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Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 14February2024)


Heck, I was thinking even shorter term, like shadowy figure (either the Jester or, more likely, Vorkannis), the Aoskar door, then the Lady's door. Sounds freaky as all get out.

How does playing a hive even work out? And is that oneshot part of the same continuity?

You'll find out the shadowy figure's identity next update, which I'm actually working on now over lunch. And yes, my regular players in the one shot loved and hated it, because if they succeeded it would probably bite them in the regular campaign,.

The hive in the next one shot had enough members to rank as around a metacreative 10 or so. Only one rat was apparent at any time as the hive's speaker and the rest invisible. The PCs were mostly evil, working for a no longer petrified Shylara the Manged. All within the same continuity. Two full campaigns and 4 one shots over around 9 years.

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"It's just a door." Malcolm looked askance at the native Sigilians' apprehension.

"Oh hell with this all..." Surefoot help up his hands in defeat. "If the razorvine-crowned b*tch-king wants what might be inside, she can walk her fat a** down here and open it on her own."

"Just a door?" Ashlanaya grimaced, "It has The Lady's face on it."

"Actually... it is just a door," Zenia's eyes were glowing with the aftereffects of a spell, "It doesn't have any magical aura, just a spooky one, so to speak."

"Yes, but it's a door with Her Serenity's face on it." Surefoot protested.

"We came down here to get this Key, and it's got to be close." Malcolm took out his lockpicks, should the door be locked. "We find it and we get out of here. Simple as that."

Ashlanaya put a hand on the rogue's shoulder, "Listen, we don't know where the Key came from."

The rogue brushed away her hand, "We're not being paid to bother to be concerned about its origins really. To be perfectly honest I'm doing this so that she doesn't have my throat slit in the middle of the night. I made a mistake and this is making up for it."

Ashlanaya grimaced again, "I understand your position Malcolm, I can very much empathize with it. In theory I'm getting something out of this too, but the closer that we get to the Key, the worse this feels. Something isn't right about all of this. The story about the Key, what happened when it was first used, and what's down here now, there's something terribly off about it."

"I'm still not seeing why I should care." Malcolm looked over the door, searching for a lock. "I've every intent to skip town as soon as we have this delivered. If our employer wants to mess with an artifact, and from what you all have suggested, risk getting herself mazed or killed as a result, she's welcome to do so. That isn't my concern."

The argument began almost immediately, with each of them questioning the reasons behind their presence there in front of the door, the danger potentially lurking behind it, and the ramifications both to themselves and Sigil at large should they find the Shadow Sorcelled Key and return it to the Marauder. Something hellish had happened there centuries ago when the Key first appeared and when the Key was activated. Something more than history dared remember and pass down to the present day.

"We don't know why it was used in the first place or even why, except that it was used during a revolt against the Incanterium." Surefoot refused to look directly at the door, averting his eyes down to the ground or towards his companions. "I'm tempted to bail. The b*tch is going to kill me eventually."

"We're replaceable you realize." Malcolm deadpanned as he stepped back from the door and put away his lockpicks. "If we don't get what she wants, she'll kill us and then go drinking, and then send some other poor fools to do the same. She'll have it in her hands one way or another. We might as well find it, gain our own safety, and let whatever horror befalls her, well... befall her."

Mouths opened for retorts, paused, and then closed, frowning more than not. He was right of course they realized. If they didn't gain the Key, others would, and they would suffer for not having done the job themselves. Despite their apprehension and worry about the door and what waited beyond it, they had no other real option than to proceed.

"Fine." Ashlanaya nodded, still rubbing her thumb across her holy symbol. "You're right. Let's go."

"F*ck it." Surefoot motioned for Malcolm to be the first through the door.

"I'll happily go in first, but I'll need some help opening it." Malcolm chuckled. "It's solid stone, and I'm not quite that strong to move it myself."

"Fine, fine." Surefoot lowered his shoulder and tentatively pushed against the door, helping the human push it open.


The door opened with a heavy amount of resistance, both from its own profound weight, and the dirt and grime of many centuries, apparently having never been opened in the intervening years. There was a rush of air, cold and stale, and a bright, cool light emerged from the chamber beyond. One by one they entered, curious and wary expressions playing across their faces as they saw the object within.

"That isn't the key." Zenia quipped, wrinkling her nose and stepping off to the side as the others followed in after her.

The room was empty except for a single, round gemstone at its center. Roughly the size of a ripe apple, it hovered at waist-height above the ground, surrounded by a rotating circle of ephemeral glyphs and symbols.

"What the hell is that?" Surefoot blurted out as they fanned out and surrounded the object.

"The door wasn't magic, but this most certainly is." Zenia once again whispered a spell, examining the room's magical auras. "Really powerful and really, really bizarre. Certainly above my pay grade. And yeah, there's another door." She motioned towards a molded archway in the opposite wall. It wasn't a door, but a bound space certainly.

"Is something going to explode and kill us all if I touch this?" Malcolm glanced over to Zenia. The genasi shrugged and motioned him forward, even as she backed up and edged behind Surefoot.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence there." Malcolm grimaced as he reached out and made contact with the gemstone.

Abruptly the gem shattered with the sound of breaking glass and the distant sounds of a shouting mob, roaring fiends, and crackling flames: the shadow of a moment in time now long past. Each of the gem's fragments evaporated into a thin fog as they fell, forming a column of smoke that swiftly congealed into the figure of a man. Translucent and drifting a few inches above the ground, his clothes were antique, and his face sorrowful as he looked at each of his guests.

"That's not possible." Ashlanaya whispered as she stared long and hard at the spectral figure, "He's a ghost."

Ghosts weren't possible on the outer planes, yet here one stood, translucent and ephemeral despite the utter lack of connection to the Ethereal plane.

"You sure?" Doran asked.

"I serve the goddess of the honored dead and the protection of graves," The tiefling replied with a rapid nod, "So yes, I'm very sure."

"We have more problems than a ghost that shouldn't be able to exist here." Malcolm pointed back to where they'd entered. The door was gone, vanished, replaced with a blank wall without even a hint of an archway or bound space. There was no option now other than finishing the Marauder's request, or die in the process.

