Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 14February2024)

Shemeska

Adventurer
One hour after peak was early for Clueless to be both in bed and asleep. Rather than sleeping, his time was more often spent drinking or bartending, carrying on conversations with dozens of late night regulars at the Jammer or his own companions up late. More than that, the fey-blooded bladesinger was not in the slightest bit averse to "entertaining" either with a particular and particularly non-exclusive Sensate, anyone else that caught his eye, or both. Lately however he'd been keeping to himself and brooding over certain and certainly darker things he'd learned below the streets of Sigil. This latter topic more than anything else he'd kept absolutely to himself, not trusting his revelations and self-revelations to any of his companions, regardless of their shared experiences.

At the moment however, Clueless was fast asleep, his feet free of the covers and his right hand under his pillow, tightly wrapped around Razor's grip like a Baatorian steel extension of himself. His sleep however was fitful, and a blizzard of concerns spun through his dreams. Toras claimed to have been killed by Alisohn Nilesia, a 'dead woman' if ever there'd been one. It would have been easy to dismiss the fighter's claims as mistaken identity, a doppelganger, or an illusion wrought to sow discord in the City of Doors. Those slain by Her Serenity uniformly did not return from their brutal, horrific, and typically public death. It should have been easy to dimiss, except for Fyrehowl's encounter with the risen Nilesia. She hadn't seen the ex-Factol amidst the haze of a burning building and through eyes dying from a blade through the heart. No. The lupinal had seen Nilesia face to face, spoken with her, heard her voice, seen the contempt in her eyes, and it was her even though it couldn't have been.

Maybe.

She'd been subtly different, physically so, more half-fiend than tiefling, but she'd spoken with an intimate knowledge and personal memory of past interactions. She recognized Fyrehowl and she stayed within the burning library longer than she should have in order to try and kill her.

There was however the issue of time. Fyrehowl had fought Nilesia at nearly the same time as Toras had been stabbed to death, almost two wards away. Clueless wasn't entirely sure how to get around that issue of distance, and more so the very non-random connection between the locations that she'd been: a library and scriptorium linked to the Fraternity of Order. Toras described it as if she'd been looking for something, tearing the place apart searching for a specific volume or record. Fyrehowl though had seen the same but also seen Nilesia with several volumes in hand and the fires started to destroy the evidence of her theft.

Beyond how she was inexplicably risen from the dead, why had she returned to Sigil and risked the Lady's wrath? What was she searching for and what had she found? Was it connected to the apparent assassination of the Guvners' factol in Mechanus? It had to be.

Looming on Clueless's dreaming mind was also a question that had gnawed at him since the start: why had he and his companions been blackmailed and forced into recovering Nilesia from slavery in Acheron only to have her arrive in Sigil, insane and raving, there to be slaughtered without effort by Her Serenity? What reason did the Marauder have to do that? Simply to give Nilesia hope and watch with amusement as she destroyed herself with mad ambition? It was plausible of course, but with Nilesia seemingly risen from the dead and looting not one but two Guvner storehouses in Sigil? There was something deeper going on, and the 'loth was at the heart of it, pulling string as she always was.

How it all fit together was a great Gordian knot that spun and twisted in his mind, perpetually shifting form and shape, revealing more snarls and tangles, seemingly tighter than ever before, even as he thought he'd managed to figure out the form of the knot in the first place. Be that as it was however, what spun above the slumbering bladesinger at that very moment however was distinctly absent from those slumbering thoughts.

"Greetings!"

Drifting several feet above the sleeping bladesinger, the faint blue-white glow of the Cheshire Fiend's projected avatar smiled with its self-satisfied greeting and announcement of its presence. Of course its presence was greeted only with an abrupt mumble, turn from one side to the other, and a snore.

The fiend cleared his throat but gained no reply save for another snore. The illusory grin frowned. F*cking mortals.

"HEY! WAKE UP!" The 'loth barked out, finally garnering a reaction and a hell of one as Clueless bolted up and promptly skewered his projected avatar with Razor's tip, albeit to no effect.

"Well that wasn't the response that I expected..." The Cheshire Fiend proceeded to nibble upon Razor, showing no apparent ill effect. "Still, long time no see Clueless. It's good to see you again!"

His eyes marred by stress, too many unwisely taken shots of fey-wine only hours before, and fitful sleep afterwards, Clueless stared at the illusory ‘loth with confusion and distrust.

"What the f*ck are you doing in my room?!" Clueless nearly spat, not moving Razor in the slightest and fully prepared to cast if needed, despite being tangled in bed sheets. His patience with anything ‘loth was sorely thin given the events of the past twenty four hours and frankly the past year and a half before that. A smiling ‘loth was still a ‘loth.

"Trust me when I say I'm not here to stare at your naked flesh.” The Cheshire Fiend looked down at the bladesinger’s form which would have made many a Sensate happy, and occasionally made one Sensate very happy. “Many would be happy as I understand such mortal concerns, but for a 'loth like myself, the notion is... disconcerting."

"You're not my type either if that helps..." Clueless frowned and lowered Razor down to the mattress, though pointedly, his hand remained upon the blade and his stance only partially relaxed. "So to what do I owe this honor? It's been a long time, for better or for worse."

"For better or for worse indeed, yes..." The Grin drifted backwards slightly and turned to examine the bladesinger’s room. “I gather that your business here seems to be doing rather well, and I’m to understand that your lupinal companion came rather close to gaining a seat on Sigil’s council. Bravo.”

The fiend was taking its time to actually get to the point of why it was there, something that Clueless inwardly frowned at.

"Thank you, and as for yourself, I trust you're doing well?" The bladesinger asked, not truly expecting or desiring an answer compared to the lingering question of what the illusory fiend was doing in his room at that hour. Given a chance to talk about himself though, the chatty fiend gave an answer nonetheless.

“Oh I’ve been doing quite well for myself as it happens, thank you very much. My status as the Keeper’s favored servitor has personally profited me to quite an extent in Gehenna. Unless of course I’m in the Waste. Or Carceri. Or Acheron. Or wherever else I happen to be. The use of a planar projection makes my existence ooooh so much easier, even if it does have me as something of a favored errand boy for the Keeper of the Tower.” The Cheshire Fiend shrugged, as best as an exaggeratedly comic smile without eyes or any actual body either tangible or representative could express.

“I wasn’t trying to spark small talk, I was just being polite.” Clueless smirked and motioned for the fiend to get on with it. “Spit it out. You’re not here to make random chitchat. What's up?”

The corners of the Cheshire Fiend’s cartoon grin moved in their best impression of an apologetic shrug.

“I’m here to deliver a message to you and your companions, though mostly to you.”

“To me? Why?” Clueless raised an eyebrow.

"Consider this a parting gift and bit of professional courtesy among former compatriots from Helekanalaith the Keeper of the Tower, most recently in residence in a minor portion of your parietal lobe."

Clueless grimaced at the fiend’s mention of the Keeper who’d stayed within his mind as a passenger long after he’d promised to leave. “F*ck him.”

"Another thing I'm not inclined to pursue, but if that's your thing, please see to your dreams and aspirations. Your fate is likely better than with the options here in Sigil that have expressed their interest in you in the past."

With the last mention, a faint swirl of cartoon razorvine spiraled atop the Cheshire Fiend’s avatar before vanishing as the ‘loth made a point of sticking its tongue out.

"Get to it." Clueless grimaced as well, rapidly losing his patience.

"As I said, this is a professional courtesy from the Keeper constituent to your original agreement, which is now void for reasons beyond his control."

"..." Clueless took a deep breath, knowing what the fiend meant even before it was plainly stated.

"Shylara the Manged is free from her stony confinement and released to pursue her own affairs and whatever the Oinoloth has tasked her towards."

"F*ck!" Clueless knew the day would eventually come and complicate his already dangerous life, but as the fiend supplied the revelation, he pointedly slammed his fist into the wall, ignoring the pain before finally stopping and trailing off into a string of curses.

