Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 11April2019)
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    Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 11April2019)

    So the original thread for the Storyhour was both so old and so gigantic that I could no longer rename the thread title to reflect new updates without having to get moderator help each time. So this thread will cover Storyhour updates from 2014 onwards. Very likely we'll see a third iteration of this before the story is finished years from now. After all, we've had an awesome ride up to this point, and we'll be barely half way through at the conclusion of the Pandemonium/Gehenna/Outlands plot arc.

    And for everyone that has been reading this, both from the start and folks that have picked it up along the way: Thank you so very much. This has been a labor of love, a wonderful way to remember one of my favorite campaigns of all time, and also a way to look at how my writing has hopefully improved over the years. Still a work in progress of course.

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    Previous Storyhour thread covering the start through early 2014: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthr...29-Jan-2014%29
    Last edited by Shemeska; Thursday, 11th April, 2019 at 05:28 AM.

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    Cilret Leobtav stopped and smiled up at the figure seated on his shoulder. The blotch of darkness said nothing, but returned the smile with one like a darker rift torn in a starless sky.

    "Fools..." The once-Guvner whispered as he looked up at a hillock a few hundred yards ahead of himself. He stood in the middle of gentle depression in the Outlands. If he were to be ambushed, this would be a perfect place as it obscured the landscape all around, allowing a force to assemble all around him if they wished.

    "Whatever your intent, you will not proceed further." A single figure stood atop the ridge, looking down at the mortal and his silent companion. She gleamed silver in the sunlight.

    "Your desires are worthless, rilmani nuisance." Leobtav sneered, stretching his fingers in preparation for what would come.

    Atop the ridge, encircling the single mortal, space distorted and a veil lifted, revealing more than a hundred armored ferrumach. The first rank of many more, they stood at attention, spears and axes at the ready in the sunlight.

    "Say what you will about our desires mortal," The argenach frowned. "But you will not proceed. The god of the tiere will remain imprisoned as his betrayed believers left him till they and only they return to unlock his chains with their forgiveness, requited or not."

    "You cannot stop me from doing as I am commanded." Leobtav closed his eyes and called to mind the first of dozens of spells. As he did so, a dozen more emerged fresh in his mind, drawn from the endless well in which his master dwelled. He trembled and gasped at the pain it brought. Another grain of sand fell through the hourglass containing his soul, swallowed by that same void that swirled and hungered at the bottom.

    The argenach laughed and drew her blade. "Look around you mortal. You have one final chance to turn around and leave with your life. What do you say?"

    "Rilmani," Leobtav called out as his feet lifted off of the ground and crackles of energy surrounded his frail body, "I feel His touch carried on the wind. I see Him in every drop of blood I spill. I hear Him in every scream for mercy, and echoing in every death rattle when I give no quarter. The Waste itself spoke to me and I opened my soul to it. Now He whispers, I listen, and I obey."

    The argenach blinked, confused at the mortal's reaction in the face of overwhelming numbers. She motioned and the ferrumachs began their suicidal charge.


    ****


    - PCs pursue Leobtav, taking Ficklebarb with them, leaving Doran, Settys, and Frollis behind.


    The relatively mundane, terrestrial landscape and temperate biome faded away over the next several hours, replaced by a wasteland of withered scrub, dead or dying trees, and periodic swampland that forced them to divert their course in order to avoid the miasma of decaying organic matter and clouds of biting, stinging insects. Such was the nature of the Outlands as the plane mirrored the aspects of those planes it touched in tangent, metaphysically speaking, at the gates located in each of the 16 Gatetowns.

    Flying as they were, they were able to avoid much of the difficulty posed by the harsher terrain as the Outlands took upon aspects of both Carceri and the Abyss. That stroke of good luck would not would not last indefinitely however.

    "Does anyone else see that?" Fyrehowl stopped and looked hard into the distance, ears flickering ahead in an unconscious posture of alertness.

    Tristol squinted his eyes, "See what?"

    Fyrehowl pointed out on the horizon, out somewhere much closer to the Gatetown ring. "Out there on the horizon. Can't you see them?"

    Something was out there. A lot of things in fact. Moving. Marching.

    "I can't say I do." The aasimar squinted more and shook his head.

    "I do." Toras frowned as he watched what looked at first like a line of ants moving on the horizon. "That's an army."

    That it was. Beyond the range of most of their vision, excepting the celestial and half-celestial, a massive army marched in the direction of Plague-Mort. Forty thousand baatezu in orderly ranks, flying the banners of the Hag Countess of Maladomini, and beside them a second column of troops marched with smaller numbers and less rigid organization: 'loths, some ten thousand strong.

    "That's odd..." Fyrehowl remarked as her ears lay back against her head. "Devils and 'loths. A bunch of them."

    Clueless held his hands up warily, "They can keep on moving wherever they're going as long as it isn't the way that we're headed."

    Toras squinted further, wishing that he had a spyglass. "I can't make out the baatezu much since they're marching in formation. But there's a bunch of mezzoloths, canoloths, yeah pretty much all of the lesser ones and cr*p..."

    On the cusp of mentioning that the 'loths were accompanied by a cloud of flying slasraths, each of them carrying one or two robed figures each -arcanaloths- one of the flyers broke away from the main force and then vanished in the brilliant flicker of a teleport.

    Clueless unsheathed Razor, "I don't know what that flash of light was, but that I saw."

    "Someone saw us." Toras drew his blade as well. "Everyone get ready."

    Mirroring the first burst of light from afar, a second series of teleportation flashes erupted all around them, causing them all to squint. When the light faded, they were surrounded by an assortment of fiends, in all comprising 3 cornugons, 10 mezzoloths, 2 osyluths, and nearly a dozen abishai of assorted colors. Each of the fiends snarled or chittered, hefting their weapons at the ready, but otherwise they stood their ground and briefly glanced up to the single figure sitting cross-legged atop a blue-black slasrath that hovered directly above and ahead of the party.

    Looking down from his cushioned seat, an arcanaloth yawned and levitated a logbook and pen into his hands. "In the name of her infernal majesty the Hag Countess, Lord of the 5th, state your business for your transit in the region bordering Plague-Mort and Curst." Sneering at the party that garnered his primary attention, the greater yugoloth seemed distinctly bored and uninterested in his job, playing over glorified secretary and also marshal for what he clearly considered lesser beings.

    Toras adjusted his stance, obscuring Fyrehowl as much as possible from the 'loth, lest her presence bring about more malice than disinterest.

    "Speak now or I incinerate the lot of you." The 'loth's lip curled up, revealing a row of pearlescent fangs. "At least it would provide me with some amusement for today."

    "No need to be hasty." Clueless replied, giving a slight bow. "We're here only in transit, seeking a criminal that passed this way a day ahead of us."

    "A criminal?" The 'loth asked, barely sounding as if he honestly cared one way or the other. The baatezu below him however seemed at least marginally less hostile at the response.

    Clueless recalled Leobtav's original association with the Guvner's, and his time in Hopeless. "Wanted for crimes against Thingol the Mocking, and for crimes against the Fraternity of Order..."

    The arcanaloth held up his other hand, indicating Clueless to be silent. "So be it." He shrugged in as noncommittal way as he could. "No need to finish. I just need something to write. I really don't care as I said before. Kill this criminal if you wish, collect your bounty, or die at the hands of a pack of leomarshes. What happens to you is what happens. I on the other hand, I have a city to sack."

    The fiend actually smiled at the last moment and then vanished along with his underlings in another brilliant flash of light.

    Toras smiled and put away his sword, "Well that went a lot better than it could have. Saves us the time spent killing them all."

    It went completely unsaid that had conflict broken out, the distant army would likely have set upon them en masse. It had indeed been most opportune that the fiend hadn't really cared about them.

    "City to sack?" Florian looked troubled. "Which one and where?"

    They would find out, but it would be a number of days still.


    ****


    Many hours later, having followed Doran's map from point to point across the landscape, most of them worn down or nearly unrecognizable by the passage of millennia, they finally came across a point both not on the map at all, and one immediately recognizable.

    "What the hell happened here?" Fyrehowl gazed across a field of smoking ruins.

    No birds sang. No insects buzzed. At the edge of the village a great circle of dead grass demarcated the boundary of something terrible that had touched, and where it had touched, killed. Twenty buildings of stone, wood, and thatch had been reduced to ashes, while a stone watchtower lay on its side, toppled over with its lower half melted by magic or acid, ultimately having collapsed atop a cluster of tents which still issued periodic gouts of flame and smoke.

    "He's been here." Ficklebarb's eyes enlarged and he choked back a wail at what he, or a shattered part of him had done.

    Dozens of bodies littered the ground, unmarked but unmoving, along with half as many black smears of greasy ashes, the latter killed by something much more destructive, but equally effective.

    "This was a khaasta village." Toras glanced down at the corpse of an adult, lizard-like humanoid. He'd died with a spear in one hand and slaver's chains in the other. "They didn't have a clue who he was or what he could do."

    "Just how powerful is he?" Tristol peered at the spell effects Leobtav had unleashed, all of them profound, all of them loosed wantonly. "This was like killing an ant with a fireball."

