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Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 31July2020)

Andry

Explorer
As a reader of this Story Hour from the beginning I really appreciate all you have written over the long years. From both Story hours which your characterization of yugoloths I borrowed for my old Planescape campaign which my players LOVED to HATE. To the great work you did for Paizo. I check every couple of days for an updates and I will continue to. Thanks again for all the entertainment and inspiration you have provided for our own home games. You truly are a one of a kind talent.
 

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Shemeska

Adventurer
As a reader of this Story Hour from the beginning I really appreciate all you have written over the long years. From both Story hours which your characterization of yugoloths I borrowed for my old Planescape campaign which my players LOVED to HATE. To the great work you did for Paizo. I check every couple of days for an updates and I will continue to. Thanks again for all the entertainment and inspiration you have provided for our own home games. You truly are a one of a kind talent.
Awww, thank you so much! As soon as my current freelancing is finished in the next two weeks or so my slate will be clear and I'll be updating here!
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
Also the bane of updates: freelancing deadlines.

Also also the bane of updates: broken HVAC as of this week
What fortuitous timing--busted HVAC in the middle of a heat wave. Well, it must've given you a homey feel like you were back home in Chamada and working for the General...or not. Stay cool and drive on.
 




Shemeska

Adventurer
So at GenCon my biggest project got announced: I'm writing Ruins of the Radiant Siege, one chapter in the Agents of Edgewatch AP.

So if you like my storyhour, based on one of my campaigns, you'll be able to play an adventure I've written. My first one! :D
 


Andry

Explorer
So at GenCon my biggest project got announced: I'm writing Ruins of the Radiant Siege, one chapter in the Agents of Edgewatch AP.

So if you like my storyhour, based on one of my campaigns, you'll be able to play an adventure I've written. My first one! :D
OOO is this for Pathfinder 1 or for Pathfinder 2?
 


Shemeska

Adventurer
Gehenna’s gatetown of Torch could never be said to be a pleasant destination, but from the base of the ancient baernaloth construct the Oblivion Compass, it certainly was by comparison. The relief the party felt the moment the magic of Tristol’s planeshift snatched them away and deposited them less than two miles out from Torch was immediate.

Once the spell’s light faded, Fyrehowl heaved and fell to her knees. Toras likewise steadied himself, accepting Clueless’s offered arm to steady himself from the violent nausea that was far too slow to fade.

“That was an absolutely stupid idea…” Florian panted, one hand clenching her holy symbol and the other braced in the stinking, scarlet mud at her feet.

“Well, at least we know what it looks like, even if it made absolutely no sense.” Tristol shrugged, him and Nisha both supporting one another. “Clearly we need to learn more. Hopefully we can do that here.”

Eventually the nausea and the fear faded, their proper senses returning, and with them the color returned to their flesh and they gathered their bearings, finally taking sense of just where they stood in relation to their intended target. The first thing was the acrid smell of decay and acidic swamp gas, and sure enough they stood within the margins of the so-called Blood Swamp that rose up and surrounded Torch, the landscape dotted with shallow rises in elevation along with rose the poorer districts of the gatetown while higher up the estates of the rich and powerful hugged the craggy, volcanic heights of the three mountains at torch’s heart: Karal, Maygel, and Dohin.

Unlike their brief venture into the depths of the Waste where the very landscape was leached of colors in a never-ending expanse of blacks, whites, and shades of gray, the landscape surrounding Torch was bathed in a brilliant scarlet glare. The swamplands themselves bubbled with scarlet mud, the natural result of soil filled with a mixture of natural iron-bearing ochre and the brilliantly colored plants that grew there, metabolizing the severe mineral content in their own unnatural capacity. The light that shown down, harsh and mocking, casting long shadows on everything it touched, was courtesy of the great portal that hung between the calderas of Torch’s volcanic mounts. Because of the periodic release of great clouds of volcanic smoke, the portal’s light absolute, but the intensity flickered with the intervening ash and soot, giving a strobe-like effect that was at best, disorienting.

“So, who or what is Dubai’s Obscure Woe?” Nisha asked as the group began the slow trudge through the swamplands towards Torch proper. “I was never entirely clear on that.”

“…” The rest of the party exchanged glances, the absence of an answer obvious in their eyes.

“Yeah none of us know…” The Xaositect smirked, the bell at the tip of her tail rattling.

