The far realms aren't exactly out of the story yet. They'll be there in the background in a few places along the way. They're a major element of the sequel campaign to this one (which I'll move back to writing once this one is over - probably years from now).
As for Shemeska's meddling with the Shadow Sorcelled Key... the immediate ramifications were a surprise that I don't think my players saw coming. You'll find that out sooner rather than later (ie I've already written that part well ahead of time).
The next five hours passed without incident, save for the tension between Tristol and his mother that left the others holding their breath and their tongues. Tristol’s father did his best to mediate it all before anything unfortunate and regrettable might be said, and as for Nisha… it was up for debate if Nisha was even aware of her soon-to-be mother-in-law’s subtext, and if she was aware of it, if she even cared. The Xaositect retained a near cherubic smile on her face as she toured the Starweather estate, ooing and aahing at every bit of normal-for-Halruaa magic, and especially Lutra’s omnipresent illusions.
Eventually though, hackneyed excuses were made so as to excuse them, even in the face of offers to put the group up for the evening, even with Lutra’s offer of separate rooms for each guest, including Tristol and Nisha. Smiles and polite pleasantries were made, as well as offers to return when able, and of course that both Lutra and Kefnar would be invited to a grand wedding ceremony once decisions were made on time and place.
A curious worry repeatedly crossed over Kefnar’s face though at various points throughout the evening, beginning at dinner, and growing more profound and bewildered as the evening progressed. He hid the expression well, and none of his guests said anything about it, though several of them noticed: most prominently Tristol himself. Nisha remained seemingly oblivious.
The fact of the matter was that every single piece of heirloom, antique silverware and a decent amount of the Starweather’s tableware had vanished into thin air without Nisha having obviously left her chair at any point. She did however leave her in-laws’ estate with a spring in her step and a portable hole full of purloined cutlery. How she’d managed the feat was one thing, but how she’d managed to waltz off without the lifted knives or forks popping the portable hole was something else.
Nisha wasn’t and wouldn’t ever be an archmage in the obvious sense, but she had more than a bit of magic in her own chaotic way. Any understanding of how she managed it all probably eluded her even as she did it, but it never stopped her from grinning like a fool when she left the estate and belatedly slipping a salad fork through her belt.
It was never up for debate as to whether the group would or wouldn’t follow up on Taba’s letter to them via the Starweathers. The only question was if the whole thing was a deathtrap or something else. Multiple attempts to scry Taba resulted in only darkness and the sounds of a screaming man or woman raggedly begging for escape, mad from their capture and sensory deprivation in whatever demiplanar hell they’d been stashed within, the likely result of Taba having redirected divination attempts to multiple imprisoned proxies.
Utilizing the letter itself however proved something of a key to that steel doorway of obfuscation. While it didn’t show the altraloth lord herself, it showed a barren patch of earth scorched by heat and scattered with dozens of broken, still-twitching undead corpses. In the midst of the carnage, Taba had crudely scrawled a personal sigil.
Tristol’s teleportation spell deposited the group within several hour’s walk of their destination. The High Forest itself wasn’t a particularly dangerous location, and the relative monotony of the journey provided some time for them to talk and discuss their most recent “vacation” as they started what would likely be a much more dangerous vacation from that one.
“You couldn’t help yourself could you?” Tristol raised an eyebrow and glanced to his left where Nisha clip-clopped alongside him, occasionally batting at the tip of his tail as it swished back and forth.
“Hmm?” The Xaositect looked up with a look of utter innocence.
“The silverware? Really?” Tristol cast a look of both ashamed disbelief and amusement at his fiancé. “You stole the silverware.”
Nisha paused in her walk, chuckled and cracked a smile as her tail flicked the silver bell at its tip, “Oh… that. Yeah…”
“Just how’d you manage that?” Tristol’s ears flattened as he looked down, awaiting an explanation that likely wouldn’t be very forthcoming.
“I’ll second that.” Fyrehowl added, “I never saw you move from your seat during dinner, and trust me, I’m pretty good at noticing things.”
“So wait wait wait…” Nisha waved her hands and tail in concert, “You’re less concerned that I walked off with your mom’s silverware and more about how I managed it?”
