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Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 31July2020)


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Shemeska

Adventurer
The cavern was devoid of light and indeed devoid of life itself, save for the chosen children of the living god, the great one in whose service the heptad of guards served with their very lives, they who presently stood silent watch over the mock doorway cut into the solid rock before them. Every hour on the hour, as the magical glow of their timepiece elapsed and reset, they collectively whispered with ardent, ingrained passion, the name of that living deity, the one betrayed and slain by his jealous compatriots when he dared to reach for apotheosis, the one whose knowledge and power had rebuked death itself, and who in his risen glory had wrought his servitors’ homeland from the stone and dust, separating it from the death and burning sunlight overhead, and then in his own image fashioned them, given them life, and given them purpose.

It was for that purpose that the seven guardians now stood watch over something that they in truth did not entirely understand. Understanding was not necessary of course, only that their living god had commanded it.

“Watch over the doorway cut into the rock, waiting for the day when it shall open forth into another world and usher forth the delivery of a blessed gift to myself, a blessed gift that will ordain the beginning of our return to the surface and the completion of my apotheosis.”

So the living god had commanded, and so his servitors obeyed, staring at the stone for hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, and now centuries long, cycling in and out as their own limited, mortal lives allowed it. They served and thus their very purpose for existence was satisfied.

None of the seven soldiers, naked except for hardened leather that girded their weakest points but was more ornamental than not, none of them truly expected that they would see the doorway swing open within their lifetimes. But it would.

The distant sounds of their city echoed about the cavern from a tunnel at its far end, the sounds of community, craftsmanship, and worship, mingled with the erratic screaming of one or more captives being slowly flayed alive to extract information or simply an exercise in divinely-sanctioned punishment for one who had intruded upon their home, this domain of the chosen people. One of the soldiers keened her head about the cavern walls and down the tunnel, a dim sound at the edge of hearing flitting about the reptilian ear cannel in the side of her smooth, scaly head, but no, the sound, whatever it was, had not emerged from there.

“What is that noise?” Another soldier openly asked, the eyes of his compatriots and their body language making it clear that all of them had heard it, though precisely what it was and where it originated seemed to elude them all.

“I do not know.” The first soldier replied, “But it grows louder.”

“Perhaps we should send warning?” The second suggested, only to have his notion be curtly turned down by a wave of the obsidian tip of the first’s spear.

“No. We stand guard here and do not move. Our God has placed us here for a purpose.”

Prayer-like, they all said his name, followed by a litany of titles and ritualized honorifics, and then, as if their prayers had been an incantation, or simply that their prayer had been heard and answered, they received an answer to their questions and to their appointed duty.

The surface of the stone doorway erupted in blinding light, every minute crack and tracery of mineral inclusion on the surface each radiating a different color, saturating their eyes and somehow bleeding through their usual darkvision spectrum of shades of gray and for a moment providing them with burning, impossible colors screaming against their retinas and bleeding into the currents of their brains as the Gray was violently parted and the metaphysical barrier around their world was for the rarest of moments thrust open as the doorway opened.

Staggering out of the doorway, backlit by the furious spectrum of transiently shattered layers of reality, six figures emerged before the soldiers and into the space of New Guistenal.



*****​



Fyrehowl’s eyes were the first to adjust to the darkness, the lupinal’s celestial pupils expanding and taking in the scattered reflections harshly lit by the flicker and subsequent collapse of the planar portal behind them. Around the cavern expanded out of sight, and before stood six figures, reptilian, tall, with spears raised to meet their approach.

Instinctually the lupinal’s nostrils dilated and she breathed through her lupine snout, taking in the smells about her and her companions. Reptilian musk, dry dust devoid of moisture, and the scent of a place from which life had been leached from the very soil itself at the finest level, consumed by a magic unknown to any of them.

Collectively the others stood, squinting as their eyes flickered with natural or augmented darkvision to find themselves before the company of dray, eyes taking measure of them even as they did the same. Hands went to weapons, but did not draw them as they waited for any greeting or reaction beyond violence at their arrival. If the Lie Weaver were to be believed, their arrival and their gift was to be expected.

