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

Spring looked around at the other people in the room and checked out their record keeping. They noted that the magnificent half-dragon had not taken its eyes off them since they left the seneschal’s desk. In due course, he sent a young slave, dressed in nothing but a grey breachcloth, over to them. “Lord Varlin demands your attention.”

Lord Varlin was a blue-black humanoid-- half-dragon, half-something else, though Spring and Twang were not certain what.

They gave their names.

“What did you report to Lord Drakhl’s seneschal?

“Big food. At market across Shadowline. Lord Ripgut might be interested.”

“My father will be interested,” Lord Varlin replied definitively.

“You hungry, too?” asked Twang

“My father does not take me on such things. He says it would be too easy for me to be contaminated.”

“Contaminated? Big man like you?”

“My blood is the result of a moment’s passion. My father never forgave himself for his lack of control. He fears that if I were exposed to the Light, it might draw me to it.” A sense of regret colored his statements. “Did you have other news to report?”

“We were almost killed by Liliana.”

“She is insane.”

“Is she loyal?” asked Spring.

“My father likes her. It is not my place to question his judgment. But she kills more of our people than the enemy does.”

“Will the seneschal keep information from Lord Ripgut?”

“Lord Drakhl will do as Lord Drakhl wishes. I have no use for him. He is dead-- not that I hold that against him, but he is mean about it. Tell me more of your trip to the Shadowline.”

Spring and Twang talked more about crossing the Shadowline. Lord Varlin seemed envious, having heard of the light and warmth, and the availability of food everywhere, without bartering from the Abyss or trading with dwarves. Spring and Twang encouraged him to visit the lands beyond the Shadowline himself.

He opened a bag and handed them each a substantial strip of well-preserved, probably smoked, meat. “Thank you. I will hope to speak with you again.”

Twang pushed further. “If you ever do wish to see the Shadowline, we have been there many time. We could show you the way. We are humble servants.”

“You would do this thing?”

“We are but slaves.”

“Where can I find you?”

“We are often sent on missions far and wide by our many superiors.”

He thought and then took out two round stone discs about two inches across, each with runes inscribed. “When my father next goes out, I will seek you out. These discs will allow me to find you.”

“Can we know where you are?”

“I am here daily. But I would not wish to waste time. When he departs, I will seek you out. And I will make very certain that you are not eaten.”

Twang and Spring departed and rejoined us. They stowed the stone discs in a nearby crevice near our hiding place.
 

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Based on their description, I had drawn several fairly clear conclusions. Lord Varlin was almost certainly half-celestial-- probably Glor’diadelian celestial, although that was less clear. His celestial blood would make it easier to lure him away from the Shadow. Sideh informed us that Lord Varlin would know Celestial, as part of his blood. The stones would be locator discs. Lord Varlin could always know exactly where they are if he concentrates on them. We considered whether the discs could compromise our security, but they would only work for him. The potential gain would likely be worth the risk.

I also recognized the description of the seneschal as matching that of a lich-spawn-- a type of undead formed from sorcerers or wizards not powerful enough to become a lich but who were favored servants of Borsh’tro. Lich-spawn are not exactly liches but are like less powerful versions. Regrettably, we did not learn its name.

Twang also wrote out his name as the lich-spawn seneschal had written it. I recognized the writing immediately as Abyssal.

As we waited for nightfall, we discussed the possibility of leading Lord Varlin back to the Shadowline and away from the service of the Shadow. I saw a possible opportunity to gain a powerful new minion for Lord Paranswarm. I reached out telepathically for Alveera and immediately sensed her through the ring. I began by telling her that if we were to travel with Lord Varlin, I would need her to lead him to Lord Paranswarm’s Darkness. She assured me that she would be able to assist greatly in that. I explained Lord Varlin’s nature, and she became most interested in the mission. As a precaution, given the tendencies of erinyes, I instructed her that if it became relevant, she could capture his seed but not carry it without my further orders. She confirmed her understanding and stated that she would be most interested in his seed.

The shadows slowly darkened, as the dull gray sky turned towards a sickly black-- not the true black of Lord Paranswarm’s darkness, but the darker matte black of the ever-cloudy skies of the Shadowlands. I asked Alveera, still telepathically, if she would be able to sneak into the fortress and begin luring Lord Varlin to serve the true Darkness. She assured me that she would, and that she had tricks, including invisibility to prevent them from realizing that they had a devil in their midst. Knowing that my companions would be suspicious and might oppose an effort to bring Lord Varlin to the Orderly Darkness, I instructed her to obey my mental commands, rather than the verbal commands I would shortly give her.

I suggested to my companions that Alveera might be able to gain additional information by infiltrating and summoned her into physical presence. I told her to infiltrate the fortress, gaining as much information as possible, and to begin leading Lord Varlin to the Light of Glor’diadel. I immediately silently countermanded the last portion of that order, and instructed her to bring him to the Darkness instead. She said, “Yes, my master,” in response to my verbal command, and then telepathically sent back the same confirmation in response to my correction. I may still need to do penance for pretending to aid the proselytization of a different temple, but I never took any actions that could actually aid their efforts. I was confident that my orders would be obeyed.

[A few quick dice rolls were made to determine the likelihood of Alveera’s success. Lord Varlin turned out to be bisexual, but basically completely uninterested in sex. (Orientation 9, Lust 1), thus frustrating Konrad’s effort to ensure that the half-dragon would end up serving Paranswarm.]
 

Most of the way through the night-- four in the morning or so, by my estimation-- we woke to the thunder of wings as a huge form flew to the North. We quickly recovered the stones to be ready if Lord Varlin came to us. Shortly later, a figure, trying to be stealthy but failing, approached. Spring and Twang greeted him, while Sideh and I lurked farther back.

He had donned beautiful armor that allows his wings to be free. “Ah, Dack and Twang. My father has departed, going after some bounty of cows.”

“Cows? Them’s good eating,” replied Spring.

“Normally, he raids the line, and then spends days near the line. That was how he captured my mother.” Lord Varlin paused as if in thought. “I don’t remember her much. After I finished nursing, my father consumed her.”

Sideh and I stepped forward and introduced ourselves, although of course we did not reveal our true allegiance.

Lord Varlin responded, “I do not recognize your subgrouping, but it is an honor to meet you. If you are companions of these men, then you are welcome. But we should leave the camp while it is still dark.”

I bowed and said, “With your permission, Lord Varlin, there is another that should join us.” With that, I summoned Alveera back to my side.

Lord Varlin discussed his father’s fondness for succubi, which is what he incorrectly assumed Alveera to be. From his tone and his uneasy manner, it was clear that he distrusted succubi and would carefully avoid proximity to Alveera-- an unfortunate pattern that would make my efforts more difficult.

Several of us noted that the armor he wore was the best quality we had seen in Shadow. I compliment him on it.

He seemed pleased by the praise and stated that he had wrought it himself and had an odd knack for crafting things.

That raised several interesting possibilities-- perhaps he was not of Glor’diadelian descent after all. At least three of the celestial pantheons have orders that create things. The celestials of Dain the Forger are the most obvious possibility, but the celestials of Eru include a subgroup that work in precious metals and high glass; those celestials are among the greatest crafters anywhere. And it did not rule out Glor’diadelian descent, as there is also an order of his celestials who are dedicated crafters. Descent from a celestial of Eru seemed most likely, as he had some elven features-- thin, pointed ears, no beard, and fine skin-- but then, that could all be dragon influence.

Before we departed, Alveera also silently reported the results of her scouting. The roster consisted of six regiments of black eums commanded by a number of more powerful eums. Each regiment contained one hundred eums. There were also 400 skeletal undead and 50 incorporeal undead in the general garrison. The garrison numbers did not count the immediate court -- Lord Ripgut, the black dragon wyrm; Lord Drakhl, his dracolich seneschal; and their personal households. In addition to the military forces, the Dragonhold held about 500 slaves
-- mostly goblyns and eums of other colors.

