Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 09November2022)

Shemeska

Adventurer
****​





Their fingers, spindly and sickly thin, gray and wasted with sallow, diseases claws, reached down into the swirling ethereal proto-matter of the vast ether gap at the chamber’s center. Like a fisherman drawing in a net filled with struggling, gasping fish, the fingers lifted forth a series of glistening, shimmering manifest timelines, sifting among them, searching for a specific possible outcome.



“Alone, following none, and still a fisher of men.”



The subsequent chuckle was filled with malicious mockery even as the hands drew the gleaming timelines not to the speaker’s sightless eyes but to its face. Gathering them up it deeply inhaled, sniffing intently at each as it rubbed its fingers along the length of each, divining just what specific outcome each held with each fractional increment of time.



“Precision and perfection.” One hand released the timelines and reached up to adjust one of the myriad of knobs and levers that sprouted from the side of the great device that hung over the yawning ether gap. “Every scream measured, every moment of despair calculated, every quantum of hope dissolved like chaff to the fire as the Oblivion Compass tick-tocks its way to the desired end. Soon.”





*****​





The ratatosk elder stood and looked down at the clouds that swirled below him gathered about the vast trunk of the World Tree, Yggdrasil, the Great Mother of his people. One of the so-called squirrel-folk who populated the limbs and branches of their plane spanning home, he had lived nearly a century, his fur now streaked with lines of gray, and now, like never before, he felt the weight of his age, or the burden of his duty. It was growing time again as it always did. Their duty to the Great Mother was paramount above all things, even their own lives, which they willingly gave in Her defense. But the pain of that sacrifice at times was great enough to make him wonder if what they did was worth, if it was too hasty, or if there might be another way.



He sat down on the branch and waited for the arrival of those who he knew would be coming shortly. Knowing or unknowing, they always came when time was due and what was necessary would be done. Good, evil, chaos, law it didn’t matter to him and his people, only their Great Mother who created and sheltered them mattered. She was them and they were Her in so many ways, like the very leaves and fruit upon Her branches that fed and sheltered them, and they in turn watched over her. But sometimes…



He shuddered and wept, a single tear dropping from his eye and falling down the untold miles below to strike ground on one of the planes that the World Tree touched with its branches and roots. As the single drop of gleaming saline spread down the miles and froze in the passing air, the elder remembered the tale told to him by his grandfather five times over before that one’s passing, a tale passed down the generations from time unknowable to when the Great Mother was first injured.



The branches had shaken, the Mother had trembled and her pain was felt keenly by Her children when the Serpent had coiled about Her base with its unending hunger and rage, seeking to destroy the World Tree in the hopes of destroying the universe that had created it. The Great Mother’s blood had flowed in rivers in those days as Nidhogg clawed and ravaged the roots of the Tree where they had sunk into the soil of the Waste.



His people had been helpless, for nothing they did could harm the Wyrm, and it ignored them while spawning its own children with the fiends of the lower planes and evil dragons who flocked to its call. It and its brood seemed like they might succeed in killing the Great Mother, and they, the ratatosks, they wept in their impotence.



Salvation came to them unasked for, but needed, and cloaked in nightmare. His people had never spoken its name since that time, neither in thanks nor in fear, but its existence still haunted them through the millennia. They had never written it down, but somehow they all knew its name. They had never drawn it, nor carved it, nor passed down tales that described the Horror that offered its corrosive salvation to their Great Mother and them, but still they knew its face in their nightmares. When the time came for their bargain to be paid again, they would all dream of it, each and every one of them, hearing its whispers in the darkness of their slumbering minds.



The elder looked down and sighed, knowing how close that time was, and the dreams that had come the night before like a black winged angel, one wing dipped in blood and the other glowing with their love for the World Tree. He understood that he, the one chosen of his generation, the first in many years, would go willingly with whatever and whomever would come in the following days. He and the others they did so with a glad heart, knowing that it was necessary.



The old tales of that first meeting spoke of how the elders of a thousand villages, the leaders and wise ones of their race had gathered to discuss their last, frantic attempts to stop the Wyrm that feasted upon the Great Mother. They had been desperate, willing to do anything to save all that they knew, everything they cared for and loved whatever the cost. Desperation was all they knew in that moment. Somehow their anguish, frustration, fear, and misery was heard, and something came to save them, but not out of mercy…



The elder shuddered at what had been implied in the latter half of that tale. That it might not have heard them and come to save them, but had waited until their fear had collapsed into desperation and they no longer cared what they would have to give of themselves to save all that they loved. The darkness that had blindly clambered up the trunk of the World Tree and offered them a way to save the Great Mother might have been the one to engineer the horror that it offered to save them from in the first place.



“We agreed… we willingly agreed…” The elder cried out into the void beyond the branches as he wept once more, a man who had long ago resigned himself to the cross that he would willingly bear if the darkness came to give its bloody and poisoned salvation once again. “It always does, and we agreed, we willingly agreed…”





****​





Clueless stared in silence at where his own doppelganger from a possible-future had manifested and then vanished back into non-existence. The haunting notion that he might potentially be in reverse positions at some point in the future lingered in his mind, along with what it might imply.



“You alright there?” Toras glanced over at the bladesinger who continued to stare, deeply breathing to remain calm despite having just watching himself being dragged into nothingness.



“Yeah, as much as I can be after witnessing that.” Clueless shook his head in disbelief. “Not that I really know what it was.”



“Hopefully nothing that comes to pass.” Tristol noted, watching as each of their manifest timelines seemed to froth at close inspection, rippling with things and currents barely constrained, futures that might possibly come to pass. “But the longer we’re here in the demiplane of time we’re more and more prone to seeing that level of strangeness.”



It wasn’t just strangeness.



Fyrehowl said nothing, knowing that it wouldn’t help anyone. The feeling of things not being right that she’d gathered from the Cadence of the Planes wasn’t simply a background from the Demiplane of Time itself. In fact it wasn’t connected to the demiplane at all, but rather with the baernaloth’s pocket plane they were seeking out, and as they drew closer, the gnawing feeling of wrongness only increased. Whatever they sought, in some possible future what they’d found had caused the Clueless of that stillborn potential-reality to actively seek to warn his past self to prevent it from ever occurring.



“How about we get out of this mess of timelines?” Clueless asked, hand on Razor’s pommel. “Is it possible to teleport to, or better yet, into the pocket plane we’re looking for?”



“Yeah, I’d rather not try and physically search for it.” Florian said, glancing about warily.



Tristol nodded and immediately started casting, silverfire at the tips of his fingers and the terminus of his tail before the flicker-flash of the teleportation spell washed over them all with a sudden, shockingly cold sensation and a violent physical tug.



