Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 13Oct2019)

Tsuga C

Explorer
Very, very intense. Annihilating an entire civilization is quite a feat, particularly one as dominant as Netheril. That's an awesomely horrific feather in the Ebon's cap.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Vorkannis never thinks small-scale. It's in his nature. There's worse to come. The next few updates will have some major plot development.
 

Coroc

Explorer
Dear Shemeska, i registered here mainly for discussions in the D&D 5E thread but this also gives me the opportunity to thank you for the most awesome storyhour on enworld. I would love to play in a campaign like yours. The tension of the plot is better than many books, and combined with your ability for cliffhangers it is almost like a torture of the Shemeska in your story to wait for the next update.
I also started to read your planescape story hour 2 and i hope that you also finish the writing on that one once this storyline here is complete.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Dear Shemeska, i registered here mainly for discussions in the D&D 5E thread but this also gives me the opportunity to thank you for the most awesome storyhour on enworld. I would love to play in a campaign like yours. The tension of the plot is better than many books, and combined with your ability for cliffhangers it is almost like a torture of the Shemeska in your story to wait for the next update.
I also started to read your planescape story hour 2 and i hope that you also finish the writing on that one once this storyline here is complete.
Thank you so much! You flatter me!

I've really enjoyed writing it, and I really wish that at some point I could get my original Planescape group back together for a game, though that was when we were all in college and we've since dispersed about the country. Life, jobs, etc.

As for the 2nd storyhour, I can't promise to continue on that one until I'm finished with this first one. I'll get there, though it'll take some years still. But that being said, I'm going to post the next update as soon as I respond to you here. :D
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
The climb back down the face of Karsus’s petrified corpse was slow and daunting, significantly more difficult than the initial climb up from the ground. Making the trek even more difficult was the dour mood that blanketed the group, reflected in their expressions and the utter lack of conversation. Even Nisha, normally chatty to a fault simply looked down at the ground, frowning and her tail limply twitching like a sick serpent and not a rattle of her silver tail bell to be heard.

Tristol was worse off than the others: he’d experienced it all first hand and out of them all the magical vision would have been the most traumatic of all. His understanding of Netherese history –and by extension his own as a native of that empire’s successor state Halruaa– had been shaken to the core, and there was no getting around the fact that he’d watched a prior iteration of his patron goddess die and listened to her killer laugh, smirking and delighted in the aftermath as Netheril’s flying cities fell to their doom.

For all of the understanding that Karsus’s pride and warped, foolhardy desire to be his culture’s savior had doomed Netheril, it was much more complicated than that simple history lesson that Tristol had grown up with. The Ebon had been responsible, if not directly, than indirectly for everything. The future Oinoloth had pulled on the archwizard’s pride and led him about like a puppy seeking a treat or barking before fetching a brandished and tossed rubber ball.

Tristol knew that there would be a reckoning. Vorkannis would pay for what he did, no matter how long it took to accomplish. The Lady of Mysteries would be avenged and…
“Tristol!” Clueless shouted, breaking the wizard from his obsessive thoughts. “You can let go of the rope, we’re at the bottom…”

Tristol blinked and looked up at the bladesinger. Reluctantly he let go of the rope, his fingers white from having gripped it far tighter than he’d need to retain a safe hold during the descent. He sighed and nodded, glancing at Nisha and managing a smile as she randomly stuck out her tongue and made a face.

She was going her best and yes, she was helping him, but it would take time. He felt numb. Shocked by it all, enraged beyond words and nearly insensate with despair, he’d been virtually silent since initially explaining what he’d seen: the genocidal toying of the future Oinoloth and the fiend’s mocking laughter. There was something more however, and he hadn’t fully come to grips with what it meant himself, nor had he tried to explain it to the others: the crackle of silverfire at his fingers when he’d pledged himself to taking revenge on Mystra’s behalf.

Silverfire was a unique gift, reserved for her Chosen and… he shook his head, bewildered by the possibility that she might have selected him for such an investiture, if that indeed was what he’d experienced. Once they were back in Sigil or at least simply away from the Dire Wood and the reminders of the ‘loth taint to Netheril’s fall he’d be praying to Mystra and hoping for some guidance.

First though, there had to be some manner of discussion with Taba.


****​


The altraloth was there waiting at the base of the petrified godisle, still present in the form of a great wyrm fang dragon with luminous red-violet eyes. Clearly bored and idling away her time, a struggling, flailing zombie corpse dressed in rags and rusted, millennia-old armor lay on the ground, pinned down by a single one of her claws. Smirking, she glanced down at the creature and slowly, excruciatingly pressed the claw deeper into its chest until it pierced the zombie’s spine.

“We saw it all…” Tristol spoke as they approached the archfiend. “I did anyway.”

Taba smiled from a dozen mouths formed de novo for the expression. Without looking up she lifted one draconic forearm, hefting the zombie stuck to the claw like an insect on the end of a collector’s pin before snorting and flicking the claw, effortlessly hurling the creature into the forest where it finally connected with a petrified tree with a sickening crunch and lay there, still and perhaps finally, truly dead.

“Good,” Taba smirked, “Now perhaps you understand why I had you mortals come here in the first place. Do you understand that we share an enemy?”

“That doesn’t make us friends.” Clueless rolled his eyes, “You did after all kill me the last time we met. That wasn’t enjoyable.”

“And I could do it again just as easily,” The archfiend’s eyes, all twenty of them, danced with lurid internal flames and as she chuckled, the scales of her gut radiated a visible heat. “But you things of meat and soul are much more useful as allies of convenience, or at least aware of my motivations and so no longer a thorn in my side.”

Fyrehowl narrowed her eyes, “So other than not like the Ebon, what is it…” The lupinal paused, unwilling to finish her

Taba smirked as she realized how the celestial would have phrased her question. “Such a dangerous question, though it wasn’t from the so-called Oinoloth that I first heard it.”

The altraloth didn’t elaborate on that revelation, but instead moved forward to answer the unspoken question.

“I will butcher the Ebon and return my race to its proper position under the direction of my master, the first of us, the General of Gehenna.” Obsession and zealotry danced in her eyes.

“And where is the General?” Clueless asked.

The archfiend didn’t immediately respond, only narrowing her eyes and snarling. The glow within her guts flared and bits of acidic, icy rime formed upon her teeth causing the companions to hesitantly step back. Finally she replied, if with obvious distaste for the very question.

“That’s complicated.”

Clueless thought about responding with the first thought that came to his mind, but he preferred to remain alive. The thought burning a hole in his brain was a simple one: ‘You have no idea where the General of Gehenna actually is…’

“So where then does this leave us?” Tristol asked, finally saying something even as his brain stewed over what he’d witnessed.

“I leave you informed of our mutual enemy’s past actions.” Taba sneered, “Perhaps this will motivate you to turn your blades and swords towards him and his allies. You already seem to have been aware of his culling of material from the astral godisles, but the petrified corpse of Karsus was where he started that process.”

“What’s he extracting and what’s he planning to do?” Tristol continued, “We can’t stop what we don’t understand.”

“That… that I don’t know. Not yet.” The altraloth snarled, abhorrent to admit her ignorance on the subject. “He seems loath to speak of the specifics to any outside of his minute circle of conspirators that helped him rise to power.”
“So will you tell us when you find out?” Clueless asked, looking up and staring into the archfiend’s myriad eyes as they blinked in and out of existence across her momentarily draconic flesh.

“That remains to be seen mortals.” Taba shrugged her wings, “Prove yourself useful in disrupting the Ebon’s plans and I might see fit to inform you. But suffice to say, I am not your enemy in this affair.”

“… in this affair…” Fyrehowl rolled her eyes.

“Yes indeed,” Taba smiled wide, “In this affair indeed.”

It seemed clear that as always the altraloth like her kind in general saw little desire to provide information for free. What she’d given them had been purely to advance her own goals and ambitions, and it remained to be seen how that might broaden in the future. But at least it seemed that the Infiltrator of the Planes would not be hunting them down one by one for any perceived slight in trying to kill her in the bowels of Hell.

Taba’s final words were definitive and callous.

“We will meet again mortals at a time and place of my choosing.”

She vanished through a gate, back to another way point and then to another and then another still, all intended to slow and stymie any attempts at divination by her enemies, actual or perceived. Somehow inexplicably she’d left them with more questions bubbling in their minds than before they’d come, but things had yet to reach their most complex and twisted. That would come later that same day.


