The Pakthryxl Proxy

To the Sea of Strange

Been all about tha streets a hell, all in our likin’, meanin ta figure tha likin’ a Merk’s business. Bein’ stung an’ worked up upon by tha devils therein. A bit worse for tha weathar an goethe-y boy lookin’ like a wind what had too many sails been washed in tha waves.
Outa nothin’ comin’ tha liken a’ old Myrhh, sight for soar eyes that bein fa’r me, woulda been liken ta have him around for a spell or two. Tricksy he ‘is with a lock or a shuddered window. Entreated I was, yet noddin’ ta tha way a thar naked form, and lookin like a fox sort a fella. Wet they were, and learnin from Master Goethe the way a tha waters down in these ways, I looked to give ‘em shelter. From the rear I ’eard tha captain call, “back to the boat!”
Double time thar was in tha’, with me bleedin’ the whole wary. Up, on tha boat, an we be bein a happy crew once more. Yet sailin’ through the Malestrom not sittin’ well in ma soul. Gneshi bein a soar soul ta be missin’ we played, an’ I told a ma travels on tha land waves. He be liken an treatin’ me tha same. Suddenly, at tha aft a tha ship tha old clockwork fright be wakin’. A message from Apsu? A liken a foe? I didn’t ta reckon, so I looked ta ma captain. Like a cat he pounced upon tha large clocklike-crank at tha back a tha fiend. If tha captain be liken, I be liken ta help tha captain. So I aim ta lend me arms ta tha struggle. Meanwhile, I be watchin’ master goethe spakin spells an handerin tha way in which ‘is likin, about tha spirits I imagine. Then as me an tha captain be tearin’ our muscles apart, old myrrhh be pullin up right underneath us. He be givin a pull of a pin, a shrug an’ a wink, an’ he be gone again. Against tha wind an tha waves, tha old clockwork fiend seemed ta falter and shut down.
Aftar tha mood calmed like an ocean spray ceasing ta a quiet sea breeze, ma calm mind pondered tha future. About this time I be wonderin’ “what’s next? Where did Myrr come from? Did we accomplish what we needed ta in hell? Do we confront the Infernal line, or chase this Slate fellow?” And as we need to answer these questions as a crew…where is Myrr? The one that could have been so helpful.
Goethe be comin up from undar, with tha look on ‘is face in a dissapointin’ way. Best ta Myrr ta be rightin tha likes a tha crew an thar destination. Be comin about him in a personal sort of affair. He an ‘is sisters want’n ta ‘ave thar privacy. Likin ta tha’ n a showin’ respect, but tha likin’ a tha crew an thar captain bein’ of a bit more import. I spake, “tha captain be wantin a word” yet all I be getting’ was tart eyes. Back ta tha captain then, an’ tha plan at hand.
Tha Captain in ‘is bravin sort a way be meanin’ ta’ traverse the maelstrom a Hell. Not sittin’ right with me thar in. A compatriotism thar bein’ in the ship a devils, with tha captain’s permitten’. Spakin a spell with tha Captain a tha devils, wantin a sea fairin’ folk what could attest ta’ our way in tha waters. ‘Just tha fella’ he be spaken, without a spell.
Upon ma he brought a devil what would lend a sea fairin parley ta show our kinship with tha Chinstrap. “Goes by tha name a Balbaal.” As I reasoned ta spake with his liken, all in response be bein’ “Balbaal.” As I entreated his likin’ ta our ship, all he be spaken be “Balbaal.” Unliken ta this I introduced him ta tha Captain, what might take ‘im off my hands. Still, all he be spaken be “Balbaal.” Entreated he bein’ ta tha likes a tha presto oozes, I entreat ‘im ta tha liken thar in. Thinkin’ a bit a washn’ be good far tha old sea dog. He be liken ta eat tha thing instead.
So thar I be…hope’in’ tha Captain be entreated with ma’ new acquisition, and ‘im….thar….chompin’ on a presto ooze. About this time, Master Goethe be touchin’ the devil’s head an spakin a spell. Ol’ Balbaal be getting’ tha liken ta spake a word what any man might be comprehendin’. Time ta dissapear an let the liken a which play out whithin’ tha Captain’s presence.
As ta tha Captain’s liken, we sails down ta tha bulges shore. A bit a hell what hell be tremblin’ about. Not liken much ta tha’. Meetin’ up with tha Chinstrap thar bein a bit a parley with tha captain an Balbaal all entreaten’ ta our liken. Upon this parley I hear ma Captain spake. Now mind ya, never ta let anyone say ‘Ol Finn not bein’ a right sailor. I follow ma’ Captain’s orders, but this sailin’ inta tha Sea of Strange got me hairs all standin’ at attention. Then I hears him call out ta the Chinstrap, and as it appeared ta the wind itself, and any other sortin a thing might try ta stand in ‘is way. To traverse the unknown, to chart uncharted waters, THIS, or death be no greater loss than cowardice.
Well I tell ya, the swell a pride be wellin’ up indeed. Into the unknown, or death. These words be ringin’ true in me indeed. The Captain had so much bravery, it seemed ta be as infectious as tha Plague itself. If we be makin’ it outa this alive, thar be bein’ stories ta tell indeed. Reskafar the Brave, Reskafar the Unwavering, Moxt Darastrix, the little dragon.
‘Twas about this time I noticed Goethe-y boy blinked outa sight. Not too strange a his likin’, but then another blinked away, then another, until it was only maself an’ tha Captain. Figurin’ it bein’ about my turn, I thinks ta maself, “Inta tha unknown is right.” I gives ma Captain a knowin’ sorta grin an a wink, and spake, “See ya on tha othar side.”