“It wasn’t like we could get any clarifying details from Laughing Jane once she started seizing and passed out.” Toras lamented, and I don’t think any of us really cared to wait around in Portent in a place that the damn Oinoloth found fun enough to personally visit.”

In silence the party continued on, gradually making it out of the blood swamp and into Torch itself. Initially the city presented initially as a maze of tenements not altogether different from the architecture of Portent, though with broader streets and markets as they moved into higher elevations. The city reflected the influence of Gehenna, and the influence of the Blood War trade was high, represented by the myriad of mercenary companies recruiting for service in the War Eternal, propaganda posters plastered across buildings, and others offering bounties in jink for war deserters.

“I don’t think any of the mercenary companies are going to know or rightly care much about something in Torch.” Toras turned and shook his head as one company recruiter nodded and started to approach.

The Blood War recruiting was constant, though the party being both heavily armed and having a celestial amongst them tended to dissuade all but the most desperate, at least that was until they emerged into one of Torch’s marketplaces and found themselves face to face with a grandiose stall advertising, “DON’T BE YOUR OWN BOSS! WORK FOR THE LORDS OF GEHENNA!”

Sitting at the booth with a pen in one hand, a scroll in front of them, and a pile of neatly pre-counted purses of coin, a jackal-headed arcanaloth wrapped in purple silks beamed a fanged smile as they coolly walked a platinum piece along the knuckles of their free hand.

“Yeah let’s not ask them…” Fyrehowl softly snarled, doing her best to avoid eye contact.

“So who do you suggest we ask, other than…” Clueless turned to avoid looking at the ‘loth who was by that point obnoxiously waving at them.

“Yeah other than them,” Florian frowned and likewise turned her back on the still-waving and now wolf-whistling arcanaloth, “Let’s find someone in a position of civic authority, or whatever passes for it around here, and a bribe can probably find us the information we need.”

“Let’s wander off and do that elsewhere,” Toras suggested, “Because if we stick around here much longer I’m really sorely tempted to walk up, smile, introduce myself and then punch that stupid arcanaloth right in his smiling muzzle.”


****​


It was of course easier said than done. Torch, like Gehenna itself was a manifest nightmare of corruption and petty tyranny. Nominally the city was ruled over by the so-called Council of All, a citizens’ forum where decisions were made by some variable amount of one-person-one-vote, fist fights, threats, knives in the back, and vote buying. In practice the actual power brokers in the city were a few rich individuals, the source of their wealth distinctly unknown and never elaborated, and a group of six different thieves’ guilds with names like the Grey Orbs, the Kindred of Yoj, the Severed Hand, and so forth.

It didn’t take long for members of the last to conveniently find the party, aided by the wink, nod, and flip of the yugoloth recruiter’s platinum piece to the hand of one of a passing group of otherwise unremarkable tieflings.

Several blocks away from the marketplace and the party found themselves approached by a group of eight tiefling, and standing in the shadows of nearby buildings another four or five. It was nearly a mirror image of just a similar situation as they’d experienced in Portent.

“Greetings!” A clearly arcanaloth-descended tiefling with grey, fox-like ears rising up from her head over darker, bobbed hair, called out as she and her group stepped up to the party and also blocked the street. She clapped her hands together, the dark leather giving the muted sound of being lined with lead shot.

“Can we help you?” Clueless looked the tiefling up and down, thoroughly unimpressed.

“More with what we can help you with,” She blinked pale red eyes and gestured to each member of the party, “You being visitors to Torch and obviously unfamiliar with some of the gatetown’s laws, rules, and regulations.”

Nisha rolled her eyes profusely.

“We, my fellows and me here, we don’t want you all to get in trouble with any of the more… disreputable… groups and persons.” She smiled, peering at Toras and Clueless’s blades and then more pointedly at Fyrehowl. “Did you happen to get your permits in order before we started walking through Torch?”

“Permits?” Clueless sighed, glancing back to the others with a ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ look, “What permits?”

“For your weapons!” The tiefling grinned, “For your cleric to practice their proselytizing! And of course for your celestial!”

“Seriously?” Toras sighed, “We need permits for that?”

“Seems appropriate don’t it?” The tiefling shrugged and ran a gloved hand through her hair, “Tell yourself whatever you like to justify handing over thirty gold each and you’re on your way…”

“Yeah,” Toras nodded, “I think all these guys look like they know directions about town!”

“I think they do!” Florian nodded.

At the sudden and unexpected change in their presumptive marks’ demeanor, the gang members exchanged awkward, questioning glances.