As we traveled, Sideh began his efforts on behalf of Glor’diadel. He approached Lord Varlin and said, “I hear that you speak a foreign language of the Light?”

“It has always been with me,” replied the half-celestial.

“I have writings that I took from the land of Tarkenia. Perhaps you could read them?”

Lord Varlin read through the writings, which were psalms, prayers, and other Glor’diadelian scriptures. “It glorifies their god,” he said. Then, after a pause, he continued somewhat disingenuously, “I will study it at more length when I can. Perhaps there is something of value.”

I also spoke with Lord Varlin. He warned me against associating with a succubus, believing that she would arrange my ruin and carry me off to the Abyss. If she were a succubus, he would likely be right, but as she is an erinyes I knew that I could rely on my control over her. Still, I could not admit that to him, so I simply stressed my control over her. He was incredulous, but then, he does not understand the power Lord Paranswarm gives over his fiendish servants, or the discipline and order that prevails among devils.

[Interestingly, Alveera went from being amused by the conversation to being worried over the course of it. She believed that Konrad did not control her and that Lord Varlin’s predictions were true, but the longer and more confidently Konrad asserted his dominion, the more she worried that perhaps he was right because of her oath to serve Paranswarm. Konrad, of course was oblivious to all of this.]
 

For five days, we traveled without incident. Lord Varlin kept reading the writings, a little each day, but he refused to speak to Alveera. He clearly believed that she was a succubus and distrusted her intensely because of that. Without Alveera as an effective tool, I feared I would not be able to bring him to the Darkness instead of the Light.

As we marched, we saw great swirling clouds of dust moving from west to east ahead of us. I wondered if it could be from the wings of the dragon, but my companions assured me that the dragon would be long gone, and that the dust cloud was the wrong shape-- very long, relatively thin. Sideh suggested that it could be a moving army.

Spring flew up to scout and soon reported back. He saw that it was a sizeable and rag-tag army, moving west and southerly, towards the destroyed dragonhold. The army consisted of some 2000 figures all told, perhaps as many as 3000, but no great ones-- major demons or the like-- among them. It was clearly a shadow army, goblins and eums. Based on the haphazard structure of the army, Spring suspected that it was probably pulled together from a couple of random tribes and sent to investigate. The army had very little organization-- the entire leadership was a trio of chaos centaurs.

“Headed to Clawfast,” commented Lord Varlin.

“What is at Clawfast?” we asked, even though we knew what had happened there.

“Nothing that I know of. They must be reinforcements, but for what purpose?”

“Should we ask?” said Spring.

“Why not?” Lord Varlin traveled forward rapidly. “Hail, chaos centaurs. Whither are you going through the edges of my father’s land?”

The centaurs saluted him in a ragged way. “We go to Clawfast. We are ordered there by the Master of the Thronged City. He says that we must go there as fast as possible.”

We encouraged Lord Varlin to hurry them on-- if they were moving fast enough when they reached the area of the bonewater dust, many of them might be affected and destroyed, although we did not tell him that. Lord Varlin said, “You must hurry along. If these rabble dally on these lands, they will have more to fear than your whips.” The centaurs took the hint and began vigorously applying their whips. The army lurched forward.

“What is the Thronged City?” asked Spring when they had departed.

“The capital. The Master of the Thronged City is its mayor, but he has power beyond his city,” explained Lord Varlin.
 

We traveled onwards for three more uneventful days, drawing near to the edge of Shadow. On the last full day of travel, when we could almost see the tint of light from the Shadowland on the northern horizon, a volley of spears came in out of nowhere. One of the spears struck me a heavy blow-- had it been a short distance lower, it would have slain me beyond resurrection, but it only creased my skull.

Twang responded first, although he did no more than to move away and cast mage armor. Spring saw them before he acted. Our attackers, which appeared to be goblyns, had sand-colored robes, which partially concealed them. They were arrayed about 35 feet away, spread out in a 25 foot semicircle. Spring rushed off to the side and breathed a cone of steam-- I believe he used a spell but I cannot be certain. The cone caught all of them, though they were effected differently. One caught the full blast and broiled to death.

The second volley of spears, while some of us were still stupefied, all targeted Spring-- one would have impaled him badly were he corporeal, but passed through harmlessly.

Lord Varlin swept to the side opposite side from Spring and breathed a line of acid, killing one and wounding another. Already wounded, I activated my ring to become invisible and directed Alveera to seek to gain control over their minds. She promptly suggested one into surrendering.

Twang yelled at the remainder and remarkably intimidated them into standing up, thus losing their main tactical advantage of disguise. Spring wounded them with an earth burst, leaving one of them almost dead.

At that point, I would estimate that their morale broke; two fled, while one of them died from the strain of attacking. Lord Varlin hesitated for a second, and then flew after them and hacked the fleeing one to death. He seemed both somewhat reluctant to attack a fleeing foe and yet at the same time, utterly brutal in his attacks. I can only surmise that this represented a conflict between his two ancestral natures.

We looted the dead and got little more than a few strips of lousy meat. They had some badly formed weapons, but the leader had a scimitar that was well-enough made to be worth taking. I detected magic, but the only equipment besides our own that was magical was Lord Varlin’s equipment. I noted that in addition to the powerful dweomers on his armor and weapon, he clearly carried several potions.

We interrogated the surrendered goblyn, which revealed that there were a half-dozen similar bands in the area. It also said that a mighty one passed over several days ago, but had not yet returned. If our plan succeeded, it never would. We brought the goblyn with us. Upon my instruction, Alveera quietly commanded the goblyn into serving the Darkness, and it immediately obeyed. Truly, one of the signs of how much greater Lord Paranswarm is then the false Shadow gods is that His servants will die rather than betray Him, but their servants quickly rally to the banner of the Lord of Orderly Darkness.
 

We pressed on toward the border, but we would have had to travel deep into the night to reach it before the next day. Traveling at night for any appreciable distance would be riskier than spending a short amount of additional time in the Shadow, and so we rested. Suddenly, we each realized that there was another presence among us. I cannot say how I knew, except that I felt it in my bones.

Spring spoke quietly. “Lord Varlin? Something is here?”

“There is a mighty one among us. I can feel him.”

We heard a voice, although even with my experience, I cannot say whether I heard it with my ears or with my mind. “Such an interesting group. Such an interesting place for this group. Do you even realize you’re dead, boy? I’ll take your silence for a no.” The voice seemed to be speaking from all around us.

“Are you talking to me?” said Twang.

“Of course. Who but you would I be speaking with?” Something about it had the feel of the Hastur to it, but corrupt.

“No, I don’t know that. Everything still works.”

Laughter, like the laughter of a young woman and the noise of rocks rolling into a crevasse carried across the plain.

“Who are you?” asked Twang.

“I have a number of names.”

“So do I. That number is one.”

“You may call me Pale Night, if you wish.” The voice focused its attention on me. “And you. You have hope of bringing these lands back to the side they once were. That is good.”

I did not speak aloud, but thought back, <<Lord Paranswarm commands it, and it will be done.>>

We heard more laughter. “One can but hope. This ridiculous play on behalf of the Council wastes resources of the Abyss that could be better used. Who are you?” I felt her riffle through my mind. I fear that she gained all the information that she wanted. “You amuse me. All of you. I do not care about this war.” We felt fingers run down our spines, and a single hair plucked from each of us. “I will keep my eyes on you. And I will bet with other disinterested nobles of the Abyss. I will bet for you.”

“Do we get something if we win?” said Spring.

“Audacious. Yes. I will promise you something if you win. But you will have to win to find out what.” With that, the presence departed.

I did not recognize the name Pale Night, but when I asked Alveera, all that she would say was that Pale Night is the Mistress of the Maze of Bone, and older than the demon lords.

Later that night, Sideh summoned a celestial dog to tell Lord Varlin not to worry, that he was watched and guarded, and would find salvation in the things he reads.

