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"I'll go with you. I don't know how much help I can be, but I'll at least try."
Eltain doesn't know the city or anyone in it, but he tries asking around as the group makes its way to the shop to see if anyone knows anything.
He helps Pavick with the rituals and, not trusting Asheroth's skills since he's never seen them, does his own checking for magical auras to see if he can find anything and helps look through the notes.
Pavick, Eltain and Asheroth head out to check the portal, and despite the three of them working together, Pavick had a tough time analyzing the portal. However, Pavick does realize that the Portal leads to a fairly remote and empty part of the Astral Sea, and the last person to travel through the portal was a Cambian.
As Pavick stops to think about it, he remembers that this area of the Astral Sea isn't just empty, it's famously empty. There are a number of Portals that lead to the area, but there's little more than a few floating earth motes, and absolutely nothing else there. It's too remote for most shipping lanes, too distant from any divine or planar settlement for creatures to inhabitant, and completely void of useful natural resources.
While Pavick considers the portal, Eltain and Asheroth head back to Lu's shop. Asheroth gives it the quick once-over, and just as he prepares to try and jimmy open a window, Eltain lays a hand on his shoulder, and points out some ingeniously hidden arcane sigils engraved to look like the natural woodwork. The explosion that would have resulted had they not been disarmed would have shook Sigil for three blocks in every direction.
After taking some care to disarm the wards, Eltain and Asheroth sneak inside (and receive some knowing looks from some local bums). At first glance, the shop seems undisturbed. It doesn't look like anyone has disturbed the building in the last few days, and if you didn't know better you'd assume that Lu had simply closed shop for the day. Knowing the portal she was taken through, a quick flip through Lu's inventory reveals that every scrap related to the Portals that lead to that empty area of the Astral Sea are mysteriously gone. In addition, Asheroth is having trouble finding the large tome Lu had always kept under lock and key, listing portals to the Abyss.
------------ Lucan ------------
In the Lost and Found, Lucan finds:
- A singing sword that can't carry a tune
- A pair of 13 sided dice
- 3 matching argyle socks
- A purple tentacle, still oozing
- A wilden acorn
- A pixie peg-leg
- A ticking watch with no numbers
- Two Dozen Dwarven Beard Bows
------------ Eltain --------------
When Eltain asks around the city, he hears of a few different creatures who have been taken through that portal (or ones leading to a similar area), all escorted by tieflings, alu-fiends, or other infernal creatures. Two of the creatures taken through were spelljammer captains, one a merchant and one a merchant of fortune. The third was a Minotaur named Bessyarius, a navigator known for guiding ships through the Elemental Chaos. Normally it would be odd for one such as Bessyarius to disappear without causing a fuss, but most assumed that the presence of the Alu-fiend indicated a trist with another in a long line of consorts and one-night stands for the minutaur.
While the others perform their respective tasks, Zyrr retreats to the docked 'Jammer with orders to feed a few of the crew's genasi and the Tiefling merc brothers into the Elemental Chaos to keep their ears open and set up safehouses in case the party comes their way, memorizing their names for Pavick to contact once they're on the same plane.
It's a longshot, but he also asks a demonblooded human crewmate to contact his succubus grandmother for information back home. ....Even if it means subjecting himself to her life-draining cheek pinches.
Avatar gladly adopted from Ink!
OOC: Rolling to see if Zyrr's crewmate knows anything. DC 20. (1d20+5)
Edit - well ok then. See below:
Zyrr's crewman, a red-haired man that was almost impossibly good looking (except for the jet-black eyes), agreed to the strange request, and set off to find someone to cast a sending spell for him. A few hours later, the crewman (named Ca'Sross) returned, looking uncomfortable. "Um...Captain, would it be alright by you if I requested some shore leave? I contacted my grandmother like you said, and she said that she felt it might be a good time to find a new occupation away from the Astral Sea or the Elemental Chaos. I've learned from experiences that her "feelings" and "mights" usually mean that if I don't do it I'll regret it later, so if it's ok with you I'd like to take a leave of absence from the Jammer."
Eltain gives Asheroth a slight smirk as he stops the tiefling from blowing them both up.
"I find keeping a cool head works much better than being all fired up," he says, winking.
As the party begins to regroup, Eltain frowns at his companions as news is shared.
