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The Proselytizer, Koristal Il Palinthiin. Baernaloth of the Demented (7 of 13)

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Shemeska the Marauder's picture

This is number 7 or so in my cycle of Baernaloths, and I owe a debt of inspiration on this one to some ideas by Sciborg2 and Rip Van Wormer regarding Anthraxus' self mutilation, Baernaloths as viral hosts of their creations, and Anthraxus being obsessed with what the Night Hags who created him might have also done to him without his knowledge. My thanks goes out to them both. This rides the line of good taste in parts here. I apologize if any of the content offends you in any way, since I do hit upon some touchy subjects.

You’ve heard my voice before, I assure you, even if you don’t remember it. You’ve heard me in the cries of the leader exulting his people into a needless war. You’ve heard me in the voices of men betraying their brothers and sisters and women turning on their husbands and families for whatever greed blackens their hearts.

 

In the voices that call for those base things that mortals do, unconstrained by society, unhampered by laws, unchecked by gods and morals, that’s where you’ll find my voice, tugging at your heart and mind. Telling you to do that which you know is wrong, but with a seductive whisper and lick at your ear that assures you that it’ll be alright, you’ll be better off that way, you won’t be caught, or it won’t really matter.

 

In the inner voice of the madman and the tyrant you’ll catch a glimmer of my voice underneath their tones carried to victim and follower alike. In the war anthems and funeral dirges, in the screams of condemnation by a rioting mob and the thoughts of soldiers and torturers and leaders alike, my voice rings within.

 

And when all is said and done and you find yourself at your deathbed, your lifeblood bleeding out into your hands, and you feel even the tiniest spark and glimmer of regret at what you’ve done, you’ll find that my voice inside, my damning whispers all those times, were yours all along…

 

 

***

 

 

 Crimson blood drenched the soil and stained his hands. The butchered corpses of a dozen Night Hags sprawled around him like a hag covey stopped in a single moment in time and forever frozen in that last instant when their lives were snuffed. Their blood stained the great feathered wings of their killer as he looked up into the sky of Oinos and vented his fear, his fury and his misery up to that gray and uncaring mockery of the heavens. His act was a stain against the landscape, crimson red against uniform gray, an act of murderous, zealous rage upon a landscape that irrevocably leached the passion, the care, the good out of all who stood upon it. There upon that sinkhole of morality, that lone figure stood and wept in the aftermath of his crime. He wept burning tears upon the ash of the land and then he began to laugh.

 

 An onlooker from afar might have thought himself having just witnessed an act of heavenly wrath upon true evil. The figure who stood over the dead hags was nearly ten feet tall, with wings of purest white and marble skin of the same, glowing and radiant against the Waste. A Solar.

 

 Only upon walking closer would the doomed realize how wrong they were. The light not a radiance of any sort, but that the wretched, broken being absorbed the light around him, drawing it into himself and devouring it in a physical way like the plane that had birthed him sucked at the soulstuff of its denizens and visitors alike. Xenghara the Fallen, the exiled arch-yugoloth, the forsaken Altraloth, he was a mockery of purity, and he stood above the corpses of the hags who had made him. His agonized weeping turned to laughter and then to reflection and horror. It cycled among those conflicted feelings as he looked at the blood and the expressions on the faces of the dead.

 

 “What would you have done to me? What would you have not done to me?” He gave a bitter laugh as he looked into the glassy death gaze of the hag Millizeerith. Her body was twisted at awkward angles and her legs lay twelve feet from her torso. She among all of them had suffered for what they would have done if he hadn’t been aware, hadn’t been made aware of how they would have used him.

 

 “What did you do to him? How did you twist him?” The Angel of Misery screamed like a tortured, feral beast as his own curse by their hands began to eat away at his sudden passion. Eventually his rage at them would be devoured and he would be left with only their deaths and his own apathy. What he had done was out of desperation, to save himself from what would have come. He would have become like the other, the one before him. And cursed as he was, to be what he was…

 

 “You would have done to same to me…”

 

 Xenghara wept and laughed and screamed till he felt nothing but apathy and misery. But he had saved himself from so much more. Come what would he had spared himself so much. Come what would by the slaughter of his makers he still knew who he was, who he had been, and he knew what of himself was real.

 

 “What you would have done…”

 

 

***

 

 

 “Who am I?”

 

 The words hung on the air and curdled in the mind of the one who had asked it. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t asked that of himself before. In fact it had festered in his mind for over a century, and during that time he had come precious little closer to the answer.

 

 “I am yugoloth.” The being said to itself as it hunched over the waters of the Styx and watched its own reflection stare back at it with hollow eyes. At once the vision playing across the rancid waters was both an affirmation of his identity, and a mocking portrait, a facsimily of himself, an image that was not him and might have never been. In a metaphysical way of speaking, he did not know, truly know, the face staring back up at him.

 

 “I was Oinoloth.” He whispered to himself, another place, a later time. The red light of Carceri leached up from the ground about him as he sat and pondered, tortured by a line of thought that had consumed him all these years.

 

 He had wandered the lower planes aimlessly, but nowhere had he truly found an answer to his questions. Everywhere he looked, he found either nothing, or that same mocking face staring back at him that he did not believe he truly was, or ever had been.

 

 Doubt ate away at him even more so than the rotting disease that harrowed his flesh eternally. And yet it was doubt that drove him onwards.

 

 He’d been there in Carceri, screaming up to the maddening Bells of Othrys, extolling them for an answer, but they had answered him with only ominous silence. He had scoured the vaults of the Tower Arcane, heedless of the objections of the arcanaloth sorcerers within. In the end their nominal master, the Keeper of the Tower had spoken with him and given him free access. Rending a dozen scribes and incinerating perhaps half again that many was more the reason than any duty or pity on the part of Helekanalaith. That one was merciless pragmatism, a true child of Gehenna, but even with his permission and tacit approval, the records of the tower only mirrored his doubt. They neither disproved nor confirmed his worst assumptions. And so he continued to wander, searching for truth.

 

 In the Waste, there in the shadow of the Wasting Tower he gazed up at the former seat of his power with dead eyes in carved, artificial sockets. It mocked him, Khin-Oin, what was formerly his, but which he had voluntarily renounced. The current Oinoloth, the Ultroloth Prince Mydianchlarus, he had ascended to that position by a single phrase. A single damning whisper into his ears had made him crumble, fracture, collapse into his present state of existence.

