Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 29 Jan 2014) - Page 168




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  1. #1671
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    yeay, and a light question, how is the 2nd storyhour coming along? that pile of dust is really getting himalaya high by now
    Seemingly i am a Orange Dragon...o whell, burn baby burn "disko" inferno, ouch ouch ouch ayeeeee

 

  • #1672

    Shemeska=Planescape

    I just caught up with the end of this story hour, and like many others, Shemeska, I have to say what you do with the Planescape setting is really amazing. As both a DM and a reader, I'm impressed. This story is the best instance of an ongoing villain I have seen, and since he (it?) is so much more powerful than the PCs, from the very beginning, but still a like-level antagonist, makes the game really work from both a story and game perspective. And I really like the grand scope of repercussions you put into your story, especially the various factols wandering around.

    I personally hope you turn this into a book, or full published adventure path, though just reading it was a treat for me.

  • #1673
    Shemmy, just checking in. Had a quick question figured I ask here for you and your fans input.

    What's the best way to get acquainted with Pathfinder? I like the stuff from the first issues but I have no group to play with right now.

  • #1674
    I realize you've heard this before, but I felt the need to express it once again.

    I stumbled across this storyhour mostly by accident and have spent the past few weeks reading it up to the current (about to start on SH2). Shemeska (may I call you "Shemmy"?), you have won yourself another fan. I'm a bit of a lurker mostly, but you can be sure I'll be around. Great work. Hope to see an update (relatively) soon.

    - Arathyn

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    Quote Originally Posted by sciborg2
    Shemmy, just checking in. Had a quick question figured I ask here for you and your fans input.

    What's the best way to get acquainted with Pathfinder? I like the stuff from the first issues but I have no group to play with right now.
    Don't worry. I got a relatively late start on the material as well. A good point of entry is probably the Pathfinder Gazetteer. The pdf is pretty nice, and a pre-release version of it was actually used as something of a writers bible when I was working on my contributions to the campaign setting.

    Then there's the Pathfinder Chronicles material which are going to be a series of small regional supplement books to add depth to the setting alongside the Pathfinder modules and the campaign setting hardcover.

  • #1676
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arathyn
    I realize you've heard this before, but I felt the need to express it once again.

    I stumbled across this storyhour mostly by accident and have spent the past few weeks reading it up to the current (about to start on SH2). Shemeska (may I call you "Shemmy"?), you have won yourself another fan. I'm a bit of a lurker mostly, but you can be sure I'll be around. Great work. Hope to see an update (relatively) soon.

    - Arathyn
    I'm glad that you're enjoying! Life, work, and some scattered freelancing has taken its toll on my productivity (and my sleep) lately, so the updates have been horribly slow. I apologize for that.

    When the next update is posted, I'll see if I can't include a link to some artwork of some of the characters I had done recently. That might be a decent recompense for making everyone wait on me.

  • #1677
    Bu-bump.

    Thanks for the comments on the Incarnum article BTW. I thought that having the outsiders become incarnates of their alignments was the logical step for introducing Incarnum to the planes, even thought the book never got into it. That and the idea of a marraenoloth totemist was just plain cool. I'm glad that someone else found it interesting.

    Drake

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flame_Drake
    Bu-bump.

    Thanks for the comments on the Incarnum article BTW. I thought that having the outsiders become incarnates of their alignments was the logical step for introducing Incarnum to the planes, even thought the book never got into it. That and the idea of a marraenoloth totemist was just plain cool. I'm glad that someone else found it interesting.

    Drake
    It was a really cool read.

    And for what it's worth, I'm a fight scene away from having an update ready. Saturday? We'll see.

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    ZOMG! An update!

    ***


    “Get it off me! Get it off me! Arrrrggghhh!” One of the expedition’s sages screamed and batted at his left arm where a dozen vrock spores had lodged into his flesh and were quickly planting their roots.

