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

Not long after dark, a figure faded out of the shadow next to the cages. The eum, for that is what it was, slipped discreetly over to our gibbets. One at a time, the eum carefully unlocked each of the cage doors, taking about ten minutes total. He then backed up and gestured to us. We quietly dropped out of our cages, and Twang gestured to the storehouse. The lock took him a while, but eventually he opened it. We hurried in, grabbed our equipment, and put the blackened filigreed mithril matrix screen in a wheelbarrow. He lead us back to where the rest of the eum were hiding-- another six, including one we took to be some sort of leader, as he had previously been seen hanging by Zolt. The officer or shaman had tiny dragonscales by the muzzle. They gestured at a small tunnel under the Shadowline, with one of the eum leading the way through either to reassure us in case of danger. We pushed the wheelbarrow across the line above ground-- it is inanimate and could not set off any of the defenses-- and then wriggled through ourselves, crossing the way that foul creatures of Shadow do.

The Eum shaman breathed a deep sigh of relief once the last of the eum had crossed. He carefully picked out in clear but stilted Common, “Zolt said we should help.”

“Thank you,” said Twang.

“You help us. We help you. It is the honor of the Dragon.” The shaman looked back at the Shadowline, clearly unnerved by its proximity. “We must draw far from the Light-Dark. Come. Zolt is of two minds.”

They led us off towards their camp. The main body of eums had drawn back about a mile from the border and set up a very well-defended encampment. We saw a rare sight in Shadow: the eums were carefully tending their wounded.

I asked the shaman, “Do all black eums treat their wounded?”

“Of course,” he responded. “It is the way of the Dragon. We are not like others.” He said that last sentence with almost palpable distaste. He then pointed to a command tent. “Zolt be there, with his lieutenants, plotting.”

At the tent, two black eums stood guard outside, but they bared their teeth and then held the tent flap up as we approached. As the shaman had said, Zolt and three others of the largest of the black eums had a huge map spread out on the table. He clapped his hands when he sees us. “Good. You live.”

“Thanks to you.”

“Yes. The Light-Dark is not a place to go willingly, but by leading him there, you allowed us to punish him for the destruction of our Lord.”

“We were happy to help with your revenge.”

“Not revenge,” Zolt said. “Justice.” Zolt directed our attention to the map, which showed Dragonhold Ripgut and the disposition of undead forces within and around it. “We must discuss how to reach the leaders of the treacherous undead-- there are twenty who are dangerous. We can destroy them, but only if we can develop a plan to reach them without being bogged down fighting the lesser undead.”

“We help!” said Twang, baring his teeth.

Zolt bared his in response, pleased. “That is good. If we cannot find a way to destroy them, we will swear allegiance to you. We would not throw away our lives for something that cannot be retaken.”

Ironically, had we truly been of Shadow, that might have made us want to fail to find a viable strategy in the interest of adding the eums to our forces. As it was, however, destroying the remaining forces at Dragonhold Ripgut remained a key step in redeeming Caldefor. And while I was beginning to ponder whether the black eums were less naturally chaotic than other eums, such that they might be converted to Lord Paranswarm’s service, we still believed that pressing the attack on the Dragonhold outweighed any other goal.
 

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Sorry for the delay-- real life got a little complicated. Posts should be regular from now on.

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Zolt pointed at a high chamber on the map. “Here is where Lord Drakhl used to stand. His under-liches and-- more importantly-- his vampire knight will gather there. We must enter the compound and reach the third level with our numbers intact. The vampire in particular is very powerful.”

“How many would you send in?” asked Sideh.

“Myself, the shaman, and half of my knights,” answered Zolt definitively. “The rest would hold the line against the lesser liches.”

“Can we lure the vampire out?”

“The vampire will not leave the chamber of command now that his master is dead. The lesser lich with Lord Drakhl had time to send a message before we slew him.”

“Does the vampire have a casket that he would defend?”

“Casket?” Zolt looked blank. “I do not know. Call for Abedoc.”

One of the lieutenants stepped out of the command tent and returned a short while later with the shaman.

Zolt looked at the shaman. “The vampire? Caskets?”

“Of course, my lord. They must have such things. It is their nature.”

“Why did I not know?”

“You did not ask.”

“Where are his caskets?”

“I do not know fully, my lord.”

“With them, we could manipulate him.”

“I know that he keeps one in the antechamber next to his chamber of command. I do not know where the others are.”

“How could we find out where his others are?”

“He could have up to four, my lord. No one knows where the others are.”

Zolt scowled at this and stared at the map, as if he could divine their locations through concentration alone.

I asked another question. “Do they know Lord Drakhl was destroyed and not driven to the phylactery?”

“Probably not,” replied Zolt. “They would need to have known that his phylactery was still on the farside of the Light-Dark. I do not know how they would have known that.”

“Then if your army has the phylactery, they will have to sally forth to meet you.”

“Yes, but the phylactery is still in the bright lands.”

“We know where it is. We should be able to recover it and bring it back to your army.”

“Ah. Good. Then you will go and bring the phylactery across. We will then draw the vampire forth with its master’s remnant.” Zolt gestured to one of his guards. “Here. Take these vials—they will help. One sip will render each of you invisible for twenty minutes.” The lieutenant gave one vial to Twang and one to me, and we set forth towards the Shadowline.
 

