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Aphonion: Journals of a Licensed Diabolist (Sat. and Wed. updates, last 9/3, 9/10)

This storyhour is set in the same world as "Aphonion Tales," but this party adventures on a different continent. The storyhour is first-person and biased. It focuses on my character in the game and his actions and reactions, without trying to fairly describe the actions of the other characters. I do add occasional editorial comments in square brackets, either because I think they will amuse or to clarify the storyhour. I'll also occasionally add sidebars to explain background information that the narrator assumes. The storyhour is also fairly dark and includes mature content; while the narrator is still LN, I suspect that the story will eventually be of his fall into evil, although what brand of evil is unclear. But then, that's usually the fate of diabolists.

Setting copyright the DM, 1975-2008. Storyhour copyright the author, 2006-2008.

The Journals of Konrad Jagger, Licensed Diabolist

The regulations of the Holy Temple of Paranswarm, Lord of Orderly Darkness, may He bless us with a place in His Order for the world, require that all licensed diabolists make regular reports to the Society of the Hands of Hell and to the priesthood. I have been unable to report to either since the fall of my homeland of Caldefor, some seven years previous. I would present myself for examination, but I do not know where any representatives of the SHH are in the aftermath of the intaking, nor where I could find a priest of the Orderly Darkness in these lands dominated by the followers of Glor’diadel. Without any better recourse, I keep this journal, that I may record my service to the Orderly Darkness and the service to which I put the fiendish servitors of Lord Paranswarm that I summon from the Hells. I hope that the Temple will find this record sufficient when I can submit to proper supervision once more. If not, I shall accept any punishment that the Temple decrees, for any failure must be mine alone.

My last orders were to defend the lands of Caldefor against the Shadow that surged against them. We failed, and Caldefor fell to the Shadow. Indeed, even now it is passing through the Shadow into the Abyss itself. But our orders to defend the land remain, and so I serve with the Eighth Auxiliary Brigade in our effort to restore Caldefor to the Darkness of Lord Paranswarm. My companions in the Eighth are: Buzz and Spring, two xephs; Twang, a kobold; Toby McGillicutty, a most disordered man, so depraved as to follow Whimsey, and yet we must treat him as an ally for now; Lady Gerda von Hollinghoff, from one of the noble families of Caldefor; Kenshir, a retainer of her family’s and a man of many skills [so many that his character changed about three times over the course of the first two sessions]; Cilorean Leafbower, an elf; Stumm, a human man in dark armor who has spent much time in Shadow, but who is also a priest of the Holy Temple; Durak, a young man who has some training from the mighty Hasturs; and Ulrich Lars, a young human man who is more of a peddler than a soldier, complete with a large wagon filled with supplies. What’s more, nearly half of our number were already dead by this date. Spring, Lady Gerda, Cilorean, and Durak were all ghosts, still active on our plane thanks to the strange magics in the lands that border Shadow.

Our officer, 3rd Lieutenant Hedwig von Brief called us together for a briefing before dispatching us on a mission. Stumm was newly returned from three years spent within the Shadowlands. He began to report, but when he realized how much of our unit was now undead, he kept his own council. The Lieutenant commended him for his return and welcomed him back. I rejoiced as well, because Stumm would be able to confess me after so many years without the Sacraments. And if he judged it too dangerous to talk freely of what he had learned, that was his right as a priest, for the Temple must often keep knowledge secret when it would be too dangerous to share. Several ranking officers suggested that he should be put in skin, soon. Stumm demurred from this suggestion, and again, who was to doubt the judgment of a priest in matters of purity? I am not one to claim the duties of the Inquisition for myself.

Lieutenant von Brief called us over to meet with an individual who had intelligence that could lead to an important mission. The source of this intelligence was a strange dwarf wizard. He called himself Lankman. While he had several companions, perhaps the oddest thing about him was his enormous staff, which would periodically speak, but as a baby, saying things like “goo” and “ga.” I made the sign of the Downward Arrow to protect me from any chaos that might be associated with him. Still, his information was most interesting, at least if it were true: he had heard reports that one of the fallen Hastur towers, the former Circle Greenfield, still had an intact “matrix screen.” I am not certain precisely what a matrix screen is, but I am confident that it is related to the mighty psionic devices that the Hastur use to augment their own considerable power. The Hastur, of course, maintain the Shadowline, containing the Shadow and repulsing its troops when they venture forth. Circle Greenfield would be part of the old Shadowline that had protected Caldefor, before its fall. He wished us to investigate, find out what was living near the tower, and report back. Actually recovering the matrix would likely be beyond our abilities, he thought. Circle Greenfield lies on the far side of Caldefor, fourteen days ride through Shadow. He promised to meet us at Circle Woebegone. [Where the elves have high Con, the dwarves have high Cha, and all the psions are of above-average power.]

The Lieutenant indicated that we should take this as orders, but that he would not be accompanying us. Some of the more disorderly members of the unit thought that we should simply proceed without any sort of command structure at all, but those of us who are loyal to the Holy Faith knew that that was madness. Without order, our expedition would be doomed. And the priests always told me that I should follow the orders of my superiors and not try to make decisions on my own, except about technical matters. How could I follow that instruction without a clear commander in the field? There was some discussion of making Stumm our officer, as he was a priest and thus suited to leadership, but some people resisted this, for reasons I do not fully understand, although I think they may have wanted to ensure his command responsibilities did not interfere with his sacred duties. The possibility that Lady Gerda should lead us was also broached, for she was a noble, but she was adamantly opposed: she wanted an officer to follow, but was more of a knight champion than a noble commander herself. Finally, Lieutenant von Brief appointed Cilorean as sergeant and second in command of our unit, with Stumm as a sergeant-chaplain, with the same rank but different duties. We also went to Tower Watershore, the local Hastur tower, to requisition a ten-gallon cask of skin, in case our wounds in the Shadowlands required it. There was again some discussion of healing Sergeant-Chaplain Stumm, but he assured us that we should save the skin for when it was more desperately needed.
 
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Interesting start, CP. I've been enjoying Aphonion Tales very much, so I shall keep an eye on this story as well (so even less time devoted to actually working ... :\ )
 

Thanks HOHB.

A couple of quick encounters ahead.
----
With our preparations completed, we crossed over from Tarkenia into Shadow. For three centuries, Shadow surrounded Caldefor on three sides. The land was mountainous and rocky, less fertile and with a lower population than the other realms that bounded the Shadowlands. But still, it was alive, with plants and animals, crops and villages. Now, Caldefor is a dusty wasteland. We saw the occasional small white plant with red berries, although none of us recognized it, but otherwise, no vegetation was left. And so we rode on.

