Wrath of the Righteous

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.

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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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Dusktales III: Nan's Rules
almost fifty years earlier...

The demon was not supposed to be out of the house alone. Nan had given him lots of reasons and he had crafted an argument against each of them and carried them like arrows in a quiver on the chance that she woke up before he got back and he’d had to explain himself, which was low, he figured. Nan had hit the whiskey tonight, the good kind she kept tucked behind the pickles brining in the cellar. It was the anniversary of her daughter’s departure into the Worldwound, his mother. If he’d ever known her, he might be melancholy himself, but he wasn’t. It was just another night. He might not be sad but at least, he’d chuckled to Nan, mom had left him blue.

He hadn’t expected the blow to come as fast as it did from an old lady or sting as hard. Her backfist had smacked his temple and sent his chin hammering into the kitchen tabletop, blood filling his mouth from his bit tongue. He’d sprawled on the stone floor and gazed up at the woman who had raised him as she stood and staggered out of the room, not bothering to see if he was hurt or not. She likely believed him unkillable, if the “accidental” leaving out of various toxic cleaning products while he’d toddled about nineteen years ago were any indication. But he’d survived, much to her disappointment.

Lying on the floor then, he’d contemplated killing her. It would be easy. His mind had filled with visions of cutting her throat and then carving away her skin. If only he were strong enough to do that in reverse order, well, that would be something to savor.

Then he’d shaken his head and pounded a fist onto his own skull, “No! No, stop it! Stop it!” he’d hissed a whisper. “Nan can’t help it. You are the monster, Dusk. That’s why mom and dad left. That’s why Nan is sad all the time. It’s your fault. She knows you think those things, those evil things! Bad! Bad!”

He’d dug his nails deep into his own blue furred scalp, pressing his heels of his hands against his yellow eyes as if he could rip the dark impulses out of his own skull. His pointed tail had thrashed back and forth and he’d lifted his head off the floor and struck it down again and again until the voices stopped when everything had gone black. After he’d come to, night had descended and into it, he’d slipped, heavily cloaked and aimless.

The demon reminded himself again of what he would tell Nan when she inevitably voiced each of her reasons again. One, he would be killed if someone spotted him. He was a demonblood in a city of demon-hunters. Theoretically, the paladins and crusaders of Kenabres would only kill someone if they’d done something wrong. They were the epitome of law and goodness after all. But, in a war, no one would blame one of them for cutting his head off based on his appearance. Hearing that he was the child of a pair of Riftwardens, the mysterious organization of arcanists who studied the myriad planes of existence, would likely merit an apology and a shrug.

Dusk would tell her he wouldn’t get near any crusaders. Being out at night, he could spot anyone with his inhuman eyesight long before they saw him in the shadows. He’d also learned how to call upon an innate power to darken his close surroundings like the lowering of an oil lamp. Nan didn’t want him doing it in the house but he liked it. It was like pulling up a blanket all around him, not that she’d let him have any of her blankets. His indifference to cold temperatures led to her indifference in trying to keep him warm. He did like it by the hearth, though, and sometimes even climbed inside to sleep curled up on the dying embers. Nan’s distaste for him openly betraying his unnaturalness so conflicted with her realization that the scent of brimstone which accompanied him when he was excited in some way dissipated up the flue when he parked himself there.

Two, even if he weren’t killed outright, he would bring great shame upon Nan and his parents should his connection to them come to light. His father D’karik, a sorcerer of whom Nan claimed dabbled in forces that should not be dabbled with, had already shamed them enough with his violet eyes and slightly pointed ears. A half-elf he’d claimed himself to be, but Nan was not convinced. Dusk’s mother, Liana Clarseen, had fallen for him, likely through enchantments, Nan had claimed. The two were almost never apart since arriving in Kenabres to tell Nan they’d been wed. And when Liana had come to her ninth month of pregnancy, the tale spread was that their child had been stillborn and the grieving planar travelers had gone to forget about their loss.