 

 “I was Anthraxus.” The tortured Altraloth said to himself. “I was Anthraxus, but who am I now? And who have I been?”

 

 He continued to wander. The Loadstones of Misery were silent to him, and so where their builders. The Baernaloths did not come to him with their token wisdom, their cursed, blessed brilliance of the mad. They had abandoned him. Or had they never been with him?

 

 “I do not know.”

 

 Anthraxus sat amid the drifting, windblown stalks of the Field of Eyes there on Oinos, searching for a fragment of vision that might pertain to his past. Something to prove who he was, or to disprove the secret that Mydianchlarus had told him.

 

 “Anthraxus, you are not now, nor have you ever been who you think you are.” The Ultroloth had said to him. “The Hags who made you what you are, they altered your memories, ripped you apart and built you up again. They did not simply make you into what you are, they –made you- in every way imaginable. So, mighty Oinoloth. If you are not Anthraxus, the one who crawled his way up from mezzoloth so long ago, who are you?”

 

 The hags were dead, butchered by the hand of Xenghara. Xenghara was an exile, and in his wanderings he could not find the Angel of Desolation. The other Altraloth was hiding, both for his own protection, and perhaps if the multiverse was as cruel as it should be, Xenghara was hiding from Anthraxus simply to torment his fellow archfiend. In all likelihood the other was hiding somewhere within the inner rings of the Outlands, perhaps forever beyond the scope of his kin to find him. Answers to his doubt hung out of reach, even if the other archfiend might have them all.

 

 “Why won’t you speak to me?” Anthraxus asked, talking to himself. “Answer me Methikus. I sculpted my body, carved into my own flesh to resemble you. I reflected you who was inside of me, guiding me, empowering me, acting through me… I had purpose for a time.”

 

 The Baernaloth whom he had played willing host for, Methikus Sar Telmuril, the Flesh Sculptor, he did not answer him. Since these doubts had rippled through his mind he had felt hollow inside, devoid of the presence of the Baern.

 

 His emulation of the Sanguine Weaver had begun shortly after he had ascended to Ultroloth status. He had emulated that particular Gloom Father, attempting to forcibly remake himself into that one in both craft and visage. In the end he had sought out infection, if that term could be used, and the Lord of Corporeal Terrors had chosen him, elevated him, dwelt within him, defined him.

 

 But was it as he remembered? Or was he even them a hollow thing, seeking to define himself, seeking identity, seeking a voice to talk to him, he who was hollow, he who was nothing and never had been? How much of what he remembered had ever happened?

 

 “I don’t know. And you no longer speak to me…”

 

 Indeed, the voice of the Flesh Sculptor would not answer him. But that was not to say that it was silent. Oh no, it still spoke at times. But that was the haunting truth of it. The voice of the Sanguine Weaver was speaking, but never speaking to –him-. It was as if he, Anthraxus, he was listening in on the conversation of others in crowded room, a conversation not meant for him, nor even speaking about him in the least. And there was always someone answering back to that voice that should have existed within him, been for him, been his to possess, to host. Someone that was not him was speaking to the Flesh Sculptor? Who was it? Was it who he had been before the Hags had remade him from who or whatever he had been?

 

 “I do not know…”

 

 And still he searched. Beating for a year against the solid boundary into the divine realm of Cegilune where visages of those dead hags stared at him like lost souls, silent and unexpressive. They told him nothing, nor did the Queen of the Sallow Moon. They mocked him. Or they did not know him. He was not sure which was the worse answer.

 

 In Baator he briefly considered hurling himself into the River Lethe, but that would have done him nothing. And he would not abandon the questions that tortured him, had in many ways come to –be- him, to –define- him till he could answer them and claim what he had been.

 

 And then in the lowest depths of Acheron, a thousand miles beneath Zoronar the City of Shadows he had found something buried in the ice of Ocanthus. The black ice of Ocanthus, the solidified memories of those who had been touched by the draining force of the Styx, something there spoke his name. It took him nearly a decade to burrow down into the lightless depths, two miles below the surface where the darkness was absolute, the ringing of the cubes was gone and all was silent. And there in the repository of regrets left behind, unclaimed by the Styx, he lay his hands upon that broken fragment of memories and pain that called to him. He found it, and it spoke him name. The taste was bitter, and it was a tiny thing, a fragment of a much vaster but missing whole. But that small piece, it was affirmation of his fears in a way, and it was a clue of where he might find the others.

 

 It contained a fragment of him, his name and little else about ‘him’, but it also held the name of one of the Father/Mothers.

 

 “Koristal Il Palinthiin…” The archfiend whispered as he sat there entombed in ice that had years ago refrozen above him.

 

 “The Proselytizer.” He whispered to himself again and again. “He who crafts and molds, twists the hearts and minds of those without direction, without purpose, without identity…”

 

 There was another involved. Another of the Baern who had touched him, but at which point and for what purpose he did not know. Had the Mute Orator been a part of him before the Hags had touched him? Part of that unknown, possibly nonexistent or obliterated past self that he had been? Or had the Father/Mother colluded with the Hags, using them in order to experiment upon him, remake him in that one’s grand tradition of such?

 

 And why?

 

What was so terrible in his past that the hags obliterated it, what had he even been before they had polluted him with their touch? What were they afraid of, if anything? What role did the Baern play, and which of them had ever truly touched him?

 

 Ripping his way free to the surface, clawing his way up from the depths, there in sight of the purple light of the Fortress Macabre, Anthraxus smiled with rage. He had a name, and he would find his answers no matter the time or the cost. He stood there screaming out his brutal, tiniest triumph even as the blades of ice clipped at his flesh like the scalpels he had long ago applied to himself in emulation of one who might never have inhabited him. But oh, he would discover the truth, he would find it out for himself. He would reclaim who he was.

 

 

 ***

 

 

Centuries earlier…

 

 

 

 The other being looked back at the Ultroloth Prince Mydianchlarus, then looked beyond those flickering puissant eyes at the other that he harbored like a plague. Not unexpected, but the one that lurked within, half awake, half lucid, that was the surprise. Both of them. They knew not to interfere, they couldn’t risk it. Not now. Not yet.

 

 “Normally your kind seek out the Elders out of power, out of a desire to know their secrets, to know their wisdom, to prove that you are worthy of being graced by their presence, graced by their approval.” The voice out of the darkness was mocking. “You’re like mewling infants. Pets that they find amusing.”