"Well. I've been asking around town about this portal, and I've found out something that rather disturbs me. It's not just your friend, Asheroth, and it's not just this portal, either, a couple that go a similar place as well. Always the same, they're taken through by tieflings, alu-fiends, that sort of thing. And the ones I found out about are all spelljammer captains and navigators. Combine that with what we figured out about the portal and where it goes, and what Zyrr's crewman reported..." He frowns.
"It sounds like this is a lot bigger than just a shopkeeper going missing. It's got to be related to the other things going on with the fiends." He sighs. "Well, Aramil, looks like this just got a lot more relevant." He claps the older eladrin on the shoulder. "Don't worry. We'll get that war stopped. You know how much I want that. It's what I've devoted the last year of my life to. But if the fiends are mobilizing something, we'd better find out what it is and make sure they aren't about to invade the Feywild, or anywhere else for that matter. Looks like this is a job we need to do."
"So. How do we go about this? I hate to say it, but I'm a bit hesitant to just barge through the portal. If the fiends are up to something, no telling what kind of madhouse we'd be walking into, and they probably expect anyone coming after Lu to be barging through it. Corellon knows we're not the stealthiest bunch, especially not me, but we may want to see about going in a different way. Perhaps we should take Zyrr's ship after all; it used to be a fiendish vessel, maybe we can dress it back up to look more like one."
Zyrr nods grimly when he hears the request and translates it in his mind. "Something huge is happening in the Elemental Chaos and the Astral Sea, meddle at your own great peril." For one such as Zyrr, it's practically an invitation.
"Leave granted, Ca'Sross. If I see your grandmother I'll tell her the good work you put in." If she's like mine, she'll try to kill me for even mentioning you.
"...That's actually a very clever idea, Eltain." Zyrr smiles at the half-eladrin as he explores the idea. "I've disguised myself amongst a crew for days, but I've never thought to do the same with a ship. Those in the crew that aren't tieflings could pass themselves off easily enough, but you all would have to be kept in the hold, with a cover story for your presence. ...I'm thinking pit fighters. In the current market I could probably sell you for an astral diamond in total."
Avatar gladly adopted from Ink!
"Bah, I'm worth at least an astral diamond by myself as a, ah, companion," Eltain says, smirking flirtatiously as he drapes himself languidly against Zyrr before returning to seriousness with an embarrassed look on his face, blushing a rather bright shade of blue. "I think I should probably refrain from asking why you know about the current prices for slaves. I likely don't want to know." He sighs.
"But yes, I'm... Rather a recognizable person. Not many half-Eladrin Paladins of Corellon who specialize in arcane magic and are prone to bouts of snowing. The same goes for Lucan, Pavick and Aramil... Asheroth might be able to pass as a tiefling, given that he is one, but."
At the temple, Aramil receives a quick primer on both demons and devils, as well as a few small notes on Belial.
Most of the information on combating devils is information Aramil already knows. Fire tends to be a poor weapon against them, and most of their strategy involve tactics, deception, and planning rather than the brute force of the demons. Devils prefer to attack from fortresses or places of strength rather than the open field. There doesn't seem to be anything that devils are particularly weak against, nor does Aramil find any basis for why Shep seemed to be able to injure them so.
Belial once ruled the fourth hell, although that duty has now been passed on to his daughter (and rumored lover) Fierna. Belial advises her and leads the Court Infernal, a circle of Pit Fiends who settle disputes between devils. Belial's and Fierna palace Abyrimoch is one of the most secured fortresses in the Nine Hells, and is sometimes used to house prisoners considered too valuable to hold in the normal prisons of Dis. Most of Hell's infernal constructs are built in the fourth hell.
For demons, the information is again well known to Aramil. Savage, bestial creatures filled with the desire for little more than wanton destruction. Their elemental background means they'll adapt to many types of damage, but those who continually switch what element they use to attack typically do well against demons.
With every new piece of information I hear, this is begins to sound more and more like the devils are indeed planning something. Perhaps an invasion, what with their sudden increase in interest in portals and planar travel. Just as probable, is that they are fortifying Baator against an invasion. The fact that most demons have also vanished from the Material Plane suggests that The Blood War may be heating up again.
