” Nisha said as she looked up at him while toyed with the lock on his cell.

“My name is Kalidar Marthanion, and the mercane have kept me here and other similar prison cells for far too long, hoping to sell me to highest bidder. To their regret, and no small blow to my ego, they’ve not had any buyers. Free me and I will gladly help you in whatever it is you seek to do to them. I cannot claim to be much of a fighter, but I know some measure of magic and I am rather adept at healing.” Kalidar said with a bow, his eyes glittered with hope verging on begging.

“We could definitely use another hand, magic even more actually.” Toras said, smiling at the man as Nisha worked at the lock. Surreptitiously, Florian whispered a detect evil spell and glanced at the man, seeing as how he had been put at ill ease by his presence. However the cleric of Tempus found no spark of evil in the man and so made no objection to his release.

“Bless you all. I am certain that my superiors will see fit to reward you once I return to Sigil, the faction will be happy to see me well.” Kalidar was giddy as he stepped from the cell and embraced Nisha.

“Eeep!” was the tiefling’s only reply as the newly freed athar hugged her before releasing her.

“My apologies, I’m just thankful to finally be released and given the chance to seek revenge.”

“Not a problem, but I think you’ll find that Sigil has gone through some changes…” Nisha said with some foreboding.

“Oh?” Kalidar said, a bit of concern on his face.

“The Faction War. Darkwood sparked a citywide conflict and most of the factols got mazed or killed. Some of the factions disintegrated, some of them disbanded, some of them left the city under threat of death by The Lady’s edict.” Skalliska said to the horrified Athar.

“Great Unknown…” he muttered, clutching the symbol under his shirt.

“Ah hah! Pegged as an Athar.” Nisha said, “Or at least that’s my guess. No?”

Kalidar nodded, “Yes. Kalidar Marthanion, cleric of the Great Unknown… factor of the Athar.”

There were some nearly audible blinks as the man mentioned his rank within the still extant but exiled faction.

“They’re still around, just in exile at the base of the spire. Most of ‘em packed up and left after Terrance got mazed. Jaya Forlorn is the new factol if I remember right.” Skalliska added, filling the cleric in on the state of affairs for his faction.

“When I’m done here I certainly have a trip ahead of me then. Thank you for telling me what has happened in the years of my absence, I deeply appreciate it.” Kalidar said before growing quiet, deeply in thought over the news that had been dropped on him so suddenly.

One last door remained closed, the last cell at the end of the corridor. Nervously the group approached the cell doors and looked at the interior. A sharp scream pierced the quiet, issuing from the bloodied and obviously tortured man huddled in the rear of the cell. His robes now only rags, and bruises and cuts marring his skin, Bartol Trenevain screamed as he saw his former ‘employees’ approach.

“No!!! Please don’t hurt me! I didn’t mean to do anything to you, it was only a job!” The genasi sorcerer pleaded, whimpering slightly as he backed away from the cell door. He seemed much thinner than the last time the group had seen him, likely from starvation.

“Well damn, look who it is.” Clueless said, a smug tone in his voice.

“Hmm, as I said before, you’re awful talkative for a dead man.” Toras smiled and patted a hand on his sword’s pommel.

“So what happened? Outlived your usefulness and the mercane booted you from their employ?” Fyrehowl asked as Nisha held up her lockpicks questioningly.

“They made me do all of those things, it was only for money and they were offering land in Sigil as well, and it was only a few days work for all of it!” Trenevain continued to plead.

“The mercanes I assume paid you to do all this?” Clueless questioned.

“Yes, no, I mean… Imshenviire was a middleman. I don’t know who was paying him. They were just using me as a face and him the same way now. The mercane were paying me and passing on orders, and they sent those two Nycaloths along with me to make sure I played my part well.” Trenevain said, a bit of desperation in his voice.

“The poison. Did you have that done to us?” Tristol asked with urgency. Trenevain looked confused by the question.

“What poison? I wasn’t paid to do anything to you, or you.” The genasi pointed to Tristol and then to Florian. “You either.” He added, pointing to Skalliska.

“I didn’t even have anything on most of you. It was all bluff and illusion and lies. The only one of you we actually had anything solid on was the bladesinger, and that was handed to me on a silver platter along with the other scenarios and the illusions and sensory stones to go with them. And you have to admit that Aren was living on borrowed time anyways, Demogorgon’s servants would have caught up with her eventually and drug her screaming back to the Abyss. But the rest of you it was all a bluff, and you believed it!”

“Woah, back up there… they don’t have my sister and she’s not being tortured?” Fyrehowl asked, poking the genasi in the chest.

“No, and in fact you could have probably found that it wasn’t true all by yourself. All of you berks just believed it and didn’t question it all. I thought they’d handed me a pack of morons and…” Trenevain trailed off with a whimper as Clueless narrowed his eyes and Florian coughed while the others grew silent and stared at the man.

“Please don’t kill me, it was only a job! I’ll give you everything they paid me! The Ubiquitious Wayfarer, I’ll sign the property over to you in the city courts!” Desperation was dripping in his voice and the genasi was on his knees.

“Oh really?” Clueless said as behind him, Skalliska’s eyes went wide with the implications. After all, she was getting a share of all of this.

“In the bag, we can talk later.” Clueless said bluntly and Trenevain looked confused and worried.

“A bag of holding. We don’t want to have to worry about you making noise or slowing us down. We’ve got problems enough ourselves as it is, thanks to you…” Tristol said to the genasi, flicking his tail in annoyance behind him.

“Get in the bag, come on.” Clueless quipped as he held the mouth of the bag open and trenevain stepped inside, vanishing into stasis as he passed the lip of the extradimensional space within.

“Get in the bag!…” Nisha said in a deep voiced parody of Clueless then giggling. “You’d have made a great hardhead with that line you know.”

Clueless winced at the thought.

“Yep, spiked armor and all.” Tristol said.

“Hardly, wouldn’t happen. Believe me.” Clueless shook his head again. “Come on, we’ve got mercane to kill.”

And so with Kalidar in tow, the group made their way out of the prison, Bartol Trenevain safely stowed in Clueless’s bag of holding. As they walked out of the more starkly furnished area of the keep, the hallways grew more and more lavish with the trappings of a trio of mercane merchant lords.

“Nisha, you can loot to your heart’s content after we gank these guys… you’re going to run out of space to stow stuff if you snatch every loose trinket you see…” Toras looked over, as the tiefling was busy stuffing a small statue into her knapsack.

“I’m just warming up, hate to warn you. I’ve got two bags of holding and a portable hole on top of it. Mu-ha.” Nisha replied with a wink as the statue along with a candlestick disappeared into the sack, and then she paused and looked alert, signaling the group to halt. Likewise, Fyrehowl was glancing around nervously, sniffing at the air.

“That smell is back and the hallway,” she pointed down a passage to their left, “that way, reeks…”

“Which is probably good because we don’t have to go that that; the opposite way actually. But it smells like fiends you say? Can’t be good.” Clueless said with a growing feeling of unease.

Several minutes later and they stood outside the door to the brothers’ scriptorium, the faint sounds of quill pen on parchment echoing from inside through the open doorway from which issued a wash of white arcane light. Clueless motioned towards the door and Toras and Fyrehowl burst through the door, looking into the suddenly ashen faces of two human scribes sitting at their desks copying contracts in duplicate. Rows of cubbyholes lined both sides of the room, filled with sheaves of paper and scrolls. Two large benches, dominated by stacks of books, pressing parchment and scroll paper, and ink pots with extra quills stood in a row at the center of the room between the two horrified scribes. Behind them a door to a private office sat closed.

“No no, no screaming. Screaming would be bad.” Florian said, cradling his axe in his arms as the scribes slowly put down their pens and glanced at the people surrounding them.

“You’re not here to pick up the contract copies for that merkhant I take it?” One of the scribes said with a nervous chuckle, running his hand over his bald head and looking at Toras.

“No, but you two don’t have to be any part of this. Get your stuff and stay out of harm. Can I assume that one of the mercanes’ offices is through that door?” Toras said, resting his sword on the scribe’s desk.

“Umm, yes. Yes, Fartrenz’s office. He’s in there currently, we’re just here to make copies of everything he writes up on their legitimate business.”

“Don’t worry about your job, we’ll pay off your contract when this is over. Your bosses will be having a very bad day.” Florian smiled at the scribe who was currently edging out of the way to let them through.

“Kick the door down? You didn’t get your chance before, so I figure now’s as good a time as any to practice your style.” Toras said over to Florian with a grin.
“My pleasure sir.” Florian said as he sent the door flying off its hinges, hurtling into the startled face of Fartrenz Imshemviir whose seven-foot tall form crumpled to the ground from the impact.

“Stop them!” came the mercane’s mental voice as two guardian golems sprung to life from their flanking position near to his desk. Both of them rushed at Florian who retreated back to the scriptorium where Fyrehowl and Toras stood to brace for the golems’ charge.

A bolt of snarling electricity leapt from the office to lash at Toras and Fyrehowl from Fartrenz’s outstretched hand. “This is impossible! You were killed in the maze!” came the mercane’s mental scream as one of his golems toppled to one side, overturning a table and stack of bundled scrolls.

“We’re harder to kill than you thought. Your mistake.” Toras said as the mercane loosed a flurry of magical, arrow shaped bolts from a wand in its hand with a mental scream of fury.

A second volley of magic bolts flashed into being, this time hurtling from a wand in Nisha’s hand and unerringly striking at the mercane who grunted and fell backwards against the wall before it was pegged in the chest by a crossbow bolt from Skalliska.

“I did not order you killed! It was my brother Dalmar!” The mercane’s mental voice was verging on desperation as a second stream of magic missiles struck home, this time from Tristol’s hands. Seconds later the air was split with the sound of rending metal and breaking wood as Clueless and Florian rent the second guardian golem into a jumble of broken parts.

“Than we’ll take it up with your brother after we’re done here.” Toras’s answer was punctuated by the blade of his sword piercing the Mercane’s chest and pinning it, dead, to the wall behind it.

“The next one is mine…” Both Tristol and Florian said at nearly the exact moment as the others began to search the office for any evidence of the antidote to the poison the mercane had used on two of them, or written hints to its location or composition; they came up empty handed, though Tristol left with the wizard’s spellbook and Nisha walked off with his wands.

After several minutes of skulking through the mercane’s portion of the keep, and quickly silencing a pair of well-equipped guards and a hired elven sorcerer along their way, they entered a large antechamber whose entryway was inscribed three times with the symbol of Dalmar Imshenviir. Several chairs were arranged around the periphery of the chamber, all of them seeming to be of the highest quality for those awaiting an audience with the house patriarch himself. Dominating the room however was an archway of stone that rose up in its center, easily taking up ten feet of space across at its base.

They paused to look up at the large freestanding stone archway in the center of the antechamber. Skalliska touched the surface of the stone and tilted her head in curiosity. “Well that’s a portal if I ever saw one. Not active from this side though, or locked, I’ll have to look at it later.”

“You can look at it later when Nisha steals stuff from these guys, come on the older brother’s office in this way.” Clueless motioned the kobold away from the archway towards the small hallway leading off from the antechamber.

“What do mean ‘later when Nisha steals stuff’? Nisha’s stealing stuff now, you’re just not seeing me do it…” The tiefling gave a ‘guilty-as-charged’ smile and twitched her scaly tail behind her. Tristol snickered as he had barely noticed her palming a silver snuffbox from one of the tables a minute earlier.

Quietly the group continued down the small hallway from the chamber that ended at a large door of some exotic polished hardwood. The symbol of Dalmar Imshenviir was etched and glowing on the surface of the door.

“Not warded, it’s just his symbol for vanity.” Tristol said with a smirk as he looked at the doorway’s magical dweomers. “Not half as bad as some of the mages back home. Part of the reason why I left…”

“Alright, who wants to go first?” Clueless asked, looking from face to face.

A chorus of “Me” erupted in whispers and ended in smirks.

“Ok ok, fine. Whoever gets him that’s fine, we go in together and surround him on my mark.” Clueless said, ending the discussion as he abruptly stood up and swung the door inwards.

The interior of Dalmar Imshenviir’s study was richly furnished and decorated. Two walls were dominated by shelves of books and business ledgers while another wall was covered in maps and diagrams. The room was filled with the white light or arcane magic intended to ease the eyes when reading. Under the white glow of the light that seemed to spring from the air itself, Patriarch Dalmar Imshenviir of House Imshenviir sat behind his elaborately carved desk in a high-backed chair, his back to the door and his hand extended out into the water in the open top of a water filled glass sphere, feeding a small exotic fish that lazily swum in its interior.

At the noise of the door opening the hand jerked up in surprise and his mental voice echoed in the room as he turned in the chair to face them. “Barzikonius?…You’re early. Err… I’m happy to see you again, I trust all is well?”

“Your meeting is cancelled.” Clueless bluntly replied to the mercane with a smirk as he raised his sword and begun casting as the others made their own moves.

The mercane stood there for a moment, unbelieving, before triggering a stored spell and beginning to cast another of his own. A pair of golems emerged from invisibility beside his desk and moved to attack as he was enveloped in a column of flames channeled by Florian. Only slightly singed, the mercane patriarch was still casting as the roaring flames subsided.

“Son of a…” Florian said as he ducked the punch of one of the golems while Toras swung a heavy blow at the other that scattered a fist sized chunk of stone across the floor.

“You should be dead. Clearly others will suffer for their failure to kill you.” The mercane’s telepathic voice was calm and measured as its spells of shielding absorbed a string of magic missiles and deflected three crossbow bolts from Skalliska. That was, however, before Tristol dispelled it. Nisha meanwhile was nowhere to be seen.

“What is it with you and golems?!” Clueless said as he savagely slashed at one of them, drawing its attention as Fyrehowl lopped off its left arm in one smooth swing of her blade. Meanwhile, Toras and Florian were enveloped in a white burst of ice from the Mercane’s outstretched hand. Florian cried out in pain though it seemed that the half-celestial was unaffected, as was the golem, which to that point they had been quickly wearing down.

In that moment Dalmar Imshenviir laughed, and then cried out in pain as blood blossomed across his robes from a series of thrusts as Nisha darted out from under his desk to stab him. His concentration disrupted and his spells of protection already dispelled he staggered again as a crossbow bolt thudded into his right shoulder and a bolt of lightning erupted from Tristol’s hand to lance into his chest, stopping his heart as his guts boiled from the current.

Their master dead, the remaining golem stopped, the other having been mangled by Clueless and Fyrehowl. Kalidar rushed into the room towards Florian and knelt next to the cleric of Tempus with an ironic smirk as he fingered his Athar faction symbol.

“I think you’re fooled and deluded into worshipping your so called god. But I owe you my life, so I’ll spare you my usual speech. May the Great Unknown heal your wounds and repay even in part my debt to you.” Kalidar smiled as his hands began to glow and Florian’s wounds began to heal, the chilled and frostbitten flesh returning to normal and life returning to dead and frozen flesh.

“That felt good. The next will feel better.” Tristol said as a crackle of lightning arced from his hand as the spell discharged its last crackle of energy. “You deserved worse you bastard. I hope you know you had it coming for you.”

The others nodded in agreement as they began to clean themselves of rock dust and chips of stone from the golems. Nisha held up a key and grinned as she headed for the vault door that had been concealed from their original entry into Dalmar’s personal study.

“Look but don’t take, we can always come back and look through everything in detail. Maybe he’s got some notes on where they’ll have that antidote though…” Clueless said as he started to look over the open ledger on Dalmar’s desk.

The ledger was dotted with drops of the mercane’s blood but was fully readable and detailed current payments made to and by the trio of mercane. Of note, there were records of payment from an anonymous person for the actions the group had been blackmailed to perform. Payment to the mercane was contingent upon their entry to the maze at which point payment would be completed and the deal would be considered complete. “Other agents would take over from that point” was noted in the language of the contract.

Other payments were included “for the disposal of Bartol Trenevain”, and seemingly connected to the same source were details on the seizure of shipments by the Planar Trade Consortium and the delivery of “shipments and foodstuffs” through a specific portal and designated delivery point in Carceri’s first layer of Othrys. Additionally there was payment information deeper in the logbook regarding certain seized boxes to be “immediately transported post haste to the Tower Arcane on the layer of Chamada in Gehenna, avoiding normal routes and intermediaries” payment was indicated as being “double standard”.

“Hold on actually, some of this is interesting. Loot the vault Nisha, I want to read some of this…” Clueless said, looking up at his companions. Tristol was already reading the patriarch’s spellbook and the sound of Nisha’s giggling could be heard from inside the Vault.

Reading further into the ledger, there was a loose sheet of paper pressed into the spine of the volume seemingly as almost an aside, and written in a different hand than the Mercane patriarch’s was a note regarding “transport of goods in exchange for future services rendered, to be delivered by Imshenviir as proxy to Lord of the Sixth, Malbolge. Time frame on schedule.”

“Woah… these guys are into some pretty heavy things… you guys need to read this…” Clueless continued reading as he relayed what he learned from the mercane’s ledger.

Finding nothing more of current interest besides normal payments for legitimate business, Clueless picked up the ledger and discovered a second, slimmer volume obscured by it. Flipping through its pages he found a list of similarly vague payments, most of them either in code or their meaning well enough known by the mercane to use shorthand names for the contracts. However many of the payment details were made regarding similar shipments to Othrys and from the Gray Waste as well as to Belarian, the 3rd layer of Elysium, “to alleviate hunger”. The payment sheet was signed by one ‘Barzikonius Ak Palin’ in Infernal, burned into the page rather than penned.

“What the hells…?” Fyrehowl’s ears swept back in concern as she walked over to motion Clueless aside to read over the passage referring to shipments made by the mercane to Elysium. “That’s disturbing. That’s my home plane, Elysium, and that layer is barely populated except for only a single fortress of Guardinals at Rubicon. These mercane were dealing with shipping material to the lower planes, and here they have my home plane listed as well? I want to know what they were shipping and where. This can’t be good…”

“Hmm, there’s a map here it looks like, a trade route through the layer from a portal they list. No portal key though, just ‘Belarian portal, key 5’. We’ll have to see if Skalliska can help with that, or if they have a portal log around here somewhere all the better.” Clueless replied back to the lupinal.

“We need to go to Rubicon and let them know about this if they’re not already aware of it. After we’re done here it’s something we need to look into. I have to do this, it’s my people we’re talking about, and if there’s something ill going on in the plane of ultimate good it’s my responsibility to stop it.” The lupinal was adamant and preoccupied with the information as Clueless nodded his consent and continued shuffling through the second ledger.

“Seems like Dalmar here was expecting a meeting with this Barzikonius chap. I’m not sure I want to be here when he shows up for that meeting.” Clueless said with some unease as his eyes flickered to the doorway, half expecting some pit fiend to come waltzing into the room.

“Without knowing who or what he is, I’m not sure either. Anything in there on the antidote to the poison?” Tristol said as he joined Fyrehowl and Clueless.

“That’s about it though, there’s not much else here except a bunch of details on carpet sales on some prime world and the brothers’ alchemy sales in the Outlands. So maybe we find the third brother and keep him alive long enough to find out where the antidote is?” Clueless mused as he closed the volume and placed it to the side when a small scrap of paper that had been placed into the spine of the book dropped out onto the table.

“Hello, what have we got here…” The bladesinger said as he unfolded the scrap of parchment, written in the Mercane’s hand. The few lines of script indicated that the “troops” would be receiving a visit by one “Vorkannis the Ebon, of Othrys” and that he and his consort “Shylara Akt’Atarm, the Manged” “are to be given full and unquestioned access within the demiplane”.

“Interesting… not sure what it means, but interesting…” Clueless said, pocketing the scrap of parchment as his mind drifted back to the illusory image in the mercane’s prison block and the voice that had spoken to him there and in tattered fragments of his memories. He suppressed a shudder at his recollection of the voice.

Tristol looked up smiling from Dalmar’s spellbook as Nisha walked out from the vault wearing a garish assortment of jewelry and wearing a nearly audible grin. “I’m liking these guys more and more, the more of their stuff I snag the better my opinion gets.”

“Anyways, we should get going to find the last brother and get what we came here to get before he finds out that we’re here or Dalmar’s expected guest arrives.” Toras said, standing up from atop one of the broken stone golems.

The group collected themselves and Nisha stowed her ill-gotten goods to prevent herself from sounding like the proverbial chain rattling ghost as she walked, and then made off back to Dalmar’s antechamber. As they entered the room there was a soft glow emanating from the stone archway and Skalliska’s eyes went wide. A split second later the others did the same as the portal opened onto a blasted landscape bleached of color and a single figure stepped into the room before the portal closed again.

Standing roughly six feet tall and cloaked in gray and black robes and cloak, the fiend’s elongated head was featureless save for two oversized eyes that glowed fiercely like open vents into some forge of hell, swirling with a morass of angry colors. A nearly painful mental static washed over them as the Ultroloth, Barzikonius Ak Palin turned to regard them as fear struck in the pits of their souls under its pitiless gaze.

Like a white-hot lance driven into their minds eye, the Ultroloth’s telepathic voice drive into their heads a single question, “Who are you?” Before the room erupted into a sudden flurry of activity.

Springing into being from the scroll tucked into Clueless’s belt, the floating illusory image of The Cheshire Fiend emerged as three separate gates, like flaming red rips in the fabric of the planes, burst into existence surround the Ultroloth and three massive, hulking Nycaloth’s emerged, belched forth from whichever hell they led to.

The mental razor that was the Ultroloth’s telepathy gave voice only to “What…” before the Cheshire fiend screamed out, its toothy profile suddenly and truly fiendish looking, “KILL HIM! KILL HIM NOW!!!”

The Nycaloths needed little urging as they systematically began to butcher the Ultroloth, hacking its body to malformed bloody chunks in the space of seconds. The group simply stood there in shock as they witnessed the intentional assassination of an Ultroloth.

“Good. It is done. You are dismissed, I have duties to perform here before I return.” The Cheshire Fiend said with contentment to its servants before it turned back to its pawns.

“Perhaps an explanation would be in order? My sincere apologies for using you all, but it would not have boded well had I told you that I wished you to travel here in order to gain a point of reference to gate in Barzikonius’s killers. You might have said no, and that wouldn’t have seen to what I needed to do.” The fiendish grin said and seemed to shrug, as best it could using the tiny illusory lines that made up the upper portion of its avatar.

“You used us…” Fyrehowl said, snarling slightly.

“Unintended mutual benefit I prefer to say. You’ve had your revenge on two of the three brothers Imshenviir, and I’ll happily tell you where the third was is since he’s the one with the antidote to what ails you…” The grin answered back.

“Then tell us.” Florian said, looking askance at the fiend while behind it under the portal arch the remains of the Ultroloth spontaneously erupted into purple flames that consumed the body quickly and utterly.

“Poor old Barzikonius, I almost feel sorry for him. But that would be unbefitting of me to feel. Oh well, he was in the way of progress. But please, if you’ll follow me before you go about assassinations of your own?” The image began to float out of the room and the group unquestioningly followed it.

The Cheshire Fiend floated confidently through the opulent hallways of the upper level of the keep and down the corridors that Fyrehowl had originally been wary of. The lupinal sniffed at the air and gave her companions a worried glance. The fiend slowed and looked back at her.

“No need to worry. Their master is dead and they owe fealty to a new one. Things change. Bit by bit, but they change, sometimes faster than others, and the largest changes are usually the ones you never see coming…” The illusion flashed its perpetual grin even wider as it approached a closed door at the end of the hallway.

“Please do open the door to me, and it would be best if I went first…” The fiend asked politely and Toras opened the door outwards to look into a barracks and nearly two dozen Yugoloths within. Fyrehowl’s fur bristled as she looked into the faces of over twenty Mezzoloths, half a dozen blind, snarling Canoloths, and a bloated, mantis-headed Dergholoth.

The Dergholoth sergeant chattered a high pitched command in infernal but was interrupted by the Cheshire Fiend as it floated into the center of the room and spoke to them in the same language.

“Barzikonius is dead. I, the representative of the tower, bid you welcome to our allegiance. Proceed back to the Waste as if nothing had happened here, further details will be given to you once arrived. Wheels Within Wheels.”

The Dergholoth nodded slowly and then quickly spun its head backwards 180 degrees to chatter out a string of commands to those under its commands. With frightening quickness and coordination the fiends had their weapons in hand and marched in a doublewide column through a shimmering ethereal curtain in the north end of the chamber marked with the symbol of the Gray Waste.

“We will speak again at some point, of that I am certain. If you haven’t done so already, I suggest you look into my dear departed Barzikonius’s dealings with these mercane. Especially you, my dear lupinal friend, you will find the details therein disturbing no doubt, I have information for you regarding that, but for the moment I have other matters to attend to. We shall speak later, but for now, Kalteris Imshenviir is most likely within his alchemical laboratory just past a hidden door off the interior garden on the first level of the keep. As like all of his brothers, he keeps pet golems, his are clay. Wallow in his blood for me if you would.” The Cheshire Fiend said the last statement with utter innocence and a golden halo of light shimmered over its image for an ironic split second before it vanished into thin air.

“I… no we’ll deal with that later. Let’s go find the last mercane and be done with this place…” Fyrehowl twitched her nose in irritation at the reek of fiends that permeated the room even though all of them had since departed. Despite gaining revenge by way of its information, part of her rebelled at the idea of dealing with one of them, but that thought was pushed into the back of her mind as the worry regarding the mercane dealings on her own home plane rushed to the forefront of her consciousness.

****

Situated against the backdrop of the Hill of Bones, Anthraxus the Wasted, the deposed Oinoloth and former master of Khin-Oin the Wasting Tower looked across the blasted layer of Pluton and brooded over the army of fiends that he was amassing minute by minute and the end to which he would put them.

“My master…” The voice of one of his attendant Ultroloths brought the Yugoloth lord out of his introspection and he turned to face the other who had spoken.

“Yes?” Anthraxus’s voice rippled across the air like a carpet of maggots chewing their way through flesh. An outside observer might have sworn they actually witnessed an Ultroloth flinch, but it quickly overcame any awe or fear to answer its liege with haste.

“I return along with our other envoys sent to Shacklers Hill. The Shackler would not speak to us. We were turned away and half of my troops dropped dead from no apparent effect and it was made apparent that He would not give us counsel…”

The former Oinoloth snarled his displeasure and gazed up at the Hill of Bone, turning away from the Ultroloth as his mind ran over the potential meaning of it all. Since his departure from the Siege Malicious the Baernaloths had only rarely given to him their guiding wisdom, but never had they turned him away outright from their presence. But there was still time left before his forces would be fully gathered and they marched upon the Wasting Tower, perhaps the Baernaloths simply wished to watch their children butcher each other for the learning of some trivial, or perhaps not so trivial, lesson. They had certainly done worse in the name of strengthening their chosen, and with that thought, that remembrance of things seen, for a solitary moment Anthraxus shuddered in terror.

“You have failed me…” The Wasted whispered as he turned around and opened his hand, snuffing his servant’s life like a match.

****

In the city of Center, Shylara the Manged smoothed out her robes as she rose from her chair at the side of the Ultroloth Palinarus. The sandy brown furred Arcanaloth was dressed in robes of cobalt blue and deep purple, gold and even a few silver rings piercing her ears and other places a dozen or more times. Her eyes glowed with an emerald green fire as she reached up to incessantly scratch and itch at one of her ears as she flicked its tip in annoyance. Despite the layers upon layers of illusion swathing her body and the shapechange spells atop them, her condition was slowly rising to aggravate her that day and at some point soon she would feel the need the alleviate the annoyance. Some poor berk would needlessly suffer, and she’d enjoy it all the while. Not that she needed an excuse to do such…

Quickly walking across the floor of the Palace formerly belonging to Dandy Will she hurried to fetch a new petitioner upon which to write a contract with the next mortal wizard seeking his audience to gain wealth and power in exchange for their magical support during the coming war. The fools were actually signing the contracts. Sure enough they offered much and did not require the mortal’s soul in exchange for arcane knowledge after the conclusion of the conflict, but by the end of it all, if things turned out as The Ebon wished, they would not be capable of reaping any benefit from their dealings. Chattel, all of them.

Returning to the Ultroloth’s side she placed the steel rack heavily upon the table as the petitioner, originally dwarven by the look of it, twitched and moaned before she reached into its mouth and ripped out its tongue by the root.

“Umm… oh my…was that really necessary?” A middle-aged human sorceress sitting across the table from the two Yugoloths looked sick as Shylara flicked the appendage across the room and looked up, smiling, into the mortal’s face.

“That one was too noisy, I dealt with it. If it twitches too much I’ll extract his spinal column through his eye sockets, but it doesn’t seem that will be needed. My apologies if I’ve made you ill, perhaps I might add something to the contract to make you feel better?” The Manged looked up to Palinarus who nodded as she burned several more lines and terms into the flesh of the petitioner. Greed won out over morality, as it usually did if they bothered to descend into the Waste in the first place, and the contract was signed by the end of the hour.

Palinarus looked out over the city, watching the mercenaries flock to serve under the banner of Anthraxus while his foe, Mydianchlarus, bottled himself up in the Wasting Tower like a coward. And as the Ultroloth brooded over an uncertain future, The Manged looked at the severed tongue she had picked up off the floor and wondered if it would make such a funny sounding ‘pop’ when she was able to do the same to the woman who had voiced umbrage at the act. Chattel, all of them, Palinarus not the least of them…

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

Toras glanced into a small, interior garden nested within the confines of the mercanes’ castle. The high walls of the keep rose up on all sides while a small pool occupied the center of the garden, its surface mostly covered by lotus blossoms and more exotic red stalked water lilies. From behind the half-celestial, Skalliska glanced oddly at the plants.

“In case anyone cares to take a minute and sniff the flowers, don’t, the lilies are poisonous. Expensive and they’ll fetch a nice price from some herbalists I know, but nasty things…” The kobold said to the others.

“An ever better price on the Night Market!” Nisha quipped from behind the kobold.

“In any event you two go in and find that concealed door, we’ll cover you.” Clueless said, casting a nervous glance behind himself to the empty corridor.

A moment later, and a few whispered threats by the tiefling to the kobold regarding ‘finding out if she could swim’ and ‘wondering if they had sharks in the pool’ later, the two rogues had opened a hidden panel concealed cleverly behind a piece of finished stone. Yet another giggled taunt to the kobold by the tiefer later and a door stood open to a short stairwell leading up to the mercane’s alchemy laboratory.

“Wait… something’s wro…” Tristol said, the moment before a fireball detonated in the center of the group, leaving only Nisha and Skalliska unharmed by virtue of their near simultaneous leaps into the center of the pool. As the companions blinked and winced at the burns and smell of scorched flesh and fur, they watched as the air in the corridor shimmered and three forms stepped into view, two clay golems in the shape of gargoyles and the third mercane brother.

“Son of a b**** was waiting for us out there the whole time!” Florian cursed before raising his axe to deflect a blow from one of the charging golems.

As the golems attacked, the mercane stood safetly away from the heat of combat, hurling spells to slow and hamper his opponents, nothing so offensive as his fireball from before. At least, he did so until he had a flurry of magic missiles and crossbow bolts fire in his direction from Nisha and the kobold.

“Some help Tristol, please, these damn golems aren’t taking the damage they should be. And I don’t happen to have a collection of clubs to use instead of a sword.” Toras shouted out as he blocked a punch by one of the clay golems before smacking it to marginal effect with the flat of his blade.

“Working on it…” Tristol said as he watched his companions being outclassed by the constructs due to their personal choice of weapons; all blades. Already Florian and Toras were bruised and bleeding from heavy blows, despite their armor, and Clueless, by virtue of his quickness, was the only one to not be hit yet. However, despite that, the bladesinger hadn’t done any damage to the golems, his sword cuts simply cutting deep and leaving no lasting impression in their bodies.

“Ack!” Nisha said as she dived out of the way to avoid a lightning bolt sent in her direction courtesy of the mercane who managed to cast the spell despite one of Skalliska’s bolts buried to the fletches in his side.

But as the battle continued Tristol cast a spell and one of the golems seemed to gain a sudden consistency, and suddenly the hail of blows landing on its previously resistant surface began to chop and gouge chunks of semi-soft stone from its body. While the effect was brief, the golem was hacked to unmoving chunks before its body returned to its normal clay.

Florian backed away from the immediate battle as Tristol prepared to cast again, this time at the other golem, and the cleric began to cast a spell of his own, at the mercane. As the aasimar’s spell took effect and their companions began doing the damage they would have done already were it normally susceptible to their blows, Florian whispered a prayer to hold and constrain the mercane wizard.

“And you think that my brothers would allow you to simply walk into my laboratory and take an antidote that doesn’t exist? They will be here in moments and you will yearn to…” The mercane’s words were silenced as he went still and rigid, held locked in place by the force of Florian’s spell.

Nisha and Skalliska sloshed out of the pool as the others walked to the mercane, stepping over the broken remnants of the clay golem as it returned to its previous consistency. Toras knelt next to the prone form of the blue skinned wizard, his sword held under its chin; Florian took a spot next to him, his axe held out for instant use.

“Your brothers are already dead and you can join them quickly or we can make it last far longer than it needs to. Tell us the name of the antidote and where to find it and you can spare yourself a great deal of suffering.” Clueless said in a flat voice that seemed devoid of sympathy.

“Which is a far better fate than you would have dealt to myself and Tristol here… Tempus knows you deserve far worse, but we’re offering you a way out quickly, just tell us what we need to know when this spell wears off, oh in about a dozen seconds or so.” Florian said as he lowered his axe slightly.

Fyrehowl sighed with resignation at the likelihood of impending torture as the mercane remained silent for several minutes before finally realizing that his brothers, by not returning his mental calls for help, were very much dead indeed. Realizing this, the mercane whispered “Gallows Adder, in the locked cabinet in the lab” before Florian’s axe came crashing down, severing his head from his shoulders quickly and efficiently.

“Alright, we know what we need to know, let’s go find it now and have this over with finally.” Tristol said as he took the first step up the stairwell to the mercane’s lab with the others in tow.

The interior of the alchemy lab was sprawling, with gigantic brass vessels and lines of copper pipes lining the walls. Shelves of herbs, chemicals, and once living specimens of exotic and rare animals lines the walls above and between the cauldrons. Tristol was seemingly lost, scouring the shelves out of both raw intellectual curiosity and a fervent desire, and need, to find the cure that the mercane had possessed. After all, no fool would create and use a poison if they had no antidote in case of accidental exposure.

“Oh wow, this place is so neat!” Nisha said with glee as she watched, mesmerized, a self-stirring mortar and pestle as it rotated around, grinding away at nothing in particular.

“Nisha? Can you come over and… nevermind.” Tristol said as Florian broke the door off of the locked cabinet he had been trying to open.

Inside the cabinet were a series of bottles, each embossed with a glowing symbol representing a single alchemical poison. The central and smallest bottle was marked with the name of the poison that had affected them, ‘Gallows Adder’.

His hands shaking, Tristol opened the vial and drank a third of its contents before dripping a similar amount down his familiar’s throat as it stuck its vulpine snout out of the familiar pocket it had been hiding within before handing it to Florian who did the same. The effect was near instantaneous as they shuddered and dropped to the ground. The two of them regained consciousness and looked up into the concerned faces of Fyrehowl and Nisha.

“Good? Bad? Harmonium? What happened?” The tiefling asked, her tail nearly curled into the shape of a question mark behind her.

Florian blinked and Tristol squinted for a moment before they both smiled. “Aside from a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, I’m feeling remarkably better. I’m still never eating in the Fortune’s Wheel again, but I’m doing good.” The mage smiled and had it returned peachily by the tiefling.

“I’ll be buying drinks on the house for us all in our soon to be owned inn back in Sigil. Foehammer be praised, I’m feeling ten times better.” Florian grinned.

“And judging by the contents of the mercanes’ vault and the stock of this lab, you’ll be buying a round of Heartsblood wine and not even feeling a dent in your funds.” Fyrehowl smiled as she looked at the rare stock of alchemical reagents and herbs that decorated the shelves.

“And on that note, I get to go loot to my hearts content!” Nisha said, skipping from the room like an exuberant child given far too much sugar. The others could only chuckle and follow.

The next six hours were spent fully exploring the rest of the mercane’s keep, taking an exhaustive inventory of the contents of each of the rooms, locating and disarming any remaining traps both magical and mundane, and discovering some interesting things in the process.

“And just what in Baator is this thing?” Florian asked as Tristol and Skalliska circled a large device situated within one of the rooms that was located off of a side passage from Dalmar Imshenviir’s study. Looking like a series of concentric metal rings that rotated around a central pedestal, each of them embossed with symbols corresponding to certain planes. Opposite the device was a circular ring upon the wall.

“Well as best I can guess this relates to what you said earlier, Clueless, about a portal key 5. There’s a spot here to place something in the center of this thing, and probably that along with turning the device to a specific alignment of symbols might open up a portal…” Tristol mused.

“That’s exactly what it is. I’ve heard that the mercane were trying to make something like this, only problem being that the portals they make are one way and that they appear randomly on the target plane. Not really that useful unless you have some stiff magic of your own to get around once you get there.” Skalliska added.

“So we’ve got a ‘dial-a-portal’ now? That’s awesome!” Florian said.

“Not quite… we don’t know the proper alignments to make it activate, and we don’t know the portal keys for them all. Somehow I doubt the mercane actually kept a log of them all, and from all the clutter of stuff around here I doubt we’d know if anything were a spell component, alchemy component, knickknack, or portal key. It’s going to take some time and serious effort to figure it out.” Tristol answered.

“Still… from this is looks like they had access to the four cardinal elemental planes, lightning quasielemental plane, Baator, Gehenna, the Waste, Arborea, and the Outlands. Nice…” Skalliska said as she fiddled with some of the dials on the device.

“Hmm. Well we’ve got time now that we don’t have to worry about any of us dropping dead from poison. Might be worth our while to come back and mess with this at some point.” Clueless said.

“Let’s find out what else they’ve got. There was a locked supply room down the hall I’m itching to break into!” Nisha said, barely constraining her urge to bolt and check it out.

Shortly thereafter the group stood in a dusty series of chambers that were mostly filled wall to wall with large objects underneath dusty canvas tarps, seemingly packed away for long term storage. While Nisha was standing beneath one of the loose tarps, waving her arms around and making, “Booooooo….” noises like the proverbial ghost in a white sheet, Toras looked quizzically at a large metal object that rested underneath.

“What is that?” He asked, glancing back at the others.

“You know, if I had to say something it sorta looks like a hacked up part of a ship’s keel.” Florian said.

“No, not hacked up. More just taken apart and stowed.” Fyrehowl added.

“Booooo…..”, Nisha said, obviously having too much fun playing specter.

“Actually, it kind of reminds me of a flying ship from my homeland back in Halruaa…” Tristol said.

“… we have a spelljammer…” Skalliska said, letting the meaning of the statement sink in.

“Boooo… huh… we what?!” The ‘ghost’ under the tarp paused and stopped before laughing and jumping up and down.

Skalliska spent the next few minutes explaining to her fellows just what a Spelljammer was, what the mercane used them for, and how the ship was lacking a spelljamming helm and thus any ability to actually fly.