"Sh*t..." Surefoot groaned. "I really wonder if king pretty-dresses knew that we'd be locked in. She had to know more about the Key being down here than she told us."

"I thought that was clear before we even left her parlor." Ashlanaya laughed half-heartedly at their own misfortune.

"Someone else comes looking for the Key?" The ghost sounded mournful. "Then they are a fool, and you their puppets. I above all should know..."

All eyes focused on the ghost as he hovered there, regarding his visitors with misery and jaded anger.

"Who are you?" Surefoot spoke first.

"Hello planar." The ghost sneered. "In life I was called Johannis Calimorn, one of the Speakers of the Prime Council. I was part of the rebellion that revolted against the tyranny your kind inflicted upon us. I fought the tools of the system, the self-appointed Golden Masters, the elite, the proxies of uncaring powers, the Incanterium and their servitors the Sodkillers. None cared about us, so we revolted from our ghetto and nearly shook the city from the Spire. That was our intent; high minded, foolish, and desperate."

"The Clueless Rebellion." The bariaur nodded, understanding that the ghost was himself an undead window onto the past. He'd been there, and he'd probably been intimately entangled in the use of the Key.

"Even the name mocked us and our plight based only that we came from the Material Plane." He sighed, "Nothing has changed I see. Nothing at all."

"How is it that you're here?" Ashlanaya asked, "A ghost on the Outer Planes shouldn't be possible."

"How is it that we momentarily bucked the Lady's Authority and forced open every portal within the Prime Ward?" He narrowed his eyes in scorn. "Not everything is rational, and there are things that happen beyond our capacity to understand except to suffer the aftereffects of our own hubris."

"You used the Shadow Sorcelled Key." Malcolm interjected, "We're here to find it."

"What was the Key?" Ashlanaya noted the ghost's mood about its role in the rebellion. "We only know what it did, and only then what history has chosen to remember about it."

The ghost laughed at the name of the artifact, but his face showed only misery and regret, all without a drop of humor.

“The Shadow Sorcelled Key was the tool of our rebellion. Packed like sheep, penned, sequestered and oppressed, it was given to us unasked. But we took it anyways. ‘If you have but the will to use it’ we were told, and greedy, headstrong and filled with righteous zeal we took it. ‘The choice is yours, do as thou wilt.’" Johannis went through the motions of inhaling. Despite the space of years, the spirit still raged and grieved at his actions, and, based on the tremble in his voice as he spoke the words of whomever or whatever had provided him the Key, it terrified him.

"History hasn't provided much of a record of the particulars behind those events." Surefoot coaxed the spirit to tell them more. "You didn't make the Key yourselves? Someone gave it to you? Why?"

"Yes, it was a gift. A terrible, hideous, poisoned gift." The ghost held out his hands, cupping them as if he were still holding the artifact. "We should have said no. We should have hurled it over the side of the ring. We should have given it to a dabus and begged them to take it to The Lady, lest our anger cause us to use it. Some gifts are best never taken."

"But you used it anyway." Ashlanaya's voice carried a tone of sympathy as she gazed at the long-dead Sigilian. "We always view our past mistakes with perfect clarity and perfect guilt, given enough time to reflect. You've had plenty of time. No one should blame you."

Johannis smiled, if only for a moment, genuinely happy at the paladin's words of comfort and understanding.

"What exactly happened when you used it?" Malcolm's question jolted the spirit out of his moment of calm.

"The prime ward was razed! Fiends roamed the streets, slaughtering each other and any they found. Many of our own died even as the Sodkillers and the Incanterium battled the swelling darkness we had unleashed upon the City and were slaughtered. It was ended only by the actions of Her Serenity."

"What did The Lady do?"

"She appeared in the midst of the carnage." Johannis explained with fear and awe in his voice. "Speaking not a word, she drifted through the carnage and in her wake the portals sealed. We only noticed later that the center of the Ward, the place where it had all begun, it was no longer there. The city had swallowed it up, subsumed it and all within, with not even a scar upon the streets to mark its passing. The damage was immense however. The sky was choked with soot and sulfur, the arrangement of the portals was changed to reflect a majority now only reaching out to the lower planes. Untold lives perished in fire and fang. Those of us who had used the Key, we survived, somehow. The Lady passed us by."

"She passed you by?" Malcolm narrowed his eyes. 'How was that possible'

"What happened to the Key?" Doran circled around the ghost, genuinely curious above and beyond their task for the Marauder.

"Our so-called gift was taken back from our hands by the one who granted it to us." The ghost stared off into the distance, somehow growing paler with the memory. Dead and separated by the space of centuries, it still terrified him. "As before, so again.”

"Who gave it to you?" The druid pressed. "That's one element of the Key's story that we've never known."

"I can't tell you." The ghost looked away, fearful even in its cursed immortality. "It won't let me. Ezra the Key-Maker will tell you more."

"Why can't you tell..." Zenia paused as the ghost faded from sight and the crystal reappeared, only this time cloudy and, as she guessed, no longer capable of summoning its tethered spirit. "...us? Drat."

As if on cue, the archway in the far wall of the chamber shimmered, grew transparent, and then the stone wall vanished entirely. Not needing an invitation, they proceeded through, expecting another gemstone like the first room, but instead finding another spectral figure awaiting them, dour and impatient.

"Hi!" Zenia waved at the hovering form of a middle-aged woman dressed in the outfit of a crafter or artisan. "And you would be Ezra I assume?"

"An elemental blooded, I should have figured." Ezra scoffed and crossed her arms. "And judging by your outfit, manners, and the tattoo on your arms, one of the Babblers. I should be so lucky to have forfeited my life to free my people and now in death find myself surrounded by our oppressors once again."

The ghost smiled grimly, looking at the assembled group, reserving her deepest frowns for the planars: Surefoot, Ashlanaya, and Zenia.

"Johannis spoke with us." Ashlanaya bowed with courtesy despite the figure's distaste for her outsider blood. "He called you the Key-Maker. Did you make the Shadow Sorcelled Key?"

"No. I most certainly did not." Ezra's response was swift and tempered with again, a streak of fear. "I was fool enough to touch it, and fool enough to thank its maker for their gift. But such a thing was beyond me in even my wildest dreams."

