Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 14February2024)

Shemeska

Adventurer
Previously:

She wasn’t sure how long she’d lay there in the darkness, chained to the wall, periodically fed starvation rations, and in turn periodically fed upon by the wriggling, newborn mimic-moon that the Oinoloth had ripped free of its mother and stolen away.

She was a means to an end, and once the mimic-moon had tasted of her, the ‘loths had virtually ignored her, except of course, for their master the Oinoloth. He had never forgotten about her there in the darkness, and his indoctrination of the wriggling thing he treated like a child of his own, he made sure that she heard all of it and understood that somehow the absence of Justice for his crime, it was her failure.

“Obedience brings comfort.” The whispers came, whispering as much into her mind as into the air as the Oinoloth or a spell aping his voice called out like some abusive education of his pet.

“You will learn to listen, or you will suffer.”

“Do as you are told, and I will be proud, I your Father will be proud.” The Oinoloth had sat on the edge of the great stone basin and spoken down to his pet abomination, and she’d witnessed his personal education of it, in those rare moments that she was taken out of the cell and mockingly allowed to walk in the ‘sun’ of that pocket plane wrought of the Waste

She wasn’t certain if he was talking always to the mimic-moon or the ‘loths that whimpered in his presence and hearkened to his every word. He cared as much for the mimic as he did for them, which was to say, not at all: tools, all of them.

Other times, the Oinoloth had seemingly spoken across the void between the planes, whispering into the aching, wounded ears of Nimicri herself, intentionally again so that Nilesia could hear it mocking a suffering mother.

“It would not be this way had you given to me what I requested.” The Oinoloth had whispered into the darkness, his telepathic whispers reaching Nimicri herself, unable to stop his mockery. “You have only yourself to blame for your misery. Admit your sins and beg for my forgiveness and in my infinite grace I will ease your torment. Perhaps I will allow you to see her. She is beautiful, much like you. And she is mine. Atone or you will never know her.”

The Oinoloth himself was barely visible in the gloom, his form bleeding over into the shadows, and at the best of times all that she could see were his albino eyes and his gleaming white fangs somehow glowing like a moon of their own, drifting in the dark.

“She learns well. She listens. Beg and she will be spared the agony of your recalcitrance.”

And so Nilesia heard, again and again. It was worse when the copies of her were there, their very presence and their near worship of the Oinoloth sickening her and leading to violent, screaming outbursts… to which they only laughed at her. And it wasn’t only the Oinoloth who mocked her. Once, in the darkness, assuming that she hadn’t gone entirely mad, a massive creature, spindly and sickly had crouched their next to her, its luminous, moon-like eyes turning to her as it sneered. It whispered to her, told her that it was indeed her fault, but one day she might be free, and then she would have her chance to take her revenge. Then she would have her opportunity to serve once again as the living hand of Justice. The Oinoloth had sinned against the multiverse, had sinned against it, the creature that whispered to her in her delusions there in the darkness.

“You have sinned against us.” It whispered, over and over, referring to the Oinoloth, stopping only to pause as it spasmodically coughed and wretched. It turned, it smiled with it leering, sickly caprine head, starving in its countenance, and then it was gone and she was alone again in the darkness, alone and abandoned, a meal for the mimic-moon or for the Waste, one way or the other…



***​



“Justice…Justice… JUSTICE!” She screamed at them, at the multiverse as a whole if it could hear her. “Let me free and I will give it to you. I’ll rip out your throat and feed it to you. You have sinned against me. You have sinned against the multiverse. You have sinned against your brethren. You are irredeemable! They told me so! I will see you fall Vorkannis! If death claims me first, I will punish it as well and return for you!”

For half a minute the group simply stared at Nilesia as she screamed and shouted, uncertain if she was mad and delusional, or simply enraged at her state of isolated imprisonment, still coming to grips as they were with the ex-Factol’s status: alive. The ramifications were huge and even worse, they involved the ‘loths.

“Hurry and release me!” Nilesia shouted, emphatically rattling her bindings.

Clueless and Toras took the lead, both of them drawing their blades and hacking at the enchanted lengths of chain, even as a slow gurgling noise filled the room, emanating from the channels on the other side of the chamber.

“Uh, what the hell is that?” Florian asked, glancing over to the multiple of open-ended pipes in the far wall.

“The Oinoloth’s pet infant mimic-moon.” Nilesia snarled. “It knows that you’re here.”

“Are we about to be fighting a dozen eeeeeevil copies of her?” Nisha asked.

Nilesia narrowed her eyes and glared.

“Ok ok, too soon…” Nisha glanced away from the cold fury playing across the Factol’s face.

“Annnnnd, there!” Toras exclaimed as the final blow from his sword’s pommel finally shattered the link that held the manacle about Nilesia’s right wrist and the last of her chains fell to the floor.

Nilesia’s now free hand immediately went up, her hand open, finger’s wriggling in the air for several moments. When nothing came into her hand she glared and explained, furious that she even had to say anything in words, as if it were to be expected.

“A blade! Now!” She demanded.

Fyrehowl and Clueless stared back at her.

“You’re welcome…” Toras muttered, stepping in front of Florian as the cleric rolled her eyes.

