Wrath of the Righteous

Session 25: 4718AR, Arodus 31
Rocks fall. Everybody dies.

Dusk here.

We heal up and I sneak forward once again. I come around a corner and see light and fire. The brimoraks like fire so they’re probably up there, about fifty feet ahead. So I unload with all the preparatory spells I’d memorized this morning: Bull’s Strength, Cat’s Grace, Mirror Image, a scroll of Bear’s Endurance, my Shield still has a couple of minutes, and after telling the others what’s up, Invisibility and move forward once again.

I see a large cavern, very hot, and hear banging and clanging. I hear cackling laughter of what sounds like one of those abrikandilu. I see a staircase and curse, thinking the brimoraks aren’t here. But as I get closer I see them: small hairy bastards bristling with heat and melting the stone beneath their hooves. The staircase just leads to a higher ledge which winds around the far side of the cavern up to… a cage suspended from the ceiling over a pit of lava. The abrikandilu is amusing itself by throwing rocks at the cage to knock it down while the brimoraks watch gaily on. Inside the cage Auciell is suspended, unconscious. Swallowing my rage for now, I sneak around the wall of the cave to get to those stairs. The demons don’t seem to hear me.

Soon enough there is the distraction I need: the others clanking down the cavern corridor. The brimoraks are ready though and a fireball shoots down and nails them. Figuring they can take care of themselves, I get up the stairs to the ledge and fish an invisibility potion out of my pouch with my tail. One of the brimoraks starts to ascend after me. What’s the fucker doing?

Susannae moves forward in the corridor and fires an arrow, nailing the brimorak who’d thrown the fireball. Though a Holy arrow, he still lives. She begins to feel her armor heat up from a brimorak spell but she resists it. Another brimorak finishes summoning a fourth one. I stretch out and grab the bottom of the cage and pull it closer to the ledge, close enough to pour the invisibility potion into Auciell’s mouth. When she disappears, the abrikandilu gives a little cry of alarm. I let go and the cage swings back and forth a bit over the lava. I hope it holds steady.

The newly arrived brimorak wastes no time and tosses another fireball at the party who cringe and burn. Then the one up on the ledge hits them with a third. I wonder if they are still alive. One of Kostner’s arrows, a demonbane one, answers my concern by striking the summoned one and Neva emerges into the cavern, missing the demon with her ranseur. Halved follows her in.

The abrikandilu screams in anger and starts hustling up the stairs to the ledge. In the hallway, Susannae takes out her healing wand and uses it on herself. smirk

A brimorak engages Halved with its flaming longsword. He also feels his armor begin to heat up be he also resists it. I’m able to grasp the swinging cage, open the door and pull Auciell out onto my shoulder, Sphex in my other hand. We’re all invisible. If we were to fall into this lava no one would ever know we were even here.

Neva begins to feel the heat as her armor turns red hot. Kostner shoots the summoned one again as Neva scrambles for a potion to heal up. Halved goes berserk and slashes and bites at the brimorak in front of him. As he does so, its blood, lava hot, splashes on him and burns him as its smoky breath makes him feel sick. I suppose it wouldn’t be an adventure if Halved weren’t throwing up at some point.

The abrikandilu, rattish eyes glinting comes rushing to the ledge close to the cage. I sacrifice my invisibility to trip him with a quick riposte from Sphex. It tumbles towards the lava but manages to catch a claw on the rocky edge. The brimorak on the “secure” higher ground eyes me perhaps with alarm.

Susannae returns to the fray with her sword as another brimorak steps up to swarm Halved. I take a step closer to my own brimorak, pouring half my remaining arcane pool into Sphex, enhancing his power and turning him into a frost weapon, knowing the brimoraks are vulnerable to cold. Then I use the rest of the arcane pool into an elemental strike of cold. Sphex gleefully carries it through and the demon staggers from the powerful combination of ice magic and cold iron. Sometimes I like my job. It tries to strike back but my defenses are too strong. He doesn’t even pop one of my dupes.

Kostner, realizing that they may be in trouble down below, uses his dragon scale to align his bow against evil. Neva takes a strong cut at the summoned brimorak. Halved slashes another one up twice and suffers the burning blood as it falls. One down.

The abrikandilu tries to climb up but I’m close enough to cut its hand while it is in a vulnerable position and it tumbles into the lava, oddly splayed on the surface and not yet sinking down. I hope he prepared a death speech.

Susannae takes a swing at the summoned fourth brimorak but it still stands. Another one spews a vomitous stream of boiling blood all over her, Neva, and Kostner in return.

I somewhat gently drop Auciell and take a step away from her, not wanting a similar fate for her helpless self if someone gets a little pukey near me. Then I run my opponent through with Sphex, leaving him with an Arcane Mark of my cuddly blue dick. The abrikandilu glances up as he sinks to see the brimorak fall and I flash him the bird. Three down.

Kostner plugs the summoned one with another couple of arrows. Tough bastard. The heat from Neva’s armor becomes too much and she falls unconscious in searing pain before she can drink another potion.

Halved moves on to another brimorak and resumes slashing and taking burns from the spattered blood which seems to only fuel his rage more like he could go on like this for hours. Susannae scrambles back to grab the cure wand and use it on Neva. I pour my strongest healing potion into invisible Auciell and feel her stir a bit.

The summoned brimorak vomits boiling blood on Susannae and Neva. Neva, already in bad shape, feels that plus the heat of her armor combine to be but a hair’s breath from killing her but her living steel armor seems to melt and reform itself at a more livable temperature and Neva holds on by a miracle.

Kostner fires a pair of arrows killing one than the other remaining brimoraks. For now, it seemed the battle is won.

I speak quietly to Auciell. “Better stay hidden. Are there any more coming? Your daughter is over there. She’ll probably be glad to see you.”

“What?” she asks, fuzzily. “Dusk? What’s going on? I.. I don’t think there is any more danger. Though it has all been very confusing. I have drifted in and out of this nightmare, never sure what was real and what was not.”

I say, “Do you know why Secothbenoth had you taken?” She replies that she thinks the cultists were aspiring to gain his favor and were going to trade her to the succubus Zelmudria. When I ask what happened to the cultists she says that some of their eyes had turned black and then they’d started killing one another. It appears that we weren’t the first victims of the shadow demon.

As Susannae heals Neva back to consciousness, she feels a hand on her shoulder and looks up to see Auciell as she becomes visible. Susannae gives a cry of relief and hugs her mother, telling her she brought her holy symbol.

Auciell thanks her for coming after her and says she knew a day would come where she no longer needed to care for her daughter and her daughter would care for her.

We hear the storm still raging outside and the floor of the cavern beings to shudder. Rocks fall from the ceiling to bounce off the cavern floor or splash into the lava. Keeping distant from the family reunion, I spot what looks to be a scroll case in a pile of refuse. I fish it out and see one is another Cause Fear scroll, useless to me, and the other is a powerful spell I have only ever heard legend of: Greater Teleport.

At that point the ceiling collapses and we are all killed instantly.

Or, I manage to figure out how the scroll works after a couple of tries and teleport us all back to the Defender’s Heart in Kenabres.

Write your own ending, motherfucker. I’m done here.

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Dusktales V: The Touch of Iomedae
Borne back ceaselessly into the past

The demon, in tortured agony, gazed up at the face of the young man who, in fifty years, would become the most powerful man in Kenebres.

“Now,” said Hulrun Shappok, “we’ve learned that fire and electricity hurt you but do not harm you. Though you do not resemble most demons that we know of, you share many of their traits. If there is one thing we have learned, in our devotions to Iomedae, is that our enemies can have many guises.”

A handful of white-clad zealots murmured their assent to this, surrounding the table on which Dusk was strapped down upon. The light here was magical for they were deep underground, but it blazed with the intensity of a handful of suns from every corner. It hurt Dusk’s eyes but that was his least concern.

His naked blue-furred body gave off a powerful sulfurous musk as it reacted to his discomfort. Several patches of fur had been burned off and cuts from various implements — some steel, some silver, some cold iron, some blessed, some magic — decorated his exposed arms and legs. His tail, half-severed, hung limply off the side of the table stained black with his dark red blood.