    "Let's search the ruins." Toras suggested "If anyone is left, we need to talk to them and find out what happened."

    Initially their efforts were for naught. Bodies within the ruins had been charred to lumps of charcoal, or withered husks drained of life. Leobtav had either been thorough in his cleansing of the village, or else the khaasta had been zealous in their assault. Spreading out though, further from the putative center of the circle of dead grass, they had better luck.

    "I found someone!" Fyrehowl called out as her ears picked up on motion within the rubble of one of the cottages. A whimper and a swift hush, followed by a hand clamping shut over a muzzle.

    The others gathered behind the lupinal where she stood next to a pile of fallen debris and a partially collapsed tent.

    "Hs'kzik! Dzu'hathissim!" A wary, terrified cry emerged from the debris; part terror, part bravado.

    "We're not the one who did this." Toras looked at the others, none of whom spoke khaasta. "You're safe. You can come out. We won't hurt you."

    A hand covered in dusty brown scales lifted part of the tent wall and two pairs of reptilian eyes gazed out at the party. Tentatively they both stepped out and warily looked around, seemingly expecting their original attacker to return at any minute.

    "We're friends." Fyrehowl asked, immediately drawing a spark of comprehension on the lizard-folk's faces. "You're safe."

    The two khaasta were covered in dust and ash, and each was wounded in some capacity from fallen debris and fire. The first was an elderly female, mostly blind from cataract's that clouded her eyes, but she stood more erect and with more bravery than her companion, a young, terrified male whose posture and red, swollen eyes spoke of an inability to cope with loss. She had seen every shade of joy and loss in her long life, but he was young, and what he had witnessed had broken his spirit. Tears stained his cheeks, and clutched hard to his chest, he held a scorched, severed hand, probably all that remained of his fallen wife.

    "Fyrehowl?" Clueless glanced at the lupinal. "They don't speak planar common, but you can speak to them regardless. So if you could translate that would be awesome."

    Fyrehowl nodded and began speaking to the two frightened survivors. Despite speaking in planar common, they understood her regardless, hearing her words in their own tongue as soon as she spoke. Hearing the celestial calmed their nerves, as much as they could be calmed, having survived the destruction of their village, and having witnessed the deaths of their families, spouses, and children.

    "What happened here?" Clueless looked at the wildly gesticulating khaasta, trying to parse meaning before Fyrehowl translated for them.

    "Leobtav." The lupinal explained. "The village just happened to have been built here since the time that the map was written down. They weren't important. They were just in the way."

    The khaasta male sat down and began sobbing once again, holding the wife's severed hand to his cheek.

    "Their chief demanded to know who he was, and when he ignored them, they tried to take him captive. The commotion drew a crowd, which was when these two briefly saw him. They describe him as having "a demon upon his shoulder" that was whispering to him, telling him what to do."

    Perched on Toras's shoulder, Ficklebarb whimpered at the mention of his master's companion, whatever it was. He'd felt its touch before, but never physically. As Leobtav's soul withered, whatever had latched onto him in Gehenna grew ever more potent, and now seemed able to physically manifest.

    Fyrehowl gave the manifest conscience a look of pity before she continued her translation of the khaasta, "They say that he laughed as he destroyed the village building by building, slaying their warriors, slaying gravid mothers, and even the young and elderly. They also say that when he left, he took almost a score of the town with him, male and female alike, bending them to his will as if they were marionettes."


    - fight with undead khaasta. Surviving khaasta are given food and what supplies can be spared. Party continues onwards, following Doran's map, following in Leobtav's footsteps.

    - fight with possessed khaasta in the Outlands.


    Another day passed without incident, but the landscape around them seemed bizarrely empty. Wildlife had fled, and wherever intelligent creatures had been present, they'd scattered or been slaughtered in Leobtav's wake. Most disturbing though was the aftermath of Leobtav's conflict with the rilmani.

    Two times they came across battlegrounds, each of them strewn with the remnants of rilmani armor and weapons. The Outlands had swallowed the fallen rilmanis' essence, dissolving their corpses as they merged with the plane of their birth, leaving behind only the bizarre scattering of equipment. Each battlefield was ravaged by flames, acid, and the lingering reek of lightning generated ozone, as well as numerous instances of what could only be described as the aftereffects of wanton bursts of negative energy.

    "The rilmani are hurling themselves at him by the hundreds," Tristol looked up from where he crouched over a pile of rilmani weapons and armor welded together by a combination of extreme heat and magnetism.

    "That's not what bothers me." Clueless shook his head. "It's the fact that so far it looks like they've failed, and there's only six of us, not counting Ficklebarb."

    "Let's worry about that later." Florian frowned, looking to the east where on the far horizon they could see a rising cloud of dark, heavy smoke forming - likely another battle between Leobtav and the neutral outsiders. "We can pray that they do stop him before we catch up, or if not, that they weaken him enough that we can do the deed ourselves."


    ****


    They moved on and flew for several more hours before the Outlands' light waned and drew to the first hours of darkness, forcing them to land and hastily prepare camp. None of them however could sleep, both from knowing what awaited them, and from the unknowns that surrounded that looming confrontation. What would Leobtav do if he found the tiere deity? Free it? Kill it? What consequences would either bring? What had touched him years ago in the frozen lower reaches of Gehenna?

    These questions and more filtered through Tristol's mind as he sat in his tent, staring down at his spellbook, rememorizing his spells for the next day. Nisha sat next to him, curled up close and periodically tapping his toes with the tip of her tail.

    "You shouldn't worry so much." Nisha pulled down on Tristol's spellbook with the tip of her nose, smiling as she looked up over the level of the pages.

    "I can't help it." Tristol poked her nose. "There's a lot at stake tomorrow."

    "You're being too serious." Nisha giggled. "Delightfully so."

    "Delightfully serious? That's an odd thing for you to be saying."Tristol looked at her askance. "And besides, technically you've got a spellbook as well. I've seen you study it."

    "I can be serious at times." Nisha shrugged as her eyes wandered over the formulae diagrams in Tristol's book. "Occasionally. Maybe. From time to time. About as often as I have my nose in a spellbook."

    "You should do that more." Tristol smiled. "It'd be fun to see you develop more as a wizard."

    "I don't need to study much."

    "I didn't mean to downplay your ability as a wizard." Tristol hoped he hadn't offended her. "You've just got fewer spells at the moment. But we can work on that. I'd love to help you there."

    "No need." Nisha held up a finger and the tip of her tail. "Archmages don't need to study as much."

    "Archmages?" Tristol cocked his head to side quizzically.

    "Like me." Nisha quipped. "The Great Archmage Nisha."

    Tristol had the sudden mental image of just such a thing: Nisha with the power of a Netherese archmage of old, but with precisely her current level of whimsy.

    "Hey!" Nisha waved her tail in front of his face. "Tristol?"

    "Hmm?"

    "You looked a bit spaced out there for a second."

    "I'm sure you'd make a great archmage." He tried to smile without looking terrified at the idea. "You're cute."

    "So are you." She batted at his tail with her own.

    "Awww…" Tristol put his spellbook down and wrapped an arm around the tiefling. The two of them hugged, he kissed her forehead and she his chin. If only for a moment they were both smiling and the recent and ongoing horror that had begun in Pandemonium for them seemed distant, at least until a quick series of taps on the tent brought them out of their introspective snuggle.

    "You both should get up and take a look at this." Clueless called to them from outside. "This is something to see."

    Nisha looked at Tristol and shrugged. The aasimar got to his feet and extended a hand. Smiling, she gave it a quick kiss and let him help her to her feet. Together they walked outside and looked around. All of the others were up and awake, all staring off towards the east.

    "What do you make of that?" The bladesinger asked Tristol.

    In the distance, only a dozen hours away, the horizon was illuminated with the ruddy glow of raging flames and frequent bursts and crackles of light.

    "That's a battle." Florian unconsciously rubbed the holy symbol of Tempus between her thumb and forefinger. "That's a huge, huge battle."

    "Go rilmani!" Toras pumped his fists in the air.

    Clueless grinned and looked at the map. "Regardless of how that battle goes, it looks like we can probably catch up with Leobtav in fairly short order tomorrow. At least that's my take on the map. Distance has been odd out here, and it might be longer once we get started."

    Brilliant blue bursts of lightning erupted in the distance, followed minutes later by rolling crashes of thunder.

    "We should try to rest though." Clueless sighed. "If the rilmani can't stop him, we'll need to be at our best."

    "Agreed," Fyrehowl's ears twitched at the thunderclaps.


    ****


    Five hours later the distant sounds of battle waned, the crackle and roar of spells faded, silence retook its throne, and the horizon grew still but for the lingering glow of small fires. The battle was over.

    Sitting atop a cushion in Toras's tent, Ficklebarb's eyes stared off into space, looking past the horizon, looking past the battle, directed to where Leobtav stood. The professor's manifest, severed conscience whimpered as he felt an echo of his greater self's exultation. The rilmani had failed.

    "Please." He whispered, shedding a tear that rolled down the ruddy scales of his face. "Please don't listen to it. Please don't do what it says. Please, please don't open the door..."

