PF JollyDoc's Way Of The Wicked

JollyDoc

Explorer
Kuthona, 4719 - Gozrah, 4722: Heavy Is The Head



Timeon read the missive the messenger had brought him again, and then passed it over to Dakota.



The township of Barrington is being afflicted by the Tears of Achlys. Dozens are already dead. Oh great and powerful monarch, please send aid to your people!



Mayor Byron Tynsedale



“I thought we took care of that already,” Roger said.

“Apparently some of the disease survived,” Kelvin said. “We determined that it did have a rudimentary intelligence. Perhaps its survival instinct was such that some small portion of it went dormant, or possibly hid within the local fauna. In any event, this could be a disaster if we have a full-fledged outbreak again.”



The royal retinue travelled to Barrington post-haste via mass teleportation and found the situation to be even more dire than reported. People were dying en masse, and rapidly from the Tears of Achlys. Hillary immediately instructed Huma to begin using her healing magic on the population. Daily, for the next two weeks, she cast mass healing spells on the townsfolk, and slowly, inexorably, the death toll began to drop. Finally, after several days with no deaths, it appeared the supernatural disease had been eradicated. Tardaesha made sure that the local population knew exactly who was responsible for saving them, and that the word spread of the benevolence of the Dannisters.



__



Gozran, 4720



More than a year and a half into the Dannisters’ reign, Katarina received word via her spy network that children by their thousands were flocking to the Vale of Valtaerna and praying ceaselessly for Sarenrae to return to Talingarde. Rumor had it that they were being led by a common shepherd boy named Stephan. Kat and Tardaesha immediately journeyed to the Vale to observe what was happening for themselves. The stories were true. The Vale was full of children, all praying fervently to the accursed goddess. It was a simple matter for Katarina to move among the children undetected, and one moonless night, she kidnapped Stephan. It was an even simpler matter after that for Tardaesha to dominate the boy.

“You will begin holding your ceremonies at night,” she instructed Stephan. “You will tell the children this will make their entreaties more powerful.”



Stephan obediently complied. Each night the children gathered to pray, and gradually, over time, Tardaesha had Stephan begin insinuating the tenets of Asmodeus’ teachings into the rituals. Finally, when the time was right, Tardaesha slew Stephan then returned him to unlife as one of her spawn. He continued in his role as spiritual leader to the children, only his sermons focused more on adherence to the law, and reliance upon the state. The only path to power, the children would come to learn, was thru strength.



Rova, 4720



No one in Talingarde expected the arrival of Lady Jezerael Della Torre of Cheliax, but when she arrived in Matharyn she made no bones about expecting an invitation to the royal court. She was a regal beauty, almost beyond description. She was a Helen, a face that could easily launch a thousand ships. She was lithe and yet curved exactly where she should be. The aroma of scented wood and jasmine followed her wherever she went. Her long tresses were raven dark. Her eyes were haunted green. And her smile could have easily started a war. She was the product of the Chelaxian high courts – witty, fascinating, charming and utterly ruthless. When she was introduced to the Dannisters, she was not subtle in her admiration for Timeon, and spoke in great detail of the advantages an alliance with her kingdom could bring. The following day, a liveried messenger arrived with a sealed envelope for Timeon, redolent with the Lady’s perfume. Dakota snatched it out of the King’s hand before he had a chance to open it.



Your Most August Majesty,



I know that it is most inappropriate for a lady of the court to contact your person, but I could not contain what I felt last night. It was a spark within my heart and it refuses to die. I felt something that goes beyond mere words but it is my sincerest wish that you felt it too.



You can reach me at the Rosebauer Estate within the Golden Bow, which I have rented for a time during my stay in your fair land. I hope that you find reason to call.



Yours truly,

Jezerael Della Torre

Countess Montesano, etc.



“I’ll kill her!” Dakota hissed, baring her fangs. “I’ll drain her dry first, but then I most assuredly will kill her.”

“Now, now,” Kelvin tsked. “There is no need for such theatrics. Killing her would make things politically...messy with Cheliax. We could actually use their support.”

“So what do you suggest??” Dak spat. “That I give her my husband??”