“Though, it also appears you do not seem to share your blood’s vulnerabilities to certain materials and magic.” He called for a subservient to cast a Zone of Truth in the room, forcing lies to be forsaken for self-incrimination.

“Now… speak! Speak and we will be merciful and give you a quick death. Admit that you are a demon!” snarled Hulrun, holding a sanctified blade near the teenager’s eye. “Admit you were sent here to commit evil! Who are you working for? Admit you burned down of home the unbelievers! Why?”

Dusk merely shook his head, tears pouring from his eyes. “I told you and told you every day. I didn’t do that. I don’t know what I am. I only went into the fire to help the girl. Please, let me go home to my Nan!”

“Your ‘Nan’ tells us that you are a demon that somehow incubated inside her daughter,” answered the young inquisitor with a sneer. He turned to his minions. “Somehow, he resists the magic.”

“Master,” offered a heavyset young woman, “We need no more evidence. None speak for him. We still fall within Iomedae’s law. The case is clear. Surely he must have set fire to the house in which to besmirch your own name among the clergy since it was only after you had spoken openly of the danger of Saranrae worshippers in Kenabres harboring our enemies.”

“Quiet,” Hulrun replied, a thoughtful expression coming over his face. “I will return. Try some holy water.” He paused and added, “Make him drink it.” He headed to the heavy iron-bound door.

“I told you, that won’t do anything to me. I’m not a demon,” the demon pleaded.

Hulrun stopped with a shining steel gauntlet pressed against the door and turned back, speaking again to his assistants. “Record your results. Then… try acid.”

He barely heard the screams all the way back up to his chambers to prepare for the morning devotions.

= = = = = = = = = = =

A month later, the demon curled in a fetal ball in the corner of a dank cell. He had become too weak to try to scrabble after the rats that nipped at his toes and tail. Therefore, he had not eaten for days.

“What do demons need with food?” taunted the crusaders who checked in on him from time to time. “Besides, we have hungry citizens to feed, refugees from demon attacks, praise be to Iomedae.”

Dusk realized that death would soon creep upon him. He didn’t understand. He had done something good, hadn’t he? He thought his actions at the fire might even be a way for him to be accepted so that he too might play games in the park or laugh and marvel at tales in the Defender’s Heart or smile at a girl and have her smile back at him. Now, it was over. Would he just rot after he died or would he truly go to the Abyss, to become another tortured foot-soldier for eternity? He wished he could ask someone. He wished he could see his parents again to ask them why they had done this to him. He wished he could hear them tell him that they loved him.

After some time in a dreamless sleep, a noise roused him. He was too weak to raise his head at the sound of the door creaking open. Was he dead at long last?

“This is the creature,” intoned the authoritative voice of Hulrun. “Iomedae save us from the stench.”

“Thank you,” came a gentler voice of another man, though strained somewhat as if the man had further statements to make but held them back.

“You claim to speak in this thing’s defense?” growled Hulrun. “Does your goddess understand that blind compassion needs tempered with wisdom or perhaps your lack of it will be the cause of your cult’s downfall.”

The man took in a breath and held it. When he spoke, Dusk vaguely recalled hearing that voice before. “I am sure religious historians will have many theories in the future and scholars will judge all of our actions as mere mortals seeking to do our gods’ will in the world.” This was said with an audible smile.

Before Hulrun could retort, the man added, “It is not I that will speak in the defense of this boy. It is my daughter.”

Then Dusk heard a small cry of alarm and the quick steps of a toddler dashing between the two men.

“Auciell!” cried her father.

“Get away from it!” snapped Hulrun.

Dusk felt a tiny weight thrown upon him clumsily and fiercely and then the warm embrace of the child, salty tears of joy and sorrow sliding down soft cheeks to moisten his rough fur.

“Boo kitty!” she cried, again and again, until she was pulled away. “Boo kitty.”

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Session 24: 4718AR, Arodus 31
Shadows of Chaos

Dusk here.

The fallen crusader stands up and a sinuous creature emerges like a bowel movement from Halved’s engorged crimson sphincter. I call to the thing that it’s just entered the last 12 seconds of its life. It becomes shaken and nauseated in fear.

Kostner plugs it with a couple arrows. Neva finishes it off. We hear chanting from a nearby cave where we’d heard the warning from before. Susannae steps around the corner and sees what looks like a crusader with an evil expression. He continues to chant. Halved goes dashing around the corner and steps onto some explosive runes surrounding the guy but dodges the damage. I join him and dodge some myself.

The cultist reaches out to grab Halved and gashes appear on the barbarian, seeping blood. Susannae charges up and slashes the guy badly through a gap in his armor. Halved tries to flip over the guy but stumbles, crashing into Susannae and impales himself on the cultist’s scimitar. I fail at cutting at him with Sphex and put my Arcane Mark on him. Good armor. He ripostes at me but misses. Kostner pings him with an arrow and Neva approaches and terrifies him by waving her severed eye around. Susannae stabs him again, Halved slashes him, and I miss again.

The foul cleric seems to panic and summons black fluid to explode out through him. It burns through me. Kostner shoots him twice, the second going through his trachea. After some argument, Susannae heals my diseased wound from the goatmen.

Kostner sees tracks going into the cave. There are eight corpses here in various versions of black armor and evening garb. They appear to have been celebrating but were burned and cut up to death. It’s hard to tell if they did it themselves purposefully or not. Kostner sees some singed hoofprints… brimraks, three of them. We discuss what we know about them… tough, aggressive, with boiling blood. We think we can take them.

I notice among the corpses a half-drow, like the one I’d been looking for that absconded with Auciell. We see the sky outside darkening quickly along with a howling wind and lightning flashes and falling ash. I dismiss the horses back to wherever they came from. Kostner points out that Abyssal rifts may open in such weather. Great.

I sneak ahead, keeping out of the others’ light. I come to a widening in the cave with a sheer drop off of one side of the cavern. I detect magic on a metal vase lying in the center of the cave. After a heartbeat, I feel a call upon me as I sense the necromancy on it, but I resist it.

I bring the others up and Susannae feels the darkness come over her too but she also resists. So does Neva. Susannae picks up the urn. As she carries it to throw it over the edge, Halved feels himself pulled into the urn and looks out of it at Susannae.

Physically, Neva sees Halved’s eyes have turned black. I urge Neva to disarm him. She says she’ll deal with it if he attacks her. He turns and attacks Kostner with a vicious blow but the ranger deftly dodged it.

I tell Susannae to throw the urn over the edge thinking that distance from it will help Halved. She does so and Halved feels himself fall into the abyss. Oh well. It was worth a shot.

Neva disarms Halved with her ranseur as I cast a Shield spell and try to draw his attacks. He reaches for his sword and I knock him over. Susannae tries to cast Protection from Evil on him but the magic consuming him resists it. Kostner steps in to try to grab him and takes a wound for his trouble. I get out a scroll of Dispel Magic and struggle to read the words right but I manage to succeed in removing the enchantment from him and the darkness leaves his eyes.

Before we can breathe a sigh of relief, Susannae and I suddenly feel the ground open beneath us. I dodge away but she tumbles into the pit onto some spikes.

“I’m ok,” she calls. Neva sees that Halved seems to be alert and throws her levitation dragon scale down to Susannae who throws her protection one up to Neva. Halved stands up and steps into the cavern.

Thinking for a second, I believe the “pit” could be the work of a shadow demon, a spellcaster that uses shadow illusions that seem so real they actually can damage you. The demons are notoriously hard to spot. I drink my elixir of vision and spot the thing hovering above the crevasse. I pretend not to see it.

Then I feel black flames explode everywhere. I can tell it is a shadow magic fireball engulfing all of us. I’m burned pretty badly even though I know it’s not wholly real. I hear its voice in my head. “Don’t pretend you can’t see me,” it says in Abyssal. “I’m going to kill you.”

“Can you hear me?” I ask back, telepathically. “Yes.” “Then, can you see this?” I ask, grabbing my crotch.

Halved throws a torch onto the ground. Susannae levitates out of the hole. “Kostner,” I call, “I’ll light him up so you can light him up!” I surround the thing with dancing lights and Kostner sends some arrows right at its head. But they go right through it.

