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Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 13Aug2019)

Shemeska

Adventurer
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!
I applaud your work in reading through not only the full length of the story hour but probably also others' and my commentary along the way! I'm genuinely humbled that you've enjoyed it and look forward to seeing it slowly (clearly much more slowly than I'd like) unfold here to you and others reading it many years after the campaign itself was played back when I was an undergrad, and before I'd ever considered writing for fun, much less for $. :D

Thank you so much!
 

Tarath

Villager
My apologies for posting something slightly off-topic for the Story Hour, but I'm not sure where else I can receive non-toxic feedback for a character idea of mine.

The idea starts with a question: Would either A'kin or Shemeshka be willing to father a child with a random arcanaloth and stay out of the youngster's upbringing until her twenty-fifth birthday, in exchange for the pleasure of the act and an Earring of Wishes with a single remaining wish?
 
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Shemeska

Adventurer
My apologies for posting something slightly off-topic for the Story Hour, but I'm not sure where else I can receive non-toxic feedback for a character idea of mine.

The idea starts with a question: Would either A'kin or Shemeshka be willing to father a child with a random arcanaloth and stay out of the youngster's upbringing until her twenty-fifth birthday, in exchange for the pleasure of the act and an Earring of Wishes with a single remaining wish?
I'm not sure why you'd receive any toxic feedback for this particular question. The topic in general is covered in enough published content such that it isn't anything out of the blue.

For this specific case it really depends on how you personally would characterize both A'kin and Shemeshka in your campaigns. Their nature, alignment, goals, and history. I know what my answer would be for both of them, but admittedly I'm holding all the answers to those questions quite close to my chest still at this point in the storyhour (and God do I love speculation on it!). It depends also on the reach of the particular wish and any restrictions (ie by the book or a little more fluid). A carefully worded wish could really play havoc with that kid regardless of the 25 year prohibition. Plus when has a 'loth -ever- played by the terms of a deal without finagling their way into warping it to Gehenna and back ten times over for the sheer malevolent whimsy of it all?

It could be made into a decades long game, or it could be made into a horror story for all involved, especially the offspring. I don't see Shemmy leaving any such offspring alive unless they played very specific roles in her own plans. And the deal said nothing about the dead or living status of the other parent. She'd probably kill them to ensure that the parentage of the child wasn't known, even to the kid.

As for A'kin? Who knows anything specific about him.
 

Tarath

Villager
Shemmy is obviously not the smart choice to make. A'kin(as seen in your SH #1 and #2) could work. "Make a child with me, taking the male role. I will be the sole parent figure until her twenty-fifth birthday. When she is of age, being twenty-five years after her birth, she will come to you for further education. In payment for making the child, you will have the pleasure of the act itself. In payment for staying out of the way during her early formative years, I will give you this Earring of Wishes with a single wish remaining to grant."

The mother is a member of a cabal of arcanaloths who, millenia ago, renounced the ways of the Oinoloth and the General of Gehenna to live, breed, and build a society in exile on the Prime. Were the original exiles disciples of a certain ultroloth who will not be named, or perhaps they were his children?
 

Akhelos

Villager
I'm not sure why you'd receive any toxic feedback for this particular question. The topic in general is covered in enough published content such that it isn't anything out of the blue.

For this specific case it really depends on how you personally would characterize both A'kin and Shemeshka in your campaigns. Their nature, alignment, goals, and history. I know what my answer would be for both of them, but admittedly I'm holding all the answers to those questions quite close to my chest still at this point in the storyhour (and God do I love speculation on it!). It depends also on the reach of the particular wish and any restrictions (ie by the book or a little more fluid). A carefully worded wish could really play havoc with that kid regardless of the 25 year prohibition. Plus when has a 'loth -ever- played by the terms of a deal without finagling their way into warping it to Gehenna and back ten times over for the sheer malevolent whimsy of it all?

It could be made into a decades long game, or it could be made into a horror story for all involved, especially the offspring. I don't see Shemmy leaving any such offspring alive unless they played very specific roles in her own plans. And the deal said nothing about the dead or living status of the other parent. She'd probably kill them to ensure that the parentage of the child wasn't known, even to the kid.