No, the Factol hadn’t changed in the slightest from when they’d first met her.

“Guys, that gurgling is getting louder!” Tristol warned, glancing over towards the wall and its pipe openings, his ears perked and swiveled to the noise that heralded the imminent arrival of Nimicri’s child.

In Tristol’s hand, the piece of Nimicri’s umbilicus to her child that the mimic moon had given them began to twitch, shifting from undefined protoplasm to broken cobblestone to decorative lamp head and back to nearly liquid goo. It sensed the approaching child it had once supped into existence, feeding piecemeal on the spilt blood of travelers to the markets of its mother.

“Father will make you suffer…” The eerie, gurgling voice emerged from the pipes before it had yet to physically arrive.

“Sh*t sh*t sh*t!” Toras panicked, glancing from the pipes back to his companions, “How are we going to do this? It’s been f*cking brainwashed!”

Nilesia for her part, had no designs on repatriation and reconciliation for the creature that had fed upon her for months. Had it been months? Years? She shook her head, uncertain of the duration of her captivity. Full of righteous fury, she was already mouthing the words to spells no longer prepared in her mind, her fingers reaching for spell components at her waist she no longer possessed.

“Factol!” Tristol harshly whispered to her, immediately noticing the virility of the spells she was picking, even if she lacked the ability to actual finish them at the moment, “We didn’t come here to kill it!”

Nilesia blinked and turned to face the wizard, her glare staggeringly intense.

“I’m pretty sure it’s about to try and kill us!” Florian shouted as the sound of thick, sludge-like liquid pouring through the pipes grew louder by the moment.

“Father will reward me…” The infant mimic-moon’s alien, gurgling voice rattled through the pipes.

“We’re not killing it!” Toras shouted right back.

That was when she realized something and she stopped her reflexive casting.

Confusion washed over Nilesia’s expression, “You didn’t come here for me, did you?”

Several of them stared back at her awkwardly.

“We didn’t have a clue that you were even alive, much less come here for you.” Tristol explained.

“That was a happy little extra surprise!” Nisha chipped in, grinning as she peeked at the Factol from behind Tristol.

“Nimicri begged us to rescue her stolen child.” Tristol explained, leaving out the fact that they’d been led to Nimicri by a trail of metaphorical breadcrumbs set down for them by the Altraloth Taba.

“And rescue it is exactly what we’re going to do!” Toras said, his eyes momentarily burning with as much intensity as Nilesia’s.

“Eat you… make little puppets of you for Father…” The voice was staggeringly close and the pipe openings themselves began to physically rattle. It would be there, emerging, in moments.

The Factol’s face contorted at the mention of the mimic-moon making puppets for the Oinoloth, the precise thing it had done to her. Her mind swirled with her desires for revenge, for retribution against her torturer, but it was at odds with her burgeoning knowledge that the mimic she wanted to slaughter was itself a victim. Cosmic Justice sought two things, but it first demanded a stolen child be returned. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, suppressing tears of frustrated rage. Then and only then could she then seek revenge, and the revenge would not be against the mimic, but at its abusive captor and master the Oinoloth.

“You will never leave this place!” The infant mimic-moon screamed as it finally arrived, a dozen iridescent black fountains spraying out from the pipes and immediately flowing together mid-air and merging, forming into an enormous, grotesque mockery of a leering, jagged maw. Moments after forming, its liquid teeth shuddered and solidified into ivory white fangs, clearly modeling itself upon the Oinoloth’s jackal’s smile.

But what could have been a terrible and bloody battle never occurred.

In an instant, the chunk of protoplasm in Tristol’s hand suddenly sprung into action, physically leaping free of his grasp and hurtling through the air towards the oncoming semi-solid mass the moment it emerged from the pipes. The group could only watch, their hands already reaching for blades or spell components as that separated portion of Nimicri itself or its umbilicus once connected to its child connected with its wayward child.

It entered with a dull, heavy splash, like a large stone dropped awkwardly into a lake, the ripples reverberating about the monstrous grin that faced them in mid-air.

“We will…” The infant mimic-moon abruptly stopped, its speech trailing off… “Mother?”

The sludge-like mass that emerged from the pipes hung there, frozen in place, quivering… remembering. It suddenly recalled everything that had been taken from it, remembering all that had been stripped from it during its abduction and its captivity, during its abuse, during its torture and brainwashing from the yugoloths and by the Oinoloth himself. But it wasn’t alone. Mother was still out there. Mother still loved it. Her voice was distant but it could hear her, and her voice said one thing: You are loved. Come home.

Tristol didn’t need any more of an invitation and moments later he reached out to gently touch one of the mimic-moon’s suddenly lethargic extrusions, focus his mind upon the void between Nimicri and Chamada, and cast.

And with that, they, the Oinoloth’s prisoner Nilesia, and his pet mimic-moon were gone in the sudden flicker flash of Tristol’s planeshift. Only a short time later and their lives would have taken a dramatically different and much more painful turn.



****​



With an eruption of darkness upon the face of the pocket realm he’d woven into the fabric of the Waste, Vorkannis the Ebon appeared, not embodied in one of his ultroloth puppets, nor a projected illusion, nor an astral color pool duplicate, but physically, in the flesh.

