Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 14February2024)

Shemeska

Adventurer
The sky above the Lower Ward hung low and heavy above the rooftops like a worn, greasy blanket. Occasionally a faint drizzle of stinging rain trickled free of its embrace, forcing street traffic to hastily seek out shelter. Not so for one particular pair of travelers however, one of whom seemed ever so used to the period shower of near-vinegar courtesy of the Ward’s smokestacks, and the other who simply conjured a hemispherical shell of force above his head a moment before his vulpine ears caught a single drop.

“So why are you out here again?” Nisha chirped over at Tristol as the two of them walked down an alleyway between the Foundry and a tenement building adjacent.

Walking wasn’t precisely what they were doing, at least not for the Xaositect. Nisha was skipping along and occasionally whistling as she did so.

“Enjoying a walk with you,” Tristol smiled as his tail swished side to side happily, “And also taking some advice from Toras while we’re here in the Lower Ward.”

Nisha quirked an eyebrow and glanced over at her boyfriend, “Advice from Toras seems to begin and end with punching fiends and giving jink to orphan children. Mind you, I don’t particularly have a problem with the latter, having been an orphan in the Hive myself at one point in time, and I don’t have any problem at all with the former… even if I go about it a bit differently and more roundabout of a way than he does.”

Abruptly Nisha paused and clip-clopped backwards a foot, turning with a sly grin towards a wall plastered over with advertisements and papers of all sort accumulated over the past few months time. The most recent additions to the wall were almost entirely of the political variety.

“Ah yes, the Council is having elections soon aren’t they.” Tristol stated, rather than questioned, rolling his eyes at the predominant face that adorned the wall: Shemeska the Marauder.

The Marauder’s posters were clearly produced with a budget far and above any of her rivals’, and unlike her rivals’ posters, she hadn’t so much as bothered with any slogan beyond her name and the weight (and threat) that it carried on its own. The ‘loth’s smirking, haughty muzzle positively oozed an aura of callous arrogance.

“Smug little thing isn’t she?” Nisha said, opening the basket that she’d been carrying the whole way, brandishing a wet paintbrush retrieved from within. “Now she’s a smug little thing with a mustache.”

Tristol chuckled as Nisha went poster to poster, gleefully defacing each of them.

“A van dyke here, a full-on barbazu beard here… eyepatch… missing a tooth here… black eye…”

“Wait a minute.” Tristol glanced down at Nisha’s satchel and the large bucket of paint it contained. “You came out here with a bucket of paint and a paintbrush?”

“Yes, I did.” Nisha stuck out her tongue as she added a speech bubble with ‘Vote for me, I’m a giant c*nt!’ on yet another of the ‘loth’s posters. “You never know when inspiration for graffiti or mural painting will strike; also I knew that she’d have posters all over the place so I wanted to get to at least a decent number of them today. That wasn’t my primary reason for being out here though, just an opportune tangent.”

Tristol tilted his head to the side, “If that wasn’t your primary reason for being out here, what else besides a bucket of paint do you have in your bag?”

“A ten pound sack of birdseed.” Nisha said, matter-of-factly, widely grinning as she continued to paint.

“Birdseed?”

“We’ll be passing the Styx Oarsman. They’ll be having an outdoor beer thing tomorrow, and well, the neighboring roofs are easily accessible.” Nisha made a quick motion of sowing the seeds and then a pantomime of a hungry bird. “One day between now and then.”

Tristol’s eyes went wide as he realized the implications of her actions. He laughed and shook his head as Nisha continued her joyous vandalism.

“Roses on her razorvine… nose piercing… facial tattoos… wait, what the hell?!” Nisha dropped her paintbrush and stared up at two other posters that adored the wall.

Juxtaposed between multiple copies of the Marauder’s campaign posters, two other and oh so distinctly different canid outsider faces smiled, hawking themselves for one of the open council seats: Fyrehowl and A’kin.

‘Actions Rather Than Words – Vote Fyrehowl for Sigil Advisory Council’: The silvery-blue lupinal smiled out from her poster with a clenched fist, drawn to suggest strength and a certain sureness for the candidate rather than menace. It was all well done and quite tastefully so, though it was clear that the cipher’s posters had been repeatedly torn down or pasted over by the Marauder’s own in recent days. The professional vandalism that Fyrehowl’s posters had suffered however paled in comparison to A’kin’s: a pile of his posters lay on the ground, having been torn down and set alight.

‘Put A Friendly Face On The Council – Vote A’kin the ‘Friendly Fiend’’ A’kin seemed to have produced the posters himself, and a minor glamer he’d applied to each of them caused his face to periodically glance towards the Marauder’s posters and chuckle.

“She’s going to murder him in the street if he wins and she doesn’t.” Nisha shook her head and grimaced, flicking her tail side to side in worried agitation. Looking down at her, one of the A’kin posters raised a finger and pointed towards one of the Marauder’s that the tiefling had skipped during her painting. “Oh! I missed one! Thank you!” A puckish smile returned to her face as she added a monocle and top hat to that one.

“Uhh…” Tristol walked over and put a hand on Nisha’s shoulder, “No offense, but to heck with him, I’m worried that she’ll murder Fyrehowl in the street if the same thing happens!”

“Fyrehowl has you and me,” Nisha shrugged, “Nothing’s going to happen to her.”

“Tell that to Florian.” Tristol said, remembering with far too much clarity the look on the cleric’s face when she’d nearly been sucked through a portal to the negative energy plane. “Do you want random portals opening underneath you?”

Nisha paused, thinking about it. “With the word random you put there, that’s almost tempting. But it needs something more… like candy! Random candy portals! Demiplanes full of yummy taffy or something, rather than the Hive’s ooze portals or stuff that tried to eat Florian. No?”

Tristol chuckled, appreciating her humor at any given moment, but the entire situation terrified him in ways that he couldn’t entirely verbalize; not that Nisha would have remained seriously about it anyway. The fact remained that someone, presumably the Marauder, had somehow against all rational reason, managed to forcibly open portals in Sigil against the Lady’s Will. The very concept horrified him.

“I’ll buy you some candy once we’re back in the Clerk’s Ward.” Tristol smiled, Nisha’s rattling bell at the end of her tail momentarily drawing him out of any more moribund thoughts. “Or if you wanted to go back around the other way, we can snag something nicer somewhere in the Market & Guildhall Ward.”

Before Nisha could respond however, Tristol’s ears swiveled back at a sound several blocks away: shouting, screaming, and blades crashing against armor.

“Do you hear that?” Tristol looked at Nisha and tilted his head towards the source of the sound.

“I’m not you or Fyrehowl.” She shrugged, “My ears are pointy, but not nearly as big as yours. So no.”

The sounds grew louder, more frequent, and then nearby windows rattled from the concussive blast of a detonating fireball. At the last one, Nisha flinched instinctively.