“Do you happen to know how we could get to some place called Dubai’s Obscure Woe?” Tristol asked as politely as he possibly could, the irony of which was recognized and met with a giggle by Nisha just before what happened next.

“Pardon?” The tiefling thug asked, shortly before she was kicked in the face by a lupinal, something she’d never experienced before.

Answers to their questions came quickly, without permits or bribes, lubricated by remarkably little actual blood but more than a few broken teeth scattered across the cobblestones of Torch.


****​


The Oinoloth’s face was devoid of emotion and expression as he stared down at Factol Larisette’s notes, the only indication of response to the text’s details being an increased radiance from the fiend’s albino-pink eyes.

“Hide from me all you wish, bury your name beneath layer upon layer of prosaicism, locked away and forgotten.” Vorkannis smirked, gesturing without a glance back to where the Overlord of Carceri knelt naked, on her knees, serving as nothing more than a stand to hold aloft one of her master’s tomes. “We both know how well that can work. Lock away something and surely, oh surely it will rip its way free.”

For hours the Oinoloth had poured over the notes from Hashkar’s safe and others stolen from archives in Sigil. In response to the two dead or vanished Fraternity of Order factols’ notes, Vorkannis had written almost an equivalent length of text, almost all of it feverish and labyrinthine mathematical formulae. Unlike the Oinoloth’s meticulous spellbooks, the mathematics were less perfect and much less artistic, with whole pages crossed out as dead ends or false routes towards some ultimate end. More ominously, Vorkannis, normally restrained, supernaturally confident and perpetually in control was anything but, and time and again the archfiend paused to pace about the room, often trekking to and from the patch of ice and ashes in one corner of the room to meditate wordlessly before returning to his calculations. A line of footsteps in perpetually frozen ashes formed a line between the fiend’s table with the stolen manuscripts and the chamber’s far corner.

“Not complete…” Vorkannis mused, “You fools tumble to vast conclusions and fail to realize that you’ve found only the first part of four or five.”

Abruptly the archfiend snarled, upending the table and casting the papers onto the floor, ignoring them and walking towards an elaborate illusionary model of the Inner Planes. Gesturing he zoomed in a conceptual representation of Quasielemental Mineral, specifically the border between that plane and the Positive Energy Plane.

“Clean up that mess…” The Oinoloth belatedly remarked, sending Shylara into a scramble to retrieve and collate the stolen papers and his own. It made for a bizarre scene with an archfiend on her hands and knees like a chambermaid set against the backdrop of a robed ultroloth standing in a catatonic trance, shivering and bleeding from the spike of cobalt crystal embedded in its forehead.

Obsessively the Oinoloth manipulated the planar model, tinkering with the area of focus and shifting the details based on input from the calculations.

“Shall I make diplomatic overtures to the Archomental Crystalle?” Shylara’s voice asked with soft, terrified deference.

“No.” The Oinoloth’s answer was swift but without any denigrating dismissiveness. “I have zero interest in the political theatre of the elemental planes. We are taking what is mine, not bargaining for something the natives are themselves wholly ignorant of in the first place.”

Shylara nodded and neatly placed the last of the papers back into place, watching curiously as the Oinoloth began to smile, his eyes focused on an image of the Tower of Lead.

“One of Four.”


****​


The Blood Swamp that surrounded Torch should have swallowed the ruins of Dubai's Obscure Woe, given how the lay of the land actually situated the estate in a shallow, local depression. Yet inexplicably, hauntingly so, it did not. More than anything, the ruddy colored muck seemed to withdraw from the ruins' proximity, healthy flesh stretched thin, bleached of color, and withdrawn in the face of a ragged mass of scar tissue in the plane itself, the evidence of some ancient wound, or perhaps an encapsulated tubercle, still lurking with hidden, deathly potency.

Yet for all the harrowing nature of the landscape, for all the flickering, distant furnace-light of the portal to Gehenna itself, the first steps onto the abandoned estate's grounds carried absolutely nothing fearsome or untoward. If anything, it seemed sheltered from the surrounding dangers of the swap and free of Torch's bloody political squabbles.

"This was not what I expected..." Fyrehowl remarked as she cautiously trod over the broken flagstones of the estate's central courtyard. "Are we sure that we're in the right place?"

“I’m pretty sure she wasn’t lying, especially after Clueless made her eat that platinum piece as payment for her teeth.” Toras chuckled, “That was a nice touch.”