 

 Mydianchlarus said nothing. He had dealt with them twice before, much to his benefit, and much to his lament. You listened and you tried to make sense of their mad genius. Even when gripped by their strange, paralytic bouts of insanity, they were mind numbingly –aware- of things, and if you listened you might gain but a fraction of that knowledge.

 

 Mydianchlarus let the other talk without interruption.

 

 “Ah, but you expected something different this time. You sought me out here blindly. You knew that there was no link between my name and those of the 13. You wanted words, advice, wisdom untouched by them, and oh, that you will have. I’m not one of them, not in that way.”

 

 The Ultroloth Prince looked up into the darkness that rippled around the form of the Elder who sat a few feet away from him. He could only catch glimpses of a physical form, and even that was black and featureless. Perhaps this one lacked a physical form entirely, similar in some ways to the one known as The Ineffable.

 

 He looked up reverently, obedient in his terror. There was nothing distinct, nothing certain in what he saw, but it was there nonetheless as a mass of darkness, tendrils of shadow wrapped around a larger being, cloaking it from view. He did not need to know what it looked like though, or even look into its eyes. He only needed to know its wisdom in order to take the place that he craved, and the potential to have the power to rid himself of the voices.

 

 “You will you know.”

 

 Mydianchlarus jerked his head back.

 

 “Father/Mother, how…”

 

 “Never call me that!” The darkness said with fury. “Do not call me that. Ever.”

 

 The groundwater around them there in the crater was boiling and radiating a cold chill at the same time. The landscape was reacting to it like the will of a deity inside their domain. Normally the Elders were much more subtle about their power, even though such was assumed to be within their scope, if not more so.

 

 “You wish to assume control of the Wasting Tower?” The other said rhetorically. “You will. And in the end the voices will be silent.”

 

 The Ultroloth listened keenly, obediently. This one was different from the others. It had been inside of his head, but that had felt different. This one had been reading a book, not infecting, infesting, making itself in the flesh of a host. This one, his words were infectious, but not him. He did not seek to infect, nor seek a host, he simply was.

 

 Were the 13 such an aberration from others of their kind? How then had the Elders, the Father/Mothers been truly in the beginning?

 

 “Another question for another time.” The other gave a sigh that curdled with resentment. The water in the caldera began to freeze with searing warmth.

 

 “Then how do you propose that I overthrow Anthraxus?”

 

 “You are what you are. Use that and you won’t need any army to take power. The Oinoloth will simply step aside when you whisper in his ear a single secret.”

 

 “A secret? Secrets are our stock and trade, what would make one so special that the Diseased would voluntarily relinquish power?”

 

 “You are what you are. You know what you are. You know –who- you are.” The other said with a chuckle before he whispered something to Mydianchlarus.

 

 The ultroloth’s eyes burned with a mixture of disbelief and honest fear.

 

 “How could they have done that to him? Did they do that to him?”

 

 “Does it matter?” The darkness said. “If he believes it to be so, and thus the seeds of doubt creep into his mind, it will fester and it will germinate. Like a goddess from an ear, you’ll sprout out of the flower that erupts from that bitter seed in the Oinoloth’s mind.”

 

 “Which one is inside of him? Which of the 13 infects him, will never leave him? Which one? Do you know?”

 

 “How very good of a question indeed.” The darkness said but did not answer as the Ultroloth thought he heard the lubricated spread of lips that presaged a smile from within the gloom.

 

 “One other question for you Elder.” Mydianchlarus asked, still disturbed by that terrible secret, that nagging, lingering notion.

 

 “Yes my child?” The darkness crooned.

 

 “You had said before to simply use what I am, be what it is that I have in order to achieve power. What do you feel that I have?”

 

 The darkness moved closer, stood up if it had legs upon which to stand, and crawled up to him on drifting tentacles of shadow. It was looking closely at him.

 

 “You have one of the same blessing/curses that I possess, but it is only there so long as you hold it, or are forced to hold it. What we have is anonymity.” The roiling darkness said as it seemed to coil upon itself, condense, coalesce. “Look at me my child and I will tell you. Look upon my face and know what your future will hold. Look upon me and see your past and your future both.”

 

 The darkness solidified and Mydianchlarus’ eyes widened in alarm and disbelief. How could, how did?…

 

 “I know you.” Was all the ultroloth could say.

 

 The other smiled back at him and laughed a prophetic laugh.

 

 “Yes. Yes, you do. And you will again. And in the end, with screams within and screams without, you’ll see my face once more before I grant you what it is you want.”

 

 The darkness spoke, and Mydianchlarus forgot. The ultroloth and future Oinoloth was still and silent as his memories were altered, the past erased in his mind just as surely as the thought of such was the dread that the current Oinoloth harbored within his heart. When his eyes began to sparkle once more, the elder was no longer quite so close, once again inchoate, shrouded in darkness. The space of seconds was missing, but he did not realize it, and he would not for a very long time. Not till later when it all came hurtling back to him, when the future would repeat itself.

 

 “You know what Anthraxus fears. Whether it is true or not, it is enough. It will shatter him, and you will gain your power.”

 

 Mydianchlarus nodded. “I understand.”

 

 He was troubled. What if they might have done the same to him?

 

 “But be aware that when you gain your place, you will rejoice and then you will weep as what you have, what you are, is what you will be denied.” The elder said. “The voices will not be quiet, not till you regain in the end that which you will trade for power.”

 

 Mydianchlarus nodded, disturbed but with the knowledge that in the end, he would be rid of their blessings and their curses, the voices would be silent. He bowed to the darkness, abased himself like a whimpering child to the elder he had sought out and found. His advisors had scoured the racial knowledge of their kind and the tomes of the near infinite libraries of the Wasting Tower before they had at least given him a name and a location. He had found it, and it had spoken to him, paving the way for his ascent to power. No matter what the Inquisitor asked of him, made him question himself, he was worthy.

 

 The future Oinoloth touched his head to the soil of that crater in the Waste, there within sight of the Wasting Tower, yet invisible to any who did not know of it. Anonymity. Mydianchlarus clambered up the slope and walked off into the Waste, walking up from a crater that was less a burning impact from the heavens, and more an excavation, walking off towards his future and walking away from his anonymity.