    “Be ready to deal with those spores!” Florian shouted over her shoulder to Settys. “Even if we kill them quickly, the wind is going to be throwing them all over the place!”

    She didn’t get a response, only a rapid series of curses in the cleric’s native tongue and the metallic ring of his sword rapidly blocking the claws of a fiend. Glancing rapidly towards him, she watched as he neatly severed the arm of an advancing dretch and then was forced backwards by the massive upper arms of a glabrezu emerging from the darkness. His eyes were wide, but he seemed more than capable of defending himself, but the combat was going to take away his ability to help with those spores.

    “Stop moving, they’ll only dig deeper.” Florian said as she grabbed the injured sage by the arm.

    The man gritted his teeth as the twisted, vine-like protrusions from his skin coiled underneath his flesh by the second, but he gave a sigh of relief as Florian’s prayers began to manifest to reverse the infestation.

    “Once this is done, I want you to find cover and stay there.” She instructed as she examined his skin for any remaining traces of the spores. “If nothing else, it should keep you clear of any of this same infection in the wind. After that…”

    Suddenly a vrock’s piercing shriek cut the air and drowned out Florian’s voice as a shadow fell over both her and the sage. Throwing the sage to the ground and off to one side, she rolled onto her back, brandishing her axe to meet the fiend’s descent, grimacing all the while as she knew the impact of its dive was going to be painful.

    That impact never happened…

    The vrock’s descent ended abruptly as it slammed into some intangible solid object in its path and the air resounded with the distant peal of bells, or perhaps more appropriately the hollow ring of two colliding cubes in Acheron. The fiend howled in pain as the suddenly crystalline air rammed into it like the invisible fist of a furious angel, and as the spell faded it was obvious how serious the damage had been.

    Slightly out of breath, Professor Leobtav stood a dozen feet away with his hand held up in the air, the source of the spell. Apparently the Fraternity of Order had taught him a few tricks when it came to chaotic creatures.

    “Yay!” Came a happy, draconic chirp from Leobtav’s shoulder.

    “Not bad!” Tristol shouted over towards the ex-Guvner and his familiar as he simultaneously hurled a frigid cone of ice to finish off the injured tanar’ri.

    “No no.” Ficklebarb correct. “Not yay for getting the demon. Yay for him actually remembering that spell!”

    The drake grinned down at his master. “But getting the vrock was good too!”

    “We can’t stay here.” Florian said. “They’ll be coming at the camp from all angles. We’ll need to split up and take them as they come in.”

    Tristol nodded, and on cue so did Nisha, ducking out of a nearby tent with blade in hand. “We’ll try to meet up with one of the fighter-types, either Toras or Fyrehowl.”

    “Doran? Leobtav?” Florian asked, looking at the two wizards, one of them competent but probably rusty. “Tag along with me?”

    The elf looked at the professor. “I think we’ll be fine actually. Between the two of us, we can handle things rather, well, handily.”

    Up on Leobtav’s shoulder, Ficklebarb sighed and shook his head. “Wizard yes. Poet no. Socially awkward at times? Most certainly.”

    Doran rolled his eyes with a smile. “We’ll be fine Florian.”

    She nodded and ran out towards the nearest sound of screaming, hoping to catch the fiends before they took too many lives in the process, and hoping that everyone who thought they were capable was actually as good as they were supposed to be. She didn’t need anyone playing hero when they weren’t up to the task.


    ***


    Distantly, Fyrehowl ran between several rows of tents towards the sounds of a woman screaming and pleading for something to put her down. The screams increased amid the sounds of guttural, almost barking laughter, and then abruptly the screaming stopped as she burst into the clear.

    Towering above her at least twice her height, a powerfully muscled, dog-headed glabrezu held one of the camp’s linguists at chest height -9 feet up- gripped chest and legs in the crab-like pinchers of its upper pair of arms. The woman’s clothing was red with blood, and the point of a sword was visible under the skin of her back, punched through by one of the fiend’s smaller arms.