Nisha blinked as they reappeared, then looked over at Tristol. “Umm… that didn’t feel like it normally does…”



“I just blindly teleported us into a place I knew nothing about except by its name, trusting a baernaloth named the Lie Weaver that this place even existed.” Tristol gave an emphatic shrug and was rewarded by a pat on the head from Nisha as the others looked about at where they had reappeared.



They had indeed managed to arrive at, or perhaps rather, inside of, the Clockwork Gap. Gazing about, they stood on the edge of a huge disk of flat rock centered within a gossamer, transparent bubble separating it from the wider expanse of the Demiplane of Time. Beyond the exterior boundary of which stood directly behind them, and high overhead, the temporal storms of the surrounding demiplane appeared like strange discordant clouds and distant, alien constellations.



Stretching out before them atop the rock was a massive, labyrinthine hedge maze that surrounded a large, several story keep at the very center of the disk. The keep itself seemed to hover slightly above a hole cut into the rock, situated above a swirling whirlpool of ethereal mist that glowed with an almost blinding intensity: an ether gap.



“Well, I’d intended to get us to the middle of this place, rather than the very edge, but we were redirected.” Tristol said as he stared at the ether gap barely visible in distance. Whatever it was, the gap was truly massive, easily larger than any other such gap that he’d ever seen or even heard of, and it seemed perched on the knife’s edge of either expansion or utter collapse.



“Honestly, I’m not sure what’s more frightening.” Clueless mused, “This place itself, or the fact that there’s not a single glimmer of magic from anything here…”



“No, there’s magic here.” Tristol interjected, a faint flicker of silverfire at the edges of his pupils, “A tremendous amount, but it’s not any sort that I’m familiar with, even comparing it to what we saw in the Lie Weaver’s cavern. I can’t even tell you what school of magic it belongs to, if that would even apply to it really. It feels… wrong… but that’s all I can gather really. It doesn’t want to be seen, and for whatever reason, I’m not seeing it when I should, and not in the right amount of detail when I do.”



Taking the mage’s words into account they collectively looked up at the black marble archway that stood above the entry into the hedge maze. A single, carved refrain stretched across the stone, written in obscene letters only vaguely reminiscent of the written tongues of the fiends: ancient baernaloth.



“Anyone care to translate?” Toras asked.



The moment he posed the question though, the letters rippled in place, like the pitch black stone was made of liquid, only to be replaced with the same refrain, written in a mixture of infernal and abyssal.



“What you can see can kill you. What is illusion is reality. What
you behold is reality, or is it?”




“I don’t suppose anyone has a dispel reality spell handy, hmm?” Toras deadpanned as they slowly passed under the archway and proceeded forward and into the maze.



“Hey, think about it this way. We can pretend that Toras sucker punched a dabus and we all got mazed!” Nisha laughed and rattled the bell at the tip of her tail as they moved deeper into the hedge work.



“No thank you, already tried that and it wasn’t what I’d call fun.” Toras said before quickly adding, “Being in a maze I mean. Not sucker punching a dabus. I don’t want to ever do that, thank you very much.”



“Wise idea!” Fyrehowl quipped, “Ironically as we’re dumb enough to be here in this misbegotten place.”



With that refrain of optimism from the lupinal they continued, taking several hours to pass through the twisting verdant maze that grew up from the rock itself, flourishing and alive despite the lack of topsoil, water, or light besides the dim flicker of light from the far-off temporal storms and the ghostly, moonlight glow of the swirling ether gap at the demiplane’s center. Through it all they felt watched constantly as they walked, and the interior of the maze seemed to twist the concept of space itself as they found that any attempt to fly above the maze, or to pass through its walls by any but the obvious physical routes provided to them ultimately proved fruitless, either returning them to the maze’s entrance or simply failing to function.



Regardless, they eventually passed through a series of twisted puzzles, some based upon their own experiences, and others that seemed designed to test their concepts of morality and their own intelligence. At every step they were forced to question what was real and what was not, with illusions that seemed partially real and substantive prowling the mazes and stalking them.



It was not a pleasant few hours as they crept steadily closer to the castle waiting for them at the Clockwork Gap’s malignant heart. Finally they emerged shaken and disturbed at the gates of the black marble fortress and the whirlpool of light that it perched atop, but now the doors were open, swung wide and waiting for them.



“Those weren’t open before were they?” Nisha asked as she warily stepped behind Tristol.



“No, they weren’t.” Fyrehowl tentatively climbed the steps and approached the gates, “And you’d think that I’d have at least heard them swinging open. I didn’t.”



Tristol stared at the mirror-smooth black marble of the keep’s walls. Again that brief flicker of silverfire and his eyes grew wide in amazement. “This isn’t even stone. It’s solid ethereal proto-matter, and it’s stable.”



“How is that surprising?” Fyrehowl turned to the wizard, “It’s more or less right next to the ethereal. The stuff’s easy to find.” Fyrehowl punctuated the statement by tapping the keep walls with her sword.



“Common yes,” Tristol explained, “But ethereal proto-matter isn’t stable. It’s liable to dissolve into nothing or erupt into a living thing at any given second. It’s worse than chaos matter.”



“Mmmm… karach.” Nisha interjected with an impish smile, “Fun stuff.”



“Proto-matter is stabilized by force of will alone.” Tristol explained, “When the githzerai solidify their cities they make from chaos matter, they have thousands of chaos shapers working together. Proto-matter is more difficult, and I haven’t seen any evidence of a living thing here at all yet.”



“So who’s making this stable?” Florian asked.



“Exactly…” The archmage said with a sharp and ominous breath as he walked up the stairs.



Ascending the steps, before they’d even passed over the threshold of the open doors, true to the pocket plane’s name, they heard from out of its interior the faint, steady sound of clockwork. The routine tick and clatter of gears and pendulums echoed from out of the halls to grace their ears with its eerie refrain, cold and distant.



Fyrehowl paused and shook off a feeling of dread as she was the first of them to boldly step into the fortress, throwing aside intuition in the name of necessity for a time. The first step was agonizingly difficult, though again she didn’t voice her concerns, even as the Cadence screamed at her to pause, turn around, and take no further steps forward.



The others followed and the group steadily and warily progressed through the otherwise vacant and sterile halls of the keep interior, all alone but for the mechanical ticking and methodic grinding noises of gear against gear that echoed all around them, growing louder the deeper they traversed. More than an hour passed and they’d yet to discover anything besides blind corridor ends, empty chambers devoid of decorations, and the ever uninterrupted clatter of clockwork processes within the walls themselves.



“We’ve been walking for over an hour and we haven’t actually found anything.” Florian complained, looking up at the walls.



“Same as the hedges outside, it’s changing as we’re walking, or the space in here that it’s built in isn’t normal.” Fyrehowl replied.



“One or the other, it really doesn’t feel right, and it’s been getting worse.” Florian added.



