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Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 13Aug2019)

Tsuga C

Explorer
How are your studies faring, Shemeska? You're not usually silent for such an extended period of time, so you must be buried in books and papers. Hang tough!
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
I've been on a clinical rotation for the past two months, plus I just finished up with another freelancing project so I'm spread pretty thin. Of course I'm also having fun with [MENTION=50228]ask[/MENTION]Shemeshka on Twitter, so my attention isn't ever far from Planescape ;)
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
“I’d like to speak with the Portal Jammer’s owners.” Factol Nathaniel spoke with a polite, congenial smile, without any irritation as he stood at bar, “All of them ideally.”

Clueless narrowed his eyes and glanced at the man’s wrists and other exposed skin, looking for any evidence of one of the tattoos that would have marked him as a puppet of Shylara the Manged, Overlord of Carceri. Freshly returned to power it seemed all but certain that she would seek to vent her frustration on the mortals who’d so thoroughly embarrassed her by seeking to kill them yet again.

“And what would this be about?” Clueless asked, still cleaning and re-cleaning the same ale mug with a bar cloth. “Are you upset about something here at the Jammer? Was service not to your satisfaction?”

The bladesinger turned to cough into her shoulder, deftly whispering the words to a spell as he did so. Intending to look for any evidence that the man at the bar was hiding his true nature, geased, or liable to explode in a shower of fire and blood as soon as all of the Jammer’s owners were assembled in one place. Turning back to face the visitor he found nothing of the sort, but the radiant glow of latent, permanencied spells and the puissant glow of objects in the man’s possession made him squint his eyes.

“You’re not here about having been served a bad drink or not having your room tidied up enough are you?” Clueless asked, setting the mug and cloth down on the bar as he studied the literal archmage standing before him, and for the first time noting the Fraternity of Order symbols on the man’s clothing.

“Not in the slightest Clueless.” The Factol replied, “This is a pleasant calling, potentially involving business, but one I’d prefer discretion on if you don’t mind. Is there somewhere more private that we can all talk?”

Politely nodding, the bladesinger motioned towards the door to the private back room, “Through that door. I’ll go find the others.”


****​



“My name is Nathaniel, Factol-Elect of the Fraternity of Order,” He spread his hands and began, “I am also the son of once-Factol Lariset the Inescapable.”

“So, Factol, what brings you to Sigil?” Tristol asked, his ears perked and his tail swishing slowly back and forth. While he’d only just come into his position as one of Mystra’s Chosen, it afforded him the capacity to see the Guvner’s enchantments as if he were reading a restaurant’s menu. He was impressed by what he saw, most prominently by the spells woven to retard the aging process and blunt the curse of long-stays on the Astral that ended up retroactively applying once off-plane. Similar to githyanki spells of the same variety, the Factol’s were unique and likely self-created.

“This is the last place that I’d have expected to see you now,” Clueless nodded to the aasimar, “From what I’ve heard, your faction has suffered the assassination of your predecessor and a burglary in your headquarters in Mechanus. But yet here you are, in Sigil, in a tavern, talking to a bunch of part-time adventurers.”

“I’m not part-time!” Nisha poked Tristol with her tail, “Are you part time? Nobody told me about that!”

As his companions spoke, Toras remained distinctly quiet. Truth be told he was still shaken to the core by the state in which he’d left the Marauder, weeping and full of self-pity, bereft of an arm and an eye by her punishment for crimes unknown by the Oinoloth himself. He wasn’t certain if it was the fact that she’d been brutalized so hideously and so easily by the Lord of Khin-Oin that stunned him more, or the fact that in the wake of her crippling, her eyes virtually glazed over in a mixture of religious ecstasy and lust when she mentioned the archfiend who’d maimed her.

“I’m actually here in Sigil in relation to the events that you’ve heard about.” Nathaniel glanced at each of them in turn, “And events that you’ve apparently experienced firsthand here in Sigil.”
“Who was it that murdered your predecessor?” Fyrehowl asked, remembering the face of Nilesia staring at her from her memories of the burning library.

“A dead woman,” The Factol replied, “Though I’m not sure that either of us can say for certain who or what she was, regardless of her appearance.”

“Nilesia,” Toras muttered.

“So she appeared to be.” Nathaniel shrugged noncommittally.

“So how was the death of your predecessor connected to the burglaries and murders here in Sigil?” Clueless asked, “Though we know the two locations here: a scriptorium and an archive respectively, were owned by your faction.”

“The murders were incidental to a theft,” The Factol explained, “All in search of something kept hidden as a secret among our Factols since the time of my mother’s rule. How much do you know about Lariset the Inescapable?”

“We probably wouldn’t have gotten along?” Nisha shrugged with a sorry grin, “The whole I’m a Xaositect thing and all.”

“She’s something of a hero among your Faction believers,” Tristol replied, “And she vanished or ascended after discovering some key loophole in the laws of the cosmos.”

“And that was where it started,” Nathaniel bit his lip, “My mother did not ascend. She was murdered.”

Silence blanketed the room for several long moments before the Factol continued.

“And she would not be the last of our Factols murdered in cold blood.”

“Hashkar was murdered during the days of the Faction War,” Nisha explained, hiding a guilty smile, “But I have a rock solid alibi for where I was at the time!”

“It wasn’t you,” Nathaniel chuckled, “As it happened, Hashkar’s killer claimed no knowledge of the crime he committed in broad daylight. It isn’t public knowledge that he had a blue, egg shaped gem embedded in his leg that shattered and turned to dust at his execution.”

“F*cking ‘loths!” Clueless slammed his fist down on the table and ran his other through his hair angrily as his companions all glanced down tellingly at his ankle where the Marauder’s gem still set lodged within his ankle. Though she no longer held control over the artifact lodged there, it had been created by the Oinoloth himself as one tool of many that led to his ascension atop Khin-Oin, and clearly it had been used in subtle ways for a much longer period of time than anyone had previously expected.

“We suspected them but could never confirm.” The Factol exhaled as the bladesinger confirmed his suspicions.

“It’s confirmed.” Clueless’s voice dripped with rancor, “But why kill Lariset? Why kill Hashkar? What were they looking for?”

“They were desperate to find Lariset’s journals and Hashkar’s further work upon what she’d discovered, not that the answer to that was known outside of themselves, sadly,” Nathaniel explained, “And this most recent time they largely succeeded. Not entirely though, because they missed some of Lariset’s private papers. It isn’t entirely cohesive what remained behind, but I’ve spent days pouring over them and I have some clues where to begin.”

“So we know the connection to what happened to your Faction and what happened here in Sigil,” Fyrehowl’s ears were perked with curiosity, “But why come here, to us?”

“You have a profound reputation and skill set, and a personal connection to the events.” Nathaniel reached into his satchel and pulled out a partially burnt journal, the title written in Lariset’s hand with a stretch of years to indicate the dates of composition. “You also have more connections than you think, but we’ll get to that.”

“So what –did– Lariset find?” Tristol asked, his ears now perked as much as Fyrehowl’s.

“The public story is that she found a “profound loophole” but it was something more.” The Factol opened up the notebook, “This is an outline of her life’s work here. Shortened notations to catalog and organize hundreds of lost volumes, but her private comments on various events are invaluable in and of themselves.”

“What did she find?” Tristol asked a second time.

“I don’t know why she was there in the first place, but she thought that she’d found the existence of universal axiom underlying everything.” Nathaniel paused, “EVERYTHING. She didn’t know what it was, just that it existed, and she thought that she’d found a way to determine what it was, and she was set upon that path in the city of Portent in the Gray Waste where, in her own words, ‘A fire was set to burning in my brain.’”

“F*cking ‘loths…” Clueless snarled.

The Factol opened the journal up to a page previously marked with a heavy velvet bookmark and turned it to face the Portal Jammer’s owners, setting them face to face with an illustration in Lariset’s hand of a single human, smiling up and out of the page, “I believe that you recognize this man.”

There with a smile belying his actual nature, hundreds of years before he was born, lay the face of a man they did indeed recognize as none other than Professor Cilret Leobtav.

“That’s not possible.” Florian interjected, “He was human and we know when and where he was born. That’s centuries too early for him to have been there.”

“And yet there he was,” The Factol shrugged, “Prominent enough in my mother’s memories to be given a chapter in her journal.”

