Paul Vilbig as Shaden “Leech” Liixe
Derek Romano as Cade “Blindsight” Haarkoth
Greg Mann as Khulvos Hooftorn
Michael Graziano as Daegys Sahii
Christine Scott as T’Saira Behntrilo
We approached the venue for tonight’s banquet, an enormous manse built atop a series of ascending plateaus. As we approached, Leech paused to get the lay of the land. Our first entry into the manse grounds would be through a massive hedge wall comprised of blooming black rose bushes with gleaming, poison-tipped thorns. Three patrols of three Legion soldiers each swept along the outside of the wall, and another three patrols of similar make-up moved along a path on the inside of the wall. A steeple-shaped entrance played host to the ever-increasing number of guests making their way into the grounds. I offered my elbow for T’saira to take hold of, then began to make my way toward the entrance, my chin held high…
Beyond the hedge wall there was a terraced garden with a series of faintly glowing orbs illuminating a spiraling path. From here, a second wall was visible, this one guarded far more heavily than the last. Meandering fete guests mingled and sipped exotic drinks from crystal goblets. Kao servants, emaciated and tortured, carried massive, weighty carafes of noxious spirits, which was then ladeled into the drink glasses of the myriad demonic banqueters by other Kao servants. The level of depravity and decadence on display was enough to turn my stomach, but I resigned myself to the role I was playing, and as one of these debaucherous demons, I would have to have an air of ostentatious nonchalance. From the looks of my team, Leech was having the hardest time acting like he didn’t care about the human slaves before us…
- The manse grounds were comprised of three separate, ornately decorated garden plateaus, with the manse itself perched at the center of the highest plateau. A meandering path, cobbled with ornate tile and lined with darksteel-plated Kao skulls, was filled with fete guests and servants as they approached the next inner wall. This wall, unlike the outermost hedge wall, was a series of stacked stone towers with blood-stained bleakwood slats bridging them together. An ornate archway led the path through to the next plateau, from which thick, faintly sweet aromatics wafted in the humid evening air.
- Daegys brought my attention to the parapets atop the stacked stone towers on the wall, where dozens of ornately armored guards could be seen perched with crossbows in hand. They were armed with a fancier assortment of weapons, and their armor seemed more regal than protective, but the message these snipers sent was clear. As we passed through the archway and into the next plateau, the truth of our predicament reached the deepest parts of our hearts. We met eyes, all of us, and knew that if we had to escape from this place, beyond this point, it would be impossible that all of us would survive the attempt. This was literally the point of no return. But, we pushed on. For Elo. For Laurence. Hell, for ourselves.
- On the second plateau, the banqueters were being fed hors’ d’œuvres and being entertained by jugglers, fire eaters, strongmen, and other carnival acts. Cade noticed that some of the guards in this area were dressed like fete guests, their weapons carefully concealed in their waistcoats, but their attentiveness and demeanor betraying their true purpose. I had to hand it to Niska, he was a careful host. That started to get me a bit worried. If he was this careful, how likely was it that we would get into that manse without incident? And if there was an incident, how many of us were likely to survive?
- I had never before seen a Balor demon, but I have heard of them by reputation. From what I knew Balor demons are the size of dragons, but from the descriptions I have read, they are less intimidating. They seemed like caricatures, like exaggerations of what most people find particularly frightening about demons in general. Unfortunately, the descriptions I read did not do them justice, and everything about a Balor was horrifying to behold. Actually, when one landed on the entrance path in front of us, my ears went back and my tail twitched uncontrollably. I would later learn that they exude an aura of dread that enhances terror in those close to them, but even without this aura, I am certain that such a sight would be most intimidating to behold.
- We watched in horror as the Balor, for his own amusement, stomped a Kao servant to death beneath his foot. The experience was nerve shattering, but I held my resolve to see this mission through to the end, so I mustered a bemused obliviousness on my face (somehow) and tried to side-step the issue. Daegys overcame his fear of the Balor quickly, and looked as if he was about to pick a fight with the giant demon (a fight that we could not hope to win, and which would destroy any hopes of finding Elosian). Cade calmed him down a bit, but the Balor made things even worse when he held his gruesome foot up and demanded that T’saira lick it clean.