The Oinoloth’s pink, albino eyes glanced at the stone basin that had, moments before, held the bulk of his prize, seeing only the empty stone and a slick, greasy residue. Tension radiated through every muscle in his frame, his eyes widened, and his black lips peeled back to reveal pink gums and ivory white fangs as a low snarl began to build in the back of his throat.

Spinning one direction and then the other, Vorkannis surveyed the outpost, looking for survivors and looking for answers. Around him, the landscape was littered with the corpses of a dozen mezzoloths and several other lesser yugoloths he’d placed there, never expecting to have to physically defend it from intrusion.

And with that, the Oinoloth SCREAMED. The dusty, ashen soil of the Waste danced a dozen feet around him, animated by his abject fury as he raised his hands in the air and clenched and relaxed his fists, his claws flexing in and out as he looked for answers.

Around him, the surrounding soil bubbled and vitrified with his fury.

To his left, sound drew his gaze as the door to one of the hollow’s buildings cautiously opened and a pair of eyes gazed out, followed by a clawed hand at the door, and then a jackal’s snout emerging a moment before one of the surviving arcanaloths stepped out, their head already bowed, their voice unsteady and shaking.

“My Oinoloth…”

It wasn’t an answer, but it would make the speaker the object of his building, god-like rage.

“Master, we were taken by surprise! I…” Sivtrellius ap Niflheim emerged, trembling, drawing every ounce of courage he could fathom, and made eye contact with his doom.

The moment that the arcanaloth drew the Oinoloth’s gaze it froze in place, a sudden look of abject terror upon its face before it began to scream and corrode, a ghastly, horrific sound emerging from a creature that embodied suffering suddenly learning a level of the same it had little capacity to fathom. The sorcerer stumbled and grasped at nothing in particular as the Oinoloth fixed them in his gaze. Over the next three minutes the arcanaloth’s horrific screams echoed across the hollow as it was sequentially demoted into each and every caste it had ever occupied on its way up from mezzoloth, suffering, screaming, and corroding from one form back into the next until finally it lay there on the ground in the original state in which it had entered existence: a dull black insect-like grub of a twitching, chittering proto-mezzoloth that should have still been forming in the furnaces of Gehenna or the spawning pools deep within the underground marrow of Khin-Oin.

Without a word, the Oinoloth stood over the subject of his rage, raised his bare foot, and stepped upon the screaming creature with a dull wet crunch as his heel extinguished its existence.

“Useless unfit wretch!” Vorkannis snarled, “YOU WERE NEVER WORTHY TO STAND IN MY SHADOW!”

Several more times the Oinoloth screamed in fury, venting his anger within a bubble of his own creation where no other being who would ever leave it would ever hear him, before finally taking a deep breath and settling himself and searching for answers. He snapped his fingers, sifting through the memories of each and every yugoloth stationed there, both the dead and the few still, for the moment, living and in hiding, horrified of suffering the same fate as Sivtrellius. Sifting and searching, the Oinoloth watched the last three hours of memories from each, viewing the hollow from a dozen different perspectives to see what had happened and understand what had gone wrong as it had.

The hollow’s wardings were intact. No Power had assaulted it and wrenched open the seams and intruded. No wizard-king or messianic cleric had divined the location and forcibly gated in with the sacrifice of a hundred-thousand sacrificed or willing souls. No, nothing of the sort. The intruders had simply walked in, slain the lackadaisical defenders, sprung Nilesia from her chains, and left with Nimicri’s whelp.

‘Them,’ he thought to himself, scoffing in disbelief as he immediately recognized them. ‘Shemeska’s once-pet and the others in tow, Shylara’s bane, all of them little nothings nipping at our heels without the slightest understanding of what they intrude upon…’

He snarled, considering an immediate and personal pursuit into Gehenna after them. He reached out his mind once again, beyond the hollow, beyond the Waste, in a capacity he had rarely utilized, and one which made Larsdana’s and later Helekanalaith’s ability to sense use of the Tower Arcane’s library a parlor trick.

Flying high above Gehenna’s second Furnace of Chamada, the leader of one of Nimicri’s yugoloth squadrons in place to blockade the mimic moon of Nimicri blinked and the Oinoloth looked out through his eyes. Zirineth ap Krangath smiled as the wind out of the void blew against his fur, cold and unforgiving, utterly unaware as another looked out through his eyes, felt the same sensations, and sorted through his memories to note the flash of a planeshift alighting near Nimicri’s surface twelve minutes earlier, and then minutes after that the subtle open and close of one of Sigil’s damnable portals on the mimic moon’s surface, something Zirineth himself had not comprehended.

No.

The Oinoloth’s presence departed from Zirineth’s mind and there, back in the hollow, Vorkannis shook his head. There would be no pursuit.

It was too late for that, and had they not already vanished into Sigil and beyond the scope of his immediate and personal reach, it would have served as nothing but a worthless satisfaction for petty revenge. No, the truth behind the blockade of Nimicri would filter out and there was no saving that from occurring. Nilesia’s fate would follow afterwards, but the stories would be so muddled unless the listener saw and heard from her personally, that it would be long in coming for any to piece together even a partial truth of the situation and its meaning.

