Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Hellwar Chronicle by Gray (Aka What You Missed Folkestone Questing)

I never thought to be one to document history like a scholar, but considering the momentous events I’ve found myself bound in, I feel the need to leave some sort of record. If we who have undertaken to protect the Realms from the infernal realm fail, then perhaps my writings will help some future heroes to learn from our failings. Or, if we succeed and in so doing become that which we sought to keep at bay, perhaps this journal will help those who follow know why we did the things we did, and just maybe judge us less harshly than they might otherwise.

Earlier in the year, seven adventurers of the Realms, including Janus of Chimeron, Dresden of Neden, Laiko, Boom, Balthazar, Slade, and myself, found ourselves obliged to take on lordship of a domain of Hell bearing a gate into the Realms. While necessary at the time, all of us entered into the undertaking fully understanding there would be future consequences.

In the late summer of the year, the consequences began to unfold, beginning with the recovery of a letter indicating war over the Quill of Judgment, a powerful artifact of Chaos. A strong force from the Realms moved to its defense, beginning with reconnaissance of the surrounding hellscape. Among the interesting developments were wanted posters of we seven (the likeness of me was not bad), and not­-overly-­bright demons roaming in search of us.

In the process, I found my way to our domain and spoke to the Majordomo, who informed me he had vital information to impart to the seven lords. I went out seeking them in the company of Charwindle and Darvin of Mayerling, who took it upon themselves to act as my bodyguards during the day. My first conversation in aid of gathering the seven was with Sir Guilliam of Invictus, which proved less than productive, as he relayed his antipathy to any self­-styled lords of Hell.

As I think rather highly of Sir Guillaim, his hostility gives me one more reason to regret my decision to accept the responsibility of lordship of the domain.

I was later able to locate Janus, then Laiko, but Laiko literally vanished before I could even speak to him.

Doing what I could, I rounded up Janus and Dresden, and Balthazar found his way to the domain on his own. With we four in attendance, the Majordomo related the manner in which our domain was defended and how we would instinctively become aware when it was about to come under attack. He also informed us the domain could be strengthened and expanded through the sacrifice of brimstone, hellblooms, and souls. Having already recovered a small portion of brimstone, I sacrificed it to strengthen the domain, save one small piece I turned over to Janus for him to use to work his magics.

At this point, Dresden suggested naming the domain “Respite”, to signify both our intention for it to be a haven for unjustly judged souls (many of which are still trapped in Hell) and our spite towards the forces hostile to us. This proposal met with ready agreement of the four of us in attendance, and through our combined will the domain was thus named.

Secure we would have sufficient warning of attack to rally a defense, we left Respite to seek out more resources with which to strengthen and expand the domain. All manner of bizarre goings­-on were occurring. My small group encountered a pair of demons seeking out myself, but they were easily misled by Tuilli Blackheart. I encountered some sort of classroom where a daemonic instructor seemed to be engaging in experiments with a circle of protection, calling upon mortals from the Realms to create and break them. I found Slade nearby and relayed to him what the Majordomo had told us.

Almost immediately after speaking with Slade, my instincts informed me an attack on Respite was imminent. Hurrying back with as many other adventurers as I could, I met with the other members of the seven and such forces as they were able to muster, and we readied ourselves to defend our small domain.

We didn’t have long to wait before wave after wave of thug demons began attacking the gateways to Respite. We put up a spirited defense, and demons died in droves before our blades and spells. Their relentless attacks pressed us hard, but the timely arrival of Invictus en masse turned the tide. We smashed the attacking force to the last imp and seized the writ of lordship over their domain, which Janus entrusted to me until such time as we could decide how to employ its power.

Discussing strategy, the available members of the seven determined forging alliances with the less-objectionable of the plane’s factions would be in our best interests, so we went forth to find the Bloodfeathers and the Fisherman.