“Ok, now I hear the sounds of magical explosions and people screaming in terror and pain.” She stuck out her tongue and glanced at Tristol. “This is when we predictably run –towards- the horrific event rather than away like rational people, yes?”

Tristol nodded and the two of them ran as quickly as they could, realizing with each block where it was coming from: The Shattered Temple.


****​


Largely abandoned since the Faction Wars years earlier, the one-time Faction hall of the Athar looked much the same as it had when they’d collectively departed for the base of the Spire, there to presumably wait out the Lady’s ban on their faction’s presence in Sigil, and there avoid the Powers’ wrath. One thing stood out as different however, that being the massive banners of Hades that hung from the highest point of the former temple of Aoskar like a giant expression of contempt by the faithful for the Faithless.

In recent weeks the location had been claimed and fortified by the forces of Muriov Garianis: his family members and those in the employ of himself as a priest of Hades and the criminal organization that his clan headed. With the open antagonism between Garianis and the Athar, culminating most recently in near public bloodshed before the Sigil Advisory Council, Garianis had gone one step further and both hired close to a hundred professional mercenaries and prepared the future location of his grand temple to Hades for a siege.

Garianis had prepared as well as he could have. The man was no fool. But the forces arrayed against him were simply beyond his or anyone else’s comprehension.

“Aaand Toras was right about that tip.” Tristol stood at the outskirts of the Shattered Temple grounds

“Huh?” Nisha shook her head as she glanced from her boyfriend to the battle raging fifty yard away. “What tip was that?”

“He heard that there was going to be a showdown between the Athar and the Garianis clan in the Lower Ward today. Somewhere, but he didn’t know where, so he was going to be out here walking around to see if anything went down.”

“What the heck kind of tip is that?” Nisha rolled her eyes. “This isn’t a fun tip like ‘this bar is offering half-price specials to tieflings after anti-peak’ or ‘there’s this romantic spot where you can toss things at people below or make out, whichever suits your mood’. No, I don’t like this kind of tip at all. Who gave it to him? The same people that got us dragged into Baator the other week?”

“He didn’t say!” Tristol shrugged, taking measure of the conflict. “He just said he trusted who said it. Whatever that means.”

Soldiers baring the faction symbol of the Athar streamed out of an open portal were they were met within moment’s by Garianis’ forces. With as many as now stood on the field of battle, it seemed as if the Athar were quite literally throwing the entirety of their faction into the attempt to retake their former citadel. They and Garianis’ forces however were not the only ones there on the battlefield. Clustered together atop the high ramparts, dozens of ghouls and other lesser undead dressed in the colors –if no longer the faction symbology- of the Dustmen, and there amongst them stood the pale, corpse-like figure of their once and now all-but-in-name Factol, Oridi Malefin.

The three eyed tiefling whispered a prayer to her ‘god’ the Abstract Concept of Death, and with breathtaking force snatched up one of the Athar faithful into the air and imploded them into a crumpled sphere of ragged meat and bone before gesturing again and repeating the lethal measure like clockwork, still wearing the same dour, emotionless expression upon her face.

“Who are the good guys here?!” Nisha shouted at Tristol as she watched a dozen different uniforms and banners taking part in the conflict.

“We are!” Toras shrugged, “Though technically since the Marauder is backing the Athar, uhh… the Garianis people are by default the one’s I plan to help.”

“You can be the good guy, and I’ll be the quirky if annoyingly ultra chaotic tiefling sidekick!” Nisha fished a hand into her satchel, pulling out a paintbrush, frowning, and then fishing within a second time to finally retrieve a wand.

“That’s fine with me!” Tristol began to cast, but abruptly paused at what he saw next.

Oridi’s ghouls poured over the walls in the dozens and took the Athar by surprise, tearing men and women limb from limb and pausing only to gorge themselves one bite at a time. Their surprise however was momentary and fleeting, as a second portal opened within one of the temple’s archways, one that looked out upon the endless bleak expanse of the Waste and a screaming torrent of hordelings that came pouring through in a wave of screaming, mismatched horrors incarnate.

“Well :):):):)!” Tristol spat out the words to a spell and the outflow of hordelings ceased, blocked from entering Sigil by the placement of a wall of force flush with the open portal. As if sensing its failure, the portal to Hades immediately closed.

“Tristol, you’re awesome.” Nisha cackled and released a crackling bolt of blue-white lightning from the tip of her wand. The bolt streaked across the field and nearly incinerated a trio of hordelings, lancing back and forth between their hodgepodge bodies before the current finally grounded out.

Tristol smiled and took a half-bow, only to watch in horror as another portal opened only a few feet away, again to Hades, and again disgorging a raging stream of hordelings onto the battlefield. Athar soldiers still continued to pour forth, and the combination of them and the fiends, all of which specifically avoided the Faithless, began to drive the Garianis forces back.

“Tristol!” Nisha shouted as she loosed another bolt of lightning. “You’ve got to seal those portals shut!”

Pushing back his terror, Tristol repeated his previous spell, slamming a wall of force atop first the portal to Hades, and then a second wall to seal off the portal disgorging the Athar soldiers from whatever plane they’d marshaled from. For a moment the solution seemed to work and the Garianis and allied forces rallied, pushing back against the intruders, but that lasted only moments.

“Nisha I can’t keep sealing off portals if more of them just open!” Tristol shouted to her with a panicked tone to his voice as he waved his arm and hurled a ball of flame into the midst of a pack of hordelings as they tore a bariaur mercenary to shreds. “I only have a few more of those left before I…”

Tristol’s voice trailed off as another portal opened, this one directly below dozens of Garianis troops, sending them screaming to their deaths into a raging inferno either in one of the Hells or the Plane of Fire itself. Having swallowed them, the portal snapped shut and the process repeated itself a second and then a third time, swallowing up dozens of doomed souls each time.

“Tristol! What do we do?!” Nisha cried out, tossing herd spent wand to the side and diving for cover behind a ruined wall.

Tristol watched in horror as men and women were slain by swords, skewered by spears or arrows, or devoured by packs of ravenous hordelings, all while yet more portals opened to consume those seeking to flee the field of battle. The fight was lost, and Tristol panicked as he felt the earth shudder with the dull rumble of a Cage quake. Was the Lady furious about the opening of portals, or voicing her rage instead at him for attempting to seal them off?

“Nisha!” Tristol dashed over to her side and took her hand. “The Athar won. We’re getting out of here. Hold on.”

The two of them vanished in the bright flash of a teleportation spell moments before a pack of hordelings overran their position.


*****​


As the portals finally sealed shut, the battlefield lay strewn with the dead and dying, hundreds of them. Athar soldiers moved about, tending to their own wounded and rounding up those few survivors from the opposing side. The Garianis wounded were killed on the spot and the corpses of their dead were preemptively stabbed through to be certain of their fate.