It blasts out another illusory fireball at the others. I’d gotten some distance. It burns Kostner pretty badly. “Use magic against it!” I say.

Neva pulls out a magic heavy crossbow and begins loading it. Halved runs over to stand next to me, just asking for another fireball. Susannae shoots it with a demonbane arrow and damages it some.

I pull out a wand of magic missiles to blast it if I see it casting again as Kostner hurriedly drinks a potion to heal himself. The shadow demon floats over closer to use and tries to cast a spell but I interrupt it with the missiles.

Halved steps up and slashes it badly. Bad move, demon. Susannae shoots it again. Kostner hits it with a pair of bane arrows.

I step around to flank it and use my arcane pool to pump up Sphex but I miss again. Come on, sword. It screams in pain from its wounds and teleports away and we only hear the sound of the wind.

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Session 23: 4718AR, Arodus 30
Riders on the Storm

Dusk here.

Oddbeard is still here. A lightly-armored crusader approaches him and they go off to the side and speak. Oddbeard gets our attention and says he has news. He had not good luck in getting local information about Auciell but a small group of scouts returned from the Worldwound after taking losses. Auciell was seen with a group of cultists and demons holding her prisoner to the southwest. They were heading toward Zelmisdria’s Boudoir, a meeting-place ruled by the infamous succubus.

I mention to Oddbeard that I wonder if Socothbenoth may have gone after non-Iomedae high priestesses in Kenabres… Auciell and Eloise… since Baphomet and Deskari conspired for the majority of the plunder, why not a third demon-lord. He says it is a decent theory. It may also be that Socothbenoth heard about it and played his own game. In any case it does not matter to us. So he says.

We figure out the purchase of two weeks worth of food and saddlebags. I will summon horses each day for everyone except Susannae who has her own horse.

Neva, Kostner, and Halved listen in as a crusader captain lectures his troops about the Worldwound. He says not to eat or drink anything except what you bring in with you and that disease is everywhere and will be extremely deadly.

We wake in the pre-dawn hour and take boats across the river. We see the hardpan of the Worldwound spread out before us. I summon a grey horse for Neva, the color of the sky over a bloody battlefield; a brown mare for Kostner, the color of a healthy, strong oak, king of the forest and full of life; a red blood bay gelding for Halved; and a midnight black stallion for myself. Susannae calls for Sonja, her celestial white mare, and we ride out away from the city I have inhabited my entire life and into chaos made real.

There are winds from every direction, dispersing clouds of varied colors all across the landscape. The temperature seems to shift whimsically. What vegetation staggers from between rocks seems alien and struggling. After a few hours we see a pair of figures traveling west to east which will cross our path, not human. Susannae wishes to make haste but we do not alter our trajectory.

As we get closer, we see they are tall, muscular humanoids with the heads of goats – schir. Warning the others that my horses are not bred for battle I dismount and see them preparing themselves to charge, increasing their speed with magic. As they lope toward us, Kostner plugs one with a couple of arrows but his horse beneath him gets skittish.

Susannae and Sonja charge with lance and shield but miss the second one. As the first gets near enough to gore me, I say, “Oh no. A cow. I thought I’d ordered my burger well-done. This one sucks.” He freezes in his tracks and after a moment, vomits all over himself in terror. Then he is shot again by Kostner. Sucks to be you, pal.

Halved and Susannae tangle with the other one and I step up to the sickened one who recovers and, despite his fear, slashes me with a halberd covered in some unsettlingly filthy crud. Neva finishes him off.

“Hey Bossie,” I call the remaining one. “Check out your friend. Your next.” This unnerves the other and Kostner’s arrows and Halved’s demonbane sword take him down. I glance down at my wound. It does not look like it will do well. I think Susannae can cure disease but she hasn’t been speaking much to me.

We mount up again and try to outrace a dark dust storm as we approach some caves which look like they may be shelter. Near by we see a crusader on the ground, barely keeping it together. He looks diseased. As we try to get his attention we hear a voice from the caves say, “Don’t go near that one!”

Susannae goes to heal him and as she lays her divinely-powered hands upon him, he cries out and his flesh bursts open and a dark sinuous form rises up.

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Session 22: 4718AR, Arodus 29
Same as the old boss

Dusk, here…

We pass Defender’s Heart to go and meet the Queen, not knowing where exactly to meet her. I sneak forward to some houses north of the tavern with Kostner covering me. I detect magic to see what might be the right location. Queen’s got to at least have some +1 knickers, right?

The second house I feel a magical presence even though I don’t see anyone. I think that someone is invisible inside with a couple of magic items. I suggest Kostner bring the others up and have Halved join me at the back door while Susannae detects for evil. She arrives but detects no evil, then knocks at the door. Halved begs me to smash in the back.

Susannae enters an abandoned woodshop. It is dark. She draws her sword, lighting up the shadows, and approaches a closed door. Neva opens the back door from the inside just before Halved smashes it.

“Hey, we know you’re there!” I yell. “Cut the shit.” I did not add “Your Majesty.”

A lumbering, bearded, rotting corpse staggers forward from the other room. It has cloven hooves and clawed fingers. Neva, Halved, and Kostner can tell that the image is an illusion, however. Halved points it out and the illusion drops away revealing not a queen but a bearded man with a burned and scarred face. He raises his hands.

“You got my message,” he says. When pressed if he works for the Queen he says, “I guess you could say I work with the Queen.” He claims to be testing our ability to discern the truth. He says he wants to meet us at another building. He is unwilling to even share his name and claims many are looking for him.

He walks to a plain stone building, a temple of Torag. I make him stop and I go ahead to check it out. He says not to touch anything so I grab my junk and then turn invisible.

I see a well-crafted room with anvils. Two humans are tied up and kneeling. One has an illusion on him, I can tell. Neither look like cultists.

“Who tied you up?” I ask quietly.

“Some asshole with a melted face.”

The one who speaks won’t give me any more information about who they are or what they are doing here. They just want to be cut free.

“Cheeseface!” I yell, calling in the others and standing before the two prisoners. The bearded man walks in and says, “Cheeseface. That’s a good one. There is one more test.” He says that one of these is an innocent and the other is a cultist.

“Oh, fuck you,” I reply. I’m not playing at this bullshit.

Susannae detects evil in the one I spoke to. She asks him if he will embrace Iomedae. He says not that bitch and Susannae goes to strike him with her holy symbol evading my attempt to intervene.

Somehow he gets his hands free and starts to cast a spell, then turns invisible. Kostner moves to cover the door. “Cultist of Baphomet, show yourself!” calls out Susannae and then begins to detect evil to find him.

I step to where I think he is and grab him with one hand while arguing with Susannae about how good it is to strike a helpless man because of an insult. Then Halved grabs both me and the cultist.

Neva prods the other, presumed innocent, man into a corner. I feel the guy try to escape but we hold him fast. Kostner wraps him up in his cloak.

“He’s helpless again. Do you want to take another shot?” I ask Susannae. Unironically, she holds her sword up to him. He says he won’t give up. He owes his life to the Abyss and he is ready to die. We tie him up.

Neva asks the other one how much he got paid.

Susannae promises that one safety, then cuts him loose and also insists on giving him a note to take with him back to Defender’s Heart.

We argue about what to do with the cultist. Susannae is happy to turn him over to the Crusaders. Cheeseface thinks we should kill him. Neva and Kostner agree with Susannae and the three of them take him away and let Jacob, the innocent one, go.

“So, you’re the Chopped in Twain, huh?” Cheeseface asks Halved. “You are pretty good at killing demons.” Halved then demonstrates by chopping a table with his fabled longsword to marginal success. He then uses his greatsword and hacks at the table a few times, finally breaking it.

Susannae returns and gives him a hard time about the table. I say he thought it was a tied-up prisoner.

Cheeseface speaks again and says his name is Oddbeard. He specializes in ferreting out cults. “Good job here,” I comment. He claims that he thought with all the Crusaders here, they would have had things in hand.

I ask him about the Silken Sin. He says they are perverts who follow Secothbenoth but that they aren’t active around here. Moron.