The Factol’s journal began with copious notes on Portent itself, its political divisions, the lack of yugoloth influence compared to such locations as the City at the Center, a sketch of the Grand Hall, the streets spread out like arteries of some great heart, and then the half-page illustration of Leobtav. The madman was smiling, seemingly sane, but in the corners of his mouth and his eyes there was the same undercurrent of madness showing. The religious fanaticism seen prior to his death in the Outlands was there for those who knew what to look for.

The Factol’s own text talked about her encounter with the man who would be born centuries later:

"…a jovial sort. He spoke at length to me about Laws and Rules and Inevitability. He got me to thinking about a number of things, and in a new way on a good number of others. He never gave me his name though, and my inquiries after the fact as to who he was came to a dead end. None of the groups and gangs knew of him and I could not gain access to the Grand Hall to ask Laughing Jane. But even without knowing his identity, his words stayed with me and the more I thought about what he said the more it rattled around in my mind, getting more and more insistent for thought and attention.

It’s that spark, that almost tangible spark in your brain when a block in a puzzle locks into place and makes a picture all make sense. That's what he gave me and that’s when it all hit me. That's when I found it, one of the Universal Axioms. This is amazing. This alone is enough for a life's work. But that's not all. Not in the least. This is… this is almost like a piece of a puzzle, part of a bigger picture, a key to something more. There's something deeper here, something hidden in the equations. Something I can almost grasp. To hell with my faction responsibilities. I’ll lock myself away till I find it. Coordinates? There’s a location hidden in part of the equations. If only the math would behave as I understand it. I can solve part of it, but not all of it. It will take time to calculate the next step. The numbers seem to only work when applied to the inner planes which is… odd. This is all leading to something, but WHAT?! First step is …"

The page was torn and the rest of the book was missing except for a single bit of marginalia, thoughts half-considered and not up to being formally penned in the main body of the text. They hinted though at the next step, the first in the dead Factol’s path that had begun and now began again in Portent:

Limit / zero sum
First iteration: Positive touched quasiplane of mineral, boundary with
Positive. Gemfields. ??? 1/5 iteration.
Scattered and broken. By who?
What does the Axiom prescribe?


****​


The subtle and not-so-subtle aftershocks that had rocked the streets of Portent since the Oinoloth’s recent surprise visit had nearly settled, the baernaloth prisoner’s rage expended and its consciousness subsided back into a soft, twisted arrhythmia of its heartbeat echoing through the stones if one had the capacity to notice, listen, and understand. The gangs and warring interest groups had only slowly recovered from the slaughter as perpetrated by the Oinoloth’s forces in inexplicable violation of Portent’s Laws that made actual violence a suicidal affair. New self-proclaimed powers remained in the vacuum left behind as the ‘loths abandoned the city once more, their master’s intents satisfied by a few scant moments atop the throne and a conversation with the prisoner far, far below.

Alone and left to her own company, one figure remained who knew of both the Oinoloth’s actions and the true nature of Portent itself: Laughing Jane. The tiefling, or the entity that seemed to be a tiefling, had been there for almost as long as Portent had been a city upon the Waste. She was in fact the first mortal to step foot into the sanctum there, and the first foolish soul to connect with the godlike entity slumbering far below the city’s foundation stones. She would never be the same again: never sane, never fully in control of herself, and never again capable of such mortal capacities as death.

What Laughing Jane had though were her memories, a perfect recall of every moment from the first time that she sat upon the throne and the serpents erupted from her eyes, so many, many thousands of years ago. She remembered the faces and the threats, bravado, and begging by the would-be doges and lords of Portent and how each of them had died by one another’s hands, one by one like clockwork chugging along in time with the beating of Portent’s literal heart.

“The Oinoloth and those he has touched and enslaved have been here before.” One of her serpents hissed in the darkness, its eyes burning a brilliant red.

“The mouthpiece, the hollow filled by vor’nel’thraanix has spoken here before, from nothingness into the marketplace.” Laughing Jane whispered, chuckling from her mouth. “There to whisper from out of time, dead and nullified, to one who would bring together the pieces.”

“But not for herself, but for the jackal yet to sit atop Khin-Oin, and she a sacrifice to that goal.” The other serpent hissed with malice.

“Others will come and we will direct them.”

“Direct them to a light in the darkness.”
“Burning bright like a Torch.”

“A lantern in the shadows, there to attract.”

“A Weaver of Lies…”

“There to doom and devour…”

Distantly one of the city’s bells rang, tolling out the hour and Laughing Jane laughed and waited. The Oinoloth had dismissed her, mocked her frailty and overwhelmed her with nary an effort such was his power. But every player in that game possessed strings and she would tug those she could for nothing was settled, not even plans set in place at the dawn of time.

Others would come and they would speak to her. She would babble and she would tug upon their own strings before sending them into the webs of others’ and the hungry spiders weaving since it had all begun, since before Portent, since before the shattering of the Clan of Baern.


****​
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Not much turns up in a search for Laughing Jane. Does anyone have a few more tidbits of information to add?
She only appears in the Planes of Conflict box set on a page or two about the city of Portent. I actually own the original DiTerlizzi artwork of her from that box set, courtesy of two friends (one of whom was Clueless's player) who straight up bought it from Tony at GenCon a few years ago when I wasn't able to go due to a death in the family. I still owe them dinner.
 

almost13

Villager
I hope we get to learn more about laughing jane! Like so many other things in the storyhour, she makes you want to find out more about her. Thanks a lot Shemmy!
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
I hope we get to learn more about laughing jane! Like so many other things in the storyhour, she makes you want to find out more about her. Thanks a lot Shemmy!
There's not really anything out there on her except for that bit in 'Planes of Conflict'. There is/will be more here, and since you're interested in her I'll probably add some more than I otherwise would have. I seem to have a tendency to take minor characters from the original setting material and just go crazy with them. :)
 

almost13

Villager
That's awesome, thank you! Exactly that is one of the aspects i love about your storyline. Having read the setting stuff about the minor/major characters in the past, they feel so much more alive, evoking the vague feeling that there's always something more just around the corner, but always shrouding answers in yet more questions provoked :)
 

Sabrewulf

Villager
Belated congratulations on the Astradaemon! What an incredible piece of cover art.

I'm revising the question I really want to ask in an effort to be polite.

Possible versions: When will we get the next update? Why haven't you written it yet? GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Hah, Kidding. Sort of. Hope things are well, rereading the first story hour thread till the story continues.

Have a good one, Sabre
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Belated congratulations on the Astradaemon! What an incredible piece of cover art.

I'm revising the question I really want to ask in an effort to be polite.

Possible versions: When will we get the next update? Why haven't you written it yet? GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Hah, Kidding. Sort of. Hope things are well, rereading the first story hour thread till the story continues.

Have a good one, Sabre
Thank you so much!

I'll hopefully have one sometime next weekend. Everything must bend to my class and exam schedule. I'll make sure that the update will be worth your time to read :D
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
****​


Shylara the Manged stood alone in the room's darkness, physically present rather than engaged in the trickery of projections and color pool-derived surrogates. Her eyes remained glued to the floor, her ears flat against her head, and her tail tucked between her legs. She was not worthy to gaze upon Him. She was not worthy of gazing upon His work regardless of her profound curiosity of its majesty. She made do with fleeting glimpses of his drifting trail of shadows.

"Hold the tome higher." The Oinoloth spoke, devoid of pity and without directly looking at her.

She wore nothing, neither clothing, jewelry, illusions, or perfume, and in their collective absence she slowly bled upon the floor from the open wounds and weeping sores that marked her flesh.

"Enter this chamber wearing only your flesh." The Oinoloth had commanded. She had done so bereft of any sense of worth as much as finery, but it wounded her deeply that she had never entered the chamber prior. Neither had she been the first to enter there to stand in His presence, though she had trembled more than grown excited at the appearance of a dozen of Shemeska's broken teeth that littered the stone along with a puddle of congealed blood, though she'd deeply wished to drop to her knees and lap at the latter.

The Oinoloth had said nothing of the matter, but the Manged recognized her scent: excitement and terror. So too did Shemeska’s former lover and apprentice mirror her now, however unconsciously. Ignoring his consort's inner thoughts even as they remained wholly transparent to him, the Oinoloth remained focused on the mewling, gasping mezzoloths bound by bands of force to several tables and platforms scattered throughout the room. Whereas Shemeska had seen them in an earlier state, hideously tortured and on the verge of death but for magic that refused them the peace of dissolution back into the substance of the Waste, Shylara bore witness to a nearly finished product of the Oinoloth's horrific experimentation.