    Fyrehowl involuntarily cursed as she realized that she’d arrived a moment too late to save its victim. In acknowledgement of her arrival, the fiend turned to look in her direction, still holding the corpse like a perverse rag-doll or a bloody chew-toy.

    “Have you ever wondered what your own innards tasted like celestial?” The glabrezu snarled with a chuckle as it calmly wrenched the body in its upper arms apart, spattering blood and rent viscera across the ground.

    “A pity you won’t have the chance to tell me.” Fyrehowl replied, calmly pointing her sword at its chest and adopting a defensive stance. “As it is, I’m not sure I’d trust you to know. You don’t look like you’ve been eating well lately. Not cut out for your rank in the Abyss?”

    The fiend’s eyes narrowed and a low growl rose deep within its throat; glabrezu weren’t particularly known for being subtle in their emotions. After the danger it had been through to escape the Abyss, and more so the molydeus that had been hunting it, how dare a celestial question its fitness.

    A split second later it charged, and Fyrehowl was ready and waiting for it.

    As large as it was, the fiend was deceptively quick despite its bulk. It was only on account of her supernatural reflexes that she managed to avoid being caught by either its pinchers, or the blades it held in the hands of its smaller set of arms. Still, that advantage worked well for her, and as she managed to score one or two cuts with her sword before retreating, its rage only grew to the point of recklessness.

    It was clumsy, but it was still dangerous, and in the next minute it struck solidly several times with its pinchers and claws, wounding her but never managing to catch hold of her. But for each time it managed to hit, she struck once, twice, or three times in return.

    Furious, it swung its arm out wide and overreached, and in that moment Fyrehowl darted beneath its reach and clipped its right ankle with her sword. She heard its tendons tear and snap, and with a roar of pain and anger the fiend collapsed onto the knee of its other leg. Bellowing, it grabbed for her with its other pinchered arm, only to see her instinctively back flip over its head and score a flurry of deep slashes along its back and shoulders before landing on her feet and wholly out of its reach.

    Crippled and losing blood, the fight was effectively over. Scrambling for ideas, the fiend invoked a storm of chaotic energy down on Fyrehowl, but to little effect as she dodged most of the spell’s force. The fiend attempted the same ability again, to equally moot success, and finally in absolute desperation it called out for its fellows –a poor fiend’s summoning- only to receive the plane’s own howling wind in reply.

    A freezing cone of ice from her extended hand and one final and deadly blow from her sword ended it all.

    Fyrehowl stood atop the glabrezu’s corpse, resting heavily on the point of her blade, breathing hard from exertion. She was bruised across much of her left side where she’d taken a heavy blow from one of the tanar’ri’s clawed upper arms, and a dozen minor wounds and burns dotted her body elsewhere. Still, she was in decidedly better shape than it. The fiend was now slack and limp, staring up at the black vault above them with glassy eyes, its head separated from its body by a good ten yards.

    Distantly she heard another series of explosions, probably Clueless or Tristol having fun at the fiends’ expense, but then she felt a distinctly odd premonition. For whatever reason she had the urge to move out of the way, and while it came with the typically gut instinct of the Cadence, it had a decidedly odd flavor.

    “I f*cking hate Vrocks.” Frollis Terpense said with resigned annoyance, appearing out of thin air as far as Fyrehowl could tell. Maybe a teleport or dimension door, but the rogue clearly had some tricks up his sleeve. He was covered in blood and feathers, most of the former not his, and of course none of the latter.

    “Vrocks?” Fyrehowl asked. “I think they hate you more based on how you look.”

    That odd feeling returned.

    “No,” Frollis said. “They hate you when you jump through the bare fringe of the Shadow plane that touches here, and you land on their back while they’re four hundred feet up in the air. A dagger in its kidney a moment later didn’t endear me in its heart either I suppose. Not that I was intending to do that exactly, getting on top of it and all, but I suppose it worked.”