As for A'kin? Who knows anything specific about him.
I think any Arcanaloth siring a shild with any other Arcanaloth, not only Shemmy but especially her, should get a very strong life insurance for both themselves and the child. Making a killing or vanisihing so costly as to utterly destroy the other party. Basically if you want to have a child with Shemeshka, make sure you have such Blackmail material on her that would utterly destroy her if released and make sure it gets released if you or the child vanishes in such a way that its impossible for her to stop it. Make sure that if she moves against you, she herself hands weapons to her worst enemys destroying thousands of years of her work. Basically a lot of work and you should know for yourself if thats really worth it.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Prehistory:

The obsidian blade punctured velvet, silk, fur, flesh, and fascia without the slightest resistance. It punctured her right ventricle and then with a flick of a wrist it neatly bisected her aorta, flooding her chest cavity and then dousing her chest above it with a bubbling fountain of brilliant crimson blood. For an arcanaloth the situation was nothing new given the manner in which they transitioned from nycaloth to their current and lofty caste. The blade was pain. The blade was agony. The blade was release. The blade was freedom. The blade was transfiguration.

Normally.

But this was not a promotion. This was murder. This was sacrifice.

Her eyes widened and a shrill scream of agony reached her lips before her killer’s hands thrust into her mouth and held her tongue until there were no more inchoate, half-formed curses left to scream as the dull gray light of the Waste faded to darkness.

Death was not such a simple thing as blade and blood, broken flesh and the suffocation of exsanguinations under the eyes of her smiling killer brilliant and livid against the bleached nothingness of the surrounding Gloom. The runes of the blade erupted with puissant magic, subtle and terrible to behold, igniting the nascent magic within the victim’s blood, racing with sorcerous, fluid fire through the veins, arteries, and arterioles of her body as she bled, choked, and gave her final breath, the last drops of blood mere charred ash upon the wind as her body disintegrated and joined the surrounding dust, damningly no more important than any other dead soul ground to irrelevant nothingness as was thusly consigned to become as well.

Enraged beyond belief, the tattered, insubstantial fragments of her soul tumbled into the devouring maw of her native plane as above the sky burned with the gleaming, hungry light of the Loadstone’s bleak and dire poetry.

NO!

NO!

BETRAYAL!

THIS CANNOT BE!

I WILL NOT BE DENIED WHAT IS MINE!

I WILL HAVE THE POWER DUE ME!

I WILL HAVE MY PLACE!

I WILL HAVE MY POSITION!

I WILL HAVE MY MAJESTY!

All around the Waste feasted, fragmented, and tore at her soul like a horde of jackals to a fresh and bloody corpse. In moments there would be nothing of her left - nothing but the taste of her regrets and agony of a stolen existence upon the tongue of her natal plane.

“Well aren’t you an interesting and headstrong thing…”

The broken fragments of her soul blinked. The voice was calm, powerful, cajoling, seductive, the words spoken in baernaloth, rippling through the metaphysical earth like the tremors along a terrestrial fault line with the distant tug and kiss of an ocean of sentient roiling magma.

“A shame that it will be over in moments as the Waste savors, devours, and extinguishes you and everything that you might have ever been or would ever become.”

She screamed at the voice’s mockery even as she felt the very same process it described already occurring.

NO! I AM NOT OVER! I AM NOT FINISHED! I WILL RIP MY WAY FREE OF THIS PLACE! I AM NOT DONE WITH THIS WORLD!

“You are nothing child.”

She felt the voice’s smirk like a slap across her face.

“Nothing…”

NO! NO! I AM POTENTIAL! I AM RAGE! I AM BITTER REVENGE!

“And you are dead… returned to the very substance from which all yugoloths derive.”

AND YET… And yet… and yet here I am, still speaking to you, voice in the depths, whatever you are…

Around her the Waste itself seemed to smile silently in tectonic amusement.

“Whatever I am? A voice crying in the wilderness. Forgotten. Abandoned.”

“I don’t care what you are.” She snarled, her essence unraveling moment by moment. “Spare me your mockery and help me. Ask your price and I will pay it. I will have what was and shall be mine!”

The substance behind the voice in the gray and bleak darkness smiled.

A hundred thousand grasping claws and teeth seized upon the errant tatters of the soul that had been, seizing them, ripping them free of the immaterial lysosomes accreted about each piece, parsing them aside from the infinity of every other dead soul devoured and digested by the Waste. All of it occurred effortlessly.

“And what little thing?” The voice asked, its words in baernaloth rattling her essence held in stasis like aftershocks on already broken, tortured earth. “What will you do if returned to existence?”

“Everything that I desire is what I will do.”

Another smirk and the myriad, insubstantial hands juggled the bits of her soul, playing with them like blocks strewn across a child’s playroom room.

