This is a snapshot copy of Planewalker before our recent database crash. Please go to www.planewalker.com for the current site.

Evil Still Seeps Through

Announcement!

We have moved to new, and hopefully better hardware! Along with this move came a bunch of updates to our code base. Please let me know if you spot something wonky.

Shemeska the Marauder's picture

“Torture is never about answers. Torture is about the breaking of one will and the triumph of another. It’s a subtle, intimate, erotic interplay of heretic and inquisitor, warden and prisoner, fiend and petitioner, you and I.”A hand brushed delicately across the victim’s cheek, gathering the moisture of a tear on one claw before flicking it away. The fingertips were charred and blackened down to the bone, and that incongruity was paltry compared to the whole.“This is a pity, it truly is. I would have expected more from you.”

A soft whimper filled the air and a reddish glow lit the victim’s face as the other being drew in, stooped down, and stared at them at eye level.

“The emotions are premature. Save them for when they provide you some self-affirming strength, some martyr’s rationalization for your own existence. You might do well to take a cue from the apotheosis of a hordeling, false vacuum though it metaphorically might be.”

Bruised lips parted as if to speak.

“Precious thing? You have something to say do you? An answer to my question perhaps?”

Words tumbled forth and quickly devolved into sobbing.

“That is not an answer. That is merely a reiteration of the question.”

There was a gesture and the sobbing ended as the victim’s trachea was delicately pinched off and they were lifted into the air like a perverse sort of marionette that followed behind its captor, hung limp and suspended in tow.

“You’ve forgotten us…” He paused and laughed, a sound like a furnace being fed with fresh corpses. “You’ve forgotten us haven’t you?”

***

Two days earlier:

The cool air of Cynosure felt cloistered and repressive to Gwaeron Windstrom, an expression of his own tension. He glanced to the goddess sitting across the table from him, Siamorphe, the demipower of nobility and succession, both at her refined features, the way the light glittered upon her jeweled tiara, and also the worry that lined the corners of her eyes. Just like the demigod of tracking and rangers, she too felt like there was a cloud of foreboding that tainted the air like the hush of a crowd after a usurper’s execution of a rightful king.

“The two of you have been sitting there for hours.”

They looked up into the face of Torm the True, god of loyalty and paladins. He was trying to smile, but somehow the same atmosphere that cloaked the features of his lesser kindred, it tarnished his as well, despite his best efforts. He understood their mutual malaise just as much as they did, which was to say, he hadn’t a clue.

“We’ve been sitting here like this because something is wrong. Something is terribly wrong and we don’t understand its nature nor its cause.” Siamorphe brushed the hair from her face and smiled at Torm’s obvious concern, “We felt the same way during Cyric’s madness…”

Sitting by himself against one of the room’s pillars, the Dark Sun looked up and scowled. Yet even as he glared at Siamorphe and then more so at Torm, the same tracery of worry was present in his slouched, brooding posture. He said nothing, but then again, he was there in Cynosure and there was little talk from any of the multitude of gods who presently congregated within its halls. They were not there to talk, they were there to listen.

Helm, the god of guardians, stood silently, intentionally separate from the other gods. His self-imposed isolation spared him the cold response he would have garnered from his fellows had he sought to congregate with them, and it spared them the discomfort and awkwardness of removing themselves from his presence. His actions during the Time of Troubles still lingered to sully the relationship, but such was the price of staying true to his duty, and he had never faltered in that. He watched, he guarded, he obeyed, and presently he did the former. Helm watched, looking for a sign, any sign, and he sighed beneath his armored facade as the stars glittering high overhead only twinkled distantly and gave him no reply.

One year distant from having severed his cosmos from the Ethereal Deep, Ao had said nothing. The overpower of Toril was silent, and even though an increasing number of his gods sat, held counsel, and waited for him to speak, distantly aware that he was watching them, to that point he had not manifested among them in any way.

Though they hoped for some alleviation, or even just confirmation of their concerns, Ao continued his silence.

***

High above, staring down at them all, Ao looked into Helm’s eyes and exhaled heavily. The Watcher deserved an answer, but no answer would be forthcoming until he himself fully understood what was happening. Doubt was creeping into his mind, filtering in through the edges like insects seeking light and heat, parasites that would lay eggs amid his thoughts, turning doubt into worry once they hatched and matured.

He continued to stare down at his pantheon and did his best to ignore the presence of the other entity which had come, unbidden, to speak with him. Somewhere in his mind, those metaphorical insects danced and cavorted, and he wasn’t certain if listening to her words would drive them away, or feed them.

“I suppose it’s ironic.” The other figure said with a young girl’s voice. “You’ve striven so hard to isolate your world -your cosmos- to shelter it like a somewhat distant father who while his children might not see him, might not ever realize it, he loves them truly. You’ve given your children the best that you could. We’re alike in that sense.”