The first day passed without incident. In the first night, however, a patrol approached us. The patrol consisted of five figures, each mounted on a nightmare, with four wearing partial plate and the fifth wearing full plate with embedded crystals. We recognized them as death knights, probably members of the Grand Count of Caldefor’s court, now that the Grand Count has turned apostate and entered the service of the Shadow, willingly betraying his country. They hailed us in the name of Urlodo and the Count of Caldefor. We posed as loyal servants of Caldefor, as indeed we were and they were not. They asked why we were still so close to the Shadowline, now that the assault was over. They had only participated because Gnnnst, one of the six great servants of Borsh’tro, had forced them to. They ordered us to return to the nearest fortification, where a black dragon has assumed command. They then rode off.

The second day also passed uneventfully, but we were attacked during the first watch of that night. Yellow eums burrowed beneath our camp and attacked, trying to pull Sgt. Cilorean under ground, where they would surely have eaten him or worse. The yellow eum are foul beasts, about four foot tall and with mangy yellow fur and a long tail, wearing only a belt. They can be quite difficult to fight-- while they are not very powerful, their burrowing tactics make them dangerous foes. But we were able to keep the Sergeant on the surface, and kill enough of the eums to drive the remainder away.

During the third day of travel, a spirit looked us over and spoke to Spring, mistaking him for an undead servant of Shadow. The spirit asked him where he had found such a plump group and asked if he was taking us to the dragon or to the Spider Mistress in the fortifications. Spring said that we were a gift for the dragon and asked the spirit its mission. It said that it was sent to scout the border on behalf of one of the great death knights.

We continued to encounter forces of Shadow. In the fourth day, we met a group of emaciated humans, with spears and partial armor. They identified themselves as true born. The true born are one of three pure human tribes maintained by the masters of Shadow. The true born are the largest of the three tribes, and in Caldefor, but they are weak. They are more than slaves, but only barely. We bullied them for more information, and they said that they bring word to the dragon, and that they were loyal. We also learned that the great monk who serves the Count has come forth from her lair to command one of the fortifications. We thanked them and sent them on their way. It pained me to allow forces of Shadow to leave when we could surely have bested them, but the sergeants said that it would be too dangerous as it might draw attention to our mission. I obeyed their orders.

That night, a column of black eum-- the reptilian, almost draconic, eum servitors of Gnnnst-- passed by our camp. They were not a large group, but were taller than the yellow eums and moving as a disciplined unit. Again, we let them pass, for the black eum are one of the most advanced armies in the service of the Shadow.

[During the fifth day, a voice on the wind taunted Stumm, saying that he was the only one loyal to Caldefor. He lost some sanity to the experience, but the rest of us did not know about it.]
 

The following night, we heard chanting on the far side of a hill that neighbored our camp site. We went to investigate and saw a human man holding a small boy of perhaps five years on a makeshift altar. He dedicated the boy to Tarama of the Quenching Flames, one of the Six, who he described as mistress of all she surveys. At that point, he noticed us and asked whether we wished to join in the ceremony. Spring said that we did not, lying that we served Gnnnst. While he kept the foul priest’s attention, Sergeant-Chaplain Stumm closed and then bashed the priest with his mace. At that, we all joined the attack, and I summoned a lemure and some infernal rats to aid the battle. The heathen priest was quickly hacked to pieces, and my lemure chewed on his corpse before returning to the Hells. Thanks be to Paranswarm for granting us victory.

We took the boy with us, although he caused some further consternation within the Brigade. The Sergeant-Chaplain and the faithful among us sought to lead him into the Blessed Darkness, but some of the other members of the group were resolutely opposed to his salvation. In other times, we might have been forced to defend the Faith against those spreaders of chaos, but under the circumstances, we dared not fight amongst ourselves. The Sergeant-Chaplain reassured me that the manifest truth of Paranswarm would surely bring the boy, called Quickstep, into the Darkness. We also located a magic ring on the priest’s corpse. There was some dispute over that as well, but Sergeant Cilorean finally claimed it by right of his rank, and then gave it to Spring to use, who in turn gave it to Buzz.

On the sixth day, we briefly encountered a quasit. I think that it sought to become Twang’s familiar, but the kobold knew that consorting with demons, even least demons such as quasits, could damn his soul. So he sent it away from his presence. [Actually, Konrad was completely deceived here. Twang bound the quasit, named Snaggletooth, into service, but then ordered it telepathically to remain invisible at all times so the rest of them would not realize it was there. The group was completely unaware of this.]

After dealing with the quasit, there were no further matters of import until the morning of the eleventh day of our travels. Another group of black eums, this time a squad of five, approached us. They warned us not to interfere with the maneuvers ahead, where troops have been brought in to strengthen the line. They also told us that there had been at least two dozen probing attacks launched across the Shadowline. We thanked them and continued on.

As we continued our travels, we saw for ourselves that there are demons active in Caldefor. A small form flew high above us, circling and watching, during the night following the twelfth day of our travels. Quickstep clearly recognized it, and while he was reticent, repeated questioning finally produced results and we were able to confirm that it was a chasme, one of the foul fly demons. I would not mind the chance to try my devils against a demon, but the chasme simply watched, and the Sergeant ordered that we not take any steps to draw its ire. After some time of circling, it flew off.
 

Finally, on the fourteenth day we approached the immediate surroundings of the lost Hastur tower. Before we reached the tower itself, a group of the ratmen approached us. Three enormous, but not fat, rats led their group, sniffing and scrabbling at the dust. Shortly behind the rats came two extraordinarily large ratmen, each nearly ten feet tall, and then finally a human-sized ratmen. All of the ratmen were in brown and green, which I assume but do not know is a sign of tribe or allegiance or so forth. The human-sized ratman appeared to be in charge and wore a group of tools hanging from its belt. It asked if we were here to join the army that was assembling, and when we said that we were, it ordered us to go straight to the intake point and report to the tanarii that was in charge there. We privately resolved to stay far away from the intake point; a powerful tanarii might see through our lies, and that could be disastrous for the mission. Still, we headed in the direction the ratman indicated until we were out of sight and then began surreptitiously approaching the encampment.

