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Twin Furnaces

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Twin Furnaces

Introduction: The following is the result of me watching [i]Twin Peaks obsessively and subconsciously connecting it to Planescape. Also, the baernaloths in this story - the Inquisitor, the Lie Weaver, Yrsinius the Elder, the Ineffable, the Flesh Sculptor - are all stolen from things Todd Stewart - Shemeska the Marauder - has written. As is Helekanalaith, to an extent.[/i]

The Shopkeeper of the Tower Arcane smiled placidly at his balor patron. "All the shadows in a single layer of the Abyss for a year? A generous offer indeed. We can certainly make use of those, or we have business associates who can. However, for the same legions the baatezu have offered us the privilege of sharing the use of their Lake of Flame for a century. We don't yet know what we would use it for, but surely you appreciate the magnitude of this sacrifice."

The balor growled, flames erupting from its eyes and licking its cheeks. The invasion it had planned was crucial to their overarching strategy, at least as far as its marilith advisors had made it understand. It could not afford to let so many yugoloth companies be involved in the other side. "We can permit the Lakes of Iron to be shared for a similar period of time," it finally said.

"In addition to your previous offer, I assume?"

"Yes," said the balor, gritting its fangs. Demogorgon had not authorized this, but since when did a balor need authorization to do as it pleased? It would worry about the cost later on. The arcanaloth's answering grin, infuriatingly honest-looking despite everything, made it clear why tanar'ri and baatezu alike called him the Friendly Fiend.

"Excellent," said the Shopkeeper. "We'll check with your rivals to see if they're willing to increase their own offer accordingly, of course, but I believe we'll find we have ourselves a deal. I'll have Ifor begin drawing up the contracts." A shorter, more rotund arcanaloth nearby began sharpening the flensing knives he would use to turn damned souls into aware and suffering parchment.

"Wait," said the balor. "I think I'd rather sign these contracts over dinner." As a being of chaos, the very idea of committing itself in this way would be physically painful for it, but a night of devouring terrified victims might make things easier.

"For a valued customer like you," said the Shopkeeper, "It would be a pleasure to satisfy any hunger you might have. Ifor?"

His assistant made a more feral grin of his own. "Of course, Shopkeeper. Come this way, sir." Ifor led the balor to the chambers set aside for the appetites of tanar'ri. "You'll especially enjoy the pie, I think... I would consider it an honor to begin traumatizing its ingredients myself..."

Alone now, the Shopkeeper, known to other arcanaloths as Bin A'kin or simply A'kin, was able to attend to his real duty, which was coordinating the nycoloth assassins of the Obsidian Lodge. One alighted now from a high rafter where he had been standing invisibly and immobily as a statue. "Report," said A'kin.

"Sir," said the nycoloth. "We have been shadowing Ifor, your 'brother,' as you requested, but can report no major slip-ups."

"Look harder. There must be something. You are certain he has had no opportunity to meet with celestials?"

"None. You've kept him much too busy entertaining clients."

"I see. Any other major betrayals to report?"

"I have the list on your desk, sir."

"So you do," the Shopkeeper said. Putting on a pair of reading glasses, he browsed through it. "Make certain Montius the Gilded is eliminated, " he said. "The others can wait for the time being."

The nycoloth nodded.

"That will be all."

The nycoloth nodded again. Unfurling his wings he lept in the air, and vanished.

"And now the other thing," the Shopkeeper said to himself as he teleported himself to another, more private room in the same Tower. Another arcanaloth was already there, a fox-faced creature bedecked in jewelry, wearing an elegant gown: the Marauder. They embraced one another; though neither suspected the other of carrying anything so crude as a physical weapon, it was better to be sure.

"Have you met with Bubonix?" Shemeshka the Marauder asked A'kin.

He nodded. "The Overlord of Carceri and its legions will be in Khin-Oin at the appointed time. Make no mistake, Mydianchlarus will fall. What have you told Krell?"

"What she needs to know, A dignitary will be coming. She will invite him in. With the help of investigators tied to the Obsidian Lodge, it will become clear to everyone that it was she who betrayed the Oinoloth."

"Excellent," said A'kin. "The Obsidian Lodge has decided that Mydianchlarus and its damned secret must be removed from the board. Whether the next Oinoloth is Bubonix or Anthraxus again does not matter as much as the fact that the ultroloth must die, and now, while it is in a weakened state."

Shemeshka the Marauder nodded, opening up a bottle of razorvine wine as she did so. She seemed to find the whole affair more amusing than A'kin did. "Shall we celebrate our alliance?"

"Of course." A'kin retrieved two tall glasses from the cupboard. They drank their first mouthfuls seperately, and then together decided to sip from one anothers' glasses, enjoying the intimacy so rare among their kind.

The nycoloth that the Shopkeeper had sent away - known as Dai Khulus - was resuming his patrols when he was stopped by an imposing, scholarly-looking arcanaloth with chocolate-colored fur. "Helekanalaith," the nycoloth said in surprise. It did not normally deal with the Tower's master directly.

The Keeper of the Tower Arcane nodded in acknowledgement. "I have a new assignment for you. A special one. You must discover all you can about the circumstances of the coup that resulted in the change of Oinoloths."

"I understand, master," Dai Khulus said, equally quietly. Again he spread his wings, and again he disappeared from view.

...

They were elite among their caste, the best of the best: nycoloths whose mastery of disguise was so great they could pass as arcanaloths, even live among them without suspicion. If an arcanaloth was found unworthy, it could be quickly, silently, and efficiently killed. This secretive order, based within the Tower Arcane in Gehenna, was called the Obsidian Lodge. Of the arcanaloths, only the elite of that caste were invited to direct the shapeshifters.

Among the shapechangers of the Obsidian Lodge there was one more cunning than any other. He was known to some as Dai Khulus.

The marraenoloth who transported Dai Khulus to the Wasting Tower was somewhat taken aback by its passenger’s enthusiasm for the view. “Look at those trees!” Dai Khulus said, pointing at the sad pines of Niflheim. The marraenoloth shrugged. Endless nights on the Styx can easily drain one of all passions and curiosity, and it had not realized the energy nycaloths could gain once released from that state. It was not at all sure it was looking forward to it.

Going directly to the gates of Khin-Oin, Dai Khulus displayed the credentials the Tower Arcane had given him to the dim-witted mezzoloth soldiers stationed around it, finally convincing a piscoloth to order them aside. “I’m real sorry, sir,” said the piscoloth, bowing to the superior ‘loth.

“It’s perfectly all right,” said Dai Khulus. “Think nothing of it. I‘ll be sure and give you a good word with the fellas upstairs.” His canine face twisted in a wide doggy smile. The piscoloth looked merely suspicious.

Khin-Oin, the Wasting Tower in Oinos, is fathomless and unfathomable. Shaped like a titanic spine (which, in fact, it once was) it is over twenty miles high and another twenty miles underground, and its rooms and passages have no limit. Dai Khulus’ task was a daunting one. He thought it best to begin at the bottom.

At the very root of the Tower, twenty miles underground, sparks flew as arcane engines drew the energy of the Gray Waste into prepared mezzoloth husks. Dai Khulus nodded his approval to the chief supervisor there, an yagnoloth named Caron. “Splended facility you have here,” he told her. “Very efficient.”

Caron growled her acknowledgement of what she considered to be the complement of a lesser being.

“Tell me. When the former Oinoloth stepped down, what was the reaction in your part of the Tower?”

“All of Khin-Oin shook. It swayed this way and that. An ultroloth came down and made us stop work. I told it that it would be a bad idea - that we would fall far behind - but that stare. That stare. You can’t say no to an ultroloth’s eyes.”

Dai Khulus smiled. “Well, Caron, I’ve certainly found that to be the case myself. And, from your perspective down here, how do you think it happened? The coup, I mean.”

“They say that Mydianchlarus whispered into Anthraxus’ ear a single secret…”

“Yes, everyone’s heard that. I’m more interested in your own opinion on the matter.”

Caron’s eyes narrowed. “My left arm saw something that night." She gestured at the massive limb with her other, smaller hand.

"And what did your left arm see, Carnon?"

"Ask it."

Dai Khulus leaned toward the yagnoloth's arm. "What did you see, Caron's left arm?

"It says it thinks there was more to it," Caron translated. "Some distraction by the usual feuding altraloths. They’re all gone, you notice, since one not of their number took over. Also… my arm doesn't don’t know how, but it thinks Bubonix was involved.”

“Bubonix?”

“Bubonix was the old Oinoloth’s greatest rival. It returned to Carceri immediately after the coup, too closely for it to be coincidental.”

“Excellent job, Caron's arm, and Caron. My thanks.“ Dai Khulus gave her a thumbs up.

...

Again A'kin bin A'kin met in secret, this time with a small-figured, brown furred arcanaloth with a wolfish face and a timid posture: Krell, currently an intimate advisor to Mydianchlarus, though she had been claimed by the previous Oinoloth, Anthraxus, as well. And before that, a rival of Anthraxas' that she would not name, but who clearly terrified her more than anyone else. She was certain that one day this shadowy figure would return to take her away.

They embraced. Krell did have numerous weapons concealed on her person - her paranoia showing - but A'kin paid them no mind.

"What did you tell the Marauder?" Krell whispered.

"That we would betray you, naturally," said A'kin.

"Ah," said Krell. This was not unexpected. "And will you?"

"Of course not," said A'kin. "She is not useful to me. She has her own agenda, not compatible with mine. Your agenda, however, fits mine perfectly."

"Yes," said Krell. "Yes, of course."

"Has A'kin ever steered you wrong?" A'kin asked sweetly, his mouth very close to her ear.

...

The trees in Carceri were very different, dripping with poison and festooned with razor thorns, but the investigator found just as much to loudly admire. The marraenoloth, who was now chauffeuring the same strange nycaloth for the second time, sighed loudly as it poled its way upstream.

Dai Khulus had not been cleared for knowledge of the Tower of Incarnate Pain’s construction site, but he was resourceful enough to find a way to locate it. After all, he reasoned, the gehreleths must know where it is, or there wouldn‘t be so much trouble completing it. He would simply ask them.

His features shifted, his body growing into a rotund blob of a fiend with mammoth jowls and flaps of skin hanging all around his body. His ever-present smile became wide and sharklike.

“If you were a gehreleth,” he said to the marraenoloth, “Would you be convinced of my shatorhood?”