Lord Ao turned and glared at the other’s last statement. She shrugged, tilted her head and continued.

“But the same things keep happening. Disorder enters the equations. Entropy saps at the gears. I’m speaking in metaphor of course, not in terms of the concepts in elemental or alignment terms, but you understand what I’m getting at: a second time now, and so soon after a fresh beginning, what would seem to be external influences are polluting your creation. Evil seeps through.”

It was impossible. The fiends could not have colonized his planes from elsewhere. He did not allow them in.

“Are you expecting me to give you an answer to the question tumbling through your mind but which has yet to grace your lips and then my ears? Are you Ao? Of course you do, that’s why I’m still here and why you haven’t sent me away.”

He pondered doing just that. He pondered hurling her from Cynosure and back to where she belonged. But he didn’t, and she was keenly aware of that.

“We both know that I’m in your home, the equivalent of a prosaic god’s quaint little deific domain, and so it’s within your power to ask me to leave, and I’d be polite and do so.” She looked at the overpower pointedly. “But you haven’t done so, even though you’ve been mostly silent, even though you’ve scowled at me from time to time. You want me to give you an answer.”

Ao said nothing.

“More than an answer though. You want me to soothe your conscience. You want me to tell you that you didn’t make a mistake, tell you that the fiends are a corruption carried over from an earlier failure. Are you looking to me, -me- for absolution?”

Ao looked at her and the confused looking smile that worked its way across her all too mortal-looking cheeks. They flushed and she shook her head, gently laughing with a lilting cadence of knowledge that the overpower failed to possess, yet beyond the gentle smile upon her face and the tone of her voice, there was something else.

“Let me put it this way, and take no offense because trust me, I’d appreciate the same words being applied to myself. So let me frame it in the following way: you’re an artist Ao.” She said, reaching out to touch his face with a delicate hand. The overpower didn’t let her, but she gave no indication of displeasure and simply folded her hands across her lap again, placing them across the crooked staff that rested across her knees.

“As I said,” She continued. “You’re an artist my old friend. But you’ve painted this creation with a limited pallet of colors, but of course only a limited selection exists in the first place. That’s simply the way you and your reality are constructed. No matter how you paint, no matter how deft and brilliant your brush strokes, no matter how fine your composition, there are only so many ways you can mix your pigments. Mix your basic colors, so to speak, and certain things will come crawling out. The fiends are a basic part of reality, this reality included, and as much as you might hope to replace them with your own gods of Evil, it’s just not possible.”

The halo of light that surrounded the overpower flared, and his guest squinted her eyes. Ao was unhappy with her answer, but he didn’t seem surprised. Perhaps he expected it. After all, he’d tacitly allowed her in, hoping that her answer as a being whose age made his look mortal would have been different than it was.

Her answer had been accurate, but she hadn’t yet told him everything that he needed to know.

***

Standing across the chamber from his brothers and sisters of the Torilian pantheon, Tyr felt sick.

“I half expect you to seek to take advantage of this misery.” The Norse interloper said without turning to address the god who stood to his right. “But even given what you are, I know that you won’t do that. Their worry is genuine, and just like me, you can’t agree with what has been done to them.”

“It’s odd isn’t it?” Set replied with a sibilant hiss. “Here we are, you and I… in agreement.”

Tyr looked at the father of jackals and grimly smiled. “And yet that is scarcely the most troubling issue at hand.”

“You haven’t spoken to them yet, have you?” Set asked, looking at the blind eyes of the god of justice.

“I’m not sure if it would help. What was done to all of us, and them even more so… I’m not sure which is more cruel, telling them, knowing that they won’t understand the truth and the magnitude of that truth, or to let them worry in ignorance.”

“I’ll admit that I’ve enjoyed watching a few of our lesser kindred fumble like invalids in the dark, especially Savras and Mystra. Between portfolio and ego it’s particularly refreshing to see them grasping for answers they don’t have and dragging others down with them in the process into their pit of mutual confusion.”

“Don’t make me regret coming to you.” Tyr frowned and a smile spread across the face of the Lord of Desert Winds. “They’ve suffered more than you or I ever have. My blindness within this world and your exile in every world is nothing by comparison.”

Set shrugged. “It’s in my nature Tyr. Expect nothing less. But sentiments and petty cruelty aside, we’re united in the fact that we’re both aware of what has happened, if perhaps not the reasons.”

Having approached in the interim, cold and regal, Tiamat’s human personification nodded to the pair of multispheric gods. “The single sphere gods have forgotten the past.”

“They’ve forgotten it entirely.” Tyr replied. “They speak of legends and events which never actually happened, and places that never existed.”