"F*ck indeed, for more than just yourself though.” The Cheshire Fiend lamented, “I've rather enjoyed the status quo for the past year. I also had a deep and abiding appreciation for the awkward snarl she had on her face in the corner of my patron’s office the statue resided in.”

“I’m sure you did…” Clueless ignored the ‘loth the room as his mind spun to what the Overlord of Carceri might do in the coming days.

“We dressed it up, decorated it, gave it new and awkward poses from time to time.” The ‘loth beamed a smile, “It has been a delightful distraction and I must thank you for putting it into the Keeper’s hands in the first place.”

“He never gave me any other option…” Clueless smirked, “But now that you’ve let me know, which I do appreciate, don’t get me wrong, is there anything else you want? Or can I get some sleep or just go try very hard to get drunk?”

The Cheshire Fiend paused and stared at Clueless for a moment before asking a question:

"If you don't mind me asking, how did you manage to get the Keeper out of your head?"

Clueless grimaced and considered saying nothing, but the fiend clearly knew so there wasn’t any point in denying it, though just how much it knew was an open question, "You knew about that?"

The Grin paused, taking it's time for the response, measuring what precisely to admit to or not, "I suspected. My being here rather than a mental projection by Helekanalaith himself settled the issue for me. So how did you? I'm exceptionally curious. Though the Keeper said nothing to me, I expect that he was not pleased by that turn of events."

Inwardly, Clueless smiled, enjoying a profound moment of schadenfreude at his possession of knowledge that the secrets greedy 'loth did not. Outwardly his feelings manifested to mirror his inward smile as abruptly he smirked, "Yeah you can keep guessing as to the why. I'm keeping that one to myself."

"Well that's no fun..." The Grin frowned, giving as best of a pout as it could without an actual lower lip. "You're just going to make me watch you now from time to time and try and puzzle this one out. I do like puzzles."

Wanting to get the fiend away from the notion of following and watching him, Clueless changed the subject. "So what do you think the Manged is going to do now?"

"Whatever she's told!" The Grin quipped, "She'll likely be on a tighter leash with the Oinoloth directly dictating her actions." The Grin flickered, indicated a blink as it turned to the side and softly chuckled, "She'll probably like that."

"How worried should we be that she'll try and take revenge on us?"

"Not really all that much I suspect. Not immediately at least," The Grin did its best to shrug. "She'll want to absolutely, but the Oinoloth likely considers this whole situation her own f*ck up and frankly is likely to not allow her to take revenge so as to make her suffer as punishment for that. But... if you attempt to directly stymie anything that the Oinoloth has tasked her with, He will take interest and the b*tch is liable to be unleashed to do as she wishes. Do beware of that."

"So where do -you- stand within all of that? Clearly you don't like her, but what about the Oinoloth's goals... whatever the hell they are?"

Clueless raised the one question that had hung over their heads since their first encounter with the Oinoloth’s surrogates and co-conspirators, and for himself a situation that had been with him and actually firmly lodged in his ankle well before any of that. While the ‘loth wasn’t likely to tell him anything, it was worth a try.

“Ah yes… that…” The Cheshire Fiend paused its slow meander about Clueless’s room and gave an exaggeratedly slow, sly smile, "I do believe you said it best my mortal friend: 'I'm keeping that one to myself!'"

Then, without any further commentary the illusory grin winked out of existence, leaving Clueless now awake and with a deep sense of foreboding for the future. A bottle of fey wine seemed to be in order, even if he had a hangover at the Council Meeting the very next day.

"F*cking 'loths..."


****​


Panic and horror welling in her eyes, Shylara’s screaming abruptly ceased as the Oinoloth gazed down and thrust a clawed finger to her neck directly atop her carotid artery. Neatly pinching off the blood-flow to her brain, the Ebon sneered.

“You awaken only because I still have need of you, worthless, ragged tool, not because of your having earned any sympathy from me.”

His finger firmly in place and unwavering even as his consort shuddered and began struggling, he snarled and glanced derisively at her body, the fur patchy and marked by open sores and scarring from her incessant itching, unhealed despite the passage of the past year in her comatose state.

“….” Shylara gasped, her reply incoherent and gargled, even as her eyes remained locked upon the Oinoloth somewhere between horror and rapture.

“You weak and foolish wretch! Did I make a mistake in giving you power Shylara?” The Oinoloth mused, “Should I have taken another as my consort? Another child of the Tower unworthy of my attentions but useful nonetheless such as yourself? Should I watch you die here and now?”

“….” Again the Manged gave an incoherent bark, her struggling increasing as her starving brain fired and overrode nearly all rational, higher thought with only a primordial desire for survival. Wriggling in place, held down by a single finger like a butterfly pinned alive to a collector’s glass plate, she frantically, erratically slapped at the Oinoloth’s arms and shoulder to no avail.

“It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve watched you die of course, nor the first time it has happened at my hands.” Vorkannis sneered, ignoring Shylara’s flailing, “This time it won’t be at your begging request though, nor will it serve to advance your caste and station.”

Sparking sudden recognition and a long-buried memory clouded by agony, Shylara looked up at the Oinoloth and slowly moved her hands to embrace his and dig his claws deeper into her flesh. Even as her eyes began to bleed from retinal hemorrhage and her limbs grew weak she looked up and began to smile.


****​


12,900 years before the present, Carceri’s first layer of Othrys:

“Shylara Akt’Atarm, stand before your betters and present your request to us.” The sterile, dispassionate telepathy of thirteen ultroloths echoed within the skull of the one there to petition them for promotion.

The nycaloth who bore that name and the ultroloths surrounding her stood within a copse of withered trees transplanted eons ago from the Waste to mark out a place of importance there upon Carceri’s first layer of Othrys. One day the ‘loths would control the plane in its entirety, but at the moment that rule was disputed and their infection of the plane with their essence was paltry at best, though their plans for the Tower of Incarnate Pain would make their rule undisputed. The nycaloth smiled with the self-assured knowledge that she of course would be a part of that plan.

“I stand before you my masters, my betters, Shylara Akt’Atarm servitor of the Tower of Incarnate Pain, butcher of gehreleths, and 1st among the scouts of Her Majesty Cholerix.” Shylara’s eyes were closed as she announced herself, and then as she gave her request, she opened them to see herself surrounded by a circle of glittering, multicolored eyes. “I am here to present myself for your judgment and gain promotion from nycaloth to arcanaloth. I must know. I must understand. Teach me. I demand this. Break me. Remake me greater and grander.”

Her bravado belied her worry, both at her impending rise in station, but also the unique nature of the ceremony compared to what she knew of such things. The standard ring of security normally found at such an event was non-existent. All such ceremonies occurred within the Tower’s foundations, with the ultroloths opening up a gate to either Gehenna or the Waste, with the broken forms of the worthy hurled into the Forges or the Pools respectively below the great Tower of each plane; but not this time. Shylara’s ceremony occurred far from the Tower of Incarnate Pain, out in the wilds of Carceri, beneath the unblinking gaze of the crimson pearls strung overhead like so much bloody garland, below the limitless void and the chiming of the Othrys Bells, out in the wilderness, inviting, even goading the attentions of Carceri’s first and arguably current masters the gehreleths.

Shylara Akt’Atarm towered a half-dozen feet above the heads of the others gathered there to judge and then either promote her or destroy her. A nycaloth, lean muscle rippled with her every motion like waves of insects wriggling beneath her grey-green hide. At her back a pair of powerful, membranous wings lay folded and relaxed except for a periodic jitter to reflect her nervous mood. Of course she wore no clothing, her body exposed without shame to symbolically reflect that her mind, her memories, her actions, her motivations, and her past record of success and failures were all open for review.

She took a breath, baring jagged fangs set within a vaguely canine maw, brilliant green eyes flickering with a flame of intelligence well beyond the standard for her caste and a furious current of perhaps reckless passion that underlay it. Despite the flawless, muscled physique she presented, despite her accomplishments in service to Cholerix, and despite her pride, she was terrified of what could come given where she was and who set their gaze upon her.