“No!” A distinctly well-dressed tiefling pointed a finger at a pair of the Athar soldiers as they stood above a wounded women wearing the Garianis clan seal across her tabard. “Not that one.”

The tiefling, one of the Marauder’s ubiquitous groomer-guards, had stood watching the battle, observing not the flow of the fighting itself, but the position and location of specific individuals. He’d been provided a list by his razorvine-crowned employer, and one of the names on that list lay on the ground with Athar steel at her neck. That wouldn’t do at all.

One of the Athar soldiers, a blue-skinned air genasi, stared daggers up at the tiefling, “I don’t care who you are, this b*tch is Delphinia Garianis. She’s more responsible for the desecration of our faction’s headquarters than anyone else here and I’ll be damned by all the false gods if you or anyone else says that I can’t wash away her father’s sins by slitting her throat here and now!”

The tiefling didn’t respond in words. He simply nodded, not to the Athar, but to someone behind them.

“I appreciate your fiendish master’s help but…” The genasi’s eyes went wide as a hand grasped his sword arm with the force of a vice and a blade touched his exposed throat.

Standing behind the Athar soldiers, having seemingly appeared from out of thin air, stood Adamok Ebon, the Marauder’s personal assassin. Dressed in a mixture of silk and almost gossamer chainmail, the bladeling’s own natural skin, where exposed, seemed more like armor plating than most of the soldiers on the battlefield.

“My apologies sir, my humble apologies.” The genasi stuttered as he struggled in vain to escape Adamok’s grip on his arm.

“Go.” The tiefling nodded, the bladeling released her grip, and the Athar soldiers bolted, leaving the daughter of Muriov Garianis on the ground, pleading for her life.

Both the bladeling and the tiefling ignored Delphinia’s pleas for the moment. The assassin carried a second captive, this one a younger man, unconscious and bound in magical iron bands, slung effortlessly over her shoulder like a game animal.

“This is extra.” Adamon’s voice was like well-oiled steel slipping against a grindstone.

The tiefling smiled with genuine appreciation and admiration. “The funds have already been deposited into your account, with the additional fee as contractually stipulated, and a bonus that the Marauder saw fit to add due to the short notice of this business.”

The bladeling nodded and dropped her captive at his feet.

The tiefling smiled and looked down, noting that the second name on his list lay there bound and unharmed. He wasn’t at all surprised to find that when he glanced back up, the bladeling was gone, vanished back into thin air without a single word of obvious magic.

“As always, a pleasure doing business with you.”

Around him the slaughter continued on like clockwork, with every Garianis agent and hired proxy casually and systematically executed, though the ghouls and remaining Dustmen were allowed to scamper off back to whatever tomb they’d crawled out of. Oridi Malefin and her closest followers had teleported to safety once the battle had clearly been lost, and the fallout with her would be purely political in nature rather than any future direct conflict. The Dead would have to find the true death in some other manner than the injured or captured men and women being put to the sword. That same fate was not however in the cards for the two captives slumped and moaning at his feet.

“My father will pay you for my safe return.” Delphinia spoke as politely as she could as her cousin Cyril lay bound at her side. “You’ve proven your claim on the Shattered Temple. We will not dispute it.”

“I’m sure that he will, but that’s not for me to decide.” The tiefling smiled down at her with an expression of polite, professional indifference as he waited for further orders from his mistress who’d been scrying the entirety of the battle from afar.

“Do you have them both?” The Marauder’s voice echoed within her servitor’s mind as a sending spell graced his ears.

“Yes your fiendish majesty, both of them.” He tilted his head ever so slightly as the magic provided a tingling sensation on his right ear. “What shall you have us do with them?”

“Bring them to me at the empty warehouse at the corner of Blackfoot and Silver Pike. I don’t wish to be disturbed, and that district is dead for foot traffic at this hour.”

“Is there anything else that I should bring?”

Even in service to her as many years as he had been, and even as he remained aloof and unconcerned with the screams of men being put to the sword or the sounds of hordelings noisily devouring the dead and dying, the mental impression of Shemeska’s smile and the bubbling drool inherent in her next statement sent a chill up his spine.

“A blade, a box, and a sensory stone.”


*****​
 

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Shemeska

Adventurer
It was dark, nearly Anti-Peak when Clueless finally made his way up from the depths and then out of Jeremo’s Palace. He’d never thereafter consider the Ring Giver Factol’s palace as ‘The Jester’s Palace’ having met its original namesake. Jeremo was a good man with endless ambition and probably more wealth than any other single individual within Sigil, but he was not and never would be the man who dwelled in isolation deep below. He’d met that man and come to an agreement of sorts, even if he wasn’t entirely aware of it quite yet.

His head rushed with what he’d learned and what he would be learning in time as he recalled how their meeting had gone.

“I’m not one of Asmodeus’ lackeys, scrambling to poach each and every errant mortal soul for the hope of promotion or simply because it is by the very definition writ within the fabric of their being, their duty.” There’d been a curious flicker of a smile across the Jester’s face, and the wriggling tentacles of his familiar –for lack of a better term for the robed abomination at his feet– had reacted in what might best have been read as a polite, chuckle in response to an inside joke.

The Jester had turned around and paced, comfortable and entirely at ease within the walls of his hidden palace deep below the modern incarnation of the original far above. “You’ll find that I don’t appear in a rush of brimstone seeking to make deals. I don’t brandish contracts. I don’t bother myself with the ebb and flow of the Blood War. I am done with those concerns and I have been done with them for a very, very long time.”

Clueless frowned and narrowed his eyes. It was subtle, but the Jester’s robed companion (his familiar?) always remained between the two of them like an understated bodyguard. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

“Why should I?” The Jester chuckled, an amused smile playing across his face.

“Fair enough,” Clueless admitted with a shrug. “But I came down here more to ask that you get out of my head than to interrogate you about your history in Sigil, though I’ll admit that I’m fascinated to know.”

The Jester nodded sagely and tapped his fingertips together, “If it makes you feel any more secure, I was only in your mind out of a similar sense of curiosity. It isn’t often that you come across a man with a largely quiescent artifact lodged in his leg and a yugoloth lord silently taking up space in their brain unbidden.”

“Helekanalaith can go f*ck himself.” Clueless rolled his eyes to which the Jester smiled approvingly.

“My presence in your mind also afforded me a window into the outside world. You must understand that my seclusion which began for reasons that remain my own has largely kept me isolated from news of the various happenings on the planes at large, and even from all but the largest events in Sigil itself.”

“I’m glad that I could have afforded you that window.” Clueless frowned. “But I’m not sure how your crashing in the free space in my brain is necessarily any different from the Keeper of the Tower doing the exact same.”