With the cleric’s statement, seemingly as if on cue, the hallway they had been walking down shifted, the section some thirty feet distant branching out with a series of side passages. With measured curiosity and trepidation, the group approached, finding that each ended in a door.



Ever the spontaneous one, Nisha approached the first of the four doors and swung it open without warning.



“And behind door number one!... Ok wait, what?” The tiefling blinked and stepped back. Beyond the first and now open door was a solid expanse of clockwork from wall to wall that blocked entry into the chamber except to watch and observe the gears, counterweights and pendulums all clicking along in sterility.



“Strange…” Clueless said as he swung open the second door and looked into a round chamber that resembled a laboratory. The walls were covered in glowing script in the same bizarre language they had seen upon the archway leading into the maze, but this time the language did not translate itself for them to read. The center of the room was dominated by a metallic pedestal that held a dozen or so leathery eggs in a field of purple light. Inside the eggs, heavily backlit by the glow to the point of translucency, moved black, shadowy forms, very obviously alive.



“Unnerving is more like it.” Tristol said, “And the fact that I can’t read a single word of the text on the walls doesn’t make me feel any better. Because of course a normal spell to translate doesn’t touch that stuff.”



“Of course it wouldn’t.” Fyrehowl rolled her eyes at the situation as she and the others glanced warily at the eggs and the rambling, indecipherable notations scrawled upon the walls.



It seemed as if at any moment they might hatch and unleash something hideous to attack them. True to that worry, when they finally stepped into the chamber, the things in the eggs seemed to take notice and oriented in their amniotic prison to face them; it was unsettling to say the least.



Toras paused and concentrated on the eggs before wincing and backing away.



“What?” Nisha asked. “You look like you just drank sour milk.”



“I had to stop.” The fighter answered.



“Huh?” The tiefling asked again. “Why was that?”



“Because I don’t like knowingly making myself sick and nauseated.” Toras replied, rubbing his forehead with discomfort, “Trying to detect evil here, it’s like trying to see a candle flame held in front of the sun. This whole place is abhorrently evil and I couldn’t feel anything above the background.”



“And those would be dragon eggs if anyone’s curious. Gold or Red, one of those two.” Tristol added as they all moved out of the chamber and on to the next.



The next door was ominously open when they stood in front of it and beheld the wretched scene contained therein. The chamber was lined with individual cages wrought of black metal, carved with runes and symbols in baernaloth, with each holding a single warped and twisted individual that by all rights should not have existed or even been alive.



“Mystra forbid…” Tristol muttered in shock as he looked into the first cage and the occupant therein that seemed to have been the result of either a forced attempt at breeding a vrock and a hamatula together, or the sorcerous fusion of the two.



The lupinal stared for a moment in shock at the caged abomination before turning away, feeling sick.



The horror did not end there. Various other baatezu and tanar’ri hybrids, fusions, or piecemeal grafting attempts were locked within the other cages and tanks situated elsewhere within the room. Volumes of notes were, like the previous chamber, written upon the walls above and out of reach of the twisted, sickly occupants who seemed to exist in a state of constant agony, each of them kept alive only by magical interference. Curiously the text, as they were able to look at it closer, seemed written by an unsteady hand, deeply cut into the stone in such a way as to be read less by sight, and more by the touch of hands physically brushing across them, claws scouring the furrows slashed deep into the marble.



Nisha turned a slight shade of green more than her already olive toned skin and walked out into the hall, soon to be joined by the others.



“Ugh,” The lupinal looked at the others, “After that I’m not sure I care to know what’s in the other room…”



“Yeah, but I’m curious. Morbidly curious, but still.” Clueless said as he opened the door opposite the last.



As opposed to the active and clearly ongoing experimentation in the last chamber, the next room was more a display of completed work than an active lab. Several crystalline tanks held what could only have been described as half a dozen trial runs and false starts along the way of creating a mezzoloth. Dozens of massive books and tomes lay stacked on shelves between two dissecting tables, both of which held magically constrained and still living subjects. One table held a gutted, mewling and struggling proto-mezzoloth, each of its organs separated out, tagged and levitating slightly above its torso. The fiend was somehow still alive despite the dissection.



The second table held a series of still living sagittal and coronal slices of a completed and finalized mezzoloth, somehow kept animate and alive by magic. Next to it stood a nearly solid illusion of a whole example of the subspecies in smaller scale.



Nisha gagged and dashed from the chamber when the sectioned eye of the dissected yugoloth turned to look at them. The others followed soon after, though Tristol stayed just a second more to note the sheer size of the books and bound notebooks littering the room. Each of them was easily four times the size of his own spellbooks, and that worried him simply on the matter of how physically large the author would have to have been.



“I don’t want to meet the owner of this place.” Toras said flatly.



“I mean did you expect the so-called brother of the Lie Weaver to be a pleasant fellow?” Florian asked sarcastically.



“I expected evil but this…” Toras gestured back towards the last chamber. Pointedly he did not actually look towards it.



They shook away the images still lingering in their heads of what they had seen on display, and walked deeper into the keep. As they strode onwards, they began to notice that the ubiquitous ticking of the clockwork devices echoing throughout the halls was not as constant as it first had seemed. In fact the initially continuous background pattern and rhythm of ticking would pause, reverse, increase or decrease in volume, and spontaneously change frequency and volume, subtly but it did. Perhaps most disturbingly, the changes they noticed were not always the same for each of them.



Fyrehowl’s ears perked at each of the changes, but the motion of her ears was not directly corresponding to that of Tristol’s ears, and he noticed it as well. “You’re not hearing the same patterns that I am, are you?” He asked.



“Doesn’t seem that way.” She replied.



“Nisha? You have any opinion on it?” Tristol said to the tiefling.



“It might seem like an exercise in xaos, but trust me here, it’s not. Is it whatever, not it that’s. … Whoops, sorry, bad habit.” She said, lapsing into scramblespeak as they drew near to a large, vaulted chamber.



They stopped and stared as they reached the doorway, horror shifting to amazement as they gazed up at a series of silvery astrolabes that stood at the compass points in the chamber, each of them with several great crystal lenses focused on some distant scene. While half of the lenses seemed inactive at the time, others opened up onto various scenes within the Ethereal Plane. One by one they saw moving images of Lycester’s Gap, the White Ship, the Pyramidal Gap, and the ethereal protomatter comet that hurtled through the depths, studded with shapes reminiscent of buried cities, known only as the Body Luminous.



Each visual would pan in, focus on minor details of each, and then draw out from each scene before repeating once more. Each time it opened up a view onto each distant, bizarre vista, with the open question being if it was looking at them in real-time, or looking at some manner of view separated not only in space but also in time.



“Tristol?” Clueless asked, “What’s so special about those specific demiplanes and locations? What’s common about them that might gather a baernaloth’s interest?”