"You will never be perfect, whatever my efforts." The Oinoloth mused, leaning in and snarling at the mezzoloth and sending the twisted creature into a sudden paroxysm, though it was questionable if the spasm was due to the Oinoloth's physical presence or to the fact that the base yugoloth's body had been fused with equal parts elemental earth and elemental fire.

Watching the creature suffer, Shylara bit her lower lip, even as she wondered if the Ebon's words were meant for the mezzoloth or her. She bit her lip harder, enjoying the pain, and hefted the tome higher, though it was not a source or information for the Oinoloth, but a repository for his own notes on the process she'd watched him undertake with each test subject through multiple iterations, fusing mezzoloths with different elemental admixtures, and then without pause, disintegrating those who failed to meet his expectations, whatever those expectations and grander plan and purpose happened to be. Pointedly the Ebon had explained nothing to Shylara, only instructing her to hold aloft the book she now held: a subordinate archfiend used as a footservant.

The Overlord of Carceri was less curious about his work on the mezzoloths than what she saw and didn't see in his actual spellcraft. For all his treasure trove of spellbooks, for his present work the Oinoloth never actually glanced at the tomes, but spoke in Baern in a fluid, chanting cadence, the pattern similar to the spells penned within the monstrous, oversized librams once held by the Father/Mothers themselves.

The mezzoloths that Vorkannis experimented on had never marched obediently to their doom into that chamber. The doors had never swung wide to admit them, nor had they ever burned their chitinous flesh upon the silver handles. No. The Oinoloth had created them in situ there of his own accord. She'd watched, breathless and wet, as he'd time and again ripped their essence up
from the substance of the Waste itself, channeled through the petrified vessels of Khin-Oin and birthed at the will of their master. How such a thing was possible, the Manged could not fathom.

Vorkannis leaned forward and licked the mezzoloth's blunt, insectile muzzle, his saliva sizzling upon its partially molten surface for but a moment before the lesser fiend's flesh began to corrode from such direct exposure to something far, far greater than itself. The Oinoloth was smiling though, admiring his work as it neared to completion, stewing in his own pride, and perhaps most of all admiring the being's suffering. Whatever his feelings and whatever his ultimate goals, his next words expressed a certain hideous truth about himself, the object of his present work, and perhaps far, far more.

"You are filth that will die for me, never loved, never appreciated, used and thrown away. All of you..."

Shifting her stance and unconsciously clenching her thighs, Shylara was unsure if the Ebon was addressing the mezzoloth and its kindred test subjects or the entirety of yugoloths, herself included.


****​


With the glow of one of Her Serenity's portals from Sigil radiating from behind them as they stepped out into the dust of the Waste, the companions glanced at one another with dread and apprehension, a mood altogether worsened by the feeling of overwhelmingly callous oppression exuded the plane itself.

"I hate this place." Fyrehowl snarled, the light of her eyes actually dimming against the darkness of the void that stretched out overhead, punctuated only by the distant glow of the 1st and 2nd Mounts, Khalas and Chamada, that hung within the endless darkness "I truly hate this place. This was a bad idea."

As the others emerged from the gate, its distal end latched into a wall in the Lower Ward, Clueless and Nisha glanced at one another knowingly. Alone amongst the party, while they hadn't been to Gehenna, they'd been to the Waste before and directly experienced 'loths on one of their native planes. They alone had experienced that rapacious misery when they'd gone together
to investigate earlier events, prior to the conclusion of the 'loth civil war. Gehenna was not the Waste, but it carried its own unique brand of nearly tangible misery.

"Darkness, more darkness, volcanoes, and the air smells like vinegar and hatred, and we're standing at an angle. Lovely place..." Toras grumbled as he stepped to the side as Tristol stepped out from behind him.

All of them having arrived, the portal swirled with a whirl of color and then flickered and vanished, the one-way passage from the City of Doors gone, leaving them to their own within the Fourfold Furnace. Almost immediately a cold wind whipped across the rocky volcanic slope that they stood upon, forcing them all to gather their cloaks tighter and Tristol and Florian to cast protective spells to protect against the flakes of acidic snow carried on the wind already, and in anticipation of both greater environmental dangers and those posed by wandering fiends.

As they stood there and sought to fix their location relative to their destination of Portent, only a few hours had passed since they'd sat in comfort in the Portal Jammer, taking in a surprise visit from the soon-to-be Factol of the Fraternity of Order. The Factol's words had made them realize that the apparent resurrection of Nilesia, or appearance of someone who looked and acted like her, had links to the Guvners and to a much deeper and darker plot that wound its roots down into the Lower Planes and the enigma that was the late Professor Cilret Leobtav.

Factol Nathaniel hadn't told them to investigate in Portent, but the illustration sketched by his late mother, the former Factol Lariset the Inescapable had set a fire burning in their brains, just as she had written about what the man who could not have actually been there speaking with her that long ago had done for her. What exactly he'd set her on the path to finding, what she'd found, and what the person posing as Nilesia had sought to steal in Sigil and in Mechanus after murdering Nathaniel's predecessor was something that the group needed to discover, even if Nathaniel had not tasked them to discover, and tasked them to discover on his Faction's payroll.

Nisha of course had refused on principal, being a Xaositect, but after a whispered back and forth between herself and Tristol, she'd relented, effectively. She still refused to be on the payroll of "a bunch of sodding Lawmongers" but she didn't begrudge Tristol accepting double payment and inviting her along because Gehenna was scary and he’d feel much more comfortable with her there, to say nothing of her being worried sick if he went without her. With that rationale in place to mollify her ideological concerns, she cheerfully agreed at that point.

"Do we really expect to find anything in Portent now? Multiple centuries later?" Toras asked, his eyes scanning volcanic landscape, all of it at a gradual slope, but punctuated by erratic and massive regions of significantly more precipitous terrain and sudden, fatal ranges of cliffs and ravines, the latter likely to contain terrors hidden from easy sight.

"I have a feeling that if there's anything there, it might very well try and find -us- whatever that might be." Clueless made a face, “That seems to be the case with basically everything involving us and the ‘loths at this point. Last time it was a yugoloth lord, exiled or not that popped up in the middle of Baator of all places. I assume it’ll be something even worse this time.”

Florian grimaced, "Tempus forbid I hope not..."

"We always have the option of trying to cast legend lore once we’re in the city,” Clueless suggested, glancing at Tristol, “Standing in the same place that Lariset was standing and see if we can divine anything specific to follow up on."

Fyrehowl turned and stared at the bladesinger, "Do you really, honestly want to open yourself up to watching the results of that spell for a spot on Mungoth? It's like detecting undead in the Negative Energy Plane."

"It's worth the risk." Clueless shrugged, "But as I said, I really think it won't come to that."

"Well, get ready for whatever might happen," Tristol glanced down at a planar compass in his hands, "Because I know where we are and I'm ready to teleport us to Portent."

They all gathered closely together, whatever their individual reservations as to the wisdom of the trip and the manifest horror of the surrounds. Already on Mungoth the Third Furnace, the transition to Portent itself was relatively straightforward, or rather it should have been. Tristol had taken pains to scry the fiendish city for the better part of an hour, gaining a feel for the layout of the city streets that meandered far too much like errant, uncontrolled blood vessels around a growing tumor lodged into the dying, volcanic flesh of the Third Mount.

“Say a prayer to whatever divinity you wish because we’re about to be in Portent.” Tristol smiled, feeling the subtle flicker of Mystra’s silverfire there within his veins and cool within his fingertips as he incanted the spell. There was no risk of failure, no risk of being off topic, such was the design and power of that particular teleportation spell and his own skill as a nascent Chosen of the Faerunian Goddess of Magic herself.

And yet it failed nonetheless.

They all arrived in Portent yes, but not at their intended destination.

“The Grand Bazaar of Portent is really kinda low key don’t you think?” Nisha deadpanned as the group materialized in a burst of light.

Rather than a sprawling marketplace that represented the concept of corrupt, crony-capitalism made manifest, filled with petitioners, tieflings, and all manner of fiends there to make their fortune (or take another’s) or simply escape from the tide of the Blood War on the ashen slopes on Mungoth, the party found themselves in a narrow, trash-strewn alleyway. Stone tenements rose up on both sides, with the street and the buildings themselves filthy and crowded to the extent of making Sigil’s worst ghettos look grand by comparison. Broken glass and cold iron spikes decorated every single stoop, eave, crenellation and windowsill, and even the lay of the roofs themselves cast the shadows of spools of barbed wire and other fixtures that carried the omnipresent sense of ‘this is mine and you cannot have it’ that drenched every inch of the city’s property.

