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  1. #11
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    Things Take a Turn for the Worse

    Originally posted by Sepulchrave II on 05-05-2002

    In which the sh*t hits the fan, and the DM muses: "so what would I do if I were a Demon Prince…" and proves that he’s a Rat-Bastard.

    **

    The same day that Eadric, Ortwin, Nwm and Mostin left the Paladin’s castle at Deorham to return to Trempa, the celestials Enitharmon and Urthoon met with the Balor Ainhorr and his nominated second, the Cambion, Feezuu.

    Feezuu was a creature of uncertain loyalty – in which regard she differed little from any other demon – who depended on the Balor for her position and acceptance at Graz’zt’s Abyssal court. She was, however, regarded with a particular loathing by many of her compeers due to her mixed parentage – a fact which enabled the half-fiend to move with impunity through regions from which true demons were barred.* Ainhorr’s election of Feezuu as his co-ambassador was a shrewd move on behalf of the Balor, and sent the message that Graz’zt’s influence in the world of men was not restricted to the more ‘conventional’ channels.

    Enitharmon had been charged with both relaying information of Oronthon’s particular interest in the plight of the succubus Nehael, and to warn Graz’zt that undue meddling would not be tolerated. If, through the Prince’s intervention, or through the medium of human mages and demonologists, fiends were invoked onto the Prime plane in an effort to eliminate the demoness or prevent her possible atonement, then the celestial host would retaliate 'swiftly and decisively.'

    Unfortunately, the presence of Feezuu – half mortal herself – took the sting out of the Solar’s threat, and caused a brief smile to play across the malign aspect of Ainhorr. The Balor did not respond, save to emphasize the fact that he was there only to hear the embassy and relay news to his master. He gave no warnings, issued no threats, and, most pointedly, did not mention the ensnarement of Rurunoth by individuals implicated in the Nehael affair. The Balor’s reticence in this regard only strengthened his position, as Enitharmon had been prepared to counter any accusations of perfidy and duplicity levelled at his own Lord.

    The Solar accurately interpreted the Demon’s silence as a bad portent but, uncomprehending of evil and unable to fathom its reason, could only proceed to restate his appointed message. The Celestial’s eyes bore into Feezuu as he spoke in certain knowledge that, whatever was to transpire, the Half-Fiend would play a crucial role in Graz’zt’s machinations.

    The speed and ruthlessness of the Cambion’s actions, however, may have come even as a surprise to Oronthon himself. Only moments after the embassy was finished, Feezuu contacted the Prince, made a translation onto the Prime Plane, teleported to Morne, entered the Orangery of the Palace, and slew the Archbishop Cynric as he was dozing in the afternoon sun.

    Cynric did not ascend bodily to heaven, as his predecessors had, but was instead consumed in necromantic fire.

    Graz’zt had acted swiftly and decisively.

    **

    Upon returning to Trempa, Eadric immediately sought out the Duchess and apologized for the delay. One day had become two, and then three, as the binding of Rurunoth had taken more time than he had anticipated. After paying his respects, the quartet immediately repaired to the Tower of Owls, and Despina was released from her magical bondage.

    "I have decided to allow you the benefit of the doubt," Eadric informed the demoness, "as the evidence – on balance – points towards your sincerity. I am still less than convinced, however. If you mean to follow this course of action, then you must adhere to a regimen of prayer, scriptural study and earnest soul-searching which Nwm and I will both direct you in. You will avoid the court, as many of the ladies are garrulous and whimsical – two characteristics which would not benefit you at the moment. I will arrange lodging for you at the Abbey of Osfrith, half a day’s ride from here. The nuns will see to your material needs."
    "I have none," Despina replied.
    "Nonetheless, the Abbey will provide a suitable environment for contemplation. You will follow the sisters’ direction in all matters whilst there: you will clean the floors, wash clothes, prepare food, chop wood and perform a variety of other mundane tasks. When you can step across the threshold of the chapel in the Abbey, we will regard it as a token of your progress. From that point, you will attend mass and your catechesis will begin in earnest. At no time, under any circumstances, and for any reason, will you manifest further magical or supernatural powers. If evidence of this comes to light, I will regard it as a sign of your apostasy and my support for you will be withdrawn. Do you comply?"
    Despina nodded.
    "Good," Eadric said. "We will depart in the morning." And the Paladin retired to his chambers.

    That same night, Eadric’s dreams were troubled and portentous. Fire raged in his mind as two eagles soared and screamed at him, before turning on each other and locking claws, plummeting downwards towards the ground. Black rain fell from lowering clouds, and the sun was obscured. Pits and chasms opened in the earth. Eadric awoke in a cold sweat, and found that sleep eluded him for the rest of the night, as he pondered the meaning of the dream.

    Just after sunrise, Eadric, Tatterbrand and Despina left Trempa for the Abbey of Osfrith – a pleasant morning’s ride on a late summer’s day, the dawn mists evaporating quickly under a warm sun. They spoke little on the journey: the Paladin was preoccupied with the nightmare that had visited him, and was steeling himself for what might transpire to be a difficult encounter with the Abbess.

    **

    "She is not to attend mass?" The old woman sitting behind a small table in a spartan office looked incredulous at Eadric’s request "Why ever not?"
    "The taint lies heavily upon her," Eadric replied.
    "All the more reason that she should receive communion," the Abbess retorted.
    "No," said the Paladin, "you don’t understand. The taint lies SO heavily upon her, that she cannot physically enter the chapel."
    "Are you possessed, child?" The old woman was aghast. "Perhaps we should call in the exorcist."
    "I don’t think that would be appropriate," Eadric was about to continue, but decided that pulling rank was easier. "This is Inquisition business," he said, "and I am afraid that I cannot divulge the particulars of this case. Please try to understand that this is for the best, and is only one part of a much larger picture. She will, in time, attend the chapel. But not for the moment. I am personally undertaking her rehabilitation, but she will live here if you have no objections: I think the environment would benefit her. I, or my representative, will speak with her at least twice a week, and we will also speak with you and the other sisters to gain impressions as to her progress and behaviour. Assign the usual tasks to her, as you would to any other lay sister, but excuse her from mass."
    "It is very irregular," the Abbess sighed, "but very well. She looks like such a sweet thing."
    "Hmm," Eadric replied.

    **

    In Morne, the Great Conclave of Venerable Masters was assembled to debate the events of the previous day, and to decide upon a course of action. Accusations were flung back and forth between leading Church magnates. What had been hoped by some to be an opportunity to resolve petty differences in the face of an assault on the body politic of the Church, instead became a forum through which the various factions attacked each other.
    Cynric had elected no successor.
    His unnatural death was taken by some as a sign that he had lost Oronthon’s blessing. Others considered him a martyr to the cause and called for his immediate beatification.

    The debate raged for eight hours, and focussed largely around Cynric’s decision to allow the Baronet of Deorham to proceed in his efforts to convert a fiend: a judgement which, at the time, had been questioned by many but none had dared to refute. Divinations were made, and Oronthon’s advice was earnestly sought.
    The Bright God declined to answer.

    Taking his silence as a sign of displeasure, bitter words were spoken by many present at the conclave.
    By four in the afternoon, a list of charges had been drafted against Eadric which ranged from minor technical misdemeanors to blasphemy, diabolism and consorting with demons.
    And they knew nothing of Rurunoth.
    By six in the evening, the Curia passed a measure by seven votes to three that Eadric was to be impeached as a heretic. There was one abstention: the Bishop of Tyndur failed to endorse the vote, but fear of repercussions directed towards him meant that he refused to follow his own convictions.

    The next morning, sixteen Templars led by the Deputy Inquisitor General, Tahl the Incorruptible, left Morne for Trempa.







    *Most fiends can only enter the Prime Material Plane under special circumstances. They can be
    1) Invoked through magic or ritual, which allows a sojourn upon the Prime;
    2) From the Astral Plane, possess certain individuals by means of a ‘Magic Jar’ or similar ability, or
    3) They may, with the intervention of their overlord (a Demon Prince, Arch-Devil etc.), visit the Prime for a particular purpose. This may be a fact-finding mission, an attempted temptation of a specified individual, or to create general mayhem. Such an intervention on the part of the fiendish overlord is extremely taxing and represents a large investment in terms of personal energy, and is generally only undertaken if a modicum of success is assured. The succubus Nehael (Despina), who was appointed to seduce the Paladin Eadric, could only have made her planar transit with the aid of Prince Graz’zt.

 

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    Originally posted by Sepulchrave II on 05-07-2002

    Outriders mounted on swift steeds bore the news of Cynric’s assassination across Wyre, and it was on the evening of the same day that the conclave was convening, that tidings reached the Duchess and her court at Trempa. Eadric and Tatterbrand returned from the Abbey to find a mood of indignance mixed with deep sadness. The chapel was thronging with mourners – some hysterical with grief.

    Eadric said nothing, but retired alone to the Tower of Owls, climbing into the wreck of the uppermost floors, and barring the trapdoor. He wept long and hard, and feelings of guilt flooded through him. Here, surely, was an attack by the Fiend whose schemes he had thwarted, and who had sworn to ruin him. Cynric, although conservative and often overly doctrinaire in his approach, had been Eadric’s mentor, his confessor and his friend.
    Eadric prayed fervently for a sign or portent, or at least an acknowledgement that his supplications did not go unheard.

    Oronthon remained characteristically silent. No angels appeared, no omens were shown, and no quiet inner voice spoke to Eadric. Instead, the sky slowly became overcast, and then began to drizzle with rain.

    The next day was dull, and the air was heavy and oppressive. Mostin was closeted in a suite within the castle, poring over his new scrolls and consolidating his collection of magicks. Eadric, burdened with grief and remorse, was summoned by the Duchess in order to illuminate her on the sudden unexpected decision of Lady Despina to retire to the Abbey of Osfrith.
    Eadric spent the whole morning with her. He came clean, and told her everything: even down to Ortwin’s illusion, which had caused so much consternation in court.
    Her reaction surprised him.

    "Eadric, dear, I do wish you’d told me all of this in the beginning. It would have saved a lot of trouble."
    "You would have called for Inquisitors from Morne," he replied.
    The Duchess sighed. "I most certainly would have not. I would have still called for that ghastly little wizard (she was speaking of Mostin): there are too many followers of the Old Faith* here, and I have no wish for the eye of the Inquisition to be directed towards Trempa. They are less tolerant than some."
    "I am a deputed Inquisitor myself," Eadric said. "I know where the boundaries lie between ecclesiastical and mundane law. In any case, I needed to speak with Cynric before I made a decision."
    "And what did he tell you?" She asked.
    "To use my own best judgement," the Paladin replied.
    "In that case, you should regard yourself as absolved from blame in this matter."
    "Unfortunately," Eadric replied, "I am less certain of the decisions that I made. The episode with Rurunoth should have been avoided: I suspect that it may have been directly responsible for Cynric’s murder. Lord Oronthon has withdrawn his support from me: he will not communicate with me, either directly or through any medium available to me. At the last, he failed even to speak with Cynric."
    The Duchess became irritable. "Look at my aura, Eadric," she snapped, "what do you see?"
    The Paladin concentrated for a moment.
    "I see no evidence of taint," he replied.
    "But you would, if it were there?" She asked.
    "Most assuredly," said Eadric.
    "Where does this faculty stem from, Eadric?"
    He laughed. She had a good point.
    "Go," she said, "and do whatever you have to do."
    Eadric turned to leave, but not before the Duchess made one final, biting remark.
    "Self-pity does not become you, Eadric," she said.
    The Paladin bowed and departed.

    **

    Eadric and Nwm left Trempa immediately for the Abbey. The Paladin had determined that, henceforth, not a moment was to be wasted in the instruction of Despina. His decision to involve the Druid in the process had come only after deep deliberation – Nwm was to act as a moral and ethical example only, and not attempt to foist any of his ‘weird beliefs’ onto her.
    Nwm had happily complied, guessing that, at some stage, he’d have ample opportunity to turn the demoness on to the trees.

    Much to the Druid’s delight, Eadric had agreed to give the succubus her initial lessons in a secluded grove away from the Abbey, largely to avoid the possibility of one of the sisters overhearing their words. Under the bemused stares of nuns, who thronged to the windows of the cloister in order to witness the spectacle, Eadric, his strange unkempt friend, and the new lay sister tramped off down the hill and disappeared into the trees.
    The Abbess stood in her office looking out. Very irregular, she thought.

    Despina sat demurely on a moss-covered rock by a small stream, and Nwm took his boots off and waded in the water.
    "What’s he doing?" Despina asked Eadric in a half-whisper.
    "Talking to the fish," the Paladin sighed.
    "Despina," he began, "you understand the purpose of confession, don’t you?"
    "Theoretically, yes," the demoness replied. "Conscious articulation of past wrongdoings, and the feeling of genuine remorse, is believed to pave the way for Grace to remove their burden. I understand the principle well."
    "Do you feel remorse for your past sins?" Eadric asked.
    "Perhaps," Despina replied. "I understand that many of my actions were futile."
    "You are well versed in religious philosophy," Eadric said, "and you understand which actions in your past constitute sins – within the parameters defined by Orthodoxy."
    "Yes."
    "How many sins, at a rough guess, would you say that you have committed?" Eadric asked. "Hundreds of thousands? Millions?"
    "Millions of Billions," the succubus replied, "if you include every falsehood I’ve ever uttered. I remember all of them."
    "All of them?" Eadric was staggered.
    "Oh yes, and that’s only if you include YOUR definition of sin."
    "What do you mean?" The Paladin asked.
    "Eadric," she said sardonically, "this may come as a surprise to you, but the rules governing the behaviour of celestials are somewhat stricter than those to which mortals are expected to adhere."
    Eadric grunted. He looked around for Nwm, but the Druid had become a fish and swum off downstream.
    "So what was your very first sinful act?" He asked.
    "Ahh, that would be doubt," the demoness answered.
    "In what?"
    "The judgement of Oronthon."
    "Hmm, I see." This was getting very abstract. "And why did you doubt?"
    "I cannot tell you," she replied.
    He scowled. "Why not?"
    She shook her head.
    He pressed her, but she would not answer, save eventually to say:
    "Because you are not ready. Because if you knew, you might fall, as I did."