“It doesn’t matter.” Vorkannis sneered, reaching up with his fingers and slowly pulling out the stitches of the magics that made the hollow its own distinct place, the claws of his left foot tracing a crude, mocking caricature of the Lady of Pain’s face in the dirt that he then stared down at. “Whatever you are, I made my point to you, Your Serenity.” The words were mocking. “I’ve no idea if you can even hear me. Oh, but I hope you can. Truly, I hope you can…”



****​
 
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almost13

Villager
hey shemmy, thanks for the awesome new post! i just reread some of the newer parts - is there a reason why nimicri starts attacking the yuguloth? as in, why now? as far as i understood it, threats of hurting its child were used to coerce it, so why would it start fighting against that now? if that is something that is revealed later, disregard my post :)
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
hey shemmy, thanks for the awesome new post! i just reread some of the newer parts - is there a reason why nimicri starts attacking the yuguloth? as in, why now? as far as i understood it, threats of hurting its child were used to coerce it, so why would it start fighting against that now? if that is something that is revealed later, disregard my post :)
To be perfectly honest, nimicri finally snapping and attacking the 'loths was almost entirely due to the needs of the pacing of the campaign and to involve the PCs since they'd already been introduced to the warped Nilesia copies, so it seemed an appropriate time to bring things finally full circle and have them discover that Nilesia was still alive.
 

carborundum

Adventurer
Hey Shemmy, hope y'all had a nice holiday and are occasionally gaming, even if you don't have time to write it up.
I must have read the last entry too quickly and missed the last few sentences. Vorkannis threatening the Lady??
 


Shemeska

Adventurer
“Clearly my dear, you understand the legal position we find ourselves within?” His voice was cultured, with a tone of smug superiority that came with the overeducated and wealthy members of Sigil high-society who’d originated from somewhere on the Material plane, rather than growing up within the City of Doors itself.

Skalliska stared up at the man and let him ramble.

“It isn’t so much a transactional exchange, one payment for each portal use,” The man gave a slow, sly smile and a shrug, “That would be against the Lady’s demands regarding Her portals, such as they’ve been detailed through the oftentimes grey and fuzzy communications, legally speaking, via the dabus.”

Skalliska continued to stare up at him, her expression unchanging even as she pondered if she could simply kill him.

“This is more a proportional fee for average portal usage levied upon the property owners, yourself included, by clients and others, based upon the iron-clad status of myself having pre-existing ownership of the stipulated thirty-five portals present within the legal confines of the ‘Ubiquitous Wayfarer’ subsequently legally known as ‘Portal Schmortal’ and presently legally known as ‘The Portal Jammer’.”

Rammander the Wise snapped his fingers and conjured forth a copy of a lengthy legal tractate that ostensibly claimed to give him legal ownership to the -use- of the portals located on the Portal Jammer’s premises if not actual -ownership- of the portals themselves.

Skalliska narrowed her eyes and leaned in to read the vagaries of the document, the first few paragraphs seeming to have been composed by a drunken modron in league with an embittered baatezu scribe, only to have the document vanish with another snap of the wizard’s fingers.

“A one-time viewing of the full legal text may be purchased from the law firm of Zimrikan Ceolworth-Havindash and Partners in the Lady’s Ward.” Rammander smiled and briefly smoothed his close-cropped beard with a single, manicured finger. “Should you wish to consult it before submitting payment to me either directly or through the very same firm.”

The firm of course was the same law firm that for centuries had overseen the affairs of the estate-in-trust of one Golden Lord Eustace Arnisikarion, not that either Skalliska nor Rammander himself had any clue of that association nor its link to Shemeska the Marauder.

Rammander continued with details of implied legal penalties should the proper payments not be made in a timely matter, including but not limited to, monetary penalties to accrue with a compounding interest rate starting at 38% annually, compounded daily, and a lien upon and eventual seizure of the property housing the portals.

The kobold looked up at him with cold, reptilian eyes as she briefly adjusted the rim of her hat with a claw, lost in her thoughts as the wizard rambled on, utterly sure of himself and his apparently legally sound, morally rank, present foray into racketeering. Glanced past the wizard at the doorway behind him, she considered reaching into the pouch on her left hip and pulling out a portal key, opening a portal, and simply kicking the man through to whatever fate awaited him in… she thought for a moment as the portal in question varied over the course of the day and partially the month… the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Ash.

But no. That wouldn’t work at all. She briefly glanced behind herself in the brief moment when Rammander paused to inhale and blink, seeing two of her little ones peeking out from behind various objects, a tiny clawed hand, a snout, or a tail poking out into view as they hid, thinking themselves obviously invisible and spectacularly hidden. No need for them to see her do something rash.

Ten minutes later and more subtle and not so subtle legally-backed threats later, Skalliska let Rammander go with a promise to go over his monetary demands with the other owners of the Portal Jammer, wherever they were. And as she watched the wizard turn and leave, his tiny yugoloth familiar, a nalg, stared at her with a wicked, unsettling grin upon its hairless, purple-toned vulpine face, its scorpion tail wavering threateningly behind it. Despite the least-yugoloth being nothing by comparison to the archmage whose shoulder it perched upon, the kobold gatecrasher felt distinctly more unsettled in its presence than its master’s.