    The rogue pulled a few feathers out of his armor and dashed some sort of liquid on a vrock spore lingering on his cloak. Having cleaned himself up slightly, he looked up at the celestial.

    “What’s with the weird look on your face?” He asked with a puzzled expression of his own.

    All of a sudden a few pebbles landed at the rogue’s feet with a pronounced clatter. Frollis looked up towards the top of the adjacent rocky crag, but Fyrehowl had already followed her earlier urge to move.

    “Sh*t!” The rogue shouted out with some alarm as the massive tanar’ri careened over the edge of the crag and toppled towards him with a garbled shout of its own.

    “Sorry!” Nisha shouted, peering over the edge a moment later. “It wasn’t cooperating with the stabbity stabbity, so I got frustrated…”

    Frollis rolled his eyes and dove into his own shadow, vanishing a split second before the fiend hit the ground with a bone-snapping crunch and a pained bellow.

    “You can thank me for the grease spell!” Nisha shouted out again with a grin. “And Tristol for the telekinesis, and Toras for the boot to its head. The combination works wonders at the edge of a cliff!”

    Fyrehowl grinned back up at the tiefling, but she didn’t relax her stance, because even as Tristol, Toras, and Nisha were looking down from the top of the cliff, the Nalfeshnee was getting back up to its feet with an absolutely murderous look in its eyes.

    Things weren’t over yet. Not by a long shot.


    ***


    Having just managed to avoid a bolt of lightning thrown from the ground, and a subsequent column of reversed gravity, Clueless slowed his speed of flight and turned a long, slow circuit above the camp, looking for his next obvious target among the remaining fiends.

    He watched as Fyrehowl dove to avoid a spell thrown by a decidedly angry Nalfeshnee, and he briefly considered helping, but the sight of Toras diving off of a cliff towards the fiend’s exposed back made him decide otherwise. They didn’t need him at the moment.

    There was Florian charging something hedged in by a pair of blade barriers, and the other cleric was there with her. They seemed fine, and fifty feet away it looked like Leobtav had another glabrezu fully encapsulated inside a sphere of force while Doran was busily working on a banishment of some sort to take care of their snarling but otherwise harmless bottled fiend.

    That was when he noticed the vrock circling on the other side of the camp opposite him, doing its own slow circuit and looking for easy targets just as he was. The vrock flapped its tattered, rotten-looking wings and gave an amused, bloodthirsty cry as it pinpointed its next prey, and then cued off, Clueless saw it a moment later.

    In the middle of the camp, hidden from view at ground level, but fully visible from the air, one of the expedition’s sages huddled, unaware of his vulnerability, and ignorant of the vrock high above him. When the vrock dove down from the darkness, he never saw it coming, and he would have been dead upon impact had Clueless not intercepted the fiend less than twenty feet above him.

    Feathers, blood, and a diffuse cloud of spores rained down on the sage as Clueless slammed into the fiends back and sent it awkwardly cartwheeling into a nearby boulder. The sage screamed and looked for a place to scramble too, but as he stood up to run, the vrock had already recovered and was making its way to its feet. Faced with the odds of outrunning an angry tanar’ri, the sage ducked down and hid a second time.

    “Poor move mortal…” The vrock said, spitting blood and shoveling dirt from its beak with a mottled purple tongue.

    Clueless didn’t respond except to gesture with the tip of his sword. The subsequent shower of flaming missiles struck the unsuspecting fiend full in the chest and hurled it back against the rock with a dull crack from one of its wings.

    “No, it was a poor move to pause and talk.” Clueless replied, but only after he’d whispered a quick incantation to hasten his speed.

    Angered and now partially crippled, the tanar’ri met the bladesinger’s charge with a flurry of claws and bites. The watching sage could scarcely tell what was happening, so quickly was the fight occurring. It wasn’t till he’d heard a strangled gurgle and the sound of a sword being pulled through several layers of wet flesh, after which the cloud of dust and spores settled, that he was really sure who had come out the victor.