Twang demonstrated that his sorcerous abilities were not limited to magic missiles and cast a scrying spell to study the encampment and the tower more closely. [Actually, that’s only what Twang claimed to do. In truth, he sent his quasit familiar forward as an invisible scout, asking it to report back on what it saw via telepathy.] In its inarticulate way, the kobold reported that two to three thousand soldiers surrounded the tower in an encampment. The soldiers were not particularly guarding the tower, however. They were camped as if ready to move out. Twang said that there was a route that would take us to the tower without approaching many of the troops, and the soldiers left an empty ring immediately around the tower. We resolved to send a scouting group forward to investigate the tower.

[End of session 1]

While we prepared our scouts, we saw two vrocks, the mighty vulture demons, flying north out of the enemy encampment. Fortunately, they did not spot us. Someday, if it be Paranswarm’s will, I may be able to summon devils that are sufficiently powerful to defeat vrocks, but I fear that they would have killed us all if they had seen us and attacked. Still, to be safe we waited some time after they passed before our scouts headed out.

Our scouting party consisted of Lady Gerda, Kenshir, and Siggus. [We had a somewhat different party for the second session. Stumm, Buzz, Spring, Twang, Toby, and Ulrich were not present, while Siggus, a male human rogue, joined us. Also, Kenshir was rebuilt as a monk-ranger.] As I did not accompany them, I cannot vouch for their account of what happened while they were scouting. Nonetheless, I will set out what they reported.

There was no army presence at all to the south of the tower. However, traveling too far south to skirt the army would have been as dangerous as passing through the army, because the tower had formed part of the old Shadowline, before the fall of Caldefor. Beyond that line, most of the land was Deep Shadow, the region of the Shadowlands where the top twenty planes of the abyss overlap with the Shadowland. Passing through Deep Shadow to reach the tower would have run the risk of being lost in the Abyss forever.

Our scouts sneaked forward, with Lady Gerda concealing herself by simply phasing through the ground itself, while Kenshir and Siggus relied on their extensive training in stealth. They passed through the old village that had surrounded the tower; some of the buildings were occupied, but the cover the buildings provided allowed them to pass through unobserved. With some care, they reached the tower itself.

The gate to the tower had been forced open, but there were neither guards outside nor indications that the forces of Shadow were within. There was a musky smell, which Kenshir interpreted as indicating the presence of an animal within. With a great deal of care, they edged through the gate and began moving up the stairs. If the matrix screen were in tact, it would be at one of the top rooms of the tower. They ignored the doors to the kitchen and proceeded upwards.
 

Suddenly, a large cat with tentacles sprouting from its back leapt onto the stairs in front of them, hissing and blocking their path. Siggus guessed that it must be a creature of Shadow, and tried to reassure it in Shadowspeak and Abyssal. This had the opposite of the effect that they expected, as the cat unleashed a psionic blast. Fortunately, none of them were knocked unconscious by the blast of energy. With no choice, the scouting party attacked. Kenshir quickly pinned the cat while the others pummeled it until it suddenly stopped moving and dissolved into a cloud of crystalline dust.

As it dissolved, the tower lit up, with the walls themselves glowing. Our scouts decided to flee, but a portcullis dropped across the main gate as they headed for it, trapping them within, and they heard a voice inside their heads: << Creatures of shadow: Though my masters are long gone, I know your tongue.>>

That the tower began to glow is the first piece of their description that I can verify personally. At approximately the time that they could be expected to have reached the tower, a spider web of light crawled up the surface of the tower. The entire army began moving back, away from the tower, in response, unfortunately moving them closer to us.

Returning to our scouts’ account: they apologized profusely and said that they were not creatures of Shadow, but had assumed that the cat was. The tower instructed them to “advance to the chamber of the Specularum” so that it could perceive them more directly. They proceeded up the staircase to a large chamber, occupying an entire floor of the tower, near the very top. An enormous mirror faced out towards what had been the Shadowline, with a huge array of crystals directly in front of it. When they arrived, they heard the voice in their heads again, stating that it was the matrix of the tower and still guarded the tower, despite the fall of the surrounding lands and the army of Shadow watching the tower.

Our scouts assured the matrix that we still fought to free Caldefor from the Shadow and that help was coming for the matrix. They reported that the matrix was pleased by this. They also said that the matrix told them that if it had someone with the Gift, it could draw on the tower’s reservoir of power to destroy the surrounding army and preserve an area for the light, which would keep it safe until someone arrived who could move it. Lady Gerda volunteered that we had a wagon, and the matrix said that then we could move it after it eliminated the army. The tower then used its power to confer invisibility on our scouts. Again, I can confirm that when they returned to us the scouts were invisible, although I only have their word for the rest of the description.
 

Sergeant Cilorean resolved to travel to the tower, and Lady Gerda agreed to escort him so that the matrix would recognize him as an ally. As they made their way through the army towards the tower, a voice spoke to their minds, identifying itself as the commander of the second unit. It ordered them to accompany a large dog-headed demon--a glabrezou, I should say, based on their description--to investigate the tower and find out why it was active. As this gave them an excuse to continue towards their destination, they did not object. When they were within a quarter-mile of the tower, it rendered them invisible, convincing the glabrezou that they had been destroyed, and leading it to turn back and report. The Sergeant and Lady Gerda were thus able to make their way to the tower unmolested.

When they reached the tower, they made their way up to the Specularum, where Sergeant Cilorean activated the matrix’s weaponry. An enormous amount of psionic energy coursed through the Sergeant, devastating the army with a tremendous blast of psionic energy that began with the right-most edge of the army and worked its way across to the left. Perhaps a quarter of the army survived by fleeing, mostly from the left flank; the rest were utterly destroyed. Although I must rely on Lady Gerda’s description of the Sergeant’s participation, I can confirm the effects. I saw with my own eyes the destruction of the enemy.

With the army destroyed or scattered, we hurried up to the tower, moving Ulrich’s wagon with us. As we entered the Specularum room, the matrix broke its connection to the reservoir of power, which poured out into the surrounding lands and caused them to bloom again, for the first time in seven years. I can only pray that someday Lord Paranswarm will see fit to restore all of Caldefor that way. We moved the matrix onto the wagon, along with Sergeant Cilorean, who had been battered into unconsciousness by channeling far more energy than his training could handle. But he was not dead, or, rather, was not any more dead than he had been before hand, and slowly began healing, with additional aid from Durak. The matrix also informed us of a stock of clingfire. We could not allow that to fall into enemy hands, but transporting it raised tremendous dangers. So we loaded it onto my warhorse and led the horse by a long tether, leaving it nearly one hundred yards behind us.