 

 And there, in the caldera, his feet licked by the groundwater leached from the Styx and mixed to a black slurry of ash and dust, the darkness coiled and rippled like a drifting, animate cloud of plague. The darkness remained there as the future Oinoloth walked away, walking back to the Tower in the distance, and the darkness smiled an ivory fanged smile as those albino eyes watched it in every detail.

 

 

***

 

 

 The former Oinoloth spent nearly a decade hunting for one of the Gloom Fathers, not the one he had sorted with, or believed he had consorted with during his time as Oinoloth and his time with the Hags who had made him, but the one who he suspected had truly been involved all along.

 

Ultimately the archfiend found himself on the prime, an otherwise unremarkable sphere except that he could taste the presence of the Baern, the one that he was hunting. It hung like a pall in the air that seemed ever more oppressive than the scent of death on the land. War was in the air, nations were clashing, the innocent were being put to the sword. And here, in a place that seemed to typify the actions of its kind, the Proselytizer had laired, lurking and feeding off the human misery around it.

 

Anthraxus was invisible to the mortals, those that marched in lockstep across the fields and hills around him, marching off for war that was approaching them now in their homeland, turning against them now after so much victory. They were losing. The Altraloth could taste their fear, their desperation; it would end soon for them even if they were not aware of it. They were finishing what they could before that time came at the behest of leaders who knew what was in truth coming. Whether it was at the bidding of the Proselytizer or not was an open question. It was certainly that one’s methodology, but the scent of the slaughter that wafted up the fiend’s carved and sculpted nostrils, it smelt of something purely out of mortal intent, a purity to it that would have been like a drug for the Baern to taste. The Proselytizer hadn’t been the cause of this, he had been drawn to it like a vulture to a rotting carcass in the desert.

 

And so the former Oinoloth continued. He followed the tracks of a great, rolling iron beast that belched a breath upon the air that reeked of that misery, suffering, and death which would have drawn Koristal. The stench increased as he approached where he knew the Gloom Father would be waiting, witnessing, whispering, watching, tasting.

 

 Under an iron archway he passed. Humans penned like cattle for the slaughter stared through him with the hollow, gaunt faces of the starving. A cleric wept and called out for mercy, and mercy came from the humans who guarded them in the form of death for the simple profession of his beliefs. A rancid scent of fear and bodily waste in the air mixed with ash and decomposition. The prisoners were being exterminated, every last one of them. No wonder it had drawn the Baern to it.

 

 The mortals never saw him as he passed untouched through the guards, through iron gates, through woven metal mockeries of razorvine.

 

He found his quarry there, the Proselytizer sitting in an empty, tiled chamber smelling of alchemy. The Baernaloth sat there, still and silent, legs crossed like a ascetic monk, sitting in a place of death like a king holding court illuminated by harsh candles with burning metal wicks strung upon the ceiling.

 

Koristal was there to watch it all, feel it in the air, touch the minds of those dying and those butchering. The first bonfires of genocide had already been stoked before his arrival, the People crying out for blood and justice. Anthraxus approached him, hooves echoing on the empty tiles of the floor.

 

The mute orator smiled, his eyes still closed, as Anthraxus approached.

 

The former Oinoloth screamed, smashing his hands into the walls as he vented the anger and frustration of a decade of silence and self doubt. He raged and he screamed, but the mortal guards and prisoners alike who might have heard through the walls of tile and brick and earth, they heard nothing. The Baernaloth would brook no interference in what was occurring around him.

 

Anthraxus was quiet and he saw that Koristal sat still, utterly silent but with its lips moving and tongue quivering like it was whispering. It was aping the words of the victims and killers alike, the pure and the impure, whispering their words silently to itself, experiencing A ragged, scarred wound across its throat belied its ruined or nonexistent vocal chords; it was mute.

 

“What did they do to me?” He said, a snarl forming in his throat.

 

The Proselytizer gave him no answer. It simply kept whispering a mute whisper, mouthing the misery of the doomed.

 

“Father/Mother,” Anthraxus repeated again, this time more penitently. “Who was I before the Hags changed me? What was I? What am I now?”

 

A second time the Baern gave no reply, no sign that he had even noticed the Altraloth’s presence.

 

The iron gate to the chamber opened, and two humans entered, guards, knights, officers, all dressed in black and silver regalia. Executioners. They looked across the Baern’s cold and fear soaked throneroom and checked off something on a scroll they carried. They noticed neither of the two fiends.

 

“ANSWER ME YOU CRIPPLED FOOL!” Anthraxus bellowed and hurled out the tip of his staff towards one of the humans, striking out in rage.

 

The Staff of the Lower Planes struck a solid barrier an inch before it would have cleaved the mortal’s head from its shoulders. The Baernaloth opened its eyes and fixed them on the former Oinoloth. White, snakelike eyes, devoid of compassion adjusted to the light and focused on him, finally deigning to give him attention.

 

 Anthraxus prepared to either apologize, or demand an answer to his haunting, doubt riddled questions. He wasn’t certain which was appropriate, but he didn’t need to decide as the Gloom Father spoke in its own way.

 

“Who are you?” The fiend’s mellifluous voice said as it erupted in his mind with the screams of the damned, the anger of the mob, and the ecstasy of the orgiastic all interwoven.

 

 “I do not know.” The former Oinoloth whispered as he fell to his knees. “I no longer know the answer to that question.”

 

 Koristal was quiet and let the weeping Altraloth continue.

 

 “I am empty. Ever since Mydianchlarus whispered to me, that damning secret, I have been empty. The voice has been quiet, the voice of the Flesh Sculptor, the one I tried to be. Even then before Mydianchlarus spoke to me, I was trying to become something as if I was nothing to begin with.”

 “When the Hags empowered me, they did something to me, they altered my memories. I do not know what before that point was real and what was not. Who was I? Who am I now? I want back what they stole from me!”

 

 “And so you have come to me…” The mute orator said into the archfiend’s mind. “You have come to me because of what I do. And you did not go to the Flesh Sculptor because you believe that he was never a part of you. Do you think that I was?”

 

 “I cannot say.”

 

“I watched them make you my child. I watched them take what you were and mold you into what they wanted. Who are you Anthraxus? That is your question to me, and my question to you. The hags are dead, the same ones that created you they also created your brother Xenghara. Only he became aware of their attempts, and he slaughtered them without mercy for what they did to you and what they would have done to him. Who are you Anthraxus? Do you really want to know the answer to that? Who am I? Who are any of us…”

 

 There was a sound of shuffling feet outside the iron entryway to the chamber. Koristal paused to listen and savor it before he continued.