    **

    "Nah, it’s probably a crock," Ortwin said. The party had reconvened at Trempa. "I still don’t trust her. Don’t get me wrong, I like her and everything, but you can’t expect her to suddenly become all sweetness and light after aeons of depravity – assuming she is genuine, of course."
    "Doubt is good," Mostin said unhelpfully. "Doubt everything. Always. Except that which is certain, obviously."
    "Your ‘certainties’ are scary," Eadric said. "I suppose I’ll just have to try a different tack in speaking with her. Presently, she seems to think that if I knew what she does, then I would be in danger of falling from grace. She doesn’t seem to understand that I do NOT doubt the judgement of Oronthon simply because I understand that his perspective is infinitely larger than mine, and he can foresee all possibilities."
    "That is one advantage of being a deity," Nwm agreed laconically. "If you buy into the whole omniscience thing."
    "Ha!" Mostin snorted.
    Eadric was about to speak, but Ortwin held up his hand.
    "Just don’t, Ed, okay," the Bard said.

    Despite a sadness at his mentor’s death that was all too present for Eadric, a relatively relaxed evening – given the group’s recent activities – passed until around ten o’clock. At that time, a somewhat unanticipated arrival sent things into flux again. A groom, by the name of Irron, who had rendered Eadric long and faithful service at Kyrtill’s Burgh, burst into the Paladin’s chambers and breathlessly told his story.
    "Your keep has been seized, Lord," he panted. "By the Inquisition. Some are ransacking the library and your personal effects, looking for ‘evidence’. They are questioning the servants. Others are riding hard for Trempa. They will be here by late tomorrow morning."
    "Sh*t," said Eadric.
    "What should we do?" Ortwin asked.
    "It depends who is leading them," Eadric replied.
    "Begging your pardon, Lord," Irron interrupted, "but his name is Tahl. Tahl the Incorruptible."
    "Sh*t," Eadric said again.
    "I assume it’s not a routine inquiry," Ortwin said sarcastically. "Will you submit?"
    "I must," Eadric replied, "it’s the law."
    "So I can’t blast them, then?" Mostin was disappointed.


    *I.e. Nwm’s religion, Druidism.

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    In which Dave Demonstrates Why it is Very Cool to be a Druid.

    Originally posted by Sepulchrave II on 05-08-2002

    So, things were about to get sticky.

    This session may have been the best roleplaying experience of my life: Dave played Nwm with an ingenuity and fervour that I didn't know he was capable of. I bow to you, Dave.

    **

    Just before noon on the next day, Tahl, together with his retinue of Templars, thundered through the gates of the castle and into the inner bailey. Their bright armour, polished to a remarkable sheen, peeked from beneath the unblazoned white surcoats of the Inquisition. Their cloaks were white, their banner a plain white field, unadorned. Each bore a lance, a burnished shield, and the consecrated weapons of Oronthon: the greatsword, symbolic of cutting through deception, and the scourge, representing the meting out of their deity’s proper justice. Here were great knights who, foreswearing their estates and taking vows of poverty, had entered the service of the Fane. Some rode horses with celestial blood running through their veins.

    Eadric stood and waited. He had surrendered his arms and armour to Nwm, and Contundor he had bidden to ride free for a while. He was dressed in comfortable and well-worn travelling clothes, and bore no weapon.

    Ortwin, Mostin and Nwm stood on a balcony overlooking the courtyard.
    “Er, they look kind of scary,” remarked Ortwin.
    “Pah!” Mostin scoffed. “I could take them all out in ten seconds. You ever seen a maximized fireball? Drop two of those babies on them and they’d soon be toast.”
    “Better not,” said Ortwin, “I think Ed might get mad if you did. He’s in enough trouble as it is.”
    Tahl reigned in, dismounted and removed his great bascinet. He was a handsome man in his late thirties - a year or two older than Eadric – with a serious expression, but a face that did not seem humourless. He strode up to Eadric, and the two embraced.
    “What’s going on?” Mostin asked.
    “Tahl is Eadric’s friend,” Nwm replied.
    “Then why did he seem so scared last night?”
    “Because Tahl is Eadric’s friend,” Nwm sighed.
    “Ah,” said Mostin, “that does make things rather awkward, doesn’t it?”

    “Who replaced Cynric?” Eadric asked the Inquisitor.
    “No successor was appointed,” Tahl replied. “And the conclave is waiting for a sign.”
    “You are here to arrest me, I take it?”
    “I’m sorry, Ed. You’ve been indicted,” Tahl said sheepishly.
    “By whom? Eadric snapped. “I am responsible only to the Archbishop of Morne for my conduct. I doubt your authority in this.”
    “Please don’t make this any harder than it is,” Tahl pleaded. “The Curia voted by seven to three for your arraignment.”
    “How was the vote divided?” Eadric asked, sighing.
    “Mord, Gibilrazen, Hethio, Tomur and Thahan voted against you; Kaurban and Jiuhu both backed you. The Inquisition and the Temple both voted for your impeachment, predictably. The Marquis of Iald supported you. Tyndur abstained.*”
    “Tyndur is a coward,” Eadric said.
    Tahl merely nodded.
    “What are the charges?”

    “Four minor breaches of protocol; associating with the known diabolist, Mostin who styles himself ‘Metagnostic’; attempting to commune with Lord Oronthon through witchcraft; consorting with demons; fornicating with demons; secretly conspiring to undermine the One True Faith; perversion of doctrine; failing to attempt to exorcise or destroy a known fiend; blasphemy; and acting as an accomplice in the murder of Cynric of Morne who, possessing the indwelling spirit of Oronthon, should be considered God on Earth.”
    “Deicide?” Eadric laughed at the absurdity.
    “It’s a technicality, Ed,” Tahl grimaced. “I should also mention that, just before we departed Morne, some financial irregularities came to light.”
    Eadric looked bemused.
    “A payment of thirty-six thousand five hundred gold pieces to the known diabolist, Mostin the Metagnostic.” Obviously, Mostin had cashed his check pretty quickly.
    Just as well, thought Eadric, as he wouldn’t get the money now.

    “This is crap, Tahl,” the Paladin said. “You know that I’m authorized to make that payment.”
    “Ed,” Tahl said quietly, so that the other Templars could not overhear, “I’ve seen the itemized invoice for that payment. ‘Greater Planar Binding?’ ‘Trap the Soul?’ ‘Symbol of Insanity?’ A pearl valued at 15,000 gold crowns?”
    Eadric groaned.
    “If I refuse to submit to ecclesiastical law?” The Paladin asked.
    “You will be stripped of your rank, excommunicated, anathematized, your name will be stricken from all church records, your estates will be confiscated and I am authorized to use a ‘Mark of Justice’ upon you. You will be shunned by the faithful. In any case, you will be tried for the ‘accomplice to murder’ charge in a civil court.”
    “If I refuse to recognize the authority of the church court?”
    “Pretty much the same deal, I’m afraid,” Tahl said apologetically.
    “Otherwise?”
    “You will stand trial for Heresy. If found guilty…”
    “…I will burn.” Eadric finished the sentence for him. “And what does Lord Oronthon have to say on the matter?”
    “That may very well prove to be your best defence,” Tahl said. “Until this point, he has said absolutely nothing.”

    Eadric smiled grimly, and held out his hands. As the manacles were fastened around his wrists, Tahl spoke again.
    “One last thing, Ed. The Demoness. Where is she?”
    The Paladin shook his head.
    “You know I’ll find her,” Tahl said.
    Eadric held his hands up, and looked at Nwm. “The Abbey!” He yelled.
    The Druid began incanting. Tahl looked up and swore, and began to cast a spell himself. Nwm dissolved into mist, and vanished. Moments later, to Eadric’s astonishment, the same thing happened to Tahl.

    “How splendid and dramatic,” Mostin said to Ortwin, stroking his hedgehog. “The Wind-Walkers’ Race! Will you write a ballad?”
    “I think mime would be a more suitable medium,” Ortwin replied drily.
    “How long will it take them to get there?” Mostin asked.
    “It’s about fifteen miles away – a quarter of an hour.”
    “Pah!” Mostin scoffed. “Come with me.”
    The Alienist led Ortwin into his chambers, which, despite his brief time at Trempa, were already full of strange devices, alchemical alembics and books, arranged neatly on shelves and tables. Reaching into his portable hole, Mostin produced the Looking Glass of Urm-Nahat and erected it on the floor. Holding the amulet which had been confiscated from Despina in one hand, he invoked the Mirror’s power, and Despina appeared on its surface. She was on her knees, scrubbing the floor of the cloister.
    “Impressive,” Ortwin said. “And now you just walk through?”
    “Yes,” Mostin said.
    “Can I go?” Ortwin asked.
    “By all means,” Mostin replied. “The gate is invisible from the other side, so mark its location.”
    Ortwin nodded, and stepped through.

    **

    Nwm tore through the air at breakneck speed, and it was only after several minutes had passed that the druid noticed that a mist like form was following him. He immediately headed for a bank of cumulus clouds in an attempt to lose his pursuer, and then cursed his own stupidity as he noticed that Tahl did not follow him, but headed directly southwards towards the Abbey. The Druid raced down, and now found himself in pursuit of the Inquisitor. He knew he had little time, and wished he’d prepared ‘Master Earth’ instead of ‘Wind Walk.’
    Nwm plummeted to the ground, and resumed his physical form. The translucent shape of Tahl had vanished from sight. Nwm swore again, looked around, selected a suitable oak tree, and stepped into it.

    Bump, from one tree to the next. Bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump- ‘sorry,’ he apologized to a dryad, bump-bump-bump-bump-bump and Nwm reappeared less than two minutes later, eight miles ahead.
    “Hah!” he said, and resumed his vaporous state.

    Nwm arrived at the Abbey to find Ortwin talking to Despina in the cloister.
    “How the hell did you get here,” he asked the Bard.
    Ortwin just smiled.
    “Flee,” the Druid said to the demoness, “Eadric has been impeached and the Inquisition are looking for you.”
    “I know,” Despina replied, “Ortwin just told me.”
    “Well,” said Nwm, “Vanish. Disappear. Teleport. Go ethereal or something.”
    Despina shook her head. “I am forbidden to manifest supernatural powers, remember?”
    “Oh for heaven’s sake,” Nwm said in an exasperated fashion. “I think we can relax that stipulation.”
    But Despina would not comply.
    The Druid was almost blue with desperation. He had three minutes left.
    “On your knees,” Nwm demanded.
    Despina kneeled. Nwm groped into his pouch and produced a holly berry and some mistletoe. He handed the berry to Despina.
    “Eat this,” he said.
    Despina ate it.
    Nwm waved the mistletoe around, mumbled through his beard, and struck the succubus on both cheeks with it.
    “Congratulations,” Nwm said, “you are now an anointed follower of the Goddess Uedii. Choose your totem.”
    Despina looked blank.
    “A TOTEM!” Nwm thundered.
    “An animal,” Ortwin suggested helpfully.
    “An Otter?” Despina asked.
    Nwm relaxed and smiled. “Excellent choice,” he said, “I like otters. Now take my hand.”
    The demoness reached up, and they both dissolved into mist.

    **

    Tahl arrived a minute later to find Ortwin trying to explain himself to two of the nuns in the cloister. He was also surprised at the Bard’s presence, but remained in vaporous form. He asked where Despina was.
    “The Elemental Plane of Fire,” Ortwin delivered one of his most convincing lies ever.
    Tahl’s misty face stared hard at Ortwin. “You lie,” he said.
    The Bard was shocked. He must be losing his touch.
    “Was the Druid with her?” Tahl asked.
    “No,” Ortwin lied again.
    “That’s twice you’ve lied,” Tahl accused him. The Inquisitor began to rematerialize and, not wanting further embarrassment, Ortwin dashed past him, passed through the invisible gate and reappeared in Mostin’s chambers.
    “Close it,” the Bard yelled.
    Mostin waved his hand and the mirror went blank.

    Tahl stormed through the Abbey, entered the chapel, made a quick supplication to Oronthon, and spoke to the Abbess.
    “I am Tahl, the Deputy Inquisitor General,” he said.
    The Abbess looked staggered. “What can I do for you?”
    “Lend me your font,” the Inquisitor said.

    **

    Nwm and Despina Wind-Walked for another thirty minutes, heading in the direction of Deorham and over terrain that the Druid was intimately familiar with. The folds and wrinkles in the earth, heavily forested and cut by dozens of small streams, undulated below them. Nwm’s eyes constantly scanned the ground.
    “Here,” he eventually said, and the pair headed downwards.
    They resumed their corporeal forms at the base of a small hill with a bare summit. A single menhir of great age stood there.
    Despina started towards it, but stopped abruptly and vomited.
    “You cannot approach,” Nwm informed her, “this is hallowed ground. Do you wish for redemption?”
    The demoness nodded.
    “Then kneel.”
    And Nwm began to chant.