Shortly after the celestial dog disappeared, we saw a group of dim globes of light drifting against the breeze through the night air. Lord Varlin hurried us behind a nearby dune. “Those are possessors. They can take over a body-- possess it-- use it. They must have sensed the presence of something from the Light. Oh. We might be convenient to them. It is not us that they search for. We have nothing to worry about. They must have a specific goal. I am quite sure that they do.”

We stayed hidden, and the possessors passed on.

After a half day of travel in the morning, we came to the line. From the other side, it is a wall of shadow, but from within the Shadowlands, even within occupied Caldefor, it is a wall of light shining brightly.

Lord Varlin stepped forward holding out a hand towards the Shadowline. “That’s it! That’s it!” After a moment, he stopped himself and affected a calmer attitude. “I mean, we’re here.”
 

Session 6:

We approached the Shadowline. The goblyn was cringing, while Lord Varlin appeared excited but calm. We saw the usual shimmer of the energy line that travels along the Shadowline-- the watchful eye of the Hastur.

Spring flew across before the rest of the group, and reported back that we were in visual range of Circle Waterside, although far enough away that the land was rock and dust, not reclaimed land yet. He heard the sound of excited and happy people on the other side of the Shadowline-- Spring later confirmed that he had cast a ghost sound to try to ease Lord Varlin’s way across.

Buzz tried to convince Lord Varlin to cross with her; the goblyn, Sideh, and I hung back. Lord Varlin clapped excitedly, then took her hand and headed across the line. When they were perhaps 15 feet away, the speed of the light that represents the watchful eye of the Hastur increased greatly. He, or us, or both, had drawn their attention. As Lord Varlin touched the Shadowline and passed through, a small detachment of tower guards came riding out towards us, riding tough desert ponies. A tower monitor-- not a Hastur, but with some psionic ability-- led them.

The goblyn shook violently, terrified by the Shadowline. I put my hand on its shoulder, both to steady it and if necessary to force it forward. As we passed through, a sparkly light crossed over the goblyn, but it did not focus on him, which would have meant death.

I told him, “The Lord of Darkness protects his loyal servants.”

The goblyn agreed, but perhaps with more doubt than a proper Paranswarmian should have. Still, he had passed through the Shadowline and was beginning to relax, and that would be a first step towards his loyal service in Darkness.

The Monitor welcomed us back and informed us of an altercation to the west-- presumably the battle involving Lord Ripgut, although we could not confirm that. At his urging, we went to the Tower, where a Hastur joined us. “You have brought guests-- new ones. Bring them in, bring them in. Set a table-- but lightly, they will not be used to eating to satiation.” The voice of the Hastur continued in my mind. <<Has he been deloused?>>

<<Certainly not,>> I thought back. <<He will need to be shaved and scrubbed.>>

<<Yes…>>

<<He is but a lesser servant of Lord Paranswarm. If it would be best to exclude him for purity purposes, that would be completely acceptable.>>

There was a pause, as if the Hastur Keeper was considering this, but her mental voice was resolute when she continued. <<We have always welcomed those who return from Shadow. We then delouse them afterwards if necessary. We will follow the tradition.>>

Spring quietly raised the issue of Lord Varlin with the Keeper. She thought about it, and then reassured us. “Soon enough he will enter shock. I see his dragon blood. I assume he is the child of one of the dragonhold lords. I also see evidence of celestial blood, although I am not sure of what type. He will soon learn that everything he has been taught about this side of the Shadowline is a lie. To learn that everything you have built your life on was a lie would be stressful to anyone. We will need a skilled healer.”

Spring suggested summoning a celestial, and the Keeper said that she would look into having an ally join us.

We also asked the Keeper what had happened with Ripgut. She informed us that the dragon wreaked more havoc than we had hoped, but was ultimately eliminated. We all rejoiced in this great victory against the Shadow.
 

While we spoke quietly with the Keeper, Buzz sought to keep Lord Varlin occupied. They discussed the psionic crystals embedded in the walls. Lord Varlin commented that the crystals were very large and had some personality, and Buzz discussed them with him and also introduced her psicrystal, which is quite talkative.

When Lord Varlin judged that he and Buzz were out of the elf Keeper’s hearing, he spoke urgently. “We are in a Light tower.”

“Yes, we are. Are you okay?” Buzz adopted a soothing, calm tone.

“They don’t know who we are?”

“They may be confused as to who you are.”

“Are we safe here?”

“I think so. If they wanted to harm us, they could have as we crossed the Shadowline.”

“I just worked out what the arcane writing says. It is in my mother’s tongue. It is a curse against those who despoil the tower.” He paused. “I assume that someone will shortly want to kill us.”

“Do you intend to despoil the tower?”

“I couldn’t despoil this. That’s a Hastur over there.”

“Clearly they can tell that you have good motives.”

“They can? We do? But… surely they will not let us live to leave if they know who we are.”

“Then we had better not let them know who we are.”

“They do not take prisoners. If you fight against the Hastur, you either triumph or you are destroyed. And those destroyed at the line do not even leave ashes to be eaten.”

“What do the rumors say about people who cross the line without destructive intent?” At Lord Varlin’s confused expression, Buzz clarified. “Without immediate destructive intent?”

“We might be the first people to cross the line without immediate destructive intent.”

“Then maybe the rumors don’t apply to us.”

“Maybe,” said Lord Varlin doubtfully.

They continued speaking about the crystals.

After a little while, Lord Varlin said, “It is like I can hear them, but that is ridiculous.”

“It might be an inheritance from your mother,” replied Buzz. “I can also hear them muttering. Can you make out actual words?”

“I think so… They are talking about the structure of the tower, and the structure of the line.”

“That is what they are here to do. Have you heard this before?”

“Nothing talks like that over there.”

The Keeper approached Lord Varlin and rather casually ran her fingers over a pearl necklace. Sideh later informed us that it was clearly a holy necklace--possibly a low-level artifact, but definitely holy. I have my doubts as to whether it was truly holy. I suspect that it was simply consecrated to Glor’diadel, not infused with the power of the Lord of Darkness. Abruptly, bright light swirled out from the necklace, and a winged female form with feathery wings and an elegant, gold covered coif appeared. Lord Varlin fell over backwards as soon as she appeared. His eyes rolled up in his head, and he started getting into a fetal position.

I held my holy symbol carefully. I doubted that associating with a celestial of the god of our allies would offend Lord Paranswarm, or that the celestial would harm me, but it was not like a servant of the Darkness. I thought it was prudent to be ready and to demonstrate that my allegiance was not in doubt.

Buzz commented on Lord Varlin. “He doesn’t seem to be doing so well. I think you surprised him.”

The celestial blessed the Hastur and Sideh. I was glad that she did not try to bless me. She then addressed Lord Varlin. “Now, lad. I intend you no harm. Your mother was a cousin of mine, after a fashion.” She very cautiously advanced, extending her aura over him. He whimpered. “I think we should try this again tomorrow.”

With that, the Keeper arranged for Lord Varlin to be taken to a room for recovery and dismissed the celestial.
 

We informed the Keeper of the presence of the Chaos Champion and her lamias as infiltrators on this side of the Shadowline. We considered this to be intelligence that might meaningfully affect the Shadowline’s security. Any further losses to the Shadow would, of course, greatly interfere with our efforts to regain Caldefor.

The Keeper thanked us and informed us of some circumstances of particular relevance in light of that threat. She said, “There is more clingfire coming in a train from the Holy City, to reinforce the Towers. It is very slow to create, and it was felt that we did not have enough. An attack on that supply train could cost us dearly.”

Sideh asked if we should reinforce the supply train.

The Keeper shook her head. “Probably not. Even if you could reach it in time, you would be unlikely to materially increase its defenses. However, you have told us two things of great importance. First, we must contact the train and have it pull off until its guard can be reinforced. Second, there must be a leak in the Holy City. They would not have taken this risk if they did not have some information already, and news of the clingfire shipment is by far the most likely to have drawn them.