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Certain Peril
First Mate's Log - Part 1

She sits atop Reskafar’s Roost and repositions the new patch where her left eye used to be. The other masts fell during the attack, so Vandlo had already found new purpose for all the splintered timbers. Now, the captain’s nest provides the only suitable lookout over the maddening waves of the Maelstrom.

Tebrilith is exhausted, but she stretches parchment across the platform anyway. Reskafar would expect a written report, even if she didn’t have time to carve it on her cabin wall. She writes:

Peril’s Log

For the record, Pearl, Reyna, Tiny, Bart, James, Bart, Nick, Jane, Cordelia, Baldwin and myself stood alert on the gun deck. We were to reload the cannons should the Deep Sea Current fire them. Any further orders were left to my discretion as first mate.

Having seen the Bolgian Shore kill box from afar, I decided to send as many crew below the waterline as possible. It was a risk, that much is sure, but even cannonballs are stopped by the sea’s surface. We hoped the Maelstrom would prove no exception. Others stowed across the ship wherever walls were many.

Our reckless captain planned to follow the Chinstrap through an infernal navy checkpoint. Did it matter to him that Red Beard’s fleet is held in very low regard among devils? They say Hell’s Privateer has been tainted by protean warp-waves and infected by Besmara’s plunder. The other officers crewed the top deck themselves, which was always enough to set us on edge. This time we feared for our souls. I remember Captain Souvarov exclaiming, “You’re going to cross the Maelstrom in that?”

The hull felt very thin as we turned into the bay. Suddenly, there was a swell in the water followed by an immediate explosive crumbling noise. That would have been the Chinstrap’s adamantine ram, no doubt endowed by some powerful magic. Our sails filled with the winds of Hell, and we surged forward in pursuit.

Then, instead of Vestin’s reality-altering diplomacy came brief shouts from each of the officers as if their words were being cut short. One by one they fell silent until our simpleton barbezu guide nervously questioned, “Balbaal?”

We know now what we didn’t know at the time. They had vanished. Oh, where are they now when we need them more than ever?

I clearly recall what happened next in our dragon-crowded compartment. The moment of confused silence became that rich ear-thumping basso of close cannon fire. The bay doors imploded, and those damnable wall hangings Goethe made of Lirovelix’s hoard collapsed. Treasure riddled us like bullets. The weight of it caused the ship to dip further into the otherworldly water.

Pearl fell. The rest, save for Tiny, Reyna and myself, were no longer able-bodied. Through broken gun portals we glimpsed the enemy. Warmongers ordered their hosts to reload banks of fiend’s mouth cannons to port and starboard. The Deep Sea Current was silent and slowing. I needed sailing crew above decks to move us out of range before the next broadside attacks. I needed fighters to protect them and healers for the wounded. We had half a minute.

