Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 29 Jan 2014) - Page 16




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  • #152
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    I love the way your story goes Shemeska.
    And I'll be waiting anxiously for the newest update...!

    BTW: would you mind if I use some elements of your campaign and/or ideas for my own 3E Planescape Campaign?
    Second question (and to be honest, completely off topic, so I do apoligize beforehand) : do you know when the next chapter(s) of the PSCS will be posted on Planewalker.com?
    I really need the information for my campaign and it's been a long time since the last update.

    Thanx a lot!

    Greetz,

    DaL
    Last edited by dal673; Wednesday, 28th July, 2004 at 01:54 AM.

  • #153
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    What type of information?
    Visit Shemeska's Story Hour I and Story Hour II
    Webmonkey for Planewalker and Planewalker's Forums

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    Quote Originally Posted by Clueless
    What type of information?
    If I look at the chapter outline of the new D&D 3E PSCS at Planewalker one can see that various subjects has te be dealt (sp?) with.
    In my case I'd like to see how the Planewalker crew handles magic on the planes.
    I know from my old and current 2E PS campaign of my brother what is involved in using magic items, arcane and divine magic in the planes. And I'd like to know how the Planewalker crew handles these things in PS3E.
    Last edited by dal673; Thursday, 29th July, 2004 at 12:42 AM.

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    Faded glory and leaking memories

    As the lich took his spoils and drifted back out to peruse his dead rival’s library, the group examined the various items in their fallen foe’s chambers. Drawing lots they slowly split up what seemed useful, valuable or simply unique in the lack of any definable use or value. Tristol selected a metallic quarterstaff that shimmered as if made of quicksilver, Fyrehowl selected a mantle and belt, Toras a gauntlet and amulet, Nisha a pair of boots and a ring, Florian a number of divine scrolls and a cloak, while Clueless picked a ring with a single glistening ruby and missing spots where two other similarly sized stones had once sat. In fact Clueless had picked near to last among the available items and the ring had inexplicably not been selected before then.

    Among the next set of items to be divvied up were the scrolls, wands, and gemstones stashed around the chamber. Tristol curled up with his newly found spellbooks while Clueless picked up a set of sending stones and gave the linked pair to Fyrehowl and Toras. Eventually the overtly magical items and overtly valuable items, including several 100lb blocks of platinum, and assorted ingots of gold, silver, mithral and adamantine were distributed and stashed away in bags of holding. The group sat down to fiddle and admire their newfound wealth while Florian and Clueless picked over a few curious items left over.

    “Well, if no one else wants this, I’ll go ahead and take it, it’s pretty if nothing else.” Clueless pointed towards a translucent golden org filled with a syrupy liquid. The orb was seamless and hadn’t glowed with any magic under close examination, but the Bladesinger found it interesting and amusing. Just how amusing, he’d find out later.

    Florian opened a lead box, carved and decorated with silver etched symbols of masking and a prominent symbol of Carceri overlaid atop a triangular glyph. “Wonder what’s in here… might as well snag it since everyone else seems pretty content with what they have.”

    Gingerly, Florian opened the box to reveal a single black triangular amulet seemingly made of obsidian. No mark or flaw graced its surface. Florian picked it up, feeling the surface with his thumb. And something opened its eyes, looking back at him the moment he touched the glassy surface of the charm. “What in the 9 Hells?!” The cleric dropped the amulet back in the box and slammed the lid shut. He turned around to see Tristol looking up from a spellbook, eyes drifting over towards the now shut box.

    “Was that what I think it was?” The mage asked.

    “What did you think it was? It was a black triangle and something noticed, somewhere, when I touched it… You recognize anything like that?” Florian asked back.

    Tristol raised an eyebrow, “That was a Gehreleth triangle. An active Gehreleth triangle…”

    Fyrehowl looked at Tristol then at Florian and gave a long, slow whistle. “Umm… leave the box closed…”

    “I take it it’s dangerous?” Florian asked as he put the box down with a peery look.

    “Each ‘leth has one of those when it’s first made, and at least according to legend, it gives them access to the racial memories of every other Gehreleth, and allows their maker, Apomps, to see through them.” Tristol said.

    “…when you kill one of them, the triangle stops working. But if you can steal one of those amulets without killing the ‘leth who had it, the link to their god remains active and the ‘leth will do anything to get it back. And the Spellbreaker has had one of them… geez…” Fyrehowl added.

    “Umm… yeah. That stays here.” Florian said, putting the box back on its shelf and placing a heavy paperweight on its lid.

    “What’s in the other box next to it?” The lupinal asked. Florian handed her the other, similarly warded box.

    “Probably another triangle, watch yourself. Whatever looked at me, from inside my head, did not seem healthy…” Florian gave a slight shudder.

    Fyrehowl opened the lid to reveal a number of papers written on fine parchment in elegant ink that glittered from flecks of gold dust mixed with the pigment. “Well, it’s not another triangle, oh my… there’s about a dozen true names here. Oh my…”

    Tristol’s ears perked and he glanced over. Written on the parchment were the names of a dozen or more creatures, with their common name and the arcane markings and symbols associated with their true names. The list encompassed everything from a Green Slaadi named Xanxost, a cervidal, a Solar, a Pit Fiend, an Arcanaloth named Larsdana Apt Neut, a modron, an ursinal, a bariaur, and others. The last page however was spattered with blood and charred in places. Fyrehowl handed the papers to Tristol to examine.

    “Do you recognize any of these?” She asked.

    The wizard examined the pages, stopping at the name of the Arcanaloth. “I’ve seen her before. I don’t remember where, but I’ve seen mention of her name at least once. And…” He trailed off as he examined the last page.

    The parchment was written in fine penmanship, detailing wards against detection by the named creature and protection for the mage who penned its true name. Where the common name and true name would have been, the parchment was scorched as if from flame or heat and a second, different hand began to write in a spattering of blood. “The clan of Baern has no names. Now babble and burn…” The rest of the page was covered in dried blood.

    Tristol inhaled deeply, shuffled the pages, and handed them back to Fyrehowl. “Keep good care of those, they might be useful later. And keep the box shut too.”


    Another hour or so later, the group had collected what they wished to keep from the Spellbreaker’s former possessions. While Tristol wished to keep studying the spellbooks he had been given by Valdros, they realized that they had the information they needed, and that soon their contact would enter the maze looking for them. At least, so they’d been told, and that Tanar’ri were now wandering the maze, looking for Aren’s trapped soul that they now possessed. Every so often they could hear the detonation of a spellhaunt or two as the fiends blundered into one of them and ripped them to shreds, likely taking heavy losses of their own in the process. They were also wary of Valdros attempting to follow them when they exited the maze, though they doubted he would try. The ancient lich seemed resigned to his fate in many ways.

    The group gave their thanks to Valdros as they left, finding him waiting at the top of the stairs in the center of the tower. As they descended down towards the first level of the former faction hall, the lich drifted past them and back into the Spellbreaker’s chambers.

    “Well, hopefully our minder will be here soon, and hopefully they’ll actually let us out of here…” Florian said as the group descended to the first floor of the tower.

    “That’s what I’m worried about. I’m not so sure that they’ll send anyone for us.” Toras said.

    “Why do you say that?” Clueless asked.

    “Whatever they’re after in all of this, we’re expendable to them from what I can tell.” Fyrehowl said with a sigh.

    “Yeah, and Tristol and I are still poisoned. Haven’t felt anything yet though, so hopefully we’ve still got time to chase those Mercane down after we leave here. I don’t think they have plans to cure us, unless maybe to make us do other errands for them. I’m not willing to keep doing work for them in the least.” Florian banged his hand on the rung of the stairwell as they reached the bottom.

    Clueless looked down at the single ruby in his ring, then at Tristol and Florian in resignation. If worse came to worse, he could save one of them. But damn if that wasn’t a situation he wanted to even consider at the moment.

    The group exchanged sighs and last glances around the tower, as they looked to Tristol to teleport them to the other side of the door. The mage chanted the words to his spell and they vanished. A moment later they stood outside the tower in the slim space between the sealed doors and the blanket of antimagic that surrounded the last stand of the Incanterium in its protective grasp.