“Actually… I’ve got an idea for it. But we’ll handle that later once we’ve had Bartol’in’the’bag sign over his inn to us when we get back to Sigil.” Clueless said with a grin that screamed out ‘trust me on this one’.

The next room of interest that they discovered was just down the hallway from the chamber in which they had originally met the mercane brothers before being sent to the deep ethereal. In fact they all stopped dead in their tracks once they saw the door since it was emblazoned in an ornate symbol of the Mercykillers.

“Well damn. They went out of their way to make the barmy feel at home didn’t they?” Clueless said.

Nisha looked at Clueless and held up a lockpick curiously. “Go right ahead, we’re just as rabidly curious as you are.” Fyrehowl said as the tiefling started to pop the lock.

“…Well crap. Forget what I said before…” Clueless said as they opened the door to the room and looked into its interior. The room had no exits and was empty except for a single chair. A small amount of blood was spattered on the floor near to the chair and Fyrehowl wrinkled her nose.

“Fiend stench…” the lupinal said, turning away in distaste.

“So much for a friendly debriefing for the nutcase…” Toras said as he glanced at the small bloodstain on the floor. “Definitely not fiend or mercane blood.”

“Weird, I wonder what they did with her.” Florian said as they left the room and finished their search of the castle.

The last tasks they performed within the keep was finding the kitchen and serving staff, as well as the two scribes, from where they had been hiding and letting them know that the castle had new owners. In fact they even offered to continue paying them their normal wages even in the absence of the mercane. That they had the mercane’s more than substantial finances, courtesy of “Dalmar Imshenviir’s generous donation” according to Nisha, the group could more than afford to pay the servants to continue upkeep of the castle. The lone remaining guard was released, apologized to, and sent packing with a bit of jink back to one of the gatetowns.

The trip back to Sigil was uneventful in light of their time spent in the demiplane, and their hearts were lifted by their success, and their minds curious to tumble to the dark of what they had discovered in the mercane patriarch’s notebooks. Nisha kept asking to play with Tristol’s familiar most of the way back, and Skalliska was largely preoccupied with making a mental tally of just how much, down to the last bent copper, her share of the mercane’s vault would come to. Clueless was mostly preoccupied thinking about the illusion he had seen in the mercane prison, and of his two former companions, both of whom had appeared to have similar gemstones in one of their ankles, exactly like him. They had been with him in Carceri, and whatever had happened to them there had not been pleasant, and it likely wasn’t over either.

****

“And sir, if you would please sign on the bottom of pages three through twelve, in duplicate and you sir as well please.” The minor functionary in the Hall of Information’s Sigil Property Bureau drolled on and pointed a stubby, ink stained finger at the paperwork spread out on the counter in front of Clueless, Florian, and Skalliska as a haggard Bartol Trenevain slowly added his signatures to the documents that would officially cede to them his title to the former Ubiquitous Wayfarer.

Clueless added his signature alongside Trenevain’s and the others’, and after each time, the half-fey smiled at the genasi as the aasimar clerk stamped that page of the document with a wax seal.

Trenevain looked depressed and resigned as he signed over his ill-gotten gains to the same people he had first screwed over. Florian patted him on the back and Clueless gave him an ironic grin as the clerk stamped the final seal into place and made the transfer official.

“And just so we’re clear on this, I really wouldn’t think about trying to take any sort of revenge for this. It’s really only fair you know, given what you did to us in the first place. And we did, after all, save your life in that mercane prison…” Florian said with a smile on his face.

“And just to make sure here, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to leave Sigil for the next while…” Clueless said, calmly resting his hand on his sword’s hilt.

Trenevain stopped and looked up at the bladesinger, “And where else would I go? Whoever I was working for is going to kill me sooner or later anyways. They’re working with fiends and just that by itself makes Sigil one of the safer places I could be. I’m not going to exactly be welcomed on any of the upper planes to seek shelter there now will I?”

“Stay in town and if we have any questions later we’ll get in touch with you. Understand?” Clueless said back with a tone of finality. Trenevain sighed and walked off.

“Thank you for rescuing me. By the next time we speak though I may be dead, I don’t have any illusions of a long life.” The genasi sighed as he stepped out into the street of the Clerk’s Ward and vanished into the crowd.

Fyrehowl looked over at Clueless, “Do you think that they’ll do something to him? Also, for that matter, that they’ll do anything to get back at us? After all, we’re supposed to be dead if they had had their way.”

Clueless nodded to the lupinal, “It’s a worry to be sure…”

“Why go out of their way though? We don’t know who they are even, so why risk letting us find out by sending someone after us?” Toras suggested.

“True. Let’s hope so.” Clueless replied as they all walked the thirteen blocks or so between the Hall of Information and the building that tied all of them together, the bar and inn former known as the Ubiquitous Wayfairer.

As they reached the building they all looked at one another and at the daylight appearance of the boarded up former inn. Nisha walked up to the front door and stuck her tongue out at it before kicking it with her left hoof. “At least it won’t mouth back like last time now.”

“I think it’s going to need some work,” Florian said, looking at the graffiti that sprawled across much of the outside of the building.

“Needs paint.” Nisha said.

“Need’s a gimmick if we want to get customers. The place shut down for a reason you know. It used to have tons of permanent portals and when they largely vanished after the Tempest of Doors, so did most of the customers.” Skalliska stated then paused to look at Clueless, “Why are you grinning like that Clueless?”

“We need a gimmick, right?” He said to a chorus of nods, “We have a spelljammer, yes?” There was another bunch of nods. “We have it built right into the inn, use part of it for the bar, have some rooms be rooms from the ship itself, and have the hull of it sticking out of the side of the building like it just dropped out of the sky and crashed into the place.”

Clueless was all grins and charisma as the others paused and thought about it. They all seemed to like it and it was decided on that they would indeed have it shipped in pieces back from the demiplane and constructed into the inn itself. But, as for a name, they weren’t so sure. Various ideas were tossed about as they walked into the inn and took seats at one of the ash-covered tables. Finally however, Nisha came up with one that seemed to get a consensus, ‘The Portal Jammer’.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the inn, evicting a number of rats from the cellar, and having Tristol wander from room to room detecting for possible portals, which there were a small number of. Aside from a stable portal back to their mercane’s demiplane there was a portal to elemental fire in the doorway leading from the bar back to the stockroom. There was also a portal to Limbo in a bedroom, a portal to some unknown layer of the Abyss in the frame of a broken window on the third floor, and several doors to other rooms that rotated through destinations at random, though the key was thankfully fixed and obscure on all of them.

The next days were spent speaking to various persons to get the inn back into proper shape and allow it to be opened back in a functional capacity in short order. They spent a day talking to their cooks and other servants back in the demiplane and arranging for them to be hired on to operate their new inn back in Sigil. Another day was spent contracting a builder and their crew to make the needed repairs and revisions as the spelljammer was brought into Sigil bit by bit. And a final day was spent buying a steady supply of food and spirits, the absolutely essential requirement for an establishment as they wished the Portal Jammer to become.

Those first few days they roomed in other inns across the city, but eventually moved into rooms of their own on the second floor of their own inn once it was cleaned and the rooms were worthy of living within, unlike the abandoned building it had been before, filled with dust, rats, and other vermin. Skalliska was an exception however, as she already had a place of her own, and so while she dropped by the Portal Jammer daily, she spent a large chunk of her time at her office. Nisha meanwhile was in and out seemingly at random, flitting from place to place and never seeming to be around till people actually began to wonder if she had fallen through a portal and gotten lost.

****

Clueless looked up at the outside of the inn and the Spelljammer that looked like it had simply dropped out of the sky and crash-landed in the side of the building. And, judging by the reactions of the people passing by on the street, the gimmick was drawing people’s attention as well. Already they had had a dozen or more of the people who worked in the area stop by and ask them what the place was, where they got the jammer from, and when they would be open.

“It still need’s a little something…” Nisha said, walking up behind Clueless. She was carrying an armload of bright orange pumpkins. Clueless raised an eyebrow and looked at her.

“What’s with the pumpkins? And speaking of it, where the heck have you been since we got back to Sigil?”

“Places. You know me, all over and back again. Finding rich peo… fiends in the Hive willing to donate to a young tiefling lass with a pretty smile and quicker hands? Something like that.” She replied with a smile as she walked past him and into the as yet unopened inn.

Tristol laughed as Nisha walked up the stairs to her room carrying the armload of pumpkins and he walked out to stand and look up at the jammer with the bladesinger. “Just how completely did you have the ship rebuilt? I know it’s lacking a spelljamming helm, but otherwise was it complete?” The wizard asked curiously.

“Pretty much, heck I even had the ballistae and the catapults rigged back up again. Our inn is armed if we ever tire of the competition.” He laughed, joking with the last comment. Joking about the competition, not about the inn being armed.

Tristol squinted and looked up at the Spelljammer and the roof of the inn. Clueless did the same as they watched a figure step out a window, scale part of the side of the building and hop onto the deck of the ship. All done while carrying a satchel of somethings round and heavy…

“Did you say they had catapults up there?” Tristol asked, slightly nervous.

“Yes. Why?” Clueless said.

“Because Nisha’s up on the ship and I just watched her walk upstairs a few minutes ago with an armload of pumpkins…”

“Oh s***!” Clueless said as the air was split by a loud *KACHUNK* and a brilliant orange missile was flung skyward, going around half a block before splattering across the cobblestones, barely missing a random collection of sigilians.

Clueless’s wings came out and he hurtled up towards the roof as Tristol ran back inside, both of their heads suddenly filled with the horrible image of a pumpkin firing off from the top of their inn to crown a randomly passing by Dabus…

A chorus of “AWWWW…!!!!” from a tiefling who had her fun spoiled was the norm for the next while as Clueless confiscated Nisha’s pumpkins and had Tristol help him to dismantle the catapults on the spelljammer that had previously been left in place. Nisha didn’t stay unhappy for long, in fact, ten minutes later she was smiling once more and giggling to herself as she sat on the cobblestones in front of the inn, gazing up at the spelljammer stuck into the side of the building.

“No good is going to come of that you know?” clueless said, looking out the front window of the inn with Tristol, both of them wary of the next idea that popped up from the seemingly endless well of otherwise crazy ideas the Xaositect tiefling seemed to possess.

“At least she’s a giddy, ‘I want to have fun’, Xaositect as opposed to one of the ‘Lets go burn something down and then build a wall around somebody’s house while they’re sleeping’ type of Xaositect. You have to admit that’s probably a plus.” Tristol said with amusement as he looked out at Nisha.

“I’ve certainly had more fun in my life, or something like that, since I’ve been here in Sigil around you all. Better than being back home. And speaking of that I should probably send word to my family that I haven’t married a succubus or gotten eaten by a goristro at some point.” Tristol continued on, taking a periodic sip of one of the new ales they had purchased for the inn.

Several hours passed and it grew close to peak as the smog in the sky seemed to glow a bit more than its already meager amount of what passed for daylight. Clueless was sitting down and eating lunch in the taproom that was slowly taking shape day by day as Fyrehowl walked in through the front door, tired but smiling.

“Where you been all day?” Clueless asked after swallowing a bite of his dinner.

“Oh, actually I’ve been at the Great Gymnasium. You mentioned it a little while back and I went to take a look myself. There’s some pretty interesting people there, and their philosophy is rather… interesting.” Fyrehowl answered, taking a seat next to him.

“Really? You buy all of that mysticism?” He asked.

“Oh don’t get me wrong, I haven’t gone out and joined them or anything, but at the very least I’ve been keeping my swordplay sharp. There’s some skilled people there and they’re more than willing to teach.” She said as she poured herself an ale of her own.

At that point Nisha finally walked back into the inn, carrying an assorted jumble of things including more pumpkins and a cutlass. Clueless gave her a look like a mother to a naughty child caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

“Nisha…?” Clueless said.

“It’s not what you think. I was just out with my boyfriend and got a bunch of stuff. I already know I’m not allowed to toss pumpkins, or any other sort of fruit or vegetable, off the roof at people. Spoilsport. But this is for something else and you can’t forbid what you don’t know about before it happens.” The tiefling said as she grinned and walked upstairs to her room, clip’clopping all the way up the stairs.

“The girl is going to be the death of us all one of these days. By mazing most likely. I’m not sure I want to know what she’s got planned. But keep an eye out for whatever mischief she gets into, alright?” Clueless said as he finished his lunch.

“Sure thing.” Fyrehowl replied with a smile.

Several more hours passed and Clueless went off to visit his girlfriend, leaving Fyrehowl sitting alone in the taproom, as Toras was off speaking to a member of his church’s clergy, Tristol was bottled up in his room reading over the spellbooks he had acquired recently, Skalliska was at her own office, and Florian was out doing something.

It was at that point that Florian came walking in the front door to sit down next to the lupinal. “We have money now.” He said.

“Yeah, and?” Fyrehowl said slowly.

“Shopping. I have the urgent desire to go spend some of it without real concern for anything else. Care to come with me?” Florian asked.

Fyrehowl chuckled and gave Florian a wry grin, “Everything considered, yeah there’s a reason why you’d ask me to. I figure Nisha might have been on the list, except the powers only know where she’s been since we got back to Sigil, wandering in and out randomly, though I guess that fits her. That and she’d be liable to pilfer half the store before you looked at the first few shelves.”

“Yeah, there is that. She mentioned something about “her boyfriend” the other day though, so maybe that’s where she’s been. So, up for it?”

“Why not, I’ve been practicing at the Gymnasium most of the morning so I guess I could take some time off to have some fun.”

And so Florian and Fyrehowl, both of them with two swollen coin pouches, went from shop to shop, moving through the Clerk’s Ward to the Grand Bazaar and then to the Lower Ward, deciding to hit a few stores there before turning back to avoid wandering through the Hive. Near the end of their planned spending spree they stood outside of a small shop nestled in the heart of the Lower Ward, the low cloud cover gracing the top of the roof a pale yellow and a fine carpet of soot dusting their feet from the pyres at the heart of the Great Foundry a dozen blocks away. The name of the shop was proudly displayed on the carved wooden and hand painted sign that swung in the breeze over the shop’s doorway: * A’kin’s * The Friendly Fiend.

Fyrehowl raised an eyebrow at Florian questioningly, “You sure this shop is a good idea? You know, the whole ‘fiend’ thing and all?”

“Oh, but this is different. This is A’kin’s shop, A’kin the Friendly Fiend. And true to the name he’s just that, he’s friendly. I’d heard about the place before but I’ve never been inside to actually meet him. As far as anyone knows, he’s never once in anyone’s memory has he been mean to anyone. Supposedly he’s quite pleasant. But let’s find out.” Florian replied as he opened the door and gestured the wary lupinal inside.

The door closed behind them with the pleasant jingle of a silver bell hanging over the inside surface of the door. The shop was an exercise in controlled clutter, with tables and shelves sprawling with a wonderfully eclectic mixture of odds, ends, and assorted knickknacks from a dozen or more planes. A moment after the bell jingled and the door closed, the figure of the shopkeeper turned from where he was dusting a few items on a shelf. The friendly fiend was dressed in a wizard’s robe of speckled gold and teal and the ears framing his jackals head were decorated by a dozen or more earrings. A’kin was all smiles as opposed to a sulfur tinged buyer and seller of souls like most of his kin.

“Greetings and welcome!” The arcanaloth smiled a wide grin over his face as he walked over to the front desk of the small shop and retrieved a small brass dish that he held out to his customers as he walked over to greet them.

“Arcadian mint?” The smiling ‘loth asked as he held out the dish. Florian picked one up and chewed it with a smile. Still wary, Fyrehowl picked one up as well and nibbled at it.

“Oh, don’t be scared, I won’t bite. Believe me, I’m not at all like people expect.” A’kin said.

Fyrehowl tentatively smiled, “You’ll excuse me from being unused to a smiling fiend. Most of my experiences have been bad ones.”

“Then I’m pleased to present you with an exception. Rest assured, it usually celestials that have the oddest expressions on their faces after meeting me for the first time. I like to think it’s because of the wonderful things I have for sale in here that they just can’t decide on what to get and they leave all confused; something like that. But please do look around and let me know if you need help with anything.” A’kin said with a wink as he walked over to a shelf lined with a series of dolls. “I think that you might like these. I just had them delivered this morning, but I think that they’re delightful, much like you two.”

“Oh? What are they?” Florian asked as he looked at the dolls before laughing.

“And they need no explanation…” A’kin said as he walked off to dust another shelf.

The dolls, all thirteen of them were representations of the old factols from before the time of the Faction War. Included was a small Factol Sarin in his Harmonium armor, a straightjacket’ed Factol Lhar whose jacket was printed with the words, “I went to the Grim Retreat and all I got was this straight jacket.” And each of the other dolls down the line detailed the other factols, including a wemic holding up a “We’re not a sodding faction” sign for the Indeps, and a collection of smaller dolls for the Anarchists who lacked a true factol.

“Oh, and they’re animated. They’ll act like their model, given the chance, but they’ll eventually return to their original condition. Sarin for instance, routinely falls over with an arrow stuck in his back, and Factol Karan keeps falling apart, changing colors, and dressing differently, all sorts of stuff. I like them.”

“Why is there a glass vase upturned over the top of Factol Darius?” Fyrehowl asked, poking the glass covering over atop the Signer factol.

“Oh, you can take it off to see, but after a while I couldn’t take her “imagining” everything in my shop into being, or so she claimed.” A’kin said with a chuckle.

Fyrehowl lifted the glass mug and looked into the calm face of the Veyl. “I imagine a lupinal into being! I also imagine a cleric into being! And I imagine an Arcanaloth!” The Factol Darius doll continued listing off things in the shop before Fyrehowl dropped the soundproof vase over top of the doll once more.

“See what I mean? But she is amusing, I’ll admit that. Some of them are a righteous parody of their namesakes. I particularly like Darkwood up there.” A’kin said from over at his countertop.

“I don’t see him up here.” Fyrehowl said.

“Oh, it’s a long story, but the big black gem there. That’s him.” A’kin said, gesturing in the air and making the little black sapphire hover for a moment where it rattled from something inside.

“How much for the entire lot of them?” Florian asked, opening his coin purse.

“Florian, are you sure?” Fyrehowl asked.

“How much for the lot of them A’kin?” Florian said, waving a hand at Fyrehowl dismissively. “I have my share of the money and they’re amusing.”

A’kin walked over and looked at them and their lack of price tags. “Well, let me tell you what… they’re unique in that there’s only one of each, but I like you both and you didn’t walk out of my shop all weirded out like some celestials do when they meet me, so how about 600gp for each of them, and I’ll even wrap and box each of them individually for you?”

Fyrehowl twitched at the price, but Florian would have none of it. “Sold. Would you like that it gold or platinum?”

“Anything but silver if you don’t mind actually. It tends to react poorly with me.” The smiling fiend said as he took down each of the dolls and slowly wrapped them up, despite the Indep doll’s protests about ‘living free or dying’, and handed the boxes one at a time to Florian.

“Pardon me for saying so, but you’re absolutely adorable in an utterly unexpected way for a fiend. Can I scratch your ears?” Florian asked.

“Well… normally I don’t humor people like that, but you just bought something so… oh alright.” A’kin said.

Fyrehowl twitched again as A’kin chuckled like he was enjoying a guilty pleasure of his own, and indulging the mortal in front of him, probably not the first person to ask him for such. But Florian laughed as she scratched the Friendly Fiend’s ears like an overgrown, spellcasting puppy in a robe; A’kin simply sighed contentedly and smiled as Fyrehowl was left with just a confused and perplexed expression as she left his shop with Florian in tow.

The next morning as Fyrehowl awoke and walked out the front door of the Jammer on her way to the Great Gymnasium she paused and looked up at the roof of the inn, noticing something different about the spelljammer stuck in its side. Pumpkins, squash, and melons were lined up on the deck of the ship, carved and decorated to resemble Githyanki pirates from wildspace…

“Yarrrr!” came a voice from the prow of the spelljammer as one of the gith pirates wiggled slightly while an unseen pair of hands made the tinfoil sword at its side brandish menacingly.

“Oh powers above…” Fyrehowl whispered as several more of the ‘pirates’ moved about across the deck, some of them with eye patches, some with peg legs attached, and some with hooks for hands.

“Yarrrr! We be looking to plunder fer gold in this new land of Sigil! Yarrr! Hand over yer gold! Yarrrr!” The ‘pirate’ waved its ‘sword’ menacingly.

“Good morning Nisha.” Fyrehowl said as she noticed a tail bobbing up from behind one of the ‘pirates’ on the deck of the ship.

“Yarrr! I be not knowing this wench Nisha! Yarrr!” The ‘pirate’ continued, punctuated by a tiefling’s giggle.

“Cap’n Nisha, your tail is showing.” Fyrehowl said as she laughed and walked off down the street.

“Yarr… sodding Yarrr….” The ‘pirate’ said, hiding the offending appendage before sticking it up in the air once again, this time wrapped in a black flag with a skull and crossbones symbol proudly waving in the breeze.

****

Vorkannis the Ebon sat down on the edge of the river Styx, letting his feet dangle into the water, seemingly uncaring about its memory leaching touch. The fiend looked out across the bleak expanse of the Waste underneath a gray and uncaring sky. It was all uniformly bleak and featureless, though on the far off horizon there grew a billowing wake of black clouds, almost as if the plane itself was offering a harbinger of things to come, for a storm indeed was coming to the Three Glooms.

The Ebon smiled as he opened his left hand, conjuring forth a pair of gleaming, blood red rubies the size of his own similarly colored eyes and without a flaw to mar their sparkling interior. Without a word the fiend idly gestured with one hand and a blasphemy spell swirled through the air, rippling the waters with its potency; one of the ways to summon the father of the Marraenoloths, Cerlic the Altraloth, known to some mortals as Charon the boatmaster of the Styx.

The waters continued to swirl and then appeared to boil like black, molten tar as a low black skiff emerged from a sudden bank of fog that rose from the fetid waters themselves. A massive figure, skeletal and wrapped in a hooded black robe stood at the prow of the skiff, guiding the ship through the water with a simple wooden staff, its eyes like pinpoints of flame in their bony orbits.

The Ebon smiled at the Altraloth as the skiff drew near and the archfiend regarded him. For a moment the air was still and quiet before Cerlic’s telepathic voice rung out like a whispered dying breath from a drowning soul, “I have already given your master Mydianchlarus an answer to his request. My loyalty remains with the Oinoloth, regardless of who presently holds the title. Why has he sent you then?”

Another smile and the sable furred arcanaloth tossed one of the gems into Cerlic’s skiff and spoke aloud, “I’ve always wondered why you chose that particular method of payment from your charges. Certainly it wasn’t in place before you assumed your position as lord of the marraenoloths. I always figured it might have been something the hags wrote into your brain when they made you what you are…”

“And what would you know of that, arcanaloth?” The Altraloths words were riddled with the contempt of a superior speaking to a lesser being. The Ebon dropped the other gem into the depths of the Styx.

“I would know because I watched them create you; seven of them in all. Shall I name them each? Not that it matters since all of them have since died, imperfect beings that create imperfect things. Time has been a harsh mistress to them, their lives snuffed over the course of millennia since they made you what you are.” The flawless ruby in the bottom of Cerlic’s skiff was incapable of replicating the knowing gleam that danced in The Ebon’s eyes as Cerlic looked down on him.

“I was not aware that you were that old. Are you implying that you had a hand in their deaths? Not that I much care. My power is not dependant on them, or my contract with them terminated upon their death in any event.” Cerlic’s words were tinged now with a shade of curiosity rarely heard in the thoughts of the immortal.

“Not a thing to do with their deaths myself, no. I wouldn’t stoop to that level or waste my words butchering them. No, I’m here to speak to you Cerlic. I’m here to speak to you as myself, Vorkannis the Ebon, not as any underling to the Oinoloth Mydianchlarus.”

“You amuse me arcanaloth. Speak with me then and do not boast or I will leave here with the Oinoloth minus a servant.” Cerlic’s words were tinged with force.

Vorkannis leaned down to drink deeply from the black waters that swirled about his ankle, licking the last drops of that liquid corruption from his muzzle like it were a vintage wine before sitting back up and looking into Cerlic’s face. “And I would welcome you to try Cerlic. But unlike your brethren, you serve a role and you serve it well regardless of who holds the throne of Khin-Oin. That alone will spare you the fate of your makers fool.”

“My brethen?” The Altraloth whispered but said nothing of the fact that his attempt to teleport away and summon forth a dozen of his minions to kill the impudent ‘loth had failed to function.

“You and rest of the hagspawn. Imperfect beings made by imperfect beings. You sully yourselves for some momentary advantage. You betray your nature for scraps of power, and limit yourselves at the same time. Were I capable of pity I might actually feel it for you Cerlic. But my lack of pity is forestalled by pragmatism…”

And Cerlic listened, and Cerlic obeyed.

****

Clueless staggered downstairs from his room looking more like he belonged in the Great Mortuary alongside the rest of the Dead. His hair was disheveled and he had bags under his eyes; it didn’t appear that he had slept much. Toras looked at him as he sat down and poured himself a mug of ale.

“I take it you spent the evening with your sensate girlfriend?” The half-celestial asked.

“Huh? Why do you say that?” Clueless asked in return, looking both tired and confused.

“Because you don’t look like you slept a wink last night is what I think he means.” Fyrehowl said.

“Yeah, didn’t see you around at all last night. Figured that was likely where you were so I didn’t bother giving you a call over a sending spell.” Tristol said, looking up from a copy of the one of the local ward newspapers.

“Nope, I was here all night. In fact I went to bed early last night, don’t know why I feel like crud this morning then.” Clueless said before sipping at his drink.

“Where’d you sleep then, in the gutter? Because you smell worse than some of Skalliska’s so-called food. That or a fiend abducted you and had their way with you all last night.” Fyrehowl said as she wrinkled her nose and moved her chair away from the half-fey. Clueless shrugged in confusion and sipped more at his ale.

A minute or two later Nisha walked back down the stairs, still dressed in a pirate outfit complete with a stuffed bird sitting on her shoulder and an eye patch over one eye. Tristol looked up at her and put down his newspaper. “Didn’t you just go up there a half hour ago? Had enough fun for the day up there already with the ‘pirates’?”

Nisha shook her head no rapidly and took a seat at the table next to the mage. “Two words: Angry Githzerai.”

“Angry Githzerai? Weren’t the pumpkins githyanki though?” Tristol asked.

“Yeah they were. All I know is that I had a couple angry githzerai shouting out something about dirty ‘yanki and throwing knives at my ‘crew’ and me. I hesitate to think what’s left of them after they run out of stuff to toss at them…” Nisha said with a resigned frown.

Several more minutes of banter later and Skalliska walked into the inn and Florian had woken up and joined them all as well. Shortly thereafter the door swung open and a man stepped inside from the street.

“Sorry sir, we’re not quite open for business just yet!” Florian said quickly.

“No no no, it’s not that. I only heard just now for m’self but if you’ve got any way to get to The Lady’s Ward quickly you might want to. It’s Factol Nilesia, she’s back in Sigil. Just came barging out of the Prison with a pack of former Mercykillers and she’s gone even barmier than she was before!” The man rapidly explained before he ran out the door, heading in the direction of The Lady’s Ward.

“Uh oh…” Nisha said, looking out the open door as the man retreated down the street. She glanced over at the others as they all grew nervous and morbidly curious at the same time before as one they all stood up from the table to find out what was going on.

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Joined: 2004-04-26
Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

The streets of The Lady’s Ward were packed with morbidly curious onlookers who watched from stoops and alleyways as a mob of former Mercykillers, dressed in full faction regalia marched from the Prison in the rough direction of the City Court, former Factol Alisohn Nilesia at their head. The ex-factol was screaming at the top of her lungs, a glint of unshuttered madness burning in her eyes, and extolling her followers with a litany of curses that flowed freely from her mouth.

“Where are you? Answer me you bladed harlot! Where is Darkwood?! Where is he? Give him to me and show yourself!” The young tiefling’s profanity laced tirade against The Lady of Pain was causing the gathered crowd to nervously back away, though some seemed to edge closer, eager perhaps to witness the coming bloodshed…

“S***! She’s gone completely barmy since the last time we saw her! Sure she was nuts before, but she was canny about it. Now she’s just totally lost it!” Clueless said to his companions as they huddled in the shadow of a building as the fifty or so strong pack of Mercykiller’s began to parade past them. One of the Aoskian hounds held by one of Nilesia’s lieutenants snarled and snapped in Toras’s direction, warning him to stay clear of its master’s walk, wherever they were going. It was as if Nilesia was goading The Lady to appear because the movement of her group had slowed first and then paused to allow the screaming factol to turn around and address the crowd and city itself.

“You have sinned against the planes themselves! You have committed crimes about the multiverse, this city, and me! Release Rowan Darkwood to me from where you shelter him from my justice and I shall make your death quick and painless! You know you must answer to me bitch! Show yourself!” Nilesia’s screaming had begun to turn her voice raw and her mouth was flecked by bits of spittle at their edges, such was the state of frenzied mania she had worked herself into. Her word’s had begun to rattle even her own troops however, and not only the gathered onlookers.

“If you will not face me I will take out your sentence on those I can find!” Screaming up to the sky, Nilesia drew and brandished a gleaming, red bladed sword covered in glowing symbols of the Red Death. Turning around, her bloodshot eyes focused on a being that moved down the street adjacent to the pack of her followers without paying any attention whatsoever to the crowds, a solitary Dabus.

An instant, paralytic hush fell over the crowd in its entirety as Nilesia leapt forwards at the Dabus, opening its stomach with a single slice before spinning in a circle and slicing its head clean from its shoulders. The Dabus dropped to the ground, its head toppling over in a spray of crimson as Nilesia screamed in frustration while the crowd of onlookers began to panic and flee the scene.

The crowd didn’t move far. Before the eyes of the decapitated Dabus had glazed over in death a massive figure appeared in the center of the street, some five yards from Nilesia and the head of her pack of collaborators. Nearly fifteen feet tall, coldly emotionless, unspeaking and serene, with blades sprouting from its face, head and shoulders, Her Serenity, The Lady of Pain gazed down upon the factol. The hem of The Lady’s robe wavered gently in a nonexistent breeze as Nilesia paused and seemed to pale ever so slightly, to waver in her composure for a split second before madness overwhelmed her and galvanized her actions.

“You know it! You yourself came to me and admitted your crimes! Bow your head and I shall serve your sentence! Justice does not sleep!” Nilesia screamed up at the Bladed Queen as the crowd’s eyes grew to the size of plates almost collectively. Then, she charged at The Lady, hurling her sword directly at The Bladed Queen.

Screams rose from the onlookers as a the air was split by the sound of breaking, tortured metal as a shadow leapt from The Lady of Pain to rip Nilesia’s sword apart, peppering the factol and her Mercykiller faithful with white hot fragments of steel. The factol’s eyes quivered and her knees buckled as The Lady’s shadow surged forwards, transfixing the young tiefling like a skewered hunk of meat. There was a scream from Nilesia to shake the very hells as her skin erupted into a gushing flurry of slashes, cuts, and gouges where the Bladed Queen’s shadow fell upon her.

A red, spattering mist broke from her flesh where they shadow fell and she vainly threw out a hand, somehow managing to scream for help from her assembled faithful who could only stare at her, then at The Lady, as their factol began to slowly melt and peal to the bone on left leg, arm and torso, transfixed by The Lady’s razor edged pall. Try as she might to pull herself free, screaming till her voice croaked and broke from the hellish pain as her body was torn to bloody shreds, the shadow lanced forwards even more to fully envelop her. In the space of seconds the screaming ended with the sounds of splitting flesh and bone, and the metallic clatter and sparking of shattering armor.

The throng of Mercykiller faithful stood in shock, none of them yet fully believing that their factol was dead, that the factol was wrong, and that she lay there in a pool of her own blood, a mess of exposed bone and shredded muscle and viscera upon the naked flagstones of The Lady’s Ward. Then The Lady turned to regard them, shifting a few degrees in the air and all hell broke loose.

Nilesia’s troops screamed and broke rank as The Lady’s shadow moved again, lancing through their midst, catching several of them with agonizing results. Limbs were sheared off, flesh was ripped asunder to leave the victims moaning in their own guts upon the ground; but the lancing shadow did not follow them, nor even seen directed at them. The bladed shadow continued on, the Mercykillers’ catharsis only incidental. Like a flowing, ever expanding penumbral river it speared through the scattering mob of innocents and onlookers that had stood behind the members of the Red Death to fall directly upon a single figure that had stood, watching, from the rear of the gathered.

The doomed figure attempted to flee, but try as it might, it could not escape The Lady’s pitiless gaze and it erupted into a spattering torrent of black ichor as it fell to the ground, a fiendish scream passing from their lips as they shuddered, twisted, and convulsed in dying agony. Minutes stretched onwards like an eternity till finally the figure ceased its rictus dance and a wheezing death rattle passed its lips to leave it laying still in a spreading pool of its own sizzling blood.

The Lady hovered for but a brief several seconds before She turned, not bothering to regard the stunned and horrified crowd of assembled citizens who averted their eyes and cowered, lest Her shadow fall upon them as well. She drifted, silently, serene, and utterly unconcerned for some twenty feet down the avenue before She vanished into nothingness.

As the crowd slowly recovered from their horror, a single Dabus emerged onto the street, floating to a stop near the factol’s mangled corpse, projecting a single rebus above its head for all to read, “Are you yourselves free of the strings you so joyously play with? This city will not tolerate your conflict within its borders.”

The remaining Mercykillers had already dispersed to lick their wounds, both physical and emotional, and to their morale. The crowd as well was now slinking off rapidly away from the scene of The Lady’s slaughtering of the old factol and the other victim, simply wishing to get away from any action by Her Serenity. And as the minutes passed on the frequent accompaniment to many of The Lady’s appearances made itself known, a horse drawn cart manned by former Dustmen.

Nisha looked over at Toras, “I want to go get a look at that body before they cart it off to the mortuary…”

Toras looked at the tiefer like she had a hole in her head, “Why? He’s pretty well smeared across the pavement as it is.”

“Because I swear I recognized him. But I can’t say for certain till I’ve seen him up close.” She finished her explanation by sticking her tongue out at the half-celestial.

And so, having made her explanation, Nisha walked over to the body of the 2nd of The Lady’s victims, stepping carefully to avoid stepping in any of the deeper puddles of gore. Clueless, Toras, and Skalliska, who slinked out of an adjacent alleyway, having apparently been there at the scene of the crime as well, joined Nisha while the others ran over to chat up, and delay, the two gaunt looking Dusties as they drew up in their battered cart with even more battered horses to collect the dead for cremation or burial in an appropriate plane or prime world.

Nisha’s eyes went wide as she saw the full body of the victim spread out on the cobblestones, its clothing largely shredded and its outer skin gouged and pitted with an overly large amount of blood steaming and evaporating in the open air with a smell like acid and burning pitch. The victim was very clearly not human, nor even mortal.

“Well I’ll be a Guvner, it’s Garroth the Blind!” Nisha said, poking at its purse from where it had fallen under a nearly pulped pair of wings.

“Who?” Clueless asked.

“A Nycaloth who hangs out in the Hive and the Lower Ward selling information to people about the Blood War, and doing recruiting for the War while he’s at it. I wouldn’t say he’s a permanent resident of the city, like Shemeska the Marauder or A’kin the Friendly Fiend, but he’s well enough known by me and the folks I tend to hang around with in my off hours.” Nisha answered.

“Ah, like your boyfriend?” Toras asked.

“Who? I don… ah yeah, my boyfriend, ummhmm yeah, him.” Nisha said after a brief look of confusion.

“Damn, looks like they can’t delay the collectors anymore…” Skalliska said as the dustmen and their cart came to collect the dead Nycaloth’s body and heap it atop the butchered remains of the former Mercykiller factol.

“So what the hell was Garroth flayed over I have to ask…” Florian said as they watched the collectors cart the bodies away back in the direction of the Mortuary.

“Dunno… but we do know that Trenevain said his bodyguards were more of minders to make sure he didn’t screw up his part, and the Mercane had a pretty hefty contingent of Yugoloth troops in their little demiplane. Hells, they were dealing with an Ultroloth! An Ultroloth whose assassination we witnessed! I think that’s pretty solid evidence for some sort of link between this here and the mercane that had us get Nilesia in the first place…” Nisha said as she thumbed through Garroth’s purse, frowning at the lack of much beyond copper.

And so the group started the long trip back across the city, intentionally going the long way back to the Clerk’s Ward so as to avoid the Hive. Their trip was not incidental, as while passing through the Guildhall Ward they paused when a voice called out to them from a stoop of an adjacent building.

“You! I know you!” Came a shrill cry from across the street, spoken by a tiny red imp.

“Excuse us? I don’t think so; we tend to not party around with fiends. We’ll kill fiends, but not party around with them. Except maybe A’kin, and he’s a sweetheart, evil or not.” Florian said, his hands firmly planted on his hips.

“Not you. You, the bladesinger!” The imp was pointing directly at Clueless and standing up with apparent glee.

“Umm, can I help you?” Clueless asked, stepping forward and not afraid in the slightest over any given imp.

“Oh Avalas the Bloodbathed will want to know that you are still alive! He still remembers the day that you stabbed him in the back during that Tanar’ri siege of his encampment! And I will have you know, that he has since ascended to Pit Fiend rank in Baator… he has power now fool, and he will not hesitate to send his minions after you once I tell him you are still alive!”

Clueless paused and looked suddenly concerned as part of his past came barging back into the present very suddenly and unexpectedly. The imp was dancing and clapping its hands with glee.

“He thought you dead and gone! But now he can enjoy slowly torturing you to death in Nessus where he remains stationed! You will regret having betrayed a powerful Baatezu, mortal! You will…” The imp’s rant was silenced as its features dulled, turned a flat shade of white, and its body petrified to stone as Tristol waved his hands in the air and whispered a series of words.

“I don’t think so…” The aasimar said as he smiled at the petrified imp, now frozen into a snarl with its hands raised over its head in a menacing gesture and its scorpion tail raised high behind it. All in all, nearly comical looking.

Clueless looked over at Tristol, “Well that’s a new one!”

Tristol smiled at Clueless and then chuckled as Nisha walked over to the imp and struck a similar pose while hissing at it, between bouts of giggling. “Yes it is, I’ve only learned it since I got those spellbooks from the Incantifer. And that’s just one of the first, half of them I can’t even understand or cast yet. But I think this solves your problem of this guy running back to Baator to snitch on you?”

“Yeah, it does solve the problem. Thank you. I think he’ll make a nice inn decoration if we place him as a hat rack or something. Heck, check his mouth for portals later, we might get lucky and have it breath fire or something.” Clueless said as he hefted the stone imp into the air and deposited it in one of the bags of holding he carried.

“Hey! That was pretty good! How much you want for that puny little s*** of an imp!” A voiced cawed out from across the street where a large vrock stood with an amused expression on its face, having apparently watched the entire incident.

“No, this one’s not for sale. Business, not pleasure. However you might ask Tristol here in the future if he’s got any more he’d be willing to part with.” Clueless said over to the greater Tanar’ri.

“Hey… yeah, I thought I recognized you! That’s right, from the other night!” The Vrock said, suddenly smiling almost pleasantly to a suddenly very confused Clueless.