The Jester paused and pondered that point. Softly, he whispered to himself in a language that Clueless had never before heard, and which caused the man’s robed familiar to for a moment quirk its head in response.

“Done.” The Jester said, motioning in Clueless’s direction. “My link to your mind is severed and my apologies for doing so without your knowledge.” Left unsaid was the phrase ‘without your approval’.

Clueless gave a dubious glare, “That’s virtually the same thing that Helekanalaith said.”

“I trust that the Keeper never actually apologized though.” The Jester chuckled.

“No.” Clueless frowned. “No he did not. But still that…”

The Jester cut him off, “You’re more than free to have my claim examined by any wizard or priest that you might find in Sigil or anywhere else. I would however advise you to avoid Baator.”

Clueless shuddered, remembering his recent trip to the 9 Hells and what they’d found there, “Yeah I’ve had enough of Baator for quite some time thank you very much.”

“Killed by a yugoloth lord,” The Jester chuckled and shook his head. “In all fairness I sincerely doubt that any of you would have survived had Taba decided to fight rather than simply snarl and be upon her way. From what I gather through the window you provided me, she’s managed to evade the entirety of the yugoloth hierarchy with a price upon her head. Curious isn’t it as to why the Oinoloth seems to be butchering his own kind?”

“Yeah, I find myself wondering the same thing.” Clueless gave a noncommittal shrug. “But at the end of the day I can’t say that I particularly mind the ‘loths slaughtering one another in a game of who can betray who the most.”

His face shrouded by shadows and his hat, a curious smile passed over the Jester’s face, juxtaposing a mixture of anger, triumph, and resignation.

“Betrayal is quite possibly the only thing then that I have in common with their kind.” He said, spreading his arms and gesturing to his surroundings as his familiar softly hissed and hugged his ankle. “Betrayal is something which I am very, very well acquainted with.”

Whatever his past might have held, the Jester radiated an aura of power and authority above and beyond the thing at his feet. Whatever the tiny familiar was, Clueless had watched a vision of the past in his prior trip to the Jester’s underhalls and he knew just what the thing was capable of doing to a man. Still though, even after having seen the creature employed like a hound on a hunt and tearing a fleeing man to shreds, Clueless was under no illusions that he had much, much more to fear from the Jester himself.

There was something else as well. The Jester possessed a certain sense of nearly tangible charisma, an air of fascination borne of mystery. Despite the tentacled horror of a familiar that followed at his heels, Clueless couldn’t help himself but realize that there was more brewing in his mind than academic curiosity and professional admiration.

There was more to their meeting of course, but those parts of their lengthy interaction were what bubbled and brewed in the bladesinger’s mind as he walked out of Jeremo’s palace and back towards the Portal Jammer. It was late and he was tired, but he’d managed to learn and although he had more questions than when he’d stepped into the Jester’s palace, there was a certainty in his mind that he hadn’t had before.

Clueless knew that he would be going back. The man who’d stepped into Jeremo’s palace and then ventured below it had taken a step into the realm of something ancient and powerful. That first step had changed him, and it would continue to change him in the future with each further step. There was a gleam in his eyes as he stepped out into the grey-green haze of Sigil’s evening sky, and a darker countenance than he’d bore when he’d started that journey.

Down in the darkness below the streets of Sigil, the Jester smiled.


****​


“HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN!?” Muriov Garianis screamed out before unleashing a stream of invectives as he trembling with rage and panic. Over the past hour more and more information had filtered in regarding his losses, both material and in lives, including those related by blood, and the cleric of Hades was doing his best to keep himself together.

A half-dozen terrified faces glanced back at the crime lord with hollow, broken eyes from what they’d experienced over the previous twenty four hours. Almost half of their organization lay dead or brutally injured at the hands of the Athar, they’d lost their hold over the Shattered Temple, and dozens more of their members had vanished, presumably taken captive. They feared their patron Muriov’s rage at the losses and the rapidity with which their hold over the Shattered Temple District had simply evaporated, but they worried more for the safety of their missing comrades, loved ones, and family members, including their patriarch’s nephew and his heir-apparent daughter.

“F*CK THE ATHAR! F*CK THEM ALL!” Muriov slammed his fists down upon his desk and screamed incoherently, throwing his arm wide and scattering papers and books to the floor with a clatter. The normally cool, collected high priest of Hades was slipping into the arms of despair and panic. “F*CK THE MARAUDER! F*CK THE F*CKING LOTHS! ALL OF THEM!”

He’d been ranting and raving for hours as his closest advisors struggled to give him anything resembling a tangible explanation of what had happened in the Shattered Temple and how they might recover from their horrific losses, let alone anything close to resembling good news.

“Where are the Dustmen now?!” Muriov spat, “Crawling back to the Marble District and not so much as responding to a sending or messages by courier. If I so much as see their factol Oridi or that c*nt of an aasimar Qaida I’ll give them the true death that they prattle on about. F*CK!”

His advisors had little to tell him beyond the fact that their allies had abandoned the field of battle and severed communications. They all knew that they’d have done the same had the situation been reversed. The Dustmen, for all their dispassion, they knew a lost cause when they confronted one.

“Where is my nephew?” Muriov demanded for the hundredth time that day, “Where is my daughter? WHERE IS SHE?!” Tears welled up in his eyes.

Again his advisors had no news to provide and then the cycle of ranting and demands for news began again as the Garianis clan patriarch fumed and mourned. He prayed to Hades for wisdom, insensate that at the moment that he expected to snatch a portion of the Lower Ward from the ‘loth’s claws, she’d snatched it away from him effortlessly. For a moment he felt less like a burgeoning rival who had spent years maneuvering to eclipse her influence in the Ward, and more a plaything to be batted about, torn to shreds, and callously tossed aside as nothing of importance.

That was when the box arrived.

“Grandfather Muriov, this just arrived at the front gate.” One of the patriarch’s grandchildren stood at the door to his office, holding a wooden box in their hands. “It’s addressed to you.”

The priest turned and stared, narrowing his eyes with suspicion and whispering the words to a prayer of detection. Only when he found no curses layered upon the box did he motion the boy over.

“Who delivered it?” Muriov took a deep breath as he examined the simple wooden container.

The boy shrugged with a look of worried confusion, “We didn’t see. It was simply there when it hadn’t been a moment before. I… I don’t know.”

The box bore no obvious marks of identification. The wood was reclaimed scraps from most likely everywhere in the city and unlikely to prove easy to trace by magic back to where it had been crafted or used. Gently he shook the box, feeling something heavy awkwardly shift inside and bump against the side.

“A ransom demand perhaps?” The young man asked as a tremble overtook his grandfather’s hands as the lid was opened.

Muriov’s face went ashen in an instant as he saw his nephew’s severed head and the sensory stone lodged in its mouth.

That night a wail echoed across the Ward: the wail of a broken man.