    “Ok, this is good. No hordes of spellhaunts waiting for us outside of the shell. Not bad. Just keep your eyes peeled for Tanar’ri. They’re out here somewhere. And…” Clueless said as the rest of the group walked out into the courtyard before the tower. At the same moment the emerged from the antimagic shell, a shadow crossed over the green.

    A ragged shadow, framed by two massive feathered wings rose over the retaining wall surrounding the courtyard. The Tanar’ri gave a shrieking squawk from its hooked, vulture-like beak and pointed a brilliantly flashing sword at the companions. It locked its coal black eyes on its targets like miniature portals to the blackest regions of the Abyss that it called home. Painted upon its chest and emblazoned on its shield and helmet were the familiar iconography of a burning red downwards pointing arrow and a yellow infinity symbol; the symbol of the Abyss.

    As the vrock rose into prominence, two shadows at the base of the exterior wall, clustered around the remains of a battered and broken iron golem, opened their eyes and rose to a height of nearly seven feet tall like holes in the fabric of the maze; shadow fiends. Simultaneously, the open gates of the courtyard were flooded with a living wave of dretches and manes that began to scramble over top of one another, all in a maddened rush to devour their targets.

    “Slay them all in the name of Lord Hethradia! Butcher them! Reclaim the essence of the traitor! Wallow in their entrails!” The Vrock commander squawked above the babble of the least tanar’ri flooding into the courtyard and lowered his sword at Fyrehowl.

    “Oh, s***!” Clueless said as he stood at the fringe of the antimagic shell. Tristol flung up his hand and chanted off a spell in rapid fashion, throwing up a wall of force across the entrance to the courtyard, hoping to prevent the waves of Tanar’ri from swamping them.

    As the wall went up, Toras smiled happily and grinned, drawing upon his own innate, celestial granted abilities in a moment of righteous, if sadly unthinking, zeal. The half-celestial fighter shouted out a single word. A word filled with the holy power of his anscestory to smite those not of a similarly good nature. Unfortunately, of his companions, only himself, Fyrehowl and Nisha qualified under that banner of good.

    The Holy Word blasted across the courtyard, slamming into the Dretches and Manes with horrific force. Dozens at a time howled in agony before being banished back to their plane of origin. The Vrock grimaced but otherwise was unharmed; the two shadowfiends seemed untouched as well. Clueless, still inside the antimagic field, could only watch as Florian and Tristol were struck blind by their own companion’s spell.

    Toras laughed as he watched the lesser Tanar’ri explode and vanish, but the smile vanished from his lips as he saw Tristol unconscious and Florian staggering around, clearly unable to see. The Vrock cackled and spread its festered wings to dive as Clueless stepped forwards. As the bladesinger cleared the edge of the antimagic shell, something awakened and opened its eyes inside of him. Somewhere inside, Clueless was distantly aware that his ankle was throbbing, but he could only watch inside his own body as he lost his look on concern for his comrades and stepped forwards with an arrogant sneer on his face to throw up his hand at the Vrock and snarl out a spell in a guttural tongue.

    Toras raised his sword to parry the Vrock’s first strike as a howling column of whirling, twisting energy roared into life around the demon. A chaotic tornado of crackling lightning, studded with what seemed like teeth inside its columnar maw enveloped the fiend. In less than a second there was a sound not unlike a sausage maker’s meat grinder as the Vrock erupted in an explosive spatter of gore and feathers. Rent fragments of the fiend’s armor and shield scattered across the courtyard while its sword landed point down to sink into the ground up to the hilt as it was violently ejected from the dissipating roar of the spell.

    Clueless’s conscious mind launched back into control of himself as whatever had held its claws into his brain vanished back to whence it had come. Clueless looked at his still upraised hand, surprised and shocked at what he had seen himself do. His three standing companions all looked in his direction in shock as well. Unable to explain it, and partially not wanting to explain it, he pointed to the sword in the ground, “The sword is mine!”

    Clueless didn’t need to do much more as both shadow fiends hurled themselves at once towards those members of the group that were still standing. The first of the pair raked its insubstantial claws across Toras’s chest and forearm, making him stagger back and grimace as it seemed to draw the very life from him. The other fiend cackled at the damage its companion had inflicted on the fighter and lunged towards Clueless. Noticing the effects of its claws on Toras, Clueless bolted back towards the tower and the antimagic shell that blanketed it.

    Still stunned by the ferocity of the fiend’s shadowy claws, Toras managed only a few glancing blows to the demon. The shadow fiend grinned as all but one slipped through its umbral form to no apparent affect. Snarling, Fyrehowl drew her sword and joined Toras in assaulting the shadow fiend on him. Meanwhile, Clueless ducked inside the antimagic shell around the tower and smirked at the shadowfiend that flew to attack him.

    “Go right ahead and duck inside here. Won’t do you any good, or me any good. But…” The bladesinger taunted the fiend as he slashed at its face with his sword, broaching the boundary of the shell with the sword enough to reignite its magic while remaining sheltered from the worst of the fiend’s touch. The fiend was not amused and after taking several slashes from the half-fey, it was angered enough, and injured enough already to miss its companion fall to Fyrehowl and Toras.

    A moment later the second shadowfiend fell to Clueless and Fyrehowl, but the shadowfiends had taken their toll on Toras and the lupinal by that point. Both had deep wounds from their claws, and a cold feeling that lingered along with the more physical cuts and slashes. Still, they worked to wake Florian and Tristol from their stupor, and get Nisha out of the corner where she’d been hiding from the fiends, unable to truly effect them, but still vulnerable to their claws just the same.

    “Next time think, ok?” Fyrehowl deadpanned to Toras as she helped Tristol to his feet.

    Toras chuckled with humility, “Yeah. I rather assumed too many things. I’ll keep that in mind next time. My apologies.”

    It was then, just as Clueless stepped out of the antimagic field and Florian regained his feet, that a wave of force slammed into Fyrehowl, sending her flying across the courtyard and digging a path through the grass. A single figure shimmered and took form at the entrance, standing amid the torn forms of the dretches as they boiled away into nothingness.

    Standing perhaps six feet tall, lanky and thin with rich yellow skin and black eyes, a female githyanki dressed in fine leather armor and swathed in a crimson fringed black cloak regarded the group. She held a single hand in front of her, swirling green energy playing along her fingertips.

    “Our employers appreciate your information gained within the tower. And I’m glad that my maps led you to the proper place. However, I regret to inform you that you’ve sadly outlived your usefulness. My condolences.”

    The githyanki frowned and shrugged her shoulders as a coil of psionic energy played over her hand. A dozen yards away, Fyrehowl moaned in pain and struggled to stand. The group was almost entirely depleted in terms of spells, they’d been through too many difficult fights in the past twenty-four hours, and the Githyanki bristled with innate psionics. A fight with the Hrakk’nir would be fatal.

    “Wait! Why? Why are you doing this? We’ve been used as little better than slaves by whoever is pulling our strings, and yours. What do they have on you that’s forcing you into doing this?” Clueless shouted out.

    The gith’s black eyes sparkled but she kept her hand up.

    “Please. We havn’t had a choice in this at all. Two of us will die from a slow acting poison they slipped into our food if we can’t find a cure. The rest of us are being blackmailed on threat of death or torture to ourselves or our loved ones that they have. Who the hell are these people? What do they have on you too?” Clueless continued, “Isn’t slavery and tyranny what your own people abhor? Isn’t that what your people fought against to gain their freedom from the Illithids?”

    The bladesinger struck a nerve and the gith paused. The psionic charge she had been slowly building up sparked and hissed like an angry serpent. “What’s in this for me? I can’t simply go back, say that I killed you, and have nothing to show for letting you live. I’ll need something to make it worth my while, and worth the risk I’d take on lying to my employer.”

    Clueless paused and held up a shimmering, slightly liquid orb that he’s taken from the still cooling corpse of the half-fiend psion when they’d freed Factol Nilesia. “Do you know what this is? I took it off of a psion, a pretty powerful one, and I can’t do anything with it.”