Our return trip began smoothly. We did not see anything of note until the second night of our travels away from the tower, and even then, while we saw a large body of black eum marching, they either did not notice our group or considered us too insignificant to investigate. We had a more substantial interaction with the forces of Shadow on the fourth night of our travels-- a skeletal figure flew up to us on a skeletal wyvern and commanded us to report on what had happened at the tower in the name of Tarama, one of the Six. Lady Gerda and I were on watch at the time, so we replied that the tower had activated and destroyed most of the army. We also told the rider that if they hurried an army there, the tower’s defenses would be lower and it could easily be destroyed. Because we had removed all that was of value at the tower, any resources we could draw off to investigate or even assault the tower would be resources that would not be spent threatening us, the rest of the resistance, or our allies over the Shadowline. But the rider simply thanked us, informing Lady Gerda and me that it would remember and reward us, and winged away.
 

The following day, Kenshir, our lead scout, called us to a sudden halt. An intense rain of acid had fallen to the ground, not more than perhaps fifty feet ahead of his position, and the rain was accompanied by the sound of tremendous roaring in the sky. We searched the sky and spotted a most curious conflict: a tremendously powerful bronze dragon was battling a much smaller black dragon. The bronze dragon would clearly win, as it was a wyrm, whereas the black was only an adult or so. We discussed it for a moment and concluded that the only sensible explanation was that the bronze was on its death flight: many dragons, as they near the ends of their lives, fly on a protracted assault against their enemies, seeking to kill as many as possible before finally being defeated. The Sergeant, who had regained consciousness while we traveled, decided that we should aid the bronze however we could. It would win this fight, but if we could conserve its resources, it might destroy yet more of the Shadow forces. He channeled energy from the matrix to heal the bronze, while I summoned some creatures to harry the black. The dragon took much healing, leaving the matrix completely unpowered. Though it could be recharged, we would not be able to call on it for our defense for the rest of the trip. The infernals I summoned could barely harm the black, but they did serve as flankers, distracting it and making the bronze’s task that much easier. With our assistance, the bronze quickly finished its foe and landed before us, only lightly injured but clearly old and tired.

The bronze thanked us for our assistance and asked who we were and what our purpose was. We described our holy mission to save Caldefor. The dragon approved and asked if we had any intelligence that might guide its flight. After some discussion, we informed it of the black dragon that we had been told commands some of the fortifications of Caldefor held by the Shadow army. The bronze seemed almost covetous as it though about the possibility of destroying a draconic commander of the enemy forces. To aid it in its mission, we offered it the supply of clingfire that we had taken from the tower. We were unlikely to be able to use it, and even transporting it raised a risk of disaster for us. It happily agreed-- the clingfire would be tremendously helpful in driving the black out of its defenses, and likely destroying many of its minions as well. We carefully unbuckled the harness, and the bronze delicately lifted all of my equipage off my steed’s back. It would not need the saddle, but sorting out the saddlebags with the clingfire would be more effort than it was worth. I believe the experience of having a dragon lift the saddle off with its claws scared several years out of my horse’s life, but it is a beast, made to serve us as we are made to serve Lord Paranswarm. Had the dragon needed to lift up the entire horse, it would have been a worthy sacrifice. With a last word of thanks, the dragon glided away towards its glorious death.
 

Several more days passed without event. Towards the middle of the ninth day, my horse bolted from the rear of the group as a pack of skeletal wolves attacked us. The battle was long and fierce, less because they threatened us badly, although a few of us had close calls, but because they viewed the pack horse pulling the cart as a juicy morsel. If they had succeeded in killing it, or even hamstringing it beyond our ability to heal, we would face the unenviable prospect of being stranded far behind enemy lines with a phenomenally valuable asset that we could not move without the wagon. Even if we could still move the cart, we would have been slowed, perhaps fatally, and abandoning the matrix would not have born considering. Finally, we triumphed over the last wolf. The horses were injured, but we were able to heal them and continue on. [Several additional players rejoined us during this encounter, including the players of Twang, Buzz, and Spring. At some point, Stiggus may have needed to leave early, but my notes aren’t clear. This was also the point where Twang had a telepathic conversation with Snaggletooth, his quasit, that led up to him sending it away. While the quasit was a tremendously useful familiar, Twang decided that the risk that his companions would kill him if they knew about the small demon was too great.]

That night, an emaciated prairie dog began approaching our camp. Lady Gerda smiled at the forlorn creature, and suggested that it might make a pet for Quickstep, the young boy we carried in the wagon with the matrix. It was a clever thought, and might have drawn Quickstep towards those of us who sought to convert him to the true Faith, because Lady Gerda is loyal to the Lord of Darkness. But we failed to plan around the kobold: when he saw the dog approaching our camp, Twang’s eyes lit up, and he quickly dispatched the poor beast with a magic missile. He did not even use our small fire, but ran forward and began chewing on its still warm body raw. Despite his small size, Twang completely devoured the dog, while the rest of us looked on in distaste and horror.

We continued on through the dusty, desolate land that had once been our home. On the morning of the eleventh day of our return trip, we passed near some of the Shadow’s major fortifications. To our delight, a tall column of smoke climbed into the sky from the fortress. The bronze had clearly put our clingfire to good use, although we did not investigate more closely to see how badly it had damaged the fortress.
 

After nightfall, as we began to rein in our horses to make camp, another pack of those accursed skeletal wolves assaulted us. This time, there were five of the creatures, and again they posed a substantial threat, although I would say that we would have prevailed unaided. While my companions battled them with sword and spell, I summoned servants from the Hells of Lord Paranswarm to engage the undead. Moments after my lemure arrived and I ordered it into battle, however, there was a clap of displaced air as another devil appeared. She was perhaps six feet tall and looked for the most part like an extraordinarily beautiful human woman, with tiny horns, red eyes, leathery bat-like wings on her back, and a pointed tail. She appeared to be naked, but with wisps of smoke concealing just enough of her body to make her even more alluring than if she were completely revealed. I knew at once from looking at her that she was an erinyes and that she must have noticed me summoning a much lesser servitor of Lord Paranswarm and come to investigate.

[What’s that you say? Black leathery wings sounds more like a succubus than an erinyes, since erinyes typically have feathered wings? And wouldn’t it make more sense for a demon to notice the summoning of a devil in the Shadowlands than a devil? Well, yes. Let this be a lesson about tactics in games with critical failures: When you as a player have figured something out already, asking for a Knowledge check to confirm is a dubious choice, since you have a 5% chance of disaster.]

The erinyes turned to address me, and I dropped to my knees out of respect for her lofty status. I should have bowed my head and averted my eyes, as well, but I must confess that I could not stop myself from sneaking glances at her perfect form. I asked, “How may I serve you, my lady?”