- I tried to deflate the situation by insinuating that the Balor’s foot was far too precious to be dirtied by her unworthy tongue. Balor demons are near the top of the Legion caste system, and my pandering gesticulation was appropriate, but he was indignant and insistent. I looked to T’saira, acting as if I was angry at her for delaying, but speaking with my eyes, hoping she would know that I would not blame her for refusing. If we died to save her dignity, I supposed that would be a noble death. Instead, however, she gave a faint, false smile up to the Balor and closed her eyes, leaning in to lick the human remains from the Balor’s foot. Leech grabbed the hilt of his sword before her tongue got even close to the sticky remains dripping off of the foot. I knew that if any of us would be unable to contain our righteous disgust of this place, it would be him.
- However, before Leech had to save T’saira from degrading herself, another, even larger Balor saved us the trouble. Landing with a resounding crash on the ground next to the other Balor, an Elder Balor grabbed his little brother around the head and began to ridicule him for “playing with his food.” I did not know it at the time, but Balor demons are known to eat tieflings as well as Kao, so T’saira and, indeed, all of us, were in danger of becoming the demon’s next meal. The Elder Balor said that they were going into the manse to crash this party Niska dared not to invite them to. The two of them left for the upper plateau gate, and I noticed a number of banqueters were staring at us, muttering about what just transpired.
- I admonished T’saira for her reluctance to do what her betters demanded of her, but as soon as I was certain the attention was off of us, I looked her in the eye and quietly whispered an apology. She shook her head and smiled, taking my elbow in hand once again. She was unshaken. Of all of us, the one who almost had to lick human blood from a demon’s foot was the one maintaining her composure most convincingly. T’saira was, without doubt, the toughest woman I have ever met. I glanced back at Daegys and Leech, who were both still angry, but took deep breaths and nodded toward me. We then proceeded through the final gates, a pair of hundred-foot-tall silvery panels with criss-crossing bleakwood lattice covered with sharpthorn ivy.
- Beyond these gates was the manse courtyard, where a line was forming at the doors to the manse proper. The manse itself was as large as the whole of Drakyniar Citadel. The building was the most visible landmark in Glyph. What caught my attention almost immediately was how similar this place was to the Drao castle of Anzarach. Perched in the sky above the manse was a magically glowing orb of faint blue light, bathing the landscape in an eerie, yet undeniably lovely twilight hue. At the front of the line, we noticed that the two Balor demons were arguing with the fete host, who was insisting that if they were not invited, they are not welcome.
- When the Elder Balor became enraged and attempted to force his way into the manse, a hail of arrows soared from the walls surrounding the courtyard, dozens of them sinking into him and giving off small, localized explosions which brought him to his knees. Finally, the fete host gave a faint hand gesture and a magical arrow was fired into the demon’s forehead. The Elder Balor disintegrated, his entire body crumbling into dust. The younger Balor, his jaw agape, had no idea what to do, so he turned tail and ran away. I did not want to look at my allies for fear of seeing the dread in their faces. If they could so easily dispatch an Elder Balor, what chance did any of us have?
- After tendering our invitation to the fete host, he apologized for the unfortunate delay, and said that I was to be seated at the table of honor with Lord Niska himself! I was allowed one guest, but my guards would have to be seated separately. Cade, Daegys, and Leech went off to be seated at one of the dozens of tables on the outer edges of the banquet hall while T’saira and I were escorted to an elevated platform, through a set of sheer, magical curtains that deadened the noise from the rest of the banquet hall. I was seated across from a debonair bearded devil wearing an ornate golden cross-weave vest. There was something odd about this devil. He was unusually cordial and, it seemed, almost pleased that I was there.