Ash closes his eyes and takes a slow breath. "I know none of you want to hear this, but if it came down to choosing between the demons and devils, I would side with the devils. Law over Chaos. Hopefully, it will never come to that. I just want you to know where I stand. The Blood War has been raging for eons, and I doubt it will end in my lifetime, but I would rather live in a world where my services are not needed."
Ash claps his hands and rubs them together. "Oooooh heh heh heh hmm hmm! I like the way you guys think! I was actually going to suggest something like that. I have some experience dealing with devils. Mostly through my demon-hunting. That may be helpful in trying to pull off this ruse. It may get tough if we have to journey to Cania, though. Some of my contacts there are pretty familiar with my face." His eyes dart down then immediately back up, smiling. *Ahem* "I've never disguised myself as a pirate before, but there's a first time for everything! Captain Morvyndis, you will have to teach me the basics of sailing and pirating to make my disguise more convincing. Hells, I might even like it!" He raises his hand in a mock salute, stands straight and clicks his heels. "Seaman Recruit Asheroth Durant, reporting for duty, Captain! Permission to come aboard, Sir!?"
Pavick walked around the assembled group in a large circle. He rolled his orb around in his hand as he thought about the situation. Finally he spoke, "By Corellon, Eltain, I think that's the best idea you've had yet. We should definitely look into it. I do want to research the portal sequences for a couple of friendly public portal sequences on the astral plane before we go, just in case we need an emergency escape. And maybe one or two in the chaos as well, just in case. I'd hate the idea of abandoning ship, but it's always good to have a back up escape plan."
It seems like it should be easy for Pavick to get the rune sequences for a couple of public teleportation circles on each plane (if he doesn't already know them), but if you want me to make some sort of roll to get the info, let me know.
From the Library of Ioun, Pavick is able to get the portal sequences for Hestavar, Arvandor, and Celestia. For the elemental chaos, the only readily available sigil sequences are for the City of Brass or one of the portals on the first layer of the Abyss. For any other sigil sequences in the Elemental Chaos, it will require a bit more digging.
Zyrr ponders as Eltain sidles up to him. Realization dawns and he gives the paladin an approving glance out of the corner of his eye. "Oh you are a natural assassin. That's the most vulnerable you can get a female short of knocking her unconscious." He gently shrugs Eltain off and extends a hand to the overenthusiastic tiefling. "And you're in luck. A spot opened on my crew.... about an hour ago. Welcome to the crew, we'll have you swaggering, swearing, and setting a jib in no time."
Avatar gladly adopted from Ink!
"No, the only side we'll be taking is that of those opposed to evil in all its forms. Corellon finds no beauty in such creatures. There is no siding with them." He twitches slightly.
"And better chaos that allows for individual freedom and the recognition of people for their own accomplishments than the stifling rigidity of law. Look at you, since you've gotten here you've been ignoring most of us in favor of trying to win Aramil's favor because he has an easily recognizable title. You might as well fall over Pavick for being a master mage, or Zyrr for being a captain, or me for being a noble and the head of the rebellion against the Winter Court. All of it's silly. We're all people, including you. None of us is above any other person. If you seek favor, then simply think for yourself and prove your worth as a warrior and loyalty as a friend. Be your own leader. I say this because I think you have potential. And I want to see you reach that potential." He sighs, clapping the warlock on the shoulder, then smiles at Pavick.
"Thank you, Pavick. And that's also an excellent idea in case something goes wrong."
Eltain smirks at Zyrr, but it's a sad, distracted smirk that speaks of other things.
"Well, I had an excellent role model before I took it up. Although I generally just teleport in, do what needs to be done, and teleport back out before anyone knows I was there."
After some costume changes, crew shuffles, an explanation about the proper meaning of "keel-hauling," and a few modifications to the ship, you're ready to set sail.
As usual, the swirling gray mists of the Astral Sea spread out before you, constantly shifting and flowing in faint rainbow colors. Occasionally, you drift past a ribbon of color leading the domain of a god or long-dead god, but your destination lies far from any of these known domains.
The crew seems to adjust well to the (mostly) unknown visitors. Some of the crew that stayed on after Zyrr initially took the ship give knowing smiles, but most ignore the new "slave pits" installed in the Jammer. Asheroth has little trouble fitting in, aside from when the second mate sends him to the cargo hold to find some "elbow grease." The crew had a good laugh at Ash's expense after that small fiasco.