***​



The seven of them stood before the bound space, a doorway into one of Nimicri’s myriad of false buildings. The bound space swirled with light, Sigil’s illumination at half-past peak washing out over the mimic-moon’s cobblestones, opening up into an alleyway somewhere within the Lower Ward. Escape from Gehenna was visible and unbeknownst to them all it would mean an escape from the very Oinoloth’s claws.

“A couple blocks from the Foundry and it’s only drizzling there on the other side.” Florian chuckled, “Sigil never looked so homey by comparison.”

The group of them looked around at the sentient moon they stood upon.

“No offense to our present city.” The cleric said, correcting her previous statement.

Nimicri itself made no comment, if it even heard them at all. Since they’d appeared with its errant child in tow, the mimic-moon had been entirely preoccupied with that reunion, one strained by the child-moon’s torture and brainwashing at the hands of the Oinoloth himself.

“I think we should make our exit from Gehenna as quickly as we can.” Clueless nodded his head towards the open portal, a gnawing worry in the back of his mind as the gemstone in his ankle flickered with a particular ache that he hadn’t felt before: the diffuse presence of the Oinoloth himself imminently peering in on them from a thousand different perspectives as his consciousness looked out through every yugoloth within hundreds of miles in orbit of Nimicri and even on the slopes of the distant Furnace.

“I think that you deserve the honor of going first.” Toras looked at the Mercykiller Factol and motioned for her to go on.

“I’ve been waiting and hoping for this for far too long. Years it seemed to me, though it was much shorter than that.” Alisohn Nilesia gazed at the portal into Sigil. She took a step forward and then paused, hesitant. Part of the once and future Factol of the Mercykillers was terrified to step back into the city of her birth, terrified to that she might almost instantly find herself in the Mazes, or to find the Lady’s Shadow falling upon her.

Nilesia steps forward and pauses, hesitant.

“I…I can’t…” Nilesia stopped in her tracks and shook her head, pulling a spell from her mind that had lain there, dormant, for the entirety of her imprisonment in the Waste, its use nullified by the anti-magic shackles she’d once worn.

“Excuse me?” Toras asked, his question enjoined by the others’ blinks and stares of befuddlement. “We’re right here with a way out of the Plane of Yugoloth f*ckery #1b and you’re not taking the portal?”

Nilesia shook her head, a slight bit of regret in her eyes as she mentally caressed the pattersn and formulae of a planeshift spell, reaching for a specific location in Acheron’s layer of Thuldannin.

“I’ll rejoin you, eventually.” The Factol explained, “But it won’t be immediate. I have an equipment stash in a mine deep in Thuldannin, and it’s near a one-way portal to the Tower of the Wyrm in Sigil. I need to rest, I need to re-equip myself as best I can, and I need time to seek out what allies and supporters that I still might have alive and politically willing to help me take back my faction from whatever has become of it.”

None of them wanted to mention the fact that her faction, in her absence, had dissolved back into its old, original constituent parts, the Sons of Mercy and the Sodkillers, and that their ideological divide had grown ever more fractious in the years since the Faction War. She’d find out herself soon enough, though it wasn’t her faction itself and a desire to reclaim it that was her principle reason for forgoing entry to Sigil at the moment.

“I will find you in my own time once I have a better understanding of what base of support and power I still have.” The Factol took a deep breath and focused her eyes on each of her saviors in turn, “Do not release word of my survival or the circumstances in which you found me. I will handle that in my own way, on my own timetable, and I will see to it that you are rewarded in due time in an appropriate manner.”

The companions nodded, and one by one they vanished through the portal and back into the City of Doors, Nilesia waving goodbye to each in turn. The moment that the portal flickered and vanished though, her factol’s mind switched from the planeshift and into something more potent as she conjured forth a swirling Gate directly to her intended location deep within the tunnels burrowed into a cube in Acheron’s second layer.

One deep breath and three steps and she was gone, vanished from the Oinoloth’s prying sight.

“Free…”

The once and future Factol of the Mercykillers exhaled, the rust-tainted air filling her lungs, the darkness that surrounded her which might have been suffocating to most any other creature felt instead like a warm and comforting blanket. For the first time since she’d left the yugoloth prison back in the Waste, she felt free and for the moment, safe.

In the back of her mind, she could only think of one thing: the faces of her warped, errant copies produced by Nimicri’s wayward child. The mimic, tortured, abused, and indoctrinated by words and magic by the Oinoloth, was innocent of any crime against her. Her warped copies however, they still existed, still remained alive, somehow granted independence of the mimic-moon by the Oinoloth’s power, and still under Vorkannis’s control.

“You’re out there… all of you still out there…” Nilesia whispered. She felt them each like distant magnetic poles gently tugging upon the iron filings of her soul. Whatever purpose the Oinoloth still intended for them, she had every notion of delivering her own Justice to them, one by one, and ultimately the Oinoloth himself, however long and whatever it took…



***​



“She requests an increase of 400% in the number of trained students sent to her. She does not require that they have actually graduated from their apprenticeship here in the Tower or elsewhere afield.” The Cheshire Fiend calmly explained. He then paused, a wry smirk forming in the illusory form of his manifested, illusory projection.