Hearing Muriov’s despondent, anguished cries, a tiefling dressed in rags and holding a bottle of cheap wine looked up. Sitting at the stoop of a rowhouse cattycorner to Muriov’s estate the nameless, socially invisible mongrel’s ear’s twitching at the hideous, heartbreaking sound. They spread their lips to show a glimmer of suddenly canid fangs. They smiled with a look of rapturous ecstasy, and then, before they vanished into thin air, they placed a hand daintily to their chest as their eyes flickered and glowed a puissant shade of lavender.


****​


“I wish to see her.” The man’s voice trembled as he glanced at the two wary tieflings who stood there barring his way.

Both tieflings’ hands immediately went to their blades as they blinked, recognizing the man for who he was. Both tieflings stood at the foot of the stairs leading up to the elevated, private dining booth where their mistress sat with a bottle of wine and her evening meal.

“Please,” Muriov Garianis exhaled with deliberate resignation, turning his head and glancing up at the fiend high above. All around him the gambling floor of the Fortune’s Wheel bustled with activity and the shouts and screams of winners and losers. For the first time in his life, he found himself distinctly among the latter, but unlike the gamblers losing their day’s, week’s, or life’s pay over a game of cards or dice, he’d lost something that had no price. Like those very same gamblers though, upon drawing his losing hand, he knew that somehow there had to be a way to recoup it all, or at least stop the bloodshed from cutting even deeper.

Garianis had left his mansion an hour earlier, leaving without giving notice to his employees or even his family members. He’d dressed in the simple, black clothing of mourning, with only his holy symbol on his person and nothing else as he’d walked from the Lower Ward to the Fortune’s Wheel. He hadn’t worried about being waylaid even if he never traveled without bodyguards. He could have hurled a prayer and incinerated any thief foolish enough to approach, or clapped his hands and summarily imploded them into a bloody, compact smudge upon the cobblestones… but the truth was, he no longer cared about his own personal safety.

“Send him up.” The Maraduer’s voice echoed within her guards’ minds.

Muriov ascended the stairs to see the Marauder sitting there as if nothing untoward had occurred in the prior twenty four hours. There was no smile upon her face. There was no cackle of triumph. There was no mocking of his losses. He stood there watching her sip her wine and enjoy her meal without so much as actually looking up at him. She didn’t care he realized. Her black heart cared nothing for his losses to even consider him worthy of mockery. He’d lost and they both knew that. There wasn’t any need for spectacle. There was only a need to an end.

“Please…” Muriov began, trailing off as the fiend quirked an eyebrow and then slowly put down her knife and fork.

“Ah yes, your daughter.” A smile played across the fiend’s purple, painted lips. “Delphinia.”

“Please, please tell me that…” Muriov stammered, dreading her response.

“You wish to have your daughter alive and whole.” The Marauder glanced up for only a moment before resuming her meal. “This can happen.”

Muriov paused, prepared to ask what the fiend’s price would be, but he left that question unspoken, irrelevant and pointless. Whatever it was, he would pay it.

“Please, make this all stop.” Muriov begged. “I’ve lost too much. You’ve won and I acknowledge that fact. I’ve lost too much. I’ve suffered too much. Please just let this end.”

Around them in the Fortune’s Wheel, the stray idle gambler, prostitute, and would-be social climber gave them scarcely any notice at all. If they watched, they saw as the ‘loth continued eating, only pausing to point out where the once powerful Muriov Garianis was to sign the paperwork one of her attendants provided for him. He read them in passing, but it was clear that he simply no longer cared. It didn’t matter to him what the terms were and what they implied. What he wanted was priceless, and he would give anything.”

Garianis began to sob, provoking the first reaction on Shemeska’s part that evening as she looked up and sneered. The expression playing across her muzzle returned to a cold, non-committal smile as soon as he looked up and met her gaze and put down the quill, having signed everything handed to him.

Shemeska gave a subtle nod and one of her guards took away the papers. Garianis looked at her expectantly as she reached out and opened her hand, revealing a slender crystalline vial. Trembling, he took the vial and stared at the liquid therein and then back at the ‘loth but she no longer looked up at him, but had resumed her evening meal.

Sullen and softly crying, Muriov Garianis turned and walked away. Shemeska’s luminous purple eyes trailed him with each and every step he took as he walked across the Fortune’s Wheel and took a seat at a table in the common room, just off the gambling floor.

He sat there for nearly an hour, softly praying, sobbing, staring off into space, and staring at the vial in his hand. Finally he turned to look up at fiend high above staring intently down at him.

“Delphinia, I’m so sorry…” He whispered, removing the crystalline stopper and drinking the vial’s contents in one swift motion. He gagged, shuddered, and dropped dead.

High above and still staring down as employees of the Fortune’s Wheel rushed to his motionless corpse laying there on the floor, the Marauder toyed with a glittering black sapphire in her left hand, “Good work little man. It’s been a pleasure.”


****​
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Ok, everything is back up to current after losing a few updates with the Enworld crash. Working on the next update as well :D

(Also I just got accepted into pharmacy school, so yay for mid-career career change going smoothly!)
 


Tsuga C

Adventurer
Congratulations on the acceptance! I understand the programs are quite intense, but the rewards are substantial. You were a micro-biologist, right? Did monetary reasons drive the switch or were you just getting antsy in a lab all day long?
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Congratulations on the acceptance! I understand the programs are quite intense, but the rewards are substantial. You were a micro-biologist, right? Did monetary reasons drive the switch or were you just getting antsy in a lab all day long?

Thanks so much! I've been a cell biologist for the past ten years, working in biotech/pre-clinical pharma development, so it's a bit of a tangential career change at this point. It is however one of the career options that I considered in the first place when I was in college, but my undergrad career was not exactly up to snuff to actually get into a pharma program the first time around. So finally after a decade and a half detour, I'll actually be doing this. :)
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
****​


Three weeks later, the bloodshed in the Lower Ward had finally settled down to its historical background of low-level murders and knifings. In the aftermath of the siege of the Shattered Temple, the Athar returned to the City of Doors to reestablish themselves in the heart of their former headquarters, though their presence was different from how it had been before.

Although the faction had never renounced their position as a formal faction in Sigil or out on the planes at large, they treated their newfound bastion as purely their own and not a public facility. They claimed no role in Sigilian politics, they refused to proselytize within the City of Doors, and would-be faction recruits showing up at the gates were turned away without comment. The truly devoted they figured would find their own way to the Outlands, there to discover the truth of the Godless’ creed.

Publicly the faction made no statement to justify or explain their brutal assault on the Shattered Temple and the slaughter of hundreds in the process. The corpses of their enemies were uniformly hurled into the Ditch and left to rot en masse. As for the Garianis clan, the decimated crime family mourned their losses and struggled to understand precisely what had happened. They knew not how, but the Marauder lay behind everything, and their patriarch Muriov had died as she watched and smiled. Revenge would come in time, but it would be years before they were even a force once again in the Lower Ward as they had been before.