High above the sounds of bitter laughter at another’s misfortune carried across a rooftop followed by the distant sound of something hitting the ground with a distinct splash. It might have been a bucket of filth aimed at a pedestrian or it might have been the sound of an unconscious victim’s skull breaking open upon the pavement: both options fit Portent.

“This isn’t the Grand Marketplace.” Toras deadpanned.

“That…” Tristol frowned, “How astute of you. No, it isn’t.”

Some more back and forth banter over how the teleportation could have missed (when technically it shouldn’t have been capable of missing) and Tristol started glancing about. The wizard’s observation of their surroundings took a back seat however to something else much closer.

"Clueless?" Nisha glanced down at the bladesinger's ankle, gesturing to the gemstone there with the tip of her tail, "You're glowing? Sort of."

With a worried expression he glanced down where the artifact lodged in his leg flickered with a sharp green light and then extinguished itself, only to flutter several moments later like the erratic heartbeat of a slumbering, arrhythmic heartbeat. The gemstone hadn't behaved that way at any point prior. The last time that it had activated had been in the presence of the yugoloth lord Taba, and at that point it had burned bright and physically ached. This time it didn't hurt, that was good at least, and it didn't seem as if it were certain about if it should even be reacting or not. The artifact seemed confused more than anything, and that uncertainty as to what it actually meant was even more disconcerting than had it burned bright in warning of a looming theat.

"I..." Clueless blinked, uncertain how to respond to the situation. "I have no idea what that means."

Tristol stared down at the artifact, finding his sight amplified beyond what it had ever been before when he'd studied magical auras. Now he could see the flow of permanent dweomers laced into a magical items physical substance, but in the case of the artifact crafted by the Oinoloth himself, that Mystra-granted insight gave him no better idea of what was actually going on. The twisted miasma of runes were blurred and indistinct, purposefully hiding themselves from scrutiny, seemingly by its maker's intent. After several seconds he realized that continued scrutiny was bringing other runes bubbling to the surface, more distinct, burning and painful, that were themselves baernaloth in origin. The wizard blinked and turned his eyes away, worried that the artifact might have innate protections that his continued, deity-augmented scrutiny might actually bring to the forefront. In any event though, the end result was the same: he had no more clue as to why the artifact was sputtering its sickly light than Clueless himself had.

"Maybe it's just reacting to the distant presence of really powerful 'loths?" Florian shrugged, "Not like Gehenna has a lack of candidates there."

Clueless shrugged, "Maybe? Maybe not. It doesn't hurt like it did with Taba, so for the moment let's leave it be. Not like I've got much other option."

"Tristol, any idea where we are?" Toras glanced over at the wizard.

"Not in the Marketplace, that's for certain." He frowned, his tail twitching with minor annoyance. "I've got a good idea of the city's layout, but given how tight the buildings are packed together, it's harder to see enough to know where..." He trailed off as Nisha glanced up and promptly began scaling up the side of the nearest building.

"Tell you where we are in a second!" The Xaositect called down without pausing her ascent, somehow making it look easy as she avoided the gamut of broken glass, intentionally loose stones, and barbs and spikes intended to dissuade anyone from doing precisely what Nisha was. Less than a minute later she emphatically kicked off from one of the eaves to sail across to the opposite building and then in defiance of gravity flip up and over the edge of the roof.

"She knows I could have just flown up there right?" Fyrehowl raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, but she made that look easy," Tristol grinned, "And stylish and fun to be honest. She’s good like that."

Moments later Nisha peered back over the edge of the roof and began shouting out details of adjacent streets, buildings, and landmarks. Then as Tristol calculated their location and the best path by which to proceed, Nisha scrambled back down, doing her best giant bug impression as she accomplished the task by descending head first, arms and legs splayed off to the sides.

The walk wasn't in fact all that long, distance-wise, but the party's caution given the foreboding surroundings and the twisting, labyrinthine layout of the streets themselves it took them the better part of the next two hours before they finally arrived within Portent's grand marketplace.

While smaller than similar institutions in either Sigil or Tradegate, hundreds of shops, tents, and stalls stood arrayed with a churn of shoppers, merchants, proselytizers of powers and factions calling out to passersby with just as much or more zeal as barkers offering unbelievable deals in adjacent shops, and a large number of fiends of all types moved about like a vision into the dark underbelly of mercantilism. All in all not much had changed since the days in which Factol Lariset had stood there.

"Does anyone notice that almost everywhere here is marked by specific insignias?" Toras motioned to several symbols burned, stamped, carved, or even embroidered into the signs and above the doorways of the nearest tents and stalls.

"They're marks of ownership, either overt or self-declared." Fyrehowl grimaced. "Everything here has a specific place and specific limits, and most of them are imposed from without."

"All the slaves here are free to do as they like! They just happen know what's best for them so they listen to us!" Toras sarcastically added.

True to the fighter's sarcasm the vast majority of merchants and traders within the Bazaar seemed owned in some manner or speaking by one of Portent's sprawling number of fractious and competing gangs, guilds, and other warring institutions, all of them jockeying for power on a daily basis, and as the party moved through the marketplace, that became ever more obvious. Each marked stall or tent seemed to be watched by a guard on duty or curiously passed by at regular intervals by one or two of the same shoppers who seemed to be doing no shopping at all, with their window-shopping restricted to every other individual in the shops' proximity.

"This seems to be the place." Tristol said, glancing about to nearby structures. "This is about where Factol Lariset would have been standing all those years ago."

"So what now?" Florian asked, looking to the others and getting only shrugs in response, with Nisha pointedly glancing only at Clueless's ankle, half expecting it to suddenly glow in warning of some monster soon to manifest and attack them.

The yugoloth artifact continued its odd, disconcerting flickering, but no monstrosity appeared. It gave no warnings to the wholly mundane threat that had followed and gathered about.

"Heads up everyone..." Fyrehowl muttered as a group began to gather around them.

Looking about, the thugs were a mixture of tieflings and humans, themselves just as often petitioners as mortals. Chuckling and holding out their hands to the side, not bearing weapons, though all of them wore swords or daggers at the waist, they crowded around the party, more and more of them emerging with a definite swagger from seemingly every shadow that clustered about the marketplace stalls.

"It seems that you're far from home little gaggle that you are..." A bald tiefling with blotchy, pale blue skin remarked as his tail whipped about behind him, a blade shaped like a scorpion's stinger
attached at its tip. "So I think we'll take into account that you weren't aware of the mandatory entry registration fee, and being honorable representatives of the Nine Fingered Fox, we'll skip the fee avoidance tax. But you do still have to pay the original fee."

"F*ck your laws!" Nisha blurted out as she flipped the tiefling off without second thought before Tristol grabbed hold of her tail and clamped a hand over her mouth before she made the situation worse. She continued to yammer despite her fiancé’s hand.

"Yeah I'm going to have to go with the Xaositect's opinion here..." Clueless chuckled as his fingers closed comfortably about Razor's handle.

"Looks like the little fey boy thinks he's a big man with that fancy toothpick he has there!" The tiefling laughed, "I don't think he knows who we are!"

"Kick his ass Clueless!" Nisha shouted angrily as she managed to escape Tristol's impromptu muzzling.

"Shut up your tanar'ri blooded b*tch or I'll have her gagged and..." The tiefling never managed to finish his vulgar threat before Clueless slipped Razor from its sheathe and lunged forward.

In any rational situation the party would have butchered the gaggle of thugs that surrounded them, but Portent was no rational place. As soon as Clueless drew his blade, soon joined by Toras the fight should have been over and most of the gang-members dead or maimed. What happened objectively however was very different.

Clueless laughed as he stood over the bloody corpse of the foul-mouthed tiefling, watching them sputter as they lay there in a spreading pool of blood. Subjectively he marveled at how simple the task had been, only belatedly though did he realize that he himself was bleeding and fallen to the ground.

"We haven't had this much fun since we watched the 'loths hang the boss last month!" One of the thugs laughed as he watched Toras smash himself in the face with the pommel of his own sword, still wrapped up in a delusion in which he was singlehandedly butchering the gang members.

"Stop! Nobody draw a blade!" Fyrehowl shouted at full volume before breathing in deeply and calming her own emotions. Somewhere between her own celestial origin and her training as a Cipher she could feel a hideous presence rising up from the very stones of Portent, taking any rage and anger and twisted it around, mirroring it back on those expressing it. Looking about at the thugs, she realized that none of them had drawn weapons. None of them had initiated violence. They'd cursed, they'd insulted, they're goaded, and that was their point: to force their enemies to harm themselves by being the ones to draw their blades in anger and strike.