“Don’t think I’ve ever met you actually…” The bladesinger said with a pause in his voice.

“Sure you did! The other evening at the Styx Oarsman, you were there to see Rule-of-Three to sell something or another. I’m certain it was you, same sword and everything. And boy did you piss off one of the bouncers, spit in his face and asked if he liked licking Cornugon balls, because after one of them was done with his mother, it might enjoy round two with the son! I’ve never seen him get so flustered and so totally outclassed…” The Vrock was laughing as it walked over and slapped Clueless on the back like an old friend before it waved and snickered at the imp and walked off.

“….” Clueless just stood there thinking as the Vrock walked off into the distance, and he didn’t say much more by the time they got back to the Portal Jammer. All he kept thinking about was the fact that he had gone to bed early the other night and woken up dead tired the next morning, almost as if he hadn’t slept at all. And that was all on the same night as the Vrock had thought he’d seen him at the Styx Oarsman, a Tanar’ri bar…

Once they got back to the Jammer, Clueless went to his room and checked on certain things. He started cursing immediately as he started to look for the papers and maps they had taken from the mercane. Every single one of them was missing, and he had a pretty decent idea that he was probably responsible, even if he didn’t remember it.

“Crap… I need my memory back so I can figure out what the hell is going on with me…” Clueless lamented as he sat on the edge of his bed and stared at the water filled globe with its exotic fish that he’d taken from Dalmar Imshenviir’s office. A minute later he was out the front door of the inn and headed in the direction of the Great Gymnasium, hoping that some time spent in meditation might jolt his memories some like it had the last time.

Once there, he actually happened to see Fyrehowl in the gym, training in swordplay with a rail thin githzerai monk who was one of Rhys’s personal aide de camps, and clearly a better in swordplay by the looks of it at the moment. But the gith seemed to be toning his style down somewhat so as to instruct, rather than overwhelm, and the lupinal was clearly enjoying herself in the process as Clueless walked past and up to the higher levels of the complex.

Originally he’d been intending to visit the Cadence chamber, but he didn’t get that far. On the level below the Cadence chamber itself, one of the long meditation halls, he walked up to a slim tiefling woman dressed in robes, with long flowing black hair and hooves nearly like Nisha; former Factol Rhys.

“No need to bother seeking the Cadence chamber at this time, that will come later.” Rhys spoke to Clueless without opening her eyes, though she was seated to face in his direction as he entered the meditation hall. The former factol was seated in a lotus position and seemed to be so lightly touching the ground that it might at first appear as if she was floating in her trance-like state.

“Oh excuse me, my apologies councilwoman Rhys. If I’m disturbing you I’ll leave.” Clueless backed off slightly before Rhys opened her eyes which seemed distant, glazed over, as if she were indeed in some level of trance.

“No, this was where you were to be and where the Cadence had me be as well. Your memories, your hidden memories, they trouble you. You walk with a shadow passing over you and it sullies your waking mind with doubt and fear. Come closer.” Rhys smiled and held out one hand to beckon Clueless.

“Yes? Can I…” Clueless stopped as the former Factol reached up and gently tapped him in the center of his forehead with a single finger.

“Remember, if only for a moment the details that have been robbed from you. Unlock that door inside your mind and step within before it shuts once again. Learn and act upon that. Do not ponder, do not think; act.” Rhys said with utter serenity, as Clueless clutched at his forehead and winced as a flurry of memories flew back into his mind.

***

The Yugoloth slavers, some twenty odd black, chitinous Mezzoloths and two bloated, many-limbed Dergholoth surrounded Clueless and his two companions as they shackled the three of them to each other. One of the Dergholoth’s, larger than the others, its squat bulb shaped body with its three shubby legs and four claw tipped arms shambled forwards to the three of them and rotated its mantis-like head to face the bladesinger. Its mandibles clacked and chattered, then a mental prompt of more emotion than words commanded the three of them to start marching along with the troop column. The bariaur was the first in line, and slow to start moving. The Dergholoth overseer motioned to one of its soldiers that quickly slammed the butt of its trident into his flank then parroted the others telepathic command again, this time in infernal.

The next five hours were spent winding through a blasted rocky wasteland, nearer to one of the mountains on the current orb, the air growing slightly thinner as they ascended. The sunless, blood red sky, fading to black high above, burned down without mercy, and within the first several hours their exposed skin ached with each and every movement. The yugoloths were on constant watch for any attacks by the Gehreleth, all of the Red Prison being the home of that splinter race of fiends, which from all Clueless had heard, had some sort of racial hatred towards the ‘loths.

But no attack came, not that it made their march any more comfortable. They were given no rest, nor water; it seemed the fiends had no use of it themselves and saw no desire, or remained unaware of their charges own need for it as mortals. Any vocal objections from those in the slave train were responded with quickly by jabs and slaps by the guards and soon they all gave up trying to have any meaningful conversation with their captors. Clueless’s own question about The Marauder brought not a slap, but unease from the Mezzoloths before their overseers barked several orders to them and glared at the half-fey icily.

At the sixth hour the group stopped at the base of a cliff, a network of cave mouths opening up to the surface, and were quickly greeted by an armed and armored Piscaloth. The lobster-like fiend appeared to be debriefing the Dergholoth, and for a short while the three of them, Clueless and his companions, were able to sit upon the ground and rest their weary limbs. A wooden container filled with a watery slop was rudely placed into their hands, and despite the smell and dubious origin of the food they all partook. Lesser Yugoloth cooking was not a wonder of the planes…

Finally, their well watched solitude was interrupted by the arrival of at least five or six other similarly sized slave caravans, most bringing with them at least twenty to thirty prisoners each, ranging from adventurers like themselves, to poor berks who either stepped through a portal to Carceri by utter blunder, or were sent to the plane on purpose, unknowing or by force. They were all assembled by their own contingent of lesser Yugoloth shock troops, and all told, there must have been nearly two hundred Mezzoloths assembled. Far too many for a simple slaving operation, they must have been near a Yugoloth city or Blood War military outpost; but by any of their experience, none existed on that layer of Carceri, the Gehreleths being far too numerous, and wantonly destructive, to safely allow for any large scale ‘loth presence.

But Clueless’s wandering mind was rudely awakened back to the present as the Piscaloth commander began to bark orders to the assembled troops and what must have been a nearly equal number of Mezzoloths as they flooded out from the tunnels at the cliff base and fell into formation. They, along with the others quickly drew Clueless, his companions, and the other prisoners into a long, single file line of slaves, and started them marching off to the north into a cleft between two mountain chains that reached high enough overhead to nearly touch the peaks of the adjacent orb. The Bariaur glanced back at Clueless, a look of worry and dread playing across his face as he then glanced around at the sheer number of Yugoloths.

The cleft opened to a blasted series of valleys, and in time the caravan reached a solid iron bridge that crossed over a black, rushing riving that bisected the valley. The scent in the air from the nearby foaming rapids made Clueless’s head swim, and once they crossed the bridge and the air cleared of the noxious mist kicked up from the river, he realized that they had likely crossed over a tributary of the Styx. No map he’d ever seen indicated such a tributary anywhere near that section of the plane.

But the river was the farthest thing from his mind as after another twenty minutes of marching, the caravan passed through some manner of magical screen, like a thin and palpable meniscus of force, apparently extending from one side of the valley at the base of the mountains to the other. What was an empty, dead ended valley of strewn boulders and hard packed soil was anything but empty as they cleared the tingling, almost burning magical field.

Centered in the valley, and rising up to rival the mountain peaks themselves was a solitary tower, if ‘tower’ really sufficed to describe the sheer scale of the structure. From their distance it dominated Clueless’s vantage and field of vision, easily several miles across at the base and rising yet miles higher. The black, hexagonal structure seemed to erupt from the bedrock and clamber towards the sky like some towering, infectious parasite breaking free from its host. Twisted metal, like thorns, erupted from the tower at random points, but the true scope of the horror the entire scene painted only became apparent as they grow closer to the towers base.

The tower appeared to shift and quiver, like worms and insects scuttling or writhing their way through rotten meat. The entire tower appeared to be built not from just black steel and stone, but mainly from the still living bodies of petitioners grafted into one hellish nightmare of a whole, trying futilely to escape their fate as living masonry for this harrowing monument that dwarfed any other fiendish structure on the planes, Baatezu and Tanar’ri included. And, from the jagged, open spaces at the top of the tower, and flurry of figures clambering from the base to gantries and structural bracings, the tower was still being built taller and larger. Cries of panic and screams of terror echoed across the landscape and bowl of the valley as the prisoners behind Clueless passed through the illusory barrier and caught sight of the tower. Surely they didn’t mean to place them all as slave labor in building that monstrosity? Or did they mean to use them as building material?

The troops and slaves made their way to the titanic gates of the tower and were met by the bright flash of teleports as figures appeared from presumably inside the tower. Several hulking Nycaloths, each dressed in ornate armor appeared at the head of the line of troops and begin to approach and converse with the Dergholoth. One of the Nycaloths was pointed in the direction of Clueless and his two companions and, slowly, purposefully approaches, brandishing a crackling rod or wand in his hand. As he neared, already the prisoners were being herded off in one direction or another, and one sub-group was summarily executed on the spot, energy of some sort being drawn off from the corpses as they expired and bottled in large black gems held by the Nycaloths. Things did not look good.

***

And then the scene faded and another memory unlocked, a different one, and one that held more relevance to recent events.

***

Clueless strode into the Styx Oarsman, in his hand he carried a satchel of book and papers, the very same papers they had recovered from the mercane, Dalmar Imshenviir. Standing beside him as he entered, either drugged or magically compelled, was the elven cleric who had been there with him in Carceri. The elf’s leg was bleeding heavily, already soaking through a bandage around his leg in places. The gemstone that had been firmly embedded into his leg, down to the bone, was wrapped within a pouch at Clueless’s waist.

As they continued into the Tanar’ri bar, he had an altercation with one of the bouncers and then walked straight up the stairs and into a small waiting room where he sat down at a table with an apparent elderly githzerai, Rule-of-Three, and a massive Nycaloth, Garroth the Blind.

Clueless watched as ‘he’ entered negotiations with Rule-of-Three, selling his former elven companion into slavery to the wizened Githzerai who was far more than he appeared to be. He also watched as Garroth the Blind acted with utter respect towards him, though the fiend used a female pronoun to describe him at one point in the negotiations, and drew and brutal blow to the center of its face, and a hail of curses in a mixture of infernal and abyssal, as well as another language that he didn’t seem to recognize. The language seemed to burn the ears and sting the mind in remembrance though, whatever it was.

But after they sealed the deal for the elf, Clueless watched as he handed over the elf’s still bloody gemstone, and the sack of papers and documents from the mercane into Garroth’s hands. The Nycaloth accepted them humbly and made mention of “being occupied the next day in service to an order given him by ‘the 2nd Wheel’”. Clueless felt himself snicker mentally at the knowledge that the Nycaloth had been ordered into an event that would lead to his own death most likely. But such matters had to be done for everything to fall into place as it was and needed to be, The Ebon had promised them as such, and thus it would be.

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

'Your world has spikes on his back and he wants to lay down on you
Don't like what I say, you best not go away
Take a look into my bag of wonders
I'll pull out something special just for you
Don't tell anyone
It'll be our secret
A weak and tainted soul I stole from you know who
You want to buy it back, I'll have to charge you for two...’ –Godhead ‘I Sell Society’

Mydianchlarus, the Oinoloth of the Wasting Tower of Khin-Oin strummed his fingers over the massive arms of the Siege Malicious and looked out over the countless miles of blasted wasteland that surrounded his tower. His tower was the symbol of his rule and the centerpiece of Yugoloth accomplishment that rose up out of the forsaken earth like a bloated fungal blight watered by the Styx and grown fat on the marrow of the dead god whose spine it was carved from entirely, nearly forty miles in length all said and done. And here he sat upon his throne, Mydianchlarus the Oinoloth, the Ultroloth Prince, and he was facing a challenge to his supreme rule.

“Typhus has already pledged his loyalty to your rule my liege. The Infernal Front marches now two days hence to the Wasting Tower to await your command. I speak in this matter as the Altraloth’s spokesman. We stand at your side, Oinoloth of the Tower. Our allegiance is not in question.”

The Oinoloth glanced at the speaker, a stick thin Ultroloth from Niffleheim wrapped in the sickly yellow and mottled green livery of the mercenary warlord Typhus. There was no subterfuge in the envoy’s mental voice, only confidence and a slight undercurrent of arrogance. But, those flaws aside, it and its master were loyal at this moment; its life would be forfeited any otherwise. Of course after the looming conflict it was likely that Typhus would once again become the free agent that he had always been, selling his services to the highest bidder. But now as a force threatened the pinnacle of their race’s hierarchy, the wayward mercenary had come home to where his true loyalties sat. Ideally anyways. More likely than not the Altraloth was simply attempting to curry favor with the Oinoloth, so be it.

Mydianchlarus nodded his approval to the Ultroloth and the gathered assembly of advisors, speakers, scribes and servants shuffled amongst themselves, jockeying for position and turn to speak to their master. Ultroloths reduced to scrambling like dogs for scraps, hoping to curry favor and gain but a word to or from the Oinoloth who looked at them all with amusement. Dozens of Ultroloth lords, barons, generals and tetrarchs from the breadth of the three planes of conflict offering unasked for advice, seeking to place their rival Ultroloths into a poor light and their forces into weaker positions of battle so as to personally gain from their dismemberment in the coming war. Dozens of Ultroloths and their attendant scribes and aides, mostly Arcanaloths and a scant few Nycaloths as well to comprise that omnipresent but effectively powerless class of persons that swarmed about and amongst the petulant overclass of the Ultroloths. Except for one of them.

Otherwise buried in the midst of the others who had flocked to the Oinoloth’s council, Vorkannis the Ebon, Overlord of Carceri and Master of the Tower of Incarnate Pain stood and gazed up at the Oinoloth, like a blot against the background of Ultroloths who swirled around, but never truly paid him heed. Not that the over glorified arcanaloth seemed to mind or pay them heed either, rather he seemed to stand distant and distinct from their midst without any seeming attempt on his part to stand out. And for the briefest of moments, the sable coated and cobalt robed jackal met the gaze of the Oinoloth. The arcanaloth’s crimson, piercing albino eyes lanced out into the swirling multicolored orbs of the Ultroloth Prince that gleamed a dozen sickly colors as they slowly wept blood across its featureless face.

Mydianchlarus beckoned towards The Ebon, his arm leaving a gelatinous trail of partially congealed blood smeared across the arm of the throne of Khin-Oin. The constant bleeding, regenerated in seconds only to run like crimson sweat the next moment, was the duality of the Siege that was at once both a blessing and a curse. The mark of the most ancient of thrones was indelible.

“What have you to offer up to us? I am aware that your armies are yet depleted from your conflict with your predecessors. Your position is known, but what aide you offer is not. Speak and show your betters here that you might yet be worthy of promotion after this war is fought and finished.” The Oinoloth’s voice rippled across the ether like a current in the smoke wafting up from a field of burning flesh.

The Ebon bowed deeply as the Ultroloths grew quiet and parted to allow the Oinoloth full view of the jackal headed fiend, yet his eyes never ceased their lock with those of his superior. And, when he spoke it was with certainty and respect as befitting the station of those surrounding him; there was not a hint of arrogance or contempt, though locked within his mind it festered like a burning, gaping wound filled with salt and poison.

“Indeed. My own armies are constrained by two factors, the defense of my own unfinished tower and that they have not yet regained the numbers they possessed under the joint command of Bubonix and Cholerix. In the… absence… of my former lords I can nonetheless offer as many Mezzoloths as possible without risking the tower itself from Gehreleth assault. I leave that to your discretion my liege as the completion of the tower is not solely my purview, but all of ours.”

Mydianchlarus nodded at the nearly hypnotic melody of the jet-furred arcanaloth’s voice; smooth as honey blended with adder venom, sweet and pleasant even as it killed. Something about the lesser fiend struck a dissonant note however, something that the Oinoloth couldn’t place. Something familiar about the face or the voice that was intimately familiar to him but inexplicably slipped from his thoughts. There would be time later though to ponder those improbable thoughts when, after killing his predecessor Anthraxus, he planned to drink from his hollowed out skull.

The Ebon bowed again and backed away as the Oinoloth turned his attention to others. Questions were raised and advice given and ignored by all of them. The ignorant fools were drunk with their own power and blind to their flaws and their own feet that would soon set them stumbling. And, already the noose was wrapped around each and every one of them to break their fall when they did. It would be a harsh awakening, but one that had been building for far longer than any of them knew, suspected, or had even existed to contemplate.

The advisors and confidants of the Oinoloth discussed the amassing of troops, the merging of armies and transport of supplies and devices of war. They discussed who amongst them was a traitor to the great cause, and who within the camp of the Decayed was still loyal to their cause. They discussed with uncertainly the pall of silence that had fallen over the Baernaloths and that envoys to the Gloom Fathers and the Crawling Citadel of The General of Gehenna had either not returned or been granted no audience. They even discussed the fact that Xenghara the Fallen had vanished without a trace, his keepers having been skinned alive, fused wrist to ankle while still breathing, and suspended in the air like an obscene living wheel. The Altraloth Xenghara had always been unstable, mad even for a fiend, and the implications of his vanishing were put aside for the moment, as was the symbol that had presaged the event.

The pale corpse light of the Waste reflected off The Ebon’s fangs as he turned away from the pack of Ultroloths and their servants, gleaming as he licked his lips to taste the faint scent of uncertainty upon the air from the gathered toadies and sycophants of the elite. They weren’t convinced that they would win. A good portion of them had already made contingent plans should their former master re-ascend to his throne and they’d bottled their thoughts so deeply in their festering minds to convince themselves of victory and Mydianchlarus of their fealty. Their thoughts were like open books to the fiend who stood in their midst as the conspicuous inferior. Irony that deserved bloodshed in due time…

***

Clueless sat alone in the darkness of his room and pondered over his memories that had returned to him at the prodding of the Ciphers’ former factol. It was getting late but he’d already been sitting there next to his window, staring out into space as the light outside had first dimmed and then finally died down to be replaced with the glow of lamplight and sorcery through the haze. Nothing more had sprung to his mind as he’d been sitting there, but key parts of his past were still locked up tightly and before he ran running off to the Styx Oarsman he wanted to know just who it was that was pulling on his strings, and how.

It was that need to know that now had the bladesinger opening the small golden vessel he had taken from the dead former factor of the Incantifers and dipping his index finger into the thick, syrupy liquid inside that fairly hummed with latent magical potential. He rubbed a single drop of the material between two fingers and concentrated, blindly attempting to call forth some spell effect that he knew some mages used to search through the past of a place, person, or concept.

The Legend Lore spell sprang forth in his mind, rushed through his body, and burned in his blood like a potent drug as the magic unleashed itself and violently ripped through the remaining holds upon his memories. Given the nature of the substance, not that Clueless truly understood what it was, that there was resistance at all should have been a harrowing thought. But, an indeterminate time later as he regained consciousness, the spell returned and he slipped into his own memories.

The chamber was pitch black and cold, but all around was the sense of something that was alive. The tower in Carceri, built from untold millions of still living petitioners in constant agony. Clueless was inside it, held motionless and floating in the air by some unseen force while his two companions hung likewise beside him.

Two figures stepped out of the shadows just out of Clueless’s line of sight, Vorkannis the Ebon, Lord of the Tower of Incarnate Pain, and walking with him, strolling into the chamber on his arm was a female arcanaloth, Shemeska the Marauder. She was dressed in a skintight gown that seemed to have been cut from the still supple hide of an immature silver dragon and she might as well have been poured into the dress given its cut. As she stood beside The Ebon, they were a play of opposites both in gender and with her bright copper fur contrasting readily with the sable color of his own.

“These three should satisfy our needs? All but dropped into our collective laps. This has been a guilty pleasure to so violently screw them over when they came to me in good faith. Alas.” She smiled demurely and placed a hand over her breast as she laughed and walked over towards the three captives as they hung suspended and senseless in the air.

“I’ll admit I find the elf attractive as far as mortals go. I think I shall select him as mine.” Shemeska smiled and ran her fingertips across the cleric’s chest.

The Ebon turned to her and smirked, “The godslave is already spoken for, select from one of the other two as you wish and Helekanalaith will take the remaining.”

She paused and sneered, “Feh, don’t be so petty as to deny me something simply because you can. I’m not under any pretense of equal partnership here, simply being conspirators, but why not?”

The Ebon gestured in the air to summon forth a trio of gleaming blue gems that hovered above their intended hosts, then he turned back to The Marauder. “I appreciate the irony of controlling the cleric as my own puppet, and the decision was made far in advance. But besides, if you find him attractive and you’re in such dire need of something to f***, you’ve always got the friendly one in Sigil already…”

“Son of b****…” Shemeska spat like she’d tasted something vile and glared at The Ebon who was chuckling at her expense.

“Take what you’re given, the others are hardly of lesser quality. I could have made insinuations involving you and a Goristro, but I didn’t… shall we begin?” Vorkannis sneered as he walked over towards the Bladesinger, the half-fey’s body placed between himself and The Marauder.

“Very well Vorkannis, this one shall serve well. I gave you an answer to your question; now prepare me this tool and you’ll have your results…” The fiendess said as she floated over towards Clueless and waved at his face as she snickered at the conflicting emotions of rage and fright that surged through his face despite the magical constraints on his body.

“The memory blocks will fall into place as soon as the orb is implanted, though certain portions I’ve chosen to simply erase. Let’s leave the fool wondering which memories are true and which are fabricated. Weave those as you wish.” The Ebon’s eyes glowed in the darkness as he gestured to three Nycaloths who stood in the shadows of the room’s periphery.

“The rest of it is set up and should fall into place within the week, though I may procure a few more patsies in case any of them die or I think it needed. More toys to play with at the very least…” She said with barely constrained delight before she turned to look at Clueless and run the back of her hand, painted claws and all, down his cheek like a valued pet.

“Didn’t I tell you that there was no deal that Shemeska the Marauder couldn’t make? That all that mattered was the price to pay?” She smiled and leaned down till her lips nearly graced the bladesinger’s face and her whiskers tickled at his throat like lesser versions of the razorvine tiara curled atop her head.

“Payment is due…” Came Vorkannis’s harsh whisper into the half-fey’s ear as he released the magical constraints and the bladesinger screamed as he was hurled and pinned down to a hard stone surface by a trio of Nycaloths at The Ebon’s direction. And as the Archfiend implanted the glowing gemstone into his ankle without concern or care for the blood and pain involved, all Clueless could hear ringing in his ears was the mocking laughter of The Marauder through it all, doubly so when she was handed a smaller stone to match the one buried deep within his leg.

Even magically amplified and recreated the rest of the memories were a blur of agony filled with the screams of his companions as they too underwent the same torture as he. Through it all were the distant wail of petitioners that made up the tower and the snickering fiendish laughter of their tormentors. The last remnant of the memory was the voice of The Ebon snarling to one of the Nycaloths as he pointed to Clueless, “Take this and dump it in Hopeless, everything beyond that is arranged, you know what to do.”

The memory of the pain flushed Clueless back to the present and he slumped against his mattress, exhausted from the recollection of the past. It was not a pleasant thing at all, not with what it brought to light regarding the jewel deep within his ankle and the personage that lurked behind it.

“B****, you’ve been playing me for a fool this entire time…” Clueless said as he glanced down warily at the gem…

***

Florian and Toras sat in the tap room of the Portal Jammer watching curiously as Tristol first set up the pieces and then began to teach them both the rudimentary basics of a game of wizards’ chess. The mage was smiling as he set up the board, happy to have two enthusiastic beginners to teach the game to; that and having more people to play with was an added bonus he wasn’t about to turn down.

At the moment, Fyrehowl was out at the Great Gymnasium and Skalliska was off doing whatever it was that kobolds did when you yet them out. Probably stealing from gnomes or something like that. But Tristol’s attempts at teaching his two new eager students were abruptly put on hold as Nisha waltzed through the front door of the inn towards the stairs to the second floor. Tristol’s eyes followed the tiefling as she walked past whistling and her tail swinging, and jingling with a small silver bell tied to its tip.

Florian commented first, “So what’s up with the new jewelry and everything?” He pointed to the half a dozen bracelets, necklaces and earrings the rogue was sporting, as well as the fact that she was dressed in a new suit of overly tight leather armor. The latter was not at all lost on Tristol who was suddenly smiling much more so than from his chance at teaching wizards chess which was rapidly slipping from his mind.

Nisha grinned like a fool and pointed down to where her hooves were sparkling with a golden shine from what seemed to be a pair of golden horseshoes tacked onto her feet. She was also hovering around an inch off the floor. “My boyfriend was really good to me today.”

While the tiefling giggled and jangled the bell on the tip of her tail, Florian raised an eyebrow. “You’re boyfriend huh? So when will we get to meet this fellow?”

Tristol was trying hard not to gawk, but was failing miserably. He was saved by the fact that Nisha’s attention span was probably less than most species of fruit flies, and if she’d noticed him staring it probably simply slipped her mind.

“Hmm? Who?” Nisha asked, twirling a new ring around her finger.

“Your boyfriend?” Toras asked with some skepticism.

“My what? I don’t hav… oh… him! Yeah…. Um… you wouldn’t know him.” The tiefling stammered.

“No no, not who is he, but when do we get to meet him?” Florian asked again.

“Uh…at some point in the indefinite future?” She asked while her tail, bell and all, curled into the rough shape of a question mark.

“Riiiight. So who’d you bob for all the new stuff?” Florian asked with a grin.

“Nobody! It was my new boyfriend who got it all for me, in a manner of speaking.” She was getting more flustered by the moment.

“Ah, a new boyfriend he is now. And a ‘manner of speaking’? Hmm…” Florian said as Nisha stuck out her tongue and darted upstairs to her own room to avoid any further questions.

“Tristol you’re liable to drool if you don’t stop staring. It’s cute and all, but she’s already taken I think. And the boy’s got jink too by the looks of it.” Florian said as Toras reached over to poke the aasimar who still had a goofy smile on his face. Tristol composed himself again and started going over the opening move of wizards chess, but the whole time Toras and Florian were glancing at each other then at Tristol, more amused by his apparent fancy to the thief than at the game.

***

It was dark when Clueless slunk out of the Portal Jammer towards to Lower Ward and the Styx Oarsman. In fact he hadn’t told any of his companions that he was going there, in his mind it would have raised too many questions and possibly led to them worrying about his trustworthiness. After all, he had a bitch of a fiend using him like a puppet, apparently at her fickle little whim.

It all seemed like a plan and it all seemed to have gone off without a hitch till he was three blocks from the establishment and a familiar voice whispered into his right ear, and a soft jingle of bell rung out.

“We need to get you to work on this whole sneaking around thing. You’re not quite as good as you think…” Nisha sounded far too chipper.

Clueless paused and sighed, “How long have you been following me?”

“Since I went downstairs to make a snack and saw you slip out the front door? I got curious and I didn’t have anything better to do. Besides, factol Darius was getting on my nerves, and factol Sarin was threatening to have me arrested if I didn’t ‘behave in an orderly fashion’. Can you blame me?”

“Alright… this is sort of personal though. Promise not to tell anyone else if you stick with me tonight?” Clueless said with some seriousness.

“No problem, Xaositect’s honor.” Nisha said with a jingle of the bell on her tail. But, despite the happy go lucky tone of her voice, she seemed serious enough about keeping Clueless’s trust on the matter and so he didn’t complain as she tailed along with him right up to the door of the Styx Oarsman.

“Ugg… you sure you want to go in there? The beer is nasty and they threaten to eat you if you steal from them…” Nisha frowned as she looked up at the building whose walls were somewhat yellowed by the persistent smog of the Ward and spattered in a few places with the stains of old bar fights, magical scorches, and spilt food and alcohol. Otherwise, it seemed well kept for a fiend bar.

“Yeah, I’m certain I want to go in there. I was there the other night, just not quite as myself… and I may have sold one of my old companions into slavery in the process, as well as handing over all those maps we got from the mercane into the hands of that Nycaloth who got flayed the other day…”

Nisha’s ears perked at the mention of Garroth the Blind, “Yeah… speaking of him… well, tell you tomorrow, the doorman is looking at us weird.”

True enough the muscular tiefling who stood outside the door of the bar was staring at the two of them with what appeared to be a silver wrapped club with a flared end. As the two of them approached the doorman sneered and lowered the ‘club’, actually a dwarven or gnomish blunderbuss, at Clueless and looked at Nisha.

“Fiends only. You can head on in honey.” Clearly the man was enjoying his job.

Nisha stepped closer up to him, took out a small package from her satchel and pressed it towards his hand, "How about he comes in with me? I promise he won't be too much trouble. How about it?"

Clueless gave the slightest of a head tilt as he watched the doorman’s response to the idea, keeping his hands off his sword hilt. Nisha smiled with utter innocence as she then ran her tail across the underside of his hand as he took the package and examined their contents. Rolling out into his open hand were what appeared to be a collection of marked silver balls and small packages of gray powder with a slight acrid smell.

He grinned and pocketed the bribe, stepping to the side, his eyes lingering on Nisha’s backside as he opened the door. Clueless nodded to him as he walked past, “Thanks…” murmured dryly as he walked in on Nisha’s heels. For her part she did her best to ignore the rude stares she was getting from the tiefling with the gun.

As the door opened, the acrid smell of pipe smoke, alcohol, and unwashed fiends assaulted their nostrils, seeming to permeate the foul air. The bar was dark, save for a few candles on one or two of the tables that dotted the floor of the taproom. Their eyes quickly adjusted however, looking out at the glittering irises of a number of fiends, almost uniformly Tanar'ri, nursing drinks.

Clueless scanned the place on alert for the person he recognized from his memories of the event, he was also keenly on alert for any faces that seemed to recognize *him*. While he didn’t immediately see the old githzerai, Rule-Of-Three, he did see a number of persons of note scattered amongst the forty odd patrons that populated the taproom. The owner of the establishment, a shriveled looking githzerai Bleaker by the name of Egonz Vlaric who stood behind the bar, washing glasses, and the bright green quasit sitting next to him on a perch behind the bar who actually seemed to the be the one running things for its mentally numbed ‘master’.

To the rear of the chamber, a hydroloth, a hezrou, and a green slaadi sat at the same table near the back of the room by the far exit; and, leaning against the stairs up to the second floor, a cambion dressed in a rainbow colored, garish outfit, and a hulking mezzoloth nearly three times his size stood next to him keenly watching the patrons. Clueless made mental note of the two bouncers by the stairs as he took a seat next to Nisha at an empty table.

Clueless tried to stay calm and relaxed, letting himself slip into that dangerously alert mindset that presaged the beginning of the bladesong as he stayed alert for any signs of being watched at that point. He was just as alert for warning signals from his ankle as well, not that if it activated on him he’d have much of a choice in the matter…

Taking note of Clueless, the cambion started to walk over towards him and Nisha, though the hulking Mezzoloth stayed put near the stairs. Clueless noted him but otherwise tried to act like he was supposed to be there as Nisha walked back to sit down next to him with two drinks.

“So, you little s***licker, what the f*** are you doing back here so soon?” The cambion sauntered over and spoke as he stuck a booted foot up on the table. Clueless could only mentally think, ‘F***, I pissed off the bouncer here? Damn…’

“Oh I'm just here to see if the scenery improved..." Clueless said in that way that's not an insult, but might be taken as one.

Nisha looked up at him too, "I see YOU haven't changed a bit, as ‘colorful’ as ever…" She rolled her eyes at him.

He chuckled but left his foot up on the table, "So what did you actually come here for? The clientele may take a shine to at least one of you eventually, and I'd like to keep the peace, if not any order to the place."

"I'm interested in talking to some of the folks I was in here last with actually, if you've seen them around." Clueless said, still trying to act as if he was in exactly the place he was supposed to be.

The ‘Colorful Cambion’ took his foot off the table and crossed his arms, "Selling her this time? Busy boy. But lets see, Garroth is dead, Schliphis is over there…” He said, pointing to the table with the slaadi, tanar’ri and hydroloth, “and Rule of Three is upstairs."

Clueless glanced over at the table and took note of them before he nodded back to the bouncer, "Thanks."

The cambion hung around for a few minutes, chattering with Nisha, hitting on her but not getting anywhere. The tiefling played along but wasn’t giving anything away certainly, in any sense of the word. Eventually the bouncer wandered off as a Vrock several tables down tried to eat the face off of a rutterkin sitting next to it.

Clueless gave a low chuckle at the vrock then shook his head and looked at Nisha "Well, you up to playing along with this one?" He gave the slightest tilt of his chin in the hydroloth's direction.

Nisha looked up at him, "Tell you one thing I do know." She leaned in and whispered, "Now, I wouldn't work with them, for a number of reasons, but they're called the 3 Toads, and they run a fencing business, a good one. But they've got ties to somebody else’s purse, and I don't care to speculate on whose it is. I have my own people and I don't have to worry about them randomly eating me."

Nisha rose to get up from the table, "But I'm right behind you if you're going over there."

Clueless gave a low laugh "Well, I'm curious what I sold them in particular..." The statement was muttered but he nodding to Nisha and stretched for a half moment before getting up and heading in the direction of the 3 Toads, making it look like a casual stroll as best he could.

The two of them walked over to the rear of the bar as the mezzoloth bouncer walked past them both abruptly and they heard a dull thud from a few feet behind as something hit the floor with a pronounced crash. Looking back, the vrock was laying motionless on the floor, the 'loth standing over it with the blunt end of a green steel glaive aimed at the other tanar'ri's head while the cambion began motioning the other patrons to ignore it and go back to their drinks.

Clueless looked sharply over his shoulder since Nisha was right behind him after all, a slight rise of his eyebrow before he shrugged and turned his attention back to the Toads. As he walked up to their table, in unison all three of them looked up at him.

The Slaadi looks up and spoke first, "Doing you are how? Us with business more?" The hydroloth was eyeing them very warily and the hezrou was looking bored and off in another direction entirely.

The bladesinger gave a wry smile, not really reassuring but a little creepy, "I'm doing fine... I was curious how you'd found the deal last time to be?"

The 'loth looked up at him and hushed the Slaadi who promptly started playing with a crack in the table, pouring ale into it, and muttering in little voices about a big flood washing folks away...

"There was no deal last time. You just...." Schliphis narrowed her eyes and clammed up abruptly, a look of suspicion crossing her features.

The Hezrou looked over, and while eying Nisha, then Clueless, she spoke up, "Talk to my boy Rule of Three, he's more talkative than Schliphis.”

Nisha gave an uncomfortable look at the mention of Rule of Three, but otherwise she didn’t say a word.

"I just what?" Clueless questioned the ‘loth who only stared back at him, a bit of uncertainly playing across her face.

"Take his advice and talk to Rule of Three, I shouldn't say anything more. I follow what I'm told just like you did." She said, the fiendish stonewall very much falling into place.

Clueless stared hard at the ‘loth for a moment, then nodded, "Deals can always be made... I will let you think on that."

Having said that, he jerked his chin at Nisha to follow him. She panned her eyes back around the room and then fell into place behind him, “Whatever you say…”

The two of them headed towards the stairs and neither the Mezzoloth nor the cambion made any move to block them from walking up to the second story where a single open door faced the railing around the border of the awning surrounding the taproom. Through the doorway a single, wizened githzerai sat at a table nursing a trio of drinks.

Nisha stood by the door, letting Clueless enter first, though she let her gaze wander down to the taproom below and the puzzled, and wary expression that played across the face of the hydroloth whose gaze lingered on Clueless and her as they entered Rule of Three’s office.

The githzerai looked up from his drinks, looking for the most part calm and unsurprised, "Three toads there, three of us, they talk much."

"And three of us to the table, if ye will instead of four." Clueless replied.

Rule of Three smiled serenely and gestured for his guests to both sit, "What to discuss?"

As Clueless sat down he pulling out the three gold ingots from the mercane’s treasury and arranged them in front of the gith in a triangle, lightly tapping them in a circular fashion.

"My price paid, I take it, speak with me."

Clueless repeated the circle, making it look idle, twice more, "Curiosity runs high. I am ignorant, of past dealings."

Rule of Three sipped his drink three times, slowly, then looked back up, "You arrived here at this inn, we spoke, but WE did not speak."

Another three sips, "Gold, a friend, and betrayal."

The githzerai tapped his index finger on the ingots three times each, "But was it betrayal, or forced upon you both, by gems and others?"

Clueless replied, "... forced upon myself and him, there are three of us as such, and *I* do seek them."

"You sold him, but not all, took something too." The gith smiled and continued, "Garroth the Blind, now dead, was here as well." A second smile and he continued once more, "Schliphis the toad, took from you, what you took from the elf." A third smile and a last statement, "A gem, blue, black."

Clueless swallowed slightly and nodded, "The elf no longer carries it?"

"Yes, perhaps, no", Rule of Three shrugged and pointed at the bladesinger, "But, that was not our deal. We discussed only the sale of the elf. He was valuable, in the right places, to the right buyers."

Clueless nodded and the gith continued more, "Missing more than a stone you left him, without freedom, and without memories."

Clueless took a slow breath and queried Rule of Three, "... was he the only I have sold as such?"

"Yes for now."

He nodded back, "Where is he, for how much, to what fate?"

"To Tanar'ri slavers, 30,000 jinx, and to fight the Baatezu on the Waste.” The githzerai smiled as he sipped his drink, displaying rows of yellowed, crooked teeth.

Clueless gritted his teeth almost to a grind before asking another question, “Price of return?”

"That is no longer possible, I serve as only the arranger of deals, not the owner." He tapped the ingots, "I can however tell you where the elf was sent by portal to meet with his new owners. That is free. Words come cheaply."

"Gratitude as well." Clueless responded quickly.

"Death of Innocence." The gith replied.

Clueless seemed confused, "Hold meaning to you, not to me… to you?" He said, looking at Nisha. The tiefling shrugged three times before the gith answered again.

"Niflheim, the second of three glooms, a shelter from the waste...", He smiled with sage-like wisdom that yet seemed malevolent despite the aid he was providing. And a moment later he continued, “Near the realm of Annwn, it staves off the gray gloom, but none know why."

"Know you more?" Clueless asked.

"Little more, I do not ask questions when yugoloths are at fault, they repulse me." He paused and drank a draught of firewine, "But to their face do I say that? Perhaps. No."

Clueless gave a soft grin as he nodded, "I do not like them, find myself bound to them, and wish free of them..." The tone of his voice was one of agreement more so than prodding.

Rule of Three smirked, "As all would." He inclined his head and said once more, "Ties bind tight, reigns not loose, contracts upon contracts." He then leaned backwards and whispered, more to himself, “But not forever…”

Clueless nodded in agreement - silent for the moment as he took a breath and digested the information. Nisha had remained largely silent and uneasy the entire time. She knew more about Rule of Three than Clueless apparently did, prime among her knowledge being that the elderly githzerai was anything but what he appeared to be, and he frightened her terribly…

Finally, Clueless asked one other question, "Words are easy, explanations maybe too, wheels within wheels?"