It takes nearly a week before you near the coordinates of the portal that Lu and the other tieflings went through. Zyrr's crew, used to surveying and ambushing ships, bring the 'Jammer to a halt well before you get too close. Still a few miles out, Zyrr looks through the spyglass and sees ... nothing. The few earth motes with portals are there as usual, but the portals are dim and appear unused. The vast expanse of open sky near them is empty and still.
Kosalram, steps up along side Zyrr and frowns. "Hmm...I don't like this. You said there was supposed to be something here? Any time there's supposed to be something and you find a lot of nothing, it smells like a trap. Captain, in my opinion we should turn back."
OOC: Are you going in closer to investigate, or making a tactical retreat?
As Pavick peers through a window in one of the cabins below at the empty expanse of Astral Sea before him, something feels out of place. The magical weaves that permeate all of the Plane Above are present here, but something looks a bit odd.
A weave of illusion magic not-native to this area has been threaded in to all of the other magical energy of this place. The weave is well-done, and even a more talented wizard that didn't have Pavick's eye for illusions may have missed it. Whatever it is, it's absolutely massive. A sphere one, maybe two miles in diameter, it covers this entire area. The weave comes to a halt perhaps 300 paces in front of the ship, but Pavick's skills aren't quite enough pierce the veil and see what's on the other side. It appears that you can sail through the illusion barrier without difficulty, however, but there's no telling what's on the other side.
OOC: I'm assuming Pavick relays this information with everyone.
Pavick spends several moments staring over the ship's side before responding to Ash. His eyes scan the region directly in front of them and the wheels in his mind are obviously spinning. When he turns back around, he quickly summons a tiny illusion of the ship and an equally scaled representation of the illusion in front of the ship as a misty globe.
"Right you are. There is indeed an illusion before us. A huge one and almost undetectable. I have to admit, I am impressed. If we wait around here for several hours I could pour over my spell books and attempt to dispel it, but I think its questionable that my spell would succeed. Or, we could just charge right on in and see what's in there; I don't see anything in the magic here that would make that dangerous. Well, except for whatever might be on the other side waiting for us." He shrugs.
"Pavick, could you use your illusion magic to conceal someone else, and Frank as well? We could send a single person through hidden or in disguise on Frank." He frowns.
"Question is, of course, if this illusion is two-way. Just because we can't see in doesn't necessarily mean they haven't already seen us." He frowns, trying to feel out the magical energies himself now that they've been pointed out to see if he can figure anything out.
I don't actually expect to find anything out from this even if I get a good roll, but Eltain would try anyway. (1d20+25)
"It does feel like it's only one-way. I'm pretty sure that whatever's on the other side, they've already seen us. If we try to turn and leave they'll probably just follow us and hunt us down. Granted, I doubt going in is safe either, but we need to find out what's going on. At least send a scout through briefly, or go in all the way."
"If they've already seen the ship, they may not know what we're doin' here. We could be pirates lookin' to stake our claim in the Astral Sea. It wouldn't be that far-fetched to have come upon an illusion and stopped to check it out. Perhaps we should get the "slaves" below deck, Captain. The longer we wait the more suspicious they'll be and the harder it'll be to continue without fightin'." Then to the group at large, "I say we sail to the edge of the illusion with our "slave" in their pits. If someone meets us at the border, we can run with the "sellin' slaves" story. If not, we can ease through the veil come what may. They may not think we're hostile if we approach slowly. But we can't turn back now."
Ash pulls out Belial's coin tumbling it in his fingers and starts formulating a cover story. "This could help us too, Captain. This coin was used by one of Belial's lackeys to pay off a beggar in Sigil. We could use this to show a connection to their operation. We could say we wanted to join, and one of the servants told us to come here with this coin and some slaves. Perhaps you could even drop your real name and see how far that gets us." He tosses the coin to Zyrr.
Ash will also try to wrack his brain for any stray info about Belial that may help in an upcoming situation.
"I'd love to send in a scout, Eltain, but you could very well be right about them already knowing our presence. What's more they've obviously got some skilled illusionists on their side, so they could probably find a way to pierce whatever concealments I could provide on such short notice. Anyone who goes in alone would be in great danger. I don't want to put you at that kind of risk, at least not without the rest of us there to back you up. I think we should just take the ship in and stick to our plan."