Tristol put a finger to his lips and looked down at the floor, staring at his own faint reflection in the polished stone as he pondered the question. He didn’t however have a chance to respond to the bladesinger’s query as abruptly the surrounding, omnipresent clockwork ticking within the walls stopped, the scenes dimmed and paused, and the inactive lenses rotated and glowed with a sudden flare of activity.



“This can’t be good…” Nisha said with a wince.



“It’s not…” Fyrehowl said as she glanced around nervously.



The newly active crystal lenses then showed their contents, each a series of grim and morbid potential futures: Toras watched in one lens as he was torn to pieces by a pack of invisible beasts. Fyrehowl watched as she lay upon a stone table, held in place by bands of force as a gathering of arcanaloths in bejeweled finery slowly and deliberately cut away pieces of her flesh to dip in fondue pots as they held a meeting. Nisha watched as in another scene she was pulled up into the air, only to be ground to meat inside the gears of one of the astrolabes. Scene by scene the lenses played out a dozen or more grim fates, and eventually the six of them stopped watching and continued walking after they watched a scene where they all killed one another in fratricidal glee.



“Someone’s having fun at our expense.” Toras said with a smirk.



“Yes, but what I worry about is that each of those was an actual possible future, however bizarre and remote.” Clueless said.



The next twenty minutes were filled only with their own lurking dread at what they might find at the center of the fortress, and the constant nightmare ticking of the clockwork that filled the spaces between the walls, like it were the clockwork muscles of a living thing, slowly pumping fiendish hemolymph. Despite their dread and discomfort, they finally reached their destination.



“Oh what the hell…” Clueless breathed as they entered the grand chamber at the heart of the keep and stopped in their tracks at what turned to face their approach.



The air was still and cold, but skirting the edge of their hearing, just audible above the sound of the omnipresent clockwork, was the combined chorus of innumerable whispers that rushed forth from the swirling ether gap at the very center of the room that opened up below a circular portal nearly thirty feet across. Set in place above the swirling ethereal abyss, crouching like a giant iron spider was a great clockwork device of gears, pendulums, and crystalline lenses that hovered and shuddered with its own infernal motions above the pit. Extending out up and across the room, connecting to the overhead vault of gearwork, it was all eerily silent as its machinery moved in precise patterns except for the subsonic vibrations that ran through their bodies with the infrasound whir and clatter of a hundred thousand maddeningly spinning and grinding gears.



But the insensate, unspeakably complex device was not what drew their attention immediately. Rather, it was the creature that peered out at them from behind it, standing at the edge of the pit.



Harishek ap Thulkesh, the Blind Clockmaker smiled.



Nearly twenty feet tall with wasted, elongated limbs, the baernaloth turned at their approach and flashed a grin of yellowed but razor sharp fangs. It sniffed at the air as it noticed them and flicked it blackened tongue at the air like a serpent, and then they all noticed its eyes.



The monstrous fiend’s eyes were clouded and opaque, horizontal caprine pupils dotted with intraocular bleeding and plaque-like blemishes of cataracts. Blind and unseeing as they randomly twitched in their sockets, wandering and not focused on the fiend’s guests as it blindly felt its way along the pit’s edge by taking hold of the nightmare device’s metallic protuberences like a guide rail as it awkwardly loped towards them.



“It certainly took you long enough to find your way here, though time is entirely subjective in this place.” The proto-fiend’s words washed over them with a feeling of a hundred razor-sharp surgical implements poised above their skulls, just like the great machine perched above the ether gap, slowly sketching in lines of blood across their scalps the pattern of subsequent surgery. “So my dear brother Daru has sent you, no? Do not make me wait anymore than I must. Ask your questions and I will give you my price. And stay where you are…”





****​
 

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Tsuga C

Adventurer
Never thought I'd read 16 years worth of forum posts in the span of 2 weeks, but this hooked me like a good book that I just couldn't put down.
I'd love to see this campaign put in book form with 2 or 3 illustrations per chapter done by DiTerlizzi, Brom, or perhaps Wayne Barlowe in the style of his "God's Demon" illustrations.
 



Shemeska

Adventurer
"So eager to meet me you seem to be... so be it."
 

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Shemeska

Adventurer
“His price?” Toras whispered to the others with suspicion, with Clueless and Fyrehowl nodding angrily. The Lie Weaver had spoken nothing about any price, only that they would find answers to Tristol’s questions where they now stood.

Softly snickering at the thoughts passing between his guests, the baernaloth tilted its head and sniffed at the air, then turning to glance sightlessly at each of them before slowly taking several short, shuffling steps in the group’s direction. One step, two steps, and suddenly the space between them seemed to fold inwards on itself contracting the distance and the ur-fiend loomed over them.

Fyrehowl whimpered at the creature’s stench, feeling sick to her stomach in its presence, Toras likewise felt nauseated as his own half-celestial nature rebelled at the proximity, and most strikingly as Florian’s fingers clasped reassuringly about her holy symbol of Tempus, the metal was burning hot to the touch. They’d had similar reactions when in the presence of the Lie Weaver, and in the presence of others of their ilk, but those times had been on planes far removed from the source of the baernaloths’ power, and in their current locale in a demiplane lodged at the heart of the Demiplane of Time that should have been even more so, yet it wasn’t.

“This place isn’t a demiplane,” Tristol whispered with sudden realization, his eyes widening in abject worry, “Not a true one. It’s a piece of the Waste torn off and carried across the planes to here. We’re in its native plane…”

“Your aasimar whelp of a wizard is a sharp one. Indeed you are.” Smiling at their discomfort, the blind horror hunched over, lowering itself to their stature and inclining its vaguely goat-like head.

“What are you doing?” Toras objected first, taking a sudden step back as the proto-fiend continued to grow closer.

The Gloom Father’s head jerked around at the half-celestial’s voice and it turned itself to blindly examine the source of the objection. It paused inches from Toras and sniffed before abruptly seizing him by the shoulder and licking up the side of his face. Toras shouted and struggled effortlessly before it threw him down to the floor like a discarded rag doll and a malevolent chuckle echoed through the fighter’s mind.

The others watched as one of the strongest men they’d ever known was manhandled by the huge yet spindly baernaloth. Literally ensconced in a place of its own creation, crafted from the substance of its native plane, there was precious little that they could do to fight the creature if it came to that.

“I’m getting to know my guests.” Harishek ap Thulkesh sneered in Toras’s direction as the half-celestial got up from the floor, “Unless you would prefer that I rip your memories from your mind before butchering and devouring you as another method before I wind back the clock of time and return you to some weak semblance of your existence moments prior? Mortals typically object to this, not that I care, but I am ever so busy and I would not wish to be overly distracted at the moment.”

Toras glared at the fiend as he stood up and watched it similarly examine the others by pawing, feeling, smelling, and looking into their minds without so much as a struggle. Tristol in particular felt his own mental protections buckle and rupture in the space of heartbeat when the fiend’s rancid breath washed over his face.

