Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour (Updated 29 Jan 2014)

81Dagon

Explorer
Happy New Year's Shemmy!

I was just reading through Horsemen of the Apocolypse again and was wondering: Do you have an idea of the appearances and histories of the daemon harbingers on the back covers of the book? And did Llamolaek and Pavnuri come from your games as well, or were they new creations?
 

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Shemeska

Adventurer
Happy New Year's Shemmy!

I was just reading through Horsemen of the Apocolypse again and was wondering: Do you have an idea of the appearances and histories of the daemon harbingers on the back covers of the book? And did Llamolaek and Pavnuri come from your games as well, or were they new creations?

Some of them yes. I originally wrote up several more harbingers that ended up getting cut except for their data in the table at the back.

That table wasn't originally in the outline, but it was a really awesome addition in lieu of a larger section of more detailed (but fewer) harbinger writeups. Of the ones on that list, of the ones that don't otherwise have mention in the book's text, many of those were created by folks on Paizo's staff.

Llamolaek and Pavnuri were new creations for BotD3. Trelmarixian and Vorasha are inspired by characters of the same name from my 2nd campaign, but there are some significant differences (Trelmarixian in Pathfinder combines the Trelmarixian the Black from my home game along with its sibling Escheris the Rotting).

Happy New Years! :)
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Frollis Terpense shivered in the darkness. A single tiny figure swallowed up within the gloom that itself swallowed up Howler's Crag. The darkness did not judge. The darkness did not condemn. The darkness did not point out one's failures and mock you. The darkness was something between a lover's kiss and a pillow there to smother and end the pain.

"I couldn't help them." His fingers fumbled as he reached into one of the small satchels at his belt. "I try to seek justice, but it's just to forgive myself for my own failures. And now here I am again, hiding in the shadows, too afraid to pray, and probably hastening my end more than calming my nerves."

Yet the darkness now didn't seem right. Even to a being touched by the hand of the god of thieves himself, one whose touch could part and slip along the subtle essence of Shadow like a raptor riding a thermal high in the air, he didn't feel safe. Something was out there. It was something that mocked his abilities, and that something, it terrified him.

"F*ck this..." His fingers fidgeted with the object in his hands, shaking both from worry and for other reasons entirely. "This'll be the death of me, or something else, but at least I'll die happy in this black, shrieking hell. I..."

Immediately behind him came the sound of a boot on loose gravel. Normally he would have acted without thought, either diving into the border Shadow for a few yards, or simply rolling out of the way, spinning up to his feet and drawing one or both of his blades on his attacker. But not this time. Lost in his thoughts and with his hands already occupied, the shadowdancer did nothing but look up into the looming form, glaring eyes, and gleaming khopesh of Settys al Khilian.

"Die!"


****​


Flattening his wings and gliding silently through the darkness, Clueless slowed his descent, deftly avoiding the most errant bursts of howling wind as he touched down between a series of boulders. Razor was already drawn and ready in his right hand, eager to taste the blood of the mortal abomination who had prayed upon the innocent and mocked them each and every time.

“There you are you son of a bitch…” He watched in the black and white hues of darkvision as the shadowdancer crouched over something, mumbling to himself.

Whatever Frollis was doing, the game was up, and he would not escape. Razor would cleave his head from his corpse and Pandemonium’s wailing would serve as his only funeral dirge. There would be no tears for one such as him.

That of course was the half-fey’s intent before not one but two figures burst out of the darkness.

“Oh what the hell!?”


****​


Toras neither crept silently across the rubble-strewn landscape, nor flew, nor slipped through the border Shadow – he moved like a force of nature, resolute, unstoppable, and utterly undeterred by wind, darkness, fear, and uncertainty. Too many lives had been lost. Too many innocents had been sacrificed to whatever insanity or dark powers the false priest allowed to dictate his actions.

Ten yards ahead, he watched as Settys stood with his khopesh at the ready. But he wasn’t running or hiding, he was moving carefully and purposefully, but for what reason he couldn’t discern.

“What the hell are you doing?” Toras brandished his own blade as he watched the fallen cleric burst into motion. Whatever it was, he had to be stopped.

“HALT!”


****​


"AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!" Frollis shrieked like a wounded child, making no effort to defend himself, crouched as he was, hands clutching not a ritual knife, not a mutilated corpse, not an evil artifact, but a cup of hot water mixed with the unmistakable silvery blue crystals of powdered dreammist.

Settys' eyes went wide, his expression wilted from a furious scowl to a confused, conflicted wince, and moments before it would have separated Frollis' head from his shoulders, its swing adjusted and purposefully missed.