Clueless held up Daru’s box, gingerly offering it to the dray, “We were to give this gift to the one we met upon our arrival.”

Unseen, the snarling face upon the baernaloth artifact began to smile, though if it were an expression of delight or of hunger would have been up for debate, had it been noticed.

“Who are you?” Florian asked, the draconic soldiers still holding their weapons at the ready.

The dray narrowed their slit pupils, seemingly taking measure of the visitors and also keeping in mind their duel task: to protect the doorway and also to await those who would arrive to satisfy the prophecy of their living god. Any question in their minds, and any hesitation in their actions was satisfied when one greater than they noticed the opening of the portal and the arrival of his long-awaited, bargained-for treasure.

Like some great leviathan suddenly inhaling and smelling the flesh of intruders to its lair, the air around both dray and the companions themselves rushed out of the cavern, paused, and rushed back with a telepathic tremor. They shivered at the touch of something terrible and inhuman, a suffocating presence licking at the edges of their essence, tapping at their wards, and then momentarily snorting in dismissal at what it found except for the fiend’s box.

Toras’s hand went to his blade, only to be met by Tristol’s. The fighter met the aasimar’s gaze, finding the wizard’s eyes wide and genuinely terrified.

“We aren’t ready for this.” Tristol deadpanned, shaking his head. “

“THEY HAVE ARRIVED!!!!!” The dray captain shrieked, the others echoing her triumphant call with screams of their own, exclamations of delight, joined by a growing chorus of similar voices from beyond the cavern from the City by the Silt Sea.

The volume only grew in volume and ferocity, and with it the telepathic presence carried on its hungry breath the sensation of ancient and terrible lips parting to reveal fangs and tongue, covetous and waiting.

“What have we gotten ourselves into?” Florian glanced to Tristol, watching as flickers of silverfire danced nervously at his fingertips for the briefest of moments and then like a candle at a priest’s lips, the silverfire was snuffed.

Of the screams of the dray, be they intelligible prayers or simply emotions vented in religious ecstasy, they carried with them all one common word, one singular name: Dregoth.



*****​



Something was wrong.

Something was wrong.

Something was very, very wrong.

Florian’s hand not on her weapon went to the symbol of Tempus about her neck and in a single moment she understood Tristol’s terror. Rather than the comforting presence of her divine patron reaching out to touch, reassure, and invigorate her, she felt nothing, not even a barrier to silence the connection between she and the Foe Hammer.

“I’m cut off from Mystra too.” Tristol said, moving closer to the cleric. “This place, wherever we are, it’s cut off from the divine. I don’t know how.”

“What do we do?” Florian glanced back at the portal, now nothing more than blank stone, closed and cutting them off from escape just as surely as the nature of Athas had silenced their touch with the divine.

“I don’t know…” The wizard shook his head, glancing over to where Clueless held the box aloft. “Just go along with this, whatever happens and hope for the best. But whatever is out there, it’s not something that we can handle.”

“What do you mean?” Toras interjected, confusion crossing his features.

“Magic doesn’t work the same way here.” Tristol’s eyes betrayed a genuine uncertainty that none of them had ever seen him express. “Don’t cast anything. I don’t know what will happen.”

They blinked. Florian was absent her divine patron and their archmage was refusing to use his own magic.

“Whatever is here for the box…” Tristol glanced over to the baernaloth artifact as another dozen dray approached from out of the surrounding darkness, all of them dressed in more elaborate armor, bearing torches and several of them instruments for a musical procession. “Whatever it is, it knew we were here the moment we came through that portal and it is beyond what we can defeat, even if magic worked.”

Any further contemplation would have to wait however as one of the new dray, all of them Templars of Dregoth addressed the group.

“Follow us.” The most decorated of them exclaimed, less an order than a calmly stated expectation for one unused to any other creature deigning to do any otherwise. “Give to the Dread King what He expects from you.”

“The Dread King?” Toras raised an eyebrow, only to have Florian elbow him and Tristol give him a withering glance.

The dray parted ranks and the followed. After all, what other option was realistic?