    Halfway through the ceremony, the Druid’s concentration almost lapsed as he suddenly became aware of a magical sensor nearby which was spying on him. He swallowed hard and continued to chant his slow, rhythmic chant. The eye vanished, and Nwm knew that Tahl would soon be heading this way at his best speed. No matter, Nwm thought, it would be too late by the time the Inquisitor arrived.

    When Tahl the Incorruptible appeared beneath the dolmen, he found Despina and the Druid standing quietly there.
    “Hand her over, Nwm,” he said. “This doesn’t have to get messy.”
    But Nwm shook his head. “She has atoned, and the Earth has forgiven her. She is now under my protection, and you are in my temple. If you try to touch her, I will obliterate you. Do not force me.**”
    Tahl gazed hard, and perceived that the Druid spoke no falsehood. He nodded, and then vanished. His superiors weren’t going to like this. Not one bit.
    Tahl smiled.




    *General note on church politics. The Curia is the main policy and doctrine-administering body in the Church of Oronthon, and technically decides on actions if the Archbishop is absent (for whatever reason). There are eleven seats: the Bishops of Gibilrazen, Hethio, Jiuhu, Kaurban, Mord, Thahan, Tomur and Tyndur; the Inquisitor General and the Grand Master of the Temple Knights; and “One Devout Layman” – a member of the laity selected for demonstrating particular holiness and faith. The last position is currently held by the Marquis of Iald.
    The Great Conclave is comprised of the Curia, and around forty other priests of note.

    **It’s worth pointing out that in my campaign, certain ancient sites have an energy associated with them that automatically maximizes any Druidic spell cast there. Needless to say, this site (‘Cambos du’la,’ the ‘Slope of the Leaf’), was one of them.


    .
    DM Confessions: 1) For story purposes, I allowed Nwm to spontaneously cast “Atonement” in place of a prepared “Commune with Nature” and, 2) Even though the spell description specifically bars outsiders, it does so on the grounds that they are “incapable of changing their alignment.” As the entire plot revolves around this unlikely event, it seemed a bit stupid to disallow the spell.

    And they really deserved a break.

    (Not THAT much of a break: it still cost Nwm 500 xp)

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    Originally posted by Sepulchrave II on 05-14-2002

    It got complicated.
    From here on, I was making it up as I went along - we all were, in fact. It was impossible to cover every contingency, and my head was beginning to hurt. I had no plot left, and the issues were too big for me to deal with on my own. It was time for me to give up some responsibility - temporarily, at least. So I asked all of the players:

    "So where do YOU see this going?" After all, its their game.

    This is what we came up with.

    **


    Three weeks passed.
    Even though the demoness’s repentance was regarded as a partial vindication, as Tahl had pointed out to Eadric, it did not entirely mitigate the charges levelled against the Paladin, and Inquisitor’s own orders were clear.
    Eadric was contained in a small but comfortable cell beneath the Archiepiscopal palace, where he brooded about his condition and wondered how much weight Despina’s atonement would afford his case. Nwm was not well liked by the upper echelons of the clergy, and the fact that the green bosom of the Goddess Uedii had embraced the succubus only served to increase tensions between members of the Old Faith and Orthodoxy. Eadric himself almost regretted Nwm’s intercession, and felt that his own responsibilities had been usurped. She was safe, and that was good. The fact that the Church had not been instrumental in her salvation, however, caused him much lament. He wondered what kind of Tree-ish nonsense Nwm was filling her head with, and unsuccessfully tried to suppress a smile at the thought.

    Eadric was allowed to speak to no-one except his confessor, the Bishop of Hethio, as the case against him was being prepared. This vexed him, as he knew that Hethio had voted for his arraignment at the conclave, but the Paladin had little choice but to accept it. The first question that the Bishop had asked was:
    "Do you have any other sins that you need to confess, my son?"
    And so, Eadric had felt compelled to speak of Rurunoth. The Bishop evinced no surprise, as Mostin’s invoice already pointed to something extraordinary. Eadric guessed correctly that he might as well come clean – the truth about the Balor was sure to come out sooner or later. Until his trial, he’d just play the game.


    Ortwin spent two weeks gaining a reputation as a rabble-rouser. The Bard deployed his considerable communication skills in every tavern, bar and inn in Morne, singing ballads, reciting poetry and making defamatory remarks about the church. He sang of love, injustice, redemption and oppressive dogma. He spoke on street corners, he heckled worshippers outside of chapels, and drank huge quantities of firewine.
    Within a fortnight the case was a sensation, and Ortwin had gathered to himself a group of malcontents, lapsed devotees and drunken romantics who hung on his every word. The Bard enjoyed himself immensely. The Curia suddenly fell under scrutiny from every quarter, and after the first few days, they made attempts to counter Ortwin’s scandalous performances by sending their most articulate and charismatic preachers to venues where the Half-Elf was scheduled to play.
    The Bard lapped it up: as far as he was concerned, the more controversy that he attracted, the better.
    Ortwin was arrested three times for causing a breach of the peace.

    The first time, the city guards, reduced to tears at his words, released him.

    On the second occasion, he successfully seduced his arresting officer: a young lieutenant of the watch named Qino Sels. Within a day, the Bard had convinced her to distribute anti-temple propaganda amongst the city guard and the militia.

    His final arrest, which resulted in a hearing with an elderly and conservative magistrate of the Royal Justice, was quashed when the Duchess of Trempa, a long-standing critic of Ortwin’s behaviour when he had frequented her court, intervened on his behalf. He was released on the condition that he immediately cease his performances, to which he happily complied. Half of the nobility of Wyre were now assembled in Morne in order to hear the case of Eadric, and Ortwin applied himself to seeking audiences with various Barons, Counts, Marquises and Dukes in an effort to petition their favour.


    Mostin leased a small house in the most fashionable district of Morne under an assumed name, erected his looking-glass, and spent much of his time in divination. He made several extraplanar sorties in an effort to determine the reasons behind Oronthon’s apparent reluctance to make his wishes known.
    He consulted with Mulissu in her pocket paradise, although he found the savant ill-informed about larger cosmic events, and uninterested by what transpired away from her own realm. She suggested that he make a translation to the least rarefied of the heavens and seek guidance from the celestials who abode there. Mostin said he’d think about it, and promptly failed to follow her recommendation*.

    After petitioning various passers-by on the Inner Planes – both mortal and supernatural - the Alienist made a perilous physical translation to the steaming fringes of Hell, where he posed a "Metagnostic Inquiry**" to a Horned Devil. The Cornugon replied with a cryptic quatrain:

    The Eagle seeks an effective solution and is thereby satisfied.
    If the vine bears too many bad grapes, then the wine will be poor,
    And a ruthless vintner is preferred over a bitter draught.
    When Rintrah roars, who will listen?

    The Cornugon, Mostin rationalized, although a minor authority in the vast diabolic hierarchy, might know something of use. The Alienist was in no doubt that the Dukes of Hell knew of Oronthon’s silence and were probably observing with interest: the network of infernal spies was the most extensive in the cosmos.

    Mostin returned through the looking-glass to his rented home and pondered on the meaning of the words. The "Eagle" – the symbol associated with the god Oronthon - was a clear enough metaphor for the deity himself. Rintrah was the Planetar in the celestial host responsible for mortal revelation. The wine-making references, however, were obscure, and the Alienist could not interpret their meaning. Mostin spent the day experiencing a series of semiotic paradoxes, found that he made no progress, and went to meet Ortwin in a nearby inn.

    Nwm and Despina were also there. The Druid, together with his new fiendish protégé, had been visiting a variety of holy sites, places of natural beauty, and particularly venerable trees. Both were travelling dressed in the mottled brown and green robes of lay worshippers of the Goddess, and Nwm had adopted the guise of an old woman in order to deflect attention from their true identity. Morne at that time was a dangerous place, full of zealots and extremists, and the only thing which frightened the Druid more than encountering a squadron of inquisitors or templars, was a group of overly enthusiastic Uedii worshippers. They might view him as a means to end what they viewed as Oronthonian oppression, and hail him as a liberator from excessive Temple taxes. Nwm was apolitical, and although critical of the Temple, had no desire to irritate representatives of the established church beyond that which was absolutely necessary.

    Heretic. Infidel. Apostate. Unbeliever. Schismatic. Dissident.
    All of these words were currently being bandied about too readily by a variety of self-appointed holy men and women in a climate of religious intolerance that made Nwm nervous. Ortwin was adding fuel to the fire by his actions and, at the Druid’s behest, the Bard ceased his one-man campaign against the Orthodox Church. Aside from numbers of inflamed, disenfranchised Earth-worshippers, various heretical Oronthonian groups – including the Irrenites, the Reconciliatory Sophists and the Urgic Mystics had begun to attract more attention after years of languishing in obscurity. They began wooing the public in an attempt to increase flagging congregations and dwindling coffers.

    The trio discussed Mostin’s exchange with the devil, but could not penetrate its crypticisms any more than the Alienist already had. None were experts in Oronthonianism, but the references might make more sense to an initiate.
    "Can we find someone who might shed light on it?" Ortwin asked.
    Despina coughed politely, but Mostin wasn’t listening.
    "Ooh, yes," the Alienist said sarcastically, "I’ll go and find a priest – you know, someone well-versed in doctrinal matters. Maybe an inquisitor. I’ll say, ‘Hello. I’m Mostin – that diabolist you might have heard of. Don’t listen to any of the gossip about me, none of it’s true. I wondered if you could help me. See, I was talking to this devil…’"
    "Well, obviously I was thinking of a more indirect approach," Ortwin sighed.
    "I’m not sure how reliable the words of a devil are in helping us penetrate the motive for Oronthon’s silence," Nwm said drily. "Surely a member of the celestial host would make a better target for inquiry."
    "Perhaps," Mostin said nervously, "although devils tend to be remarkably well-informed. In any case, I would guess that only the upper echelons of Oronthon’s servitors would be privy to his motives."
    "So you think that a moderate-ranking devil will be better informed than, say a deva or an archon? Your argument is inconsistent." Nwm pressed. "Unless Oronthon is purposely leaking information to fiends."
    "If you have any theories about this," Ortwin said to the Demoness, "now would be a good time to share them."

    "I don’t pretend to understand Oronthon’s motivation," Despina said carefully, "but I am well-versed in theological matters – it pays if you’re in my line of work. Or my previous line of work, I should say. I think that Oronthon neatly sidestepped the issue of dealing with the dilemma that my petition for forgiveness caused. I don’t think it was necessarily intentional on his part, but Nwm’s intercession for me with the Goddess is to Oronthon’s benefit."
    "Explain," said Mostin.
    "Consider," the Demoness said. "You are a deity with a number of portfolios. You represent, on one hand, Love, Compassion, Mercy and Forgiveness. You are absolutely Good. On the other hand, you signify Justice, Order, Retribution and absolute Law. These two poles are not necessarily identical in their needs."
    "Hah," Mostin snorted. "If you’re telling me that Oronthon is schizophrenic, then he’s no different from any other deity. So what’s new?"
    "The point I’m trying to make," she continued, "is that the current crisis is a reflection of that dichotomy. A demoness approaches Oronthon’s champion, earnestly asking for redemption. Good Oronthon says ‘sure, no problem,’ whereas Lawful Oronthon says ‘no chance. Your punishment was just.’ Of course, Oronthon understands this paradox, and that some kind of dialectic has to be found in order to transcend it. If he acts, one way or the other, he favours Law over Good or vice versa. Two absolute truths have come into conflict with one another, and both have to be satisfied."

    "Orthodoxy admits to this variation," Nwm said, "hence its worshippers emphasise different aspects of the deity***. I don’t see this as relevant."
    "In practice they admit to it, yes," Despina said "but doctrinally, Oronthon is ‘one, perfect, indivisible’ and so on. To speculate that Oronthon is, in fact, a moral relativist would not go down terribly well with the public – hence such discourse is deemed ‘heretical.’"
    Ortwin hooted with laughter. "So do I get to tell Ed? He’ll love this."
    "You must not," Despina said. "Eadric is like most celestials. They have a simplistic view of reality which is couched in terms of black and white. It is their faith which sustains them, and an absolute trust in Oronthon’s perfection. As Mostin says, only those in the upper tiers of the celestial hierarchy really understand Oronthon’s will – that the deity is constantly fraught with moral and ethical dilemmas which he has to resolve. Yet they still trust his judgement, and do not doubt him."
    "And you doubted?" Mostin asked.
    "I understood, I doubted, and I fell," the demoness replied. "The same would happen to Eadric."

    "You underestimate him," Nwm said, simply. "He is not afraid to confront difficult truths. If your theory is correct, that there are essentially two kinds of faith in question here – a blind faith and an informed faith, so to speak – then I would be prepared to gamble that Eadric falls into the latter camp."
    "Maybe," Ortwin said, "although in the past I’ve hardly kept my frustration with Ed’s stubbornness a secret from him. He has trouble dealing with new ideas. The revelation that his god is fallible might be more than he can handle. But I can’t believe this is the first time that this idea has been addressed."
    Despina shook her head. "Its not. Mystics and contemplatives have to get past this point and develop a more fundamental relationship with the deity. But your standard Warrior-cleric, or Templar, or Paladin has a relatively unenlightened view. They are agents of their deity’s will, but do not understand it. In this regard they resemble the celestial rank and file."
    "Interesting theory," Nwm said sceptically, "but if it’s true then why did you approach Eadric for redemption in the first place? If you consider him to possess only a partial understanding of Oronthon, then surely a contemplative who is more ‘tuned in’ would’ve made a better choice. You must have known that it would cause a crisis in both his conscience and the larger body of the church."
    "I had little choice," Despina said. "If you remember, he was ready to strike me down until I begged him to reconsider. But we’d already spent so much time together that I thought I understood him enough to risk throwing myself on his mercy. From that point onwards, until you acted on my behalf, then he basically called the shots. I trusted his ability to effectively act upon the will of Oronthon, even if he did not fully understand it."