While most of Sigil’s citizens continued about their business as usual, happily ignorant of the machinations of fiends and factions, the powerful and landed swiftly embroiled themselves in another power struggle entirely: the Sigil Advisory Council elections.

Only six seats upon the council were up for election, and three of them were occupied by sitting members seeking to return to their posts and largely considered safe. But with the retirement of two older mortals, and the death of another in the prime of life at the hands of a “tragic” accident upon the Endless Staircase, three seats were up for grabs by new members. Posters and public speeches plastered the walls and the ears, and eventually the political tide reached a high point and votes were cast and counted.

As the results reached the press and then the eyes and ears of touts and finally the general public, Fyrehowl’s mood darkened.

In the back room of the Portal Jammer, Fyrehowl snatched up the newspaper and flipped it open to the results of the Council Elections. Immediately her features fell and she frowned.

“I missed a seat by less than two hundred votes.” The lupinal softly snarled, losing her composure. Reflexively she twitched her fingers, grating her claws into the tabletop. “F*ck…”

“That’s not exactly the reaction I expected. You’re a lot more sour than if you’d only just lost out on a seat.” Florian preemptively winced, knowing full well from the posters which had plastered nearly every street corner the answer to her next question, “Who else managed to get in?”

“You can guess who.” The lupinal deadpanned, staring off into the distance.

Several minutes passed as Florian sipped her drink, staring uncomfortably as Fyrehowl continued to read the paper. The cleric grimaced, realizing that once again the ‘loth had gotten her way and they had little to no recourse. Among Sigil’s constants, it ranked alongside gloom-ridden skies and executioner’s ravens, wrapped in a dress worth more than most businesses in Tradegate and crowned with a coil of razorvine.

“Shemeska?”

“Yep…” She sighed with defeat, “The b*tch bought herself the votes.”

“I think that her winning a seat was going to be a given. With only landowners having votes, she only has to bribe or threaten a smaller number of people to ensure a victory before a single person actually casts their votes.” Florian spread her hands in concession to Fyrehowl’s disappointment, trying to help the lupinal understand that it wasn’t her fault at all. “Who else managed to gain a seat?”

“The high priest of the Temple of the Abyss of all people.” Fyrehowl scanned down the page, reading out the enigmatic cleric’s name, “Which is odd because he hasn’t really been seen in public for years.”

“Proxy vote for purchase then it is, probably right in Shemeska’s pocket as well, Foe Hammer preserve us all…” Florian sighed, shaking her head at the thought of not only a yugoloth on the Council but a pawn of the Abyss as well. “Please tell me that the other open seat at least has someone that isn’t a fiend or beholden to them? Please?”

At that Fyrehowl burst into laughter. Ears perked and eyes wide, still laughing madly, she folded the newspaper and walked over to a shelf to retrieve a flask of hard liquor.

“That’s not an answer Fyrehowl.” Florian motioned her hand through the air for an explanation as the lupinal continued to ignore her and drink straight from the flask. “No. Seriously. Who else won?”

Putting a hand to her lips, brushing away a few stray drops of whisky from her fur, Fyrehowl paused her laughter, taking her mirth down to just a snicker. “Oh this is too rich. Too, too rich. I want front row seats at the next meeting. Powers above this is beautiful. Hah!”

“Fyrehowl? Who got the last seat?”

Still not giving her friend an answer, Fyrehowl polished off the booze and tossed the newspaper onto the table as she walked out of the room and straight for the Portal Jammer’s front door. Idly she looked back, calling out, “I’ll be back.”

Snatching up the paper and only momentarily diverting her eyes from the page to the cipher’s retreating form, Florian’s jaw dropped as she read the results and come to much the same conclusion as had Fyrehowl.

“What the f*ck?! Haha! Yes!”


****​


“Why are you covered in dust?” A’kin looked down at a doll crafted to resemble Emma Oakwrite, the dwarven former Factol of the Fated. The arcanaloth shopkeeper tilted his head to the side as if listening to her reply before he rolled his eyes. “Oh of course, it’s Factol Montgomery’s fault. Clearly. She hasn’t been on the shelf here since I sold her to the owners of the Portal Jammer, and besides, I expected more from the paragon of self-reliance and will than blaming your own condition on someone else.”

A’kin shook his head and commenced dusting the doll before moving on down the shelf to various other magical and not-so-magical bric-a-brac. As he continued his daily –and largely unnecessary– cleaning, he likewise continued his one-sided conversations with numerous dolls, figurines, and even a miniature diorama of a light-up demilich devouring the souls of a group of adventurers.

Eventually though, the curiously smiling ‘loth’s ears perked at the sound of the silver chime above the door ringing in a customer’s fresh arrival.

“Welcome welcome!” A’kin turned with his customary greeting, “I’m…oh…”

Backlit by the light of Peak streaming through the open doorway, at first A’kin could only see a vaguely canid figure in silhouette, and for a moment his hands nearly launched into the casting of defensive spells. A split second and a single step through the door calmed his nerves entirely as the emerging figure lacked a crown a razorvine and bore silvery blue rather than coppery fur.

“Congratulations A’kin.” Fyrehowl said, smiling in gracious concession with clearly mixed emotions playing across her muzzle. “I just wanted to drop in and say that, given that I fell short in my own attempt.”

A’kin’s previously bristled fur smoothed and his ears stopped their nervous twitching. The ‘loth’s brow furrowed and a genuine smile crept across his face. “I… thank you Fyrehowl.”

Fyrehowl blinked, uncertain that she’d ever seen the ‘loth ever actually say those exact words. He’d always been talkative beyond measure and kind as far as his kind went, almost to the point of absurdity, but the tone of his voice actually came across as genuine.

“You don’t look at all pleased though my dear.” The shopkeep frowned and tilted his head. “I feel rather guilty now for having won.”

“200 damn votes.” The lupinal waved away his concern even as she sighed, clearly upset over her loss despite her words of concession.

Unbidden, A’kin pulled a stool out from behind the counter and set it down for Fyrehowl to take a seat. “Take a seat and let’s chat.”

Fyrehowl did just that, and within moments she found herself with hands cupped around a mug of freshly made hot cocoa and the newest member of the Advisory Council lending her a more than sympathetic ear.

“I do apologize for having the final seat on the Council.” A’kin’s whisker’s drooped. “I wasn’t aware that you were running until far too late. Most of my advertising and most of the people who said they were voting for me were here in the Lower Ward.”

“No no, it’s not that you won…” Fyrehowl paused, debating how to ask her next question, taking a sip of cocoa in the interim. “Clearly we had different bases of support in different Wards, and I’m genuinely happy that you of all people are a voice on the council but…”

“Thank you dear,” A’kin smiled and sipped for a mug of his own, “But…?”