“A vacuous answer that has emotional strength for sure but which lacks any definition. Your mind is much the same as every other yugoloth and many other manner of creatures who have died much the same as you with the same burning thoughts of revenge and loss painted upon their disintegrating souls. I have listened to your beautiful, wailing song of suffering so many, many times like a sweet lullaby to my slumbering ears. What little arcanaloth, what makes you any different from all of them? …What is it that you want?”

The words were ancient. The question full of power beyond the mere words, the phrase layered with allusions and complexities in the tongue of the baern. Had she been corporeal, the question in the same words would have brought her ears to bleed and compelled the answer from her tongue before she’d had the chance to prepare her will to resist, but in her present form she had neither.

“What do I want? You know what I want! You know what was taken from me! I want it back! I want to open my lips and breathe, to pluck the knife from my chest and bring pain and agony to my killer. I want to savor in their death and have everything that was theirs and should have been mine by blood and birthright.”

The presence laughed.

“Oh little mewling thing, where is the challenge in that if I –give– everything to you?” The voice sneered, “Nothing is given. Everything of substance must be desired, hungered for, and then seized in a shower of blood and misery. You know this child of despair. But you will breathe again nonetheless.”

The claws and teeth that held her together against the gnawing acid hunger of the Waste were swift and precise. What they did with her they had done before, though how many times she could not have known. Enraptured at its power, she understood of course that it was not a mercy, but a curse, a poisoned gift with an unspoken price that she would one day come to pay. But fueled by the bitterness of loss and death, she did not care what that cost might ever be. Instead there was only a single question of her own.

“Who are you?”

“And there,” The presence smiled voraciously, an ocean of eyes gleaming with a million devoured secrets of which that was but one, “There is the question that I waited for. Once you had of course gained what you desired, the academic curiosity emerges along with the distrust no longer hidden but on full display.”

“And?” She demanded, full of pride and bluster as her essence was woven and knitted back together piece by ephemeral piece. “One of the Demented? Another baernaloth entirely?” She paused and disgust crept into her voice, “A power…?”

Of course, a thing of darkness and secrets, it provided her no answer at all as it smiled to itself and its handiwork as it held her spirit aloft and admired what it had created. Oh the irony. In so many ways, the irony.

“What good is a second chance amidst the trailing shadow of betrayal by your own kind when betrayal may await you once again? That my child is up to you to find, determine, and MAKE.”

She furrowed a brow yet without substance.

“Whatever you are, I will find you. I will scour the records of the Tower. I will devour the brains of a thousand screaming clerics and pluck the tongues of a million wailing petitioners. I will take my answers from them and with them I will find you and take my answers then in all my coming glory!”

“No. No you will not.” The presence smirked, “Because if you do meet me again, it is I who will find you, but only if you are worthy.”

She scoffed, feeling a mouth taking form in the patterns of her soul finally. “I know my capabilities and I have a plan in place already for what I must do. It will take centuries but I will find you.”

“I find that highly unlikely child.” It chuckled, placed a dozen fingers of darkness against ivory, intangible teeth, “Because breathing once more or not, you won’t remember me in the slightest.”

“What?...”

“You will remember none of this moment between moments. You will be given life again, but this time you will struggle and you will succeed or not by your own merits rather than the serendipity of blood and a parent in rut to give you caste. If you are to be worthy of your birthright YOU. WILL. EARN. IT. SUBCREATURE.”

“NO!” The form of her mouth moved, alien in shape and configuration and in a fraction of a second she knew the bitter triumph of her bargain and what it had given and demanded of her.

“Fuel your rise by spite, by rage, by bitter fury at fate and circumstance. Make yourself what you desire to become.” The voice motioned upwards, pursed unseen lips and breathed life into a metaphorical figure of dust and clay, a soul with one pattern locked within the prison of another by intent. “Learn. Suffer. Suffer for me and then, when you are ready, return to me with blood on your hands, triumph and agony as your crown.”



****​


The Spawning Pools of Khin-Oin were alien things even to the yugoloths that tended to them, engines of calcified deific flesh carved from the sacral marrow of the spine that housed the Wasting Tower itself from many miles above where the Seige Malicious looked down to there at its lowest depths where it plunged into the depths of the Waste and mixed with the black and polluted groundwater of the Styx. It was there that the first yugoloths had emerged at the ancient call of their baernaloth creators, and it was there, with the aid of those artifacts, miles wide, that the yugoloths managed to accomplish the same feat on their own in advanced speed and number than they otherwise did naturally and spontaneously across the whole of the plane when the Waste belched up a new mezzoloth spawned from the essence of another yugoloth anywhere else that had died. Predating and detached from the souls of mortals, the yugoloths were eternal and constant.