Florian rushed forward and grappled with Toras, fighting to prevent him from smashing himself in the face a second time while Nisha likewise struggled to keep Clueless from disemboweling himself while laughing, lost in the delusional fugue state that Portent had hurled him into.

"Just drop your gold and walk away..." The tiefling demanded, banking on the party's unfamiliarity with Portent's nature, "Unless you want to see your friends bleed out in the middle of the road."

In response the lupinal grinned and drained herself of all emotions, all motivations, and all forethought. Without any prepared plan she allowed the Cadence to speak through her actions as she drew her blade.

"Well well! Another fool wishes to die!" The tiefling laughed, his face full of mirth just before it turned to shock and Fyrehowl buried her blade in his gut. "What...?"

Without a word, the lupinal twisted the scimitar and the previously arrogant gang-leader screamed in agony. Action without thought by the creed of the Transcendent Order had bypassed Portent's curse.

"What was that you mentioned about the 'loths?" Fyrehowl asked, partially withdrawing her blade but keeping the tiefling at her mercy and in considerable agony.

Blood staining his shirt a brilliant crimson, the thug swiftly motioned for his fellows to back away and without hesitation the complied, with fully half of them bailing on the scene entirely and darting back into the maze of tents and stalls, abandoning their leader's plight. Meanwhile, shaken out of their fugue state, Clueless and Toras had regained their composure and Florian began healing their wounds.

"A month ago!" The injured tiefling whimpered and sputtered, "A month ago the 'loths marched a force into the city. The bloody Oinoloth himself was here."

"What?!" Fyrehowl's eyes went wide, "Details!"

The mention of the Ebon's presence in Portent immediately grabbed the attention of every single member of the party. Portent had no major population of yugoloths, and on the 3rd Furnace it was far from the major tide of the Blood War or yugoloth politics. There was no rational reason for the Oinoloth himself to appear unless there was something else going on.

"Didn't I say that we could show up and something of relevance would make itself apparent?" Clueless flashed a smile even as the gemstone in his ankle continued to flicker with internal light.

"I don't know why they came!" The tiefling protested, his face pale with fear and blood loss, "They marched through and they just started butchering anyone in their way in complete defiance of how things work here in Portent. I don't know how. They rounded up the leaders of every faction in the city. They rounded them up and hung and disemboweled them from the eaves of the Great Hall, right there under Laughing Jane's nose. The Oinoloth went in and stayed there for the better part of an hour. I don't know why. Presumably to speak with the babbling crone herself. Whatever went on there were a number of earthquakes immediately thereafter that tumbled more than few buildings."

"And then what?" Fyrehowl asked, the blade still buried in the man's gut.

"And then nothing!" He protested, "The Oinoloth waltzed out with a satisfied grin on his face, rounded up his army, glanced up at the bodies dangling like wind chimes and then vanished with his ilk through a gate. None of us were going to walk up and ask the bloody f*cking Oinoloth to explain himself! I don't think anyone has been back inside of the Great Hall since then to see if Laughing Jane is even still alive! Given what she is though, hell if I'm the one to find out!"

Fyrehowl narrowed her eyes, "And what is she?"

"F*ck if I know!" He winced as the blade bit deeper, "A tiefling as old as Portent itself. She just sits there next to that throne in the Great Hall babbling. Babbling from her mouth and the serpents that grow out of her eye sockets. All the groups here in Portent have always tried to be the ones to catch her ear in the hopes that she'll spill some important dark of prophecy in their favor."

"Get out of here..." Fyrehowl plucked her blade from the tiefling's gut, leaving him to cough and drop to the ground, clutching at the wound before scrambling off and leaving a trail of blood in his wake as the lupinal glanced at her companions, "Oh that spooks me the f*ck out, because that sounds just like the Cagequakes that we've been having of late..."

Collectively the group shivered at the accuracy of the comparison, even if perhaps only superficial.

Several more minutes passed as they finished tending to their wounds and Tristol mapped out the quickest route to the Great Hall and whatever awaited them there.

"So looks like you were right Clueless," Florian nodded at the bladesinger, "But it makes me wonder what here is so important to make the Oinoloth show up."

"They said something about Laughing Jane speaking prophecy, so perhaps he came to speak with her?" Clueless shrugged, "But if so, it's a damn eerie coincidence that the Oinoloth was stealing something from the Fraternity of Order discovered by their factol centuries back who just happened to make her breakthrough based on something she learned here in Portent from a man who shouldn't have existed at that point and who as far as we know had f*ck all connection to this Laughing Jane. There are far too many disparate threads all weaving together, but damn if I can't put my finger on what the tapestry depicts at this point."

It all seemed just on the edge of finding out what linked them all together. Perhaps they'd find out soon.

It took them another twenty minutes before they found themselves standing in the Great Hall's shadow, though they smelled it long before they saw it.

"Again we find something that reminds us of something else..." Clueless frowned as he looked up at the massive, ancient structure of the Great Hall, newly festooned with its rotting, dangling wind chime corpses.

The group paused before the Great Hall's heavy bronze doors and collectively gazed up to where the 'loths had executed the myriad leaders of Portent, hanging them from the eaves, or apparently for some, simply disemboweling them and leaving them to hang in horrid agony to die of blood loss, infection, or thirst rather than instantly from a broken neck. It was ever so much like how the Ebon had decorated Khin-Oin with the corpses of those greater yugoloths who'd failed to support his rise to power, though unlike the corpses of the ultroloths that dangling from the Tower's heights, the corpses dangling from Portent's Great Hall had been set up in a comparatively dispassionate, uncaring capacity. These victims in Portent didn't matter to their killers.

"Before something drips on us from up there, shall we?" Nisha quipped, gesturing at the blank metallic doors, scuffed and marred by age but devoid of any marks of origin or political affiliation. Located in the backwater of Gehenna, Portent was an enigma.

Hoping for answers Toras and Fyrehowl pulled at the doors and swung them wide, revealing the empty vastness of Portent's oldest building. There at its center a bizarre bone throne grew up from the floor itself, empty and enigmatic, and there waiting in the surrounding gloom, Laughing Jane smiled.


****​


Colcook shuddered as he closed the door to the Marauder's chambers. Belatedly he turned and mouthed, "I'm sorry..." though the tiefling girl had already stepped inside. He turned to leave but then abruptly paused and listened, the argenach rilmani in tiefling guise's morbid curiosity getting the best of him.

The Marauder had been specific in her instructions as she'd sat in the unlit and windowless chamber, with only her one remaining eye shedding its luminous purple light to peel back the darkness. She'd specified an outfit. She'd specified colors, dimensions, and tactile measure in excruciating, obsessive detail. The woman had been given a persona to adopt, a situation not at all unusual for a prostitute, though she'd never before been tasked at impersonating an arcanaloth apprentice and never before consented to a profoundly invasive use of polymorph subschool magic.

The particular escort was new to Sigil, imported for the evening from one of the Gatetowns, and while she was expertly trained, she had neither a professional network of contacts and clients within Sigil itself. She was alone. She’d been hired under a dozen shell names to hide her actual client, and only once ensconced and under guard in Sigil had she presumably guessed that she’d be performing for the Marauder. That she’d been playing the role of the fiend’s former consort was bad enough, but that she’d do so while the Marauder remained a crippled wreck only made one end point certain: the woman would never be leaving that room.

His ears peeling back the protections of doors and walls, and his nature allowing him to bypass many of the ‘loth’s standard protections for security she kept around her employees except for those few times she interacted with the Oinoloth’s missives, Colcook/Jemorille listened.

For several minutes he heard the Marauder softly sobbing and the muffled sounds of the faux-'loth's pre-prepared dialogue. When the Marauder spoke back, the escort’s well played and in-character responses composed de novo were followed then by the sounds of their initial intimacy as they embraced, kissed, and then far more. It lasted for only a short while, the ending of their scene punctuated first by the Marauder's cries of ecstasy, a damning pause of silence, and then something that surprised even Colcook with its sudden ferocity.

"I NEVER LOVED YOU!" The Marauder screamed, her voice rent with bitterness, hatred, self-loathing, and lies.

The prostitute never had time to scream before she was hurled across the room by the ‘loth’s telekinesis, slamming into the door with enough force to dent it outwards by several inches with a sickening crunch of bone and flesh and the splintering of wood. She was dead before the King of the Crosstrade ripped her body free of the door, telekinetically wrenched it back across the space between and slammed it into the door amidst a blizzard of inchoate screaming by the Marauder before she began to weep.