“You have been very helpful. I will send your names on with this dispatch, to make it known who has done such a service. But you should also go to the site of the battle with the dragon-- you may find things that would be useful.”

We eagerly headed off. As we traveled, we discussed how best to cause internal strife within Dragonhold Ripgut. After some consideration, we concluded that we should leak back reports of Lord Drakhl having betrayed Ripgut to his death. From what we knew, that seemed like a plausible rumor that would likely turn all of the other forces against Lord Drakhl, who we believed to be the most dangerous remaining foe associated with the Ripgut. We planned on leaking the news to Liliana, the Chaos Champion.

My initial suggestion was to have an obvious messenger carry a message describing a betrayal, so that she would ambush the messenger and then carry the message back across. The others, especially Sideh, were adamantly opposed to this idea. I am not entirely certain why. They focused on the fact that the Chaos Champion would kill the messenger. For what we gained, I thought that would be a completely acceptable cost. We could use a condemned prisoner or someone else of low-value-- perhaps someone who was destitute and would be interested in earning their survivors a pension. Even with that clarification, the others would not consider the idea.

After some further discussion, we decided that we would spread rumors among the soldiers and militia. They would be obvious targets for the Chaos Champion’s spying efforts, and she would also likely consider them to be a reliable source of information. We decided that Sideh, Alveera, and I would take principal responsibility for spreading the information.
 

I have developed a backlog of written storyhour that I haven't posted, and the backlog is growing rather than shrinking. So I'm going to switch to a twice per week schedule-- Saturdays and Wednesdays-- at least for the foreseeable future.

------

We approached the site of the battle. Several human bodies were laid out by the side of the field. The battle was clearly messy. The actual drovers we positioned to guard the cattle had fared poorly, and all of the cattle had died. These losses were of course acceptable but still reduced our resources. Our Hastur allies had also lost some troops, although none of the Hastur themselves. I made the sign of the downward arrow over the Paranswarmian dead. Some locals were gathering parts of cow, clearly trying to recover as much useable food as possible. More importantly for our purposes, parts of the dragon lay scattered about. My estimate is that about half of the dragon’s body had been disintegrated. The largest part left was the left fore-leg. Spring investigated the dragon corpse, while I began sweeping the area in a grid with <i>detect magic</i>.

Sideh approached surviving soldiers to get an account of the battle. The battle proceeded mostly as planned. As the dragon attacked the cattle, the Hastur dimensionally locked the area and engaged with spells, psionics, and troops. He was powerful and inflicted fearsome damage, but it could not stand against a well-prepared Hastur ambush. As Ripgut went down, he hurled a small casket from himself, apparently trying to get it away from himself.

[Durak joined the session at this point.]

We located several interesting items and remains. A handful of Ripgut’s scales seemed to be embedded with a grayish-black, glowing powder. The powder detected as vaguely magical, with a transmutation aura. Upon further examination, we concluded that the scales emanate a form of obscurement. They made Ripgut’s aura appear neutral. Carrying one would probably obscure auras offensive to the Shadow in reverse. We recovered about a half-dozen and distributed them out, with each of us taking one.

We also located the landing site of the casket. Our assessment, based in part on the fact that it ended up wedged four feet in the ground, was that Ripgut tried to conceal it by flinging it away from himself. We kept our distance, and I summoned a lemure to investigate the casket. The lemure trudged over to the casket and slowly dragged it out of the divot it had made in the field.

We were unable to magically detect anything about its contents because of the lead inlay. The casket bore complicated Abyssal runes-- I recognized a series of protective spells and a couple of obscurement spells. It was sealed shut by a single lock at the hasp. At closer range, we noted a grayish metal that we could not recognize as well as the more familiar lead. The main protective spells warded against breakage. Except for the locking spell, all of the spells seemed to be directed outward.

We discussed the casket extensively. All of us were nervous, almost scared, because of it. Our leading theories included that it was something Ripgut did not dare leave behind, that it was a weapon he wanted to bring across the Shadowline, or that it was part of a separate plan. After much consideration, we decided to leave it unopened.

Spring, Durak, Buzz, and I harvested some dragon parts: scales, intact internal organs, and glands. I concluded that their principal use would be for summoning black abishai, or for sale to others who would use them for the same purpose. A supply sufficient to summon one abishai would probably sell for 1000 silver in a good market, although more like 700 in a bad one.

While we gathered the parts, Sideh went to a small, stockaded reclaiming village to get a cart to carry the casket and the dragon parts. Based on his report, the residents greeted him and happily hired a cart out. The mules were extraordinarily mean and nasty, but Sideh picked out the most curious one, gave her some feed, and got her to like him, at least for the moment. The carter told Sideh that the reclaiming village had been up for five years this time. This was the third time that it had been rebuilt. He said that the last raid almost got them, but somehow the soldiers seemed to know it was coming--clearly a reference to the ambush we had arranged.
 

While we waited for Sideh to return with the cart, we talked with the soldiers and also fed the information about the betrayal to them. As we spoke, one of the soldiers spotted some bony hands dragging the casket back towards the Shadowline. Spring shot the ground near it with his needfire crossbow. The splash of needfire destroyed some of the bones. I attempted to control it with a <i>command undead</i> spell, but the undead were already under mind control and I could not overcome the pre-existing compulsion. Spring’s second needfire attack destroyed the bones. Durak and I searched the area, but Alveera pointed across the border and squeeked.

On the far side of the Shadowline, a hunched, robed, bony figure stared towards the casket with red, unblinking, flaming eyes. We began preparing if it attacked, but Alveera put us at ease. “Oh, it won’t be coming. It could not get to this side. It would be destroyed.”

I identified it as probably a quasi-lich. I explained to my companions that true liches can create quasi-liches out of willing, living participants. They exist to serve their true lich masters. Based on a quasi-lich’s presence, I hypothesized that the casket might contain the dracolich’s phylactery. We also knew that we would need to proceed with care. The least powerful quasi-liches can wield spells of the fifth circle, far above our capabilities.

Spring fired a needfire bolt across the border. It flashed white as it touched the border and became pure energy. The energy splashed the quasi-lich, but at a cost: dark sparkly bits swirled on the Shadowline. Needfire can, in shadow, attract the attention of other things. The quasi-lich hunkered down and cast shield. Spring fired again while we loaded the casket onto the cart. The quasi-lich glared at us, and we could see a desire to strike back on its bony, barely skinned face.

As we worked, a cluster of lesser demons also gathered near the border. We loaded the cart as quickly as possible and traveled on a parabola away from the border and back to the tower, arriving on the tower grounds near midnight.

A much older elf, with almost transparent skin, appeared. Her hair was elaborately coifed in a vertical style, extending perhaps nine inches above her head. She looked over the contents of the cart carefully. “Fascinating. The casket of the essence of one of the great liches.”

“Do you know what lich it belongs to?” asked Spring.

“A dracolich,” she replied, “but I cannot identify it more specifically than that.”

Spring gestured at the casket. “Do you want it?”

At almost the same moment, Sideh asked, “Can it be destroyed?”

“Yes, it can be destroyed. If we take it, our tendency will be to destroy it,” she replied.

I asked, “Would that destroy the lich?”

“No, but it would discomfit it for several months. It might be forced to flee. If the dracolich were discorporated first, it would not be able to reform if the phylactery were destroyed.” She paused while we considered that, and then slowly continued. “However, it is also worth noting that most liches will do almost anything to regain their phylactery. I hesitate to mention this-- deals with any Shadow creature are dangerous. But you have Paranswarmians among you, and our Paranswarmian allies have often been more willing to engage in negotiations with the Shadow to gain advantage than the forces of Light. It seemed amiss to not raise the possibility.”

We all discussed the possible uses of leverage over a dracolich. We quickly focused on the possibility of using the dracolich to destroy the remaining forces at Dragonhold Ripgut, but the Keeper rejected that idea. “It is unlikely that he would do something as utterly self-destructive as to destroy the Dragonhold.”