****​



Through the darkness of New Guistenal they marched, joined by others as they passed through tunnels and caverns of the great and hidden underground nation of Dregoth’s chosen, created children and servitors. Dozens became scores became hundreds, the cries and shouts becoming more and more ritualized as priests led the procession in the call and response of liturgy.

“Glory be to Him that Rises Above and Conquers Death!”

“Glory be to the Living God!”

“Praise be to the Ravager of Giants, Betrayed by the Slaves of Rajaat!”

“Glory be to the Living God!”

The history of Athas was beyond opaque to any of them, and so they continued, pushed along by the tidal wave of flesh, Clueless still bearing aloft the box that now rattled with the chime and clatter of internal gears.

The passages and caverns grew larger and grander, populated by the rebuilt ruins of a city long-ago razed and swallowed up by the earth itself. They continued as the dray chanted until they reached the city’s central cavern and the throne of the Lord of New Guistenal.

“Praise be to the Dread King! Praise be to Dregoth!”

“Praise be to Dregoth!”

They had arrived.

“What the…” Clueless managed as the box trembled in his hands and the ocean of dray parted at the steps leading up to a singular, gigantic throne wrought of the bones of giants.

“YOU HAVE COME.”

The voice boomed from the chamber’s heights, reflected by the acoustics of the cavern’s walls, the bones of their chests shaking with the boom of infrasound below the level of their hearing but which elicited a whine of pain from Fyrehowl. The booming voice was not alone however and it rattled within their skulls in duplicate from a telepathy far more puissant than any of them had ever encountered, bringing pain to their temples from its sheer force.

Seated atop his throne before them sat a figure of nightmares thirty feet in height, mixing reptilian and humanoid features as if a titan had physically merged with a great wyrm. The Dread King, the Living God of the Dray, was so only in ironic fashion, as his flesh clung to his bones, withered and mummified, covered in the bejeweled attire of an emperor. Within the arch-psion’s chest no living heart yet beat, and within his sunken, hollow eye sockets a burning green-black fire burned.

Ancient lips parted and the undead dragon’s fangs gleamed in the light of hundreds of torches and great basins of oil and the burning, rendered tallow of sacrificial victims. Standing, the creature’s tail slithered down the blood-soaked steps, studded in jewels, decorated with elaborate scrimshaw written with the contained power of contingent spells from a magic lexicon entirely alien to Tristol or any other the others. Rising up to the entirety of his height, Dregoth spread his wings, tattered and withered though their originally membranous flesh might have been, they cast a shadow over the crowd such that the room’s temperature dipped and continued to do so as he stepped forward.

Arch-mage, arch-psion, and some unique variety of quasi-draconic lich, Dregoth was above and beyond the scale of power that any of them had ever experienced from any creature with a mortal origin. Towering above them, the undead dragon more than rivaled their experience with the yugoloth lord Taba in the depths of Hell, even rivaling their meeting the Oinoloth’s consort Shylara the Manged. In those instances the yugoloth lord had been separated by multiple planes from that of her birth, and the Manged had not been present in the flesh upon the Astral but projected through a proxy generated from multiple color pools: Dregoth the Dread King however, he stood before them in the flesh, in his home, surrounded by his worshippers.

“THE MOMENT OF MY APOTHEOSIS HAS ARRIVED!”



****​
 

carborundum

Explorer
Holy cow! Not just in the desert or something but here, ushering in the Apotheosis of Dregoth, in His city! I don't think they could be much more screwed. On top of that, no divine connection and magic is messed up.

Well played, Lie Weaver, well played. "Complete three tasks and then return..." Return from this?
 



Shemeska

Adventurer
Dregoth stepped forward, the cracked flesh of his draconic muzzle split to a predator’s smile, and as he descended the steps from his throne it became transparently obvious that his eyes were fixed on Daru’s box and not at all on the companions who had arrived carrying it. They were immaterial to him and his concerns; anything otherwise and they would not have arrived in his presence.

“Whoever you are, you have arrived with my prize.” He gestured to Clueless, his unnaturally long fingers little more than bone held together with a glimmer of black energy at the joints. “I will relieve you now of your burden.”