Wide-eyed, Colcook left, shaken and disturbed.


****​
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
Conjecture:

So much for the "purity" of an existence devoid of love. She's a wreck because she was, at some level and at some point in her multi-millennia life, touched by love. The Ebon took note of this while he was disciplining her and added some extra "correction" to that which was already due her. She is infatuated with the Ebon (not merely with his power) and she knew at least a hint of love previously, so the Ebon sought to stamp it out from Shemeska. Can't have his retainers going soft, now can he?
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Conjecture:

So much for the "purity" of an existence devoid of love. She's a wreck because she was, at some level and at some point in her multi-millennia life, touched by love. The Ebon took note of this while he was disciplining her and added some extra "correction" to that which was already due her. She is infatuated with the Ebon (not merely with his power) and she knew at least a hint of love previously, so the Ebon sought to stamp it out from Shemeska. Can't have his retainers going soft, now can he?
Conjecture of this sort genuinely makes me smile. I try not to comment too much on them for worry of spoiling things a decade in the making and years left to go before all is clear and defined. Love never ends well for yugoloths, and it's never "love" but various iterations of jealousy, greed, selfish desire for adoration, etc. Helekanalaith and Larsdana Ap Neut being the bellwether for that (and their tale is far from finished...). We've seen that Shemeska tends to be possessive and brutal regarding past lovers, with Shylara ironically being probably the best off of them all, albeit cursed with perpetual mange.

Was Shemeska's reaction one resulting from rage at Shylara being close to the Oinoloth when she herself was brutally punished by him, or was there a bitter strain of affection mixed in with it? Too soon to say. The Manged certainly ended up better than the one mortal lover with their limbs sawed off, bound to a bed, kept alive and functionally immortal, surrounded by images of the Marauder.

We haven't seen all of Shemeska's past "loves". I dare say we haven't seen the most poignant and horrific one either (though I've already written it well, well in advance). It's not what you think either.
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
If I had to hazard a guess, I'd go with the twisted, neurotic, and possessive need to both own and destroy--or at the very least seriously damage--those whom she "loves". Rage alone wouldn't inspire the need for such intricate role-playing. I'm looking forward to seeing this play out.

And Happy Halloween to one and all as I doubt I'll be here tomorrow. It's time for dinner and then the Jack-o-lantern gets carved. It'll be toothy and Tim Burtonesque.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
As their eyes adjusted to the darkness beyond the great bronze doors of Portent’s Great Hall, the first things they noticed were Laughing Jane’s eyes. A glimpse of yellowed, crooked teeth flashing in a grim smile as the sudden light exposed her, but above that the absence of normal eyes and instead a quartet of reddish serpentine slits moving, bobbing, and then softly hissing their greetings.

The ancient tiefling stood by herself, standing next to the morbid throne that grew up from the exposed bedrock there at the room’s center where the polished flagstones reached to within an inch of it and went no further. She wore rags, her feet were bare and her toenails ragged and claw-like, her hair was a tangled mess never brushed in centuries, and her sallow skin stretched tight against her bones, filthy and marked by age and dirt.

As ancient as Laughing Jane was, the throne was older still. A bizarre amalgamation of disparate bones fused together in an arrangement no sane creature would ever anatomically possess, it waited there for a creature to sit, hauntingly reminding them of nothing so much as the Seige Malicious atop of Khin-Oin, a comparison that might not have been entirely off base.

Surrounding the ancient tiefling though, the most disturbing element of the Great Hall was that it was empty; vacuously so. While the streets of Portent were filled with dust, dirt, and all manner of typical refuse found in the streets of an urbanized portion of the Lower Planes, that abruptly ended at the entryway. Not a speck of dust or dirt lay upon the cold flagstones within the building. Even with the door open and random gusts of wind blowing out amidst the streets, nothing entered the Great Hall to sully it.

“Well that’s not ominous at all…” Toras muttered, leaving it open whether he was referring to the unnatural emptiness of the Great Hall’s interior or to the smiling, ancient tiefling that was Laughing Jane who waited therein.

“Hopefully we can find some answers.” Clueless glanced warily at the tiefling, and at the throne beside her.

“Rather than just more questions like usual…” Fyrehowl muttered.

Laughing Jane said nothing overt as the party approached her, though the serpents that sprouted from her eye sockets exchanged glances and whispered sibilantly to one another as if sharing secret comments not meant for mortal ears. To break that silence and address the reason for which they’d traveled there from Sigil, Clueless was the first to pose a question.

“Who are you?” The bladesinger asked.

“I am Laughing Jane,” The ancient tiefling chuckled, her soft laughter followed by the trailing comments of her serpents, “A mouthpiece. Forsaken. Fought over but never claimed. A sifter of fitful dreams.”

“What are you?”

“A tiefling.” Jane quipped, “Once upon a time, so long ago I can scarcely remember. I no longer know what I was before I was here. Before I sat. Before Portent was a city, but only a stele sitting atop a prison/tomb.”

“What did I say about more questions?” Fyrehowl sighed, drawing forth a blizzard of angry hissing from Laughing Jane’s serpents.

“Do you know why we’re here?” Tristol asked, his tail bottle brushed as he glanced at the throne.

“The same reason that any come here?” Jane chuckled and spread her arms wide, “To know the future as I perceive it, or for the rare occasion that a ‘loth arrives, to sit upon the throne.”

She hadn’t directly answered their question, but her answer segued into another.

“One of the many gang members out there in the streets told us that the Oinoloth himself came here.” Tristol glanced back towards the door behind them, “Why did he come here? What was he searching for?”

The reaction was immediate as Laughing Jane snarled, threw her hands in the air and screamed in agonized, furious and embittered impotent rage while the serpents hissed in equal fury, writhing in the air before her face.

“The Oinoloth. He came to this place. He came here not to seek but to speak and to mock. There was nothing here for him. Nothing he needed.” Jane hissed, “He ignored us. He hurt us! He sat upon the throne. The self-important arcanaloth to whom Khin-Oin was but a disparaged stepping stone. He sat upon the throne and he laughed!”

“What is the throne?” Florian asked.

“Nothing to you. Nothing unless it deigns to speak to you from its slumber.”

The cleric frowned, “That doesn’t answer the question.”

Laughing Jane smirked knowingly and the serpents that grew from her eye sockets once again exchanged glances and whispered, debating perhaps how they should answer, or perhaps how far they were –allowed- to answer, given the source of that knowledge locked far below the streets of Portent.

“It is a tether to the slumbering mind of Portent’s father/mother.” The tiefling whispered, with her serpents following along as sibilant trailing echoes, drawing immediate expressions of concern and dread from the last amalgamation of words, words that were the hallmark of the baern. A baernaloth slumbered below the Great Hell. “The great one betrayed and imprisoned by the Demented long before the flight of Apomps. Before the abdication of Yrsinius the Elder. Before Tegresin’s flight. Before the formation of Gehenna or Carceri. Before the yugoloths. Before the MISTAKE. Before the fool’s errand. Before the Architect’s creation of…”

Halfway through her ranting answer her hands had already begun to tremble, her words began to slur, and as her words trailed off blood began to leak from her ears and abruptly she fell to the ground in a brutally convulsive seizure. On the ground, her serpents writhed and their own slit eyes rattled back and forth as her mouth jerked and failed to form the words she desperately wanted to relay. There were limitations to her gift of “prophecy” channeling the black knowledge of the baernaloth far below.

Eventually Laughing Jane’s convulsions ceased, she wiped the foam from her lips, and with a snarl and chorus of hisses, she slowly stood back up. She had nothing more to add to her previous statement however, and instead she waited for the next question.

“We came here looking for the answer to one question.” Clueless stated, “Centuries ago, Lariset the Inescapable, Factol of the Fraternity of Order came here to Portent. We don’t know –why– she came, but while she was here she met a man named Cilret Leobtav, a man who shouldn’t have existed at that point in history because he wouldn’t have been born for centuries still. She talked to him and something that she learned from him set her upon the path to discovering something that she thought was a loophole in the laws of creation, but it seems that it was something more. Something hidden. We don’t know what it was, but the Oinoloth is obsessed with it and whatever it is, whatever his reasons, we need to stop him.”

Laughing Jane smiled. She knew why they’d come, and finally they’d asked the question that she’d been waiting to answer.