    The gith’s eyes sparkled with greed, “Give it to me.” She gestured with her free hand and it quickly flew across to her.

    “I have more where that came from.” Clueless said as he held up the ectoplasmic dagger he’d scavenged from one of the goblinoids psions back in Acheron.

    “I never want to see you again.” The Gith said as she snatched the item from Clueless’s hand with a motion of her chin followed by a gesture for him to hand her the other items he held.

    “The exit portal is twelve blocks past a series of three craters, heading away from the tower. The portal is a freestanding archway of stone with a blue granite dragon carved into a waterspout at its keystone. The portal key is a stone from the building rubble, a shed tear and a drop of blood atop the stone.”

    Djhek’Nlarr paused and looked at them again, “If you manage to get free of your bonds, all the better. But I can’t and won’t help you do so. The moment I leave here is the last time I have any contact with you so long as I’m employed by the same people that you’re being wretched around by. Next time you won’t have the chance to pick on my feeling on the matter because I can only reliably lie once on this without drawing suspicion to myself. And I won’t sacrifice myself for you.”

    With a motion of her hands and the flaring of a gemstone affixed to her forehead, the githyanki vanished in a blur of yellow light. The street was empty and silent again as the group sighed in relief and started their trek back into the maze of streets.

    Some time later, within the now silent chambers of the Spellbreaker, Valdros hovered in the dark and removed a slim, leaden box from the shelves. His luminous silver eyes played over the obsidian triangle within. The lich sighed and looked out over the maze as he picked up the amulet and placed it around his neck, staring at his own reflection in its polished black depths. “If She will not help me, perhaps you will…”

    Nisha hopped over a fallen pile of bricks as they made their way through the maze towards the exit portal the Gith had given them to location and portal key for. However, as she jumped, her ears perked to a sound in the distance. She turned and looked; Fyrehowl was already looking in the same direction with a worried expression on her face.

    In the distance they saw what seemed to be storm clouds bubbling up and rising over the maze. Flashes of light erupted and the sounds of explosions and discharges of magical energy reached their ears as in the depths of the maze, Spellhaunts began to unravel and erupt back into their base components as they were unmade.

    “Oh gods, the maze, it’s falling apart.” Nisha’s eyes were huge as another sound reached their ears, a sound of distantly slashing blades in the heart of the gathering storm.

    “Run! Mother****ing run!” Toras shouted as they bolted, uncaring of anything lurking in the labyrinth as they dashed for their lives for the exit portal. Scrambling for their lives they found the set of three craters that the Githyanki had told them about and ran past them, looking for the archway as the storm clouds built on the horizon above the maze. The slashing noises grew louder still and portions of the maze in the far distance seemed to fall away into nothingness.

    Nisha grabbed a rock from the ground near the portal and nicked her forearm with one of its sharp edges. She stifled a cry and a tear welled in her eyes. “Here’s hoping it works.” She touched the bloody stone to the teardrop as it ran down her olive skinned cheek and it sparkled as it mixed with the blood. The moment the portal key was formed, as the gith had told them, the gateway erupted into a swirled pinwheel of blue light.

    Tristol looked up with dread at the approaching storm as it washed out over the maze; he could swear that he saw shapes and forms moving within the thunderheads as the ringing sounds of metal on metal rang out ever more clear, tolling a requiem for the maze.

    Fyrehowl turned him around by the shoulder and pushed him through the portal as she too dove into the swirling depths of the single exit from the maze that had housed the Incanterium. Florian was the last to jump through the portal before it faded out of existence, but before he leapt, he turned back towards the Tower Sorcerous as a funnel cloud descended over top of that monument to faded glory, “Hope you got what you’d been waiting for. Maybe you’ve served your time. Good luck.”

    And with that, he stepped through the portal and vanished, as the maze was undone just as it had been made so long, long ago.

    As the group tumbled out into the depths of the trackless sea, adrift and nowhere in sight of their previous location, they all paused and rested for a moment, realizing just how lucky they had been to still be alive. And as they all reflected on the past few minutes, something turned in Clueless’s mind. A tumbler fell and the lock on his memory slipped as a blur of his past came rushing back unintended.

    Clueless stood with his companions, the same ones he recalled from his memories of the shattered temple and a raucous Sigil tavern. The Bariaur, an elven cleric of Erevan Ilesere, a moody half-ogre fighter and disgruntled former member of the Pax Harmonium, a tiefling diviner, and two twin aasimar fighters. After talking with them and dividing a large sum of jink, something relating to the proceeds of their looting of a storeroom underneath the former site of the Athar stronghold, they walked into a large inn and gambling hall. A sign outside the door read in bright gold paint, The Fortune’s Wheel. One of the bladesinger’s companions held a bag of holding which contained an item recovered from the temple, one which while they had no idea what it is, they knew to be valuable.

    Once inside, they garnished a doorman who ushers them all to a small side room to await an audience with a potential buyer. And while she had the jink, none of them were enthusiastic about dealing with Shemeska the Marauder….

    All through the meeting, the fiend played around the very issue of the item they were seeking to divest themselves of. She discussed the weather, the state of politics in Sigil, her own appearance, her own appearance again, and if she should wear the lapis bracelets instead of the gold and topaz. An hour or more later she gets to the point and demanded to see the item. She stared at it for several minutes, a claw playing with the fur on her chin idly, before she gave them something they didn’t wish to hear. “I’m not interested.”

    The companion’s faces went ashen. They’d just paid for the sole ownership of the item themselves as their only share of their ill-gotten goods, even given away jink on top of their shares. Clueless gathered some courage and looked at the fiend.

    “If you’re not interested, surely you have enough contacts and influence to know a buyer who is. Why else would we have come to you, and not say, Estavan or the titan…” Clueless knew the mention of her rivals would gall her to no end, and if for no other reason than to deny them something they might find of interest, she gave a counter offer of sorts.

    “But of course I can make a deal, there's never a deal that Shemeska, the king of the crosstrade, can't make. Just the price is all that it hangs on.” She grinned and smoothed the fur under her razorvine headdress. “Of course I can give you a buyer of such items, but I will of course be wanting a finders fee of sorts, AND a cut of the final price. There’s a price to everything.”

    And the memory faded to black as once again his mind closed tight again like a vice around his past.
    Last edited by Shemeska; Friday, 30th July, 2004 at 06:50 AM.

  • #156
    Another update! My trousers quiver with delight. The exploits of my 3rd-level Planescape players pale in comparison.

    (Super-pedantic nitpicking: Xanxost is a blue slaad.)

  • #157
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fimmtiu
    Another update! My trousers quiver with delight. The exploits of my 3rd-level Planescape players pale in comparison.

    (Super-pedantic nitpicking: Xanxost is a blue slaad.)
    You and your quivering trousers can stay away from me

    Hmm, well drat, I was certain he was a green slaad. *checks in 'Faces of Evil'* Yep, I was wrong. Thanks for catching that there.

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    Great update Shemeska - hope there's plenty more where that came from and that we'll see it soon
    "Do we have anything resembling a plan?"
    "Ride till we find them, kill them all!"
    ...
    "If they don't follow us we know it was too far to swim!"
    ...
    Both from 13th Warrior

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    Quote Originally Posted by cmnash
    Great update Shemeska - hope there's plenty more where that came from and that we'll see it soon
    Aiming for Friday of next week, I'm on a roll.

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    A day ahead of schedule, add corn starch and the plot thickens

    Time passed as the group made their slow transit back to the border ethereal before finding, nearly at chance, an ethereal curtain that led to Arcadia. While Nisha complained about the ‘rigid, full of themselves, lawful busybodies of Arcadia’ the place was certainly safer. A short hop onto Arcadia via the shimmering curtain and a Planeshift to the Outlands and they stood in sight of the Spire, roughly 20 miles outside of Tradegate as best they could tell.

    Weary and tired they stumbled into the gatetown and made their way to the gate back to Sigil, barely stopping to rest at all. At least in Sigil they didn’t have to worry about anything suddenly gating in on top of them to finish the job that the githyanki had failed on purpose to. Unknowingly though their location was closer in some ways to danger than not.