“Nothing so radical,” Kelvin said calmly. “I do, however, think a political union could be very useful, and Jezerael is not hard to look upon. Perhaps it’s finally time I settled down.”



__



Jezerael stared raptly, hypnotically into Kelvin’s crimson eyes.

“So we have an arrangement?” Kelvin asked, smiling.

“Yes,” Jezerael said softly. “We do.”

“Excellent!” Kelvin replied. “You should return home immediately and begin planning. I propose the wedding take place in one year’s time, when the grand cathedral is completed.”



Jezerael did not argue. She simply nodded and returned to her retinue. Under Kelvin’s irresistible compulsion she had agreed to his marriage proposal, promising to bring to the union a personal bodyguard of two-thousand mercenaries, fifty-thousand gold in dowry, and trade contracts that would add two-thousand gold coins a month to the royal coffers. Kelvin made a mental note to himself to visit her in Cheliax every few weeks over the coming year to ensure that his hold over her stood firm. It was a brilliant plan, if he did say so himself. She would give him an heir, a Chelaxian heir, and in time, Talingarde’s presence would spread to the mainland...



____





INTERLUDE





No sound was heard as as Katerina Dannister prowled the city of Daveryn. She was darkness incarnate, a shadow in the blackness both inside and out. Being alone was becoming a familiar feeling to her. She loved her siblings, but their days of hugs and giggles in the night were over. She missed them dearly. When she looked into their red eyes, she still saw family loyalty and the un-Asmodean love her father and mother had worked so hard to ingrain, but she was still uncertain, over time, what the vampirism would do to those feelings.



Kelvin checked in with her daily to receive information about or add changes to her objective, and she was just preparing to send him a mental update when she noticed something. The patch of blackness in a nearby alley was way too dark. Looking down it, Kat noticed a group of figures standing in a perfect circle beneath an open window as if hypnotized. She darted quickly and quietly towards the backside of the building she’d been skirting. She climbed to the window and eased just her eyes over the sill. In the room beyond she saw a man, half-elven by the look of his ears, dancing quietly alone. She slipped soundlessly into the room and found a spot from where she could watch him unseen. He moved to a beat she could not hear, but his head bobbed rhythmically to it, as he gracefully slid from one step to another with his unseen partner.

‘A trap,’ Kat thought as she scanned for magical or invisible threats.

Every now and then the man would stop, mutter to himself and then continue his dance. Occasionally he would stop to eat supplies, which Kat noticed had obviously came from the bugbear camp. Then suddenly it hit her like a ton of bricks: the steps he was practicing were variations of her own shadow dance. Time passed, and then, driven by curiosity and a strange feeling of loneliness, Kat slipped from her hiding space. She drew her knife and appeared right in front of the man, her knife to his throat. His eyes were hooded but keen with a trace of fear. Slowly taking the lead, she urged him around the floor, his hands still raised in surrender, but his body and feet knowing the dance moves instinctively. They danced an awkward waltz, but as time passed, he took lead, hands still raised, and led her into a older dance that she recognized as the catwalk. On and on they went, sweeping across the floor, and as time slipped away, Kat’s mind slipped from the present into memory...

___



"I hate this dress" Kat said sour expression on her face.

"I chose you one more flattering but you decided it looked better as a rag" Tardaesha said.

"I would be taking you to my bed had you worn it" cooed Dakota receiving a shove from the youngest Dannister as her face heated.

After 6 hours of dress shopping Kat had put her knife through the scrap of cloth her sisters had decided was perfect. Kat then chose something cute that would not get her picked out the crowd. Deep down, though she wound never admit it, she had thoroughly enjoyed her time with her sisters. They ate lunch, gossiped, shopped, and danced at a local tavern with some lording's. But as the day of bonding had wound down, the time for business had arrived. Lady Jillian had pushed too hard and was sorely in need of a lesson. Kat had only wanted to poison her, but Tardaesha wanted to shame her publicly. Unfortunately that involved Kat having to attend a ball.