Each of them saw something different as they watched the baernaloth progress in its circuit of examining the group. Some simply saw it poke, prod, and taste, while others saw at least one of their companions touched, only to have every wound they’d ever experienced erupt in a shower of gore before instantly flashing back to a second before, time and probability warped to prevent that possible future from occurring.

So it went until the baernaloth came to Tristol and it stopped, the wizard suddenly and without his own agency suddenly limned in a halo of Mystra’s divine silverfire.

“A thousand times we stand here in this fractional moment, iterations upon iterations in which I snuff the spark of divinity within your blood, forcibly. You survive none of them.” The baernaloth hissed before seeming to look deep not into Tristol's eyes but past them, “You know how this has ended before. Ask yourself, here in this place, do you love your servitor?”

The fiend wasn’t speaking to Tristol, and after a momentary pause, the silverfire retreated and went quiescent in his blood. A divinity blinked.

Harishek then lifted the wizard in one hand, claws tracing the aasimar’s face. Shivering in fear at what had just occurred, he stared at his own horrified face reflected back at him in the fiend’s milky white, opaque eyes.

“I know your question wizard, but these things have power in how they are done. Ask. Verbally and of your own volition, desperate as it must surely be to find you here listening the promises of my Brother.” Teeth gleamed, jagged and cracked, as Harishek held Tristol dangling in the air, one hand gripped about the top of his head, holding him aloft a half dozen feet off of the floor.

Tristol’s voice quivered, “I need to know about the Oblivion Compass. The…”

The fiend cut him off, “I am aware of what it is, considering that I designed half of the inner guts of the device along with He that designed the other half and constructed it all, The Architect.”

Tristol closed his eyes, whispering a prayer to his goddess and then continued, opening his eyes and staring at the fiend with as much courage as he could muster in the moment, “I need to know how to read it and how it pertains to Vor…”

Harishek put a claw to Tristol’s lips, “No need to encourage that one to hear us. Names have power. Especially here.”

“… and how it pertains to the Oinoloth’s plans so that we can stop him.” Tristol concluded, omitting the Ebon’s name, his question now formally asked.

A knowing smirk on its face, the baernaloth released the wizard and dropped him to the floor where Nisha caught him and put him back on his feet.

“Thank you.” Tristol hugged the tiefling, not saying that when he’d fallen, his magic to slow his fall had failed. The baernaloth could have had them dancing like puppets on its marionette strings had it so desired, and on some level Tristol wasn’t sure it that wasn’t precisely what had been occurring ever since they had first visited the Lie Weaver in Torch.

Harishek turned its back to them and shuffled off, walking a short distance and then facing them again and sitting down upon the stone. Facing them with its hands folded upon its lap, the Blind Clockmaker’s spindly fingers tapping against one another in a rhythm to match the ticking of the gears.

“Yes,” The baernaloth finally said, “I can tell you how to read it and when it will strike a specific time, when it counts down to the culmination of THAT ONE’S desired plans. That is what your thoughts hold of significance at the present moment anyways… yes?”

Trying to remain standing despite the aura of spiritual filth that radiated off of the blind fiend, the six nodded warily. The Clockmaker smiled back at them, only vaguely positioning its head to grin at each of them as it clasped its hands together and stood once again.

“But, if you do not already know my name, you should since you will very shortly be performing a task for me. I have been known by many names through the eons, but most know me as Harishek Ap Thul’kesh, the Blind Clockmaker.”

“Nice to meet you! My name is Nisha!” The Xaositect quipped, a choice of words not appreciated by the fiend.

“Your names are already known to me. Remain silent.”

The baernaloth then stood and for a moment its clouded, snake-like eyes jerked towards the ether gap and it unsteadily walked towards its edge before pausing and muttering something to itself only barely heard, “…and other wretches. But you will not be silent…fool…”

The Clockmaker turned to stare down at the swirling morass of the ether gap below where an animate darkness seemed to move of its own accord, a black spiral reflected back on the milky surface of its eyes. Several minutes passed before he hissed and spat into the depths of the ether gap before turning back to his unwitting soon-to-be emissaries.

“What exactly do you want us to do for you?” Clueless asked, “Because your brother’s tasks weren’t anything that we enjoyed.”

“To say the least…” Toras grumbled.

“Nothing you do for me will be on that level.” Harishek smiled knowingly.

No. It wouldn’t.

Not in the least.

Lifting one spindly, unnaturally long arm and equally long fingers into the air the baernaloth whispered to itself a litany of words in its own native tongue and drew a single finger through the air, stirring the substance of space itself into a rapidly congealing fluid between its hands. A single moment of concentration and forming within its hands, drawn into substance from out of nothing, Harishek held a gleaming and flawless crystal vial in his wasted hand and offered it to them.

“Take it,” he said, “Pour its contents onto the wounds on the roots of Yggdrasil the World Ash where its blood drips and the great tree bleeds out into the dust of the Waste.”

Hovering in the air for one of them to take, the vial was carved into the shape of a tree with a crystal dragon curled about its base. Filled to the brim with a thick, almost syrupy liquid, it swirled with reddish, glimmering sparkles and exuded a light of its own that felt at once both a feeling of absolute unquestionable love yet chill and bitterly, sterilely cold.

Clueless took the vial and the baern spoke again, its dead, blind eyes twitching with intensity even as they wandered. “Pour it on the roots but do not allow Nidhogg or its spawn to notice your attempts or else your lives are in most all probability forfeit beneath their claws and fangs. Climb the tree and then follow the vial’s tug and pull to the first ratatosk village you find and accept what gift they give to you. The vial will know where to go, and the squirrel-folk should be expecting you. Take their gifts and return them to me and then I will give you the information you seek. One task alone. Simple and uncomplicated, unlike the progression of drudgery my sibling foisted upon you.”

“What is this in here?” Toras asked, concerned, staring at the swirling, sparkling starlight held within the vial, and even more so the wildly confusing sensations that the light gave as it washed over him.

“You expect some act of evil? You expect that it is poison? Perhaps you think that I wish you to ruin the great tree? No, I do not, and your wretched touch of the divine should tell you that I’m telling you the truth. In fact, what I will have you do might even be portrayed as an act of charity on my part.” The Clockmaker said with a grin, exposing crooked and malformed fangs, its breath like wind over the rotting remains of a hundred fresh battlefields. “My portion, my payment for a bargain struck eons ago.”

The fighter winced and turned away from the fiend’s direct gaze, which even though it might have been blind, he could feel its mind burrowing into his to paint a picture for its senses that was likely more accurate than their own, even if its sight was useless to it.

“That’s all? No hidden terms or costs to us?” Tristol asked.

