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.
 

Voidrunner's Codex

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