“No,” Tristol held up a finger, “Because I’m damned certain that she probably has an instant summons spell nailed to every single piece of cutlery in that set given that it was actually Netherese and passed down through her side of the family for centuries. She’ll get it back once she realizes that they’re gone. No, what I want to know is how you did it without leaving your chair, while still playing footsie with me under the table, and how you managed to not pop either one of the portable holes I know you keep on your person. I expected you to pilfer anything that caught your eye and I love you and forgive you for that, but the other stuff, that’s just weird!”
Around them, the forest floor danced with errant rays of sunlight filtered through the tall, old growth evergreens. A sea of muted browns and greens, the occasional patch of wildflowers clung tenaciously to spots where a fallen tree had released the canopy’s tyranny over available daylight. The natural beauty of the northern latitudes was a far cry from the tropical wilds of Halruaa or the manifest and quite literal hellscapes of their most recent planar travels.
Nisha shrugged as she reached up and pulled a soup spoon from behind Tristol’s ear, “Hell if I know!”
“Huh?” Tristol stopped walking and stared at his fiancé as she tapped his nose with the spoon. “Hell if you know?”
“Beats me.” Nisha shrugged and produced a salad fork from the other ear, “I just do these sorts of things on occasion.”
“Yeah, your ‘on occasion’ tends to be most of the time.” Tristol shook his head, “You can’t keep playing clueless about it all. You know precisely what you’re doing.”
“Sometimes?” Nisha gave yet another emphatic shrug
“Only sometimes.” Nisha laughed and rattled a belt pouch that hadn’t been there at her hip a moment before, enjoying the satisfying rattling jingle of silverware. “This time I just wanted something to snatch up to keep A’kin from picking my purse and snatching back some of the stuff I lifted from his shop. We’ll see if he has burned fingers next time we drop by.”
Tristol’s ears fell flat back against his head with worry.
“You shoplifted from A’kin?”
“Oh trust me, he knows full well what I’ve lifted and when I’ve lifted it.” Nisha waved away Tristol’s concern about stealing from a greater yugoloth. “I give everything back eventually, at least what he doesn’t somehow manage to lift out of the space of a portable hole on my person when I’m not in his shop.”
As his tail bottlebrushed, Tristol didn’t look at all mollified in his concern.
“Oh Nisha! How did you steal your mother in law’s cutlery?” She pointed a finger at Tristol, “Everybody wants to know that, but nobody asks how A’kin snatched stuff back from a distant extraplanar space huh? That’s some crazy magical juju if you ask me! But no, you didn’t ask me did you? Hmm? All about suspecting the crazy tiefling lady from the Hive of being a thief!”
“Nisha honey, you are a thief.” Tristol put a fingertip on her nose.
“So Tristol!” Clueless glanced at the Torilian native, breaking up his and Nisha’s conversation before they started actually arguing or starting kissing in front of everyone else. “What do you know about the High Forest?”
Tristol paused and thought for a second before responding with a string of facts, both geographical and historical.
“That’s all well and good,” Clueless nodded, “But anything that would actually relate to why Taba would be here in the first place?”
“To kill us likely…” Florian muttered.
“Well, not so much the High Forest itself,” Tristol explained, “But there’s one rather unique landmark: the Dire Wood, and it’s not that far from the spot I scryed.”
“Just based on the name, that sounds like someplace I don’t want to go.” Fyrehowl grimaced.
Florian frowned, “I’ve heard of that place before, though I can’t quite put my finger on what it was. Something about Netheril though.”
“The end of Netheril to be more precise.” Tristol sighed, “When Karsus cast his masterwork, the Karsus Avatar, he wasn’t able to control the influx of magic when he briefly ascended to godhood, stealing that moment from a previous incarnation of Mystra, Mystral. He died and when he did, the Weave died with him until Mystra reincarnated several minutes later. Magic was forever changed on Toril for the worse, and never again would the Weave be capable of supporting the magic the Netherese mastered. What’s more however was that Karsus, in trying to save Netheril, he doomed it. When he died, his body manifested as a giant stone corpse frozen in a moment of horror at what he’d done and the floating cities fell from the clouds, hurtling to the ground.”
Tristol looked away, an almost immeasurable sense of loss filling his eyes as he wondered what magic could have accomplished if not for Karsus’ folly. As Halruaa was formed by refugees from Netheril at its height, he was linked by blood, culture, and magical tradition to the Netherese mages of old, and the legacy of Karsus was his in some small measure.