“Do with the flask as I have told you and then bring back to me that which the ratatosks give you willingly in return. Do that and you will have your answer from me truthfully.” The baern said with a malign chuckle.

Toras nodded: inexplicably the fiend father was telling the truth.

“I am not my brother the Lie Weaver, painting you a pretty image with falsehoods and half-truths. I am honest in this and will give you what you purchase with your deeds and your acts on my behalf. But do not fail me,” The Clockmaker stressed the last statement as it turned away from them, its voice taking a darker tone, “For the vial would find its way back to me and I would find others to do my tasks, and my retribution would be swift and horrific. You are worthless to me outside of this task, and you have seen my creations elsewhere and what I have done to those that I cherish. What would I do then to you? Wretched husks of meat and bone wrapped around souls that come to dot the planes like mewling little vermin, impure…”

But the baern was talking to itself by that point, turned away from the receding footsteps of his pawns. He couldn’t see them leaving, but he heard them clearly and saw their thoughts as well, as they removed themselves from his presence, uniformly disgusted by the experience.

Harishek pondered for a time after they had gone just how many of them would return to him looking for their answers? How many of them would sully their values to gain his promised answers? Just how would their thoughts differ at that time compared to their expectations currently?

The baernaloth smiled.


***​


Deep in a cavern deep below the surface of Dubai’s Obscure Woe at the edges of the blood marsh on the outskirts of the gatetown of Torch, keen ears and keener eyes observed the events in their sibling’s domain with delight and hidden knowledge.

“Everything continues as we have foreseen.” Eyes gleaming in the darkness, Daru ib Shamiq smiled.

Illuminated only by the Lie Weaver’s glowing eyes, Tellura Ibn Shartalan sat with a cherubic smile upon her face, her shadow swallowed up by the surrounding darkness yet its eyes and mouth visible, darker against the darkness. Her shepherd’s staff lay upon the ground, replaced for the moment in her hands with a crude doll wrought of sticks, rags, and the skull of a ratatosk.

“Everything.”


****​
 

Tarath

Villager
Trust not the mother/fathers, we know this lesson very well indeed. I'd dare say that mewling mezzoloths freshly spawned on the Gray Waste know this.
 


CallumPH

First Post
I wonder how many people reading this now have already read the original version of this part of the story and know what's coming, versus how many are reading it for the first time -- and which we should feel more sorry for.

@Shemeska -- the "price" is one that, while all the characters are horrified by it, feels particularly aimed at one character in particular -- in the original game how did that work out with the player of the character in question?
 

Karsten

Villager
I wonder how many people reading this now have already read the original version of this part of the story and know what's coming, versus how many are reading it for the first time -- and which we should feel more sorry for.

@Shemeska -- the "price" is one that, while all the characters are horrified by it, feels particularly aimed at one character in particular -- in the original game how did that work out with the player of the character in question?
I've read both versions, but I am never certain over what is coming or not.
I also disagree with your view that the "price" aims one character only.
Having read through this story, there are still some open and untouched points, which are rather serious...think for example the lupinal and what happened to that layer of Elysium, for which so far we haven't seen the aftermath nor the upper planes reaction.

per different chapter, there may be more focus over one or the other character, but overall, noone has escaped the whirlwind of the wheels within wheels...
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
I wonder how many people reading this now have already read the original version of this part of the story and know what's coming, versus how many are reading it for the first time -- and which we should feel more sorry for.

@Shemeska -- the "price" is one that, while all the characters are horrified by it, feels particularly aimed at one character in particular -- in the original game how did that work out with the player of the character in question?

Honestly at the time it wasn't to the best of my recollection. I was aiming for a general emotional sucker punch to absolutely emphasize just how much of an abomination the baern were, and it worked. It absolutely focused the PCs on getting righteous revenge in the long-game as the campaign progressed towards an end. But yes, given Toras's divine patron, it hammered that PC in particular. The player talked justified smack and I let him know that revenge was possible in-game, and deserved. You'll see. :)
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
I've read both versions, but I am never certain over what is coming or not.
I also disagree with your view that the "price" aims one character only.
Having read through this story, there are still some open and untouched points, which are rather serious...think for example the lupinal and what happened to that layer of Elysium, for which so far we haven't seen the aftermath nor the upper planes reaction.

per different chapter, there may be more focus over one or the other character, but overall, noone has escaped the whirlwind of the wheels within wheels...
We will come back to the Upper Plane's role in all of this, and why very pointedly it seems like they've been vacuously absent from fighting back even in the face of a layer of Elysium being ripped out, debased, and stolen. Very little in the campaign was ever a true red herring that didn't tie back into something else on a deeper level for later explanation and exploration. It will be a little bit, but you'll absolutely see what's going on with the Guardinals. There's a future Fyrehowl-focused plot art that goes there, and it ties into a previous short bit about one or more of the Guardinal Lords clearly understanding something involving the Oinoloth and it bringing up terrible memories of some past event for them. That past will be absolutely revisited and explained. Also there was a previous short bit involving a portal to the Waste in Elysium that took the form of a tranquil pool of water, that started boiling IIRC as the Oinoloth went about his consolidation of power in the Lower Planes of Conflict.

And there will be an update some time this next week.
 

Tsuga C

Adventurer
Very little in the campaign was ever a true red herring that didn't tie back into something else on a deeper level for later explanation and exploration.

When did the players realize just how deep a campaign you'd constructed and start taking notes to avoid being caught flat-footed by events of the past, be it theirs personally or of the Planes in general?
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
When did the players realize just how deep a campaign you'd constructed and start taking notes to avoid being caught flat-footed by events of the past, be it theirs personally or of the Planes in general?
They started taking notes quite early on. I want to say multiple players were jotting things down by the time they saw Factol Nilesia (seemingly) being flayed by Her Serenity. I still have one player's notes as an adjunct to my own for writing the storyhour.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
The bladesinger cradled the vial in his hands, watching what seemed to be liquid starlight held within shift and flow with the motions of his hands turning it. It was syrupy, whatever it was, a consistency thicker than water or wine, with the slightest amount of viscosity. The light it shed played over his face and with it came the bizarre mix of emotions: a paradoxical combination of courage, regret, horror, and adoration all at once.

“Let’s get the hell out of here and finish this and be done.” Toras said, his hand on the bladesinger’s shoulder breaking him from an almost trance-like reverie from where he’d stared into the vial’s interior even as the baernaloth loomed over them all with the faintest of smiles playing across its diseased and ancient lips.

Tristol glanced at the proto-fiend, “Before I waste my magic, can I even gate out of this place?” Concern weighed heavily on him as he called the formulae into his mind’s eye and prepared to whisper the words and perform the gestures required by the spell even if his nature eschewed the use of any mundane components and even the foci typically needed.