****​


It took hours to reach a point where Tristol was comfortable enough to risk planeshifting the group back to one of the Gatetowns and then back to Sigil. Far from being a joyous return to their adopted (in Nisha’s case actual) home, their arrival was almost immediately marred by events that did nothing to appreciably approve their collective mood.

Arriving via portal back into the Hive, the air was thick with the smell of an open ooze portal and the even worse scent of raw sewage wafting off of the Ditch at the border with the Lower Ward. Five steps into the City of Doors and the flagstones beneath Florian’s feet erupted in light and a portal opened without warning.

“Oh sh*t!” The cleric shouted, scrambling to find purchase on the surrounding stable cobblestones and within moments Fyrehowl and Toras’s extended arms, drawing herself out of the portal that opened up in a particularly vile layer of the Abyss.

Too close to be a simple coincidence, the ground rumbled with the vibrations of a Cagequake sending the surrounding crowd on the street scurrying for the relative safety of any nearby doorframes.

“AGAIN?! SERIOUSLY?! I’m getting really f*cking tired of this sh*t!” Florian screamed, glancing around and then up to see one of the Marauder’s tieflings watching from the edge of an adjoining rooftop. Immediately her hand was at her holy symbol and the words to a prayer on her lips intending to call down a burning column of holy fire on the fiend’s servitor before Toras grabbed her hand and interrupted the casting.

“What the f*ck Toras?!” Florian spat, struggling to escape the fighter’s grasp.

“That’s not going to help!” Toras shouted back at her

“Yes! Yes it will!” She countered.

As the two of them bickered, smirking down at them from the roof, the Marauder’s groomer-guard whispered the words to a sending spell, reporting on what had happened and listening to his Mistress’s reply. Clearly on the receiving end of a snarl, he winced before snapping his fingers and vanishing in the flicker-flash of a dimension door.

“What the f*cking f*ck?!” Florian snarled, “The mangy b*tch had someone watching us leave and then waiting for us to come back just to try and kill me again?!”

The ground rumbled with a dull, subtle aftershock.

“I’m about two minutes from marching down to the Fortune’s Wheel and having it out with her then and there.” The cleric spat upon the ground, “Seriously! After what she’s done and keeps on doing just to be as f*cking petty as possible, I’m seriously close to not caring if I die in the process. I just want to be able to hurt her and see the look on her face when I break her perfect teeth in and f*ck up her precious, pristine makeup…”

The others remained silent on the matter, trusting the fighter’s amazingly level-headed response. They all knew that taking direct action would be a delight but likely a lethal one. They weren’t going to give the Marauder the satisfaction of falling into her trap.

“Calm down Florian.” Toras inhaled deeply, hating himself as he tried to prevent Florian from doing what she wanted and which frankly he would have deeply, deeply enjoyed doing as well. It wasn’t a survivable option however, not at the moment.

“Oh shut up!” Florian snatched her hand away from the fighter before grimacing and catching her breath, a muscle below her left eye twitching with rage. It took a few minutes but eventually she regained her composure and turned back to Toras. “I’m sorry. I’m not actually going to go and try and kill her. Not now when she’s trying to goad me into it and has everything ready in the event that I take the bait. Don’t worry about me.”

“I worry about you because you’re my friend.”

“I know…” She nodded and put a hand on his shoulder, “It means a lot. It really does. I still want to walk over to the Fortune’s Wheel, but the most expensive drink in the house, drink half of it, throw the other half at her face, and then have it out with her… but I won’t. Not now. Not yet. Thank you.”

“How about we go back to the Portal Jammer and I pour out two of the best in the house?” Toras offered, “Just promise that you won’t throw it at me.”

“That’s probably for the best,” The cleric smiled and nodded, “I’d appreciate that.”

“That sound like a plan to the rest of you?” Toras looked around at the others.

Tristol didn’t say anything, but Nisha answered for them both, and Clueless seemed more than up for a round of drinks after what they’d been through. Fyrehowl though was a different story entirely. The cipher hesitated, standing still in the street as the others pulled away, moving in the direction of the Clerks’ Ward. The lupinal waved them on.

“You all go on back,” She shrugged, her head swimming with thoughts as how things would proceed. “I need some time by myself to collect my thoughts. I might find a park or the top of a building to go meditate.”

None of them stopped her and soon they all parted ways, splitting the party for the first but not the last time that afternoon. Not wanting to remain in the Hive, Fyrehowl walked away, with no specific destination in mind and no particular plans. Ignoring the voices of touts, barkers, merchants and the occasional catcalling fiend, she meandered without destination or route. Content to let her mind be empty and devoid of desire and forethought, letting pure cipher instinct guide her path, she wandered and ultimately more than an hour later she found herself walking through the Lady’s Ward at the junction of several avenues near a park and two cattycorner temples with palatial marble entrances.

Glancing up at a statue of Zeus standing proud at the street corner, holding a burnished bronze bolt of lightning, the lupinal twitched her nose at the sharp, acrid scent of heavy incense or perhaps a burnt offering from within the temple itself.

Abruptly she stopped and turned full circle, glancing about and sniffing at the breeze that carried the scent that was anything but a temple’s incense. Heavy and chemical, laden with burning iron-gall, leather and bleached paper, the smell was that of burning books. Blinking and frowning, the cipher looked for the source, only to find that she’d already begun walking towards it.

One block and she found herself standing at the entrance to an older but still grand-looking building formerly part of Sigil’s civic administration under the Factions. The now repeatedly defaced symbols of the Takers still decorated the doors, and the broken rubble of a statue of the late Rowan Darkwood had been more recently stacked neatly in a pile rather than where it had previously lain scattered about the steps.

From high on the roof, a thin trail of greasy black smoke curled out from below the slate shingles. With the low foot traffic in the district at that time of day and the early stage of the fire, none by the lupinal had noticed it. Worried about the fire spreading to adjacent occupied structures, Fyrehowl darted for the door.

What she found inside was far more than a simple fire.


****​


Back in the Portal Jammer, Toras walked out of the back room where he and the others had been drowning their worries in a first one then ultimately two more bottles of Arcadian mead. The alcohol buzzed through his veins and he chuckled at the effect. Despite his resistance to it all due to his own celestial heritage the particular vintage packed a punch.

“I should have trusted Clueless when he said that he found it really good. He’s immune to the damn stuff. That should have been a warning.”

The fighter passed by a table of gnomes playing cards and then past a bariaur well past half a bottle of wine by himself, a stack of business ledgers and invoices scattered about the table before him. Inwardly Toras chuckled as clearly the day hadn’t been difficult just for himself and his companions.

Grabbing a mug of something much lighter from the bar, Toras turned and walked to one of the windows and gazed out onto the street, watching a cross-section of Sigil’s wildly diverse population expressed in the passing foot traffic. He smiled to himself when he saw any of them smiling, ignorant of the troubles that he and his group had seen and struggled with. Watching their faces gave him something to follow and ignore his own misery. He was deeply worried about Florian and the Marauder’s spat with her. He’d done virtually everything that he could do to help her, up to and including a grotesque bribe. That and the hideous price of having to ask for the Marauder’s forgiveness in person had taken away the danger to himself and Fyrehowl, but Florian was stubborn. There wasn’t any way that she’d ever apologize, and he worried that it would be the death of her.

Sh*t.

He sipped from his mug and closed his eyes, conflicted over what to do next. He couldn’t simply let her suffer under Shemeska’s claws, but the ‘loth was goading her into doing something overt and stupid, even if her ability to trigger portals –whatever the hell allowed for that– might ultimately do the job itself.

Sighing, Toras opened his eyes back up, his mug perched at his lips ready to take another sip. He blinked though as his eyes saw something across the street out of the ordinary.

Smoke.

Beyond the brewery, at least one building back beyond it, thick plumes of greasy black smoke were pouring up into the sky. It wasn’t any sort of cook-fire or industrial smokestack, but a building bursting into flames. Without thinking Toras was out the door in moments, his mug still in his hand and hastily quaffed and hurled to the street by the time he turned the corner and stood outside the building, there to help in any way that he could.