“This one is silent.” One serpent spoke, Laughing Jane motioning to the throne and then at her feet, “Slumbering fitfully…”

“Furious raging, betrayed, bitter…” The second serpent hissed in response.

“This one will not answer. Not you.” The first sibilantly whispered, “Another though. Another I feel.”

“Brilliant, glowing,” Rejoined the second, “Burning Bright. Like a Torch.”

The assembled companions exchanged glances, picking up on her allusions, but needing more details to be certain.

“Lit in blood and paved in lies, there upon the slopes of Karal, Maygel, and Dohin…” Laughing Jane grinned, exposing ragged, yellowed teeth and bleeding gums.

“That’s Gehenna’s gatetown in the Outlands.” Tristol mused, “Torch.”

“What’s in Torch?” Clueless asked, “Why do we need to go there? We came here to find what Lariset discovered.”

“What you seek: answers.” The serpents hissed and they and Jane replied collectively, “In Gehenna’s gatetown. A short conceptual stroll. There they wait. There they weave. There they smile in the darkness. There they wait for you in Dubai’s Obscure Woe.”


****



“You have questions Shylara,” The Oinoloth whispered with an almost amused tone to his voice, though he never turned to glance at the Overlord of Carceri as she struggled to hold aloft the great tome that she’d been instructed to display. “They boil and froth at the edges of your conscious thought even as they seek to keep them obscured below a pot lid of fear and worry. You question why I would create the creatures you see here before you: mezzoloths infused with each of the inter-cardinal elements. Hold those questions to yourself until you have seen me do the same with other lesser yugoloths and then perhaps a greater yugoloth as well. Whatever it is that I need I will fashion. They are tools to be used and if necessary to be broken in my service, but you know that well enough on your own...”

Shylara the Manged whimpered, but Vorkannis paid her no heed as he watched the lesser yugoloths suffer and then stabilize against the admixture of elemental energies perfusing their bodies. The tools were forged and ready to use for the specialized task that he would have need of them for in the immediate future.

“There is also the unspoken question brewing in your mind amidst a thick syrup of jealousy regarding why your former mentor, mistress, and lover Shemeska was present in this chamber before I ever invited you.” The Oinoloth let the statement linger in the air, and only when he heard the sob of bitter disappointment rise up from his consort did he deign to reply. “I could always gift you Shylara with the same attention that I gave to her. Unlike the Marauder however, I suspect that you wouldn’t mind having your teeth broken, an eye gouged out, and an arm ripped off while I snarled and laughed. Wretch you’d enjoy it…”

The soft sobbing briefly erupted with a burst of nervous, giddy laughter, answer the Oinoloth’s hypothetical with precisely the answer that he expected. This time however he gave no response and let his consort stew in her own thoughts, both bitter and obsessive alike.

For the next hour the Oinoloth made careful notations by hand in one of the grimoires kept there, each of them near or actual artifact level. The specific tome he added his work to was one of those originally penned by Larsdana Ap Neut, first Magistrix of the Fourfold Furnace, Helekanalaith’s vanished teacher and predecessor. What was more, the Oinoloth was also constructing something as he wrote, carefully carving a string of symbols into an object laying next to the tome, though from her static position holding aloft another of the vanished arcanaloth lord’s tomes, she could not be certain what it precisely was.

“Soon I will be sending my armies into the depths of the elemental planes to find something and return it to me. Pieces of a broken, lost and hidden thing that will be mine.” The Oinoloth turned and looked at his consort, his eyes ablaze with lurid pink light, “This is of the utmost importance to me, to us, and the race of yugoloths as a whole. Nothing is of greater importance. Nothing!”

In the far corner of the chamber, swallowed in suffocating darkness, far from Shylara’s eyes, the pile of frozen ashes that bore Vorkannis’s back and forth footprints twitched and moved in resonance with the Oinoloth’s words.

“You will train and select those who will suffer and die for me far from the Lower Planes. As you suffer for me, you will select those to undergo the process that you have seen me fashion and perfect. Choose well.”

“Thank you my Oinoloth,” Shylara stuttered, “Thank you my master…”

“Be proud of yourself Shylara,” Vorkannis spoke with an audible smile crossing his muzzle, “Not only for the task that I assign to you, but also because soon this chamber will have only its third visitor among those that I’ve allowed to enter. Of those visitors, you will have suffered the least at my hands.”

The Overlord of Carceri swallowed hard, uncertain in her mind if she was glad for that distinction, given the presence of Shemeska’s blood and broken teeth upon the floor, or if she was jealous. Her thoughts on the matter however did not last long.

“Our guest has arrived.” Vorkannis intoned, “Put down the book and open the door for them.”

Shylara nodded wordlessly, placed the book down with a soft thud upon the table where she’d first retrieved it from, and made for the doors. There hadn’t been a knock or a telepathic call, but as the arcanaloth set her hands upon the silver handles of the massive doors, wincing at the pain as she wrenched them open, she found an ultroloth waiting upon the other side, patient, emotionless, and silent.

The ultroloth stood there alone, dressed in purple robes, a rod and a sword tucked neatly into the sash it wore about its waist. Under the Oinoloth’s new structure of power, many ultroloths had taken to further decoration and unique styles by which to differentiate themselves. The ultroloths that had served as doormen when Shemeska had stood there some time before were gone, leaving the present greater yugoloth without seeming peer.

“I am here at the Oinoloth’s call.” The ultroloth, Morenikus ib Khalas’s telepathic voice carried the impression of daggers plunging into naked, expectant flesh. The fiend’s voice also carried the faint undertone of disgust as its eyes matched with Shylara’s own color-shifting orbs, viewing her very existence as a mockery of the proper order of the yugoloth hierarchy.

“Enter Morenikus ib Khalas,” Vorkannis called out, “Once servitor of Mydianchlarus, once advisor to Cholerix, once student of Larsdana ap Neut, and now servitor to myself I call you here with a task.”

The ultroloth stepped into the chamber past Shylara the Manged who said nothing but simply lowered her head and closed the doors behind the gray-skinned, purple-robed yugoloth. The doors shuddered heavily as they sealed in place with a hideous finality.

“I will be sending my forces into the elemental planes and I will require a chosen leader to direct them.” Vorkannis had yet to turn towards the ultroloth as he spoke, instead he stood with his back turned, his head down, and his hands cradled around an object, the same object that he’d been working on for some time. “Your past experience makes you ideal for this role, and I would have you there as my representative.”

The ultroloth gave a bow and stepped forward, its eyes blazing with lurid, multicolored light, approaching to within an arm’s distance of Vorkannis.

“Whatever my past actions under the rule of other, lesser Masters of Khin-Oin, I assure you my Oinoloth that…”

“Silence subcreature.” Vorkannis chuckled, still not turning around to actually face the ultroloth now on its knees in confused, terrified supplication, “You have betrayed every superior that you have ever had, from your status as mezzoloth through your rise through the ranks of the Tower Arcane, and for that I am pleased with you. That is expected. That is becoming of you as a yugoloth. But I cannot tolerate your betrayal of myself.”

“My Oinoloth I have never betrayed you!” Morenikus’s mental voice hummed with barely suppressed rage as it spoke the truth, from its own perspective as its hands pounded into the floor, the colors from its eyes shifting towards reds and purples.

“You have though wretch…” Vorkannis sighed, “Even if you aren’t aware of it.”

Behind the ultroloth, Shylara’s eyes went wide and involuntarily she licked her lips and trembled.

Morenikus’s telepathy stammered, wildly uncertain of how to respond as the Oinoloth’s drifting cloud of shadowy filaments crept across the space between. They curled up to caress the ultroloth’s chin, stroking across its face and holding the fiend’s head in place.

“Master I…”

Without warning the Oinoloth spun around in place. Robes whirling and shadows curdling in place, eyes burning with albino radiance, one arm extended to bury a spike of cobalt blue crystal into the ultroloth’s forehead with a sickeningly wet crunch.

“Ignorant, all of you.” Vorkannis sneered, looking down at the fiend as blood and radiant cerebrospinal fluids bubbled up from the wound, sizzling as it came into contact with the crystalline spike that now glimmered with an internal light, illuminating the myriad symbols carefully etched into its surface and interior.

The ultroloth blinked and twitched, a telepathic background of agony and blizzard of questions wailing out from its mind even as the crystal driven deep into its brain sizzled and hummed with activating magical puissance. Vorkannis smiled as he watched the ultroloth blink one final time before its eyes turned the same shade of pink as his own.