“The Manged asks for much…” Helekanalaith said, his features relatively blank by comparison to his spawn whose planar projection hovered in the air on the other side of his desk.

“Certainly, much more than she did when she graced your office for the past year or so.” The Grin chuckled with an irreverence that would have never been tolerated from scarcely any other arcanaloth within the Tower Arcane.

The Keeper actually smirked, fondly remembering the statue that for a time graced the corner of the room. Below him, on the current page of his omnipresent notebook that lay open before him, his right hand with a white-hot stylus had penned notes in an artistic, flowing script that meandered in such a way to form an image of that very same petrified astral form of the Overlord of Carceri.

Helekanalaith had already received Shylara’s request from three different sources, more a demand than a request in specific prose, and he nodded and listened acutely as his useful curiosity of a child read out the same request with commentary and analysis. Of course, Shylara had requested it directly of him when he’d last projected into the Tower of Incarnate Pain himself. Observing just how the wording and tone of each separate report of the same request altered depending on the one giving it to him occurred, it amused him. The Cheshire Fiend hadn’t altered a word, but it wasn’t the original text he desired so much as his eldest child’s commentary.

Next to him, Larsdana’s prison pulsed like a beating heart, and he made absolutely certain that she could hear, all that much better to torture her with the sound of her child’s voice.

“And so, I assume that her present galivant into the Inner Planes is going to continue.” The Cheshire Fiend continued, less a statement than a question, and both father and child had been, in the way that all greater yugoloths did, and arcanaloths especially, plying one another for information even as they gave it.

Helekanalaith didn’t give a reply to the implied question, though the answer was a very certain yes. It was going to continue and it was more likely than not going to expand. Even so, as he considered her request, he considered refusing, curious if the Oinoloth would step in to reinforce her authority and pick her over him in terms of favor, giving her what she wanted but wounding her pride in the process. A smile spread over his muzzle while the Cheshire Fiend continued his report.

“She has not stated the actual need for more forces from the Tower, but I think it patently obvious that losses are…” The Grin paused as the room grew suddenly silent and the Keeper stared off into space. “My Keeper…?”

That of course was when he saw it.

It wasn’t simply that Helekanalaith had grown silent and stared off, considering something else and ignoring the Cheshire Fiend, no, the entire room was frozen in time. Cinders from the brazier next to the Keeper’s desk hung in the air, glittering and motionless, frozen in space, and through the great window that looked out over the burning slopes of the Second Furnace of Chamada, the volcanic vents and lava flows were still, the entirety of the view frozen and paused.

A chill raced through the Cheshire Fiend as his illusory projection turned about and looked for anything else in the room moving beyond himself, and distantly, where his physical form sat, his fur stood erect, prickled with genuine fear.

At first, he saw nothing amiss and different, and everything was silent, devoid of the crackle of burning coals in his father’s stylus-holding brazier, nor the normal sounds of the Tower and the screams of its innumerable volumes, each penned upon a mortal soul. Even the subtle, omnipresent glow of Larsdana’s prison, the great, flawless gemstone that served as his father’s desk lamp stood unchanging and still, but in its frozen light where it cast the Keeper’s shadow out across the floor, something stirred.

The Cheshire Fiend watched with swiftly blossoming horror as it slowly stretched out and widened, and moments later his illusory features lost any notion of amusement or mirth as he watched something of primordial nightmare clamber up into the chamber from out of his father’s shadow.

Beginning with one withered, unnaturally elongated hand reaching up to grab hold of the edge of the floor to then drag the rest of its wasted, nearly anorexic body up into the chamber, the baernaloth Sarkithel fek Parthis the Chronicler emerged up from Helekanalaith’s shadow, clambering up into the Tower from wherever it had been, or at least a portion of itself. The Baern weren’t restricted to one corporeal existence, and it was likely that this was simply a manifestation of the baernaloth that existed within the Keeper like a gloriously malign parasite.

Towering over Helekanalaith’s seated form, placing one hand on the Keeper’s shoulder, treating the arch-yugoloth like a living walking cane, the baernaloth’s rheumy eyes turned and focused on the Cheshire Fiend. It stood there silently, a notebook hovering before it, its other hand reaching down to poach one of the Keeper’s burning styluses to begin taking notes of its own.

The Cheshire Fiend had no words, and his illusory projection actually shuddered as one of The Demented gazed down at him. His Father had spoken of the baernaloth only a few times. There had been a distant look of mixed terror and abject awe in his eyes each and every time, an expression now present ten times over upon the illusory visage of his progeny.

“Greetings to you, spawn of my host.” The baernaloth leered down from behind Helekanalaith, the Keeper and everything else in the room frozen in a moment between moments. It spoke in baernaloth, the words not understood but felt and known with a terrible innate familiarity, yet still utterly alien, their meaning simultaneously delivered telepathically such that The Grin could glean the proto-fiend’s meaning. “This is our first-time conversing, though hardly the first time that I’ve seen you.”