The Clockmaker ignored Tristol for several moments, tinkering instead with the great device that hung perched like a spider above a doomed and struggling victim over the ether gap the demiplane was drafted about. Finally the proto-fiend responded with a dismissive gesture and a curt, “I will allow it.”

“Please Tristol.” Fyrehowl’s ears lay flat against her head, the demiplane’s nature as a portion of the Waste and the proximity of the baernaloth starting to take its toll on her, with thin wisps of silvery vapor wafted from her like the vapor of ice sublimating under the heat of a forge. “The quicker the better.”

The freakish spectacle was enough to jolt the wizard into action, and with Nisha’s tail curled about his ankle and her hand on his side, he intoned the spell and opened a gate to deposit them at the location of their choosing: the roots of Yggdrasil where the World Ash rose up improbably from the blighted soil of Nifflheim the Second Gloom.

“I’m standing on the naughty word Waste and I feel better.” Fyrehowl took a deep breath of relief, “I never thought that I’d say that.”

The others nodded in agreement. As strange as it was to say, even as the Waste stretched out eternally about them, they felt relieved to have left the Clockwork Gap. The difference was profound.

Safe from Harishek’s anathemic presence as they were, they had not arrived in a place of safety in any way, nor were they alone as they stood on a grey bluff of weathered rock and dusty top soul overlooking the plain surrounding the World Tree’s base.

Glancing the kilometer or so that stretched between them and the tree, the Waste oddly seemed to yield in some tenuous way, with the faintest traces of color in the soil and an equally faint increase in the luminosity of the plane’s sickly halflight gloom. The source of that difference, Yggdrasil’s roots sunk deep into the plane’s dust and ash, a putrid soil solidified with the bloodshed of the War Eternal, the flesh and spiritual essence alike of untold billions rotting away to form what passed for the soil of the Waste. From such a rotting source, the World Tree improbably rose up and out of sight into the wispy, mournful clouds that hung above, a thing of plane-spanning greatness, somehow drawing sustenance from the frigid dark of the Second Gloom. But as they huddled there in the roots’ long-shadows, they beheld the others crowded about the tree’s base.

“What the hell are those things?” Florian squinted to make out the details as the terrain seemed to move.

It wasn’t the land itself that moved however.

All about the World Ash crawled hundreds of dragons, wyrms, and linnorms. The blighted progeny of Nidhogg, the unholy beast that daily sought to bring down the tree by clawing, gnashing and gorging upon the roots. Most of the scaled terrors seemed content to sit there, oblivious of their surroundings in the greater expanse of the Waste, and there in their focused oblivion to gnash upon and claw madly at the roots, though they collectively seemed to do little more than barely scratch the bark to no great effect.

As they gazed out, Nidhogg was not immediately to be seen, though as the vast trunk of the World Ash dominated the horizon and blocked out sight of much of the Waste, it was presumed that the dragon was there, distantly gorging upon the tree, miles out of sight on the far side of the expanse.

“Please tell me that we don’t have to actually, you know, fight our way through those like few thousand different dragons down there?” Nisha spoke the obvious.

“Yeah I think that’s a wise idea.” Fyrehowl shook her head.

“Cowards.” Toras said, half-jokingly with a self-effacing grin.

Clueless produced the baernaloth’s vial and watched as its light flickered about on his hands, cold and alien. “I assume we go airborne, teleport over there onto one of the tallest roots, away from the dragons, and do what we came here to do.”

“Tempus isn’t going to argue with discretion here rather than wading into the fray.” Florian clutched her holy symbol and whispered a preemptive prayer.

That was when they saw it.

“Powers above…” Fyrehowl said with fright, jerking up one hand topoint to the horizon where the base of the World Tree curved out of sight. Where the trunk met the horizon, a staggeringly gargantuan tail and part of an equally vast wing of the mother of Norse dragons itself lay upon the Waste partially obscured amidst a river of sticky, slowly flowing sap. As they all watched, Nidhogg’s tail twitched in irritation every few minutes and with each such motion they could feel the earth shake ever so slightly from miles away as it vented its apocalyptic desires upon Yggdrasil’s roots.

“Let’s just pour this vial out before that thing or any of its children notices us, alright?” Clueless said.

“Sneaky would be good right now. That thing would give the Mother of Serpents a dance partner…” Nisha said as she scanned the tree for a safe place to alight. “We ready to go?”

Nodding in assent, they all gathered around Tristol and with a word from the aasimar they vanished in the flicker-flash of a teleport, leaping the miles across the plain to reappear upon one of the largest roots that still bore a recent and open wound from Nidhogg herself.

“Ok go!” Florian shouted, glancing out at the nearest of Nidhogg’s children several hundred feet away. “Dump it and let’s go!”

Clueless was more measured in his approach and slowly and deliberately uncorked the vial, watching the sparkling, starlit liquid within begin wafting up from the cork and interior alike. He didn’t have a moment to act further however before Toras took the vial from his hands and clambered further up the root.

“Can’t wait!” Toras said, looking back as he climbed higher up to where the flesh and bark was stripped raw and sap bubbled forth from a deep slash that went several feet into the massive root, itself thick as a house. Looking around once more, ever warily for any sign that Nidhogg’s children had taken notice of them, or that their mother itself had, he whispered a soft prayer to his god and upended the crystalline vial, hastily pouring its contents onto the wound.

It didn’t take long to notice the effect. The syrupy fluid was instantly absorbed, streaks of starlight washing through the xylem and racing through the root in every possible direction as the wound sealed almost as quickly with a sparkle of cold, violet light.

“What the hell?” Toras said as he stepped back from the rapidly spreading glow, watching the root regenerate, grow, and furiously shed itself of its wounds and the dust of the Waste itself.

Yggdrasil was healing.

They watched in amazement as the glow increased, rocketing up and across the swath of roots in range of their vision. Within moments they beheld the tree’s myriad wounds heal as suddenly the air was rent by the confused and angered roars of the drakes that had spent their lives at their mother’s feet, madly seeking to tear down the World Tree. A moment after her children cried out, so did Nidhogg.

“Oh naughty word!” Toras shouted as the very ground shook and with a single agonized roar of frustration, the clouds overhead swirled and parted as the great dragon unleashed her fury, watching as long centuries of her and her broods’ wrath were reversed and erased.

“Umm… let’s move. Now! Before that thing comes hunting for us!” Nisha whispered harshly as she waved her arms wildly, pointing up the side of the tree into the sky.

She didn’t have to wait long.

Like a rogue wave erupting from a churning sea of scales, Nidhogg’s head peered around the trunk, eyes the size of great wyrms blazing with fury to focus on the party and as one the tide of wyrms turned to where Yggdrasil’s saviors stood upon the roots.