While we were back on the Tarkenian side of the Shadowline, we procured some supplies that would be helpful in assaulting the Dragonhold. Twang located a wand of fly, and we sent Alveera to try to procure the wand on the Hastur’s credit. She bluffed the merchant perfectly, convincing him that she was entirely righteous. She seemed slightly aggrieved to have failed to completely seduce him, but she did persuade him to sell her the wand on credit at less than she should have paid in cash. Spring also bought a scroll of resist energy.

With our preparations completed and having regained the now meaningless phylactery, we dashed back to the Eum army at full speed. We then traveled steadily towards Dragonhold Ripgut, along with the Eums. We decided not to fetch our army or this operation—the combination of the risks inherent in delay and the danger that our army would interact poorly with the Eums rendered it too dangerous.

Without much difficulty, we reached the outskirts of the Dragonhold. It took us five days to get there. We cast some divinations on the march, partly to confirm some of our suspicions. The black Eums did not detect as chaos; indeed, about a third of them detected as lawful to varying degrees. The shaman was particularly lawful, and Zolt shone with the same aura of Law as a paladin would have. Each night, they opened up a case with every representation of a dragon they had ever managed to find. I looked carefully and spotted a holy symbol of Vitrix-Henoxi, the great two-headed dragon saint of Lord Paranswarm, in the box. I asked if I could worship with them, as they venerated a saint that I also know to be holy, and they happily agreed. I read the holy stories of Vitrix-Henoxi from my Lives of the Saints. I also sent Alveera to toss a written message across the Shadowline asking for a priest of Vitrix-Henoxi to be sent across to try to convert a group of largely lawful Eum followers of Vitrix-Henoxi who did not serve Paranswarm. With their natural veneration of Order and their devotion to one of the Lord of Orderly Darkness’s saints, they would make natural converts, and that opportunity was worth quite some risk.

We held up about a mile outside the fortress proper, while Spring and a spell cast by Twang scouted the Dragonhold. [This is inaccurate. In fact, Twang sent his familiar, Snaggletooth the quasit, forward as a scout.] Our scouting revealed no sign of the Chaos Champion or her lamias—indeed, we detected no sign of anything alive in there anymore. The fairly substantial number of living servants and slaves prior to Ripgut’s death now appeared to be missing. Twang noted that here and there the shadows and wraiths lay interwoven with a piece of physical material. Lesser undead occupied the scouting positions, facing out from the fortress. The courtyard showed the signs of sinister activity. A group of banefires—purplish-tinged, pale white illumination sources that consume no fuel, usually powered by a link to the negative material plane-- had been placed around the periphery, and a large vat of a pale white fluid bubbled in the courtyard’s center.

Spring thought that fluid was dilute bone marrow, which is used for various necromantic rituals although neither of us knew what specific ritual this might be. The vat was about a quarter full. He did not spot any new undead outside the fortress, but if the vat really contained dilute bone marrow, any undead created from the same people would be incorporeal. Their bodies would not have survived the rendering process. Spring flew around the inside of the much less occupied fortress. A couple of larders had been rehung with deboned goblyns. He did not see a single living thing. He did note a slightly larger number of incorporeal undead, mostly shadows and a few wraiths, with a goblynish cast to their features, but the increase was not significant.

Spring approached the command center on the top level of the central keep or tower, a large square room where Ripgut dwelt before. Drakhl’s room was outside it. Now, in its center, a humanoid figure stood, or perhaps floated. The figure was fairly elegant, dressed in evening wear, with a long slender dueling blade hanging at his waist. Spring recognized him as Sir Irving Totten, a well-known duelist who killed at least twenty men on the dueling circuit. He had an intense look of concentration as he communed with something-- a much more intense look than Ripgut had ever had, which may have indicated that Sir Irving was having more trouble with whatever he was doing. Four of the healthiest looking goblyns were chained against the wall. A flutter of noncorporeal undead came and went while Spring watched, and four doughty looking undead stood by the wall-- with flesh, weapons, armor, but clearly undead. Periodically, a figure much like the quasi-lich we saw passed in, talked briefly, and then headed out. Spring identified one of the noncorporeal undead as a ghost, but the rest were wraiths. He also concluded that some form of abyssal spirits were bound to the structure, giving Sir Irving reports.

Spring concluded that most of the quasi-liches were necromancers, but relatively minor ones. The remaining quasi-liches appeared to be wizards-- Spring searched around trying to find their spellbooks. Within their private chambers, he actually witnessed the deaths of the last wave of the goblyns. The quasi-liches ritually slaughtered them, preserving the meat, removing the bones, rendering the bones for the marrow, and then performing a ritual while adding it to the vat. They had a great book, intelligent and malevolent, open and were following its instructions. The ritual spontaneously created a few incorporeal undead, but its true intent was clearly to open a temporary gate to the negative material plane to bring forth one of the great beasts that live there. They sought to bring across a negative material lord—at present, they did not have enough marrow, but even a minor lord would give them clout to counter the loss of power from the destruction of both Ripgut and Drakhl. The necromancers were discussing luring in a tribe of Goblyns or Trueborn to supplement their prior victims.

Neither Spring nor Twang’s scouting showed any sign of Lord Ripgut’s succubi or other demon types. The succubi may have been bound to him but then returned to the Abyss when he was destroyed. In any event, that was one threat that we would likely not need to deal with.