    "You are forgetting Cynric," Mostin reasoned. "Whoever Eadric was, when this began, he is not the same man now. The Archbishop pulled the rug from under his feet when he withdrew official church support for his actions. Eadric’s own mentor initiated an existential crisis in his ward and told him that he was ‘on his own.’ Why would he do that unless he felt that Eadric was capable of dealing with it? I am a wizard – I understand this principle well. Sometimes the lessons you give need to be ruthless, otherwise they are ineffective."
    "I disliked Cynric," Nwm said, "but I had no doubt about his sense of foresight, or his excellence as a teacher. I suspect that he may have had a presentiment about his own death."
    "And did nothing to stop it?" Ortwin asked, amazed. "He elected no successor, and the church is in crisis. I don’t believe he would willingly allow that to happen – the continuation of tradition was too important to him."
    Nwm raised an ironic eyebrow. "You forget the last exchange between Eadric and Cynric occurred in private. Neither you, nor I, nor the Curia were present. Eadric was vague about the details."
    "You think the old bastard was grooming Eadric to take over?" Ortwin asked, aghast.
    "Not necessarily," Nwm said, "but I think he was sounding out possibilities, and Eadric may have been high on his list of candidates. He may have regarded the Despina affair as a test of Eadric’s mettle, thus he was disinclined to intervene. He saw it as a potential catalyst which would have far-reaching consequences for every aspect of the faith. In the final analysis, however, I think Cynric’s foresight failed him: he didn’t expect to die quite as soon as he did."
    "But why choose a warrior when there are so many contemplatives who are attuned more closely?" Despina asked.
    "War," Nwm said.
    "In the church? Precipitated by me?" Despina asked. "I hope not. If that’s the case, then Graz’zt has won already."
    "Again," repeated Nwm, "not necessarily. Oronthon may view it as an opportunity to root out corruption, instill a new direction in a stagnant organization, quiet the bickering factions and revive morality. Remember: The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number. Sometimes you have to crack a few eggs to bake a cake."
    "But the Inquisition and the Temple are Eadric’s primary antagonists," Ortwin said. "And if this is the case, then why hasn’t Oronthon shown some sign to Eadric?"
    "I believe its customarily called ‘the long dark night of the soul,’" Nwm replied. "It’s supposed to be difficult, or it has no value."
    "So what are we supposed to do?" Asked Ortwin. "The trial begins tomorrow."
    "Nothing," said Mostin. "We wait until Rintrah roars."




    *Mostin is afraid of birds. Celestials with their big, feathery wings are more than the Alienist can bear.

    **Potent Spell (8th level) devised by Mostin with several applications, but designed primarily to extract information from extraplanar entities. Like "Otto’s Irresistible Dance," the "Metagnostic Inquiry" allows no saving throw (although SR still applies), and the target is subjected to a mind-affecting compulsion which temporarily renders it docile and incapable of lying. The caster poses a single question, which the target must answer faithfully (albeit usually obliquely). The question posed by Mostin to the Cornugon was "What is the meaning of Oronthon’s current silence towards his worshippers?"

    ***Obviously, although Oronthon is a LG Deity, his worshippers can be NG or LN.

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    The Trial: Part One

    Originally posted by Sepulchrave II on 05-15-2002

    "Please state your full name and title before the panel," the aged inquisitor directed.
    "I am Eadric son of Moad, Baronet of Deorham and Lord of the Manor at Jaive and Sutting. I am a deputed inquisitor. I also bear the title of ‘Protector of the Nineteen Tenets.’" Eadric looked around the courtroom. It was empty except for himself and a council of five magnates: Melion, the Inquisitor General and his Deputy, Tahl; The Bishops of Tyndur and Hethio; and the Grand Master of the Temple, Lord Rede of Dramore. Inevitably, the Church elders had decided on a private hearing, to avoid the inevitable gossip and speculation which would otherwise arise. Eadric was not impressed.
    "The last title was bestowed upon you for services rendered to Orthodoxy by the late Archbishop, Cynric of Morne," Melion said rhetorically.
    "That is correct."
    "Perhaps you could enlighten us as to the actions which prompted his holiness to grant that title?" Melion asked.
    "It was given to me after my actions in the defeat of the Demon Cerothumulos, who posed a threat to the established church around the city of Tyndur." Eadric looked pointedly at the Bishop of Tyndur: it was his diocese that had been saved by the Paladin’s actions. Tyndur averted his gaze.
    "Was this the first time that you had had dealings with demons?" Lord Rede asked.
    "Naturally not," Eadric replied smoothly. "I am expected to deal with any infernal or diabolic threat which presents itself."
    "What is the prescribed method of dealing with such threats?" Hethio asked.
    "Their annihilation," Eadric answered.
    "How old were you when you first encountered a fiend?" Melion asked.
    "I was fifteen," Eadric replied.
    "Perhaps you could explain the circumstances," Melion pressed the Paladin.
    "A sorcerer who bore a grudge against my father invoked three minor demons to assail him whilst he slept. They are commonly known as Dretch. I picked up my father’s sword and slew one. My father wrestled one to the ground and grappled with it. Shortly afterwards the two remaining demons dissolved – the spell must have ended and they were no longer beholden.’
    "And your father was wounded?" Hethio asked.
    "We both were," Eadric replied.
    "Did you immediately seek a priest of Oronthon?" Melion asked.
    "No, but…" Eadric answered.
    "You know that this is the recommended course of action for the faithful," Melion interrupted, "although we can hardly blame you for your father’s oversight – after all, you were merely a boy." The condescension dripped from the inquisitor’s lips. "Where did you go?"
    "We went to see the local nature priest," Eadric sighed.
    "A pagan?" Melion raised his eyebrows in false surprise. The story was well known.
    "A pagan." Eadric confirmed.
    "His name?"
    "Nwm," Eadric said.

    **

    "Shortly after your first demonic encounter, you entered the service of the Temple. To ‘fight the good fight,’" the Bishop of Hethio said. His benign expression did not hide from Eadric the fact that this man bore him no great love. "You demonstrated certain gifts."
    Eadric nodded.
    "Why?" Hethio asked.
    "I felt that Lord Oronthon had called me to such a task," Eadric answered.
    "Did he speak to you?" Melion asked.
    "No," the Paladin replied.
    "Has he ever spoken to you?" Hethio asked. "Either directly, or through one of his intermediaries?"
    "No," Eadric said.
    "Oh?" Rede asked. "Then you do not view the established church as a valid medium for conveying Oronthon’s will?"
    Sh*t, thought Eadric, wrong answer: the bastards. "Forgive me, Lord. I had assumed that you referred to a celestial messenger. The church has efficiently conveyed Lord Oronthon’s will to me in the past."
    "Do you think it continues to do so?" Melion asked cannily.
    Eadric did not answer.
    "Baronet Deorham?" Hethio pressed.
    "No," Eadric admitted. "I don’t think it does."

    **

    Ortwin groaned and placed his head in his hands. "Oh gods, Ed, just lie to them and tell them what they want to hear." He, Mostin, Nwm and Despina were gathered around the Alienist’s looking glass, spying on the proceedings in the inquisitorial court.
    "Unfortunately, lying doesn’t come as easily to Eadric as it does to some," Nwm jibed.
    "Besides," Mostin said, "the court is under a Zone of Truth, so there’s no point anyway. And you see those huge gaudy amulets that Melion and Tahl are wearing? The ‘Eyes of Palamabron,’ they’re called. Gems of Seeing with all kinds of other powers. Artifacts." Mostin’s eyes glazed over and he drooled.
    "Who’s Palamabron?" Ortwin asked.
    "A dead Solar," Despina replied.
    "So they know we’re watching?" Nwm asked, astonished. "Why don’t they do something about it?"
    "Heh," Mostin laughed, "they tried."

    **

    "Why did you participate in the summoning of the Balor Rurunoth?" Melion asked Eadric.
    "I did not do so willingly," the Paladin replied, "I felt it was an ill-advised course of action."
    "But you took part nonetheless," Hethio said. "Why?"
    "It was in an attempt to discover the machinations of the Demon Graz’zt, and to sever the link between him and Despina."
    "The succubus Nehael?"
    "Yes," Eadric answered.
    "Because, at this point, you still did not trust her?" Melion asked.
    "That is correct."
    "Where is Rurunoth now?" Melion inquired.
    "I don’t exactly know," Eadric answered.
    "You don’t know?" Rede asked, astonished.
    "Nwm and Mostin entombed him beneath the earth. He is protected with powerful wards."
    Melion raised an eyebrow. "You allowed a pagan and a known diabolist to deal with this threat? After acceding to an illegal summoning in the first place?"
    "Mostin is not a diabolist," Eadric insisted.
    "But he does routinely deal with demons and devils?" Hethio asked archly.
    "I wouldn’t say routinely," Eadric replied.
    "Infrequently, then, shall we say?" Hethio smiled. "I think the distinction is inconsequential, don’t you?"
    Eadric said nothing.
    "Where is the demoness now?" Melion asked.
    "I don’t know," the Paladin answered. "I believe that she is still under the protection of Nwm the Preceptor."
    "So her announced desire for redemption was, ultimately, a falsehood," Melion said.
    "I don’t think she would agree," Eadric retorted.
    "But she is now a pagan," Rede laughed, "that’s not much of an improvement, is it?"
    "The Goddess was willing to forgive her," Eadric said.
    "But she’d committed no crime against any pagan god, had she?" Melion taunted. "It is reasonable to assume that your god – our god – Lord Oronthon - still judges her accursed."
    "Has he told you as much?" Eadric asked defiantly.
    "It is the duty of the Curia to interpret the will of Oronthon," Melion hissed.
    "In the absence of an Archbishop." Eadric snapped. He was getting tired of this. "Why is Oronthon silent?" He asked.
    "Such weighty matters are not for you," Melion answered. "You are merely a warrior."

    **

    "Did the succubus seduce you?" Hethio asked.
    "No," Eadric replied.
    "But you bore her token while you jousted, and you courted her. You spent a good deal of time in conversation with her. What did you talk about?"
    "Mainly philosophy and religion," the Paladin said.
    "Did you find her an articulate conversationalist?" Hethio inquired.
    "Yes. She is most erudite."
    "Did she sway your opinions on any theological matters?" The Bishop continued.
    "Not that I remember," Eadric sighed.
    "And you were…how should I put this…romantically attracted to her?"
    "Yes," Eadric groaned.
    "Would it seem entirely unreasonable," the Bishop asked slyly, "if I suggested that your urge to fornicate with a demon is responsible for your current predicament?"
    "It is not an unreasonable suggestion," Eadric agreed. "However, neither is it true."
    "Have you ever had dealings with a necromancer called Feezuu?" Melion asked the Paladin.
    Eadric looked surprised. "I’ve never heard of her. Why?"
    "Information leads us to believe it was she who slew Cynric," Hethio explained. "Do you bear any guilt, or have you felt responsible for Cynric’s death?" He asked.
    Eadric grimaced. The question hit the core of his doubts. "I am not sure," he replied. "Perhaps."

    **

    In his chambers, Mostin went pale as the blood drained from his face. "This is very bad news," he said.
    "Feezuu?" Nwm asked. "Never heard of her."
    "She is a Cambion," Despina explained, "a half-demon. She is the attaché of the Balor Ainhorr – who, incidentally, is significantly more powerful than Rurunoth."
    "Who is? Feezuu or Ainhorr?" the Bard asked.
    "I was speaking of Ainhorr, but both of them, actually," replied Despina.
    "Great," said Ortwin, sarcastically. "Could we take her?"
    "Not without Eadric," Mostin replied.
    "And with him?"
    "Maybe," said the Alienist.
    "Hmm," grunted Ortwin.

    **

    "You have, in your possession, certain heretical texts," Melion said. "They were discovered at your castle. Have you anything to say about them?"
    "I did not realize that they were forbidden," Eadric answered.
    "How did you come by them?"
    "Many of my books are the legacy of my father’s estate."
    "Ah," said Melion, "we come back to your father again. Would you say that your father was a devout man?"
    "Yes," Eadric replied.
    "Although he consulted banned treatises and consorted with local pagan priests?"
    "I do not view tolerance as an obstacle to devotion," Eadric said.
    "Really? You have a brother, do you not?" Melion asked.
    Eadric nodded. He knew where this was going.
    "What does your brother do, Baronet Deorham?"
    "He is an ascetic. He has renounced the world." Eadric answered.
    "He is an Urgic Mystic, am I correct?" Melion pressed.
    "That is true," Eadric admitted.
    "Do you share his opinions to any extent?’ Hethio asked.
    "No," said Eadric forcefully.
    "Please, Baronet Deorham, try to understand that we are only looking for the truth here."
    "Of course," Eadric said, smiling. He looked at Tahl, and the Deputy Inquisitor could only swallow and return his gaze with regret. Tyndur would not even meet his eyes.
    The others wanted to burn him. Badly.

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    Trial Interrupted and Another Crazy Plan from Mostin

    Originally posted by Sepulchrave II on 05-16-2002

    After the preliminary hearing in the trial, Mostin used the mirror again to access Mulissu’s demi-plane.

