Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 09November2022)

Shemeska

Adventurer
Oh, it will absolutely continue. But working as a pharmacist, in retail pharmacy, during a pandemic, has me pulling 50-60 hour weeks at times and I'm virtually unable to do any creative work, for myself or otherwise at the moment. Blarg. :/
 

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carborundum

Adventurer
Completely understandable, if Blarg-inducing :)
I just discovered some loth goodness in the Kobold Press Warlock zine "Planar Bestiary" yesterday. I thought it would scratch the itch, but now I just want more!

In the meantime, stay safe and have a great New Year's Eve. Working?
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Oh yes, I had the opportunity to detail yugoloths for Kobold Press's Midgard setting in their Warlock zine. I had fun doing a 'redesign NE fiends from the ground up' for a second time :)

Only the name yugoloth was available to use, not any of the prior proper D&D names for 'loth subtypes, so I got to make new ones, set up their motives, names for yugoloth lords, etc. I refashioned their whole motif as something akin to a racial mystery cult.
 

Tsuga C

Adventurer
Your plate is overly full, Shemeska, but you do not lack for purpose in your day-to-day routine. Should you be interested in a storyline concerning a dual-expression virus ending civilization as we know it as a much-needed break from the incessant demands of the covid fiasco, pick up a used copy of the first book of the Black Tide Rising series by John Ringo, "Under a Graveyard Sky". Your Trelmarixian might be uneasy reading about this virus, and I think you might just purchase the rest of the ongoing series. Give it a whirl.
 

Karsten

Villager
Hi Shemi,
Closing almost a year since last update, I have to ask whether there is any plan of an upcoming one.

I do know that real life, as it is for some time now, leaves hardly any space to breathe over anything else, but still...
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Hi Shemi,
Closing almost a year since last update, I have to ask whether there is any plan of an upcoming one.

I do know that real life, as it is for some time now, leaves hardly any space to breathe over anything else, but still...
Between periodic freelancing and working as a retail pharmacist with a decent daily drive on top of my hours, I've been terribly preoccupied. I'll do my best to drop an update here in the next two weeks. <3
 



Shemeska

Adventurer
I miss you all as well, and I'm writing as we speak today since I have the holiday off. My past year has just been the perfect storm of busy, between working full time as a pharmacist mid-pandemic, having an hour and a half daily commute, the occasional freelance project, and running a weekly game I've just had precious little time to do any writing for myself, the storyhour included.

Teaser:
'The Oinoloth returned to the summit of Khin-Oin heralded with a snarling eruption of black fire and the sound of a chorus of wailing voices, an atypical presentation for a teleportation spell for certain, but one that reflected the archfiend’s mood after his encounter with the Architect.'
 

So I and my sibling have been rereading this, or at least the last… eight years of it? and I just finished. Some highlights from my speculation:

HUBRIS. This classical Greek word is usually translated as pride, but it's more than just regular "Proud of achievements-" it's pride so strong that you think yourself above the very gods. Appropriate for the godless yugoloth! And it certainly plays into the whole "Divinity Leech" aspect, for whatever value that has for them. (I'm afraid I've forgotten the details of what exactly they extract or if it's ever explained how they use the results, and a quick search isn't turning anything up right now.) But it also seems to tie into his belief that he is greater than the Demented.

Whatever the Ebon is, he has an absurd degree of control (above and beyond that granted to the Oinoloth) over the stuff that 'loths are made of- his creation of the Astraloth is major proof, but at the spot we're at now there's also modification of mezzoloths for use in the inner planes going on. There may be a hint of his nature in the words Shylara uses in transforming Mezzoloths: "And you I sacrifice on the altar of our purity." There are perhaps also clues in Vorkannis's interactions with the Architect- he seems to flinch ever so slightly in that interaction.

So: He's been working on this plan for a VERY long time- so long that he was responsible for Shylara's ascension… and for Shemeska's far, FAR longer ago fall to mezzoloth status and her struggle all the way back up to Arcanaloth. This extreme age and ridiculous foresight suggests he's something adjacent to the Baern. Here's my current theory: He WAS a baern, in the very earliest days of reality. He was a baern who was broken down and used to CREATE a prototype of the Yugoloth. (Even if it's not true, I think it's a good plot hook for my own later use.)

What he's up to? I'm not sure. I don't actually have any idea what the Oblivion Compass's deal is, or where it's counting to.

All that said: I do not think that the Ashsinger or Apomps are allies of Vorkannis. [This was related to a former player in my games own speculation] Apomps as a former associate, perhaps. But not an ally. The Ashsinger, I'm still unclear- but I think that it's perhaps related to the Far Realm somehow, or something else "outside" reality. It seems almost unrelated to the Ebon… but maybe not to whatever the Oblivion Compass counts down toward. Tollysalmon (and the swiftly deceased Alex, by extension) seem to be definitely tied to the Far Realms. Whatever the Ashsinger is, it seems like it can mess with time (Leobtav in the past talking to Guvners), leaves both Law and Chaos susceptible to its naughty word, and is awful enough that the Yugoloths revered it. A baern that went "outside" maybe?