Back at the army, Twang told Zolt and the shaman that he could make the strike team able to fly.

Zolt was suitably impressed. “The blessings of the Dragon are with us if you can give the gift of the Dragon for us to fly to them.”

Zolt put the casket with the phylactery in a cart, with flag bearers carrying two tattered dragon banners. He carefully opened the casket, so the phylactery itself was visible inside. The Eum army drew near and paraded the phylactery. The undead almost certainly recognized the trap, but they almost had to fall for it. They fired some boneshard cannons to soften up the army, and then the entire horde sallied forth to meet us, led by the knight with the ghost in tow and his immediate guard with them.
 

Both sides fought fiercely in the large, pitched battle. The Eum shaman rebuked the undead, while the rank-and-file Eum engaged the foe in a grand melee.

The vampire knight led the undead charge, rushing straight towards the phylactery. Zolt and some of his most enthusiastic knights met the enemy in a brutal fight—even with the vampire having rushed into battle without adequate preparation, his capabilities outmatched Zolt’s. I snuck close to the fight and cast a Maximized Extended Demon Dirge. [This is probably a broken combination—the combination of Sudden metamagic feats and a spell which has two numeric variables resulted in an attack that inflicted 12 hp/round for 11 rounds.] Several of my companions also pressed the vampire knight with energy missiles and magic missiles. With the support of our spells, it became clear that we would prevail.

The ghost hurried in to try to assist its master, but Spring was able to lure it off by shooting it with needfire from his crossbow, which could still harm an incorporeal foe, unlike most of the Eum weapons. The ghost then charged at Spring, a fatal mistake. He was able to lead it further away, whittling away with magic missiles. A budding Eum sorcerer adopted the same tactic while Sideh lobbed in holy water—consecrated to Glor’diadel, not to the Lord of Orderly Darkness, but still effective against a Shadow creature. Finally, Sideh’s last vial of holy water destroyed the ghost.

Meanwhile, after more than a minute of battle, the vampire fell to Zolt’s sword and our spells. It dissolved into dust and a flick of light through the surrounding shadow as it departed. All of us except Spring and Sideh pursued the gaseous vampire while Zolt and his Eums concentrated on the remaining corporeal undead. Somewhat surprisingly, it did not head towards the Dragonhold. We followed and followed, out into the countryside as the form entered a cleft in the rocky ground. It traveled down quite far—about 300 feet-- to a casket at the bottom of the chasm. We carefully lowered ourselves down and forced open the casket to find the still body of the vampire. We chopped off its head, burned the head, and then buried the ashes. Based on my knowledge of the undead, that should be sufficient to destroy it permanently. We then returned, by which point the Dragonhold had fallen to our forces fully.

The Eums had been outnumbered nearly four to one, because there were only about 150 Eums left at the beginning of the battle. Nonetheless, they were much more disciplined and stronger than the corporeal undead. The battle inflicted heavy casualties on our erstwhile allies, but they had triumphed completely, leaving the undead mostly dead and with any survivors routed and scattered.
 

As we returned from finishing the task of destroying the vampire, the Eum shaman approached Sideh, while Zolt stood nearby. “It is said you are holy.”

“Yes.”

“You will help with the vat?”

“I will.”

“Many are unquiet that this thing has been done. Such things should not be. It is good that their master betrayed the great Ripgut that he might be destroyed. There are no cleansing words that I know to the dragon that are enough.”

Sideh nodded. “I think that a burial ritual would be enough to quiet most of the dead and to lay to rest the undead spirits that wish their bodies attended to properly.”

The shaman turned to his commander. “Mighty Zolt. I agree with the foreigner. If we bury them, and show them the honor of the dragon for what they have undergone, they will leave us in peace.”

“Let it be done, then.”

The shaman turned back to Sideh. “Can this wait for the morrow? I would like to treat the wounded first if we have time?”

Sideh thought carefully before answering. “Before the morrow would be best, but it can wait while we treat the wounded.”

“It would be best to do it at night, anyway,” I pointed out. After all, Lord Paranswarm’s influence on the world is strongest at night. The twilight hours offer too much possibility to the Shadow.

While the shaman began healing the surviving Eums, Zolt approached our group. “We cannot hold this place. But we must take the supplies, and empty the armory, before we go.”

“Where will you go?” asked Buzz.

“I do not know, but we cannot stay here. We are far too weak to hold this place.”

Seeing an opportunity, I spoke up at that moment. “If you will serve Vitrix-Henoxi fully, we will protect you. This path will not be easy, but if you follow it, you will find strength, protection, and a clear place in which to live in order.”

“Vitrix-Henoxi?” Zolt called over the shaman. “What is this Vitrix-Henoxi he speaks of?”

“It is an aspect of the Dragon they favor.”

“Indeed. Vitrix-Henoxi is the mightiest and most holy of all the dragon saints. If you will accept him as your patron, we will be able to ensure your safety.”

Zolt paused and then spoke definitively. “Very well. We will enter your service and pledge ourselves to that aspect of the Dragon.”

Truly, I rejoice in having been given the role of guiding a small army of Eums into the service of the Orderly Darkness. They will be a formidable force to redeem Caldefor. They also offer the possibility of serving as a wedge to draw in ever more of the black Eums.