Just a few yards past Frollis, Clueless stood with his sword drawn and a puzzled look on his face. To his right, Toras likewise drew his blade, looking as equally confused as his bladesinger companion.

"You are not him." Settys glanced away from the addict at his feet to Toras and Clueless. Both of them exchanged glances between each other, Settys, and Frollis, all of them equally puzzled.

“Why the hell are you here?” Clueless called out to Frollis, not yet lowering his sword.

“Why the hell are –you– here?” Toras glanced at Clueless and then to Settys.

“I came to kill Frollis.” Clueless explained.

“Why the heck would you do that?” Toras asked, “Settys is the killer.”

“Settys?” Clueless frowned. “Why the hell would you think that?”

The three of them paused, sighed, and glanced at Frollis and then at one another. Their stances relaxed and soft curses were muttered. They’d all been wrong. None of them was the killer.

“If Nisha was here she’d find this funny.” Clueless frowned. “I swore that it was Frollis.”

“I was convinced that Frollis was the murderer as well. Toras apparently thought that it was me.” Settys hung his khopesh from his belt, nodding his head towards Frollis. “The only blood on my hands would have been his if either of you had been a moment later. I’m thankful to not have killed an innocent man.”

Frollis whimpered, eyes full of shame. “I just needed to get high…”

Clueless put his palm across his face. “That’s why you’ve been sneaking away from camp on your own? That’s why you’ve been wandering away from your guard duty at random? Son of a…”

“I’ve had this problem before.” Frollis clutched the mug of steaming drugs tightly. “I got better. I truly did. But it’s hard to completely divorce yourself from it, and the past week here has been too much. People keep dying that I’m being paid to protect, and I don’t have a damn clue who it is that’s butchering them! I failed them! I failed everyone!”

“It isn’t any of us here. You haven’t failed them yet. We can still avenge them.” Settys lamented, putting a hand on Frollis’s shoulder. “We should get…”

The fallen cleric’s voice trailed off and his head turned up and to the side. In the distance, high atop Howler’s Crag there was a flicker of light. Someone was there.

“I saw it too.” Clueless glanced at the others, seeing that they too had noticed it as well.

They all looked up into the gloom, knowing that whoever was there was likely the murderer that they’d each come looking to find.

Frollis sighed and hurled the mug in his hands into the darkness. Settys smiled and helped him to his feet.

“Let’s get back to camp, gather the others, and head up the Crag. Let’s end this as soon as we can and then get our people out of here.”


***​



The man smiled and looked up at his handiwork. She was so beautiful now. Blade and magic had freed her from the constraints of life and flesh. A spirit of freedom and inspiration, the lillend should have thanked him for his gift. But no, she’d screaming and writhed through it all, even if only with a frenzied twitching of her eyes once he’d severed her spine to ease his work.

“So beautiful…” The blade in his hand was wet with blood, though so was he, having painted with the colors she’d supplied. Even now, so close to finishing his task he could not help displaying his handiwork in such an artistic fashion.

He smiled as his conscience whimpered and wept. His work, now hung from the walls of the cave near the sample of Gautish was wonderful, and he too felt wonderful, accomplished, free of morality and free of regret. It reminded him of the last time he’d felt such. But that was many years before and on a different plane altogether. Those years in Hopeless, the Gatetown to the Waste had been special.

“They’d called it The Charnel House when they pried open the doors and looked inside.” He snickered and looked behind him. “We made them feel, didn’t we? To sink the hearts of the apathetic, to make them fear, to make them worry… oh that was something.”

His finger reached out to write another line upon the wall and he looked up into the lillend’s glassy eyes. “I could have been free Laril, but no, I had to regress. I had to return to normality. I had to pass among the sacral lambs.”

He had gone too far then. He was needed in the future, this current moment, and for this to come to pass he’d had to pacify himself, return to society, reintegrate himself into its fold, and the voice of his Master had been distant and remote. The further away it was, the easier it was to be his original self, but the process had spawned his conscience as a thing of its own. It had tried to reassert itself, perched upon his shoulder, seeking to block out…

His thoughts paused immediately from self-indulgent memory as he felt a new set of claws upon him. Cold. Darkness.

YOU TARRY

His hands released the knife and his senses focused on his master. Nothing existed except for the voice, even within the thoughts of his own mind now, it was difficult to say which voice was his own, drifting as it was amongst a multitude of whispers and screams that rippled across his brain always, quiet only when his master did not whisper, did not tempt, did not promise, but commanded.

They do not matter. Leave them. Only this matters. One key for one tumbler. The beat of a single butterfly wing heralding the storm. Something that must be done for this to come to pass.

The image of a circle formed within his mind, brief and momentary, a thing of symbolism made of darkness, eyes, and teeth. Darkness. Hunger. Ineffable rage.