In a mellifluous voice with a certain hardness to it that suggested anger, she said, “Don’t you think it is a little disrespectful to summon a devil here?”

“No, my lady,” I replied. “I have a license!”

“Indeed? Show me.”

I drew forth the parchment with the seal of the Bishop and the Master of the Society of the Hands of Hell who had approved me as a diabolist. “You see, my lady? I am fully authorized to summon devils and other infernal creatures throughout Caldefor and its neighboring lands.”

She looked over my license and nodded. “I see. Most interesting--I had not known that the SHH were active in Caldefor.” She paused from our conversation and blasted the remaining two skeletal wolves out of existence with a wave of her hand. “Thank you, Konrad, for your cooperation. You may go about your business. I will contact you shortly.”

“Thank you, my lady. I eagerly await the day and hope that I may be of service.”

The erinyes smiled at that last and disappeared in a renewed blast of smoke. As she had destroyed the last of our foes, I dismissed my remaining servitors, and we made camp.
 

Finally, towards the end of the fourteenth day, we drew within sight of the shadowline. A mounted force angled to intercept us, closing from deeper in Shadow. We waited for them to close before taking any action, as we could not be sure at first whether they were friends or foes, this close to the border. As they drew nearer, we could see that their banner bore the rayed sun of Glor’diadel, and that there were eight horsemen with an officer, along with one prisoner. Spring hurried forward and greeted them, explaining that they were allies. They warned us to hurry across the shadowline, as a large body of black eum were in pursuit. We hurried as much as we could, with the cavalry forming a guard around the wagon when they learned what it contained. Spring flew up to see if she could see the eum. She quickly returned and reported that there were about 120 black eum approaching us. We made the best time we could, although we could see them nearing us as we tried to hurry to the shadowline. We slipped across the border just before they arrived, although they continued their pursuit. As they reached the line, however, an elven maiden teleported in, high above us, and began hurling needfire at them to drive them back. They were far too weak to stand against one of the Hastur, especially one bolstered by the power of the shadowline itself, and quickly broke and ran.

Safely back in the lands of Tarkenia, we quickly made our way to Tower Woebegone. The Hastur of that tower reverently lifted the matrix with their minds and moved it into their tower. Caldefor may still be in Shadow, but we had struck a mighty blow, and will bring it back into the Darkness soon enough.

[End of Session 2-- sessions 1 and 2 were different days of the same weekend. Session 3 was a year later.]
 

[Session 3]

[I joined this session late, so I only have basic information about our travel into the Shadowlands. The party consisted of Spring, Durak, and Cilorean, with Konrad joining partway through. The party was given two ounces of bone water dust, an extremely powerful dessicant that kills almost instantly. The Hasturs make it a grain at a time, using the resources of entire circles, so the amount we were given represented a substantial investment of psionic resources in our group. We were also given a barrel of skin, in case we needed it. Our mission was to head across Caldefor to one of the dragonholds that the Shadow uses to secure its side of the Shadowline and to use the bone water dust to destroy the army at the dragonhold. By the time I got to this session, we had reached the dragonhold and were hiding in a rope trick, while Spring scouted the enemy army (using his undead status as cover.) We had previously learned of a lord named Bastion, who held a manor near the coast of Caldefor. Lord Bastion was a vampire who had served the Grand Count of Caldefor before the invasion and continued to serve the Grand Count as a minion of Shadow after the invasion.]

As we peered out at the enemy army, we saw a wide range of different troops. There were a large number of eums; many undead--mostly unintelligent, but with a handful of free-willed undead as leaders; many demons, ranging from the relatively insignificant rutterkin up to some powerful demons; a host of trueborn, although fewer of them than the other major components of the army; and a tribe of goblyns, although they were camped up on a nearby hill instead of with the army proper. And, of course, there were the dragon caves: six great caves leading into the face of the hill. Taken as a whole, the army would be far beyond our capabilities if we did not have the bone water dust.

After an extended period scouting, Spring returned to the rope trick and reported to Sergeant Cilorean. He had been within the dragon caves themselves. While six black dragons, including a wyrm, made their lairs within the complex, only one dragon was currently present. She seemed to be a scholarly sort, more interested in studying her scrolls than in leading the army. The dragon was also freakishly meticulous--a trait all the more unusual in a servitor of chaos. Moreover, while the absence of the wyrm lowered the value of our target, it greatly increased our likelihood of success. Spring also reported that the dragon caves contained a black eum with strange silver tracery on its chest. That eum spotted him and had almost created a serious problem, although ultimately it did not.

I explained based on my studies that the black eum was probably one of the eums with a direct connection to Gnnnnst. Most such eums are powerful witchdoctors. He would certainly be another threat for us to watch.
 

Spring also reported that before he returned to the rope trick, he did some more investigation to determine where the commander of the army was. He spoke to one of the free-willed undead and said that he had a report for the commander and needed to know where the commander’s tent was. The undead gestured towards one of the large tents within the camp and said that Spring should take the report to the commander immediately, as the commander jealously guards information and would allow no one else in the army to learn of its contents, even if they would have been able to use the information better. The undead muttered a little about how the new commander was not up to the standard set by his predecessor; based on some of the things he said, we concluded that the previous commander had probably been a marilith, while the new commander was a glabrezou. Spring lied, saying that he still needed to finish up the last details of his report but wanted to know where he should bring it when he was done. He promised that he would hurry with the report to the commander when it was done.

With this additional information, we were able to develop a plan. Both Spring and I quickly hit on the same plan, with minor variations: if we delivered an “arcane document” to the commander at the same time as we reported to the dragon that the commander was keeping it a secret, we might be able to maneuver them into outright conflict. Even if they kept their cool, it would almost certainly draw the dragon to the same area as the glabrezou commander, which would allow us to destroy both with a single dose of the bone water dust. Sergeant Cilorean approved the plan and ordered us to execute it.

I quickly constructed a document that would seem, at first glance, to contain magical writings. I mixed languages freely, using Common, Infernal, and Abyssal words, and recorded everything in a cipher that would require work to deconstruct before the actual text could be understood, without concealing the diagrams that I drew to suggest extraplanar magic. I carefully drafted it to appear to involve advanced magic, without actually including anything of actual value. In the hands of a mage with skills equal to or superior to my own, it would not take long to conclude that it was gibberish. But to a cursory examination, or to a novice or a well-informed individual without true magical training, it would appear to be an unusual, possibly important magical text.