 

“I am nothing but the manipulative urge. I am a void into which the mind of others passes and are … touched… affected, -afflicted-, altered, changed, warped, despoiled, debased and glorified at once. I do nothing but through others, I cannot create from anew, but I can change anything that is already extant. Go forth and conquer I tell them; tear down the temples and hurl the brazen idols to the ground; hate thy neighbor and fear the foreign; the elves they steal the newborns of the poor; the dwarfs hoard the wealth that is rightfully yours…”

“And they listen. They listen and they do what they wish to do. All I do is push and urge. But what can I do with you my child?”

 

 “Who…” Anthraxus began to say before that mental voice told him to stop.

 

 “Be silent child and listen. Open your mind and listen to my words. It is as simple as that. It always is. Yes, the Hags tried to change you, but in the end they could not. You are as you remember, but the Hags, they tried to change not you, but the one you held inside of you. From their crude knowledge of such things, they could not distinguish you from him. Something went wrong though, their attempts went awry and far from changing anything, they made you panic that they might have. The doubt itself is all that they placed there. Everything else that you have experienced is not from them, but from yourself. You torture yourself for no reason. You carve your face, your body, your flesh to become the one who you fear was never within. The Flesh Sculptor is within you still, you simply have not been listening child, all because of doubt.”

 

 Anthraxus sat and listened, a pathetic being on the verge of tears.

 

 “Doubt is weakness. Remove your doubt and you are whole again. And oh I am well acquainted with the removal of doubt, the removal of morality, the removal of taboos; all of those things lurking within the mind and heart that are weaknesses of the spirit.”

 

 “He toyed with me like a puppet…” The former Oinoloth whispered, cursing his usurper.

 

 “He supplied the spark to your doubts and you were fit to stoke it to a roaring blaze. You must admit it was a brilliant gambit on his part to overthrow you without a drop of blood, but you will make him suffer all the more for it in the end.”

 

 The Proselytizer fixed his eyes on the Altraloth, and it knelt before him like a penitent man to a confessor.

 

 “Remove my doubt Father/Mother.” Anthraxus said. “Make me what I was, what I should still be. Remove my doubts and let me retake my throne atop Khin-Oin.”

 

 The Baernaloth leaned close and whispered soundlessly. The vocal chords visible through the ragged, scar-laced hole in his throat twitched. Words and ideas blossomed in the former Oinoloth’s mind, and he listened, and he was shaped anew.

 

“Identity, how it is molded, crafted and forged by the words we weave and the thoughts we possess. Listen well my child, listen well and learn…

 

 Seconds or minutes or hours passed. Words passed from Baernaloth to Altraloth and something changed within the fiend something he recognized, but something that had never truly been there before. For the third time in his existence, he was remade for a purpose. Time began again and Koristal looked into the eyes of his newborn creation.

 

“You have what you came for my child.” Koristal said to the once and future Oinoloth. “You know what it is you desire, and you know who it is who took that from you. The secret that he told you? The only secret is that there is none to tell.”

 

Anthraxus bowed his head to the Gloom Father, groveling at his feet as the gates opened and a wall of naked humans crowded around them at the urging of the guards.

 

“You have a destiny child, go back and do what you are meant to do. Something has been taken from you, and you must claim it. You know what must be done.”

 

 The Proselytizer kissed the Oinoloth’s head and gestured him to leave, to return to the Waste and retake what was his. Anthraxus bowed once more and walked through the thousands of walking dead, passing through them like they were immaterial. Koristal smiled and closed his eyes, listening to the panicked screams as the doors were closed and the dim light glinted off the showerheads that would never see a drop of water.

 

 

***

 

 

 The Proselytizer watched Anthraxus go, walking back to his destiny, so sure of himself after he had been broken by a whispered secret. A second such whisper had sent him back, enraged and resolute. And was it even true? Did it matter? He would die before he knew who he had ever truly been.

 

 Koristal made his way to the surface and prepared to leave as another train rolled into the camp and the boxcars were unloaded. He could already smell the chemical stench in the air of what would come, and he smiled as another of his kind approached. He’d been expecting them, a number of his kindred, and they would show in their own time, or he would search them out. The surroundings were already shifting, changing, reacting to their combined presence.

 

 “It is done.” The Proselytizer said to his approaching brother/sister. “He is convinced of himself once again.”

 

 “And what did you tell him?” The newcomer said through split, raw, bloody lips.

 

 “You would have appreciated it. You were implicated of course.”

 

 “Not that I ever had anything to do with him.” The Flesh Sculptor said with a laugh. The sound rattled up from within, bubbling deep in his throat where slashed, and self-punctured lungs bled foam into its larynx.

 

 “He believes you did.” The Proselytizer replied.

 

 “That is all that matters of course.” Methikus replied. “He’s a vector, nothing apart from what he was made to contain, made to carry, made to express.”

 

 “He was an interesting creation of our brother/sister’s. Personality, history, identity, crafted up from nothing, hollow but for what we included. He was broken of course by even a hint at this, he assumed that the Hags had remade his memories.”

 

 “Not at all.” The third of their number said, as it shambled up to them blindly while the first two strolled up the cold, corpse littered length of the Belomorkanal.

 

 “The Hags… they were afraid of what they had found.” Koristal continued. “They didn’t make or remake any of what he was. They simply made him aware of those hollow places within, places where things should have been, but weren’t. Gaps in his memories, gaps in his sense of self.”

 

 “They were never there to begin with.” The Flesh Sculptor replied, ripping into his own chest in a sudden spasm of masochistic fury. The blood left burning, smoldering, crater-like footprints in the permafrost.

 

 “So we have been told.” The blind one said. “He was not my creation. We have only the words of our brother/sister that such is the case.”

 

 “He assumed, much as we are left to assume perhaps, that the hags had ripped them out, erased, changed, and that assumption drove him to despair.”

 

 “And into my tender ministrations…” Koristal spread his arms in a mockery of a call to prayer as they stood there and sat in the sanctuary of Solovetsky.

 

 A fourth figure strode slowly up the aisle between the huddled, freezing zeks who saw and heard none of them in the least. She pulled back the hood of her cloak and smiled sweetly at the other three of her kind.