- After doing my best to portray the part of a spoiled aristocrat, the lights in the banquet hall dimmed, and the fete host announced the entrance of Lord Niska of Glyph. We all stood as four slaves carried a throne into the banquet hall, a timpani and two flared horns serenading Lord Niska as he was carried into view. He was wearing an ornate masquerade-style mask and wearing a gilded formal robe as he leaned back in his high-backed throne and let his slaves carry and place it at the table. It had been a while since I first (and last) laid eyes on Niska, and admittedly I was not in the best condition at that time, but there was something different about him. Perhaps the atmosphere of Glyph had a positive effect on him, but he seemed healthier than he did before. I could not rule out that this was not the true Lord Niska, but instead a clever decoy. In fact, given the level of security in this place, it would not surprise me in the slightest.
As Niska whispered into the ear of the fete host, a series of cages were brought into the banquet hall. The cages were filled with Kao. These humans, none of which were far into their teens, were the main course of the banquet. My heart sunk. I had a feeling this would be the case, and though I had no intention of eating human flesh, I knew that regardless of what I did here, none of these Kao would live to see tomorrow. I chose one, trying to avoid eye contact for fear of losing my nerve, and T’saira did likewise. I looked out to the others, and I saw that Daegys, Cade, and Leech were having a harder time coming to terms with this situation. I could not blame them. Especially Cade. He was a Kao, after all…
As they brought out our main courses, we were sickened by the smell of the feast. It smelled… good. The meat actually smelled like slow roasted game bird. I tried my best to appear as if I was eating it, but I instead chose a location beneath my seat and deposited every “bite” of the food beneath me. I saw that T’saira was doing likewise, but unless someone was paying very close attention, nobody could tell she wasn’t eating, and enjoying, the feast of human meat. This was, by far, the most macabre scenario I had ever encountered in my many years.
- Lord Niska called for a toast, and everyone raised their glasses. I noticed that he had not eaten anything on his plate at all. Then again, by all accounts, Niska was a vampire and likely had little use for food other than the blood of the living. As he stood and spoke, my suspicions about his identity strengthened. He had more strength and vitality in his voice than I remembered. His choice of words, too, gave me pause:
“Ah, my guests, I am deeply touched that you have come at my behest. I welcome you into my home, my city, and thank you for sharing this meal with me. I propose a toast. To the future, and those of us here who will be the architects of that future. To the end of pointless war. To the future.”
- As we echoed his sentiments, I looked across to the bearded devil, and he gave me an odd look, as if he and I were of a like mind. Those words seemed wholly unlike what I would have expected from someone like Lord Niska. After his brief speech, he whispered into the ear of the fete host once again, and then the host informed us that Lord Niska would be taking his leave for the evening. The slaves took Niska on his mobile throne and brought him through a large doorway into a corridor overlooking the banquet hall. Before he disappeared from view, a messenger delivered a handwritten note to me. It said: LORD NISKA HAS REQUESTED YOUR PRESENCE IN HIS STUDY, IMMEDIATELY.
- I glanced to T’saira, and the messenger said “alone.” I knew it was likely that this would be the last time I would see her, or any of the others, so I paused and smiled at her. She blinked, which was as much concern as she was willing to betray. I could tell that Daegys and Leech were concerned about the situation, but for the moment, there was nothing to be done except oblige Lord Niska’s request. I stood from the table and asked to be excused. The bearded devil across the table stood up and moved to take my seat, next to T’saira, most likely with lascivious intentions. I could not deal with that now. She was hardly helpless, and despite the circumstances, the mission was not yet a lost cause.
- As I was brought through a corridor and into a dark room, I saw Lord Niska sitting on his throne, demanding that the guard that escorted me into the room leave us alone. I heard the door latch shut, and Niska stood from his throne, placing his gloved hands onto his decorative mask and removing it. I noticed small blonde braids of hair coming down from around the edges of his jawline, which bore a nasty scar etched up the left side of his face, terminating at his milky-white dead eye. This was not Lord Niska. It was Elosian!