“Vandlo, Hexa, Dervish and Nomawyn up here now, ”I ordered! Without thinking I drew my fiddle, but something was wrong. Pimsley was there facing me.

He said calmly, “I’ll see to morale. You see to your eye.”

The reality of loss lands as she writes. Ms. Peril collects herself and pauses to survey the horizons. She shakes off her muse and looks up with a single eye.

The surprise of it prompts a cold sweat. Fifteen feet of serpentine terror now circles the crow’s nest in clouds that distort the air like heat vapor. Tebrilith is exhilarated by a predator she failed to notice this close to their lifeless ship. Her good eye dilates. The other lights with phantom pain. She winces and presses against the eyepatch. She feels the perfect amethyst from Lirovelex’s treasure piles still lodged there despite Nomawyn’s best efforts.

“Whose idea was it for me to take watch again?” she mutters.

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Myrrh's Mistake
A Son's Duty Stolen!
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Naked Amnesiacs!!! Killbox on the Bolgian Shores!!!
Captain's log found on the washboard

I love naked people. The more naked the better so seeing Hexa, Myrrh, and his twin sexy sisters, Inari and Yokai, tearing each others clothes off in the middle of the street was the best. Modesty was the least of their worries since they were drenched in the River Styx’s amnesia infused water. I wondered how much time they were gonna lose. Each drop a second? A minute? What about a mouth full? A day? Two? Who knows?

Upon closer inspection their naked bodies were covered in bruises and slashes. Myrrh in particular looked like he lost a fight with a greater devil with sword fingers and hammer teeth. From the look of it, they musta had the devil’s luck to have escaped through Hexa’s half of GIGACETAN’s with the remaining skin on their backs. We quickly shepherded the nudist to the ship, where Nomawyn examined them in detail and determined they lost about a month of memories to the Lethe. They had no idea what the hell happened to them so we were left with a mystery. I am sure one day we discover the truth.

Another missing crew member reported to me later that afternoon, Kovgamux, the mythril clockwork dragon that Apsu flew away with outside of Westcrown. It was deactivated and in box-form on the topdeck. It definitely saw some action. The clawed grooves and puncture holes were proof enough. Apsu got to some rattling! I decided to give it a wind. I wagered Apsu had more wisdom to share with his chosen hero or at least a good story. The machine hummed along after a half turn. I knocked impatiently on the metal case while waiting for it to unfolded itself. I couldn’t wait for a blast of Apus’ genius!

“Captain, please step away from the clockwork killing machine”, commanded Goethe. He then weaved some magic hand signs that stalled the contraption in its tracks. I looked up to see the dragon had pointed its heavy bombard over the top of me! Either Apsu was no longer inhabiting the mechanical beast or was being a huge dick.
“Hahaha. Thanks Goethe!”

The lads and I had a planning meeting over lunch. My plan was simple. Find Slate at all costs before he finds the next set of dragon Obelisks and puts more dragons to sleep. We knew Slate was currently traveling the River Styx’s somewhere near the plane of Axis. If we could get to Slate before he reached his goal we could learn a lot about the patkthryxl. But to get to Axis in time, we’d have to take a very dangerous shortcut through GIGACETAN’s hellmouth to the Bolgian Shore; an area between Hell and the Maelstrom, and then sail across the most chaotic part of the Maelstrom. I was game. The others took some convincing. The Infernal Line would be out of commission for a while since Goethe wouldn’t be doing his duties. Asad would be pissed, but we doubted he could do much if we were in a different plane. No one had a better plan so it became the plan.

Mr. Finn was nervous sailing to the Bolgian shore. I alleviated his fears like the kind captain that I am by giving him a job.

“Go see Captain Hulihee. Ask him for advice and his most capable guide. Lorenz says we got more opportunity for contracts if we meet up with another one of Redbeard’s whiskers, Captain Souvarov. Let’s do that. You can arrange”, I commanded.
“Aye aye, Captain”, Mr Finn said.

Mr. Finn came back later with the filthiest and most grotesque bearded Devil I had ever seen. His smell alone encouraged you to jump headlong into the river just to forget about it. His name was Balbaal. He was not the sharpest tool in the shed.