Hm… something else that caught my attention: the mention that there were only four remaining "hosts" for the Demented. Taba, Xenghara, Helekanalaith, and Larsdana. It seems like the Altraloths are sort of proxies (in the non-technical sense) for the Demented, and suggests to me that the entire massive battle for Khin-Oin was almost as much about cleaning house and knocking off their proxies as it was about getting access to the Fleshforges of the Wasting Tower. BUT. It's also explicitly about wanting the Yugoloth to be a closed circle, with no interference from the Night Hags.

Then there's the Original Jester. He seems to be LE, and to have a deep disdain for Asmodeus and the Devils. Possibly some variation on an ancient Baatorian? He "infects" Clueless's thoughts in some fashion, which seems appropriate. Green Marvent I can't get a read on, but I'm actually guessing not a proxy/avatar/chosen? That seems too... easy.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
So I and my sibling have been rereading this, or at least the last… eight years of it? and I just finished. Some highlights from my speculation:

HUBRIS. This classical Greek word is usually translated as pride, but it's more than just regular "Proud of achievements-" it's pride so strong that you think yourself above the very gods. Appropriate for the godless yugoloth! And it certainly plays into the whole "Divinity Leech" aspect, for whatever value that has for them. (I'm afraid I've forgotten the details of what exactly they extract or if it's ever explained how they use the results, and a quick search isn't turning anything up right now.) But it also seems to tie into his belief that he is greater than the Demented.

Whatever the Ebon is, he has an absurd degree of control (above and beyond that granted to the Oinoloth) over the stuff that 'loths are made of- his creation of the Astraloth is major proof, but at the spot we're at now there's also modification of mezzoloths for use in the inner planes going on. There may be a hint of his nature in the words Shylara uses in transforming Mezzoloths: "And you I sacrifice on the altar of our purity." There are perhaps also clues in Vorkannis's interactions with the Architect- he seems to flinch ever so slightly in that interaction.

So: He's been working on this plan for a VERY long time- so long that he was responsible for Shylara's ascension… and for Shemeska's far, FAR longer ago fall to mezzoloth status and her struggle all the way back up to Arcanaloth. This extreme age and ridiculous foresight suggests he's something adjacent to the Baern. Here's my current theory: He WAS a baern, in the very earliest days of reality. He was a baern who was broken down and used to CREATE a prototype of the Yugoloth. (Even if it's not true, I think it's a good plot hook for my own later use.)

What he's up to? I'm not sure. I don't actually have any idea what the Oblivion Compass's deal is, or where it's counting to.

All that said: I do not think that the Ashsinger or Apomps are allies of Vorkannis. [This was related to a former player in my games own speculation] Apomps as a former associate, perhaps. But not an ally. The Ashsinger, I'm still unclear- but I think that it's perhaps related to the Far Realm somehow, or something else "outside" reality. It seems almost unrelated to the Ebon… but maybe not to whatever the Oblivion Compass counts down toward. Tollysalmon (and the swiftly deceased Alex, by extension) seem to be definitely tied to the Far Realms. Whatever the Ashsinger is, it seems like it can mess with time (Leobtav in the past talking to Guvners), leaves both Law and Chaos susceptible to its naughty word, and is awful enough that the Yugoloths revered it. A baern that went "outside" maybe?

Hm… something else that caught my attention: the mention that there were only four remaining "hosts" for the Demented. Taba, Xenghara, Helekanalaith, and Larsdana. It seems like the Altraloths are sort of proxies (in the non-technical sense) for the Demented, and suggests to me that the entire massive battle for Khin-Oin was almost as much about cleaning house and knocking off their proxies as it was about getting access to the Fleshforges of the Wasting Tower. BUT. It's also explicitly about wanting the Yugoloth to be a closed circle, with no interference from the Night Hags.

Then there's the Original Jester. He seems to be LE, and to have a deep disdain for Asmodeus and the Devils. Possibly some variation on an ancient Baatorian? He "infects" Clueless's thoughts in some fashion, which seems appropriate. Green Marvent I can't get a read on, but I'm actually guessing not a proxy/avatar/chosen? That seems too... easy.

Oh you have precious little idea how -DELIGHTED- it made me to see your post and your speculation on the storyhour's metaplot. I absolutely eat this sort of thing up! :D

I'm never going to publicly answer such speculation, and to my recollection nobody has yet been absolutely spot on correct regarding the specifics of the Ebon's plans and his true nature. There have been some solidly close guesses over the years however.

I will make a correction to your speculation though: when you mentioned the various altraloths and other hosts of The Demented, you left out Charon/Cerlic who was largely sidelined early on and hasn't made a reappearance. Helekanalaith, one of The Ebon's allies, was host to The Chronicler and there hasn't been anything to suggest that isn't still the case even as he personally talks with the Oinoloth regularly. Make of that as you will. But yes, the Ebon taking the throne of Khin-Oin and the battle for it was -very much- about cleaning house and centralizing power. They're still there, still watching, still taking notes as they sit in the Vale of Frozen Ashes.

You'll find out more about the Jester in relatively short time, though not the immediate next update (which I'm close to finishing up, so thank you all for your saintly patience with me).
 