He says he would like us to work together. There is still a lot of corruption here. The Witch-Hunters are a bad influence. The Order of the Burning Lance are more of a danger because of their self-righteous nature. He wants to start a new covert group to deal with demons and devils without the righteous banner. He doesn’t care for gods, or the Crusaders of Mendev. so long as we fight the demonic influence. The Queen insists that this group would include Susannae as one of his crew and the rest of us don’t matter that much. She says that is a great honor. The group would work on building an intelligence network, not on the front lines. We would be a strike force rather than an army able to move quickly and without much notice. He says he has agents everywhere to assist.

“And yet you didn’t know the Silken Sin, along with their demon patron, were right here in Kenabres,” I point out. He is surprised.

He adds that we would be able to work on our own interests, using their resources, and finally touches on a subject that interests me. He says we can tell the Queen our answer tomorrow night. He offers to gather information on what motivates us. I tell him about the Silken Sin and Auciell’s kidnapping.

“Are you talking about my mother?!” shrieks Susannae. “Maybe I wanted to talk about that.” I let her and find a corner to sulk in. She also adds that she wants to restore the city.

Halved talks about how his companions were wiped out. Oddbeard asks Neva and Kostner what they want. Neva kind of shrugs. Kostner says there is trouble in the Shudderwood.

Oddbeard says he will wait until we talk to the Queen and hear what she has to offer and request. He says he will be at the meeting, which I remind him will be a banquet.

After leaving him, I drink Kimroth’s whiskey and we talk about what we want to do. I want any leads I can get to go after Secothbenoth but I really don’t know how much longer I can work with Susannae. Stupid me. I thought she’d be different than the rest of these Crusaders. She’s not, I learned today. We ask Kimroth to organize some food for the Queen and entourage.

The next night the Queen arrives with a cadre of four armed Crusaders along with Oddbeard. She removes her helmet. Patrons whisper of Galfrey being a hundred years of age or more. She doesn’t look it.

Susannae bows and Halved makes a comment about Galfrey’s age. Susannae claims he has the wits of a child. The Queen says that all of Mendev is in our debt and offers us seats at the table. She then asks to hear the story of the battle of Kenabres first-hand from us. I make sure in the telling to say how the mongrelmen want to be repatriated and serve her.

Halved brings up Oddbeard’s behavior. The Queen says we’ll speak more of that later. I point out that the Crusaders were easy to infiltrate because they are a bunch of sanctimonious pricks. Susannae shoots me a dirty look but the Queen says she now sees that she could have paid more attention to how Hulron operated.

Neva puts in a good word for Gwerm. Then she asks about our Wardstone shards. Galfrey herself examines them and then explains how if they are rubbed upon a weapon or suit of armor, they will become very powerful but can only ever be used once.

The Queen had heard many unfortunate rumors about the destruction of the Wardstone from Crusaders. That we did more harm than good by breaking it. She believes Iomedae has seen fit that the five of us are the replacements for the Wardstones.

She believes the demons are regrouping in the south, in the Riftshadow, but have left their northern fortresses mostly abandoned. A leader, Aponavicious, has left to meet with the Storm King. The Queen wants to strike Drezen and recover the Sword of Valor, the banner of Iomedae herself, as a victory which could be accomplished with a small army.

However, she says, if we prefer to work with Oddbeard, she has others she could send to Drezen.

Oddbeard then gives us the details he has learned, lowering his voice and looking suspiciously at the bar patrons across the room. He has three leads. First, there is a city called Karkou, where there are rumors of the Silken Sin’s activity. Second, a Kellid outsider has indicated that some kind of creature in the Worldwound knows both Secothbenoth and his sister-lover Noticula. The creature is reaching out to share information and wants to meet in the lost city of Dyinglight, inside the Frostmire. Third, a House Saardavik, of the Drow, has been practicing demonic rituals in Far Parathra in the Darklands and are known to favor Secothbenoth as a patron.

We finish up our meal and the Queen leaves us to decide, bowing. Then she remembers that there is a reward for our service.

I am presented with a suit of elven chain, fine mithril links. Neva gets a Headband of Inspired Wisdom. Kostner gets a suit of Hunter’s Leather. Halved gets a chain shirt bejeweled with small agates called Luck Mail. Susannae gets a nice lance and a White Knight’s Pennon, a Pennon of Parlay. We thank her and she departs.

View
Session 21: 4718AR, Arodus 28
Reunions

Dusk, here.

Over a week, we take time to ourselves after all of that battling together.

Kostner gets some help from a member of the Eagle Watch to make progress on his bow project. He sees that Ajax seems to have reverted to more or less a normal sloth from the demon-slaughtering machine he’d been.

Susannae helps to clean up and resanctify the Grey Garrison. She also takes time to ride and familiarize herself with her summoned mare. She also works to reconstruct the temple of Iomedae.

Halved travels around with his tunes, generally confusing people with what they are about. He plays in abandoned bars and taverns. He hears arguments about me, sometimes, whether I was a half-demon planned by the Riftwardens to fight demons or if that was merely the cover story from my demonic controllers.

I moved around the city trying to find out more about the Silken Sin or the three identified cultists but could not find any sign of them. I did see Halved at one of those empty taverns but really couldn’t think of anything to talk about.

Neva has recurring dreams about the helm she saw with the glowing red eyes. She learns from a cleric of Iomedae that it is the symbol of Gorum, whose worshippers idolize the madness of battle. She learns there are few adherents as they strive for a glorious death.

She goes to Horgus Gwerm’s estate. He says his plan is to hire his staff back. He asks if she would recruit and train new guards for him and pays her 500gp. She selects six that seem trustworthy. He also asks that if she meets people of importance as the city recovers that she drop his name as someone to work with for supplies and infrastructure.

Halved sings for some crusaders looking to blow off steam, favoring Oldlaw Whiskey. A gnome woman approaches him and says, “You’re pretty good at… that thing,” referring to his homemade instrument. Her name is Nurah Denidwhur and she says some of her fellow bards would likely be interested in his style since he is clearly not trained, but could maybe teach them something. She gives him a leather bracelet with a dragon biting its tail stitched on it. She says it is related to the famous Karcau Opera and that this should get him some credibility in talking to real musicians.

They have some drinks and Nurah claims she’s in Kenabres working for the Queen, getting a sense of the city and the story here in advance of Her Majesty’s arrival.

More advance troops arrive which help greatly with the relief and reconstruction.

A man calls out to Kostner for help. He says a demon robbed and broke up his house. Kostner thinks it was the work of an abrikandilu but he isn’t able to tell how many there were so he heads to Defender’s Heart to collect the others.

Sphex’s birth anvil is still there. Kimroth is getting the rest of the Inn back to normal, though, charging people again. Though the crowd is subdued still. As Susannae, Neva, and Halved break their fast, a man bursts in frantically. He goes to a corner of the Inn where Eloise has set up a small makeshift comfortable area as a shrine to Calistria. He throws himself on the ground before her.

She shakes him and calms his babbling. He claims he wants to repent and serve her. He doesn’t explain himself well but she does not turn him away. Susannae approaches, sensing an opportunity. She thinks that he has sustained some injuries or may be diseased.

Eloise gives him some minor surcease and then orders him to clean himself up. Susannae tells him he is welcome here as a place of rest. She adds, “I don’t see why you would join that particular church.”

Eloise points out to her that in times like these, the gods have similar goals. Susannae tells her that Socothbenoth attacked her mother and she understands also attacked Eloise. They discuss the merits and similarities and differences of justice versus revenge, finding some things to agree upon. Susannae concludes by saying it is time to rebuild and Eloise says maybe things could begin with this one, referring to the man.

Kostner arrives as Eloise and Susannae change topic and discuss strategy towards attacking Socothbenoth and my name is brought up. Kostner tells them about the abrikandilu so they head off, running into me, as I’d been on my way to collect my share of the sold equipment and I join up with them.

On the way, I tell Susannae about what I’ve learned of the Silken Sin. We discuss how to track them down and why they might have chosen her mom. I think maybe there is something in her past that her father wouldn’t want her to know.

Kostner follows the trail with Ajax’s help, leading us around corners and side streets. He sees some movement in an abandoned building and an abrikandilu runs out, trying to escape.