That part might be true, Dusk had to admit, but he had been born as alive as he was alien: covered in soft blue fur, already growing teeth, smelling of foulness, and with a nub of a tail that his father had refused to allow Nan to cut off. Nan said shame had driven them away but Dusk still believed it was their work which had taken them from him and they would return when he was grown to join them in grand adventures.

A child’s fantasy he knew, but was he not still a child? Even after years of watching human children who were born the same year as him grow into apprenticeships and courtships and other adult things, his body still sought simple pleasures and his mind arrived at the easy conclusions of a much younger being. Though physically he seemed to only lag slightly behind. He was not particularly tall, but could pass for a human teenager at least, so long as no one looked under his cloak.

At any rate, he would tell Nan if he were found, he would never give her name. He would say he lived in the streets. He half-believed he would have a better life there anyway. Stealing and scrounging were often what he’d had to do at home anyway as Nan figured his otherworldly appetite could be sated with rubbish — rinds and bones and stale crusts — just as well as fresh food. After the events earlier that night, he was contemplating not going back at all. It was not like he’d any possessions of his own to go back for and he worried about one of them killing the other before too long.

The third reason was the worst of them. The times he’d been out before, cloaked and wrapped such that none would see him, he’d asked Nan why he couldn’t go play with the other children or even talk to them. He’d watch the nobles of Kenabres parade their families with pride down the boulevard on a sunny morning on their way to a shrine or temple, most likely dedicated to Iomedae. Or sitting on a bench while their children frolicked and laughed in the grass of the park. They seemed so happy. The demon wanted to join them. No, Nan, always said. If he were to ever talk to another child, they would be denied their place in the glorious upper planes when they died and suffer torment forever. He didn’t want that to happen.

But that was the easiest reason for him to tell her he could be out on his own. He just wouldn’t talk to anyone. Then they’d be safe.

So with these thoughts in mind, Dusk flitted from shadow to shadow, the pain and anguish of hours earlier forgotten in the excitement of freedom to go where he pleased. He’d always liked the district of Old Kenabres the best, with its huge stone structures and cobbled streets, so he made his way to higher ground.

He had a marvelous time, hiding and watching people as they went by, never guessing that he was there. He even dared to make some rude noises as a man and woman tried to have some private mushy time when they thought no one was looking. That was funny. But just as he was thinking it was time to get back home, he spotted a too-bright light in the distance.

By the time he arrived, there was a lot of shouting and noise. A big house had a fire on the inside. He could see flames at every window. Four or five people had gathered in front. A man and a woman were coughing and lying on the ground covered in a blanket. A bell was ringing but no one had come to put the fire out yet. The man was trying to crawl back into the house but the other people wouldn’t let him. The woman was pointing to an upper floor and Dusk could hear the faint cries of a baby.

His mind raced. He thought he could get through that fire just fine. It didn’t burn him as badly as it did Nan or other humans. He could go save the baby for those people. But then everything might go wrong. They might try to kill him. They might know about Nan and mom and dad. Or worst, he would make them all have to go to the Abyss when they died if he talked to them.

Then, he suddenly had an idea. He concentrated and clutched his cloak and suddenly all around him in the alley where he’d watched, it got pitch dark. If they couldn’t see him, they wouldn’t try to talk to him. Then he raced towards the open doorway, the flames dimming into shadowy illumination.

It was a lot hotter than he’d expected and kind of hard to breathe but he was able to see where to go. Up the stairs and then towards the front of the building. When he grabbed the doorknob to the baby’s room, it burned his hand. Still, he pushed in and then saw, miraculously, a pretty little girl and a white kitten curled around each other in an undamaged corner of the room. It was not clear who was protecting whom but they both opened their eyes wide when he walked in.

His unnatural darkness battled with the light of the fire and in shadow he approached hesitantly, trying to open his arms in a show of harmlessness. He took his cloak off as he knelt down before them.

The girl had been sobbing and now looked at him in apprehension. He knew he couldn’t say anything so he just held out his hand and his tail to see if she’d grab on as he’d seen other babies do with their parents.