Oh you have precious little idea how -DELIGHTED- it made me to see your post and your speculation on the storyhour's metaplot. I absolutely eat this sort of thing up! :D

I'm never going to publicly answer such speculation, and to my recollection nobody has yet been absolutely spot on correct regarding the specifics of the Ebon's plans and his true nature. There have been some solidly close guesses over the years however.

I will make a correction to your speculation though: when you mentioned the various altraloths and other hosts of The Demented, you left out Charon/Cerlic who was largely sidelined early on and hasn't made a reappearance. Helekanalaith, one of The Ebon's allies, was host to The Chronicler and there hasn't been anything to suggest that isn't still the case even as he personally talks with the Oinoloth regularly. Make of that as you will. But yes, the Ebon taking the throne of Khin-Oin and the battle for it was -very much- about cleaning house and centralizing power. They're still there, still watching, still taking notes as they sit in the Vale of Frozen Ashes.

You'll find out more about the Jester in relatively short time, though not the immediate next update (which I'm close to finishing up, so thank you all for your saintly patience with me).
I mean I have at least some idea- I’ve been reading this sporadically since 2004, and you’ve mentioned it before. That’s why I posted it! :p
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
The Oinoloth returned to the summit of Khin-Oin heralded with a snarling eruption of black fire and the sound of a chorus of wailing voices, an atypical presentation for a teleportation spell for certain, but one that reflected the archfiend’s mood after his encounter with the Architect.

Silence immediately fell upon the assembled court surrounding the great throne, the Siege Malicious. Dozens of regally robed arcanaloths and ultroloths, each of them bedecked with enough magical paraphernalia to make an archmage weep, looked up with surprise at their master’s return, seeking to divine in that first split second his mood and their appropriate response.

Vorkannis of course ignored them and the eruption of voices seeking to entreat him for a word, an audience, a request for information as to how his most recent venture out into the surrounding Waste had gone, not that any of them knew his actual reasons or intent. He walked past and through them, his immaterial and shadowy cloud of plague spores parting them like a split ocean before a prophet.

As he walked through the crowd, one arcanaloth at his feet lay dying from a silver blade plunged into its throat and a burned hole in its chest still sizzling with black, arcane fire. The Oinoloth gave only a cursory glance before then looking directly at their killer further back in the throng with the faintest sneer of approval. Perhaps the internecine slaughter was amusing to him, or simply the act of betrayal and the pain of the dying ‘loth like honey on his lips, or more likely the life and death struggles of comparative insects amused him in its futility.

As her Oinoloth took his seat upon the Siege Malicious, one arcanaloth, Venya ib Malkanthe stepped forward and spoke the first words that actually garnered his attention, “My Oinoloth, there are… issues… of concern to you in Gehenna.”

Vorkannis briefly glanced down at her, his thoughts clearly still preoccupied by his recent encounter at the Loadstone. “Let Helekanalaith deal with any such issues in his domain,” He said, dismissively, “I have precious little concern where so much as it regards his competence.”

“It regards Chamada and the living moon,” She paused, uncertain how to proceed, her hands fidgeting to smooth out the folds of her pale blue and black robes, before finally spitting out a name, “Nimicri.”

To this the Oinoloth physically turned and narrowed his eyes, taking full attention, “Speak.”

“The moon is in open rebellion,” She explained, choosing her words carefully, suddenly wary at how swiftly her master had chosen to direct his full attention to her. She could feel the telepathic fingers of his consciousness brushing at her thoughts like a coiled serpent sniffing the air as it waited for its prey to step forward for its waiting strike. “It began this morning without warning. It devoured dozens of mezzoloths and their overseers. Several of my own,” She would have said ‘our’ kind but the very notion of comparing them and herself to the Oinoloth seemed blasphemous to her, “They barely managed to escape and it seemed as if the moon were targeting them in specific in its wrath.”

“Of course it would…” Vorkannis sneered, his meaning opaque to those gathered around him.

“At present our garrison has retreated to the surface of the second furnace and…”

“Blockade the moon in its entirety.” Vorkannis cut her off, “Allow no transit in or out. Any attempting to escape are to be killed, swiftly, and others seeking entry are to be turned away with whatever appropriate lies you can muster, unless killing them as well is more expedient. Do your best to cull the rumor mill that has likely already spread to the City of Doors.”

The Oinoloth snarled and rapidly tapped the claws of his left hand upon his throne. It seemed possible that he might have to leave Khin-Oin once more, even as he’d only just returned.

“Petulant creature…”





****​





The mortal named Eldiria Windsong, cleric of Sehanine Moonbow, clutched, white-knuckled at her shield, her elven heart beating in her chest and humming in her ears as her mind raced to understand what she’d seen over the past hour that she and her companions had spent on the surface of Nimicri.

Unlike many who visited the moon, she was under no illusions as to the danger or to the true nature of the unique trade city that orbited Gehenna’s second furnace of Chamada. She knew to avoid spilling her own blood, lest the city eventually generate a flawed simulacra of her to one day escort visitors, man a shop, or whatever other mundane tasks it set its little finger puppets upon.