“Welcome on board, Balbaal”, I offered.
“BALBAAL!”, said Balbaal. I looked puzzled at Mr. Finn, who shrugged.
“All he can say”, said Mr. Finn.
“Balbaal?”, said Balbaal grinning big.

We fired up GIGACETAN, shot through the hellmouth, and got spat out on the Bolgian Shore. The shore was a fortified coast heavily guarded by Hell’s forces. Balbaal instantly jumped into the water and started drinking it like a man dying of thirst. After swirling it around his mouth like a fine wine he pointed out where to go next. Begads! Balbaal navigated by guzzling River Styx water! We followed his directions.

Soon Balbaal’s tongue led us straight to the Chin Strap at the last fortified lock out of Hell. Beyond the barrier was the pure chaos of the Maelstrom just waiting for us! The Chin Strap was freaking massive like a floating city with an adamantine battering ram. Captain Souvarov’s could’ve been Hulihee’s ugly twin brother. He noticed Balbaal screaming “Balbaal” like his head was about to fall in the water and gave us a knowing smile.

“Hulihee told me he sent some mortals my way. I didn’t believe it. But now your here!”, shouted Souvarov.
“Aye, we need you take us into the Maelstrom”, I sneered.
“Huh, so you want to go into the random deep with that puny boat?”, laughed Souvarov.
“Aye”
“You got guts. Follow me if you can! Hahahahahaha”, roared Souvarov.

The Chin Strap’s sails caught a ghostly wind and accelerated forward like it was shot out of cannon. Its adamantine ram crashed through the steel lock gate like it was tissue paper. I wasn’t expecting that! I thought the devil would pull a few strings, but he thought better. I ordered the Deep Sea Current all ahead full. We slowly accelerated through the kill box. The Hellish troops trained their many cannons on us. It was going to be close whether we’d escape or get lit up like the Fourth of Erastus!

Suddenly I doubled over like I was having a heart attack. I couldn’t breath. I could barely speak. It felt like something was pulling at my heart with great force. I saw a struggling Mr. Finn disappear, then Myrrh, then Lorenz, and lastly Goethe. “What the hell was happening?”, sizzled through my mind. With my last ounce of strength, I shouted at Tebrilith, “Follow the Chin Strap!” Then I faded out.

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Ashen Returns!!! The Facial Hair Privateers!!!
Captain's log found on the jack-block

We poured a bucket of cold water on Goethe’s face to wake him from Mr. Finn’s unmerciful beating. Goethe claimed innocence! He alleged that he was possessed by a slug-like Belier devil on a mission to manipulate and kill. It seemed plausible given his out of character smiling and maniacal laughing. Begads, there really needs to be a magic trinket that alerts others when you’re possessed or mind raped. It sure would’ve solved a lot of recent problems. I gave Goethe a stern warning not to let it happen again.

We searched the rest of the store house. We found the devil summoning circle that was used to pull shit into the real world. Goethe and Mr. Finn babbled about various dimensional anchor switches. Ya know, mostly boring stuff. It was surmised that the Belier devil was probably the devil that was to be bounded into Lirovilex or Ashicuk. I shall ask it that question the next time we meet it.

I penetrated the adjacent building that looked more domestic in purpose. Inside, I crept as quiet as a shadow, until I spotted a ravishing Ashen writing behind a Gothic desk. I silently removed myself from the situation and joined up with the others on the street to inform them of the familiar gray dragon bard. Goethe knocked on the office’s exterior door like he owned the place which he kind of did. Ashen answered the door sweetly, invited us in, and sat down to continue to write.

“Now Goethe. How should I complete this contract? Especially this section with your name on it”, causally goaded Ashen with a heavy Ustalav ascent.

“I just added a clause to your contract with my brother stating you must be exceedingly benevolent to my family. Every single one of us until your death.”, she toyed.

Then Goethe talked an awful lot in the way that he talks. I perused the office space in the meantime, especially paying close attention to the insanely large dragon skull mounted over the fireplace and the piled up treasure chests. The dragon skull looked to belong to a dragon I couldn’t identify.

