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The Company of the Horned Hand

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Zimrazim's picture

"Not nearly enough, cutter. The Company of the Horned Hand, you say? Cross my palm with a heap o' jink, and maybe I'll spill dark."

"Aye, that'll do. Blood War company. Loth sponsored. Even though every last one of them is at least part mortal, even their leader. Not that they don't fight alongside fiends all the time, it's just that fiends are associates, not members. Members are mainly part-breeds and tiefers and such, all sorts, though they've got a bunch of other races, too. Humans, part-breeds like half-elves, giths. Though Thousand, that's their leader, won't let a gith in unless he swears to put aside the eternal sodding gith-war for the duration of his service. 'Never take part in any war you aren't getting paid for,' he says. Similar treatment for elves and drow, and the like. It's hard to believe, but they've even got a couple of ful wicked aasimar as members.

Now Thousand, he's a real nasty cutter. I'm using the word 'he' liberally, he's one of those loth half-breeds. He's called 'Thousand' because he has a thousand forms, see. Nobody knows what he really looks like, on account of a hex his arcanaloth father-mum put on him. He shifts shape all the time. What's the mage-word for it -- polymorph. He's got no control over it at all. He wears this big amulet just so his men can be sure it's him. All this makes him real surly, and he's got this wand he really likes to use on any berk who seriously pikes him off. It'll change the berk's shape into pretty much whatever Thousand wants, and it's usually something humiliating. Those polymorph type spells don't work on Thousand at all, though, part of the hex on him, so he can't use the wand on himself. Which probably makes him even surlier. Heh. He's a mighty hende wizard, so be polite if you happen to wigwag with him.

There's chant that Thousand really, really hates his job, and that the 'big dogs' among the loths make sure he knows his place, heheh. Like he's literally magically bound to do the job or something.

The Horned Hand has a real solid rep. Been around for centuries, in one form or another. They'll take a contract from practically anybody, except celestials of course. They've even fought loths and other companies with loth sponsors. They can even handle the fields of Oinos for a long time, though I'll explain the dark of that in a bit. They're best known for 'special operations' -- putting important cutters in the dead-book, swiping battle plans, interfering with supply lines, things like that.

The company's got this disgustingly powerful artifact. The Forge of Hades, sometimes called the Forge of Agony, the Forge of Pain, the Forge of Torment, and so on. Aye, that artifact. It's just this big anvil, really, totally black, so dark it's like it absorbs light. When a recruit says he wants to join, they make him cut himself a bit, bleed on the artifact, put his hand on the anvil, and swear an oath, on peril of his soul if he breaks it. First they announce that they're doing it of their own free will, then they swear that they aren't any agent of the Upper Planes. The forge rejects noble-hearted cutters, burns 'em within an inch of their lives. Then the cutter swears his total loyalty to the company, for whatever period of time he's agreed to, or until he decides to leave, depending on the recruit. The forge won't take cowards either, burns 'em just a little, compared to what it'll do to a paladin.

The forge can tell truth from lies, so it's happy to burn any berk who isn't sincere in his oath. Fact is, even some bloods outside the company have sought out the Forge before just for this purpose -- to swear a great oath about something or other, or to tell if some berk is lying or not. Heavy as it is, the Horned Hand actually carries the artifact around a lot, especially to the big battles, on this litter. There's a big dark about the Forge, but you'll have to show me some more jink if you want to hear it.

...Aye, that's a proper garnish. You know how the Waste drains every mortal it touches, turns 'em to shades? The Forge is one of the few things in the whole sodding multiverse that can suppress the effect, even for a while. I hear it does it by filling the cutters around it with battle-lust. That's how the Horned Hand can operate on Oinos as much as it does. The other half of that dark is that it's so sodding powerful, it can even suppress some of the effects on different planes. I'm talking Elysium, cutter. There's a big chant that the Horned Hand actually managed to steal something out of that cage-plane on Elysium, though that something is so sodding dark I still haven't yet lanned what it is. It's probably gone straight to the Wasting Tower by now. I hear that to get the Forge to do that on an Upper Plane, someone has to sacrifice a real hende celestial to it, in a really gruesome way.

If any cutter, mortal or not, swears an oath on the Forge and breaks it, it smites him with some real nasty disease, which always kills the berk. I don't think there's much that would be immune to it, other than maybe a god or something.