The lords of the Tower of Incarnate Pain had assembled there to oversee and approve her promotion from nycaloth to arcanaloth. There was no other reason to find the entirety of Bubonix’s cadre of ultroloth advisors to be present, -physically- present there in the Tower’s distant shadow but to bestow upon her their approval.

Despite her bravado she struggled not to tremble. More than twelve millennia in the making on her part as a nycaloth, in the past century she had gathered the attention of an arcanaloth willing to serve as her sponsor for promotion, one of the chief advisors to Bubonix the Lord of the Tower of Incarnate Pain.

“Who is here to sponsor you Shylara Akt’Atarm?” One of the ultroloths telepathically asked, its voice giving the impression of hammer-blows upon a petitioner’s bleeding and pock-marked flesh.

“Vorkannis the Ebon, chief advisor to Bubonix,” Instinctively the nycaloth bowed and inclined her head and suddenly wide swept wings to the arcanaloth who stood next to her and who had walked in silence to lead her there into the foothills to the place where she would be judged. “He believes I am ready to join his caste.”

In contrast to the dull black and gray robes of the ultroloths that ringed them, Shylara’s sponsor wore robes of deep, cobalt blue that flickered with silver patterns of runes that seemed to change as the light hit different angles of the fabric. Unlike the ultroloths who wore precious little finery, the arcanaloth’s head was ‘crowned’ with a trio of glimmering blue Ioun stones which zipped about in erratic orbit of his head. His fur jet black and his eyes a lambent, sickly shade of albino pink, Vorkannis was nothing like the ultroloths that stood –as Shylara believed– ready to pass judgment.

“If he,” Shylara’s voice was firm and strong as she resisted begging, “Your peer amongst the advisors to the altraloth lord of the Tower of Incarnate Pain believes that I am ready, surely I must be.”

Her head bowed and her body abased before her judges, Shylara never saw her sponsor’s reaction to her words. At the word ‘peer’ he openly smirked, disgust and derision playing across his muzzle even as the ultroloths gazed down upon the nycaloth and him.

“Shylara Akt’Atarm,” The principal ultroloth, Vozrikirn ap Pluton ‘spoke’ once more, “You are judged and we find you worthy of promotion.”

Shylara gasped, momentarily losing her composure with giddy, giggling, selfish glee, her fists clenched tight enough to force her claws completely through her palms to leave a pool of blood upon the ground below her. In her masochistic joy she never saw that with each telepathic word from the ultroloths, Vorkannis moved his mouth, mouthing each and every word a split second before his ultroloth puppet ‘spoke’.

“In this place we will promote you, the first of your caste to be granted arcanaloth status in Carceri.” The ultroloths spoke as a whole, “We will flense your flesh from your bones, carve words of power upon them, and then drag you back to the Tower still conscious, covering your dying corpse with the dust of this plane before we hurl you bodily into the Reflective Chasm, there to gain your new and deserved form.”

Shylara’s eyes bulged and her patron smiled as he produced an obsidian blade, stepped forward, and handed it to Vozrikirn. For the first moment the nycaloth’s brain buzzed with the notion that her sponsor was more than he appeared or claimed. He should have been whimpering before the ultroloth council, he should have been on his knees, but no, he walked amongst them watching and observing as if their positions were entirely reversed and they abased themselves in deference before him. But the thoughts that proved her worthy of promotion were swift to fly from her brain as the principle ultroloth placed the cold and razored tip of an obsidian dagger to her chest.

“Prepare yourself child, the coming agony has no parallel.” Vozrikirn’s eyes flickered their hypnotic multitude of colors as high above the Bells chimed long and clear.

“Please.” On her knees, the nycaloth now begged openly, her four hands trembling and smearing her face with mud formed from her own blood and the dust of Othrys. “I am ready.”

“Suffer and by suffering learn.” One of the ultroloths took two of her arms and held them over her head while another took the other pair and did the same.

“Suffer and be remade.” Another of the faceless masters gazed down with multicolored eyes and pushed upon the nycaloth’s forehead, pushing her down to the ground, prone and helpless, eager and awaiting the horror that would come.

And then the thirteen ultroloths were upon her, holding her down as Vozrikirn pressed the obsidian dagger to her flesh, just a thumb’s spacing below the breastbone and made the first incision. The nycaloth only smiled and gave a stuttering exhalation, bliss and need on her face as the blade sliced deeper still and the ultroloth began to skin her alive. Her stoic silence did not last long.

“Suffer for me,” Smiling and watching, Vorkannis closed his eyes, perking his ears and listening to the first of his pupil Shylara’s horrific screams as if they were music, “Now and forever after, suffer for me.”

Through it all as the hours stretched on interminably, the nycaloth would inexplicably never notice the glowing shards of rune-covered crystal stabbed into the heads of each and every ultroloth that pinned her down, each taking their turn to slowly flense and dissect her, preparing her to become an arcanaloth under the intimate direction of their ostensible inferior in Bubonix’s service, Vorkannis the Ebon. Her sponsor was not her sponsor, but the director of the event in minute, exacting detail. Every slice of the blade, each incision, each carved character upon bone or cartilage was at his direction, and eventually once she lay there, her flesh removed except for her face, he would wave the ultroloths away and take part in Shylara’s promotion himself.

“You are ready,” The future Oinoloth smiled as reached down to gather one of the nycaloth’s tears upon a claw. Behind him, Vozrikirn approached and handed the arcanaloth the obsidian blade the ultroloths had used, but the albino-eyed fiend held it for only a second before smirking and dropping it into the dirt at his feet. He would need no exogenous instruments for this, his claws and teeth would suffice.


****​


High above the Othrys bells chimed, faint and seductive as a single farastu gehreleth moved swiftly and silently over the crest of a nearby hill. The tarry substance that leaked from its pores served to match well with the underlying black rocks that broke through the ruddy soil that predominated most of the infinite spheres of Othrys. Black eyes glinting, its ears twitched and its lips moved into a soft but soundless snarl as it heard once again the screams of the nycaloth in the vale below.

The scout of a much, much larger force of gehreleths assembled dozens of miles away, the farastu was prepared to learn as much as it could of the edges of the yugoloth fortifications at the borders of their so-called Tower of Incarnate Pain. It would learn and it would relay its information to the shators waiting miles back, giving that information to Apomp’s generals even if it would die in the process. What the farastu found however was not at all what it expected.

Creeping forward to watch the assembled yugoloths below, the creature snarled in disgust and confusion as much as feeling a genuine sense of dread and fear at what would surely be its imminent death. Standing alone and without any visible accompanying guards were fully thirteen ultroloths standing around and encircling a prone nycaloth and a black-furred arcanaloth atop it, aggressively copulating.

Creeping forward still, morbidly, disgustedly curious about the blasphemy watched by and allowed by so many of the highest yugoloth caste, the farastu’s eyes went wide. His robes cast aside to the ground, the black-furred arcanaloth held the nycaloth’s heart raised up in his hands, the organ still beating while below the nycaloth’s chest cavity was torn open, the muscles flensed and the ribs pulled back and carved in ornate scrimshaw. Illuminated by the multicolored radiance of the ultroloths’ eyes, the two ‘loths rutted in time with the rhythm of the empty but yet pumping left ventricle as it gasped for blood but drew only the cold and bitter air of Othrys.

The arcanaloth softly smiled and never looked up, concentrating on his actions through clenched teeth. The ultroloths were silent and transfixed upon the blasphemous promotion ongoing below their glittering eyes. None of them made any reaction to the approaching gehreleth, so intent were they upon their blasphemous ceremony, but as the intruder drew within striking distance, one of them spoke.

“I’ve been waiting for you to make an appearance…” Vorkannis said between measured inhalations.