“We’ve lived through what actually happened and they remember none of it, even those who were present for it.” Set scowled. “They have only a blank look upon their faces when I explain to them about the Imaskari dragging my worshipers from across the prime and here to Toril. They seem ignorant of anything greater than this thrice-damned little sphere itself. They act as if the sky is a vault of black stone studded with lanterns; finite with nothing beyond it.”

Tiamat snarled. “Not only have the planes changed, but so have our lesser kindred’s’ memories of what was.”

“We’ve been spared that though.” Tyr said with a heavy sigh. “But I suspect that we’ve been spared only by fluke of what we are. Ao has no power over us beyond this world, and he cannot control our presence across the planes, or the link to our worshipers and their prayers.”

“We’re not completely immune though.” Set replied. “Only those of us with a certain threshold of power. Some of our lesser brethren have succumbed as well. Bast, even in her Torilian aspect as Sharess, she’s no longer herself. My old enemy is scarcely there, replaced almost entirely by the cloak she wore on this world, and now she’s just as ignorant as the others. It is spreading.”

“What?!” Tiamat snarled. “How is that even possible?”

“Because they’re not truly here.” Set replied. “They have only an avatar, forcibly spun off from their true essence out on the planes. I should know, because I spent a considerable amount of time thusly divided, but under circumstances quite different from now.”

“Do you really think he would have done the same to us if he’d been capable?” Tiamat asked, white knuckled and with lines of worry creasing the corners of her eyes.

“Yes.” Tyr shrugged and grimaced. “But I don’t believe he did this out of cruelty.”

“Intention changes nothing!” Tiamat protested. “This abomination wrought of whatever notions of protection filtered through his mind have caused…”

Tyr silenced the Dragon Queen with a hand. “Do not say what is already on our minds. Do not refer to them. We cannot afford to give them more power.”

Set nodded. “The single-sphere gods are trapped here. Yet the prison walls are open to things from outside.”

“Does he even realize what he has done?!” Tiamat exclaimed. “Did he even so much as consider the consequences of it all, to say nothing of its arrogance?!”

“They are trapped and there is blood in the water.” The harsh scent of brine, rotting meat, and cetacean spittle filled the air as Sekolah manifested. “We are all trapped, and predators are drawn in like sharks.”

***

Vhaeraun sighed impatiently as he manifested atop a crag of rock only a few miles distant from the summit of Calaas. The wind whipped against his face, giving a chill to his skin that seemed appropriate to fit his mood. One did not simply summon a god, yet Inthracis had summoned him to Corpsehaven, requesting his presence to speak of their future and their working relationship, and requesting an answer to several lingering questions.

"Idiot." The intermediate power hissed between his teeth as he surveyed the landscape with disdain.

Wormlike larvae wriggled across the broken, volcanic breccia that formed the slope, clustering atop outcroppings of marginally cooler obsidian, looking nothing-so-much like maggots spilling from an infected abscess in the fiendish realm's flesh.

"I don't know why we put up with this." The power grumbled as he stepped onto the air and began a slow drift through the void, descending towards the ultroloth's fortress.

He let the question behind his statement linger, but in truth he already had an answer formed in his mind: they -the gods of Toril- they put up with the fiendish realms because they were useful at times. Even though they presented a meager drain upon the souls that determined the deities' power, they survived because none of the gods of evil would ever be able to settle just who among them should rule that trio of planes. Lolth in the Demonweb, Bane in the Barrens of Doom and Despair, Cyric in the Supreme Throne, and Shar in the Plane of Shadow... all of them had their claims, but none would ever enforce it for fear of uniting the others against them in the process. Thus, the fiends had some modicum of isolation in which to multiply, and they’d even developed their own petty rulers with delusions of grandeur.

While none of the major powers could exert too much influence without raising the ire of the other gods with similar claims, from time to time it was possible to sing a song and force one archfiend or another to dance to your tune along with his lesser servitors. In fact Vhaeraun had done just that with Inthracis recently, and though the fiend had failed, though Lolth had been reborn from the ashes of her own phoenix-like death, the fiend had obeyed and done his best. Vhaeraun really couldn't complain, given how pitiful the archfiend was, but what recourse had he had for servitors to do his wishes that weren't immediately linked back to him and who could bypass Ao’s edicts on divine intervention?

The wind blew harder but the god remained untouched, descending down over the lip of a great cliffside, slipping down another mile along the mountain's face towards his destination and momentarily falling into the shadow cast by Kexxon's Steel Fortress on the lip of the caldera high above on the summit.

"I should have picked Kexxon." He complained. "He might have managed to succeed. He might have managed to kill a single mortal wizard, a pair of priestesses with no spells, and a draegloth. I still can't fathom just how it was that you managed to be killed by them Inthracis. It shouldn't have been physically possible. You aren't a god, yet you should have crushed them like insects."