 

 “Shall we be going then? My brother will be waiting for us. And you three, already discussing us I see.”

 

 “Funny,” The Clockmaker said. “We never mentioned you. Unless you admit to having had a hand in that one’s crafting.”

 

 Tellura’s shadow snarled as the young aasimar’s cherubic face softly laughed.

 

 “Why would I do such to them? My children, such as they are.” She asked.

 

 The Fleshsculptor scoffed at the Shepherdess’s comment. He snickered like a madman as he reached out to rip into the flesh of one of the starving men who sat in the empty sanctuary, devoid of cross and priest. He held back though, so much better if they did it to themselves, which they were. They had no need of their aid, no need for outside influence, a purity that would slaughter millions on its own, feeding them.

 

 “So which among us will take credit for this?” The Proselytizer asked. “Or are their holes in our own selves?”

 

 The Clockmaker moved to leave, the others followed him. The question was left unsaid, as it would always be. The question was rhetorical. They knew the answer, they knew what they were.

 

 They walked, and as they did, the world changed and shifted. Place to place, time to time, atrocity to atrocity. The fifth of their conclave joined them there in the Sharashkas, sat with them in the frozen Indigirka camps, and listened to what they said there in the blood spattered hills as the Cathars were exterminated.

 

 “Now that we have gathered. Our brother/sister has much to tell us.”

 

 “As I have already mentioned to Methikus,” The Proselytizer explained. “Our toy has gone back to the Three Glooms with a renewed sense of self.”

 

 “He is hungry for heartsblood.” The Sanguine Weaver said, licking his lips, tasting the air.

 

 “My brother is nearly done with his own puppet.” The Clockmaker said. “The Inquisitor is nearly finished with his line of questioning as well.”

 

 “Things fall into place.” The fifth whispered as the burning fallout of First Lightning rained down upon them.

 

“They do. He listened and he learned what he wished to learn.” Koristal said. “He and the other, they have a destiny to fulfill. Their fates are preordained. It is what we made them for. Tools. Vessels. Vectors.”

 

“If only they would all play just so. If only they would listen. If only they’d all obey, play host, be what they must be.” Tellura sat and played with one of the skulls that surrounded their gathering, stacked high there on the Killing Fields at the jungle’s edge.

 

 “Be that as it may for him, for ours, predestination leaves them little choice.” The Proselytizer said.

 

“Is it predestination when you have seen the future?” The Clockmaker asked as they warmed their hands at the ovens of Majdanek.

 

“It never is, not for us, only for that other one. Destiny is only a comfort to the meek, a curse to the burdened.” The Architect said from the darkness behind the Shepherdess.

 

The explosive glow of Trinity washed over them, blowing back the gloom to illuminate the curl of a horn, the length of an arm, both gray as the Waste but glowing with a phosphor litany of runes and symbols washing over them like a liquid skein. The mushroom cloud rose high, the light abated, and it was swallowed again in the darkness. For but a moment the runes glowed, rippled and changed in a never ceasing, ever moving liquid surface of naught but words and markings, the invocations a surface, a flesh unto themselves.

 

 “Destiny does not exist except when it is undesired, unwanted. It only attempts to force us to accept it in those times. And none of –us- desire what we have seen.”

 

 There in the gutted streets of Nanking, they reflected on what they had seen. There as the Banu Qurayza were slaughtered, the heads left to rot in the desert sun, they pondered an uncertain but defined future. The Ataturk massacres passed them by, the shouts of the Janjuweed echoed around them, and then they departed, one by one, back to the planes, back their own toys, their own puppetstrings to pull; waiting for something to happen.

 

 The last to depart was the one who had been there in the first place, watching under the Belzec sky, waiting for Anthraxus to come to him.

 

 “It’s so easy when they have nothing of their own. No sense of who they are, why they are here, and what they want. So easy to give them a word, give them a name, a passion, a meaning. You create an animal, a living thing of its own to the point where it grows beyond you, raging like a fever among the people until it burns itself out. Pandemic or palaver, it ends in misery.”

 

 

 

Koristal Il Palinthiin, The Proselytizer, ‘The Mute Orator’.

Baernaloth of The Demented

 

The following details are reportedly from the lips of the blind Eladrin mystic, Isleen of the White Expanse. She was reportedly in a state of ecstasy in the days leading up to when she penned down these words, reflecting on what she had seen in vision. Her vision, her muse, came to her as she sat amid the rubble of an unknown structure in the wastes of Pelion. Those who witnessed this, and presumably brought her comments with them, say that she herself did not remember much of it after the fact, or what had goaded her into that state, only that she had heard a ‘whisper from afar’ calling to her by name before she lapsed into trance.

I present this without comment so that you may judge for yourself:

 

 There is a delicious irony present in the individual known as the Proselytizer, namely that given his title, his preferred method of action and modus venaliter, the Baern is mute. Koristal is unable to speak at all save through telepathy and this he has honed to a brutal and sadistic weapon.

 

 Of those who have seen his physical body, his throat appears to be massively scarred, either by defect of birth or by subsequent and brutal injury. The lines of scar tissue that crisscross his neck are focused on where the vocal chords of most mortals would be. Others have claimed that the Proselytizer has only an open bleeding gash at the base of his neck making any vocalization impossible. Still others have claimed to see flames licking at the base of that same gaping wound in his throat, always surrounded by a mass of thick, white lines, the heraldry of scar tissue.

 

 I would ask then, if the Proselytizer only regained some measure of his abilities and stature following the damage to his body, damage that was apparently permanent and reflected ever after in his base essence… who or what did so to him? Who or what did Koristal anger to the extent that they crippled him and left him for dead, and who or what could actually do that to one of the Baernaloths and presumable survive? I cannot say, but I have ideas and you may take them as they are presented and decide on your own.

 

 Let us first look at the Baern’s general scheme of action. Koristal has made a bloody stage of scattered worlds upon the prime material, taking it upon himself to be actor and groundling both and those worlds simply the stage and its inhabitants as his props to burn at the conclusion of the acts. To suggest that Koristal orders and actively controls mortals to sin beyond all measure of morality is to strip those mortals of choice and to prevent their damnation because they acted against their willing nature. Koristal is much more subtle than that.

 

 At times he may have taken upon himself a position of leadership or as an advisor to leaders who all stood at points in the history of their nations were the words of one man or one woman could rip down the facades of human kindness and plunge their people into depravity that future generations could only look upon and weep. Time and time again he has influenced the perversion of nations and political creeds, sowing bitter seeds that would sprout in the hearts and minds of those willing, and that word is key, -willing- to do the things he and his kind might suggest.