Noticed and realizing that its chance was then or never, the gehreleth snarled and leapt forward, claws extended and fangs bared, but it never reached its target. Midflight it simply stopped, suspended in mid-air with the casual flick of the arcanaloth’s hand, pinned in place. The gehreleth screamed in fury, clawing at the air and drawing the casual attention of the seemingly hypnotized ultroloths before they returned to watch the arcanaloth rutting atop the mangled nycaloth, the former of which hadn’t bothered to pause.

“Interlopers! Intruders! Traitors!” The ‘leth screamed out, furiously trying to reach out and strike any of the yugoloths there. “Make an appearance? We will kill you all! We will drive you from Othrys and burn your tower to the ground as we have before! We will…”

Rolled his eyes, Vorkannis took one hand from Shylara’s beating, shuddering heart, and raised two blood-slicked digits to the air, gesturing and pinching off the gehreleth’s windpipe to silence the creature.

“I’m not talking to you puppet, nor to your shator commanders who have the vain and grossly inflated hopes of razing the Tower of Incarnate Pain to the ground as they have before. Divest yourselves of that notion now that I am here and have replaced Bubonix and his pet in all but formal position…” The arcanaloth’s albino eyes twinkled with delight at a moment long in the making, “I’m not talking to you nor to them, or frankly in any way concerned with such petty things. No, I’m talking to your maker. An old acquaintance of mine you might say. We have our differences, oh yes, but I expected at least a little ‘hello how are you doing?’ well prior to today.”

The ‘leth’s confusion was obvious, but immediately blossomed into pain as the ‘loth addressed not him, but the godlike entity looking through the farastu’s eyes, speaking in a language that set its limbs alight with agony and caused its ears to run with a mixture of blood and clotted tar.

As the gehreleth’s eyes glittered a reflective, mirrored black, Vorkannis looked back, his own eyes lambent and sickly pink, still continuing his actions below for the sake of his new audience, even as Shylara’s death rattle made it apparent that the ceremony was complete and he and the ultroloths could proceed to hurl her mangled corpse into the Reflective Chasm to burn away her physical form and usher in the final phase of her promotion to arcanaloth.

They would finish that act later, after a conversation was had.

“Hello Apomps,” Vorkannis smirked, “It has been such a very, very, very long time now hasn’t it?”
 

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Shemeska

Adventurer
The grey-green clouds that hung low above the Park of the Infernal and the Divine reflected all too well the current atmosphere in Sigil at large and among the minds of its council members and voting, land-holding citizens alike. The City of Doors had been rocked by dozens of Cagequakes over the past month, their frequency and intensity growing as time went on, and in the past twenty four hours had come something almost more profound than the presumed and unexplained disquiet of Her Serenity: Alisohn Nilesia.

More than a year earlier, the vanished former Mercykiller Factol had suddenly reappeared in the Cage, rescued from fiendish slavery in Acheron. As barmy as when she’d vanished from Sigil during the height of the Faction War, she’d publicly raged at the presumed death of her “beloved husband, Duke Rowan Darkwood” at the hands of Her Serenity the Lady of Pain. She’d marched towards her old Faction headquarters leading a mob of heavily armed loyalists ready to install her as Factol once more over a unified Mercykiller faction that had, in her absence, fractured into the Sodkillers and the Sons of Mercy. Blaming The Lady for all of her ills, she finally took one step too far and with hundreds of eyes to witness it, she’d pulled a vorpal blade from her scabbard and beheaded a dabus, one of Sigil’s silent caretakers and servitors of Her Serenity.

At the time the crowd went deathly silent at the taboo act of a woman hell bent on revenge against the figure she blamed for her fall from power and the death of a man who had never truly loved her. The hush that fell over the city was palpable and cut only by Nilesia’s mad, deranged laughter as she called for The Lady to appear and meet Justice at her hands, so madly devoted was she to her Faction’s creed that all sense had fled her mind.

Appear The Lady most certainly did.

Drifting above the cobblestones, Her face expressionless and Her blades covered in their speckled, eternal patina, the Lady’s Shadow was shift, lancing across the cobblestones in a tidal wave of screams and butchered flesh, rendering a path through the mad Factol’s followers until at last it struck Nilesia herself. Alisohn Nilesia died that day, flayed alive by The Lady of Pain, and yet one day before the present, none other than Alisohn Nilesia had appeared in Sigil and brought with her blood and fire.

What that meant and what portent it carried for Sigil itself were the questions that ran rampant through the minds of most of Sigil’s souls, and all of those individuals invited to the day’s closed meeting of the Sigil Advisory Council. Heavily armed members of the Sons of Mercy and the Sodkillers alike stood at the gates to the park and further down the adjacent streets, their presence necessary to screen the attendees, assure their safety, and to keep the terrified mob of thousands separate and distant. Neither of the two groups of former Faction-mates cared much for the other, but the present events mattered more to them both than the poison of lingering resentment of their Faction’s dissolution.

The day was auspicious for another reason entirely as well, as the Council elections to replace a number of retiring members had placed new faces and new perspectives within the body, and today they would be put to a greater test than likely any of them expected.

Slowly and with their own particular groups of bodyguards and retinues of followers -all allowed despite the meeting being restricted to landholding citizens only- the movers and shakers of Sigil arrived to see what their leaders had to say about the present troubles. Golden Lords and merchants, former Faction highups and innkeepers, high priests and adventurers alike, they all arrived and shuffled in to fill the seats set before a wide stage in the park’s center, atop of which sat a long table with chairs reserved for the sitting members of the Sigil Advisory Council, most of whom already sat, ready to listen or to pontificate, depending on each one’s nature, with some of them standing out far more than their ostensible peers.

All eyes waited for Chairwoman Rhys to stand and call the Council to order, but more than anything they looked for the former Factol of the Transcendent Order to give all in attendance a clue as to the truth or not behind the rumors running rampant in the vacuum of information that filled Sigil’s streets at present. Ready for that attention and seemingly –as best she could given the present circumstances– Rhys gazed out and over the crowd and to the Council members seated to each side of her with an expression of preternatural calm determination.

Rhys’s expression and body language was hardly shared by her fellow members of the Council. Jeremo the Natterer the ostensible and self-declared Factol of the Ring-Givers had arrived early and distributed gifts to both his fellow council members and to the first two rows of the audience, and at the moment he was cheerfully out amongst the crowd talking and introducing himself to everyone he’d never met in person. Just one step down from the Natterer in terms of frenetic loquaciousness, Harys Hatchis could barely keep his mouth shut, leaning over to whisper conspiratorially to anyone within arm’s length, while Alluvius ‘Old Lu’ Ruskin actively –and with multiple and repeated brusque waves of her spindly hands– avoided the entreaties of the multiple people that approached her before the meeting got officially underway. The remainder of the council, those which had already arrived, fell somewhere in-between, and then there was the Marauder.

Shemeska sat in the center of the right side of the platform, her chair replaced with a custom throne, and the ‘loth sat there drinking from a chalice, clearly considering leaning back and sticking her feet up on the table. Dressed like royalty in a sea green gown, a waistcoat trimmed in the fur of a mauve Prime Material feline, and wearing jewels to the point of absurdity, a smug grin fleeted time and again across the ‘loth’s muzzle as she watched the crowd, with a chuckle and a stare reserved for when Florian arrived and took her seat.

“Go f*ck yourself…” Florian whispered to herself, making sure to obscure her mouth as she did so. Still, she could feel the telltale buzz of the ‘loth’s telepathy frisking at her surface thoughts. The fiend knew precisely what the cleric was thinking though without needing to actually confirm it, and the comparatively effortless telepathic shakedown was more part of the fiend’s continuing desire to make Florian’s life hell when she wasn’t actively trying to kill her.