He sneered and looked to his left as a hiss presaged the appearance of a mezzoloth, the first of a marching column of its kind slowly winding their way up a switchback trail running alongside the face of the mountain. The least fiends had no idea who or what he was, and so they snarled, gesticulated with their mandibles and raised their black iron tridents as if to menace him.

"You are not worth my effort." The deity said, matter-of-factly. "But given my mood, I'll humor your threat and raise you a quick death."

The first twelve mezzoloths were incinerated with a thought and the remainder paused and fell silent. They understood raw power, even if their minds had no understanding of the identity of he who wielded it. For all they knew he was a tanar'ri lord, or a powerful mortal, or something else, but in either event they could do nothing to harm him lest they face the fate of their predecessors in line. Looking down at the boiling remains of their former comrades, watching them slowly sublimate and vanish into the aether, their stance became one of supplication that in another time and place would have been alien, yet in that twisted, shadow-fractal of Khalas, that was the case.

Leaving the mezzoloths behind, Vhaeraun landed upon solid ground, setting his feet down upon a basalt platform at the edge of a resurgent lava-flow. The ground sizzled and hissed as his touch made its temperature drop in an instant, causing circular fractures to radiate out from his heels as the stone shattered with its transition from burning to frozen.

High above atop the ramparts of Inthracis's tower/fortress of Corpsehaven, pennants of flayed mortal, fiend, and celestial skin fluttered and proudly displayed the archfiend's banner, while those made of petitioners rippled alongside the others as they screamed, still alive as they hung upon hooks or lay impaled upon flagpoles. Vhaeraun gazed up at them and once more the wind erupted with screaming gale force, rustling the god's hair and causing him to pause and tuck it back behind his ears and the edge of his mask. He allowed it to thusly affect him, though if he'd cared he could have been immune to its touch; he felt the wind gave him a more ominous, more dramatic appearance as he arrived.

The gates of the citadel were open wide, yawning like the great mouth of a slowly decaying beast washed up upon a raw volcanic beach, killed in an unknown orgy of violence in the lightless depths. Wrought of black iron and lacquered, desiccated flesh, the tower extended a mile overhead, with the pulverized bones of angels and fiends alike forming a calcified matrix holding together the masonry of embedded, entrapped fiends, living and dead, within a meshwork of undead muscle.

"At least you have the sense to welcome me." The god muttered as he gave a cursory glance at a pair of nycaloth guards who flanked the entrance. "Though I could do without the stench of decay, to say nothing of the stench of your kind in general."

The fiends gave no response, and they stayed were they were, kneeling, wings spread, one set of arms upon the ground and the other grasping their weapons in an open display of contrition to their master's guest. They were some of the ultroloth's elite guard, displaying the tattoos and elaborate scarification that marked them among the Black Horn Regiment, but despite their training, despite their mettle that had seen them assault the very gates of the Iron Tower of Dis and survive, despite all of that, they trembled as Vhaeraun approached.

The god smiled and softly chuckled, "At least you have a sense of place that your master sometimes lacks."

In fact, they hadn't moved from that position of supplication for nearly twelve hours, nor did they even notice the approach nor the passage of the drow deity, because they'd been stricken deaf and blind exactly four seconds after the earlier passage of another dark caller to the ultroloth Inthracis. Oh to be sure, they would have displayed the same reaction to the god who presently sneered at them, but their minds and spirits were already numbed and damaged, perhaps permanently from that earlier visit.

***

Far below, Toril’s gods continued to gather, either to speak, to find comfort in the company of their fellows, or simply out of curiosity to what would draw together such a collection of beings when only a summons by Ao had done so in the past.

“If you’re feeling in a talkative mood, I have some questions for you.”

Ao listened to his guest without overtly acknowledging her request, instead keeping his gaze directed down, keenly observing the forms of Mystra and Selune. Standing a healthy distance away from the pair, shadows wrapped around Shar’s brooding form. Such a meeting would normally never have occurred, but it was happening regardless.

“Though it seems I’ve failed to gather your attention, I can’t say that I’m upset given what’s playing out on the stage below. Will you look at that…” Her shadow gestured down at Selune and Shar openly sharing words in the absence of conflict. “Do you think that they might manage to actually question their state of circumstances?”

“No.” Ao’s answer was firm, but the tone was weary.

The other’s shadow shrugged. “Do you think that they’ll question other things as well? Do you worry that they will?”

Ao turned, reluctantly looking into her face.

“Do you think they’ll question that quaint little origin myth spread by their followers?” She was smiling, now only a few inches away from his face, one hand held up to touch his cheek were he to move any closer. That smile was disarming, and the overpower wasn’t certain if it was disingenuous as she tried to allay his concern of such. “But no, don’t worry over me. Don’t worry on my account. I’m only here speaking, getting in a question or two when I can, but not honestly expecting answers.”