"That means nothing to me. The term is unfamiliar. To you perhaps not." Rule of Three shrugged honestly. "Portal to the Waste in the Lower Ward, ask the mezzoloth, the yugoloth traitor."

Clueless and Nisha both blinked slightly and their eyebrows went up at the statement as Rule of Three continued, "He lives for now, they allow him, not forever though if even Garroth is expendable."

Rule of Three collected his payment off to somewhere behind the table and asked a question of his own, "Garroth was said a traitor or deserter as well. True? False?"

"Unknown…" Clueless said after a brief pause "... traitors may be higher, or none at all. I know not."

"Finished? More to speak? Or no?" The githzerai asked, looking to Clueless and then to Nisha, standing perhaps to leave to other business himself.

"For now, none. Later visit perhaps. Meanwhile... thank you." Clueless said as he pondered his next course of action and he and Nisha stood to leave quickly.

"Indeed. Certainly. Farewell." Rule of Three whispered, his eyes vaguely trailing down to the gem that was lurking hidden behind the bladesinger’s pant leg and boot.

And, perhaps in a prescient moment of luck, the owner of the other half of the gem in Clueless’s leg was occupied with other things and, for the moment, unaware of her errant toy’s actions. Not that it would have much mattered to her anyways, he was, after all, only a single cog in the turning of the Wheels and her prize was far more important than any chance of his gaining his freedom. If nothing else it would only prolong his torment before she ultimately disposed of him after he lost his utility, but such was an afterthought as she carried out her own portions of The Ebon’s vision.

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

There, 'the wench' has posted. :oops:

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

I wish I could play in your campaign.

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

Post more, wench!

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

"nick012000" wrote:
I wish I could play in your campaign.

You're not the only one, mate.

__________________

Pants of the North!

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

The 'wench' posts once again :twisted:

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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

The next two days were filled with much deep thought on the part of Clueless and Fyrehowl. The bladesinger was growing more and more convinced that he would need to leave for the Waste, and soon, if he stood much chance of finding his former adventuring companion. But at the same time he was worried about the gem in his leg, and the fiendess behind it, taking exception to any actions he might take.

Similarly, Fyrehowl was slowly managing to convince herself that she needed to go back to Elysium to either investigate the information they had found on the mercane regarding something happening on the layer of Belarian, or at least to speak with one of the Guardinal highups in the fortress of Rubicon on the same layer to inform them of anything untoward that might be happening unbeknownst to them. However, the fact that the maps and notes they had taken from the Imshenviir mercane had vanished without a trace had put a hold on her plans for the moment.

And so, in the time that she was spending overly thinking about such matters, Fyrehowl had, with a liberal dose of irony, been spending more and more time at the Great Gymnasium, training with and speaking to a number of adherents of the philosophy of the Transcendent Order. It was just such a dose of irony, considering their teachings, which reared its ugly head one morning when she sat down next to Clueless over breakfast with Florian and Tristol.

“So has anyone else seen Nisha since yesterday?” Tristol asked.

“For about thirty seconds. She was in and out just to grab some food and make fun of the Factol Sarin doll. And speaking of which, the Factol Nilesia doll sprouted blades stuck all through it yesterday… word travels fast even for animated dolls it seems.” Florian remarked.

“And some pervert asked if he could ‘rent’ the doll and a room for an hour. I mentioned something about, ‘those are sharp’ and ‘please leave’ and he wandered off…” Clueless said with a shiver.

“Nisha seemed preoccupied with something actually. I swear that she actually looked nervous and paranoid when she was here. I stopped her and asked her if anything was wrong and she brushed it off as ‘boyfriend troubles’ and walked out.” Florian said.

Fyrehowl edged closer to Clueless, getting a raised eyebrow from Florian as she smiled at the bladesinger. “Speaking of all of that, I’ve been meaning to ask you about something for a while, but I haven’t been able to get up the courage and wherewithal to actually ask, but ..." Florian looked at Fyrehowl again and the lupinal paused. "Actually, nevermind, I'll ask you later."

Clueless looked at her oddly, completely oblivious to any insinuation, and to the fact that both she and Florian had actually been competing with each other for over a week or more for his attention. Both of them seemed interested in the bladesinger, and he hadn’t so much as noticed it.

Clueless was still oblivious, and Florian mentally rolled his eyes and was on the verge of saying to Fyrehowl, ‘Apparently the ciphers haven’t been teaching you much if this is any clue.’.

Florian looked at his ale, pushed it forwards, stood up and poured himself four fingers of Bytopian whiskey, but otherwise didn’t say more before Toras walked in carrying a stack of letters and envelopes, one of them heavily stained with some greasy material that was dripping on the floor. He dropped them on the table and took a seat with his companions with a single statement, “Junk mail…”

“Really? Addressed to us even… didn’t take them all very long…” Clueless said as he and the others started to look over all of them.

Among the various offers of services ranging from linen cleaning to dishwashing to security, several places of business stood out from the rest: a letter of appreciation of business from ‘The Friendly Fiend’, a letter of services offered by ‘The Sanitation Guild’ and their standard rates for monthly service, a business card from a wizard’s bar and shop in the Clerk’s Ward by the name of ‘The Pentacle’, a notice of responsibilities and voting rights for the next Sigil Advisory Council elections later in the year, and three other amusing bits of mail.

“These look to have been there since the day the place was ours officially…” Toras said, holding up two letters that had been nailed to the front of the wooden box that served to hold their mail. Florian took them from Toras and started to look them over.

“Two letters, one from ‘Zadara the Titan’, and another from ‘Shemeska the Marauder’. Both of them are offering to buy our inn from us. The Marauder’s was nailed on top of the titans, and it looks like someone added in ‘sleeps with Fomorians’ next to any place Zadara put her name on that letter. The Titan’s letter makes mention that we should ‘ignore any offers from gutter skimming fiends with the temerity to think themselves a king of anything’. Yep… pleasant rivalry there I’m sure.”

Tristol rolled his eyes and Clueless stiffened at the mention of the King of the Crosstrade. “Write a polite letter back to the Titan and ignore the fiend. I don’t care that she’s offering double whatever the titan who ‘sleeps with Fomorians’ is offering.” The bladesinger said.

“Not a problem, there’s no way I’m selling this place, not even a fraction of my share. Land is hard to own in this city, and I won’t sell out to either of those two. Though it’s amusing to watch the unabashed civility between those two, isn’t it?” Florian said, balling up both letters and tossing them to the floor before looking at the final piece of mail.

“Toras… why is that letter dripping something? And it smells too…” Fyrehowl said, wincing as Toras opened up the letter and dropped out a moldy, partially liquefied rat corpse onto the table.

“It’s a promotional letter and ‘free sample’ from ‘Parts and Pieces: owned and operated by Seamusxanthuszemus, merchant most excellent and slayer of fiends, aka that mephit with the hat’. Apparently he put us on his mailing list…”

Clueless sighed, “I’ll go make sure we don’t get any more… gifts… from the mephit. It’s in the Market Ward right?”

Toras nodded, “Sure is, feel free to take the letter too, and the rat, they’re getting pretty ripe. Threaten to shove him in his hat or something.”

“Umm… just toss the rat into the trash. I’ll handle the mephit, how hard could it be?”

“No, seriously, threaten to shove him into his own hat!” Toras was grinning far, far too much when Clueless left the inn to handle that tiny chore.

***

The entrance to the shop was a single freestanding archway in a corner of the Great Bazaar from which a single sign and a tiny, battered tin bucket hung. The sign was battered with age and covered in graffiti that had accumulated over the years, but still visible on the front of the wooden sign was the following: ‘Pieces and Parts’ painted crudely over atop of a much more finely carved name of ‘Pets and Meat’ from the shop’s previous incarnation when it had a different owner than the dust mephit who held nominal and unchallenged possession at the moment, and for the foreseeable future.

The tin bucket, which looked like it had seen the abuse of passersby was filled with a motley collection of small animal bones from birds, mice, rats, and others of more unidentifiable origin, some still decorated with gristle and sinew as well as their attracted coterie of buzzing flies.

Looking at the bucket and taking one of the more dry and clean bits of bone, Clueless looked at the small instructions that had been painted on the side of the bucket. In the same paint as the shop’s sign, they read: “Portal keys, free to paying customers only.”

“So what happens if I don’t like any of the c*** you sell once I get inside. Maybe Toras was right…” Clueless said with a shrug before tossing the bone through the archway. Almost immediately the archway swirled with blue light and Clueless emerged into a poorly lit chamber that stank like a charnel house.

The floor of the shop was piled high with neat stacks of arms, legs, heads and other parts of a wide and exotic assortment of animals from dogs, to wyverns, to cranium rats and things even more exotic. Across the room were stacks of bones, fully bereft of flesh unlike the side of the chamber that Clueless was rapidly stepping away from to escape the stink of putrefying flesh.

“Twenty gold pieces! I never bargain!” Came a shrill, high pitched, whiny voice from the shopkeeper’s desk, hidden behind the form of an angry Night Hag who was holding out a pair of eyeballs and the leg bone of some other creature while banging her other hand on the hard surface in front of her.

“I’ll pay you two or I’ll stuff the bones down ‘yer throat and help myself to the entire sodding shop you morbid little vermin of a mephit!” Came the hag’s voice.

“Two gold pieces it is! I always bargain!” Came the squeaking voice of the shopkeeper as a pair of scrawny gray hands scooped up the pair of gold coins and began counting them over and over as the hag picked up her purchases and brushed Clueless out of the way as she walked to the portal.

“…should feed him to the larvae one of these days ‘n put up with his lip…” She muttered as she stepped through the portal.

“Greetings! Welcome to my glorious and most awesome shop you who happen to walk in on me when I’m doing the most important thing of the day, counting out my awesome profits!” Clueless winced as the mephit’s voice grated on his ears.

Seamusxanthuszemus was dressed in a dingy gray suit and banded gray and white stockings whose feet dangled a few loose inches off of his toes. Perched on his head was a banded, multicolored woolen hat several feet longer than his entire body. The mephit grinned and held up his two new gold pieces from the hag, removed the hat and tossed the coins in. Clueless assumed it was magical, some sort of cap of holding like a bag of the same nature. At least he assumed it until Seamus stood up and the coins fell to the base of the cap and jingled in the floor as they bounced while he walked over to greet his new customer.

“Hi, my name’s Clueless and…”

“Huh, looked more Eladrin to me, but all you berks look alike anyways! What can I help you with today you lousy potential piece of merchandise waiting to die and living on borrowed time?” The mephit’s voice was grating even more on Clueless as it cut him off.

“Take us off your mailing list. We’re not intereste…”

“Glad to know you liked your first free sample! Just one of many I assure you from Seamusxanthuszemus, Merchant Most Excellent, Purveyor of Death and Slayer of Fiends!” Seamus grinned like a fool as he help up a skull in front of him, moving the jaw up and down as he spoke.

“No. I didn’t. I was rotting and stank up our other mail. Don’t send up anything more or I’ll send one of my friends who has far less tact and patience than I do.” Clueless said with his hand on his sword.

“Nonsense! I never bargain!” The mephit said as he hopped back onto his desk with a resounding ‘chink’ as the coins in his hat clattered on the surface.

“But you just told the hag you always bargain.”

“Ahh… your ears are failing… first thing to go they say…”

Clueless tried to explain his position again to the mephit and was nearly ready to stuff the damn shopkeeper in his own hat without relying on Toras to do so when the shop’s portal opened again. Turning around to look, he didn’t see anyone and, figuring it person messing with the portal keys back in the bazaar, he turned back to the mephit. He changed his opinion when a tall figure slipped out of the shadows without a sound less than a foot from him to drop a stunned and still living reptile across the mephit’s desk.

Dressed in little but a loincloth, the Bladeling towered over Clueless by at least two feet and glanced down at him with violet eyes like amethysts frozen in ice. Her skin was spiked and razor tipped in places like a living suit of spiked armor and seemed to nearly blend in with the shadows in the shop. Clueless stepped back from her as she turned to look at him and then to the mephit.

“Pay me up front this time Seamus or I bring it back to the Beastlands.” She said softly, whispered almost.

“Of course! I never bargain!” The mephit said as he rummaged behind the counter for a moment.

“And pay me in something other than copper this time. It would be… appreciated…” Her tone changed almost to a threat for a split second, following which the mephit put down one bag of coin, smiled and picked up another that he handed to her.

“If you have a request for the next time, say it now or I’ll gather what’s more plentiful and leave it at that.” Adamok said, not looking at the mephit as she sliced open the top of the bag of coin with a single deft movement, belaying the fact that what Clueless had first presumed to be part of her own spiked skin were in fact a pair of semi-retractable blades strapped to her forearms or the top of her hands.

“A hydra if you can find one. One of the ones that spits ice at people and freezes ‘em solid! Always a fun way to watch someone go, they’ve got that frozen look on their faces right before they fall over and bust into a hundred pieces!” Seamus clapped his hands together in glee at the very thought.

Adamok smirked as she picked up the animal she had brought in and began to systematically butcher it, separating the severed body parts into piles at the mephit’s discretion. Given the bladeling’s cold skill in what she did, and was at the moment doing, Clueless shivered to think of any poor sod being hunted by her. And then Clueless remembered the story he’d heard about just whom the Bladeling worked for on a permanent retainer of sorts… The Marauder.

On that thought, Clueless smiled and walked back towards the portal leading out of the shop. As he did he felt uncomfortable and glanced back at the Bladeling, certain that she would be staring at his back with those merciless violet eyes. But, as he looked back she was concentrating fully on her work for Seamus and not paying him the slightest bit of attention. Relieved somewhat by that fact, Clueless hurriedly exited the shop.

“Sendings are fun. Anyways, meet me back at the inn at peak. Important.” Came Nisha’s voice bouncing around inside Clueless’s head the moment he re-emerged back in the Great Bazaar, and it also sounded inside the minds of every one of her companions wherever in Sigil they happened to be at the time.

Glancing up at the brightness in the sky, and judging it to be near to peak, Clueless set out to return to the inn. Elsewhere in Sigil, Skalliska got up from her desk and set out across the city, on the border of the hive Toras stopped beating muggers and stealing their money, and Florian waved goodbye to A’kin after having spent an hour making small talk with the Friendly Fiend.

***

Clueless sat down at a corner table in the tap room of the Jammer as Nisha sat next to him, fiddling with something or another that she had either bought or stolen. She was laughing softly and ignoring him till he finally reached over and prodded her out of her fascination.

“Did you actually pay for that? Or did you steal it? … And just what in the nine hells is that anyways?”

Nisha held up what appeared to be a scale model of a Blue Slaadi head with large, oversized googly eyes and a whimsical expression on its face. Clueless only raised an eyebrow.

“Do you think I’d actually take the risk and steal tacky, yet utterly amusing for knowing my taste, crap like this? No, this I paid jink for. Besides, I try not to steal too much from A’kin every month. Florian mentioned he saw this in his shop when he was there buying the dolls last time and I found it amusing.”

Clueless paused and looked at her weirdly before asking, “Wait wait, you steal from A’kin? The fiend?”

“He’s friendly. Besides, he knows it I think. I eventually bring it all back when I remember about it, and I think he actually puts out stuff that snags my attention just so I don’t make off with all the stuff he really wants to sell.” Nisha smiled and held up the stuffed Slaadi head. “Besides, this is just crazy enough to be worth my gold. Press the symbol on his forehead.”

Clueless did just so and the head sprang into motion, with the tongue flapping in and out, the eyes spinning around and flashing different colors, all before it settled down and spoke, “Xanxost knows lots about mephits. Mmmm… mephits…”

The tiefling giggled and Clueless had to laugh along with her. “Alright, that’s actually rather cute, in a seriously warped sort of way. It fits you alright.”

Nisha just smiled as slowly their other companions gathered to take a seat and stare at her expectantly, and stare at the speaking Slaadi head with a mixture of amusement and bewilderment.

Florian glanced over at Nisha, “Nisha! Did you steal that from A’kin?!”

“No! Not this anyways!” She clutched at ‘Xanxost’ like some sort of chaotic teddy bear.

“…what do you mean, not that anyways… A’kin’s a really friendly guy, and you shouldn’t take advantage of him.” Florian still had his finger out accusingly at Nisha.

“A’kin is rather nice and friendly… for a godless abomination…” Toras said somewhat bluntly to Florian’s scowl.

“He oh perfectly hardly, take I what knows well, give and it back always I!” Nisha’s suddenly foray into a torrent of seamless scramblespeak ended any further discussion of the matter and finally got her the silence she wanted before explaining why she had asked all of them to join her there.

“Anyways Nisha, what was this all about anyways?” Tristol asked as Nisha put away ‘Xanxost’.

Nisha smiled again as all eyes turned to her. “Well, you know how all the stuff from the mercane went missing?”

“Yeah… tell me about it…” Clueless said, feeling distinctly guilty and unaware that Tristol had, for the past day, been looking oddly at the large patch of null magic around Clueless’s legs whenever he was talking about anything important.

“I have it all.” Another grin from the tiefling.

“… what? How? You stole it from Clueless?” Florian asked, growing slightly livid.

“No no no. You know the guy who got flayed the other day with Nilesia? He had them… I cleaned his place out five minutes after he got penned in the dead book.”

The unbelieving silence was deafening.

“And a good thing I did, because the place went up in flames a few minutes later… however, I don’t know if anyone noticed me or not, and I’d have sworn that I was being trailed once or twice since then. That’s why I haven’t been around here much. I didn’t want to risk anyone torching this place too, especially with all of you in it.”

“You’re nuts, you know that? You’re wonderful, but you’re crazy sometimes.” Toras said.

“What happened to your boyfriend problems and all?” Florian asked.

“I don’t have a boyfriend. What do you mean? …oh! That boyfriend… heheh yeah…” She gave a guilty grin and jangled the silver bell on the tip of her tail.

“Garroth’s jink went a long ways to buying me some new stuff. Too bad we had to split up though so soon. Sniff sniff.” She winked and tapped her golden horseshoes on the taproom floor.

“Oh, but you’ll meet the other boyfriend soon enough. I’ll bring him over for dinner at some point, though the relationship isn’t going well and you probably won’t see him all too much after that. Trust me…” another wink and a sly grin from Nisha before the others started asking questions.

“So can we see whatever you found?” Clueless asked.

“Oh well none of the stuff is actually here. I stuffed it in one of my little places over in the Hive.”

“You have places in the Hive?” Fyrehowl asked with a measure of disbelief.

“Well not the Hive really, technically it’s the Slags.”

“Oh so much better there… are you nuts?”

“Not always! And hey, they land is cheap. And by cheap I mean squatter style cheap. And when you trap the front door, there’s remarkably little competition for the place. And there’s always that whole little cinnamon smelling monster of an urban legend, I think, that keeps most people away from the area if they have any lick of sense to them.”

“Is it telling that you keep a safehouse in the same area then Nisha?” Fyrehowl asked.

“Yeah, but isn’t it?” Nisha was grinning, and none of them were quite sure if it was on purpose if she simply hadn’t gotten the insinuation from the lupinal. In any event though, she managed to convince them to follow her from the Clerk’s Ward into the southwestern border area between it and the Hive. As they passed from the Sandstone district and out into the Hive itself, a long and ragged wall stood to their south, covered in cuts and scratches that spelled out words, names, and abstract symbols.

Nisha pointed to the wall, “And that’d be the scratchwall. If anyone’s curious I’ll tell you how to read it at some point. I’ve found job offers through it before, oddly enough. Not all the graffiti is graffiti, some of it’s code and such. But in any event, we’ve got to hop over the wall here at the next block.”

Toras was enjoying scaring off any Hive dwellers who so much as looked at them all with an appraising eye, and Clueless was walking with his sword openly slung over his shoulder. Fyrehowl was nervous on the other hand, having the feeling that they were being watched, and not just from the impoverished citizens that watched them with sullen and avaricious eyes from the broken stoops and doorsteps of the ramshackle buildings that jutted up against the wall separating the Hive from the Slags.

Once over the wall itself the contrast was overwhelming. Whereas the Hive had been a tattered collection of crumbling buildings, criminals, the forsaken, the forgotten, and the starving, the Slags were worse. Existing as the remnants of a Blood War spillover into Sigil hundreds of years before, the wasteland that stretched out miles in each direction beyond the wall was a harrowing sight. Steam and smoke rose up from cracks in the earth and ruins of formerly proud buildings dotted the landscape that seemed to have been plucked from Oinos and deposited in the heart of urbanized Sigil.

“And you live here Nisha? Is this wise?” Florian asked incredulously.

“Only when I’m hiding something, or myself from somebody. And wise? Think about it, the only people that come in here won’t mess with me, they’re all on the run from somebody else or they’re completely crazy.”

“My point exactly…” The cleric replied, taking his axe out and cradling it in his arms.

“Oh, and if you see any minor fiends, vargouilles, shambling undead, or anything worse, do tell the rest of us. They’re a problem sometimes.” Nisha was whistling as they walked through the war torn and forgotten sprawl, the bell on the end of her tail jingling a cheery tone that seemed bizarre given the surroundings.

They continued at a brisk pace, and several times Fyrehowl stopped and looked around, once again swearing that she felt someone nearby watching them. However despite that, she never noticed any concrete evidence of her suspicions being true, and none of the others picked up on, or shared, her feelings by the time Nisha had stopped them all at the rubble of a ruined building. The ruin seemed to have once been a shop, though it’s windows had long since been broken with only the jagged remnants of them sticking out around the rotting frames.

“Well, here we are. Whatcha think?” The tiefling asked as she started disarming a series of traps around the edges of what turned out to be a trapdoor leading down underneath the shell of the building.

“It’s rather out of the way.” Clueless said.

“I approve.” Skalliska said, poking at the dried blood around one of the traps’ areas of effect from some unfortunate who had tried in the past to get around them.

“The neighborhood really has gone downhill I think.” Toras said with a smirk.

Nisha chuckled and jingled the bell on her tail with each trap she disarmed. “Anyways, just follow me, shouldn’t take more than a few minutes more to disarm these all on the way down.”

“You trapped the way down from the trapdoor?” Clueless asked as they all followed Nisha down a thin iron rung ladder into the darkness below.

“Overkill, huh?” She said as they eventually worked their way down to the bottom and past an iron door into a cozy chamber whose magical lights sprung into effect almost instantly with a rosy glow.

They all followed in and took to looking at the various items Nisha had stashed throughout the room on shelves, tables, the floor, hung from the ceiling and generally arranged in some madcap method that only she likely really understood; and that by itself was probably in question. In one corner enough vegetables to make up a small grocer’s cart were stacked haphazardly along with several jars of paint and what almost seemed to be several bags of plucked feathers; none of them bothered asking what might rationally explain it all.

“Anyways, here’s all the stuff that I bobbed from Garroth the Blind’s kip the other day. Well, what I didn’t pawn off for jink that is. There’s the stuff that vanished…” She glanced at Clueless out of the corner of her eyes, “and there’s a bunch of other stuff he had too.”

Clustered around a table that was arranged in nearly perfect and pristine order, in stark contrast to the rest of the room, just to be random apparently, were a number of curious items: several mimirs, several maps, a letter or two, and a few gems that glowed a soft light across the table.

Florian unfurled one of the maps while Toras picked up one of the mimirs and began to sift through its recorded information while Clueless picked up the letter on the table. The first map was of Sigil itself, with notations over the Prison, the Gatehouse, and Portal Schmortal, apparently still using the old name of the inn. Other than marking locations, it held no other useful information.

The other maps were more confusing; one of them mapped out the city of Skeinheim on Ysgard, another the city known as The Madhouse on Pandemonium, and the last was a map of the Shattered Temple.

“Odd taste in vacation spots for a dead Yugoloth I’d say…” Florian said as he furled the maps and glanced over to Toras as the warrior activated the first mimir. Without any introduction it began to play back a recorded speech in the voice of a man who was instantly recognizable, even five years after his death at the hands of The Lady:

"I reckon Sigil is the Lady's Cage. The Powers really don't want to get in. They've trapped her here so they can watch her like a monkey in a zoo. 'Course, it could be the other way around; maybe the universe is a cage for all the other powers, and only Sigil is free. From Sigil the Lady looks in at the Powers like they're the zoo animals. That'll all change when I'm in charge..."

“Spoken by Duke Rowan Darkwood, Factol of the Fated before the Hall of Speakers five years, thirty two days before present.” The mimir intoned before it began to replay more in a series of recorded speeches by the late Factol. As the mimir droned on in Rowan Darkwood’s voice, bubbling with confidence and arrogance at once, the recordings all harkened on one subject, the Duke’s ambitions and collected information in his quest to hunt down information on Sigil’s murky past. Specifically it focused on the past history of The Lady, the mage Shekelor and the unknown mage who preceded him and legends claimed had nearly struck down The Bladed Queen before, unable to kill him, She bottled him within an artifact known as The Labyrinth Gem.

The companions listened spellbound as the mimir began to recount further information regarding the actual fate of the Duke, something which was not fully public knowledge. That the Duke had been hurled backwards in time, that bereft of his memories he had become that ancient wizard and been bottled in the Labyrinth Gem only to killed by himself when the future happened again as it had before. For all legend claimed for him, The Lady had played with him like a toy. He had never been a threat.

The mimir ended and the last continued on regarding the contents of the Duke’s library of collected information into Sigil’s past and his mad search for clues, anything really, that might have helped him gain power or some insight into The Lady. The listing was without real rhyme or reason, but if someone were looking for information on a specific part of Sigil’s past it would have been invaluable.

“Well damn. We might not have to do anything at all. Just let them end up getting themselves mazed or flayed if they follow up on anything Darkwood was looking into.” Toras said with a grin as he put down the mimirs.

“I don’t know. I doubt it really, it’s almost like Garroth was just digging up dirt on Sigil’s past in general and Darkwood just ended up doing a lot of that work for him so it’s natural that there’s lots of stuff from him here.” Florian said, responding to Toras.

Clueless was reading the letters in the meantime, all of them written to Garroth and all of them unsigned and written in the same elegant hand with ink that was doped with gold dust.

“Once he arrives from the ethereal, take custody of the elf and deliver him to the Styx Oarsman. I will handle the rest from there as it concerns him. Additionally I will be handing you a sheaf of papers from our late patsy mercane, I trust you to memorize the material and dispose of them as you see fit.
Secondly, the elf will be giving you a gem shortly before he regains control over himself. Be prepared to gag him once he does so to prevent his screams from attracting attention, and if it appears he may bleed to death, staunch the wound or hack the leg off and cauterize the stump.
Finally, hand the gem over to Schliphis after you meet with me in the Oarsman. She’ll handle that matter from there and your hands will be washed clean of the matter. The others’ directives will concern you from that point onwards.”

The second letter was even more interesting to the bladesinger as he read over its words and his blood rose a few degrees in anger at the hand that had written them.

“Garroth, find D’jekk Nlarr wherever the hell she is and find out what the hell went wrong in the mazes. When I say I want people dead, I want them incinerated, hacked to pieces, their killer holding their hearts in his hand, and the like; I don’t want some halfassed s*** like ‘oh I thought they were dead so I didn’t waste any more spells’. She’s still useful, so at most beat the ever living c*** out of her, rape her bloody, do what you like, but make sure she stays alive. Find me that information or else the bitch’ll be seeing me and I’ll find it out myself. You at least are competent. I’ve passed along my opinion as such to Helekanalaith, you’ll be keen to note his opinion on the matter.”

“B****…” Clueless whispered as he pocketed the letters while the others examined and then activated the first in a series of sensory stones containing illusory images of the events they had recorded. Nisha poked Clueless after he pocketed the notes, but otherwise she said nothing and it seemed as if the others hadn’t noticed.

Holding up the first gem, Tristol activated it after having examined it for any malevolent dweomers. Springing into the air over the gem was an image, from Garroth’s perspective of a red and gold robed Arcanaloth with rich, chocolate brown fur and a pair of copper rimmed spectacles looking out over a landscape of erupting volcanoes and rivers of lava underneath a black void of a sky; Gehenna. The arcanaloth turned to smile at Garroth and spoke to him less as a superior than as a teacher to a promising student of many ranks lower than their own education. The arcanaloth also held a brightly glowing blue gem in his hand, roughly the size of a hen’s egg; Clueless noted it almost immediately and narrowed his eyes as he watched the image speak.

“I am well aware that you have long awaited the opportunity to advance in caste, to finally be promoted to Arcanaloth. You have done well and I have followed the Marauder’s reports on your progress. To that end, she or I are willing to sponsor you for promotion, so confident are we in your potential.

Once you have returned Nilesia to Sigil, allow her to do as she wishes and only observe and take note of what comes to pass. I remain curious on the outcome of it all. Trust me when I tell you that your current assignment in Sigil shall be your last; your days as a Nycaloth are numbered few.”

And with that, the image paused and withdrew back into the gem. The irony of the final statement was not lost on its audience as Toras, Florian and Fyrehowl chuckled openly.

“Wow, there’s some dramatic irony if I’ve ever seen it. Talk about breaking a few eggs to make an omelet… there’s some loyalty for you…” Toras said as Tristol activated the last gem.

The light in the room seemed to dim slightly as the cobalt-robed arcanaloth’s image appeared in the air, its reddish pink eyes piercing in their intensity. As it spoke, the voice was instantly recognizable as the same voice that had spoken to all of them in the mercane’s demiplane, telling them to ‘clean up loose ends’ for him. As the image played, Garroth’s voice spoke to the arcanaloth with reverence that seemed almost odd to hear from a yugoloth’s lips. ‘The Ebon’ was all that the Nycaloth referred to the arcanaloth as, but the name or title sunk into the memory of the companions as they watched the scene unfold. Clueless was fixated more than anything else on the blue gem, identical to that carried by Helekanalaith, which hovered above The Ebon’s open hand.

“Helekanalith and I have spoken Garroth, and I concur with his and The Marauder’s opinions both. Following this last series of assignments in Sigil we feel it appropriate to test you for advancement. So keep that in mind in the next few weeks, your rebirth in the furnaces of Gehenna to emerge in a new, glorified form. Your time as a Nycaloth is short indeed, the days are limited and fast approaching an end.

But, you came here for a bit of knowledge and I’ve given you that, but let me leave you with a few words of wisdom as well to ponder over. I once had a very wise prime say to me, ‘This is what we do. We appease their conscience. Anyone who can appease a man’s conscience can take his freedom away from him. And in the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say ‘Make us your slaves, but feed us.’’

I would add further that there is no greater fault and liability than tarnished pride. Soothe a man’s sullied pride and he will lay his soul at your feet, forsaking everything that you returned to him.”

With that, the image faded with a smile upon The Ebon’s lips that left the air feeling chill even after the gem went still and silent. Nisha however was paying little attention to the gem, but rather was at the door out of the room, listening intently at something outside and above.

“Guys… I think someone was outside and just left. I’m positive I heard someone on the ladder going back up…”

“And none of you believed me when I said we were being followed…” Fyrehowl sighed and drew her sword as Nisha grabbed a wand and kicked open the door with the others in fast, but cautious, pursuit.

“Not a problem, we just kill them and they won’t do it again. Hard lesson, but I’ve found that it usually works.” Toras said as he followed.

“Why did you have to pawn all of Garroth’s stuff within days of stealing it all? If you’d waited they might have assumed it all went up in flames! What sort of thief worth their salt does that?” Skalliska was incredulous as she scampered up after Nisha.

Seconds later, as they clambered quickly back to the surface, Fyrehowl could just barely detect a scent that smelled almost like steel and oil. However, the thought was lost as they gathered outside the ruins atop Nisha’s safehouse and a half-dozen crossbow bolts buried themselves inches from each of them.

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"And in the eyes of a jackal I say KABOOM" - XYU

Clueless, Skalliska and Nisha dove for cover behind bits of rubble while Toras and Florian raised their weapons and stood their ground. Tristol was cringing in anticipation of a second flurry of bolts even as he whispered the words to a spell of shielding. Had any of them been watching Fyrehowl they would have seen the lupinal seemingly step out of the way a split second before the bolts hit their intended target, a staggering amount of either luck or cadence guided instinct.

Long seconds passed and no more bolts cut the air with their passing and all around there was silence and nothing more. Skalliska’s reptilian snout poked out from behind a collapsed waterspout, “…thought you were being followed? Only thought?! I think rather settles it!”

“…oops?” Came the tiefling’s reply.

“Umm… if you’re trying to kill us, you’re a really piss poor shot you know…” Toras said as he glared out into the surrounding rubble. No reply was forthcoming however.

“I don’t think that was intended to kill us. I think that was a warning and nothing else. Someone doesn’t like us looking into certain things.” Clueless said as he glanced over to Nisha who was bantering over the definition of ‘safe’ in ‘safehouse’ with Skalliska.

Slowly they all spread out into the surrounding rubble and found no evidence of anyone still remaining in the area, not that they could find anyways. Fyrehowl nearly swore that she could smell a faint lingering scent of raw steel and oil, but nothing else to betray the evidence of their assailant; then Nisha found one thing.

Laying partially concealed in line of sight of the entrance to Nisha’s safehouse were a springloaded series of crossbows that seemed primed to fire in unison when keyed from some distance away, likely from a magical charm that had since been exhausted. Lying next to the mechanism was a single sensory stone.

“Cute… they left us a message.” Florian said as he picked it up.

As the cleric did so, both Nisha and Skalliska winced and blurted out at once, “Let me check it for traps!!”

“It’s not trapped. Not unless you count a cliché as a trap.” Florian said as he handed over the stone to his companions who listened to the message stored within the gem each in turn. The stone’s message was simple and short, “Were I hunting you, you would already be dead. Desist in your current line of investigation or I may change from watching to otherwise.”

Only Clueless recognized the voice as that of Adamok Ebon, the Bladeling he had just seen in Seamusxanthuszemus’s shop in the Market Ward who was rumored to be the pet assassin of Shemeska the Marauder. Except she had supposedly been in the beastlands for the past few days… unless seeing her in the mephit’s shop had simply been part of her watch over Clueless or his companions. It was troublesome to say the least, but the bladesinger said nothing of the matter to his companions as the walked back towards the Clerk’s Ward, though later on he would privately talk to Nisha regarding it all.

Over the next hour or so they collectively sat and discussed their next course of action on a number of topics. Clueless and Nisha put forward their intention to hunt down one of Clueless’s former companions that they had reason to believe was currently in slavery in or around the city of Death of Innocence on 2nd layer of the Gray Waste. Meanwhile Fyrehowl mentioned that she felt it prudent to speak with Chairwoman Rhys of the Sigil Advisory Council, and former Factol of the Transcendent Order, about what they had discovered about Garroth the Blind, and in a roundabout way rumored happenings in Elysium.

“Why Rhys? What connection does she have with Elysium?” Tristol asked, curious about the lupinal’s line of reasoning.

“She’s the former factol of the ciphers you know, and her faction has a fairly large number of members, or former members at least, on Elysium. Outside of Sigil you won’t find more ciphers than in Elysium, despite their tendency to be of a fully neutral alignment. Their particular aspect of neutrality is internal harmony, and it fits very well with the outward benevolence of Elysium.”

“True… I guess you have a point there.”

“And in any event she might be able to help us in getting an audience with one of the highups in Rubicon, the guardinal fortress on Belarian.”

The others nodded in unison, more or less. Skalliska seemed hesitant on the matter.

“Is there gold involved?” She asked without a drop of shame.

“…” Was the common response to the question and there was an awkward silence for several seconds before Clueless responded, “Yes there’s gold involved. Don’t worry, you’ll get a share of anything we find.”

“I’m sure we’ll find plenty of gnomes for you to kill and steal their stuff and act out stereotypes I’m sure. And if not, we’ll drop you off in Tradegate and let you work your magic.” Toras muttered under his breath and was elbowed by Florian to tell him to shutup before the kobold heard him.

***

And so, after a shared meal, they split and went their separate ways. Clueless and Nisha slunk towards the lower Ward and the Styx Oarsman to find a bit more information before they went to the Gray Waste, and the rest of the party gathered there things in preparation for an early trip the next morning towards ex-Factol Rhys’s office.

“So… why exactly are we going back to a fiend bar where the patrons are likely to eat you as much as they are to laugh with you over a drink?” Nisha asked Clueless as they approached the Styx Oarsman.

“I’d like to ask the Mezzoloth in there a few questions. Rule-of-Three mentioned he knew of a portal to the Waste fairly close to where we need to be. Whether he’ll tell us anything is another matter, but I guess we’ll find out.” Clueless said as he walked up to the doorman and handed him a bag of coin. Nisha smiled and swished her tail happily as they were both motioned in without comment.

Inside, little had changed in the mood and demenour of the establishment since their last visit. Clueless scanned the rear of the room for the Three Toads and found the Slaadi attempting to juggle two empty mugs while the quasit behind the bar yelled at her.

“Stupid Slaadi! You’ve broken two today already! You don’t pay me enough to break everything in here!”

Meanwhile the githzerai behind the bar was still washing the same mugs repetitively as Clueless and Nisha sat down at a table across from the stairs. Clueless noted that the Mezzoloth was near the stairs and the other bouncer was by the front door; Rule of Three was presumably upstairs doing something in a set of three, as he was wont to do.

The bladesinger was about to approach the Mezzoloth when the cambion near the door straightened abruptly as the door swung open suddenly, surprising him as a tall, extremely thin woman walked into the bar wearing elaborate armor and a large sword at her waist. None of the other patrons looked disturbed at the githyanki as she entered, but Nisha nearly spit her ale and Clueless immediately looked away.

“Talk about people you don’t want to see in places you don’t want to be.” Nisha said as she wiped the ale from her face.

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

Djek N’larr’s skin glimmered a faint metallic blue, the same color as the blob of psionic ectoplasm that Clueless had partially bribed her with when they had last seen her in the mazes.

“I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me…” Clueless said as he did his best act of completely ignoring her.

The githyanki simply waltzed into the bar, supremely confidant and looking like she had a second lease on life. That Garroth the Blind was dead, and no longer harrowing her regarding her having not killed Clueless and his fellows, probably had something to do with it. But she took a seat at the bar and struck up a conversation with the quasit before she hurled a full mug of ale into the face of the githzerai bartended who barely registered the action as the alcohol splattered on him, the bar, and the floor.

“Tell me he ‘aint a piking Bleaker…” Nisha whispered into Clueless’s ear.

“…yeah.” He murmured back.

The rest of the bar however was not as resigned and uncaring as the Bleaker and the room erupted into a chorus of laugher, snickers and jeers. Clueless ignored it all and tapped a bit of jewelry he was wearing, a small silver choker. He’s had the collar crafter for himself a day previous in the market ward by a gnomish jeweler. The only feature the choker had was a small glass sphere that held a minute drop of the golden liquid he had recovered from the Tower Sorcerous in the mazes, and while he still had little idea of what exactly it was, he had some small knowledge of what it was capable of. When he tapped the glass bubble a small catch was sprung and for a moment it opened and exposed the drop of liquid into contact with his skin. When he felt it contact he pictured in his mind a clairaudience spell and felt it form and burn within his mind before he activated it and removed his finger from the choker.

Nisha simply kept sipping her drink and eavesdropping as Clueless did likewise with the aid of the spell. Over at the rear of the room he heard the Hydroloth Schliphis chuckle under her breath and say something to her fellow fences, Pollixen and the Insufferable Massix.