    Florian glanced at the others as Nisha stomped her hooves on the cobblestones of the Market Ward, ‘to get off the arcadia dust’, as they pressed through the throng of merchants and buyers and pickpockets that fed on both. By the by, Nisha wound up with a tidy sum of extra coin before they pressed on into the Guildhall ward. She grinned and counted out the contents of a few purses as they strode towards edge of the Ward.

    “It’s getting late and we’ve walked an obscene distance today. My feet are killing me, can we call it an evening and just stop at an inn for the night? I really need to just sleep and collect my thoughts on what to do next.” Tristol asked as they approached a brightly lit inn with a swinging sign above the door that named it ‘The Barmy Bariuar”.

    The group looked at each other, each of them weary and tired to say the least. Without saying much of anything they turned and stepped into the inn to stay the evening.

    Alone in his room, Clueless sat and looked over the items that he had chosen from the contents of the Spellbreaker’s chamber. He still wasn’t sure what to do about the ring of 1 wish, and so after staring at it for a few minutes he placed it to the side to deal with later as he removed the translucent golden globe that he had selected as well.

    “Well, I can’t say that I took you because I had a clue what you were. But you’re pretty, so you can at least be a good decoration.”

    The bladesinger brushed his hand over the globe and smiled at it. And then globe opened. “What the hells?”

    Seamlessly the upper half of the sphere had rippled and lifted to one side leaving the liquid interior open to the air. It reflected back the room’s light dully, but otherwise made neither sound nor motion. Clueless stared at it, perplexed by it all.

    “Well damn. I guess there’s something to you after all. Let’s see what’s inside of you.”

    He carefully dipped a fingertip inside the sphere to touch the golden liquid. It was lukewarm to the touch and had a syrupy consistency. The drop of liquid rolled with gravity off of his finger and back into the sphere, leaving not a trace of itself behind, Clueless’s finger was dry in its passing.

    “Weird…” He said as he took another drop of the golden liquid and rubbed it between his fingers. He stared at the drop and pondered what indeed it might be, but only random thoughts came to mind. Then the drop shimmered and something appeared in the room with a sudden flash.

    Clueless dropped the liquid back into the sphere and spun around with his sword drawn and raised to stare at the squat, green frog-like being that stood in a state of confusion in his room. “Who the hell are you?” The half-fey asked it at swordpoint as the Slaadi gave a lopsided grin, croaked nonsensically and skipped over to the door. Clueless could only stare in confusion as the chaos exemplar opened the door, waved goodbye and walked out the door.

    “Ok… what the hell just happened? Summoning doesn’t work inside Sigil. Unless that wasn’t a summoning…” He stared nervously at the still open sphere and its liquid contents with a growing sense of wonder. What he had taken as a pretty little knickknack was probably one of the most valuable items the Spellbreaker had possessed, whatever it was…

    Heard through the doorway from down the hall there was a loud “Croak!” followed by a shrill scream, a clatter of dishes and several wet crunching noises.

    “Oh s***! Room service!” Clueless winced as he dashed to the door and looked down the hallway where the Slaadi was finishing off one of the maids while it neatly and elegantly wiped its mouth with a bed sheet after the fact.

    Slamming the door shut and wincing nervously, Clueless thought of how he could explain what just happened as he heard the Slaadi croak once more and hop down the stairs to the tap room. Almost as an afterthought he closed the globe’s top which sealed itself shut with another ripple through its glassy material and then picked up a blanket and tossed it over the top of the globe to hide it from sight.

    A minute later there was a knock on his door and he opened it slowly. Tristol was standing there with bags under his eyes and his ears flat against his head. “Yes?” The bladesinger asked.

    “Clueless… why did a Slaadi hop out of your room and just eat one of the inn staff? You don’t really see that every day…”

    “Oh, umm, that, yeah. Umm, a portal just randomly opened in my room and that thing hopped out of it. Said hi and then hopped out the door.” He said, trying to sound honest.

    Tristol raised an eyebrow and tried to look past Clueless and into the room. “Are you sure everything’s alright in there?”

    “Oh yeah, no problems. The portal sealed itself again so hopefully nothing else hops through. Sorry if that woke you up. Sorry about the maid too…”

    Tristol tried again to peer past his companion and into the room but eventually shrugged and walked off back to his own room looking like he hadn’t slept in days, and in truth he hadn’t really for any appreciable amount of time.

    Clueless waited for Tristol to close the door and leave before he let his jaw drop while he stared at the syrupy liquid inside the golden globe. “Wow. Just, wow. I just grabbed you because you looked pretty. I wonder what I can do with you…”

    Dipping his finger into the liquid and pulling up a single drop, he held it and rubbed it between his fingers. He thought for a moment and brought a spell to mind that he’d seen cast before, though he’d never before learned it himself. In an instant there was something inside his mind alongside the few spells he had still lingering in his memory. It stuck out like a sore thumb, seeming far beyond what he would normally have considered himself capable of casting. Nervously, Clueless dropped the liquid back into the container, not having diminished any appreciable amount and concentrated on the new spell.

    The dweomers inside his mind was glowing potently in his minds eye, it felt crisp and rigid, and it stunk of necromancy. Only once had he seen a ‘circle of death’ spell cast upon a battlefield, back in one of his hazy memories of a Blood War battle, but it’s effect was devastating to most of those caught inside its area of effect. And now just such a spell was inside his mind, somehow.

    “Well damn. That’s interesting…”

    A thought struck him then, since if he could use the liquid, whatever it was, to insert spells into his own mind, even ones that he normally couldn’t cast, a spell that he knew of but couldn’t cast himself might help him recover his own memories. He’d seen it cast before, a Vision spell is what he vaguely remembered a cleric calling it, and a Legend Lore was what the same or a similar spell had been termed by a wizard. Supposedly, the spell allowed one to look into the past history of an event, a person, or an item. They took time, but if you had some connection to the thing in question they took less time. And well, since Clueless was as close to himself as anything else, it might not take that long.

    Another drop of the golden liquid and a moment of thought and the spell was burning inside his mind. However it felt… odd. With the spells inside his brain, he felt sluggish and mentally fatigued, like he was trying to fit too much into a space that was only capable of holding so much. It probably wouldn’t be wise to attempt the same before he used what he had in his mind at the present.

    “Well, we’ll see how this works…”

    The spell triggered in his mind as he focused on it and willed the dweomers to tell him about himself. And then the spell in his mind was snuffed utterly. It was cast, but at the moment it did the spell simply failed.

    “Damnit…” Clueless sighed and looked over at the globe of liquid. “Oh well, that didn’t work and I was hoping that it would. Maybe on another day it will, we’ll have to see. Might be worth it to ask Tristol just what you are.”

    Disappointed but intrigued, Clueless closed the globe and watched it seal itself seamlessly shut before he placed it back within his bag of holding and went to bed. There would be well enough time later to experiment with the unique material.


    Early the next morning they all awoke and assembled in the common room of the inn. Little was said over a quick breakfast and soon they were out the door and moving off towards the neighborhood on the edge of the Clerks and Guildhall Wards in which Clueless at least knew a person they could trust.

    “You sure we can trust her? I’m not exactly trusting at the moment given what we’ve been through this past while. It’s putting a stain on an otherwise fine city.” Florian asked as the passed a troupe of performers in the center of the street as they turned to avoid directly passing by the Laz School of Vivid Unpleasantness.

    “Bleaknicks… ugg.” Nisha said and made a sour face as they passed, interrupting Clueless who only chuckled at the tiefling.

    “Well, she treated me to food, a tour of the city, new boots, new clothes, and well… you know.” The bladesinger replied.

    “Know what?” Nisha asked, oblivious to his meaning.

    “She screwed my brains out on impulse.” He said, without a drop of shame.

    “Not having known you even a day at that point? And neither of you were drunk or high?” Florian asked with disbelief.

    “Nope, she said I was cute and that it was something she’d never done before.” Clueless said with a smile like it was an opportune event that anyone would have accepted.

    “Never had sex? A sensate said this?” Nisha said as she started to walk a silverpiece up her knuckles.