“Her.”

“Ah yes…” A’kin looked away, his expression hidden behind his mug and his eyes distant for a moment. “You’ve had unpleasant dealings with her and her proxies.”

Shemeska’s name went entirely unspoken but perfectly understood between the two of them.

“She wins everything.” Fyrehowl failed to suppress a snarl, causing A’kin to subtly move back in his own seat. “She’s the single most miserable creature in existence and she gets away with everything. Everything that she’s done to me and my friends and nothing -NOTHING!- has happened to her as a result of it all. It isn’t fair, and my losing in the election and her coasting to a bought and bribed victory is almost too much for me to take.”

Fyrehowl paused, realizing that she’d started to cry and that A’kin’s right hand lay outstretched on top of hers. She looked up into the fiend’s eyes and found them inexplicably full on concern.

“She wants you to suffer Fyrehowl.” A’kin sighed. “She desires a Sigil that dances to invisible strings in a concert of her own devising full of only the wailing of broken souls kept dancing only by the created and dangled false hope that she herself has manufactured for them. She is what we are designed to be.”

Fyrehowl’s heart skipped a beat as she looked down at A’kin’s hand atop her own and at the tone and tenor of his words. This wasn’t polite shopkeep banter. This was something more.

“You’re better than to fall into that trap.” A’kin continued, “Don’t give her the satisfaction of seeing you upset, jealous, or angry at her win. Be there in the front row with the first public comment at the next meeting. You don’t need a formal place in the engines of power and influence to have an effect. We can all be grease on the cogs or a wrench hurled into the mix if we so choose. Be the latter for her and not the former. You have that choice.”

“What do you… I…” Fyrehowl stumbled over the proper words for a response, feeling against all odds that she’d gained an insight into A’kin’s thoughts beyond his carefully cultivated public persona as the eponymous Friendly Fiend. In the end she only mumbled a ‘thank you’, squeezed his hand and looked at him with more than a little confusion, not expecting anything so genuine and warm to come from a ‘loth.

Realizing that she was still holding his hand, she blushed, removed it, and resumed sipping her cocoa.

“I hope that helps you feel a bit better?” A’kin smiled, just before the Cipher seated opposite him acted in true form without thought.

“So what exactly is the situation between you and her?” Fyrehowl asked, dropping the bombshell question that always lingered unspoken and ever unanswered regarding the City of Doors’ two resident arcanaloths.

“It… Fyrehowl…” A’kin paused, his mouth open for a moment before closing it again. Pursing his lips and twitching his whiskers, he glanced away in a moment of pronounced social awkwardness distinctly out of character for the normally loquacious ‘loth. “My life has been interesting, very very long, and distinctly not normal Fyrehowl. The issue is complex. Let’s leave it at that. Please.”

Whatever the situation was, Fyrehowl realized that she wouldn’t be receiving any further clarifications or insight into it anytime soon. A’kin’s actual tone was unreadable, carrying with it a sense of fiercely guarded reluctance and an undertone of worry and sadness. That moment was ephemeral and A’kin returned to his amusing and ever-smiling self, eager to chat and talk about anything and nothing. Still though, when she finished her cocoa she enjoyed a second mug and only left A’kin’s shop after spending nearly an hour there chatting with him about everything –but– politics. When she left, she left with a smile on her face.

“Take care of yourself Fyrehowl.” A’kin smiled and waved her goodbye. “Don’t worry about me. I can handle myself on the Council, though I’ll be sure to make sure that my chair isn’t next to our mutual everything-but-a-friend.”

“Take care A’kin, and thank you.”

“You’re more than welcome Fyrehowl.”

The lupinal left and the ‘loth smiled, chuckling to himself and ever unreadable as always. He resumed dusting his shop’s shelves as he’d been before Fyrehowl had dropped in, though perhaps smiling just a bit more than before.


****​


Above the Portal Jammer, two floors higher and far away from concerns about both the intrigues and disappoints of the voting for the Sigil Advisory Council and the power struggles of Sigil’s underworld, a very happy planetouched couple sat and discussed a very different topic altogether.

“So my parents sent a letter.” Tristol said, peering up from his spellbook to look at Nisha. The tiefling lay curled alongside him, her tail occasionally flitting with a soft, metallic clatter of the silver bell at its tip.

“Oh oh! Lemme see!” Nisha snatched impulsively at the letter in her boyfriend’s hands.

“That’s not the response I expected actually,” Tristol’s ears which had begun folded back against his head in manifest apprehension now perked back up, even though he still held the letter itself just out of reach as Nisha started to clamber over him to reach it, “I thought that you’d be dreading this.”

“Why would I be dreading going to meet your folks and traveling to a strange magical land of wizards and strange prime material planar things and stuff?” Nisha shrugged off any and all concerns.

“Because this is my mom and that’s Halruaa.”

“So?”

“And…” Tristol hesitated, “I sort of failed to mention to her that you’re a tiefling.”

“Again, so?” Nisha shrugged a second time, utterly unconcerned.

Tristol waffled on how to explain it all before giving the Xaositect a brief overview of his home on the Prime, “Halruaa is rather bigoted when it comes to anyone but humans and mages. There’s a class system in place revolving around how much magic you can cast and who you’re related to and what they could cast. I sort of failed to mention much about you other than that you’re amazing and that I’m happy.”

“So she has no idea at all what to expect about me?” Nisha asked, suppressing a chuckle.

“… pretty much.” Tristol admitted, his ears falling flat against his head.

A grin fit for a scheming tanar’ri spread across Nisha’s face. The bubbling thoughts of mischief and mayhem on an unsuspecting mother-in-law and her nation were nearly palpable.

“I wanted to give her enough to just assuage any worries on her part but not enough to use to scry you. I told her that you’re a wizard and that’s about it.”

“A wizard am I?” Nisha giggled. “A wizard?”

“Well you are, technically.”

“Archmage,” Nisha pointed her index finger at Tristol’s nose, “I’m an archmage.”

“You’re not an archmage dear.” Tristol raised an eyebrow, “You can cast what, second sphere spells?”

Nisha stuck out her lower lip, pouting, “I wanna be an archmage…”

“You can be one if you’d like.” Tristol patted her on the head. “Just be aware that if you make that claim in Halruaa, and especially around my parents, they’re going to expect certain things from you.”

“Oh not to worry! I can fake being an archmage,” Nisha grinned, “That’s not a problem.”

“Fake being an archmage?” Tristol asked, “… what does that even mean?”

“You’ll find out now won’t you?”