It has one other weird power, and I've never seen it myself, but some of the Horned Hand talk about it sometimes. Basically when a mortal swears an oath on the Forge to serve the Horned Hand, the Forge makes a sort of copy of his mind and memories at that moment. Not his soul, of course, I'm sure the fiends have other uses for that! When a member of the company is alone, or the Horned Hand is away from other cutters, sometimes one of these memories, or whatever you want to call them, shows up and starts to wigwag with 'em. Tells 'em what happened in some battle a long time ago, which fiend betrayed which other fiend, that sort of thing. Sometimes they train members, too. Actually that sort of copy-making is a big draw to potential recruits -- they figure it means they'll live on forever that way."

[DM notes: The Forge of Hades will burn any good-aligned being that touches it, as a harm spell, with all damage being treated as vile damage. The Forge will accept either neutral or evil-aligned beings as recruits, but only courageous individuals. Those it rejects for any reason other than alignment suffer either 1d12 points of vile damage or vile damage equal to 20% of their total HP, whichever is less.

The Forge is able to temporarily suppress some of the more abstract metaphysical effects of the Outer Planes within a large radius around it (DM's whim on exactly which effects and to what extent). For example, it can suppress the wasting and draining effects of the Grey Waste, or the madness-inducing nature of Pandemonium. Apparently it can even suppress the ability of Elysium to prevent evildoers from traveling around the plane. In order to activate this ability for any plane except the Grey Waste, the owner must sacrifice a powerful exemplar being of an appropriate type, in an extremely horrible manner. The Forge cannot or will not suppress more 'physical' planar effects such as fire, cold, or disease.

The Forge will accept only an owner/controller/possessor who is at least partially mortal. Half-breeds (such as Thousand) are acceptable. If it were to find its way into the direct control of a full-blooded exemplar, it would find its way out of that exemplar's possession within at most a single year. (Even the yugoloths themselves can only control the Forge by indirect means, using Thousand as their intermediary.)

Beyond serving certain of the Blood War-related needs of the yugoloths, one of the purposes of the Forge is to provide the 'loths with a hot and cold running supply of evil-aligned souls possessing the quality of courage. Regardless of their original alignment, all mortals who successfully swear on the Forge to serve the Horned Hand for any length of time are urged by the artifact toward Neutral Evil alignment over time, with the effect becoming stronger the longer the individual serves. Many of the newer recruits, or those who only serve for a short period of time, may be of other alignments, but all of the career veterans are NE. Additionally, while Thousand is a half-breed, he still takes his role as a corrupter seriously, and is quite skilled at 'guiding' members toward NE alignment himself. The yugoloths use the brave and wicked souls they acquire in the construction of a large number of warfare-related magical devices.

The deadly disease effect, caused by swearing by the Forge, then breaking the oath, is effective on almost anything short of a deity, including entities that are normally immune to disease. It even works on yugoloths -- not that many yugoloths would willingly swear an oath on the artifact. Similarly, the detect lies effect is effective on almost anything short of a deity, and is able to bypass most forms of protection against lie detection.

The Forge contains a copy of the memories of every member of the company. These memories are updated each time a member touches the Forge. (Separate from the oath, there is a ritual in which each member puts his hand on the Forge, generally once a year.) These memory-forms can only manifest themselves after the original member has died. The memories are not directly controlled by anyone other than the Forge itself, though Thousand has the power to either command them to be silent or to dismiss them.

The Lady of Pain prevents the Forge from entering the City of Doors.

The true sponsors of the Company of the Horned Hand are a specific faction within the ultroloth caste, one that might be called a 'kingmaker' faction. A group of ultroloths that are fairly similar in metaphysical philosophy and who in particular share the trait that none of them strongly desire the Siege Malicious for themselves, often for the reason that whoever sits on it makes himself a huge target. They do have substantial influence on the Oinoloth, however. These ultroloths (virtually) never interact with any member of the company directly, using arcanaloths or other beings to communicate (usually with Thousand) if absolutely necessary.]

Bladedancer's picture
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Joined: 2008-05-21
Re: The Company of the Horned Hand

I like it.

bahne's picture
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Joined: 2011-05-14
Re: The Company of the Horned Hand

very nice, I am tempted to use this band of mercenaries

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