Ao stepped away and left her there, still extending a hand. She frowned and sat, hovering a few feet off the ground, letting her legs dangle gently upon the air as she watched him pace a few yards away.

“I’ve given you some answers.” She said, while her shadow pooled and coiled like a pet wyrm beneath her hovering form. “You could return the favor and not act so aloof. While I appreciate being here to keep you company, perhaps you could speak in a string of syllables rather than a grunt, a mumble, or a terse yes or no at best. I’ve answered some of your questions, spoken or not, but you seem distinctly unhappy to give me anything in return. Why is that Ao? You know that I’ve been truthful to you. Is it that you’re unhappy with the answers? Are you worried that I know the answers when you did not or are you simply unwilling to face what you already knew but required someone all the more your senior to speak them openly?”

The stars around them glowed fiercely and Ao stared at her. “I can’t help but notice that in all the answers that you’ve given me, or claimed to give, you haven’t answered anything of substance about yourself or why you’re truly here.”

“Does my presence offend?” Her tone was blank and calm, and despite the starlight that surrounded them both, her shadow was crisp and distinct, still pooled within the void, swirling upon itself like Ao had been pacing before. A subtle eye might have interpreted the gentle rebuke it presented to Cynosure’s master.

“Your presence is expected on some level considering the circumstances.” Ao replied.

She smiled and brushed a strand of hair from her face.

“However,” The overgod continued, “I’m more struck by your questions within statements and queries within answers. I’m concerned about just –why- you’re here and why you’re asking questions. Expected or not, your presence here worries me.”

“Nonsense.” She countered. “What harm is there in a question?”

***

Wondering just what the ultroloth wanted from him, Vhaeraun walked beneath the archway cobbled together from the heads of a dozen trumpet archons each frozen into a perpetual scream, all held rigid with a keystone fashioned from a balor's pelvis. The 'loths had no sense of style, but their hearts were in the right place the god figured. It was all self-aggrandizement on some level, and on another level they simply enjoyed giving pain for the sake of pain. To some extent those chords rang within his heart as well, though as befitting a drow, he wouldn't have figured it a comparison of him to them, but rather them having managed to randomly gather one or two commonalities to him. Perspective was key.

Inside the fortress, walking through the hallways of flesh and bone, sinew and cartilage molded into the 'loths twisted aesthetic, Vhaeraun noted that his footsteps echoed.

"You're oh so very quiet..." He whispered curiously. "I'd have expected a bit more pomp and saber rattling from you Inthracis, given your earlier tone."

Anger flared beneath the surface of the god's skin, flushing his cheeks and drawing tightness into his muscles as he recalled the exact words that the archfiend had used. Presumptive fool.

There was no grand welcome, nor great fanfare, nor honor, not even a threat at the opposite end of the spectrum of social constructs as Vhaeraun stepped into Inthracis's throne-room. A grand table of ruddy stone wandered atop the legs of hound archons, covered in maps, charts, and books of necromancy like a pale imitation of Kiaransalee or Velsharoon's domain.

"He is here master."

The thin voice of Inthracis's lieutenant, the arcanaloth Nisviim, echoed across the chamber, more a whimper than a snarl as was typical for the jackal-headed sorcerers. It suddenly occurred to Vhaeraun as he glanced at the 'loth that his voice was the first sound that he'd heard inside Corpsehaven apart from the flutter of its pennants in the infernal wind and the stretch and creek of its living walls. Corpsehaven seemed dead and empty, like the fortress itself and all of its inhabitants were pensively waiting to exhale.

Nisviim stood there in one of the room's corners, adjacent to a crystalline window that protruded out of the wall like a bloated, fluid-filled cyst. Inside, one of Inthracis's quiescent clones floated in embryonic stasis, its over-large, almond-shaped eyes shut tight and devoid of their creator's flickering glow while they gestated, but the newly reborn archfiend himself was nowhere to be seen.

Vhaeraun waited for the archfiend to manifest, or perhaps belatedly wander into the chamber, but when the god finally grew impatient and expanded his senses, he realized something: Inthracis was not present within Corpsehaven, nor even within a hundred miles of his fortress. Now that was curious.

"Where is your master?" Vhaeraun asked, turning to the arcanaloth who still stood in the corner like a punished child. "Where has he gone and why did he summon me?"

Nisviim stood in a puddle of urine, shivering and staring at the floor, apparently unwilling to look at the deity whose presence he stood within. He was pale and his eyes were bloodshot. Vhaeraun felt the fiend's terror appropriate.

