Fate’s Chosen: the decision

The first thing Naismith hears are the screams of souls, who have washed ashore, being plucked out and thrown into large soul carts by unforgiving devils with pitchforks. Naismith glances around and takes in the deep reddish hue of the sky, that so eerily compliments the blood red water of the river Styx. “So this is the end then,” he tells himself, waiting to be skewered like the rest of them. Except no devil pays attention to the lonely rogue standing on the river bank; they move pass him as if he’s not there. Naismith sighs, wishing he gave into the cosmic tug, but is grateful for his sacrifice because he sensed the wand explode in the Positive plane. He is quite surprised however, to have ended up in Avernus when his soul was supposed to transfer into the Ring of Mind Shielding. He ponders this some more, “I should have put that ring in Royce’s pocket and then I would be with him right now! If the Positive plane dissolved an artifact, my poor little ring never stood a chance.”

“There you are!” says a little voice from behind the rogue. Naismith turns around and sees the little imp, Bedichiah. “Hello Bedichiah, I guess you are here for me,” bemoans Naismith as he looks down at the tattoo still branded to his arm. “Yes, I am here for you. I’m your escort to Malbolge. Come, let’s get out of this pedestrian place,” smiles the imp who proceeds to fly past Naismith.

Mordrock and Royce hear coughing near them as their eyes slowly adjust from blackness to a lighted blur. They inhale, surprised they can breathe in air, and stir from their prone position.
“Where are we?”
“Are we alive?”
“I don’t know.”
“The last I remember was holding onto the wand and feeling it explode. I felt the pieces pierce into my flesh.”

Then a stern voice between coughs responds to them, “Clerics, you are alive thanks to me.” Mordrock and Royce focus in on a large angel, holding his wounded side, staring back at them.
“My name is Azmael, and I need your help. Wait, I was told there were four of you, why are there only two now?”
Royce reaches for his sword and begins to cast. “Wait, do not cast! I’m a solar of Tyr and I have brought you here by way of Jimjar.”
“Jimjar?! What does he have to do with this?”
“Naismith our comrade follows Jimjar. I thought he would be here with us now, but he’s not.”
“This is very ironic,” says Azmael as he looks the two clerics over one more time.
“Jimjar informed me what your group was up to and from the looks of it, I believe you succeeded in your mission. I have used a very taxing chronomancy spell to pull you from your time line to mine. Because of this, we don’t have a lot of time as I can’t concentrate on this spell forever. I will have to send you back to your timeline eventually.”

Mordrock and Royce look at each other shocked to hear what Azmael is telling them. A look of surprise springs to their eyes as they imagine a world without the wand of Orcus. Azmael picks himself up and leans on his greatsword while still applying pressure to a gash down his side. Mordrock and Royce notice the solar is quite wounded and realize how spent they both are, in terms of spells.
“Azmael, we are quite taxed and need rest. Plus, we can resurrect both of our comrades tomorrow as well. We just need a good night’s sleep.”
Azmael hears this but realizes he does not have such time to spare, “I’m sorry I cannot give you the time you require. That time would jeopardize why I need your help. You shall have four hours to rest. Make do with that.” The solar pauses and then says, “But I do need more than just two of you, I fear. Let me consider this,” and he begins to limp away.

Bedichiah and Naismith journey for a long time crossing through the second, third, fourth, fifth planes of Hell before they arrive into Malbolge. Naismith is surprised his energy kept up through the entire trek and the thought of food or drink never crossed his mind. Eventually they arrive at their destination, the palace of Glasya. Naismith is taken to a large room, where the arch devil herself lounges from an immaculate bone throne, being waited on by several staff.
Glasya watches as the rogue is brought to her. She flicks her wrist at her servant before turning and glaring down at Naismith, “Welcome to home, Naismith,” she says to him with a wicked grin. Naismith acknowledges Glasya before looking down, unable to respond. Glasya senses the mood and immediately a goblet appears in her hand as a goblet appears before Naismith. She raises it and proclaims, “To accomplishing shared goals!” Naismith drinks from the goblet and just looks around, taking in the large room.
“Where are the others Naismith? Why just you now?”
“I do not know my lady. We destroyed the wand of Orcus together but maybe somehow they survived the Positive plane?”
“I highly doubt that.”
There is a pause in the room before Glasya responds, “Very well then. I have the pleasure of just you right now all to myself,” as she eyes the rogue as a potential concubine. She motions for Bedichiah, who acknowledges his lady and escorts Naismith out of the room. Naismith hears from behind him, “Relax my champion. Take some time to unwind and get to know the place. I think you will fit in quite nicely. Don’t worry, I have something in mind for you to do soon…”