Spring tucked the text under his arm and descended from the rope trick, planning on sending a goblyn whose acquaintance he had made to speak with the dragon while he brought the text to the glabrezou. The commander had other ideas, however. As Spring dropped out of the rope trick, one of the trueborn awaited him.

We all listened carefully as the trueborn informed Spring that he had orders from the general to escort Spring directly to the command pavilion. Spring tried to talk his way out of it, saying that he needed to take care of something first, but the trueborn was insistent. We gestured for Spring to go with the trueborn relying on the fact that the trueborn was focusing on Spring while Spring looked at us. And so, reluctantly, Spring accompanied the trueborn, without having delivered news of his bait to the dragon.
 

Sergeant Cilorean and I discussed how we might best deliver the message to the dragon. It would be unduly dangerous for either of us to deliver the message directly-- that might reveal the entire subterfuge. I considered sending one of my summoned creatures, but they would return to Lord Paranswarm’s Hells too quickly, before they could accomplish their task. Finally, we settled on sending a message via one of the free-willed undead, although not a powerful one. I would approach one in a shroud of undeath, using the scroll that I had been equipped with to assist in our infiltration. If I could, I would simply persuade the undead to deliver the message. If that failed, I would use command undead on one of the mindless undead, who cannot resist that spell, and deliver the message that way.

I approached a ghoul, which fawned and gibbered disgustingly as I addressed it. I informed the foul creature that “our masters” among the higher undead had discovered useful intelligence that we believed could gain the favor of the dragon. I handed the ghoul a note--very carefully, to avoid any risk of paralysis and the discovery that would bring--and instructed it to deliver the note to the dragon. The note stated simply, in both Common and Abyssal to be sure the message would be understood, “Powerful arcane writings have been brought to the demonic commander. He does not intend to share the writings with you, despite your greater mastery of the arcane.”

I returned to the rope trick and therefore have to rely on Spring’s subsequent reports and conjecture for what happened next. When we were safely reunited, Spring reported that he was escorted directly to the command tent. The commander himself, a glabrezou referred to as “General Asbog,” questioned Spring about the intelligence he had gained in infiltrating forces on the other side of the Shadowline. The commander apparently spoke disparagingly of independent freelancers and asked Spring who hired him. When Spring said he did not know her name, the general described a marilith. Spring agreed that was the demon who recruited him, and General Asbog used some choice expletives to describe her, making it clear that she was his predecessor. General Asbog also asked who Spring served, and Spring responded that he was a minion of Lord Bastion. Finally, Spring reached the point of his subterfuge and gave the general the document we had prepared. He told the glabrezou that it was taken from a Hastur mage-psion, and that it was likely very important.

General Asbog then dictated a letter, although to whom Spring could not determine, stating that his forces had recovered a magical text of some importance and that it should be deciphered by specialists in Caldefor City. With the message prepared, General Asbog told Spring to lead him to Spring’s associates so that he could interrogate all of us. The General left a vrock he referred to as colonel in charge, although he mentioned to Spring as they left the command tent that placing a vrock in a position of command is an act of last resort, but he simply had no other appropriate minions.
 

I can verify the next series of events. The glabrezou and Spring left the command tent. Spring led them on a circuitous route through the camp, never approaching the rope trick. He also used his incorporeal nature to lead the glabrezou literally through some of the troops. General Asbog quickly eliminated the troops that showed insufficient alacrity in making way for him. As they traveled through the camp, the dragon--a black dragon roughly the size of the one we saw a great bronze destroy--winged out of her cave, with the black eum flying behind her with a staff in its hands. [When the dragon received the message, she refused to touch it, because it had been held by a ghoul, but she had a goblyn servant read it for her. She was greatly angered by it, but thanked the ghoul for the great service it had rendered and “rewarded” it as best she could: with a fireball that ended its accursed existence. She then gathered up the eum, who referred to her as “aunt” and asked if a confrontation was wise, but reluctantly accompanied her, and headed out to discuss matters with the glabrezou.]

The dragon greeted the glabrezou, although somewhat imperiously. His response was most aggressive: I believe his exact words were, “Get out of the way, you crazy old witch. I’m on my way to do something.”

She then responded in kind, insulting the general and accusing him of breaking the chain of command and trying to keep arcane spell books away from her. Their posturing and insulting continued for some time, until finally the dragon marched up to General Asbog and slapped him across the face, drawing a fair amount of blood. Spring flew directly upwards in response to this, getting as far away from the battle as he could as quickly as possible. By this point, the vrock had emerged from the command tent, and four took to the air, while two remained on the ground.

With a horrified expression on his face, the general called out, “You have seen this insult! Will you allow a power of the Abyss to be insulted by this power of dirt?” He then attacked the dragon with both claws, and the battle began in earnest.

Upon hearing General Asbog’s words, the vrock began dancing, forming their circle in the air and on the ground. The rutterkin and other lesser demons began fleeing, seeking to get as far from the battle as they could. Meanwhile, the eum, still flying, raised its staff, apparently planning on aiding the dragon, but one of the flying vrocks broke from the circle and pounced on the eum before it could unleash any magical power.
 

As the main combatants weakened, the army’s officers gathered to watch the battle. They did not engage, on either side, but simply watched as the dragon and the demon tore into each other. The human officers called their trueborn warriors into formation, still without any command to engage, while the goblyn encampment and the small tribe of trueborn women, children, and elders both fled. Neither group stopped until they were safely on the far side of the surrounding hills, where even catastrophic results from the battle would be unlikely to reach them.

The eum witchdoctor managed to kill the vrock it was battling, but the remaining vrock completed their dance of ruin and unleashed a powerful burst of magical energy that hammered the witchdoctor and the dragon badly. Still, the attack was too little, too late for General Asbog: the dragon tore him to pieces, leaving only a bloody wreck on the ground. Moments after the glabrezou fell, the vrock dove from the air and attacked the dragon on all sides. By this point, even the colonel, the vrock that General Asbog had left in command at the headquarters, had emerged and approached the combat, although he simply tapped his swagger stick and watched instead of joining in.

The dragon killed one more vrock, but not before the other vrock killed the eum witchdoctor. Finally, even the dragon could not withstand the combined force of their attacks and perished.