- His face was filled with emotion. He looked like he was about to burst into tears as he came toward me and wrapped me in an embrace. They told him that all his friends were dead. He thought I died in the Cauldron trying to save him. When he learned of our fate, he snapped, lashed out, and drove a broken wooden chair leg into the heart of Lord Niska. Realizing that he was trapped in the center of a city full of his enemies, and without his link to Revenon, he considered suicide. His friends were dead, and he was doomed anyway. Then, however, he saw in this place an opportunity…
“The Groosalugg has been warring against the Legion of Asmous for over fifty years. The Restoration is a failure. This war is destroying Infernia. There will be nothing left worth living in by the end of it, at this rate. But if Lord Niska was to enter the picture, both the Legion and the Restoration would be too busy fighting each other to prevent him from toppling them both. That was Niska’s intention, anyway. But now that he’s dead, and I have insinuated myself in his place, I can take what he’s started and turn it to our advantage. Asmous must fall, but the Groosalugg has proven he is no more worthy of ruling over Infernians.”
“You believe you are worthy, Elo,” I asked. He shook his head.
“No. I don’t think anyone is. I want freedom for Infernia. I don’t want to trade one demagogue for another. I don’t want to be the ruler of Infernia. I don’t think Infernia needs a ruler. With your help, maybe we can make that happen…”
Are There None Who Are What They Seem To Be?
Out in the banquet hall, I would later learn that the bearded devil who seemed a bit too interested in T’saira and I was not who he appeared to be…
- The bearded devil revealed himself to T’saira. It was Laurence! In fact, everyone at that table was one of the group that went with Laurence to find the gypsy mystic and attain convincing disguises. The gypsy used a polymorph spell to change Laurence, Darien, Regult, Cylia, and Maerlyn into convincing facsimiles of five particular demons and devils, all guests of honor at this banquet. Laurence suspected that they might find Elosian here, but he was quite relieved when he saw us come in, and was particularly impressed that T’saira and I found our way to Lord Niska’s table.
- Laurence told T’saira to try to follow me, because he was concerned that I might be walking into a trap. Little did any of them know that I was, at that time, learning that Elosian was posing as Lord Niska! T’saira left the table and, once again, used her feminine charms to seduce a guard into leaving his post. When I later asked for details, she did not tell me what happened to the guard, but I think it is a foregone conclusion that she killed him. Moments later, she came into the room with “Lord Niska” and I. Neither T’saira nor Elosian had ever laid eyes on one another before, so there was no way for either of them to know they were among friends.
- I quickly diffused the situation and made the introductions. T’saira breathlessly informed us that Laurence was here, and that he was disguised as the bearded devil who was flirting with her at the table of honor. Elosian was beside himself with excitement. He said that with Laurence’s help, he stood a chance of succeeding with his plans to liberate Infernia from its tyrants. Before I could explain his words to T’saira, we all felt a tremendous rumbling at our feet…
- Outside, in the corridor, Darien Vale had slipped away from the banquet table and stole into the corridor heading in our direction. Leech noticed his surreptitious exit and decided to follow him and see what he was up to. He did not know at the time who he was following, onlt that another of the banquet guests was following T’saira, and that he could not have been up to any good. As he tracked Darien (who was disquised as a Cambion), he noticed a couple of dead guards, one of which had a broken keychain clasped in his hand. He followed Darien’s trail to a side chamber, where a faint chill wind flowed outward from the darkness. Leech looked within through the recently opened door, finding the Cambion (he still did not know it was Darien) standing in front of a faintly glowing glass orb on a marble pedestal column.
- The Cambion looked toward him and said, “Leech?” Leech still did not recognize him, and as they had never spoken before, he could not have known Darien’s voice. However, Darien abandoned his disguise, the polymorph fading and his body returning to its true form. Leech asked what he was doing, and Darien said: “Passing my first test.”