A shuttered and unoccupied warehouse, the doors were chained and padlocked, marked with faded ‘No Trespassing – This Means You! Stupid Berks!’ signs either painted on the walls or on peeling, rain-stained papers tacked to the doors with rusted nails. The building hadn’t been occupied since Toras and the others had opened up the Portal Jammer, and he wasn’t even sure who the proper owner was. Had it belonged to the Marauder as it seemed half the block did, part of him was sorely tempted to let it burn to ashes, but another part of him hoped that if he did her a favor she might return it.

Running into a burning building wasn’t an advisable action, but that of course was what Toras of Andros did. Seeing that the source of the flames was on the upper floor, he gripped the drainpipe and hastily clambered up to the third story, there finding a single window ajar and easily hurled open.

Smoke poured out of the opened window, stinging Toras’s eyes and coughing him to hack and cough as he climbed inside, immediately ducking down to stick to cleaner air closer to the floor. Upon landing inside, it suddenly became immediately clear that he’d stumbled into something far more than an abandoned and burning warehouse.

“What the hell?!” Toras whispered to himself as he looked about. Far from the ramshackle exterior, except for where smoke had stained the ceiling and walls, the building was in pristine condition.

Symbols of the Fraternity of Order stood above ever door that lined the hallway, and several trolleys laden with books, ink, and loose sheets of paper and vellum lay at even intervals. One glance into the first open doorway revealed rows of desks and stacks of books and ledgers arranged in chronological order. Far from a warehouse, the building was some manner of private scriptorium, the stacks of books and records clearly in the process of being copied and those copies stored in Sigil, offsite from where they’d originally been made, presumably by the Fraternity of Order.

Staring at the books and scribes’ cubbies, Toras took a moment to see the first body.

“What the f*ck is going on here?” He blurted out, coughing at the sudden inhalation of smoke.

Looking down at the floor, three scribes lay on the ground, their bodies covered in blood that had yet to cool and clot. Each of their throats had been unceremoniously cut, their lung’s punctured to prevent their screams, and their legs hamstrung to prevent them from doing more than crawling with their arms if they weren’t already dead. It was all neat and brutally, terribly efficient.

Checking the bodies as swift as he could, Toras moved to the next room only to find the same
Someone had torn through every stack of records, looking for something, the stacks turned over and tossed aside. This wasn’t vandalism or arson; this was mass murder to cover a theft.

Another room and it was the same, dozens of bodies in all strewn about, and then as he moved towards the next room at the end of the hallway, a man stumbled into the hallway, stabbed several times and bleeding heavily. Wearing a symbol of the exiled Faction that operated the building in secret, he gasped and coughed blood, each breath causing a sharp whistle from a punctured lung.

“What happened here?!” Toras shouted, grabbing the man and whispering a prayer to his god before channeling the magic of his celestial blood to heal the man’s wounds. “Is there anyone else still alive?!”

“Get out!” The man babbled, “We have to get out… she’ll kill us all…”

“Who?!” Toras demanded, “Who did this?”

Toras never heard the man’s answer, only the motion of his mouth opening to scream and his eyes wide with utter, stark fear. The fighter had never seen a man seem that afraid, and in the next moment as the scribe turned to run, Toras would belatedly understand just what could evoke that level of mindless horror as a blade sunk into his back and erupted from the center of his chest, expertly piercing his heart.

Screaming and coughing blood, falling to his knees as his vision grew dark, he saw the green eruption of a disintegration spell lance down the hall and incinerate the scribe as he struggled to open a window and escape. There would be no escape.

Toras gasped for breath, struggling to call forth healing for himself as he felt the blade gripped and slid free, only to then take its place at his throat, slicing deep and spilling his lifeblood out upon the floor in a crimson fountain. As his vision faded to black his killer leaned in close, putting her lips to his ear and whispering a haunting message.

“Justice cannot die.”

With that message in his ears, Toras’s vision faded to black, but not before he looked up to see the merciless sneer playing upon the soot-smeared face of Alisohn Nilesia, Factol of the Mercykillers. The pain was blinding, but what horrified him more than the realization that he was dying was the fact the last time he'd seen her, he'd watched her die, publicly flayed alive by the Lady's shadow...


****​
 
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Clueless

Webmonkey
Clueless - rogue/wizard/arcane trickster/unique PrC eventually
Tristol - wizard/archmage
Nisha - rogue/wizard/XaOsiTeCT PrC
Fyrehowl - barbarian/monk/cipher PrC (we justified the combination of monk and barbarian through the whole monastic cipher theme and their focus on intuitive action)
Toras - fighter/the broken as all heck PrC that gave mettle (basically evasion for Fort saves)
Florian - cleric
Kiro - rogue
Skalliska - rogue/wizard/gatecrasher
Alex - wizard/alienist
Future PC (Alex/Skalliska's player) - cleric

And just because:
Shemeska - sorcerer (plus those racial arcanaloth caster levels). I want to say that I ended up putting her in as an effectively 21st level caster before all was said and done, but she wasn't the highest level arcane caster in (or under) Sigil.
*coughs* Bladesinger. No rogue or arcane trickster. ;P
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
Odd that he'd forget. If memory serves, this story hour has previously referred to your PC as a Bladesinger. Regardless, this was another satisfying update.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Update please :)
I'll try to have one by early next week. I'm back in school full time (going for a PharmD) and I've got an exam on Friday and another on Monday so rather preoccupied.

I will say however that the next few updates will be particularly plot heavy, and they'll also show that there are no Mary Sues immune to harm, even among NPCs.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
****​

The soft and intimately regular hum of distant, tectonic clockwork ran through the fingertips of Factol Nacius Garabutos of the Fraternity of Order as she placed a book back in its proper, organized location and then braced herself on the wall as she descended a ladder and back to her desk. The tome was a compilation of recent events related to the reorganization and some would say healing process of the modrons after their corruption following the temporary death of Primus and usurpation of the modron energy pool in Regulus.

The wizard and Factol sat down at her desk and smiled, re-reading the book’s second chapter in her mind by virtue of her own eidetic memory. She wasn’t in her judgment as adept as her predecessor Hashkar, but she’d only held her position for a few years following his assassination, and he’d had more than a century under his belt by that point, though age didn’t precisely matter to a petitioner, and she was only mortal.

Human and in her seventh decade of life, her olive-toned brow creased, deep in thought even as a dozen Ioun stones drifted in precise orbit about her head. Eschewing the finery of most Factols and perhaps more so most wizards of her profound ability, her robes were a simple pale white and gold, embroidered with tiny bits of clockwork about the cuffs and collar. Intelligence sparkled in her pale, steel-grey eyes and she smiled.

“You did a perfect job Nathan.” Nacius bobbed her head, nodding to herself with satisfaction as she brushed a lock of gray hair from her face, “Your mother would be proud, whatever ultimately happened to her.”

The book she presently mused over was penned by her secretary and Factor, Nathan the Inescapable, himself the son of Factol Hashkar’s predecessor Lariset. While the Fraternity had no manner of inherited positions and titles, the former Factol’s scion had risen up the ranks on his own work and dedication, aided in no small part by his mastery and utilization of originally githyanki magic to retard the retroactive aging process otherwise experienced upon leaving the Astral plane, which is where he’d spent most of the past century on Faction business in one of their secret archives. For having outlasted Hashkar and honestly having set himself up as Nacius’s likely successor, he barely looked over the age of 40. His likely spot was also aided by the deep and long-standing animosity between Nacius and her own rival for the position of Factol after Hashkar’s death, Jamis. She’d vaulted past her rival once and it amused her to potentially do so a second time by proxy whenever she herself passed away.

Her mind absently rereading and penning internal comments to discuss with the man in a week’s time for their next scheduled meeting, the Factol never noticed the door to her office open and close with barely a whisper of sound to grace the air and then her ears. Thus distracted, it took her a moment to react, though she didn’t yet look up.

“Was there something else Nathan?” She asked, “Your summary of the ordered disorder among the Quartons was nearly poetic in the use of equations alongside the prose. I..”
“I am here to retrieve something that does belong to you.” The voice was cold and devoid of mercy, tinged with simmering anger and subtle madness. The voice was not that of Factol Garabutos’s secretary.

The wizard looked up, a spell pulled to mind to trigger a nested series of lesser, contingent spells and in the back of her consciousness the notion to trigger one of the Universal Loopholes she held in stock, should they be required to deal with her intruder. Neither would be necessary nor viable however, and with a frown she ceased the attempt as her Ioun stones clattered to the ground, a consequence of the antimagic field conjured by the woman standing before her.