    The sky was still swathed in darkness; the morning light had yet to begin its ascent into the sky. Just before dawn, the night's reverie was shattered by a thunderous roar from the east.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shemeska View Post
    And for everyone that has been reading this, both from the start and folks that have picked it up along the way: Thank you so very much. This has been a labor of love, a wonderful way to remember one of my favorite campaigns of all time, and also a way to look at how my writing has hopefully improved over the years. Still a work in progress of course.
    Thank you for bringing it to us! This is one of the best stories we've ever read, and we're so lucky that come hell or high water, you've kept telling it for so long! You've singlehandedly brought so many people into enjoying planescape and inspired so many more campaigns. It's really incredible Todd Here's to ten more years!!

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    So i have finally read all parts already written down....but wait, that means I have to wait like everyone else till the enxt Post.... NOOOOOOOOO. Okay I can read Storyhour 2 while waiting *g*

    Quote Originally Posted by Shemeska View Post
    In progress, along with a bunch of other things (both products and stories).

    Also, I got married last week. Attachment 59483

    I've been a busy busy 'loth
    Wait you finally found out your real Feelings for Akin and married him? But did not invite your fellow Arcanaloths? I mean you own a third of Sigil, enough space to accomdate all of your brothers and Sisters!! That would have been the biggest Party ever! *gg*

    Quote Originally Posted by Shemeska View Post
    The two arcanaloths said nothing, either verbally or telepathically for some time as they watched the tower. Finally, one of them spoke and broke the silence.

    “So what is it that you’re holding there?” Apteris asked, taking a step closer. “I can smell it on the wind, and the normal pitch is different from when we otherwise come up here to chat.”

    Alpthis chuckled and moved his hand to place a fist-sized object on the edge of the cliff.

    Apteris wrinkled his nose and looked at the black lump of ragged flesh.

    It was a heart, freshly removed from its recent body, likely by magic, probably within the last few minutes, and there was a rather pronounced bite that had been taken from the left ventricle.

    “So who was the victim?” The sorcerer-monk asked.

    “She was a traitor you see. Plotting against the mistress.” Alpthis explained, licking a bit of blood off of his lower lip. “At least that’s my excuse and I’ll be keeping to it.”

    Apteris said nothing as he gestured to the heart and telekinetically brought it to his right hand. He looked at the heart, sniffed at it like some expensive delicacy, and then bit into it like it were an apple.

    “So?” Alpthis asked while his brother finished his taste. “Your opinion on the matter brother?”

    “I recognize the taste. Lucinda Ap Fireth.” He said, taking a second bite before tossing it back for his brother to finish. “I -should- recognize the taste. I was f*cking her you know.”

    “Only when I wasn’t.”

    “Not even then always.”

    They shared a mutual chuckle; a rival out of the way, even if their beds might lack a partner for the short term.
    I have a Question. How did you handle it with Arcanaloth Deads? Did you specifiy it or let it open...or according to the old Books? Or better said, did you specify that they stay dead or that they can come back if they are not killed on Ghenna...meaning that the two Brothers will eventually meet their Victim in the Future again even if she will definetly never speek with them again *gg*

    And also I have an Idea....are the Gautiere....the Guardinals? Because the Name sound comparable...and I have a Crazy Idea. That perhaps the Guardinals or better the first of their Kind are risen Yugoloths/Arcanaloths. ^^ And that the imprisoned God is a Baernaloth who wanted to stop them, perhaps the one who created them....and that his Fall and their rise splitted the Baernaloths and make them the demented. And Yes I know that I am Crazy ^^

    You have a wonderful Story here and I can say that you really give a lot of Inspiration for own Campaigns and perhaps we will use some of them in our soon to be starting little campaign even if we are still planning, especially how Dark it will be. But it will absolutely Incorporate Yugoloths as we have at least one in our group, hunted by her own Kind for a transgression she never did. ^^

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    Quote Originally Posted by 81Dagon View Post
    Thank you for bringing it to us! This is one of the best stories we've ever read, and we're so lucky that come hell or high water, you've kept telling it for so long! You've singlehandedly brought so many people into enjoying planescape and inspired so many more campaigns. It's really incredible Todd Here's to ten more years!!
    Thank you so much!

    I've really enjoyed telling it so far, and there's still a lot to tell!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Akhelos View Post
    I have a Question. How did you handle it with Arcanaloth Deads? Did you specifiy it or let it open...or according to the old Books? Or better said, did you specify that they stay dead or that they can come back if they are not killed on Ghenna...meaning that the two Brothers will eventually meet their Victim in the Future again even if she will definetly never speek with them again *gg*

    And also I have an Idea....are the Gautiere....the Guardinals? Because the Name sound comparable...and I have a Crazy Idea. That perhaps the Guardinals or better the first of their Kind are risen Yugoloths/Arcanaloths. ^^ And that the imprisoned God is a Baernaloth who wanted to stop them, perhaps the one who created them....and that his Fall and their rise splitted the Baernaloths and make them the demented. And Yes I know that I am Crazy ^^

    You have a wonderful Story here and I can say that you really give a lot of Inspiration for own Campaigns and perhaps we will use some of them in our soon to be starting little campaign even if we are still planning, especially how Dark it will be. But it will absolutely Incorporate Yugoloths as we have at least one in our group, hunted by her own Kind for a transgression she never did. ^^
    I generally handle it as follows: if an arcanaloth dies in Gehenna they're permanently dead. If they die outside of Gehenna if they're powerful enough they'll eventually reform in Gehenna, but weaker, and at the discretion of the Keeper of the Tower they might come back as a lower caste 'loth. With reference to the former lover of Alpthis and Apteris, it's open for debate where they killed her. They were eating her heart like an apple while in the Waste, but they could have killed her in Gehenna (the 'loth purge instigated by the Ebon happened across Gehenna, the Waste, and Carceri at roughly the same time).

    The next two updates are going to have a -lot- of stuff answered, and a lot more questioned raised.

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    It began as a flash of swift and searing white light from the east, in the direction of the Cathedral of the Chained God. Then, like the thunder in the aftermath of a bolt of lightning reaching skyward, they heard the sound itself. It washed over them like a wave, profound and wrathful, but then the strangest thing happened as they felt a swift breeze blowing not away from the sound, but towards it.

    "What in Andros' name was that?" Toras exclaimed.

    "That sounded like a scream." Florian looked at the horizon with unease. "Or maybe less a scream than a roar?"

    Clueless nodded in agreement, "I haven't heard anything like that since the 'loths tamed the Mother of Serpents."

    Fyrehowl scowled at the mention of the 'loths, and the mention of the Oinoloth's chained beast elicited a snarl. "Let's not even bring them into this. But it was neither. That was an explosion."

    "That rush of air." Tristol nodded at the lupinal. "If the gautiere deity was sealed somewhere, I think we just heard the door being forced open."

    Collectively they paused and looked at one another. Leobtav could not be allowed to do what he wished, whatever in fact that was. They had to hurry.

    "We should get moving." Florian rubbed her holy symbol of Tempus like a gilded worry-stone, but then she smiled. "Otherwise the battle might be over before we get there, and we can't have that."


    ****


    Making their way through the shifting, unmappable terrain of the Hinterlands, for the next four hours, silence reigned. The sounds of battle faded and where the horizon had burned and flashed, now it smoldered with what few fires remained in the aftermath. But as they approached the site of the battles they had heard, the site that Leobtav had spent years searching for, the Cathedral of the Chained God, they would find that not all was silent in Leobtav's wake.

    "We should probably stop flying and do this on foot." Clueless remarked. "We won't have any cover up here."

    "But flying is fun!" Nisha put her arms out, flapping them twice and then pantomiming a dragon breathing flame on some hapless village. "Besides I..." The tiefling's eyes crossed and her face wrinkled as a smell drifted across her nose, carried by the wind. She spat out a burst of Xaos-speak and shook her head, "Ok, yeah I'm fine with landing and going on hoof, foot, whatever. The smell of death on the winds says we should land."

    The wind blew quicker, filling the air with the reek of death, suggesting a recent and obscene death toll only miles away now. Though it would slow them down in their pursuit, the oppressive smell was enough to force them to land and walk the remaining distance.

    They were silent for the next two miles, noting that the landscape was trampled by the passage of thousands of feet, marked by the footprints of boots and the clawed feet of the rilmanis' mounts as well. They had come across battles between the rilmani and Leobtav already, but the sheer number of individuals that had passed this way suggested that those battles had been mere skirmishes compared to what loomed ahead.

    "Can you feel that?" Fyrehowl shivered and her hackles rose.

    "Feel what?" Florian glanced back at the lupinal.

    "The air feels, I dunno... heavy." She shrugged and tried to shrug off the disquieting sensation she felt as they approached the rise of a tall natural hill, earthwork, or -given its size- the lip of an eroded crater.

    "I feel it too." Toras narrowed his eyes as he began the ascent. "I can't place it though. It just feels wrong. Terribly wrong."

    "Foehammer watch over us." Florian whispered, touching her holy symbol to her lips.