I’d intended to go with the group venturing forth to find the Bloodfeathers, but a crisis involving Charwindle needed resolving. According to Darvan, she’d been killed by a particularly noteworthy (and ugly) demon who seemed impervious to attack, then raised again under some sort of compulsion to do as the demon said. He attempted to sell her to Shandar of Invictus, but he didn’t bite. We recovered Char, and I put her in a circle of protection, which she could not cross despite being a pure warrior, thus confirming she had been ensorcelled. I broke the enchantment upon her through the expedient of putting her down with a lightning bolt and raising her to life again afterwards. Crude, I will admit, but not for me the finger­wiggly banishments of the Abjurer, and it worked.

I then encountered who I gather to be the same demon, trying to raise another adventurer (whose identity I’ll not document here). The demon was having trouble raising the lad – surmised because he had cast Embrace Death on himself. The demon offered to sell him to me if I could raise him. When I hesitated, he began killing other nearby adventurers, one­by­one, until I agreed to try and raise the boy. Good negotiating tactic – he got up to four including the boy before I agreed. I searched the boy for his phylactery, and upon finding it began to use Raise Dead on him. The demon declared a slow raise would get me three and a half adventurers and began sawing one in half. I hurriedly cast Combat Raise into the boy’s phylactery before the demon could finish. Satisfied, he turned him and the other three over to me and left. He was even thoughtful enough to raise them.

Between that, a fighting tournament I observed in passing, and the Circle of Protection “class”, it does seem very much like the demons were testing our abilities.

All this keeping me from joining the group going out looking for the Bloodfeathers did turn out to be oddly fortuitous, because Ranek Bloodfeather came looking for us. We formed a loose alliance based on mutual interest in recovering the Quill of Judgment and removing it from Hell.

Shortly afterwards, a marketplace opened, full of goods both exotic and mundane. The most interesting commodity for sale turned out to be Laiko, who we managed to free through some means or other. While we were freeing Laiko from infernal servitude, Jean Baptiste was selling himself into it – for what reason I can’t even begin to imagine.

The Fisherman turned up at the market, and that fallen angel brought our attention to a soul merchant in possession of thirty unjustly­judged souls. Information also reached us as to the location of the Quill. Groups formed to address both problems. I joined the first, with Iawen Penn as our guide. Our goal was to gain the trust of the soul merchant so that we might barter for the untainted souls (or more likely roll him for them).

The soul merchant met with us and assigned us a variety of tasks. The first was to beat down a rival encroaching on his territory and repossesses his stock of tainted souls. This proved within our abilities, refreshingly morally unambiguous, and the demon and his minions made very satisfying thumps when they hit the ground.

Our second task was an uncomplicated delivery of goods and collection of payment, complicated slightly by some sort of religious group preaching their infernal gospel. Ignoring them on the way out lost us Garharz, who wanted their ceremony put to an immediate stop. On the way back, we found the same group taking away a young mortal woman. We recovered her through our go-­to methods, then found she was at least somewhat rightfully in Hell, as she had been a researcher abusive to her assistant. However, Brighthammer determined her soul was worth saving if she was repentant. A couple of castings of Speak With Dead suggested she likely was, so we restored her to life, then prayed to our various gods to relieve her of the unfortunate name of “Snooty” in order that she might develop into a better person.

Our third task was the most complex – recovery of souls from a nest of soul spiders, beings too powerful to fight, so we had to think our way through the problem. This not generally speaking being the strong suite of a large mob of adventurers with no clear leader, most of the group was deep into the nest before we realized the spiders reacted to noise and movement. Charwindle insisted I remain outside the nest, so I was in a good position to observe the spiders’ behavior, and was able to gain the group some ability to move by distracting the spiders, entering their nest and shouting at them, then running out before they could catch me in their webs. The distractions lost their potency over repetitions however, requiring more and riskier efforts. Eventually everyone got out, even the familiar that had trouble keeping up with his master and got webbed up by one of the spiders.

Completing the third task, we were paid for our efforts with one pure soul, but the merchant did not open negotiation for the rest. It seems our efforts to recover them are going to be a long-­term endeavor.

Even in Hell, evening falls. There was enough of a lull in the chaos for a meal before we found ourselves being invited to a ceremony to choose mouthpieces for the nine archfiends of Hell. The mistress of the temple called for mortals to step forth, and there was quite the rush for the dubious honor. Eventually, the proper number of suitable candidates was winnowed from the herd who leapt at the opportunity for...I’m not really sure what the men and women in question expected to get out of it. There certainly wasn’t any deliberation or weighing of consequences in their decision.