The marraenoloth gave him a cold stare, but said nothing.

“Ah, of course you’re right. The obsidian triangle!” He concentrated, and a polished, regular piece of black volcanic glass appeared around his neck. “Simulating the feedback from Apomps will be tricky, of course.”

Out of spite, the marraenoloth steered them toward some rapids.

“Those falls were spectacular!” Dai Khulus enthused afterwards. He had managed not to get wet at all. “What were they called?”

“The Cataracts of the Scarlet Vault,” the marraenoloth said, fighting not to pay attention.

“Degius,“ said Dai Khulus, calling the marraenoloth by its true name . “How close can you take me to the Library of the Shators in Agathys?”

The marraenoloth actually gasped. “Lord, you know that is forbidden. Even to our kind, who travel everywhere.”

“It’s time to think outside the box, I think. You’re a mercenary. What do you care for the so-called rules of our race?”

The marraenoloth considered. “I can get you within one day’s walk.”

“Half a day.”

“Three-quarters.”

“Five-eighths.”

“Done.” The marraenoloth gritted its fangs.

The first sign they were nearing their destination were flights of farastus and kelubars choking the black sky, shrieking curses at one another, pushing and nipping each other and laughing. Soon the marraenaloth indicated that this was as far as it would go.

“Oh,” said the marraenoloth as he disembarked. “One last thing. I dreamed of you during my last dormant period. There was a humanoid female, and I was strangling her. And you were turning a wheel. What do you think it means?”

“It means I am permitted to kill you,” said Dai Khulus, whipping out a blade and neatly decapitating the ferryman. “If you tell, you are seven times cursed,” he told his weapon before fastidiously dropping it in the Styx. With that act of treachery to speed his journey, Dai Khulus continued on his way.

There were three houses along the path, each one with many protruding blades. Piles of corpses were stacked up on every side - each one a potential gehreleth. The kelubar running the first house was wary of the being he thought was a shator, but surly and not inclined to be polite. Any instructions Dai Khulus gave were interpreted literally and followed in some way that betrayed their intent. Dai Khulus anticipated this, and was friendly despite it all.

The kelubar snorted at him, slime drizzling down its skin into its coffee. “Will you be staying at the library long?”

“Not long,” said Dai Khulus. “I just have to check on a few things.”

The gehreleth vomited quietly. “Don’t be long.”

The second house he encountered hung upside down in the air. The shator who lived in it demanded that Dai Khulus dance with it before he could be allowed to pass. The sight of two shators dancing upside down, their hairy skin-flaps dangling in the air below their heads, is one to be missed. Dai Khulus endured it and continued on.

The third house was made of crystal and filled with hundreds of vargouilles fluttering around in it. A farastu stood outside, its mouth stitched tightly shut. The corpses piled around the house spoke for it with a hundred croaking voices. Dai Khulus listened intently to the words, but could not remember afterwords what they had said.

Then the terrain opened into a chasm. Gravity ceased to have any meaning as Dai Khulus floated through the Library of the Shators with its thousands of tangled miles of book shelves. He saw different versions of himself far away, in many different forms: as a baatezu, as a tanar’ri, as a rilmani, even as a celestial. To his left he saw an original copy of the Book of Keeping. He ignored it and thought very hard about treachery, knowing that the path of betrayal was the only one that would take him to his goal. But who was there to betray?

“Only yourself,” said another version of him, attempting to scratch his eyes out. Dai Khulus fended off his attack and countered. Evenly matched, the fight went on for some time.

“Wait,” said a third version of Dai Khulus. “That’s enough. We found it.” He held a map in his claws. Dai Khulus took it from himself. “Thanks very much,” he said. “Both of you.”

The sound of applause came from everywhere around them. Darkness coalesced into the form of a baernaloth, tall and gaunt and horrible, its horns curving around its rotting, ramlike head, its mouth gushing bloody foam and its eyes weeping unceasingly. “I know who you are,” it said, giggling. “You are not what you seem.”

Another baernaloth appeared, shorter and broader than the first but otherwise identical. It said nothing, but merely screamed in rage and hatred of everything that breathed and apparently Dai Khulus in particular. It shuddered violently, its head twisting back and forth faster than the eye could easily track.

The third baernaloth, broadest and squattest of all, was obviously fused to the first two, its bones and tendons interwoven with theirs in a way that hadn’t been apparent before it had manifested. “I was once their collaborator,” it confided. “Now I am their enemy. I am the only thing they fear.”

“Can you get me out of here?” Dai Khulus asked this third one hopefully, over the screaming.

“The third door widdershins,” said the Enemy. “Hurry. I cannot hold them back for long.”

Dai Khulus turned to go, but stopped. “I have to ask. Why did you do it?”

The baernaloth sneered. “I would tell you the joy was in the creation, but you know as well as I do that joy is a thing foreign to the Wastes. We did it because it was something that must happen. That was all.”

The Laugher and the Shudderer began to pursue him, somehow, but Dai Khulus was already gone.

...

Mydianchlarus cohered back into physical reality. Since it became Oinoloth, the ultroloth had been drawn into these insubstantial periods - equivalent to humanoid sleep, but very different functionally - far more often than had ever happened before. Of course, Mydianchlarus had long "faded" in this way more than most ultroloths. It had cultivated the practice of doing so lucidly, merging with the nightmare essence of the Gray Waste in an attempt to wrest secrets from the plane's subconscious. Now, though, they happened at an uncontrolled rate. The Oinoloth's assistants, such as Krell and Nisviim, sometimes had to make excuses for their master's absence.

Perhaps the position of Oinoloth was not meant for an unaugmented ultroloth, said the voice that had haunted him for so many centuries. Perhaps you just can't cut it.

"Was not the General of Gehenna the first of Oinoloths?" Mydianchlarus retorted. "The General is an ultroloth, just as I."

Is it so? Are you certain? Your General was privy to things you will never be worthy of. Or perhaps it is as you say, and you are merely defective. Perhaps any other ultroloth would be able to function normally. You may have damaged yourself attempting to gain alone what only your Father/Mothers may give, or perhaps you were always inferior to others of your caste.

"Others of my caste are not the Oinoloth," said Mydianchlarus, but the voice had already retreated into the nightmare depths. Perhaps it had never existed at all. The dreamdark was full of illusions and lies, and constant vigilance was required to tell one from the other. If there was ever a difference between the two; Mydianchlarus was no longer confident that there was.

Mydianchlarus had known the Oinoloth's throne, the Siege Malicious, had a corruptive effect on those who successfully claimed it. The expected side-effects - blisters, running sores, rotting, peeling flesh - had not manifested, however. Mydianchlarus had been strangely untouched. The only physical change was the blood that filled its footprints and soaked the hem of its robe, the trail of blood that now revealed its path to any who cared to look. It was an ironic curse for one who had once prided itself on its invisibility, its ability to go and be anywhere undetected. Mydianchlarus had once been utterly anonymous as ultroloths went, its blank features completely unmemorable. It could have been any ultroloth and was therefore potentially every ultroloth. That had changed now, but the station of Oinoloth more than made up for it. No, it was the unpredictable fading that was the only real concern. One moment Mydianchlarus would be in its throne room, or its study, or just walking the halls of Khin-Oin, and the next moment it would be lost in the dreaming dark, its body discorporate and unable to interact with the waking world. Only its bloody footsteps remained in reality, moving about as if its body was still there.

They're the only substantial part of you, said the voice, suddenly back again. Your footsteps, gifted to you by your throne. The only part of you strong enough to resist the pull is not truly part of you at all.

"My intangibility was my greatest strength," said Mydianchlarus, but neither of its hearts were in it. What had been a strength - had won him rule over Khin-Oin - was now quite obviously a weakness.

No. That wasn't Mydianchlarus' real opinion, not the thoughts of the Oinoloth. That was the voice, the Inquisitor.

The worst part of it was that Mydianchlarus had sought out Jezifreth Na’Harsindrian deliberately. After millennia of attempting to learn the secrets in the dreamdark alone, he gave in to the temptation of asking the advice of the Demented. He found the Inquistor at last - a creature of burning eyes and massive wounds - and begged it to take Mydianchlarus on as an apprentice.

Then, centuries ago, Mydianchlarus finally thought of a remedy:

Why is the ground like this? the voice complained.

"Like what?" asked Mydianchlarus tiredly.

All hard and... solid... made of dirt. I remember when we were all clouds of cosmic gas, drifting through one another. Hello.

"You were never a cosmic of cosmic gas," said Mydianchlarus.

And how would you know? said the Inquisitor. And why wasn't I a cloud? I should have been. I could have been if I really wanted to. Do you know what happened to the cosmic gas on the Prime?

"No," said Mydianchlarus. "What."

Big fiery balls. Have you ever heard anything more outrageous than that? Why would perfectly good gas do such a thing? It only attracts mortals. It takes forever to kill them all again.

Mydianchlarus sighed. As annoying as the Inquisitor could be during its lucid phase, it was almost worse when it was completely insane.

And then, quite suddenly, it went away.

"At last," said Mydianchlarus.

"Indeed," said Daru Ib Shamiq. "And not easy to do to another of my kind, even in its reduced state. What exactly posessed you to seek me out, and why should I not destroy you for your impertinence?"

"You're bored with this existence, in a swamp that is only a reminder of the failures of our kind."

"Not my kind," said the Penitent Fiend. "We had nothing to do with your General's foolish invasion of this place."

"Even so, it can't possibly be fulfilling for you here. You were the only one to stay behind, when your children fled back to the Furnaces."

"What is fulfillment? Nothing of the sort exists for me, and political games with my siblings were tiresome long before I retired here. I'm here to get away from all that, you silly creature."

"You can't," said Mydianchlarus. "Not you. They called you the Lie Weaver. Games are in your nature. Weave a lie for me, Old One. Tangle me tightly, so that I can never escape. Only then will I be free."

Daru Ib Shamiq actually laughed. "Well said, little one. Perhaps I'll weave you a small one; not a tapestry, but a potholder, at least. For the sake of old times that will never return."

...

Mydianchlarus knew that this sort of apprenticeship wasn't unique. No less a personage than Bubonix had spent a time under the wing of Yrsinius the Elder (if he had ever been free of it), and the Demented of course visited the General of Gehenna regularly. The Demented advised every Oinoloth who had ever existed. The Inquisitor dealt with Malpheaz, Lord of Seven Darks. Methikus sar Telmuril - 'The Flesh Sculptor’ - had done something to Anthraxus.