“What did I tell you? Just like it was supposed to be. Our hands are washed of this now, and we’ve already been paid, so nothing to worry about at all. Let whoever’s game this is, let them play. Not like it has anything to do with us anyways.”

“Well they get of our business now but…” the Slaad muttered.

“And you got us into that…” The Hezrou grumbled to the ‘loth.

“And it's only helped us since then hasn't it? She's gotten us twice the amount of buyers for the stuff that comes in here, and we barely do half the work anymore. Suits me just fine. We just need to make a delivery on that other bit down the Styx a week from now, but that's for later.” Schliphis said before she glanced over to the bar where Djek N’larr was still taunting the nominal owner of the bar.

“I'm just waiting for those Gith to go at it, gonna happen one of these times, Bleaker or not.... Unless the Quasit has him under his thumb more than I know.” She snorted and quaffed a shot of some vile fiendish alcohol the color of tar and nearly the same consistency.

Nisha kicked Clueless under the table suddenly and he glanced up at her. In between two sips of her drink she mouthed to him, “The Toads are looking at us… I think we need to go, talking o the Mezzoloth or not…”

Clueless sighed and nodded then got up and quickly but calmly walked to the door, Schliphis’s eyes burning into his back the entire time. However the bladesinger never let up on his spell even as they walked out of the bar and strolled down the street. When they neared the edge of the spell’s range, Clueless motioned for Nisha to pause and wait for a moment while he continued to eavesdrop magically.

About five minutes later he heard ‘Rule o’ Three’s upstairs Colcook.’ in the voice of the Colorful Cambion. And then his spell was snuffed, deliberately by someone on the other end.

“Oh son of a…” he whispered as Nisha raised an eyebrow. “Someone noticed the spell and countered it. One of the Marauder’s guys just walked in there and was going upstairs to talk to your favorite githzerai.”

“Favorite? He gives me the creeps…”

“Half the people in there give me the creeps, the other half scare me. But I’ll be damned if I’m not trying to listen in one that meeting…” Clueless ducked out of the street and into an alley before he repeated his previous trick and called a clairaudience spell into his mind once more. The second time he tried it though it felt somewhat taxing, but he ignored the effect and tried the spell once more.

The banter of fiends filled his ears once again and he managed to center the spell’s area of effect on the tap room and then manipulate it from there. However, around halfway up the stairs it simply faded out, and while he could move it around further the area around Rule of Three and Colcook was a dead zone where the spell seemed to be actively suppressed.

“…Nisha? You know a way to eavesdrop on a room covered in an antimagic field or a where the folks have antiscry magic on them?” Clueless asked while still concentrating on the spell.

“Hang outside the window?” She said rather too honestly, grinning sheepingly like she’d tried the trick before on someone.

“…he- I don’t think Rule of Three would appreciate that…”

Clueless moved the spell around and tried to approach from the outside window of the chamber on the other side of the building and ran into a zone of complete and utter silence that hadn’t been there a moment before. Clearly someone was both aware of his efforts in some fashion and didn’t wish for him to listening in on their conversation.

“Damn… no luck.” He said as he ended the spell.

“'So.... what now? You done snooping? Neat spell, I'll have to learn it sometime.” Nisha quipped as she tossed a copper at a rat further down the alley.

“Anyways, yeah I’m done for now. Convenient portal of not, we need to go rescue an old friend from some slavers.”

“You been to the Waste before?” Nisha glanced at Clueless with a suddenly critical eye.

“…yeah, but I don’t exactly have very clear memories of it though.”

“Then it’s a good thing that I’m tagging along. Besides, the others should be fine without me for a little while. They’ve got Skalliska, and in any event there aren’t exactly going to be many traps or stuff they need to watch out for in Elysium, to say the very least.” Nisha said with a chuckle as they walked.

“Heck I could use the backup certainly, and the rest of the group… they have things they need to be doing. Aside from probably getting us *killed* if they came along. All that Toras has to do is open his mouth..."

Nisha snickered lightly, “So very true. And all Fyrehowl has to do is just to be there…”

“That too. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?”

“Considering that her kind make raids into the Waste clear across from the other side of the Great Wheel, she wouldn’t exactly be a welcome guest.”

Clueless nodded, “Tristol might be fine except for his own bloodline is rather obvious.”

“Yeah, of anyone, Florian wouldn’t be a problem since she’s a cleric of a war diety. Even if it’s a war deity confined to a single prime world, it’d fit given the battles on the first layer of the plane.”

“…she?” Clueless said as he shot Nisha a baffled look “…what’d’ya mean she?”

Nisha paused a moment and coughed, “Excuse me, him. Tongue slipped.”

“…um. Ok then.” Clueless said and shrugged as Nisha brushed it off and pointed up towards A’kin’s shop as they approached it on their path back to the Jammer.

Despite being fairly late in the evening there was a single light burning in the window above the Friendly Fiend. Nisha looked up at the window and remarked, “Typical.”

“Typical?” Clueless glanced at her, then up towards the single candle in the window.

“'Local chant is he never sleeps, that he's there running the shop all day, and most always there's lights burning upstairs. Fiends don't need much sleep at all I know, but still. I can't read him, despite him being patient with me and never being mean to anyone.”

"Yeah... Any idea what he'd be doing up there? Anyone ever try to look?"

Nisha shook her head before giving an answer, “Again, the chant is more screed than dark on this, but I hear tell he goes up there and screams his head off, hurls himself against the walls in hour long fits, all to get the frustration of being nice out of his system. Or that there's a portal to Gehenna up there, or he keeps stuff up there to torture, or he just has an everburning lamp and doesn’t bother to turn it off. Who's ever been up there to spread the supposed dark of it, that's what I want to know. All speculation. I don't believe most anything said about him. He’s just friendly and I’m pretty content to leave it at that.”

Clueless laughed, "I've got my own doubts on things..." The bladesinger gave a glance up at the 'grin' on the painted sign hanging above the shop’s door as they passed it.

Their trip back to the Portal Jammer passed without incident and the others seemed to have already gone to sleep when they got back, likely in preparation for their own activity the next day. Factol Darius announced their return, as always, in her own uniquely annoying way, “I have imagined two mortals returning home late!”

“Factol Darius, have you imagined a curfew for us to return home late by?” Clueless asked the doll.

“Yes!” The doll chirped before factol Sarin announced that they’d broken curfew and Factol Nilesia began muttering about punishing dire infractions of the law.

“What was the hour?” Clueless asked, knowing that it was close to antipeak at that moment but had not yet passed.

“Antipeak” The doll of the Signer factol quipped.

“Why, it *is* antipeak, and we are not in fact late Factol Darius.” Clueless said back to the doll.

“Now that I’ve imagined you, you talk back to me. Why must my own imagination mock me…?” Darius lamented.

Clueless leaned over and whispered to her, “Perhaps you’re trying to tell yourself something?”

The doll said nothing else before Clueless put her underneath an empty mug.

“Be back in a minute or so…” Nisha said as she walked up the stairs towards her own room. Clueless nodded back to her and headed up towards his own to grab a few things of his own.

Once the half-fey walked into his own bedroom he noticed, almost immediately, that something was laying atop his dresser that hadn’t been there before he’d left to the Styx Oarsman. He glanced at the stack of scrolls and letter beneath them that were all embossed with a familiar blue grin insignia on the letterhead.

“Well now.” He murmured “…you’ve been busy my grinning friend.”

Clueless whispered the words to a simple cantrip to detect any latent dweomers and was surprised to see that the entire stack of papers glowed with a soft, and fairly strong telltale hue, not only the sealed letter. Glancing around the room curiously to perhaps tell how the intruder had actually entered his room, or if they might be still lurking, Clueless saw nothing else out of the ordinary.

“Well, let’s see what you have to say…” He said as he opened the letter and began to read.

“The friend of a friend of a friend of a fiend let it be known your ankle has been bothering you a bit more lately. These should help alleviate your problem for the time being. Each will last roughly 18 hours each, triggered by command word, rather than completing the spell.”

“Very busy indeed…” Clueless said with a low smile to himself.

The letter was signed by the ubiquitous blue Cheshire grin, and the swirling symbol for the Wheels Within Wheels. In the margin of the letter, next to the symbol for the fiendish cabal was written a command word. Once Clueless made a mental note of the word the entire letter began to glow slightly with a pale green phosphorescent light.

As the letter began to glow brighter, Clueless raised an eyebrow and tossed the paper into the air as it rapidly disintegrated into nothing. The paper of the letter simply aged to dust rather than dissolving or burning and was gone before it hit the floor while the scrolls, all twelve of them, still sat upon the dresser welcomingly.

“Very nice…” Clueless said as there was a knock at the door.

“Come in.” He said without a glance as Nisha walked in tentatively.

“I've got my stuff, and Garroth's portal keys, though if you want to wait till the morning, that's fine, he's your friend. I'm just coming along to help if you need it.”

"Let me just grab some jink and we'll be off." Clueless said before turning and tucking the scrolls into his backpack with a grin.

“Sounds good to me, I'm gonna go play with the Factols. Come get me when you’re ready.” Nisha said with a chuckle as she walked off.

A minute later and Clueless was downstairs with several bags of jink, hopefully more than enough to buy back his former elven companion twice over. As he entered the taproom, Nisha was giggling at Darius.

“What?” Clueless asked.

Nisha didn’t say a word, but simply pointed over towards the Darius Doll.

Clueless glanced over to look at the Signer factol who was smiling humbly and had the Factol Rhys doll standing next to her with a hand on her shoulder.

“Rhys?” Clueless asked the doll.

Rhys said nothing, but Darius looked up at Clueless “I have imagined a less annoying me... with some help.”

Clueless laughed. And then burst out laughing as he heard exaggerated kissing noises coming from Nisha.

Nisha was sitting over to one side of the bar with the Factol Karan doll and the Factol Hashkar doll, making kissy noises and pressing them together with mock passion.

“The others will never understand! We can't keep our love secret forever! We have to stop seeing each other… I know it hurts… but I'll always love you!” Nisha was saying in a mock Hashkar voice as Clueless glanced over at her. She looked up at him, a puckish grin on her face and blushing heavily.

“…oh. That’s bad…” Clueless said once he recovered his composure.

Nisha grinned wryly for a moment and put the dolls back up on the mantle.

“Ready to go?” Clueless asked her.

“About as ready as I can be. Got everything I need right here.” The tiefling replied, hoisting her ubiquitous satchel.

Clueless nodded, “One of these days you know, I’ll ask.”

“About what?” She asked as she silently clip clipped up next to him.

“Oh, what alls in there.” He grinned a pulled out one of the scrolls he’d been given by the Cheshire Fiend. Whispering the command word the scroll vanished in a flash of light to leave nothing behind, not even dust. There was however, a soft light glowing around his ankle in its passing, and immediately before the globe faded slightly and began to give a soft hum, Clueless could have sworn that he felt something stir inside his head; and it was NOT happy.

Clueless grinned, "I think I pissed someone off."

“If you say so.” Nisha said, giving a curious look down at the bladesinger’s glowing ankle. “Well, Garroth’s portal keys, they work from the gatetowns, or, best as I can tell, from the portal that Rule of Three mentioned. I’d suggest that we hit that one, not that I really trust him, but that info seems to be legit.”

The half-fey looked over at the tiefer, "Well - on with the rescue. While we have the time."

Nothing happened on the way to the Lower Ward, but as the air turned foul and hazy, Nisha looked up at you her companion, “You know, we never did ask the Mezzoloth about the portal and where it actually was you know…”

Clueless groaned as he realized that they’d left the Styx Oarsman before being able to ask the rogue ‘loth.

“Probably a tout around here, or we could just throw rocks at A'kin’s window and see if he answers…” Nisha said, sticking out her tongue.

Clueless snickered, "I don't think so."

Nisha stomped her hooves on the pavement playfully like a small child begging its parents for a sweet it was told it couldn’t have, “Aww…it's late, we might have been able to make him have to rename himself as A'kin the usually friendly fiend!”

“Oh - why ruin a good reputation - he works hard for it.” Clueless said with a glance up toward A’kin’s shop and its perpetually lit window, knowing full well A’kin probably could hear him.

“So. A tout - after anti-peak... yeah." Clueless turned his head to one side at the very idea of trying to find one of Kylie’s guildsmen in the Lower Ward after antipeak, a daunting task if there ever was one.

Despite Clueless’s discouragement, Nisha walked to a few alleyways, looking down each one, seemingly for something specific, “I got an idea...”

As Nisha glanced into various alleyways, Clueless followed after her with a perplexed look on his face before she finally stopped at an alleyway by a building covered in Razorvine and let out a triumphant, “Ah ha!” as she darted behind the corner.

"... huh?" Clueless asked as he ran to catch up with her.

Turning the corner, the half-fey found her standing next to a Dabus that was floating next to the wall of razorvine, holding a small sickle and a stack of razorvine cuttings.
Nisha looked up to the silent caretaker of Sigil and politely asked, “Excuse me... I'm looking for a portal to the Grey Waste and I was told it was around here. I figure if anyone would, you'd know...”

"...Hi." Clueless said with a smile to the Dabus.

The Dabus turned to regard them both, and a string of symbols appeared floating over its head: the symbol of the Gray Waste, followed by an archway, then two hatchmarks, a cube, an arrow pointing right, one hatchmark, a cube, and an arrow pointing straight, and finally an image of a small, pagoda like building and a craggy, gray and black spotted marble arch; 2 blocks right, 1 block forward.

Having answered their question, the dabus then simply turned around and began to cut at the still growing razorvine, unperturbed in the slightest.

"...Thank you." Clueless said, looking at Nisha, "...that worked."

“Wow, that was surprisingly easy.” Nisha said with a grin and with her tail flicking in delight from side to side.

"...Well, She was ticked off earlier. Maybe things are working out...? Let's.... Go. Now."

“Umm...” Nisha looked at the Dabus as Clueless referred to Her Serenity in an offhand manner. The Dabus didn’t so much as pay them the slightest glance but kept on at its laborious task of trimming back the razorvine.

Clueless smiled innocently at the Dabus and started walking after Nisha who was moving in the direction of the silent caretaker’s directions quickly. Minutes later, true to its ‘word’ the Dabus's directions led two blocks to the right, and one block forward. At the end of the path, nestled between two run down buildings and through a short, and deathly silent alleyway stood a small, crumbling, and clearly abandoned shrine of sorts. There wasn’t a bit of trash in the street, nor any beggars, squatters or rats; nothing to break the eerie silence and sterility of the venue.

Nisha and Clueless cautiously moved down the street, both of them drawing their swords in case the silence was due to a larger predator or group of thugs hiding in the shadows. However there was nothing in the alleyway but a dull sense of dread that seemed to emanate from the dilapidated shrine at the end terminus of the street.

The shrine or small temple was shaped like a small pagoda, though the roof had sagged and collapsed with time and the acid tinged drizzle of the atmosphere of the Lower Ward. The walls of the building were a gray marble or granite, unmarked by symbols, paint or decorations in any way. All told, there were no markings on the small building whatsoever, and the only non worn-down part of the place was the archway in front of it.

Clueless glanced up at the archway where there might have once been a symbol that graced its capstone, but it had been long ago worn away from time or by blatant vandalism or deliberate defacement. Whatever power it once heralded was long ago forgotten except perhaps to the graveyard of the Astral.

Nisha was looking around and she was nervous for some reason. Looking unnerved by the place, she clutched her arms around herself as if trying to stave off some preternatural chill. “Weird…” The tiefling said.

“I have a bad feeling about this place too…” Clueless said to her as he glanced into the bleak interior of the fallen temple.

“You’re not the only one, this place is definitely creepy.” She replied as she took out the portal key to the Waste. That particular key was a black pebble, a gray pebble, and a drop of tar. Taking all three components, she dropped them all collectively into a small vial of dirty water and approached the archway with Clueless at her back.

As Nisha approached the archway it began to hum slightly. Looking past the softly glowing portal to the inside of the building, it appeared to be an arched sanctuary of sorts, not unlike a temple, but covered in dust and clearly long abandoned, not even marked by the tracks of vermin. Several dead rats and insects were piled at the door, all of them facing away from the entrance as if they died fleeing out of the interior.

"Well - I don't think that's a safe place to go into." Clueless said as he followed her to the portal.

Giving a glance back to the bladesinger, she stepped through as the portal flashed a churning and morbid gray to herald the way to the three glooms. Clueless followed immediately after her, his wings springing forth almost immediately as he passed through the archway and into the vortex.

***

There was a sensation of falling for a brief instant before they both reappeared after a flash of utter chill that left them shivering. The two of them emerged, standing upon a rocky outcrop rising out of a soil that was half ash or dust and rock. The ground was muted gray and black, the sky was dark gray and cloudless. There was no sun but a dull and sapping grayish light all around.

Looking out onto the vast layer of Oinos, the desolate plane stretched out to the flat horizon in all directions, largely featureless, with only some small hills breaking the bleak monotony, save for one feature that demanded their attention.

Perhaps some fifty miles off in the distance, breaking up from the ground and rising out of sight was the Wasting Tower of Khin-Oin, like the spine of a dead power sticking up from its tomb in the rocky depths of the Grey Waste underfoot. A dim glimmer from the ground in that direction traced the course of a tributary of the Styx that dove into the earth perhaps a few miles from their current position.

They stood upon the first layer of the Waste, Oinos, one of the primary battlefields of the Blood War. Normally the blasted expanse of the first layer should have been literally crawling with Baatezu and Tanar'ri armies fighting each other in bloody and merciless battles of genocidal attrition, perhaps only clearing away from Khin-Oin by fifty or so miles at the least. But, in every direction, there was no fighting. Squinting to see out further in the dim light, on the horizons Clueless and Nisha could make out armies moving across the plane and some fighting even, but they were all over 400 to 500 miles away. As best as they could judge, none of them were getting near the Wasting Tower and giving it much wider berth than usual. It was odd to say the least.

Clueless peered towards the tower, looking for magic, and noticed that the earth and sky for nearly a hundred miles out from that edifice of Yugoloth domination literally boiled with magic, illusion magic. Whatever was there in the shadow of Khin-Oin was of substance enough to put a pause in the wars of the other fiends, enough to make them avoid the tower for a massive distance by any stretch of the imagination, and whatever was there was intended to be hidden from sight, whatever it was.

Nisha scuffed a hoof in the dirt. The kicked up soil was an ash gray and streaked in places with blood, all slowly being bleached of their rusted brown color by the omnipresent leaching of the Waste, “Well… no Baatezu, no Tanar'ri, no problems. Right?”

"It's not normal though. They're supposed to be around here. *All* the time around here... why are they giving this place so much room?" Clueless said with uncertainty as he looked out towards the single largest structure in the planes and whatever was lurking in its shadow.

Shemeska the Marauder's picture
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Namer
Joined: 2004-04-26
Rule 1) Never split the party... whoops...

The next morning, the entire group, excepting Nisha and Clueless were awake early and ready in anticipation of leaving for Elysium after they spoke to Council Chairwoman, and ex-factol, Rhys. They all said little over a quick breakfast before they ventured out into the Clerk’s Ward in a trip nearly around the city towards Rhys’s office in The Lady’s Ward.

The council met infrequently and usually in different places and different wards around Sigil, but for the time being, Rhys’s office was housed within a former temple whose clergy had relocated shortly after the Tempest of Doors nearly five years prior. The old holy symbols had been removed and replaced with a stylized seal of sorts with Sigil’s ring surrounding a stylized image in silhouette of Her Serenity.

Fyrehowl led the way as they entered the building that also housed several branch offices of the Hall of Information, given its recent expansion following its takeover of most of the functions of the old Hall of Records before that building had been abandoned, looted, and finally condemned and demolished of late. The cipher in training seemed to unerringly know where to go within the otherwise complex building, and as they turned a corner they realized that it was perhaps less due to any mystical ability she had gained in her sparse time learning about the philosophy of the Transcendent Order, than in her ability to smell as a lupinal.

Halfway down the hall they spotted a githzerai wielding a sword of flowing liquid metal that extended out from his hand like a living thing on its own. He was dressed in the familiar robes of a factor of the Ciphers, and also wearing a badge of office that marked him as the personal assistant and aide de camp of Chairwoman Rhys. Fyrehowl had often trained with the githzerai at the Great Gymnasium, and more likely than not, she had simply tracked him down, knowing that he’d be near to Rhys.

Kel’shre’tar, as the githzerai was called, was going through a series of katas with his karach blade when he turned to face the party. He bowed first to Fyrehowl and then turned to bow to the others in turn.

“You wish to speak with the factol?” He asked, less a question than a statement.

Fyrehowl nodded, “Yes please. I have several questions for her, and I believe that her knowledge and her links to persons in Elysium might aid us. If she is not busy that is, I know she has many things that take up her time. Is she in?”

The gith nodded, “Indeed. You will find her waiting for you within her office.”

Florian raised an eyebrow at the suggestion that Rhys was already aware that they were coming to see her, and was expecting them. But as the githzerai pointed down to the end of the hallway and the open door that welcomed them, the sword that had been held in the gith’s hand snapped back into a series of rings upon his fingers, shuffling itself out of sight as he walked with them.

“Please enter, you are expected.” Came Rhys’s melodic and somewhat distant voice from just inside the room.

Rhys was dressed in a simple white robe and a wrap of dull green that circled her waist and passed over one shoulder to drape down her back. For a woman of her level of power and influence she was dressed as simply as a clerk. Her long, raven black hair seemed to rustle and flow like that of an air genasi, like there was a constant breeze flowing through the chamber when in truth there was none. Finally, the ex-factol’s eyes were glazed over like she was in a trance, her eyes seemingly focused on some distant sight rather than the present moment; all in all it was surreal and compelling.

“Greetings Factol,” Fyrehowl said with a bow before Rhys waved the formality away.

“You have questions for me regarding Elysium. Ask me and I will tell you what I know, and remember that I no longer hold a formal title of factol, the reverence is not needed.” Rhys said as she stepped out from behind her desk to approach the group and bid them to sit. Her feet ended in hooves, much like Nisha’s, betraying the former factol’s tiefling heritage.

Skalliska blinked at the uncanny, and somewhat disturbing level of prescience the factol seemed to possess. The woman seemed to anticipate events, or likely events, before they even happened, acting moments before they would to perform any action in the best possible manner given the situation. Toras had the same thought, though his mind was pondering over what poor fool might ever attempt to kill her and how poorly it would likely end for them consider that the factol moved with the grace of an expert swordsman and was reputedly a sorceress of no small ability either.

“Fac… councilwoman Rhys, without going fully into where we recovered this information, we have reason to believe that something is happening on Elysium’s 3rd layer without the knowledge of the Guardinals of Rubicon. We found maps and records of mercanes shipping goods and materials to a point on that largely sealed layer and we have reason to believe that fiends are involved at the core of whatever this may turn out to be.” Fyrehowl explained to Rhys.

Rhys looked away but didn’t hesitate in her answer, not for a second, picking up immediately when the lupinal ended her own statements. “And I have reason to believe that one of my own is involved as well, though the full meaning of his involvement was not fully apparent till now.”

The group looked at Rhys curiously as she continued, “A former Factor of mine, a lupinal by the name of Tarnsilver. Following the Faction War he became disillusioned with the actions of his race. He came to feel that they were too quiescent, not proactive enough, and that drastic actions were needed to prompt them out of this. He did not tell me his plans, or of his mode of action, only that he would likely be reviled for doing what he perceived was the needed and correct method of action towards what he perceived as a greater good.”

Fyrehowl furrowed her brow, “It seems very likely that he would be involved with this then. Whatever is happening, he would likely know how to keep any activity on the layer covert and hidden from our eyes…”

Again, the ex-factol picked up immediately upon the lupinal stopping. “Indeed, and I would ask that you investigate this matter, both for myself and a former member of the order, and for your own sake and that of your people in Elysium. Ask to speak with the leonal, Duke Jalinon, at Rubicon, he will explain certain things to you that I am not fully privy towards.”

“I will. Thank you Rhys.” Fyrehowl bowed and was very nearly ready to leave as Rhys had already sat down again. But then the former factol spoke to her one more time.

“And when you find Tarnsilver, tell him that he no longer listens to the cadence in his heart and his actions. The only voice he hears within his mind and soul is his own. The planes no longer speak to him…”

***

The plane was bleak and chill, though neither Nisha nor Clueless had yet been exposed to its malign presence long enough for its omnipresent effects to wash over them like a leaching wave of apathy, regret and misery. For the moment they stood unharmed by its sapping touch, but as the moments passed they felt a chill run through themselves that was not from fear, nor from any demonstrable breeze that graced their body. However, they were more concerned with other things to notice its dire effects at that time.

Clueless glanced out at the armies that were barely visible on the horizon as they moved to clash with each other or to forge ahead to one of the planes bordering the Waste, either Gehenna or Carceri.

“…Hmm, looks like they’re avoiding the ‘loths…”

“They’ve gotten smart then…” Nisha said as she rolled her eyes.

“We’ve got a problem though. We’re one layer of the plane too high. The city we’re looking for is in Nifleheim.” Clueless said as he glanced down towards the winding gash in the blasted earth that was the Styx, glimmering seductively like slowly congealing blood on black glass.

“Well, the Styx is that way…” Clueless muttered as he continued to glance towards the River Infernal, “Trying to really recall how to get to the next layer down.”

“Well, the Styx hits the first layer of the Waste and not any of the lower ones, though supposedly the ferrymen can navigate the river and dump you through portals to the other layers, but more often than not you end up drowned and dead, or stuck with no memories and in a position where you might as well be dead.” Nisha said with a frown.

“I don’t really want to deal with anymore Marraenoloths. The less ‘loths the better at this point.”

“Well… there’s the friendly trip down the memory sucking river with the every so trustworthy Yugoloths or there’s another way, maybe, but I’ve never tried it before…” Nisha said tentatively.

Clueless looked at her oddly as she reached into her satchel and removed a dusky glass bottle with two glittering fleshy orbs suspending in a thin layer of liquid inside. The bladesinger wrinkled his nose at the bottle.

“Looks disgusting actually. What is it?” He asked.

“Bebelith eyes, or at least part of one. I’ve never been too keen on looking a Bebelith in the face up close to get a good look. However if you swallow one you can slide up or down one layer of a plane, supposedly. I’ve never tried it myself, it was always sort of a last resort if I ever got myself into a jam on the lower planes and needed a speedy way out. The bottle keeps them fresh, I guess, but… your call.”

“Let’s go with the eyes, especially after your last experience with one of the ferrymen…” Clueless said.

Nisha looked at him a bit askance, “And what’d I do wrong last time with the ferryman?”

Clueless smirked, “…you didn’t pay him the deal, and they have memories… let’s try the eyeballs. It should be an interesting new experience.”

“Pike it, you sound like a sensate…” Nisha said as she popped the cork on the bottle to let out a strong, vaguely acidic smell, like strong vinegar or spoiled wine.

“I’ve been hanging around the dolls too much, Erin Montgomery is a hot little thing…”

Nisha simply rolled her eyes, smacking Clueless on the leg with her tail and handed him one of the eyes from the bottle. It was hard and roughly the size of a large kernel of corn. It was glittery and shifted colors when it was moved around, a black iridescent tone, not unlike Clueless’s own wings.

“So… we just down them?” The half-fey asked as he fluttered his wings a bit.

“Yep, that’s what I heard from the merchant when I bought them.” Nisha said before she grimaced slightly and swallowed it hole.

Clueless likewise did the same, popping it into the back of his throat like a pill so he wouldn’t taste it as much as it went down. The taste was nearly beyond words and probably unhealthy to say the least. If Clueless wasn’t already immune to poison, and if Nisha, being a tiefling, wasn’t the sort of person who could survive on a diet of ash and arsenic, they both would have been in pain or worse.

Nisha looked over to Clueless, grimacing still from the aftertaste of the Bebelith organ, and then pointed downwards as both she and the bladesinger felt a wrenching feeling assail them from their guts outward and a persistent tug that seemed to drawn them closer to the earth. A moment later there was a much more violent wrenching feeling, even more abrupt than that of a portal, and after several seconds their vision went black.

Nisha opened her eyes and noticed Clueless standing next to her in the middle of a forest of dark gray and black trees, evergreens, but like the most verdant of their colors had been leached from them entirely. A malign chill spread throughout the air, carried along by a cold, dense mist that swirled around their ankles and clung to the trees everywhere.

“Well, that seemed to have worked. I think I prefer portal or spells though…” Clueless said as he snapped out his sword in a defensive motion and panned around to glance among the trees.

But, as Clueless did so, there was a cold feeling in both his and Nisha’s hearts, like emotion was subtly being drained and funneled off by the plane around them. Clueless shrugged off the effects of the Waste with little pause, he had far too much determination in his heart to allow the plane to stop him, but Nisha was not so lucky. The tiefling started looking around with a mildly unhappy, forlorn look upon her face as she curled her arms around herself like she was warding away a cold breeze.

“Nisha, hon? You ok?” Clueless asked with some concern.

“The plane is starting to get to me Clueless… there’s not much I can do to stop that.” She said as she looked to the bladesinger and pulled out a large map of the Waste and flipped to the 2nd layer. “…gotta get out of this wood and out where we sodding are, the map’s useless otherwise…”

“Rightio – easy solution. Hold on.” Clueless said as he reached over and tucked her under one arm.

Nisha gave a chuckle that broke her sullen expression for a moment, “Lead on prettyboy.”

A moment later and a flurry of motion from the half-fey’s shimmering black wings and they were both flying high above the current patch of forest that they had both stood within, overlooking the surrounding woods and trying to gain an idea of just where on the layer they were. Taking a glance at the surrounding lay of the land, Clueless and Nisha were somewhere near the edge of a forest, maybe a mile or two inside of it. A river, perhaps the Styx, or perhaps a minor tributary, ran its course just outside the forest, roughly near to where a single white stone tower rose up. In the opposite direction they could see the forest appear to melt away into a black haze in one direction, clearly the beginning of the domain of some power or another, and in another direction, the forest rose up the side of a mountain that was capped by a ring of stones and a plume of smoke that lazily drifted up into the bleak and colorless sky.

Nisha looked over at Clueless, looking slightly relieved. “Well, this is one way to get a landmark to look at. Don't know what the other stuff is, but that tower, it's the border marking for Arawn's domain on Annwn.”

“So where do you want to go? That tower?” Clueless asked as they bobbed up and down slightly above the wood. “I don’t want to stay up here much longer or something might see us and take offense.”

Nisha nodded, “Death of Innocence is located just outside of the border of Arawn's domain, so one direction or another down the Styx would probably get us there.”

“Right…” Clueless said as he flew off in that direction, skimming the treetops to avoid any major notice by anything lurking below.

As they flew over the river towards the near shore by the watchtower, the forest faded away under them, though as they flew, there was a caw from the forest beneath them and a flock of birds rose up from the trees to trails behind them, about a half dozen or so jet black birds, like large ravens. As the flock of birds trailed them both, Clueless and Nisha alighted near the tower on the shore of the Styx.

Clueless glanced up at the flocks of circling birds and called out to them, invoking his own innate fey ability to speak with animals, “…hello…”

The birds however ignored him completely and kept their distance. They only circled overhead, slowly and lazily. As they did so and Clueless surveyed the area, Nisha touched a small speck of blood on her arm that welled up from a minor scrape on her shoulder. Almost unnoticed, one of the Wastrels had drawn blood from her as she and Clueless had slowed their flight and descended to the ground.

“F***…” Nisha muttered as she glanced up at the birds as they circled mockingly overhead.

The slope of the riverbank leading down to the river was fairly sandy and unnaturally white, almost like the ‘sand’ was in fact ground down bleached bone. And, upon closer inspection, the white tower across the river was made not of stone, but of thousands of bones of all sizes and shapes, all plastered and cemented together into a roughly conical shape.

“…how inspiring.” Clueless muttered as he glanced at the map again, noting that the city was off on the edge of Arawn’s domain, though he wasn’t certain if it would be to the left or the right of the tower of bone that sat across the river from them. However, his train of thought was suddenly derailed as Nisha drew a wand and aimed it up into the sky to throw a cluster of purple magical bolts up at one of the birds.

“Whoa! Whoa! What’s that for?!” Clueless said, startled. “Nisha?!”

Overhead the birds circled and started cawing again in unison. The sound was almost like laughter as it carried on the air and echoed off the trees. Nisha began to look more and more depressed and downtrodden as she threw another cluster of missiles up into the air. Another of the birds fell and crashed down into the Styx with a dull and muted splash, but Nisha was beginning to cry slightly and pale.

Clueless reached out and gently caught her hand, “…hon, don’t waste ‘em. It’s going to be ok…”

And then Clueless felt a breeze against his face and a flutter of wings as one of the birds bolted out of the sky and slashed a talon across his face when he turned to look at Nisha. He cursed and immediately felt something wash over him as the birds continued their mocking call. The birds called out like black winged and circling hyenas around a wounded savanna animal and Clueless then felt an insidious cold reaching out to drain his emotions and sap his vitality. It was just like the chill of the plane itself, but it was as if the birds were chuckling at his pain, as if the Wastrels were enjoying his misery as they fed off of him.

Clueless watched as Nisha began to weep as she dropped her wand and looked up with hopelessness in her eyes and fell to her knees. A surge of anger filled him and the bladesinger reached into the interior of his mind and latched onto a burning point of magic that by all means should not have been there, the spell that he didn’t know but that he had nonetheless imagined and forced into his memory back in Sigil when he had been toying with the golden liquid from the Incantifers’ maze. And with but a thought he hurled it at the flock of Wastrels.

Five of the seven shuddered in mid air as a black circle rolled through their midst, expanding outwards like a smoke ring, rippling the space around it as it traveled and dissipated. They dropped like stones with three splashing into the river and another two of them falling onto the riverbank where they stared up at the sky cold and unmoving.

The flock of Wastrels burst into motion to scatter and reform their ranks, and as one they called out again with their vitality sapping caws. Clueless shrugged it off with another surge of anger as Nisha began to stagger and weep while she began to dig around in her satchel, looking for something.

“You little b*******.” Clueless cursed at the birds as he brandished a copper gilt wand of fireballs from his belt and aimed it at the remaining birds.

A pinpoint of orange flew towards the birds and blossomed with a deafening roar of flame and smoke. One of the birds dropped to the earth, scorched and black, with tongues of flame still licking from its corpse, and another squawked in pain and cawed back as it attempted to flee back into the depths of the forest to escape.

Nisha was pulling something out of her pack when Clueless sent another fireball into the heart of the fleeing pack of birds. The second sphere of flames erupted, sending a crashing roar out over the forest to rattle the trees and incinerate several of the remaining birds. If any of the Wastrels had survived the flurry of spells they had fled far into the forest and seemed not the least intent on returning.

“…a little bit of everkill perhaps, but satisfying.” Clueless said as he looked over to Nisha with concern. “What’s that…”

Nisha had taken out her stuffed blue slaadi head and was poking its nose. An instant later the bauble was babbling in Xaosspeak, drifting to normal speech, losing its train of thought, and then sticking out its tongue, puffing its cheeks, grinning goofily, and lighting up its eyes. It was… silly.

Whether it was some magical effect from the slaadi head or simply its mundane comedic effect, ‘Xanxost’ nonetheless was making Nisha smile and slowly recover from her draining melancholy that the Wastrels had inflicted upon her. A few more lines and actions from the Slaadi head and she was softly giggling, wiping her eyes and looking genuinely happy.

“Feeling better?” Clueless asked as he extended to hand to the tiefling to help her back to her feet.

“To tell the truth,” Nisha said, “I think A’kin was genuinely glad to move this thing out of his shop. I used to come in and poke the nose and run off, he had to have been getting tired of it after a while.”

“A’kin selling toys… what is this world coming to?” The bladesinger laughed.

“Yeah, I would spend my own jink on goofy dust collectors like this, and Garroth’s jink on useful stuff. I might have been wrong in my first thoughts though, since this does seem to have a use. Bless A’kin’s heart… unless that might hurt him… hmm…” Nisha said with a thoughtful smile as she put away ‘Xanxost’.

“…Now then.” Clueless said as he looked up the river, “…I suppose we hitch a ride…”

The river bubbled randomly and was running rather swiftly at that point. It seemed deep and neither Nisha nor Clueless could see down beyond the first inch or so. However, Nisha’s quick inhalation and exclamation of ‘Pike it!’ drew their gaze up from the river and towards the opposite shore.

Standing on the opposite bank, silent and unmoving, where, five minutes ago there had been nothing, stood a score or more of skeletal figures dressed in elaborate armor and holding weapons. The skeletal figures just… stared… at them both from the opposite bank, silent.

“…Umm. Whose attention did we just get?” Clueless openly mused.

“Arawn?…”

“You know this place a little better than me Nisha…”

“Whatever you say. But where’s a sodding cleric when you need one…” The tiefling replied.

“I do swords and spells. Not turning the undead.” Clueless replied, “But they’re on the other side of the river, so it’s not that much of a bitch. Right?”

The skeletal warriors simply stood there, completely motionless, and completely silent. They all appeared to have mortal eyes within their bony sockets however, petitioners more likely than not.

“…Hi guys. Just passin’ through…” Clueless murmured as he glanced around their own side of the river to scan for a ferry or a sign.

“Oh hellfires. Why not.” Clueless said with a chuckle to himself before he shouted across the river to the petitioners, “Which way to Death of Innocence!?”

One by one the skeletal petitioners turned and began to slowly walk back into the forest behind them, melting back into the woods at the border of their god’s domain, except for one. One of the petitioners lingered for but a moment and pointed a glittering silver-tipped spear towards one end of the river, not in the direction, but at a small skiff floating from that direction. Moments later, as the skiff drew nearer, so too did the last petitioner of Arawn vanish back into the woods without a sound and without a word.

“Um. Thanks!” Clueless called out to the empty riverbank across the river.

Nisha glanced over to the half-fey, “And that was officially creepy…”

Both of them then turned to look at the skiff as it approached. The small, flat-bottomed boat drifted silently forwards with a single robed figure at the helm holding a long pole or an oar to steer the craft down the Styx.

“Wonderful…” Nisha muttered.

"Yep. And we pay him well..." Clueless muttered back, "We don't need more ‘loths after our necks."

As the Maernnoloth approached, Nisha hurriedly poked ‘Xanxost’s’ nose and then just as quickly hushed it in the folds of her cloak. Dimly, Clueless could hear a muffled, “The Maernnoloth says, “…””

The bladesinger glanced down, very nearly not able to keep a straight face at Nisha’s joking. His wings fluttered sideways briefly in an ‘oh powers above…’ pose, a light blue lingering on their edges before he flipped them back to rest against his spine, pointing downwards.

“Bless your blighted black twisted heart A’kin” Nisha muttered as she stuffed ‘Xanxost’ back into her satchel and pulled out a bag of coins to begin counting out a rough handful of gold.

As the ferryman stopped the boat on the shore and stepped to one side, it held out its hand and Nisha added several platinum pieces to the gold she handed it. “To cover my last trip. I didn’t have the jink to pay then. My apologies.”