    “No no, never picked up someone with amnesia at random and had her way with them.” He replied.

    “Clueless, you’re sodding easy.” Nisha said as she stuck her tongue out at him. Toras quietly laughed at her sentiment as Tristol rolled his eyes.

    “What?” Clueless asked, oblivious to her meaning.

    “I said you’re sodding easy.”

    “No no, I head you. I just never heard the term.” The half-fey was being patently honest.

    The tiefling snickered and took on a bemused look, “And you had no qualms about going to bed with her after just meeting her?”

    “No, not really, why? She was really nice.” Clueless said again with a blank face.

    “You’re like a bent copper piece in a thieves’ guild.” Nisha said with a wry grin.

    “Huh?” He asked, still not getting it.

    “A bent copper in a thieves’ guild. Everyone and their cousin has rubbed it between their fingers or had it in their pants at one point or another.” Nisha said as she stuck a copper piece between her mildly pointed teeth.

    “What?!” Clueless asked as he finally realized both the meaning of the phrase ‘easy’ and that he was being not so subtly jabbed verbally by Nisha.

    “What’s that light? It’s realization dawning…” Tristol said as he, Nisha, and Toras exchanged glances before laughing. Fyrehowl didn’t reply, seemingly out of politeness to Clueless.

    “Don’t worry Clueless, I still think you’re cute. Easy yes, but still cute.” Florian said to Clueless with a smile that earned him a look from Fyrehowl and a doubletake from Nisha and Toras.

    In any event, Florian was saved from explaining the comment as they arrived at the doorstep to Tarelia’s kip. Clueless walked up to the door and knocked while Toras sat down on the steps and waved to the two children playing on the adjacent stoop. As part of his faith’s creed, he was overly protective and caring towards children, quite an amusing dichotomy for a nearly seven foot tall man in heavy armor that seemed just at home carving apart fiends.

    The door cracked open and Tarelia waved them in, pausing only to kiss Clueless far too deeply, far too much in public. Florian and Fyrehowl both seemed a tad crestfallen, and both exchanged glances.

    Tarelia welcomed them into her home as she quickly closed the door to her bedroom and tossed a few items from her kitchen table in before the door was shut. “It’s good to finally meet you. I apologize for the mess, I’ve been learning to cook some different things lately and it’s been an experience, let me tell you.”

    Nisha was glancing around the place in a way that nearly screamed out casing the joint before Fyrehowl whapped her with her tail and gave her a look. “Aww…”

    Clueless and Tarelia babbled and cooed and looked altogether far too uninhibited for polite society, but the Eladrin tout lectured the group about the city in general, and her thoughts on what was their wisest course of action. All in all it was a prudent trip for them all considering the long term resident of the city giving them a tour in words that even Nisha, herself a permanent resident of Sigil, seemed to appreciate.

    Following their discussion, Tarelia managed to procure them several rooms at one of the inns down the street from her own kip, and none too subtly suggested that Clueless was free to sleep with her than evening, or any other time. Again, Fyrehowl and Florian seemed put out by the eladrin’s enjoyment of the bladesinger. Nisha noted the glance and had far too much fun suggesting to the lupinal that if she asked the other celestial, she’d probably be willing to share. Fyrehowl swatted at the giggling tiefling and didn’t bother dignifying her suggestion with a reply.

    Later, Clueless sat and pondered over the glimmer of a memory that he had experienced as they left the maze. It hadn’t been much, but he knew that he’d been with another group before, one of whom he’d seen in a memory that the gith in the Gatehouse had unlocked. However the rest of it didn’t make much sense except to confirm that he’d had dealings with the Marauder, and that she very clearly remembered him. That and her words matched almost exactly the words whispered in his ear in another of the fragmented memories he had gotten back by the Bleaker’s ministrations. It didn’t bode well, but it did seem that the process begun by the gith had at least been slowly unlocking the blocks in his memory, regardless of who or what had caused them.

    Still pondering over it, he considered going back to the Bleakers, but decided against the idea. He just needed time to sit and think, maybe relax and just stew on what memories he did have and perhaps in that way gain more details about them. Then an idea hit him, one of the things relating to the city that his girlfriend had told him during her little tour of the wards she’d given. In the highest stories of the Great Gymnasium, formerly the faction hall of the Transcendent Order, the Ciphers, there was a chamber in which Ciphers had gone to meditate and isolate themselves to, as they claimed, listen only to their own hearts, mind and body in tune with the rhythm of the planes themselves, the Cadence as they called it.

    Clueless considered the idea; certainly the chamber was little known, but it was no longer exclusive to faction members, though they still congregated in the upper floors of the now fully public gymnasium to sit, meditate, and train. If possible, he might manage to gain the peace of mind needed to remember more of his past.

    He wrote a short note to the rest of his companions explaining where he’d be if they needed him, said goodbye to his girlfriend and strode off to the adjacent ward. The Gymnasium’s white marble portico was massive, though it was hardly the largest structure in Sigil. The bladesinger walked up the stairs and entered the interior courtyard with its three pools and areas for the arts and for physical training in all manners of sports and martial regimens. The current owners and managers of the hall, two hill giant brothers from Ysgard who seemed to have been cast in bronze from the sheen on their sculpted muscles, strode among the patrons of the gymnasium, aiding where needed and directing others to the appropriate areas of the premises. Clueless strode past them, already knowing where he was going, and faced not a drop of resistance or inquiry as he ascended the stairs to the upper levels of the former faction hall.

    The second level of the gymnasium was a series of empty chambers and galleries where in the past, and still at times, higher order devotees of the Ciphers met and meditated. The halls were still well cared for, evidently they returned to keep the chambers in pristine condition, and a few padded cushions still lay arranged in one of the chambers that still received use from former ciphers. But the place was solemn and empty in its entirety as Clueless walked up the steps to the highest level of the halls, to the Cadence chamber.

    The door was closed but ajar, and opened into a pitch black chamber that was warmed from some source. Clueless looked into the oddly comforting gloom, and seeing that it was unoccupied, stepped into the darkness and dropped a few inches before hovering from some unseen force that neutralized gravity.

    “Well damn, that’s interesting. Like floating in water in here.” He smiled as he then noticed that the flicker of faerie fire upon his wings had been snuffed when he entered the chamber.

    “And magic dead too. Interesting… guess they need to seal themselves off from everything possible.” He shrugged with a smile and closed the door to the chamber, floating in the warm darkness, shut off from everything else except himself and the planes themselves.

    Silent and dark he pondered what he knew and tried to remember what he didn’t know, all of his past that was sealed off from him. The chamber was relaxing, very relaxing, and soon without realizing it he drifted off into a serene sleep, or something akin to sleep. Whatever it was, trance or slumber, he only heard the beating of his own heart and nothing else. No mystical rhythm of the planes, if indeed it existed, but he felt utterly at peace, regardless of anything else. And then something sparked inside of his mind and he remembered.

    “But of course I can make a deal, there's never a deal that Shemeska, the king of the crosstrade, can't make. Just the price is all that it hangs on.” She grinned and smoothed the fur under her razorvine headdress. “Of course I can give you a buyer of such items, but I will of course be wanting a finders fee of sorts, AND a cut of the final price. There’s a price to everything.”

    The fiend paused momentarily to adjust her razorvine tiara, staring long and hard into the full-length mirror carried by one of her ubiquitous tiefling escorts. Looking back at Clueless and his companions in the mirror’s reflection, still fiddling with a strand of razorvine, she spoke again. “A finders fee of no less than five hundred Jinx, and a thirty percent cut of the completed sale. I want nothing to do with anything associated with the cult of… well, you have one their items there on the table, you knew full well what you had when you came in here to see me. Valuable, undoubtedly, but I’m neither a sage or a cleric of that religion, and being as how I’d like to not end up mazed, I’ll not so much as touch the priceless filth.”