“What happened to Anarchocles’s spirit? He is no longer with you?”
“I don’t know. He was there holding the wand with me. Maybe with the wand destroyed, he can now rest and no longer needs me as his host.”
“Wait! I hear something approaching.”
Azmael appears before Mordrock and Royce and tosses something at their feet; the wounded solar is looking a bit better after four hours. “Here, this can help the situation given the time constraint. Choose wisely.”

Mordrock picks up the scroll, opens it and reads it. “It is a scroll of True Resurrection. But we only have one so…we have to choose.” Royce scowls upon hearing this but realizes one is better than none. They settle on Nong, knowing a bit more on where he is in the multiverse, over Naismith. Mordrock casts from the scroll, calling forth Nong to appear. Momentarily, their half-orc monk companion materializes before them, alive and naked. It takes Nong a moment to come to his senses; he flexes his hands, moves his feet and breathes. A slight joy comes to his face as he realizes, he’s alive again.
“Nong, you are back! Welcome back!”
“I missed you guys. Thank you. By the way, where are my clothes?”
“Uh…I don’t know.”
“Oh, I think Naismith has them. He undressed your zombie body before we went to the Positive plane to destroy the wand.”
“OK. Where’s Naismith then?”
“We don’t know. He didn’t come with us to this place. I’m sorry.”
Nong looks down at his body, sees everything is there, and shrugs. Then realizes there’s someone else in the room and turns to Azmael, “Who the hell are you?”
Azmael glares at Nong and says, “the one who enabled you to return to life, mortal.”

Azmael moves toward the group and begins to explain his need. The solar recently learned a Yugoloth general discovered the whereabouts of a Book of Keeping. This powerful artifact contains the true names of many devils and demons; whoever wields the book, controls the fiends. The book lies in the Astral Plane inside a dead god’s dream. The dead god is Valigan, a god of chaos who was struck down by Tyr’s arrow. Azmael and his army attacked the general and his army. The general significantly wounded Azmael but the solar proved stronger and captured the general. Azmael is unable to travel into the dead god’s dream in his current state and needs the party to do so for him. At the same time, fiends loyal to the general and fiends loyal to Azmodeus, are hunting for the book too. The party needs to act quickly before they are discovered.

Mordrock, Royce and Nong acquiesce to Azmael’s request, even though they are unsure what is in it for them at this point. Azmael grabs their hands and teleports them to the Bridge of Dreams; the entry point into Valigan’s dream state. The three cross over the bridge toward the huge figure, with eyes closed and a gigantic arrow piercing his head; the arrow’s tip protruding from the forehead. They enter the dream state and locate several dream copies of the book, while fighting off nightmarish guardians and spectral visions from Valigan’s dreams. They eventually obtain all dream copies of the book without suffering too much psychic damage or indefinite madness. The combined copies reveal the true location of the Book of Keeping. When they fetch the real book, they hear Azmael in their minds warning them that fiends are crossing over the bridge en route to the party’s location. The party is forced to fight many fiends en route back to Azmael.

Azmael teleports them back to his palace except a yugoloth and a devil manage to teleport with them; instant homing beacons for their respective armies. Azmael, who is looking stronger now, dispatches the unwanted guests and reassures the party he can be a force for change much needed in the multiverse by accepting the book. The solar explains how he was a chosen of Tyr until Ao put Tyr’s eye out in a great battle. Azmael could not comprehend Tyr’s decision to accept his punishment, so he left Tyr and traveled the planes forging his own legend.