“Was it a bit much?” The bladesinger asked, “I thought it was a bit much. I was just tired of these stupid yugoloth-light tactics… still tempted to go back and smack the tar out of that damn arcanaloth.”

“I kicked her teeth in and I’m pretty sure she swallowed a few.” Fyrehowl shrugged, “I hardly think making her swallow that platinum piece was too much beyond what we started off with.”

Clueless chuckled but said nothing more as the group slowly progressed into the ruined estate. Centuries old structures had largely collapsed into shells of stone, stripped of their original grandeur by the passage of years and the humidity of the surrounding swamps. Yet it was odd how other than the structural collapse of the manor house and outbuildings, there was absolutely no evidence of vandalism, looting, or squatting.

“Does anyone else find it absolutely bizarre that at the edges of a city literally ruled by yugoloths, yugoloth-spawn, and fellow travelers of yugoloth ideology that this place just sat here until it collapsed without anyone claiming it as their own?” Clueless motioned with Razor’s tip towards one ruined wall and then another, “Or squatting here to hide from issues in Torch proper? Or to have torn the place apart in search of hidden treasure or just to strip the walls of anything they could sell for a few jink?”

“It’s odd yeah…” Fyrehowl nodded. “And it doesn’t make any sense. You’d only expect this if something was here making sure that none of those other things happened. But here I am not feeling anything untoward at all.”

“Yeah we’d expect to all be cursed, or have you dive out of the way without warning, or you puking from something hideous elder evil yadda yadda…” Nisha winked.

“Yeah you’d think!” The lupinal shook her head, “I don’t know. Tristol?”

“There’s no weird magic. There aren’t any alarms. There aren’t any traps.” The wizard shrugged, “Which I find even stranger because from what what’s her name mentioned…”

“Little miss got her teeth kicked in.” Fyrehowl interjected.

“Her yeah,” Tristol laughed, “Because as far as she knew, this place was set up by a wizard way back when, and that nobody visits because those who do either find nothing or they don’t come back. There’s nothing here to suggest an actual wizard lived here. Not any self-respecting wizard who’d actually use their talent and leave some traces of their art.”

On that note they continued deeper into the ruins, passing through the ruins of an antechamber and gallery and into the middle of an interior courtyard that once housed a pool, the original lilies and other waterborne flowers long-since replaced by other, less pleasant vegetation, wild, snarled, and overgrown. The polished blue tiles at the bottom of the pool lay cracked and caked in silt, and through it all still no traces of obvious magic.

Passing through the courtyard and into the next portion of the ancient manor, it didn’t take them long to find something immediately out of place, in every possible way.


****​
 


I am finally caught up with this legendary Story Hour. I eagerly await further revelations :D

One minor question - what happened with Alex the alienist? PC or NPC? This character came into the story with lots of unanswered questions but shortly was gone, leaving me scratching my head.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
I am finally caught up with this legendary Story Hour. I eagerly await further revelations :D

One minor question - what happened with Alex the alienist? PC or NPC? This character came into the story with lots of unanswered questions but shortly was gone, leaving me scratching my head.
Alex was a PC, albeit a short lived one. Some of the story elements associated with him (such as former Bleaker Factol Tollysalmon) get explored later on.
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
Alex was a PC, albeit a short lived one. Some of the story elements associated with him (such as former Bleaker Factol Tollysalmon) get explored later on.
Alex, Alex, Alex... nope. I don't remember Alex. I remember a lizard tout-guide with a big hat back in Sigil, but I don't remember Alex.
 

Side question, going back a few years there was the side adventure that resulted in Shemeska gaining the Shadow Key. Will Ashlanaya and Surefoot ever show up again?
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Side question, going back a few years there was the side adventure that resulted in Shemeska gaining the Shadow Key. Will Ashlanaya and Surefoot ever show up again?
Surefoot made some cameo appearances late in the campaign (as IIRC they were created by Clueless's player and so there was impetus to have them reappear in the mainline game), but Ashlanaya does not, having basically gotten out of Dodge while the getting out was good to avoid Shemeska tying up loose ends of that whole affair. She did however inspire Fyrehowl's player years later for at least one tiefling paladin of their own in a later game.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
The snarl that cut the air was cold and aberrant, followed by the chittering clack of mandibles as a ghostly, phosphorescent figure manifested behind Toras, an equally ghostly trident clutched in two of its four insectile arms. Without warning to Tristol’s magic or even to Fyrehowl’s preternatural sense of the Cadence of the Planes, the ghost yugoloth’s weapon plunged forward into the half-celestial’s back.