"But your title?" The tiefling glanced at the objects dangling from her belt and the prominent spellbook visible in a leather side satchel. The woman had been a wizard of some manner.

The ghost laughed, "I crafted keys for the Lady's portals. I divined the nature of each, I and my guild fashioned the necessary keys to turn the locks that were already in place, and we sold them to any that would pay. I was the wealthiest woman in the Prime Ward, but I was still a pauper to the Golden Masters."

"Why did you even care to rebel against a system that had made you wealthy and respected?" Surefoot raised an eyebrow. "You can't have suffered like so many others."

"Because I wasn't one of the Heartless! I had compassion, and I saw the people around me starving, spat upon if they dared leave the Ward named after our kind. I wanted none of that, and eventually those of us on the Prime Council had no other choice but to fight and claim our dignity and our place in Sigil."

Ezra stared off into the distance, just as Johannis had before when he remembered the events of the Clueless Rebellion. Like him, he seemed harrowed by the memories.

"We weren't the first fools to have accepted the Key, nor the first to have used it. I think it was always intended to find its way to Sigil though. I can even remember the swirling eyes of its maker when I met them in the Outlands. They said it could open portals, it could be used as a weapon against our enemies, and that they had used it before."

"Used it before?" Doran was troubled by that new piece of the Key's story.

"Who were they?" Ashlanaya pressed again, hoping this time to receive an answer.

“From prime to prime it was a tool of death," Ezra shivered and looked away, "A tool of chaos incarnate, and a tool of brutal repression. Both extremes personified, reflected only in the hand of the one who had but to accept their gift, and turn it, unlocking the darkness within, and without. Our greed and our hatred prompted us to accept it. A means of salvation or revenge so terrible, but gift or not, ‘the choice was ours’ and we alone are to blame for the path of hells fury it has woven through the eons. The Shadow Sorcelled Key is a gift, it always is, and a tool, but one that uses the gifted just as they use the gift…”

"Forgive me," Ezra clutched at her robes. "They Key will be offered to you. It desires to be used again. It hungers. But do not..."

Abruptly the ghost was gone, replaced by a hovered, matte gemstone, silent and censored from what its inhabitant would have warned.

"And we want to give the Marauder access to this thing?" Ashlanaya verbalized the thought on most of their minds as they watched the ghosts' regret and misery at their own role in using the artifact.

"From what it sounds like, she really isn't aware of what she'll be getting her painted little claws on." Surefoot chuckled, "If she wants to doom herself, I'm not going to stop her."

"So what do we do now? Because there isn't another..." Zenia began and then stopped as the far wall rippled and text appeared, initially something foreign and alien to each of them, and then shifting and self-translating into whatever language they each preferred. "... door."

“Seekers of the Key of Dancing Shades will not find what they seek, if only for why they seek it out. Why do you seek it? Answer me and the first door turns.”

"Oh lovely," Surefoot crossed his arms. "Not only do we have to crawl through Sigil's underbelly, we have to justify why we even want it."

The five of them entered the room and stood before the text, pondering its question, as well as the implications it held.

"So should we be honest or not?" Malcolm mused, looking first to Ashlanaya and then to Surefoot.

"Think about what the ghosts said to us." The paladin explained. "The key was given to them, and it caused horrific side effects. Whatever creature gave them the Key was not benevolent. Nor do I suspect that it wants to give the key again to anyone that could be remotely seen as altruistic."

"Then we're safe telling the truth." Surefoot motioned above his head, pantomiming the Marauder fidgeting with her razorvine crown. "Because the b*tch sure as hell isn't a kind soul."

Zenia giggled.

Doran nodded, "That sounds like the best plan to me."

"So we're in agreement then?" Ashlanaya looked to each of the others. Seeing no disagreement she stepped forward and placed a hand upon the text.

"We seek out the Shadow Sorcelled Key not for ourselves, but for our employer, Shemeska the Marauder, the King of the Crosstrade. We seek it for her in exchange for various payments," She then glanced back at Malcolm, "Or for excuses of debts otherwise incurred. The fiend that hired us will benefit and so will we."

Without any other sign of approval or disapproval at the paladin's words, the words faded from view. The wall behind the words first grew transparent and then faded away entirely, revealing an archway and through it, another chamber.

"Clearly the Key's maker approves of our answer." Malcolm chuckled.

"That doesn't fill me with any measure of comfort Malcolm." Ashlanaya's expression bore no smile, and inwardly she felt only a growing sense of dread. "But in any event, let's keep going. This should be over soon."

Stepping through the archway, the next room was exactly the same as the last, again with a line of text floating before the far wall in the language they each preferred.

There are two doors now, though both lead to the Key of Dancing Shadows. You have a choice now, for free will is what you possess and must now utilize for better or for ill. The left and one of you dies, the right and their life is saved but at dire risk and challenge for all of you now in the next chamber. Make your choice and accept your fate.

Malcolm blinked as he read the text, confused as it rippled and changed, shifting from the familiar letters of planar common to the alphabet and convoluted, multilayered syntax of yugoloth. He human opened his mouth but as the words formed in his mind to voice his confusion and his concern, they never sparked the synaptic storm that would have carried the impulses to his throat, past his lips, and to the others' ears. The thing implanted into his mind by Shemeska the Marauder awoke, looked through foreign eyes soon to be its own, and acted.

In a moment and without any outward sign, Malcolm effectively ceased to exist. The man's mind rewritten by a pattern of thought spun off from the King of the Crosstrade, it was independent of her, but utterly subservient to her will, knowing its place, role, and nature, acting as an extension of her will. All that matters is the Key.

"That's a hell of a non-choice." Surefoot rolled his eyes at the text as he drew his sword, "I suppose we should be ready for whatever we find in the next room."

"I don't like this at all." Zenia winced as she pondered the two choices written in Ignan, though in her mind there was only one real option. Whimsy was whimsy, but she couldn't just kill someone randomly to save her own skin.

The first into the room, and a few steps in past the others, Malcolm smiled wickedly, stepping forward and mouthing to himself the thought, 'Please be Surefoot. Please be Surefoot.'