YOU KNOW THE LOCATION. GO THERE. NOW.

It spoke and he listened. There in the shadow of the Spire the tieres’ god-trap waited, and within was the source of their self-damnation and what his master required. Nothing else mattered. Yes he’d enjoyed butchering the lillend, listening to her scream in utter mute silence. He’d heard her; he’d listened to her mind. But his self-indulgence was at an end, and the others no longer mattered. Let them die in the darkness. Let Pandemonium claim their lives for all it mattered. He was done with them.

Caring not that he was spattered with the lillend’s blood across his clothing, hands, and face, he gathered his notes on which he’d finished the translation and discerned the precise location of the tiere’s imprisoned deity. There were other notes and books back at the camp, but no, he didn’t need them. Returning there would only cost him time, and in his present state of appearance… no, it was not important. Soon he would be in the Outlands, and soon he would have his prize.

“Goodbye.” He muttered, not deigning to look away as he drew a diagram in the lillend’s blood, conjuring a portal deep into the Outlands, deeper than should have been possible. His conscience moaned and pleaded. It was not too late. He could go back to how he had been. He could ignore the abomination that had touched and marked him within the Vale of Frozen Ashes. He scowled at it, turning to address it one final time. “You will not follow me to the Outlands, and we will not meet again. Finally I will be free of you.”

The man motioned with his fingers and whispered an incantation, summoning forth a shimmering portal. The figure of frozen, solid darkness that perched upon his shoulder stroked his head like a master to a favored hound, and he smiled as he glanced down one final time at the floor where his conscience wept. What little of it remained could stay here and die in the darkness as well.

“It’s not too late…” The tiny pseudodragon cried out as the portal closed.

***​
 

81Dagon

Explorer
Called it!

Freaking awesome! Now my big question is why, why, why, why, why? Is there actually a deity under the Spire? If so, who is it? What is the game that Sarkithel Fek Parthis is playing here?

One question answered and a million more spring up. I want a time machine so I can jump ahead to the next update!
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Called it!

Freaking awesome! Now my big question is why, why, why, why, why? Is there actually a deity under the Spire? If so, who is it? What is the game that Sarkithel Fek Parthis is playing here?

One question answered and a million more spring up. I want a time machine so I can jump ahead to the next update!

*grin*

Already working on one.

I've got a (hopefully short) break from freelance work, and my job hasn't been killing me, so hopefully I can crank out a few more updates in the next month or two. Already got another in progress (would have been part of this one, but it would have been a monster update if I'd kept going till another natural break point, so split into two).

As for Sarkithel's game, I'd point out both his original appearance in the first storyhour post, and a later conversation between the Dire Shepherd and the Architect wherein they discussed the need to monitor events and something that could become a problem. It's not so much that it's Sarkithel's plan as it is the Architect's from what we've seen so far, though he's a part of it. There will be more revealed soon (some plot threads will be forming connections at the end of / following this current story arc).

Also at some point I appear to have said that the Vale of Frozen Ashes was on both Mungoth and Krangath in different places. I don't have my notes handy, and being on the 3rd or 4th Furnace doesn't particularly matter, so just to match up with the first storyhour post, let's say it's on the 4th Furnace in any future references as well.
 
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Shemeska

Adventurer
Also if anyone is interested, I've got some fiction that will be appearing in Wayfinder #10 probably near the end of January (it's in layout now). Also another non-fiction piece related to it, and another author has a side trek adventure therein based on my pieces.

Might have some fiction in Wayfinder #11, but I've both not finished it yet (and not yet revised to under the word limit I was given) and nothing is a given till it's actually formally accepted which I can't assume.

Also should have some fiction in a as yet to be announced freelance project.
 

Tsuga C

Adventurer
Post-Yule Yugolothly Fun!

*grin*

Already working on one.

And 2014 is looking better and better. Shemeska is once more marauding the Storyhour and Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity holds much promise for those of us no longer in a position actively enjoy a Pen & Paper gaming session. Great stuff, vicious vixen arcanoloth.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Great stuff, vicious vixen arcanoloth.

shemmysmile.gif

*takes a bow*

I've just been more inspired lately I think. To a large extent I think that it might be because I'm running a campaign again for the first time in a few years and I'm really enjoying the hell out of being social on the weekends once more (working night shift for several years will tend to put the kibosh on your social life).

And I'm happy. That really does help (oddly enough when you have a tendency to write horrible wretched totally dark material). *chuckle*
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
The nine of them stood before the looming mouth of the cave, paused at the threshold as if it waited like the mouth of a slavering dragon. The ground was littered with discarded packs and equipment of the group that had made the late ascent with the Professor, and also a satchel belonging to the lillend who had followed them at some point thereafter. It looked nothing so much as the ground was littered with the spat out bones of the cave’s devoured victims.