    The fiend lay on the ground, burned and bleeding from several deep wounds -including one that appeared to have pierced its chest and gone out its back. Clueless on the other hand was injured as well, mostly cuts from the fiend’s claws, and one spot where he’d contacted one of its spores, but otherwise he was in much better shape than the sage would have expected.

    “I can’t thank you enough.” The man said, visibly shaking at having come so close to death.

    “Don’t worry about it.” Clueless said as he wiped Razor clean on the tattered feathers of the dead vrock’s wings. “Just find a spot and stay hidden. They’re beaten, but a few of them are still out there.”

    “Oh.” He said, suddenly looking around for the nearest cover. “Oh dear.”

    “This should be over soon.” Clueless said as he flicked his wings and moved away, back towards the continuing sounds of battle.

    “I hope so.” The sage said as he squeezed between a toppled tent and a cluster of boulders that largely obscured him from sight.

    Jalo Temeric III wasn’t normally such a skittish person, but his close encounter with a disease ridden, flesh devouring demon had changed that. He’d felt its carrion-laced breath on his neck and its claws had probably been seconds away from snatching him up into the sky before one of the camp’s mercenary hirelings had dispatched it. Whatever they were paying those people, it clearly wasn’t enough, and as soon as everything was over and back on track, he’d be telling Highsilver and Leobtav just that.

    Distantly, another fireball erupted and a fiend shrieked in pain, but the sounds of combat were growing both more distant and less frequent by the minute, slowly being replaced by the regular ubiquity of the wind and Jalo’s own slowly relaxed breath. He was safe and it was over.

    “Maybe things won’t turn out so bad.” He sighed, trying to smile.

    A moment later he felt a hand clamp over his mouth and everything went dark.


    ***

  • #1680
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    ***


    He felt as if he were falling, and he felt cold -bitterly cold- if only for a split second. A sudden impact forced the air from his lungs and he gasped for breath as he roughly collapsed on a hard, dirty stone surface.

    Where the hell am I?! was the only coherent thought in his mind as his lungs refilled with air, but he never had the chance to vocalize them either as a rag was roughly forced into his mouth. Still in shock, he barely struggled as he felt a pair of hands grab his arms and begin to tie them together with rope; he also dimly felt a dozen other things pulling at his clothing and legs -cold and inhuman like cold tentacles- constraining his movements as those same hands did their work.

    For a moment after he was fully bound, there was only silence as his captor must have paused and looked down with content satisfaction. But that was soon over and he heard the crunch of leather boots on loose gravel and then the muttered words of a cantrip as a globe of light flickered into being just overheard.

    A small cave. The rock was the same color and consistency of the crag. He hadn’t been moved far at all. No smell on the air, no sign of habitation, and no obvious evidence of the tanar’ri that had just attacked the camp. Who the hell then had…

    Then, without preamble, as simple as that, his captor crouched down in front of him and leaned forwards into the light. It wasn’t a face he’d been expecting.

    “Hello.”

    Jalo’s eyes went wide as his captor whispered a phrase and smiled as magic touched both of their minds, linking them telepathically. Gagged and bound as he was, the sage’s thoughts were of shock and terror.

    They’ll see you missing! They’ll see me missing! They’ll come find me and they’ll stop you! What the f*ck is wrong with you?!

    “No, no they won’t.” His captor said with an incongruously pleasant smile. “They’ll just assume that one of the tanar’ri killed you and dragged your body away to devour. They won’t give it a passing thought, and by the time anyone would even consider raising you from the dead… things will have changed.”

    They’ll suspect you immediately. Walking away during the middle of an attack like that?! They’ll stop you.

    “No they won’t.” He said, chiding softly and clicking his tongue. “You see, I’m not missing at all.”

    What? Confusion crossed the captive’s face even as he continued to struggle.