“Not all of the Netherese died of course.” Tristol continued, “Refugees dispersed to all corners of Toril, with my home of Halruaa being the largest and most cohesive of those groups. A few archwizards survived personally, only to vanish into obscurity and likely undeath, and the floating city of Shade pulled itself into the Plane of Shadow in the months prior, and actually reappeared this past year. They didn’t survive those centuries in the Shadow plane very well from what I understand. F*cking Shar…”
Tristol muttered to himself, a sense of anger and envy in his voice. He considered the Netherese of Shade as both rival inheritors of Netheril’s greatness, and also as traitors to everything it was, given their abandonment of their fellows with seeming foreknowledge of the tragedy to come, and their turn away from Mystra to Shar.
“So the corpse of Karsus has been here since then?” Florian glanced at Tristol. “I would think that sort of spectacular monument to hubris would be something that was more widely known.”
“It was for a time,” Tristol shrugged, “There were enough people that venerated Karsus, or his failure, or his attempt, or all three that they built a city around his petrified mountain of a corpse. Either being all super respectful or just unimaginative, they named it Karse.”
“I vote for the latter.” Toras shook his head, “Cultists are never particularly imaginative.”
“Still though, I’m really not sure what Taba would want here in the High Forest or the Dire Wood.” The wizard shrugged.
Tristol’s introspection was suddenly interrupted by the soft whisper of a magical call into his and his companions’ minds. It began as a soft, whispering hiss and chuckle before resolving itself into discrete words and the mental impression of something perpetually changing shape: Taba.
“Good. You’ve arrived in the High Forest.” The altraloth’s voice carried the impression of rancid syrup and claws tracing down the spine. “You mortals at least know how to follow directions. I await you in the ruins of Karse in the center of the Dire Wood. The Halruaan should be more than well aware of the location and its history. I am even more aware. Ponder that until we meet, and do avoid the undead that litter the forest. They are ever so hungry, and their master Jingleshod seems particularly upset with me, but less at me and more at my kind in general at the moment. But that’s a detail I leave to him to explain should you run afoul of the death knight, or something for you to discover once you arrive and we can speak directly.”
The altraloth’s telepathic call then slid from their minds with a soft chuckle and a faintly lingering sensation of the archfiend’s crimson eyes upon them.
“Well there’s a welcome mat rolled right out for us…” Toras smirked before rubbing his hands together and looking quite pleased, “But hey! We get to probably fight a death knight!”
“Splendid.” Florian touched her holy symbol, knowing that she’d likely need its power soon. “So Tristol, do you know who this Jingleshod is?”
Tristol narrowed his eyes, clearly lost in his thoughts for a long moment. The mention that the death knight was furious with Taba, not directly, but because of her nature as a yugoloth was more than troubling.
“Yes,” The aasimar finally replied. “But there’s some history involved to understand it all.”
“Go ahead and explain, though I don’t think that we’re all that far away.” Clueless inclined his head to the wizard before momentarily letting his wings out and darting up above the treeline. Hovering some fifty feet up, he clutched Razor in his hand as he surveyed the surrounding landscape. His expression slowly turned from admiration of the surrounding old-growth forest to one of concern, and that latter look remained once he returned to the ground.
“I take it you saw it?” Tristol asked the bladesinger, “Karse in the distance and the Dire Wood around it? We’re just at the fringes of the latter now.”
“Yeah I saw them both.” A wary crease worked its way across his brow. “The forest is dead and bleached white around the red stone plateau off in the distance, which I have to assume is the petrified corpse of Karsus.”
“And you would be correct.”
“The forest though, it’s… weird.” Clueless grimaced, “How about I fly you up there for a look and we just teleport past it. My inner fey is getting seriously creeped out about it just from a look, and it’s getting worse the closer we get.”
Nisha raised a hand, “I vote teleport.”
“Likewise,” Florian raised her hand as well.
Tristol glanced around at the raised and raising hands and simply laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Clueless raised an eyebrow.
“Because there’s no way in hell I’m risking a teleport spell through the Dire Wood itself. The butte itself might be visible, but the Dire Wood is laced through with wild and dead magic zones, and they aren’t stable. They move around erratically. We try and teleport there and we’re more than likely to end up with wild magic effects.”
“I still vote for teleport?” Nisha grinned and earned herself a pat on the head from her fiancé.