Toras screamed in pain. While it made no immediate and obvious appearance outwardly upon his features, given the nature of his own supernaturally-long lifespan, as the immaterial trident ignored his armor and plunged through his flesh, with the icy pain it spread, he also felt it take something from him altogether more valuable as it feasted upon three years of his life.

“F*CK!” Toras shouted, turning and tumbling backwards, even as he lashed out with his blade in a wicked backhanded slice. The blade passed effortlessly through the fiend without any response, except for a soft, malicious hiss of a laugh from the creature.

“What the hell is that?!” Nisha blurted out.

“Don’t let it touch you!” Toras shouted in warning as he glanced at the Xaositect and Tristol at her side, the least defended members of the party. “It’s a ghost. It’ll age you if it touches you.”

Fyrehowl shrugged and interposed herself between the mezzoloth and the others, her own immortality uncaring of such an attack. As she stepped closer to the fiend however, while she would have normally felt the physical effects of its evil, this time she felt that but also a profound sensation of alien, unnaturalness as if the creature’s sheer existence violated the very laws of reality.

It did.

“That’s just not possible.” Tristol stammered, “We’re on the Outer Planes. There’s no ethereal plane here. You can’t have ghosts without an Ethereal overlap!”

Laughing, its gem-like eyes glittering like a pile of a necromancer’s black sapphires, the ghost mezzoloth lunch forward a second time, jabbing at Fyrehowl. The lupinal only barely dodged each attack, with the creature being far beyond a simple mezzoloth in skill and ability.

“To say nothing of it just not being possible to have a ghost fiend in the first place!” Tristol continued to object to the reality of the creature attacking them, protesting it without having moved from where he’d stood when it had manifested. “You can’t have a ghost outsider! You can’t have an undead outsider in the first place, regardless of the type! I mean…”

“I love you but shut up!” Nisha grabbed her fiancé and dragged him back and away from the fight as Fyrehowl continued to dodge and Clueless stepped up next to her.

“Florian a little help here perhaps!” The bladesinger called back to the cleric as he and Fyrehowl traded attacks with the mezzoloth. The fiend hadn’t managed to strike either of the two hyper-nimble party members, but of the five attacks of theirs that struck deep into the fiend’s immaterial core, only one of them, a stab from Razor, had actually affected the spectral entity.

The cleric blinked, thus far in the fight too stunned by the unnatural mezzoloth’s appearance to act. Shaken from her surprise she held up her holy symbol and directed the power of Tempus towards it, an action that would have incinerated any single undead being short of the most ancient of liches or demiliches without any hesitation, such was the power of her deity’s investiture in her.

Absolutely nothing happened.

Florian’s mouth opened, hung open wordlessly as her brain tumbled in disbelief. Her call to the Foe Hammer had been clear, but Tempus had not heard her. Her invocation of the god’s power had simple been snuffed by where she stood. Something terrible and unnatural within the sanctum of Dubai’s Obscure Woe had rapaciously devoured the god-granted powers at her beck and call.

Somehow sensing her inability to call upon her divine patron, the ghostly mezzoloth stared and laughed, seconds before a blazing bolt of blue-white energy lanced from Tristol’s outstretched hand to strike the fiend in the center of its chest. It contorted and shrieked for but a fraction of a second before evaporating into nothingness, burned away by silverfire.

“Thank you Tristol.” Florian said, taking a moment to catch her breath.

“When did you learn that?!” Nisha whispered to the wizard, poking his side with her tail. “That was awesome!”

Tristol smiled, his ears flattening and drooping in slight humility, “It’s a little tiring, but yeah, that’s pretty recent. Ask me later and I’ll tell you all about it.”

“There’s something deeply, deeply WRONG about this place…” Florian stared at the others, “We almost got our asses handed to us by a damn mezzoloth: a GHOST mezzoloth that shouldn’t even be able to exist, and this place silenced by connection to Tempus like it didn’t even exist.”

“Oh you hadn’t noticed that before?” Toras sarcastically muttered, shaking his head. “We’re pretty much f*cked if turning around and walking straight from here and through that floating portal to Gehenna sounds like an improvement upon our situation…”

Fyrehowl and Clueless grimaced and nodded their heads in agreement.

“Hey… uh… everybody?” Nisha raised a hand and gestured to a doorway in one of the room’s walls, a door that hadn’t been there before. “That door wasn’t there before now. And there’s a staircase going down.”