Kostner chases and steps into some runes which open up, summoning a pair of dretches on either side of him. He shoots one down.

The abrikandilu takes cover and begins to summon more assistance. The remaining dretch belches out its foul cloud. I create an illusion of a barbarian rushing into the cloud but then becoming overcome with nausea, standing helplessly next to the dretch.

Neva maneuvers around the cloud and down the road towards the abrikandilu and Susannae blesses her bow. The real Halved dashes around the cloud.

Kostner stabs at the dretch with my old rapier, ignoring the stench by stuffing his mustache up his nose. Another abrikandilu appears, successfully summoned. It beans Halved in the head with a bottle.

The dretch rips at my illusion which is now stumbling and wetting itself. Neva charges the newly-arrived abrikandilu but misses with her ranseur. Susannae fires through the mist and hits the dretch twice.

Halved slashes up that new abrikandilu. Kostner cuts up the dretch. The first abrikandilu tries to escape, flinging debris. The other claws and bites Halved, causing an ugly scar. I dash up through the dissipating cloud and burst through my illusion with Sphex but miss the dretch. Susannae shoots the fleeing abrikandilu. Halved finishes off the other and moves to chase the first. Kostner finishes off the dretch.

Susannae is angrily calling out for someone to stop the last abrikandilu from getting away. I point out that Halved will finish it easily and that he is faster than it. She appears unimpressed so I ask if it would make her happy if I helped. She said it would. She says she hates when people are bad and not punished. I say, “I’ve been bad.” She says, “Maybe you need to be punished.” While I leer at her, I pull out my wand and casually point it in the general direction of the abrikandilu smacking it with a few magic missiles. “Impressive,” she notes and then adds a couple more arrows to it. Then Halved finishes it, predictably.

The demon corpses melt down into the ground. Kostner finds some damaged objet d’art they’d taken. I think about this trap here and wonder about an abrikandilu pulling a trick like this. I don’t think they have it in them. Searching the house it had been in, I just find some debris and emptied food sacks and waste.

We ponder if that guy had set Kostner up. If he’d been alone, this might have been a decent ambush.

Going back to the guy’s house, he seems genuinely grieving for his objects of sentimental value. He gives over a resplendent necklace as a reward for their return. He didn’t seem like someone who had sent Kostner into a trap.

A lightly-armored soldier runs up with a missive. “To the esteemed heroes of Kenabres…” It is an invitation to meet the Queen and have a banquet at a time and place of our choosing in no later than two days’ time. Kostner, though, gets a strange sense from the message that there is a hidden request, to meet north of the Defender’s Heart in a house outside the city walls. He asks Neva to look at it and she gets the same sense.

We discuss in Abyssal that we will immediately seek the Queen north of the city but we will tell the courier officially that tomorrow at sunset we’ll have our banquet at the Defender’s Heart.

View
Dusktales IV: Deadly Sins

The demon moved from shadow to shadow in the Ring District looking for something to hit or something to hit him. He hadn’t really expected to find Auciell alive despite Susannae’s optimism but to instead find the sign of Socothbenoth, that was.. that was a blow. The perverse incubus demon lord had already savagely raped and tortured the closest thing he’d had to a friend in Kenabres, the priestess and sacred courtesan Eloise, and destroyed her temple to Calistria. Now he’d taken, gods knew why, one of the few humans who hadn’t treated Dusk like a monster. He wasn’t close with Auciell but he’d saved her life once and she’d returned the favor when it would have been just as easy to let him rot with the Inquisitors. Now she was gone to most likely a worse fate than Eloise had suffered. Why? It didn’t make any sense.

“Vengeance will be delivered,” intoned Sphex at his side, coldly and matter-of-fact.

“Yeah, yeah,” replied Dusk. “I’ll just head right over to the Worldwound and descend into the Abyss and start killing everything we see until we find the fucker.”

“I agree with that plan,” said Sphex. “All shall fall before me.”

“Look, you pointy-headed stick, you’ve got no mind for subtlety or sarcasm. I’ll be dead before I take ten steps.”

“Then another will be my agent. Vengeance will be delivered.”

“Oh, thanks!” Dusk grumbled.

“Your gratitude is not required but it is good you realize the honor you gain in carrying me.”

The demon ignored his sword’s last statement and clambered over some rubble. He realized what he needed right now was a place to sit and think. Somewhere far from his erstwhile companions who were likely being lavished as heroes back at Defender’s Heart. He knew the crusaders who sang the praises of their victories would probably just leave him out, if not claim he’d helped the invading demons. Even if they acted grateful to him, seeing those faces that had sneered and looked down at him for so long twisted into smiles or feeling a clap on the back instead of a blow on the back of the head made him nauseous to think about. No, he wouldn’t be going back there. Fuck them. The only downside was there was alcohol there and he desperately needed a drink. A lot of them, in fact.

So, he found his steps headed towards the Gilded Mirror, what had once been a high-class Inn and Tavern where he’d been refused service. If there was anything left to drink there, he’d find it. He’d also try to come up with a plan for finding out more of what Socothbenoth was doing in Kenabres… maybe see if any cultists were still kicking around. Though the crusaders were now emboldened and cleaning up the remainders since Dusk and his friends had snapped the spine of the occupying force, he might not find any. But he had his ways and could probably gain the confidence of a frightened cultist better than some shit-stomping paladin. And as someone who’d been hiding in Kenabres his whole life, he had a good idea of places to look.

The once-lavish building called the Gilded Mirror came into view before Dusk recognized it. The finely crafted marble pillars flanking the entrance had been removed by some wayward object (or perhaps wayward body) and brought with them the front awning and half of the upper floor, piling debris over the silver engraved double doors. The rooms that had been supported by the pillars were the most decadent and their contents were spilled now across the street and picked clean of valuables. Dusk found a wooden carafe and upended it, spilling nothing.

“You are searching for a mate? I assume that is all else you could require, if not our shared vengeance. And perhaps food.” Apparently Sphex had learned a new discourse. Which, if it continued, might prove vexing.

“Shut the fuck up, sword,” said Dusk. “That is one topic I know for sure you know absolute shit about. Maybe if I’d made you a nice velvety scabbard you’d know your pommel from your point. What I want is some whiskey and places like this keep the good stuff hidden away.”

He saw the entrance into what was left of the Gilded Mirror might require some digging. Knowing that any service establishment needs a service entrance so that the wealthy clientele need not see the hows and whos necessary for them to get their needs catered to, Dusk worked his way into the remains of an alley, his darkvision scanning for rats of any size.

His mind drifted a bit into some fantasy as he stepped along the bricked wall. What if there was someone there? Maybe hiding and waiting for the city to be safe again. He would be their rescuer. A hero. The Gilded Mirror had employed some good-looking women who knew this was the place for big tips. He had a big tip, all right, he thought with a chuckle wishing Halved had been there to hear it.

After a twinge of self-consciousness, he reached down into his belt pouch to touch the silver dragon scale. With a moment’s effort, he willed his appearance to change. It would not be a blue-furred, tailed, yellow-eyed demon who opened the back door to the tavern, but a swarthy, dark-haired Varisian swordsman.

“You must be a man of action when it comes to that subject and prefer not to talk about it. I’ll refrain from asking again… for now.”

The service entrance was set down into the ground, the door left slightly ajar, leading to a basement hallway that smelled of lye and stale cooking fat, followed by a waft of excrement. Dusk found a kitchen as well as a separate larder leading into a sub-basement. At the end of a hallway was a flight of stairs leading up. There was also a hatch set into the wall for a small rope operated food-delivery elevator.

The kitchen was listless but full of cooking implements. Bags of food sat spoiled or spoiling in the lingering heat trapped in such a room with little ventilation, save a window on the far side now stuffed with debris from the outside. The larder was crowded by flies, maggots and various other bugs. What was left of the food stores was covered in shit.

Dusk scowled and wrinkled his nose. He knew he gave off a scent of brimstone when his dander got up which some found… unpleasant. But that at least was his own stench. “OK,” he said quietly, “Let’s just find the hidden liquor store and get the fuck out of here. Fucking demons…”

He picked through the ruined kitchen, peering into cabinets and finding nothing edible. He caught a glimpse of his altered appearance reflected in broken glass and spun around, Sphex at the ready.