Three times since they’d arrived, she’d seen Nimicri devour an outsider, and eight other times she’d seen it brazenly make the attempt. For the entirety of the moon’s history, as far as she was aware, it had never engaged in what she could only describe as an open feast upon its visitors and occupiers. For certain the cunning entity would innocuously slurp at any blood lost in fights or left behind following a visitor’s drunken fall upon a streetside curb, taking from them knowledge, memories, and the blueprints to spawn a copy of them from itself like some titanic mimic. But since she and her companions had stepped foot upon the moon, they’d witnessed doorways spawn teeth and snap down upon mezzoloths, the spires of towers warp into spiked tentacles to impale flying nycaloths, and streets suddenly collapse not into sinkholes but yawning mouths to feast upon an arcanaloth betrayed by its fellows and hurled within to die, screaming.

Why though the bloodshed? Why now? And why, now that she thought about it, had the moon only targeted the ‘loths who at any point stood as the planetoid’s primary visitors, if only by proximity to one of their three native planes?




****​




She stood in the shadows, cloaked from the sight of mortals and monster alike, her arrival unheralded by the familiar opening of portals or even the ostentatious flicker-flash of a teleportation spell. She was never one to advertise her arrival. Lesser beings could rejoice in the noise of their arrival, their own presentation as targets and victims. She was nothing of the sort. She was a predator as she hung there, one with the darkness, there in the gravity well of another of a sort.

The mortal stepped into view, itself clutching at shield in one hand and a holy symbol about its neck with the other. One pathetic being feebly clutching for the protection of an even more pathetic thing.

Closer.

One step closer.

Almost there little gnat.

Only one step closer little one.

Come forward little insect.

This will be swift.

This will be unseen.



****​



Eldiria sprinted forward, moving down the alleyway between a pair of buildings until she reached its end where it intersected a larger boulevard, motioning for her companions to wait as she glanced in both directions. While Nimicri itself had largely ignored them since their arrival, the ‘loths themselves had been both open targets of the moon itself, and likewise dangers lashing out in fury towards all others spared its wrath.

Good she thought to herself, there were no signs of the neutral evil fiends in either direction, both on the ground or in the air. She motioned back to where her three companions waited to wait a moment and then follow. The motion made, she turned the corner.

Suddenly, just ten steps forward and barely out of line of sight of her fellows, she paused, the faintest feeling of a nearby presence raising a sense of alarm. She glanced about, then up and behind, but no, there was nothing amiss. She shrugged and stepped forward.




****​




Inwardly smiling, Taba revealed herself and struck. Jaws yawned wide, a myriad of newly formed arms grasping and holding tighter than iron, boney spikes piercing arming and puncturing lungs to silence a scream before it even began in the firing of higher neurons, and joints dislocating to accommodate her victim as the mortal slid down her gullet without a single drop of blood spilt, denying Nimicri the opportunity to do what she would do to an even higher degree of mastery.

The yugoloth lord began to digest her victim even before the mortal’s feet slipped past her teeth, acid, enzymes, and things more subtle digesting not only flesh but objects, memories, mannerisms, and knowledge, all of it sorted and memorized. In the space of an instant as she snapped shut her jaws, starting from her feet and moving upwards, her form recapitulated that of her victim in every detail. She blinked and she smiled, and then standing there just beyond the corner as her companions caught up with her stood Taba in perfect mimicry of the elven cleric she had murdered in an instant.

“Come on,” She said, her vocal chords identical to the dead clerics. “The way is clear. No ‘loths at all.”

Her companions nodded and the group proceeded down the street, ignorant that they followed in the footsteps of an altraloth. Block by block they found the city largely deserted, devoid of the usual presence of residents and shopkeepers generated by the moon itself, and block by block they witnessed it savagely assaulting those few yugoloths who remained on its surface, those few unable to leave on their own power or unwilling to defy the orders of their masters who had sent them there to eliminate witnesses to the moon’s rage.

Silently watching the slaughter, the group continued to traipse their way through the city, stopping only when the ground shook and a building collapsed.

“How dare you defy our master?!” Zeleria ap Chamada screamed, her hands a blur of motion as she invoked a meteor shower down upon the moon’s surface, blasting stone and mortar apart like a giant kicking an anthill. The broken stones melted as they fell, their formless mass absorbed by the streets below to leave no trace of the damage beyond a slight discoloration from where the fiendish wizard’s spell still burned with arcane flame.

“How dare you strike against us?!” Zeleria bellowed, rising into the air as she stones at her feet turned to teeth and snapped at her heels. Another flicker of motion from her hands and a snarled word and a brilliant green beam lashed from an open palm and cut into the ground, disintegrating a trench, meter by meter incinerating the moon’s unholy matrix, seeking to draw blood and punish the sentient planetoid.

The arcanaloth was skilled beyond the scope of the others of its kind the moon had already slain, but in the end, it was yet one more ant raging against the mountain upon which it stood. An adjacent tower became a gargantuan tentacle and swung down to swat the flying ‘loth like a fly, the street forming a slavering maw to accept it as it fell. Swallowed up by a chewing, undulating street, its final screams were unheard except by Taba, a pleasured smile faintly crossing her lips as she watched.