    Tilting the headdress just so, she spun back around to face the three of them, copper colored forearms resting on the table, one hand absently playing with an ostentatious ring on one finger, and elbows pressed in giving them all the uncomfortable position of staring at the fiend’s very generous cleavage. While his companions sat rigid in their chairs, wholly uncertain of how to handle the situation, whether to admire and look, or avoid the sight entirely, not sure which response might draw her ire, Clueless however leaned across the table as well, giving a sidelong, but obvious to her, glance, and grinned as he stared right back into her eyes. “Certainly we can understand your reluctance, given the item’s… nature. We also would find ourselves, and yourself the richer if the sale was made.” Then with extra emphasis, “What is there to really object to on the table, it seems more than ample to me.”

    The Marauder grinned, a fanged, fiendish smile and her eyes flashed with unhampered vanity at the half-fey’s remarks. “Well then, that settled, I’ll have one of my guards fetch the proper legal documents to cement our agreement on these formalities.” She snapped a taloned finger in the air and one of her escorts vanished into the rear wall of the room, evidently either illusory or containing an intangible door of sorts.

    “But as for a buyer, surely you’ll want to know their name and kip.” She held out a hand and chanted an incantation, conjuring forth a sheet of parchment, quill and inkbottle, along with a bubbling pot of warm wax and a large emerald carved into an odd shape, apparently an expensive seal. She smoothed the paper on the table before her as the pen animated and began to sketch out a map of sorts as she concentrated, drawing forth the image from her mind, literally pouring it out of memory and onto the parchment.

    She pushed the paper towards her clients as she affixed her personal sigil onto one of the corners in red wax with the stopper. The seal was of a stylized arcanoloth head topped with a razorvine crown.

    “The seal will vouch for you with the buyer, a titan on the plane of Carceri who goes by the name of Jorxanis. Specifically, the sphere of Othrys in the Red Prison. See, he doesn’t get out much, in fact he can’t get out. He’s the very definition of a prisoner, the very type of berk the plane exists for. He’s also both fabulously wealthy, and obsessed with escaping the plane. Your little item won’t do that for him, I dare say nothing but the Olympian deities combined could free him, seeing as how they cast him there in the first place, but your item will do more than pique his interest. It’s… well you know who it’s from, but anything associated with that late would-be master of the City of Doors and self professed deity of portals and planewalkers is certain to command both his attention and purse strings. If a dead, barmy power of portals could help free him, he’s willing to look into it. All said, a prime buyer for you.”

    The King of the Crosstrade pushed a second sheet of parchment towards the bladesinger, “This map of the layer should get you to his palace. I needn’t warn you of the ‘leths on the layer,” she hissed out the slang for the Gehreleths with a distasteful expression on her muzzle, “they’ve been out in force recently, though none are certain of why, but it’s an inconvenience. I think the jink to be gained more than makes up for that, wouldn’t you say so?”

    Shemeska leaned back in her chair and held up a hand, palm up, which one of her escorts immediately filled with a brimming crystal goblet of blood red wine. The fiend brought it to her lips and delicately sipped then gave a belated toast to her three clients and their agreement with her as she raised the glass towards the three of them.

    “The portal to Carceri you’ll find out of Curst, a trivial matter there, then several days overland on Othrys to Jorxanis’s palace. Accept nothing less than seventy-five thousand, highball him at two hundred fifty thousand, then drop from there. With luck, you’ll get over a hundred thousand. And if he proves surly, remind him of the seal on your map and who sent you to him, who sends ALL of his buyers with interesting artifacts to his doorstep. He won’t cross me, I assure it; no one crosses me.” The final phrase was said with utter confidence and nonchalance before she took another long, self satisfied sip as Clueless and his companions were handed agreements to sign by her returning escort from earlier who also slid a silver tray towards them, in expectation of payment of the finder’s fee.

    Both of the bladesinger’s companions looked towards him as he nodded and placed the five hundred coins upon the tray, a similar self satisfied grin coming to his face as the fiend’s words and promises sink in, foreshadowing wealth he certainly hadn’t quite expected to find so much of so soon.

    Clueless and his companions left the Fortune’s Wheel congratulating themselves on their gamble of buying the Aoskian relic from their original group, and the prospect of its sale on Carceri for far more than they had originally suspected. A short walk later they returned to the inn in which they’d been staying in their time in Sigil, the ‘Bounded Space.’ The ‘Yes! We Have Portals!’ sign hung in the still air of the Clerks Ward, the dimming light indicative of nearing antipeak. The next few hours were a blur, packing their gear, sharpening swords and making sure armor was cleaned and ready for use. As a parting friendly jab to his other companions not making the trip to Carceri, nor sharing in the profit of the trip, Clueless left a sealed letter with the innkeeper, Wilbur Cookenstein. They’d wander back to find him soon and the letter would explain things.

    Soon enough the three of them had passed through a portal near to the inn to the gate town to Curst on the Outlands, the portal key being an insult muttered under your breath and a grudge remembered. The portal swirled and deposited them all in a sprawling town of rusted iron buildings, filled with the hateful, dispossessed, manipulative and backstabbing human detritus of the planes. They all moved quickly through the center of the town, narrowly avoiding a fight between a red Slaadi and three primes, and a potentially lethal fight between two Githyanki knights and three Githzerai monks on Rrakk’ma.

    Standing before the portal to the Red Prison, Clueless gingerly held his hand tight around the bag of holding containing the relic, and imagined hatred, then stepped through to the other side, passing under the archway of bones that formed the portal boundary.

    The first layer of Carceri, Othrys stretched out before the three of them, a red litten layer of salt marshes, swamps, and patches of rocky wasteland. Mosquito swarms filled the air with a dull buzz and dimly heard were the slithering of larger, more serpentine dwellers in the endless muck.

    Their maps, provided by The Marauder, pointed off to the north, two days travel through the mire, then rockier territory beyond. The first day was mostly uneventful, save for the bariaur getting sunk to his hips in the mud on three occasions, much to the elf’s mirth. By the second day, the insects felt almost intolerable, innumerable bites tracing red-blotched patterns across exposed arms and the bariaur’s flanks. Dimly, they also realized that they were being followed. And in fact, less than a mile from the border of the swamp they were caught from two directions by a force of Gehreleths, at least ten Farastu and two Kelubar. The fight was long and hard, the bariaur taking a number of deep claw wounds to his side, and the elf was bashed to the ground by a Kelubar, the tar tainting his wounds heavily. Amazingly, Clueless managed to avoid personal injury, though the Gehreleths seemed to target him in particular. Only after dispatching the remaining with several deft displays of swordsmanship, and three lightning bolts, did he come to realize, they could smell the scent of the arcanoloth permeating his clothing and the maps. It must have drawn them from halfway across the layer, such being their hatred of the neutral evil fiends…

    But after treating his companions as best as possible, and letting the cleric deal with his own festering wounds with his magic, Clueless ignored the bodies and doubled his pace to higher and dryer ground. An hour later, the swamps receded to dry, red packed soil, littered and strewn with broken boulders and sloping craggy hillocks. As the sky dimmed to a blackish red the group camped at the rear base of a pillar of reddish sandstone, blocking the view from the swamp, and from the direction of the wind, hopefully hiding their scent as well.

    That night, after his watch duties were over and he ceded to the cleric, Clueless’s dreams were unremembered, and his sleep fitful as the plane’s dread emotions poured into him: hate, spite, despair, chaotic rage. But his unremembered nightmares were nothing compared to the one awaiting him as you woke in the morning. Opening his eyes to the blood red din of the overhead sunless sky, a familiar scent assailed his nostrils. He jerked awake and reached for his sword, only to find it missing, and his camp surrounded. Some forty insectoid mezzoloths, two or three dhergoloths, and a Nycaloth captain stood grinning down at him and his two companions, one of them frozen still in place, the Nycaloth’s wand still pointed at him. The bladesinger’s weapons were held by one of the bloated mantis-like dhergoloths.

    Clueless jerked to his feet and the mezzoloths inched closer, black steel tridents raised and pointed. His eyes bore into the eight-foot tall, hairless, green skinned and vaguely doglike Nycaloth. He barked at the fiend in abyssal, “What is the meaning of this?! We came here on the guidance and behalf of the arcanoloth, Shemeska the Marauder! Her seal is on our maps and confirms our destination!”