As one new mezzoloth breached the glistening, curiously thick and membranous meniscus of the surface and clambering forth on its insectile limbs, the ambient eldritch light reflection off of the oil-slick skein of its glossy, chitinous carapace, it chattered with barely restrained rage. This mezzoloth was different. This mezzoloth was special. It knew what it had been before its (re)birth. The details were vacuous and scattered, but it knew that it had been an arcanaloth, betrayed and killed by its own kind, now reborn in the lowest, most base of yugoloth castes. There was no birthright power, there was only a ladder of pain, debasement, and struggle that stretched out and so high above itself that it would need to climb.

F*ck it all.

Whatever was required of it, it would occur, and by whatever means necessary to reclaim and seize what belonged to it.

All around the mezzoloth, others of its kind emerged from the luminous muck, marshaled and directed by other, higher caste yugoloths to begin the most basic and meaningless of training before being hurled into the Blood War and certain death. A soft hiss escaped from past the mezzoloth’s mandibles as it turned to the nearest of its kind, studied it for but a moment and ripped her talons into a breach in its armor plating, drawing blood and causing the least yugoloth to shriek in agony and stumble forward. The killing blow would have come quickly had the mezzoloth desired it, but for whatever reason it held back, innate knowledge telling it otherwise and in a swift and beguiling sidestep, it grabbed the arms of yet another of its kind and thrust it into the injured one and stepped away to one side. Enraged, the injured mezzoloth leapt upon the one that now stumbled into it, its animal intelligence confusing it with its actual attacker who stood and watched, amused by the pain it had caused.

The mezzoloth had no lips with which to smile, but inwardly it did nonetheless as its slinked off into the darkness, losing itself in the myriad throng of tens of thousands of its kind marching forwards while behind it, hundreds of others shrieked and fought in an expanding chorus of murderous, fratricidal agony. It would enjoy this existence, even if its current form was an insult to what it deserved to be.

No matter what it took, it would regain what had been taken.


****​

Shemeska awoke with a scream of terror and confusion, one arm pawing at her face to feel the line of her vulpine muzzle, feel her ears, her lips, and briefly then to pat at every part of her body that was there. One arm remained absent, but the bleeding had stopped, and a brief centimeter of raw flesh now sprouted from the previously raw and open wound. One eye still stared about blind and unseeing, but while the socket had been empty before, an eye, albeit one clouded over and still devoid of sight, now occupied that previously empty hollow within the confines of her skull.

She was healing. After weeks she was finally healing.

Snapping her fingers and conjuring forth light into her private chambers, she looked about. Two tieflings lay dead to either side of her, one strangled and still entwined in the sheets, the other ashen of pallor and snuffed by magic in the throes of passion. It only took the King of the Crosstrade a moment to reach for her razorvine crown and collect her thoughts, dragging them away from the dream, and as her brain threw off the shackles of slumber –a rare thing for a yugoloth– she realized two things.

Her left hand clenched the Shadow Sorcelled Key, its shadows cool upon her flesh as they lapped at her wrist. She’d clenched it so hard in fact that her claws had punctured her own flesh and she freely bled into the silks upon which she and the two deceased prostitutes lay. Secondly the details of the dream. Not the moments below Khin-Oin, but the unknown period preceding it.

She remembered.

Trembling and clenching the Key even tighter, she remembered, and she was terrified.


****​
 

Tarath

Villager
So it would seem that long, long ago Shemeska was born as a nycaloth, and was later promoted to arcanaloth. Some time later, she was murdered. I have a question. Was she murdered by her sponsor during her promotion to ultroloth, or was this a random killing via a most ironic weapon?
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
So it would seem that long, long ago Shemeska was born as a nycaloth, and was later promoted to arcanaloth. Some time later, she was murdered. I have a question. Was she murdered by her sponsor during her promotion to ultroloth, or was this a random killing via a most ironic weapon?
The past update happened way way way earlier than anything else that we know about Shemeska's past history. Worth taking that into consideration as you're putting together a timeline.

We'll revisit this most recent scene eventually and get a view of what was going on prior to and after her death there on the Waste, from the perspective of her killer, when it makes sense for the Storyhour to dive into that. But spoonful by spoonful. I won't turn on the clue fire hose and toss you all into the stream all openmouthed yet. ;)
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
“Ok,” Toras narrowed his eyes, “Answers. But answers to what?”

The fighter didn’t trust the babbling, serpent-eyed crone any more than he trusted any given yugoloth, and it showed on his frown, and his question. Nearly every time that he’d received a vague description and a task to perform, there had been something more that had been conveniently omitted, and led to injury or near death. He’d had enough of riddles and half-answers that promised some nebulous truth at the end of a gilded road and secret door.