    "This is becoming tedious, Mostin," the Elemental Savant said to him. "This is the third time you have interrupted my contemplation. I resent your nagging. And now you ask me to work magic for you?’
    "You have met her, and I have not," Mostin said. "I cannot use the spell."
    "And I do not have the spell," Mulissu replied.
    "Then we may make fair exchange," said Mostin, smugly.
    "That will involve taking a full day from my studies," Mulissu complained. "Time is precious to me."
    "It is crucial to me," Mostin said. "Please?"
    "Very well," she sighed. "Leave your book here. I will look after dinner."
    "Are you insane?" Mostin asked. "Leave my book with you? My most potent dweomers are in that book!"
    Mulissu raised a single eyebrow, and her hair crackled with electricity. Mostin left his book and fled back through the gate.

    **

    The next day of the trial was little better for Eadric.
    "Let us return to the matter of the demon Cerothumulos," Melion said.
    The Bishop of Tyndur looked uncomfortable.
    "This demon was potent," Melion continued. "A Nalfeshnee who had assumed the guise of a stone giant."
    "That is correct," Eadric replied, "the Bishop had engaged him in the construction of the new fane at Tyndur."
    "He was attended by several succubi, who infiltrated the church," Melion said. "You demonstrated no reluctance in destroying these creatures. Why did the succubus Nehael strike you as any different?"
    "I felt that her case was the exception, not the rule," Eadric replied.
    "Did it occur to you that it is utterly beyond your remit to make a judgement about the desire of a fiend to seek repentance? Beyond any mortal intervention, in fact. Did you consider that this is a matter for celestials and Oronthon himself?"
    "I sought the advice of Cynric," Eadric said.
    "Eventually," Rede of Dramore laughed. "After using witchcraft in an attempt to contact Oronthon. Would you consider this to be the correct procedure?"
    "I felt that it was justified."
    "Nehael was dispatched because of the offense you gave the demon Graz’zt after the defeat of Cerothumulos," Melion continued.
    "Yes," Eadric said.
    "In an attempt to drag you from grace, to offend the church, to cause a crisis of faith, to scandalize the Temple and to cause as much mayhem as possible. Would you say that her efforts have been successful?"
    "With your help, they might be," Eadric said acidly.
    Melion seethed, but it was Hethio who spoke. The bishop produced a small locket, with the miniature of a beautiful woman inside of it.
    "Do you know who this is, Baronet Deorham?" he asked.
    "That is Despina – the succubus Nehael, if you prefer."
    "No," said the Bishop of Hethio, "this IS Lady Despina of Harcourt. Her father is the Thane of Harcourt. She has two sisters. Where do you suppose she is now?"
    Eadric’s stomach sank. He hadn’t even considered this possibility, that the demoness had replaced a genuine noblewoman. He’d never thought to ask. He wondered what the real Despina had been like. "I would guess that she was murdered," he said grimly.
    "Fortunately not," Hethio replied, with mock brightness. "She is still alive and well, and living in Harcourt – such a remote fief, that posing as one from there is unlikely to draw attention. You might have met her one day."
    The bastards, thought Eadric, they’re f*cking with my brain.

    **

    "Well, at least you didn’t kill her," Ortwin said to Despina.
    "I was tempted," the demoness replied, "she is a vain, empty-headed trollop."

    **

    "Yesterday," Rede said, "you admitted that you no longer believed that the church was a legitimate channel for Oronthon’s will. I have no interest in trying to fathom your motives for such an assertion, but you must know that this statement alone is sufficient grounds to convict you of heresy."
    Eadric sighed. "Heresy is a politically expedient crime."
    "No," Melion snapped. "Heresy is holding an opinion which is contrary to the truth."
    "That is one interpretation," Eadric retorted. "Another is that heresy is maintaining a viewpoint which defies dogma."
    "They are one and the same," Melion asserted.
    "Not since Cynric’s death," Eadric replied smoothly.
    "I will not tolerate this insubordination!" Melion spat. "You will answer the questions put to you. I am not interested in your uninformed theories. You are a layman."
    Eadric said nothing.

    "Would you concur that your brother is a heretic?" Hethio asked calmly.
    "His opinions defy Orthodox dogma. Yes, he is a heretic."
    "And his opinions are contrary to the truth," Melion said.
    Eadric said nothing.

    "What transpired in your final meeting with his holiness?" Hethio asked.
    Eadric laughed. "The Curia were not present for a reason."
    "Remember: the Curia are now the voice of Oronthon on Earth," Rede said slowly. "Whatever doubts you may have possessed in the past, you may now put aside. You may reveal the conversation."
    "Cynric told me that I was on my own," Eadric replied.
    "But he did not sanction any particular course of action," Melion probed.
    "No," said Eadric, "but nor did he forbid any."
    "Would you say that Cynric was in full possession of his faculties?" Hethio inquired.
    "Yes," replied Eadric.
    "But I remember him saying ‘Not everything is revealed to me’ – I was present at the initial hearing, if you recall. Do you believe that Oronthon’s grace was withdrawn from him?"
    "No." Eadric was adamant.
    "Despite the fact that he was not assumed?* That he perished under sorcery?"
    "No."
    "What else did he say?" Melion asked.
    Eadric smiled. "He said ‘I can give you no help in this matter. You are correct when you speak of inner promptings – not that I’d say it in front of those others. After all, it IS the road to heresy - at least among the unenlightened.’"

    Melion swallowed hard, and called for an immediate recess.

    **

    An emergency meeting of the Curia was convened, and Eadric was not called into the court for another two days. In his cell, he prayed.

    During this time, Mostin made yet another journey to confer with Mulissu. She was, on this occasion, surprisingly affable.

    "What is this ‘Metagnostic Inquiry?’" The Savant asked, holding his book.
    "It is most rude to consult another mage’s books without their permission," Mostin fumed.
    "Would you not have done the same?" Mulissu asked.
    Mostin had to admit that he would. "Did you transcribe and master the ‘Discern Location’ dweomer?" he asked.
    "Naturally," she replied. "But I did not realise that you possessed so many originals. ‘Metempsychotic Reversal?’ ‘Paroxysm of Fire?’ Please understand that I was merely browsing. I have gained a new respect for you, Mostin."
    The Alienist puffed proudly. He knew she was buttering him up, but compliments were always appreciated.
    "Perhaps more exchanges would be possible," Mulissu suggested.
    "Yes," said Mostin, snatching his spellbook and dropping it into his portable hole.

    The Witch sighed. "Feezuu is on the plane of Limbo," she said. "I took the liberty of casting the spell. She is at these coordinates."
    Mulissu invoked Rary’s Telepathic Bond, and a stream of numbers and formulae flooded into Mostin’s brain.
    "Notice this variable, here," Mulissu pointed to a complex equation. "This represents the probability of Feezuu’s domain being in a certain area. If you translate, you need to consider that location itself is not a constant on Limbo."
    "Domain?" Mostin asked.
    "She has a retreat there," Mulissu replied. "Perhaps, as a Cambion, she is not always welcome in the Abyss."

    Mostin thought hard for a moment. "What are her relations with the Slaadi?" He asked.
    The Witch shrugged. "I have no idea," she said.
    "Did you scry her?" Mostin asked.
    "She is warded," Mulissu said, "but her fortress looks like THIS."
    An image appeared in Mostin’s mind.
    "Gods," he said, "what’s it made of?"
    "Blood, I think," Mulissu replied.
    Charming, thought Mostin.
    "What are you planning to do, Mostin?" Mulissu asked.
    "I’m not sure yet," the Alienist answered.
    "She is dangerous," the witch cautioned him.
    "And beyond me," Mostin nodded.
    Mulissu laughed. "Maybe, in a straight fight. But I’m assuming you’d cheat. What’s the biggest evocation you can deliver?"
    "Against a Cambion? Sonically Substituted Maximized Empowered Lightning Bolt."
    "Not bad," Mulissu said. "Sonics, eh?"
    "It pays when you’re dealing with outsiders," Mostin said.
    "How many of those can you get off?"
    "One," said Mostin.
    "Hmm, it’ll take more than that," Mulissu said.
    "I know," Mostin sighed.

    **

    "No frikkin’ way," Ortwin said.
    "I’ve got it all planned," Mostin explained. "We buff up, and assume the forms of Barbazu devils. We use the mirror to get to Limbo. We ‘Teleport without Error’ into the castle. I whack her with some spells, and if she’s still standing, you chop her up. We ‘Teleport’ out and use the gate to get back, quick smart, before her lackeys are onto us."
    "Why the devil part?" Nwm asked.

    "Barbazu have great spell resistance, and it preserves anonymity," Mostin said. "They can also teleport perfectly without my having to use spells."
    "What spells did you have in mind to ‘whack her’ with," Nwm inquired.
    "Quickened ‘Magic Missile’, ‘Disintegrate’, and ‘Great Shout’. If we’re hasted, and we get the jump, I can get them all off before she can react. Ortwin zaps her with my ‘Circlet of Blasting.’ If she’s still standing, she’ll probably be stunned from the sonic – as will at least some of her cronies. That’s when Ortwin finishes her off. If he takes longer than five seconds then, a) I’ll be disappointed in him and, b) I’ll whack her with two sonically substituted maximized ‘Lightning Bolts’ and another quickened ‘Magic Missile’. If that doesn’t finish her off, then I’m changing my vocation."

    "Sounds reasonable," said Nwm.
    Ortwin groaned. "You cannot be serious," he said.
    "You must admit, given the method of Cynric’s death, this does have a certain symmetry to it," Despina said.
    "I thought you said we couldn’t take her without Ed," Ortwin said.
    "I reconsidered," said Mostin.






    *Cynric was the first Archbishop not to undergo a bodily assumption into heaven at his death.

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    REPOST

    Originally posted by Sepulchrave II on 05-25-2002

    Nothing New Here...




    Mostin and Ortwin buffed.

    Nwm cast “Death Ward” and “Energy Immunity” on both of them. Mostin had gleaned from Mulissu that Feezuu favoured acid evocations, so the Druid rendered Mostin immune to acid and Ortwin immune to both acid and Sonics – the latter was in order to allow Mostin to use area sonic attacks without fear of harming the bard. Nwm also cast “Freedom of Movement” on both of them, as well as multiple “Protection from Elements.” Ortwin would ignore the first 168 points of damage from all energy sources, except Sonics and acid, to which he was entirely immune. Mostin himself was also warded against Sonics, in the event that any of his area spells needed to be discharged at point-blank range. Finally, Nwm cast “Attune Form” on both of them to protect them from any unforeseen adverse effects from the Plane of Limbo.

    Mostin cast “Haste” and “Fiendform” on both himself and Ortwin, and they transformed into Barbazu.

    Ortwin bore Melimpor’s Girdle and Shield – items which Eadric and entrusted to Nwm, as well as his own scimitar, Githla. An empowered “Cat’s Grace” restored his Dexterity to close to its original level - Bearded Devils were not renowned for their agility.

    Mostin had thought long and hard about how best to deploy his spell resources and how best to retain their anonymity – or at least deflect attention away from themselves. He was sure that Feezuu had many enemies, although he didn’t know who they were.

    The duo had agreed that they would enter under the guise of an Infernal strike team. The Alienist summoned devils before they translated – 3 more Barbazu and an Osyluth. Mostin hoped that the Bone Devil would be considered the de facto leader of the troupe and draw attention away from himself and Ortwin. He had prepared “Great Shout,” two “Disintegrates,” three quickened “Magic Missiles,” a double empowered sonically substituted “Fireball,” two singly empowered sonically substituted “Fireballs,” three regular sonically substituted “Fireballs,” three “Dispel Magics” and a variety of divinations. Mostin had also prepared “Plane Shift” in case something went awry with the gate opened by the Looking-Glass of Urm-Nahat, and they needed to beat a hasty exit from Limbo.

    Ortwin had been turned into a veritable killing machine. Mostin felt invulnerable.

    After their diabolic allies had been summoned, Mostin telepathically communicated his instructions to them, opened the gate to Limbo, and they entered the miasma. Raw chaos engulfed them.
    “We have around one minute,” the Alienist thought to Ortwin. “Make every second count.”
    They teleported into the centre of Feezuu’s keep, an island of semi-permanent matter sustained by the Cambion’s will, and appeared in her audience hall. The smell was overpowering – Mulissu had been correct when she’d guessed that the place was constructed from blood.
    Being somewhat disoriented, Mostin hadn’t qot quite the “jump” that he’d hoped for.
    Aside from Feezuu, there were only around a dozen Slaadi of minor rank present, which wasn’t too bad.
    Except that the Balor, Ainhorr, was also there.

    Oh F*ck, thought Mostin, he’s big.
    The Alienist glanced to see Ortwin, but the Bard had reacted with uncanny prescience. A conspicuous, shield-bearing Barbazu had already teleported behind Feezuu and was slashing violently with his scimitar at the Necromancer.
    The Bone Devil, who had sought to engage a Blue Slaad in melee combat, instead crumpled under the gaze of Ainhorr into an infinitesimally small point in space.
    Mostin swallowed and knew that if he attracted attention, would probably be next. Oh, well, he thought. He let loose his “Great Shout” and flung a quickened “Magic Missile” followed by “Disintegrate” at the Balor. The sonic blew a hole in the magically sustained blood walls, and several Slaadi stopped in their tracks. Feezuu was staggered. Ainhorr brushed off all of the spells, his concentration unaffected.