"Go ahead and press the right door and be ready." Doran nodded at Malcolm, unable to see the expression of the rogue's face.

'Please be the f*cking bariaur. Please be him.' Malcolm stepped forward, smiled, and touched his hand to the left.



Ah,... I enjoyed playing that rat hive. ;) The players all thought I was "just one" super smart rat. Till they looked under see-invis ...



"Huh? That wasn't..." Zenia tilted her head sideways, looking oddly at Malcolm for a moment before she stiffened and gasped. "Malcolm?"

Starting at her core and spreading outwards like blood staining a white sheet, the genasi screamed in agony as her flesh withered, blackened, and crumbled to ashes. A burst of black dust fell past her crumbling lips as she stepped forward, one hand out, reaching for Malcolm, a look of wounded confusion still on her face even as she disintegrated. Zenia was dead before she hit the ground and scattered into a pile of lifeless carbon and soot.

Malcolm turned and looked the dying Xaositect in the eyes while behind him the text vanished and a door appeared, yawning wide to another empty room.

"What the f*ck?!" Doran shouted in disbelief at what he'd just witnessed.

"Nephthys preserve!" Ashlanaya was aghast as her eyes shifted from Zenia's disintegrating corpse to Malcolm's utterly uncaring expression.

"What the f*ck you stupid little sh*t! WHY?!" Surefoot screamed, "She saved your life before! Your head would be flapping around as a newborn vargouille if she hadn't held your damn skull in place, and you f*cking killed her! The f*ck?!!!"

Malcolm sneered as the bariaur rushed towards him. "Everything we've seen so far, do you think that we wouldn't all likely die if I'd chosen the other door?" He glared with contempt as Surefoot grabbed his shoulders roughly and shook him with rage. Malcolm palmed a blade and felt the razor-sharp tip between his fingers, oh so eagerly imagining sticking it between the journalist's ribs and puncturing his heart. It wouldn't be as fun as slitting his throat, smiling, and bathing in the arterial spray, but pragmatism over poetry for now. Zenia was a needed sacrifice. All of them were, and would be without a second thought. "I saved the rest of us you ungrateful sh*t..."

"What?!" Surefoot shouted, his eyes wide with disbelief at the rogue's utter callousness. His fingers gripped tighter on the man's shirt.

"Let him go." Ashlanaya's voice trembled with suppressed rage. "We get the Key first and then we deal with what just happened."

"The door's open, let's go." Malcolm gestured to the door as Surefoot grudgingly released him. Malcolm let the bariaur walk past him unharmed, expressionless outwardly but inwardly cackling. Watching Zenia die and the look on her face had been an absolute pleasure. It truly was.

Ashlanaya glared daggers at Malcolm as he stepped through, briefly opening her mind to examine what she saw. The rogue had already been evil before, but a trifling, middling evil. Now however, he glowed brighter than most fiends, and with a particular flavor she'd seen before: one just as specific and recognizable as the custom perfume she'd worn.


Just as before, the next room was empty except for a drifting line of text on the far wall. In truth though, the room felt emptier without Zenia there with them. The air was colder without her flames, and the mood grim without her often inappropriate whimsy.

“Who are you to hold the key? Why are you alone worthy to bare the key that could unshackle the Abyss, or bare wide the gates of Baator, or spill forth the Waste? To what purpose would the key do you? And what more… it angered The Bladed Queen once before, a second time for good or for ill, what will Her Dread Majesty do? What will befall you should you grasp the key?”

This time, should the Key's guardian or guardians see fit to inflict what they had before, Ashlanaya spoke first. The hell...' she thought, If I'll allow the Marauder or the Marauder's enchanted puppet to control the flow of events from now on.

"I am Ashlanaya of Pelion," The tiefling began, "One who has transcended the blood of her birth, one who champions the will and ethos of Nephthys the Blessed Guardian of Tombs and the souls of the dead. I would hold the Shadow Sorcelled Key with no desire or intent to use it for myself. I would take the Key for another, and what fate befalls them is theirs to decide, for good or for ill."

Malcolm immediately narrowed his eyes and studied the paladin's expression as she spoke, trying to divine her intent and wishing that he was more than a shadow of himself. Had he actually been there -perish the thought of keeping this present company, and perish the thought of trudging through the sewers and dirt of UnderSigil- he would have flensed the paladin's mind like an onion and plucked out her thoughts with practiced ease whatever the precautions she'd taken. But alas, this vessel lacked even the capacity for telepathy.

"That sounded perfectly appropriate." Doran nodded to Ashlanaya and then glared angrily at Malcolm. "I think we should have her answer from now on."

The paladin shrugged, "Assuming of course that the Key's guardians don't take offense, given its nature and history it seems."

"Apparently they like the reply." Surefoot did his best to smile given Zenia's death as the text vanished and the wall grew transparent for another door. This time however it was different.

"The hell was that?" Surefoot paused and stared at the archway into the next room, having just seen something there for the moment when the wall flickered and vanished.

Ashlanaya hesitated before stepping towards the next room. She'd felt momentarily sick when it had transitioned from wall to archway. She'd seen something there, more an afterimage that melted away in a split second and it had been something she didn't recognize but still felt implicitly disgusted by, whatever it was. She'd felt the same before when she'd seen a shadowy figure staring down at her. Whatever that had been, it provoked the same sick feeling just by proximity, even if she didn't understand what it was.

Malcolm however understood, or at least the creature that had usurped him did.

There for a fraction of a second, a face had appeared, similar in style to the iron sculpture of the Lady of Pain they had seen, only this one was leached of color, its eyes gleaming black, and with two pairs of horns, one of them curling, and one of them straight. Suspended in space and then gone, the face was of one of the Father/Mothers of the Waste. What in the Oinoloth's name did that mean? Malcolm's newborn mind swirled with a flurry of thoughts. What did that imply about the Shadow Sorcelled Key? What did that imply about the Ebon? Malcolm and his greater self stood in the shadow of giants. Soon though, if all continued as planned, the Marauder would have the Key in her poison-clawed, manicured hands.


The next room was altogether different from those that had come before. They had been empty things of white, featureless stone, but this room was anything but featureless. Far from no exit but the one they had entered, or perhaps the hint of a door on the far wall, this chamber possessed a multitude of them.