“I’d say that something noticed us.” Tristol took a single, uneasy breath. “Who wants to go first?”


*


“Precious, precious pet of ours. Beloved tormented flesh. My oldest, dearest friend. We love you. We love you so very much. Listen and repeat. Know. Listen. Suffer. Suffer for us…”

Ancient lips, cracked and bleeding dark, syrupy ichor smiled in the darkness, the only light being the milky white radiance from the baernaloth’s eyes and the pale, equally milky green light from a gemstone clutched lovingly within its withered, unnaturally elongated and spindly hands and fingers.

Transfixed in space before the ur-fiend wavered an image from Gehenna. Three volcanoes flickered distantly in the void as a cabal of jackal-headed arcanaloths hovered in the air above and around a titanic, gibbering blob of flesh, each of them carefully reciting names in Abyssal, Infernal, and Yugoloth. Suspended above the creature and equidistant to the arcanaloths hovered a gleaming, multifaceted emerald stone, the Vuulge, a mirror of the one clutched by the baernaloth. Each name was read and remembered, even as the Maeldur et Kavurik cried in each moment of agony.

Daru Ib Shamiq the Lie Weaver smiled with each of the doomed, damned solar’s whimpers, and periodically he whispered into the mirror-Vuulge, stroking his fingers through the air like petting the head of a distant, beloved pet.

The light from the fiend’s eyes and the mirror-Vuulge served only to illuminate a sparse portion of the cavern within which the baernaloth laired. The floor, dark and covered with debris and a spattered carpet of coughed and spat up phlegm seemingly absorbed the light, leaving the rest of the cavern unseen. But then from above and slowly descending, a series of light-sources more brilliant than those of the Lie-Weaver’s stretched out and showed the nature of the cavern itself, scattering and refracting across untold numbers of words and phrases physically manifested and lodged within the fluid, gelatinous matrix like clots in the walls of a slowly festering abscess.

Not looking up at the light of the descending party, the baernaloth smiled, a sheen of yellow mucus glimmering upon its teeth. Had it hircine ears, they would have swiveled in the direction of its visitors. The image of Gehenna before him flickered and vanished.

“Who are you?” Clueless was the first to speak, the gemstone within his ankle glowing painfully with the baernaloth’s presence.

“I’ve been wondering when you would stumble across my doorstep and knock upon my door,” Daru spoke without yet looking up, “Ever since you met my Brother/Sister the Chronicler. Suffice to say I know of you. Greetings to you as well Fyrehowl of Elysium.”

The celestial’s eyes narrowed, her fur already bristled as she realized that despite the ur-fiend’s presence she did not feel the waves of nausea that she expected. Part of it was the fiend’s intent, and part of it was her own partially fallen status, a status that she herself had not yet come to realize, a status that the baernaloth immediately saw and savored like a sugared plum.
“But I am remiss in only acknowledging the two of you.” The Lie-Weaver looked up, his eyes white and snakelike, glancing at his audience. “Greetings to you Toras, Florian, and Tristol, godslaves all of you in one form or another, and to you Nisha, child of Limbo’s whimsy.”

Amidst the frowns and narrowed, suspicious eyes, Nisha tilted her head, shrugged, and bowed.

“You know precisely who I am mortals, or rather you know a title perhaps, or only a pseudonym.” Daru chuckled, all the while a dull pressure filled the backs of his guests’ skulls. “Humor me. What have you been told?”

“You’re a baernaloth…” Toras spat, “That’s all we need to know.”

“Says the mortal touched by my little creation from above, seven years and twelve days taken.”

Toras glared daggers at the baernaloth but said nothing.

“A half celestial, you will have centuries of life and health ahead of you, should they not be snuffed by blade or teeth and so the diminishment of those years is by comparison nothing.” Daru spread his spindly fingers, “But as you reach your appointed time and struggle against destiny as all mortals things do, will you regret that loss, even one day longer? The aged move mountains, the aged sacrifice thousands for half the time you have remaining be added on. Ask and I will restore it for you.”

The fiend reached out, its withered, diseased hand stretching towards Toras.

Tristol’s hand went to the handle of his blade and he stepped back, “Don’t.”