    Two Red Slaadi and a Blue Slaad began tearing at Mostin with their claws, but they could not effectively overcome his infernal protection.
    Despite her disorientation, Feezuu managed to deliver a quickened acid bolt at Ortwin, followed by invoking “Destruction” upon the Bard. Fortunately, his wards protected him from both attacks.
    Ortwin slashed again and again and again and again at Feezuu, viciously prosecuting a frenzied attack.
    Ainhorr’s gaze turned to Mostin, and the Alienist felt the weight of the Balor’s will pressing down upon him. It was titanic, and smashed through his infernal resistances.
    But it did not penetrate the core that was Mostin, beneath.
    Mostin smiled and let loose two more potent Sonics at point-blank range and hurled another quickened packet of “Magic Missiles” at the Balor. Summoned Devils and Slaadi alike exploded under the force of sound. Feezuu reeled: she was in trouble. The Alienist telepathically instructed the last remaining Barbazu to interpose itself between himself and Ainhorr.

    Ainhorr looked moderately irritated.
    Feezuu reacted swiftly.
    The Cambion cast a quickened haste upon herself. Mostin was unaffected by the first of two potent, rapid magical assaults, although the second almost overwhelmed him. But Ortwin screamed as the water was wilted from his body twice in succession.
    GET OUT! AWAY FROM THE BALOR! BACK TO THE PORTAL! Mostin screamed telepathically to the Bard. Ortwin must get out of range of the Implosions. The Half-Elf didn’t need telling twice. He slashed at Feezuu again, and teleported away to a safe distance.
    Ainhorr held up his flaming hand and invoked a “Symbol of Death” which caused the intervening Barbazu to die in a spectacular fashion. But Mostin, warded from death magic, was unharmed.
    Ainhorr fumed in disbelief, and drew his sword.
    Sh*t, thought Mostin, and fired off his last sonic attack and quickened “Magic Missile” at Feezuu. The Necromancer finally crumpled under Mostin’s power. The Alienist teleported away promptly.

    Mostin wanted to go back for her spellbooks. He changed his mind when Ortwin threatened to kill him.

    **

    “So is she dead, then?” Nwm asked.
    “I’m pretty sure,” Mostin replied.
    “But not entirely.”
    “No.” Mostin said.
    “And the Balor?” Asked the Druid.
    “I think we managed to annoy him, but little more,” the Alienist said. “My magic barely touched him. The question which will be vexing him most is ‘who are we?’ I guess he will return to the Abyss and seek direction from his master.”
    “Will they discern the truth?” Nwm asked.
    “I hope not,” Mostin earnestly replied. “Although with the Cambion out of the picture I am less worried about reprisals. Graz’zt would exhaust himself if he were to facilitate the translation of a major demon like Ainhorr onto the Prime, and would attract all kinds of unwelcome attention.”
    “But he has other agents,” Ortwin said. “We are not safe.”
    “We never were,” Despina replied.
    “Can you invoke the ‘Magnificent Mansion?’” Nwm asked Mostin.
    The Alienist shook his head. “I have not prepared it. My spells are exhausted.”
    Nwm looked concerned. “As are mine! And I am now worried about interplanar guerilla tactics being deployed against me. What spells do you have left?”
    “Mainly divinations,” Mostin answered. “But we should be safe for the nonce. It will take Ainhorr a day or two to return to the Abyss.”
    Ortwin groaned. “And then? If Graz’zt determines that we are responsible, then he will surely seek vengeance.”
    “I will construct a permanent version of the ‘Mansion,’” Mostin said grandly.
    “Are you capable of such a feat?” Nwm seemed sceptical.
    “I believe so,” Mostin replied. “And it is high time that I thought about rendering myself immune to the kind of assault made against Cynric, and which we ourselves made today. I cannot afford to be lax any longer.”
    “You seem depressed at the prospect,” Despina observed.
    “My transcendence is near*,” Mostin sighed. “An investment of this magnitude – in terms of both time and personal energy – will delay it.”
    “How long would it take to achieve?” Nwm asked.
    “It is an unconventional application of the ‘Permanency’ dweomer,” Mostin said. He made a quick calculation. “Assuming that it’s possible, around two months,” he said.
    “Argh!” Ortwin beat his forehead.
    “I was thinking long-term,” Mostin sniffed.

    But the more he thought about it, the more the idea seemed to have merit. A permanent extraplanar retreat which was utterly inviolable. Perhaps he would buy some land, erect his comfortable manse in the woods, and open the portal to his own, private dimensional pocket. With the Looking-Glass of Urm-Nahat, the multiverse would become his oyster.

    **

    Eadric’s third appearance before the inquisitorial panel came as something of a surprise to the Paladin.

    Firstly, both Tahl and the Bishop of Tyndur were absent. They had been replaced by two more Church Magnates – the Bishops of Mord and Tomur.

    Secondly, the tone of the proceedings had changed. All of those present seemed preoccupied with other matters.

    Thirdly, Melion offered to cut him a deal.

    “You will admit your heresy, and atone in all earnestness. If you assume culpability for the charges of diabolism, consorting with demons, breaches of protocol and pursuing actions contrary to doctrine, the court is prepared to be lenient. We will not press the further charges laid against you. You will not burn, but will enter a cloister for a period of one year. If your confessor, the Bishop of Hethio, deems you sufficiently repentant, you may enter the service of the Temple after this time. Your rank will be much reduced, of course. You will no longer use the epithet “Protector of the Nineteen Tenets” – in time, you will be glad that you no longer bear that title.”

    “Why the sudden reversal?” Eadric asked. “And where are Tahl and Tyndur?”
    “Other weighty matters detain them,” Hethio said smoothly. “Come, Eadric, this is a chance to cleanse yourself and regain your perspective. A year is not a long time, and I am not a bad confessor.”
    “Your grace,” Eadric said to the Bishop, “Kindly address me as ‘Baronet Deorham.’ I am not on first name terms with you.”
    Hethio bristled for a second under the barbed insistence on correct forms, before regaining his characteristic appearance of calm.
    “Well, Deorham,” Melion barked, “what is your decision? Will you accept a year in a cloister, or be condemned to the stake as an unrepentant blasphemer?”
    “May I pray on this matter?” Eadric asked in all earnestness. “I must make sure that my conscience is clear.”
    “Take as long as you need,” Melion said venomously. They could hardly refuse such a request.

    **

    Eadric was praying, when four knights burst into his cell. They were arrayed in full armour and bore the scourges and greatswords of the Templars. Their visors were closed, and the Paladin could not tell their faces.
    He swallowed. Hard.
    Tahl entered, likewise dressed.
    “We are leaving,” the Deputy Inquisitor informed him.
    “What is happening, Tahl?” Eadric asked.
    “There is no time to explain. Do you trust me?”
    Eadric sighed. “I suppose so. Where are we going?”
    “Trempa,” Tahl replied. “Your Duchess has just announced her decision to secede from the Church. She has denounced the Curia in no uncertain terms. We must hasten.”
    Eadric blinked. “And you are supporting her?”
    Tahl nodded.
    “Are you the leader in this, Tahl?”
    The Deputy Inquisitor smiled. “No,” he said. “You are.”

    **

    As Tahl, Eadric and the other knights ‘Wind-Walked’ back to Trempa, the Inquisitor explained events to the Paladin.
    “An emergency meeting of the Curia yesterday passed the motion that Cynric was remiss in his decisions. They stopped short of branding him a heretic, but not by much. The official position was that grace was withdrawn from the Archbishop. The motion was not universally accepted. Kaurban and Jiuhu voted against it. So did Tyndur – the old bugger finally followed his convictions. The Marquis of Iald was not present, although had he voted against the measure, it still would have passed.”
    “Hethio, Melion and the others are not entirely insincere,” Tahl continued. “They see the preservation of the Law as vital. The fact that you asserted, under the scrutiny of the Eyes of Palamabron, that Cynric confided his doubts about them to you, means that they must consider the Archbishop’s judgement impaired. They have a strong case. The Silence of Oronthon, Cynric’s death by sorcery, and his allowing you to follow your own judgement all point to his fallibility.”
    “But you do not concur,” Eadric said.
    “Apparently not,” Tahl grinned. “But with both wings of the Magistratum** set firmly against you this will be difficult. Those who doubt the decision of the Curia will be quickly marginalized.”
    “And the King?” Eadric asked.
    “He will tow the Orthodox line,” Tahl replied.
    “So what am I supposed to do?” The Paladin asked. “Oronthon has revealed no plan to me.”
    “Do you still feel guilt around Cynric’s death?” Tahl asked.
    “Certainly.” Eadric replied.
    “Then you must atone.” Tahl said.
    Eadric laughed. “And where do you suggest I find an intercessor?” He asked.
    “Why, me, of course,” Tahl replied with mock gravity
    The fact that Tahl was a clergyman had somehow escaped Eadric’s notice. The Paladin nodded. “I tend to forget that you far outrank me,” he said to the Inquisitor.
    “Only for the moment,” Tahl replied. Seeing the confusion upon Eadric’s face, he continued. “Last night, I had a revelation. The Messenger spoke to me.”
    Eadric’s jaw dropped.

    Rintrah had quietly roared.


    **

    The next day, Morne was awash with rumours. Cynric’s reputation in grave doubt. The public denunciation of the Curia by the Duchess of Trempa. The defection of Tahl to the Duchess’s camp. The sensational escape of Eadric of Deorham prior to facing Inquisitorial justice, abetted by the Deputy Inquisitor himself.

    “How exciting,” Mostin clapped.
    Nwm did not share his enthusiasm. Blood would be shed over this.
    “I suppose we should return to Trempa,” Ortwin said. “That’s where they are, now, I take it.?”
    Mostin nodded.
    There was a thunderous knock at the door of the Alienist’s rented house. Mostin walked over to the window and looked down upon his porch. Inquisitors, Templars and various men-at-arms stood there.
    “What do you want?” Mostin yelled down.
    “We are looking for Eadric of Deorham.” A knight yelled. “Are you Mostin the Diabolist?”
    Mostin fumed. “I am NOT a diabolist,” he shouted.
    Ortwin stood close to the window and sighed. A simple ‘No’ would have been better.
    “But you are Mostin?”
    Mostin nodded, it would be futile to deny it now. “Now piss off,” the Alienist said. “You have no authority here. I am not subject to ecclesiatical law.”
    The knight grinned smugly. “No,” he said, “but you are under civil arrest for using magic to aid a heretic – who HAD submitted to ecclesiatical law – to escape.”
    “I did no such thing,” Mostin replied.
    “You will have an opportunity to prove that at your trial,” the knight retorted.
    “Piss off, or I’ll blast you all,” the Alienist shouted.
    There was an intake of breath from those assembled below, a pause, and then a voice declared:
    “Come on, men! Our faith will sustain us!”
    They proceeded to bash at the door.
    The Alienist prepared to cast a spell, but Nwm stopped him. “Will you draw first blood in this, Mostin?”
    “I was going to burn them, actually,” he replied.
    “Mostin?”
    “Oh, very well,” he said, and cast another spell.

    Four imps appeared.

    Mostin addressed them in Infernal. “Do nothing until I utter the word ‘execute.’ There is a crowd gathered at the door below us. Without killing, maiming or otherwise permanently harming any of them, you may use your pitchforks to encourage them to disperse. Do not harm anyone else, or, through your actions or lack thereof, allow anyone else to come to harm. Execute.”
    The imps flew down and gleefully began prodding people.
    “That should give us ample time,” Mostin sighed.
    “Devils?” Ortwin asked.
    “I couln’t resist,” the Alienist replied.





    *Mostin was on the verge of becoming a 10th level Alienist.
    ** i.e. both the Temple and the Inquisition.

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    Originally posted by Lombard on 05-26-2002

    Sepulchrave asked me to post something - he's kind of tied up because his Mom is visiting from England. I didn't know what to write, so I thought I'd share some background info.



    The Church of Oronthon

    This is designed as a background note to Sepulchrave’s “Lady Despina’s Virtue” thread in the Story Hour forum. As I don’t really have anything to contribute to the ongoing saga, I thought I’d provide some information about the Church that my character (Eadric) belongs to.

    If you’ve been following the story, you’ll know that things are changing – a schism has occurred which may render all of this obsolete. This, then, is the structure of the Church in its original form. Sep was a doctoral student of comparative religion, so he’s well informed about the way religions develop historically. Surprisingly, the high fantasy element doesn’t play that much of a role in the way things are set up.

    Oronthonianism is loosely based on late medieval Catholicism, and the cosmology itself is influenced by Dante and Milton. The names of many celestials (Palamabron, Enitharmon, Rintrah) are borrowed from William Blake’s poems – especially “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” The Urgic Mystics, a heretical sect of Oronthon worshippers (to whom Eadric’s brother, Orm, belongs) hold views which most closely resemble those of Blake and Emmanuel Swedenborg.


    Some General Thoughts

    The Church of Oronthon, from Eadric’s perspective, consists of two movements

    (1) Orthodoxy. This is by far the largest grouping, and the one to which Eadric belongs.

    (2) Heterodoxy. This consists of all of the alternative interpretations of Oronthonianism. It is a catch-all phrase, and includes the Urgic Mystics, Reconciliatory Sophists and other more obscure denominations. From the Orthodox perspective, all of these groups are heretical. They do not concern us.

    Traditionally, Orthodoxy is led by the Archbishop of Morne, who possesses the indwelling spirit of the deity. He is served by the Magistratum who enforce the codes, and the Pastorate who provide spiritual guidance to the masses. The Curia, who advise on matters of doctrine, are drawn from both groups. The Great Conclave consists of the Curia, plus other holy men drawn mostly from the Pastorate.

    One of the things in “Defenders of the Faith” which impressed Sepulchrave was the Contemplative PrC. He saw it as a means to bypass the idea that church priests needed to be members of the Cleric class in order to demonstrate divine favor. Now the scholar and introvert could realistically be portrayed, and mysticism could regain a central role in the religion – something which was otherwise hard to accomplish within the class limits of D&D.