Arriving at the door to Lady Jillian’s manor house, Tardaesha turned to fix a wild strand of Kat’s now blond hair and said:

"Game time, Kat. Stay between us and the dance floor. Had your outfit made the right statement you could have learned a few things about court. Instead hold a wine cup and angle your body toward us. It will give the impression that we are your protectors and should be approached first. There is a merchant with connections I want to make contact with, but i can't be seen coming to him first. He likes them young according to the rumors. Other than that, just don't embarrass us and remember your time to slip out."

When the doors opened Kat realized the place was a battle ground she was not used to. All eyes turned and began weighing, assessing, and judging. A moment passed as the twins’ gaze swept the room and then like a switch, Tardaesha took command of the room, charisma bleeding off of her with a mere glance. She glided to the obvious power group, and with a few words she made a mockery out of current leader of the clique and installed herself. Her tight, sleeveless red dress cut right at her ample bosom and following all of her curves seemed to flow right into Dakota's sleek black gown. Dakota's smoky yet stern gaze and posture demanded respect. It forced submission, and accepted nothing less. Lies and disappointment would not be tolerated. They were a whirling social death trap. With a tap on her glass with one blood red nail, Dakota signaled to Tardaesha to insert a convenient lie into her current conversation. A tap of her foot directed Tardaesha to slide into Dak's conversation, her silver tongue covering for her sister. One would set a group up, while the other would pull information, gossip, trade information, anything useful. It was..... overwhelming. Kat disappeared into the slowly growing crowd, adopting the position and posture as instructed. Then she settled in to wait she for what Dakota called “dessert time.” When the holy types and guards made themselves scarce, she was to sneak into Jillian’s rooms and search for intel on her black market dealings, and then leave the door open. Tardaesha would, by then, be luring one of Jillian's suitors there. Dakota had a young nobleman enthralled by her that she would also bring by.



As the night wore on, the music and wine soon had Kat’s foot tapping.

"Can I have this dance?” asked a handsome young lord, startling Kat.

Not waiting for her to recover, he pulled her to the dance floor she had already been subconsciously been angling towards. Light on his feet, with a firm yet easy grip, he guided her expertly, and soon time became a blur. They found conversation flowed easily as they stayed on the floor from one song to the next. Heart pounding, and face flushed from laughter Kat’s reverie finally came to a halt when Tardaesha cut in.

"Dear cousin, you look overwrought,” she said pointedly. “A break may do you good. Have no fear, I will keep this tasty morsel warm for you.”



Time came crashing back into focus, and she was late. An opiate smoke haze came from near the couches, and she could see hands roaming over servants and lords alike in that vicinity. Cursing, Kat slipped away to her objective, stealing one more glance at the lord she’d been dancing with. She found his eyes on her instead of down her sister’s dress. She thought to herself that she would find him again. She gave him one more smile, which he returned. Melting into the crowd, she slipped into a side hallway and found a small linen closet. There she shed her guise as Lady Kalista of Cheliax, noble Dannister cousin. Exiting the closet, her blond hair hidden beneath a dark cap, she was once again the Dannisters’ shadow.



The guard to Lady Jillian’s room was missing, and the door stood open. Tardesha was clearly enjoying herself as she carefully guided a middle aged, well dressed man down the hall and into the room. Hidden in a shadowed alcove, absently entertaining a fantasy of sharing the same passions with her dance partner, Kat watched in silence. Dakota brought a second nobleman into the chamber, this one with his hands tied and waddling with his pants down around his ankles. There was a sharp crack as Dak’s riding crop connected with his bare backside, followed by, "Thank you, Mistress! May I have another?"

Kat stayed hidden for another ten minutes before both sisters exited the room. Kat waited impatiently tapping, her foot.

“Took long enough,” she spat.

“Had it not been for the drugged wine, those two may have impressed me,” Tardaesha said, “but it will be oh so much more fun spinning the story of Jillian’s suitor and her business partner found in a lovers embrace in her own bed!”

"The fact that we gave her one of our pretty slaves earlier as a gift will keep her busy enough,” Dakota said with a pleased smile.

"All I know is that Kats dance partner is very agile,” Tardaesha smirked. Now that our work is done, let’s get our little sister well and properly laid!"