Clueless was less concerned with the Marauder than with watching the other arrivals to the meeting and any clues that might be discerned by their moods and who arrived for the first time, having missed earlier Council meetings. The bladesinger’s eyes paid particular attention to Arwyl Swanson and General Nagaro, the former seated upon the Council and the latter sitting in the front row of audience chairs. The paladin leader of the Sons of Mercy who didn’t actually refer to himself as Factol but might as well have been was presently engaged in a conversation by multiple go-betweens with the fallen paladin Nagaro. The frightening tall human with close-cropped hair and jet black armor served as leader and effectively Factol of the Sodkillers, and had in recent months arrived in Sigil to lead one of the two Mercykiller successor factions while still tenuously retaining power over the Gatetown of Rigus, a delicate balancing act most assuredly kept secure by an early and excessive amount of bloodshed.

“Neither of them seem to have any idea of what’s going on…” Clueless thought, his words echoing in the minds of his companions courtesy of the sending stones that Tristol had made for them all. “So if it’s Nilesia, which I’m not convinced that it is, their old Factol hasn’t informed them of her return from the dead.”

Sitting next to Tristol with the aasimar wizard’s fox’s tail in her lap like a familiar, Nisha sat with a bowl of popcorn in her lap. She’d insisted on bringing it, assuming that she’d get hungry, assuming that it would be great to snack on when tempers flared, and if need be she’d be able to dump it –liberal layer of butter and all– over the head of anyone if things came to blows. The Xaositect had to that point done her best to avoid actually making eye contact with the Marauder, though she broke that run by doing so immediately before she turned away and excitedly waved at another ‘loth entirely.

The second ‘loth to arrive did so in decidedly understated fashion, Nisha’s telegraphing of his arrival notwithstanding, with A’kin wandering up to the stage doing his best to stay out of the Marauder’s line of sight, having arrived from the rear where the crowd of arrivals was thickest, jostling shoulder to shoulder and leaving the bespectacled shopkeeper’s fur and clothing decidedly tousled in the process. With a cheerful smile he took a seat, his ears perking and swiveling slightly just before he winced as the Marauder gave a hiss loud enough to be overheard.

“I thought I smelled something reeking of soot and failure…” Shemeska muttered, again loud enough to be overheard, as she glanced at A’kin, sneered and then took a puff from a gold and crystalline hookah held by one of her guards and formerly having sat in Arwyl Swanson’s chair before the paladin had arrived. Exhaling a stream of smoke from between her fangs and over her painted lips, the smoke distinctly traveled and coalesced into an upright middle finger in A’kin’s direction before dispersing. A’kin ignored it and politely began talking with Alluvius Ruskin about common interests as private shop owners.

Fashionably late, Councilwoman Zadara immediately sought out the seat furthest from the Marauder, rather than the spot occupied by a chair specifically set for her that was large enough to accommodate her form. Carrying and moving her chair she arrived at that desired spot, on the far end of the Council table atop the stage, which was of course already taken by the Council’s newest member: A’kin

“You’re in my spot.” Zadara called down to the ‘loth.

“Oh?” The smiling arcanaloth looked up and blinked, adjusting his spectacles on his muzzle. “I wasn’t aware that there were assigned seats, but…”

“Move.”

“Lady Zadara, I was already here and you see…”

“Get up.” The titan’s tone wasn’t full of malice, but it was clear that she had every desire to sit as far from the Marauder as possible. Given their last encounter at the Natter’s party, that was probably best to everyone.

“I really don’t think that it’s a good idea if I sit any closer to… you know who... than…”

“Same f*cking reason I want your chair.” Zadara’s face was grim as she briefly darted her eyes over to the smug, pleased with herself face of the Marauder. “Now get your perpetually smiling self up and give me that spot.”

“Please…” A’kin’s voice carried a genuine tone of worry. “She firebombed my shop the other night…”

“F*ck…” Zadara stared down and grimaced, taking her hands off of the back of his chair. “Fine, get Ruskin to move over slightly and I’ll sit at the end of the table, but you’re still between me and that razorvine-brained bitch.”

A’kin nodded and immediately turned to Old ‘Lu who didn’t seem to mind adjusting her seat at the table in the slightest. By the time the three of them were fully seated, most of the crowd had settled.

“Before I call this emergency session of the Sigil Advisory Council to order, are there any members of the council who wish to make any statements outside of the immediate and obvious subject matter for the day?” Council Chairwoman Rhys stood and glanced to both sides, hoping inwardly for once that none of her fellows would attempt to grandstand. The ‘loth she worried about was not the ‘loth who stood to speak.

“If I might?” A’kin stood, the brief pause between when he spoke to when Rhys nodded to him occupied by a prominent eye roll by the Marauder.

All eyes turned to A’kin.

“I know that I’m one of the new faces on the Council after the most recent elections, so thank you for trusting me with your votes.” A’kin smiled, “But the other evening my shop, The Friendly Fiend, was hit by vandals, set on fire, and badly damaged. I’d like to publicly offer a reward of ten thousand gold pieces for the apprehension of those responsible.”

Zadara turned to stare at the Marauder and Shemeska stared right back, her eyes flickering with the faintest hint of purple flame. Ten seconds of cold silence between the two of them ended with the ‘loth pursing her lips and making a kissing motion. The titan scowled and turned away.

Though the staring contest between the Marauder and the Titan of Potential remained a cold war in and of itself, the simmering mood of the audience would in moments provide a spark to set the meeting alight.

“What in the gods’ names is going on?!”

“We all watched Alisohn F*cking Nilesia die!”

“Why haven’t we been told anything?!”

“What are the Sons of Mercy and Sodkillers hiding from us?!”

“Well… that certainly didn’t take all that long to go to hell…” Fyrehowl sighed and looked to her left where Clueless sat with a frown upon his face.

“It took longer than I expected actually.” Toras gave a shrug, “And Nisha might get to use that bowl of popcorn before it’s all said and done.”

They would have to wait a bit longer as Rhys stood and called for order. The former Factol’s voice remained calm, and as of yet she had not raised either her voice of the staff of the magi that rested upon the table in front of her.

“Many of you seem well aware of the odd events of the past few days.” The tiefling nodded sagely, “There were fires set in two properties held by the Fraternity in Order, with the first being a library and the latter a repository of records for the Faction-In-Exile. The first building was unoccupied, though the latter was not, and in that second location the faction members in attendance were killed prior to the arson.”

“What of Nilesia?!” Shouted one voice from the crowd.
“Reports have flown swift and myriad that a figure resembling the late Alisohn Nilesia was seen in both locations.” Rhys admitted, though her frown made it clear that she did not trust those reports. “Clearly those witnesses were mistaken. Factol Nilesia is dead.”

“Then what of the Cagequakes?” Councilwoman Oridi Malefin asked, her voice as hollow and emotionless as ever, though the third eye in her forehead darted between the two leaders of the Mercykiller splinter factions. “Clearly Her Serenity is upset at something, and a resurrected Nilesia would certainly provoke that, to say nothing of upsetting the powers of Death.”

That was when Toras stood up.

“It was Nilesia.” He called out to a chorus of astonished gasps, “I was there when she was flayed alive, as so many of us were, but I was there at one of the burning buildings and I saw her then and I heard her voice. It was her. Somehow.”

The crowd erupted into a tumult of arguments and plaintive cries, as the crowd argued amongst themselves and most of the council shouted at one another, although the Marauder stayed absolutely silent as she gazed out at Toras and gave a fleeting, subtle smirk.

“Was that the best idea?” Fyrehowl glanced over at Toras. “Was it?”

“You saw her too.” He replied, “It was her.”

“Maybe…” The lupinal muttered.

Up on the stage, Harys Hatchis, ever one to feed off of and stoke public feelings to his own benefit –as well as stoke it himself expertly–, stood up and pointed first to his fellow Councilmember Arwyl and then to the Sodkillers’ Nagaro. “She’s your old mess and your old Factol! We deserve some answers and you owe it to us and to this city to deal with her!”

“If you think you’re deserved something from me old man you’re more than welcome to come and take it!” The Sodkiller all-but-Factol stood up and pointed a mail-shod hand at the businessman, daring him to make all his accusations at the point of a sword. “This has nothing to do with the Sodkillers and far be it for me to support our wayward brothers and sisters overly much, but this has nothing to do with the Sons of Mercy either.”