“I’m starting to lose it,” he muttered. “This day has been way too long.” When had he last slept? In the warehouse district after fighting the Hala. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

He laughed, then, at his foolishness in trying to make himself look more appealing, falling to even the hint of temptation that Sphex had alluded to. Was Lust not his fatal flaw? Something the demon side of him might pick up on and exploit easily like any Abyssal tempter? All of them read like an open book, he realized. Neva’s Greed stood out nakedly. For the right price, what wouldn’t she do? Kostner’s inertia was starting to border on legendary. Dusk wondered if he’d still be down in that crevasse if he hadn’t had the others to follow. The man chose a Sloth as his spirit animal, for Calistria’s sake. Give that one a soft bed and food within reach and a rag on a stick and he’d be good forever.

Halved had two demons tearing at him in the same way as he had two personalities. When at rest, his Gluttony devoured anything he could snatch until he’d pass out. When active, his Rage gladly destroyed everything within reach just for fun. The guy was already a better demon than half of these invaders from the Worldwound. And what of Susannae? The spotless, perfect little paladin princess was not the kind of scum like most of these so called Crusaders, holier-than-thou in public and vile in private. She was a true beacon of goodness and kindness and all that crap. Despite all that, her flaw was the worst of all, the hardest, yet the most rewarding to twist. Pride. Yes, poke at that and she too could fall. None of us would be able to stand against a true demonic manipulator.

“You’re wrong,” said Sphex, as Dusk paused at the top of the stairs to the sub-basement, a skeptical look in his eye as he scanned below.

“Was I speaking out loud?” Dusk snapped. “Was I talking to you? I’m not wrong. Someone like Sacothbenoth would eat us alive. Probably any succubus worth her horns, too.”

“Not that,” the sword replied. “You are not driven by Lust, though you think you are. It is Envy that will destroy you, should you allow it.”

“Envy?” the demon scoffed. “Who the fuck do I have to be envious about?”

“Look again at your reflection, Dusk, and you tell me. I do not recognize that face. Do you?”

After a minute, Dusk cursed the fact that he couldn’t even be alone with his thoughts any more, and descended down the stairs. As he took the first step, however, the illusion vanished in a curt wave of dismissal.

========

The basement was a packed dirt floor room with shelves lined with bottles, many of which had been broken and their expensive contents spilled about the area. Dusk found a bottle of Oldlaw Whiskey deep on a shelf, unbroken by whatever beast had destroyed this stash.

Then Dusk heard the clank of a bottle deeper in the cellar, followed by an uncomfortable groan.

With a satisfied smirk, the demon tucked the Oldlaw safely in his pack and, from the safety of the shadows, made his way forward to check the source of the groan.

Dusk found a figure slouched in a corner covered in the armor and adornments of a Cultist of Baphomet. He wais feeling around blindly in the dark, through which the demon’s inhuman eyes penetrated with ease. The cultist seemed to be just waking, with a few bottles strewn close enough to him to imply that he had drained at least a few on his own.

A cruel, fanged grin crept across Dusk’s face like an asp. “Thank you, Calistria,” he murmured. “Looks like we got lucky, Sphex.”

He padded silently forward, deftly avoiding the broken shards of pottery and glass to regard the scrambling, drunken human. He placed his weight on the haft of a discarded glaive.

Pitching his voice lower and menacingly, he spoke in the demon tongue of Abyssal. “Can you understand me, you pathetic human worm? Or does even the basic grasp of our language evade your abilities? How you even were allowed to don the armor of the Mazelord? You can’t even find your way out of this hidey-hole. That must be why you were unable to join us in our triumph, yes?”

The cultist shook his head and waved his hand dismissively at Dusk, not phased by the aggressive words.

He matched Dusk in dialect but not in tone, his being dejected and passive. “Save your vile orders. There is no victory for me up there. The Mazelord’s favored servants have gone. My use to him is spent.”

He continued, feeling around on the ground finding a bottle with a few drops tinkling inside.

“I do not see any victory for me. If we have brought corruption to Kenabres, then I have truly betrayed my people. If Kenabres resists then I have failed Baphomet. I ask you: what victory?”

He looked down, his eyelids hanging low over his eyes, the skin on his face pockmarked and prematurely strained.

“Our corruption spreads. Even in your uselessness do I see the victory of sin.” Dusk gestured to the bottles. A moment of silence stretched between them. “Tell me,” The demon continued, moving to loom over the cultist on the floor. “What do you know of your brothers in betrayal, their plans and their lords’ intentions?”

The cultist snorted, which turned into a cough. He held his hand up to his head and winced. Dusk fumed, his eyes seemed to burn in the dark.

“You would know more than I. Everything I’ve been told, carefully crafted by your kind to lead me to this. I know the screams of my victims and when I drink they are muffled, or gone, if I drink enough.”

“I don’t give a rat’s ass about the voices in your head. Tell me what you know or you will know more than mental suffering.” Dusk put his hand on the hilt of his black blade.

“Not a demon, but his blood is thick with darkness. His death will… placate.” Sphex excitedly intoned in his head.

“Shut up,” Dusk thought back.

“The Lords of the Locust Host and Minotaurs had been seeding their cults in Kenabres for many years… longer than I know, I’m sure. Myself, I was drawn to Baphomet during my military training. I found the crusader camps to be a labyrinth of bullies and the pretentious. Feh!” He spit on the floor and searched around for another bottle. “My elder family members, respected nobility that have revealed themselves since, saw fit to bring me into the fold when I struggled against the authority they sought to subvert. They unveiled to me a power I could not deny, so immediate and without bounds. I preferred it to the constant wrist slapping of the crusaders and priests. I spent many years learning the dark ways, vowing myself to Baphomet, until finally our day came. When the attack began I made my way here knowing I would find some who had tormented me, or their friends or anyone unto whom I could unleash my power.” His hand found a bottle with some liquid remaining and he drained it.

“But then I found beneath my boot someone I had known long ago. When I ran my glaive across his neck I truly saw what I had become.”

“Yeah, sucks to be you. But perhaps for your insolence, you would better serve me as a stinking dretch. At least they don’t bore me with their pathetic life stories. Tell me something interesting.”

“I heard that Areelu Vorlesh was coming here personally to insure the corruption of the Wardstone. That was our plan all along. The demon lords themselves did not see fit to visit the city themselves, so they sent some of their highest ranks to do their work for them. And then there was…”

He stops for a moment. "I met two men and a woman a few weeks back, before the attack. They called themselves members of the Silken Sin and they praised the demon lord Socothbenoth. I, eager to gain more influence with those of my kind, spent a few nights in revelry with them. I did not think Socothbenoth was interested in Kenabres, but according to them he was to come and walk among us. A man of exceeding beauty, they said, and able to take any form one may desire. They spoke sensually of his interest in one among the Church of Calistria and that he planned to violate their temple.

“That group, those of the Silken Sin… I saw them again two days ago. They were headed to Old Kenabres with a particular vigor. The look in their eyes was like drunken teenagers, gleeful and wild, but their posture and attitude was controlled. Their corruption is different than mine, but it is worse, I know.”

“What else do you know of them, the Silken Sin?” Dusk growled.

“Nothing else. You do not scare me, so do what you must and be quick about it.” He made to sip at the bottle in his hand, but there was nothing left.

Dusk slid the glaive a few feet away in the darkness with a foot and scanned the cellar. Spying what looked to be an unbroken bottle of something, he grasped it.

“Here,” he said, carefully holding it close enough for the fallen cultist to sense it near his hand. Then he took a couple steps back. “Tell me whatever else you know about those three… what they looked like… names. I’ll, in turn, tell you about the situation above. It’s not pretty. But if I can find those three, you might not be totally fucked. Though it doesn’t seem like you care anymore.”

“I’ll tell you this much,” he added. “You’re at the end of your rope, pal. You’re out of fucking friends and you’re out of fucking options and the minute you’re fucking dead, then the real suffering begins. But, you may have just rolled a hard triple because you’re talking to the one fucking person left in Kenabres to whom you might be useful still. So… make me happy.”