The tail swaying before her eyes seemed to capture her imagination and she took it in her hand and felt the warm fur of it. She stopped whimpering and sniffled a little. The white cat unarched its back.

“Kitty!” the girl mumbled, smiling at him. “Boo kitty!”

He smiled back to her. She let him wrap the cloak around her and her pet and then he lifted them, pressing the bundle close to his chest as he bent partly over to take the heat of the flames upon himself, and left as quickly as he dared.

When the sphere of darkness moved out of the building and engulfed the small group outside, the people were even more alarmed. But when the mother felt the familiar weight of her daughter pressed into her lap along with the frayed remains of a filthy cloak, she called to her husband joyfully, “It’s Auciell! Our Auciell!”

“Thank Sarenrae!” he cried aloud as the darkness receded towards an alley, and he beheld his baby once again, kissing her small hands. “Thank you, Sarenrae!”

“No, Papa!” the demon heard as he legged it back towards the Ring District. “Boo Kitty! Bye, Boo Kitty! Bye!”

The demon slipped back through the basement window and checked if Nan was still sleeping. She seemed to be. The whiskey bottle lay on the floor near her bed along with the open locket painting of her own little girl, Liana, who had gone off to save the world again and left her own problem here.

Dusk liked to think about telling his mom when he saw her how he’d done a good thing tonight too. She’d be proud of him and she and dad would take him with them next time, to places where it would be safe to talk to people and they’d like him. He picked up the whiskey bottle and sniffed at it. There was some inside and didn’t he deserve some kind of reward?

He was just finishing off the last of it when the pounding came at the door, waking up Nan. The Inquisitors had seen him and he was wanted for questioning regarding a mysterious fire at the Ferre house. To this, he didn’t have a ready answer.

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Session 18: 4718AR, Arodus 21
Choices and Consequences

Dusk here…

We ask Irabeth what the layout of the upper level is and decide to spring into what we believe to be a large altar area. The door is locked. I use the chime and it doesn’t work. Neva, Halved, and Irabeth smash the door down.

We see an alabaster basin filled with entrails pulled from undead standing around it. We file in to fight. Halved cleaves through a couple and Susannae does another.

I assume they have things in hand so I sneak up the stairs to the third floor. Sphex concurs: “Why waste time with empty bags of flesh? You do enough of that already.” I hear breathing of a large beast around a corner at the top of the stairs and catch a glimpse of dented helmets on pedestals in the guttering shadows. I Vanish.

Downstairs, Halved wrecks another zombie and Susannae strikes another down. I step around the corner and see a short hall ending in a door. In front of the door is a giant minotaur with red fur and glowing yellow eyes and vestigial wings. It holds a very large axe and its horns look very dangerous.

I recognize it as fiendish, granting it resistances to acid and fire, magic resistance and damage resistance except against lawful weapons. I slip the wand of magic missiles into my tail thinking maybe the strategy should be to shoot it from here as it would have to squeeze into the staircase.

As Neva and Halved finish off the zombies, Susannae notices I’m not there. She complains about it but Irabeth and Halved remind her I’m probably doing something helpful. Irabeth leads them up the stairs but I stop her before she reaches the corner and warn her about the minotaur. I suggest she make some noise to make it easier for me to sneak alongside it and she, joined shortly by Susannae, begin to pray loudly. I slip in, worried about how good the beast’s nose is but I’m able to get next to it as it focuses on the paladins approaching. Irabeth calls for a charge.

Susannae beats her to the beast, smiting it in the name of Iomedae. It retaliates with its axe. Irabeth follows and smites it too. Then as the others come out of the staircase, I recall Shocking Grasp and deliver it through Sphex, stabbing the beast through the heart and electrocuting it to death, despite its spell resistance.

Halved wants to start looting it and picks up an interesting looking horn, the blowing kind, off the minotaur. I urge him to forget it for now and hurry and get through this door. He, Irabeth, and Neva set to it again.