“Handover your platinum staff Goethe! Or else I will keep writing. Maybe something about a dog choker, a leather leash, and my stilettos”, she warned. Goethe was between the devil and the deep blue sea. This time the pen was more powerful than the sword. His face went bloodless, his sphincter audibly tighten, and his lips were harp strings. What would he do? Face Ashen’s wrath or give away a piece of Apsu’s power? An impossibly difficult choice for the proud Goethe.

Goethe looked away from Ashen and shoved his staff into her hands. Oh My Fucking God! May be he was still possessed by the Belier. He was crying. I was not expecting that outcome. Ashen clung to the staff like it was the holiest relic in the whole world. She forgot to breath a number of times like she was in a trance. Given that the Gray Dragons are so freaking obsessed with their lineage, it was understandable and a little sad.

“I honor your sacrifice”, bowed Ashen. She signed the contract without added another line. As soon as the contract was signed Goethe grabbed his chest in a short bout of pain. The contract was active.

We had a nice conversation with Ashen afterwards. She was very pleased with herself. She told us that her uncle Slate was traveling the River Styx on his way to the Maelstrom or Axis in search on the next set of dragon Obelisks. She doubted we could catch him if that was our goal. Goethe got to read his devilbound contract. Turned out Goethe inherited all of Murk’s business including the operations outside of the Infernal line. Speaking of the Infernal Line, Lorenz determined that it was a vast money laundering network that stretched throughout Hell and beyond. The scope was immense. Tracking a single coin would take years.

“Goethe you should go meet with Captain Hulihee. He is liable to raze this place to the ground if kept waiting too long”, she reminded.

The tavern next door was at Bearded Devil capacity like a depraved high school prom. I quickly assimilated into the their drunken fold by dancing a pirate jig with Mr. Finn. Goethe and Lorenz went to go see Captain Hulihee, one of Redbeard’s Whiskers, to talk business. They all returned together. Captain Hulihee was savage looking, large, and armed with an over-sized hellish glaive. His wriggling beard dripped in filth and fresh blood. Goethe has some fearsome business partners!

beardeddevil.png Captain Hulihee

Captain Hulihee explained he was a privateer under the command of Redbeard, an arch-devil who spreads Hell the furthest. His ship the Mutonchop was tasked with transporting chaos laced Maelstrom treasure from the Bolgian Shore to Dis for sale. Murk was usually the buyer. He hoped Goethe would honor those past contrasts and even offered much more if we could make it to the Shore with a ship. We accepted in a heartbeat.

Goethe scurried off to talk to Ashen one last time before she departed. I bet he was aiming to get his platinum staff back. I stayed to party with the devils. Why not? Like they say when in Hell do as the devils do.

While drinking heavily. A funny thought invaded my mind. We could take GIGACETAN’s hellmouth portal to the Bolgian Shore, then sail across the Maelstrom, dine with the Pirate Goddess Besmara, and finally land in Axis ahead of Slate. It was enticing. Imagine the look on his Slate’s face. Very enticing.

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Reconciliation with the Grays

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Dead and Down!!! Devious Devils of Dis!!!
Captain’s log found on the stunsail

We broke into the most official looking hellish building in search of Murk’s offices. We fanned out quickly through the ground floor rooms looking for Goethe’s devilbound contract. The crates and drawers mostly contained fiendish weapons, preserved human trophies, and other atrocities. Dis was a fucked up place. After a short spell, Goethe cheerfully called out from near the stairs, “Let’s ascend.“ He subserviently motioned for us to lead the way and followed behind. A shook off his slightly out of character politeness and took point.

At the top of stairs very bad things happened. A trio of spiky sharktopus like devils, who were more devilBarbed.jpg weapon than flesh, manifested in a thorn rain. They brought with them a sweeping wave of hot terror that almost cremated my will to fight. I nearly lost it, which is more than I can say for Mr. Finn, who fled the scene in tears. I ended up getting stuck to one of the barbed devil’s chest like a pincushion. Not a pleasant experience! Thankfully, Lorenz got brass balls and quick wits, so he used some mysterious incantations to lubricate me free from its chest hooks. I blasted away a sizable chunk of its spines in response.