“So we walk…” Tristol’s voice was rather firm on the matter. “And please avoid casting any spells if you can possible avoid it because I can’t guarantee that I’ll know when magic goes topsy-turvy. Don’t mess with anything strange or unnatural looking, and with any luck we can avoid the undead that stalk the Wood.”
And so with considerable trepidation laced with curiosity they continued to walk as Tristol did his best to explain the region’s magically warped history. They did not have to wait long to reach the Dire Wood itself however. The cursed region was marked both by a strict demarcation of living, healthy trees and then nothing but bleached white, sickly trees and a smattering of them actually turned to solid stone.
“There’s nothing alive past that line of trees…” Fyrehowl’s ears were rigidly upright and perked, not at the presence of unnatural sounds, but the complete absence of animal life and birdsong from within the Dire Wood itself or even natural sounds from outside heard within.
“That’s both from the initial magical devastation of Karsus’s fall and what came later.” Tristol explained as they stepped through a patch of ground covered in crystalline, silver snow that refused to melt despite the ambient temperature. “So as I explained before, Karse the city was settled by Netherese refugees and others who inexplicably worshipped Karsus or the events he caused. They settled there for a time until Wulgreth arrived. Wulgreth was himself a former Netherese wizard, though not one of the archwizards.”
“Former as in formerly a wizard or…?” Florian prodded.
“As in formerly a living Netherese arcanist but no longer alive when he arrived in Karse.”
“Oh…” Toras, “That might explain where the death knight shows up then.”
“Much much much later, and a different Wulgreth entirely.”
“Huh?” Nisha’s eyes crossed briefly as she glanced at Tristol for an explanation.
“We’ll get there, don’t worry, but first about the original Wulgreth.” Tristol smiled as they walked past a stretch of swamp that bubbled with an acidic stench and rained with a slow drizzle of yellow fire. “Wulgreth was a lich, and unlike most every lich in existence, his undeath was both accidental and unplanned on his part.”
“How do you accidentally become a lich?” Florian asked.
“What happened to him?” Clueless gave a curious glance.
“Karsus happened to him.” Tristol slowly exhaled as he considered the utter grandeur of the works and even more so the stumbling mistakes of the greatest of Netheril’s archwizards. “Prior to the Avatar spell, Karsus created, experimented with, and then apparently abandoned something called heavy magic.”
Clueless’s eyes sprung wide at the mention of heavy magic.
“He wasn’t the first person to make that same discovery as our own experience would display…” Tristol glanced at Clueless. “And that reckless, careless experimentation was what caused Wulgreth to die and become a lich.”
“Damn…” Clueless whistled, doing his best to not bring attention to the fact that he’d been unconsciously touching the jewelry-concealed liquid bubble of the stuff at his neck.
“Karsus exposed Wulgreth to the stuff and that’s what it caused, and Wulgreth hated Karsus with all his undying fury forever after. He was never powerful enough to challenge Karsus, but once Karsus died and fell to earth, Wulgreth showed up with the intent to destroy the cult of Karsus and make himself a tomb atop the petrified flesh of his most hated enemy. He did just that.”
“So where’s the death knight come into play?” Toras asked, stepping over a patch of earth turned red from ochre much bubbling up from the ground like blood.
“Much, much later in history,” Tristol explained. “Wulgreth wasn’t an entirely uncommon name in Netheril, and nearly a thousand years later it happened that there was a second wizard by the name of Wulgreth who hailed from a region settled by Netherese refugees. He might have adopted the name as homage to the magical culture of Netheril that he was obsessed with, or it might have been his given name. I don’t know.”
Tristol paused as they reached a point in the forest where something had happened, and happened recently.
“What the hell happened here?” Fyrehowl narrowed her eyes and gazed at the wreckage of dozens of broken, snapped trees and a dozen pulverized undead, both zombies and skeletons. Splinters of stone scattered across the impromptu forest clearing, some of them impaling other trees, and one of them the size of man’s arm pinning a still twitching zombie to the ground, gurgling impotently as he turned its head to look at the adventurers.
“Something landed here.” Clueless remarked with a wince, “Something landed here and it landed hard.”
Taba’s fall from the sky had been a violent one, and she’d left behind a trail of destruction in her wake. Further into the clearing, the treeline was sheared at an angle from the impact of her arrival, and a ragged crater some ten or fifteen feet deep marked the actual point of impact. Dismembered and brutally, efficiently destroyed undead that had immediately and unthinkingly swarmed the altraloth lord lay scattered about in pieces as if they’d encountered some great beast, and when she’d seen fit to take that form, indeed they had.