Regardless, Razsmith, Aiden Penclaw of Blackwood, Hayden of Rathkeale, Tuilli Blackheart, Tarja Blackheart, Blackie, Vandoria of Fairhaven, and Kirk of Blackwood made their decision, accepted the infernal sacraments, and became preachers of their various underlords. The Quill of Judgment was then turned over to us, Sir Guillaim being chosen to safeguard it by near­-universal acclaim. The mistress then screamed “The War begins now!”, and we found ourselves under attack. We fought our way clear of the temple before it collapsed and was sucked into some kind of rift, and we found ourselves with a pair of crises to deal with – the unchecked expansion of the Pit, and a widening rift between two domains of Hell. The former­Snooty proved invaluable here, lending her expertise towards formulating our plans of action.

Groups formed to deal with each crisis. I’d intended to go with the group heading to check the expansion of the Pit, but at the last moment went instead with the group to seal the Rift. Why?Sentimentality perhaps. Mayerling’s newest member, Vallek went with that group, and I wanted to watch over him. Whatever the reason, I was glad I did, because I found myself part of an elite band of sorcerers who blasted our way into the Rift through unending waves of undead into the heart of the Rift, where we found the cord needed to weave shut the rip in the domains lumped in tangled skeins.

That was how I wound up in a room, Sir Sean O’Quinlan holding shut one door, me barring the other against the scratching, moaning undead trying to claw their way in as other brave souls unraveled the skeins. Once done, we sorcerers took the lead once more, blasting our way through the walking dead, leaving the blighted hellscape scorched in our wake as we sewed shut the Rift.

With the success of our endeavor and the victory of the party tasked to contain the Pit, we made our way back to Respite, where we found ourselves under attack by the Four Armies. Battle gave way to negotiation, with the leaders of the Four Armies objecting to Sir Guilliam’s custody of the Quill. Guilliam was willing to turn the Quill over to his lord, Shandar of Invictus. Satisfied, the Four Armies withdrew, and we had time for a few hours of exhausted sleep before the next hellish day dawned.

Confusion reigned that day. There was talk of a box that could contain the corrupting energies of the Quill, and agreement that if the artifact could not be destroyed that day, then the box should be obtained to safeguard it until such time as we find the means to destroy the Quill. We found ourselves under attack again, and again split into two groups, but without the deliberation of the previous day. I found myself with the group fighting our way to the Hellgate, slogging our way through constant waves of demons.

Somehow, the running battle paused, and we found ourselves bearing witness to some sort of ritual or trial, in which the Maker of the Quill was given the option to destroy it, and in so doing herself, or to choose life, but in so doing leave the Quill free to wreak its havoc. She chose life. I had little time to deliberate on her selection, as I found myself back in the desperate fight.

We managed to cleave our way to the Hellgate, finding it both locked and collapsing. I helped hold off the ever­increasing waves of demons until the other party found its way to us, with Invictus at its fore. I then joined a small group, including Jayne Wrath of Invictus, sent to retrieve the box. This proved to be no small effort however, requiring the whole of Invictus and not a few others of us to fight our way to this new artifact and retrieve it safely. By then, Janus had puzzled out a way to open the Hellgate, but leaving us with only a minute to pass through or be trapped. With seconds to spare, we made it out – all but one, it seems. Jean Baptiste was not among our number when we crossed back over into the mortal Realms – into Neden of all places.

While we were successful in finding a way to contain the Quill of Judgment, it is at best a temporary solution, and I think we have only begun to count the cost for our success. Agents of Hell have in various ways taken our measure. Who knows how many adventurers were tainted by Hell’s influence in one way or another while we roamed its expanses? What’s more, the prophets of the Nine underlords are loose upon the Realms to spread their influence and corruption in the mortal domain. Who knows how we may be called upon to pay for our actions in the plane of the damned?

Gray Erikkson, Sorcerer of Mayerling

Year 1015 of the Realms

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