The cultist took the bottle Dusk offered him and took a long drink. His head lolled unwieldy from side to side and his words come out slower and with a bit of a slur.

“The two men were more forgettable than the woman. One was part elf, dark elf maybe, skin like ash and long blonde hair. The other was a tall, lithe human with a bald pate. I didn’t spend much time looking at or getting to know them, for all the competitive spirit in me. Not to mention, when things got heavy in their smoky lounge, I wasn’t too excited by them, if you know what I mean. That woman though, Gods above and Demon Lords below, she was something. Her charcoal hair spilled about her perfect body like pillars of smoke and her eyes burned like golden-orange stars. And the way she smiled had me torn between asking for her heart or driving a dagger into it. I think she used magic, but was careful not to be obvious about that… I can’t remember their names… It’s lost in the drink.”

He draws out a long knife from his belt. “Now that I’ve said my piece, I’ve truly lost all use. Shall you be doing the honors, my superior? Or shall I?” The look on his face is one of complete surrender and his eyes focus on the space just over Dusk’s shoulder. “I’ve told you all I know… just make it quick.”

“Ha,” laughed Sphex in the demon’s head. “Flesh is weak. You see how easily broken it is. Finish him quickly and we will seek these others.”

Dusk tried to ignore the sword and regarded the pathetic man brought low before him. He wanted to hate him. Because of this idiot and everyone like him, his city was in ruins. So many dead.

He crouched down on his haunches. “Give me the knife,” he commanded. “You’re in no state to do anything right.”

The man dutifully handed it over, as dull-eyed as a cow to the slaughter.

“Answer me one more question. Do you wish now that you had not given up your soul to the Abyss? I don’t mean serving those hypocrite crusaders either. But if you’d had a chance at a different life, not an easier one, but at least one where you could see yourself in a mirror and not wish you were dead, would you have taken it?”

“What are you doing?” hissed Sphex. “Kill him and serve our Lady’s will! She is the Goddess of Vengeance.”

Dusk felt his hand involuntarily reaching for the blade at his hip but he resisted it and thought back at the sword with a fervor. “She is also the Goddess of Secrets and this one will recognize faces, other cultists who still might be making their way back with the refugees, knows their recruitment methods, their signs. I have a feeling we are not long for Kenabres if we are to find Socothbenoth. Eloise needs someone to help her rebuild her temple and protect her acolytes as she takes new ones in. Let him throw himself on her priestess’s mercy. He will owe her his life and has nowhere to turn. The crusaders will either kill him or imprison him. The cultists will kill him for failure or for betraying them or just for fun. Eloise can decide. She can use what he knows to regain some influence in the city. And maybe, he can serve Calistria long enough that she might be able to wrest that soul back from the Abyss and prevent the demons from gaining another eternal soldier. Is that not vengeance as well?”

“I wish not my soul to be damned. I see now that viciousness knows more torment than even a bullied crusader. But I would not return to them either.” Then he turns his face down and sighs.

Sphex remained silent for a moment, then spoke. “Very well. Your reasoning is… persuasive. Send him to Eloise and let us be done with this place. It stinks of failure.”

“I hear you there, sword.”

The demon turned to the tortured soul before him and gave him a quick slap to the face. He saw the eyes focus for a moment and lose their haziness a little.

“Listen up. This is what you are going to do. First, sober the fuck up. Second, take that fucking armor off and leave those weapons here. Third, you are going to go to Defender’s Heart and ask for Eloise, priestess of Calistria. When you see her, you are going to get down on your fucking hands and knees and kiss her fucking boots and beg her to let you serve her. You’re going to do whatever she wants and protect her even to the point of sacrificing your own life to save hers. She’ll keep the fucking crusaders from arresting you and if you serve her well enough, she may be able to keep the demons from your soul.”

Dusk watched a glimmer of life reappear in the man’s eyes.

“If you cross her, I’ll know. If you fail her, I’ll know. If you fuck this up, you will wish for the Abyss compared to what I will do to you. Do you understand? Say it all back to me.”

The demon listened to him slowly but correctly recount the instructions. He wasn’t dumb, it seems, which put him leagues ahead of most crusaders. He acknowledged the man’s words and turned to go.

“I don’t understand something,” the drunk added. “If she asks who sent me. Which side were you on?”

“The outside. Always.”

========

Dusk made his way out of the fetid basement and silently made his way in the encroaching darkness through the streets of Old Kenabres until he found an abandoned house with an upper bedroom with a door that still latched and a window to view the dark street below. The furniture was overturned but not broken. He set out his spellbook and scrolls whose arcane mysteries he’d unraveled on the back of a dresser, along with ink and quill. He uncorked the whiskey and took a long pull, handing it to his tail to hold nearby.

“Work and sleep, Sphex. Then it’s time to find the trail of those pretty fucks. It’s been a long day.”

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New Buddies

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Session 20: 4718AR, Arodus 21
Matters Unsettled

Dusk here…

We go back upstairs. Across the hall from the room where the cultists had lots of papers, I unlock the door and Halved opens it. It appears to be an abandoned barracks. Halved uses his newly-acquired fabled sword of demon slaying, probably the pinnacle of the life’s work of a master weaponsmith, to smash a barrel of water. Susannae argues that she wants the water for cleansing the Garrison temple.

We then try the door to the room where we saw the messenger bird cubbyholes. There are papers and ink and little cylinders for the messages. Plus, three dead demonic flies.

Neva gets impatient and snatches the keys from me and opens up a library with a dead demon, a schir, a short, goat-headed git. There are smoldering piles plus a small unburned stack of useful books. Halved hacks up the schir because, you know, why not. One book stands out particularly. It is titled Manual of War and exudes enchantment magic. I ask about keeping it myself to figure out what it does but Neva takes it and just opens it and starts reading. It details fighting styles.

Susannae asks with concern what is happening with Neva’s erratic behavior. She says she can’t explain it. She has “some things happening.” She has nightmares.

Neva then opens the last unopened door. A large, antlered deer with wings comes flapping at her. It is a peryton, with wolf-like jaws, antlers, and the talons of a hawk on two feet and hooves on the other. Its maw is bloody.

Neva reacts quickly and infuses it with raw chaos. Its shadow on the ground reforms and takes on Neva’s shadow’s shape. She looks down in concern as an antler catches her in the eye, tearing it out of her skull. She shrieks but manages to hold her ground. Now I’m going to have nightmares.

Kostner shoots it with one of three arrows. Halved tries to leap into the fray but can’t manage to do so. Neva smacks it with a gauntlet and steps to the side of the door. I close but just enough so it will have to exit to get me and therefore get in range of Halved, Neva and I.. Susannae misses with an arrow. The peryton moves up and Halved strikes it. I stab it hard with Sphex and suck some of the life from it, making me stronger. I deduce and tell the others, whose attacks had not been as effective, that magic weapons are needed.

It goes after Neva like she’s made of flowers but she manages to avoid major damage. Kostner wastes a couple non-magic arrows against it and Neva hits it with her ranseur.

Susannae uses one of the unidentified magical arrows and it sticks in with deadly effect. Halved then splatters it with his non-magic greatsword and begins to argue with Neva over which of them gets the corpse. Neva wants the part of the antler with her eye stuck on it.

I peek into the room. There is a long table with a relief map of Mendev, plus a bunch of corpses with the hearts ripped out. I guess we know what perytons eat.

Leaving the Grey Garrison, we see some of the first descendants (mongrelmen) and crusaders milling about in the square. The crusaders approach. I have no interest in talking to them and drift off, heading for the Estarron estate. I hear the crusaders and Susannae talk about re-sanctifying the temple and crap like that and “Praise the Inheritor!”

Susannae then corrals the others who are looking to get to the Defender’s Heart to help her look for her mom.

I slow down when I see they are coming. Susannae, upon reaching the estate, approaches, calling out for her mother. I catch her up and whisper, “Don’t be stupid about this!” Remarkably, she takes my advice and we go in together

We look around and find a sign of a barricade. The door is broken down. I ask where she might have hid and she thinks the basement so we go down. I peer into the darkness and she detects no evil presence remaining. Climbing down the stairs, we smell something acrid.