“Well we found the spot we saw when we tried to scry Taba.” Fyrehowl gave a slow whistle as she beheld the surrounding devastation and then the path that Taba had wrecked on her way to Karse.
The forest floor was scarred by deep gouges as if from a huge, quadrupedal beast with monstrous claws. Even more as they crept forward, following in Taba’s footsteps, portions of the forest smoldered with aftereffects of great gouts of flame, lightning, or acid. Trees both diseased and petrified alike were singed, turned to ash or left in place as only smoldering, broken stumps surrounded by clouds of steam and fog filled with the stench of ozone.
“Why the hell is Taba even here in the first place?” Florian asked as Toras put his boot through the skull of a still-twitching zombie.
“She said she wanted to show us something.” Nisha shrugged, “Which is always a weird thing with ‘loths. My own experience suggests horrific pain and death or surprise chocolate candy.”
Eyes turned to the tiefling and she gave the bell at her tail’s tip a flick as she shrugged. “Ok so it’s probably the former. The latter is probably a unique case with A’kin.”
“Any notions about what Taba means or what she wants to show us?” Clueless glanced at the others as he took down a skeleton wielding a rusting glaive with a swift, measured strike from Razor.
“I don’t have a clue what Taba is talking about.” Tristol put his hands in the air, nearly hurling a fireball before he thought better of it and allowed Fyrehowl and Toras to dispatch a pack of ragged zombies wandering in from the surrounding forest. “But I don’t think she wants to just lure us out here to kill us. If she’d wanted to set a trap for us though, she could have done so a dozen times already. Clearly though, she’s been keeping track of us.”
“They only tried to kill us all the last time because we sort of interrupted her kill everything in Grenpoli stunt.” Fyrehowl gave a shrug much like Tristol.
“Nothing tried about it…” Clueless frowned and tightened his grip on Razor’s pommel. “That hurt and she enjoyed the hell out of it.”
An uncomfortable silence descended on the group as they realized that whatever the altraloth’s intentions, a direct fight against her in the Dire Wood would likely end swiftly and hideously. She would be under no constraints posed by her presence in the Hells and worries about retaliation by the powers of the pit.
“Sorry we stopped listening to your story Tristol…” Nisha broke the silence with a soft chuckle. “But you were saying?”
“About the second Wulgreth yes,” Tristol continued back on his previous discussion. “He was the one responsible for the circumstances in Hellgate Keep to the northeast of the High Forest. A rather powerful conjurer, he summoned baatezu and his enemies summoned tanar’ri and it all went to heck and he fled. He finally made his way to Karse and attempted to raise an undead army to return and take his revenge, except in the process of raising that army his lieutenant, a knight known by the name of Jingleshod had a moment of conscience and slew his master. Well, the influence of Karsus’s corpse and wild magic and all ended up turning that in-process work of necromancy inwards and transformed the dying Wulgreth into a lich and still ended up raising legions of undead.”
“One magical catastrophe wasn’t enough for the place.” Florian shook her head. “I take it the undead coming after us now are the remains of that army?”
“Precisely,” Tristol nodded. “Most of them have been bound to the Dire Wood since then, completely uncontrolled and just mean and hungry. Wulgreth himself ended up tracking down Jingleshod and promptly killing him in order to raise him again as a deathknight bound to his will and forever bound to the Dire Wood so long as he survived. They’ve both resided in the ruins of Karse since then, apparently either getting along with the original Wulgreth or just keeping their mutual distance. I don’t really know.”
“Lovely place for us to vacation in…” Florian gave an exaggerated grimace.
Still miles away from the great red stone butte, the group trudged on.
One year prior:
Emerald light flared in the empty, hollow eye sockets of the demilich Wulgreth of Netheril as his spirit returned from its astral solitude and once again took up residence in the physical remnants of his mortal body. Dust and scattered bits of bone stirred with an ethereal wind as his skull lifted up from the stone pedestal that had cradled it for more than a century undisturbed.