Saying nothing to her mortal compatriots, she continued, her movement through the maze of Nimicri’s streets hardly random, but following the faintest tremor she felt. The moon ached. Following the unvoiced sound of agony, she walked, following streets that wrapped around but never led directly towards the source of the moon’s maddening ache.

“Are we going in circles?” One of her companions asked, a statement ignored by the altraloth wearing the flesh of their deceased party member.

Something was off.

Buildings had slunk to the side, moved, and repositioned themselves, streets lacing together like burgeoning scar tissue to hide a wound. Nimicri ached not only from physical pain, but from emotional agony.

“Have you noticed somethi…” The rogue standing beside her stopped, holding his tongue as an eave above them animated into a fanged maw and struck at Taba.

Her shoulder rippled and shrugged off the blow, something utterly unexpected by every witness to the act, Nimicri included. No blood was drawn, but it smelled her. Altraloth. Yugoloth. The cause of its pain. One of the thieves. One of the abductors.

The streets around them exploded into a frenzy of violence, snuffing out the lives of the mortals Taba had used to hide her metaphysical scent from the hungry moon. The altraloth however remained untouched, her corporeal form shifting into a metamorphic liquid to surge through the air, moving in a dozen disparate streams to avoid Nimicri’s strikes.

Avoiding the moon’s rage, Taba surged forward, diving through openings made available by Nimicri’s strikes, time and again avoiding harm and growing closer and closer to what she’d felt ever since she’d arrived.

Then, returning to her native form but for a second to behold the moon’s secret with her own, original eyes, not aping any other form, she understood. A dozen eyes went wide, blinked, thoughts racing as to the implication as Nimicri’s myriad limbs and mouths moved to end her, and then with a thought she planeshifted out of Gehenna, leaving the moon to scream in impotent rage.

Taba understood the what, but not yet the why.




****​




“… upon the altar of our purity.” The Overlord of Carceri intoned as the final mezzoloth received her warped and twisted blessing of transformation, her attendants gazing up at her in awe and fear, even as she merely aped the magics taught to her by the Oinoloth without wholly understanding their intricacies and basis.

As a final flourish, a student signing her master’s name on the canvas, each of them had, after their transformation, received a glowing brand upon their flesh, hide, or carapace, physically melted or burned in place and glowing with puissant magic in the shape of the Oinoloth’s personal symbol.

Shylara closed her eyes and listened, smiling at the shrieks as they were applied by the various contingents of arcanaloths in her service. The sum totality of the agony she felt from her own forces mustering there at the base of the Tower of Incarnate Pain and the billions upon billions of souls that comprised the screaming matrix of the tower itself, it was nearly overwhelming in its pleasure for the archfiend.

“It is completed Mistress,” One of her servitors spoke, interrupting her moment of self-indulgence.

The Overlord of Carceri softly snarled as she opened her eyes, casting a shifting, multicolored radiance to the servitor who instinctively dropped to their knees and bowed their head. The movement of immediate submission worked and Shylara’s mercurial rage passed over the quivering arcanaloth who would live to die another day.

It was time.

It was finally time to enact this first step of her master’s plan, a plan in which she was a vital component, a centerpiece jewel in a forming crown. A plan of which, of course, she ultimately did not understand and had not been told the significance of even as she raised her hands and drew upon the ferocious power invested in her by virtue of her symbiotic link to the 3rd great yugoloth tower that rose from the red and festering flesh of Othrys.

The air above them all and the void above it, they ached, as space was rent apart, immaterial, ephemeral claws of magic and malignant will twisting, tearing, cutting, and reconfiguring, borrowing a hole across all of reality. First one, then another, and another, and another, a multitude of great gates to accommodate the yugoloth armies there massed and answering to a being which cared nothing for them. High above, the Bells of Othrys ceased their distant, ominous chime, cannon to crown to lip and alien clappers alike held motionless and silent like still tongues and pursed lips, hushed in waiting for what would come next.

Laughing maniacally, Shylara the Manged placed one foot in the jeweled stirrup of the saddle atop her personal slasrath, one of the selectively bred, monstrous, intelligent, and carnivorous beasts of burden first created in Gehenna. Launching herself up onto her seat, she glanced to the similarly saddled slasrath hovering in the air some two dozen feet distant, one which already hosted the blue-robed ultroloth, a spike of cobalt crystal buried in its forehead, manipulated like a puppet by their collective master. Utterly silent, it allowed her the illusion of control and had yet to speak with the Oinoloth’s projected voice in the past days in which their forces had marshalled and prepared for the journey.

Shylara tugged at the reins of her mount and urged it skyward, turning to face her assembled forces as the Oinoloth’s host took its place beside her, silently glancing over as if in prompt.

“NOW IS OUR TIME! NOW IS WHEN WE BEGIN THE GREAT TASK SET UPON US BY OUR MASTER, THE OINOLOTH, THE GREATEST OF US, VORKANNIS THE EBON! NOW I OPEN THE WAY! SPILL FORTH LEGIONS OF THE PLANES OF CONFLICT, GEHENNA, THE WASTE, AND CARCERI! SPILL FORTH AND SPILL THE BLOOD AND ESSENCE OF ALL WHO STAND IN OUR WAY!”