    A soft hiss of metal on leather cut the silence as the sage inched back against the wall and squealed as his tormentor knelt before him. He expected death to come quickly as the man held up a slender blade, but that would have been merciful. Instead of gutting him then and there, the man smirked… and calmly severed one of his own fingers.

    Not a flinch. No hesitation. No blood.

    Falling to the ground, the severed finger immediately began to melt, dissolving into a slurry of ice, rapidly bleeding away its form and color.

    Simulacrum… His thoughts raced and his heart sank. They wouldn’t miss him at all, because he was probably there in the thick of things, obviously present.

    “And that is why they won’t suspect a thing.”

    He let his words sink in for a long, silent minute, and simply stared at his captive, calmly reading the surface thoughts as they bubbled forth. Desperation and fear were the primary flavors, but as the man looked into his eyes and the yawning void behind those windows into the soul, the little self-contained bubbles of thoughts and emotions shifted like an outgoing tide into sadness, resignation, and memories of home and family.

    Why are you doing this?

    “You aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last.” He answered as he leaned forward and began to inscribe a deft series of symbols into the ground in preparation for the coming ritual. “More of the others will die in the coming days, snuffed in the name of my master as I prepare myself to enact his will in this world. I am not yet worthy of his presence, nor his full gifts.”

    Confusion again mixed with sorrow, and that latter emotion angered him. That sense of sorrow and self-pity was too close a reminder of his own situation, but that would soon end. Perhaps as soon as this next death he would be free of his anchorstone of mortal frailty and morality. There was only one way to determine if it would be so soon, or if others would die for that purpose –as opposed to having entirely meaningless deaths-

    Jalo glanced down at the symbols his captor was so carefully inscribing in the dirt. He recognized some of them: odd versions of abyssal and infernal, or perhaps a root tongue of them both. But there were also letters he couldn’t read. Now that wasn’t to say that he didn’t understand what they meant -Jalo could read a dozen languages- rather it was that his eyes couldn’t focus on the letters themselves. At the core of the fiendish script was a block of text that his mind simply refused to recognize. It was difficult to explain because he saw it, he just couldn’t describe it as anything distinct. It was like trying to describe what your eyes observed when looking over the edge of Sigil’s ring. There were letters and words, but beyond that, nothing more could be said.

    “There is nothing to distract me now. Not for the moment at least.” He finally said, having finished the last of his scribbling in the dirt. “My hesitation, my humanity, my conscience… it will not save you. I am progressing beyond its power you see, becoming what the whisperer says that I must become. It is not enough to wait for the signs.”

    The Whisperer? What was he talking about? Surely the poor fool had gone mad from the plane’s howling winds.

    He chuckled softly and shook his head. “Oh no. No no no. That which calls to me I made my pact with long ago, years before now. It spoke to me in Gehenna, or more specifically, a piece of Hades ripped from its proper place -in every meaning of the word- and deposited there in an exiled solitude of ice and ashes. Pandemonium has nothing to do with this. Pandemonium in only the incidental backdrop to my worship of It.”

    Jalo’s features didn’t change. He still clearly thought that madness had gone to the man’s head, rather than any sort of secret pact with some god or fiend. If it was madness, he could feel pity and he could forgive, even though he was going to die regardless.

    “Keep your pity to yourself.” The man said with knowing contempt. “Believe me or not Jalo, you will see my Lord revealed to you before you die.”

    He smiled down at his captive and whispered an indistinct phrase. To Jalo it still sounded like the ramblings of a madman, and indeed nothing happened at first. A full minute passed and still nothing, but then Jalo realized –as his breath turned to glittered fog- that the temperature had dropped precipitously in a manner of seconds.

    “And now my friend,” His captor said with a coldly welcoming smile. “Listen as it speaks through me.”