They knew that something horrific waiting inside, but that also that was where they would be free of the nightmare that had stalked and taunted them in the darkness.

“We shouldn’t have left them alone down there.” Toras glanced back to the distant lights burning and conjured where they’d left the other expedition members to wait for their return.

“They’ll be safe for a short while.” Doran frowned, equally worried despite his words. “We have to finish this, and only two people are left, and they both went up here. This is where we end this.”

“So it’s either Larill or Leobtav?” Nisha tilted her head. “I can’t say I saw that coming. I thought it was Frollis. Sorry about that…”

Everyone exchanged glances, and from the guilty expressions, it seemed that most all of them had suspected the same, though Settys earned his own glance or two.

Frollis sighed. “Was it the whole darkness thing?”

“No, it was you abandoning your post and wandering off after people showed up dead and artistically dismembered.” Fyrehowl’s tail twitched as she glanced at the shadowdancer. “But the darkness thing didn’t make your case any better.”

“So much for Cipher intuition…” Frollis rolled his eyes.

Florian frowned at them both, “We can apologize about our rashness later – though for my part I thought it was Settys. No offense.”

“None taken.”

Several more rounds of bickering and after-the-fact rationalization commenced before they drew blades or readied themselves to cast and cautiously moved down the sloping entryway into the cave.

“Laerill came this way.” Doran pointed to the patterns in the gravel left behind by the lillend’s serpentine lower-half.

“And then she paused.” Toras paused likewise, kneeling down at the feet of one of the first corpses that she’d come across.

The group muttered and sighed as they looked at the trio of bodies littering the descent. But no sign of either Laerill or Leobtav.

Fyrehowl’s ears twitched and swiveled forward, pointing down the passage and into the darkness. “I heard something. Everyone be quiet, move slowly.”

It was faint, but the lupinal’s ears were preternaturally sensitive even before her training as a Cipher came into play. Someone was breathing, though it was shallow, labored, and irregular. Whoever it was, they sounded injured, though she couldn’t yet tell who it was, either the professor or the lillend.

It didn’t take long for them to find out who it wasn’t.

“Mystra preserve…” Tristol gasped as his conjured light illuminated the rear of the cave, unveiling a grisly arrangement sitting atop one of the small devotional altars carved into the walls.

Laerill's body -what remained of it- sat atop the altar above which they'd first discovered the gautish text. She'd been severed at the waist, and the serpentine lower half of her body was missing, letting her corpse appear trapped in the stone or emerging from the pool of clotted, drying blood drooling out upon the altar. Like previous corpses, her body had been positioned after death. Her arms were raised up as if in adoration or worship, and an ecstatic grin was fixed upon her face, even while the bloody hollows of her gouged out eyes trickled blood down her face.

“Laerill I’m so sorry…” Florian’s eyes were wide. She’d seen many things as a cleric of Tempus, but this was something altogether different.

Toras’ face was grim, and anger seethed in his eyes. “Gods…”

Upon the altar, written in her own blood were the following words penned in draconic, “Do you hear it? Can you hear it? Hark to the resonance of lament and the crash and pitch of misery. Join in the chorus of the damned as we keen to its whispered will.”

Other than Laerill's mutilated body and her killer's mocking words, the cave was empty. Leobtav was gone.

“Monster…” Doran whispered in a monotone. He felt hollow. He’d known Leobtav for years.

For several long minutes all was silent and still. None of them could take their eyes from what had been done to her, nor could they make sense of the words left behind in front of her body, nor the much longer grisly tableau sprawling across the wall behind her. All was silent until there came a small, sorrowful voice, high pitched and unsteady. "I tried to make him stop..."

"Ficklebarb?" Several voices, confused and unsteady all of them, rang out.

All eyes were drawn to the tiny pseudodragon curled up on the ground a few feet from Laerill's corpse. His colors were washed out, his eyes dull, and it seemed as if he'd been touched by a pack of wraiths.

"I tried to tell you." Ficklebarb looked up at them, tears leaking from his eyes. "I tried to tell someone. The professor...me... us... we needed help."

"Wait, I'm completely confused." Nisha blurted out.

Tristol rubbed her shoulder. "You're not the only one."

"What exactly is going on Ficklebarb?" Toras asked, his voice suddenly softer and gentler as if he were speaking to a child as he knelt down next to the sickly pseudodragon. The anger was completely gone from his expression.

"I'm not a familiar." Ficklebarb explained, resting his head upon a rock, seemingly incapable of the strength to hold it aloft. "I'm the professor's conscience."