One of the fiend's ears twitched and a tear slowly worked its way down the 'loth's cheek, staining dark little rivulets into its matted, pitch colored fur. It was terrified, indeed it was horrified, but the drow god was only a vague point on the periphery of its numbed and shattered consciousness. In the same way that a drug addict on the verge of death from years of chemical abuse no longer finds pleasure in lesser intoxicants or natural stimuli, in the same way that their artificial vice ravages their mind and body to leave them little more than an unsteady pulse wrapped in a fleshy shell, Nisviim's essence was curdled and insensate from his exposure to something not yet apparent to his deific guest.

"I asked you a question fiend." The god stated, taking a step forward. "You will answer me or I will rip your heart from your chest as easily as I did to your master a year ago."

Nisviim laughed to himself, a demented little sound, entirely inappropriate to the circumstances. The fiend’s eyes were glazed over and their pupils cross-dilated, unsteady and fixed on the floor rather than on the god who stood a few yards away. Vhaeraun asked again and received only silence, eventually giving up with a pronounced and impatient sigh. He never noticed that the fiend's ears were bleeding.

"So-called Lord of Corpsehaven." He muttered, knowing that wherever the archfiend was that he would hear his name. "Return to Blood Rift from wherever in the planes you are. I expect you on your knees when you return, or it will be more unpleasant than it will already be. I expect a reason for you having... requested... my presence here in your home, and if it requires it I will drag you back here from anywhere else you might be, even my mother's domain if necessary."

Vhaeraun waited in the resounding silence that answered his question to the aether, punctuated only by Nisviim's erratic whimpers, chuckles, and weeping. There was no reply however, and Vhaeraun failed to recognize the meaning of the various incongruities that decorated Inthracis's throne room like a spattered corpse slowly dripping down the walls. Like a looming event horizon in the still vacuum of space, not having noticed these things, absorbed in his smug sense of superiority, the god never noticed the abomination of nature lurking behind him until it was too late.

Vhaerun heard a second chuckle, one distinctly different from Nisviim's pathos, and at the same time the 'loth fell into a seizure or some manner of religious ecstasy that left it trembling and repetitively twitching upon the floor, whispering something between orgasmic gasping that sounded like a name.

That second chuckle was cold and merciless, filled with a perverse sense of irony and amusement as well as what sounded like a crackle of cinders. It was not Inthracis, for the ultroloth's voice was telepathic, not physical, and the ultroloth's voice didn't cause the room's temperature to drop, nor cause a backpressure that drew the curling tongues of smoke rising from celestial tallow candles to seep along the floor between Vhaeraun's ankles like maggots seeking a corpse.

Vhaeraun turned and looked up.

"Hello godling..."

Towering above him was something out of a nightmare. Twelve feet tall, wasted, sickly and pale, stood some manner of fiend that the god was entirely unfamiliar with. It stared at him with its vaguely goat-like head tilted gently to one side, teeth exposed in a faint smile and a long, mucus-coated tongue extended, licking the air like some great serpent.

That was unexpected. How had it manifested within the room without him knowing? Vhaeraun hadn’t a clue, but neither was he worried. He was a god and it was simply a fiend.

"Who are you?" He asked, looking into a pair of eyes like burning, crackling cinders lodged within the orbital sockets of its skull.

Again that ironic chuckle as the fiend put its hands together and cracked its knuckles, displaying disturbingly elongated fingers whose flesh was blackened and burned down to the bone.

“A question.” It stated, not giving Vhaeraun an answer and seemingly addressing itself rather than the god. “This is how moments such as this always invariably begin. I would not have it any other way.”

Behind his mask, Vhaeraun’s eyes narrowed and a flicker of confusion crossed his thoughts as the fiend stepped forward and further into what dim light perfused the chamber. The creature was grotesque. Its pale, wasted flesh was covered in burn marks, bleeding, unhealed lashes, and puncture wounds, like it were one of Loviatar’s most cherished playthings.

“Let us begin this with a question then.” The fiend explained, turning and casually walking a circle around the god as if it were a pit fiend in the courts of Abrymoch questioning the doomed victim of a diabolic contract.

Vhaeraun simply stared, uncertain how he would act given the fiend’s cold confidence and casual disregard for its present company. The fiend let the statement hang upon the air, mingling with the rancid smell of burnt fat, putrid flesh and the acrid undertone of freshly spilt ammonia. With no reply from its deific quarry, it completed its long, slow circuit around the god, revealing in profile the series of slightly curved, white-hot iron spikes that sprouted from its back, all of them angled downward like quills. It remained silent and never once actually looked directly at Vhaeraun until it was back to where it had begun.

“I will question and you will answer me.” The fiend stated, displaying its open palms and flame-ravaged talons. “From this point forward, spawn of mortal belief, your identity is meaningless.”