Tristol’s eyes grew wide with worry about how the tiefling would compose herself around the hoi polloi of Halruaan society. In the end however, he figured that he really didn’t particularly care how it went. He loved her and she meant more to him than his mother’s expectations. Hopefully his father would at least help make sure that nothing too explosive happened she noticed that the family’s potential future daughter-in-law had horns, hooves, and a tail.

“So we get to visit yes? You’re looking off into space like you’re deep in thought. So what’s the answer then?” Nisha beamed a smile, “You don’t get to say anything but yes.”

“How chaotic of you.”

Nisha stuck out her tongue.

“But yes, you get to visit my family.” Tristol leaned over and planted a kiss that was swiftly returned with a hug and a much deeper kiss initiated by a very happy tiefling.

“And we get to bring everyone else along yes?” Nisha’s tail pointed in the vague directions of their companions’ rooms in the Portal Jammer.

“If you’d like we can certainly invite them.” Tristol shrugged. “The Jammer can run itself with the hired staff left to their own devices for a while without us.”

“It’ll be fun!” Nisha beamed and gently bounced up and down on the bed before standing up and actually jumping around, hooves on the mattress with delight.

“It’ll also…” Tristol moved out of the way lest he be trampled by his ecstatic partner, “It’ll also make my mom less likely to say something stupid and offensive if she has to worry about other people than just the two of us.”

“Your mom’s an illusionist right?” Nisha continued to jump around on the bed.

“Yeah that’s right.” Tristol rolled his eyes. “She practices the worst kind of magic that I can think of. She’s overly involved where she shouldn’t be in every way imaginable. I came to Sigil mostly to get away from her meddling and trying to set me up for an arranged marriage with someone ‘proper’ with ‘proper magical lineage’ from a ‘proper family’.”

“I’m proper.” Nisha deadpanned before breaking into a wry grin and tackling Tristol, looking down from atop him before licking the end of his nose. “Just not very proper right now. Not at all right now actually. Let’s see if you can make me babble in scramblespeak before the end of the evening hmm?”

Tristol smiled, giggled, and licked her nose, motioning with one free hand to magically lock the door given that they’d be rather occupied for some time. They could wait to invite the others to Halruaa, at least until Nisha had all her improper out of her system, or something like that.


****​


The skies over northwest Faerun shone brightly with light of a noonday sun, warming the hungry deciduous leaves of the great wilderness expanse of the High Forest. Despite the forest’s natural, pristine beauty unmarred by the presence of cities and the destruction of nature’s untouched design that came with human occupation everywhere else across Toril’s face, there was nothing natural about that specific portion of the forest itself known only as the Dire Wood.

A low, cold mist clung to the ground, clutching at the soil as if terrified of being touched by the creatures that wandered there. Shambling alone or more frequently in packs, the withered forms of the undead aimlessly wandered the cursed, forsaken stretch of land, there to prey upon any living creature foolish enough to find themselves there but soon to join their number.

A trio of zombies suddenly looked up at the sky and a sudden object burning in the sky distinct from the sun. In a flash of magical energies a flame-rimmed portal erupted a thousand feet above, ejecting a whirling, tumbling form into the open air. The undead could only watch hungrily without concern for their own safety as the falling figure whipped around in the air to face the portal from whence she’d come. The arcanaloth that was not twitched her back, sprouting tendrils and pseudopods of flesh that rapidly grew and formed themselves into a pair of draconic wings to desperately slow her fall now that she hung in the grip of Toril’s gravity well rather than the black, starless void between the 1st and 2nd mounts of Gehenna.

“You will not find me! You will not catch me! Fools! Fools all of you! Betrayers! Betrayers all!”

Taba’s eyes burned violet with intensity hotter than Toril’s parent star as she wove her arms and spat arcane words from mouths newly formed for that purpose alone on her arms and the side of her jackal’s head.

“Suffer and die in the shadow of Khalas ignorant slaves of the Usurper!” Taba screamed and cackled even as she plummeted from the sky, her wings essentially an afterthought compared to the hurried words to close her gate, detonate the latent energies coiled around its opposite face and then the next layers of spells to obfuscate her location from the coming prying eyes of any of her surviving pursuers.

The altraloth never stopped laughing, taunting, and profaning the Oinoloth before she met the tree line, slamming into the petrified corpses of a dozen ancient oaks in a concussive shower of splintering stone and her own metamorphic flesh and blood.

Alone at the bottom of a crater of her own making, Taba’s blood and splattered viscera took upon a life of its own, flowing, wriggling, or sprouting legs to crawl back to her body there to reform as she shed her arcanaloth’s visage to that of a brown-skinned elf. She lay there for several long minutes before flowing to her feet in defiance of gravity and clambering up to the ground level above.

Forty or fifty zombies and skeletons crowded around the point of her arrival there to hungrily await her ascent, even as she casually scoffed at the equal number laid low by the impact of her arrival, skewered and pinned to the ground by splinters of rock the size of a man’s arm or torn in half from her nearly terminal velocity impact.

Ignorant of her nature and uncaring of the threat to themselves that the archfiend represented, the pack of undead corpses swarmed and attacked. Taba of course simply rolled her eyes, forming a few dozen extra peppered across her flesh to emphasize her feelings on the matter even as she shifted her infinitely metamorphic body. Within seconds she’d assumed the form of a fang dragon, easily of great wyrm stature, casually decimating the undead by simply wading through them, trampling them underfoot, and doing the same to the forest itself as she traversed towards her intended goal still a mile or two out.

The nature of the Dire Wood itself remained puissant enough all that time after its formative event to despoil the altraloth’s spells and divert her course. Normally the undead would have stopped any creatures attempting to physically travel to the cursed forest’s heart, but Taba cared not, eventually forming a second head and neck to crane back and exhale of torrent of lightning and acid, largely ending any further pursuit as she traversed the remaining distance.

“We share something in common…” Taba sneered as she stepped out from the broken tree line of petrified, black oaks, trampling her claws into the soft, blood-red soil as she emerged into a clearing at the forest’s heart, “As much as it pains me to speak such of mewling soul filth such as yourself.”

Shaking her head, Taba flexed a wing to sever the petrified trunk of an ancient tree and reduce yet another of the forest’s shambling corpses into pulp. Flicking the gore from her body, the altraloth looked up at the massive stone butte rising up from the ruins of the ancient Netherese settlement of Karse, so named for the frozen stone form of the archmage Karsus, ‘The Accidental God’.

“You at least had ambition.”


*****​
 

Tsuga C

Adventurer
Happy New Year, one and all! New Year's Day was sunny and bright, but now we're back to leaden skies suitable for Niflheim or some place else in the Grey Waste.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Happy New Year, one and all! New Year's Day was sunny and bright, but now we're back to leaden skies suitable for Niflheim or some place else in the Grey Waste.

My freelancing plate is clear in the next few days, at which point I'll be working on the next update (or rather finishing the next update). Happy New Year to you as well!
 


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