Up on stage, Alluvius Ruskin stayed silent and beside her A’kin began nibbling on a cookie rather than inflame the situation any further beyond the caterwauling mess it had already become.

“Your first day on the council and you’re eating cookies?” Zadara glanced down at the Friendly Fiend himself, her expression unreadable, just up until A’kin reached into the sleeve of his robe and pulled out a second cookie, one distinctly larger than the one in his hand and about as close to appropriate for the titan as could physically exist tucked on his person. The titan broke into a smile, took the cookie, and joined him in taking a single moment of respite for their surroundings. “Well, your fist day on the council and you’re miles ahead of the other ‘loth, so there’s that.”

Speaking of that other ‘loth, as A’kin and Zadara both had their mouths full of oatmeal raisin cookie and the attentions of the crowd were fully fixed on the shouts between Hatchis and Nagaro, there came a subtle flicker of light next to the Marauder’s head. There, tucked amidst the tangles of her razorvine crown was the illusory form of the Cheshire Fiend.

The Marauder didn’t seem to notice the Grin’s presence until it wiggled out of her crown, sidled up to her left ear and whispered something to her. The particular words weren’t actually spoken aloud, but rather via person to person telepathy with a visible conjugate of the Cheshire Fiend’s mouth moving, though the angle and the distance precluded reading the illusory fiend’s “lips” and garnering any sense of what they spoke. What was visible however was the faintest but oh so deliberate smirk on its visage as soon as it relayed its message.

Whatever they’d told her, the Marauder’s reaction was immediate.

“OH F*CK ME!!!!” Eyes wide, the King of the Crosstrade’s composure was as absent as the concept of truth to a petitioner of Carceri. “F*CK! F*****CK!!!”

At his counterpart’s sudden, screaming outburst, A’kin glanced over, pausing only to brush cookie crumbs from his collar, his ears perked and one eyebrow raised as he adjusted his glasses. The Cheshire Fiend was gone, nowhere to be seen, and the Marauder had managed to compose herself to the extent of shutting up.

Snarling to herself, the King of the Crosstrade gestured to one of her tieflings. Obediently they dashed up to the platform to receive a whisper from their master and then dashed off towards the closest exit to the park.

“What the f*ck was that about?” Fyrehowl motioned towards the Marauder, poking Clueless to get his attention, although he was already looking at the ‘loth with a knowing chuckle perched to rattle past his lips.

“I’m guessing that she just found out that someone she hates more than us is back in town…” The bladesinger grinned. “A certain manged ‘loth…”

Fyrehowl laid into Clueless about just how he knew that, given that he hadn’t said a word to her or any of their companions prior to that point, while all around them the meeting went to hell.

Up on stage Rhys tries to keep order as arguments and accusations flew, tempers rose, and people began to openly wonder if the wrath of The Lady had come upon them all, with the flayed dead alive once more and risen to take vengeance upon the city. Some screamed that Jeremo had brought it all upon the city with his bringing a faction formally back into Sigil. Others still blamed the Minders Guild or their masters the Sodkillers. Some blamed Rowan Darkwood, not dead by escaped from his Maze and now returned to topple Her Serenity with the dead following him. For all their wild and baseless claims, all of them understood and agreed upon one thing: whatever it was had been brewing for some time now, what with the Cagequakes rattling the wards with greater frequency than ever before in recent memory, it all spoke loud and clear that something was brewing. And then one voice called out a claim perhaps too dangerous to make.

“It’s Fell! It’s the fallen dabus! Aoskar the Portal Father’s return is upon the City of Doors!” The fool berk was immediately tackled and beaten into silence by a dozen of those citizens sitting around her.

Finally as violence was sparked, Rhys finally stood up and banged her Staff of the Magi on the table, shouting out over the crowd to immediate effect, “Silence!”

All eyes fell upon the former Factol.

“While undoubtedly some of us here know the reason for the arsons and murders plaguing the city, and also for the recent Cagequakes, they also would be aware that shadows do not fly randomly. They strike true…” Rhys’s voice was strong and clear, her strength projecting out to the crowd and calming fraying nerves. “Yes something is amiss. Yes something is brewing. But The Lady is not likely behind what has been occurring within Sigil, though Her displeasure may be felt beneath our feet. Apparently Her message after the late Nilesia’s death went unheeded by some.”

Under the table, in direct response to Rhys’s words, Shemeska hand tightened upon the Shadow Sorcelled Key, clutched tight in reassurance to herself. Obscured by the furred ruff at the end of her coat sleeve, the artifact’s shadows licked at her fingers like the tongues of a dozen broken lovers.

“And to others here,” Rhys called out, “Do not bring up dead powers and shouts of doomsday. This is not some planes ending eschaton and understand that I am still here in Sigil.”

Rhys’s face remained stern and confident, though in her heart she was anything but. In the prelude to the Storm of Doors years earlier during the Faction War, she had known something terrible was coming before Sigil had erupted in conflict and the Lady’s wrath was unleashed. She’d felt it coming, building in the tension expressed by the Cadence of the Planes as she felt it. This time however, the Cadence was silent, and that silence in the presence of Cagequakes and the return of the dead slain by Her Serenity: though her external attitude was one of stoic confidence, internally Rhys was terrified beyond measure.

“I say now to all of us here: end this berk’s errand in Sigil! Be done with it! Whatever the actual identity of the one posing as the dead Factol, stop this game and the string pulling that follows it, for the sake of your own existence, if nothing else…”

And with that statement from the Council’s chairwoman, the meeting was abruptly adjourned. Without answers but with a certainty that their civic leaders had their best interests in mind and suspected that rather than The Lady’s wrath it was some act of subterfuge to advance some hidden agenda, the crowd began to disperse for the exits. Most of the council’s members stayed, either talking to citizens who approached them on the platform or like Jeremo went out among the crowd themselves to mingle, but one member left immediately: the Marauder.

With her guards clearing a path for her, Shemeska left with a smirk upon her face. Walking directly past A’kin, she didn’t turn to glance at him nor did she say a word. The Friendly Fiend’s proprietor opened his mouth as she walked past, intending to say something but paused before doing so with Zadara’s hand on his shoulder in warning. Thinking better of it he said nothing, but turned his head to follow her as she left, giving a soft and uncharacteristic snarl once she was out of earshot.

Watching the Marauder leave, Fyrehowl raised an eyebrow as she could feel the torrent of telepathy that raced between the two of them, the precise words unknown, immediately preceding A’kin’s reaction. Tempted as she was to walk up to A’kin, either to ask for a cookie or to ask him what that had all been about, she figured that whatever it had been, it had been sufficient to upset him and she didn’t care to add to it if she could avoid it. Curious as the thought was as it came to her mind, she considered him a friend, even if she knew next to nothing about him.

Going along with the crowd, the companions gathered together and left once Nisha finished her popcorn, bitterly complaining with butter-slicked fingers that she hadn’t been close enough to the one fight that had broken out to have used the snack or the bowl during its duration. They had a world of options as to where to go next, but as Clueless wanted to explain to them about Shylara’s return from her imprisonment in stone, they ultimately decided to go back to the Portal Jammer.

True to Rhys’s words though, something major was indeed brewing.

Something terrible was about to occur.

And as they left the Park of the Infernal and Divine a portal flickered into forced existence below Florian’s feet once again.


****​
 

Akhelos

First Post
Florian should slowly think about getting permanent anti portal levitation spells. Very amusing and interesting and sometimes good creepy story. ^^

Oh and i found by accident your shemeshka faces commision on deviantart. You are responsible that i was lying laughing under the table after seeing shemeshka with black sunglasses. ^^
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
shemmydealwithit.png

Deal with it. XD
 

81Dagon

Explorer
Been a while, but I'm finally caught up again! The Wheels With Wheels continue, but it feels like we are getting somewhere! Keep it up Todd!
 