“What about attacking Lord Bastion?” I asked. He was not one of our main objectives but still represented an obstacle to restoring Caldefor to the Darkness.

“That might be something he would be willing to do.”

We discussed the matter further and developed a more complete plan.

I spent the night in the town and checked on those we had brought into the Darkness. As their masters, we have a duty to supervise them and make certain that they prosper, that they may provide us with greater services in the future. I also had been on the road for a long time and wished to enjoy the comforts of our home in exile. I found that the Trueborn fared well. They had learned that if they worked hard, they would get a sufficient amount to eat. This was novel to them and inspired both loyalty and devoted attention to their duty. It underscored the tremendous waste of resources inherent in the Shadow’s methods. The goblyn was still just getting used to living beyond the Shadow, but he had been deloused, shaved, and scrubbed. A pinkish color now shone through under his gray. I believe that with sufficient time, he, too, would become a loyal servant of Lord Paranswarm. Indeed, perhaps we could use him as a leader to bring other goblyns into the Darkness.

We also had further discussions with Lord Varlin. A second Hastur--this one rather less stable, as far as I could tell-- joined the first Keeper and us for breakfast. His strange ramblings and confused ways troubled me. We depend on the Hastur for a chance to bring Caldefor back to the Darkness. Indeed, we will need their Shadowline to keep Caldefor endarkened after we triumph, unless Lord Paranswarm or His Holy Church choose to devote more power to the protection of our homeland than He has in His Wisdom done thus far. And yet, it is difficult to not perceive a certain whiff of chaos in the Hastur. Does their descent into madness show that they are not truly aligned with the forces of order? A troubling thought, but if that were the case, I cannot fathom why they would make common cause with us. Our Glor’diadelian allies are comprehensible. Though their god is weaker than Lord Paranswarm and unworthy of service, Glor’diadel is a lesser god of law. The enmity between Glor’diadelians and the Shadow is as natural as the Church’s declarations that the Shadow is anathema.

I cannot discern a similar reason for a force of chaos to battle against the Shadow. To be sure, chaos wars within itself-- one of the many demonstrations of its inherent inferiority. But while we have manipulated parts of the Shadow to our ends, we do not recognize any true alliance with them. The relationship with the Hastur is different. Perhaps they are best understood as tools that gradually break after long service. If they devote themselves to the Law in principle but are made disordered by the great forces they must contend with, our alliance is logical. Then they would be worthy of pity for their sacrifice, giving up their own internal order as a sacrifice to the greater Order of Lord Paranswarm and His lesser allies. I remain troubled and will consult with a priest when I have the opportunity. Still, it is clear that the Church and the rightful Count regard the Hastur as allies, and I would never question their authority.
 

One of the Hastur made an announcement at the breakfast. “Honored lords, ladies, guests, and friends, we are pleased to announce the failure of a raid intended to capture the clingfire currently en route from the capital to the towers. The Chaos Champion is currently falling back, though not in open flight. Our forces are remaining set in case this is a feint.”

The other Keeper, who we were now becoming familiar with, spoke gently to Lord Varlin. “Do you wish to meet your distant cousin this morning?”

He looked at her suspiciously. “You do not intend to kill me and consume my brain, do you?”

“No. The thought had not crossed my mind. In fact, I hope that no matter how senile I get, that thought will never cross my mind.” A worthy sentiment on her part, but another acknowledgment of the chaos that overtakes the Hastur’s minds over time.

“I do not understand you,” he replied.

“That is acceptable. Understanding takes time.”

“Then I will meet my cousin.”

“It will be like a family reunion,” commented Buzz.

“Then who will die?” asked Lord Varlin.

“Does that always happen at family reunions?” she asked.

“I have only been to two. Both were arranged so that someone would be killed.”

Buzz had no reply that could assuage Lord Varlin’s fears. A few minutes later, the winged figure reappeared. Lord Varlin and the celestial talked-- this time Lord Varlin, while clearly frightened and awed, did not suffer a collapse. We withdrew to our day’s duties as they continued their discussions.

Before implementing our plan with the phylactery, we attended to some routine business. We sold approximately half of the dragon organs we had recovered. Due to the limited nature of the market in which we sold them, we were only able to get 350 silver. We kept the other half, which I estimated as enough to summon three black abishai. Spring asked for the materials to summon one, and I was allocated enough to summon two. Because Spring had raised the possibility that he would begin engaging in diabolism in the future, I stressed the fact that he would need to apply for a license from the Church. He promised that he would secure a license before any summoning. While we dealt with the magical supplies, Sideh took the dragon scales he had harvested to a skilled leatherworker, who promised to make him a fine suit of armor.

With those matters dealt with, we returned to where we had seen the quasi-lich. We drafted a missive on a scrap of parchment, carried it forward to the Shadowline, and threw it across the line, taking care to not touch the Line itself for the sake of keeping our identity vague (and to remain beyond the quasi-lich’s power).

Our first message read, “We have your master’s phylactery. We want to negotiate.”

By this point, the quasi-lich had a small army of little demons and minor undead with it. One of the minor demons, a manes, crept up, picked up the letter, and carried it to the quasi-lich. The quasi-lich took out a black stone, concentrated, and then wrote back. The manes carried the quasi-lich’s message back to the Shadowline and carefully pushed it across using only one toe.

“We are also willing to negotiate. What do you wish from the great and mighty Lord Drakhl?’

“We wish to replace Lord Bastion. We wish Lord Drakhl to eliminate him for us, while keeping his manor relatively intact.”

The quasi-lich paused a long time, concentrating on its black stone, before sending back the next message across. “Lord Bastion is a weakling, worthless for the defense of our land. You are clever. You will do better with his minions. What guarantee can you offer that you will not continue to hold the phylactery over Lord Drakhl to blackmail him in perpetuity?”

Buzz took out a white pebble and stared at it. While we feigned communication with some absent master, we discussed our next response.
 

Session 7:

After much discussion, we agreed on a response, wrote it out, and sent it across. “It would be too dangerous. Someone would kill us to take it or torture us for the information about its location. We’re not interested in pushing our luck by holding onto it too long.”

After a longer delay of staring at the stone, it scribbled on a scrap of parchment, “The mighty and magnificent Lord Drakhl is willing to perform this act, but there must be one of you ready to take charge of the fortifications when they fall.”

We discussed that as well. Whoever we sent could easily be used as a hostage, yet there seemed little choice but to accept--anything else could easily destroy the negotiations. “That is acceptable. The person we choose will bring servants appropriate to manning the mansion. When will you strike?”

“The magnificent Lord Drakhl departs for Lord Bastion’s mansion as we speak, with 500 eum. I will lead you there when you are ready.”

I should note that Twang glared at the demonic servitors of the quasi-lich, terrifying them completely. I do not know what to make of this. Perhaps he was trying to support the ruse, or perhaps he simply wishes the forces of Shadow to fear him if there is a later battle. His actions seem rather disordered to me, but the alliance with him has worked well thus far, and so I decided to not raise an issue out of his oddities.

With the negotiations completed, we returned to the Circle for our final preparations, again following a parabolic route away from the Shadowline so that the quasi-lich would be unable to observe where we went.
 

Upon returning to the Circle, we asked to speak with the Keeper we knew was sane. When she met with us, we asked if the Hastur would be willing to cross the Shadowline to engage Drakhl. It would not be without risk, but if he could be lured to the edge of the Shadowline, while we still possessed his phylactery, we would have an opportunity to destroy him permanently.

The Keeper thought carefully and then nodded. “We will take part in this plan. In particular, Drakhl might attempt to cross the Shadowline to rescue his phylactery. If we were caught unaware by such an effort, the dracolich might succeed. But if we are ready, he would surely perish. If he is not willing to cross, we will take the battle to him. I see a chance, in the prolipses, of actually freeing Caldefor. That is worth hazarding a certain amount of risk.”