 

 Why? Why would a Baernaloth do such a thing? Koristal doesn’t seem to be searching for something. He doesn’t seem to be viewing it all as an experiment. He seems to be doing it for two reasons: first, simply because he can and for his own perverse pleasure. And secondly as a great obscene gesture towards the upper planes and the gods of men who have made the prime material their own dominion and left the Blood War to the fiends largely untouched by their own hands. Koristal has taken it upon himself to show them that what they ignore can and will hurt them, delightfully so if it can, and that wounds ignored will continue to bleed all the more.

 

 And this is where I believe that The Proselytizer made his greatest mistake and his greatest triumph. At some point in the dim past, the future mute orator did something of such an extent that he was not ignored. Even if they had been unaware of him before that point, what he did must have been so horrific that they could not overlook it. I suggest that he angered the overpower of a world, an entire pantheon, or personally called down upon himself the wrath of one of the unique members of the upper planes. The wounds upon his throat resemble in some ways the slashes of claws and the savagery of an animal mauling, a wolf or a lion ripping into the throat of a victim, a wyrm going for a final killing blow.

 

 There is only one problem with the first two suggestions. If he had done so, than why is he still alive? I am suggesting that whoever he angered no longer exists, that what he did was not some brutal act of savagery that daily occurs across the prime. No, whatever he did it caused the death of a world or the death of belief upon that world in its entirety. He snuffed out the belief in the gods of a world, a perversion so great that they would have turned upon him in their dying ferocity, all of them, good, evil, neutral, chaotic and lawful alike, they would have sought to cripple him in their death throes to stop it from ever happening again.

 

 I have no proof of this however, and I pray to all that is good and holy that it did not happen as such. For if it did, it could happen again.

 

 The other suggestion of mine is that Koristal in his actions, perhaps following the scenario I raised above, drew down the wrath of the celestials. Given the injuries it seems unlikely to have been an archon or an eladrin, but certain guardinals could have been responsible. Avoral, Lupinal, Ursinal, or Leonal. And if the yugoloths have the Baern, than who or what was there to birth the guardinals? I do not know if they ever existed, and if they did where they are now, but if they were or are, I feel that Koristal Il Palinthiin goaded them into action and he paid a brutal price for it.

 

 Whatever he did to bring it down upon himself he does not speak of, nor has he caused such terrible actions since that time. Perhaps it is for honest fear of drawing an eye upon himself of things that the rest of the multiverse has forgotten. The guardinals have never answered to where they came from, if even they themselves are aware of it. Perhaps their first exposure to the existence of evil in the multiverse so shattered their racial innocence that they no longer were capable of remembering the purity from which they came. They can only look back as if at a painting caught in a rainstorm, the colors mottled and run together, ruined, and smile at the knowledge that it was something beautiful before the storm.

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'nick012000' wrote:
Nice, Shemeska.

Did Anthraxus meet the Baern in a Nazi death camp?

Aye, that he did. Arbeit Macht Frei Anthraxus...

The Proselytizer was on Earth, just watching and observing. The others that joined him later did the same, jumping from genocide to genocide throughout human history. Everything from the Stalinist Purges of the 20's to 50's, to the current situation in Darfur. I tried to avoid naming some of the most obvious names, or being too direct about it. Hopefully it came out as intended.

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I love most of your Demented stories, but the layout of this one isn't quite to my liking.

The introductory story is overly complex, and assumes a prior knowledge of lower planar politics on behalf of the reader. Also, it presents the atrocities of Earth as something worthy of (multiple) Baernoloth attention, which diminishes the Baernoloth nature IMO.

As a minor point, I would prefer if Baern pulling of Yugoloth strings were a little more subtle, and a little less exposed, but that's just me.

The Proselytizer exposition itself is 3/4 vague assumptions about the nature of his injuries. What he does and especially how he does it is mostly left to the imagination.

Of the Demented stories I've read so far, the Shepherdess one remains my favorite.

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This is an incredible piece, Shemmy. The meeting between Anthraxus and the Proselytizer was especially ingenious. It wasn't until the last sentence of that segment did I realize that you hadn't set the meeting in a parallel to the death camps, but in the actual death camps! :shock:

Once again, very well written.

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Proselytizer

Kudos on the writing, but if I may offer my own unasked for constructive criticism:

I must agree with Nemui. Although I have read and loved all seven of the currently available Baernaloth series, this is my least favorite of the bunch. The concept that the Demented have all collected on our own material plane, rather than their usual meeting ground in The Gray Waste, is a bit odd, as is the fact that they seem to have the ability to easily travel through time. My main gripe, however, is the fact that the Proselytizer is not as fleshed out as the other Baernaloths. What exactly does it do? It seems to both weave lies as The Lie Weaver and give poisoned gifts of knowledge as The Wanderer. What makes it special? Finally, my perfectionism forces me to mention this, the title of the piece is different from the rest - it names the Baern's nickname first and then its Baern name, unlike the other articles in the Baern series. A minor point, I know, but I'm just like that.

Don't take my comments the wrong way. I'm not saying this article is in any way bad, I'm just offering my own opinions that, if you agree with them, might help you improve it, were you ever to decide to do so. Overall, your Baern series rocks and I would greatly love to know where you got the ideas for each individual of the Demented. I don't remember them being named in any of the official planescape books, and it's a greater feat indeed if you came up with all of it from nothing. So, again, kudos.

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He came up with them virtually out of nothing.

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The Proselytizer though - I think the way he works is with political propoganda, as per the implications of his name, Whereas the Lie Weaver is more a one on one lie, and the Wanderer gives the poor gifts - the Wanderer though, his gift giving isn't his 'gimick' so to speak. His obsession with the progenators of CG is. We didn't get into one on one with him in the campaign.

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Proselytizer continued

Out of nothing? I am very impressed. This should be canonical.

What I was saying was that the way the Proselytizer works wasn't precisely clear from the article, at least to me. Although I realize that the Wanderer's most noteworthy trait is his tireless climb on the Infinite Staircase in search of the creators of Pelion, his interaction with and corruption of mortals consists mainly of knowledge-giving. What I'm trying to figure out is how exactly the Proselytizer interacts with mortals. It seems he just sits there and watches them destroy themselves on their own, invalidating his nickname, so to speak. The first paragraph slightly hints at his whispering secrets/lies into mortal ears, but then it contradicts itself.