The proto-fiend smiled knowingly; the words open to a wild variety of meanings, and as it physically spoke in the language of its kind, even though the Cheshire Fiend wasn’t physically present there in the Keeper’s chamber, the words nonetheless caused it a building discomfort.

“I have a task for you.” Sarkithel intoned, his words as calm and emotionless as ever. “A name for you to consider. A life that I have for you to take.”

Even as the baernaloth’s words began to build from discomfort to something more than merely that, the Grin’s response was swift and his tone eager, bordering upon slavish. Gone was the manipulative, self-centered tongue of a greater yugoloth who viewed the entire cosmos as their own prize, their own plaything to torment and abuse for their own sick pleasure, replaced in an instant with a blind slave to Evil, one more nameless, meaningless cog in a machine of suffering begging for direction in how fast to spin.

“Anything!” He replied, “Ask it of me and it will be done without hesitation.”

The Cheshire Fiend’s eyes darted of course towards his sire, and distantly his physical heart quickened and a delirious smile of anticipation played across his muzzle.

“No.” The Chronicler’s answer was swift, even as it drew the words out, much to the Keeper’s child’s disappointment. “But you do think grandly, and in a grand tradition of betrayal that burns though your blood. Your Father, were he aware of our discussion, he would surely be proud of you for that instant assumption of yours.”

The baernaloth turned a page in its book, the continuous scribbling of notes a mirror to the Keeper’s own practice.

“Who then shall I slaughter for you?”

Sarkithel’s answer was not who the Cheshire Fiend would have ever assumed.

“Shemeshka the Marauder.”

The Cheshire Fiend giggled. Not an expression of humor, but a nervous tik wrought of a moment of overwhelming emotions: shock, fear, and delight all at once churning from a break in a mental dam and spilling out uncontrolled over the farmlands and populated villages of his mind.

“Pardon?” The Grin nearly stuttered in response. Perhaps he’d misheard.

The baernaloth’s rheumy eyes held his gaze and it reiterated the name once more.

“Shemeshka the Marauder, the King of the Crosstrade.” The baernaloth leaned forward, “Kill her.”

The Cheshire Fiend began to ache as the baernaloth continued to speak in its native, primordial tongue.

“However you desire to accomplish the task is of course your choice.” The baernaloth explained with clinical disregard for the enormity of the task, its fingers turning from one page in its notebook to the next, its notes painting a picture of the Cheshire Fiend’s actual face, an expression of overwhelmed delight, anticipation, and fear. “The details and minutiae are entirely your concern. Your practiced art to indulge and enjoy.”

Distantly, the Cheshire Fiend’s physical body began to bleed and he began to softly whimper. Something was happening to him beyond simply the soft agony of a non-baernaloth listening to the words of one of the Gloom Fathers.

“Ah, you feel it, of course.” The Chronicler leaned in, its caprine nostrils inhaling as if it would smell the yugoloth’s suffering from across the planes. “What you feel now is the sweet agony of each and every wound that you have ever experienced in your prolonged existence, all of them replaying, all of them meandering across your flesh at once, a reiteration of a lifetime of agony and injury.”

The baernaloth’s expression remained as utterly blank as ever.

The Cheshire Fiend’s whimper turned into a scream.

A tracery of lines across his chest, the claws of a vrock in service to Demogorgon who he’d disintegrated a moment later there upon the battlefields of Pazunia. A burn upon his left forearm from a torrent of holy water unleashed by an aasimon, moments before he’d torn out its heart. A silver blade in his back from a rival in the Tower Arcane, a rival whose teeth now decorated a wine glass he’d commissioned and later gifted to a long-dead lover. It played out in exquisite agony, a dozen dozen wounds and more from the incidental to the near fatal, each one remembered, each face and each moment associated with the injury known, cataloged, and each subsequent revenge savored in memory or planned and imagined for the future yet to come.

But then, one very special one beyond all of them. The illusion whimpered and the Chronicler took note.

“Ah, yes, that one you remember well.” The baernaloth tilted its head as if to listen to a particularly sweet moment in a song’s progression. “A claw upon your forehead, a single tentative nick, a pause, consideration playing upon her face and the blade upon your neck turned to another. Prove to me in this act that she made the correct decision.”

Sarkithel fek Parthis turned and glanced at the gemstone that held Larsdana ap Neut’s imprisoned essence, and for a fraction of a second the prison’s light stuttered and flickered, seeming almost like a chuckle, as if she were aware somehow, watching, leering, salivating.

“You have your name and your task, and for it you have one month.”

“One month…” The Cheshire Fiend gasped for breath, his heart in his throat and his senses afire with the magnitude of the Gloom Father’s request, the utter suddenness of it, the consequences to power structures and plots within Sigil and without, and the simple question of how he would do it.

“That of course is up to you, yugoloth.” The Chronicler gave a shrug, “I care only that the task is accomplished. There are otherwise no conditions or stipulations.”

“Yes Father/Mother…” The Cheshire Fiend whispered.

“Fail and everything you have felt now, it will all happen once again in one beautiful instant.”

Before the Cheshire Fiend had a moment to finish a single, articulated thought, without the chance to speak a single word more in response to the Gloom Father, time restarted as if the baernaloth had never been there.