With both the dragon and General Asbog dead, the vrock colonel asserted his right to command, ordering the other vrock to settle down. But while two of the remaining vrock landed and quietly waited, the other two continued flying, clearly insane. When the colonel flew up to them to order them down again, they attacked him. In a display of disloyalty that would have been shocking if it had not followed so many others, the two “sane” vrock simply watched while their superior officer battled for his life. After an intense battle, the colonel killed both of the insane vrock. They had been injured at the beginning of the fight, but he was also clearly mightier than the average. Still, the fight had taken a fearful toll on him, and his victory was short-lived. One of the two remaining vrock casually killed him as he landed. They then began squawking at each other, flapping their wings, and thrusting their heads forward, clearly in a verbal struggle for dominance and command. Their voices grew ever louder and shriller, until the inevitable physical confrontation began.

At this, the eum and trueborn officers gathered in council, while their presumptive commanders battled to the death. After a short discussion, they each returned to their respective units. They gave a short command, and the troops unleashed their steel javelins at the battling vrock, cutting them down. It was the only display of discipline that we had seen. Indeed, the entire sordid scene was a remarkable demonstration of how desperately Caldefor needs the restoration of Lord Paranswarm’s Order. But with their inability to even maintain an army in camp without destroying themselves, our victory would be assured even if Lord Paranswarm’s backing did not make it inevitable.
 

Here's a double-length post to make up for last Saturday's missed post.

* * *
The survivors embodied chaos less than the demons had, and it appeared that the internecine struggle had ended. With the core combat troops all gathered tightly around where the battle had been fought, however, the circumstances were perfect for the bone water dust. Spring opened one vial and poured an ounce of the substance down on the eum and trueborn armies, while Sergeant Cilorean used his control over the air to disperse the dust and spread it over the entirety of their armies. As the dust touched the trueborn and the eum, they writhed in agony while all of the moisture in their bodies wicked away. Even though they deserved all that was done to them and I hope they will experience even greater punishment in Lord Paranswarm’s Hell, it was terrible to behold. The dust also consumed the zombies and other undead with flesh--an unexpected side benefit, as we had not thought that it would affect any of the undead. By the time the dust finished its work, only the skeletons and the handful of incorporeal undead remained.

The two wraiths who appeared to command the undead--now perhaps the only officers left in the entire army--discussed what they had seen. They agreed that they could not risk spreading the dust beyond this field, as the punishment that would be visited upon them would be unbearable. And all of the skeletons were contaminated. Their very bones glowed with the dust that glistened on them. The wraiths resolutely ordered the skeletons to line up in tight formations and then ordered each skeleton to smash its neighbor. When only a handful of skeletons remained, the wraiths ordered them to gather into a new formation and repeated the process. Soon only shattered bones and glowing dust remained.

The wraiths then discussed their next step. Their duty was to report to their superiors, but the lords of Shadow would likely hold them responsible for the debacle we had engineered. They concluded that going rogue offered better prospects, and once more the disorder of the enemy advanced our cause. With the only surviving parts of the true army fleeing, our attack would not be reported to the enemy high command until a routine patrol visited the dragonhold--and even then, if the patrol was sufficiently incautious, the bone water dust might claim yet more of the enemy.

Spring immediately flew down to scout out the dragon caves themselves. If the hoards were uncontaminated, they would be well worth recovering. Additionally, several of the caves contained clutches of dragon eggs that could, with proper training, be used to make powerful forces for the liberation of Caldefor. Spring returned to the rope trick a few minutes later and reported that two of the six hoards escaped contamination from the bone water dust. Unfortunately, the wyrm’s hoard had been contaminated--it will be another twenty years before the dust has decayed sufficiently to allow us to recover the treasure of the wealthiest of the dragons that laired at the dragonhold. The hoard of the scholar dragon who died fighting General Asbog had also been exposed to the dust; since her most valuable assets were books and scrolls that crumbled in response to the dust, her treasure was permanently lost. Still, depriving the Shadow of those assets was more important than recovering them for the resistance.

Spring hauled the rope trick slowly across the devastated army camp, finally moving it into the dragon caves. [The DM permitted us to move the rope trick even when we told him that the rules don’t really allow that. This was just as well, because otherwise Konrad would have been doomed if any of the dust had drifted to the area directly beneath the rope trick.] A small handful of guards and servants, divided between trueborn and goblyns, remained alive inside the caverns, but we were easily able to cow them into cooperation. We loaded the treasure into the rope trick-- a total of 9710 silver pieces, gems worth about 3770 silver, and, most importantly, a collection of magic items. We only identified a few at the time, but we later concluded that the items were a mask of the skull, which Sergeant Cilorean took to augment his offensive capabilities; a ring of invisibility, which the Sergeant assigned to me; wands of bear’s endurance and find secret doors; a scroll with arcane sight, rage, and heroism inscribed on it; and a collection of potions, including oil of magic weapon and potions of pass without trace and shield of faith [+2].

We also decided to take the best of the trueborn guards with us; we searched them for intelligence, using my detect thoughts spell, and took the best five with us. They were sufficiently impressed by our power that we could expect them to be reasonably obedient, although they would need to be watched carefully until they had been fully endarkened. It would take time to make them as orderly as Lord Paranswarm commands. The remainder would die horribly, either starving to death or entering dust contaminated areas, but there was nothing we could do about that--there was only so much room in our rope trick, and we had no other way to transport them out.
 

Having secured the treasure, we discussed our next step. We all agreed that we should take control of the tribe of trueborn dependants. If we did not, they would almost certainly be destroyed by the various dangers that now infest our land. Without any significant combat-worthy guards, it was unlikely to be difficult to bring them into loyal service to Caldefor and Lord Paranswarm. There was some discussion of whether we should take them as slaves, which seemed most natural to me as they were captured forces of the enemy, or whether we should rule over them without enslaving them, as Spring advocated. I believe that Spring’s own experience as a former slave makes it difficult for him to understand that slavery is part of Paranswarm’s Order for the world. I tried suggesting that many of them would likely be able to earn their freedom, as he had, but Spring was unpersuaded. Sergeant Cilorean did not settle the discussion, and we ultimately left the matter undecided. There would be time enough to sort out the details of their legal status later.

Spring raised the possibility that we should strike again immediately, heading to another dragonhold before word of our attack spread. At the same time, we had to weigh that against the need to move the tribe of trueborn, the dragon eggs, and the treasure across the Shadowline to where they would be safe. Since we were only a few days south of the border and no alert would reach the other dragonholds from this army, Sergeant Cilorean decided that we would head straight north for the Shadowline. After we had crossed safely and reported, we could head back into Caldefor and strike again. As long as we worked quickly, we would be able to make our second attack before they were alert to our tactics.