“To why the Oinoloth came here to Portent?” Nisha shrugged, her tail curled into a wiggling question mark. “But no, she kinda sorta answered that. Huh.”

“I doubt it.” Toras grimaced, “Like everyone else, she’s leaving something out.”

All the while, Clueless had stared not towards the ancient tiefling, but towards the osseous throne that grew from the bedrock at the center of the Great Hall. Part of him briefly considered using heavy magic to plumb the throne’s depths. If it wouldn’t deign to speak to any but a yugoloth, he could always seek to brute force an answer from the mind of the slumbering, primordial horror that spoke through it. Thankfully though, he dismissed the notion after but a moment’s thought.

“I don’t have the answers that you’re looking for. Not me. Not here.” Laughing Jane shook her head in the negative, the serpents that grew from her eye sockets lagging slightly from the motion of her humanoid body. “The answers that Lariset came to find and which she most certainly did find here, they came not from me, but from something else, something else entirely.”

“Channeled…” One serpent hissed.

“Whispered…” The second enjoined.

“An asp granting an Apple of Knowledge to a mind so rapacious...”

“But so naïve…”

Laughing Jane chuckled.

“But yet you’re sending us to someone or something else.” Clueless narrowed his eyes, “And that very much implies that there’s something tangential to this that you can tell us. Even if you don’t know what we’ll learn in Torch, there’s a reason why you know an answer is there and waiting for us. Why? What it is.”

The tiefling snarled, turning around and around, putting her hands to her head and snarling her fingers in her mess of wild, tangled hair. There’d been limits seemingly to either what she knew, filtered down by the baernaloth imprisoned far below in Portent’s foundation stones, or pried from the god-like proto-fiend’s torpid mind, and clearly she struggled to say more than she had.

Toras opened his mouth to say something, but Fyrehowl stepped up and put a hand on his shoulder. The half-celestial glanced over at her and sighed before patiently waiting for Laughing Jane to cease her fit and explain herself further, if she could.

She could and she did.

“The Oblivion Compass,” Laughing Jane whispered, her eyes lambent in the darkness, “It ticks and tocks, grinding away on the bones of Modrons, flush with the blood of parai, and the neurological flicker of screaming moignos.”

“The what?” Tristol’s vulpine ears perked with the faintest glimmer of dim recognition.

“I don’t like the sound of any of that…” Nisha grimaced.

“In the Waste it sits,” Laughing Jane continued, the light of her eyes flickering and small hemorrhages blossoming in the sclera as she pushed against her limits, “Winnowing away the potentials and possibilities, dragging reality down to the foreseen and rendered, engineered conclusion of The Thirteen. Find it. Know it. Understand it. It is key…”

With that the tiefling collapsed, panting and gasping as she suffered a series of minor convulsions, gritting her teeth and riding out the seizures before finally waving the party away and crawling up to the base of the throne and curling into a fetal position. She would speak no more, but she’d given them something to go on. It hadn’t been what they’d expected or hoped for, but it perhaps was far, far more.


****​


“So then…” Clueless looked at the others as the massive doors of the Great Hall shut behind them as they exited back onto the streets of Portent. “Where do we go next?”

Glancing up briefly at the skyline of Portent, each roof topped by spikes or barbed wire, and above them all the even more unwelcoming expanse of the bleak and lightless void between the Furnaces, the party realized that under normal circumstances any place would be better than their current location. But when their choices potentially included the Gray Waste, the available options precluded any notion of normal circumstances.

“Torch?” Fyrehowl mused, intentionally avoiding the suggestion of the Waste. The very idea sent a shudder through her spine.

Florian shook her head, “Tempus forbid we waltz into the f*cking Nadir.”

Tristol sighed, mentally calculating the swiftest way to the Waste or Gehenna’s gatetown, and just as importantly the quickest way to escape from either should the need arise, as it likely would. He’d heard of the Oblivion Compass in some tome or another, but it was brutally obscure and other than that passing reference it was a blank spot in his base of knowledge.

Nisha reached down and tugged upon Tristol’s tail, “You’re thinking about something. A lot.”

“If everyone else is ok with it, I’d like to go to the Waste first.” Tristol’s ears tilted back as he anticipated the reaction that he would momentarily receive. “I’ve heard of the Oblivion Compass. Vaguely. It’s obscure as heck and frankly if it seems important I’d like to at least get a better idea of what it is and what’s going on with it before we launch into anything else. So… thoughts?”