“Justice does not follow your petty Laws and presumptions of Order.” The intruder sneered, her eyes bloodshot and red, obvious even despite the ruddy fiendish glow of each red and lambent iris.

“This runs contrary to dozens of axioms and long-proven laws.” Factol Garabutos narrowed her eyes and spoke with a curt matter-of-factness, “Please be gone from my office.”

“I am Justice,” The Intruder stepped forward and placed her hands on the desk, her claws marked by gray dust and ashes, “And Justice transcends your petty Rules.”

“No, you are dead.” The Factol frowned. “Your death was witnessed by over two hundred individuals and one distant branch of a limited hivemind, of whom one hundred and twelve of the former and the full consciousness of the latter were interviewed in the following week and their impressions recorded and archived in triplicate. I have a copy of the record here in my office given the profound nature of your actions and the manner of your passing following your reappearance after being presumed dead since the end of the Faction War.”

“And yet here I am Factol Garabutos.” The intruder chuckled, a manic edge to the sound. “Do I appear dead to you?”

“You were flayed alive and reduced to a bloody, homogenous pulp by Her Serenity, The Lady of Pain.” The Guvners’ Factol resolutely stated. “So yes, you are quite profoundly dead. Thus please leave my office.”

Both Factol and former Factol stared at one another, human and tiefling, peers in a manner of speaking taking the other’s measure even if both of them knew what the end would bring.

“The Bladed Lady’s crimes are too great and so yet here I stand, alive and working towards the greatest act of Justice that can and will be.” The tiefling smiled, exposing a row of pointed teeth as she drew a vorpal blade, the same as she’d carried in Sigil upon the day of her recorded public death. “Death is no barrier towards my work, and my work requires the key to Hashkar’s private vault. You will provide me that key and I will provide you the justice of a swift and painless death.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then I will personally slaughter every member of the Fortress of Disciplined Enlightenment before I tear the structure apart down to the last golden brick to find what I came here to recover. It does not belong to you, and if need be I will execute your faction members for their complicity in your crimes and the crimes of this present reality.” The tip of the sword touched the Factol’s desk and began to neatly bleed through the stone like a knife to flesh. “But it does not have to come to that.”

“However you are here…” Nacius sighed as she retrieved a single golden key stamped not with Hashkar’s personal sigil, but with Lariset’s, “Whatever madness this entails, this is not Justice.”

“Yes, yes it is,” The former Mercykiller Factol smiled, “However indirectly it might be. Your death is not Justice in and of itself, but a stepping stone towards the greatest Justice of all, the grandest axiom that there is and could be.”

Factol Garabutos went ashen as she came to a sudden, profound, and horrific realization as she stared up into the eyes of Alisohn Nilesia.

The mad tiefling smiled and as she had once before in Sigil to a dabus, with a single measured strike she neatly beheaded the Guvner’s Factol. The body slumped and blood sprayed across the room in patterns that could of course be ordered and predicted if the initial angle of the body, blood pressure, stroke volume, ambient temperature, and other variables were accounted for. Surely the Factol’s servants would make such calculations when they cleaned up the mess hours later.

Unlike when she’d slain a dabus in Sigil, this time Nilesia knelt down and drew out a single, darkly glittering black sapphire. Although the Fraternity of Order made it strictly against their own internal laws for any member above of Factotum and above to retain their position after returning from the dead, there could be no witness to this death, nor any witness to what she would be leaving with once she accessed and plundered Hashkar’s vault and what he’d inherited from his predecessor.

“You will have what you wish my Master.” Alisohn Nilesia whispered to herself, somewhere between a desperate plea, a promise, and a prayer.


****​
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
And since I apparently have some jackass who copy and pasted the first entry of my storyhour on their Facebook page and claimed it as their own work, just saying here that I, Todd Stewart, am the author of this work of fiction.
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
Back to school. That takes a firm belief in ones' own self. I did it when I was in my late twenties because my undergraduate degree just wasn't opening doors that I needed open. It's that old devil known as degree devaluation. A baccalaureate in the sciences used to be worth something, but those days have passed. Now it's M.S. or starve unless you have connections or an excellent internship. The ol' B.S. degree just isn't worth much of anything in a depressing number of cases.
 

almost13

Villager
It's incredible how much crap some people will do just to get some attention. Hope you can look past it Shemeska, even if it is probably very annoying. Still love reading every new update!
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
That the fire was something other than an accident -a stray ember carried on the wind, or the collapse of a shelf holding a candle- was immediately obvious as Fyrehowl pulled upon the heavy brass handle of the building’s front pair of doors. A single pull fueled by urgent worry should have sufficed, but a sudden jarring wrench and clatter of metal from the other side indicated that the doors, rather than being locked, were haphazardly barred from the inside.

“What the hell?” The lupinal tilted her head to one side before emitting a soft growl and glancing down at the thin space between the door and the pavement. Although thin wisps of smoke curled and licked from the space, it would suffice for her entry.

With a smooth motion that belied the natural sorcery at place that still bubbled in her blood, no matter her actual alignment, Fyrehowl evaporated into a cloud of mist. Rapidly pouring into the open space to gain entry into the library beyond, she took but a single moment to survey her surroundings before she congealed back into solid flesh.

The library was less a true library intended for public or even private perusal and more a repository for bound and compiled records, with virtually every volume the same in size, shape, and color except for the numerical designation upon their spine and the prominent stamp of the Fraternity of Order. The repository was also in the process of immolation. Dozens of now raging fires dotting the room in a dozen disparate places, with the scent of accelerant used to douse the stacks rushing into the lupinal’s senses.

Her eyes wide and her brain struggling to find a purpose behind the arson, as well as the absence of any obvious perpetrator, Fyrehowl’s preternatural abilities as a Cipher had her ear’s turning and her body spinning to avoid the immediate danger a fraction of a second after she materialized, danger prefaced by a sharp and metallic *PING* of a crossbow.

Fyrehowl spun and dodged the first pair of barbed, metallic bolts as they embedded into the flagstones below her feet with a burst of erupting magic. Before she could take action and fully look at the source however, a second pair of bolts burrowed into her right shoulder and back. The pain was immediate and agonizing, the bolts imbued with penetrating magic of their own, and the metal itself fragmenting and burrowing wider like dozens of burrowing worms as soon as it pierced her flesh. What was more, the pain rapidly dulled with a flash of nausea and radiating numbness, the hallmark of poison.

Instinct took over and Fyrehowl rolled forward, drawing her blade and looking up at the ceiling where it met one of the columns supporting the room, there to find a single figure perched like a hungry spider, feet adhered to the stone, holding a crossbow in one hand and clutching a satchel of books and papers pillaged from the stacks below.

“What the f*ck!” The lupinal blurted, momentarily more shocked by the face staring down at her than by the bolts lodged in her flesh and the poison slowly leaching into her veins.

“You should have died back in Carceri…” Alisohn Nilesia sneered, her fingers moving with the motions of a spell, “Alas.”

In shock at the presence of a woman she’d watched be flayed alive by The Lady’s shadow, Fyrehowl didn’t respond in words as she dove to the side, narrowing avoiding the detonating a fireball far more powerful than standard. The former Mercykiller Factol had always been a profoundly talented caster, bordering upon prodigy, a trait all too often overlooked amongst her other traits and blood-soaked history.

“We should have left you in Carceri!” Fyrehowl shouted back, drawing a shriek of anger and another eruption of magical flames narrowly avoided once again.

Still adhered like a great and snarling spider, partly obscured and seemingly unconcerned with the billowing smoke from the fires increasing in intensity moment by moment, Fyrehowl look a moment and caught better measure of the woman risen from oblivion. Something was off. While she’d always been a tiefling of mixed and uncertain heritage, the Factol’s flesh was a much duller grey than when she’d cut a dabus in half in public. Nilesia’s eyes flickered red, a color that she hadn’t possessed previously, and while Fyrehowl’s senses were dulled by pain, poison, and her own dubious and ongoing fall from grace, the potency of evil that radiated from Nilesia was beyond that which any mortal could possibly exhibit.

“I watched you die!” Fyrehowl shouted, “I watched The Lady’s shadow flay you!”