We began the process of ransacking the Dragonhold—an effort made more difficult by the fact that there were only 40 able-bodied Eums left, although over a hundred wounded still survived. The armory was well appointed, but entirely mundane-- 500 swords, 450 crossbows, 600 pikes, and 400 sets of the worst armor we have ever seen, probably intended as armor for Eums. Among the more interesting mundane equipment were two field portable catapults, along with 10 spheres for each catapult. The spheres contained a white gas that would cause severe cramping and then death. We also recovered 20 decent shields, each bearing the arms of one of the Caldeforian great houses. Finally, we recovered a huge number of bolts from the armory-- something like 3000, although we did not have the opportunity to inventory them precisely. The bolts were decent in quality.

A more interesting haul waited for us under a secret floor panel in the room where Ripgut sat. One of the Eums opened the panel, revealing an enormous treasure-- a grand total of about 25,000 silver and four massive pieces of jewelry, the values of which were far beyond our ability to even estimate. We also found an enormous bandoleer with four vials in it. Each vial contained a potion, with one a potion of biding—a most useful elixir, traditionally used by conjurers to bind a more powerful creature than the wizard could usually control—and another a potion of prismatic spray. The prismatic spray potion was the most powerful I had ever seen; after drinking it, it allows its user to vomit forth a prismatic spray, with all of the destructive capability of the spell, although if it is not discharged within half an hour, it will discharge in the user’s stomach with almost-certainly fatal results. We could not identify the other two potions, but if they are anything like the first two in power, they will be most useful. Off to one side lay a carelessly placed bracelet set with five massive amber stones, each of which glowed in a subtly different shade. Buzz recognized that as a testing bracelet-- it tests for each of the five guilds of psionic power.

We searched the treasure chamber carefully and found a secret door hidden in one corner of the treasure chamber. As soon as we touched that panel, a sudden roar of presence filled the room and three squat, runny figures appeared in front of us. I recognized them at once as nupperibo, sometimes referred to as least demons, and commanded Alveera to kill them.

We all blasted away at them with our weapons and magic, and a few moments later they had been dispatched back to the Abyss. Sideh did suffer a nasty gash on his arm that showed some signs of infection, but nothing that could not be healed readily.

Spring tried to poke his head through the panel but had difficulty putting his head through, despite his incorporeality. He then signaled for the rest of us to stand well back and carefully opened it using his ghost-touch gloves. As it opened, a horde of coin-sized spiders poured out and ran through his form. Spring flew straight up away from them and unleashed an elemental burst where he had been, wiping them out. He then reached into the small compartment and found one of the most lovely tooled leather pouches we had ever seen, with runes in a strange language none of us could recognize worked across it. We also found a sealed scroll embedded in the abdomen of a spider and a short adamantine rod, which glowed softly. We added these to the items we recovered from the vampire—a fine masterwork sword of an adamantine and steel alloy, but not magicked, presumably because that would violate dueling rules, along with a cravat of graceful movement [that adds 4 to the user’s Dex for 10 rounds/day].

We recovered several spellbooks. The dracolich’s spellbook was the easiest to locate because of its 3 foot by 5 foot size, but the others were not well concealed. As a final step, we scanned through the whole fortress using detect magic effects and were rewarded with a Ring of Prescience [that adds a +1 insight bonus to attack rolls] and a jar of Keoughtum’s ointment, with 2 doses.

While we took care of that search, the Eums stripped the keep. Everything they could not carry was slashed or assembled into great piles in the courtyard and burned. They also began sapping the walls—a fast process from the inside.
 

Session 9:

7 Vaen

We spent the night in the Dragonhold. The able-bodied Eums sapped the walls while we slept, and we demolished the hold in the morning.

As we prepared to travel, the Eums made preparations to move all of the wounded who could survive, placing them on sleds for easier transportation. I helped some of the badly wounded survive the travel by casting False Life on them. The shaman euthanized the Eums that would not be able to survive, including the dozen or so with taint. In an impressive display of discipline and devotion to Order, none of the Eums, even the tainted ones, resisted being killed. We burned the bodies of the Eums with taint, using tapestries and furniture from the Dragonhold as fuel.

Over the next four days, we made the journey back to the manor we had seized from Bastion. The Eum army was still large enough, even with the casualties, that nothing approached our group closely enough to spot on the trip. We arrived on 11 Vaen.

Our people continued to occupy the area around the manor, but none of them had entered the manor itself. However, the day before we returned, a strange tent had appeared among the Pachak without warning.

The pavilion stood out obviously as we approached. Rather than being one of the Pachak’s tents, or one of the rough, thrown-together style of tents often seen in the Shadow, this was a large, elaborate purple tent, of a thick material, with glowing stars on the outside. The pavilion had an awning, which sheltered two rubbery-looking, mostly naked men with long-swords slung over their back. The two “men,” although I surmised that they were actually demons, looked like harem guards.

A large steel table also stood under the awning, set with crystal, a decanter of wine, and enough chairs for all of us plus one. We approached the table and sat.

The decanter floated upwards and poured a rich-looking wine into each glass. A woman, remarkably beautiful except for the black, leathery wings sprouting from her back, stepped forth from veils behind the awning. She minced over to the table, her thin silk clothing swaying in a way at once revealing and concealing. “A toast to your success.”