“Your forces Shylara, they will not make their trip so far from the Waste alone.” Vorkannis’s words were echoed by the telepathic call of his ultroloth puppet who now stood up, its motions mirroring that of its master. “They will have me to accompany them by proxy…”


****​


While the petty lords of Torch waged their subtle and occasionally bloody battles of supremacy over one another through the urban hellscape of Gehenna's gatetown, lit by the burning light of the burg's three volcanic mounts and the looming, blood-red portal to the Fourfold Furnace overhead, perched amidst the sulfurous clouds, Dubai's Obscure Woe remained free of that strife and bloodshed. The citizens and fiendish immigrants alike wanted nothing to the do with the forsaken parcel of property that stood at the edge of the Blood Swamp, there at the gatetown's
periphery as it had for as long as any could remember, and which some legends claimed predated Torch in its entirety. The ruined estate brooded in haunted stasis, the portal in the distance shedding a burning glow and casting long shadows, but oddly the light from distant Gehenna felt warming and comfortable to any who stood there on the broken stones of that forgotten place.

Occasionally a visitor to Torch would visit, a citizen marked for death by ones of Torch's gangs would flee there in desperate dismissal of the local superstitious warnings, or a cleric of a benevolent power would travel there to banish whatever gloom resided therein. The result was the same in each and every case. The brave, the ignorant, the desperate, and the foolishly righteous all met the same fate: they never returned from their visit. Oh to be sure there were legends of those who survived a visit, but nothing concrete, and each instance seemed to only be those with a cursory transit of the estate's periphery and not actually a visit into the interior, and not at all a lengthy stay, whatever the reason. The occupant -the lone occupant- of that forsaken place brooked neither attention nor visitors, unless it had lured them there for its own purposes.

The vanished with connections to larger organizations, factions, guilds, or adventuring companies, or those clerics strict in their faith and missed by their ecclesiastical fellows had investigations into their deaths. Those investigators vanished as well when they came. Divinations seeking the fate of either uniformly returned nothing. They were not alive, nor dead, nor trapped or imprisoned in any capacity magical or mundane: they simply no longer existed so far as the scrying lens, elaborate arcane legend lore, or divine prognostication could see.

Whatever the fate of the vanished few, further divinations as to that ruined, once-grand hovel at the edges of the Blood Swamp returned nothing profound in the slightest.

Nothing.

Dubai's Obscure Woe was a black hole of information into which investigators fell, and when they did, they discovered nothing, or they themselves vanished. If anything those who survived the attempts would discover that it had originally been constructed by a tiefling wizard by the name of Daruib Chamek who lived in Torch for several decades before dying at the hands of a gacholoth assassin after he ran afoul of a nameless ultroloth's ire. After his death the estate fell into ruin and the wizard's experiments and decaying spellwork proved a sufficient hazard to prevent it from being looted by Torch's desperate or transient overlords. There was apparently nothing of note.

Yet there was something there and clearly it hungered.

A shadow fell across the ground, blotting out the crimson light shed across one of the inner courtyards. The solitary figure emerged out of a ripple in the fabric of space, a tear in the fabric of the Outlands already blurred from its close metaphysical proximity to Gehenna, though this tear was to the Gray Waste. It stepped forward unsteadily across the broken, unevenly settled cobblestones, leading not with a foot, but with a staff, then a foot, and then dragging along after itself one leg, withered and crippled.

The response of the environment around the figure was immediate, no matter who or what they were, just as they would have one of Torch's natives or one the past victims who unwisely visited. Like a fly landing upon a hungry spider's web, each footstep taken set off a ripple of dweomers more ancient than Gehenna itself, Dubai's Obscure Woe being only a surface, temporal gloss of location atop a lair woven from the fabric of the Waste, where it now resided. The figure paid it no heed, and in turn the spells recognized their nature and took no actions other than to inform their weaver that a guest, a family member even, had arrived and come calling.

The figure slowly walked forward in shambling, crippled fashion, pausing to glance at a subtle sign of shimmering movement to their right, reaching up to brush a strand of golden hair from her face and behind a slightly curved planetouched horn of a tiefling or aasimar, though in truth they were neither. Gazing down at her, a drifting, translucent figure quivered and shifted its insectile mandibles. She smirked at the ghost mezzoloth's paradoxical, impossible existence and its reaction to her presence, and then she chuckled as her own shadow pooled about her feet and moving independently of her physical form's motions, raced across the space between then reached up to caress the fiend's face. It shuddered in a transposition of agony and quasi-religious ecstasy, and as it reacted she walked on, turning away and ignoring it like a master giving a beloved pet a perfunctory pat on the head before going about their other tasks.

She continued her trek deeper into the main structure at the heart of the ruined estate, smiling as the structure transitioned from metaphysical neutrality to Evil and she descended into the lightless cavern below the ground level to meet the structure's master. Each step now echoed not with staff and feet on stone, but the soft, wet shuffle of the same passing through puddles of slick, slightly viscous mucus that covered every surface, walls, floor, and ceiling alike.

"I am here brother/sister." Tellura ibn Shartalan smiled and with her words the cavern's gloom evaporated.

In response to her greeting, two eyes opened as the figure sitting and nearly fused into the cavern's far wall stirred from its torpor. Milky and rheumatic, corrosive in their feigned frailty, the baernaloth's eyes shed a cold and horrific light across the room, illuminating the visitor's form and the surrounding, organic walls of their surroundings. Coating every surface the mucoid matrix slowly shifted and undulated with unnatural peristalsis and as it caught and refracted the light, the words embedded, trapped, and imprisoned within its murky depths were revealed, each of them a name, a promise, a lie.

"She whispers, she hints, she pulls from the dreams of our forgotten brother/sister." A phlegmatic chuckle emerged from the brittle lips of Daru ib Shamiq, the Lie Weaver. "They will listen and they will come, dancing upon the web of words and foretold inevitability: just as we have foreseen. Everything falls as we have desired. Everything occurs as we have ordained."

The two baernaloths stared into each other's eyes as a blizzard of telepathic information flowed between the two of them, at the end of which the Shepherdess nodded and smiled, her face cherubic.

"Come children." Tellura whispered, "Come mortal little lambs. Here there is bloodshed and there are lies."


****​
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Daru ib Shamiq:

https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/807332516898242564/w9vBWIrJ.jpg

A fine update, Shemeska. I knew you weren't dead because of your Twitter activity, but you've been scarce around here. Will the ultroloths ever tumble to the fact that the Ebon has it in for them?
I've not been active on Enworld much beyond posting the storyhour (and I'll continue to post it here until it's finished), but I'm most active on Facebook and Twitter (and good Lord I've got my main twitter @ therealshemeska and my in character alts @ askshemeshka @ Ilsetsya and @ Shylarathe). I'm in the middle of my 2nd year of pharmacy school and life outside of school is rather complicated at the moment, so my output has been spotty, for which I apologize.

Oh the ultroloths are absolutely aware of the sheer and utter contempt that Vorkannis has for their entire caste. But at the same time arcanaloths aren't necessarily treated any better at the end of the day. Vorkannis treats them like yappy magical disposable tools. You've seen him clearly taking joy in turning ultroloths into puppets with chunks of crystal lodged in their heads, but behind the scenes you've also seen him turn nascent arcanaloths into astradeamons (and other things yet to be seen) without any sort of caste loyalty since he's ostensibly an arcanaloth himself. He certainly played on intra-caste issues and jealousy when he pulled Helekanalaith (and much of the Tower Arcane) to his side when he became Oinoloth, and similarly with Shemmy demanding importance. And then there's his promotion (by himself) of Shylara into an arcanaloth in Carceri and more recently into something more than arcanaloth (and the just what that is or means is up for debate).

Good on you for picking up that apparent caste contempt. It will play into things on an ongoing basis.
 

carborundum

Explorer
I've done it, by Jove! I've caught up! I started in October and travelled 15-odd years in about as many weeks. Wow. I'm absolutely blown away by the sheer scale, artistry and volume of work. The writing is excellent, your group's characters have amazing depth and personality, the villains are epically wicked and their plots are STILL a mystery. I just love everything about it! I've no idea why I never got into it before now. Still, better late than never, eh?

Thank you ever so much for creating this amazing campaign. I've always loved the idea of Planescape and regret not being able to afford it when it came out. .Thank you even more for keeping the updates coming, I know how much work that is beside work and studying.

So now I am honoured to join the ranks of subscribers, and wait with bated breath for the next one. In the meantime, I'm working as much planar goodness as possible into my current campaign, and saving for Planescape. It's a lot more expensive these days!
 

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