She had little need to say so as Clueless and Fyrehowl were already hurtling up into the sky as Tristol hastily cast a spell to give the rest of them flight. Moments later they too joined in their skyward jaunt, glancing downwards only once to watch the healing of Yggdrasil’s roots continue and to watch the blind, but ultimately impotent, hatred of Nidhogg and its children erupt with a continuing chorus of rage and bursts of flame, acid, and more shooting skywards, but already the targets of their fury were long gone.

The spiritual gnawing of the Waste decreased meter by meter as they hurtled skyward, emotions racing back to them with relief as they finally lost sight of the Second Gloom far below and gradually a white haze of clouds replaced it below them. Meter by meter the light began to brighten, a serene and blue sunless sky manifesting about Yggdrasil’s trunk as they transitioned from the Waste and onto the planar pathway of the World Tree itself, a route between planes if not quite one in and of itself.

Slowly but surely as they fled from the Second Gloom and from Nidhogg’s fury far below, fear and urgency fled their thoughts and the next portion of their task for the Clockmaker made itself manifest.

“Guys, slow down a bit.” Toras called out as the group gathered and matched the speed of their ascent. “The vial. It’s tugging at my hand like a compass.”

“Well, the fiend said that the vial would know where to lead us to.” Fyrehowl nodded, glancing at the now empty crystalline and seemingly prosaic-looking vial held in the half-celestial’s hand. “Now we just need to find some ratatosks.”

“Someone remind me what they even are?” Toras asked as they passed the first of many branches the size of city roads reaching out into the air and sprouting green shoots and new growth as a direct result of their actions.

“Big, sodding, squirrel people.” Nisha said, dramatically sticking her upper jaw out in an overbite and twitching her upper lip like one of Yggdrasil’s fuzzy tailed guardians.

“Heh. Well, regardless, that’s who we need to find. And so far, this hasn’t seemed like a bad thing we’re doing. Hells, we just healed the World Tree, I can’t see any way that would be evil.” Toras said with cheerful optimism as he smiled and laughed at Nisha’s pantomime.

It would be the last laughter they shared for some time.



***​



As they climbed up the Great Tree, led onward without pause by the pull and tug of the crystal vial they held, they were being watched. Perched upon a branch high above them and looking down was a solitary woman of fey or vaguely half-elven features. Her hair was long and green, tinged with the red of autumn in places, and her skin was a milky nut brown. She was naked but unashamed as she watched the six travel upwards, ever upwards towards her children, her guardians and caretakers.

And there, as she silently watched, unable to act by virtue of a pact made in desperation in the early days of the cosmos, she wept. Yggdrasil wept. Far below, on another plane or two or three, her tears would fall like glistening raindrops upon the ground and sprout spontaneously into saplings and flowers which then withered and died, blooming and passing in an instant, evaporating in the sunlight or the gloom wherever they might touch the earth.



***​



“Everything proceeds as you would desire my Oinoloth.” The telepathic voice of the ultroloth, Parviset ib Pluton was succinct yet oddly servile. She stood at the summit of Khin-Oin surrounded by a quartet of her own arcanaloth servitors, there at the foot of the great throne, the Siege Malicious, where the arcanaloth who was the Oinoloth, Vorkannis the Ebon, sat and stared down at them all with casual malevolence in his vivid pink eyes. She felt belittled by the contrast between her nature and his, and his station and hers as she knelt, and the Oinoloth’s smile publicly displayed that he understood her feelings and relished them.

Curiously the Ebon’s consort was nowhere to be seen.

At the center of the platform at the summit of the Wasting Tower, Vorkannis sat upon the Siege Malicious, surrounded by a fawning court of arcanaloths and ultroloths, the latter cowed not only by his own presence but by the presence of one of their own standing at the edge of the tower’s precipice, its eyes dull, a shard of cobalt crystal lodged through its skull and into its brain, swirling with magic and agony.

Vorkannis shifted on his throne, preparing to speak and then, abruptly, he paused. It was subtle but it was there: a faint hum in the air, a tremor in the ossified stones of the Tower. He felt something and with no regard to the ultroloth at his feet he ignored her and gazed out into the Waste.

In his jackal’s ears the sounds of the courtiers faded away and he concentrated on the horizon, shifting his attentions to each layer of the Waste in turn, sifting, sensing, feeling…

One of the braver arcanaloths raised his voice for attention.

Vorkannis glanced down, snarled, and snapped his fingers.

Time ceased its flow. The wheels of forward causality ground to a halt far above and beyond the momentary tinkering of a mortal wizard’s mightiest attempts to do the same. About him the arcanaloths’ hung mid-motion, the ultroloths’ eyes shimmered, locked into one color and their chorus of telepathic pleading weighed heavily in silence.

All about was silence.

The Oinoloth stared out into the distance.

“What are you doing?... Ah. Yes. It is that time again isn’t it…” Vorkannis whispered to himself, his senses cast into the depths of Niffleheim where he could feel the great and suddenly more virile roots of the World Ash pulse deep within the soil of the Waste as they began to regenerate their accumulated wounds.

Surrounded by the temporally frozen yugoloth court, Vorkannis closed his eyes and basked in the sensations that he felt from the Second Gloom. His ear’s twitched as if they could physically hear Nidhogg’s rage and agony as its Sisyphean task reset once again by the actions of the Gloom Father’s and their puppets.

It had happened so very many times, the interlude like the finely run gearwork of a great clock of suffering. It was beautiful. It was a thing of respect for him. Even if the entity responsible for it, Harishek ap Thulkesh, was one of disdain. The Oinoloth briefly snarled at the mental image of the Blind Clockmaker, though it had been many, many years since they had stood in one another’s presence. They would again, and when they did, circumstances would be far, far different if his plans held true.

He despised the perpetual mad tinkering of the baern on a reality he held that they had tacitly abandoned their claims upon. He was aware of such things if he cast his attentions wide, and the greatest of such actions, like the regeneration of Yggdrasil was something he felt even without such.

The present action was expected. The time was right.

Perfectly coordinated as the final act in a repeating cycle before it began once again, and though it was the puppeteering of the Demented, it was not a concern of his. It was nothing he had not seen before. Again and again and again.

The work’s blind creator might have been worthy of his ire, but the actions themselves were worthy of his respect, worthy of his appreciation, worthy of his attention and a moment of bliss to savor.

The Oinoloth’s form grew ever so slightly indistinct, his margins fading, and his own darkness blurring and sinking into the shadows of the Siege Malicious. Relaxing, the puissant radiance of his eyes erupting like a burning beacon atop of Khin-Oin, his fingers sunk into the suddenly liquid substance of the Siege and down into the matrix of the Wasting Tower itself.

Merging and mingling with the substance of the Waste itself, he felt the distant rage and inchoate agony in Niffleheim. The Oinoloth felt it resonating through his bones, echoing there in the abject hollow of his soul, a darkness devoid of empathy.

His eyes closed and his ivory teeth gleaming in the darkness within and without, Vorkannis the Ebon smiled.
 


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