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

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.
 

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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.
 

Voidrunner's Codex

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