The trueborn tribe quickly accepted our dominion. Spring flew over them, commanding them to obedience, while I cast minor magics to impress them even further. Within moments of our accosting them, they had fallen to their knees and were groveling before us. It would be difficult to find a truer demonstration of Lord Paranswarm’s natural order for the world: it is the nature of all things to seek order, with the weak obeying the orders and receiving the protection of the strong. That a group as small as we were could control and protect them only increased their respect for us. We examined the tribe and found that there were about five-hundred trueborn left in the tribe, almost all women and children but with a handful of elderly men as well. They traveled remarkably lightly, and though they were emaciated and clearly starving, they still could travel at a reasonable pace, although not as rapidly as we could have traveled without them. Their scant food supply had been destroyed by the bone water dust--the warriors kept most of the food, and they clung to the army in the hope that the demons would be willing to feed them enough to survive. Of course, only I travel with rations, as my companions are past the need to eat, and while I had brought enough that I had ten days of rations left, that was a pitiful amount of food for five-hundred. After discussing the matter with Sergeant Cilorean, I kept one day’s worth of rations, because I would not be able to remain effective on less than half-rations, and distributed the other nine days worth among the tribe. It was a pitiful amount of food, but they seemed grateful and able to stretch that much more than I would have imagined possible.
 

We traveled north for the rest of the day. While the trueborn slowed us and made us much more visible, they pressed hard to keep our pace. I think Sergeant Cilorean was pleased by how far we had managed to travel before the unending shadows and gray clouds of day gave way to night and travel would be too dangerous. The sergeant and Durak maintained continuous patrols during the night, since they also had no need to sleep, while both Spring and I needed rest to recover our spells. We agreed that I would sleep first, and then wake for the last watch, while he would sleep. We also posted a handful of promising young trueborn--children of about 10 or 11 who seemed alert and sensible--as pickets. The trueborn were obedient and cooperative. I approached a couple of the most attractive of the women about sharing my camp with me, and they were eager to become the servants and concubines of a subchief, as they seemed to view me. I will need to consult a priest when I can to be certain that taking on lovers outside orderly matrimony is not a sin, but I do not think it is. Lord Paranswarm teaches that those who rule are entitled to the benefits of their lesser, and while I am but a common mage relative to the free people of Caldefor, the trueborn are right to view me as a subchief under the command of Sergeant Cilorean, who is now effectively their chieftain or master. But I must confess that I might have indulged even if it were a sin.

Shortly after I fell off to sleep, one of my concubines woke me. She looked very apprehensive, although I am not certain why--perhaps she was worried about the threat that had been spotted. One of our pickets, a boy of about 10, stood nearby, and when I asked him why he had awakened me, he said that he had seen two great metal spirits. He reported the spirits to Spring, who had said that he had power over metal and had flown from the camp to observe the spirits personally. As the boy, who I later learned was named Bonepicker, described this, he made it clear that he thought Spring’s actions were foolishness. I asked him to describe the spirits in more detail, and he said that one was a great serpent with thousands of segments, while the other was a huge puma, and that both had a long line of glowing orange crystals along their backs. I told Bonepicker to accompany me and began leading him to Sergeant Cilorean, because this matter needed to be reported to the Sergeant at once.

Bonepicker said that the spirits must have spotted our camp and would surely destroy Spring and then attack us, because the metal spirits hate all the servants of the Shadow. At that I grabbed Bonepicker and forced him to his knees. I informed him that he now served Lord Paranswarm and would never be a creature of Shadow again. I think I frightened him greatly with this, but it was worthwhile, because he accepted his endarkening as I made the sign of the downward arrow over him. Once that matter was taken care of, I told him to return to his feet so we could continue to Sergeant Cilorean. The boy followed, a little shaken but still obedient. He added that the metal spirits were fully charged, because all of their crystals glowed, so they must have a charging station nearby. At that, I finally realized what they must be. Metal constructs with orange power crystals that hate the Shadow could only be constructs of the Orange Mage.
 

I passed on Bonepicker’s report to Sergeant Cilorean, as well as my conclusion that the constructs were servitors of the Orange Mage. The Sergeant stated that he would approach them and inform them that we remain loyal to Lord Paranswarm. I asked what we should do if the Orange Mage’s constructs had gone insane, as their master did, or did not believe him, and attacked him anyway. He said that we should flee, so with his permission I had the entire tribe roused and prepared for flight. Gratifyingly, the tribe was ready to run within a minute of my passing the command. I promised that if he fell I would see to it that the tribe safely reached the Shadowline.

Sergeant Cilorean and Spring later reported their conversation with the metal spirits. When Sergeant Cilorean informed them that we served Lord Paranswarm, they switched from the language they had been using--Celestial, from what I can gather--and addressed them in Common. The puma apologized; it had been trying to persuade the serpent that they should attack and kill us all, assuming that we had to be forces of Shadow. They were very pleased to learn that there were still others who fought to restore Caldefor, and they offered to bring us the “human charging packets” that they had at the charging station. A little additional questioning confirmed that they meant a supply of preserved food intended for human servants of the Orange Mage. However, they refused to show us where the charging station was-- what we did not know we could not reveal, even if captured and tortured. Sergeant Cilorean agreed that was prudent. In all, they supplied us with about 500 daily rations worth of food-- enough to put our entire tribe on half-rations. Sergeant Cilorean and Spring also informed them that the Orange Mage still lived, on the far side of the Shadowline, although they omitted the fact that he is still insane. His constructs were greatly relieved to hear that and agreed to send several of the worker automata with us. Without the Orange Mage or one of his skilled apprentices, the automata would inevitably break down, so sending them across to the Orange Mage would allow them to best serve the fight against Shadow.

Meanwhile, I had cast detect thoughts to measure the strength of Bonepicker’s mind, because he had seemed intelligent. His mind was remarkably strong--roughly at the same level as my own. When Sergeant Cilorean and Spring returned, I asked the sergeant for permission to train Bonepicker as an apprentice. I would not be able to teach him the skills and arts of diabolism until he has been examined, approved, and licensed as an apprentice diabolist by the SHH and the Holy Church, but I could begin teaching him the general principles of magic that all wizards must know, which would lay an effective foundation for if and when he is approved. [It didn’t occur to Konrad that between training by a diabolist and watching Konrad’s casting, Bonepicker would surely pick up some of the basics of diabolism without any formal training.] The Sergeant authorized his training, and I informed Bonepicker that he was now my apprentice. I directed him to sleep at a place on the outskirts of my personal camp and replaced him in the guard pickets with one of the other youths in the tribe.
 

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