“We will be moving troops down to Bastion’s manor,” I added. “Are there additional warriors that we could use to augment the Trueborn we will bring with us?”

“Few of your people continue. Most of those who escaped as refugees have resettled over the years. However, an offer of land and status might well get you some bands of hardy, though undisciplined, warriors.”

Some of my companions spoke favorably about this idea, but I noted a problem. “We would need to speak to the Count in exile. The lands are not ours to offer-- they belong to the Count, and to any of his nobles who have remained loyal and joined him in exile. We could not presume to offer his lands as a reward.”

“There may be some who would serve for the offer of loot without land, although they will be fewer and you will need to work harder to recruit them.”

Buzz raised the issue of how long it would take Drakhl’s army to reach Bastion’s manor. That would determine how long we would have to gather troops of our own. The Hastur said that it would take the Eum four days to make the trip from Dragonhold Ripgut to the manor. The rest of us had a more realistic estimate: it would take a minimum of a week, and possibly substantially more time, for the eums to force-march that distance. [In fact, Konrad botched an Int check here. The Hastur’s estimate was correct.] That would leave us substantial time to recruit mercenaries. We agreed that Sideh and Spring would guard the phylactery, both while we recruited mercenaries and while we traveled to the manor to take possession.

The Hastur spoke again. “Since I have taken an interest in this, I can transport you and any mercenaries you recruit. Would you be interested in nonhuman troops, from the place of Passing? Rapa would be particularly convincing, although chuliks might be better in a fight.”

“What are they?” we asked.

“They are creatures that pass into our plane from beyond.”

“Are they reliable?”

“We have hired a few for previous purposes.”

We agreed that we would travel to the place of Passing to recruit troops. I also sent Alveera to recruit warriors as well-- I figured that she would be able to find many soldiers interested in work.
 

A short while later, another Hastur, his hair arranged in an elaborate corkscrew, descended the stairs. “My dear lady… going out after a twelve hour shift?”

“I believe I am. I’m taking these young people, living and dead, to the place of Passing.”

She gathered us together and touched a bracelet. A moment later, we were standing in wind-whipped mountains. The area was strange-- the mountain valley appeared natural, but the large town within the valley contained every shape of hut imaginable. All of the huts were gathered around a spot where a blue light flickered about, seemingly randomly. The place of Passing lies in the middle of the Barrier Mountains on Drucien-- several thousand miles away from Caldefor.

“Ah, Elder, come thee here,” said the Keeper, before carefully introducing us to a white haired man-- the only human outside our group that we could see in the valley. “They are looking for warriors. What has come through the gate recently?”

The Elder bowed respectfully. “Many Pachak, and some few Rapa, have passed in.”

“Do they look for employment?”

“The Pachak… who can say? The Rapa always seek employment, great lady.”

He led us off towards a couple small encampments outside the village. The mix of creatures in the village was amazing-- mostly things I had neither seen nor heard of before, but some few that I recognized. I had to wonder if such diversity of forms could be consistent with good order, but we needed troops, and they did not seem Abyssal in origin. The Elder brought us to a large encampment in the trees and gestured at a small encampment on the ground some distance away. “The Pachak are above. As for the Rapa, their encampment is over there.”
 

We approached the Pachak first. The Elder clambered up the trees with surprising dexterity, and we began following. Buzz simply walked up the side of the tree, using one of her psionic abilities. As she climbed, a group of monkey-like people, wearing leather armor and with hands on the ends of their tails, clambered down. They seemed fascinated by her climbing and stared at her feet in curiosity. I threw a rope up to Buzz and climbed up after she had tied it off.

An elderly female of the monkey people, who we inferred were the Pachak, spoke, but not in any language we recognized. We responded by greeting her in a rapid profusion of languages-- Common, Abyssal, Infernal, Draconic, Kobold-- I even tried the Paranswarmian Church language. She did not appear to understand any of the languages fluently, but finally said in accented and unclear Common, “Hello.”

Buzz bowed slightly. “Hello. I am Buzz, and these are my friends, Twang and Konrad.”

“Choktarcrichet,” responded the elder. She waived all three of her hands at all of the others of her kind and said, “Pachak.”

Twang asked, “Pachak from here?”

Choktarcrichet shook her head and pointed at the blue light in the village.

Twang continued, “Want place to live?”

The elder thought and then nodded, “Village.”

“Yes, village home,” said Buzz.

I added, “Better village.” We were all being careful to try to keep our words and concepts simple.

Twang moved on to the next point. “Need work?”

“Warriors?”

“Yes, warriors.”

“Varedoiny,” said the Elder, pointing at Buzz.

That lost us completely. Buzzed turned to the Hastur for help. “Can you determine, with her permission, what she means by that?”

“I should be able to,” said the Hastur. They stared at each other for a while. “Ah. Servantum.”

The elder and all of the other creatures nodded vigorously at that. She came over and stroked Buzz’s foot and kissed her toes.

The Hastur explained. “Apparently, their world has two types of mind-walkers: the Servantum and the Varedoiny. The Servantum cure the sick and protect people. The Varedoiny use their power to take whatever they want. I explained that you were Servantum.”

The elder looked at us again. “Village for warriors? Good land? Trees?”

That presented a slight difficulty. Lord Bastion has some small areas protected from the Dhoyles, but most of his land has had the life sucked from it to become dust. The only way we know of to restore the land is to use fertilizer, and then to grow binding plants that bring the dust back into usable soil. Over time, the land becomes fertile again. However, it could easily be a ten-year process before the land would support trees.

Twang took it upon himself to explain this. In his broken Common, he explained that there is some land, but that all the good land is claimed. The Pachak could have land, but it will take work and will need to be reclaimed. The Choktar, for we figured out that that was a title, not a name, asked clarifying questions while Twang tried to explain. With neither of them truly fluent in Common, the process was nigh interminable, but three hours later, Twang had finally gotten the message across.

While Twang and the Choktar talked, Buzz and I started some sparring matches. If we were going to use these Pachak as warriors, we would need to know how able they were. I summoned a lemure. Almost immediately, the Pachak all drew weapons and targeted them at the lemure. “For spar,” I said, gesturing to try to communicate the idea. Finally, one of them screwed a vial on a stick and sprinkled water on the lemure and Buzz. Based on their behavior, they probably thought that the water was holy, but it did not burn the lemure as I would expect. I am not certain why not. [It is holy water, but the Pachak’s god is from a plane too far from Aphonion to grant divine magic. While the weakest clerical spells still function, based on faith alone, higher level magic and the consecration of holy water is impossible. The PCs have not yet learned this.]

The Pachak distributed wooden swords and formed a line. The first one bent its knees outward and bobbed its head and then held its sword up in a salute. The Choktar rang a bell, at which point the lead Pachak whirlwinded forward. Buzz and the Pachak whacked each other simultaneously with the wooden swords, while a second wooden blade whizzed by Buzz’s head. The next Pachak stepped up, and Buzz and the Pachak each struck resounding blows with the wooden weapons. The Choktar rang its bell and sent them aside. I gestured the lemure forward, and it engaged its foe. They each hit struck once, with the lemure whacking its opponent hard. The Pachak attempted to step back, but the lemure pursued. I was forced to dismiss it to prevent an incident.

Meanwhile, Twang and the Choktar were drawing pictographs in the dirt by this point, desperately trying to get their messages through. Finally, the Choktar nodded and accepted the offer on behalf of the entire group.

Based on the sparring, we estimated that the Pachak were elite to ultra-elite troops [about 4th-5th level], and incredibly disciplined. The military orders of Paranswarm are the only forces that I have seen that are as well-disciplined. Our estimate was that they were an army unit. They included roughly 400 warriors, all male, with perhaps 40 camp followers and about 60 illegitimate children.

Buzz mentioned that those numbers might be too small to set up a permanent community-- they would become badly inbred over time. I suggested that we might give them some of the Trueborn. They might not be able to breed together, but it would be worth the attempt.