    Gathering themselves for whatever might await over the top of the rise, they pushed ahead, but no amount of preparation could truly prepare them for what they saw.

    Tristol gazed in a mixture of fascination and horror at the landscape as they stood atop a circular rim surrounding a deep, heavy depression, "Mystra preserve..."

    Stretching perhaps five miles in diameter, the crater-like bowl in the surface of the Hinterlands centered on a massive, circular cathedral at its center. Built of purest white marble and decorated with innumerable gleaming gemstones, it radiated a brilliant white light, and where that light touched, it evoked emotions of purity, glory, and devotion. That however was all the purity and glory that had existed in that place for eons. Stretching out from the base of the cathedral, the land was warped, looking like huge ripples in the surface of a lake as if an angry titan had dropped a stone in a lake and then frozen it in some unmoving snapshot of time. Though ground itself seemed sick. Everything was stained a sickly reddish black, darker and deeper the closer to the cathedral, extending outwards like a leeching stain of blood.

    "The ground," Fyrehowl's fur bristled and her ears lay back, "It's actually bloody."

    Toras daubed two fingers on the ground, wincing from something and averting his exposed face as his fingertips came back smeared red and slightly sticky. "It's also hot."

    Florian made a face as she looked at the blood saturating the ground, "What the hell happened back then to make it this way?"

    "We might as well be in a deific domain." Clueless mused, "What happens is what happens really. What I'm keener to know is what the hell happened here just recently?"

    Nisha glanced down across the depression and the carnage that covered much of it, with a distinct path laid out before them around which most of the devastation clustered. "We can follow Leobtav's path and find out. Not that I really want to."

    "That's probably the best way to go actually." Toras mused. If he fought his way through any guardians in place, he'll have sprung any traps or wards as he went."

    "Like wandering through the woods and being the second person on the trail." Nisha quipped.

    "Huh?" Tristol looked at her, and the mischievous, knowing grin playing across her face. "Last time we were in Sylvania we went on a walk and you insisted that I go first..."

    "Because the first person tends to walk into the spiderwebs first." The tiefling stuck her tongue out and smiled.

    Tristol chuckled and shook his head. "I should cast web on you."

    The two of them continued to banter between themselves while the others looked down, following Leobtav's path of destruction.

    "He won't have left anything behind." All eyes looked down to Ficklebarb's thin, shivering voice. "He's so close to what he wants to find; so sure of himself that he won't even consider that you're coming after him. He isn't looking back."

    “We’ll do whatever we can.” Toras put a finger on Ficklebarb’s side. “We’ll do whatever we have to do. Whatever happens to Leobtav, we’ll do what you want and need us to do.”

    "He isn't looking back at all." The tiny not-familiar shed a tear. It fell, sparkling to the ground, sizzling as it contacted the earth. Purity had no place on the unhallowed earth. “Thank you, Toras and all of you.”

    Tentatively they descended, winding their way down the slope of the depression and towards the looming cathedral. All the way they passed the ruin and detritus of Leobtav's passage. Rubble littered the ground: an amalgamation of destroyed constructs, dead rilmani, and butchered gautiere. The constructs were ancient, apparently placed there as guardians eons before, but the neutral exemplars and the gautiere were newly put to the slaughter.

    They all turned and looked at a destroyed golem as they passed it, and then two more, both of them reduced to twisted hulks of still smoking metal. Dozens more were scattered about in pieces, having been physically torn apart, with sections of their armored bodies shredded and gouged as if by great claws.

    "Those aren't of rilmani manufacture." Tristol remarked, looking at the vast difference in style between them and the rilmani remains hurled about like broken dolls across the landscape.

    Most of the fighting had taken place further out from the cathedral itself, and past a certain point the land retained its original state, but even there it showed the signs of terrible, horrific things long in the past. The ground was still sticky with blood, and still radiated a dull heat that only increased with each passing step, but eventually it began to elicit a crunch.

    "What are we walking on?" Nisha grimaced and glanced down at her hooves. "Because I really really want some horseshoes of levitation right about now."

    Collectively they paused and looked down. The earth was no longer soil, but a mixture of bones of the ancient dead and fragments of wood burned to charcoal and metal long since rusted into powder. Ground down by the ravages of time were the fragments of utterly ancient siege engines, devices of war, chariots, wagons, and bodies of their riders and beasts of burden.

    "These were tiere." Ficklebarb explained. "He had such contempt for them."

    They stared at the familiar, wondering if he was referring to Leobtav or to the gautiere's imprisoned god. But regardless of which, he was correct about the remains they trod upon beneath their footfalls. They were tiere. They were the ones who had been there to seal and lock the doors of the Cathdral, the inner circle of their race killed in the throes of a betrayed power and the concomitant damnation of their entire race.

    Fyrehowl's ears twitched. "Stop."

    "What is it?" Clueless gripped Razor's pommel.

    Tristol's ears did the same motion and he glanced at the lupinal with a look of odd, uneasy worry. "I can hear it too. That's... hideous..."

    "What is?" Nisha glanced about, ignoring for the moment her sticky, bloody hooves.

    Not immediately answering the xaositect, Fyrehowl whimpered. "Powers above..."

    "Sh*t..." Toras didn't need to hear them in order to see them.

    Ahead, beyond the point where there were no longer any of the original guardians and no more rilmani, there was one final group of beings: the gautiere. They wandered about aimlessly, confused and enraged, howling and screaming in absolutely, abject, irrational fury. They dug claws into their own flesh as they wept, shrieking till their voices dulled and broke, hands beating themselves in misery. How dare someone intrude upon this place! How dare he threaten to grant their creator and betrayer the peace of death! Their world, their reality, their self-identity was breaking apart.

    So absorbed in their misery were they however, that they paid little attention to the group following in Leobtav's footsteps. While it would have been tempting to give them at least a glance of misery, the sheer malice of the gaitiere's wailing disabused them of the notion - all but Ficklebarb. In a very real way he, or at least another part of him, was responsible for their misery.

    "Forgive me..." Ficklebarb silently mouthed to each and every one of them as they passed by.

    Beyond them, the gates of the Cathedral stood wide, torn asunder as if by giant claws. Wrenched wide, the gleaming white gates were tarnished, scorched by flame or spark, and a rime of frost covered the remainder of their surface, radiating a palpable chill even at dozens of yards distance

    "We may be too late..." Florian mumbled, but the thought was there already, haunting their minds as they listened to the gautiere lament echo across the landscape.

    "Let's not get ahead of ourselves." Toras spoke with affected confidence. "I don't think that..." He abruptly stopped and grabbed his sword to the ready as a lone figure shimmered into view atop the steps before the yawning entrance.

    "Hold it, that's not Leobtav." Fyrehowl barked out a warning before Toras and her companions could overreact.

    The silvery figure held up a hand in greeting.

    "That's a rilmani." Clueless smiled. "Haven't seen one of them before."

    "Only seen one rilmani ever really: one of the coppery kind." Nisha flicked her tail, causing the bell at its tip to ring once. "I rather miss him."

    Putting away their weapons and much more at ease than when they first walked through the wasteland surrounding the Cathedral, they approached the lone argenach. The solitary argenarch smiled as best she could as they approached. She was covered in blood, much of it her own, and very likely she was one of the few survivors from Leobtav's passage.

    "Greetings." The argenach's voice was weary and tired, and as they approached her, she slumped down and sat upon the steps rather than remain standing.

    "Who are you?" Clueless asked, looking at her face and then to her injuries.

    "There is not much time, nor is my name important." She waved away Clueless's concern. "You must enter and stop him."

    Beyond where the argenach sat, the entrance to the Cathedral was smeared with blood, ash, and a pile of gautiere corpses where the damned race had literally tried to barricade the door with their own flesh to prevent Leobtav entry.

    "Forgive me, but do you know why he's here, Leobtav that is?" Tristol looked past the rilmani and into the darkened interior of the Cathedral.

    "No, we do not." The argenach shook her head and frowned. "What he intends and what empowers him is a mystery to us. But this place cannot be opened. Not now. Not yet. It was for the gautiere themselves to one day return and rectify their grand mistake, but not now, not like this. This was not supposed to be."

    "We passed by a half dozen battlefields." Clueless explained, looking back Spireward. "You certainly tried to stop him."

    "We tried, but we failed and now it may be too late. Alas we cannot enter beyond the gates, but you can. The Balance must be kept. The traitorous god must remain imprisoned until the day when the tiere return to open the door themselves, release him from his chains and forgive him, redeeming them both.”

    "How do you know that?" Fyrehowl tilted her head to the side. "You seem convinced of the gautiere opportunity to redeem themselves from their fall. Altruism isn't normally something that I associate with your kind, you're more complex normally."

    "Altruism is meaningless without equivalent malice. The gautiere began this, and they should end this by restoring that Balance." The argenach's voice was calm and convinced. "We would disrupt the process if we intervened. We only desire to provide the chance to them. But we knew it would occur. We thought so..." Her voice trailed off with a tone of worry and uncertainty. "Long ago the aurumachs watched the tiere fall, imprisoning their divine patron and damning themselves. They cast great divinations and saw that a time would come when the gautiere would wander from Carceri and loose the shackles from their deity, and from themselves. Knowing this, we watched and protected this place, knowing that it was the gautiere and the gautiere alone who would decide what would one day happen. The Balance would be preserved and they would one day right the scales of their own souls."