They abandoned us long ago, thought Mydianchlarus, its mind returning to the present. They care nothing for us, yet they will not leave us alone. Like the viruses they are, they seek to turn their hosts into copies of themselves.

Imperfect copies at best, sneered the Inquisitor. The lucid version of itself, from today.

"Highness," interrupted a piscoloth. "You have a visitor. I could not stop him. One Daru Ib Shamiq."

To the Oinoloth's surprise, even the Inquisitor seemed unsettled by this news.

That one was not intended to be here yet. That one's part in the game is yet centuries away.

"It is long since I visited the Waste," said the Penitent One, stepping into the room. It was ancient beyond words, its dry flesh nearly transparent, revealing the shadows of its bones. "Perhaps predestination and I have become strangers."

Do not believe anything it says, the Inquisitor hissed at its apprentice. It does not respond properly to Pain's ministries, and the Lie Weaver gives answers to questions you do not ask.

"That is why I went to it," Mydianchlarus said, "when I first realized I would never escape from you. Who could rival the Inquisitor, who endlessly asks questions in order to seek the Truth at any cost? Only one who specializes in answering in ways you do not want."

"I regret, sometimes, what we do to our pawns," said the Lie Weaver, coughing horribly. "I make what amends I can."

It cares nothing for you. You are a useful piece in the game, nothing more.

"On the contrary, I care nothing for the game," said the Penitent. "My interest in that hobby died eons ago, when the Maeldur ceased to amuse me. Believe me when I say that my interest in young Mydianchlarus is... purely altruistic."

You cannot believe that.

"I barely even understand what it means," said Mydianchlarus. "I know only that Daru Ib Shamiq is the other side of the coin that you represent. If there were no questions, there could be no lies - but I knew I would have to understand you both if I were to achieve my goals."

The ultroloth allowed itself to again remember that time, millennia ago. Before the voice of Jezifreth Na’Harsindrian returned, Mydianchlarus had learned enough to shield some of its thoughts behind a tapestry of lies. Shield them enough to keep from going mad, at least, if not actually hide anything. Shield them enough to learn something from the tormentor.

It was only since Mydianchlarus had become Oinoloth, since it lost its grip on the consensual world, that the Inquisitor had returned in full force. And now Daru Ib Shamiq had also come back into its life. Of course it did. A baernaloth would never give up on one it had made its host. Mydianchlarus had discovered that even now Daru Ib Shamiq made regular visits to its creation the Maeldur.

So the ultroloth would be host to two of the Demented instead of one. Very well: it was free will, of a sort.

...

Dai Khulus climbed upward through Carceri’s shells for many months. The first sign that he was nearing his destination were the villages that had been emptied of their populations. Once they had held mortals, or petitioners, but now they were only blackened, swollen corpses, most of them long since transformed into farastu. Dai Khulus kept going, and soon the half-finished, skinless Tower of Incarnate Pain dominated the skyline, the tormented souls of its walls gazing mournfully down at him. Dai Khulus ignored the Tower itself, moving toward the vast military camp at its base in mezzoloth form.

As he neared the camp, he was met by a horde of thousands of rats. Like the corpses, the rats were swollen and diseased.

“You’re no mezzoloth,” the rats said. “We don’t know what you are.”

Dai Khulus swallowed. “I need to speak to Bubonix.”

“That’s exactly what you’re doing,” said the rats. A hazy figure behind them became more resolved, looking like a twelve foot tall humanoid with a long white robe and cowl, a broad-brimmed hat, and a birdlike mask.

“Dance with me,” said the figure, removing its mask to reveal the face of a gigantic flea.

“You’re kidding,” said Dai Khulus.

“Of course,” said Bubonix, replacing its mask. It began to dance anyway, a slow shuffling ballet that crushed the rats beneath its pointed shoes, liquefying their organs as it went.

“Where were you during the Oinoloth’s coup?”

“In Khin-Oin,” said Bubonix. “I was invited. I ate at the Oinoloth’s own table. I fought a duel with Diptherius for the Oinoloth’s amusement. I saw the sights and horrors of the Wasting Tower and deliberated as to which ones I should include in Incarnate Pain when it is done.”

“Did you see the actual event? Did Mydianchlarus really whisper a secret in his ear?”

“I did. The ultroloth certainly appeared to whisper something. I’m not certain if you can call what Anthraxus has ears, not as such.” An insectoid chittering erupted from behind Bubonix’s mask. The horde of rats shrieked in chorus. Dai Khulus assumed the sound must be laughter.

“You didn’t harbor any ambitions of becoming Oinoloth yourself?”

“Why should I? I have my own Tower, my own plane. It is simply a matter of being patient, and I shall become as mighty as the General of Gehenna himself. I am as inexorable as plague.”

“Why did you leave immediately after?”

Bubonix made a casual gesture. “The new Oinoloth hadn’t invited me. In fact, Mydianchlarus made it clear that unique beings like myself were no longer welcome in Khin-Oin. I think he was jealous of my rats.” Again, the grotesque laughter.

“Can you verify that neither you nor any of the other feuding autarchs had anything to do with the coup?”

“I can, but would you trust me?”

“I don’t need to. The way you answer will help my investigation.”

“An interesting claim,” said Bubonix. “Probably futile, but interesting.”

“I’m glad you think so. So you think Mydiancharus acted alone?”

Bubonix scraped its claws against the beak of its mask. “Who among us at the top of the hierarchy are ever able to act alone? Our Fathers watch over us, when they are sane enough to manage it. I remember when Yrsinius the Elder took an interest in me…” Some of the plague rats whimpered.

"It desired my fecundity," Bubonix said. "You see my children. You see them in the eyes of my rats. They are millions. We copulate for the pleasure of the Elder."

Dai Khulus nodded. “Thank you, sir, for your time.”

“Not at all,” said Bubonix. “And give my regards to your master Helekanalaith, and to the Obsidian Lodge.”

“You weren’t supposed to know about them.”

“Know them? I practically invented them.”

Dai Khulus turned to go, but paused again, a spark of intuition igniting his brain. “And would you, sir, have any contact with an arcanaloth called A’kin, Shopkeeper of the Tower Arcane, alias the Friendly Fiend?”

Bubonix cocked its head, an insectile gesture. “None at all,” it said smoothly.

Dai Khulus spun on his heel and left. Once out of sight of the Tower of Incarnate Pain he took a mimir from his belongings and spoke into it. “Yunk’sh,” he said, referring to his assistant back home, “Bubonix, the so-called Overlord of Carceri, is plotting something with A’kin - my nominal boss. Of all the fiends I’d have expected to collaborate, this particular pair is something of a surprise.”

The plane seemed to shimmer for a moment. A small, golden-skinned creature manifested itself before Dai Khulus. It was no more than three feet tall.

"YOU'LL NEED THIS," the creature shouted at him in a language that was backwards and forwards at once. It offered a small, withered branch.

"Thank you, Lynis," said Dai Khulus. "Is there anything else?"

"NOT RIGHT NOW," said the creature. "KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK."

"I will, Lynis," said Dai Khulus, giving it an approving 'thumb's up' gesture. The golden being returned the gesture and disappeared.

Dai Khulus summoned a new marraenoloth to take him back to the Tower Arcane. The marraenoloth noted, gravely, that the last of its kind to ferry Dai Khulus had vanished.

“Degius died fighting a shator,” Dai Khulus told it. “Heroically, as marraenoloths go.”

The marraenoloth seemed unconvinced, but gave Dai Khulus passage without incident. When the assassin commented on the trees, the marraenoloth even agreed with him.

“I’ve always liked those,” the marraenoloth sighed.

...

"Curse Basiliv anyway," said Jemorille, stuck in the Gray Waste and not enjoying it.

Jemorille prided himself on having fingers in many pies, but a rival had reduced him to just one. He could not pinpoint the exact moment when others gained control over the worlds he had overseen, but Basiliv had surely been responsible.

Jemorille was an argenach rilmani, a keeper of Balance on the Material Plane, and yugoloths were not his forte.

"The Balance must be served here as well," he reminded himself. Master manipulator that he was, this job would soon be over and he could move on to greener pastures. This plane was entirely too much like Athas, if not actually worse.

He had been posing as a sycophant of Shemeshka, once a high-placed advisor of Anthraxus and a member of the mysterious Obsidian Lodge. The tanar'ri and baatezu had nicknamed the arcanaloth the Marauder because of the extreme penchant for treachery among the mercenaries she procured for them; this mattered little as she moved on to higher matters.

Incomprehensibly, he had lost track of the Marauder after Anthraxus' ouster. Jemorille vowed that would never happen again. Currently, he was bouncing between members of the new Oinoloth's staff. He was reluctant to get too close to the Oinoloth itself - terrified was not too strong a word for how he felt around that being. That one would recognize Jemorille for what he was; the argenach had never met an ultroloth so full of questions... and disturbing answers. Better to hide among the lesser beings, the bustle of newcomers eager to prove their worth to the Wasting Tower's new lord.

Here was one... Krell, they called her. Her status was equal to that the Marauder had known. "You," she called to him, mistaking him for the nycaloth he appeared to be. "Your name is Meaou, yes?"

"Exactly right," Jemorille agreed.

"Prepare a chamber of the guardian creations. I'll join you shortly. I have a special surprise for a friend of mine. "

Jemorille had done his research. He knew exactly who Krell must mean. He knew the Marauder couldn't escape his grasp for long...

...

In the Tower Arcane, Dai Khulus sought out the master archivist known as Duke Dyavin B’wee. The Duke, a nearly skeletal arcanaloth, nodded to acknowledge the apparent arcanaloth entering his office. Dai Khulus doubted he had ever truly fooled B’wee: not that one, not entirely.

“Your Grace,” said Dai Khulus. “What do we have in our library concerning the Gloomfathers?”

“The usual texts,” said the Duke. “The Book of Inverted Darkness, the Book of Derelict Magics, The Everlasting Damnations of Dilwomez… why do you ask?”

“I would like to learn some things. For when I become an ultroloth. You know how it is.”

“Ambitious, aren’t we? Any of the baern in particular that you desire to learn about? Be careful, for to focus too much of your attention on their names and natures may cause them to focus their attention on you. Especially here, in one of our places of power.”

“I’m aware of the risk, Your Grace, and I’m willing to accept it.”