    Clueless’s hand moved instantly down to grab the map only to find them gone, along with the bag of holding. His mouth went dry and the emotions of the plane suddenly seemed amiable.

    The Nycaloth grinned, flashing rows of fangs and held up both the map and the bag. “We’re well aware of who sent you here half-blood mortal. On your feet fool!”

    As he staggered to his feet, still trying to comprehend the turn of events, the Nycaloth hefted a sword in the air with one hand, easily a two handed sword for any human, aimed it at his troops and barked an order. “Half of you, take the mortals and deliver them to the tower. Tell the watch captain that the Marauder has sent them. The rest of you, you have petitioners to scour the plane for, I suggest you get started now! The tower won’t build itself! I will return later, I have things to deliver.” The hulking fiend grinned again in Clueless’s direction, hand clutched around the bag of holding as he vanished from sight and the cold iron manacles clamped around the bladesinger’s wrists and ankles. The Red Prison had claimed another victim of the crosstrade.

    Clueless stood in the doorway of the Cadence chamber, the darkness of the room behind him as he squinted his eyes at the light. He didn’t remember floating back over to the door and opening it, but the shock of the memory returning to him made him wince as much as the sudden return to the brightly lit hallway.

    “What the hell? You set me up. You bitch, you set me up…”

    Back at the inn, perhaps a block from where Tarelia called kip, Tristol sat and nursed a drink. Nothing bad had happened yet, but lurking at the back of his mind was the fact that eventually, and at any minute, he was liable to keel over and die. Nisha sat across from him attempting to hang a spoon on her nose, and Florian sat there as well, amused at the tiefling. Toras was absent, off to find a chapter of his temple in the spiral cathedral since their presence in Sigil was small and they had no freestanding temple of their own at the moment.

    Some time later, Clueless walked back into the room and sat down at the table. He seemed preoccupied, and while the others were both concerned and curious, he brushed off the questions for the moment, uncertain as to what exactly his memories meant, or how they fully involved one of the more powerful, and evil, persons in Sigil.

    “So, where did you go?” Fyrehowl asked, sitting down with an ale.

    “Over to the Great Gymnasium, just to gather my thoughts.”

    “Hmm, the old Cipher hall? I’ve heard of them before, only because there’s a number of them on one of the layers of Elysium. Nice group of people, but I don’t know much about what it is they believe.”

    “Well, I’m not a member, nor am I likely to become one. But from what I know, they believe in action over thought. Not thoughtless action, but some sort of perfect state when they’re the same thing. I can’t do it justice though, so if you want to learn more from them, you’ll have to ask one of them.”

    “Well they’ve got something going on. Not chaotic enough mind you, though of course I’m biased, but look at ex-Factol Rhys. She doesn’t say much, but when she does, it’s almost always the right thing at the right time. She’s had two assassination attempts on her in the past two years. In one case she stepped out of the way just before a crossbow bolt would have hit her head, and she never stopped what she was talking about. The second time she turned, looked at the assassin and –caught- the arrow shot at her. It’s like she can tell what’s going to happen before it does, or feels how to act before she should be able to think of a reaction. Spooky.”

    “They’ve been good for Sigil though, never really had enemies, and never really caused problems in the city. More than anything they kept the peace between the factions for a long damn time.” Clueless added.

    “Oh, and I almost forgot. Rhys left Sigil a week before the Faction War. Claimed that she felt something bad on the horizon and skipped town before all of the other factols got mazed. Spooky.” Nisha said as she thumped a silver piece over Toras’s head as he walked into the room.

    “Whoops, sorry.” She said as he smirked and raised an eyebrow.

    “No your not, but you’re just being you, so it’s alright.” Toras said as he joined his companions.

    “Oh well in that case I’ll make a habit of it then, except when I don’t.” Nisha chirped gleefully.

    A minute of random conversation later a lean man in a uniform of the Runners guild walked into the room and up to the bartender. The barkeep pointed over towards the table the group was sitting at and the man quickly walked over to them and bowed.

    “I’m looking for a group of cutters going by the names of Clueless, Nisha, Toras, Florian, and Tristol. If you are them, I have a package to deliver to you.”

    “Umm, yes, that would be us. Who’s sending this?” Fyrehowl said, tentatively accepting a sealed scroll case from the man.

    “Alas I cannot say, the package was delivered anonymously with payment and delivery instructions. We did examine the package and made certain it had no malign enchantments upon it keyed to activate upon being opened. However I cannot tell you who charged us with the delivery of it. If I knew I would certainly tell you.” The runner said and shrugged.

    “Well thank you. Here’s something for your trouble.” Toras said as he handed the man a gold piece that lit up his eyes.

    “Thank you sir, good day to you all.” The now smiling courier said as he trotted out the door.

    The scroll case was well made of a white, fine-grained wood and stoppered on both ends of red wax. The assembled group looked at the case as it sat on the tabletop with a mix of curiosity and suspicion.

    “I wonder if somebody knows that we’re still alive and back in Sigil?” Florian mused.

    “Gods I hope not…if so it’s probably trapped.” Nisha said, “Go ahead and open it Toras.”

    “Anything magical on it Tristol?” Toras asked the mage who was already chanting a few words in draconic while scanning over the case with his eyes.

    “No, nothing that I can tell. It’s probably safe to open.” Tristol said as he popped open the wax stopper on one end and slid a single vellum scroll into his hand. He slid the scroll open and placed it on the table.

    The scroll was written in a fine-handed script and signed with a sigil stamped in blue ink. The sigil was of an exaggerated, nearly comical, blue grin.

    “Well, it’s not Trenevain or Imshenviir, that’s for certain.” Florian said with relief. If it’s a new boss taking over for the others, by the foe hammer there will be heads rolling.

    And then, something happened quite unexpected that took the group, Tristol especially, by surprise. The grinning blue sigil on the paper lifted up off of the scroll and hovered a foot over the table, turning and smiling at the group.

    “No, if I was either of those two I wouldn’t be smiling at you now would I?” The grin said with a cheerful voice and the flash of illusory teeth.

    “Let’s just say that I’m someone from outside of your current plight who is both well aware of your ‘employers’ and has no love lost for them. I also know that two of you are poisoned and have less than a week or so to live. It’s a pity that I can’t directly offer you the antidote, but I can offer you something just as good, and perhaps even better.”

    The group was full of curious stares as they looked at the illusory grin as it wandered around the fringes of the table while it spoke to them. Ever the curious one, Nisha poked out her finger at the grin which opened its mouth and nipped at her finger with tiny blue fangs.

    “Eeep!” Nisha said as she jerked her finger back with tiny toothmarks on the tip, “You’re real, sorta.”

    The grin flashed its fiendish smile once more, “Indeed I am.”

    “So what are you offering us?” Tristol asked, perplexed still by his having been unable to detect the dweomers on the grin.

    “Revenge. You’ve been used and tossed the wayside like so much refuse by your so-called employers and as I said, I have no love lost for them myself. They likely never intended to offer you a cure for their poison, though they do have a dose of it with them, but only in case they accidentally ingested some themselves. Mercanes, hmmph!”

    “So how do we know we can trust you?” Clueless asked and was elbowed in the side by Florian.

    “I can’t asked you to trust me, but I can give you the location of the demiplane where the mercane are bottled up and you can do as you wish from there. It serves both of our ends and everyone walks away from the table with what they want. The scroll I’m currently floating over has detailed instructions on how to reach the curtain leading into the demiplane. The portal in the former Portal Schmortal is both too watched and too infrequently present to serve as an appropriate gateway inside their demesne.”

    “And what can we call you, just so we’ve got a name to attach to a face, or a grin in any event.” Tristol said.

    “Hmm. You know, name’s are so often impersonal and have little to do with the person standing behind them. You’ll oftentimes find a man with the surname ‘goodman’ who is anything but. They usually don’t reflect the person, so call me what I am and what form I take. The Cheshire Fiend will work well in my particular case.”