"How...?" Clueless looked at the tiny dragon, wondering how that could even happen, and why.

"I've known Leobtav for decades." Doran glanced at the others. "I never suspected anything like this from him. I certainly never suspected that his familiar was anything more than that. I don't remember anything that would have suggested anything like this." He stared quietly at the dragon for a moment and then asked, "What happened to Cilret? What made him do this?"

Ficklebarb sighed and started to cry. He'd known what was going to happen, he'd known the darkness lurking in his master's soul, and he'd been unable to do anything to stop it. Now though, maybe he could explain it and maybe they could put an end to it.

"Something touched him years ago. Something terrible in Gehenna. He tried not to give in. He tried to resist it. Part of him at least. Eventually it knew it couldn't survive and it split apart, forming me. I tried to keep him stable and sane, avoiding falling back into the darkness. I couldn't stop him though, and now I'm dying."

"We can help you!" Toras protested.

"I don't think you can." Ficklebarb twitched and shuddered in pain. "I don't think anyone ever really could have. But you have to stop him now! You can't let him do what he's left to do!"

"Where is he now?" Florian demanded, eyes flickering back towards the cave mouth, praying inwardly to Tempus that the madman didn't intend to wait till they were here and then slaughter the rest of the expedition. Thankfully though, that wasn't the case.

"The Outlands." Ficklebarb moaned. "Looking for the imprisoned god of the gautiere."

"What's he going to do?" Clueless asked.

The tiny pseudodragon flicked his tail towards Laeril's grotesquely displayed corpse, and to the wall behind her. There, drawn in perverse bloody mimicry of the texts that littered the honeycombed interior of Howler's Crag, Leobtav had left behind a text of his own. Written in the lillend's blood, it was both a mocking farewell, and the cliché speech of a sociopath so deeply desiring an acknowledgement of his own superiority when his success had till that moment required anonymity rather than notoriety.

“Oh, I found my calling long ago. I was indeed once a Guvner, once the professor I have played at still being. That was before I traveled to the Ash Cities of Gehenna. There upon the frozen slopes of the 4th mount, I heard it. It spoke to me, called my name and whispered to me. So much it knew, so powerful it was; a power among powers it seemed. It was distant though, remote, and from so far off it sounded, like a voice through glass or water, struggling to speak to me. But speak it did, and rivet my attention it did. Of dire portents it spoke, of what would be, and what MUST be in order for it to occur. It took me, showed me the coming times of it, and what part I would play in the tumult.
I found my calling, and it I worshipped in secret, the darkness filling my heart till it overflowed. At the time I was living in Hopeless, an outcast, hiding from all others while I strove to understand the insights and parables it gave to teach me what I must do. Three score dead I left in my wake upon the floors and rafters of that house. It is still shunned to this day, a chapel of the Ashsinger, a cathedral of death to the Everdark, a palace for the Lord of Misery.
In secret I returned to the world I had known, the same on the outside, given torment in my own way by the lingering fragments of my former self, my conscience, my weakness, my cares, the souls of those I killed. Ficklebarb was all of that, and stronger he grew the longer I passed away the time since my calling. Action was needed to silence him, refill the void, and satiate the Darkness that Calls. Your fear, your death rattles, and your consumed soulstuff feed the Master and confirm my place as its servant, loyal and humble. It silences my regret with a blood laden reaffirmation of faith in the Faithless One.
And now the Darkness Beyond calls once more. It speaks, I listen and in the shadow of the Spire, I find what it seeks.”


"What the bloody f*ck..." Frollis stared slackjawed at the text written in blood across the wall.

Nisha tilted her head sideways and punctuated her next statement with a rattle of the bell on her tail, "That's a whole hell of a lot of crazy."

"Someone care to let me know what the Ashsinger is?" Clueless asked the obvious question. "Or the other names there? I've never heard of any of them."

Eyes glanced between Doran, Tristol, and Florian. Collectively they shrugged. None of them had ever heard of any of those names.

"I've never heard of any of them." Tristol’s ears flattened back against his head and his head tilted ever so slightly to the side as he struggled to make sense of the text and the many names and titles scattered throughout it.

"We did send an expedition to Gehenna though, years ago." Doran sighed. "The Ash Cities are real, though the expedition didn't recover much, and they nearly didn't make it back. There's not much to say about them really except that they exist. While it's been suggested that the 'loths built them, they don't go anywhere near there, though that might just be the presence of the phiuls. It's hard to say. There wasn't any indication of a deity by any of those names at any point that we excavated."

"That seems to be when he lost it though." Florian frowned. "Did he drop out of sight after that?"