The Marraenoloth said nothing as it accepted her payment and allowed her to enter the skiff. Clueless handed it a stack of twenty-five platinum pieces as he stepped up to the boat, but he then paused instead of fully entering.

“…Death of Innocence. I’ll match this amount on a safe arrival there.” He said as the ‘loth nodded its hooded head and accepted his jink.

As the skiff launched from the riverbank, Clueless looked over to Nisha and smiled slightly, "...I actually decided to pay ahead for the next time I'm broke."

As they floated down the Styx, the forest around the river grew steadily darker as they passed through, and glittering, glowing eyes glimmered from the river’s edge in a number of places. Steadily, the mood grew darker and more repressed as the plane sought, as always, to exert its deleterious influence upon both of the ‘loth’s passengers.

Nisha and Clueless both shrugged off the chill mood and Clueless was fluttering his wings constantly, appearing to be shivering almost, but it gave off a constant light over the boat and the water’s surface near to them.

“So… much traffic on the river lately?” Clueless asked abruptly up to the Marraenoloth.

The ‘loth said nothing, nor did it seem to acknowledge that it had been asked a question.

“…so who’s winning?” Clueless asked once more.

The ‘loth immediately paused and seemed almost taken back by the question as it turned to glance at the half-fey. The skiff never changed its course by an inch, but Clueless watched as the ‘loth’s gaze flew immediately to the gemstone embedded in his ankle. Seconds passed and Clueless looked back up and into the Marraenoloth’s emotionless gaze.

A voice echoed in his mind, soft and chill, “Cerlic and his servants take no side. We fulfill our purpose, regardless of the outcome. Yes, much traffic.”

Rattled or not, the Marraenoloth remained silent and simply steered its craft the rest of the trip and for the next ten minutes the boatman’s silence seemed nearly palpable as the trees melted away to scrub land on one side of the river. As they floated onwards, coming into view on that same side, the forest seemingly cut back away from it, stood a large, walled, fortified town sitting upon the bank of the Styx.

The skiff stopped softly upon the riverbank near the palisade of the city and the 'loth stepped aside and took Clueless’s payment promised and pointed a hand at the city. “Death of Innocence,” rattled through the bladesinger’s mind.

As Nisha clambered out of the boat, Clueless turned back to the Marraenoloth, “Thank you. Your purpose is appreciated.”

The ‘loth said nothing more and moved the skiff swiftly downstream without a glance back. Clueless turned towards Nisha, “Well. I think you spooked him. Must be the tail.”

Nisha swished her tail with a grin and poked ‘Xanxost’s’ nose once again. “The Vrock says, ‘Cockadoodle doo!’”

Clueless was fully grinning as he and Nisha walked up towards the city, trying desperately not to laugh, “That it most certainly does!”

“Hey, it keeps the grays away, you have to give it that!” She said with a chuckle, still swishing her tail.

The city walls were roughly thirty feet high and made of thick, rough-hewn timber that seemed freshly cut. Very freshly cut, and a steady ooze of sap ran from the exposed wood to pool along cracks, breaks in the wood, and finally to drip down upon the ground. A single gate faced the scrublands, and while it was open at the moment, there were a large number of bloods moving into and out of the city by the moment.

As Nisha and Clueless approached the main gate, they noticed something else: The city, as opposed to nearly everything else in the Waste, had color…

Nisha glanced over at Clueless as they both noted the presence of color on and within ‘Death of Innocence’. “Lots of people waiting to get in, and not many leaving… wonder what’s going on…” She said.

Most of those entering the city seemed to be of two types: refugees that were loaded down with packs and carts of goods and belongings, and heavily armed soldiers and mercenaries. All together they were a ragtag lot, the largest group seemed to be ten hobgoblins. There were not that many fiends at all, most non-fiendish primes and planers.

Clueless and Nisha waiting in line for nearly an hour before the line had advanced enough for them to stand in front of the open gate. All the while Nisha had been ignoring the crowd and playing with the Slaadi head with glee and abandon. At the open gate, watching carefully over the entire waiting collection of mortals stood three guards, two tieflings and one human who were questioning each and every person seeking admission into the city. They had yet to turn anyone away from the city, but they were carefully noting weapons and anything that might be considered a danger to the population within the sticky, sap dripping walls of their town.

As Clueless stepped up to the front of the line with Nisha still giggling and playing with ‘Xanxost’ behind him, one of the tiefling guards signaled for him to halt by holding up a gauntleted hand.

“Reason for entry?” The guard asked.

“Hoping to buy something back that belongs to me.” Clueless answered.

The guard looked at him and then at Nisha, “Watch those swords, I won’t make you peace tie them, but we don’t need any more trouble here than we already have.”

“Something going on around here?” The bladesinger asked the guard.

The armored tiefling regarded Clueless somewhat incredulously at that point. “Something is the reason everyone's here and the city is packed twice its usual population. The whole of the Waste is waiting for war to break out from one layer down and work its way up.”

“I just got here. Long trip, very isolated.” Clueless remarked.

The tiefling sighed, “Half of them fleeing it, half of them rushing head first into it, all of them hoping to make some jink off it. I'd take you to be the latter?”

Clueless and Nisha looked around and noticed that everyone there in and around the city, whatever expression they had, be it eagerness, anticipation, or fear; they actually expressed it. The Waste, for whatever reason, didn’t seem to be draining all of their feelings or their will to live. An oasis in the middle of a black desert of apathy.

“Nope. I’m staying out of it as best I can.” Clueless answered up to the tiefling.

“You’re the smarter crowed then… head on in.”

Clueless nodded and proceeded on into the city with Nisha in tow. As they walked in, the city streets and even the buildings resembled nothing so much as the streets and kips of a prime world: neat, orderly, blocky, simple architecture.

“This place doesn’t exactly fit in…” Clueless murmured to Nisha.

Everything seemed ‘new’. All of the wood looked freshly cut. And all of the wood seemed to be bleeding sap, all except for one building off to their right that seemed to be actively bleeding. There was a thin trickle of dark red liquid pooling from a crack in one of the timbers that ran the length of the roof.

Clueless lightly reached out and touched the dripping liquid out of curiousity. The sap was sticky and slightly warm and the blood had the consistency of actual blood, even to the point of having a light coppery smell.

Nisha glanced at the bleeding building, “Suddenly I prefer the spikes and blades and bars of Sigil, the razorvine even.”

“I’m curious what sort of wood it is actually…” Clueless said as he paused to look again in closer detail.

“Are you so sure that it’s actually wood? I’d put jink on there being petitioners in there…”

“Maybe,” Clueless said with a shake of his head “Let’s move.”

“Ask your cleric friend when we find him.”

“Actually, I’m more worried that he’s going to try and take my head off.” He said as he self-consciously looked down at his ankle. The spell had begun to slightly fade, but the consistency of the glowing shell around the gem was still there. It had roughly five or so hours left by his measure.

Rubbing the blood-like liquid between his fingers with a raised eyebrow, the bladesinger looked to Nisha, “Well, let’s go find a guy to talk to him about an elf.”

As the pair continued into the heart of ‘Death of Innocence’ the street was fairly wide as they approached an intersection, glancing down the streets and looking for either the Tanar’ri slavers themselves, or for the slave pens that they would likely need to pen up their captives before likely selling them.

“Worse comes to worse I can always try to scry on the slavers…” Clueless muttered as they continued walking.

Around thirty minutes later of walking the streets they wandered into a large square that contained both a large crowd and a large amount of noise. The center of the square was dominated by a wooden stage, newly constructed like everything else. Standing atop the stage were a score or more of nearly naked prisoners, each chained to one another and being watched over by a pair of Vrocks. Next to the stage was a series of cages that held more prisoners, themselves watched over by another pair of Vrocks.

“This looks like what we’re looking for. And if it isn’t, they’ll know where the competition is or was…” Clueless said as he and Nisha approached.

Prancing across the stage doing the bargaining and promotion of their mortal stock was a scantily clad Alu-Fiend, and watching her, either as a bodyguard or an actual owner, was an armored Babau. All Tanar’ri.

“Forty seven jink and a trio of stingers!? Is that all I can get for this little c*nt of a celestial’s mortal dalliances?! Please… for that price I’d keep her myself and have her lick my toes each night simply because I could!” The Alu-Fiend listened to the jeers and taunts of the audience and was playing to them quite heartily to drive up the prices.

“Make it fifty jink even and I’ll have her perform on stage for your pleasure if you like, or for mine if that’s your fancy! 50 jink? Can I have one of you sods offer me 50 jink?…” The Alu-fiend promptly had two higher calls for the miserable looking and obviously malnourished aasimar. All in all, it was like a meat market.

Nisha glanced at the approaches to the stage and at the locks on the cages and on the chains on the prisoners while Clueless scanned the crowd and the prisoners for his former companion. The crowd was filled with a mix of onlookers, hecklers, protesters, and buyers. The buyers tended to be other fiends, or planars of mixed and bastardized blood.

Clueless considered two Vrocks at once a task he could accomplish, though it would be difficult. The Babau was less dangerous physically, but it might be able to take him down from a distance. The Alu-Fiend, for all her lack of armor or visible weapons, like a Cambion, was hard to read. She might have been the easiest of them all, or quite possibly the hardest. And Clueless did not see an elf matching his description.

As Nisha and Clueless continued to scan the crowd and the area at large, there was an argument starting near the front of the crowd over who had the winning bid on the nude aasimar woman on the stage. Two mercenary group leaders claimed it was they, and swords were being drawn as the Alu-Fiend stepped back.

"... F***ing hell... literally. Where is he...?" Clueless muttered as he flicked his wings for a moment to gain a few feet over the crowd and glance down the side streets in the event that his former comrade had already been sold and was yet in view.

The fight that was breaking out near the stage began to get more and more heated till the babau, who so far had been fairly reclusive up on the stage, walked forward, and at about a thirty foot distance simply stared at the two soldiers trading sword blows. Both soldiers immediately went rigid, clutched their heads and screamed. There was a clatter of steel on cobblestones and the crowd went silent and subdued very suddenly as the men writhed in agony on the ground.

“Well then… I’ll restart the bidding at 45 jink and see if any of you have the gold and the brains this time around to be reasonable…” The Alu-Fiend said as the men continued to moan.

“Well, that’s got to hurt…” Clueless said as he continued scanning the area, squirming forwards to see if he couldn’t find, and catch by the elbow, a less armored person who looked like they may have been here for a bit before himself.

Leaving Nisha to practice pickpocketing, Clueless found one man near the front of the crowd who appeared to be a merchant, or at least employed by one. A human, he appeared to be taking notes of the people sold, but hadn't appeared to be buying, or placing bids at all.

“Hey... may I ask you a question?" Clueless asked the man.

He turned around and raised an eyebrow before putting away his notebooks and extending a hand, “Forthran Darbus, planar trading consortium. How can I be of service cutter?”

Clueless nodded shook the man’s hand, “Clueless... I'm actually here looking for a particular elf, he got sold out in this direction by mistake.”

Forthran jerked his head back towards the stage, “Not so much mistakes involved with these I'm afraid to say. Most of them just picked up for lack of an armed escort, wherever they got taken. The consortium disapproves of the practice, but regardless, they like to keep tabs on who or what the market is supporting.”

Clueless nodded before he asked, "…Have there been elves already sold this day? Or yesterday perhaps…”

Darbus considered the question as he started flipping through his notebook. A number of pages later he looked back up and shook his head, “No… not today. However, mid morning yesterday, yes. At that time there was one elven female and one elven male sold, each of them in different lots.”

"Do you have a description of the male?"

Darbus chuckled, “I take my job seriously, they don't pay me for nothing. Estavan picks bloods for a purpose. And so yes, I do. Tall, thin, most elves are. Dressed in tattered blue and silver clothing, looks like he'd been stripped of armor but he still had a sword belt on him, empty of course. Mangled holy symbol, and had embroidered ones ripped from his clothing.”

Clueless nodded at the matching details of the description, “Could the holy symbol have at one time been Erevan Illsere?"

The planar trade consortium member pondered on it for a bit, “The colors fit, but it’s one heck of a trick to play on his own clergy... pardon my joke.”

"It wasn't his trick." Clueless said back darkly. “And may I inquire as to who picked him up and where I might find them?”

“Well, I did take note of several things: he went cheaper than expected despite his obvious martial training; something about a leg injury. He was sold to a group led by a Night Hag, she had a few Baatezu with her, they looked rogue, but I couldn't tell. My best guess is with the others they bought that morning, they're heading for the brewing conflict, what everyone else with a brain that’s not addled, is trying to avoid. Probably heading towards Center.”

Clueless frowned with some concern and then nodded a little, "Alright... ok. Now the trick is whether or not they've already left town or not..."

Darbus humored him with a quick answer, “Well, if a teleport answers that question…”

"They... teleported out?" Clueless have a low sigh as he ran a hand back through his hair.

“Right after payment. Eager to leave it looked like. I'd put jink on where they were going though, precisely where I'm not.”

"... alright. Where?" Clueless asked.

“How much is it worth to you?” Darbus smiled like a shark in Porphatys.

Nisha walked up next to the two of them and held out a handful of coin to the merchant with a smile. At the same time she dropped two empty purses with cut purse strings to the ground behind her back.

“Like I said, Center. Couple different names, Center of Woe, Center of Misery, Dandy Will's City, the big mercenary camp at the center of the Grey Waste. See, quirk of the plane, all three layers converge at the one spot that the city is on. With rumors, or not rumors, flooding up from Pluton, the place is the rallying point for all of the soldiers of fortune this side of the great wheel.”

Clueless nodded back, "...alright." His wings stiffened a little in the Sidhe equivalent of a sigh before relaxing again, "Alright.... how much did he go for?"

“8000 jink.”

“Garroth made around thirty thousand jink from the original sale… those slavers probably got him for some unknown price from our triple ruled friend, and they sold him for eight thousand?” Nisha said with a perplexed look on her face.

“Odd… was there a name for the buyer so I know who to ask for there? Or is she anonymous?” Clueless asked as Nisha handed Darbus some more coin, and surreptitiously dropped another empty coin purse behind her back.

“Hmm…let me look…” He said as he scanned the page of notes. “Ah, here it is. Marian Ravelsdotter.”

“Thank you.” Clueless said as he noticed that Nisha had once again slinked off into the crowd.

“'Good luck finding him. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to work.” Darbus tipped his hat at the bladesinger and started jotting down notations to keep up with the last auction that was well underway

Clueless found Nisha sitting down on a rock next to one of the support timbers of a building adjacent to the cages. “You up for coming to Center with me?”

“Mmm hmm.” She smiled up at him. “Well I’ve never been to Center, so this is like a vacation for me. Of sorts. If you consider the plane of pure evil to be a vacation. Let’s just say that I’m playing sensate for a day just because, or something like that. Who says I’m supposed to ever really make perfect sense.”

Nisha stood up, “So how you want to travel? From the map, Center is about a three day journey overland from here, no Styx access.”

Nisha paused and waited for Clueless’s reaction, “But, I try to be prepared for stuff like this…” She grinned and reached into her satchel.

"And I am rapidly becoming less and less surprised by this."

“Hold this...” She said as she handed Clueless ‘Xanxost’.

Clueless took the Slaadi head and poked the nose in a bit of random curiosity. “Tanar’ri resist weapons, cold, fire, and acid. Even acid caught on fire. Xanxost has tried that once, it didn’t work either.”

Clueless snickered softly as Nisha dug around some more and took out a long copper scroll tube. She slipped out a single vellum scroll before putting back the scroll case and stuffing ‘Xanxost’ back into her bag. “Alright, there’s only one use here, so lets hope that we won’t need to leave immediately when we get there. And it’s a little… ok a lot… beyond my normal ability to trigger, so cross your fingers.”

"I'll cross every appendage that I can..." Clueless said as he flipped his wings up and crossed them across one another with a grin.

Unfurling the scroll, Nisha muttered a few words, correcting her pronunciation once or twice, before tapping the page and uttering a command word. The town faded from view instantly and there was a sense of cold as they were both temporarily superimposed upon the Astral, but then something odd happened. There was a gut-wrenching feeling, like the pull of a magnet, and they both could mentally and physically feel the spell snag on something.

The spell abruptly ended and they both reappeared standing in the middle of a gray plane dotted with scrub and a few stunted trees. Off near the horizon they could see a large, walled city. But maybe a mile from them, a large wide hill broke the gray monotony with a glassy black obsidian monolith rising from its surface, perhaps a fifth of a mile or more into the sky. Symbols larger than both Clueless and Nisha were tall dotted the surface and glowed with a pale red light. There was a sense of both attraction and dread simultaneously emanating from the colossal block of glassy stone.

“Sodding hells...” Nisha muttered before she turned around and went deathly silent as she noticed the monolith.

"Nisha, where are we?" Clueless asked the tiefling.

Shemeska the Marauder's picture
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Joined: 2004-04-26
With the turning of Wheels

“This letter was left for you, though I’m afraid I didn’t see who brought it in. There isn’t a name on the envelope either.” The head of the serving staff said as she handed Florian a sealed envelope.

“Oh? Addressed to me?” The cleric asked.

“Oh, no sir, it was addressed to all of you.”

“Really?” Florian raised an eyebrow as he walked into the back room with the others.

“Just as long as it’s not a ransom note for Nisha and Clueless I’ll be fine with it. Bills, less so. And another offer to buy the inn, that goes right to the fire portal…” Toras said.

The envelope was simply marked to ‘The Owners of the Portal Jammer’ and contained a single short letter and a map. Fyrehowl sniffed at the air as the letter was unfolded and placed on the tabletop for all to read.

“Him again.” The lupinal said before the letter was fully laid out.

The letter read: “Greetings my past collaborators and may I once again congratulate you on a job well done from when last we saw fit to work with each other. While two of your companions are off rushing headlong into the Gray Waste on errands of their own, I have information for you that should perk your interest severely. I am aware that you wish to investigate certain… trade routes… mentioned by the Imshenviir mercane, as well as their shipments to ‘alleviate hunger’ there in Elysium’s layer of Belarian. I have information relating to this that may be vital to you, and once again this appears to be a case of mutual interest. Meet me in the ruins of the Temple of Eternal Darkness in UnderSigil at antipeak this evening.”

The letter was signed ‘The Cheshire Fiend’ and emblazoned with the triple circled symbol of the Wheels Within Wheels. The map gave a rough route down into the sewers, tunnels, and warrens below the streets of Sigil to a point and instructions to ‘follow the trail of silver’.

Fyrehowl looked up at the group, “As much as I know I really shouldn’t trust a self admitted fiend who arguably used us once already to set up an assassination, I’m worried about what may or may not be going on in my home plane. If he has information that I can pass on to the lord of Rubicon, I need to find out at least what he has to say and then judge it from there.”

“I’ll have to agree with you, as much as I don’t trust him as far as I could throw him.” Toras said.

“…you could probably throw him halfway across the room without really trying. That cliché really doesn’t work for someone built like you Toras…” Skalliska said with a smirk.

Toras smiled, “But I really trust you Skalliska. Shall we find out just how much?”

Skalliska huffed slightly as the half celestial flexed a bicep for a moment before Tristol interjected. “Has anyone here ever actually heard of the place he’s asking us to meet him at?”

There was silence all around before the kobold answered, if tentatively and with a pause in her voice. “I’ve never been there, it’s too close for my comfort to some rumored cranium rat hives and a few unmapped catacombs of unknown origin, definitely not Dustie. However, it was supposed to have been a Yugoloth stronghold within Sigil itself that they used to spy on the dreams of Sigil’s residents.”

Florian was about to ask a question before Skalliska cut her off, “And no, I don’t have a clue how they could do that. Some artifact or some such they were said to have. However the whole place was nearly demolished and then abandoned in the final days of the Faction War. At least that’s what I heard.”

“From this letter I wouldn’t be so sure that it was ever abandoned.” Tristol mused.

****

Clueless and Nisha hovered and looked at the massive monolith that dominated their view of the plane around them. Nisha glanced off at the horizon and pointed towards the walled city that lay several miles away.

“Well… we’re close enough to see Center…”, she said before motioning back at the monolith, “But whatever that thing is, it scragged my teleport.”

Clueless nodded, “…good enough then I guess. Maybe it’s some form of protection for the city?”

“Well, that’s no form of infernal that I’ve ever seen.” Nisha said as she pointed to the bizarre and glowing runes carved into its surface. “In fact, I’ve never seen any language even close to that, and I speak 6…”

Clueless peered at the runes on the obelisk closely, "You’re right, I’ve never seen it either.... I'm thinking we just shouldn't mess with it huh?"

“Sound’s good to me, it's something to ask Tristol or Skalliska about certainly.”

Clueless nodded, "Definitely."

Nisha took out a pen and started modifying her map of the Waste. As she concentrated on the map, Clueless watched with concern as the monolith began to hum just below audible range. But, while not hearing anything, he felt it vibrate through the thin membranes of his wings and he could feel the ground shaking, sending little trails running through the dust. As that occurred, the runes on the stone began to shift from red to blue and Clueless felt a wave of negative emotions rushing outwards from them like a tidal wave of crushing despair orders of magnitude worse than the normal misery of the Gray Waste.

“Um… Nisha? Uh oh…” He hastily blurted out as he reached over to grab hold of the tiefling, “…fly time.”

“Eeeep!” Nisha said with a squeal as Clueless burst into the air with her at his side while he tried to gain distance between themselves and the monolith.

Looking back at the stone spike rising up from the Waste like a headstone in the multiverse’s graveyard of morality, the runes seemed to be pulsing, almost like they were written upon a living being’s heart. The emotional agony melted away as the two grew further and further away from the stone, the emotional draining of the Waste seeming to retreat as the monolith grew more and more distant. Eventually, when they were approximately a mile away from the obelisk, it vanished, like desert mirage into a haze, and then was gone without a trace, swallowed up by the Waste.

“Disappearing monolith… fun fun…” Clueless said. Whatever the stone spire was, he felt a lingering dread at having seen it, and also that in some way it was something that was best left unseen and untouched.

Over the next few hours Clueless and Nisha approached to within twenty or so miles of the city of Center, making good time on a combination of the half-fey’s wings and a spell of expeditious retreat. Growing closer to the city they noticed a great flurry of activity on the ground that surrounded the city, though Center was more properly a fortified, iron walled citadel than it was a city. Death of Innocence was a city full of refugees; Center was, in great contrast to that safe haven, a gigantic mercenary camp.

While it was likely more of a trade city proper months or weeks prior, Center was currently surrounded by a sprawling mass of tent cities still popping up around the walls with masses of figures from dozens of races going through combat training. Scattered about they could also see mages here and there practicing spells and fiends marching about between the mercenary camps and the city itself which seemed as if it could barely hold the numbers straining to fit within its steel shod walls.

While Clueless and Nisha approached Center from its Niffleheim side, as the city had one side bordering on each of the three layers of the Waste, there was a massive contingent of Yugoloths camped outside the Pluton approach of the walls. They seemed to be keeping a safe distance from Center, however there was a large amount of foot traffic between their camp and many of the mercenary camps sprawling for miles around; recruiting…

Clueless hissed through his teeth briefly at the sight of the ‘loths as he looked for any visible night hags. Looking down the bladesinger noticed a few figures that might have been hags, each of them herding larvae and looking like they were selling them to the fiendish mercenaries, but having no luck selling them to the ‘loths.

Continuing to fly towards the city, they were within two miles of the gates, and they were not the only persons flying towards or around the city. A good number of Alu-Fiends and some cambions were flying above the ground clutter simply to avoid it and expedite their own travels, and near the Pluton gate there was a wizard or sorcerer with wings of flame, but they appeared to be the result of a spell and not a natural gift.

“Well,” Clueless said as he and Nisha looked for a spot to land, preferably a spot where people seemed to be registering or entering the city proper.

“Not the Pluton side please…” Nisha pleaded, “Fewer Yugoloth the better…”

Slowing his speed to a milling hover, they looked down at the city itself. The Yugoloths did have a large amount of traffic and there was a grandiose palace at the center of the city. The town was split into three distinct, separate sections, one of them being fully walled off from the other two, the Oinos bordering section of the city, likely to quarantine that portion of Center to avoid spreading the occasional plague from the Waste’s first layer into the other two sections of the populace.

After some deliberation between Nisha and himself, Clueless landed within one of the few open areas leading up to the Niffleheim bordering gate of the city. Mercenaries of nearly every lower planar race were passing by, to and from the city and their own contingents and companies surrounding the city. Nisha looked distinctly uncomfortable but followed along after Clueless, one hand on her sword. The bladesinger as well had loosened the wrappings on his own blade, Razor, so that in the event of a confrontation he could draw it easily.

While it took some time to work their way up to the gates, there were really no guards to speak of, no tax to enter the city, and no carts or wagons being checked. There was no security whatsoever, the encamped armies of Yugoloth allied mercenaries and the Pluton based ‘loth army that numbered well over a few hundred thousand was likely enough to dissuade any but the insane from causing anything above a drunken knife fight. However as the two walked through the open gates and into Center’s Niffleheim district, a man was shouting out that travel to the Oinos side of the town was restricted, requiring teleportation in, and a two day enforced quarantine to exit back to the rest of the city. Likely it was both for plague prevention, and that one half of the Yugoloth conflict was based on Oinos while the other side was firmly entrenched in Pluton; being that Mydianchlarus had personal command over the plagues of Oinos, it was likely that both precautions were tied together intimately…

Once they had passed by the gates it seemed that on each street corner there were posted signs directing new mercenaries to register for employment with the Yugoloth recruiters at the palace at the center of Center. Clueless kept his eyes peeled for anyone who might look like they’d be good and open to ask directions or locations. The half-fey also retracted his wings since he didn't want to risk some clueless yelling ‘Eladrin!’, pointing at him, and starting a massive riot.

“And where’s Kylie’s folks when you need them?” Nisha quipped as they passed a group of hooded Reaves and a cluster of fiend-touched lizardmen marching opposite them.

“Somehow I doubt that they have touts here Nisha.” Clueless replied as they walked further into the city.

The city streets rapidly branched out in a multitude of directions, all of them packed with people of every stripe, prime or lower planar, all of them. On some streets they passed the occasional random fight or brawl, all of them seeming to be on the law/chaos axis between Tanar’ri spawn and Baatezu spawned mortals. On the side of the street they passed a wild haired man in black robes who was alternately chanting and shouting out to passersby.

“The glory of the lower planes be unto Anthraxus! He shall reclaim his seat upon the Wasting Tower and the false lord shall be cast down to true death and so too to all those who support him!”

Of those who filled the streets along with Clueless and Nisha, no one seemed to be blinking at the crazed man’s statements, in fact the crowd actually seemed to support him, as he received cheers of approval from a large number of the mercenaries passing by. Clueless inhaled deeply at the whole matter and thought to himself that yes indeed, he certainly knew which side of the conflict Center and its inhabitants were on…

Some fifteen blocks away from the center of the city the area was filled with mostly inns, buildings converted to armor and weapons repair and making shops, wizards hawking their services, and everything else a sellsword might want, including the omnipresent brothels and whorehouses that were catering to persuasion and species one might imagine possible.

Nisha poked Clueless in the ribs, “Why do I have the wonderful feeling we'll eventually need to talk to a 'loth...”

"Cause we probably will..." He replied darkly, "Typical."

“Lead on, I'm following, and I really don't want to be alone in this crowd. It could be ugly if I run into any of these mercenaries drunk... though ten pounds of smokepowder will do wonders to clear a space in a crowd....” Nisha said as she patted her satchel with a loving smile.

"I'll have to... you have!?" Clueless gave a startled look at her before shaking his head.

The tiefling just grinned and patted her satchel again, “Antimagic field? What antimagic field?”

"Riiight." Clueless said as he smirked. "Well, lets go find us this Hag."

Several blocks more of wandering drew them closer to the palace and Clueless and Nisha continued looking for either any night hags or anyone who looked like they might be able to help them find her. While they didn’t find any hags, they did notice a number of tieflings wandering about who seemed like wandering recruiters. All of them wore a green and black uniform and they all seemed to be canvassing the people newly arrived to the city.

One of the tieflings approached the pair as they headed in his direction. The male tiefling, spiky hair and all, looked at the pair and smiled as he addressed them, “Looking for employment in the coming war? I can direct you to the right place.”

Clueless smiled back while Nisha tried to look normal, "...actually we're looking for someone. A night hag by the name of Marian Ravelsdotter."

The recruiter furrowed his brow and thought about the name for a moment. “I wouldn't know, but if she's signed up, she'd be on record with the scribes at the palace. That's where Palinarus is handling the entire recruitment effort before shipping out troops to Pluton to meet up with the larger force. One of his Lordship's assistants might know. They're available if you have good reason, He...” The tiefling paused and seemed to pale slightly, “ He isn't. Understandably, you don't just ask for a meeting with an Ultraloth.”

Clueless nodded back and added quietly, “Alright, and yeah, you don’t.”

Nisha smiled, and thanked him along with Clueless, before the recruiter pointed them towards the palace and walked away to accost a wizard and begin extolling to him the benefits of registering for the war with the Arcanoloths, they being in charge of any wizards recruited, pay being in jink and spells. The tiefling recruiter had spoken softer whenever he had referred to the Ultroloth Palinarus.

The pair slowly walked towards the center of the city, the crowd rushing around them, pressing in, fairly tight packed as they drew closer. Thirty minutes later they neared the palace that was built of black marble rather than the iron that was used to build most of the buildings in the Nifleheim portion of Center. In the blocks immediately surrounding the palace, traffic thinned out considerably, with most of the rank and file recruits not entering, but rather allowing their group leaders to sign them. As they looked up at the heights of the palace as it rose above the surrounding portions of the city Nisha made a disparaging comment regarding those who walked into the palace being the ones who could read and write, the rest being those who just did as they were told.

The palace was roughly four stories high, with three towers situated at the sides bordering the three layer specific portions of the city. A vaulted dome stood at the palace's center, it having a single spire rising up, overlooking the entire city and dwarfing the rest of the buildings in the entire city. Standing at the massive gates into the palace were posted five Mezzoloths in glimmering, rune scribed platemail and a Piscaloth dressed in the same; all of them carried black iron tridents scribed with golden sigils and swirling patterns. The guards seemed to be giving all those who entered the palace a cursory glance, though every so often they asked an entrant for their reasons for being there, perhaps using some form of magical thought detection.

Of those entering the palace it was mostly mercenary leaders along with individual warriors not aligned with a group, but the larger group was a mixture of wizards, sorcerers, and clerics. The clerics all seemed a dour or fanatical lot, all of them wearing the holy symbols of evil deities, mostly those associated with domains of death, disease, war, and conquest. Some of those entering the palace were of neutral aligned deities, but all of them being powers of war who, regardless of the exact nature of the conflict, the war furthered the power’s portfolio.

Clueless glanced at Nisha, “Under any other circumstance I’d say ladies first, but I was the one who dragged you into this, so I’ll be the brave one.”

And with that the bladesinger walked towards the gates. As he walked past one of the guards, the Piscaloth held up a ruby topped rod at him and Nisha, waving it slowly over them both. Neither Clueless nor Nisha felt anything, and it turned away from them both and did the same to the next group passing by behind them. Having cleared them apparently, one of the Mezzoloths waved its Oinian steel glaive at them and motioned for them to continue on inside.

Past the gates, a long marble hallway led to vaulted chamber near to the center of the palace, the first portions of the palace’s solid dome rising overhead, apparently freestanding. A large gateway on the opposite side of the chamber that likely led to the very center of the palace was closed and blocked by another group of Mezzoloths. In the center of the room was an armed tiefling who was directing new entries towards one doorway or another, or one of two staircases leading up into the palace’s central tower.

“Greetings cutter, how might I direct you?” The tiefling said in a courteous, businesslike manner as he approached Nisha and Clueless.

“I’m looking for someone, and I was told that they may have registered here. Marian Ravelsdotter? A night hag.”

He nodded, “Soldier, spellcaster, fiend, prime, what sort? Ah yes, spellcaster and fiendish… you’ll need to head straight and give this to the guards by the stairs, they’ll admit you.”

Clueless was handed a single black stone bearing a glowing arcane mark, and he swore that the tiefling had smirked as he handed it to him. The guards at the staircase the tiefling had indicated were two heavily armed and armored Nycaloths, not simply Mezzoloths. As Clueless and Nisha approached, one of the fiends simply held out his hand, the other had its hands on a sword on each hip.

“Here you go…” Clueless said as he handed the stone to the Nycaloth.

The Nycaloth said nothing as it took the stone, fingered a ring on its other hand, looked closely at both Clueless and Nisha and finally stood to the side and allowed them to pass. Clueless inwardly swallowed nervously, realizing just how deeply into things he and Nisha were getting, given that whoever they were being sent up to was guarded by a pair of Nycaloths, greater Yugoloths themselves.

Clueless and Nisha ascended the stairwell which led up and forwards and that eventually curved around in a long spiral, leading most likely to the top tower of the castle atop the central dome. Both of the pair looked nervously at one another as they ascended. Finally, winded from the climbing, the stairs eventually reached a single room, all of the other doors off from the stairs being locked or magically sealed.

The room they looked into was more a long gallery that had been converted into an office more than anything else. Two more Nycaloth guards flanked the open doorway but make no move to stop the pair, they only glanced at them but made no comment.

Past the door they could see in front of a large window overlooking the city a large stone desk stacked with maps and papers, and two figures. One, clearly the larger one, had its back turned to the pair, silently overlooking the city. The other was holding a long scroll and taking notes dictated from the other, though neither of them appeared to be saying anything.

Nisha’s tail quivered in time with her lower lip as she looked at the one turned away from them which stood some nine feet tall, dressed in a plain black robe, bald and sporting a disproportionately long cranium.

Clueless looked at the Ultroloth and whispered with incredulity, “…F*** me… and bend me over too.”

The one taking notes from the Ultroloth was, as was typical, an Arcanaloth. She was female and dressed in pale blue and purple wizards robes, looking much like a cut-rate Marauder, almost like she was trying to actually affect that one’s style of dress and mannerisms.

“…and here I was just looking for a night hag…” Clueless muttered under his breath as the arcanaloth held up her hand and gestured for him and Nisha to remain there for a moment as she finished scribing something.

Finally, she blotted her pen, in reality extinguishing the glowing red tip of the iron stylus in a pot of water next to the slowly wriggling Gehennan petitioner laid flat on an iron frame.

“Yes?” She asked impatiently.

“…I was looking for a certain Marian Ravelsdotter. I was told that if she had registered she would have done so here?” Clueless said nervously as Nisha tried to be as unnoticed as possible.

The Arcanaloth replied almost immediately, “A night hag, yes. She had a number of assorted sellswords and 'persuaded' help with her as well.”

“Do you know where I might find her, or more specifically, the persuaded help? I have business with them.”

Behind them, the Ultroloth began to turn around. Clueless blanched and immediately worried that somehow the fiend had recognized his voice from some portion of his past that he himself still didn’t remember. And for that brief moment he entertained the suicidal notion of drawing his blade and trying to kill it and its servitors, all of them.

As it turned around, its gray skin reflected ambient light, its luminous eyes glowing a pale orange and scarlet, unblinking. There was suddenly a voice ringing inside their heads with a sound like shattering glass and twisted iron nails being ground together, but otherwise it was merely uncomfortable.

“I have fools for guards, they know not to bother me with trivial matters. They're to send me wizards, not people looking for them. Do not waste my time idiot mortals.”

Clueless snapped his attention to the Ultroloth feeling cowed and intimidated. Nisha was on the floor, clutching her head. Clearly the Ultroloth’s displeasure was affecting the tiefling more so than Clueless.

Clueless bowed his head, “…my apologies.” However he looked up at the Arcanaloth since his question was still there to be answered.

The Arcanaloth was looking at the bladesinger, then at Nisha, raising one furred eyebrow like she had seen it before and was still amused by it even after all of her time serving Palinarus.

The Ultroloth’s voice crashed through Nisha and Clueless’s brains again, “Shylara will answer your questions, but I have more important things to do. Leave before I flay you alive.”

Clueless’s mind immediately paused at the Ultroloth’s mention of his scribe’s name. He’d seen the name before, and recently even. She had been mentioned in the notes of Dalmar Imshenviir, listed as having accompanied Vorkannis the Ebon to the mercane’s demiplane. Then what the hell was she doing there in Center, serving an Ultroloth as a recruiter for Anthraxus?

Clueless remained locked to the notion as Shylara nodded and walked towards the door, snapping a finger and having one of the Nycaloth guards bodily pick Nisha up from the floor to haul her out of the chamber as well. As the three of them exited the chamber, the Arcanaloth motioned at the door and it slammed shut with a resounding crash.

Clueless was tensed and his hand once more nearly reached for his sword as he would have sworn that the ‘loth seemed at once, both surprised and dreadfully amused to see him. But yet he couldn’t fully tell if she did in fact recognize him at all, and he wasn’t willing to ask in case she didn’t…

Nisha rose her feet, rubbing her temples, from where the Nycaloth had unceremoniously dumped her. She remained silent as the ‘loth looked to Clueless, “Now, as to your question?”

Clueless reached out a hand to stabilize Nisha as the ‘loth continued. “Ravelsdotter is likely near the Oinos side of town. If not actually outside the walls, then wandering the Pluton side, selling larvae, or a number of slaves she had with her. If I might ask, why the interest in the hag?”

Cautiously Clueless responded, "It was more one of the slaves she had. I had some personal business with him that needs to be resolved."

Shylara nodded, scratching at some terribly persistent itch on one of her ears. “Slave or free, we all have a place in the war to come, and it likely won't be long now. I hear tell that Anthraxus grows impatient, among other rumors.”

Something in the ‘loth’s tone sounded haughty, vain, belligerent even if one suspected her to be anything but utterly and completely loyal. Or perhaps Clueless was only reading too much into her tone considering who he had seen her name in connection with before.

Clueless looked to where Shylara was urgently scratching at some perceived itch with bared claws, "Um, excuse me, if I may? That seems... an awkward position for you to get at. Would you like help...?"

She stopped itching and chuckled, “No.” The answer was rather firm and Nisha noticed that where the ‘loth had been itching the fur wasn’t displaced or even tousled despite the almost frantic scratching with bared claws that she had been engaged in.

Clueless nodded, "Very well, I felt the offer would be appropriate at the least. I've actually heard of you… outside of this city..."

She snapped back, “I would doubt you have, I keep busy. In the coming days however, that is apt to change.”

Nisha jabbed Clueless in the ribs, sharply, as he said again, "No. Truly, I have."

And again Shylara answered in measured, forceful tones, “The hag likely won't remain in the city much longer, she's apt to travel to Anthraxus's camp in the next day at most. Allies flock to us like flies. Xenghara the reaper has allied himself with Lord Anthraxus even. What more can I say when the Lords of the Grey Waste increasingly choose sides, and ours at that. Now go and find your hag.”

As she turned to leave, Clueless said to her, “Good day… well wishes to your plans madam.”

Dismissing Clueless’s last statement the Arcanaloth turned and walked back into the office, immediately appearing to grovel as she opened the doors and stepped back into the Ultroloth’s presence. Her tone was abruptly different with Palinarus than it had been with Clueless.