Buzz asked, “Rapa?” and shrugged. If they were enemies, we would not want to trigger a conflict.

They pinched their noses. One poured water off the platform. Not a positive response, to be sure, but not an indication of hatred either. We decided to seek the Rapas’ aid as well.
 

The area around the Rapa encampment had a vile odor. They had stomped the area completely flat, like ostriches do to make a nest, but as far as we could tell, they deposited their waste right next to where they live. The Rapa themselves, about fifty in number, looked a great deal like underfed, weaker vrocks. They have vulture-like feathers, red and black bands on their necks, and light feathering. They are effectively humanoid, without functional wings, and armed with javelins and very thin whip-swords. One of them, wearing bangles, hopped out to meet us.

“Yes?” it cried in a strange, bird-like voice

“Want to work?” asked Twang.

“What kind of work?”

“Fight, build, tear-down, kill.” he responded.

I offered some silver and sought to clarify. “Fight, build, defend.”

The Rapa grew excited. “Fight! Kill! Shinies!”

It squawked to the other Rapa, who immediately began packing up their camp. We tried to negotiate a firm rate, but the Rapa did not seem to have a concept of numbers, just shiny objects. My conclusion is that the key is to give them enough when the fighting is finished. They think in terms of enough and not enough, without a concept of in between. We also noted both males and females among them, roughly evenly divided, but, unlike the Pachaks, they all carried the same weapons and wore the same baubles.

As they finished breaking down their camp, the Rapa leader returned to us and cried, “Kill the enemy!”

Twang enthusiastically responded, “Kill the enemy, take their shiny things.”

“Yes!” it responded.

While I appreciated their enthusiasm and lust for battle-- good characteristics in mercenaries, who so often hold back to collect their pay without truly facing danger-- I also had to wonder about their wildness. I fear that their resemblance to the vrock may be more than just outward experience. We confirmed that they do not radiate evil or strong chaos-- they are not demons or the spawn of demons, despite their appearance. But they may be more naturally inclined to chaos than to order, and unless we can rectify that, they will ultimately prove something of a liability.

With our recruiting finished, the Hastur opened another gate. We gestured our new troops to proceed through. The Pachak marched through the gate in perfect ranks, with the Choktar last, and then the Rapas cascaded through in a disorganized mob. We traveled last and reappeared back at the Circle, with all of the troops milling around.

We estimated that it would take three days to reach Lord Bastion’s manor. As soon as they arrived, the Pachak began digging trenches and putting up an earthwork rampart, in a very disciplined and military style. They may not have accepted Lord Paranswarm’s dominion formally yet, but they are natural followers of His, with Order inherent in their beings. Twang organized some of the Pachak to dig a proper latrine for the Rapas.

While the rest of the Pachak worked on the construction, the Choktar approached the Shadowline and pointed up at it. “Verdoiney?”

Twang nodded. “Oh, yes. Verdoiney.”

The Choktar bared her teeth and averted her lips. Twang mimicked the expression.

[That night, far away, deep in Shadow, beyond Caldefor, in an ancient hoary keep, a figure looked up from a board across which many playing pieces lay scattered, and a smile crossed its face. “Lord Drakhl’s phylactery is missing from across the land.”]
 

The following morning, we concluded our recruitment efforts for human mercenaries. Two bands of mercenaries were eager to fight against the Shadow, and we agreed to pay them with a share of the loot that we would take. A third band was more hesitant and negotiated heavily on price, although they became more interested once we told them that we would be traveling with a group of approximately 500 women. We ultimately agreed on pay of one silver piece per day per mercenary, to be supplemented by combat bonuses. All told, we ended up with about 120 human mercenaries.

We mobilize all of our troops and followers and headed across the Shadowline. We had some 600 combat-ready troops out of more than 1000 total.

“Hail and well met,” said the quasi-lich. “It is interesting creatures you bring, a powerful garrison I’m sure.”

Buzz replied, “It is in everyone’s interest for a strong garrison to replace Lord Bastion’s.”

“Indeed.” The quasi-lich summoned a nightmare. “Let us go. My lord is well on his way towards the enemy.”

We traveled peacefully for three days. By the time we arrived, the aftermath of a massive battle was under way. The manor had been taken. Eum troops were busily dismembering their former enemies and storing the meat. The eums had also impaled several people or things-- we inferred that they had been Lord Bastion’s favored servants.

The attack caught the manor by complete surprise. Approximately 300 of the eum also died-- an added benefit of reducing our foe’s strength. The surviving eum dismembered their dead fellows as well, but more ritually. They spoke to the dead and explained what their flesh would do to sustain others. The whole approach was surprisingly orderly for creatures of chaos.

The quasi-lich gestured at the manor. “The property is yours. Inspect it.”

The damage to the manor was largely restricted to the battlements and towers. The outlying towers were not in very good shape-- they looked like something large had landed on them and stuck in its claws. As we walked towards the manor, a eum commander approached. I recognized him from Dragonhold Ripgut as Commander Zolt. He looked us over carefully for a chaos champion, then for any sort of leader. After a moment, he approached me. He had noted the “succubus” I had as a follower, for that was how Alveera had disguised herself.

The eum saluted. “The grounds are secured. We are still mucking the tunnels. Lord Bastion has been destroyed. The Master awaits you.”

“Are you confident that Lord Bastion has been completely destroyed and not just forced to retreat?”

“My lord Drakhl himself has eliminated Lord Bastion. The destruction was total.”

Twang stepped forward. “Give us grand tour.”

“You wish to see everything? Very well, we will start with the nightmare stables, then the abyssal dog kennel, and work our way up through all of the rooms.” He took us through the manor, pointing out the libraries, the kitchens, and the other chambers as we passed.

“Are there surviving minions?” I asked.

“Yes, we corralled those who surrendered in the courtyard. Obviously, they are weak, so you may wish to destroy them, but that is your decision.”

“They will likely make adequate slaves,” I replied.

The eum nodded. “As slaves, weakness is all that one can expect.” He gestured at a heavy door as we walked past. “We have not breached the treasury. Frankly, since they are to be yours, I did not want to waste men breaching the traps.” He led us past the armory, the solarium, which obviously had not been used recently, the summoning chamber, the private chambers, the slave chambers, and the private torture chamber. In the torture chamber, Twang petted the instruments, drawing a grim nod from Zolt. Commander Zolt also pointed out several secret passages that they had forced open. “The tunnels are almost clear. We will finish that task before we depart.”

“Do they connect to the Underdark?”

“No, they are local surface tunnels. They exit about three miles away from the manor.”

As we finished our tour, I made a decision to try for a further advantage. I reached out with my mind to Alveera and had her relay a telepathic message to the eum commander. <<You should know, Commander Zolt, that Lord Drakhl and the undead of your garrison were responsible for Lord Ripgut’s death.>>

Commander Zolt blinked slightly but showed no other sign of recognition. As he finished the tour of the manor, he bowed to me with more respect. “There is the remains of what used to be the village when this was human, down the ridge. There are wells that draw non-poisoned water, which is useful for an encampment. Not that it will remain non-poisonous for long, with that number of half-demons among your garrison.” He nodded towards the Rapa, clearly believing them to be half-vrocks.

We thanked Zolt and dismissed him before turning our attention to defending the manor. We ordered the Pachak to begin repairing the towers. Buzz and Twang joined them as they mortared the towers back together. Twang began installing traps and casting mending. Buzz slowly learned a few words of the Pachak language, all having to do with masonry. They also noted that there appeared to be no rogues among the Pachak-- they recognize traps, but do not seem to have any use for them.

I spent my time examining the summoning chamber and the library with a few Rapa as guards. The summoning chamber was extremely elaborate and very well stocked, although many of the supplies were things I have never heard of using for summoning. I verified that there would be nothing improper about using the chamber to summon devils, despite the fact that it had supplies specific to summoning demons and was missing some of the standard implements for devils. It would take me some time to fully adjust it back to proper diabolist standards, but when that task is complete, it will be a useful resource.