    "That isn't what happened though." Toras frowned.

    "No, it isn't." The argenach blinked back tears of grief and confusion. "This was not to be. The aurumach prophecies have come crashing down. Fate has been twisted and perverted and I cannot see how. Please, you must stop this from going further."

    "They can." Ficklebarb smiled at the rilmani. She looked into the familiar's eyes, and there saw something. Something subtle and unspoken, but it seemed to calm her worry.

    "What the little one said." Toras placed the dragon on his shoulder, hefting his sword and glancing to the Cathdral's doorway. "Come on. We have to end this and put things right."

    "We'll see you on our way out." Clueless nodded to the argenach and followed Toras along with the others.

    They crossed over the threshold and into the gloom within, when the rilmani stood, turned and called out to them, finally smiling, “Kiro sends his regards. Good luck.”


    ****


    "Finally I am here. Finally after all of these years of searching." Cilret Leobtav smiled and looked down at the preparations that he had made for what would come next.

    Decades of his life had been spent in toil leading up to this. He had given himself to the Ash Singer, body, mind, and soul. There was nothing left of the man who had found the darkness in that forsaken patch of ground in Gehenna, there was only this blessed, hollow vessel through which his master interacted with this reality, so distant and so unprepared.

    "Poetic in a way that I began my journey in a ruined cathedral in Gehenna's frozen depths, and now I stand in a cathedral paradoxically both younger and older than that one, prepared for the next stage of my journey."

    The figure of the tiere deity made no response - the gautiere had seen to that in their own way eons before. Leobtav had simply embellished upon their sacrilege in his own horrific, profane way. Upon entry into the central, holy sanctum he'd gone swiftly to work, carving symbols into the ground whispered into his ear by the figure seated upon his shoulder, symbols spelling out words that burned his eyes and more than once caused his nose and mouth to bleed simply by exposure. Concentric intertwined rings he'd carved round and round the tiere god, along with a single word: a name, a description, a title of the entity, the smallest fragment of which perched like some black imp upon his shoulder, digging its claws into flesh and other, subtler and much more precious things as the time drew close to finish this portion of as Leobtav would phrase it, 'what had to occur for it all to happen once again.'

    "I am ready." He whispered, trembling slightly as his vision blurred and his head pounded from the strength of the magic that he had carved into the floor - a channel, a siphon, a godtrap, a macerating, devouring maw. He was exhausted from the sheer physical labor and from the blood loss. But he was nearly done. "Everything that you told me in Gehenna will come to pass as it did once before. But this time perfect. This time as it should be. This time without their interference."

    The thing upon his shoulder snickered and a voice flooded into Leobtav's mind.

    "THE PUPPETMASTERS OF THE WASTE THINK THEMSELVES IN CONTROL. ANCIENT FOOLS. THEY HASTEN THEIR OWN OBLIVION. IGNORANT AND FULL OF NAUGHT BUT HUBRIS. THE IRONY..."

    Leobtav whimpered as the darkness flexed its claws and dug into his shoulder once more.

    "I am ready master. Please let this task finally be finished."

    Leobtav cradled his hands together and felt them filled with a weight. Looking down he smiled at the dagger now present, having not been there a moment before. Made of crudely sculpted and chipped obsidian of a type familiar to any scholar of the lower planes of Conflict, it was new, as if it had been prepared for its sole task but then never used. Though it was not the intent of the design, it would be used for something thematically similar, but wholly elevated by comparison. Only not for the one whose deific heart it would be plunged into.

    "IT IS TIME."

    Leobtav smiled, closed his eyes, stepped forward and raised the blade.


    ****

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    Just grand: grand adventure, grand vistas, grand dreams, grand malevolence. Keep it comin', Shemeska!

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    ****

    The hallway stretched out before them as they trekked into the Cathedral's depths, dark beyond the mere absence of light - their conjured light seemed to degrade with each step, with small grain-like motes of light breaking off and devoured by the surrounding gloom as they progressed. It only added to their apprehension of what they would find at the end of their journey, and the surroundings themselves did not help either.

    "Why couldn't they have built this as a happy place?" Nisha frowned as she gingerly stepped forward at point, a dozen feet ahead of the others, using a practiced eye and her own unnatural luck to scope for any traps, both magical and mundane.

    "I think it was intended to be." Tristol's tail flitted side to side nervously. "But it certainly didn't stay that way."

    "Imprisoned or not, it's a god's domain, and everything here changes to reflect it." Fyrehowl's own tail matched Tristol's nervous motions as she glanced at the bizarre architecture.

    Flanking them, a line of larger statues glared down, their mouths open and frozen in alabaster snarls. They wore armor similar to the gautiere outside, but heavier, and of a much older, complex, baroque design. In one hand they held heavy silvery shields marred black with time's caress and in the other long spears whose silver spikes shown brilliantly as if new, evidently enchanted. Each was positioned such that they all seemed turned to collectively face any progressing further into the Cathedral, like a stone army prepared to fend off any invasion of the blasphemous sanctum.

    "Creepy statues..." Nisha peered at their snarling faces and made her own growling expression back. "But at least Leobtav seems to have cleared out any traps. I haven't found a single one so far."

    This of course was the precise moment that the party stood exactly halfway down the corridor, with an equal number of armored statues before and behind them, cutting off both routes. Collectively the statues stepped off of their bases with the sound of grating stone and shrieking metal grinding against joints not moved in eons.

    "Oh you had to say that!" Toras put his hands up in the air and glared at the tiefling. "You just had to poke fate in the eye and stick your tongue out at it. Again!"

    Nisha bit her lip and suppressed an inappropriate giggle, drawing her rapier in one hand and snatching a wand from her belt with the other, "If I could do that by making a joke, we'd be in a lot more trouble every day..."

    "Everyone group together, we'll let them come to us." Clueless drew Razor and prepared for the attack.

    Marching in lockstep, the statues advanced.


    - here the PCs fight a dozen advanced caryatid columns. Skipping the full writeup of that fight.


    Clueless sat down to rest for a moment on the broken remains of one of the columns, "Well, with the noise that created, now Leobtav knows we're coming after him. I suppose we don't have to worry about stealth from this point forward."

    "How did -he- get past them without getting attacked?" Toras kicked a pile of broken stone and shook his head.

    "How'd he get past an army of rilmani and gautiere?" Florian shrugged.

    "How are we supposed to stop him when they couldn't?" Nisha's expression was dubious on the issue. "I know we've discussed this before, but still."

    "Because you have to stop him." Ficklebarb's voice was even more unsteady than before; the not-pseudodragon was living on borrowed time. "Because I want you to. I'm the part of him that still cares, that looks in horror at what he's done, and is begging you to end this."

    "What happens to you if we do?" Toras asked with a heavy furrow of his eyebrows, underlying his concern at what might mean killing Ficklebarb as well as his master if they were linked irrevocably.

    "Whatever happens, you have to do it." The tiny dragon's expression was unreadable, "He's close."

    With the warning provided by the last sane, good fragment of Cilret Leobtav's soul, the party clambered over the remains of the Cathedral's guardians. It wasn't very far as the familiar counseled them, and with a wary, heavy heart they progressed into the Cathdral's depths. The interior of the structure was larger than its exterior would have suggested, and while the vaulted, blackened corridor twisted, turned, and split numerous times, they followed Ficklebarb's advice on the swiftest route to the very interior, and indeed he was onto something as with each turn the gloom slowly but surely lifted and the passage grew wider and its architecture more and more elaborate.

    "We're here..." Ficklebarb whimpered.

    "What the hell is that?" Toras gripped his sword and gasped at what they saw at the Cathedral's heart.

    The chamber was massive, easily encompassing the size of the entire edifice as viewed from the outside. Concentric rows of empty pews surrounded an open center; places where the entirety of the tiere race would have sat, enraptured by the manifest presence of their god. Yet at the Cathedral's heart where their god would have reigned supreme, things were not as they were originally intended.

    There, atop a great raised golden dais, stood a shining white altar, atop of which hovered a black, featureless outline of a giant humanoid body. It hung limp and motionless in the air, each of its limbs bearing a golden manacle and trailing golden chains down to spikes driven into the floor. Imprisoned and entombed by his own worshippers, the tiere deity had constructed a prison of his own making, and eventually his realm had grown to resemble that concept ever more directly.

    The imprisoned tiere deity was not solitary as it hung there above the altar turned cenotaph.

    "It is done. Another tumbler falls. You are too late."

    Leobtav's frail form straddled the blackened outline as he looked down upon the deity's shackled form. His back was turned to the them, and he had not even turned to so much as regard them when they stepped into the chamber.

    "Whatever you're doing, we're here to put an end to it." Clueless pointed Razor at the ex-Guvner, resolute and angry, staring eye to eye with the madman.

    "You will pay for what you did to those people in Pandemonium, and to those in Hopeless." Toras shouted, blade drawn and eager to bring justice to those who could not exact it themselves.