Shemeska

Adventurer
“What the F**K?!!!” Florian screamed out as the flagstones flickered and vanished below her feet and she began to fall.

Several hundred feet away, Shemeska walked with her arms folded before her at her waist, her hands obscured by her gown’s long sleeves and her fingers clutched tight about the preternaturally cold length of the Shadow Sorcelled Key. She briefly smiled to herself as Florian’s screams and the crowd’s subsequent chorus of shouts rose up. She never bothered to turn and look back. She didn’t need to.

“Colcook,” The fiend said, matter-of-factly, “mirror please.”

Without knowing the reason for his Mistress’s request, Colcook hefted the mirror and held it up, expertly tilted such that she could see herself, which was in most instances precisely her intent and design. This time however, she clearly desired otherwise.

“Slightly to the left,” She chuckled and watched with delight as the view shifted to the street behind her, fading in clarity with each step further away from the scene of her crime and her breaking of Sigil’s fundamental laws. With a single mental commend to the enchanted mirror she magnified the view to grant a view of the cleric’s predicament and hopeful doom with perfect detail. With luck, she’d watch the mortal plummet to her doom, with the hoi polloi of Sigil none the wiser as to her power.

Below the screaming cleric, the open space crackled with black lines of flickering electricity as the portal’s destination yawned large and drew into cohesive form. While none of the assembled and terrified crowd had yet bothered to actually cast a spell to divine the portal’s far destination, and certainly not Florian herself, the vista of an endless ocean of swarming insects far below, broken only by rare spirals of glassy rock and the almost indistinct forms of vrocks and other tanar’ri spoke of a particularly inhospitable layer of the Abyss.

This was not the first time that a portal had spontaneously opened below Florian, and this time she was prepared for the event, at least as much as she could be. With a snarl of rage and a screaming invocation to Tempus, she reached out and grabbed the first thing she could, which was not -as in past situations- the ragged street-edge of the bound space and its active portal therein, but in the present moment the exaggeratedly long trailing sleeve and robe train of one of Oridi Malefin’s former Dusties. The ghast, far more limber and with its descent into undeath in search of True Death, far swifter than it had been in life, stumbled backwards and cried out in alarm before sinking its claws into a nearby post and holding itself fast as Florian wrenched herself back onto her feet on solid ground.

Hissing and snarling a curse before stifling its surprised anger as its eyes went wide at the yawning portal and just what the tugging upon its clothing had been about, the former Dustman backed away. A dozen other members of the crowd scattered even more swiftly as they saw Florian rise to her feet and brandish her holy symbol and begin to chant.

Distantly, staring at her mirror and ostensibly picking and preening at her own reflection, the Marauder quirked an eyebrow as a smile of anticipation passed across her muzzle. Let the mortal try.

“BY TEMPUS I SWEAR THAT…” Florian bellowed, holding her holy symbol high and her free hand out and accusatory, thoughts poised to fly to her god and smite the fiend casually walking away with her thrice-damned mirror and gaggle of tieflings.

She never finished her spell.

Acting purely on preternatural instinct and not even looking before she dove to the side, Fyrehowl barreled into Florian and tackled her to the ground. The force of the lupinal’s body slamming into her force the air from her lungs and jarred the holy symbol from her hands to go clattering with a series of metallic pings across the cobblestones.

All was silent for a profoundly long moment as Florian inhaled and looked up at Fyrehowl still atop her, pinning her to the ground. The cipher’s eyes were wide with shock as she realized what she’d actually done, and Florian looked up with defeat and disappointed rage as she realized just as much, but any thoughts on her part of struggling back up and taking a second attempt ended as the swirling portal only inches from where they lay abruptly slammed shut, followed moment’s later by the subtle tremors of a Cagequake.

“F*CK!” Florian wailed, while nearly a block away by that point, Shemeska’s ears perked and she began to chuckle.


****​


A half hour later, back at the Portal Jammer, things had not improved.

Broken glass and spilt ale decorated the floor and rear wall of the tavern’s back room from where Florian had hurled multiple mugs and steins out of complete and utter screaming frustration. Each had been hurled with its own unique and obscene invocation against all things ‘loth and all things related to the Marauder.

“Seriously, she can probably hear you when you do that.” Tristol muttered, considering it good advice, even as he scanned the room’s ambient magic for any sign of such but thankfully coming up dry. Next to him, Nisha sat with her tail twitching fretfully, her eyes flitting between her friend and the growing mess.

“GOOD!” Florian snarled, just before slurping down the last of a shot glass of whiskey and launching the empty tumbler at the far wall where it splintered in a storm of broken glass to join its previously fallen comrades below.

Toras winced.

“She’s gone too far Toras,” Florian spat, her genuine anger not being helped by the alcohol and not by the fact that Clueless had distinctly cut her off from any more ten minutes earlier. “She’s gone way too f*cking far this time. She knows exactly what she’s doing and the b*tch is undoubtedly getting off on this.”

Those of her companions who’d gathered to hear her out and at the very least try to hold her back from doing anything rash exchanged glances. It wasn’t as if she was wrong at any point, it was just that the fiend was effectively untouchable in the political climate that she’s carefully cultivated about herself over the course of centuries or millennia. Outside of doing the most stupid of actions, they didn’t have a genuine recourse, and perhaps that was what the ‘loth was purposefully goading them towards.

“Tempus help me,” Florian’s face erupted in a stoic grimace as she thumbed her holy symbol, “But I swear to you and my god that I will walk to the Fortune’s Wheel and straight up throttle Shemeska the f*cking Marauder if she tries that sh*t one more time.”

“That’s what she wants…” Fyrehowl sighed, adding little else as even the Cadence of the Planes was silent about any option for recourse at the present time. “That’s why I tackled you. I don’t want to see you dead.”

“She’ll stop!” Toras pleaded, knowing full well that he’d be watching his friend walk off to her death if she actually tried to kill the fiend, “All you have to f*cking do is make a damn hollow apology! Appeal to her bloated, god-like ego and she’ll stop! That’s it!”

“F*ck her Toras,” Florian’s response was cold and harsh. “I’ll die before I give her that satisfaction.”

“Please don’t die…” Nisha lamented.

“I’ll go with you!” The fighter insisted, trying to find some way to actually get his friend to agree, not wanting to see her commit suicide if she actually followed through on her threat. “I’ll do most of the talking! I’ll pay for any bribes it takes to get in to actually speak with her… and it probably will, given how it went last time.”

Florian snarled and looked away, not wanting to temper her rage with the looks in her friends’ eyes. While she wouldn’t mind dying if it meant breaking a few of the Marauder’s teeth with a few sharp kicks to the face, she couldn’t seem to bring herself to abandon the people who’d become her virtual family. All around her, they stared at her with genuine worry and genuine care, something all too often missing in the City of Doors.

“Damn it!” Florian slammed her fist down on the table, wincing as she bruised bones in the process. “I care too much about you all to let myself do what I damn well want to do.”

Crying, Florian slumped down into her chair. Rage would be the death of her, but guilt and love wouldn’t let her get to that point ever so easily as perhaps the Marauder hoped.

“Fine…” The cleric hissed through clenched teeth, “I’ll make the damned apology.”

She never made the apology.


*****​


The half-light of Sigil’s waning afternoon did its best to shine through the greasy, grey-green clouds that drifted over the Lady’s Ward, casting an unhealthy pallor over the rooftop dining room of the Cutter’s Vineyard. Decorated on all sides by ornate iron latticework cast to resemble grape vines, the city’s ambient flora had years ago added a touch of irony as razorvine now snarled through it all, providing for a more private dining experience to those wealthy enough to afford the restaurant’s menu.

At the present moment only a dozen customers sat there, sipping wine, grazing on rare and expensive delicacies, and enjoying the separation from the plebian throngs far below. Half of the dining room’s floor space was held empty, reserved for the occupant of a single table set with its own distinct colors, distinctly non-silver silverware, and an oversized, throne-like chair for the ‘loth that sat there.