Kats cheeks grew redder with every word. After helping her smooth her dress, the twins teased her hair up, all the while giving her pointers, ending with a kiss on each cheek. They spent the rest of the evening baby sitting their uncourtly little sister until her suitor finally spirited her away.



____



Returning to the present, Kat realized her dagger hand was now safely away from her partner’s throat, and there was a broad smile on his face.

Stopping mid step Kat spoke. "Who are you? Why did you not kill me?"

"I am Garen Veryn,” he replied with a bow. “My dear aunt decided to use the chaos in the city to finally be rid of her cursed bastard half-elf nephew. I am blessed by Asmodeus with divine power, but my mind can be somewhat fragmented, and my vision is at times clouded by our Lord’s shadow. I am one with that darkness, though in strange ways. As to why I did not kill you, I think I believe in destiny. Or perhaps I think that shadows should stick together, or maybe when I'm around you, my mind gains clarity. I'm sure we can figure it out together if you continue to dance to the music in my head."

They danced and talked all night and part of the next day. When twilight returned to Daveryn, they parted with a promise that he would send her a message with his location. Over the next few weeks, any time she was not on mission she spent in his company.

Shrugging back into her clothes one evening, Kat blurted, "I will be leaving soon. You cannot come. I love you, but that is a weakness I will not allow. I should just kill you now and have done with it.

"I have been expecting this moment,” Garen replied. “All you have told me of your family shows love. It does not weaken you. You all try harder to defend the weakest among you not because they are the weakest link but because they have a purpose and skill that can't be duplicated. You are all one, and I wish to be with you to keep your spirit and purpose strong. To be the new link in this different worship of our lord. I have made arrangements in Cheliax to wed this night or I will disappear. Either way I am safe.”

He bent to one knee and produced a ring of pure obsidian.





_

Calistril, 4721





The wedding of Kelvin and Jezerael was the event of the season, lavish in the extreme. All of Talingarde’s governors, mayors, generals and nobles were in attendance. They all feared the consequences should they not be. Little Princess Heavenly even served as flower girl. Afterwards, when the festivities had ended and all the guests departed, Kelvin took his new bride to the honeymoon suite. There, in the moonlit darkness, he gathered her into his arms...and drained every last bit of blood from her body. When his vampire mate arose the following night, she was all to willing to begin the machinations that would lead to a formal alliance between Talingarde and Cheliax.



__



Gozran, 4721



“Last night, Grumblejack had a dream. I saw a black lake and something came out of the lake. Something ... wrong. Something very wrong and very old. Grumblejack tried to fly away, but it grabbed me and pulled me into the water. As I was being pulled down I saw that there was something at the bottom of the lake. Something buried in the muck and slime. There was writing on it, but I could not read it. It looked like little squiggles. I grabbed for anything and got a hold of a shard of black glass. I cut free of the thing that tried to drown me and flapped my wings pushing upwards. It reached for me, trying to drag me down. But I flew upwards, breaking the surface of the lake, gasping for air... ”



Kelvin stared at the ogre expectantly.

“And then what happened?” He finally asked.

Grumblejack shrugged. “Then Grumblejack wake up.”

He paused again, then he said, “But Grumblejack all wet. Not sweaty, but wet like swimming. Maybe not just a dream...,”



__



A week later, a letter arrived by frost giant messenger from Queen Ellisif, Grumblejack’s consort. The later stated that a pair of her scouts had been journeying in the far north and had come to the mountain known as Uzat Angor, or Two Horns as it was known in the Common tongue. The mountain had erupted, but it was not lava and fire that had spewed forth. Instead what flowed down the mountain looked like liquid shadow. Everything that it touched shriveled and died. One of the scouts had approached too close and had been consumed. The other had escaped to warn his Queen. Ellisif estimated that the shadow was expanding at a rate of about a mile a day. Given time, it might consume all of Talingarde.