I recognized that she was, without question, a high-ranking succubus. The harem guards suggested that she was not a noble in her own right but was instead the wife of an Abyssal power. I also inferred from the stars on her pavilion and some of her accoutrements that she was a sorceress, but I could not identify her specifically. I mimed drinking but was careful to not actually touch any wine from a demon.

“Your victory is an inspiration to us all,” she added as she sat in the head chair.

“So what brings you to our camp?” asked Spring.

“To celebrate your victory, and the additional victories you will have. It will set back the predilections of some of the local lords. Trying to conquer this plane is folly-- we have six-hundred-sixty-six of our own, and this plane will continue to supply us with souls without our dominion”

“We are surprised to see you here, nonetheless,” I said. “You rarely take such a direct interest.”

“Indeed. The 469th layer is very far from here. We are rarely called on to supply troops, and even more rarely to provide supplies. Still, in light of your successes, it seemed worthwhile.” The succubus’s voice became more business-like, although it retained the dangerously seductive undertone. “Be forewarned: Sargeantanis has seen your actions. He is coming. He believes that by capitalizing upon your actions here, he can displace utterly the forces that presently hold this territory. Not the capital or the inner part, of course, but the area where we are sitting. He even believes he can win the loyalty of Sarconis the Chaos Champion. I do not know if he can, but he believes so. He has gathered his army and marches. It would be to your advantage to establish that pesky little psionic barrier before he has established control of the territory.”

Alveera whispered to me, as if in my ear, “She is Urkobona, the wife of Urkobach the Tyrant.” [Konrad did not realize there was anything amiss, but Alveera struggled with her divided loyalty before aiding him—his binding proved stronger than her loyalty to the Abyss.]

“That is useful intelligence, Urkobona,” I said.

She smiled in response. “Ah, so you did recognize me. I am glad—it would have been so tedious to have needed to report that you did not.”

“Who would dare to not recognize the consort of Urkobach the Tyrant?”

“Indeed, he does get so angry at such slights. Since you know who I am, perhaps you would like to visit my library at some point? You would be most welcome.”

“I cannot. It is forbidden to consort with such as you.”

She waived her hand airily. “Such a tiresome ordnance. You might find things better—certainly more exciting—if you looked beyond it. I could grant so much in exchange for your souls, or even a portion of your souls.”

“No. I have a prior commitment. And the Church does not suffer to live those who would sell you even the tiniest portion of their souls,” I added in case any of my companions might waver.

She rubbed a fingernail across Sideh’s cheek. “And you, my quiet priest?”

“Yes?”

“Well, you know there is knowledge to be gained of the divine, of hope as well as of fear, and there is the deepest knowledge to be gained, the knowledge of yourself.”

Sideh stiffened and refused with a firmness that approached my own.

[For the next month, Sideh’s dreams would be tormented by visions of her, and he would suffer a -1 to all Will saves due to exhaustion. He would get another save in 30 days. Despite himself, he was totally distracted and besotted. Konrad did not notice at all.]

Urkobona rose from the table. Her people packed up the tent carefully but rapidly. She also flirted with Sideh outrageously at every opportunity.

“I hope the information I’ve given you will help you all. We must return now to my husband’s court, but I will be… no, I won’t be praying for you, will I?” Her smile was damnably insidious. “But I hope you succeed.” They strode off and she brushed past Sideh as she went. Within twenty feet, she had shimmered out of the plane entirely.
 

My companions and I discussed what to do in light of the information Urkobona had provided us. Both Sideh and I recognized the name Sargeantanis. We have heard him listed among the many bastard offspring of Gnnnst; according to legend, Sargeantanis’s mother was a black dragon. He is about the equivalent of a demonic knight, although we could not be sure how much of that status was a courtesy because of his birth and how much was a representation of his true power.

Even if Sargeantanis was at the bottom of the plausible power range we could estimate for him, he still represented a serious threat to our efforts to establish an area of Caldefor beyond the Shadow. If he were in the area that would be beyond the new Shadowline, especially if he had an army with him, we might be unable to move the Shadowline at all. After some discussion, we agreed to head directly to the Circle. Breaking into the treasury at Lord Bastion’s manor could wait, whereas we now had a pressing need to reach the Circle before Sargeantanis reached the remnants of Dragonhold Ripgut. We also decided to bring the fifty Rappa, and three of the Rakshasa—the paladin, the wizard, and a redactor, as well as all 120 of the human mercenaries and the wagon with the matrix. We left the Pachaks and the Eums at the manor, along with the Trueborn and the priest and a redactor from the Rakshasa to cure the surviving Eums.

We made the best speed we could manage en route to the fallen Circle. We met no difficulties for the first two days, but forces of Shadow attacked us without warning on the third day. Some of the humans at the edges of the column suddenly started sinking into the ground. We had operated in Shadow long enough to be able to infer what that meant: a yellow eum attack. Sideh rode over to the area of the attack, giving orders to the rest of our troops, and yelling back to us that he estimated that about 100 eums had attacked. I summoned a fiendish dire weasel and sent it down one of the holes. It would not be able to kill many yellow eums, but it was one of the few things I could do that had any likelihood of working. The Rappa grabbed some of the sinking mercenaries and began flapping their wings, hauling them up despite the yellow eums. By this point it was clear that we were under attack from both sides.