“Astonishly unwise of you, but I can allow you to look at the Book of Derelict Magics if you insist. And I have further texts, if you are truly foolish.”

“I am,” said Dai Khulus, smiling.

“Very well.”

Dai Khulus pored through dusty old books and scrolls for several weeks, as such things were reckoned in Gehenna. He made little notes and sketches on bar napkins, the walls and desks, scratching them into his own flesh if there was nothing else handy. Eventually he sent for thirteen ivory cards, and with ink and a fine-tipped blade he carefully made images in them based on what he found.

"They're like an alphabet of pure evil," he mused. The Inquistor, the Lie Weaver, the Ineffable. Each stared at him malevolently, the images almost animate through no magical craft of his own. "If I place them in the right order, I'm sure they'll spell a word. Perhaps the word is Mydianchlarus' secret." He thought for a moment, then turned one card upside down. "Read this way, the word would be entirely different. But which is correct? Yunk'sh," he directed the name at his mimir. "I don't know yet. I need to find the key."

He manipulated the images for a while longer until the cards seemed to move of their own accord. After a time, he lost consciousness.

Dai Khulus dreamt of cards. Not the cards he had just made, with their sigils and portraits of the baernfathers, but cards of the ordinary kind; the kind the mezzoloths used to gamble with, playing games like Old Hag and Kill the Hydroloth.

Not quite ordinary, perhaps. Ordinary cards weren't so mobile, were they? It's hard to remember, in dreams.

The Jack of Diamonds did not waste time in asking its questions. "Why are you here? What do you seek to gain from this quest?"

"I do my duty," said Dai Khulus.

The Jack inverted itself. "Yet your path is paved by betrayal."

"I do what I must," said Dai Khulus, and he inverted himself. "I delight in suffering," he admitted.

"Is that all you desire?" asked the Jack of Hearts. "Is there no benefit for yourself?"

"None," said Dai Khulus. "I am a tool of my superiors."

The Jack of Hearts inverted. "Is there no higher goal?" it asked.

Dai Khulus inverted. "Of course," he said. "Of course. We must always strive higher."

"Is that what you believe?" asked the Jack of Spades. "Do you believe your striving makes any difference at all?"

"Yes," said Dai Khulus, then inverted. "No. We do as destiny requires."

The Jack of Spades also inverted. "Why would Good and Evil exist if not to provide choices?" it asked, quite sensibly. "If there are choices, there must be free will."

Dai Khulus inverted. "What must I choose, then? How do I complete my goals?"

The Jack of Spades fielded this one. "As your destiny wills it," it said, then inverted. "Through betrayal." It flipped over again, faster and faster, becoming a spinning blur.

Dai Khulus woke up, scattering the cards he had made on the floor. Dyavin B'wee was standing over him.

"Have your researches been enlightening?" asked Duke Dyavin.

"Yes," said Dai Khulus, and he didn't know what motivated him anymore. "I know the key now, I think. But there is someone I need to talk to first. You wouldn't know where Anthraxus is presently?"

"Information like that isn't free," said Dyavin.

"I didn't think so," Dai Khulus grimaced. "I can find him myself, in any case."

....

"Why did you want to talk to me?" asked Krell, betraying a hint of nervousness.

"You were a confidante of the previous Oinoloth's, weren't you?" Dai Khulus made himself seem as patient as possible.

"I was hardly the only one," said Krell. "Why not question the Marauder, or Nisviim? Both of them were closer."

"The Marauder has been missing since Anthraxus' own leavetaking, and Nisviim can do nothing the Diseased One does not will. Besides, I know you two had a "special" relationship the others did not share in."

"You know nothing," said Krell.

"Krell, answer the questions, or I'll tell your other patron where you are."

Krell's eyes widened. "This is Khin-Oin, the heart of the yugoloth race. I can't be touched here."

"Can't you? You can't think of anyone who would like to see you back in Carceri again? Anyone else who would gladly help me drive you out of the tower into your patron's waiting arms?"

"Enough," said Krell. "What do you want to know?"

"Anthraxus. Where is he?"

"He didn't tell us. None of us knew."

"You know where his safeholds are. Where would he have gone? If you don't tell me, or if you give me bad information, you know what I will do."

Krell snarled. "Ellaniath," she said. "In Colothys. There’s a power there who tried to use him as a pawn, back before he ever became Oinoloth. When Anthraxus came into his full power, he made it clear whose will was the greater."

Dai Khulus nodded. This fit with what he knew of Anthraxus' relationship with the god Vhaeraun. "Back to Carceri, then," he said cheerfully.

...

Dai Khulus’ will was definitely not greater than the god’s, for afterwards he could remember nothing of his journey to Ellaniath, or what Ellaniath had looked like. The elven god kept his secrets, making this an ideal place for an exiled planar lord to hide.

Dai Khulus could remember the details of Anthraxus’ safehold without difficulty: the sight of a palace made entirely from the still-moving bodies of dark elves wasn’t one he’d ever forget. What had Vhaeraun done to make the yugoloth lord take such vengence on his petitioners? The elven bodies were covered with black oozing sores, and they coughed and wheezed.

“Enter,” said the petitioners. “I understand you have questions.”

“Uh,” said Dai Khulus. “Okay, then.”

Anthraxus’ large, heavy head was carved with surgical scars and bestial grafts - most of them Dai Khulus understood to be the results of experiments Anthraxus had performed on himself, during the early days of his rise to power. The long, twisting horns grafted on his skull made his head seem something like a distorted ram's or goat's. His nude, ten foot long gray-skinned body was emaciated and covered with scars. In one clawlike hand he carried a staff shaped like a writhing spine - shaped like the Wasting Tower of Khin-Oin, actually, but with its vertebrae clearly mismatched, gathered from both a pit fiend and a balor. The staff writhed in Anthraxus’ grasp like an angry serpent.

“Even the gods fear me,” Anthraxus said. “This redoubt was a palace of the god Vhaeraun, before I transfigured it. It was no trouble persuading him to flee from my arrival. A simple hint of my presence in a message; it is almost surprising how little it takes to start a panic.

“They think me an invader, an alien invasion from without, but no. I come from within.”

Anthraxus turned his dark, terrible gaze at Dai Khulus. “Ask, then,” he said.

Dai Khulus composed himself. “Did you abandon your throne of your own free will or because of some betrayal?”

“They are one and the same,” said Anthraxus. “Free will is betrayal of destiny. Predestination is a betrayal of the will. They are twins, two sides of one coin. There is no path without treachery.”

“But... great lord, which kind of treachery was it in your case?”

“It is all the same!” Anthraxus raged. “It is one thing, treachery and treachery and treachery; the multiverse conspiring against me and everyone else. Is that what you came to learn?” The tormented petitioners raged at one another, at their tormentor, at their visitor.

Dai Khulus fled.

...

"Did something keep you, Mistress?" The nycaloth - Meaou, he was called - spoke sweetly, but Krell knew he was searching for weakness, and personal advantage.

"Do not question me," said Krell. "Are the summoning circles fully charged?"

They stood in a circular chamber the size of a city,. one of many in the bowels of Khin-Oin. Closely packed together, many lesser rune-covered circles contained hideous constructs of flesh and spirit, resembling large beasts of various sorts - gigantic horned frogs, slimy reptilian apes, shark-toothed humanoids covered in quills, snakelike birds, one-eyed boars, winged bears with ram horns and eagle talons. They stood in their circles patiently, breathing slowly, staring straight ahead. Each was bound to the name of a yugoloth caste so that it would be summoned instead of a true yugoloth of that type, unless the yugoloth's true name was known.

"Of course, Mistress," said Meaou.

Krell nodded curtly. She moved to one of the circles bound to the arcanaloth caste, not looking at the winged bear-thing. "Guard my privacy," she told the nycaloth.

Carefully, Krell inscribed the true name of Shemeshka the Marauder on the summoning circle of the guardian.

"Excellent," she said to herself, and her companion could only agree.

...

Dai Khulus came to the roots of the World Tree and waited, waited for the landscape to rear up, a landscape that was a single creature, a worm, a snake, or a dragon: the linnorm Nidhogg, the Corpse Tearer.

“What a spectacular tree,” Dai Khulus said to himself, gazing up through the mist at the glory of Yggdrasil.

The Gray Waste did rise, and it spoke.

HAVE YOU COME TO BE EATEN, THEN? TO PASS THROUGH MY JAWS AS ALL THINGS ARE DESTINED TO PASS?

“No, Nightmare Serpent,” said Dai Khulus. “I seek the dream-gate, to walk as the ultroloths do in my own flesh beneath the mind‘s sea.”

DO YOU KNOW THE KEY?

“I do,” said Dai Khulus. He dropped a branch on the frozen earth. “From a baobab tree, grown in Niflheim’s own soil.”

ITS BRANCHES ARE ITS ROOTS.
YES.
GO, THEN.

The portal opened up, the universe torn open by the linnorm’s claws. Beyond was a gloomy maelstrom of disconnected images. Dai Khulus stepped in, and was swept away.

He swam through the skulls and suffering, past covens of snickering night hags, past gray cats who clawed at him with arrogant disdain, past herds of fiery nightmare horses, past hordes of small, faceless things who sought to suffocate him beneath their rampaging mass. He battled headless sorcerers and slimy baobab trees growing from his own flesh.

He wandered through a hedge maze whose leaves wept black ichor - or was it a labyrinth of cracked mirrors, or a network of sickly, pulsing veins? In one open space a goat was being milked by a maiden, and each time she pulled on its udders the animal became more twisted and distorted; and then the maiden was a night hag, cackling as she worked. Then the hag was a baernaloth, one of the ancient progenitors of evil with a distorted, diseased, goatlike face.

Dai Khulus left the space, and continued through the labyrinth.

In another space, Dai Khulus saw a tiny circus tent where trained fleas performed in place of elephants and lions. The ringmaster, dressed in a fine white uniform, again flickered between hag and baern.

Dai Khulus left the space, and walked on down the hallway.

An ultroloth stood before him in the next space. It gazed impassively through its hypnotic eyes - eyes that somehow resisted any effort to keep their color or appearance in mind. Its robe was plain and unremarkable. “Who are you,” asked the ultroloth, “to disturb my ‘slumber?’” It said the last word with an ironic inflection that made it clear it wasn’t getting much rest. The ultroloth disappeared, replaced with a man stretched on a torture rack. The human torturer - no, a baernaloth - focused the attention of his knives on the man’s feet, which were a bloody, mangled mess. Then the ultroloth was back.