Mania dancing in her eyes as vividly as the mad chorus of colors that radiated from them, Shylara the Manged raised her hands and invoked an eldritch litany in baernaloth. Words and gestures she had learned from the Oinoloth himself, words and gestures that she only partly understood, they nonetheless had their desired effect. The air about the Tower of Incarnate Pain rippled and boiled as she called forth holes in reality, burned across the stretch of infinities between the Outer and Inner planes.

At the Overlord of Carceri’s urging, the portals yawned wide, spilling forth a light far too clean and unsullied by Evil or any alignment whatsoever in fact out onto the wastes of Othrys, dozens of them at once opening onto a landscape of gleaming, glittering gemstones. On the border of the Elemental Plane of Earth and the Positive Energy Plane, the Gemfields awaited them.




****​




The skies of Sigil hung heavy with soot and smog, both conspiring together to form dark clouds to pour down an acrid, vinegar smelling rain upon the streets of the Clerk’s Ward. It made for a dreary day, masking the light that would have normally radiated through the front windows of the Portal Jammer as the day stretched towards Peak.

The weather and dimmed daylight certainly set the prevailing mood over the Portal Jammer’s owners as they sat together in the main room, except for Clueless who tended the bar. Since scrying upon the Oblivion Compass and witnessing what they had, several days had passed as they’d mulled over the ramifications of what they’d seen, and perhaps more important, just what their next step would be.

News passing from the lips of touts, rumors spilling from increasingly tipsy tavern patrons, and eventually headlines in block print spelled out on the front page of newsprint something that interrupted their thoughts on the Oblivion Compass.

“Nimicri blockaded by yugoloths?” Toras asked, reading out the paper headline. “Scary sounding perhaps, but more importantly what the hell is a Nimicri and why are the ‘loths placing a blockade on travel there?”

“Oh! That’s the mimic city.” Nisha said, matter-of-factly, before returning to trying and failing to put a knot in the stem of a cherry from her cocktail using only her tongue. Three seconds later and a spat out cherry tumbled across the table before Tristol lifted it up with a mage hand and back into her waiting hands and open mouth.

“Keep trying.” The wizard said with a smile.

“The mimic city?” Toras asked.

“The mimic city!” Nisha mumbled, now two cherries in her mouth.

“Let me explain,” Tristol chuckled, “It’s…”

The wizard trailed off as Clueless walked over from behind the bar, a serious expression on his face as he glanced down at the envelope in his hands.

“This arrived in the mail just now.” He gingerly placed the mail in the table’s center, avoiding the sporadic few bits of cherry there.

Addressed to the collective owners of the Portal Jammer, the letter’s sender was immediately obvious from the seal and sigil that it bore: the most recent nom de plume of the altraloth Taba.




****​
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Toras rolled his eyes and took a long, preemptive swig from his mug.

“Another invitation from esteemed and oh so mortal, Material Plane dwelling associate, Lord Abat?” Florian asked, mirroring Toras’s motion a split second after asking her question.

They all knew the answer to the question before Clueless opened the envelope on Razor’s edge and unfolded the crisp stationary to lay the letter flat for all to read:

“Greetings my friends!

I hope that our time spent apart since our last meeting within the Dire Wood has seen you hale and hearty. I myself have traveled quite far afield from whence we last communed. No doubt that you may have heard of the disruption of travel and trade upon the trade town of Nimicri.”


“Surprise surprise…” Toras muttered.

“The mimic city!” Nisha giggled with odd, perhaps misplaced delight.

“The mimic city.” Tristol smiled and patted her head.

The letter continued:

“Being as this matter is liable to have untold consequences on regional trade and transit, I should urge you my friends to take it upon yourselves to commence forthwith to Nimicri to see events therein for yourselves and discover the reasons for these most recent events.

Your gracious associate,

Lord Abat of Toril”


“Laying it on thick, isn’t she?” Fyrehowl shook her head and downed a gulp of ale.

“You could say that.” Clueless said, skimming over the letter a second time, “But now I’m genuinely interested.”

“You weren’t interested before?” Florian asked.

“No,” The bladesinger waved the letter in the air casually, “Before I was curious, with a heavy amount of ‘f*ck the yugoloths who are clearly up to their usual yugoloth f*ckery’ and a side of ‘how is any of this unusual for Gehenna?’”

“That’s the thing though,” Fyrehowl remarked, “It is actually unusual for the ‘loths to so brazenly and so suddenly take action like this, and doubly so because it’s on Nimicri.”

“Why is it so odd for Nimicri?” Florian asked.

“Because the ‘loths have historically taken a very hands-off approach to the moon, or at least the appearance of being hands off.” The lupinal continued, “So there’s something afoot, otherwise they wouldn’t have taken action like this.”

“To say nothing of our letter-writing friend having an interest and pushing us in that direction herself.” Clueless placed the letter down on the table, face up for all to review once more.