    Then, like demons called by a summoner’s hand, the air seethed with movement and the lantern flame guttered and dimmed, touched by an immaterial wind, throwing off dozens of erratic, shifting shadows on the cave’s walls. Fingers and hands of darkness, tendrils of shadow, fangs and teeth as black as the void of Agathys reached for their sacrifice…


    ***


    The camp was a shambles in the aftermath of the tanar’ri attack. Tents and their contents were scattered –two of them burned to cinders by the campfires when they collapsed- , the bodies of four mortals lay in repose, covered by tarps, and many more tanar’ri lay piled together in a bubbling, dissolving mess near the edge of camp. Three more men were still missing, either hiding or carried away by one of the fleeing demons when the tide of combat had turned against them.

    “This is hideous.” One of the sages remarked as he removed a partially eaten body from underneath a fiend’s corpse.

    “And damn this smells.” Frollis said, wincing as he hurled a spade-full of dirt over the slowly dissolving corpse of the vrock, now free of any entangled human remains.

    “Have some respect.” Settys said to the rogue with a pronounced frown.

    “I do you moralizing twit.” Frollis shot back. “I’ve been helping shovel tanar’ri guts for the past hour so it wouldn’t disturb anyone else as it spontaneously caught on fire or belched out insects. If I’d been disrespectful I’d be acting like there wasn’t anything wrong. I’m being surly and practical like I usually am.”

    Settys said nothing and looked away.

    “It could have been a whole hell of a lot worse.” Tristol said as he whispered another cantrip to try to dull the smell and clean up as much of the spattered blood as possible.

    “I’m not entirely sure how.” Another man said with a sigh. He’d lost a friend in the first few moments of the attack. Even though resurrection was a possibility, even the most jaded of men couldn’t stomach the knowledge of the sort of pain a deceased companion went through before they expired.

    “Don’t look despondent yet.” Florian said, with Fyrehowl and Nisha nodding in agreement.

    “I’ve lost men before.” Doran lamented. “But it’s still hard. And this.”
    The elf gestured to the ruined camp. “This was senseless. We’ve made little progress to show for the people who… damnit…”

    As used to picking on the elf as he was, up on his master’s shoulder, Ficklebarb gave him a sympathetic look. “Don’t be so sad Doran. It was really rough in Carceri too, and still, things turned out well in the end. We can clean stuff up, and maybe bring folks back when we’re done? Can we do that?”

    “Usually.” The man who’d lost a comrade remarked. “But not always. Even with magic and even with priests, death isn’t something to trivialize.”

    The comment was as accurate as it was sobering, and wise or not, it cast a momentary pall over them all.

    “As long as we don’t wait too long, and as long as we have something even so small as a fingernail from their pinky finger, we should be able to bring them back.” Nisha chirped.

    All eyes turned to the Xaositect, never previously known as any sort of expert on raising the dead, or clerical magic at all.

    “You know, speaking as a person who never cast a single prayer in her life, even by accident…” She said as the tips of her ears went a shade red. “But I know clerics! Like Florian, and Settys, and maybe Skalliska, and that one frumpy cleric of Tyr who called me a rotten dirty heretic a few years ago. Didn’t get along with her all that well, and she didn’t particularly care for the mural we decided to draw in her chapel, but that’s neither here nor now.”

    She paused. “What was I talking about again?”

    Tristol patted her on the head.

    “It hasn’t been too long right?” Ficklebarb said, like a small child trying to rationalize the death of a pet they’d been told had “joined the circus”. “We can pay a priest to bring them back to life. They didn’t get turned to stone, or turned into zombies, or anything like that. It’s not too late is it?”

    Leobtav rubbed the pseudodragon’s head. “We’ll do everything we can. And with Florian and Settys here, we can do it even before we have camp put back together.”

    “Really?” Ficklebarb lifted his head up and turned a smile in the two clerics’ direction.