He’d woven arcane traps into the very stones of the pyramid he’d raised atop the petrified corpse of Karsus and he’d allowed a second lich to take up residence elsewhere in the ruins of Karse. That other wizard -ironically enough by the same name- had swamped the Dire Wood with an army of undead puppets and a smattering of constructs. Clumsy and perhaps a bit cliché, they’d served to dissuade visitors even more so than the Dire Wood’s wizard weather and wild magic, and it had been hundreds of years since any would-be plunderer or pilgrim had disturbed the sanctity of his private sanctum atop the corpse of his most hated enemy in life.
That time had ended.
Wulgreth of Netheril expanded his senses to touch upon the woven lattice of magical energy he’d spun like a predatory spider placing its many legs upon its web. Wulgreth of Ascalhorn was destroyed and his essence had fled screaming back to his phylactery deep within the cavern at Karsus’s heart and the deadly, terrible pool therein. Jingleshod had abandoned his master in what would be perhaps his first few days of freedom in centuries, and the undead army now wandered without aim or focus.
The invaders were scaling the butte itself and would soon be at the pyramid itself, using both brute force to test the traps and then a mix of both considerable skill and trial and error to unmake those they could be. They cloaked their presence of divination, but they stank of evil. Perhaps some of the devils that the younger Wulgreth had bound prior to his undeath? The demons that his enemies had sent after him during his flight to Karse?
No matter. They had defeated the younger lich but temporarily, and they likely had no idea that a demilich resided deeper within the ruins. They might as well have defeated a hatchling only to discover the great wyrm still dwelling within its lair.
Wulgreth of Netheril’s glowing, gem-studded skull rose off of its platform and drifted towards the exit, intending to confront his visitors in person. The fight would be ever so brief.
As she had in Portent, Venrisala ap Krangath walked next to her master, forever in his shadow and as such filled with a curious mixture of honor, pleasure, and abject horror. She’d walked with the Oinoloth in the flesh there in Gehenna, but now on the Prime Material she walked next to him in a different capacity altogether. While his presence had produced such feelings in her the first time, now she somehow felt more of the latter and less for the former. The creature that walked by her side truly impressed upon her the abject disdain with which the Oinoloth held those he deemed as lesser, as not fitting into his great plan, and for whom he saw fit to use and dispose of as he saw fit. As she walked, briefly brushing a flake of frost from her muzzle, she glanced to her side, looked up and wondered as to how and why she felt ecstatic and beloved even as she understood that she likely was yet more disposable still.
Clambering up the side of the butte like a parade of army ants, the torrent of mezzoloths screamed in agony as they burned and died, falling down like screaming meteors upon their fellows waiting at the base of the petrified would-be god Karsus. Their agony was profound, but for every mezzoloth that died, the one below them rose another few inches up the stone, discharging the profoundly powerful spells woven into the stone by the demilich that lurked higher above.
“We make progress my Oinoloth.” Venrisala bowed instinctively as she turned to the figure at her right. “The undead pose little to no threat now that their primary master Wulgreth of Ascalhorn is temporarily disposed of. The lich’s phylactery lays somewhere above on the surface of the butte, or within the butte itself, but it will be days before he reconstitutes. The undead and most but not all of the constructs have run wild in the absence of his presence.”
The Oinoloth’s vessel on the Prime Material plane made no response in its burning, terrible telepathy through which the Ebon’s voice was carried. The creature only inclined its head, giving no emotion upon its featureless, blank face. For most of the time it was virtually an automaton, a chained slave doomed to have its conscious will subsumed and cast aside by a much greater one, but in slivers of moments the divided will of the Oinoloth focused on this one puppet and then the fear doubled and the adoration returned. The arcanaloth scribe that followed alongside the vessel had no idea into how many such puppets the Ebon had cast his will and attention, but the method escaped her, as did the other techniques now being displayed in Karse so as to avoid the potentially lethal side effects of the tattered, broken fabric of Toril’s Weave in the proximity of the god-corpse that their own magic would have provoked.
The mezzoloths were of course cannon fodder, even more so now than in the Blood War. A half dozen other ‘loths, dergholoths and yagnoloths, marshaled the least yugoloths into their suicidal drive up the terrestrial godisle to their doom, and elsewhere in the skies above Karse, a half-dozen nycaloths scouted and reported back their findings to a coterie of arcanaloth wizards. The scribes recorded every scrap of information, sending it all flooding back to the archives in Gehenna. Perhaps more importantly the jackal-headed scribes and the trio of faceless ultroloths that stood at their core served to counter any spells directed back from the top of the butte that failed to discharge on the more disposable mezzoloths and might threaten the device carried by a trio of nycaloths at the far rear of the yugoloth expedition.