My examination of the library was more eventful. The third book I looked at attacked me. It stunned me somehow and tried to pierce my skin with a proboscis. I struck the book with a magic missile, and one of the Rapa grabbed it and tried to slam it against the wall unsuccessfully. The book had some holes in it by this point that were oozing a black liquid. It attacked the Rapa, extending a long thick tendril towards its neck. The Rapa slammed it twice into the wall, squawking at it authoritatively. I cast Detect Thoughts and sensed a snarling and snapping mind in the book with a great sense of hatred toward me, based upon my devotion to the Law. The Rapa finally finished the book off. It went limp and then changed to look even more like a book. Using my spell, I was able to locate several other books with minds. I had the Rapa grab and bind all of the intelligent books. One of the books stood out with complex thoughts and lots of knowledge. It was also chained to its shelf. Once we secured all of the thinking books, I examined the one that had attacked.

The dead book was a description of the six courts of the dreaded Lords of the Council of Borsh’tro-- not exactly a religious book but not exactly a book of conjuration either. It listed the hierarchy of the people under the Council, their positions, and what favors the truly foolish could bargain for from them. Even without its mind, it was a dangerous book, although we did not destroy it because it might be useful in gaining intelligence against our enemies. The other most notable books were a couple of major works on demonic conjuration. Lord Bastion’s spellbooks were not present-- tracking them down would be an important task in finding the hidden treasures of the manor.

We posted the Pachak on watches that night so the rest of us could all sleep.
 

The following morning, we performed a few last checks to make sure the manor was secure before going to meet Drakhl. The latest round of Pachak guards reported that all was well. It is perhaps worth mentioning that because they reported in their language, not ours, there was some possibility of error in our interpretation, but they did not seem agitated. The eum commander also reported that his troops had finished clearing the tunnels and were withdrawing. As we looked around, we could see that the eum had burned the bones of their own people but left the bones of the enemy for animals, goblyns, and whatever else might want them.

We set out in the direction of the dracolich’s camp. We made some effort to make ourselves look as Shadow-like as possible-- in addition to my companions, we brought five of the Rapa and Alveera, in her succubus seeming. From what I gather, Alveera was very convincing-- she reported later having heard some of the eum suggesting that her presence meant that Malacat, the accursed Queen of the Succubi, had taken an interest in the war. As we walked, a very small group of undead approached--the quasi-lich, some skeletal commanders, and the dracolich itself, from whom we could feel an aura of fear radiating.

Drakhl turned his skull to face us. “Hail, mortals. I trust that you find the keep to your satisfaction.’

“Excellent job,” replied Twang. If Drakhl was bothered by the tone, he covered it well.

“I know that the phylactery is not with you, because I would sense its presence.”

“We thought that bringing it across the Shadowline would expose it to those who would wish to take it,” I said.

Drakhl’s skull rotated up and down on its neckbones. “There are those who would wish to see me destroyed or enslaved again. You were wise to leave it where it is secure.”

“We should make haste. The Hastur will notice eventually,” said Buzz.

“What of your minions?” I asked. “We have followers we would like to install.”

“The eum will withdraw. I will send them back to Dragonhold Ripgut while we march.”

We gave the orders to our people on how to secure the manor, leaving explicit instructions that no-one was to test the magical defenses and traps of the vault until we returned. Once that was taken care of, we marched on with Lord Drakhl’s small company. The three days of travel back to the Shadowline were uneventful. I suspect that none of the creatures of Shadow dared to move close enough to the dracolich to be noticed.

We crossed over immediately upon reaching the Shadowline. It was clear that Drakhl did not trust us, but he had no choice but to let us go to fetch the phylactery and we had no choice but to leave him just on the Shadow side of the Line. Almost immediately upon crossing the border, a wave of mental force slammed into us. We did not even try to resist and were immediately rendered unconscious. I later heard reports that described what happened next. Following our plan, the Hastur appeared at the Line, ready for battle. Drakhl frantically tried to decide what to do, but before he could take clear action, the entire force of black eum fell on his company from the rear, with their allies from the Dragonhold. The eum succeeded in disembodying him, sending his soul rushing towards the barrier and his phylactery. When his soul reached the Shadowline, however, the Hastur Lady happily incinerated it with a gesture of her hand and a thrust of her mind. While the lesser undead slew a few of the eum, and the desiccating spells from the quasi-lich were fierce, the eum had a surrounding position and ample missile weapons. Lord Drakhl’s company was completely annihilated.

We awoke to a bizarre scene. The Hastur were throwing a party, with wine glasses and bottles of champagne, some distance back from the Line. They had clearly moved us back along with their Twang joins the party. The Hastur noted that Drakhl’s destruction would leave a window while Dragonhold Ripgut is empty-- without a commander or some being that could act as a semblance of a commander, the undead there would be ineffective. It could take months for a new lord of Shadow to arise.

Twang suggested trying to recruit the eum, and we began discussing possible next steps.
 

Session 8:

We discussed with the Hastur the consequences of moving the Shadowline. The Keeper informed us, “If the Shadowline were moved past Ripgut, in the absence of a powerful necromancer, the lesser undead would all perish, and the greater undead would be driven back into Shadow-- either south or east towards Greatclaw. There was an old Circle, called Circle Treehaven, to the south that could be used as a node to shift the Shadowline. The area around that circle has been less devastated by the Dhoyles and Demon Lords than most of the areas in Caldefor.” The Keeper paused, lost in thought. She continued quietly. “Before the intaking, there was an even an ent that made its home there.”

“What happened to it?” I asked.

“We do not know for sure. When it was last seen, it was still fighting, but that was at the time of the intaking. By now--who knows? It could have gone crazy. If it still lives, it might even be tainted, but I can’t imagine that it still lives.”

“What would be necessary to reactivate Circle Treehaven?” asked Buzz.

“The Great Matrix of Treehaven was withdrawn during the retreat, but the lesser matrices remain. One would need to transport the Great Matrix to the Circle, remove the faux from the apex, and put the Great Matrix back in its place,” answered the Hastur. “Once the Great Matrix was restored, we would be able to aport to the Tower and reassert both its defenses and the Shadowline.”

We discussed this possibility and agreed that we were ready to move the Shadowline. The Keeper gave us an “Instructor”-- a small psionically active sphere that would be able to activate the Great Matrix once it was in place.

At that point, one of the staff of the Circle approached the Hastur. “Shield Mechanic Twiddletoes with a report, m’lady. A small group of the eums have crossed under the line, and seem to be scouting the town-- not more than a half dozen. They have not taken any offensive action yet.”

“Probably looking for us,” said Sideh. “They would be grateful for our assistance in destroying the dracolich but concerned that we were captured by the Hastur.”

“Then we should let them ‘rescue’ us,” said Buzz. “But how would we do that without risking the lives of guards?”

“Gibbets,” I said. “If we are suspended in gibbets as if we were being left to die of exposure, they could plausibly leave the area unguarded at night. It would be foolishness for actual guards to leave prisoners undefended, but I think that the forces of Shadow will accept it. They will then presumably sneak in to release us.”

The others quickly agreed. Fortunately, this Keeper was one of the most sane and sophisticated we had dealt with. Most of the Hastur, from what I understand, would be incapable of following a plan of deception such as this, but she understood what we planned and ordered her captain to make the appropriate preparations. And so that evening, the guards locked us in suspended steel cages and then left us unguarded. The cages were old and worn-- I suspect that they had not been used in about fifty years. Sometimes our Tarkenian allies reveal how soft they are. But they still had functioning locks, and the guards locked them closed and removed the keys. They carefully positioned a wheelbarrow, the Great Matrix for Circle Treehaven, and our weapons and equipment in a nearby shed. Then they left us dressed in rags, the cages swinging quietly in the wind and as we shifted, as night began to fall.
 

Dungeon Delver's Guide

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