“Hey! I know! Let’s go from the number 2 ranked shithole in the multiverse, Gehenna, to the top ranked one!” Toras beamed a grin of abjectly false glee.

“I really really –really– don’t want to go to the Waste…” Fyrehowl muttered, even as she curled her arms about herself and glanced up at the sky. Gehenna was not doing the celestial any wonders.

“Listen,” Tristol grimaced, “I know how you feel. I don’t want to go there either. But I think we need to. I don’t know what we’ll find in Torch either, but if it’s linked in some capacity to the Compass, I think we should have some grounded idea of what it is prior to showing up and possibly asking questions about it.”

“Stop talking sense.” Florian grumbled. “I’ve been to the Gatetown of Hopeless and this is going to be even worse… but you’re right. We shouldn’t go to whatever there is in Torch without having a solid footing of what we need to find out.”

The others nodded, though the agreement was marked by more than few unhappy sighs. Nisha however opened her mouth, closed it, and opened it again as she mentally debated asking what came to mind since none of the others had considered it a pertinent issue to raise so clearly it wasn’t but still…

“What’s Dubai’s Obscure Woe?” Nisha blurted out, her tail curled into a question mark.

Silence. Somewhere off in the distance a man screamed as he was stabbed, and in closer proximity the shouts of barkers and merchants produced a fog of white noise rising up from the marketplace, rising in pitch and distinct voices becoming more and more clear as the party said nothing as they turned to look at the tiefling.

Florian sighed and nodded, “I’d say something about stop talking sense to you too, but… Xaositect.”

Nisha smiled appreciably and gave a curtsey.

“Yeah, rack up another thing that we don’t fully know as we’re walking into a situation.” Clueless glanced back at the doors to the Great Hall. “We could always wait and see how long it takes Laughing Jane to wake up, but something tells me that it might be a few days and she likely won’t be any more forthcoming than she already was.”

“Torch won’t be much different than here,” Toras shrugged, slapping a fist into his other palm. “We can always beat up the first locals that try to assault us and get some directions and information from them.”

“I agree with this plan.” Fyrehowl grinned, her tail swishing behind her, “Quite wholeheartedly!”

There was more banter to be had, promises of higher quality drink back in Sigil once they were done, worries about yugoloths in the Waste or suddenly finding themselves in the midst of an active Blood War battle surrounding them for hundreds of miles in every direction, and all other manner of looming concerns both sincere and absurd. Minutes stretched by and the proportion of concerns grew more and more weighted to the latter, if only to delay their departure to the Waste, until finally Tristol began to cast, settling any debate or just complaints before they departed Portent and dove headlong into the heart of Evil itself in the Gray Waste.

Tristol’s plane shift enveloped the party in a burst of crimson radiance, with any outside observer noticing that the magical eruption swiftly faded to gray at the edges and then as it whisked them away from the Fourfold Furnace, it leached their fading afterimages left behind for but a moment of every trace of color like bleak and ghostly scotomas.


****​


Ominous clouds hung overheard like an impenetrable vault, black and heavy with looming, cold rain, the shut and tired eyes of despondent gods momentarily pausing from their grief. While Hell unendingly echoed with the wailing agonies of the tormented and the Abyss with shrieks of rage, loss, and triumph, a symphony of its Darwinian nightmare, the Gray Waste was altogether different.

“Why is it so deathly quiet?” Florian asked as she glanced about at the surrounding landscape, a stretch of desolation swathed in low fog and periodic eruptions of withered black trees. Above the bleak plain and below the black vault of the sky, there was naught but smothering silence. No cries, no distant ring of warring armies, but only the soft crunch of the party’s boots, paws, and hooves on the ashen soil. The Waste devoured noise to isolate, further impressing upon every wretch who walked upon it that they were alone, abandoned, and forsaken.

It was hideous, and it was only the beginning. Moments later the party felt the plane’s emotional and spiritual wasting.

“Gods above I hate this place…” Fyrehowl whimpered, tucking her tail between her legs. “Tristol let’s get there and get out… sooner than later please…”

“Working on it…” Tristol winced as a gentle breeze brought with it the unbidden thought that they would never return home, that he would be forgotten, that everything of meaning not only would be lost, but that it had never held any worth or meaning in the first place. Shaking his head to fight off the plane’s spiritual wasting, he began to cast a teleportation spell, focusing on the concept of the Oblivion Compass and what details he knew. Hopefully it would be enough.

It was.