“This is the first step.”
Venrisala shuddered and bit her lip as the Oinoloth’s voice touched her mind, dragging her from her thoughts and producing the bizarre conflation of emotions as it always did.
“This is the first step towards something greater set in motion long ago.” The vessel motioned with one slender gray arm, its robe sliding down to its shoulder and displaying the burning runes impressed upon the unhealed flesh otherwise hidden by its clothing. “There are of course multiple paths to any desired outcome, but this is the most fitting, the most ironic, and the least likely to provoke direct divine or in the case of Anubis, supra-divine interference. If the device proves its worth here we will go further next, and if not, there are other methods I will utilize.”
Venrisala trembled as she basked in the Oinoloth’s words by proxy. Her response was obvious, and her responses had grown more obvious since their time in Portent at the Oinoloth’s side.
“You are jealous of her.”
“You are jealous of the Overlord of Carceri.”
“Of course I am.” The scribe’s words were swift and followed by a snarl. “The rotting b*tch does not deserve you.”
The projected voice of the Oinoloth chuckled. “I am proud of you Venrisala.”
The scribe’s eyes went wide and she bowed down on one knee, putting her hands in the dirt.
“She does not deserve her position as your consort.” The arcanaloth spat, her brain compelled beyond reason by the Oinoloth’s attention to shed the truth in a torrent of words, unguarded and unvarnished. “She’s a scribe advanced beyond her position. She is a worthless castoff of the Tower. She is a failed apprentice to the Marauder, rejected and dismissed from the City of Doors. And yet she rules the Tower in Carceri. And yet she sits advanced over all of us. Why? Why my Oinoloth do you favor her? Why do you favor her above me?”
Venrisala looked up at the flickering, multicolored eyes of the vessel that towered over her and she gasped, realizing that she’d taken hold of its robe, pulling upon it as she vented her jealous rage. She whimpered, released her hold, and jerked back on her knees, dirtying her robes and her hands alike, horrified at her impulsive actions.
“Forgive me my Oinoloth!” She begged, prostrating herself at the vessel’s feet until it reached down and placed a finger at the muzzle and lifted her up, looking down at her rheumy, bleeding eyes.
“Yes Venrisala, I do favor Shylara.” The Oinoloth’s voice carried the impression of the Manged screaming in agony, screaming in ecstasy, writhing in darkness, cracking her skull against stone as her eyes jerked back and forth, breaking her claws against marble, and spasmodically seizing and biting her tongue in half.
Venrisala choked and vomited from the intensity of what she’d experienced.
“I favor her because she suffers. Consider yourself lucky that I do not favor you in such a way.”
Weeping upon the ground, Venrisala’s fear and adoration merged for a moment as she stared into the vessel’s eyes. Her attention was swiftly distracted however by a great eruption from the top of the godcorpse and a vast, burning cloud of death.
“Tolodine’s Killing Wind. Impressive.” The Oinoloth spoke with admiration. “Well, then, it seems that we’ve finally found Wulgreth.”
"one year earlier" - just when i thought things wouldn't get more intriguing. really should have learned after all those years, but you keep one-upping yourself when it comes to keeping your reader on the edge of his seat shemmy (love how the heavy magic subplot keeps popping up every once in a while!)
The two Wulgreths are actually canonical. Wulgreth of Netheril (demilich) and Wulgreth of Ascalhorn (lich) are apparently the result of two different authors creating a backstory for the Wulgreth lairing in Karse, and one of them being utterly unaware of the previous source that already handled those details. Rather than have to pick one of them to invalidate, later designers made both of them true and both lairing in Karse. Inelagant perhaps, and someone seriously dropped the ball on bothering to read the source material (and that happens far too much for my taste - but hell I'm just obsessive about the content I tend to write on), but it works and I ran with it in my campaign (Karse and the Wulgreths feature in the 3e novel 'Return of the Archwizards' which came out the year before the campaign went to Karse).
Thanks for the background! Hilarious. I prefer your obsessive approach, but a huge number of fantasy authors do this rather than re-edit their material, and canon is canon. Tolkien actually wrote a resurrection backstory when he realized he'd reintroduced a dead character with no explanation. Simarillion I think.