They smash the door down and we see a round room with a cage on a pedestal containing a translucent shard, what must be the last piece of the Wardstone. A deformed and twisted woman with unmatched limbs including a clawlike arm and holding a broken scythe snarls at us and empowers herself with the favor of Deskari. We also smell a disgusting stench as another dretch belches forth a noxious cloud and the room is full of the awful fog.

Susannae is nauseated. She steps out of the fog and begins to take out her bow. “No!” I cry, rushing towards her, “Susannae, the Rod!” I am able to resist the stench and put my hand on the Rod. Doubt flickers across her features momentarily but then she lets go. I recall Vanish and then do so. Doubt now lingers on her face.

So, I could leave, I realize. I could leave right now and doom all of the plans of all of these humans who have kicked me at every chance they’ve gotten. Areelu’s plan would be fulfilled and I would likely be rewarded beyond my wildest dreams by Deskari and Baphomet if I could trust those fuckers. Faint whispers that I have long suppressed flicker at the edge of my thoughts.

Meanwhile, Neva and Irabeth are unable to clear the dretch from the doorway. Halved, sick again himself, staggers out of the fog. Kostner can’t do anything with the demon either. The withered demonic cleric moves through the fog. Her eyes glowing red, she sucks some of the life energy out of Neva.

Pathetic. They’d be dead without me. Sure, I could screw them over big time. Them and everyone they care about. Plus, Eloise and a lot of people who don’t deserve to suffer any more. I realize I’m doomed to always take the side of the underdog… just can’t stand to be what I hate the most. So I take a deep breath and run back into the fog, barely resisting its power and tumble past the dretch.

Neva, despite starting to go blind, picks up her sword and stabs at the dretch as it steps up to claw her. The weird priestess does not seem to have noticed my presence and tries to curse Neva but she resists it.

I reach the Wardstone shard and strike it with the Rod. The artifact’s power is strong though and it resists breaking. I become visible just a few feet from the cleric as she turns and sees me, crying, “No!”

Neva, just in time, finishes off the dretch. Irabeth enters and engages with the cleric followed by Kostner and his sloth, Ajax.

Kostner’s positioning keeps the cleric from being able to get to me so she slashes him with her scythe. I once again am able to resist the nausea but realize time is short so I cast an Arcane Mark and deliver it through the Rod to get an extra chance to destroy the Wardstone shard. It resists destruction again but my second blow gets through. The Wardstone shard explodes in spears of light.

All of the energy of the Wardstone flows outward. When it touches my companions and myself, we feel ourselves fully healed and recharged as we were at the start of this long day. The demon cleric, whose name is Jeslyn we are suddenly aware, is scorched almost to death by the light. Irabeth finishes her but the rest of us are stunned and cannot move as we see visions.

We see visions of the present: all of the Wardstones are infused with a golden light. We see the demon armies at the front of the incursion destroyed. We hear the cheers of the armies of crusaders.

We see visions of the past: To 4639, when the Wardstone was erected with the aid of the Hand of the Inheritor, an angel who was the herald of Iomedae. To 4665, when we see a young Hulron leading the burning of witches in front of the Wardstone. To 4692, when we see the Storm King’s first attack, cracking the Wardstone before being killed by Terendelev. To 4712, when we see Irabeth pursuing Staunton Vayne, a burly dwarf, who is burned by the Wardstone when their battle presses against it. He gains the upper hand against the half-orc paladin but at the sight of an approaching mob, flees on a giant wasp before he can finish her. To only days ago, when we see Minaco, a demon, and Jeslyn, place the Wardstone shard in the cage and cast a powerful Wish on it to seal it there.

We see visions of a future that is now denied. Areelu Vorlesh changes the Wardstone with her magic, turning the crusaders at the border into half-fiends and the beginning of the end of all of us.

Then we see an image in the room, happening now, no longer in our minds. It is Areelu Vorlesh in a portal. We were just in time, it seems. She is beautiful, so beautiful, with large batlike wings and glowing eyes. She says, “This only delays the end for all of you mortals. For you few who have thwarted me today, I will hasten yours.” Irabeth rushes her but is tossed aside like a cigar stub.