Within the confines of the fraction of a second that it took the spell to whisk them across the metaphysical space of the Gray Waste to the base of the Oblivion Compass, the ever-present gnawing of the Waste ceased. But then they emerged from that space between spaces, staring up at the great and enigmatic horror they’d come to find. While the Waste’s spiritual leaching had been terrible before when they first emerged upon Oinos, there at the base of the Oblivion Compass it was worse. So very, very much worse.

Fyrehowl and Toras immediately stumbled and nearly fell, followed shortly thereafter by Tristol as their own celestial nature or heritage reacted with terror and sickness to the abomination that rose up out of the ashen soil.

An impossible, ever-shifting teratogen of reality rose up from the Waste, great things of metal and stone, gears and nightmarish clockwork from the fever dreams of an insane modron. There were hundreds shafts, the largest of them the size of towers, the smallest of them the size of a man, all of them festooned with a forest of cogs, some interlocking with their adjacent neighbors and others by themselves, alone, disconnected except for whatever might exist deep within the depths of the Waste itself. The greatest of them displayed massive dials and indicators like the faces of some mad clock, all arranged about a singularly large, central dial with dozens of hands and swirling circles of symbols, all of them displaying an indecipherable pattern of information, all of it written in the tongue of the baern.

Below their feet the dust of the Waste frothed with the vibrations, seen and unseen, of the great device. All around them resounded the cacophony of whirring, ticking, and pounding of gears and mechanisms thrust into the marrow of the Waste, thrumming and grinding away in a fearsome, unnatural capacity no engine of Hell could ever approach.

That was when they noticed the incongruities.

That was when they noticed the screaming.

The machine was not wrought of metal, cast, molded or forged. When one of the whirling spindles ceased its motion, the shaft was not crafted of steel or stone, the cogs not cast in brass or bronze, rather they were crafted from the bodies of modrons, thousands of them welded together. Broken apart, mutilated, fused like deformed, malformed and immortal neonates gasping for air, and like debilitated infants the modrons were inexplicably alive, their eyes bulging, maddened with agony, and all of them were screaming. The white noise of unending horror suffused the valley that held the Oblivion Compass, rising and ebbing in pitch and volume as the nightmare device spun in its mad, unintelligible pattern.

Winding about the screaming, turning modron amalgamations, ropes of black lightning erupted, occasionally lancing between the many cogs like the firing of a mad, crippled god’s neurons. The lightning was not solid black however, but instead composed of symbols, and not of baern, but the mathematical patterns of moignos, another native creature of Mechanus broken, tortured, and chained to the great Compass.

They too were screaming, erupting in a tangible froth of mathematical ephemera.

Spectral figures moved about, aimlessly stumbling and shambling about the valley’s surface, the immaterial, ghostly shadows of wayward parai stripped from their clockwork nirvana and bound to the baernaloth device for reasons unknown.

The party stood there, overwhelmed by the horror of what they had found, uncertain of how to react at the enormity and the pointless terror of it all as the Waste gnawed at their souls.

“Oh Tempus forbid,” Florian dropped to one knee, weeping uncontrollably. “What in the gods’ names is this?!”

As she dropped, she left behind an afterimage of herself standing, dozens of them superimposed on one another in different possible actions in each moment: potential iterations of reality, all of them worse than the actual. There was one Florian walking forward to grind herself to death upon the gears, another cutting her throat and bleeding out upon the Waste, another turning to cast at her companions.

For each member of the party it was the same. Under the reality-warping influence of the Compass, they each trailed and spawned afterimages of themselves, each of them going about routes of action that deviated in every horrible possibility from what did actually happen. Unbeknownst to them, each of them were in microcosm alternate timelines made manifest, haunting the present with the specters of what might or could have been.

Tristol stared at the gears, dials, and hands of the Oblivion Compass, his mind staggered by the scope and scale of it all, completely overwhelmed by the question of how the manifest horror had been created and what it even meant. Clearly they were crafted to some hideous purpose by the Gloom Fathers, but unable to even read their language, the aasimar wizard hadn’t the slightest idea of how to answer the very questions that it raised.

“You will never understand this…” One of the many shades that fractured off of Tristol turned, sneering to whisper in his vulpine ears. “You will never accomplish a fraction of what Karsus did. Mystra weeps at your wasted potential and the waste of her gift to you…”

Tristol screamed, tears in his eyes as the Compass whirled and turned, uncaring in the face of his agony.

“Get us out of here Tristol!” Clueless screamed, turning to the wizard even as his own possible-selves plunged Razor into their own chests or hacked off their legs to hurl away Shemeska’s gemstone in their ankles.