Doran nodded. "He took a sabbatical from his research with the institute for several years, embarking on some private research. Everything was handled officially with the Guvners, and when he returned to service he threw himself into the next projects that popped up and everything seemed perfectly normal. The only thing that had obviously changed was that he had a familiar."

Ficklebarb's eyes were wide with regret, "I couldn't tell you Doran. I wanted to, but I couldn't."

"That's ok little one."

“You have to help him!” Ficklebarb’s eyes welled with desperation. “You have to stop him!”

“How? We don’t even know where he’s gone to.” Clueless glanced back at the bloody text Leobtav had left behind. “And even then, he somehow sealed off our access to planeshifting magic.”

“That hasn’t changed since he left.” Tristol’s ears were flattened back against his head. “We might end up using Nisha’s method after all.”

Despite the circumstances, Nisha managed a smile.

Ficklebarb pointed his snout at a discarded satchel and several sheets of paper littered around it, each of them scrawled with notations in Leobtav’s hand. “He found the location of the tiere’s imprisoned god coded into the text we found here. His notes don’t show that, but it shows the steps he took to find it. He left those earlier notes behind. He didn’t need them anymore.”

All eyes turned to Doran, and the elf was already opening the bag and leafing through the papers it held. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“What is he going to do if he reaches there before we can?”

Ficklebarb shook with an involuntary tremor. “I don’t know what he intends to do. Something horrible. Something evil. I also know that if he succeeds, I’ll vanish. I’ll die. I don’t want to die.”

“How can we stop him without… you know, killing him?” Fyrehowl asked, hesitation in her voice. “What happens to you then?”

Ficklebarb managed a smile, but otherwise didn’t answer. “You can’t let him succeed. Please. Please try.”

“I owe it to my friend, no matter what twisted him, no matter what he did.” Doran looked up from the notes to Leobtav’s dying conscience made manifest. “We have to get the others to safety first. Then we go after him.”

Toras reached down and picked up the tiny pseudodragon, gently rubbing its head, carrying it like a beloved pet or a sickly child in need of care. “We’ll take care of both things. Let’s go back down to the others. They need to know that they’re safe for the moment. Then we figure out where Leobtav went, and how we’ll get there after bringing the others back somewhere safer.”

“One more thing first.” Florian looked at Fyrehowl and the others with a more physical skill set. “Someone help me take down Laerill’s body. I don’t know if we can bring her back, what with the problems we had with the others, and her being an outsider, but we can’t leave her hear despoiled like this. We owe her that.”

None objected.


****​


Several hours of feverish study later they had something. Cobbled together from Leobtav's remaining notes and others carelessly left behind in the materials abandoned in the cave high up on the Crag, it wasn't complete, but it was something nonetheless.

“It’s a translation, but the original text isn’t only plain text. There’s an acrostic that provides a starting point, several landmarks, and a distance between each of them. It’s not a conventional location within the Outlands either, because the directions don't point towards the spire at all.”

Several sets of questioning eyes focused on Doran, while a smaller number found intrigued purchase on the document in his hands, just as eager to hear the details.

"It points to somewhere out in the Hinterlands." Doran spread out a map of the plane, with circles drawn around Plague-Mort and Hopeless, the respective gatetowns to the Abyss and the Waste. "Starting at a point Spireward and moving Ringward in a specific route between those two gatetowns. Curiously it doesn't mention Curst at all, which I suspect says something about the utter antiquity of the text, since it suggests that it predates Carceri's gatetown, or at least was written during an interregnum period when the town was swallowed by the plane proper."

“The Hinterlands?” Tristol’s ears perked in attention. “That would explain why it hasn’t ever been found.”

“Indeed.” Doran continued. “Some of the place names are antiquated to the extreme, and it’s going to take a few days for me to sketch the entire route for this out in detail, but it gives a precise location for the prison-tomb of the tiere deity.”

“What are the Hinterlands?” Florian asked. “I’m not familiar with the term.”

“The Outlands are infinite in size, just like every other plane.” Tristol explained. “The ring of Gatetowns doesn’t mark a border for the plane where it drops off into the others around the Wheel. It keeps going. Forever. But away from the Spire, past that point, it gets… odd.”

Doran continued from where Tristol had stopped. “No matter how far out you travel, you’re never more than a few days away from the Gatetowns. But if you try to retrace your original path out into the Hinterlands, you may never encounter the same locations or landscape. It’s fluid in a way. Which is why no one has probably ever found the tiere godtrap before now, though I’d suspect the rilmani know of it. They’re probably the only ones.”

“The Hinterlands…” Ficklebarb wrinkled his snout and nodded. “It seems right.”

“And that’s where Leobtav is going.” Doran sighed. “Apparently. Though I’ll be damned if I know why.”