Areelu Vorlesh then casts terrible magics I can only guess at the power or effect but nothing happens. She continues, “Maybe the Wardstone protects you from my spell but not my slaves.”

Behind her comes an army of demons. Six Babau enter and my throat begins to seize up in terror. Behind them are more powerful ones… Vrocks, Hezrou, Glabrezu, and Calistria save us, is that a Marilith?

But the Wardstone shard shines again, throwing Vorlesh back and breaking her bones. She screams and the portal closes leaving us with six Babau demons, any one of which could likely tear us all apart. Probably too late for a do-over.

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Ajax Slothbros
Kostner and Ajax getting along

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Session 17: 4718AR, Arodus 21
Housecleaning

Dusk, here.

Susannae has a divine inspiration and realizes she can call for a horse because she resides in Iomedae’s favor. I think to myself I can call for a half-dozen horses because I wield the mysteries arcane but don’t need to rain on her parade.

We ask Irabeth to describe the layout of the Grey Garrison and she tells us which doors go where. We enter a shrine and see an empty bracket by a sunburst icon. The room is befouled with blood and excrement. I ask what was in the bracket. She says that is where a sword should have been. Irabeth and Susannae insist on cleaning up the shrine while Neva and I want to move on, because, you know, the entire city might be destroyed at any minute and the poop can get wiped up in an hour. It’s not going anywhere.

We lose the argument and as the paladins pray they see written on the wall: “Let us inherit thine arms, Iomedae” in glowing runes. I listen to the exit and hear the ratty grunts of abrikandilu behind the door. We line up and Irabeth opens it. We see two decapitated crusaders and lots of smashed up antiquities and two abrikandilu.

Halved rolls in and cracks one badly. Irabeth follows, slashing it, and Susannae shoots it too before Neva finishes it. The second one bites Neva and snaps at Halved as he rushes in, slashing it. Kostner shoots it before I finish it. It had been holding a magic morningstar made of adamantine. As Irabeth and Susannae pray over the fallen crusaders, I suggest instead of burying them right at the moment, why not avenge them with their weapon. Irabeth agrees and Susannae wryly notes my dripping sincerity in the sentiment.

We find a hallway with exits to a main temple area and a staircase landing. Kostner hears low sporadic talking. Behind the other door, at Neva’s suggestion, he hears the labored breathing of a demon. I prepare and cast Cat’s Grace and Mirror Image on myself. Irabeth opens the staircase door where we see two dretches and a dark green-skinned tiefling. As we rush in, the tiefling legs it.

Neva splatters one of the dretches. The other takes a step back and sprays us in a cloud of sick. It makes Susannae and me nauseous. Halved slaughters that one. We quickly move to the other door and open it to find white statues that have been defiled. There is a dais and a hideous centipede-like stitched-up effigy of severed limbs on it. There are also three human cultists of Deskari. They begin to call for prayers of protection.

One moves to the doorway. I tumble past him and stab him as Halved follows and finishes him, clearing the doorway. Kostner steps through and shoots another one who rushes up and wounds him. Irabeth cracks the shot one and Susannae finishes him through the eye. The last one calls upon evil power to damage us all slightly as Neva takes off after the green tiefling up the stairs.

A door I hadn’t noticed opens right behind me and a crazed tiefling brimming with protective spells tries to hit me with a flung vial. It hits Halved instead and lights him on fire. I step in and deliver a Shocking Grasp with Sphex, stabbing him through the heart and electrocuting him to death. Kostner shoots the last cultist with a couple of arrows, clearing the temple room.

Neva reaches the upper story to find an ambush of tieflings forming a crossbow crossfire gauntlet. She steps up and hits one as they let fly with their bolts, but most do not get through her armor. The rest of us head up the stairs as more tieflings and cultists file into the upper hallway. I recall Chill Touch and slay a cultist as he rushes out. Halved slaughters a tiefling and Kostner plugs another from the other flank through the eye.