“I am Justice and Justice cannot die!!!” The mad Factol shrieked before vanishing in a magical flash to appear on the opposite wall, depriving the lupinal of cover and firing another volley of poisoned bolts with a ragged, manic cackle.

Fyrehowl dove, her reactions growing duller by the moment as the poison from the earlier bolts raging within her blood. It was enough however to avoid the latest volley from ripping into her chest, instead embedding inches deep into the floor. Prone and suffering, the lupinal wasn’t able to dodge Nilesia’s next spell as a blanket of choking, acidic darkness enveloped her partial cover and set her into an agony of corrosive pain.

Through it all the Factol laughed, deranged and vengeful as Fyrehowl struggled to scramble out of the spell’s area of effect before she suffocated within its vapors. Although the mystery of how a woman she’d watched die a permanent death was still alive, setting light to a library, and the open question of just what she’d stolen remained, Fyrehowl’s only thoughts were of escape. By herself she wasn’t a match for the mad archmage clinging to the walls like a great and vengeful spider.

Seemingly less bent on death and punishment and more on simply arson and theft, Nilesia’s laughter abruptly ended with the flash of a teleportation spell as the flames devoured the structure around her and her would-be victim alike. Vomiting in pain and then gasping for breath as she struggled to shrug off the poison, Fyrehowl tore the bolt free from her flesh, or at least most of it as the brittle, naturally poisoned metal broke as she wrenched upon it. Struggling to remain on her feet and conscious amidst the smoke and her injuries, Fyrehowl’s last memory before she blacked out was the moment of triumph as she stepped clear of the burning building and stumbled out onto the street.

The mystery could be solved later, but at least for the moment she was still alive and free of the deathtrap behind her.


****​


Outside the shop front of The Friendly Fiend, several figures moved with purpose, emerging from the surrounding alleyways and hefting flasks and bottles of incendiary fluids, tieflings all of them. They wore rags, and all were best described as street rats more fit for the Hive than the Lower Ward, but the gold in their pockets would soon transform their social class, courtesy of a much better dressed pair of tieflings who’d recruited and tasked them, both of the latter more apt for the Lady’s Ward than the Lower Ward.

“F*ck you!”

“Screw you smiling b@stard!”

“Your shop sucks!”

The first of the bottles hurled awkwardly through the air to shatter upon the front window, spraying its payload across the thick plate glass and instantly igniting into a burst of flames. Wood burst into flame, paint bubbles and peeled, and then the other tieflings, emboldened by the drunken vandalism of their most eager member, they too let fly their own bottles. Better and more deliberately aimed, they shattered through the shop’s windows, spraying glass and burning oil throughout the room. Carpets, drapes, and all manner of mundane and magical bric-a-brac went up in flames without delay.

The tieflings shouted in triumph, though truthfully none of them had ever met the shop’s owner or even bore him any ill will. Their motivation wasn’t hate, but hate by proxy, with another fiend’s gold in their purses and that other fiend’s desires now made manifest in the smoke and rushing flames now gutting the Friendly Fiend’s interior.

Not waiting for either the Sod Killers or Sons of Mercy to arrive on the scene, let alone any possible magical countermeasures set in place by the shopkeep –and Heaven’s forbid the smiling ‘loth himself- the tieflings didn’t tarry long. A few more shouted insults and they melted back into Sigil’s pseudo-night, the flames casting their shadows long and pronounced against the street’s battered cobblestones and the brick walls of the buildings across the street.


****​


The study was vast, rows of ornately hand carved bookshelves packed with thousands of tomes, ledgers, and scroll cases extending to fill the demiplane to its capacity. Objects of curiosity sat within decorative holders and ensconcements, each tailored to display the artwork, cultural or historical curiosity, or indeed magical item or artifact that sat there in place. Far more than a private library, the room was palatial and would have easily set an archmage’s casting of Private Sanctum to shame. A series of freestanding archways marked with symbols and shorthand known only to their maker stood like ornamental trees amidst the rich surroundings of a wizard’s private demesne. Crystalline globes filled with flickering illusory flames drifted about the room’s heights like errant, wandering stars, with a minor constellation of them aggregated in a circle above a massive desk at which sat the demiplane’s sole occupant.

A’kin the Friendly Fiend sat in an overly plush and cushioned chair, dutifully writing in a heavy and full-color spellbook. Each elaborate page wasn’t simply written, but fully illuminated, as much artwork as diagrammatic and inked Spellcraft, the words and figures alike crafted in multicolored inks and metallic paints. As the ‘loth’s fingers danced between quill and ink-pot with one hand, it was clear that his scribing was beyond standard. Free of the page and the prosaic if masterwork penmanship upon the physical book, the fiend’s other hand danced with the motions of a spellcaster, orchestrating the actions of a trio of quills, each penning his words in duplicate upon a secondary and tertiary tome and a scroll that collectively hung in the air, held aloft by magic.

Blotting his quill within a pot of dark and crystalline sand, he smiled, spoke a word to dry the physical page and then prepared to turn the page and continue his work, or rather he would have continued if not for the sudden interruption. Heard within his mind but yet also causing his ears to involuntarily perk, an alarm spell triggered with a sharp klaxon, followed shortly thereafter by a dozen other contingent wards activating in sequence.

Frowning, A’kin’s ears and whiskers twitched with annoyance. Briefly closing his eyes, the fiend sighed and physically exhaled upon the page out of habit before opening his eyes and standing up. Pale blue robes swishing about his ankles, the claws of his bare feet clattering upon the stone in-between ornate lengths of carpet, A’kin made his way to one of the freestanding archways scattered throughout the study. Glancing down to conjure a pair of slippers for his feet, he looked back at the archway and spoke a single command word to cause the archway to activate with a flickering flash of magic. Without yet stepping forward he raised a hand and made a lazy, scrolling gesture and watched as a progression of gate locations rotated past, each filling the archway for but a moment before he arrived on the one that went to a location adjacent to a natural portal to Sigil, one conveniently entering into his shop.

Without the slightest concern he stepped forward, emerging into a second demiplane wherein the natural portal stood only a dozen feet away, set within the bound space of a decorate and ancient mosaic ripped free from its original moorings and deposited within a much more secure and private location for his own use. Several more steps and a whispered song in a long dead language and the portal opened and deposited the ‘loth into his shop, whereupon he emerged into a raging firestorm.

“Really?” A’kin muttered.

Immune to the flames, he glanced about and proceeded to frown with even greater annoyance as he watched the laughing pack of drunk and soon to be drunk tieflings dash away and back into the night. Gritting his teeth and managing to avoid raising his hands to cast, he stood there as the flames harmlessly licked at him and his robes, even as it devoured his shop and its myriad of items, reducing tens of thousands of gold pieces of inventory to ashes. Of course, any objects of importance or any real value stored in view of the public and casual shoppers were still safe amidst the flames, each protected behind multiple layers of wards that sprang up as soon as the first bottle of burning pitch and oil had broken through the front display window. It didn’t matter in the long run and the damage could be repaired without much unnecessary trouble or expense.

“Fine, act like a spoiled f*cking child…” A’kin shook his head, rolled his eyes, stepped back to his study and allowed the shop to burn.


****​


“There he is!”

“I don’t think he’s breathing!”

“Damn it! Help me shove this beam to the side before the whole building goes down!”

Clueless and Florian coughed and struggled to breathe as they stood within the fire-gutted and still burning building a street away from the Portal Jammer. When Toras hadn’t responded to a sending spell, they followed as fast as they could, figuring something had happened and indeed something had happened.

The cleric and bladesinger had arrived to find the building half-consumed by flames, the top floor fully collapsed, and Toras’s body pinned beneath a roof beam and exposed to their view when an exterior wall collapsed into the street amidst a torrent of bricks, ashes, and charred plaster.

They hadn’t taken the time to look for anyone else when they found their friend and companion motionless, nor did they pause to wonder at blood that covered his chest and back, nor did they immediately notice the half-dozen neat and precisely placed wounds in his chest from where a blade had lanced through his heart and punctured both lungs. He’d bled out and died well before they found his corpse and dragged it free.

“Down to the street!” Clueless shouted as both he and Florian felt a shudder run through the floor and the entire building began its collapse.

Hefting Toras’s body and grabbing onto Florian, Clueless swiftly cast a dimension door and carried them both to safety below. The collapse and rising, outflowing cloud of embers and burning dust and ash was however an entirely secondary concern as they stared at Toras’s lifeless corpse.