“Tell the chef that I’ll have whatever she feels is appropriate to the season, the available stocks, and her own whimsy, with the only caveat being that it appropriately matches the profile of the wine that I’m presenting drinking.”

The Marauder gave what might plausibly pass with a curt half-smile before she looked away and stared off into the distance, her mind preoccupied with the news from Helekanalaith’s lapdog. Idly her clawed-fingers reached down to lift a crystalline goblet filled to the brim with the wine vintage most recently stolen from the business interests of the late Muriov Garianis, and although her mind was elsewhere, her groomer-guards remained as alert as ever. Flanking her at a polite distance, the trio of tieflings ensured that her glass remained filled, her hair immaculate despite any breeze, and that none of the surrounding riffraff, no matter their wealth, intruded upon her afternoon respite.

The fiend had evidently had time for a wardrobe change since the Council meeting earlier in the day, and at present she sat in a gown of black velvet with faint, burnout patterns visible in just the right light, and with deep blue silk sashes and lines of sapphires woven into the fabric that almost brought to the mind the pattern of the iconic outfit of the figure in her mind: Shylara the Manged.

Shemeska’s claws tapped on her wine glass, setting the crystal to ring with an irritating cadence just loud enough to draw the unhappy attention of the other rooftop diners, but one glance at the fiend’s well-armed guards –to say nothing of realizing the source of the sound– put an end to such stares. The irritated tapping was of course a direct reaction to the fiend’s present –and some would say lingering– obsession with her former apprentice, lover, consort, and present rival Shylara the Manged.

“You continue to have the worst timing…” The Marauder hissed, her mind a blizzard of thoughts on how Shylara’s release would change things.

Minutes passed and even as the chef appeared in person to present the first course, it was placed before her without anything more than an acknowledging nod and eventually Colcook gestured the clearly terrified chef to leave without getting any response on taste or approval as the Marauder’s mind was elsewhere, stewing on something beyond the food, no matter how fine and personalized it happened to be.

The ‘loth’s expression shifted between sneering, smirking, open wonder, and an occasional hint of lust as she flitted from thought to thought. The bitch’s reappearance upon the stage was an annoyance, and at present she remained uncomfortably unaware of the circumstances surrounding her freedom. Did the Keeper release her? Did the Ebon himself see fit to do so? Did Vorkannis perhaps force Helekanalaith to do it? Each situation would hold a meaning of its own. Still her reappearance did allow for the amusement of tormenting her again. Perhaps the delivery of a statue in her appearance and a personal note regarding fond memories, lewd acts, and that she looked better cast in stone than in the flesh, which in the absence of magic and perfume certainly had less of a smell of festering puss and stale blood as well.

A slow smile crossed the Marauder’s muzzle as she smirked, delighted with herself.

Halfway between thoughts of whispering and insult and blowing a kiss to the former student of hers, Shemeska pursed her lips and blew at a strand of hair that had drifted from its proper place at the edge of her razorvine crown and fallen across her muzzle. Without so much as a word from the fiend, one of her tieflings stepped forward with golden tweezers and delicately placed the strand back in the precise place it was intended. As if nothing had happened, the Marauder began her meal of poached kobold brain in a broth of lemongrass, citron, rice wine, and the chef’s own tears.

“Greetings my beautiful monster.”

In the blink of an eye three blades were drawn and at the throat of the woman that stood before the Marauder’s table. A tiefling beggar with filthy, matted hair interspersed with black, iron-hard quills like those of a howler, her flesh displayed the signs of extensive torture: burns, razor marks from the flensing of her flesh, and the ugly depressions of acid spattered across her face and which had opened holes in her left cheek such that her black and rotting teeth could be seen.

The Marauder’s nose twitched at the reek of unwashed mortal flesh, but neither did she sneer, nor fly into a rage, or simply order the woman to be killed and hurled off the roof of the present establishment that she in fact partially owned along with the lives and half the souls of its employees. Instead, without even a frown or twitch of her nose, she calmly and delicately put down her golden knife and fork and dabbed her lips with a napkin.

Beneath the woman’s odor of sweat, pain, fear and filth, the familiar scents of Khin-Oin, Hopeless, and the Lower Ward painted a picture of her journey from the Wasting Tower to Shemeska’s gilded Cage. Beyond that of course, only one creature had ever referred to her by that specific name and title: the Oinoloth himself.

None of Shemeska’s guards had seen the tiefling ascend the stairs from the restaurant’s main dining room, nor slip past the guards posted there at the bottom of the stairwell. It didn’t seem possible that she’d scaled the sheer wall and four stories of brick and slate, graced only by a scrabble of razorvine either, let alone manage to drag herself through the razorvine-encrusted iron faux-vineyard that ringed the rooftop. It wasn’t obvious how she’d appeared there at the Marauder’s private table when her smell alone would have given sign of her approaching presence at least a hundred feet away if not more, but still, there she was, standing before the King of the Crosstrade and smiling.

“Put your blades away and let her speak.” The Marauder waved her hand and then placed it on the table to join her other, suddenly folded and patient for a creature neither known for patience or the slightest drop of humility.

The tiefling woman smiled and curtseyed with an overdrawn elegance that clashed with the rags she wore and the utter abandon displayed to her own body.

“I greet you Lady Shemeska in the name of the Master of the Fourfold Furnace, the Oinoloth of the Waste, and the Rightful Overlord of the Scarlet Prison. Vorkannis the Ebon sends you his regards, tinged with regret that he could not visit you here himself, in the flesh, in person.”

The tiefling shuddered as she pronounced the Oinoloth’s name, biting her tongue as if in shame for uttering a blasphemy. Fresh blood marked her teeth and lips, the former visible through the holes in her cheek. Reflexively, her tail coiled about her right leg and a stream of urine trickled down her left.

“I serve the Oinoloth in every way he desires.” The Marauder’s eyes were locked upon the messenger’s, acutely aware of the glow now flickering within the doomed mortal’s pupils. The radiance of magic seething within her battered flesh and coiling like a devouring serpent¬¬¬ –Nidhogg at the roots of the World Tree in microcosm– told the fiend all she needed to know. “What message does my Oinoloth have for me?”

“The Master of the Lower Planes desires your presence within Khin-Oin.”

Shemeska blinked, unconsciously biting her lip.

“Travel alone and leave His most recent gift to you within Sigil.” The tiefling smiled, blood upon her teeth, then abruptly speaking the next phrase of her instructions with the utmost calm and not in planar common, but in perfect, horrific Baern, “Under no circumstances is the Shadow Sorceled Key to leave the City of Doors.

The Marauder blinked at the sudden utterance of the language from a mortal mouth, a mortal mouth now bleeding from its gums and blood blossoming in the tiefling’s glowing sclera from suddenly ruptured blood vessels. The words themselves were killing her.

“I understand.” Reflexively her thighs clenched upon the length of the Key where it lay flat against her flesh, upon her thigh, hung from her waist by an adamantine chain.

“Bring nothing but your flesh, beautiful monster. Nothing.” The tiefling smiled even as light seeped from her eyes and now her mouth and nostrils. “He awaits you and you alone within a chamber directly below and twelve levels down from that in which you and He first met. Arrive there within the next twelve hours. The Wheels turn.”

At the moment the tiefling ceased talking, the Marauder’s tongue flitted across her lips, whispering a phrase as two fingers gesticulated in a practiced, unconscious movement to raise an invisible barrier between herself, her meal, and the tablecloth and the tiefling as the latter exploded like an overripe melon dropped from the rooftop. Blood and viscera erupted across the rooftop in a thirty foot radius, coating the ground and the Marauder’s groomer guards, leaving only her and her food intact as a fine red mist settled across an even wider area.

Utterly uncaring for the sudden screams from the other diners, some of them spattered from the dead tiefling’s incinerated remains, Shemeska knew her next course of action. She no longer had any desire or intention of finishing her meal or even considering her earlier thoughts. Greater things called.


*****​
 


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