****​



Without so much as a word from his lips or a motion of his hands, Vokannis the Ebon stepped through a swirling gate and within his private chambers deep within the heart of Khin-Oin the Wasting Tower. Surrounded by the comforting gloom and the soft cries of the various mezzoloths that yet survived his experimentation, the Oinoloth sighed.

He opened his mouth, paused, and then remained silent. His mind swirled with a myriad of potentialities and options regarding the unfolding situation with Nilesia’s escape and how it impacted every other one of his innumerable schemes across the Lower Planes and beyond. He didn’t speak, and only a snarl issued past his lips, his fangs luminous white against the darkness.

Twenty minutes of thinking, brooding, and pacing later, the Oinoloth took a deep breath and glanced over one of the room’s far corners. The very same corner blanketed with a layer of ice and ash, his footprints limned in soot and frost traced back and forth to it from various points in the room, and at the moment his movements led him back to it once again.

Without words, with barely a sound, but with a slow, almost ritualistically methodical series of motions, Vorkannis let his robe slip from his shoulders to pool at his feet as he then stepped onto the frozen patch of ash and ice. Nothing happened as he sat down, his legs crossed, the frozen ash and icy soil in direct contact with his flesh.

The Oinoloth inhaled, closed his eyes, and focused, listening.

The screams of the host of celestials reached his mind and he smiled, savoring their horror and their agony reaching out to him, their warnings to him and any others that might hear them being a prophetic call. The screams of the yugoloths whose ashes mixed with theirs were just as sweet to his ears.

It was less a prelude to a conversation than it was meditation.

“The concern is minor, but it is a concern nonetheless.” The Oinoloth’s lips moved, mouthing the words in baernaloth as they were mirrored on the pages of his thoughts. “Out of caution I ask for guidance.”

In the utter darkness of the Oinoloth’s soul, eyes gazed back at him and the words of an answer filtered up from across an inconceivably vast distance. The words screamed, pounding into his brain and into every molecule of his being a response and always a singular, solitary word/phrase/name/concept/formula/everything at once: VORNELTHRAANIX.

Unlike most every other eye or ear that had ever perceived it, the Oinoloth knew precisely what it was and what it meant, and simultaneously he did not. Such was its very nature still.

Vorkannis’ ears twitched and he nodded, listening intently, though he did so without reverence or fear. At best, the notion of respect existed in his expressions and tone of voice as he replied, and for a moment the Oinoloth’s overwhelming sense of smug superiority was absent.

“Of course.” The Oinoloth’s mouth moved once again, his head tilting almost imperceptibly to the side as he listened, and then only a few moments later he nodded. “Yes, as I concluded as well.”

The conversation continued another twenty minutes before Vorkannis eventually opened his eyes, a mixed expression somewhere between satisfaction and continued, meandering worry playing across his muzzle. He stood, stepped free of the soil from the Vale of Frozen Ashes that he’d transplanted into his chamber there within Khin-Oin, and gathered up his robe, dressing before sitting atop his throne and directing his consciousness back across the planes and into his various puppets.



****​



One hour later:

When they returned to the Portal Jammer, they returned to news from Skalliska of a certain protégé of the Marauder making dubious claims about being owed remuneration for use of portals he claimed to “own”. That, however notorious the wizard in question was, was entirely secondary in their minds to the other figure waiting for them: Factol Nathaniel of the Fraternity of Order.

“I’ve found it.” The youthful factol could barely contain his excitement as they took him into one of the tavern’s backrooms to explain himself.

“Calm down,” Toras put a hand on Nathaniel’s shoulder, “You look as excited as Nisha with a basket of fireworks and a lit match.”

Neither the Guvner nor the party’s own personal Xaositect took kindly to the comparison, but the statement was nonetheless true.

“Well let me put up some charts that should explain it all!” Nathaniel proceeded to plaster a dozen posters on the wall, each covered top to bottom with a scrawl of mathematical jargon that held essentially zero meaning to everyone but himself, even including Tristol.

“I recognize most of the symbols, but you’ve lost me after half the way down the first page.” The vulpinal aasimar shrugged and took a deep breath.

Nisha simply stuck out her tongue and gave an emphatic thumbs down.

“Dial the numbers down a notch and just explain what it all means,” Clueless asked, “In layman’s terms, please.”

It took two false starts for the Factol to accommodate the request, but eventually he got there.

“It’s all about what I told you before with my Mother’s obsession.” Nathaniel explained, still with fervent excitement, his words fast from his lips, “The coordinates. I found where they go, what they’re pointing to!”

That of course got their attention, and the Factol’s answer would point them towards the same destination that a massive yugoloth army was presently, unbeknownst to them, working their way towards as well.

“Here!” Nathaniel rolled out a conceptual map of the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Mineral and there, nearly straddling the border with the Positive Energy Plane sat a singular, mysterious point on the map: The Tower of Lead.
 
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Shemeska

Adventurer
VORNELTHRAANIX?????????

and then only a few moments later he nodded. “Yes, as I concluded as well.”
Everything will come full circle on that word.

To quote the Chronicler, standing in the Vale of Frozen Ashes, from the first page of the storyhour: "All that remains to be done is to wait and to watch for the signs to manifest themselves. Isn’t that right?"
 

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