Spring then cast an impressive Major Image. He created the illusion of a large school of thoqqua burrowing through the ground to attack the eums. About three-quarters of the eums on that side released the people they were attempting to pull down. Most fled, but we later found the unmarked corpse of one of the yellow eums—apparently, Spring frightened it to death. The Rakshasa psion engaged the eums on the other side, unleashing a powerful a mind blast directly through the ground that concealed the attackers. He killed one eum outright, another three continued dragging their victims down, and otherwise complete quiet reigned on that side. With only a handful of eum still attacking, we could concentrate our efforts on hauling the rest of the people up. The ultimate butcher’s bill was not bad, especially in light of the size of the force we faced. Two men were carried off, and about two dozen more had been injured. The redactor checked for taint and found that five of the human mercenaries were tainted. With a redactor and a supply of skin, it would be trivial to remove the taint once we reached an area where we could rest and wrap them in skin. The paladin and Sideh were able to heal the rest, at least to the point where they could continue without delaying us.

In the middle of that night, the Rakshasa paladin relayed a report to Spring. “It is reported to me, esteemed one, that we are being watched from without the camp.”

“By?”

“Apparently green eums. A small band-- a scouting party, I suspect. There are reports of four, roughly at the cardinal points.”

“But that’s just what we have seen. Might there be more waiting?”

“The Rappa have reasonable night vision. I see no reason to doubt their report.”

Spring ordered the rest of us awakened. Sideh and I explained that the great danger from green eums is the spread of disease. They are the servants of Orugub, but they carry the diseases of their mother, Malya. In most of the world, the Compact limits their threat, but in Shadow, they can cause a plague. If they returned with a substantial force, we would be all but doomed—even if we slew them, they would likely infect enough of our troops to destroy our force over time.

We headed out to ambush one, while the Rakshasa guarded the other directions. If we could pick them off individually, it would likely be easy enough

Spring shot our target twice with his crossbow before it could respond at all, although Sideh missed twice with his bow. The eum hurled a thin triangular object at Spring—his throw would have had deadly effect against most people, but passed right through Spring because of his incorporeality. The fiendish ape I summoned appeared a moment after the eum’s attack and finished it off.

Unfortunately, the other three eums saw the engagement-- they twirled and ran off. Sideh shot one, and our wizard followed up with enough magic missiles to kill it. I ordered the Rappa to overfly the remaining two and to attack with javelins. They could not possibly survive an attack of nearly two dozen javelins each. Fortunately, we killed them all without any wounds or melee. We ordered all of our troops to remain in camp and to not approach the corpses.

The rest of the night passed peacefully.
 

The following day, while we were on the march, one of the Rappa scouts returned to inform us of a column moving perpendicular to our path.

“A column of what?” I asked.

“The dead that walk.”

“How many?”

“A foot of foots of foots of foots.” I checked quickly to confirm that Rappa have five talons on each foot, and then calculated that total as 625—well more than we would want to fight if we could avoid it.

“How close will they pass?” asked Sideh. “And how quickly are they moving?”

“Two hops,” squawked the scout, which based on the Rappa’s flight patterns would be about 100 to 120 feet. “They plod steadily-- they will be here soon.”

We quickly gave orders to find hiding places and crouched behind dunes to wait for them to pass. Spring flew up to watch. He later reported seeing a collection of skeletons and zombies, stiffened with some ghouls, lurching along in an organized column. Several wraiths floated above them. Spring counted seven wraiths before one of them headed towards him.

“Hail, cousin,” the wraith rasped.

“Hail. Where are you headed with these things?”

“We are crossing the waste, passing into the mountains, returning as it were to the Count.” Spring interpreted that, along with his observation, as indicating that they were heading eastwards.

“What mission were you on?”

“We cleaned up a small band of resistance, near the old laboratory, southeast of the fallen place we do not name. There are still insect warriors here and there, with their insect jewels. We lost many-- 400 of us fell. But a full star of them won’t rise again.”

That description implied phraints who owed allegiance to the Orange Mage. A star would be a commander and four drones.

“Do you know your way to Dragonhold Blackgleam?” asked Spring.

“Yes.”

“You should reinforce that area to prepare for a counter-feint. They may have been trying to draw you out of position. They have already moved at Ripgut.” Because Dragonhold Blackgleam had fallen to our bonewater dust, Spring hoped to send the undead to their destruction.

The wraith sneered. “That fool Ripgut might fall, but Blackgleam demonstrates more commonsense than Ripgut has ever had. He will not fall to such as they. Word will be sent to him to watch the North. We will report this to the Seneschal as well.”

“Who is your immediate superior?”

“I answer to the Seneschal via the Chaos Champion Sudenay.”

Spring nodded and remained where he was as they continued on. As they passed, he noted a dozen shadows among the wraiths.

After narrowly avoiding the undead army, we traveled for two more uneventful days, bringing us to within a day’s travel of the Circle. That night, a sense of chill settled over the camp.

Spring cast see invisibility and flew up over the camp. As he flew, he felt the chill increasing. A female, diaphanously robed, pale figure watched the camp, floating in the air. He noted that she was watching primarily the humans. Occasionally her eyes flipped over to someone else, but she ignored the Rappas entirely.

Spring concluded that she was a ghost and caught her attention. “What brings you here?”

“I watch your companions. They are warm. I ponder why you are here.”

“Why are you here?”

“This is my place. This is where I was slain. This is where I am bound.”