Collectively they glanced around the room at one another, each gauging the mood, all of them coming to the same conclusion that yes, absolutely they needed to go to Nimicri. Nods were made, assent voiced, and not even a grumble of dissent to be heard before last drinks were poured and finished, preparations were made for their trip, and finally the group left together to find the nearest portal to the Outlands, there to planeshift to Gehenna.

What they found there would rock their view of certain events that they’d taken part in when they’d first come together as a group.



****​



The tieflings that stood guard outside the private rooms within the Azure Iris where Shemeska the Marauder held private, as opposed to public court down in the Fortune’s Wheel below it, were really a well-dressed formality. Their presence, albeit a highly skilled and lethal presence, wasn’t the real power keeping the King of the Crosstrade safe from rivals. No, she alone and the centuries of layered wards she’d ensorcelled into place were the true danger that faced any would-be assassin. Still, the well-dressed rogues who flanked the door to her suite of chambers were there to deal with more common riffraff and act as intermediaries with those seeking any audience, cutting wheat from chaff for their mistress to deal with at a later, more convenient date, sometimes cutting wheat from chaff in a more literal, bloody manner if they mood struck them.

The visitor who would promptly manifest in front of them however was not common in any capacity, riffraff or otherwise.

“Good evening to you sir and to you madam, servitors of my most esteemed peer among the Yugoloth hierarchy the King of the Crosstrade!”

The Grin manifested as an illusory smile suspended in mid-air, speaking a split second before becoming visible. It was a credit to their training that neither tiefling jerked in surprise or yelped in shock, but calmly moved hands to their sword belts and turned to glare at their visitor.

“She’s occupied at present sirrah… madam… whichever you might be.” The tiefling on the left side of the door stumbled over the precise pronoun to use in planar common with which to address their visitor.

They hadn’t stated as much, but both tieflings were well aware of The Grin and its complicated relationship with their Mistress. As an agent of the Tower in Gehenna, and more specifically a proxy at times for its master and sire Helekanalaith, its appearance was not altogether unknown, though it had been some time since it had directly appeared and requested an audience. Normally they suspected it would simply directly ask Shemeska herself by magic, rather than go through the formalities of actually showing up and asking them to ask her.

Something was clearly up.

The Grin moved the corners of its mouth up and down in a comical recapitulation of a shrug, “Any or all of those work.” They explain, “I’m not much on the specifics as you mortals are so fond of being locked into.”

“As my partner said,” The tiefling on the right stated, “Her Fiendish Majesty is presently occupied.”

Another ‘shrug’ from the Grin, “No doubt having her claws polished, fur brushed or waxed, by a servitor whose eyes she’d previously plucked out, depending on where the fur in question might be I suppose. Things of utmost importance surely.”

Neither tiefling responded to the insinuation, even if the insinuation were liable to be true.

Several long seconds passed.

“You can go interrupt her and ask for me, or I can simply waltz through the door and ask her myself.”

The Grin did as its namesake expression detailed, with a playful, sinister hint at the corners.

“One moment.” The first tiefling turned and stepped inside, leaving her compatriot there in the hallway with the illusory visitor.



****​



“The Gehennan. He… she… they…” The tiefling, eyes directed pointedly downwards at the floor, fumbled with uncertainty as the visiting fiend hadn’t clarified the matter to any level of mortal specificity, “They’re out in the hallway. They request an audience with you.”

The Marauder looked up from where she sat atop the back of one blind aasimar, legs crossed and one foot extended out for a second, similarly impaired aasimar to expertly polish and paint her claws seemingly based on feel and familiarity with the act and the anatomy alone. She rolled her eyes dramatically.

“Of course, they would, now…”

Sneering with equal drama she expanded her consciousness, feeling The Grin delicately probing at the layers of wards that surrounded her chambers in the Azure Iris. Of course, they weren’t actively seeking to intrude past them: it had become almost a formality over the past few centuries, a subtle knock on the proverbial door to go along with manifesting before her guards and verbalizing the request she already knew was coming.

With a soft, dismissive snarl the Marauder kicked at the aasimar painting the claws on her feet, deftly and intentionally drawing blood. Standing up and leaned down, cradling the servitor’s injured face before licking the wound and pushing them to the ground like a crassly discarded but beloved doll. Standing back up and running a hand through her hair, straightening the tangle of razorvine atop her head, she looked back at the tiefling, who to their credit, had remained emotionless at the display of casual, pointless cruelty, “Let them in.”

As the tiefling returned to the front door to admit her visitor, Shemeska stood up walked to an adjacent chamber and almost as an afterthought, she casually donned a green, silk robe to cover herself, to then sit upon a velvet-cushioned throne of hollyphant ivory. An arrogant smile playing across her muzzle, she relaxed and held out her right hand for the same blind servant who’d previously served as a chair now placed a lit cigarette holder in her hand. She lifted it to her painted lips and took a puff, ready to punctuate her guest’s arrival with a sneer and an exhaled stream of smoke.

“Greetings Shemeska!” The Grin exclaimed as it manifested within the room, the barely-clothed arcanaloth before them blowing a stream of purple smoke through her front fangs. The illusory guest gave a polite, entirely performative cough from the welcome.