Pavick looks around at the faces watching him. "What? You know stick to our plan... We could maybe manage that for once... Okay, who am I kidding. Well we should fly the ship in and count the seconds until what little plan we have falls to shreds. Ash is probably right, I'll be down in the hold." Pavick turns and heads below deck.
"Maybe we've all decided to take up piracy," Eltain says, unable to restrain laughing at that.
"Using Zyrr's true identity would be a bad idea. We're all known companions of his. You've heard of even me, and I'm not nearly as famous a hero as the rest of them. In particular, Zyrr and I have been seen together quite a lot. Devils are despicable, vile creatures with no redeeming qualities or use past being destroyed to remove the hideous blight they bring to the multiverse, but they aren't that stupid that they won't put two and two together."
"And I wouldn't be that obvious in tipping them off that we know what's going on. We're just random pirates, and definitely not joining anything they're doing."
He nods at Pavick.
"It's a risk I'm willing to take, but you're right." He sighs. "Let's go prepare an ambush, at least, for anyone foolish enough to come after us in the hold, and also be ready to show up on deck if there's a fight." He chuckles. "I don't believe in plans. They invariably fail. Better to just go by intuition the whole way."
This was one of the things that made the 'Jammer so terrifying. Some sailors would report the ship running by cold, calculating strategems with no room for error, then others would tell stories of the same ship charging blockades and sailing through treacherous earth motes with reckless abandon. And the ship currently was in a "reckless charge" phase.
"I agree with the others. We stick to our story, and sail behind the curtain a slaver ship looking for a good business venture." Zyrr grabs the Belial's coin out of the air and points it at the "pit fighters." "I need you all in the hold, and be ready for a fight. This coin may be our foot in the door, but a display of your brawling skills might be our ticket through this checkpoint if that's what it is. Everyone else, ease her forward, but man the crossbow mounts and be ready for evasive maneuvers; we're going in blind but we're not going in completely helpless." He nods and grins at Ash. "Rookie, just try to make yourself look useful." he quips with a wink.
Avatar gladly adopted from Ink!
As most of the party scrambles down below deck, the crew moves back into place and sets the vessel moving again. Zyrr, every bit the image of the renegade pirate slaver takes his place on the piloting chair, shouting orders.
The Jammer moves forward at a slow pace, approaching the barrier. Drawing near, even the non-magically inclined can see a faint shimmering in the air ahead. As the Jammer passes through the veil, every crewmember stops to stare agape at the sight ahead of you.
An armada, the likes of which you've never dreamed possible is stretched out in front of you. Ship after ship of every shape and size. Spelljammers, Astral schooners, Planar Dromads, Dominion ships. Sails, some black as night and others made of stitched skin blot out the sky in front of you, casting the always luminescent Astral Sea into shadow and darkness.
Whatever the barrier was made of, it also must have blocked the sounds of the fleet, because now the screams of tortured souls, the crack of flaming whips, and winding gears of infernal machines rise to an overwhelming din. Each ship appears to be armed to the teeth with rows of soldiers, catapults, arcane ballistae, and huge metal contraptions you've never seen before. Glancing about, there appear to be dozens of insignias on the various ships. The bronze citadel, emblem of Bel; Dispater's Iron tower; the twisting chains of Sagirsa; The blood-red silhouette of a nude succubus, sigil of Fierna; Belial's spike-rimmed face; The frozen fists of Stygia's legions; The poisoned flower of Hell's Princess Glasya; the ebony fly of Baalzebul; Lilith's barbed whip.
But raised over every other flag and standard is a midnight-black banner with the ruby-tipped rod of Asmodeus.
These are the armies of the Nine Hells, gathered here in their full power, assembled in an armada greater than any ever seen on the Astral Sea.
Even as you stare, two of the infernal spelljammers move into position on either side of you. These ships, each bearing the symbol of Stygia the fifth hell, draw close to Zyrr's jammer, fiendish catapults rotating into position. From the starboard ship, an Ice Devil (Gelugon, in their own tongue), steps onto the Jammer, surrounded by a squadron of Legion devils. The ice devil looks over the ship, scanning it's occupants with a cold, bulbous eye. Eventually it speaks, its voice the sound of crackling glass. "Who captains this ship?"