On the ground, a symbol is formed of foul materials, a black insectlike insignia that I recognize and immediately despair. It is Socothbenoth’s mark. Susannae finds against the wall, her mother Auciell’s holy symbol of Saranrae. The interior tube of holy water is empty.

“Sorry,” I say. I know her mother is gone. Auciell, a woman who repaid her debt to me and never flinched from me as others did. Socothbenoth… why? I know Susannae will want to ask questions but I don’t want to be the one to tell her. I make my way out. She continues to search through her house, finding some belongings of her mother’s to keep and to say some prayers of hope.

Halved is outside entertaining Neva and Kostner with the head of the peryton. I mutter something about seeing them around and slip off into the shadows.

After Susannae joins them, they head back to the Defender’s Heart. There is more activity in the city now. Crusaders are patrolling the walls again and clerics are scanning for pockets of evil. At Kimroth’s, people are in better spirits. Irabeth and the Eagle Watch are in charge now.

“Where’s your tiefling friend?” Irabeth asked. She adds that some people have been whispering that I was involved with the betrayal. Typical.

The others stick up for me and Irabeth says she will continue to correct them if it comes up. They see about getting a hot meal.

Susannae finds her dad who is ministrating to some people. She shows him the symbol. He is shocked to hear the news. He tells her she should rest and she replies her heart is in a million pieces. How can she rest? He says Iomedae chose well in making her a warrior and that if their faith is true, they’ll find her mom.

Neva gets some healing but will not get her eye regenerated. She decides to wear it as a necklace as it dries. “Some things happening” indeed.

When some townies ask Halved about my “betrayal” he gets angry and scares them straight. When others bring it up to Susannae, she defends me, crediting my efforts and describes me as being kind to her when she looked for Auciell.

There is news that some military relief and the Queen of Mendev herself are coming. Other rumors fly around that people are becoming demons still, that the Queen herself is a demon, ridiculous shit like that.

Over the next week, Susannae decides to set herself to rebuilding Kenabres and healing the injured. Kostner donates some money to the town and works on crafting a special bow. Halved works on writing a song to increase his renown. Neva wants to see Horgus Gwerm about some coin along with selling the extra equipment we’d found. She may try to hire herself out as a bodyguard as people venture out to reclaim their homes.

Me? I look to be alone, find someone to punch in the face, liberate some whiskey, find out why the fuck a demonlord was in Kenabres, and keep clear of Defender’s Heart and the ungrateful bastards it shelters.

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Session 19: 4718AR, Arodus 21
Babau please don't go!

Dusk here. Nice knowing you.

The babau act swiftly. One begins to immediately attempt summoning a seventh one. Kostner shoots him and, still glowing with energy from the Wardstone, does way more damage than he’d expected and interrupts the demon’s attempt. Another babau steps forward and rips at Kostner with deadly claws and teeth but somehow is not able to damage him. What is going on?

Susannae steps in, dodging their long spears and fires an arrow into the wall. Alone in the back of the room, a spear strike comes at me and hits me dead to rights but it does not harm me. It must be the Wardstone, protecting us!

A fourth babau attempts a summoning as Neva walks in and hits one hard with her ranseur. Halved charges in but misses.

A fifth babau gets on my flank and then, Calistria’s cuddlies, stabs the crap out of me twice. But then I feel my wounds starting to close on their own. Still, I need to get away from these guys surrounding me so I cast Vanish and move to hop over to join the others. As I move, the two that attacked me and two others all skewer me pretty good. I guess they can see invisible things. Noted. Almost dead, I stagger back into the ranks of my comrades. “Don’t let them flank you,” I rasp.

Ajax makes his way into the combat and avoids their strikes with the protection of the Wardstone. Kostner fills one with a couple deadly shots. Susannae moves up and shoots the one still summoning, plugging him good and interrupting the process.

Another tries to call upon a darkness to gain an advantage with all these humans but the magic fails, also due to the Wardstone. They begin to seem disconcerted and complain to one another. Neva drives her ranseur through a complainer’s chest and then steps forward kicking it off the end. Be thankful for what you have, pal. Like a functioning set of internal organs. One down, five to go.

Halved cuts another one up bad with his greatsword and then tears a hunk of flesh with his teeth. I think about the acid that coats them but the Wardstone keeps it from dissolving the barbarian’s lips and just gives him a tingly sensation. I stagger back to the doorway and make some duplicates, discarding my useless invisibility. Susannae says she’ll heal whichever one is the real me.

“I’m the real one!” “No, me!” “I’m a little too real, baby, lay your hands on this!” say the four Dusks.

Ajax claws up a babau and Susannae makes a comment about me holding back since I’ve already stolen the glory. I tell her to go ahead and claim it herself. I don’t give a shit. But she thinks I’m taunting her as she would never act so dishonestly. Annoyed by this and by the fact that she can’t tell which duplicate to touch, she shoots a babau instead, failing to interrupt his summoning though, and tells me to stay back out of the fight.

Realizing they are going to need to act smarter with positioning, one babau climbs up on the pedestal to get higher ground on Neva. It doesn’t work and she retaliates hard. Halved continues to whale on the one fighting him from over Irabeth’s unconscious body. The summoning babau finishes and a black and red portal begins to appear but nothing comes out. “No more are coming!” he calls to his brethern. “They don’t want this murder like we do!”

I cast Cat’s Grace and feel my wounds knit up on their own a little bit. Still in bad shape, though. I drift over and finish off Halved’s opponent with Sphex. Ajax claws up a babau. The one on the pedestal tries to get behind Neva and damages her a little bit.

Kostner and Susannae shoot the same babau who begins to look in bad shape. Another teleports across the room to attack Susannae from behind. Another moves forward toward Halved and I but he splits him in twain. Another one pops two of my duplicates with his spear. I step to the other corner to defend Susannae against the one that teleported, stabbing him but not penetrating his magic defense.

Ajax continues to slash away with his sainted claws and takes a babau down, rending it in two. Seriously, that’s embarrassing.

Kostner continues to shoot. The one I’m on destroys my last duplicate and hits me but the Wardstone protects still. Only two left, Neva cuts one up just before Halved does a spinning move off some rubble to strike him too. Still standing, the babau retaliates harmlessly before being put down by Kostner. I stab mine again and when he tries to teleport a retreat, I drive Sphex through his eye, drinking deep.

The Wardstone regenerates us back but then the energy slowly fades. As we feel the power dissipate, Irabeth seems to recover her wits. “Thank the Inheritor, what happened?” she asks. The last she remembered was Areelu summoning her portal.

We look around and there are some sizable remains of the Wardstone radiating powerful magic. We each claim one. I sense a strong aura of abjuration but can’t tell any more details. We start to look at the items of the fallen. The minotaur’s horn is a Horn of Battle Clarity which Halved claims after blowing it loudly. The witch Jeslyn has some Dispel Magic scrolls, gold, some cheap onyx gems probably for necromancy, a magic scythe, an Amulet of Natural Armor which I take, and a strong Cloak of Resistance which Halved takes, giving his old one to Kostner.

Irabeth says she is not interested in clearing out the building. We go back down and Irabeth departs. We find lots of books and maps and scrolls in the hexagonal room we’d killed cultists. There is a scroll of Restoration there which Kostner takes. Some of the dead tieflings and cultists have some healing potions.

Down on the first floor, we walk past the desecrated scrying pool where the zombies were and examine the old temple. We realize there is the glowing outline of a door next to the altar. I say, “Let us inherit thine arms, Iomedae,” for no particular reason and a secret cache of weapons is revealed through the portal. Susannae is annoyed again at me.

There are tons of weapons there, well made and cold iron. Some are magical.. holy arrows, a demon-slaying arrow, a breastplate, a shield, and a longsword. We then look in the room where the tiefling with the alchemist’s fire was. He had some good potions as well plus some magic armor and a protective ring. But the most interesting thing there is a fancy sword case holding a very fancy longsword which I can tell is a bane weapon for evil outsiders. This stuff might have come in handy, I guess, if I wasn’t in such a hurry to blow through the area! I guess it didn’t matter after all.

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