“Please just plane shift us all!” Nisha shook her boyfriend by the shoulder even as her shadows slid a knife between his ribs or handed him her own gouged out heart or rocked back and forth as they sat in the dust, babbling to themselves in scramble speech. “I don’t care to where! Just get us anywhere but here!”

Again, Fyrehowl vomited into the dust, and with the act caused the swirling, low fog of swirling dust to part, momentarily revealing the actual surface of the land beneath it. They hadn’t noticed it as they’d teleported in and, faced with the effects of the Waste and the Compass alike, they hadn’t stepped forward or walked about. But as the lupinal stared at the revealed ground beneath she realized that they stood not on the bedrock of the Waste itself, but upon a carpet of bones and great drift of other bones before them ground down to dust by the vibrations of the Compass.

Nearly every creature that had stumbled into that isolated Valley by happenstance or design and then fallen prey to the black hole of emotional agony and self-destructive apathy that existed there, they had never left. Those many millions of creatures were now dead and forgotten, consumed and gone in pointless depths in a plane of pointless despair.

Fyrehowl shook her head and glanced up, bleeding possible shadows of herself with each and every movement, half of them fallen versions of herself given up to rage and fury, bestial and snarling. They had to get out before it was too late.

“Tristol!” She screamed, “Get us out of here!”

Eyes wide, barely conscious of Fyrehowl and the others’ shouting, Tristol still stood in place, staring up at the Oblivion Compass’s central dial. The symbols in ancient baernaloth were completely unintelligible and beyond his comprehension, despite his having already whispered spells of comprehension and divination. True enough as his possible specter had promised him, he didn’t understand it, at least not now. As the shadows sneered and taunted, the wizard realized that there was nothing to be accomplished by staying there unless he wanted to condemn himself and his fellows to the same death as had taken the millions there before them.

Tristol’s lips were already moving and his brain already calling the planeshift into his mind’s forefront to whisk them all away to safety and the next spot on their trip at Laughing Jane’s urging before the scrying foci began to appear, each of them swirling with symbols in the same alphabet as the Compass itself. Who they belonged to and what their presence presaged was lost as the spell took effect and dragged the companions across the space between the planes, but for a fraction of a second the feeling of being observed and followed remained with them all in a way that had never before occurred.

They would know that gaze again.

They would feel that gaze without the intercessor of a scry focus.

They would feel it soon.


****​
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
Is it possible to use the "heavy magic" to translate Baern into common safely? Being able to read it would undoubtedly save the party a lot of guessing and backtracking. Maybe the "heavy magic" could create a transparent eyepiece through which one could gaze upon Baern symbols without one's retinas bleeding and would provide subtitles for the Baern script. Did they try this at any point, or am I getting ahead of the storyline?
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Is it possible to use the "heavy magic" to translate Baern into common safely? Being able to read it would undoubtedly save the party a lot of guessing and backtracking. Maybe the "heavy magic" could create a transparent eyepiece through which one could gaze upon Baern symbols without one's retinas bleeding and would provide subtitles for the Baern script. Did they try this at any point, or am I getting ahead of the storyline?
Heavy magic was always there as an option, but after some accidents with it, it became an option of last choice. And with the Oblivion Compass they had suspicions (given out of character) that they'd find some answers as they further explored in Torch (and beyond) given what Laughing Jane had told them. Admittedly that process spawned the plot arc that made some players cry. So yeah, that's on the horizon as well.
 

81Dagon

Explorer
Just caught up on the entirety of 2019. Some answers but even more questions. Nice to finally see Oblivion Compass.

The past update happened way way way earlier than anything else that we know about Shemeska's past history. Worth taking that into consideration as you're putting together a timeline.
Has anyone tried to? I have a visual timeline program I use when I'm writing historical fiction, so I could probably pull one together. I'd just need some help hunting down dates.
 
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Tsuga C

Explorer
Admittedly that process spawned the plot arc that made some players cry. So yeah, that's on the horizon as well.
Which I'm sure you promptly caught in vials to be stored and savored at a future moment when you're contemplating the joys and satisfactions of sublime cruelty. Go, 'Loth, go!
 

81Dagon

Explorer
Heavy magic was always there as an option, but after some accidents with it, it became an option of last choice. And with the Oblivion Compass they had suspicions (given out of character) that they'd find some answers as they further explored in Torch (and beyond) given what Laughing Jane had told them. Admittedly that process spawned the plot arc that made some players cry. So yeah, that's on the horizon as well.
That arc is the Blind Clockmaker arc, isn't it?
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Also the bane of updates: freelancing deadlines.

Also also the bane of updates: broken HVAC as of this week
 

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