Clueless was shouting but Florian wasn’t listening as they instinctively reached for her holy symbol and the reagents needed to bring Toras back. The diamond was in her mailed fist as she recited the words, only to briefly have flashbacks of the last time she raised someone from the dead, or tried to, back in the depths of Gehenna in the Vale of Frozen Ashes, and there at that time, there wasn’t a soul to bring back with Alex. Her mind raced with the horror of losing someone she’d been through so much with, but that panic receded and vanished as she finished her prayer and the fighter’s wounds began to heal, his eyes flickered and opened, and he inhaled with a sharp and sudden gasp, the slashes in his lungs whistling for a moment before his flesh knitted itself back together and restored his breath and heartbeat to normal.

“What the hell just happened?” Clueless put out a hand to help Toras back to his feet. The bladesinger’s own heart still raced, pounding in his chest, from having witnessed his toughest companion dead and stuck within a burning building like a piece of broken masonry. The image would haunt him for some time.

Toras was white as a sheet as he lay there, his only motions a blink of his eyes against the falling snowfall-like ashes and the heavy breathing of a man who’d seen something that shouldn’t have been possible. Stunned from what he’d witness and experienced, he didn’t reach for Clueless’s hand and simply lay there on the street.

“What happened?” Florian demanded, “You died! That doesn’t happen! You just died and we brought you back, so there really shouldn’t be anything to keep you from answering as to just what a**hole knifed you in the back… repeatedly!”

Clueless redoubled his own questions and it took several long, uncomfortable moments for Toras to finally look up at them both and answer as best he could, the memory of the voice in his ear still sharp and poignant, as well as having watched his killer’s figure walk away as his vision faded and failed.

“It was a dead woman.”


****​
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
“A dead woman?” Clueless raised an eyebrow as he looked down at his friend, most recently a corpse himself. The immediate and breathless description didn’t provide enough details to actually answer who’d actually killed him. The fact that they’d managed the deed however was beyond troubling. Thankfully though, that description seemed to preclude the first person that sprang to the bladesinger’s mind who’d be capable of the act: Adamok Ebon.

“Like what, a vampire?” Florian pressed the fighter for details as she helped him to his feet, “A Dustie?”

He didn’t take the offered hand. Rather, he simply lay there staring up at the smog-choked Sigilian sky.

“She died. We watched her die. We all watched her die.” Toras’s breath was ragged, his eyes wide with confusion and disbelief, looking past his companions and into the still-collapsing shell of the burning scriptorium. “We all saw the Lady of Pain flay her alive into a bloody pile of entrails and a smear on the cobblestones.”

“…” Clueless and Florian both fell silent on the questions that had otherwise been bubbling up in their minds to ask. They knew exactly who Toras was talking about even if it was impossible.

It –was– impossible, wasn’t it?

“Alisohn Nilesia,” Toras whispered, a tremor in his voice, “It was her. It was Alisohn Nilesia. She stabbed me and she killed me.”

Bladesinger and cleric glanced at one another, both of them uncertain which was more terrifying at the moment: that a woman flayed alive by Her Serenity was alive again or that Toras was terrified. They’d never seen him actually afraid, and that more than anything disturbed them.

“That’s not possible Toras.” Florian interjected with disbelief, “We saw her die. It couldn’t have been her.”

Toras didn’t answer with words, but the side to side shake of his head dismissed the cleric out of hand.

“You saw her?” Clueless asked, taking a deep breath to steady his own nerves, “You actually saw her?”

“Not her face, no.” Toras shook his head again, gritting his teeth to steady himself as he relived the memory of it all in his mind. “But that doesn’t matter because…”

“Because you didn’t -actually- see her, so it presumably wasn’t actually her,” Florian cut him off, interjecting her own thoughts as to how it couldn’t have been the late Mercykiller Factol, “You don’t come back from being flayed by The Lady. So presumably it was just some barmy or a doppelganger pretending to be her?”

“Makes sense,” Clueless tried to smile, his own burgeoning rationalization of Toras simply being mistaken making the whole of it palatable, “No better way to turn the city upside down than make it seem like an ex-Factol is back and back from the dead, especially one killed by The Lady. Sounds like one of the Revolutionary League’s greatest hits if you ask me.”

“Clueless no.” Toras was insistent, “She leaned in and whispered in my ear when she put a blade through my back and through my heart. Clueless I knew that voice. We plucked her out of Carceri in the first damn thing we all ever did together as adventuring companions even before we made it official. I know that voice. I know that insane zealotry and self-assuredness. We all watched her die only a few blocks from here, but she was there whispering in my ear telling me that ‘Justice couldn’t die’ before she killed me.”

Clueless and Florian traded wordless glances at the other and then back down to Toras, but their attempts to rationalize what he’d experienced and deny the truth and gravity of it all were for naught as something else entirely interrupted and precluded that. Below their feet the stones rippled with the sudden onset of a Cage Quake. Adjacent buildings creaked and trembled and the burning shell of the Guvner scriptorium collapsed inwards with a spectacular crash and falling timbers and stones.

“Oh what the f*ck now?” Florian immediately glanced down at her feet, expecting a portal to open and seek to swallow her up as had happened dozens of times in the past weeks, usually accompanied by a Cage Quake thereafter. This time however the cause was less distinct, even if the Lady’s displeasure seemed almost palpable on the air.

“We’ve been having a lot of those lately…” Clueless muttered, trying to keep his cool even as his wings flickered out and he hovered in the air rather than standing on the uncertain ground.

A second time the ground shuddered with the movement of a Cage Quake. A block away they heard the sounds of a window breaking, a decorative statue breaking free from a roof’s cornice and shattering upon the ground and various shouts, cries, and barking of animals as a flock of executioner’s ravens took to flight.

It all demanded a response. It all required some words to settle their terror and uncertainty, but they couldn’t seem to form them, no matter how they tried. Amidst the chorus of slow groans of structural collapse and settling from the building behind them, the trio stared at one another with profound uncertainty. Each opened their mouths to say something, anything, to break the disquiet but to no avail.

Finally the three of them started to discuss what had happened but in vain as they were once again interrupted, this time by the words of a magical sending spell prepared and sent by none other than former Factol Rhys of the Transcendent Order, now the Chairwoman of the Sigil Advisory Council.

“The Sigil Advisory Council will be holding an emergency meeting regarding present disturbances and turmoil tomorrow at Peak, sharp, with attendance restricted to voting citizens.”

“These are difficult days with rumors and lies flying sure and fast. We will endure this present strife. We will confer and we will act.”

The former Factol’s voice was preternaturally calm, with her words enunciated and her message delivered with a firmness and rapidity that belied the fact that she’d probably not composed it ahead of time but fell within the precise limits of the spell’s capacity for words. It was impressive and it was a tone and tact absolutely suited to the moment with Cage Quakes and dead factols seemingly risen from the grave. Underneath it all however, and it was only something that the three of them picked up on because of their close association with Fyrehowl, herself a Cipher, was that ex-Factol Rhys was far from calm. Virtually all of those hearing her words wouldn’t have known it, but Rhys seemed genuinely worried.

“Well… that’s something.” Clueless blinked, still hovering in the air even if the ground had finally settled.

“Something’s going on.” Florian unconsciously touched fingers to her holy symbol, “Something terrible is going on.”

Grimacing, Toras stood up, “When was the last time we had Cage Quakes like this?”

“Right before the Faction War.” Clueless took a deep breath. “I’m not entirely sure that I want to be in Sigil right now, but I don’t even know precisely why. But if Nilesia is walking around in the flesh…”

Toras caught the bladesinger’s eyes and saw his own uncertainty and worry reflected back at him, but with a mixture of anger and frustration as well. Clueless wasn’t happy and it seemed more out of rage at not being fully aware of the situation than anything else. Come to think of it, he’d seemed ever so slightly darker of late.

“Calm down, calm down!” Florian put up her hands, “Let’s dial this back a moment and be rational. Why would… you know who… be in a random burning building a block from the Jammer waiting to knife you in the back?”

“She wasn’t there for me.” Toras explained, “She was there… I don’t know why. It was a Guvner storehouse of records. She was looking for something. The whole place had been turned inside out and she’d killed or left everyone inside for dead before she torched the place. I happened to show up at the wrong time.”