    Leobtav smirked and casually leapt from the altar down to the ground. As he did so, the rest of the tiere god's form was revealed, as was the black glass dagger plunged into its heart. Spreading out from the wound, the black of the figure's body was leached away into a pale grey, as was the color of the altar and the floor below it as if the blade was feeding and leaching something far more than life.

    "Those people did not deserve what I did to them." Leobtav shrugged and then laughed, half-triumphant, half nervous. "But we don't always choose to do what we do in life. Some things simply must happen. I learned that a very long time ago."

    Upon his shoulder, the shadowy figure sneered and stroked his head like a treasured pet.

    "They didn't deserve what I did to them, but I did enjoy it however." Leobtav sneered derisively, slapping his hands together with a motion of washing his hands. "It wasn't quick for most of them you know. I let them suffer."
    Leobtav casually recited a summary of the murders in Pandemonium, the ones before then in Hopeless, and a half dozen in other places. None of them made sense. They served no purpose at all. Whatever had polluted his mind all of those years ago in Gehenna had left him a broken, damned shell. Leobtav's victims had simply been side effects of the corrosive, soul-devouring process that began in the Vale of Frozen Ashes that had progressively molded him into a tool for the entity he called the Ashsinger to use in a task that ultimately led to the tiere deity.
    "Would you care to listen to them?" Leobtav smiled and opened his mouth. Rather than his own voice, what issued was a chorus of tormented cries for mercy, screams of pain and horror, and prayers whispered far too late - all of them the wails and whispers of his victims.

    Fyrehowl snarled and pointed her blade at him, joining the others. "I've seen too many innocent people suffer for no reason in this life, and I'll be damned if I let you add to that any further."
    "Yes, yes you will be..." Leobtav whispered as he looked at the lupinal. "Do what you will celestial bitch, it will be as relevant and effective as your attempts to help your own people at Rubicon."

    "F*ck you!!!" Fyrehowl's face as a contorted mask of rage and pain, tears welled in her eyes, and she tensed to pounce.
    "Master, I have served you well." Leobtav's voice was triumphant as he laughed. Giddy on his success at the task of decades, he wanted to celebrate, and also to put to death the last fragments of his former self. "Please allow me the pleasure of rending these irrelevant fools' souls into so much metaphysical paste, and with them, what little is left of me that you have not taken as your own."

    Holding on to Toras's shoulder, the last remaining portion of Leobtav's soul shed a tear. "He's too far gone. I'm too far gone. This can't end any other way. I'm so sorry..." The not-familiar understood what would happen, what -must- happen, and ultimately what that fate entailed for himself.

    It happened in the space of a single instant as Leobtav dropped a hand to his side, snatched something there and then brought his hand back up, now brandishing a rod. Nothing of its type had been there a moment before, nor within reach tucked into his belt or anywhere else, it had simply appeared. Whatever the thing upon his shoulder was, it was affording him whatever he wished to have. With a crooked smile upon his face a chain of contingencies went off, erupting in flashes of light that caused his glasses to glare over, appearing like solid, luminous eyes as they did. The man's skin hardened with an invisible gloss of stone, a circle of flame erupted around him, and his movements sped up into a blur of motion.

    "Don't let him cast!" Tristol shouted, preparing to counterspell whatever the former Guvner might hurl at them. Surely he would be on the last of his memorized spells after having butchered countless rilmani, surely that must be the case. But the thing on his shoulder whispering in his ear threw all of those assumptions and all rationality by the wayside.

    Clueless and Fyrehowl were swift and in the blink of an eye they spread out to the sides, hoping to flank Leobtav and divide his attention as they others attacked from the front. Before they managed to ran more than a few yards however, Leobtav was ready with something of his own.

    "Rise up chaff of the lower planes. Rise up forsaken broken things. Rise up spawn of the Heart of Darkness, things that should have never been made. You are nothing, but you will obey nonetheless in the name of He that I serve."

    Leovtav's words drifted in and out of Abyssal, Infernal, Yugoloth, and in a droning whisper underlying them all, something older and darker whose use caused bits of blood to leak from his eyes and ears. But he did not care. This would be his last battle. He had served his purpose well and this last triumph was for him and him alone.

    Around him, shadows coiled and gathered in three pools of darkness, and with each word he spoke, they congealed and coagulated into discrete forms: shadowy versions of tanar'ri, baatezu, and yugoloth - vrock, cornugon, and nycaloth. They lifted themselves up from whence they'd formed, stretched, and roared. Leobtav pointed at his foes and his servants moved without question, spreading their wings and brandishing fangs and talons.

    "What the hell are those?" Florian shouted as she hefted her weapon and intoned a prayer to Tempus, exhorting the Foehammer to guide their hands and shield their bodies and souls.
    Though they superficially resembled those fiends, Leobtav's servitors were made of congealed, shifting darkness. Within their greater forms the shadows moved in impressions of smaller, struggling, tortured figured trapped within. Those three fiends would normally be at one anothers' throats, but at Loeobtav's call they acted without reservation. The normal divide of Law and Chaos was absent, assuming of course that they were the actual fiends they appeared to be.

    Tristol's eyes went wide and he whispered a prayer to Mystra as he watched Leobtav launch into a frenzy of spellcasting, unleashing two or three spells in the space that he would have hurled one or potentially rarely two. The madman's magical repertoire was also utterly unphased by his recent battles against the rilmani and gautiere; the spells were simply flowing into his head from somewhere else, affording him the luxury of simply calling them down without having to perform the normal, complex mental calculations and hurdles to appropriately put them from abstract formulae to unleashed reality.

    The first spells Leobtav hurled were among the most powerful that Tristol knew existed: a spread of blistering meteors, a rolling cloud of desiccating vapor, and finally a finger pointed at Toras and an intonation of a single word, "Die!" The meteors were dodged and the horrid wilting withstood, but not without injury, some of them brutal, and while Toras momentarily stiffened, he resisted the necromantic curse in time to viciously attack the shadowy vrock lunging at him.

    A burst of flickering, clashing colors erupted about the shadowy cornugon, stunning and disorienting it. Nisha let out a shout of surprised glee, and whatever the creature truly was, at the very least it reacted to spells as if it were an actual baatezu.
    Fyrehowl and Clueless teamed up on the nycaloth, with the bladesinger unleashing a flurry of slashing strikes and a bolt of flame as the lupinal tripped, tackled, and savagely mauled it with fangs and claws before it thrust its wings are darted free.

    A second time Leobtav invoked death, only this time on Clueless. But like Toras before him, the half-fey gave a pained, injured grimace but shook off the full effect.

    "Good luck with that!" Clueless mocked Leobtav, "Piss off with the necromancy."

    Leobtav smiled and turned to the half-fey, his glasses reflecting the guttering, dying waves of the meteor swarm's flames. "Death is not the worst that I could give you..."

    Tristol was prepared to counterspell, thinking that Leobtav would use a similar spell on the bladesinger, but the first words that spilled from his mouth were something altogether different. This time he didn't hurl a trio of spells. He only cast one.

    "Suffer for my Master." Leobtav called out. "Suffer for me. Suffer forever."
    The ambient light dimmed and Clueless was wrenched from where he stood on the ground, his voice cutting off and erupting in an unmitigated shriek of agony. His body glowed with black flame and once hurled into the air he simply stayed there, suspended, contorting in pain. Whatever Leobtav had done to him, none of Clueless's fellows had ever seen anything like it, nor had they ever seen the bladesinger in so much blind torment.
    "Help... me..." The words formed on Clueless's lips and then he twisted in the air again, dancing about like a tormented rag-doll, blood seeping from his eyes and nose.

    Tristol couldn't place the spell. It was terrible, blasphemous and completely beyond anything that he had ever witnessed, even in Halruaa. The closest thing to it were the ferocious spells hurled by the Netherese archmages of old.

    "All of you will suffer like him!" Leobtav gestured to Clueless, cackling in mad glee.
    Seeing their companion suffering so only pushed them to greater heroism however. Leobtav's servitors were dispatched, and slowly the madman accrued wounds of his own: a holy smite from Florian, a diving slash from Nisha, and a disintegration counterspelled and turned back on him by Tristol. Leobtav was more powerful on his own than any of them, but he was a weak, sickly man outside of the power he channeled, and there was only one of him.

    "Die! All of you!" The reek of ozone gathered around Leobtav and flickers of electricity formed into the maw of a great blue wyrm above his head. Gesturing and laughing bolts of blue-white lightning chained between all of his foes, with Florian and Nisha taking the worst of it, and the latter collapsing to the ground, moaning but still conscious.
    "Helpless! Worthless wretches all of you!" Leobtav mocked them, all the while oblivious to the lupinal, herself immune to lightning. With the stealth borne of her adherence to the Ciphers she darted forward, scimitars ready to strike.

    Neither oblivious nor mad, Toras smiled and charged forward, drawing another bolt of lightning to his chest, a flurry of bolts of glowing force, and a flickering green beam of corrosive energy. They all struck true, but it didn't matter. He couldn't fail. No matter how it hurt, he had to put an end to this.
    "How does it feel bastard of the upper planes?" Leobtav lambasted him and moving his hands in the same motions that he had before nailing Clueless in place in agony. "How does it feel to know that..."