****​

- trudge out and up to find a portal. Takes several days to find something usable, giving Leobtav a head start.

-trip to Hopeless to the Charnel House. Toras, Tristol, Nisha while the others work with Doran to figure out where Leobtav is actually going. Fast forward through this since nothing plot important happens, but the house is trapped, triggered when anyone seeking Leobtav appears, having made the connection between his identity and the fake name he used during those years.-


****​


High above the Outlands, the sunless sky was clear and cloudless. Today the landscape of the plane of true neutrality was clear, and one could see for miles if not for the forests a few miles distant. Far beyond them, nine rings inward, the Spire rose and even at that distance it still towered above, looming, crowned like an aloof king with its crown of Sigil. But the sky was an afterthought to the young khaasta child who sat in the dirt and played with a carved stick, imagining it to be a blade, and a series of stones that he’d decorated with bits of pigment to resemble a gaggle of humanoid slaves that he, a great slave trader, would be bringing to market far on the other side of the spire in the great ribbed city of iron and gold that his father told tales of.

A shadow stretched over the ground before him and the child glanced up.

“Gssik!” His mother called out. “Hazha’mek nim!”

He glanced up at her call and then out towards the horizon, the treeline, and the figure approaching their village. A lone human, thin, unarmed, and dressed in clothing sullied by travel and a careless attitude towards their appearance. An escaped slave? Or a lost traveler perhaps, soon to be beaten, collared, and eventually sold at market by his mighty father no doubt! This would be something to watch! One day he would do the same!

As he approached the khaasta village, the man gave only a casual glance at the reptilian natives. He found it amusing to find them settled in such a fashion on the chaotic side of the Spire. They had hunted well in recent years though it seemed, as the size of their slave pens suggested, as did the presence of the finely crafted goods purchased or seized in their raids which decorated their warriors and the dozens of buildings they'd constructed. Still, they were barely civilized vermin, akin to hobgoblins of the Outlands.

“Wretches.” The man muttered with contempt as he watched several gravid females shut themselves inside their homes, gathering their young as the warrior males and females shouted out alarms and gathered their weapons. “You are not worth my time."

He would have passed directly through the village, not lifting a finger to harm them had they not intervened. His eyes were set on something else: the tiere god-trap far beyond the village, deep within the Hinterlands. Anything else in-between was meaningless by comparison unless his master told him otherwise.

“Stand still fool! Drop your weapons and hand over your gold.” The khaasta chieftain towered over him by well over two head heights. Powerfully muscled and dressed in little more than a chainmail loincloth, the ruddy-scaled khaasta sneered at the human as his eyes darted about his body, assaying not his threat as an opponent, but his worth as either a slave or a meal.

The man stopped, silent and arrogantly calm. He smiled and adjusted his glasses as the khaasta continued to bellow orders.

“If you have been sent by some master, speak it now and we will see what becomes of you. Otherwise, you have chosen a poor place to seek refuge human. If no devil or god claims you as property, then we are claiming so now.”

The man chuckled and glanced up to his shoulder, whispering something incoherently as the muscular, armed khaasta approached.

“Bow slave! Bow before your new master!” The khaasta sneered, leveling the tip of his wickedly barbed spear at the human who stood well over two head heights below him. “You now belong to Kistrex of clan Isstrekal."

"Serakal!" Kistrex called out to his secondary wife. "Fetch me some manacles!”

The man snickered and glanced up to his shoulder where something now flickered in and out of existence - a tiny figure perched there, wrought of shadow, or more distinctly, an absence of light, a hole in space, leering with a ragged tear of a mouth and hollows for eyes. It leaned in and whispered something to him. He nodded, stretched and mentally caressed a set of phrases and words that leaped from his dark companion and into his thoughts.

“You are naught but flotsam and sh*t riding on the currents ahead of the tidal wave of rilmani." He glanced at the khaasta with disdain. "They have yet to make their presence known."

The khaasta barked out more orders, snarling and preparing to beat the human into submission with a swift strike to his head. He never had the chance.

"They wait for me. They wait for us.” The man smiled, drawing the mental symbols and phrases like a sword in his mind. “And like you, they too will die.”

His mouth yawned wide, opening into a bottomless darkness, the figure on his shoulder smiled, and from his throat issued forth a wail…


****​


Thick black smoke hung heavy in the air, still rising hours after the fact from the gutted frames of a dozen buildings, carrying with itself the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh. Nearly forty khaasta corpses littered the ground, their features twisted into expressions of horror and their limbs snarled and contorted like dead insects. The ravaged village was not empty however. Hiding in the ruins were several stragglers that had survived the attack, as well as a lingering enchantment upon the corpses that would in the space of hours cause them to rise up spontaneously if not first triggered by any of their killer's pursuers. They would not trigger however on the presence of either group that currently moved through the ruins, each of a distinctly different nature.