    In short, this is the way it works:

    1) The vast majority of clergymen, from local village priests, through deacons, abbots and Bishops are members of the Expert class. Their specialty is Knowledge (Religion), and they possess other skills such as Profession (Counselor), Sense Motive, Diplomacy etc. which support this. They spend time advising people on religious matters, presiding at ceremonies and rites of passage, and doing other humdrum and mundane duties. They comprise the Pastorate.

    2) A small minority of Chuch members demonstrate certain “Gifts.” These people do not get involved in the day-to-day organization of the Church, but are trained to fulfill special tasks. These people are members of the Cleric and Paladin classes, or of PrCs which evolve from them. They are supported by a huge staff of Experts. They are the Magistratum.

    3) Members of the Contemplative Prestige class – those who are considered most holy – do not tend to come from the Cleric or Paladin classes. Because the only prerequisite of the Contemplative is ‘Knowledge (Religion): 13 Ranks,’ it actually makes sense to have the sedentary, meditative ‘Expert’ types grow into this role. The Archbishops are always Contemplatives.


    The Magistratum

    The Magistratum – the body which enforces correct behaviour and dogma – consists of two wings, both of which are politically active.

    (1) The Temple. A member of the Temple is called a Templar – this is something of a misnomer, because it includes other classes as well as the Templar PrC. The Temple is both the physical building of the Great Fane in Morne, as well as the institution of those sworn to preserve it. Lawful Fighters, Paladins and Clerics form the backbone of the Temple. Often, the members of the highest echelons of the Temple are represented by Prestige Classes: notably the Warpriest and Templar PrC proper. The Templars guard relics, protect the Archbishop, and prosecute holy wars. The Mission, originally a separate wing, is now a subdivision of the Temple. It is concerned with proselytizing, but because most of its members are off converting heathens, it has little political clout.

    (2) The Inquisition is responsible for rooting out corruption and demonic and/or diabolic influences. Paladins tend to be under represented in the Inquisition and Clerics are more common, although most deputed Inquisitors are, in fact, members of the Expert class. Again, the highest tiers of this wing of the Magistratum is where the PrCs tend to be found. As well as the Church Inquisitor, the Sacred Exorcist and Consecrated Harrier PrCs are suitable templates for modelling some of these specialist characters.


    Monotheism

    Sepulchrave’s world is close to monotheistic, and Oronthonianism is by far the most common religion in the North. The ‘Old Faith,’ practiced by Nwm, still has adherants, but its popularity has been gradually declining for centuries. Orthodoxy uses the words ‘Pagan’ and ‘Heathen’ liberally to describe anyone who is not a follower of Oronthon.

    One of the ideas touched on earlier in the thread is that Oronthon is, in fact, ‘schizophrenic.’ This may or may not be true, but with dozens of different groups all emphasizing different aspects of the deity, both within Orthodoxy and beyond it, it is hard to discover who the ‘real’ Oronthon is, behind all of his facets.
    The deity’s possible multiple personalities become most obvious when you consider members of the Cleric class. The domains of Good, Healing, Law, Protection, Retribution, Sun, Strength, Creation, Exorcism, Glory, Inquisition and Mysticism can all be related to Oronthon. A Cleric who emphasizes Good and Healing is going to have a different perspective than one who focuses on Law and Retribution.

    Although Oronthon is ostensibly Lawful Good, obviously his clerics can legitimately be LN or NG. Clerical domain selections reflect these different emphases. One of Eadric’s main complaints against the system is that the Magistratum has become too doctrinaire – emphasisng Law above Good. Many Templars and Inquisitors are, in game terms, Lawful Neutral. Cynric’s distrust of certain members of the Curia also reflected this. As a Contemplative – one who has spent the time and energy to truly come to grips with what his god represents – Cynric was aware of the imbalance and the tension and difficulty that it caused.

    The hierarchical nature of the church exacerbates the problem, because a respect for the Law IS important. Consider someone in Tahl’s position. His immediate superior is the Inquisitor General, Melion. Tahl is LG but Melion is LN. Tahl will follow orders to a point, but when his “Goodness” is compromised too much, he is faced with a difficult dilemma. Does he defy the Law or not? If he places the Good above the Law, does he, by default, actually takes a step towards becoming NG?

    Poor Eadric is constantly bombarded with alignment paradoxes which make his head hurt. Serves you right for choosing a Paladin, you might say. You’re probably right. Some hard choices lie ahead.

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    Originally posted by Sepulchrave II on 05-29-2002

    This is the last post of the "Lady Despina's Virtue" thread. Don't panic - I'm beginning another one soon. This just seems like an appropriate place to end it, as the title is no longer really relevant.


    **

    The leaves were turning on the trees, and a cold wind which presaged winter was blowing from the northeast when Mostin, Nwm, Despina, Ortwin and Eadric met again on the terrace at Trempa.
    Eadric was still digesting the news of the assassination attempt upon Feezuu. He wasn’t entirely sure whether he approved of Mostin’s tactics.

    "She is certainly still alive," Mostin lamented. "I have determined her location, and she remains on Limbo. Another similar attempt on our part is unrealistic – she will be prepared to counter it, and will doubtless have invoked powerful wards. One thing is likely: she herself does not possess the ‘Discern Location’ dweomer, else I’d probably be dead by now – as would you, Ortwin."
    "What will she do now?" Eadric asked.
    Mostin sighed and shrugged. "It really depends on the extent to which revenge rules her actions," the Alienist said.
    "As opposed to lust and greed?" Ortwin asked.
    "Quite so," Mostin agreed. "I suspect that Graz’zt is more than capable of applying himself to find out who attacked Feezuu and where they are. The question is ‘will he bother?’ I’m sure that he doesn’t follow up every assault made against every fiend in his service: he has more important plans to consider. And Abyssal politics tend to be very momentary."
    "Er, what would YOU do in her position, Mostin?" The Bard asked worriedly.
    "If I were vengeful, I’d seek out the ‘Discern Location’ dweomer, determine our whereabouts, and then attack us individually," Mostin said.
    "Great," Ortwin said drily. "Something nice to look forward to."
    "If she can cast the spell at all," Nwm remarked cannily. "She is a Necromancer. Divination may be prohibited to her."
    Mostin was cheered by Nwm’s words. The Druid had a good point.
    "But she could still engage a proxy to cast the spell for her, or even petition the Prince," Ortwin said gloomily.
    "Like I said," Mostin sighed, "it depends on the extent to which revenge rules her actions. I doubt that she would wish to be so beholden to Graz’zt – assuming he wouldn’t simply blast her for presuming to ask a favour. But how far out of her way is she prepared to go?"

    Eadric related Tahl’s revelation to the others.
    "Rintrah commanded him to leave the Fane in no uncertain terms," the Paladin said. "The celestial also instructed Tahl to free me and lead me to safety, and in a subsequent exchange with Urthoon, Tahl confirmed that my life was in danger. Apparently one person at least in the Curia feels that I would be better off dead."
    "Assassins?" Ortwin asked.
    Eadric shrugged. "I have become a rather high-profile thorn in the side of the establishment," he sighed, "it’s possible. Rintrah spoke of a coming conflict, and indicated that I would be pivotal in it."
    "Is the revelation reliable?" Mostin asked. "Not that I doubt Tahl’s sincerity, but is it possible that he was deceived?"
    Eadric shook his head. "He was wearing the Eye of Palamabron: no illusion or counterfeit – not even that of the Adversary – can withstand it. He, er, has it with him now."
    "He stole the Eye?" Mostin was incredulous.
    "Not at all," Eadric replied. "Rintrah instructed him to take it. He was told that he would need it. Nonetheless, I agree that the Inquisition might hold a pretty dim view of it."
    "Why can’t Tahl simply appear before the Curia and relate his vision?" Nwm asked. "Under magical scrutiny, they will know he is not lying and will be forced to acknowledge his legitimacy? And what is this talk of Assassins? Since when did Oronthon’s clergy sink that low?"
    "I don’t KNOW that Assassins are involved. But it wouldn’t be the first time that they’ve been engaged by individuals within the Church. The establishment itself has been known to condone it in the past."
    Ortwin looked surprised. "How? It is a patently evil act."
    "Don’t be naïve, Ortwin," Eadric said. "It is a political act. And it can be justified by service to the greater good. I agree – it is not a tactic that I would endorse. I also refer you to your own assault upon Feezuu."
    Ortwin grunted. "She is a fiend. It’s different."
    Eadric sighed and shook his head. "As to Tahl appearing before the Curia, I suppose it’s possible. If he wasn’t immediately arrested and if they even let him speak, then perhaps he could convince them of the validity of his experiences. But the dogmatic, conservative element is so entrenched – so committed to maintaining the law at all costs – that I’m dubious that he’d be heard. But the same argument applies to a testament made by Tahl as it does to revelation from Oronthon himself: why has the Bright God remained silent? Why not simply send an avatar to address those who doubt?"
    "Damn good question," said Ortwin, "why doesn’t he?"
    "I am starting to think that it’s a faith versus proof scenario," Eadric said.
    "How tedious," Mostin said.
    Nwm shook his head. "Your god is either brutal or confused, Eadric. I foresee that rivers of blood will be shed over this, and to what end? For a deity who embodies healing and good, he seems remarkably receptive to the idea of conflict and pain."

    Eadric grimaced. "It is complex," he agreed. "Tahl has prescribed a penance for me, to allay the lingering guilt I might feel over Cynric’s death, and to purge me of any remaining doubts. I will withdraw to the mountains alone."
    "Ed, this is really bad timing," Ortwin said. "Morne is only a few days away, and now that the Duchess has thrown her lot in with you, it’s only a matter of waiting until the banners of the Temple appear along the road. You would be more use here."
    "Nothing will happen before spring," Eadric said calmly. "By the time that the Curia have settled their differences, made a decision, freed their finances, gained Royal assent and mobilized an army, winter will be here. They will not initiate a campaign until the snows have melted.

    **

    Eadric and Despina remained alone on the terrace after the others had departed: Mostin to his chambers, Nwm to find his bear and owls (ugh, birds, thought the Alienist), and Ortwin to find some firewine and the company of someone less reputable than the Paladin.

    "So the Goddess accepted your petition," Eadric said rhetorically, evidencing some regret.
    "Apparently," Despina concurred. She smiled. "Am I now thrice-fallen?*"
    Eadric shrugged. "I am beginning to realise that things are more complicated than I once thought they were."
    "Or much simpler," Despina said.
    Eadric let the comment pass. He was in no mood for a philosophical debate.
    "What will you do now?" He asked.
    "I will eat, sleep and act when appropriate." Despina replied.
    "Nwm’s really gotten to you, hasn’t he?"
    "Actually, that’s one of Tatterbrand’s," she laughed.
    Eadric raised an eyebrow.
    "At my trial," he said, "I learned that your name is Nehael. Do you prefer it?"
    "I think I do," said Nehael.
    Eadric nodded.
    "In the morning," he began, "I will be gone – say my good-byes to the others. I need solitude – I learned that from my time in the dungeons of the Inquisition. I will return when I am ready. Hopefully before Midwinter. Are you planning on staying?"
    "Oh, yes," the Demoness replied.
    Eadric seemed relieved. "Goodnight Nehael," he said.
    She stopped him before he left. "You need to let go of it all, Eadric or you will fail," she said.
    "Guilt and doubt?" He replied. "Yes, I know."
    "No," she shook her head. "EVERYTHING, Eadric. Do you understand?"
    He swallowed hard, and departed.

    Nehael did not retire, but climbed the steps to the broken space atop the Tower of Owls. Sprouting wings from her back, she flew up and perched upon the tallest battlement, her knees tucked beneath her arms, and waited.

    Somewhat later, Rintrah appeared.

    "Is he ready?" The Planetar asked.
    "Let’s wait and see, shall we?" Nehael replied.
    The Celestial and the Demoness sat together in silence for an hour, until a single figure, walking quickly and purposefully in the moonlight, strode across the courtyard below. He wore no armour, rode no horse, and bore no weapons except for a roughly hewn staff.
    "Good," said Rintrah. "I will reveal myself to him in six weeks or so."
    Nehael sighed. Celestials were so traditional.
    "If you wish, you may return with me," Rintrah offered.
    "Thanks, but no thanks," said Nehael. "I like it here."
    Rintrah nodded. "I understand. The offer remains open – provided that you don’t stir up the archons."
    Nehael smiled. "Goodbye, Rintrah," she said.

    The Planetar vanished, but the Demoness sat and watched the figure walking along the road diminish, and finally disappear.

    She sat for a long time. Demons have good eyesight.



    * Demons are known theologically as "Twice-Fallen": first, from Oronthon’s grace into Hell; and second, after rejecting the leadership of the Adversary in their exodus to the Abyss.

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    The Heretic of Wyre

    Originally posted by Sepulchrave II on 05-30-2002

    Before the next phase of the campaign got underway, a few loose ends had to be tied up. The characters basically had six months of in-game down-time to play with, to come up with rationales for their munchkin ideas (just kidding, fellas).

    Eadric had decided that he'd had enough of being a Paladin, and was heading for a Divine Disciple. He already met the prerequisites, and felt that it would reflect his Messianic status in opposition to his own church. He also figured he could wait another level for his fourth iterative attack, and instead wanted to pick up a bunch of domain spells and the ability to communicate telepathically with Celestials.

    Mostin wanted to research some spells, and build a gadget or two. Otherwise he was headed for a Diviner 6 / Alienist 10. He desperately wanted to get his Intelligence up to the magic number of 26, as that would get him an extra 8th level slot.