    Fyrehowl's blades sunk deep, followed a moment later by the point of Toras's greatsword. Both of them broke through Leobtav's magical shielding with a shattering noise tempered by the wet, sickening sound of a punctured lung. Blood welled up and stained his shirt. With a horrified look of surprise and fear he staggered back.

    "Master! Restore me that I might finish this task!" Leobtav begged, coughing up blood with each strangled, tortured word. "Master please! Help me!"

    The thing upon his shoulder crouched down, put one hand on his head and turned to look at him with their eyes on an equal level.

    "Please..." Leobtav begged, bracing himself against the tiere god's altar. "You promised me..."

    The shadow smiled like a darker gulf in a black, starless sky. It smiled and it snickered, audibly mocking its servant before turning and leaping off of him, vanishing into a sudden tear in the fabric of space. The air was deathly cold and filled with a sense of palpable loss and emotional agony, and then it sealed and the presence was gone.

    "Master no..." Leobtav wailed as blood pulsed from his hemorrhaging wound. His eyes were wide and hollow, his mind unable to grasp that just like the tiere, his god had abandoned him. As he struggled to comprehend its betrayal as the life left his body, his expression was hauntingly similar to that of the gautiere who wandered, lost, enraged and weeping at the Cathedral's gates.

    Leobtav dropped the rod in his hands and slumped to the ground, focusing on the tiny, now transparent form of that fragment of his soul named Ficklebarb. He focused on that portion of himself and scowled, mad with fury, curses and invectives spilling from his lips in a furious torrent. His fury fell silent, the loss of blood ebbed, and then he began to weep, never taking his eyes off of the pseudodragon. Leobtav shuddered and died.

    Perched within Toras's hands, in the moment before his great self passed, Ficklebarb whispered, "I forgive you."

    Toras looked down at his empty hands and shed a tear of his own. Leobtav was dead, and with him, so too was the only good fragment of his soul. What might become of them, if there was anything there that might be redeemed and reclaimed somewhere else on the planes, none could truly say.
    Clueless dropped to the ground, gasping and coughing blood. With Leobtav dead, the spell was ended.

    Softly, Nisha began to cry and not from the pain of the lightning bolt that had burned her terribly only a minute before. Tristol sat down and held her, only barely holding back his own emotions.

    "Why did Ficklebarb have to die?" She asked, holding the aasimar's tail like a security blanket, wiping her tears and the ashes on her face upon its white tip. "It isn't fair, it isn't right."

    Tristol held her close and looked up at the others'. Their faces were sullen and marked with regret. There was little different that they could have done. Leobtav and Ficklebarb were portions of the same soul, and inevitably the death of the larger one would mean the death of the other.

    "He gave us permission Nisha," Clueless said, trying to justify their actions. "He begged us to do what we needed to do, and we did what he wanted."

    "It really was the best way." Tristol concurred, "Even if it doesn't feel that way right now."

    Silence fell over them all as they stared at Leobtav's broken body, and Toras stared long and hard at his empty hands where Ficklebarb had perched, and at the lingering black marks on the guvner's corpse where his puppet master had sat.

    "What the hell was that thing on his shoulder?" Toras's face was livid with a cold rage, and his fists clenched and unclenched. With Ficklebarb's passing, it was as if a child had died on his watch. An innocent creature had vanished and the world was left a colder, harder place as a result. The thing that had caused all of its pain and eventual obliteration would pay.

    "I don't have a clue." Tristol's ears lay back on his head as he cradled Nisha against his chest. "It didn't honestly seem to be there under any detections spells; no magic, nothing. But it was giving Leobtav access to magic that I've never seen anyone cast. Some of those spells are just so far beyond me, or anyone I've ever known...he shouldn't have been able to just casually hurl those about."

    "What do you think the chances are that he has anything on his corpse that might give us a hint at what the hell he was doing?" Clueless glanced down at where Leobtav's body lay on the ground, bloody and contorted. "Who wants to roll the body?"

    Nisha waved her hands in the negative, reacting to the idea of touching Leobtav's corpse like it were red hot and covered in filth.

    "I'll do it." Fyrehowl patted the tiefling on the shoulder and went about riffling through the dead man's pockets and pouches. He didn't have much. Despite the ferocity of the spells he'd unleashed, his spellbook was small, comprising only those spells that would have been expected for a moderately skilled wizard and member of the Fraternity of Order. What had granted him power beyond his mortal capacity had done so while flaunting the normal rules of magic.

    "Ring, ring, bracers, a pair of rods, a dagger, and a metal cog or something." The lupinal listed out the other items on Leobtav's person before standing up and furiously brushing her hands on her thighs, disgusted for having touched the man. "When we have a chance to rest, we can identify everything. But from the look of it all, there's nothing spectacular here. No mocking will and testament, no cursed items, nothing that brought him back from the dead when you touch it."

    "Yeah..." Toras said as he upended a flask of oil on the corpse. "Not risking that happening. Someone care to set the body alight for me?"

    Florian whispered a prayer and dropped a small burst of flame on the oil-soaked corpse. It was small consolation perhaps for the horrific things that he'd done, but at the very least it put a more definitive end to what they'd been through in Pandemonium and beyond.

    Toras smiled grimly as he watched the corpse burn, "We're still left with no idea what the hell he was even trying to do here."

    Clueless sighed, "Whatever it was, we should assume that he was successful. The thing controlling him seemed happy enough to just discard him like a tool that had outgrown its usefulness."

    "So why stick a knife in the heart of a deity? Why this one?" Florian pondered, looking at the hovering body atop the altar. "Because clearly this was the only one he cared about, given he spent decades trying to find it."

    "Whatever corrupted him might have had a history with the tiere, or their god." Clueless guessed, throwing out ideas, equally perplexed with all of them. "I don't know. I really don't know."

    Tristol meanwhile had walked up to the altar, staring at the words that Leobtav had carefully carved into the stone. Much like the bloody text he'd left at Howler's Crag, it was a self-righteous exultation of himself and the entity he worshipped, but this time there was something else.

    “By His WILL the sacrifice is offered and accepted. The space of years be not a barrier to what shall be. And so shall the First be the Last; the Original to which all are but shadows shall ascend. Let the patterns of the world bear witness to the inevitability of the Everdark, the Ashsinger, the [b]VOR’NEL’THRAANIX[b]”

    "What the hell does that mean?" Tristol puzzled over a the last portion of the inscription: "VOR’NEL'THRAANIX". A word or perhaps a phrase within the text, he struggled to make heads or tails of its meaning. He whispered the words to a spell, hoping to decipher it via magical translation, but it only left him more bewildered and ill at ease. Three attempts later and it simply translated as the exactly same word, a slurry of meaningless letters that inexplicably translated to the exact same meaningless meaning each time.

    "What does what mean?" Clueless walked over to inspect the text himself.

    "Does it make your eyes hurt if you stare at it?" Fyrehowl gave an apprehensive shudder. "You know, like, well, that other language we know of that I'm not going to talk about?"

    She meant Baernaloth, but whatever it was, the text was not written in Baern.

    "No, it doesn't." Tristol was definitive on that. "It isn't written in that language or anything like it. In fact it isn’t related to any language I’ve ever seen. It just refuses to translate to anything more than that phrase. Whatever I do, it's the same garbled random nothing."

    "Don't look at me," Nisha quipped, turning her head sideways to glance at the text and coming up equally as confused and stumped as Tristol. "Garbled, random, nothing yes, but even so I didn't write it."

    Tristol chuckled while Fyrehowl circled the text, gazing down at it warily. The lupinal squinted, turned her head to one side and then the other, and finally gave up with a perplexed look upon her face.

    "I don't have any idea what that means." She frowned, "The rest of it sure, it's planar common with a few obscure words in Infernal and Celestial tossed in, but that seems pretty standard for someone who used to be a member of the Fraternity of Order. It's spooky sounding garbage but that one word sticks out like a vrock flying around in Celestia."

    Several more minutes were spent in discussion about the text and its meaning, both obvious and hidden. Ultimately they could come to no firm conclusions, and as discussion on it wore thin, their attention shifted to the tiere god's corpse, and to the dagger plunged into its heart.

    "So what exactly do we do with -that-?" Toras gestured towards the blade.

    "We don't ask the tiefer to climb up there and touch it?" Nisha quipped as she conspicuously stepped behind Tristol, doing her best to hide. "But that being said, what did Leobtav intend anyway? Was it a sacrifice? Part of a ritual for something else? Is it even dead? Is it just a normal dagger or some sort of freaky artifact? Etc Etc"

    "Etc Etc?" Tristol chuckled.

    "Yep, Etc Etc." The bell at the tip of Nisha's tail jangled as she smiled.

    They bantered amongst themselves while the others stared at the tiere god-corpse.

    "I don't know what he intended to do, but I don't think it's wise to just leave this here." Clueless looked down at the obsidian dagger plunged into where the tiere god's heart would have been, had it been human. "At the very least we can keep it safe and out of anyone else's hands, whatever it is."