As abruptly as Rhys’s earlier sending, Tristol’s sudden telepathic voice in their heads finally put an end to the conversation.

“Get back to the Portal Jammer. Quickly. We have a problem.”

The wizard hadn’t even used the full number of words the spell granted. What was more though, his voice was panicked.

Quickly they hurried back to the Portal Jammer, ignoring the stares and questions of a dozen touts and passersby curious as to what had happened with the collapsed building or why Toras was covered in his own rather than anyone else’s blood. There was precious else on their mind except to get back home, though one shout by a crier would pointedly be recalled later for its importance and immediate gravity: “News from Mechanus! Factol Garabutos of the Fraternity of Order murdered in the Fortress of Enlightened Discipline! Exiled faction in turmoil! Assassin unknown and on the loose!”

The news from Mechanus was of deep importance, deeper than they realized, but the scene that greeted them as soon as they stepped through the Jammer’s door made them forget it immediately. Fyrehowl lay on the floor, hideously burned and injured from multiple puncture wounds, with Tristol, Nisha, and Skalliska flanking her doing what they could to treat her.

Toras, Clueless, and Florian gaped at the Cipher’s injuries, but it was the look on her face that took them aback. The lupinal’s face was blank and terribly troubled. Her ears lay flat against the sides of her head as she ignored Tristol’s repeated questions and gave not a wince as Nisha’s cleaned her injuries of the poison still filtering into her system. Instead Fyrehowl’s eyes were locked on a single object upon a shelf behind the bar, next to a bottle of steel blue whisky from Acheron.

Clueless recognized that look in her eyes, because he’d seen the same vacant terror in Toras’s, and Fyrehowl was of course staring at the shelf and thereupon the tiny sculpted doll of none other than Factol Alisohn Nilesia.

Something was wrong. Something was terribly, terribly wrong.


****​


Atop the Tower Arcane, the second Great Yugoloth Tower that sprouted from the molten flank of Chamada the Second Furnace, sat a location that both was and wasn’t. Warping space in a capacity that made it exist at the tower’s summit yet not exist there, but somehow at and not at every other point within the vast structure both above and belowground, the Tower’s original architect had seen fit to create her office as a smear of potentiality like a great evil particle and wave adrift in the orbit of the nucleus that she’d crafted and plunged into the plane’s flesh like a marker of ownership. There at the summit yet everywhere and nowhere within the Tower Arcane, the current master of the Tower sat and busied himself beneath the light shed by the suffering of the original occupant of his place of power.

Helekanalaith smiled as he extended his mind into the great well of collective knowledge and memories bound within the structure of the Tower Arcane. As the present and only the second Keeper of the Tower after Larsdana Ap Neut herself, his knowledge of that great hungering, rapacious thing that his caste each had access too, his knowledge was greater and his skill at accessing it capable of far subtler action.

He smiled as he mentally thumbed through the records of the betrayal and binding of one Cazdurath the Vile, a baatezu general presently imprisoned within the Abyssal Wells of Darkness. He had no need of the information itself no, but as he glanced across the records, that action was -as was any attempt to access the Tower's pool- immediately noticed, scrutinized, and replicated by hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of his underlings in a mad, envious, internecine scramble to divine meaning and importance within the records and in the potential motivation on the Keeper's behalf. The only motivation however was to watch the scuttling of each hungry, jealous little jackal-headed roach ever seeking to succeed and rise above the rest of their kind by whatever means, subtle or bloody.

The Keeper smiled slyly, watching his pupils and gleaning meaning of his own from their actions, inactions, and the small number of deaths that occurred in the immediate aftermath when such concentration left his kind less functionally aware of their surroundings and open to physical attack.

"Bravo little ones, bravo."

At that moment, as if the universe itself had smirked and expressed a profound moment of mocking irony as the Keeper mocked the feckless, misguided, and utterly meaningless and futile actions of his subordinates, the universe saw fit to act. Opposite the Keeper's desk where it had stood since he'd obtained it from the mortals who'd inexplicably managed the action, the statue of Shylara the Manged, the Overlord of Carceri and consort of The Ebon stood, formed from her petrified subordinate astrally projected form stood frozen in an awkward snarl.

As it had stood for more than a year, it glittered with layers of wards laid atop it like shellac atop a tasteless but valuable painting by an art conservator. There would be no accidental shattering of the stony prize that decorated the Keeper's office, no reckless attempt by one of the Manged's servitors to release her. Helekanalaith had layered the statue with more than four nested temporal stasis spells among a dozen other wards like a mocking, gaudy matryoshka doll. But the universe it seemed saw fit to mock the Keeper's intentions as well as his own profound mastery of his craft.

Abruptly the statue shuddered and spontaneously sublimated in the space of seconds, leaving behind nothing except for the empty layers of wards, undisturbed and unbroken, still limning the abandoned hollow in a rough outline of Shylara’s body.

Helekanalaith looked up and deeply frowned, "Expected, but ahead of schedule. Alas."

For a long moment the Keeper stared at the hollow, nested shells of wards left behind after the statue's dissolution, though not out of any surprise that the seemingly impossible had eventually happened. True to his statement he assumed that at some point the archfiend he counted as ostensible ally, rival, and liability would be free to resume her previous position in Carceri.

No, that it had happened was not the subject of his stare. Instead Helekanalaith sat there with his eyes fixed upon the now vacant space, openly wondering as to just how the Ebon -because there was no other candidate for responsibility- had released his consort without penetrating the wards. He continued to stare, his expression transfixed and caught between curious wonder and rage at the act being in blunt disregard for all the laws of magic as he understood them, mocking his own skill as being as impotent as the little jackal-headed roaches he'd mocked earlier for their efforts.

“How did you accomplish that?”

Imprisoned within her globe, Larsdana's soul flickered with laughter, hinting without words that she of course knew how such could have been accomplished, mocking her lover and apprentice even now, eons later, before he smiled up at her prison, stroked the gemstone as if lightly touching her cheek and then silenced her with a gift of agony with a casual wave of his other hand. How the act was performed was for his consideration later, but with the return of Shylara to the stage of their game, he had other concerns and contingencies of more immediate concern to himself, his proxies, and his agents, both willing and otherwise.

“Would you have shown up in person Larsdana?” The Keeper asked, looking up into the tiny, warped face of his beloved, contorted with blinding, rictus pain. “Or would you have stayed aloof and allowed others to muddy their feet with your tasks?”

Larsdana only screamed in reply, insensate and unreadable.

“No, you’d have sent me to do it for you with a smile and a kiss.” Helekanalaith smiled warmly and gifted her with an additional wave of pain. “And in your honor I’ll do the same as you would have, though with an errand boy who knows his place, unlike myself when I remained in your shadow.”

Chuckling to himself, Helekanalaith whispered the words to a sending spell.


****​


Deep within the internal structure of the Tower of Incarnate Pain the walls moved. Each living soul-brick existed in a state of perpetual agony, their pain such that their screams were silent, their faces stretched into blind, twisted visages gazing blindly back at each and every visitor within and upon the structure wrought of them as a monument to suffering. So deep within the tower were the particular halls that the wards laid down by the tower’s present Mistress made certain that no living creature could progress without ensuring a very messy and sudden death without her express approval.

Unsurprisingly the halls echoed with the soft sounds of claws on bone and the deft actions of a pair of tongues and lips.

“Mmmm!”

“Such a delight! Truly sublime.”

The two proxies of Shylara the Manged, overlord of Carceri hovered in the air, their legs crossed and their robes pulled up to their thighs to avoid sullying the edges within the thick layer of ashes that covered the floor, the remains of those servitors who’d seen fit to make an attempt on Shylara’s life and fail hideously. Each of them clutched one of the ragged, partially de-fleshed long bones that formerly held a cohesive and functional position within the body of the arcanaloth Mellinara ap Cathrys, most recently torn limb from limb by the nycaloth guardians of Shylara the Manged, though truth be told neither of the Overlord of Carceri’s proxies considered those “nycaloths” to actually be nycaloths any more, not given what she’d done to them.

Alpthis ap Othrys closed his eyes and smiled as he placed the broken end of a femur to his lips and sucked at the yellow-white marrow contained within. Both bestial and curiously effete at the same time, the act was an innate thing among his caste, a way in which they acted to prove themselves the true masters of Gehenna by breaking and consuming a fallen enemy with prior delusions of power. The broken spiritual essence of his former rival tasted of rage and agony – a delight beyond measure for the sorcerer.