“Who killed you? Do you wish to leave?”

“Rest is not for I. Not until the fall of all things, or the fall of Shadow.”

“Will you help us bring about that rest for you?”

“Do you have any idea of the price for failure?”

Spring shrugged and gestured for her to follow, leading her to meet with the rest of us. “Perhaps the end of your binding is closer than you think.”

“Your group is so warm. It distracts me.” The ghost appeared tormented. “Helping would cause nought but pain, pain so exquisite that it could not be endured. And yet…”

“We would ease your pain if we could,” replied Sideh.

“There is a beast within the tower. I know what lies covered on the cart. But I will tell no-one that it is here.”

“What beast?” I asked.

“A thing that devours all comers.” She paused. “It is mighty. I could slay it, but then if you nonetheless failed, they would know it was I.”

“We would not fail,” I said resolutely.

“How would they know it was you, anyway?” asked Spring.

“There are those who know its name-- if they came by, they would know.”

“How would you kill the beast?” I asked.

“By my word-- the same way that I would destroy your army if I were not uncertain.” She looked over at Sideh. “You are a priest?”

“Yes.”

“Of what god?”

“Of the Lord of Light, Glor’diadel.”

“Will you swear that you will find my remains and lay them to rest?”

“To the best of my ability, I will.”

“Then I will use the word that I gained in my death to destroy the beast. After that, it will be up to you.”

She directed us to a small stone manor house nearby. She describes the beast, part human, and part demon. Sideh guessed that it might be a cambion, but her description implied that it was very powerful in any event. We found the manor easily, and quickly found what we took to be her bones-- she apparently died defending a crib. A small body lay in the crib with an ugly curvy dagger stabbed through it. Sideh solemnly buried both sets of bones, intoning funeral rites as he did so. They were not proper Paranswarmian rites, but it was well that the bodies received some requiem.

The ghost spoke again. “Thank you. I will go now.” We later learned that even her mighty power only sufficed to half-slay the cambion, destroying part of its nature but leaving the rest for us.
 

A long post to make up for the delay:

Session 10:

17 Vaen

We proceeded directly onwards to the tower of Circle Treehaven. The ground rose slightly as we approached from the northeast. After we crested the small rise, we could see the Tower along with various walls, buildings, and other supporting structures. Immediately around the Tower, a substantial amount of greenery still grew, consisting entirely of the familiar bushes with small red berries that seem most resistant to Shadow and last the longest.

All of that was as we expected, but we also saw a substantial encampment of perhaps 50 small tents surrounding a pavilion in a cleared area near the tower. The encampment looked recent—I estimated that it had been established within the past two days or so. Several banners waved over the various tents, all showing variants of a wyvern as heraldry. The wyvern banners almost certainly indicated that this was Sergeantanis’s force, and a personal banner next to the pavilion suggested that Sergeantanis was there in person.

Our force was too large to hide, and we had been approaching too directly. Shortly after cresting the ridge, we saw some activity in the encampment, and an armored figure rode out on a skeletal horse. The figure had a knightly bearing and looked as much like a true member of an organized military as any one we had seen in shadow. He drew up his horse in front of us and looked us over.

Twang stepped forward. “I am the mighty Lord Twang and these are my companions.”

While Twang’s title was entirely fictitious, presenting a bluff of being a powerful Shadow force seemed most likely to displace Sergeantanis without a fight we could easily lose. I glowered at the knight. “Lord Twang does not appreciate those who intrude in his lands without permission.”

“Wait here. I will summon my lord to speak with you directly.”

A large scaly humanoid emerged from the main pavilion and mounted a nightmare. The nightmare’s back sagged under the enormous weight, but it resolutely cantered forward.

The huge warrior held up his hand. “Hail Lord Twang, Butcher of the Weak. You have destroyed the Devourer of Souls?”

“Yes,” said Twang. We were not certain who the Devourer of Souls was, but denying responsibility would have been a mistake.

“And the sorcerer as well?”

“Yes.” Twang pulled his lips back to show a feral grin.

“Well then. Do you intend to hold both the dragonhold and the manor?”

“I intend to hold the manor. I have not decided on the dragonhold yet.”

Sergeantanis, as we presumed the rider to be, nodded. “Let us have wine and discuss these things.”

We brought out wine and food, and he dismounted to the visible relief of his nightmare. I detected magic to evaluate his power, and concluded that at least his equipment was mighty. The armor was not dwarven work—in fact, it reminded me the most of Lord Varlin’s armor—but I would estimate that it was the equivalent of dwarven heavy fortification plate. Sergeantanis’s principal weapon, a dangerous looking, three-headed horseman’s mace, radiated very powerful magic, perhaps even more so than the armor. He may have also had some minor items, but I think they were lost in comparison to the greater auras.

“Now, Twang the Butcher, you have done a great work in strengthening our forces outside the border. I salute you. But I suggest we move forward together. The manor is of no interest to me, the hidden vault beneath it is of no interest to me—besides, no sorcerer who has tried to reach it has survived. The dragonholds, however, are a different matter.

“Another dragonhold still stands, ruled by a sycophantic dragon. It would be too powerful for you to take and hold, I think. But I will take Dragonhold Greatclaw; if you agree to ally with me, you may keep the manor, and we will split Ripgut.”

“What of this area?” asked Twang.