“Took you long enough I suppose to bother showing up.” The Marauder said, smoke coiling up from her nostrils as she tapped the cigarette holder, sending a cascade of ashes to land upon the flesh of the attendant now sitting on the floor adjacent her throne.

“We haven’t met face to face like this nearly often enough I admit.” The Grin smiled jovially.

She rolled her eyes and blew another stream of smoke, arrogant as ever even when dealing with a nominal peer. Without any further banter she immediately launched into a stream of questions, demands really, but even as The Grin considered what to tell her, what to hide, and what to lie about, they couldn’t help but stare at the object she wore about her neck like some unholy talisman: the Shadow Sorceled Key.



****​



The transition was always stark when leaving Sigil by portal to one of the Lower Planes. It didn’t matter if one left the Lady’s Ward or the Hive, or ultimately stepped out into the Imperial Hell of Baator, the Darwinian nightmare of the Abyss, or the Unhallowed Desolation of the Waste, there was never a situation wherein the contrast didn’t metaphorically or literally suck the air from the lungs and dim the candlelight of the spirit.

The party’s emergence into the Fourfold Furnace was no exception.

The surface of Chamada was a vast and jagged, burning expanse of rock that seemed perpetually inclined at perilous angles and unstable, loose footing on those surfaces not actively flowing with molten rivers of magma pouring off and out into the void. At random intervals that almost seemed to deliberately target creatures crawling across the slopes, seemingly solid ground would erupt in massive showers of lava, casting a brilliant, fiery glow across a landscape of black basalt and other igneous rock. Certain eyes might have found the contrast beautiful, if not for the deadly and immediate peril it presented to travelers incapable of flight or themselves not immune to flame, let alone the damage posed by flying boulders or razor-sharp ballistic splinters of stone.

Surrounded by such on the slopes of Chamada rather than the streets of Nimicri, normally they might have considered a gate, such was Tristol’s ability, but with a yugoloth embargo on Nimicri and the unknowns surrounding any magical protections to dissuade travel they thought better of the idea. Instead, they began with a planeshift to Chamada, there to stare up at the moon drifting like some lambent star tantalizingly out of reach to those upon the volcanic hellscape of the 2nd Furnace.

Well aware of the native dangers of Gehenna, to say nothing of its native fiends the yugoloths, the party had well prepared in advance for the natural dangers before they’d planeshifted. Magically inured against the plane’s pernicious spiritual effects, likewise against fire, and collectively drifting several inches off of the ground, they faced only one pressing question on how to proceed, a question that Nisha posed as she stared up at Nimicri high above some thirty miles up in orbit.

“Soooooo,” Nisha quipped, staring up, “Do we fly or do we teleport?”

“That’s a bit of a distance up there.” Toras gave a dubious glance up at the moon.

“And that void isn’t empty.” Fyrehowl narrowed her eyes, her ears flat and laid back against her head. “I can see more than a few groups moving up there, circling Nimicri. Can’t make out much detail from this distance, but the approach is being watched and patrolled.”

“What are your thoughts Tristol?” Clueless asked. “Fly up invisibly? Risk a teleport?”

The aasimar pondered the situation, the chill wind off of the void whipping the edges of his robes while errant bursts of heat from the slopes behind him providing a contrast hinting at the danger they faced simply standing there moment by moment.

“It’s going to be difficult to keep us all invisible while we fly that distance from here up to Nimicri.” Tristol said, thinking out loud. “There’s no way we won’t end up having to fight our way through a flood of nycaloths or a bunch of arcanaloths.”

“Bring it.” Toras said bluntly.

“Ehhh…” Tristol shrugged. “We have no idea what’s even going on up there, so I hesitate to spend a ton of spells just in the process of setting foot on Nimicri.”

“So, we teleport?” Florian asked.

Tristol nodded, “Yeah, I think we at least make the attempt.”

With a softly whispered prayer to Mystra and a flicker of silverfire on his fingertips, Tristol cast the spell.

While the flickerflash of the teleport was immediate and normal, what happened next was not. Rather than a sudden chill followed by stepping out onto the streets of Nimicri, what instead occurred was a nauseating, discordant rush of sensations that wracked their immaterial minds and bodies alike. Rather than crossing the void in an instant, something at or about their target destination grabbed hold of them like a giant plucking a bird out of the air to shake it, painfully twist it for its own amusement, and then hurl it back into the sky, laughing.

When the nausea and pain had passed, the party lay scattered about on Chamada’s slopes over a disparate few acres separation at random, lucky to have been deposited back on solid ground and not immediate immersed in one of the many unceasing lava flows cascading down the slopes. One by one they came to their senses, shook off the pain of the experience and reconvened back whence they’d started.

“Ok…” Tristol caught his breath, his ears flat against his head as he and the others recovered from the experience. “That was distinctly unpleasant and to be perfectly honest, sort of what we should have expected. I figure it would have been worse if we’d tried to use a gate.”

“Alright then,” Clueless blinked and stared back up at the distant moon. “Now what?”



****​
 



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