With a look of sorrow upon his face, the baernaloth sighed and withdrew his hand, “Alas, I would have done it for free…”

Unseen and unnoticed, the baernaloth’s words –his lies– took physical, tangible form, crystallizing within the mucoid matrix of his lair, there to join the untold millions slowly being processed and rendered down for purposes dark and unknown, his own personal Loadstone of Misery in microcosm.

“But to answer your question, I am Daru ib Shamiq, the Lie Weaver.” The fiend’s eyes burned bright and fierce in the darkness, the latter title the first time that the party had ever heard of it. The implications of it were of course not lost upon them in the slightest.

“How do we read and interpret the Oblivion Compass?” Standing at the party’s rear, Tristol called out loudly and with confidence.

If the aasimar wizard or any of the others expected to see a look of shock pass across the baernaloth’s features at his request, they were sorely disappointed. Daru ib Shamiq’s eyes remained milky white and clouded, without any recognition… and then came not a gasp, a sneer, a snarl, or an abrupt refusal: the baernaloth smirked, knowingly so.

“Very well.” Daru spread his hands once again and stared up at the mortals and celestial seeking his wisdom, “I can tell you. I will tell you. But in exchange you will first perform a series of tasks for me.”

Fyrehowl immediately snarled. It wasn’t so much her celestial nature that warned her of the fiend’s looming bargain, but the prescient shudder that she felt through the Cadence of the Planes at the ur-fiend’s words.

“Besides… what other option do you have?” Daru’s eyes sparkled, reflecting the dull glow of the gemstone in his lap. “You have been there, have you not? Observation will accomplish little. You would need to listen to the wailing of the moignos and plumb their thoughts for years or more, and no doubt you have no desire to return, given its effect upon you…”

The party members stared at the fiend, an uncomfortable silence rising up, broken only by a sudden coughing fit by the baernaloth that left black, ichor flecked upon his lips and a gobbet of mucus spat unceremoniously upon the floor.

“What would we need to do?” Clueless asked, ignoring the suddenly painful throb in his ankle as the words left his lips.

“It is but a simple task.” Daru explained with a smile, “I give you an object and you deliver it to another mortal with whom I have had my dealings. They will be expecting it, and they will accept it from you. Upon doing so I will give you the next task. You are free to abandon the first task or any subsequent ones at any time of your choosing, but understand that I will not give away my secrets without such reciprocity in full.”

“And if we refuse to perform your task?” Toras glowered at the baernaloth, the withered figure still slouched in darkness, its limbs anemic and non-threatening. It had not made any display of power like its brethren the Chronicler, and so for the moment, the half-celestial’s bravado held steady, even if the rational portion of his mind told him to flee from where he’d come and never look back.

“Then you leave without the answers you seek, answers to questions that no doubt Laughing Jane thought to plant within your head. She knows enough to point you correctly to where such answers dwell, but unlike her I have no compulsion to offer my advice.”

“Why have us perform these tasks? Why not perform them yourself? Why not hand them to a yugoloth who’d piss themselves and scamper about doing precisely as you told them?” Clueless felt the gemstone’s pain abate at his tone of doubt, if only for a moment.

“I am ancient beyond your comprehension mortal.” Daru sneered, the flesh stretched tight against his goat-like skull, “Do you see me getting up and about the planes on my own? Do you see me breaking the yugoloth sense of self-sufficiency? What good are they if they know their creators watch them still and might intervene? I would never be alone again. Every greater yugoloth would seek me out and I will have none of that.” The baernaloth coughed and spat once more, even as whole passages of words crystallized within the ceiling above him, unseen. “Allow me to the pull the puppet strings of my youth but once more, let me rattle your feet and have you dance in a manner of speaking, even if such is far from guiding the tides of the ‘loths within the Blood War, or listening to the death rattle of a pantheon of gods. Give me this one small thing and you will have your secrets.”

Turning away from the fiend, though its eyes and the dull pressure within their heads never wavered, the party conversed amongst themselves, debating the risks and the possible reward.

“It’s a f*cking baernaloth.” Toras insisted, not caring if the creature heard. “It’s going to have us do something hideous.”

“That would be obvious.” Florian sighed, “But is it worth doing if we can stop something worse?”

“I’d normally say yes,” Fyrehowl gave an uncertain shrug, “But I have a bad feeling about this, even if my vote is yes when it comes down to it.”

“I don’t think Laughing Jane -whatever her reasons for sending us here in the first place- would send us to our doom.” Tristol eyes the baernaloth’s gleaming eyes warily, “She clearly loathed the Oinoloth, and that in and of itself satisfies me to at least see what that thing wants from us.”