Vhaeraun scoffed and teleported away. Such idiocy was pointless, and as soon as he found Inthacis he’d… the light of his dweomer faded and revealed Inthracis’s throne room with its disgustingly presumptive fiend still standing there in front of him. He’d gone nowhere despite his attempt.

Suddenly it was in front of him. He hadn’t seen it move. He hadn’t seen it cast. He hadn’t even felt it invoke a deific ability, though it had displayed a power that could only have been held by a god or the proxy of a god. It had simply moved, stepped out of the gaps between, burning eyes and ravaged flesh barely a foot away from him, entirely irrespective of each and every deific ward it should have encountered.

“Do as you will,” the being stated, cold and emotionlessly. “Your reactions are answers in and of themselves. The struggle only makes it better.”

Startled not only by its reroute of his teleport, but by its proximity and even just the sudden advance of a presumably lesser being –it shouldn’t have been capable of approaching without him allowing it to do so- Vhaeraun stepped back and raised his hand, prepared to reduce it to ashes. But as he willed his power to manifest a divine bolt, there was a sudden twitch that began within his fingertips, quickly running down the length of his arm and into the rest of his body.

They caused no pain, nor had the fiend actually done anything or attempted to cast a spell, and so the god was even more perplexed, but that confusion turned to worry in an instant because he recognized a pattern to the sensations. Each tick and twinge and itch was the dull ache of an old scar or ancient wound long-since healed and even some long-since forgotten.

The baernaloth smiled, and without so much as a motion, Vhaeraun’s flesh erupted into a mass of open, gaping wounds.

The god stumbled and his vision faded with the sudden deluge of pain. In horror he watched as his leg snapped at the ankle, spurting deific blood across the floor. It was the same injury that he’d sustained in combat with Selvetarm a month earlier when they had both tumbled into the depths of Lolth’s domain. He gasped for breath and spat blood as a dozen slashes spread across his chest, ancient gouges inflicted by his bastard half-sister, but now they bled anew as if something immaterial had reached into his torso, gripped the invisible lines of scar tissue that laced the flesh together like an armored corselet and then gleefully wrenched them open without pause.

Jezifreth na Harsindrian stepped forward and grasped Vhaeraun’s hair, lifting him up with the sound of tearing flesh as whole lengths were torn out by the roots. The Gloom Father’s breath washed over the god with the scent of a hundred thousand charnel houses and mass plague burials.

"There is no pretense of subtlety, no holding back now.” The baernaloth explained. “You've made a cage out of self-delusion and bloated ego, a safe little hiding spot to hide from everything that you could not face. Well my little one, you've turned the key and locked yourself inside with us. There is no release now. Oh how special you must feel.”

Vhaeraun’s sobbing mirrored Nisviim’s.

***

“You see it just as keenly as I do, and infinitely clearer than your children down below huddled in the halls of Cynosure.” Ao’s guest explained. “I suppose the only thing that I can give to you is another reiteration of what you know but don’t wish to acknowledge at this point.”

“Speak what you will and then please leave me.” The overgod replied. “I have too much on my mind to play word games with you any longer.”

She paused and held up a hand as if hearing something from afar. “Ah…” she said, brushing another stray strand of hair from her face. “I’m being remiss with what I previously said it seems. I can give you something else actually.”

Ao was listening, but as she prepared to speak her words, he felt a tremble in the aether, a shudder in the fabric of his cosmos. He’d felt the smallest fractions of it before, for some time actually, but the tremulous vibrations on the edge of his consciousness were now like a dozen spiders striding across a web of their own weaving, putting gleeful patterns into their deadly silk while they rushed towards ensnarled pray.

“You feel it.” She explained. “You’ve felt it. Now let me show you where in your little fishbowl to properly direct your attention.”

She remained sitting there, calm as ever, but her shadow stirred, leapt forward like a lamp had been sparked behind her, and caught hold of the overpower’s face. Wrenching and twisting his head down, it forcing him to look as it snarled and chuckled.

“Look! Look hard child. Look well.” For the first time since she’d been there, a cold and mocking expression crossed the girl’s face. “Take a good hard look Ao, and remember that as I said before, Evil seeps through.”

***

The Infinite Staircase shuddered as if a great weight had suddenly been dropped from one of its innumerable doorways high above where it rose out of site. The stair groaned and the shrieking sound of stressed metal rang across the twilight expanse of the Gates of the Moon, Selune’s deific domain. Standing at its base, two of the goddess’s servitors, a pair of lillends, looked up in alarm at the sound.

They heard footsteps. Something was descending the Stair, something that the essence of Selune’s domain itself was rebelling against. One of them screamed as molten silver rained down from the sky, great droplets falling all around them, striking randomly like blood shed from the staircase.

The footsteps drew closer and the celestials called out to Selune, but heard only the groan of the stairs and a gentle chuckle from above as impossibly the moonlight dimmed.