“Three doors now, and only one remains. Who am I? What am I? One door to the object you claim for yourself or your taskmaster, one to the reaches above and safe passage to that which fits your nature, and one door to the one to whom you speak. Choose your paths, choose your futures, utilize your free will, for WILL is all there is. There is no fate, there is no destiny, there are only the threads of the future and hands to grasp them; as told before and forever more, do as thou wilt.”

Three archways stood equally spaced, each of their keystones marked with a specific symbol. The first bore the outline of a black key, one with a symbol that changed and shifted between those of the various planes, and the final one with the outline of a head that they had briefly seen minutes before. The first archway swirled with tongues of shadow that weren't truly black, but an impossible color, something impossibly saturated blue and deepest black at once, something beyond the standard spectrum and a color all of its own that ached the eyes to witness - there waited the Key.

The second archway was clear as glass, opening onto scenes in all of the various planes. For one brief moment it revealed a scene of volcanic flames and souls being herded along a ragged slope, while distantly in the black void of the sky, three other volcanic furnaces drifted. A moment later and the scene changed, revealing an idyllic landscape populated by elven petitioners and a laughing coure eladrin flitting through the air. Every few seconds the scene changed, never repeating the same one as it cycled through all of the planes of existence.

The final archway revealed no details at all, only a rippling gray surface hinting at shapes and movement below the thin, rubbery meniscus of the portal itself. Looming above it however was the keystone and its profile of the Key's creator - not that any of them knew for certain what that meant, none of them at least except for the intelligence looming within Malcolm's mind.

"So we each have to make a choice." Doran glanced at the others. "I didn't honestly expect to have a choice at the end of this."

"I wish that Zenia would have had a choice." Surefoot glared at Malcolm. The rogue only rolled his eyes and continued to stare at the trio of archways.

"Personally, I have no desire to meet the Key's maker." Ashlanaya shivered as she looked at the keystone over the third arch. Whatever it was, it filled her with disgust and fear. "Escape would be lovely, but we have a commitment to fulfill, and if we don't, the fiend will hunt us down."

Subtly, Malcolm smirked. You'll all be dead soon anyways. I'll see the bariaur butchered and on my table, and the others I'll leave my people to dispose of you in their own ways. If any of them fancy you, they'll have their fun first. I'd consider the same, but alas my standards are far too high.

"Getting her the Key will at least postpone that." Surefoot frowned, deeply wishing to simply be done with this all and not have to ever look at that particular 'loth again. "Hopefully."

Ignoring them all, Malcolm stepped forward.

They'll get the Key and bring it to me. If they don't, I can send other fools in their place. I need to know more however. I'm a puppet in this game unless I actually know what's going on below the surface, and I'll be f*cked if I'm serving the same role to the Oinoloth -beautiful and merciless as he may be- as these sods are to me. I wanted importance and power, and I'll get importance and power before this is over. Who are you Keymaker?

"I choose to meet you, creator of the Key." Malcolm spoke clearly and expectantly, with a cadence that was not at all his own. As he did so, he crossed his arms and stood with his hips tilted in a manner again, alien to himself, but not at all alien to the creature that had spun off a pattern of her own psyche to overwrite his own.

"Are you insane Malcolm?" Surefoot glared at the rogue for the second time in nearly as many moments.

"Leave him." Ashlanaya put a hand on the bariaur's flank. Something about her tone and the certainty in her voice made him pause and not utter the next burst of words he would have unleashed at the human.

"Shut up Indep filth." Malcolm spat, "I've made my choice Merlianik, now you make yours. Get the Key for your better or you'll be dead before..."

Malcolm never finished his invective against Surefoot. No sooner had the words begun spilling from his lips than the third archway rippled. Formed from the shadowy membrane of the gate itself, a multitude of hands reached through, wrapping around his arms, legs, and neck, dragging him forward, screaming and struggling. Leaving only fading trails of smoke in their wake and the memory of Malcolm's screams, the third archway returned to its original calm, placid state as if nothing had happened.


"What the f*ck..." Doran's face was pale, and his expression of horror was matched by both Surefoot and Ashlanaya.

Malcolm was gone, devoured by the third portal which still yawned wide, swirling with liquid darkness. The Keymaker's question still hung suspended in the air, asking its question to the remaining three.

"Whatever just happened to his body, that was no longer Malcolm." Ashlanaya's expression was haunted and drawn. "Just in the past few minutes, something changed about him. Our employer must have put some sort of geas or something even more powerful on him that activated as soon as he got within a certain proximity to the Key. She might have been controlling him from her parlor from the start, subtle at first, but overtly once I noticed."

"I'll be honest," Surefoot gave a guilty expression. "I suspected from the start that the Marauder would have sent along one of her own people to make sure that we returned the Key if we found it. I actually suspected that it would be you Ashy. You were the least obvious one to pick. My apologies."

"No need for that because I expected the same, except that it would be you," Ashlanaya gave a wry half-smile at her error, "You two had history and I suspected that as much as she hated you, it might have been an act. Still, I thought that she'd just have whoever it was kill us all once we had the Key. I didn't expect her to send a piece of herself or whatever it was that she had hidden within Malcolm's mind."

"We could always just leave." Doran's voice was soft as he gazed longingly at the middle portal. "I..."

They could see it within the druid's eyes that he was terrified of going any further forward after what they'd already witnessed. He didn't have any ties within Sigil, nor did her have any prior association with or link to the King of the Crosstrade.

"Doran," Ashlanaya looked at him, "We still need to see this through, but you don't have to go on. For all the fiend has to know, you died along with Zenia and Malcolm. She'll have the Key and honestly she'll no longer care about you."

Doran looked guilty, and for a moment he couldn't look up at either of his surviving companions. "Would you be ok with that?"

"Yes." Surefoot snorted. "Of course."

"You don't need to risk yourself any more." Ashlanaya smiled. "If you make it to safety, please do one thing for me however."


"Meet me in Sylvania. I'll take your payment and bring it to you. I owe you that. However if neither I nor Surefoot contact you within the next week, please find a way to raise Zenia from the dead. Make the attempt. She didn't deserve to die." Ashlanaya held back tears as she made the request.