Also, on a seperate note, what do you mean by

Quote:
We didn't get into one on one with him in the campaign.
? Is that to say that all these came from a campaign? I would love to have taken part in that. [wishfully]Would there be any hope of the remaining 6 of the 13 being described in similar articles?[/wishfully]

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Take a look at the storyhour in my signature. Eye-wink That would be the campaign in question. In fact, the Clockmaker's story was one of the incidents in the campaign.

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Out of nothing? I am very impressed. This should be canonical.

I'm glad you like them Smiling

Now I'd love to include some of them in something official, say an article in Dragon, but I don't know what the chances of that are. The closest to anything 'official' I've ever gotten was a story 'published' in Knowledge Arcana #5 over on WotC's site (though that did include the 'Dream Reaver', one of the 13 Demented who I've yet to write a story about).

Quote:
What I was saying was that the way the Proselytizer works wasn't precisely clear from the article, at least to me. Although I realize that the Wanderer's most noteworthy trait is his tireless climb on the Infinite Staircase in search of the creators of Pelion, his interaction with and corruption of mortals consists mainly of knowledge-giving. What I'm trying to figure out is how exactly the Proselytizer interacts with mortals. It seems he just sits there and watches them destroy themselves on their own, invalidating his nickname, so to speak. The first paragraph slightly hints at his whispering secrets/lies into mortal ears, but then it contradicts itself.

The Proselytizer's whole thing is an ability to whisper to mortals and twist their own beliefs and political structures in a way that ultimately puts their descent into evil at their own hands. It's of no use if they are forced to do evil, it's only useful if they willingly do it and they believe that they're doing something good, or even just something that must be done for whatever reason. The molding of identity and self-identification, both individuals and also political structures as well, but it's a bit intentionally vague at times.

The story was also partially just me exploring Anthraxus and the manipulation of his identity at the hands of the Baernaloths, more than a direct examination of the Proselytizer. It's up for debate just how much of a role that Baernaloth had in the matter, if any at all.

I've noticed that the earlier Baern cycle stories might have been more direct about the role of their titular fiend, while later ones might be more broad in what they're looking at. My conceptions of the group as a whole have also changed over time, since it's been about maybe three years since I wrote the first one.

Quote:
Also, on a seperate note, what do you mean by
Quote:
We didn't get into one on one with him in the campaign.
? Is that to say that all these came from a campaign? I would love to have taken part in that. [wishfully]Would there be any hope of the remaining 6 of the 13 being described in similar articles?[/wishfully]

The Demented are some of the main antagonists in my 1st Storyhour, and the campaign that it's based on. All of them, with the exception of The Wanderer, made an appearance in that game, some more than others. I also had some other Baernaloths appear who were not among The Demented.

All of my Baernaloths will eventually have stories written about them. The 13 will come first, and then eventually I'll write about Chorazin Ibn Shartan (The 'Thrice Damned'), Yrsinius the Elder, Yrsinius the Younger, Armala the Reprobate, Ghoresh (of Ghoresh Chasm fame) and whatever others I happen to name in the interim. I also intend to write up a loose chronology of the Baernaloths in my conception of lower planar pre-history. This will take several more years since I'm now out of school and working full time, and writing other things on top of this particular series.

But I'm glad that people like them. Please take the ideas and run with 'em, warp 'em, twist 'em, build your own stuff on them Smiling

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'Iavas' wrote:
I must agree with Nemui. Although I have read and loved all seven of the currently available Baernaloth series, this is my least favorite of the bunch.

*nodding* This one has seemed to be pretty polarizing, with folks either really liking it, or really having problems with it.

I appreciate the comments though, both positive and negative. Feedback is good, even negative feedback.

Quote:
The concept that the Demented have all collected on our own material plane, rather than their usual meeting ground in The Gray Waste, is a bit odd, as is the fact that they seem to have the ability to easily travel through time.

I've been on a kick lately with stories taking place on the Prime Material, including my next one which is going to be posted in the next week. The next two after that however are set on the Gray Waste and the Ethereal, and in Baator respectively.

Quote:
Finally, my perfectionism forces me to mention this, the title of the piece is different from the rest - it names the Baern's nickname first and then its Baern name, unlike the other articles in the Baern series. A minor point, I know, but I'm just like that.

That was just a goof on my part when I was cutting and pasting. I can see if I can alter the title to make it conform with the rest.

Quote:
I would greatly love to know where you got the ideas for each individual of the Demented. I don't remember them being named in any of the official planescape books, and it's a greater feat indeed if you came up with all of it from nothing. So, again, kudos.

I had a loose idea for some of them around early 2003, and by sometime later that year I had some more of them defined in my head, if not much down firmly on paper. I think I started writing them down in late 2003, starting with the Dire Shepherd, shortly after I featured her in my campaign. They've gotten more and more defined since then.

The whole thing was just me making individual Baernaloths to fit into what Planes of Conflict mentioned in the entry for them in its Monstrous appendix in the back of that box set. None of them are ever named or described in canon, though I place Daru Ib Shamiq (from the Hellbound box) among their number. I actually passed the story on The Lie Weaver over to Colin McComb earlier this year, and got some comments back from him on my conceptions on Daru and the other Demented as well.

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Re: Ply

Thank you for the very complete reply. It is highly appreciated. I think I am begging to understand The Proselytizer a bit more now. Although he still seems contradictory, that contradiction seems more natural (if that makes any sense). I do plan to read your "Storyhour"s when I get the chance, as well as add my own chant and shadow to the dark of the planes.
Being, as mentioned, the chaotically perfectionistic spiv that I am, I'd prefer to see a growing official and immutable (except where warranted) repository of planar knowledge rather than the constant retcons favored by the berks at WotC. Sadly, that might be too lofty a goal for any individual or group (too much work in the first case and too much disagreement in the second). However, as far as I can tell, PlaneWalker.com is doing a fine job of it as can be hoped for and sticking to the original Planescape for the most part no less. In so many conclusions, my only lasting regret is that I can't seem to get the sodding quote tags to work. Ah well!

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That's what we're trying our best to do. Eye-wink

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Nice, Shemeska.

Did Anthraxus meet the Baern in a Nazi death camp?

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