The cultists try to Cause Fear in myself and Halved and we falter but shake it off thanks to Susannae’s calming presence. Irabeth reaches the phalanx of tiefling crossbowmen and begins to wreck shop. One cultist causes Halved to drop his sword as Neva and I combine to take down the other.

Kostner takes out another tiefling and his sloth Ajax takes one out with a bite. Irabeth finishes another and Susannae shoots the last tiefling. Neva and I combine again on another cultist and take him out. I shift into a position to give Halved a flank on the last cultist and he makes him pay for the sword drop. Kostner finishes off the last tiefling and Neva finishes off the last cultist. Ninety seconds: Nine dead tieflings, seven dead cultists, and two dead dretches.

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Session 16: 4718AR, Arodus 21
As the Worm Turns

Dusk, here.

Deciding that since we are at pretty decent strength and we don’t know when Arilu Vorlesh will arrive, we decide to not waste time and head right to the Grey Garrison, after purchasing some supplies. Aravashnial claims there is a hidden cache near the Garrison as well. With Susannae carrying the Rod of Cancellation, much to Sphex’s relief, and Irabeth in tow, we head out. Other forces of Kenabres will form a distraction so we can head right in past the walls. Indeed, Kostner and I see the guards leave their posts in response to something and we get through.

Coming upon the gates to the Garrison, I see two bloated and deformed humans, one appearing to be the former Prelate Hulron. The other, Susannae later notes, Kandro Nyserian. I also realize that their bodies are there merely as armor for a couple of wormlike Vermleks. I signal to Kostner to wait to bring the others closer on my signal, to the cover of a nearby burned-out building.

I use Ghost Sound to make a loud screaming noise near another burned-out building and the sentries turn that way, not attacking but asking in Abyssal, “Have you come to serve Deskari?” As the others get closer they ask again in Common. At an impasse, we watch them and they do not move. So Kostner plugs one.

Halved moves up and the Nyserian Vermlek begins to undulate and ooze and a cold feeling comes over both Halved and Susannae. They shake it off for the most part but have been inflicted with Light Wounds and the Vermlek seems to have healed itself of the arrow damage. The Hulrun Vermlek follows suit against Halved and Susannae and also Irabeth.

I approach and speak to one: “Hey, Hulworm. Not only are we not going to to serve Deskari but after we grind you two into the ground and every other demon in this place, and you wind up squirming before him in your failure, tell him we’re coming for him next.” At that, the Vermlek is properly terrified and starts vomiting all over its fleshy suit.

Irabeth and Kostner attack the other one a couple of sound blows and Halved decapitates the vomitous Hulrun. A wounded five-jawed worm, the Vermlek’s true form, slithers out the back of Hulron’s skin trying to get some distance. Susannae shoots it and then I run it through with Sphex.

The remaining one does its Cause Wounds trick again against Irabeth and me and also slips its skin-bag. Susannae, I, and Neva, finally arriving, finish it.

Irabeth and Susannae then do some blessings over the former Prelate’s corpse and also Nyserian’s. I search for Aravashnial’s cache and find some good healing potions, magic arrows, a couple of wands, a couple cold iron weapons, and a chime of transmutational magic that I can’t quite figure out the purpose to.

There is a window above the large doors to the Grey Garrison. Neva levitates up and sees through the bars of a large window a cage for messenger birds and a door to the interior. As the front doors are locked, Halved climbs up to the window to try to break the bars. Even with Neva’s help they can’t do it. It occurs to me to use a small bit of acid I’ve been carrying but we reason it won’t be enough. Then it occurs to me that the chime might be a Chime of Opening. I sound it and on the third try, the large doors open.

There is a foyer with a frieze of crusaders in battle which has been defaced. There is also a small guard room with half a dozen tieflings of various degree of hideousness playing some kind of card game using scavenged body parts as currency. They see us but we get the drop on them and dash in and cut them down before their crossbows can hurt any of us. Despite Halved’s acrobatic leap atop the playing table, he is the only one of us not to fell one.

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