Marching with a haste normally not seen among their kind, ranks of ferrumach rilmani followed in the footsteps of the man who had shattered the khaasta village. Both on foot and riding kulduraths, accompanied by groups of cuprilach and scattered argenach marshals, they numbered in the hundreds. Further out, equivalent groups moved in the same direction. The rilmani were determined to stop any and all intrusions into the prison-temple of the tiere deity.

"Busy little ants..." Tellura Ibn Shartalan sat upon the ground amid the death and carnage, waiting. Had she been noticed by the rilmani or surviving khaast, they would have seen only what appeared to be a young aasimar girl sitting alone and utterly unconcerned by the corpses scattered around her. Bemused, she toyed with a leather doll abandoned by one of the khaasta children who had scattered at the approach of Cilret Leobtav.

Unaware of her presence, the ranks of rilmani marched around her, and occasionally she scowled at those who approached too closely, her shadow reaching out, tempted to bat at them like a cat clawing at insects. Despite her presence, and despite what she was, none of them took notice of her sitting on the ground. Far enough from the Spire as they were, Balance's champions' innate connection to the plane failed to outweigh the baernaloth’s primeval and godlike power, even diluted as it was, substantially so by her presence outside of the Lower Planes and in the Spire’s shadow. Unless she travelled closer in by several rings, or perhaps if the ferrumachs and their argenach sergeants saw fit to include an aurumach, then perhaps they might notice her presence. That would be a pity if they did.

The Second of the Demented smiled and briefly turned her head at the sound of an opening door. Within the smoldering remains of one of the larger dwellings, a ruined staircase once rose from the ground floor. The second floor no long existed and the roof have collapsed, but the stone frame of the stairwell and the door itself still, improbably, remained behind. Briefly they flickered with sickly yellow light and opened, allowing the entry of her kindred from his hunting upon the Infinite Staircase.

“Ideally they’ll finish this business.” Tellura remarked, gazing past the rilmani army in the direction that Leobtav had travelled. "It saves us the trouble of doing so ourselves, and prevents our intrusion from being noticed.

“You've been playing with dolls and puppets too long I think." The Wanderer snarled as his emerald eyes followed the rilmani. "You don't control their movement, and where they're going, you couldn't follow if you wanted. You can't see it.”

“It’s too close to the Spire even now. The Hinterlands swallowed it long ago, but where it was originally has left an imprint upon it even now. It no longer sits in the ring the tiere built it in, but to my eyes it might as well." Tellura shrugged and her face was just as nonchalantly calm as before. But the Wanderer had made his point, and below her, on the ground, her shadow swirled with frustration. "Otherwise it wouldn’t be a problem and I’d handle it myself.”

“Do you really think the rilmani can handle what you failed to notice?”

“I failed to notice nothing.” She frowned and looked up at her kindred baern. “Nor did my sibling.”

The legions of rilmani marched onwards, swarming around the baernaloth without ever noticing them, nor in fact approaching within an arm's length, as if the proto-fiends warped the landscape around themselves, repulsing the neutral exemplars like identical poles of a magnet.

"So you both have reminded the rest of us, repeatedly now." The Wanderer motioned towards the rilmani, clambering back towards the door to carry him back to the Staircase before glancing back at the Shepherdess. “If they fail we have a problem.”

“It isn’t a problem.” Tellura snarled like a petulant child and awkwardly stood, casting aside the khaasta doll and supporting herself on her staff. “Everything has been foreseen! Everything still goes according to the Architect’s designs.”

“Does it?” The Wanderer didn't look at her as he asked the question, bathed in the glow of the open portal as he prepared to leave. "We shall see."

Tellura opened her mouth, glaring at the other baernaloth's back as he slipped into the portal and vanished. Digging its claws into the earth, her shadow snarled before she turned and walked forward. On the third step the ground turned to a ragged blotch of ashes and she was gone, vanished back into the Waste, leaving all as it was and had been.


****​
 

Akhelos

First Post
This Story is great, I am still reading it and have not yet finished, but it is very Interesting and very well written.

But thats naturally Obvious as it incorporates Yugoloths and we are naturally the best and most Interesting of all species, even if the other fools have not realised it yet *nods* and you can be assured that I will read the whole story I have time for it. :)

signed
Malshana archana Thauwiz, Arcanaloth Sorcererss and Royal thorn in the side of ther group (especially our blackguard who even after 8 years still believes I am his girl, stupid fool...albeit he is a nice tool.)

((sorry for my definetly not flawless english *g*))
 

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