They argued back and forth for several more minutes, weighing the benefits versus the risks and finally, they turned back to the ur-fiend and nodded as one.

“Tell us what you want us to do.” Clueless spoke for them all.

“Deliver something for me.” Daru ib Shamiq explained, “Deliver for me something old and treasured. Give it unasked and unwanted, but very much expected, to one who must have it. This is a simple task, and then he, the recipient, will give you the next to perform. Such it will be: three minor errands in all until you return here to me and receive the answer to your wizard’s question. Thus as it is with all things seemingly: the rule of three, the unity of rings, and myself now the center of this all.”

And then without gesture or invocation, and indeed without the sparkle of any magic that Tristol’s eyes could discern, the object of their task appeared within the baernaloth’s outstretched hand: a black hardwood box.

The baernaloth held the box within that hand for several seconds as none of the party members wished to be the one to approach the creature and take it. Finally Clueless stepped forward and gingerly accepted it, careful to avoid actually touching the baernaloth in the process.

The bladesinger immediately stooped from the unexpected weight of the box, substantially heavier as it was for its dimensions of 6 inches by 4 inches by 3 inches. It was carved from a deep black hardwood, with corners of soft molded lead, tipped with points of gold. The top surface was emblazoned with an elaborately carved figure with a snarling face and blinded eyes, almost like an imp or a small child with fiendish features, and along the sides of the box, a thin silver line denoted a seam and two halves to it all, though it displayed by keyhole, no latch, and no hinges.

The box was cold, with a soft tracery of frost tracing lines of snowflake crystals upon its surface only to melt from the heat of the half-fey’s hand as he moved the box about to examine its curious, macabre appearance.

Fyrehowl’s ears perked and she stared at the box as Clueless moved it about, detecting the faintest sound of gears and sporadic motions or even scuffling, skittering movement within its confines along with a slow ticking, either of dripping water or a pendulum within a clock. It had made no such sounds when the baernaloth had yet held it within his hand.

“Deliver the box to Muroth Chalmar, a mortal necromancer upon your wizard’s own prime sphere of Toril, within the borders of the nation of Narfell to be exact in the region known as the Rawlinswood.” Daru ib Shamiq explained, “The half-elf lives within a reclaimed and rebuilt tower at the fringes of the city of Dun-Tharos. Once you are there within relative proximity, the box itself will draw you towards his location. It is meant for him.”


*
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
I was once standing in the St. Mary's River south of Sault Saint Marie in the U.P. of Michigan and casting a spinner bait out into the river. A large freighter came down the river, displacing water as it traveled south. I was fairly close to shore and no more than mid-thigh in depth while the freighter was out in the middle of the narrow shipping channel, but I could readily feel its presence. This ship was big enough to alter the flow of the river, pressing and displacing the water in front of it and drawing a strong current behind it as it passed.

I imagine the baern must possess a similar natural trait that bends reality around them to an extent. To be close to it would be to feel the press, the weight of its power and presence, like the freighter displacing all those tons of water.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
I was once standing in the St. Mary's River south of Sault Saint Marie in the U.P. of Michigan and casting a spinner bait out into the river. A large freighter came down the river, displacing water as it traveled south. I was fairly close to shore and no more than mid-thigh in depth while the freighter was out in the middle of the narrow shipping channel, but I could readily feel its presence. This ship was big enough to alter the flow of the river, pressing and displacing the water in front of it and drawing a strong current behind it as it passed.

I imagine the baern must possess a similar natural trait that bends reality around them to an extent. To be close to it would be to feel the press, the weight of its power and presence, like the freighter displacing all those tons of water.
It's an apt comparison. I tend to use them as particularly malicious forces of nature. A thunderstorm slowly rolling over a mountain and darkening a forest, the wind carrying a faint static charge raising the hair on the back of your neck as it draws near and the breeze rattles the nearest trees... if a thunderstorm could sneer, point at a single farmer and go, 'You know what? F*ck that one guy in particular.' and in the process of incinerating him with a bolt of lightning, cause an inheritence squabble by his children that leads to a family blood feud, that a few generations later causes a war in which hundreds of thousands die, and the storm smiles and swirls.

In my campaigns any interaction with the baern is going to be less a case of talking to an NPC than it is to simply be caught up in their current or their gravity well and being dragged along for the ride: some will drown. Some of the baern are more like this than others. In this storyhour you'll meet virtually all of them at some point or another.
 

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