It took very little time for Kelvin to gather the others and teleport them to the peak of Uzat Angor. The mountain was unapproachable by foot, as it was surrounded by a sea of liquid blackness. Aerial surveillance revealed, however, that the base of the mountain bled a torrent of the deadly shadowstuff. Higher up appeared to be clear and a landing was possible. There were high caverns choked with what looked to be black ice. Katarina volunteered to scout ahead of her companions. Once inside, the high caves were a maze. Their walls were coated with black ice – shadowstuff frozen in solid form. Kat was careful not to touch them. Fortunately the tunnels were wide enough for even a huge creature to pass thru. Kat flew swiftly down them, spiraling deeper into the mountain. Finally, at the center of the maze, she came upon an immense cavern. Within the cave was the source of the blackness...a vast pool of anti-life. Circling the pool, screaming incoherently, in voices that scraped at Kat’s brain, were two immense mounds of black slime, thundering about, eyes and mouths and even stranger things forming in their heaving bulks. Kat watched them, unseen, for several moments before returning to her companions.



“They sound like shoggoths,” Kelvin nodded when Kat described what she’d seen. “Offspring of the elder gods. It doesn’t surprise me to find such as they in the company of this apocalyptic disaster. Perhaps putting an end to them will counteract whatever has caused this rift.”



The group followed Katarina back into the deep caves. When they emerged into the cavern of the pool, Dakota led the way, loosing a barrage of arrows into the nearest shoggoth. Before it could react, Kelvin entered and unleashed a fireball directly on top of it. The wizard quickly assessed the situation, and then stopped the flow of time. Moving amongst his still companions and the equally paused shoggoths, he laid several beads of fire around the oozes. He had imbued them with delayed blasts, so that when time resumed, they all exploded simultaneously, utterly destroying both shoggoths. But the pool of darkness remained.



“There is strong magic below,” Kelvin told his companions as he focused his senses upon the roiling black pool. “The source of the flow.”

He landed on the cave floor near the pool and quickly sketched a small summoning circle in chalk upon the stone. He stepped back and spoke an incantation, uttering a guttural name. A shadowy figure formed in the midst of the circle, inky black and vaguely humanoid, with two tattered wings sprouting from its back.

“What is they bidding, master?”

“Fetch me what lies at the bottom of that pool,” Kelvin commanded.

The shadow demon did not hesitate. It dove into the dark liquid...and was instantaneously obliterated.

“Interesting,” Kelvin mused.

“Should I try?” Katarina asked.

“What makes you think you’ll fare any better?” Kelvin replied.

“I’m faster,” she smiled.

Before Kelvin could respond, Kat touched one booted foot to the surface of the liquid, and instantly drew it back, hissing in pain, the leather smoking and hissing as it dissolved.

“Stand aside,” Dakota sighed. “This is obviously no place for the living.”

Despite Tardaesha’s admonishment to wait, Dak dove into the pool and vanished beneath the surface.

Several long moments passed, and then abruptly, Dakota resurfaced, completely unscathed.

“There are nine large stone tablets at the bottom,” she said. “They are arranged in some sort of pattern.”

“We need to bring them up,” Kelvin instructed. “Now.”



Nine times Dak dove to the bottom of the pool, each time returning with one of the inky black stone tablets. When she finally surfaced with the last one, the black liquid instantly dissolved into harmless mist. The tablets themselves were heavy slabs of polished green material covered in strange writing, each weighing almost a quarter ton. They were heavy as rock, but were so smooth, polished and translucent, they appeared almost as if they if they were made of glass or perhaps jade. Whatever they were actually made of, it was unearthly and unlike anything Kelvin had ever seen before. It was also completely unbreakable. Kelvin bent closely to study the strange writing engraved upon the tablets. Deciphering the writing was no easy task. The strange dot patterns upon the stone gave little clue to their meaning. Still, Kelvin was no slouch in linguistics, and after awhile, he managed to glean the gist of its meaning. The tablets revealed the inhuman doings of the Elder Things, and gave small hints of their extraterrestrial technomagical super science. Kelvin learned how to call up some failed elder thing experiments banished to a plane of nightmares. The tablets described how to summon and control a strike force of 111creatures known as gugs. The ritual required correctly arranging the tablets in a precise and asymmetric stack and then intoning a repeated gibberish prayer. This would summon the strike force and force them to serve the summoner for one full day. Kelvin smiled at the revelation. He felt that one day soon, such a ritual would prove extremely useful.
 

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