“You want it?” Sergeantanis asked in surprise. “I thought to take the beast’s essence for my own, but otherwise it is of little interest.”

I spoke up to avoid raising suspicions. “Lord Twang has interest in the laboratory for his mystical studies.”

“Ah. I would not object to you taking that, as it has no worth to me. But can I take the essence of the beast, for my father’s purposes?”

“Yes, that would be acceptable.” Twang pushed forward. “Who would be in command at Dragonhold Ripgut?”

“Are any alive who once served Ripgut?”

“They now serve me.”

“Exactly. Let one of them command.”

Twang smiled. “Are we then agreed?”

“Upon the blood that I carry, we are agreed.”

“I swear on the living blood of my grandmother,” responded Twang.

He nodded. “Strong she is, if she yet lives.” They each cut their hands, allowing the blood to mingle as it dripped upon the ground. The directness of this deal with a creature of the Abyss concerned me, but I took no action as it seemed necessary to serve the greater purposes of the Darkness. I hope that my conduct will be judged acceptable when I can again submit to examination. I stand ready to serve any penance the Church orders.

Sergeantanis vaulted into his nightmare’s saddle, nearly breaking its back in the process, and rode hard back to his camp.
 

Posts may be unreliable for the rest of the summer-- my family is in the process of preparing for a big move to California. I'll try to post on the usual schedule, but the problems may continue.

-----

Sergeantanis bellowed in Shadowspeech, beat his breast, and stalked around the Tower. Eventually, a figure emerged from the Tower mounted on horseback. It looked to be a human, but seemed drawn and weak, no doubt from the ghost’s powerful attack. Based on the description, we had little doubt that this was the remnant of the cambion. I doubt it would have met Sergeantanis at all, except that it functionally had no choice. Failure to meet him in battle would invite a revolt of its troops, and Sergeantanis would simply force his way into the Tower eventually regardless.

The two embodiments of chaos battled fiercely. The cambion cast occasional spells, which Sergeantanis mostly brushed off. Sergeantanis gave no indications of the ability to wield magic, although his wounds closed unnaturally fast—if he does not have a magic item that confers regeneration, he must have that power inherently. With the cambion weakened, Sergeantanis inevitably cut it down, seeming surprised at the ease with which he triumphed, although the battle lasted a meaningful amount of time. Our assessment was that, given our current power, we could not possibly have vanquished either Sergeantanis or his cambion foe. Clearly, Sergeantanis’s demonic rank is not merely a courtesy to his father. With the battle won, Sergeantanis roughly chopped the cambion’s corpse into pieces and fed the pieces to his favored followers. His forces immediately began striking camp and departed shortly thereafter, heading directly towards Dragonhold Greatclaw.

We discussed whether to double-cross Sergeantanis by sending Alveera to warn Dragonhold Greatclaw. We wished to see Greatclaw destroyed, but we needed to hedge against the possibility that Sergeantanis would be a more dangerous foe in possession of the Dragonhold than Greatclaw had been. We ultimately decided to warn the Dragonhold—a pitched battle between two factions of Shadow would be more likely to leave them weakened than a surprise ambush. I ordered Alveera to disguise herself as a succubus, ostensibly sent on behalf of Urkobach the Tyrant to warn Dragonhold Greatclaw. As always, her disguise was impeccable. [An easy task because of her true nature as a succubus.] I instructed her to blame Sergeantanis for the fall of Dragonhold Ripgut in an effort to cause him the political trouble he had mentioned fearing. I also ordered her to flee as soon as she delivered the message.

We advanced to the gate to the Tower. Sergeantanis’s troops had left behind a large bloody patch around the weapons of the cambion. Sideh detected evil on the items, a great sword and a spiked shield. Both detected as evil, the shield more strongly than the sword, although he did not perform the more important check of whether they were infused with chaos. The shield radiated clear magic, but the great sword did not appear enchanted. I believe that the sword was forged of Abyssium, the metal found only in the Abyss. We knew very little about Abyssium—we knew that it was not well suited to holding enchantments but could be particularly effective for certain types of magic, such as anti-divine enchantments and control of the dead. Supposedly, it sometimes contains tortured souls. Fortunately, it is if anything easier to break than steel. Buzz picked up the sword, using oiled cloths as grips and taking care to not touch the metal directly, and put it in the cart.

Twang picked up the shield.

[Konrad did not hear what happened next. Twang immediately heard a voice in his mind. <<Master, whom shall we devour?>>

<<No one right now.>>

The voice reluctantly responded, <<I was made to serve you.>>

<<How can you serve me?>>

<<We can chew upon our enemies together. I can devour flesh and blood and bone.>>

<<That is good, but you must wait. What is your name, child?>>

<<I am Chewer, the render of flesh.>>

<<Good name.>>

<<We shields are not very creative, but we are consistent.>> In addition to its other powers, the shield had a +4 total bonus with no arcane spell failure chance.]

Twang slung the shield. “It might be useful.”

Sideh responded. “It might, but be careful. I would not use it myself.”

“That might be wise. But I am sometimes in need of protection.”

Under the circumstances, I did not feel that we could argue with Twang’s decision, but he bears watching. Between his self-aggrandizement and his willingness to seize possibly chaos-tainted weapons for his own use, he shows worrisome signs of sliding into the Shadow. And of course, he is a kobold, and not a servant of the Orderly Darkness.
 

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