“Mydianchlarus, I presume?”

“Yes,” said the Oinoloth. “I may have to do something about you. You should not be here.” It was gone again, and the torturer whispered in the man’s ear: Perhaps he belongs here more than you. He, at least, has earned the right.

A terribly old man appeared next to the pair; the man on the rack disappeared, replaced with a wooden puppet with a very long nose. The man slowly eased his ancient bones on a wooden stool, and began manipulating the puppet’s strings.

The torturer seemed very annoyed, and the puppet was again a man on a rack. The old man smiled toothlessly and the man was a puppet.

All three vanished and the ultroloth reappeared. The hem of its robe wept blood.

“Yes,” said Mydianchlarus. “Multiple masters are freedom, of a sort.” The Oinoloth turned to Dai Khulus. “Return where you came. You might be interested in what you see.”

Wordlessly, Dai Khulus returned. Entering the room with the circus tent, he saw Mydianchlarus again. The circus tent was on fire, and the Oinoloth was stomping out the flames.

Entering the room with the goat, Mydianchlarus was whispering three things at once into the animal’s ear:

1. “I have spoken to Methikus sar Telmuril. Your time on this throne is done. Step down: there is no fighting your fate.”

2. “Your creators have lied to you. You were not who you think you were. The truth lies elsewhere.”

3. “Why enslave yourself to this throne? Was is it you really want?”

The goat disappeared, and Mydianchlarus stood alone with the milkmaid.

Entering the space where the portal was, Dai Khulus saw that he was already there, battling himself. Both versions of Dai Khulus were gravely wounded.

“I’m uncertain on what I should do, Yunk’sh,” Dai Khulus said to his mimir. “Should I intervene in this fight or wait it out, hoping my dopplegangers will destroy one another?”

Finally one double fell and did not get up, his head neatly severed from his torso.

“You should have intervened,” said the other, teleporting behind him. Dai Khulus’ throat was cut with a small, sharp blade, and he joined his other self lying motionless on the ground.

“That’s what I would have done,” said Dai Khulus, and, still bleeding, he stepped through the portal.

...

Bubonix invaded Khin-Oin. The first sign of its presence were the rats. They flooded the myriad levels, carpeting the rooms and stairs.

"You're fortunate that it's only me visiting, and not Anthraxus," Bubonix said to the one who had let it inside. "The pets he brings with him are not nearly so palatable. Of course, you must know that. The voices of his twisted bodies are not so sweet, nor are their songs so melodious."

"I should like to thank you very much," Bubonix continued. "It was very convenient to have the wards broken from within. A direct siege of the Wasting Tower would be quite impossible, I think."

Shemeshka the Marauder looked at the diseased lord with pure hatred. "Spare me," she said. "You must know this was not my doing. I was only just called here, entirely against my will."

Bubonix jerked its head to an odd angle. "The quarrels between you and your allies, while no doubt terribly interesting to you, are of no concern to me. If you're going to be tedious about them, I'll be on my way, I think." With that, it vanished.

"Excuse me, Mistress," said a nycaloth, appearing nearby shortly after. "I couldn't help overhearing your predicament, and I think I may have a solution."

Shemeshka almost dismissed him, but thought better of it. "I know you, don't I?"

"I am called Meaou, Mistress," said the nycaloth. "I have served you in the past, and wish to do so again."

Shemeshka considered. "Tell me what you know, Meaou. You have my attention."

...

"I thought you weren't interested in taking the Siege Malicious," Dai Khulus said to the nearest rat.

"I'm not," said the rat. "Not in itself. But Mydianchlarus is upsetting the balance very badly. Before it came here, the Lower Planes were a familiar playing board. The Oinoloth controlled his squares and I controlled mine. The status quo was useful to me.

"Mydianchlarus has upset the status quo, and thus it has upset me."

"Fascinating," said Dai Khulus, packing his things. "Have fun with that. I'm done here."

The rat squealed its ghastly laughter. "I like you," it told Dai Khulus. "I really do."

...

A piscoloth burst into the throne room of the Oinoloth. "The rats!" it shrieked. "The rats!"

"I wouldn't let them concern you," said Mydianchlarus. "They're not what they seem." The ultroloth waved casually at the rodents and they began to spasm, engulfed in nightmares. For good measure, it took the piscoloth as well. "You should know not to interrupt me without permission," it told the creature through its dreams.

"A waste of a perfectly good minion," said Bubonix, appearing by the ultroloth's right shoulder. "Perhaps you're more like us than I thought."

"Didn't I tell you that you were no longer welcome here?" Mydianchlarus asked, but it seemed more curious than angry.

"Yes, I believe you may have. You never did get around to explaining why, though. Was it because you fear that the Elders may be riding those like me? Do you fear they may loosen your already tenuous grasp on reality, perhaps?"

"Perhaps," said Mydianchlarus with an unconcerned air. "I've since found a better balance."

For now, said the Inquisitor. Never forget, you still can be replaced.

"What was that?" Bubonix asked, a hint of urgency in its jocular voice.

"A friend of mine," said Mydianchlarus. "Take no notice. What is important for you to remember is this..." the ultroloth whispered into the side of Bubonix's mask, where ears might be on a humanoid.

"Oh," said Bubonix. "I didn't realize that." It seemed to sway, a little. "I think I had better retire, for a time. I need to think about a thing or three." It vanished.

"Be sure and do so," said Mydianchlarus to the place where Bubonix had been. "And someone needs to clean up these rats, before I lose my good mood."

...

Dai Khulus explained to Helekanalaith what he had learned, and if the arcanaloth noticed his minion withholding several key details, he didn't mention it. The Keeper of the Tower Arcane seemed to be in exceptionally poor humor.

"What's worse," said the Keeper, "Apparently I now have to banish one of my most valuable employees. Politics."

"Which one?" asked Dai Khulus. "If I may be so bold."

"Your own supervisor, actually. A'kin bin A'kin. You may give him the news yourself, if you wish."

"I think I would like that," said Dai Khulus.

...

"Rise and shine," said a voice outside Krell's quarters. "You have a visitor!"

Krell's blood ran cold. She knew that voice.

The door opened. Shemeshka the Marauder grinned at her adversary. Beside her floated a ruggedly handsome, oversized humanoid with glorious, feathered wings. He transformed his forearms into sharp blades, their fires no longer quite holy.

"Gog," Krell said hoarsely. "Or Kubriel. Whichever one you are."

"You were right the first time," said Gog. "It's time to come home, Krell."

"No!" Krell screamed. "I won't go back! I won't be owned by something less than a yugoloth!"

"But you owe Zadara so much," said Gog. "We all do. She saw the potential in us long before anyone else did."

"You can't take me," said Krell. "I'm an assistant to the Oinoloth, a member of the Obsidian Lodge. You can't take me!"

"Your Oinoloth and your Lodge have both given us permission," said Gog. "Your treachery is exposed, Krell. You have no where else to go."

"No," said Krell. "No!" She vanished.

"Looks like you have yourself a chase," said the Marauder.

Gog shook his head. "I don't think so," he said. "I know where she's gone. She can't hide very long from a titan in Carceri."

...

A'kin knelt before a scale model of the Field of Nettles, carefully moving about figures of tanar'ri, baatezu, and yugoloth legions.

"How long has he been doing this?" Dyavin B'wee asked Ifor.

"Years," Ifor said sadly. "Ever since his exile to this rathole of a city. He seems barmier every time I visit him. He says he's trying to win the Blood War."

Duke B'wee sat beside his former colleague. "How are matters going on the front?" he asked, hiding his sarcasm.

"You must address me as the General of Gehenna," A'kin told B'wee imperiously.

"By the Gloomfathers," said Dyavin. "It's much worse than I thought."

Ifor nodded. "That mind of his; he was the most brilliant arcanaloth I've ever known before he shattered. He would be a valuable ally, even here, if we could pull him through this."

"Helekanalaith has too much of the power now," Dyavin agreed.

"What should we do?" asked Ifor.

"What else?" said Duke Dyavin B'wee. "His confidence must be restored. We must help him win his war."

Acting out roles as tanar'ri or baatezu as required, they cheated a little and managed to guide A'kin to the surrender of both their imaginary forces in less than six months.

"How do you feel, Lord General?" Dyavin asked the victorious war leader.

A'kin blinked. "Duke Dyavin? Ifor? What are all these toys? Why are you both dressed as the spawn of the Tainted Ones?"

"How do you feel, Lord Shopkeeper?" Dyavin reiterated.

"Good," said A'kin in surprise. "Very good. I've never felt so confident, so energized. I had the most beautiful dream. I was the General of Gehenna, and I won the Blood War."

"Splendid," said Dyavin. "Now, I have a few matters I'd like your opinion on..."

"Shemeshka is here," interrupted Ifor. "Here in this city."

"Is that so?" said A'kin. "She's set herself up as a local crime boss, I take it? A kingpin of some sort?"

"Exactly," said Dyavin, surprised. Either A'kin knew his former ally remarkably well, or he hadn't been as oblivious as he had seemed in the last few years.

"Then I think the people of this city might have need of someone to save them from her," A'kin said. "An altruist. How does one go about being good, do you think?"

"I wouldn't know," said B'wee.

"Hm," said A'kin. "Perhaps I should open a shop. Give people some gifts. I bet the children would love some of these toys I find myself inundated with."

"Yes," said Dyavin. "Perhaps. It's hard to tell with young mortals, isn't it? Now as to the matters I was about to address..."

"They would love me," said A'kin. "The Friendly Fiend. How does that sound?"

"For what?" Dyavin asked, confused.

"For my shop!"

"I'm sure it will fool everyone," said Dyavin, letting his sarcasm show for the first time in months.

"Oh," said A'kin. "I don't want to fool anyone. That's no way to go about being good, I don't think. No, my dear Duke B'wee, my dear Ifor, I'm turning over a new leaf. I have nothing but the purest of motives now."

"You do?" Dyavin blinked.

"Oh yes," A'kin said, and he smiled a feral smile. "I'm going to be a friend to one and all."

"I see," said Dyavin uncomfortably.

A'kin turned to him, the same fierce grin on his face. "Now tell me about those matters you wanted to talk about."

"Oh," said Dyavin. "Yes." Thoroughly off balance, he related the situation to the exile.