The sorcerer-king’s words echoing the same phrase as the madman they had visited on their prior stop, Clueless handed over the baernaloth’s box, even as Tristol reached out to put a hand on Fyrehowl’s shoulder as she’d tensed to do something to intervene.

The light within the Dread King’s empty eye sockets flared as he cradled the box in his arms, whispering to himself as if his congregation of thousands did not matter, nor did the ones who had brought him his prize.

“You have followed through on your portion of our deal and I will follow through with mine. You will have your bounty and I will become the god of this world. This time they cannot stop me and the streets of their cities will flow with the blood of every living creature, every sacrifice a drop in an ocean of my debt to you.”

They waited, utterly unsure of what to do, and equally unsure of what they –could– do. Dregoth preempted their uncertainty as he whispered to the box, nodded, and then addressed his children.

“IT IS TIME! GATHER YOURSELVES FOR TODAY THE SURFACE SHALL RUN WITH THE BLOOD OF YOUR ENEMIES! SLAUGHTER ALL IN MY NAME, IN THE NAME OF YOUR GOD AND CREATOR!”

The stone shook with the roar of the assembled dray.

The horror and moral agony in the companions’ eyes would have slaked the thirst of a yugoloth and in shock they could only stand and wait as Dregoth turned and almost absentmindedly motioned to one of his high priests and spoke to the companions for the second and last time.

“My priest will guide you to the planar mirror to provide you egress. I will activate it when you are close.” Dregoth’s eyesockets flickered and if he had eyes they would have seen how little regard he seemed to give them, as if they were naught but insects. His last statement would haunt them though. “Give the Lie-Weaver my regards.”



****​



The following minutes were spent in a haze as they followed one of the dray priests away from the central cavern and through a labyrinth of secret passages until finally arriving at a chamber with what had been until minutes earlier, the sorcerer-king’s greatest possession: the Planar Gate.

A towering mirror set in a dark frame of polished black wood, it was one of the few extant artifacts of Athas’s lost Green Age, and one of the only ways for a native of that blighted world to reliably access the planes, many of which were otherwise barred from their access. Wrought with techniques and knowledge lost to time, Dregoth was capable of using it, but not replicating or repairing it, and with his prized artifact he had explored the planes. It was there on the planes that he had found the baernaloth and there struck a bargain, the hideous details of which remained blessedly opaque to the companions who had delivered him his prize.

The mirror flared with light as soon as they approached it, activated with the sorcerer-king’s will, and rather than simply funnel them through the Black and the Gray and deposit them back into the Ethereal from whence they’d arrived, instead it opened onto a view of a location known to the companions and even more so intimately by Dregoth himself: Dubai’s Obscure Woe in Torch.



****​



The portal closed like the blinking of a great and malignant eye, depositing them all in the cobblestone courtyard of the baernaloth’s demesne on the outskirts of Torch. In the distance the volcanic mounts lit the clouds of soot and smoke with a dull, angry red glow while the gate to Gehenna flickered like an open sore in the sky.

The dull silence of the proto-fiend’s crumbling manor remained, uninterrupted by any of them as they each individually filtered through the rush of recent events, confused and terrified over the implications and consequences of their own role in what had occurred.

“What the hell did we just facilitate?!” Toras snarled

“Nothing good…” Clueless sighed, shaking his head.

Fyrehowl’s eyes flashed with repressed anger like a wolf in that moment before it bares its teeth and snarls at a threat. “This better be worth it.”

Tristol inhaled deeply, hoping that he’d get the answers that they’d bargained for.



****​



They descended into the depths to stand in the dark, the slow drip of something from the ceiling, thicker than simply condensed water, falling and echoing. For several seconds once they reached the bottom they saw nothing, and then the baernaloth opened its eyes and smiled, lighting the darkness with twin opalescent orbs and an eerily luminous hircine smile of jagged, weathered teeth.

The baernaloth let them stand there, awkwardly, for a long moment before abruptly breaking the silence and preempting their objections to the “three simple tasks” to which he had sent them on.

"Did you enjoy my errands children? Is your conscience sullied?” Daru asked, a trail of thick, ropy mucus sliding down his chin to join a puddle of the same already present upon the floor. “Rest assured I can put your fears and worries at ease. Trust me, listen and all will be taken care of. All it takes it a question and an answer and your sins in my name shall be forgiven."