    “Oh don’t be afraid at the name, I’m helping you for mutual benefit and I’ve no stake in harming you whatsoever. In fact I’d rather like to see you survive just to spite the very people I’ll be helping you get revenge upon. But also on the paper below where my chin would be, if I had a chin, is the name and address of someone I think would be of use to you while burrowing through the ethereal deep to find your former employers. I’ve already bought her services for you, assuming you wish to take revenge.”

    Toras smiled, “Thank you. This is appreciated. Can we contact you again after this is finished?”

    “Oh don’t worry too much about that, I’ll get in touch with you. I tend to flit about from place to place as it is doing all sorts of things. I’m involved in a lot of late, most of it involved in kicking people till they stay down so they don’t harm other interests of mine. Your former employers are just a few that I can’t easily handle myself without attracting undue attention to myself and those around me.”

    “Again, thank you.” Tristol smiled and extended a hand to the grin. For its part the grin took his hand in its semi-solid teeth and ‘shook’ the wizard’s hand as much as it could.

    “You’re welcome, I wish you good luck. Now with that, I must be gone. Wheels within Wheels.” And having said so, the Cheshire Fiend vanished in a glimmer of blue sparks that faded out leaving an ephemeral afterimage resembling a series of runes arranged in multiple sets of circles, one within the other.

    Upon the paper was listed the name and address within the Market Ward, of one Skalliska, planar guide and finder of expensive items. Beneath that information were a series of detailed instructions on accessing the mercane’s demiplane, as well as details on each of the mercane therein: Patriarch Dalmar Imshenviir, Fartrenz Imshenviir and Kalteris Imshenviir. Three brothers. Also detailed were some speculations about the defenses within the castle itself, and that any antidote to the mercane poison was likely to be found with Kalteris, being the one of the three most adept at herbology and alchemy. As such it was likely he that produced the drug that Dalmar had placed into the food eaten by Tristol and Florian.

    Shortly prior to that event, in the Market Ward, Skalliska sat at her desk looking over a similar scroll that had arrived for her by courier that morning. The green, scaly kobold looked at the unmarked scroll case with curiosity before opening it…

    *****

    Helekanalaith, the Keeper of the Tower of the Arcanaloths sat at his desk, a single massive block of stone carved from the rock of Shacklers Hill in the Waste. What appeared to be the fossilized forms of petitioners in various states of agony leered out from the dull gray stone as he quenched the burning tip of his stylus in the quivering flesh of the flayed petitioner bound and stretched upon the iron frame in front of him.

    The fiend blinked as he finished his work and looked up, startled to look into the reddish-pink eyes of his co-conspirator, Vorkannis the Ebon, Lord of the Tower of Incarnate Pain. He hadn’t noticed the other fiend enter his room, nor had the wardings in place upon his chamber so much as registered that they had been breached.

    “Just how long have you been standing there Vorkannis?” The keeper asked with guarded curiosity.

    “Since shortly after you began to write; long enough. I do hope I’m not disturbing you.”

    “Just how in the Baerns’ names did you get in here without me being aware of it. The wards are still in place and it’s impossible to gate or teleport directly into this chamber anyways.”

    The reverse albino grinned, the ivory fangs contrasting heavily with his sable coat. “Apparently you didn’t take the time to properly weave them, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to directly teleport here from Othrys.”

    “Impossible. These wards have been here since I bottled my darling little Larsdana and I’ve learned them in and out since then as well as reinforce them where I found her original protections lacking.” Helekanalaith said with a scoff as he removed his spectacles and placed them down beside the twitching petitioner splayed across his desk.

    “I knew Larsdana. Did I ever tell you that Helekanalaith? You are not her. I suggest you learn fully what she placed within your own walls before you wonder what is and what isn’t possible. I have a habit of breaking such definitions.” The Ebon’s tone carried with it the weight of self-assuredness that normally spoke of boastful arrogance, but arrogance was for those who couldn’t back up their claims when they made them.

    “So what is it you need of me? I assume that’s why you’re here.” The Keeper rose to his feet and delicately stroked a blue sapphire orb that hovered several feet above his desk.

    “Not this time, no. I’ve only come to inform you on yet another success of ours. Yet another cog in the wheel, and one that both Anthraxus and Mydianchlarus are blissfully ignorant of at the moment because the status quo has remained perfectly unchanged for now.” His eyes flashed red as he left his compatriot guessing.

    “How so. I’m juggling not only my own normal work as befits my station, but these little diversions that you’ve handed to myself and our third wheel.”

    “The Maeldur et Kavurik is ours. The coup was relatively bloodless and the change of ownership has had no discernable effects elsewhere. But when the time is right…” Another knowing, hungry smirk graced the jackal’s face.

    “And how do you suggest we give it back the rightful compliment of names assuming you’ve found some way to leave the Tanar’ri and Baatezu unaffected by this? We no longer have the Vuulge.”

    “We have no need of the Vuulge. Why is an artifact capable of translating any words into the language of the Baern necessary when I –speak- the language of the Baern myself. Flawlessly.” The Ebon’s eyes glittered and something inside Helekanalaith shuddered with awe and fear as his colleague recited his last statement in that same language that burned the senses with its ancient potency.

    “And the other fiends?” Helekanalaith asked.

    “Not a concern, our wayward children won’t feel the slightest bit of trouble.”

    Something inside Helekanalaith was troubled and would be for some time. Something about the way the Ebon spoke, the way he carried himself, the things he knew, the things he shouldn’t know but did, and the fact that he had simply come walking out of the hinterlands of the Waste a thousand years ago or so and leapt up the ladder from advisor to Ultroloths to advisor to Bubonix himself in Carceri. The fact that both Bubonix and Cholerix had vanished abruptly shortly thereafter to leave Vorkannis holding the former’s position did nothing to alleviate the keeper’s concern and suspicion, nor to lessen the way that he felt unconsciously drawn to respect and stand in awe of one who by all rights in the hierarchy of the arcanaloths was his inferior. Why then did he feel like the Ebon treated him like a curious child to an adult?

    “I trust your plants inside Anthraxus’s growing contingent near the Hill of Bones have been feeding you accurate information on his troop size?” The Ebon’s question pulled Helekanalaith out of his thoughts.

    “Indeed, his troops are swelling quite massively. Just how exactly did you goad him into taking back what was his to begin with?” The keeper replied.

    “The more pertinent question is what I told Mydianchlarus that made the Oinoloth abdicate his throne in the first place…” Another flash of ivory fangs contrasting with a jet-black coat.

    “I’m not so certain that I believe that boast.”

    “Whether you believe it or not isn’t what’s important. The seeds are planted in your mind and they’ll occupy your thoughts for days. It places you in the position of holding me in a select light, and isn’t that what a boast is for in the first place?” The Ebon said with a grin before changing the subject, “In any event I’ve dispatched one of my own to Center where she’ll be watching over the buildup of mercenary forces at the hub there. A pity for Dandy Will, she booted him out of his own castle the day she arrived with her ostensible superior, one of the Ultroloths under the Oinoloth. You remember Shylara I assume. She served you as a scribe of no particular note for several centuries before you shipped her off to Khin-Oin, and from there to Carceri shortly before I arrived there.”

    The keeper nodded after a moment’s though, “Indeed I do. Did you have a hand in her current… affliction?”

    “She plays an important part, and those who don’t fit the role I need them to fit tend to suffer some remolding to do so. She’s convinced that I love her; she thinks her condition endears her to me since she endures it so. It’s a powerful motivating force, wouldn’t you say so Helekanalaith?” The Ebon’s eyes darted from the keeper up to the sapphire gem the other ‘loth was absenting stroking.

    Helekanalaith paused and looked at the Ebon, “A powerful motivating force? Which do you mean? Agony or love?”

    “Which indeed. Ponder it and I’ll see you again in several days time, there is much to do.” The Ebon replied with a feral grin before vanishing without a word or a gesture to mark his passing.

    And as Helekanalaith, the Keeper of the Tower checked his wards once again and detected no lingering presence or hung spells where the Ebon had stood, he relaxed and sat down again before looking up at the sapphire orb that held the essence of his predecessor, Larsdana apt Neut. “Which indeed…”
    Last edited by Shemeska; Thursday, 5th August, 2004 at 09:07 PM.

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