"Interesting," said A'kin. "Yes, I think I shall be very friendly indeed."

...

Krell shivered in her filthy, miserable cave. She was filthy and miserable herself, gaunt enough for her ribs to show through the mangy, tattered remnants of her fur. She sobbed in the gloom and stink.

"She hasn't found me yet," she reminded herself. "I'm safe, still safe. I won't go, I won't go, I won't go."

...

In the rilmani city Sum of All, the being known among yugoloths as Dai Khulus resumed his cuprilach form, appearing as a slender humanoid with copper-colored metallic skin.

“Hello Yunk’sh,” he said to a plumach sitting at a desk. He spoke in the weird tongue of the rilmani, backwards and forwards at once.

“Coop!” the plumach greeted him. “How did things go?”

“Fine, Yunk’sh, just fine. You’ll find my full report in this mimir. Listen to it carefully. How are things going here?”

"Politics as usual," Yunk'sh said. "Jemorille has been overextending his authority again, even from his exile in the Waste. They think they've got him pinned in Sigil this time. He's obsessed with an arcanaloth he's been using."

"He shouldn't be much trouble there, should he?" said Dai Khulus, as his aurumach supervisor walked in. Seen from this aspect, the aurumach was a giant, over ten feet in height.

“HOW DID YOUR MISSION GO?“ asked Lynis. “WHAT DID YOU DISCOVER, CUPRILACH? ARE THE BAERNALOTHS INTERFERING WTH THE YUGOLOTH HIERARCHY?”

“No,” said the cuprilach whose true name was not Dai Khulus. “Mydianchlarus acted alone. The baernaloths are senile, barely aware of the Oinoloth’s existence.”

“GOOD WORK, CUPRILACH. THE BALANCE ISN’T AT RISK, THEN.”

“Not at the moment, Lynis.”

“EXCELLENT NEWS, CUPRILACH. ONLY… WHY IS THE PLUMACH SWEATING SO HARD?”

“I have no idea, Lynis. Perhaps he is hot.”

Yunk’sh was shaking. “I… I have a nervous condition,” he said.

“WHY WOULD YOU BE NERVOUS?”

“It’s all right, Yunk’sh. Lynis and I are friends.”

“I… I know. It’s just that… I’ve never seen you on a mission before… dealing with an aurumach…”

“It’s all right, Yunk’sh. Everything will be all right.”

The aurumach’s brow furrowed. He chanted a few magical words. The air rippled, and the plumach transformed into a slender blue-skinned being with delicate pointed ears.

“AN AGATHINON? IN MY OFFICE?”

Yunk’sh grinned sheepishly.

The cuprilach tried to placate his superior. “It’s all right, chief. He doesn’t know anything, do you, Yunk’sh? You were only a plumach. You weren’t in a position to know anything.”

“NONSENSE, CUPRILACH. HE IS A THREAT TO THE BALANCE. HE MUST BE DESTROYED,” the aurumach raised a magic wand.

“Wait,” said the cuprilach. “You don’t want to kill him.”

“I DON’T?”

“Nope,” the cuprilach said, smiling calmly. “Why kill your deputy when there’s a much worse intelligence leak?”

“WHO IS IT, CUPRILACH? WHY WASN’T I INFORMED?”

The cuprilach, still smiling, shifted his form, becoming a being of similar build and features but with pointed ears and shining blue skin, opalescent like a pearl. Yunk’sh looked shocked. “No, Coop!” he called out belatedly. “I’m not worth it!”

“It’s me, Lynis,” said the agathinon known as Cupriel. “I’ve been working for the celestials all along.”

The aurumach lowered his weapon. “YOU? THAT - THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE. YOU ARE ONE OF OUR BEST AGENTS.”

“It’s true, Lynis. Now step away from Yunk’sh, please. He doesn’t know anything. You didn’t let him know anything. It’s me you want.”

“THAT’S TRUE,” said the argenach. “AN AGENT OF YOUR LEVEL, A CELESTIAL. THAT CAN NOT BE. YOU DAMAGE THE BALANCE.”

“That’s right, Lynis. I’ve damaged the Balance. Step away from Yunk’sh. I’m the real threat.” The aurumach took a few steps forward.

The door opened. An argenach, with shining silver skin, stood in the door. “DYNIS,” said Lynis. “MY OFFICE IS RIDDLED WITH SPIES.”

“I’ll take care of it, Lynis,” said Dynis. She spoke a word of power, and Lynis fell asleep.

She smiled at Yunk’sh and Cupriel. “I’ll clean things up here, but the Mithril Lodge will have to slow its activities among the rilmani for a while.”

“I understand, Dynis,” said Cupriel warmly. “I’m glad you were nearby.”

“You know I’d never let anything happen to you, Coop.” She showed a bit of her true, celestial face.

“I know. Do us proud here while the rest of us in the Lodge are away.” He gave her a thumbs up.

“You know I will,” said Dynis, returning the gesture. “Say hello to the fellas in Bytopia.”

“I’m sorry for blowing your cover, Coop,” said Yunk’sh later on, in the Upper Planes.

“That’s perfectly all right, Yunk’sh,” said Cupriel. “What is the point of Good if we cannot save our friends? We shouldn’t have put you deep undercover with the rilmani this early in your career. Anyway, we’re home now.”

“Home,” said Yunk’sh. “The Mithril Lodge.”

On a peak in the realm of the god Flandal Steelskin, overlooking a tall waterfall, was a shining citadel kept a secret from all in the lower and neutral planes. Even in the celestial realms, few knew of it. It contained a forge, as most structures in Flandal’s realm did - a great furnace where celestial weapons were made. More importantly, it contained the members of the Lodge itself: they were elite among their caste, the best of the best: agathinons whose mastery of disguise was so great they could pass as fiends, or even rilmani; even live among them without suspicion.

“It’s lovely, isn’t it, Coop?” said Yunk’sh.

“It sure is, Yunk’sh,” said Cupriel, taking a deep breath of the fresh Bytopian air. “And just look at those trees!”

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... you know. Whenever you hear a nycaloth babbling about likign the trees... something is *wrong*.

Wonderful story. Eye-wink I'm going to have to reread it and take notes to make sure I know who backstabbed who...

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I've never seen a single episode of Twin Peaks, so I'm certain that there are references that I simply don't have the background to get.

That said, this is gorgeous Rip. I read this and I'm both inspired, and I look at the last few WotC novels that I've read and had to ask myself 'I have Rip's stuff, yet I paid money for these?'.

I wrote my comments down as I was reading the story, which made me not get to bed till 5am. You rogue.

Conflict between Inquisitor and Daru, this is really spiffy.

Quote:
“They abandoned us long ago, thought Mydianchlarus, its mind returning to the present. They care nothing for us, yet they will not leave us alone. Like the viruses they are, they seek to turn their hosts into copies of themselves.
– That’s gorgeous

Quote:
The Inquisitor dealt with Malpheaz, Lord of Seven Darks. Methikus sar Telmuril - 'The Flesh Sculptor’ - had done something to Anthraxus.
And I'm pulling from that latter idea in something of my own, you've inspired me on that one in a big way.

Apomps talking about what needed to be done. Daru talking about predestination. I have fun with this concept.

Are they rivals at all? Or are the Inquisitor’s bellows to not listen to Daru simply a means to convince Mydianchlarus to do exactly what Daru and He both wish? Interesting.

I like the linking of Daru and the Inquisitor, two sides of the same coin. Questions/Truth and Answers/Lies.

What is lynis? Golden skinned creature? Answered later on. N/M

I’m presuming Jemorille is afraid of what the Oinoloth could well be considered a host of? Not that he realizes that it seems.

Funny how ‘Mydianchlarus’ has 13 letters Smiling

Quote:
but cards of the ordinary kind; the kind the mezzoloths used to gamble with, playing games like Old Hag and Kill the Hydroloth.
- that is utterly priceless.

Quote:
"In Colothys. There’s a power there who tried to use him as a pawn, back before he ever became Oinoloth. When Anthraxus came into his full power, he made it clear whose will was the greater."

Dai Khulus nodded. This fit with what he knew of Anthraxus' relationship with the god Vhaeraun.

– I find that incredibly amusing. I’m sure Mr Kemp might too Eye-wink

Quote:
“Free will is betrayal of destiny. Predestination is a betrayal of the will. They are twins, two sides of one coin. There is no path without treachery.”
– That’s awesome

Nidhogg/Dendar’s jaws as a portal to the dreamstate of the Ultroloths…. Curious.

Mydianchlarus in that dreamtime with the Inquisitor mangling his feet, the feet that bleed because of the throne at Khin-Oin. Then Daru as a puppeteer, and the interplay between him and Jezifreth, both striving for Mydianchlarus’s metaphysical cellular factories like viruses infecting the same cell. I like that a lot, even aside from currently doing virology work.

Shemmy selling Krell to Zadara, prompting the flight and exile in 'Well of Worlds', and the whole titan/Carceri thing is just cute.

Dai’Khulus being a Rilmani played by a Celestial in a mirror version of the Obsidian Lodge, amusing twist that I didn’t see coming.

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:shock:

Umm. Yes. Erh.

And I mean that!

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Personally, I never liked Twin Peaks, and I think the story would actually be better without those "thumbs up" moments, but it's still rather good the way it is.

As always, I love how you make the outsider setting seem familiar enough to appeal to us Primes, and yet alien enough to be screen-glueingly interesting.

The Oinoloth's internal struggle with double Dementia is very well written, although I'd prefer him more independent, since 'loth puppet-masters are generally overused in PS fiction. However, comparing the baern to "the viruses they are, they seek to turn their hosts into copies of themselves" was excellent.

Finally, the cosa nostra embraces are a nice touch.

You've written better, though.

Now, for some questions:

1) Was the Obsidian Lodge previously mentioned somewhere? It sounds vaguely familiar. Ditto for Krell, and this Basiliv that Jemorille mentions?

2) Whatever happened to the Inquisitor's sanity? In Shemeska's story he was much more coherent. Also, where does he mention (Shemeska, not the Inquisitor) Yrsinius the Elder?

3) The yugoloths fled *back* to the Furnaces? So they were originally Gehennians, made there by the baern?

4) So, A'Kin was trying to implicate the Marauder in the betrayal of Mydianchlarus, but how was that to be harmful for her? Who would act against her? Not the new Oinoloth?