"I promise you," Doran nodded as he made his way to the second archway, "I'll find a way."

The druid stepped forward and vanished. Having initially braced himself for the worst possible place that he might appear, on the other side of the portal, the sounds and bustle of Tradegate had never felt as welcoming as now.


Surefoot and Ashlanaya touched the surface of the first archway and immediately felt a cold, terrible chill, and then... nothing.

"What just happened?" Surefoot shuffled his hooves and stared at the blank wall in confusion. The text was gone and so were the portals.

"Surefoot," Ashlanaya motioned with her hand and caught her breath, "Turn around."

Behind them in the room's center stood an image of three grey obelisks glowing red and blue in random sequence. Cold and shedding an immaterial mist at their base, above them hovered the Key. If it were solid it was difficult to tell as it hurt the eyes to perceive its unreal, alien color, and for the swirling tatters of shadow that perpetually bled off of its surface. After everything that they had been through, there it was.

"That's it." Surefoot whispered. "It's real."

"We finally have it for the taking, but honestly, I hesitate to touch it."

"Maybe we should do what the ghost thought about doing, knowing what they knew after they'd used it?" Surefoot looked at the paladin. "Maybe we should just hurl it over the edge of Sigil and be done with it."

"I don't think we can." She replied, her heart thumping in her chest as she stared at the Key. "I don't think the Key's maker, whatever it is, will let us leave if we ever intended to do that. Besides something tells me that even if we did, it would reappear somewhere else. A poisoned thing that always finds itself in the hands of those desperate enough to use it. At least this way we know where it is, and we know that this time, the person using it and suffering from its use is a terrible creature of evil herself."

"That's the only thing that's kept me going through this to be perfectly honest." The bariaur laughed. "If what the ghosts of its past users said was true, Shemeska deserves it more than anyone else that I can think of."

"We touch it together then?" Ashlanaya approached the Key, standing opposite Surefoot, one hand extended out to touch the key.

He nodded and extended his own hand, now only inches from the Key, "On the count of three."


All was cold, terribly cold, and then the room was gone and they stood within the Hive. Judging by the state of the ruined buildings standing only a block or two away, they stood at the edge of the Slags. It would be a long, long walk to get back to the Marauder at the Fortune's Wheel.

"It's going to be a long walk." Surefoot sighed. "Do you have a preference as to which way we go. It's more or less equidistant from the Wheel."

"Towards the Market Ward if you don't mind." Ashlanaya glanced down at the Key in her hand. "I'd rather not risk being attacked while passing through the Hive and having the Key sniped."

"Let's not even consider that as an option." Surefoot widened his eyes and shook his head.

As quickly as they could, the two of them walked out of the fringe of the Slags and into the edge of the Clerk's Ward. As the buildings pressed around them, their passage did not go unnoticed, but not in the way that they had intended to avoid. Not a single passerby gave them notice, but every bound space they passed, be it doorways, windows, cracks in stone tracing out a ragged shape, and even the spaces framed by trees and vines, each of them responded. It began as a dull crackle and then they noticed as every portal they passed flickered into existence if but for a moment as they passed. Each of them sizzled with erratic potential in their frames and boundaries as Ashlanaya and Surefoot walked past, feeling the magnetic pull of the Shadow Sorcelled Key wrenching upon them as it had centuries ago. Even without an active will and desire to push the Key into action, the artifact's very presence was overwhelming, tugging inexorably and unguided against the fabric of the City of Doors.

"Hurry up." Ashlanaya whispered harshly, with a growing sense of panic. "

"Maybe we should have tossed it over the side."

"Nephthys guide me," Ashlanaya rubbing her fingers over her holy symbol, "I'm getting the same feeling that we're just repeating the errors of those poor damned souls below."

"As long as we don't use it I think we'll be fine." Surefoot cracked a worried smile.

"I hope that you're right."

They walked as fast as they could, and thankfully the traffic was relatively light in the darker hours of the day. With less people awake and on the streets, only the lamplighters, touts, and scattered others took notice of the flickering lights of the mad portals. Some residents of the city however never slept, and those few took notice.

"Ashy?" Surefoot tapped the paladin on her shoulder. "They're... staring... at us."

"Huh?" She glanced over her shoulder, thinking that someone had noticed the portal disruption had been centered on and following them. "Who is... oh f*ck..."

On the other side of the street, a quartet of dabus had been diligently repairing a crumbling wall and the cobblestone's adjacent. At the Key's approach, all of them had paused in their work and looked around, confused and worried. They dropped their tools to the ground and searched in near panic for whatever the source of their unease was, and then their eyes found the paladin and bariaur. As one, the dabus turned and watched them approach and pass.

"Are they following us?" Surefoot asked, too afraid to look and acknowledge their worried, and momentarily panicked gaze.

The dabus didn't pursue them, and in fact they didn't necessarily appear capable of perceiving them except for the aura of the Key's disruptive effect. They and the city was blind within its radius. The Key broke the rules of the City of Doors.

Ashlanaya doubled her speed, "I've never seen a Dabus look uncertain, disquieted, or even worried."

"Neither have I." Surefoot increased the rate of his trot to keep up. "What the hell have we done Ashy?"

"The sooner we get this to the Marauder, the sooner I'll be able to feel comfortable." The paladin was afraid.

"Gods above I just don't want to be mazed while being an errand boy."


As Ashlanaya and Surefoot walked towards the Fortune's Wheel, there to give the Key to the Marauder, one creature within Sigil was even more ill at ease than them. The false stars of Anti-Peak glittered dimly through the overcast skies above the Market Ward. A drizzle of greasy rain fell upon the streets, pooling like ooze portals amidst the cobblestones of the street, and tapping a tune upon the roof and window-sills of a small building decorated with elaborate designs all reminiscent of the ink-work performed inside. The shop bore no name, nor did it need to advertise its nature or that of its occupant; all of Sigil knew who owned and operated it.

Within his shop, Fell the fallen dabus stared out of the window and watched the bariaur and a tiefling walk past, oblivious of his eyes and even more oblivious of the corrosion that they carried. Fell trembled and cried out in fear, falling to his knees. It was happening again.