    Ortwin, in an act of pure, unadulterated munchkinism, for which there is absolutely no excuse, had decided to take a level of Ranger. He wanted a cool new off-hand weapon, and had already decided to blow his 18th level feat on Improved TWF. After the encounter with Feezuu, Ortwin decided that he liked melee more than anything else, and henceforth was going to concentrate on becoming a death machine. Rob can already smell those Epic levels.

    Nwm was perfectly happy to remain a Druid (Good for you, Dave. Stick with it!) He also had oodles of XP left over, even after he'd levelled, so I agreed to let him make some magic items. As the lowest level member of the party (now 15th), I was prepared to cut him some slack.

    Nehael took a level of Druid, and then a level of Contemplative PrC. Demons don't normally advance by character class, but she's hardly typical of the crowd. Besides, as Lombard pointed out in the previous thread, I like Contemplatives.

    With these ideas in mind, I present the first part of the continuing story.

    **

    Ortwin Alone

    The evening after Eadric’s departure, Ortwin of Jiuhu brought a set of drawings to show Mostin the Metagnostic in his chambers.
    "I’m having this commissioned," he informed the Alienist. "It’s a pick – similar to those used by knights. You know, light, one-handed, good penetration and all that. Can you enchant it for me?"
    Mostin scowled. "No," he said.
    "You can’t or you won’t?" Ortwin asked.
    The Alienist sighed. "I always found the construction of enchanted weapons to be a rather vulgar art, and even the finest examples invariably end up in the hands of unappreciative hooligans. I never applied myself to the technique."
    "Hmph," said Ortwin. "Do you know anyone who would do this? You’ve mentioned the witch Mulissu. Would she be willing?"
    Mostin laughed uncontrollably for a few moments, before regaining his composure and shaking his head. "Even were she capable – something I doubt – Mulissu’s most precious asset is time itself. That is the one thing she is most reluctant to sacrifice. This is true of most wizards to some extent: there is so much to do, to discover. A mountain of gold would not persuade Mulissu to undertake this project, when she could instead be unearthing the secrets of flachenblitz or plasma vortices. What enchantments did you have in mind?"
    "Speed and Thunder," Ortwin said, "And enough punch to hit a Balor."
    Mostin’s eyes goggled. "Are you fabulously rich or something? Have you any idea how much something like that is worth?"
    "Two tons of gold, give or take," Ortwin said calmly.
    "Pah," said Mostin. "Gold is simply a convenient measure. It has no real value when compared to magic. Take your sword, your cloak and your armour. That is how much such a weapon is worth."
    "I am willing to surrender my Iron Horn and my Winged Boots," Ortwin said. "I haven’t used them for a year at least. They would cover some of the value."
    "A third at most," Mostin sighed. "The mage Idro, who dwells near Jiuhu, would be capable of enchanting this pick to your specifications, but he will demand a higher price than you are able to pay. Anyway, why have another weapon? Your scimitar is sufficient."
    "It’s a style thing," Ortwin said.
    "Ahh," said Mostin. He genuinely understood the Bard.
    "This is important, Mostin," Ortwin said.

    After liquidating his assets, Ortwin was taken by Mostin to see Idro in his tower, deep in the forest of Nizkur. After negotiating with several charmed servitors, the duo were shown to the topmost room in the tower - cluttered but comfortable, with a variety of odd items including homunculi in jars scattered around. Immediately, the Bard disliked the reclusive wizard, but hid his distaste beneath a veneer of glib charm.
    "An Iron Horn, Winged Boots and a bag of emeralds to the value of twenty-eight thousand gold crowns," Ortwin said in a matter-of-fact way.
    Idro swallowed in reflexive greed.
    "What do you want from me?" Idro asked drily. "I have nothing to match these items in terms of value – and understand that the Horn, although potent, is nothing more than a curio from my perspective. I have no use for it."
    "I wish to engage your services. Mostin informs me that you are accomplished in the art of enchanting weapons. This project will be your magnum opus in the field. You will leave an indelible mark on the history of the craft." Ortwin spoke smoothly and confidently. "These are the specifications." The Bard handed his draft to the aging wizard.
    "Hah!" Idro exclaimed after glancing at the paper. "You’ll need more than these baubles to cover the cost of this."
    "I am open to suggestions," Ortwin grinned.

    Idro thought for a moment, and then smiled wickedly.
    "I have a rival in these parts, an enchanter named Troap," he said slowly. "He lives in a castle on a bluff within the forest, maybe two days from here. He has certain items which may offset the cost of this endeavour."
    "Offset, or entirely cover the cost?" Ortwin asked.
    "If Troap were to meet with an accident, AND you delivered both his crystal ball and his staff to me, together with the items that you have already shown me, I would consider the debt paid. I would begin work on your weapon forthwith."
    Ortwin considered the offer.
    "If Mostin is willing to act as arbiter in the worth of the items involved, I might be willing," Ortwin said. "After all, I wouldn’t like to think that you are cheating me, Idro." The Bard smiled innocently.
    Idro grunted. Although a stickler for value, he knew that Mostin’s reputation as a haggler was almost unparalleled. He glanced at the Alienist.
    "Sounds fair to me," Mostin said. "Of course, I too will require a fee if my services are to be engaged in a professional capacity."
    "Which Ortwin will pay," Idro said. "I have no need for such advice."
    "Very well," the Bard sighed. He would rather be exploited by Mostin than Idro.
    "Five percent," Mostin said.
    "Two percent, and only of the value of the staff and ball," Ortwin countered.
    "Done," said Mostin, "provided that I get first refusal on Troap’s spellbooks. I will, of course, provide the full market value for any new dweomers contained in them."
    Idro fumed. He had hoped for an oversight on the part of the Bard.
    "Know also," Ortwin said blithely, "that my fee for assassinating powerful wizards is twenty-five thousand gold crowns. In the interests of mutual trust, I am willing to waive this cost, provided that, if the values are otherwise met, you concentrate on enchanting my weapon to the exclusion of other projects that would otherwise detain you. I don’t want to wait ten years to acquire it, only to find that you went senile or died of old age before completing it."
    "Agreed," Idro said.
    "I thought that you felt assassination was evil," Mostin sniped.
    "Nonsense," said Ortwin. "It is a political act. So, Idro - tell me of Troap…"

    **

    Troap was a goblin. No more vicious or unpleasant that others of his kin – which is to say very vicious and unpleasant – who dwelled even deeper in the forest than Idro. He wove powerful enchantments and illusions from his castle and, aside from a retinue of Ogre Magi, shunned contact with the outside world.

    Mostin had flatly refused to aid Ortwin for three reasons. Firstly, the Alienist did not want to gain a reputation as one who bullied and stole from fellow arcanists, whatever their faults – it paid to have an open mind when dealing with most students of magic. Second, to ‘engage his services in a professional capacity’ would have cost Ortwin a good deal of money – and Mostin did not feel that it would be responsible to undertake such a task for free. Finally, the Alienist really didn’t care that much – he had far better things to do than chase after obscure goblin wizards.

    Ortwin saw that Mostin could not be persuaded, and the Alienist returned to Trempa in order to begin research into his permanent ‘Magnificent Mansion.’ The Bard commanded his winged boots to bear him aloft and flew westwards, into the skies above the deepest reaches of the forest of Nizkur. Ironically, he thought, he might also need to use his Horn as well.

    Ortwin’s boots carried him at a good speed, and after two hours the Bard had made nearly twenty miles without incident. He set down in a glade of elm trees and prepared to make camp for the night. This was something he’d missed for several years now – roughing it on his own with the minimum of magical support and bolstering. With Eadric gone for an indefinite period of time – seeking solace in the mountains - Ortwin also felt the need to reconnect with his own roots. He had determined to seek out the Elven community of Histhin, and enter a period of study there. A spell with the Elves – if he could find them* – would be recuperative, and he would master the twin-weapon style they were famed for. His music would be an adequate payment for them – in any case they cared little for material goods.

    After stalking a young deer, which the Bard slew with a single, swift throw of his scimitar, Ortwin made a fire. He quickly but inexpertly butchered the carcass, dressed the meat, and spit-roast a haunch. The choicest portions of the remainder, he salted, wrapped and stowed in his pack. Unused parts of the carcass were left at a safe distance – a mile from his camp. The evening meal of venison, accompanied by wild cloudberries, dried cake and wine, left him feeling bloated but happy. He drew his cloak around himself, intoned an ‘Alarm’ spell, and fell into a deep sleep.

    His reverie was disturbed several hours later by a Satyr, who had smelled the roasting meat and waited patiently to pilfer any items that might be present. Ortwin’s simple ward alerted him to the presence of the Fey, and the Bard swore vociferously in Elven before chasing it off. The Satyr slipped into the woods, but Ortwin did not pursue it – he probably would have done the same thing himself had he been in its position.
    "Go and find a Nymph to frolic with or something," he yelled after it.

    Late next morning, his eyes bleary, Ortwin, flying out of the east, espied the castle of the Wizard Troap. It was a squat, ugly building, built of large blocks of brown stone, which grew from the crest of a rocky knoll. It seemed to be Hermetically sealed. Confident in his own abilities, the Bard drew his weapon and decided to set down upon the roof of one of the four towers. Just before he reached it, however, he was beset by invisible assailants.

    A whistling noise passing by his head, followed by the sudden appearance of a huge, blue-skinned Ogre wielding an enormous sword, alerted Ortwin to the fact that he was being attacked. No problem, the Bard thought, until three more appeared around him. One of them drew blood with its weapon, foiling his cloak’s displacement effects.

    Ortwin pirouetted gracefully in the air, closed with one of the Ogres, narrowly avoided another swipe from its weapon, and with three swift strokes, dispatched it. It tumbled from the sky, fell fifty feet, and landed with a heavy thud upon the roof of the tower.
    "One!" Ortwin announced in his best witty voice.
    One of the Ogre Magi grunted something, and the two others backed off. Suddenly Ortwin was plunged into darkness – obviously they felt that his displacement advantage needed countering. A fraction of a second later, the Bard was assailed by blasts of ice from two directions. Through some miracle of foresight, Ortwin found a gap between the two cones in the blackness, and avoided the ill effects of both. The Bard plunged downwards back into daylight, avoiding the stroke of a greatsword, and arrested his descent an inch above the roof. Above him, a sphere of darkness floated. The corpse of the felled Ogre twitched upon the flagstones, and Ortwin quickly hacked at the neck with his scimitar. The severed head looked indignant, and tried to protest, but the Bard flung it over the battlements.
    "HEEeelp…" the yell faded away.
    It was followed by the sphere of darkness – obviously whatever object that the spell had been cast upon had been thrown aside. But the three Ogres were invisible again.

    Ortwin mused for a second and steeled himself, as two of the Ogres charged down from above. They appeared at the same time as their greatswords did. One missed, but the other hit solidly and painfully. Ortwin leapt forward, ducking under wild blows, and unleashed a frenzied attack upon one of the creatures. His scimitar bit into bone and sinew, but the Ogre still stood. As he wondered where the third Ogre had disappeared to, Ortwin was hit full force by another ‘Cone of Cold’ from one of those in front of him. He reeled backwards, as the other tried to lop his head off with its greatsword.

    Ortwin regained his senses, and calmly and methodically pressed an attack against the uninjured Ogre Mage, his scimitar flicking out rapidly and precisely. As it collapsed, Ortwin grinned, only to watch the other, wounded creature assume the form of a gaseous cloud and begin to move away. Ortwin hurled Githla, which spun through the air and passed through the cloud, drawing ichor as if from nowhere in its flight. The Ogre rematerialized and crashed to the ground.
    "Two and Three, hah!" Ortwin declared, catching his scimitar, although his enthusiasm was somewhat diminished. He quickly doused the bodies of the three Ogres in oil and set a flame in them, all the while looking around suspiciously for the remaining creature. It did not reappear.

    After tending to his wounds, Ortwin surveyed the roof of the keep, and looked over the battlements down at the walls. Odd. No doors and no windows anywhere in sight. Guessing that it was an illusion, the Bard mustered his will in an attempt to disbelieve.
    Nothing changed.
    Ortwin sighed, and began to systematically search the tower upon which he stood, tapping lightly with a dagger in concentric circles from the inside outwards. With no results.
    He moved to a second tower and vainly repeated the process, and then a third. After a few minutes, the Bard located a loose flagstone, around a foot square.
    Hmm, he thought.
    Ortwin gingerly pried the flagstone up until it was ajar, keeping his face averted. He shot a glance towards the gap beneath the stone: there seemed to be a shallow depression. Ortwin grinned happily, lifted the flagstone out of the way, and looked in. Two levers, and between them, on a tile, some graven writing.
    BANG!
    Sh*t, thought Ortwin, brushing soot and debris from his face. I should’ve seen that one coming.
    Each lever, he noticed, was set to the central point of three positions. That made nine possibilities. Obviously, this was the "off" position of whatever they determined. But jointly or singly?
    Hmm.
    Oh well, the Bard thought, and pulled the left-hand lever towards himself.
    There was a faint ‘clunk,’ like a well oiled gear moving, but nothing else happened.
    Hmm. Definitely jointly.
    Ortwin looped a rope around the second lever, and flew twenty feet away beyond the battlements before he yanked it in the opposite direction of the first. There was a grinding noise, and a doorway appeared at the base of the tower, revealing a dark space beyond.
    That wasn’t so bad, Ortwin thought, and cast a ‘Light’ spell on his scimitar. He swallowed, and cautiously entered.



    *Elves are itinerant forest-dwellers and make no permanent homes.

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