Apteris ap Othrys smiled at his sibling’s praise for the taste as he hefted one of Mellinara’s humeri and effortlessly snapped it in two to reveal the rich, horrific gourmet delight at its core. Placing the broken end to his lips the red-brown-furred monk mirrored his sibling’s actions and response as he savored and feasted as well.

Tongues danced over claws and into the hollow channel laced with hematopoietic butter, leaving not a scrap or drop to waste. Greedily the two proxies feasted in not exactly total solitude as thirty feet away and standing in position within niches inset into the walls, the nycaloth guardians who’d torn the source of their feast apart stood silent and still, the gems embedded in their heads dimmed but for a faint glow.

Abruptly Apteris’s right ear -notched and hairless like a brand of ownership- twitched at a distant sound just below the level of conscious audibility. A fraction of a second later his eyes flicked up to look past the sessile nycaloths and deeper down the passage while his brother, not yet aware of the sounds deftly continued to savor first the yellow marrow and then noisily begin crunching upon the red marrow in turn.

“Having tasted this I genuinely lament never having tasted anything else of hers while the late…” Alpthis let his carnal thought trail off as he noticed his sibling’s ears erect and eyes focused down the passage. “…what?”

Apteris held a finger to his lips to silence his overly talkative brother. Almost immediately the sorcerer’s ears perked to attention as well as they both heard the same sound: footsteps.

“That’s f*cking impossible.” Alpthis snarled, “There’s only this passage in and absolutely none of the wards are broken. We’d have felt them like the tremors in a spider’s web while a fly wriggled and damned itself with each entangling movement.”

“Poetic bastard,” The monk smirked and graced the sorcerer’s cheek with a claw before a more serious expression graced both of their muzzles.

“So do we go and save our brutal, beloved Mistress?” Alpthis raised an eyebrow before looking down at the remaining meal in his hands, “Or do I at least get to finish the red marrow first?”

“Which would Shylara choose to do?” Apteris smiled a broad mouthful of razored fangs.

“She’d ignore it and finish her meal.” Alpthis returned his sibling’s expression and with a mutual cackle the Overlord of Carceri’s incestuous servitors savored the final portions of their meal.

Several belated minutes later, having licked their claws clean of every last bit of marrow, the two ‘loths hurled the bloody, broken vessels of their meal to the side. The two proxies bolted down the hallway towards the sealed and monstrously warded lair where their Mistress lay catatonic and helpless. The guardians ignored them, seeing them as tools invested with a portion of Shylara’s own power, that same investiture flooding the brothers with her desires and overpowering their own innate urge to slit her throat and take her throne for themselves.

They passed through another set of doors, the surrounding fabric of the Tower leaking with purple-white phosphorescent hints of the energies contained within the Reflective Chasm. Despite their investiture with Shylara’s power the eerie light playing across their flesh was uncomfortable, and as they stepped into her chambers it bordered upon painful. Thus invested with Shylara’s might however, with her desires and designs intermingled with their own, the effect was altogether pleasurable.

Of course they’d been in her private chambers before: the libraries, the laboratories, and of course the archfiend’s bedchambers more often than not. The chamber they entered at present however was the most heavily warded of all, designed to protect her from her own kind when she astrally projected from the safety of Carceri, inhabiting surrogate bodies courtesy of astral color pools.

Shylara’s comatose body lay in the chamber’s center, encircled by dozens of circles drawn in blood, ashes, salt, wax, and molten gold. Virtually naked but for her favorite outfit: a single strip of blue-black elf leather wound about her body and strung with a series of blue silk sashes. She struck a form all the more alluring to her servitors due to the fact that in her native and unconscious form they beheld her mange, her beautiful, cursed deformity gifted to her by her former lover the Marauder and cherished by her present lover the Oinoloth who’d refused to heal her of it.

The air hummed with power and neither Alpthis, Apteris, nor Shylara cast shadows, but the figure that the Manged’s proxies found standing above her, he did.

Vorkannis the Ebon stood above Shylara, a sneer of contempt upon his muzzle intermingled with delight. The Oinoloth’s blue-black robes drifted on an unseen breeze and despite the Reflective Chasm’s brutal, agonizing light, his form seemed blurred and wreathed in darkness, his features indistinct except for the piercing albino shade of his eyes and the ivory fangs within his maw.

As the twin proxies entered into the chamber their response was both instantaneous and unconscious on their part: both Alpthis and Apteris dropped to their knees and bowed their heads to the floor, whispering words of supplication and praise. Only when they looked up did they both realize that they had been and were still salivating profusely.

“You channel Shylara rather well.” The Oinoloth didn’t bother to glance at the arcanaloths groveling on their knees like simpering puppies.

“She’s trained us well our Oinoloth.”

“Trained us so very well…”

Unused to standing in the physical presence of the Oinoloth, and only feet away from the source of their own power as proxies, the siblings brains erupted in a mad and blinding wildfire of Shylara’s desires more so than their own. Panting and bloodily tearing at their own flesh as the Ebon uniformly ignored them and continued to stare down at his consort, both proxies wallowed in the tidal wave of overwhelming fear mixed with an equally puissant notion of adoration and NEED.

"You've become so very much like her.” Vorkannis admitted, even if his eyes remained locked upon the Manged, her eyes glassy and insensate. “She granted you power in her service but you have more than just power. You have a portion of her greed, her desires, her vanity, her fury and self-loathing in her imprisonment and her failure in my service. That may be the death of you."

Virtual automatons beholden to the unconscious will of their Mistress, both proxies keened and whimpered for the Oinoloth’s favor, having both adopted Shylara’s form. Finally granting them his attention, Vorkannis looked down at them as they aped the Manged as best they could.

“We can serve you as she cannot, locked away here for her failure.”

“Please our Oinoloth, allow us. We can serve you as she would.”

“Please allow us; anything you desire.”

“Anything at all.”

“Yes, you could.” Vorkannis sneered down at the pair as they pantomimed their best attempt at playing as Shylara, “You are not her however; shadows of her power that you are, just as she and you alike are simply shadows of myself.”

Understanding their place and the Ebon’s contempt, both proxies immediately resumed their native forms and prostrated themselves upon the floor, ashamed and admonished, though not regretting their attempts.

“We meant no disrespect our Oinoloth… No disrespect at all.”

“No disrespect…”

“I will admit my surprise at the amount of power that she invested in the two of you.” The Ebon shrugged and looked back down at Shylara with a shake of his head. “She might as well be f*cking herself then, but with triple well, everything at hand. It’s narcissism more than anything else, though she learned that from another. But I’m sure that the both of you are certainly aware of that one as well.”

“Quite.”

“Very aware.”

Both proxies snarled at the memories produced from Shylara’s thoughts on the Marauder, but their brooding upon the topic was broken by the Oinoloth’s next statement.


"Leave us.” Vorkannis bluntly stated as he knelt down over the Manged, “This is between she and I. You can gleefully bask in the shadow of her experience."

The next word the Ebon spoke was in Baern, a singular term that physically shook the Manged's proxies, drawing forth a longing whine and widened pupils. They stood silent for only a moment before vanishing in the flicker-flash of a teleport, their tails tucked between their legs. Though they didn't understand the word, they felt its meaning in a blurred concept of ecstasy/misery.

“Hello Shylara,” The Oinoloth whispered, staring into her glassy eyes, "You haven't suffered nearly enough for my appreciation, but alas I have need of you. Pragmatism is your savior, but do not think you will not suffer more, so much more, before I am done with you. There is no mercy in this act. There has never been mercy, not between you and I, never for anything involving me."

Abruptly Shylara’s eyes focused, alive and alert on Vorkannis. In that singular moment as she became consciously aware of her surroundings and of her failure, she began to scream.

****​
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
I'm completely lost with regards to the plot, but the writing is awesome.
The plot is complex and this story has been going on for... I've actually lost track of how many pages in Word it comes out to at this point. But the storyhour here has been going on for over a decade, so there's that.

My players ended up making a giant flowchart to connect everything (and everything did ultimately connect because I don't throw out something randomly that I won't be picking up on again if I can help it).

I'm really glad that you like the writing! :D
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
If the yugoloths don't make your skin crawl, they're not being portrayed correctly. These are done wickedly well.
 

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