They entered through one of the hidden rear doors of the Fortune's Wheel, quickly ushered in by one of the Marauder's guards who seemed to have known when and where they would arrive with the Key. Most likely the fiend had agents following them within minutes of their arrival back up from the depths of UnderSigil. Despite what had befallen her puppet Malcolm -if indeed she was even aware of the specifics- her groomer-guards were as polite as ever. By polite that meant that they ignored the paladin and made snide remarks about the bariaur, including questions about how he might taste if their mistress finally tired of his continued taking of breath. Still however, they led them up through a maze of hidden corridors and stairwells, eventually to arrive at the Marauder's private suite.

"Be polite." The left-most guard at the Marauder's door instructed. They were the same tiefling that had slapped Surefoot's flank when he'd first been ever so politely summoned. "Don't speak unless spoken to. Avert your unworthy eyes from and yet simultaneously envy, admire, and yearn for Her Fiendish Majesty."

"You haven't lost a bit of charm I see." Surefoot rolled his eyes. "But trust me, I'll be averting my eyes. That's not just easy but necessary."

"I could always just slit your throat now." The groomer-guard smiled, his tone clearly desiring to actually follow through on the threat.

"We have the object she desires." Ashlanaya's voice was firm and her gaze at the other tiefling even more so. "Open the door and let us get this over with."

"So be it." The Marauder's guard stepped aside and motioned for his companion to open the door. "She's been waiting for you."

Come in, come in, come in! Close the door immediately upon entering.

The Marauder's telepathic voice was altogether different from her tone when last they spoke. Gone was her power and authority, replaced with a nervous, giddy anticipation like a spoiled child awaiting the break of dawn on a holiday when they would receive a gift. The 'loth nearly sounded desperate.

The two of them entered and the door closed behind them. Incense, drugged waterpipe smoke, and expensive perfume met their senses first as they stepped into the darkened room. As their eyes adjusted they briefly wondered if they were there alone, but then the undertone of brimstone filtered through and the 'loth spoke.

"Where is it?"

The room was empty except for an elaborate table carved from a single piece of wood, an ancient treant in fact who had been very much alive and screaming when the table was produced. The only light was provided by the pair of luminous purple eyes that denoted where the Marauder sat at the table's far end with a halo of dimmer, twinkling light provided by the entrapped souls in the gemstones that decorated her ears and throat. A goblet and five bottles of expensive wine stood in front of her, with all but one of them uncorked and empty. She'd been sitting and waiting, impatiently so it seemed. The rest of the room was too dark to show any details, but a rustle of silk and velvet suggested that much of the expansive chamber was blocked off from view by curtains. Given the suggested size of the suite, it was far too large to actually be within the spatial constraints of the Azure Iris, and more likely than not, her private chambers occupied a demiplane all their own.

"Where is it? Where is the Key?" The Marauder leaned forward as she spoke, the thousands of glass-beads that made up her favorite dress shifting and clinking like hushed wind-chimes. Her claws tapped impatiently upon the table and upon the marble floor at her feet. "Show it to me!"

"We have the Key as you tasked us to find." Ashlanaya's voice was calm. After what the fiend had done, there was no way that she was going to be cowed by the razorvine-crowned Waste-spawned harpy.

"And the others that went with you? What happened to them?"

"They died." The paladin's tone was cold. "By trap or by betrayal they died." She emphasized and drew out the speaking of the word betrayal.

“Oh?” The Marauder smiled, ivory teeth sparkling in the dim, flickering light. "Such a shame."

"Payment and you can have your Key." Surefoot spoke, doing his best to be as resolute as the tiefling.

"And why shouldn't I just send a lightning bolt through that thick skull of yours Merlianik and watch you dance and carbonize? Why shouldn't I just kill you both?"

Surefoot stiffened. "Because you can't risk my death."

"Feeling important I see." She smirked and sipped her wine, though from the tremble in her hand, she wanted the Key and she wanted the Key in her greedy bejeweled hands as soon as possible. Banter was halfway between delayed gratification and foreplay. "Why can't I?"

"Because I've spent years not publishing half of what I know about you." Surefoot did his best not to smile, hoping that his statement -which wasn't entirely a bluff- would have the intended effect. "I die and it gets released by the Temple of Hermes, the Temple of Thoth, and at least two other temples or organizations in the Cage."

The Marauder laughed and shook her head, "You don't matter Merlianik."

"I don't, but your reputation does." Surefoot glared at the Marauder. "You have enemies and they'll move at perceived weakness."

The 'loth sneered even as she genuinely pondered what his neck would feel like between her teeth. "Go away little fish," She motioned dismissively, "Swim away for a time, and then come back when this shark has fed again and you might dance for some morsels on the current. But swim well...” She snapped her teeth together and then turned her eyes to the paladin. "And you? Why shouldn't I kill you?"

"Because I have the Key and if need be, I will activate it." Ashlanaya held up a small but deceptively heavy box, one that had interestingly enough been on Malcolm's person and dropped when he'd been dragged to his death. Presumably the 'loth had one of her people plant it on his person.

"You will do no such thing! The Key belongs to me!" Shemeska barked. "Place it upon the table and leave. My people will pay you precisely what was bargained. Now give me my Key. Now!!!"

She was drooling as the paladin placed the box upon the table. Shemeska gestured and it lurched across the distance and into her hands where she cradled it to her breast like a lost child, whimpering and actually losing any pretense of dignity and class. The snarling, covetous arcanaloth was there, laid bare.

“Enjoy what you have fiend.” Ashlanaya said as she turned to leave, “The spirits of its last owners have only regret for their own use of its poison. The Lady’s eyes are upon you.”

“Then the Lady will be envious of what she sees.” Shemeska’s words were sharp and impulsive, but it was all on reflex. She stared at the box she held in her trembling hands and was barely aware of anything beyond its weight and substance.

Not wanting to spend any more time alone with the Marauder, and worried about what she might actually do with the Key in her possession, Ashlanaya and Surefoot turned and left. As soon as they'd crossed the threshold, without bothering to look up, Shemeska gestured and the door to her chamber slammed shut, locked on its own, and a dozen spell-trapped symbols erupted like blisters across the surface.