Drawing their consecrated weapons they looked as the figure of a man became apparent, gently descending from above, silent, gaunt, and leaving a trail of molten silver in his wake that pooled and dripped from the Stair. Their eyes narrowed behind the silver masks that they wore as marks of station, as guardians of the Stair, and they called upon the intruder to stop in the name of their goddess. He ignored their command and turned his burning emerald eyes down upon them.

“In another time and another reality, this place would have been the beginning of a journey. In another reality I would have long ago passed this way in my pursuits and never looked back. But in this reality oh… this reality claims to be something different, but it’s just another landing upon the Stair.”

He wore the simple clothes of a traveler or a wandering mystic, but his skin was jaundiced and his bare feet bled upon the stairs, causing them to ignite and fracture with each deliberate step. The lillendi felt sick in his presence.

“In another reality you would know what I am and what it is that I seek upon the Stair. But alas, while that knowledge was taken from you with good intentions, it’s time for you to remember just what it is that I am.”

The Wanderer abandoned his mortal guise, smiled at the lillendi, and stepped down from the Stair. Horror entered the Gates of the Moon.

***

Within the blood soaked jungle of Malar’s domain, something stirred within the guts of a dozen lycanthropic petitioners of the Beastlord. They paused from their hunt and staggered in confusion, feeling pressure in their temples, and feeling a numb, tingling sensation race through their nerves.

They cried out in agony as the pressure grew more intense. Their legs buckled and spots of blood dotted their vision as their retinas began to hemorrhage, and their screaming only grew louder. The dozen of them lay there writhing on the ground when a werebat plunged out of the sky to join them, and they dimly heard its bones shatter and crack as it struck the earth with lethal force.

That was when it burst and spattered them and the ground for fifteen meters around with blood and pulped organs. But that was only the start, and one by one the others did the same, either bleeding out uncontrollably like the victims of a hemorrhagic plague, or erupting like sanguine volcanoes of flesh and bone.

The jungle was still and silent when something out of nightmare congealed from out of the pooling blood and stepped into Malar’s domain. Awash in gore, coated and sticky, Methikus sar Telmuril the Flesh Sculptor smiled, tasted the air and stepped into the jungle.

***

And so it went as Ao watched the domains of his children sullied by the presence of something that did not belong there, but which he had given the opportunity to touch. He watched the Blind Clockmaker step upon the skulls of aasimon in the service of Savras, slowly making its way among the domains of Dweomerheart as a bloody little prelude before the Shepherd and the Architect visited each in turn, each in their own nightmarish way. Distantly he could feel more of the first fiends trickling into the homes of his children, the gods of Toril, there to make them remember where they had come from and what they had tried to leave behind.

Were he able to, he would have wept at how it had all gone wrong. Were he able to, he would have turned away and slaughtered her for what he’d seen and what he knew would continue unabated. She would leave, but he could do nothing else. All too well he knew the rules that bound and restricted him, and so did she.

“I told you Ao, Evil seeps through.” Tellura Ibn Shartalan said as she stepped forward, limping on her crippled left leg. “But you let us in. You lit a lamp in the window and called out to us. Your hopes and benevolent intentions were like sugared little treats, and your children like low-hanging fruit. We’ve been let loose in a private orchard.”

“But that’s the obvious," She continued. "And I didn’t come all the way here across the metaphysical gulf to tell you that.” The second of The Demented paused next to the overgod and smiled as her shadow released him and shared her expression of sick glee. “No, I came to ask you something as well. As I said before, what’s the harm in a simple question?”

“Are you happy with what you’ve created Ao?” She asked. “Are you pleased with this new world of yours? Innocence in ignorance is what you have given them, and that which we will exploit, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Watch them suffer and watch us savor, and then tell me father of Toril, are you pleased with the suffering you’ve caused? Was it wise to do what you did, to make your own quaint little cosmos? Was it justified? Was it worth it? If you had the choice, would you do it again?”

Iavas's picture
Offline
factotums
Joined: 2006-07-12
Evil Seeps Through

Another gruesome chef d'oeuvre by the master of fiends! Shemmy, you never fail to impress, even in this none too subtle derision for the third edition isolation of the Realms. I love that rather than ridiculing it directly, you simply let your adopted creations disdainfully oblitirate the illusion in a nice little piece of fiction. Hats off, sir.

Bari's picture
Offline
Namer
Joined: 2012-05-12
Re: Evil Still Seeps Through

This is SO awesome. Amazing.

__________________

"You're loud, impulsive and you question authority. -That- is why I keep you at arm's lenght."
"Mmmm. And that is also why you keep me at arm's reach."

Planescape, Dungeons & Dragons, their logos, Wizards of the Coast, and the Wizards of the Coast logo are ©2008, Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro Inc. and used with permission.