Clueless bit his tongue and held back from adding, “And tell the Ebon hello for me!” as Nisha kicked him in the leg and tried to drag him back down the stairs.

Nisha stared heavily at Clueless on the way down the stairs, looking like she was on the verge of flipping out on him. Still, the tiefling winced and held the side of her head on occasion as they quickly descended the stairs.

“Berk was doing his best mind flayer impression in there…” She complained with another wince.

“Yep… that’s what they do… Listen Nisha, I’m sorry, - that – was unexpected.” Clueless said to her.

As the pair reached the bottom of the stairs, Nisha groaned and held the side of her head again. One of the Nycaloth guards took back the black stone they carried and the other chuckled at Nisha’s plight. Clearly they had seen it happen before and clearly they found it to be a veritable riot. Without a word to the fiends, Clueless and Nisha quickly left the palace.

Once outside Nisha looked Clueless, “You know, I don’t think she wanted us to be there.”

“Probably not. In fact, I’m sure that she’s not a happy camper right now on multiple levels.” Clueless replied.

“Good for her, overgrown puppy…” Nisha said with a smirk.

Clueless leaned over to whisper in Nisha’s ear, “…fleas.”

“Or something…” Nisha said as she looked to Clueless, “So, where to now? I didn’t exactly hear most of what all went on in there. I had a damned gray noodle with eyes trying to screw my brain through my nose…”

****

They had spent two hours walking within the pitch black tunnels of The Great Below and had seen little alive or moving, though the signs of frequent passage or habitation littered the forgotten vaults and passages that wormed their way like the midnight exploits of drunken dwarven miners. While they never saw any cranium rats alive, they did find their corpses, most of them dead without any exterior signs of damage that Tristol made mention of appearing to be due to magic of an unusual nature that he wasn’t familiar with.

“So, Fyrehowl, any luck on smelling anything?” Toras asked the lupinal.

“Why do you ask?” She replied.

“I figured that an underground fortress of Yugoloths must be permeated with whatever smell they give off. Shouldn’t you be able to smell it before the rest of us?”

“It’s pretty nasty down here anyways, and there’s not much air movement to help me tell where anything was coming from, even if I did smell the place. Plus, like Skalliska said, the place has supposedly been abandoned for onwards of five years. Smells linger, but not that strong after so many years.” Fyrehowl shrugged as they continued walking.

“Anyways, we’re almost at the end of the map here, so start looking for a trail of silver, whatever they meant by that.” The kobold glanced down each of the side passages they passed while she kept the map levitating out a foot or so above and in front of her snout for easy reference.

“Well hello…” Fyrehowl said as the architecture of the hallways changed abruptly over the next fifty yards of the tunnel. The rough hewn stone of the passage melted away first into smoother and almost finished stonework before transitioning into walls of fitted and polished black marble that gave the look of a mirrored ocean of darkness whose waves lapped at the light of their torches as they approached.

Skalliska hastily put away the map and looked down at the floor of the passage where their current hallway intersected another at right angles perhaps thirty feet ahead, “Nobody step into the center of the intersection up ahead.”

They all paused at the periphery of the junction and glanced at the circular seal that was cut and molded into the floor. Decorated in a mixture of precious metals and covered in glyphs and symbols in a mixture of Infernal and Abyssal, each of them carved and decorated in some meticulous pattern or symbology, the seal resembled nothing so much as one of the oddly beautiful manadalas of certain religious sects in Sigil’s Lotus Blossom District. However where they gave off an aura of peace and tranquility, the seal set within the mirror polished black marble gave off an aura of despair and malice.

“And damn if that thing isn’t magical…” Tristol said, a moment after he jerked backwards, following the completion of a cantrip to detect magic.

“Any idea of what it is, or if it’s trapped?” Fyrehowl asked the wizard.

“Nothing that seems malign actually, unless you count a series of forbiddance spells worked into in. Undead, cranium rats… and Dabus… are warded against entry down three of these corridors, just not the one we came here from. There look like there are a few remnants of alarm spells, and a few already triggered contingencies that looked… pretty ugly.”

“And there’s our trail of silver.” Fyrehowl said, pointing at a twisted symbol that emerged from the edge of the seal and protruded several inches into the corridor to their right. The silver etched into the marble called into mind that of the Gray Waste, while a gold and an iron symbol that were similar to the sigils of Carceri and Gehenna protruded down two of the other corridors.

Glancing at each other, they proceeded down the marked corridor with unease. The corridor retained its mirror bright polish as they continued past a number of equally decadent side passages, turning to follow the direction of the silver symbol at each of the intersections they came to. The corridor gradually expanded in breadth and they passed a number of fragmented and long expanded wards and spelltraps intended to obliterate intruders, all of them growing in power as they approached the final destination of the passage.

A single, cavern-like chamber stretched out around them as they emerged from the hallway. Fyrehowl, Toras, and Florian immediately winced from the nearly palpable weight of the unhallowed air that swirled around them. At the center of the vault was a massive cylindrical shaft of cracked, blood colored crystal that swirled with motes of darkness frozen into its matrix. However, the shaft was scorched by flames and broken halfway up its height and the rest of its bulk above there lay dashed across the floor of the sanctuary, broken and forgotten.

Several chambers lay at the periphery of the vault and those of the companions who had hair on the back of the necks felt it rise in the telltale, uncomfortable sign of being observed. Toras’s hand gripped his sword and Fyrehowl tensed as they and the others looked across the abandoned temple’s expanse at the abandoned and broken fiendish weapons and armor that littered the ground where their owners had fallen in battle. But despite the signs of abandonment, the temple was by no means forgotten or wholly abandoned by all of its former kin.

The smell of fiend was oppressive to Fyrehowl, and it surrounded them on almost all sides from the ruined chambers of the abandoned temple. The lupinal’s nose detected the heavy scent of Mezzoloths, as many or more than in the mercanes’ demiplanar castle, and a large number of Dergholoths, Piscaloths, and Canoloths; though none of them showed themselves openly.

“Well,” a cultured and mellifluous voice said as it rippled across the chamber like poisoned honey, “My appreciation and thanks for answering my summons, I will endeavor to make this worth your time.”

The voice came from a figure that hovered slightly off of the mirror polished black marble of the sanctuary floor, dressed in, or rather composed of, a black robe that was trimmed in gold, a pair of black gloves that hung in place at the cuffs of the robe, and a brilliant blue smile that hovered where a normal being’s head would have been. The illusory projection of the Cheshire Fiend smiled, as always, as the group approached.

“Your letter was interesting, and you certainly have our attention, if not absolutely our trust at the moment.” Fyrehowl said to the illusionary avatar of their would-be benefactor.

“Indeed, such is to be expected I figure, being what I am and all, I don’t have the most sterling reputation of being honest or being straightforward. However, be that as it may, this is very much a case of mutual interest as it was last time.” The fiend smiled wider and paced across the chamber, as best it could without having feet.

Fyrehowl glanced warily at the adjacent chambers of the sanctuary as she questioned the fiend, “So what can you tell us about the mercane and Belarian?”

“And what exactly is it you want from us for that information?” Florian added.

The blue grin chuckled, “Trust me on this…”

Tristol scoffed.

“Let us simply say that I exist as part of a specific faction within the Yugoloth hierarchy.” The Cheshire Fiend held up one ‘hand’ and a shimmering illusion appeared in the air of the triple circle symbol of the Wheels Within Wheels. “War is brewing on the Waste between those of my race loyal to the former Oinoloth, Anthraxus the Decayed, and the current Oinoloth, Mydianchlarus. Within the conflict that is coming there exists opportunity to conveniently dispose of one’s rivals within the haze of events before, during, and immediately after both sides erupt into open conflict. Suffice to say, I wish to see certain groups rise while others fall.”

The fiend paused and allowed his words to sink in before he continued. “A small group of my kind has taken refuge in Elysium, of all places, working with a nearly fallen lupinal for mutual benefit. They seek to obtain a certain prize that exists upon the plane, and the guardinal seeks, in his own way, to atone for a stain upon his home plane and upon his race. Ask Duke Jalinon, the Leonal commander of Rubicon to explain what I mean by taint. It’s your race’s secret after all, I shouldn’t go and spoil it.”

Fyrehowl looked at the Cheshire Fiend with suspicion as it continued to speak.

“They aren’t making as much progress as they would like, but that’s where the mercane came into play. They were delivering living mortal slaves and a number of other supplies to the fiends in Belarian. ‘To alleviate hunger’ most certainly… Suffice to say I wish to see the inhabitants within their hidden tower in Belarian to perish to the last, butcher them all. Those upon Belarian are loyal to Mydianchlarus, though they only recently they came into power in a coup over the former faction that was loyal to Anthraxus. The Wheels would have those currently in power removed utterly.”

“So you’re willing to help Elysium, even going so far as to do something ‘good’ just to score political points in the civil war that you have brewing, so you say?” Toras asked bluntly.

The Cheshire Fiend responded to the question with a fervor that dripped with hatred, “Very much so. You rid yourself of fiends in the heart of the plane of pure good and we rid ourselves of a bothersome element of our enemies. Our plans are not petty little machinations. The death of Mydianchlarus was foreordained. Wheels Within Wheels.”

****

Shemeska the Marauder's picture
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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

Nisha and Clueless pressed through the crowd of mercenaries and merchants as they headed towards the Pluton district of Center. The bladesinger glanced over to the tiefling, “Well since she's about to head off to another camp tomorrow or so I figure we should start looking right now. For the moment she's likely near the Oinos side - outside the walls, or wandering the Pluton side, selling larvae. We'll try Pluton first since there’s no quarantine on the way back."

Nisha chuckled, “Thank you... disease is bad.”

"That too... I'm not in the mood to rescue the cleric, turn around and go 'oh and by the way....'"

As the two of them approached the entrance to the Pluton side of the city after a few more blocks of walking they found the streets less crowded, though it seemed that there were a larger number of spellcasters and highups wandering the streets. Rather than iron, the buildings all seemed to have been cut from one huge block of marble.

Strolling through the black marble gateway that marked the boundary of the Pluton sector of Center they passed a group of possibly drunk half-orc and tiefling mercenaries. They red-faced, laughing and staggering men were also pulling along a shabbily dressed woman along with them and one of them audibly boasted about the price that “That withered old hag charged us for a nights worth of free whoring!”

Clueless stopped in midstep and turned to approach the gang of sellswords, "Hold! Which hag was this?"

The men stopped and two of them drew swords before their leader held his hand up to stop them.

Clueless smirked a little, falling into the mood of things, "I already got one of those - she needs a birthday present."

The mercenary leader chuckled, “Sorry berk, but we got the last fairer sex from her. But if you're into anything else, she's got a cripple left. Down the street and past the potion peddler.”

Clueless nodded while Nisha stared daggers into his back before the merc captain laughed at them both, goosed his new property and walked off down the street with his gang in tow. As a few of the drunkards moved off they tossed a couple insults after them as the group moved away to enjoy their purchase.

“Which one of you two’s the woman?”

“Hope you didn’t pay much for him sweety!”

“He ‘aint interested in you honey, not by the looks of him. Prissy elf.”

Clueless muttered, “Thanks.” As the band moved off and then he turned to face Nisha who looked none too happy.

“You couldn’t come up with a better story than you’d bought me and wanted to get me a ‘present’? Oh please. I’d love for anyone to try. They’d be missing more than their purse by the end of it.” Nisha said pointedly, “I grew up in the Hive, believe me that could have been a career option. Same if you’d grown up there too… prissy elf boy.”

Nisha winked at the last comment, obviously enjoying passing along one of the drunkards insults to Clueless who didn’t have a drop of actual elven blood in him at all. Most simply had never seen one of his kind.

“Anyways, a bit of words aside, let’s go and we’ll yammer more about that later? Come on.”

“Sorry about that, I was looking for some way to find exactly where they’d seen that hag. Truly I’m sorry Nisha…” Clueless said as he walked alongside the tiefling who had dropped any irritation and was then simply verbally jabbing her companion for the sake of jabbing.

“Let's scoot before someone buys him up. That cripple sounds like our target.” The bladesinger said as he and Nisha quickly walked to the end of the street. There they could see a cluster of fiends and a single tall and crooked night hag standing in front of a number of larvae, and a bound, hobbling elf.

One of the five imps hanging around the hag turned around and took notice of the pair as they approached, “In the market for a slave sir? Good eating, good killing, and claims to be trained in healing. Buy ‘em and fight off the diseases of Oinos for you and your fellow swordsman.”

Clueless looked at the crippled elf dispassionately, "Oddly enough - yes I am in the market."

Nisha noted that the elf’s leg was heavily bandaged and soaked through with blood. As well, the man was dressed in tattered clerical vestments and seemed to favor his other leg heavily. In truth it seemed like the man they had come to find.

All five imps turned around then along with a robed Amnizu and the Night Hag who had a Wastrel familiar perched on her shoulder, its reddish eyes glowing dimly.

The Hag smiled a grin of broken, crooked and yellowed teeth at her two potential customers, “Now just what can Marian do for you today child?”

Clueless pointed down at the elf, "That one... he's injured... but elves live long, if they're in the right spot. What's your asking price for him?"

The elf was shoved by one of the imps and he slowly began to turn around, a wretched and despondent look on his face while the hag continued to grace the world with her own grimy yellow and mottled brown grin.

As the elf saw Clueless, at first he didn't make much of a response, then he wrinkled his face and just seemed to be confused or thinking heavily. Clueless noticed and muttered to himself and the elf in elven, “Stillness” an old codeword they had used in the past that they had used to mean that one of them had a plan and to run with it.

The Hag looked over both Clueless and then Nisha. “You can use him, so twenty thousand.”

Both of them winced at the highball cost but gathered that she was simply tossing out an obscene sum to see if he would bite. Nisha continued to scoff at the cost and looked at the hag while she pointed down at the elf’s bundled leg, “What’s wrong with his leg? And can I at least take a look at it?”

Clueless nodded to the tiefling, "... see if it can be fixed..."

Marian nodded and grumbled, “Go ahead. It festered, but it'll heal, he can walk.”

Nisha wandered over and looked at the cleric’s bad leg. Looking under the bandages she got a wide-eyed look and almost touched the gaping wound in his ankle. Her expression of shock wasn’t put on for dramatic purpose.

“Bad is hardly a word for it.” Nisha said as she looked to Clueless and then to the hag. “It’ll end up costing us a cleric to heal it properly.”

Marian chuckled and as she grinned again so did all the imps, almost on cue. The Amnizu rolled his eyes.

Clueless nodded to Nisha then looked at the hag with a raised eyebrow, "I've got the feeling there’s a reason he's the last of your merchandise. Would you like to make a different offer, ma'am?"

“10,000 then dear…” The hag said.

Clueless nodded, "That's doable."

At the bladesinger’s acceptance of the price, Marian’s smile actually became legit. “How about I throw in a larvae too, tell your friends who you bought him from?”

"Um, sure... I'm sure they'll ask." Clueless said, taken back and befuddled by the offer somewhat.

Marian smiled again and gestured to the gaggle of imps, “Or an Imp. I'll give you one of them if that'd be better for you.”

As the hag made mention of the imps they all turned to her, eyes buggy. The Amnizu chuckled at their expense but said nothing.

"I think they would miss your presence..." Clueless said with a chuckle.

“Yeah, sure they would...” said the Amnizu with another roll of its eyes which garnered it Ravelsdotter’s familiar shooting it ‘the look’.

Clueless inwardly could only think that the rest of his party would end up freaking if he walked back with either of those two freebies. Nisha imagined chasing Toras around the inn with a wriggling larva.

As Clueless shook his head in the negative towards the imps the hag held out a bag to take her payment. After she counted the coins with a cantrip she then handed the chain attached to the elf to Nisha.

“And yer larva… take ‘em out whenever ye want. ‘Ol Marian only sells the best of them.” The hag said as she took out a small gem, spokes a command word and one of the larvae disappeared from the group in front of her while the gem began to glow.

"Thank you..." Clueless said as he took the gem and smiled. "Well wishes to your business..."

She handed the gem to the bladesinger, smiled a gap toothed smile and walked off down the street, chatting with the Amnizu as the imps ushered the larvae to follow.

“…Damn but this has been a chase after you, you know?” Clueless said in elven as he knelt down to examine his companion’s leg while Nisha unlocked the shackles around his wrists and ankles.

The cleric looked up at them both and whispered, “I know you, one of you, but I can't remember your name, or even my own.”

Clueless reached out to brush the elf’s hair back gently, "That's ok. I don't know my name either... I've still got the thing in my leg that they took from yours."

The elf shuddered at the mention of the gem from his leg, “They put something in my leg, made me do things, like I was a spectator in my own head.”

Clueless nodded back, "Trust me, I know the feeling."

Looking down at the elf’s leg there was a gaping, bleeding hole where the gem had been and it was clearly infected. The gem appeared to have been ripped out, but removed by surgery. Nisha wrinkled her nose at the hole "And we're gonna have to get you someplace to tend to this thing."

"I've got *lots* of questions for you, but I also have an idea where you're supposed to be. Will you trust me to get you there?" The half-fey said to his former adventuring partner.

The cleric looked up, on the verge of tears, “Yes. Please just get me away from this place though, it’s been eating away at my soul since I came here…”

Clueless nodded and supported him as they began to move again. He looked over to Nisha and motioned to the elf, "Hey Nisha, meet well - one of the other guys who used to have a rock in their ankle."

Nisha looked at them both, “It does that, and nice to meet you. Can we leave?” She pranced back and forth nervously on her hooves. “No teleports left, no planeshifts either. I'd like to leave the lower planes though.”

"Rightio. Well..." Clueless paused to think for a moment, "I doubt we want to ask for portals out of here."

“Umm... no.” The tiefling quipped as they passed a group of cambions.

"Let's see what my next trick of the day is..." The bladesinger muttered as he tapped the bubble of golden liquid in the choker at his neck. He recalled the basic idea of a Planeshift and brought to mind the vague image of the outlands and the city of Tradegate.

Nisha winced as Clueless took her hand and they all abruptly vanished from the streets. Clueless felt a burning in his veins as he used the liquid magic, whatever it was, and it staggered him for a moment as they blinked back into existence. It had never done that before, but neither had he attempted to use the liquid to extend himself so far beyond his own normal ability to cast spells.

As the feeling left his head he released the button with a cough and a wince before he was doubled over by a spasm of pain that felt like his blood had been ignited. “Oh that f*ing hurt…ow.”

“Wow, you got us back!” Nisha said almost incredulously as the cleric knelt down on his knees, kissing the ground and praying.

“Don’t sound too surprised there Nisha…” Clueless said, as the pain receded, though not entirely.

The air was cold and they had reappeared on a flat, nearly featureless plane. The sky was hazy and with no sun, only a soft and washed out glow from no particular source, while off in the distance the spire rose up into the clouds.

Nisha looked at Clueless, “Tradegate? Faunal? Fortitude?”

"I was aiming for Tradegate..." Clueless answered back.

“Well planeshift isn't aimed, that'd be a gate.”

The bladesinger laughed sharply, "I think a gate would have taken my head off… Do you have any teleports left?"

Nisha squirmed a bit before answering, “Yeah. Kinda. You?”

Clueless raised an eyebrow at her, "...Not really. I kind of pushed my luck already. On the other hand - I'll buy ya a new set of scrolls..."

The tiefling shrugged as she took out a scroll case made of some sort of hide, inscribed with a holy symbol of Talona. She whistled innocently as she took it out before mentioning, “Drunken spellcasters and tight crowds are my friend.”

An eyebrow went up on Clueless’s face in reply, "Fun fun fun."

Nisha popped it open and began jury-rigging the spell. As it went off after only a few attempts to trigger it they found themselves standing on the edge of the gatetown of Faunel.

“Inn & healer? Or can you cast that yourself now that we got the chains off you? They had stuff written on them that looked like curses to prevent you from casting…” Nisha asked the elf.

He nodded back slowly, “Food and water please.”

Clueless looked to Nisha, "He may not even be *aware* of the ability to do that. But,” he said, then looking over and nodding, "Food and water it is. I could use breakfast myself."

A half hour later, the three of them sat in a private room in an inn in the gatetown, Nisha having paid for it with the jink of the same drunken caster whose scroll had gotten them to the town in the first place. Clueless had cleaned the elf’s wounded leg out and changed the dressings on it while Nisha had paid for food and extra blankets to be brought up to the room.

The elf had already begun to recite a litany of prayers, and slowly but surely some color returned to his flesh and the hole in his ankle began to seal. While it would likely leave a permanent scar it would heal and he would walk again without difficulty in all likelihood. By the end of his prayers there was no lingering trace of the gem or anything else in the wound aside from the livid scar across his ankle where it had once been embedded down to the bone.

Nearly an hour later he looked up from his devotions and whispered something, “They sent me to the mazes…”

****

Tristol looked at the rest of his fellows as they stood around him just outside Tradegate where they had arrived by way of its portal from Sigil. It had been several hours since they had met with the Cheshire Fiend in the depths of Sigil’s Great Below, and they were collectively worried about what they would find when they investigated the second layer of the plane of ultimate good.

“Everyone ready?” The aasimar mage said as he twitched his tail steadily behind himself.

There was a smattering of ‘yes’ answers from the group before Fyrehowl asked a question to them all.

“So we’re agreed once we get there to travel to Rubicon and find out if they have any knowledge of this all, or anything else they can tell us before we go running in? I think it best to let them at least know what we know, and what the …fiend… told us before we get ourselves into trouble. After all, if we die in the process without telling them what’s going on then it’s all for naught.”
“I can’t find a problem with that.” Florian said with a nod.

“Same here, it’s a reasonable idea and they can at least tell us a bit about the layer we’ll be on once we arrive there.” Toras replied.

Skalliska nodded and asked another question, “Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but for a plane of pure good I’ve heard some rather strange things about that second layer, Belarian.”

Fyrehowl looked slightly amiss, but Tristol picked up the question. “How so, I’m not super familiar with it myself. Sure I’m a few generations descended from someone on the plane, but I’ve never actually been there or read much about it.”

The kobold flashed a grin before she started lecturing. “Like I said, for a plane of pure good the second layer is pretty nasty and has the tendency to belch out evil creatures, usually corrupted animals and such but every so often a fiend will blunder out of the swamp.”

Skalliska glanced to the lupinal who again could only shrug.

“Of course they can’t leave the plane or get off the layer because it’s sealed off from the rest of the planes and even the rest of Elysium. How, nobody really knows, and the Guardinals won’t talk about it, or seem to not know the dark of it themselves. But the only way in or out of the plane is by the river Oceanus.”

Toras interjected, “And anything evil that tries to get out that way gets roasted by the river pretty much.”

“Exactly, it’s a river of holy water more or less. Anything there on Belarian that’s evil is trapped there. Just don’t ask me how they could have gotten in in the first place, or why they’d even be there. It’s a contradiction for the place to be like that really, and it’s confusing to say the least.”

Again, Fyrehowl shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you honestly. I’ve never actually been to that layer in all my years, only the other three layers. Very few people actually travel to Belarian. But,” she said, “We will soon and we’ll answer whatever questions you have I figure.”

And with that, Tristol completed his spell and they all felt an immediate tug on their beings as the world dissolved around them in a flash of brilliant light. The transition between planes felt much more different than their previous travels to Acheron, the ethereal, or even the Outlands. After a brief burst of cold as their essence tunneled through the Astral they felt a warmth and sense of joy as the world once again took form around them when they reappeared on a mountainside in Elysium’s second layer of Eronia.

Fyrehowl smiled, closed her eyes and slowly breathed as she once again took in the feel of the plane of her origin. As she basked in the essence of the plane the others could only stare and wonder at the plane surrounding them all. Brilliant sunlight shimmered down from a perfect blue sky that rained down sunlight upon a land of tall, majestic mountains and sheltered verdant valleys of pure, untouched natural beauty. And above it all was the sense of unquestioning belonging extending from the very air itself they breathed.

“Don’t stare and wonder too long, it’ll make it harder to leave when we have to eventually.” The lupinal said to her friends as they shook their heads and followed her down the mountainside towards one of the forested vales below. At the edge of the vale ran the shimmering, sun-touched ribbon of blue that marked the edge of the great river Oceanus.

“What was that?” Tristol asked he blinked. A single tear ran down his face as he turned away from the sky above.

“Don’t become too attached or you won’t be able to leave. It’s the mirror of Hades. That plane takes away your free will, your feelings, your beliefs and your spirit and leaves you apathetic, drained and unable to leave by your own actions. Elysium though makes you unwilling to leave. Having seen the face of perfection, how could you abide to separate yourself from it? We have something to do though, come.”

Together and resolute they moved steadily to the river on the horizon that would eventually bring them to Belarian and the fortress of Rubicon. With the sun shining down warmly and the wind at their backs they proceeded steadfast and smiling, the plane itself rewarding the will and intent to do good.

****

The Keeper of the Tower was smiling as he gazed down at a series of reports that lay scattered across his desk in an organized chaos of paper, petitioners and sensory stones. Helekanalaith reached up and adjusted the gold rimmed spectacles perched on his snout as habit, though in truth neither he nor any other of his kind needed them, it simply happened to be an affectation to imply greater wisdom or knowledge.

“And I trust that you’ve sent the Elysian bastards a fine little present of well meaning deceit?” The Keeper never looked up at his current guest as he spoke.

“Everyone involved with me gets what they want, more or less, I aim to please all. Anyone involved in this who hasn’t been dealing with me… well… let’s just say they’ll have what’s been coming to them. No?”

Helekanalaith glanced up into the shimmering blue grin that hovered in the air in front of his desk. This time the smiling icon had affected a pair of spectacles like his own and sprouted fangs. But still, the Cheshire Fiend seemed entirely too chipper at times.

“Everything will happen as The Ebon has planned down to the last drop of blood spilt on planes as far removed as Celestia and the Abyss. A pity I won’t be directly involved in it before it’s all reached a climax. But when is our kind ever directly involved? Let the Mezzoloths fight while we push paper and pull strings. After all, it’s how we’ve always done things.” The Keeper said as he smiled back at his representative who flashed cobalt fangs in reply.

“But we do get to enjoy the benefits of being on a winning side, something which not everyone in this conflict will be a part of. Assuming of course that all goes as planned.”

“It had better. I’ve already had to give up a toy of mine in this all and if things don’t work according to our plans then I’m second in line to face the consequences when the dust settles and the blood dries. The Ebon would of course be directly held accountable, not that I see any flaw in his plans in the slightest.” Helekanalaith said, hastily adding the final conditional to his last statement as he felt an unsettling chill pass over him. The same occurred whenever he had spoken his co-conspirator’s name aloud in anything but high esteem.

“In any event my lord, do you have any further instructions for me to carryout before I return to my duties? I have to go send two more to Elysium to meet up with their fellows. They’ll be needed for what we’ve sent them to do.” The Cheshire Fiend said as it looked at the Keeper.

Helekanalaith thought for a moment before replying. “Yes. Continue to ensure that the Marauder has little use of her own toy for the moment. Being as how I’m to be denied the use of my own to further The Ebon’s designs I feel it only equitable that she and I at least be equal partners in this all. I believe that you can accomplish that, and again, make sure that they carry out what needs to be done in Elysium. Mydianchlarus’s followers must be butchered to the last and make certain that the rogue lupinal dies quickly. I have no wish for him to be questioned, not that he knows much more than he’s been told or deludes himself into believing.”

The Cheshire Fiend nodded back, “She won’t have access to him for several more days at the very least; more if I can help it. As for the rest of it, trust in me my lord. It’s not an entirely alien concept to us all, and you know me better than most I should think.”

The Keeper sighed and removed his glasses before looking pointedly at his servant, “I know the meaning of trust among our kind more so than most. I know just what it means for us to express it and the logical ends to which it proceeds. I have learned through that that pragmatism is the best I should aim for in all cases, and I am ultimately pragmatic in all things including this current endeavor. As for trusting you? You’ve never failed me in anything where blame could be placed upon you, but do keep in mind that I have more offspring than just yourself…”

****

The cleric’s voice was soft and shaken as he repeated himself and looked up at Clueless, “They sent me to the mazes…”

Clueless nodded to his friend, “They sent me to one too. How’d you get out?”

“They sent one of the Mercykillers after me, find out what I saw… They sent me to one of The Lady’s mazes…” He was shaking at the memory and starting to weep.

Clueless walked over and wrapped an arm around his shoulder to console him. The man seemed seconds away from a panic attack as he seemed to be recalling his memories of the events he had been a silent witness to now as the lingering touch of the Waste had lost its grip on his mind and spirit.

“Do you know where they sent me?” The cleric asked softly.

“The Lady’s mazes, that’s all you’ve said.”

“No… which one?” He clarified.

Clueless shook his head, “No, where did they send you?”

He took a deep breath and replied with a single word, “Terrance.”

Clueless inhaled deeply as well. Terrance had been the Factol of the Athar. “...F*ck.”

The elf continued with a harrowed voice, “Me, I had my faith tested for 8 days, and I can't even remember what it was that I spoke to him about in there. It was only he and I… and the maze. It was like She'd taken a part of Sigil and spun it off into somewhere else, but changed it, altered it to how it once was. And how it never was.”

“In there,” He continued, “In the maze with Terrance, was the Shattered Temple, only it wasn't shattered. It was there, all of it, in the height of its glory. Thrown in Terrance’s face, telling him he was wrong. But it was also telling him he was right in a way. Every symbol of Aoskar in that temple was broken, torn asunder, pierced through with blades. It was a monument to every power in the multiverse and an epithet for one at the same time. She's teaching him a lesson, but I can't remember what it was. They took my memories from me…”

Clueless nodded as he listened, occasionally brushing his hair back gently and nodded. Nisha placed some food and drink before them both and let the exchange between old comrades continue without her interference otherwise. The man had been through an experience she didn’t envy, and Clueless had shared in a similar one that she could not, nor would she care to, claim.

"He might learn it eventually. There's a man that may help your memories if you wish..." Clueless said, bringing to mind the Githzerai with the Bleakers who had helped him originally.

“I’m not certain I wish to remember. Whatever happened in there I do know that Terrance refused to answer some of the questions I heard myself asking him repeatedly. He said that he would rot in there for eternity before he told me those answers. He was frightened I think of whatever it was that I asked him, and even more afraid of answering. There was terror in his eyes…”

****

Shemeska the Marauder's picture
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Joined: 2004-04-26
Turning and turning in widening gyre...

"And out of good still to find means of evil."
Paradise Lost. Book i. Line 165. - John Milton

The next two days passed in a blur of paradise as the group sailed down the river Oceanus on a slim boat while the sun shown down warmly and the breeze was always filling the ship’s sails to their fullest. They had all waited only a scant few minutes on the banks of the river when the ship had approached, slowed down and they had been hailed by the lone occupant, a cervidal who only asked them their names and where they might be going. As it happened, he was heading to the layer of Thalasia himself and had no qualms about having guests on his journey. It was, after all, a kind gesture and one that the guardinal gave without pause.

The days were filled with pleasant talk and laughter, and the nights were brief and filled with somnolent slumber devoid of nightmares. Upon waking to the soft rocking of the boat, who could say if they were still dreaming or not when they gazed out at the perfection extending from horizon to horizon.

“It’s a shame that Nisha and Clueless couldn’t be here you know.” Tristol said as he dipped his hand down into the cool waters of Oceanus to let the current wriggle around his fingers.

“I’m sure they’re getting into mischief elsewhere, wherever they ended up going. Mischief more so than not when you consider Nisha.” Fyrehowl remarked.

“I asked Clueless where all they were going and he wouldn’t really fess up to it. I swear he can’t talk openly about half the stuff that goes on with him.” Florian said.

Tristol shrugged, “I don’t know if he knows everything about himself to really be able to talk openly about it all to tell the truth.”

“Still, all I know is that he was going to go to the Gray Waste and he was bringing Nisha along to make sure he didn’t get into too much trouble.” Toras said.

Underneath all of their banter about their two absent companions there was an undercurrent of unstated worry about the fate of their friends and if they would see them again. They trusted in the skill of them both, but the plane they had traveled to… it hungered eternally and when it touched mortals it left men dead inside, within if not without as well.

At the mention of Elysium’s polar opposite their cervidal guide raised an eyebrow and looked over from where he was tending to the ship’s sails. At the same time, though perhaps it was only coincidence, there was a cool breeze that rolled off the waters and lingered slowly on the ship. It seemed almost as if the plane itself sensed some of their largely unstated worry about their companions in that pit of darkness and sought to comfort them.

As they continued traveling Fyrehowl seemed the most taken with their surroundings, even though she had been born there upon that very same layer of Elysium, her homecoming to her native plane was a reaffirming presence in her heart and her mind, considering all that they had been through in their time together. The warmth and incarnate sense of peace that swathed the landscape was reflected in her eyes, and for once in a very long while she was neither worried nor tensed for immediate action as her training with the ciphers had taught her. There was no need for either since the very essence of the plane itself precluded their necessity. If the multiverse truly was a living thing and one could listen to the heartbeat of the planes; if one could listen to the Cadence of it all, then Elysium was where the multiverse lay still and gazed up at the clouds above it and dreamt in utter peace and security, swathed in unconditional compassion.

On the third day they woke to a gleaming light in the east and the sound of tumbling, churning water like the currents preceding a great waterfall. They looked but they saw nothing ahead that might be causing the sound, nor was the current increasing upon the ship. While Skalliska looked paranoid and Tristol’s ears perked, Toras looked over the side of the ship and Florian whispered a prayer to his deity, the two guardinals could only chuckle politely.

A moment later it was gone and done with as their surroundings simply melted away into the sunlight and they found themselves drifting slowly on the current in a great expanse of the widened Oceanus. Far off on the horizon they could see a distant and deep green shoreline while in the very center of the expanse of crystalline waters sat a single island and a massive glistening keep at its very center, the cathedral-fortress of Rubicon, the last outpost of the guardinals upon the layer of Belarian.

“Wow…” Florian remarked as he looked at the radically altered surroundings while the boat drifted unerringly towards the island without any action by the cervidal captain.

Tristol was grinning and his tail twitched in excitement as they drifted closer and closer to the island and the scale of the fortress became more and more apparent; it was massive.

Like the proverbial city on a hill, the fortress of Rubicon was an exercise in architecture comprising both strength and aesthetic appearance that was best described as beatific. As their ship drifted closer to one of the docks on the island they noticed that the feeling that they had felt from the plane itself all the while upon the plane was subtly different. Fyrehowl felt the shift the most, but it wasn’t negative in any way, simply different from the feeling that Amoria or Eronia had radiated. The air, the wind, the sunlight and even the ground and walls of the cathedral-like fortress exuded a sense of stoic resolve and quiet grace.

As the boat touched the shallows near the dock an equinal tossed a rope down to them and they fastened the ship in short order and clambered up onto the dock. Several guardinals were assembled to meet them, an eclectic mixture of lupinals, equinals, cervidals and avorals. All of them were dressed in the white and blue uniforms of the fortress, and while they all wore weapons, none of them had them drawn. All the guardians of the fortress had brandished were polite smiles, curious glances and, from the watchcaptain, an extended hand to help each of their guests up from the boat.

“Greetings and warm welcomes to you all. Welcome to Rubicon.” The watch captain, an equinal taller than even Toras was, said with a bow. “I am captain Delrenth. How can we help you?”

Fyrehowl bowed and spoke first, “We’ve come from Sigil hoping to gain an audience with the Lord of Rubicon, his regency Duke Jalinon. We happened to encounter evidence of extraplanar activities upon the mainland of Belarian, and we have strong reason to think that…” She paused and snarled softy, “…we have reason to believe that a group of Yugoloths are active upon the mainland.”

Several of the watch exchanged glances at one another, others looked at Fyrehowl and her companions with expressions of concern, curiosity, and wariness. Seeing several looks of incredulity, Skalliska stepped forward.

“We have actual evidence of it all if you don’t believe us at our word.”

“I’m certain you do, but it’s not my decision in these matters. Please, follow me and I will arrange for you to have an audience with the Duke.” Delrenth said and gestured for them all to follow him while some of his soldiers saw to the boat.

“This isn’t Sigil Skalliska, far from it. They’re not going to automatically distrust us unless we walk in with an imp on our shoulder or something similar. We need to break you of that habit while we’re here.” Florian said as he looked down at the kobold, though making a comment about how in a certain light the fire lizard on her shoulder might look like an imp wasn’t too terribly far from his mind.

“And why haven’t they found this out on their own? I mean, really, it’s there home plane and they don’t know what alls going on out there?” Skalliska replied.

Fyrehowl tensed slightly but didn’t say a word, remaining as accepting as the rest of her race as they were escorted up the hill towards the glittering fortress.

In short time they passed through the massive silver and steel gates that glistened mirror bright and were escorted to a waiting chamber to await their audience with the duke. As they waited they were visited briefly by a minor cervidal functionary who inquired if they were hungry, wished for something to drink, or had any other needs that she might see to. They thanked her, but in truth they hadn’t felt hungry or thirsty during most of their journey through the plane. Perhaps the plane itself had fed them in some insubstantial way, perhaps time had passed in such a way that they hadn’t needed to eat yet, or perhaps they had eaten but didn’t remember it since the plane might have seen fit to remove the sensations of hunger or thirst from their minds to make their journey more peaceful. Whichever it was they could only speculate. But as they waited to see the duke, speculate they did, but not on their hunger or lack thereof.

“I’m sure there’s a reason why they don’t know about what we’ve come to tell them.” Toras said to Skalliska.

“It doesn’t make sense! Hells, from what I know of the layer it has –evil- creatures on it. So much for being the plane of perfect good if you end up with fiendish animals and sometimes minor fiends themselves wriggling out of that swamp that they call a layer of a plane.” Skalliska snapped back.

Fyrehowl’s hackles raised slightly but she didn’t say a word.

“A fine job they’re doing if they’re bottled up here and not going out to actually take care of the problem they very obviously have out there. The place is supposed to be crawling with evil, it just doesn’t make sense!” Skalliska continued.

“The way I’ve heard it told is that the layer isn’t corrupted, but it’s been intentionally used by them to imprison evil creatures. What exactly is anyone’s best guess because the guardinals aren’t telling and the layer is all but entirely sealed off from the outside.” Tristol interjected.

For a brief moment of awkward silence all eyes focused on Fyrehowl. Finally the lupinal looked up at them and blinked. “What?” She asked.

“So what have you all got locked up out there in the swamp? An archfiend, a slaad lord, what?” Skalliska quipped.

“… I don’t know any more than you do. I only know that the layer is largely unpopulated by anything except the Quesar, and they’re anything –but- evil. I know that we don’t have any settlements on the layer except here at Rubicon. Otherwise I only know the rumors the same as the rest of you, probably less so even.” She said honestly and openly to dispel the aura of distrust that the kobold was aiming in her direction.

“Oh come on. Trust us here and let us in one the secret. Surely you know what’s out there.” Skalliska replied.

Fyrehowl sighed and was about to reply when the door opened and an avoral wrapped in cloth of green and gold motioned to them with one white-feathered arm. “Duke Jalinon will see you now, please follow me.”