“F*** you…” Fyrehowl scowled, bringing a smile to the ur-fiend’s face.

The lupinal’s blunt statement was met with multiple nods and smirks from the others.

“What did we give to Dregoth and what did we cause?” Clueless asked.

"Dregoth was a prize to be certain. He wishes so much, and is yet so blind at the same moment. His hatred for his fellow Sorcerer-Kings of Athas knows no bounds. They killed him you know, not that that lasted. They feared him, they feared his power. And what we fear we strike out against. That is the nature of so very many mortals."

Daru chuckled and finally turned fully to face the party, and that was when they saw it: the box. Cradled in the baernaloth’s hands, the very same hideous artifact that they had handed over to Dregoth was there once again in its master’s hands. Surrounded by a swirling cloud of shimmering energy that seemed to slowly funnel into the leering face atop of it, a rent in the fabric of space hung behind the ur-fiend, the source of the torrent of energy that now flowed up for collection.

“But as to your question, he struck a deal with me many, many years ago. He and I, we are well acquainted. As tempting as it might have been to play Lazarius and speak to Dregoth through the planar mirror that gave him and now most recently you egress out of Athas to wander the planes, I waited for him to come to me here, following a trail of whispers and beautiful, gilded lies.”

“Sounds familiar…” Clueless rolled his eyes, his voice bitter.

Daru chuckled knowingly, “History repeats itself in cycles and echoes, each all the more damning than the last you see…

Fyrehowl snarled.

“But as to your overwhelming and unstated concern, no, he will not become a god.” Daru whispered, a subtle sneer as his lips pronounced that final word, shaking his head at the very notion, “Not on Athas. Not ever.”

Tristol stared at the baernaloth’s box, his eyes flickering with flecks of silverfire as he examined the magic that swirled around it. Previously it had been opaque, hiding its secrets, but as it seemed to feed on the energy flowing through the crack through Athas’s Black and Gray, he finally saw it for what it was. The box was a siphon, either to devour and contain the souls which Dregoth had promised or perhaps even the power of the undead sorcerer-king’s nascent divinity itself, stolen and denied him, but there was more. The magic that facilitated it all, the magic swirling –out– of the box itself was not that of the Lie Weaver. It danced and changed moment to moment like a living thing, and Tristol had seen it before. It was the very same magic that drove the manifest horror of the Oblivion Compass itself, and it was the same magic that had composed the body of the baernaloth that they had watched effortlessly slaughter Ghyris Vast the builder of the Divinity Leech: Lazarius ibn Shartalan the Architect.

With that realization the magic that Tristol stared at suddenly shifted, the patterns resembling a myriad of eyes that turned, focused, and stared back at the aasimar. Immediately ending his spell, Tristol shuddered.

“Duplicity leads to complicity…” The Lie Weaver’s milky eyes narrowed and it stared at them, a soft and subtle chuckle passing through its lips like the shudder of a fault line as a prelude to a megathrust tectonic slip. "But Dregoth will never have what he wishes for. He toils now to do that which is his price for my wisdom. There has never been a power upon that world, and there never will be. He doesn't understand that, nor will he ever. But that is not MY concern. I asked him a question, and he answered, and I provided. Now I watch with eagerness as he stumbles headlong to a fate of his own making."

The baernaloth turned to lovingly stroke the box, "Now, you had a question for me, did you not? Ask me and I shall weave for you an answer. And perhaps a question for you as well. That is what I do."

“We’re not answering anything for you.” Toras scowled, “We bargained for an answer from you. It’s your turn to talk.”

“I will give you an answer and it will not be what you want to hear, because your answer is not mine to give as I was not involved in the construction of the Oblivion Compass. Not in the slightest. That was the work of the Architect and my sibling the Blind Clockmaker. The latter will give you your answer directly and I impart to you the knowledge of where to find him in the Clockwork Gap within the Demiplane of Time.”