    "Do you think it's wise to just pluck it out?" Fyrehowl's tone was markedly nervous.

    The bladesinger shrugged. Without any other objections forthcoming, Clueless braced himself against the altar and tentatively touched the blade's hilt. It was cold to the touch, more so than it should have been in the ambient temperature, but otherwise nothing was out of the ordinary. It neither shocked him, shot a jolt of horror and agony through his mind, nor did it drain a portion of his life purely by touching it. To all impressions, it was just a dagger roughly chipped out of volcanic glass.

    Others might have recognized a vague similarity to the obsidian blades crafted for the promotion ceremonies of greater yugoloths, but that knowledge was itself a closely held 'loth secret outside of the fact that it involved ritual suicide and dramatic pre and post-mortem bodily mutilation. But even if they had, the resemblance was only in the most basic outline, and the blade lacked the identifying, unique markings of one that they might find prepared to advance a nycaloth or arcanaloth. It was simply a dagger.

    Shrugging at the lack of ill effect, Clueless gripped the blade and pulled. Buried in the dead god's heart there was a moment of resistance, and then it wrenched free.

    "Mind if I take a look at it?" Tristol asked, pointing to the blade.

    Clueless shrugged and handed over the dagger. Nothing odd occurred. He didn’t refuse to give it up, it didn’t magnetically stick to his person, nor did it compel him to attack in a mad bloodlust. Whatever purpose it had been used for, the dagger seemed entirely benign.

    Tristol whispered the words to a fairly simple spell of magical identification. "Huh..."

    "Huh? What does ‘huh’ mean?" Clueless looked at the dagger in Tristol’s hands and then to the aasimar’s reaction to whatever the spell had told him.

    Tristol didn't respond and instead began the intonations of a much more powerful divination spell. The wizard stared at the dagger for several long minutes, turning it over in his hands and trying to determine its properties, power, and perhaps its origins. His expression grew more and more frustrated and finally he handed it back to Clueless.

    "Again, what does that mean?" Clueless accepted the dagger back, albeit warily.

    "Well, it isn't magical." Tristol shrugged. "And by that I mean that it doesn't have any magical aura whatsoever. But it sucked out the life of a god... yeah... it's unique."

    By unique, he meant artifact, though he couldn't immediately prove that assumption without taking some time to be certain, time that as I turned out, they didn't have.

    "That isn't good." Fyrehowl pointed towards the tiere god. Where the dagger had been plucked free, the black flesh around the wound had begun to crumble, collapsing in upon itself. The dead god was releasing whatever transient grip its remaining, ephemeral essence held upon the world.

    A heavy shudder ran through the Cathedral.

    “Oh come on! This sort of thing only happens in bad, drunken adventuring stories.” Toras threw his hands up in disbelief. “You kill the horrible evil thing its castle, lair, or domain starts to implode and you barely get out with your lives.”

    A shower of ragged chunks of marble fells from the ceiling, then larger pieces, then one of the massive ornate keystones began to tremble. In the absence of the tiere god, the domain was collapsing, and with it, the Cathedral too.

    “Trope in drunken, grandiose recollections of adventures yes, far too often,” Florian called out as she was already sprinting towards the exit. “But it seems to actually be the case right now. Everyone run!”

    The keystone was already breaking free as they bolted for the exit, and as they reached the entryway it fell. Horrified, looking back over their shoulders, they watched it plummet in slow motion, knowing that the central chamber’s collapse would follow on its heels.

    “Run run run!” Clueless shouted out, sprouting his wings and flying as quickly as he could.

    Unable to fly, Fyrehowl dropped to all fours, leaping forwards and actually outpacing the bladesinger.

    Tristol whispered a spell and immediately began to run nearly as quickly.

    “Think you can share that with the rest of us?” Toras shouted as he dodged a falling column that broke and showered them all in shards of broken stone. “That would really, really be useful right now!”

    “I can’t!” Tristol grimaced. “It’s a simple spell, but I can only affect myself! I’d share it with all of you if I could! I… how the hell are you running sideways on the wall Nisha?!”

    True to his word, the tiefling was indeed running on the right wall as they hurried for the exit, completely perpendicular to everyone else. Bizarre yes, but she was keeping up with the rest of them,

    “I don’t know!” Nisha shrugged and kept on running in blatant, terrified disregard of gravity.

    There wasn’t much time to speculate or really do anything else but madly scramble for the entrance. A hundred yards later the Xaositect jumped from the wall to avoid a falling row of statues, somersaulting to the opposite wall and continuing to run sideways, muttering ‘runrunrunrunrunrun!’ to herself in frantic, clipped tones.

    The main entrance was open and light poured out, welcoming them with safety and escape as behind them, the entire structure collapsed in a building, growing torrent of imploding, collapsing stone. Seconds slower and the following wave of destruction might have caught them, trapping them under tons of rock, but it didn’t.

    Gasping and shouting cries of relief, they burst from the exit and didn’t stop running till they reached the rim of the domain. Turning back, they watched in amazement, confusion, and a small bit of horror as the saw not a collapsing building, but a hungry void of nothingness at the domain’s center, slowly distorting space and drawing in everything around it: rubble, the ancient bones of the dead, piles of broken golems, piles of rusting armor and weapons, and thousands of staggered, weeping gautiere. Their god was gone and along with it their only chance of redemption, and now oblivion called.

    “There isn’t anything we can do.” Toras lamented. “I’m not sure that they could have been helped by anyone but themselves. They might have one day, but Leobtav took that choice away from them. We did give them some measure of justice however.”

    “For what it’s worth I suppose.” Clueless frowned.

    Fyrehowl snarled, “Leobtav deserved worse than what he got.”

    Nisha, now returned to normal, mundane gravity’s tyranny, sighed and looked at Toras. “I’m going to miss Ficklebarb...”

    “I think we all will.” Toras sighed along with the tiefling. “We did what he asked us to do though. We saw this through and gave him what he needed. We should smile at that.”

    Clueless nodded his head, “It’s over at least.”

    The future would prove that statement oh so very wrong.

    ****


    Meanwhile in the city of Portent in Gehenna, a contingent of yugoloths wormed their way through the city's labyrinthine streets, marching towards the structure at the city's beating heart. Nearly three hundred mezzoloths and half that many heavily armored nycaloths flying overhead guarded a core of two dozen arcanaloths and the solitary figure at their center who needed no such protection at all. Unconcerned with the petitioners and others that made their home in the city, they marched through the tangle of streets that resembled veins and arteries of some great slumbering beast whose chest was ripped open by a god and then transmuted to the urban biology of a city rather than flesh and blood.

    Venrisala ap Krangath internally whimpered as she approached the side of the figure leading their procession. Bits of frost perpetually clung as a rime on her chocolate brown coat, and she brushed back an errant strand of hair that had fallen from her otherwise immaculately coiffed hair. She had to look her best in the presence of her better. Walking in his shadow, the archfiend's presence caused whirling eddies in space, budding off and spiraling away as motes of darkness like some artist's impression of plague spores. They were cold. Walking so close to him also caused her heart to flutter, and she wasn't sure if it was from desire, jealousy, or some deep seated primordial fear. "Oinoloth..."

    Vorkannis the Ebon, Oinoloth of the Waste turned and smiled, "I presume that you have already purged the Great Hall for my arrival there?"

    Reflexively she bowed before replying, "Yes Oinoloth. A dozen of the city's petty barons, gangleaders, and self-proclaimed lords now hang from the eaves. None of your servitors were harmed in the process, which runs counter to Portent's nature. Most perplexing."

    "Not at all," The Oinoloth chuckled, "They acted on my orders."

    Venrisala waited for a further explanation, but none was forthcoming.

    "Laughing Jane however..." The arcanaloth winced and paused. The prophetic tiefling that lived within the Great Hall was one of the two reasons why the myriad lords of Portent wished control over the building: her and the bizarre throne at the very center of the hall that was carved from the bones of a creature that had never been identified, but which radiated a sense of power and control. "None of the nycaloths wished to execute her, given what she said to them. She addressed them each by their true names and..."

    "No matter," The Ebon sneered casually, dismissively. "Laughing Jane is irrelevant."

    Venrisala glanced at the Ebon as they approached the gate of the Great Hall. The corpses of those put to death swung gently on the breeze, filling the air with the occasional creaking of the rope used in their execution. She paused, waiting on further orders as the mezzoloths stood at attention and the nycaloths perched on the roofs of adjacent buildings. "Oinoloth?"

    "It isn't Laughing Jane that I came here to speak with." The Ebon flashed a smile of ivory white fangs and looked at his attendant with luminous, scarlet eyes. "All of you are to wait outside until I am finished. This should not take long."

  10. #10
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    Acolyte (Lvl 2)



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    “I don’t know!” Nisha shrugged and kept on running in blatant, terrified disregard of gravity.
    Best. Line. Ever.
    Awesome as usual. I'll be patiently waiting for the next segment. The Wheels within Wheels are turning, although I have no real idea how this fits together.

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