5) Why would the celestials hide the true nature of Mydianchlarus' coup from the rilmani? How would it hurt the celestial cause if the rilmani somehow acted against the Demented Duo controlling the Oinoloth?

6) Timeline? I was under the impression that both of Sigil's resident arcanoloths have been there, in their present states, for quite a while, and that Mydianchlarus' ascent to Oinolothood was a comparatively recent development?

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Whatever happened to the Inquisitor's sanity? In Shemeska's story he was much more coherent. Also, where does he mention (Shemeska, not the Inquisitor) Yrsinius the Elder

In his writeup of the Baerny Ball. (Hey, fuzzy - yes, you, in the cheap dress - wanna post up a copy of the Baerny Ball here for the perusal of our readers?)

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'Shemeska the Marauder' wrote:
I look at the last few WotC novels that I've read and had to ask myself 'I have Rip's stuff, yet I paid money for these?'.

My thoughts exactly.

Quote:
Shemmy selling Krell to Zadara, prompting the flight and exile in 'Well of Worlds', and the whole titan/Carceri thing is just cute.

Ah, so that's from Well of Worlds? I never got around to reading beyond that silly "Go Into Lady's Maze to Get Sword From Factol" adventure.

'Clueless' wrote:
Hey, fuzzy - yes, you, in the cheap dress - wanna post

Wow, you let your players talk to you like this? Laughing out loud

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It's our only way of getting back at him. Eye-wink He tolerates it only because he knows what he's already doing to our characters.

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'Nemui' wrote:
2) Whatever happened to the Inquisitor's sanity? In Shemeska's story he was much more coherent. Also, where does he mention (Shemeska, not the Inquisitor) Yrsinius the Elder?

I like the idea that every so often, the Baernaloths of The Demented lapse into a state of complete madness, like utterly powerful but nonsensical invalids. It's a twist on them that I've not explored, though the current story with the Flesh Sculptor does go down this path in a very crazy and bloody way.

Yrsinius the Elder shows up as a mention in two places. First he showed up as one of the creators of the place/artifact known as Infinity's Doorstep in the Negative Energy plane. I'm trying to find a copy of that writeup, but it's hiding from me at the moment... Yrsinius the Elder was also responsible for the creation/spawning of Yrsinius the Younger, a baernaloth experiment in procreation of their own kind.

And for what it's worth, once I'm done with all 13, I'm going to be doing a total rewrite of The Inquisitor, I'm unhappy with that one.

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'Nemui' wrote:
'Clueless' wrote:
Hey, fuzzy - yes, you, in the cheap dress - wanna post

Wow, you let your players talk to you like this? Laughing out loud

Oh? Was she saying something? I'm sorry, I was too busy looking over this checklist of 'Who Betrays The PCs This Week'. Sticking out tongue

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Mmmhm. And here I was just checking that I still had the keys to "That Place Where You Sleep". Eye-wink

But I suppose we can call it even and all. *grin*

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'Shemeska the Marauder' wrote:
I'm trying to find a copy of that writeup, but it's hiding from me at the moment... Yrsinius the Elder was also responsible for the creation/spawning of Yrsinius the Younger, a baernaloth experiment in procreation of their own kind.

"I'll never know how such an scatter-brained ... person attained that position as foremost chant-monger. Misplacing things is a sure way for the opposition to get them ..."

And in case it hadn't become clear in my last post: I'm even more impressed than I was before. A sequence of brilliant ideas and variations strung together in a dream-logic kind of way. A great ride, even if there's a lot that probably escapes my notice and understanding. Smiling

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'Shemeska the Marauder' wrote:
Yrsinius the Elder shows up as a mention in two places. First he showed up as one of the creators of the place/artifact known as Infinity's Doorstep in the Negative Energy plane.

Oooh, I remember that one! But Zadara already found the link.

BTW, is there an ETA on that Utterly_Complete_Demented_Collection.pdf that you promised us a while back?

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'Nemui' wrote:
'Shemeska the Marauder' wrote:
Yrsinius the Elder shows up as a mention in two places. First he showed up as one of the creators of the place/artifact known as Infinity's Doorstep in the Negative Energy plane.

Oooh, I remember that one! But Zadara already found the link.

BTW, is there an ETA on that Utterly_Complete_Demented_Collection.pdf that you promised us a while back?

Sorry for the spam Rip. Moving this to another thread here

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'Nemui' wrote:
I think the story would actually be better without those "thumbs up" moments

Probably. The thing about writing fan fiction that will be published on the Internet without going through any editorial review process is that I'm mostly pleasing myself. I thought calling the character "Cupriel" at the end was a little on the too-cute side, too, but I couldn't resist.

Quote:
I'd prefer him more independent,

The idea that all yugoloth high-ups have a baernaloth string-puller is an idea that just occured to me while researching and writing this, but I think I'm sold on it. Besides the fact that it pretty much says as much in Planes of Conflict, I like the virology angle.

The way it works, as I see it currently, is this:

The baernaloths originally created three species of 'loth: the arcanaloths, mezzoloths, and nycaloths. All three can reproduce their own kind. They exactly parallel the ursinals, cervidals, and avorals in the role they play in their race.

The ultroloths created themselves; the first one appeared when an arcanaloth killed its baernaloth master. They represent pure status beyond that which the baernaloths intended to give their creations.

The altraloths are the result of baernaloths modifying their truant creations (perhaps indirectly, sometimes using other races to shape them by proxy) to bring them back under their control.

Quote:
1) Was the Obsidian Lodge previously mentioned somewhere?

No, I made it up. The name is a combination of the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks and the Obsidian Order in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I thought it would work as a secret organization in Gehenna, and I had regreted for some time that "Obsidian Order" was already taken as a name.

Quote:
Basiliv

Basiliv is the Demiurge of the Oerth in Gary Gygax's Gord the Rogue sequence; he is the greatest servant of Balance on that world. I reinterpreted him as an argenach, since that rilmani caste does basically the same thing. For some reason I'm very intrigued with Jemorille's role creating and destroying the Temple of Elemental Evil (according to Uncaged) and that mutated into Jemorille and Basiliv being rivals.

Quote:
2) Whatever happened to the Inquisitor's sanity?

It comes and goes. The Inquisitor is entirely lucid during the time the story takes place, but was going through a bad spell a thousand or so years ago; Mydianchlarus took advantage of that to pay Daru a visit.

In an earlier draft, the Inquisitor was destracted by the death of Aoskar. I like that, but a few days ago the "crazy Inquisitor" dialogue appeared in full in my head, and I couldn't resist working it in.

Quote:
3) The yugoloths fled *back* to the Furnaces? So they were originally Gehennians, made there by the baern?

No, they're from the Waste originally. I didn't mean to imply anything different. What are you referring to?

Quote:
4) So, A'Kin was trying to implicate the Marauder in the betrayal of Mydianchlarus, but how was that to be harmful for her? Who would act against her? Not the new Oinoloth?

He might punish her on general principle (lawful) or on a whim (chaotic). Or you might have found a major logical hole in the plot. Assume that Mydianchlarus would have taken vengence before or after he lost his throne, I guess. Or probably the conspirators should set it up so that the future King of the Crosstrade will be caught by Mydianchlarus immediately after it's too late for him to do anything about it. This might be true anyway; it's reasonable that the Oinoloth would sense the intrusion into Khin-Oin immediately, and find out who was responsible.

Quote:
5) Why would the celestials hide the true nature of Mydianchlarus' coup from the rilmani? How would it hurt the celestial cause if the rilmani somehow acted against the Demented Duo controlling the Oinoloth?

Hard to say, before I figure out exactly what the celestial response would have been, and what the rilmani response would have been. Dai Khulus/Cupriel thought the same thing: better not to give out too much information until we know for sure that the rilmani won't side with evil on this one.

The rilmani might have thought: the baernaloths are too active, so we'll side with Good against them. Or they might have thought: the baernaloth quarrels are suppressing evil's true power; we'll eliminate them so that Evil can shine the way it was meant to. Or any number of combinations of the above.

Anyway, thanks for the questions; I'll try to make things clearer in a future revision.

Quote:
6) Timeline? I was under the impression that both of Sigil's resident arcanoloths have been there, in their present states, for quite a while, and that Mydianchlarus' ascent to Oinolothood was a comparatively recent development?

The timeline is vague; I think of the story as taking place centuries ago. It takes place however long you think the arcanaloths have been in Sigil, or however long you think the current Oinoloth has been in power, whichever you think is more important.

How recent was Mydianchlarus' coup? It happened between 1st and 2nd edition, but so did the Reckoning in Baator, and we know for a fact that the Reckoning was eons ago. Orcus' death happened at the same time, but its antiquity is limited somewhat by the fact that the Bloodstone modules have a canonical date in the Forgotten Realms setting. But Anthraxus' dethronement has no such tether.

I first got the idea that A'kin was somehow involved in the coup (and that this was from Orri on the Realms of Evil boards; in his campaign, A'kin's machinations helped put Anthraxus back in power. I also used the link in a different story I wrote, "The Three Faces of Shemeshka," where A'kin loudly says something to the effect of "There's a new Oinoloth in power; we need to move with the times!" shortly before committing a crime intended to show up the more conservative yugoloth factions.

Faces of Evil says that Mydianchlarus' arrival is "relatively recent," but that's pretty vague in a race of immortals. I figured I had some wiggle room.

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'Shemeska the Marauder' wrote:
I'm going to be doing a total rewrite of The Inquisitor, I'm unhappy with that one.

I like it quite a lot, actually. You saw that it heavily influenced this piece. I think the major problem others had was that the connection between the Inquisitor investigating the nature of divinity and necrotheology (appearing when Powers die and investigating the connection between gods and the Forces and Philosophies they derive some of their power from) and the way the baernaloth was tormenting the clerical torturer wasn't clear. I loved the horrific investigation of the mind of a fanatical interrogation expert, and I assumed the Inquisitor was there for other reasons (the religious turmoil in the background) but wanted to amuse itself with what it saw as a kindred spirit - a kindred spirit that did not know himself for what he was.

That's what I was trying to do with the character in this story, anyway - Jezifreth Na’Harsindrian has much deeper plans, and thinks a questioning ultroloth would serve in helping it discover things when its attention is elsewhere. In the meantime, it amuses itself by preying on Mydianchlarus' self-doubt. I'm not entirely certain how appropriate that was, but the "won't admit he's evil" angle doesn't work when an ultroloth is involved. And it was fun to write.