Without a spell and without a touch, a blizzard of images shot through their collective minds, images of the demiplane and another pocket reality drifting within its heart, and there a pair of milky, unseeing eyes staring into space while a nightmare gear work apparatus ticked away in the background.

“WHAT?!” Tristol shouted. “You promised us an answer and you send us on another wild goose chase?”

The baernaloth chuckled, “Do you have any other option?”

Toras spat an invective and walked away back up the stairs.

“We should never have trusted you to uphold your end of the bargain.” Florian shook her head.

“The eventual response of every being to have ever spoken with me indeed…” The ur-fiend flashed a smile, seemingly proud of itself. “But I do suppose that I owe you some knowledge as a fee for your inconvenience for having to traipse across the planes and find my sibling. Consider it a consolation for your efforts and for your regrets.”

Fyrehowl narrowed her eyes, immediately distrustful of the fiend’s feigned offering. Nothing was free. Nothing came without strings.

"How much of the tongue of the Gloom Fathers do you know?” Daru asked, pointedly staring at Tristol before lapsing into a long fit of phlegmatic coughing before recovering.

“I’ve only heard a few words of it before and it defies direct translation.” The aasimar admitted.

“Well then let me provide a translation of one simple phrase. A name really. A title.” Daru’s eyes shined in the darkness and his smile was that of a poisoner handing over an envenomed sweet, “Did you know that in the language of my brothers and sisters, Vorkannis, his name itself is a word? He has worn it well that one. For in the tongue of the baern, Vorkannis means HUBRIS."



****​
 



Tal Rasha

Explorer
Thanks for continuing to update this SH Shemeska. It's still a good read, I still want to find out what happens next even after all this time.

Will you be publishing the mechanics of your campaign once the story is done? The magic tricks the bad guys have seem neat.
 

Coroc

Hero
Thanks for continuing to update this SH Shemeska. It's still a good read, I still want to find out what happens next even after all this time.

Will you be publishing the mechanics of your campaign once the story is done? The magic tricks the bad guys have seem neat.
if the epic effects from the in-game artifacts would have a mechanic behind them, that would be awesome. But i believe some effects are better done purely by narrative anyway.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Thanks for continuing to update this SH Shemeska. It's still a good read, I still want to find out what happens next even after all this time.

Will you be publishing the mechanics of your campaign once the story is done? The magic tricks the bad guys have seem neat.
You're certainly welcome!

If I can find them I'd be open to it, but much of what I did at times wasn't strongly pinned down by written rules and a lot of stuff was purely narrative driven. Also it was my first campaign that I ever ran and numbers were not precisely my forte at that point in time and now, a decade and a half later as I'm doing professional RPG work it's like an artist showing off their crayon drawings when they didn't know what they were doing. Heh.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
And as a total aside to the Storyhour, here's a link to some fiction that I wrote for the Paizo Blog as a teaser prelude to the Agents of Edgewatch Adventure Path (which I wrote volume 6 of) that has a cameo by this storyhour's very own Nisha Starweather.

Nisha (or rather an interation of the character) was originally put into Pathfinder canon in 'Classic Treasures Revisited' and she's there in the above fiction briefly. :)
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
... like an artist showing off their crayon drawings when they didn't know what they were doing. Heh.
No, I'd say you had a pretty fair idea of what you were doing. Maybe there were a few moments when your players didn't find a clue you were dropping or misinterpreted what they did find or maybe you had to scramble when your players zigged instead of zagged, but they haven't come across in the telling of this tale.

A first campaign? Preen away, naughty 'loth, as this campaign should be made into an adventure book or a Baldur's Gate III-style video game.
 

almost13

Villager
just reread the whole storyhour, took a few days but was well worth the time! cant wait for the blind clockmaker arc... :sick:
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
...it's like an artist showing off their crayon drawings when they didn't know what they were doing. Heh.
I have always loved this story hour, and clearly you did know what you were doing. Your 'crayons' are ones I envy.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
blush I'd be writing this all for myself for fun anyway, but knowing that you folks enjoy it makes it a genuine pleasure. Thank you!

And, storyhour aside, just wait until I can show off the not-yet-published stuff I have in the pipeline for Pathfinder. <3
 



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