    All said, the tiny drake seemed pretty torn up by having watched the worst of the attack as it happened, and he looked physically drained by it all: his wingtips drooped ever so slightly, his eyes were a bit rheumy, and his tail a little less active than it had been before the attack.

    “We’ll do our best.” Florian said. “I promise.”


    ****


    Twenty minutes later, they had the least damaged body laid on a table in one of the repaired tents. A sheet covered most of the corpse to prevent any of the obvious wounds from showing, but the face was visible and with the mouth opened and eyes pressed shut, they almost looked as if they were sleeping.

    Settys dabbed a stylus in a small vial of ink and delicately painted the elaborate pictograms of his religion across the corpse’s forehead, writing their name within a cartouche and invoking the names of Anubis, Osiris, Nephthys, and Thoth in calling their soul back from the light of Heliopolis.

    The cleric/paladin lit incense and whispered a prayer as he proceeded through each stage of the ritual, calling the dead man’s name and asking each of his pantheon’s gods to shepherd the soul back to a restored physical body, watching over the man’s spirit as it made its journey back to the flesh. The ritual was elaborate, precise, and respectful, but as he spoke the last words of the prayer and closed the corpse’s mouth as the spirit should have made its way back into the body, absolutely nothing happened.

    Settys sighed and looked away as Florian gave him a confused look.

    “What happened?” She asked, perplexed that he hadn’t been able to bring the man back to life. The damage to the corpse was heavy –they’d been almost completely disemboweled- but it was entirely mundane rather than magical.

    “Their manner of death seems to preclude my ability.” Settys lamented. “That, or they refused to return.”

    Ficklebarb frowned and a tear whelmed up in one of his eyes.

    “Would you please attempt Florian?” Settys asked as he stepped to one side, giving the tiny pseudodragon a look of sympathy. “You’re capable of channeling your deity on a stronger level than I am. You might succeed where I failed.”

    “Please try?” Ficklebarb asked. “Please?”

    She couldn’t say no to that, and on another level entirely she had good reason to try on her own as well. But those questions were rapidly pushed to the back of her mind as she nodded and prepared to enact her own ritual of casting.

    “I’ll do my best Ficklebarb.” She said, smiling at him.

    At the conclusion of her own ritual, Florian felt the spark of divine magic flow through her body, invoked by her prayers to Tempus. She felt it flow into the corpse and as it always was, she waited for the body to become whole and the man to open his eyes. She felt it enter the corpse, but it was like pouring water down a drain. The deific blessing simply vanished, wasted and gone without having taken effect. Sometimes the lower planes or a corpse’s manner of death precluded a simple spell to raise the dead, but she had enough experience to know when that was the case, or when a dead man’s soul simply refused to return. Neither of those was the case at present though, and what she felt –or didn’t feel- sent a chill down her spine.

    Settys looked at the corpse and then to her.

    “We might not be able to bring them back till we’re no longer in Pandemonium.” Florian said, lying about what had actually happened. “It’s going to take a more powerful priest. But for the moment, we can keep the bodies in repose and safe from decomposition.”

    Ficklebarb sniffled, but seemed to understand that all would be better once they left the plane. He didn’t catch her lie, nor her extreme worry at what had actually happened.

    “Inepwt preserve.” Settys whispered reverently, passing a hand over the dead man’s eyes and closing their lids.

    Florian looked at the other cleric and looked at him hard. His prayers had been genuine, the words inflected properly, and his gestures appropriate for what she knew of the Egyptian priesthood, but his spell had never manifested. Like a farmer performing an archmage’s gestures and words, expecting to invoke a meteor shower, he’d faithfully aped the magic, but there hadn’t been any power invoked by his actions. What the hell? She wasn’t sure what to make of it, and as she thought about it, she hadn’t actually seen Settys cast a single spell that wasn’t invoked from an item since they’d been in Pandemonium. Combined with the grotesque failure of her own magic, it wasn’t the time to ask, or say anything in public, but she’d be damn sure to keep her eyes on him.


    ****

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