- Darien placed the palms of his hands on the glass orb and the glow from within the orb intensified. Within, there appeared to be a milky, glowing substance, and writing in that substance was a creature Leech knew to be a Sliver. Suddenly, a shadowy presence grew forth from Darien’s shoulders, a spectral wraith-like shape, and a booming voice called out to Darien. Leech did not know it at the time, but he was hearing the voice of the God of Death. Veil said, “Well done, Darien. You have passed my test and earned my support for your ascension. You have opened the window. Now, finish your business there and have it done. You have two trials yet to face before my plan bears its deadly fruit.”
- The spectral form leapt out from Darien and into the glass orb, encircling the sliver within the orb and piercing it with what appeared to be a ghostly scythe. Suddenly, the ground began to tremble, and screams could be heard from the banquet hall. Leech demanded to know what Darien had done, but just then, several cracks appeared in the floor, and dozens of undead began to crawl forth from the firmament beneath the manse. Outside, Leech could hear explosions and screams. Darien did not answer him, but instead told him not to dawdle and die here needlessly. He took Leech by the arm and dragged him out of the room, finding the undead guards he had slain poised to take their dark revenge against him.
- In the chamber with Elosian and T’saira, I asked what that noise was, and we began to hear screams from the banquet hall. Elosian conjectured that Asmous might have gotten wise to him, but just then, Elosian’s throne burst into thousands of razor-like shards. Cracks drew across the stone floor and dozens of zombies and skeletons began to crawl up from beneath us. From the destroyed throne, a powerful dark presence was congealing before our eyes. Elosian shook his head in disbelief, saying, “No… it can’t be.”
Lord Niska tore the stake from his heart and watched as the wound in his chest closed once again. He looked at his arms, his body more powerful than it had ever been before, and he then looked at Elosian, saying “I HAVE RETURNED!”
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Chapter 1: The Dreamers in… Hellbound
Chapter 2: The Dreamers in… Life In The Cauldron
Chapter 3: The Dreamers in… The Waking Nightmare
Chapter 4: The Dreamers
Chapter 5: The Dreamers in… Escaping The Cauldron
Chapter 6: The Dreamers in… Wrath of the Beholder
Chapter 7: The Dreamers in… Hounds of Hell
Chapter 8: The Dreamers in… Hideous Laughter
Chapter 9: The Dreamers in… The Tomb of Caenus Graymane
Chapter 10: The Dreamers in… Allure of the Wispwaters
Chapter 11: The Dreamers in… Goodbye, Impy
Chapter 12: The Dreamers in… Sole Survivor
Chapter 13: The Dreamers in… The Iron Fist
Chapter 14: The Dreamers in… Battle at the Ancient Wall
Chapter 15: The Dreamers in… The Long, Hard Road
Chapter 16: The Dreamers in… Hunted
Chapter 17: The Dreamers in… On Fields of Ancient Dead
Chapter 18: The Dreamers in… The Woods of Woe
Chapter 19: The Dreamers in… Divine Intervention
Chapter 20: The Dreamers in… The Standing Stones
Chapter 21: The Dreamers in… Cherished Memories
Chapter 22: The Dreamers in… Hero of the Night Sword
Chapter 23: The Dreamers in… Well of Slivered Souls
Chapter 24: The Dreamers in… Dreams of a Lost World
Chapter 25: The Dreamers in… What Might Have Been (Part 1 of 2)
Chapter 26: The Dreamers in… What Might Have Been (Part 2 of 2)
Chapter 27: The Dreamers in… Shimekiri Sankatte (Part 1 of 2)
Chapter 28: The Dreamers in… Shimekiri Sankatte (Part 2 of 2)
Chapter 29: The Dreamers in… A Long Black Day
Chapter 30: The Dreamers in… No Justice In Hell
Chapter 31: The Dreamers in… The Soothsayer’s Tower
Chapter 32: The Dreamers in… Harrowing Revelations
Chapter 33: The Dreamers in… Tonight We Dine In Hell