Back in the room, alone in the darkness, the Marauder shivered and paused before opening the box in her hands. Constructed to her specifications out of dozens of fine layers of plutonian lead and gehennan morghuth iron, she’d hoped that it would have blocked any potential exposure of the artifact to outside detection. As she held the box however, she noted with fascination that the box casts no shadow despite the illumination provided by her eyes and jewelry. Her precautions seemed wholly inappropriate if its influence actually pierced the boundaries of the container.

Finally with trepidation and genuine fear, she opened the box. The bleeding shadows wafted off of the Key to caress her features as they drifted across her face. Absorbed for once by something other than herself, she smiled and her eyes glowed in the darkness, their violet radiance refracted and scattered by the alien nature of the artifact in her hands.

"View attachment Vorkannis.bmp be praised..."


Malcolm gasped as the hands that had wrenched him from the depths of Sigil and across the cosmos released him and that transitory moment of brutal, utter cold evaporated, leaving him somewhere else.

"Who are you Keymaker?" The sliver of the Marauder's intelligence called out even as it gazed out in wonder and terror at where it stood.

He stood before three great crystalline windows, each of them opening up onto a view of Pluton, Niffleheim, and Oinos - the three layers of the Gray Waste. This place was a tangent point of sorts, the same as the City at the Center. Each window focused its view upon a great monolith of stone, petrified wood, or fused and petrified bones, each of them carved with a litany of symbols in the burning, profane language of the baernaloths. The first monolith's symbols glowed blue, the second red, and the third not at all.

"The Loadstones of Misery?"

Somewhere behind him something stirred, and he had a profound sense of being watched.

Malcolm turned and gasped. Behind him the chamber extended outwards as far as he could see, perhaps infinitely so. Everywhere was strewn broken doors, crumbled archways, mirrors shattered in their frames, dead trees leached of life and below them empty pools of water now dwindled to mud. Everywhere to the extent of his vision the landscape was scrawled in a nightmare of runes, formulae, equations, incantations, and diagrams.

"Who are you? What is this place?"

The symbols and formulae formed patterns in their mad meander across virtually every surface, and then as if in response to Malcom's question, they twitched, moving like the fimbrae of a great heart beating, eyelashes upon a myriad of eyes, and something turned its attention upon the hapless mortal and its yugoloth-spawned parasite that had stumbled into this portion of its infinite demesne.

Creation of our toy, know that we are pleased in you. We are so very proud of our toys, each and every one as we break you. Your suffering is beautiful.

A titanic voice speaking in a tongue older than the universe itself spoke from everywhere and nowhere, pounding in the rogue's ears and inside of his head. Screaming in pain, he begin to bleed from his eyes, ears, and nose.

"What is the Shadow Sorcelled Key intended for?" Malcolm screamed out the words even as reddish dots from hemorrhaging retinas clouded his vision and a coppery tang filled his mouth.

The Marauder has passed this test. I would have expected nothing less of her.

"What is my role in this? How am I to use the Key?"

She is so very much like her mother, but she has not yet suffered nearly enough for that comparison.

Malcolm's flesh burned with each word, every syllable spoken hammered the cohesion of his body.

"Please Father/Mother! Please tell me what to do!"

The words sprayed his blood and he fell to his knees, no longer able to stand on his own. The mental parasite within his brain shuddered and expired, and then mercifully, every injury he'd ever experienced at the Marauder's hands exploded at once in a moment of sanguine poetry.

Lazarius Ibn Shartalan, 1st among the Demented, architect of the Loadstones of Misery, and creator of the Shadow Sorcelled Key looked down at the spatter of blood and smiled. Soon his bauble would rest in the hands of the one for whom he had fashioned it, just as surely as his kindred had conspired to fashion her to be ready to accept it.



Okay, so does the random squiggly line say Vorkannis in Baern? I wouldn't presume for it to be his Truename, but somethings closer to it?

EDIT: Also, does anyone have pictures of Toras or Fyrehowl kicking around? I can't seem to find them anywhere with Google.
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Okay, so does the random squiggly line say Vorkannis in Baern? I wouldn't presume for it to be his Truename, but somethings closer to it?

EDIT: Also, does anyone have pictures of Toras or Fyrehowl kicking around? I can't seem to find them anywhere with Google.

I've generally used the alphabet from the real world Voynich Manuscript (using the European Voynich font in Word) as the stand in for Baern in artwork. Since Enworld can't handle that font being brought in, I used a screen cap image of the line from the original storyhour doc.

As for the question though, yes, the Marauder says, "Vorkannis be praised." That's what it appears like when typed in that particular Voynich font.

I've got pictures of them both, but it will take me a bit to find them. There's only one image of Toras extant, and several of Fyrehowl (done by their player).


This most recent update brings an end to the one-shot side story, and we'll be returning to the main campaign story and the PCs shortly.

Lots of touching on things to come however in this past update, and the Dark of some things revealed or at least alluded to.


First Post
The Marauder has passed this test. I would have expected nothing less of her. "What is my role in this? How am I to use the Key?" She is so very much like her mother, but she has not yet suffered nearly enough for that comparison. Malcolm's flesh burned with each word, every syllable spoken hammered the cohesion of his body. "Please Father/Mother! Please tell me what to do!" The words sprayed his blood and he fell to his knees, no longer able to stand on his own. The mental parasite within his brain shuddered and expired, and then mercifully, every injury he'd ever experienced at the Marauder's hands exploded at once in a moment of sanguine poetry. Lazarius Ibn Shartalan, 1st among the Demented, architect of the Loadstones of Misery, and creator of the Shadow Sorcelled Key looked down at the spatter of blood and smiled. Soon his bauble would rest in the hands of the one for whom he had fashioned it, just as surely as his kindred had conspired to fashion her to be ready to accept it.
Veeery Creepy. But wait that was all planned long ago? That gets creepy, and more creepy with every step ^^ Especially it that means that Shemmi was created for the Key. And Shemeshka is like her Mother.....hmm I am still guessing that she is the child Larsdana killed and let being reincarnate as Mezzoloth *g*

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