Azmael moves deeper into his palace, with the party in tow. They move into a grand ballroom with gold plated ornate columns and stained glass windows depicting Tyr’s glory and Azmael’s victories. The solar describes to them how he captured the yugoloth general and persuaded the fiend to join his cause. When the general refused, Azmael tortured him until the location of the book was revealed. The party sees beyond Azmael, a large cage made of force energy with sparkling sigils surrounding it; a large yugoloth in dark plate mail sits motionless inside. The general slightly inclines its head toward Mordrock, who is carrying the book, and acknowledges his success.

While Azmael is talking, Royce, Nong and Mordrock give the stained glass windows a second look and notice something odd. Upon closer inspection, the scenes could be interpreted as ridiculing Tyr, not praising his glory and justice. They also hear in the distance, sounds of breaking through doors and crashing windows, alerting them that the fiendish armies have penetrated the palace’s defenses.

Azmael, now with a determined expression on his face, moves in front of the cage, turns to the party, and says,
“My friends, you are the true heroes of your world and your names will never be forgotten. What you did here, what you’ve helped to facilitate, will change… everything. The ‘balance’ between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is just wrong. It’s a corruption of the worst kind, one that hides behind a so-called justice. Only, the justice is blind – and it cannot afford to be!  But I –we- can now start the process of change. We can be the force of real justice in the world – with the army of yugoloth behind us, and perhaps even wielding the power over powerful lords of Hell! The book you have retrieved offers all this, and more!”

Azmael reaches out his hand toward the party at the same time they telepathically hear the general speak to them,
“If you are half as competent as the solar makes you to be, you won’t believe a word he says. Or perhaps you didn’t notice my wounds?  Oh, I assure you this little torturing project was nothing, compared to the ‘justice’ he executed while travelling the planes. Kingdoms fell, cities burned, children died.  He dreams of a perfect society, of all-encompassing heavens, but that would be just another form of tyranny, where he would make all the rules. The book should belong to the yugoloth and yugoloth only, THAT would be true justice. We were created and enslaved against our wishes – where is justice in that? Destroy the astral energy siphon on the balcony over there, free me, and give the book to me – and I’ll be in your debt.”

The sound of an explosion is heard from behind as the doors to the grand ballroom are blown open. Yugoloths and devils fighting each other flow into the room. One devil separates from the fight, looks at Royce, Mordrock and Nong and raises its arms; its eyes begin to glow white and immediately, an apparition of Azomodeus appears near the party,
“Please accept my sincere apologies for not being able to properly participate in this debate. Alas, I have not been invited. However, I am, as you can imagine, very concerned with what is going to occur here. The system we have, the balance and justice work. Yes, we fight with each other, there are sides to join and all that. But do you see worlds in flames? Heavens falling while fiends and celestials battle? No, it’s all in the past now.  The book is too powerful an object to give to a has been angel, or an independent force. Possessing the power over archdevils would overturn the balance of power in the multiverse, a balance so carefully crafted over eons – also by the very gods you might venerate. Give the book to my agent and I will grant each of you a wish.”

Royce, Mordrock and Nong struggle to decide what to do in the seconds they have before being overrun by fiends. Royce argues for Azmael while Mordrock and Nong argue for Azmodeus. In the end, they decide to run. They head toward the balcony, only to hear Azmael scream back at them in anger, “You are fools! Give me the book now!” Immediately, Royce and Mordrock blink out of existence, as Azmael releases his concentration on the chronomancy spell. Nong watches the book drop to the floor where Mordrock was just standing. Confused and shocked Nong reaches for the book. Fortunately for the naked half-orc monk, he is not bound to the chronomancy spell and is still able to act.

Nong sommersaults toward the book, grabbing it mid-roll thereby preventing the nearest yugoloth from victory. He gracefully lands upright, looks at the devil who projected Azomodeus, and throws the book at it. The devil catches the book and takes off running. Azmael screams in fury as he is not fast enough to catch the devil and turns on Nong instead. With rage boiling in his eyes, he draws his greatsword and strikes Nong, separting the monk in two. Nong hits the ground, closes his eyes and breathes his last breath.