****

Factotum Del’sar Muralt of the Bleak Cabal reached out one frail and yellowed hand to snuff a candle that fluttered and slowly was dying next to a freshly burning taper in his chamber. Formerly of the Bleak Cabal anyways. By any legal standard the faction no longer existed, but, not that it really mattered anyways. He’d found his calling helping the unfortunates of the Hive in the slums of Sigil’s worst districts; it gave him purpose and meaning in a world devoid of such.

The smoldering wick gave rise to a lazy column of sooty black smoke that spiraled like a drunken, winged dervish up towards the rafters of the ceiling. Brushing his ash blackened thumb and forefinger on his robe, the aging githzerai took out a thick journal and began to pen a daily log of those who had come to him. All of them came for some reason relating to the mind and their mental faculties. Some of them wished to recover from addictions, others to recall memories lost to clubs, falls or gauntleted fists, and some others came to him suffering from peculiarities and faults within their mind that left them unable to function or capable of harming themselves and others. All of them he helped if he could, and all of them he chronicled down as a personal log of his true calling, to restore meaning and substance back into the lives of his fellow men so that he himself might feel a fraction of that meaning reflected back within himself.

He had just taken the pen to paper when there came a knock at his door; he’d had no more appointments for the day and it was closing in upon evening when he generally requested to be left alone to write and meditate upon his day’s activities. Still, he thought as he put the quill back in the inkpot, it was his calling and if another had arrived to request his services, he would of course comply.

Del’sar opened the door and listened to his fellow Bleaker explain the reason for his late calling patient and his specific needs. He nodded and motioned for the fellow to follow him into his chambers. He did, and as the bariaur closed the door behind himelf, he smiled. The githzerai never noticed the glowing, glittering gemstone lodged within the bariaur’s right rear ankle, nor the sapphire glow it spread upon the floor like a cyclopic blue drake, nor did he hear the delicate hiss of steel upon oiled leather. And then it was over. Mercifully he was embraced by oblivion before he could hear and feel his limbs being severed like a sacrificial calf.

****

Fyrehowl had to feel a sense of pride and anticipation added to her already heady sense of homecoming as she and her companions were escorted by the avoral and a pair of armed lupinals towards the Duke’s audience hall. She looked forward to meeting the famed Leonal noble, rumored to be a distant relative of Prince Talisid himself, and gaining either the approval to investigate on the behalf of the guardinals of Rubicon, or being informed that all was well and the ‘loth and mercane information were all a scattering of lies.

The audience hall was long and airy, supported by white marble columns carved to resemble each of the subtypes of Elysium’s celestial natives. One column resembled a flute playing cervidal while another was carved into the form of a soaring avoral. Down the list of guardinal subtypes the columns were nearly lifelike and decorated with precious metals and gemstones that caught the sunlight from the massive windows lining the chamber to scatter them in rainbow patterns across the flagstones.

At the end of the hall was a simple but elegant throne atop which sat the leonal, Duke Jalinon, who led the guardinals of Rubicon as a father figure if not an actual leader in a true sense of a hierarchy. The leonal’s tawny mane shone like spun gold in the light and he projected a sense of majesty and strength, but his dress was simple. He wore only a blue and white cloak and a surcoat over his chest along with a simple circlet of silver around his brow and nothing more. No glittering trappings of royalty were present.

Flanking the leonal was a robed Ursinal who announced the group, each by name as they arrived before the Duke. She adjusted a pair of glasses upon her blunt muzzle before taking out a quill pen and scribing down the following conversations between those assembled. On the duke’s opposite side was a slim vulpinal dressed in pale blue wizard’s robes who peered curiously at their guests. Tristol smiled and waved back as he twitched his own nearly identical tail in time with the vulpinal advisor’s.

“Welcome my child. Welcome back to Elysium Fyrehowl, and I extend my welcome to the rest of you as well. Greetings and please, speak what occupies your minds. You have traveled long and far and the least I can offer you is a welcome ear.” Jalinon’s voice rumbled like distant rolling thunder, warm and baritone.

Toras motioned towards Fyrehowl, both as a way of acknowledging her to speak for them at first, and to head off Skalliska who looked ready to launch into a speech.

“Duke Jalinon, of late we have had encounters with a group of mercane who were themselves dealing with Yugoloths. Without getting into some of the specifics of what happened, we found records written by the leader of these mercanes that made specific reference to Belarian, routes of transit through the layer towards the deeper mainland, and vague references to ‘shipments to alleviate hunger’.” Fyrehowl said humbly.

The Duke pondered the news and several of the others added their own thoughts on the matter as well as expanding upon the story of how they had gotten involved with the Imshenviir mercane and their Yugoloth allies in the first place.

“Anything these mercane did upon the mainland was not with our leave or our knowledge I am afraid to say. The layer of Belarian is almost impossible to enter and almost impossible to leave except by way of the river Oceanus. River travel to Belarian is watched over by we here at Rubicon. No mercane passed this way.” The duke answered.

“And yugoloths?” Skalliska asked.

“It would be unlikely. However your suspicions do not ring hollow or without evidence that something is occurring.” The leonal replied.

“And there is another matter I feel is linked to this. We had spoken to Rhys, former factol of the Transcendent Order in Sigil. She mentioned that one of her former factors, a lupinal by the name of Tarnsilver, had returned to Elysium and spoken of things that may very well be related to this current issue.” Fyrehowl said.

“Tarnsilver…” The duke paused, “Tarnsilver is fallen from us. He has not fallen into evil, but the spark of good in him has dimmed to a flicker. He is misguided, and if he is involved in this current matter than it takes on a level of urgency that it otherwise might not have.”

Jalinon inhaled deeply and thought for a moment before continuing, “I give you leave to travel to the mainland to investigate the truth of the matter you rightfully suspect. I empower you with my authority and the authority of Rubicon to put a stop to any fiendish activity that you find therein if you are capable of doing so. If what you find is too large for you to resolve then return here or send word and I will mobilize Rubicon itself to your aid.”

The companions nodded to him and bowed respectfully before the duke added, “And should you find Tarnsilver, tell him that whatever he has done we would welcome him back amongst us without question.”

“Thank you your highness.” Tristol said with another bow and the rest soon followed suit before turning and going back to their chambers to rest for the evening before heading for the mainland the following day. However as they made way from the chamber, Fyrehowl felt a tug on her robe.

The lupinal stopped and looked down at Jalinon’s vulpinal advisor where he was tugging gently on her robe. “Yes?” She asked.

The vulpinal smiled and bowed before quietly informing her that, “The duke wishes to speak with you privately regarding these current matters. He would request that you hear him out presently, please.”

Fyrehowl nodded and followed the fox-like guardinal back into a private audience chamber. The leonal was already seated at a circular table and he quickly bade her to sit. The vulpinal left and closed the door after himself, leaving Fyrehowl and the Jalinon alone in counsel.

“I have something to speak with you about Fyrehowl. You likely do not have any awareness of it, for it is rarely spoken of in our society and even more rarely outside of Elysium to any. What I must tell you concerns Belarian, its history and our history as a people.”

Fyrehowl nodded slowly as the Duke Jalinon began, “There is no act of good greater than self sacrifice at no benefit to oneself, done on the behalf of others and done in secret. An act of benevolence done behind closed doors and away from sight where none will ever know what good you did and none will ever thank you or praise your name; an unthanked, unasked for, and unparalleled act of altruism. That is what I must speak to you about and the mark it has forever left upon Belarian.

****

The lupinal gazed out of the adamantine window across the marshlands and cypress forests of the layer of Belarian. He felt the presence of the Arcanaloth behind him before he smelled it or heard it speak to him. The ‘loth’s presence sullied the very essence of the plane like a gobbet of mud upon a white smock. Even after all this time it still made him uneasy and he felt in turn sullied by association. As the yugoloth’s padded footsteps echoed at the top of the stairs and its stench of brimstone wafted into the room he sighed. Regardless of his current feelings about the fiends, what he was here doing, what they would ultimately accomplish was for the greater good. What they were doing true, it would benefit the fiends in the short term, but it would remove a cross that he and his people had unduly borne for far too long and which had defiled the very essence of their plane.

Tarnsilver still didn’t understand the original intention of his people, but he would make amends for their race’s failure here and now. It was still centuries off, but it would be gone one day, and then the ‘loths would be gone as well. Their presence there was intolerable as well, but the ultimate ends were all that mattered. He knew he was right in that, he felt it echoed in the Cadence, the very patterns of the world reflected the truth of what he was doing there in Belarian. They would welcome him back even now, but they wouldn’t understand what he was doing, and they would stop his actions out of ignorance. He wouldn’t allow that to happen.

“You seem tense my friend, is something amiss? We have had continued success with our joint endeavor. You should be pleased.” The yugoloth commandant of the tower, an arcanaloth by the name of Parphinnias, only recently ascended to his position, spoke gently to the lupinal like a fine mixture of cream and venom.

Tarnsilver brushed off the ‘loth’s hand as it placed it on his shoulder. Their joint work was good, that was self evident, but he still felt sick at the fiends’ close proximity. “I am pleased, but old habits die hard. A century ago I would have torn out your throat before you lifted that finger to my collarbone. Our work goes forward but I look forward to when it is complete and I can have you gone from my home plane.”

The ‘loth smiled a jackal’s carrion-eating grin like a corrupted reflection of lupinal’s own stoic expression. The lupinal wasn’t in the mood to talk, he never really was, though Parphinias did have better luck doing so than the Ultroloth that had been his predecessor, filthy Mydianchlarus supporting wretch that he was.

“Suit yourself, I was dining and was wondering if you wished to have something brought up to your chambers. I would have had one of the Mezzoloths bring you something from the swamp so you could prepare it yourself without us touching it beforehand overly much. I know you’re sensitive about such thing.” The black-robed arcanaloth said with a shrug.

“No, I’m fine. Please leave me to my thoughts, I wish to spend time alone to meditate.” The lupinal replied firmly.

“As you wish my friend.” The ‘loth replied as he exited the chamber. Only a few steps out of the door did he reach up and wipe away the smear of blood that had leaked from his mouth and onto his cheek from his meal. He glanced back and then hurried away, lucky that the lupinal had been so absorbed in his thoughts that the idealistic fool hadn’t smelled or noticed the splash of fresh cervidal blood on his cheek or lingering on his breath. But, what the lupinal didn’t know wouldn’t kill him, only others of his kind.

****

The pair of cornugon’s glanced questioningly at one another as they escorted their charge down the dimly lit passageway. They carried no lights, their own nature as baatezu pierced the gloom readily enough, but their ward lit the way before itself from the bright glow of its own pair of oblong eyes. The Ultroloth’s glowing orbs set within its otherwise featureless face shifted colors every few seconds and flickered like an angry, buzzing insect as it strode along with them towards the throne room of their mistress, Lilith the Hag Countess, sometimes called Malagard, Lord of the 6th of Baator.

But that the baatezu escorted an Ultroloth, the pinnacle of Yugoloth caste, was not the cause of their concern reflected back at one another in their eyes, their expressions and their telepathic chatter between one another. No, they had seen their fair share of important individuals escorted down their current path, from Baatezu nobles to pit fiend generals to Yugoloth mercenary lords and even occasionally one of the hated Tanar’ri. No, their concern was not with the race and rank of their escorted guest, but rather in its mannerisms, as it silently walked a few paces in front of them.

Muscles rippled beneath scaled hide and the Cornugons glanced almost awkwardly at the Ultroloth as it stumbled for but a moment as it walked before them. The ‘loth was also doing other things as well. It was whimpering… every few seconds the fiend would whimper like a wounded animal or a petitioner being slowly fed, inch by inch, to the burning cold of the waters of Stygia. And the Yugoloth was twitching at random as well, like it was experiencing massive fits of pain or an electrical surge coursing through its brain to cause it the disturbances in stride and manner as it walked.

But yet every time the ‘loth stumbled or paused it would unerringly right itself and continue on its path towards the end of the hallway where Lilith held court. The Cornugons speculated on what was wrong with their charge, or perhaps if it was being led to their mistress as some sort of plant, or spy upon the Gray Waste to funnel her information on her former rivals amongst the gray sisters. There was also the matter of the gem embedded in the Ultroloth’s forehead.

Smooth as glass, shaped and sized like a hen’s egg, the gemstone pulsed with an inner light of its own as the Ultroloth neared the entrance to Lilith’s throne room. Judging by the looks at its face the Cornugons had gathered when they first met the Lord of the 6th’s guest, the gemstone, whatever it was, was embedded deep enough in the ‘loth’s head to penetrate into its brain.

The chamber shuddered ever so slightly as the Ultroloth entered Lilith’s court, the tremor only felt in the slightest there at the core of the Hag Countess’s titanic citadel of ever tumbling stone. Outside the boulder shaped fortress would have been leaving rock falls and landslides to destroy a prime city in its wake as it eternally rolled and careened down the slopes of Malbolge’s mountains and gorges. The Ultroloth didn’t pause from the rumbling of the walls, but rather from a near seizure of pain that made it pause and grip the frame of the doorway to the court.

The Cornugons stopped at the door and turned away, holding their tridents outwards to guard the chamber, though in truth no intruder had ever passed much beyond the outermost layers of the keep. They never noticed that their mistress had dismissed her normal retinue of toadies, scribes, courtiers and advisors from the chamber, and sat alone atop her throne, brooding in the darkness as the light from the Ultroloth’s eyes washed over her and her expectant smile.

A wave of her hand and a pulse of her will sent the doors to her court slamming shut with a tremor borne of tons of steel and marble, but in the seconds that passed before she rose to greet her guest and closed the doors to ensure her privacy, her guards heard the Ultroloth speak its greeting. The ‘loth’s voice was neither timid nor wracked with pain in the slightest. Without pause the ‘loth’s telepathic voice washed over them like a warm wind over a sailor alone and swimming upon a black ocean with a sudden and sharp undercurrent of cold, dark waters welling up from whatever hidden depths they sprung from. The ‘loths voice left them cold as it spoke in a tone of an equal, or a superior feigning equality, to their mistress, one of the most powerful Lords of Baator itself.

The crashing slam of the doors and their attendant sequestering aura blocked the ‘loths voice and their mistress’s reply so they could not hear their conversation. Neither could the pair of Cornugons see the sable coated Arcanaloth in Carceri within his tower of millions of screaming souls concentrate and project his will across the space of planes to speak through and manipulate his servant like a puppet with invisible strings, smiling darkly as he did so.

“Greetings Lilith, I extend my regards to your recent ascent in power. But there are other things you’ve desired…”

Shemeska the Marauder's picture
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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

“Everything went all f*cking wrong
Chaos reigns when I’m along” - Courtney Love, ‘Love Despite God’

****

Fyrehowl looked curiously at the duke as she took a seat across from him and listened intently with perked ears. The golden-maned leonal sighed deeply before he began.

“While none of the celestial races take an active hand in the Blood War between the fiends, all for fear of uniting the lower planes, some of us do take action though it is never large scale or organized. The aasimon and archons learned that terrible lesson for us all…” Jalinon paused at the thought before continuing, “Still, some of us do make forays into the lower planes in the hopes of disrupting the fiends in any action that might involve the prime, or to damage certain factions of the fiendish hierarchies in order to create instability and further infighting amongst their kind. We guardinals are the most noted among the brethren of the upper planes to do such things and succeed; your own kind perhaps foremost among us. You sister indeed as I recall has joined one of the more prestigious bands of lupinals who take to the Waste, as did you previously. The asuras are the only other kind who do the same as we do, but we have done so since nearly the beginning of such things.”

Fyrehowl nodded, understanding such things clearly from her own experiences in the past.

“But sometimes our forays into the depths of the lower planes do not end as we would hope. Sometimes we face death, and we all know that we might die in our cause, but still we continue because it is what we do, because it is good. But once we faced not death at the hands of fiends, something we might have expected, but rather we found something in our travels that we never expected to find. I was there then, as was a young Talisad, and I remember it well.”

The duke paused and seemed almost shaken by the memories of that day and it took him a moment to return to the present as Fyrehowl placed a hand over his.

“What did you find?” The lupinal asked.

“By all that is good and holy, it was titanic in size and terrible to behold. The Mother of Serpents, the paragon and progenitor of every species of hydra and perhaps all scaled beasts that roam the planes and prime itself, all of those with evil in their hearts, they or their ancestors sprung from that beast we found.

“We saw its intellect and we saw its evil that seemed palpable even on the plane we found it on, and we realized that we could not suffer it to live. Had we simply left it where we found it unmolested we would have spared ourselves the bloodshed that followed but we would have risked the fiends finding it and using it. Even if they didn’t use it against some unsuspecting innocents on the prime or another plane, they would have used it against each other and it might have tipped the balance of the War Eternal to one side or the other, eventually bringing all of evil under one united banner. We could not risk that, and so we attacked the beast.”

Fyrehowl’s eyes widened at the prospect and she asked a single question, “It’s not dead, is it?”

The duke stared into her eyes and replied, “Oh we tried. We hurled ourselves at it heedless of our own safety and our own lives. The soil of Oinos was turned black from our blood that day and still we sought to kill it, but try as we might, we could not. We lost… our losses were nigh uncountable… but we did not give up despite our own slaughter. We realized that we could not allow it to fall into the hands of the fiends, and so rather than kill what we could not kill, we let it follow after us, hell-bent upon revenge for the pain we had inflicted upon it.”

“It followed us, we led it on, and we brought it here with us. We brought it here to Belarian and here we trapped it for all eternity so that it would never harm any as it might if it were free. We brought the beast here to our least populated layer and let it rage against the bonds we wove into the very fabric of the layer itself. We wrought magic of such potency that it would make the archmages of Celestia and the warlocks of Gehenna weep. The layer is sealed off from without and from within, the only way in or out of Belarian is by way of the great river Oceanus and here at Rubicon we guard the egress of any seeking to travel the plane. For while we know what lurks and rages upon the mainland, others do not and we keep our eternal vigil to prevent their deaths or the release of the creature.”

Fyrehowl was speechless, having never before heard the tale. “We tainted the plane itself. The Mother of Serpents, its presence is corrupting Belarian, isn’t it?”

Jalinon nodded, “And so we have sacrificed of our own blood and sullied our perfect good for the betterment of an ignorant cosmos that knows not what we have done on their behalf. An act of self-sacrifice, or selfless good done in secret where none will know and none will thank you is the greatest act of all. And I am proud of what we have done, and here I have been since then to guard the way to Belarian where the beast waits impotent and trapped.”

“It cannot swim the river?” Fyrehowl asked.

“No, the waters of Oceanus are like acid unto it. The very touch of its currents is repulsive and painful to the creature and it will not cross the river that girds the layer. It is trapped where it is and we gladly tarnish ourselves to keep it there.”

“I understand… thank you for telling me this. You think we’ll find something there on the mainland relating to the serpent?” Fyrehowl asked the duke.

“I cannot say. Since that time we have used Belarian to such a purpose with other beings of evil that were best imprisoned rather than killed, and so fiends on the mainland may have been put there by ourselves, or they may have found a way onto the layer in the hopes of finding those we have exiled to the plane. Even if they did find the Mother of Serpents though, they could not remove it from Elysium even if they tried, the wardings are such that they would have to ferry it down the river and past our very gates.”

“What of Tarnsilver?” The lupinal mused.

“His presence here is what worries me for he knew of the beast and also of a great many other of the beings that we have locked away on the mainland, and he saw it not as a willing self sacrifice, but a shame that we kept locked away and buried away from the rest of the planes. However he knew nothing of the magics that kept the plane isolated, and the ursinals and vulpinals both have made it clear to me that the wardings on Belarian have not waned in the slightest in the eons since we laid them down originally. Those are sacrosanct and we could tell if any fiends were attempting to unravel them to release the greatest of those bottled upon Belarian.”

“However you and your companions will soon discover the true nature of what is occurring upon the mainland. We avoid the plane itself largely, leaving the imprisoned to their exile, and we cannot divine or scry upon them as a byproduct of our own magics that block such attempts from the multiverse at large. Not even Primus of the Modrons can view the interior of Belarian, not even from his great orrery.”

Fyrehowl nodded, “May I discuss this with my companions? The Mother of Serpents and what other things you’ve told me? They will need to know much of it for their own safety.”

“I leave that to you to judge. Speak to them if you wish, but have them pledge to never speak of it elsewhere. The plane will hold them to their word if spoken in honesty, and you will know if they hold back on their oaths. But, having met them, I do not doubt their honesty in the matter if you wish to tell them.”

“Thank you for telling me. When we leave in the morning I’ll tell them and we’ll find out what’s going on. When we are certain we’ll either take action, or barring that, we will inform you if we cannot handle what we find on our own.” Fyrehowl said with a bow as she stood and smiled with honor at the leonal.

“I have nothing more to say, but you will find that a room has been prepared for you and your fellows. Sleep well and good luck in the morning.” Jalinon said as he laid a hand on the lupinals shoulder and led her back out of his audience room to rejoin her friends.

****

The Oinoloth, Mydianchlarus stood at he summit of Khin-Oin and paused, awestruck by his own array and display of power. Yugoloths in the millions sprawled in formation and entrenchments for miles surrounding the base of the Wasting Tower. All of them were loyal to him, and all of them were willing to die to support his claim to the throne of the Tower against the traitors in league with the one he had deposed.

“Oinoloth Mydianchlarus,” the rough and dull witted voice of Typhus the mercenary lord broke the still of the air atop the tower.

The Oinoloth turned and nodded to the Altraloth, a squat and twisted figure in patchwork armor and tattered black cloak, all emblazoned with the symbol of his personal army, the Infernal Front.

“Your forces are arrayed and ready to receive the armies of the fallen lord. My own forces have now fully joined with yours, the Tower in Gehenna and those loyal to you there have begun to funnel their own forces as well and they should be here by the end of the day.” Typhus said, pointing out each of the various companies by their own specific heraldry.

As much of an idiot as the fiend was in comparison to many of the Ultroloths and Arcanaloths who served under him, he had an instinctual grasp of tactics upon a battlefield that made him invaluable. His own tendency to plan far in advance of his own troops capabilities would have to be tempered, but in the coming battle he was a subordinate general and not the marshal of it all. That belonged to Mydianchlarus the Ultroloth Prince and Oinoloth.

“What of the Carcerian forces? I know they will be diminished from their maximum due to the threat of the Gehreleths on the tower of that over glorified arcanaloth, but how many has he sent?” The Oinoloth asked, his voice carrying out onto the winds of the void, twenty miles above the dust and blood of the Waste where his forces awaited the word to kill in his name.

“They have begun to arrive as well, and in larger numbers than the Ebon originally projected, you will be pleased at the increase. I had not expected it either, and it will be needed with the claimed joining of Xenghara with your unworthy predecessor. He and Anthraxus, my brothers, they are idiots. I would ask to be granted the honor of executing Xenghara after you have taken the head of Anthraxus.” Typhus said with a bow.

“I will consider it. Have you word of Taba, your other… sibling…?” Mydianchlarus asked.

“No. Taba has been absent for some time, roughly since we were aware of the growing silence of The General. Several of the Ultroloths under my banner have made their own inquiries and searches, and I know that The Ebon has been doing the same with even more fervor than myself. I’ve found nothing, nor has he discovered anything when I asked him.” Typhus answered.

“Very well. Let Anthraxus come hurrying to his own death. I spared him oblivion before, but a second time I will not allow him to live. Go and see to your own troops and send in the heralds that the Keeper of the Tower Arcane has sent, I have plans to discuss with them for their part in the battle ahead.”

Typhus nodded and bowed low before his master who turned away, absorbed in his own thoughts, before the Altraloth had descended the stairwell to the halls below. Mydianchlarus was worried, something not right for a being of his stupendous power. Perhaps not so much worried as he was perplexed by certain facts. The General and his city had vanished, the Baern were vacant or unresponsive, even to him. And while he referred to the Overlord of Carceri as an arcanaloth reaching beyond his station, it was true that The Ebon had been the one to point him towards the information that had been instrumental in his own toppling of Anthraxus. That alone had solidified the lesser fiend’s claims to his tower after the deaths of Bubonix and Cholerix when a hundred or more Ultroloths had been clamoring and petitioning for the title and position the Ebon now held.

Given the information passed on by way of the Keeper of the Tower and the Oinoloth’s own informants in Carceri, the arcanaloth was loyal and keen to capitalize on the continued success of the Oinoloth. It stood to reason since Anthraxus would have him killed on the spot if he was aware of his role in his original fall. The Ebon had hitched his future existence on his loyalty to the Oinoloth and so he at least was not held suspect for the moment, though of course if his ambitions ever stretched too high, he would need to be suitably checked; such was the fate of any below the gaze of Khin-Oin’s dread king.

****

The morning rays of sunlight broke across Fyrehowl’s face and she stretched lazily before hopping up from her bed to look out of the window at the sparkling waters of Oceanus. She had been up late into the night simply pondering over what Jalinon had told her, and simply to sit next to the window and revel in the view.

Night had never fully come to the layer, and it had been brief when the sun dipped below the horizon in a storm of brilliant colors reflected on the distant clouds. The twilight had been lit by a moon in brilliant intensity, and in the distance the sky above the mainland of Belarian had been aglow in the flickering, phosphorescent fires of an aurora that danced across the skies like an Eladrin prince and princess clad in rainbows.

Fyrehowl gathered her things and stretched before collecting her other companions, most of whom had already risen and eaten breakfast. Toras and Skalliska were sitting and chatting with an ursinal who bore an expression of avid curiosity in marked contrast to the skepticism of the kobold.

“They’re constructs! Just how in all the hells would they… mate? The logistics are just…” Skalliska shook her head, “It’s just not possible.”

“I didn’t say it happened like that. I’m not really even sure if they have… well if they’re even capable of that.” Toras explained.

“They aren’t.” The ursinal interjected.

“See? It’s not possible, you have to be mistaken.” Skalliska said.

“My deity was involved, that’s all I’ll say. Deific caveat to trump your logic, haha!” Toras said with a smirk.

“In any event, you may actually wander across a quasar during your time on the mainland. If you do simply treat them as you would one of us. They may be overly curious, but unless you’re a being bent on doing evil you have nothing to fear whatsoever. The homelands of that race are fairly far from the areas that you indicated to Jalinon that you would be traveling towards, but still, it’s something to pay attention to.” The ursinal said with a scholarly nod. “And your own heritage Toras of Andros, it is… unique. I’ll certainly grant you that.”

Tristol sat on a bench next two a mated pair of vulpinal wizards who sat curled on the floor with their spellbooks open before the aasimar mage who bore an obvious line of descent from one of their kind. They were happily chatting with the prime about some manner of abjuration spell, and Fyrehowl found it both comical and adorable to watch all three of the wizards’ tails twitch in synchronicity like celestial clock pendulums as they discussed arcane matters.

Off to the side, Florian was sitting by himself and trying very hard not to chuckle at the antics going on between Tristol and the guardinal mages. Fyrehowl walked over and sat down next to the cleric. “It is rather amusing, I’ll grant you that.”

“True, that it is. So, that’s all of us now. Shall we be headed off, or is there anything else you need to see to before we leave?” Florian asked.

“No, I’m ready. More than ready actually. I want to see this through, even if there’s nothing there to be found, it’s something we need to settle for certain.” Fyrehowl replied.

They all walked to the western edge of the island that Rubicon occupied and glanced back at the cathedral-fortress one last time before departing off towards the mainland. Rather than travel by boat or teleportation, since the first was impractical and the latter more or less impossible given the magical restrictions in place on the layer, they each quaffed a draught of a flying potion that the guardinals of Rubicon had given them to aid their travels.

Soaring up into the air they quickly flew towards the distant shores of the mainland that graced the distant horizon like a dark green line to contrast with the sparkling blue of Oceanus. In truth their transit took barely a fraction of the time it might have normally taken them to fly or swim the same distance as it seemed. Perhaps the plane itself sensed their urgency and sped their transit in its own sublime way.

Two hours later they hovered over that distant shore, more a swamp that flowed into the sea than a true beach. The plane seemed different there than at Rubicon. Gone was the stoic passion and selflessness that was carried in the very area the guardinal stronghold, and in its place was a sense of innocence lost, and the deep-rooted corruption of what was once pure and untainted. Fyrehowl seemed slightly uncomfortable in the change of feeling the surroundings gave them, and the others could tell.

“Are you alright Fyrehowl?” Florian asked.

The lupinal shrugged, “Just a bad feeling is all. The plane feels different here than it has anywhere else in Elysium. It’s like looking a pure white cloth and then looking at one that’s been bled upon and trampled in the mud.”

“It’s that different here?” Tristol asked.

“Yes… it’s that different here…” Fyrehowl said with a mild shiver as they flew out over the mud choked and drowned cypress forests that lined the coastline.

The next hour or so was spent in silent observation of the land below as the skimmed the treetops. Things lurked down below the thick cover of the forests and marshlands as they withdrew from the touch of Oceanus, and several times they stopped to ascertain just what might be down below and gazing upwards at them. Most of the time it was simply animals, though more often than not the normal fauna was altered or twisted in one way or another, almost by a fiendish influence or touch of evil that had warped their physical forms.

“Fyrehowl, this is really disturbing. This is a celestial plane, a layer of the plane of pure good for Mystra’s sake… why do half of the animals that we’ve seen look like they should belong on the lower planes?” Tristol asked as they passed the rotting corpse of some animal and watched a pack of scavengers scatter back out into the swamp, their eyes tinted red and their howls and barking filled with malice.

“There’s things here on Belarian that have been purposefully put here over the eons in order to shelter the planes from them. Belarian is a bit of Elysium sacrificed for the rest of the planes, that’s the best way of putting it. The presence of some of the things that have been locked away here, they sully the land and they’ve slowly corrupted the native life of the forests.” Fyrehowl replied.

“Wish we’d known this before for a fact. I’d heard rumor, sure, but it was just that. But…” Skalliska’s comment was cut off by the sudden rustle and beating of leathery wings from the forest below them.

“Watch out!” Toras shouted as a vaguely draconic form burst from the trees below and shrieked past him, followed by two more of its kind.

With snarls, flashing fangs, and whip-like stinger wielding tails, the bulk of three twisted and sickly looking wyverns rushed to attack the party, seeing them as nothing more than food. The combat was over fairly quickly though, despite the near ambush, and before it was over one of the beasts was nearly frozen solid by the lupinal, and another was dying on the forest floor below where it was burned and scorched by a series of spells from Tristol and Florian. The third wyvern escaped, but it trailed a dribble of blood in its wake from a number of slashes from Toras and a series of Skalliska’s crossbow bolts that peppered its chest, embedded to their fletches.

Following their encounter they moved more cautiously and slower, taking keen interest in the lay of the ground below them. They managed to avoid any further combat, aside from a swarm of stirges, but those were dealt with in short order by a fireball from Tristol. Still, their close attention to the terrain did prove advantageous as they neared the regions that had been originally marked on their maps that they had taken from the Imshenviir mercane.

“Whoa whoa whoa, stop. Take a look down there.” Toras said as he pointed his sword down towards a patch of forest that was open to the sky. From their position high above they could barely make out a set of furrows in the earth that looked unmistakably like the muddy tracks of a series of heavy wagons or other such trade vehicles.

They turned as a group and descended down into the forest and alighted on the muddy earth near the tracks that ran nearly due west and to the southeast. The tracks looked old, a few weeks at least judging by the condition of the ground and the intervening rainfall and passage of animals.

“I think this is where our dearly departed mercane friends passed by recently.” Florian said as he looked at the line of tracks.

“Sad to say that they’ll be missing their next scheduled deliveries. Hope they didn’t get paid by cash.” Toras quipped with a smirk and a grin.

They followed the tracks to the west slowly and pondered at the size and depth of the muddy furrows, commenting on how it had to have been several wagons at a time, and they had all been loaded down very heavily to create the depth of tracks that they now found and followed.

“To alleviate hunger… I wonder what they’re feeding…” Tristol openly mused.

Fyrehowl opened her mouth and was ready to answer his question, or at least speculate on what she worried they might find being fed in the interior of the layer. The lupinal never spoke however as they all first heard, and then saw, something that made them dash for cover in the trees.

A fluid and rhythmic flapping of heavy wings cut the air as a dark, flat shape, cut across the sky overhead in the clear sky over the mercane trade route. Several miles off to the west still and moving perpendicular to their westward trek, it was obvious that neither the creature, nor the rider perched upon its back, belonged there on the plane.

“What the hell…” Florian whispered as Skalliska blinked and Fyrehowl grimaced nearly in pain.

Flying above, and moving across their field of view, was the manta shaped profile of a Slasrath, a creature native to Gehenna, most often used as mounts for Yugoloth scouts and aerial cavalry or living siege platforms. The slasrath might have been an aberration, some fluke of the corruption of the planar layer, but the being seated within the saddle on its spine, the winged form of a Nycaloth, was not. The greater Yugoloth slowly swung its mount towards the southwest with a single gesture and seemed to be deliberately scouting the area.

“Yeah… we have problems…” Fyrehowl whispered as they watched the ‘loth and its flying mount vanish towards the southwest.

****

Anthraxus the Decayed lifted his arm and gestured to one of his attendant Ultroloths, nearly thirty of whom clustered around their past and current master. They and their master alike were anxious and the air itself seemed to hum with the building tension as their plans, plots and rebellion drew towards its ultimate culmination.

“Speak and be done, for bloodshed calls to us on wings of retribution but quickly now. What has the General said of our conflict?” The former Oinoloth said with a hint of anticipation and certainty as it sat upon a throne cobbled together from the skulls and ribcages of a dozen Shator Gehreleths.

The purple robed Ultroloth approached and bowed low before its lord and hesitated before speaking, seemingly at a loss for words. Its hesitation was removed as the massive Altraloth it knelt before placed the burning tip of the Staff of the Lower Planes at the juncture of its head and neck.

“Speak… bother not with dressing your words. I would know what position the General of Gehenna takes on the soon to break conflict between my usurper and myself. Speak now before my patience stretches to amusement at your pain…”

The Ultroloth’s eye’s dimmed and flickered a pale shade of green with sparks of subdued lavender. It voice was thin and uncertain as it answered the Decayed, “We could not find the Crawling Citadel…”

A steady static hum rose from the chatter of the other Ultroloths before Anthraxus’s withering gaze silenced them. “What do you mean, you couldn’t find the General’s city upon the fourfold furnace?”

“Lord of Agony… the city is no longer there. We found where the city had been. We followed its path across the slopes of Khalas but we did not find the city itself. It was gone. Vanished without a trace.” The Ultroloth answered.

“What?!” The former Oinoloth bellowed with rage and leapt to his feet to begin pacing around the still kneeling Ultroloth, his terrible shadow casting a pale over the smaller fiend.

“What do you mean that it’s gone? You cannot simply lose a citadel that measures five miles across and nearly two miles high at the tallest spires. Do you expect me to believe that the city is either destroyed or invisible? Ah, perhaps it simply jumped off into the void between the mounts. Did you look there you fool?” Anthraxus said with incredulity as he towered over the bearer of puzzling news.

Perhaps out of daring, or perhaps because it had nothing to lose, the Ultroloth looked up at the Decayed. “The depressions from the city’s footfalls simply ended halfway up a massive cliff on Khalas and the city was nowhere to be found in the vicinity. There were no signs of battle, nor lingering traces of divine magic. Not that one of the powers would be capable of such a feat. The city is simply gone my lord, and I do not know where it was gone. The General has removed himself from us while we squabble like children…”

Bloodshot eyes narrowed and Anthraxus flicked his lips clear of spit turned to foam as his staff glowed and slammed into the Ultroloth’s head. There was no sound of a blow, nor a splatter of blood or brains, but only the squealing agony of a larvae pinned beneath the tip of the staff where the Ultroloth had stood but a moment before.

Turning to his other, competent generals and marshals, the once and future Oinoloth snarled and slammed his staff into the bulk of his throne. Standing amid the burning and shattered fragments of the ‘leth skulls that he had sat upon at the apex of the Hill of Bone he spoke the words his supplicants had been eagerly awaiting.

“Marshall my armies and call upon our allies, for we march to Oinos and there we lay siege to Khin-Oin. I shall drink from the hollowed out skull of Mydianchlarus as I sit again upon my throne. What was once shall be so again.”

Screaming out orders to their own attendants and subordinates, the Ultroloth generals of Anthraxus the Decayed vanished in the flashes of teleports and the dimension ripping flames of planar gates. The former Oinoloth himself vanished into the largest concentration of his forces encamped at the base of the hill itself, miles upon miles deep of Yugoloths that numbered in the millions at but a glance. And as he vanished the air echoed with the agonized whine of a single wriggling, wounded larva that twitched upon the ground, dimly lamenting its millennia of struggle and triumph now vanished and gone at the whim of the Decayed. It however might have been spared in some fashion the worst of what would soon come.

Shemeska the Marauder's picture
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Shemmy's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 4-29)

Under the cover of the waterlogged forest, the companions slowly and carefully began their trek in the direction that the slasrath had been flying, hoping to find where exactly it had come from. As they continued through the swampy woodland the ground rose slightly and grew progressively less and less a swamp, and more a forest proper, as the ground grew slightly more rocky and well drained.

“At least we’re out of the swamp, I was getting tired of that muck getting into my boots.” Florian said as he kicked a bit of slime off of his feet.

“Hey, you don’t have to worry about a wet tail-tip…” Tristol said as he glanced over at Fyrehowl, hoping for some support.

“Honestly I never noticed…” She said as Tristol noticed that the lupinal was still hovering slightly off the ground, her own innate ability having lasted longer than the potions the rest of them had used.

“Anyways… through that break in the trees ahead I think there’s another trail. Can’t quite tell yet though.” Skalliska said, squinting her eyes. “And none of you were hip deep in that junk, so you have no room to complain…”

As they continued, Fyrehowl’s ears perked every so often and she would indicate for them all to pause while she listened. Something was getting to her. Some sense that they were not at all alone in the forest, and several times she swore that she had heard the sounds of a snapping twig or scuffed footfall in the distance that wasn’t a natural sound of the forest’s inhabitants.

But, hearing nothing to confirm her suspicions, they proceeded onwards towards the path that Skalliska had seen ahead of them where the trees thinned out slightly. Neither Fyrehowl, nor any of the others saw the ripples in a large pool of standing water they passed, nor did they feel the subtle rumble through the ground from the footsteps of something large and close, or something distant and titanic.

“Stop…” Fyrehowl whispered harshly as she held up her hand.

The others looked first at her and then in the direction of where her hand was pointed. There, some fifty feet distant and marching along the path they were heading towards was a small patrol of fiends.

Toras nodded to Fyrehowl and motioned for Florian to follow him to one side while he motioned for Skalliska and Tristol to fall in behind the lupinal. As quietly as possible the two groups moved into a flanking position as they approached the column of fiends.

Six Mezzoloths all told marched behind a bloated gray-green Dergholoth in an orderly column while a much larger lobster-like Piscaloth marched behind them. Each of the Mezzoloths carried a gleaming black trident, half of them burning with flickering violet flame, and the Dergholoth sergeant and their Piscaloth commander carried no arms or armor. All of them wore either a sash or a glowing brand in the shape of the Wasting Tower of Khin-Oin with a pair of eyes superimposed above it; the symbol of the Oinoloth.

None of the fiends were prepared for the ambush as the five rushed at them from the forest, swinging blades or hurling spells while