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Excellent Rip, quite excellent!

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'Shemeska the Marauder' wrote:
Conflict between Inquisitor and Daru, this is really spiffy.

I'm glad you thought so.

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Apomps talking about what needed to be done. Daru talking about predestination. I have fun with this concept.

I was extremely pleased when I discovered that there were reoccuring themes creeping into what had initially been a fragmentary story, and that there was an interesting way of reconciling the them with one another.

Predestination, treachery, and opposing sets of twins.

One idea that occured to me as I was driving to Ann Arbor today was that the Penitent Fiend Daru Ib Shamiq might have had a role in inspiring A'kin's current persona. Perhaps it's better to leave that as just a possibility, rather than making it explicit.

Quote:
Dai’Khulus being a Rilmani played by a Celestial in a mirror version of the Obsidian Lodge, amusing twist that I didn’t see coming.

That was part of the story from the beginning. The ideas that germinated the others were the A'kin/Krell/Shemeshka triangle (inspired by a similarly treacherous triangle in Twin Peaks, which is what made me start writing this), the idea of two lodges, the Mithril and Obsidian Lodge, and a character who was a celestial secretly infiltrating the fiendish cabal.

Because I always knew it was going to happen, I was able to drop in lots of hints - A'kin starts out on the very first page suspecting someone in the Tower Arcane is secretly meeting with the celestials (originally, they were going to frame the Marauder for this, and A'kin was going to end up getting blamed for it, but I couldn't figure out how to fit that in), and Dai Khulus confronts his celestial and rilmani selves three times: first in the gehreleth library, then in the card dream (where he keeps inverting himself), finally in the nightmarescape. I tried to leave it open whether Dai Khulus started out as a celestial spy or just became one when the nightmares inverted and rewrote him.

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Excellent work, Rip! I especially like the levels of infiltration and the history behind A'kin.

__________________

Pants of the North!

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After Dai Khulus left, A'kin stared at the wall for a long time.

A sly, mellifluous voice interrupted his contemplation of the wallpaper. "They sacked you, did they?"

A'kin turned and saw the baernaloth by his shoulder. "And I thought this day couldn't get any worse," he said, trying to pass it off as a joke.

"What did they hang you on?" asked the baernaloth.

"Failing to successfully execute a coup," said A'kin, his voice fertile with bitterness. "And consorting with celestials. That was the charge we were going to hang the Marauder on. The irony is, I think there actually is celestial infiltration on some level. I just can't see where..."

"Forget about that. Listen to me: I'm going to tell you a secret. It's something I tell very few of my children. It might drive you mad, but there is wisdom in madness. This is what your parents know. You will find the altered perspective... illuminating."

Emptied of all volition of his own, A'kin opened himself to the baernaloth's words, accepting them with a desperate hunger.

"Go now, A'kin," said Daru Ib Shamiq. "To the city of doors. Spread my illumination across the planes."

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... :shock:

I don't think I'm supposed to feel a sudden surge of pity and sympathy for an arcanaloth. I really don't think I'm supposed to feel that.

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'ripvanwormer' wrote:
"Forget about that. Listen to me: I'm going to tell you a secret. It's something I tell very few of my children. It might drive you mad, but there is wisdom in madness. This is what your parents know. You will find the altered perspective... illuminating."

Emptied of all volition of his own, A'kin opened himself to the baernaloth's words, accepting them with a desperate hunger.

"Go now, A'kin," said Daru Ib Shamiq. "To the city of doors. Spread my illumination across the planes."

That's good, especially which Baern is talking to him. Fits. Smiling

*grinning* I think that you'll like where I eventually go with A'kin myself.

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'ripvanwormer' wrote:
Quote:
3) The yugoloths fled *back* to the Furnaces? So they were originally Gehennians, made there by the baern?

No, they're from the Waste originally. I didn't mean to imply anything different. What are you referring to?

This:

Mydianchlarus to Daru Ib Shamiq: "Even so, it can't possibly be fulfilling for you here. You were the only one to stay behind, when your children fled back to the Furnaces."

Is he not talking about the yugoloths?

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'Nemui' wrote:
Mydianchlarus to Daru Ib Shamiq: "Even so, it can't possibly be fulfilling for you here. You were the only one to stay behind, when your children fled back to the Furnaces."

Is he not talking about the yugoloths?

Ah! Yes, he was.

Mydianchlarus was referring to the events in this story, about an unsuccessful attempt by the yugoloths to invade the Outlands through Torch (or, more properly, Mirklight). The idea is that Daru Ib Shamiq gave up on the General of Gehenna's leadership at that point, and it has been in the vicinity of Torch ever since then.

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'ripvanwormer' wrote:

Alone now, the Shopkeeper, known to other arcanaloths as Bin A'kin or simply A'kin, was able to attend to his real duty, which was coordinating the nycoloth assassins of the Obsidian Lodge. One alighted now from a high rafter where he had been standing invisibly and immobily as a statue. "Report," said A'kin.

"Sir," said the nycoloth. "We have been shadowing Ifor, your 'brother,' as you requested, but can report no major slip-ups."

"Look harder. There must be something. You are certain he has had no opportunity to meet with celestials?"

"None. You've kept him much too busy entertaining clients."

Ahhh... reading this story twice gives new meanings to it all. The celestials... hmmm and I like the Obsidian Lodge (loves Twin Peaks).

Quote:
Another arcanaloth was already there, a fox-faced creature bedecked in jewelry, wearing an elegant gown: the Marauder. They embraced one another; though neither suspected the other of carrying anything so crude as a physical weapon, it was better to be sure.

Nice touch.

Quote:
Among the shapechangers of the Obsidian Lodge there was one more cunning than any other. He was known to some as Dai Khulus.

And the setting is set so quietly and innocently.

Quote:
Caron’s eyes narrowed. “My left arm saw something that night." She gestured at the massive limb with her other, smaller hand.

"And what did your left arm see, Carnon?"

"Ask it."

VERY Twin Peak's-ish. Laughing out loud

Quote:
They embraced. Krell did have numerous weapons concealed on her person - her paranoia showing - but A'kin paid them no mind.

Of course not. Didn't get the whole signifigance the first time around.

Quote:
Out of spite, the marraenoloth steered them toward some rapids.

“Those falls were spectacular!” Dai Khulus enthused afterwards. He had managed not to get wet at all. “What were they called?”

Hahaha! Lovely. Laughing out loud

Quote:
He saw different versions of himself far away, in many different forms: as a baatezu, as a tanar’ri, as a rilmani, even as a celestial.

Even as a celestial. Laughing out loud

Quote:
Perhaps the position of Oinoloth was not meant for an unaugmented ultroloth, said the voice that had haunted him for so many centuries. Perhaps you just can't cut it.

"Was not the General of Gehenna the first of Oinoloths?" Mydianchlarus retorted. "The General is an ultroloth, just as I."

Is it so? Are you certain? Your General was privy to things you will never be worthy of. Or perhaps it is as you say, and you are merely defective. Perhaps any other ultroloth would be able to function normally. You may have damaged yourself attempting to gain alone what only your Father/Mothers may give, or perhaps you were always inferior to others of your caste.

"Others of my caste are not the Oinoloth," said Mydianchlarus, but the voice had already retreated into the nightmare depths. Perhaps it had never existed at all. The dreamdark was full of illusions and lies, and constant vigilance was required to tell one from the other. If there was ever a difference between the two; Mydianchlarus was no longer confident that there was.

.... That was the voice, the Inquisitor.

I thought internally there should be more of a duality between the Inquisitor and himself. I like, however, how you showed the oneness of the two externally.

Quote:
As he neared the camp, he was met by a horde of thousands of rats. Like the corpses, the rats were swollen and diseased.

“You’re no mezzoloth,” the rats said. “We don’t know what you are.”

Dai Khulus swallowed. “I need to speak to Bubonix.”

“That’s exactly what you’re doing,” said the rats. A hazy figure behind them became more resolved, looking like a twelve foot tall humanoid with a long white robe and cowl, a broad-brimmed hat, and a birdlike mask.

“Dance with me,” said the figure, removing its mask to reveal the face of a gigantic flea.

“You’re kidding,” said Dai Khulus.

“Of course,” said Bubonix, replacing its mask. It began to dance anyway, a slow shuffling ballet that crushed the rats beneath its pointed shoes, liquefying their organs as it went.

I like how you showed Bubonix here very much. The face of a flea with rats all around him.

Quote:
Dai Khulus could remember the details of Anthraxus’ safehold without difficulty: the sight of a palace made entirely from the still-moving bodies of dark elves wasn’t one he’d ever forget. What had Vhaeraun done to make the yugoloth lord take such vengence on his petitioners? The elven bodies were covered with black oozing sores, and they coughed and wheezed.

“Enter,” said the petitioners. “I understand you have questions.”

“Uh,” said Dai Khulus. “Okay, then.”

I thought the last line Dai Khulus says could have been put better. But I guess it kind of goes along with the "thumbs-up" gesture, which I didn't find amusing either. Hmm.

Quote:
“Nope,” the cuprilach said, smiling calmly. “Why kill your deputy when there’s a much worse intelligence leak?”

“WHO IS IT, CUPRILACH? WHY WASN’T I INFORMED?”

The cuprilach, still smiling, shifted his form, becoming a being of similar build and features but with pointed ears and shining blue skin, opalescent like a pearl. Yunk’sh looked shocked. “No, Coop!” he called out belatedly. “I’m not worth it!”

“It’s me, Lynis,” said the agathinon known as Cupriel. “I’ve been working for the celestials all along.”

The aurumach lowered his weapon. “YOU? THAT - THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE. YOU ARE ONE OF OUR BEST AGENTS.”

Did not see that one coming the first time around. The story is so dizzying at times... it is like taking a deep breath and going under the water for as long as you can.... and staying under even when you know you're out of air.... then when you can't hold your breath literally a second longer, you come up for air.

Breathless and lovely Rip.

ripvanwormer's picture
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Joined: 2004-10-05
stockholm syndrome

Thanks for your comments, everyone!

Eco-Mono's picture
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Joined: 2004-05-10
Twin Furnaces

'ripvanwormer' wrote:
"You'll especially enjoy the pie, I think... I would consider it an honor to begin traumatizing its ingredients myself..."
Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "damned fine pie".

Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Laughing out loud

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