Goethe deviated from his normal magic casting sequence. In fact, he was cackling like a jackal at the bottom of the stairs. I assumed he just thought of the perfect spell to counter the barbed devil threat. I was wrong. Goethe, in an infernal voice that was not his own, uttered the words, “Die Mortals!” An unfathomable amount of power and malice gushed out of his mouth. I could feel the invisible evil energy erasing my soul. What the hell was Goethe doing? Lorenz looked stunned, but unaffected. Did Goethe just betray us? I hate being made a fool so I emphatically pushed the evil sensation out of body. Goethe was going to have to answer to my musket, as soon as I regained control of my trigger finger from his backstabbing spell’s lingering effect. The stupid barbed bastards had other plans for me.

I watched a cowardly pointy devil take its time and line up its largest spine with my face. I screamed silently in my mind for my body to move, even an inch, but my muscles were frozen in time. Goethe’s spell turned me as helpless as a newborn babe. The perverse porcupine snarled at me with evil anticipation. If I got lucky the piercing stab wouldn’t kill me, maybe the spine would shatter on my indestructible eyelid. What can I say? I’m an eternal optimist! The devil thrust its sharp spine.

I hate to admit it. My face can be easily impaled. Some say your brain doesn’t feel pain. Lies! All Lies! I can tell you for certain that the brain feels the most amount of pain. The barbed spine blended my brain matter like applesauce. I felt myself fading away in silence. What a freaking sad place for my journey to end. Getting betrayed by a crew-mate and killed by a faceless butcher. Perhaps it is the fate of all pirates to be betrayed.

I don’t praise Lorenz enough. The man is indispensable in every situation. His teamwork and resourcefulness are flawless. Right before I closed my eyes forever he kneeled beside me and literally breathed life into me. The positive energy closed the hole in my head, unscrambled my brain (equally painfully by the way), and the world came into focus. I knew I couldn’t waste my second chance and proceeded to mow down the barbed devils in a blaze of glory. Lorenz was equally effective at murdering the devils, even though Goethe continued to fuck with his head, which he countered by erecting a ward. Like I said, he deserves all the praise.

From below the floorboards, I heard Mr. Finn yarble, “SorrythereGoetheyboy. Ineedtotakeyouawaynow.” Then I heard a series of dull thumps and electrical pulses.

I staggered down the stairs, covered in barbs and blood, I had to use my musket as a cane because I was so messed up. I saw Mr. Finn headbutting Goethe repeatedly, who looked knocked out. The last barbed devil was about to pounce on Mr. Finn from behind. Like Hell! I jerked my musket up and blew its spiny head off in an explosion of needles and brain meat.

It was time to get to the bottom of Goethe’s betrayal.

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Going Home...

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Sold Souls!!! To Hell With It All!!!
Captain’s log found in the lastage

Lorenz, Mr. Finn, and I were up late carousing – I mean planning. Captain Denthanus staggered out of the party earlier, we might of talked some sense into his thick scaled brain, but it was doubtful. At least our efforts stalled him, Mr. Finn sent him on a wild goose chase that should eat up most of his next day, plus he’d be so freaking hungover staircases would count as magic devices. Our “planning” meeting started with a bottle of rum, we were well into a sixth planning “round” when Goethe and Hexa appeared out of thin air. They landed in a thunderous crash on the inn suite’s white chenille area rug.

A flood of blood poured out of Goethe’s chest like an uncorked bottle of red wine spilled on white satin. He violently aspirated a spray of blackish-red clotted blood all over himself. His body shook like an earthquake then went still as a lazy meadow. We all rushed to his side. Mr. Finn quickly uncovered his blood drenched robe. Holy Shit! Goethe’s heart was gone! It looked like it got ripped out of his chest and not cleanly. Mr. Finn and Lorenz were way out of their depth. They gave each other a grave look and nodded. I’ve seen this look before by healer’s working on the seriously wounded after a firefight. The look that signaled a lost cause. I braced for Goethe’s final breath.

“Goethe, like totally, stop with your over the top drama. Get up!”, scolded Hexa.
“Hexa, you should say your goodbyes. I’m afraid his wound is fatal”, soothed Lorenz.
“As if! Daddy told me it takes, like, a while and stuff, like, for the devil to totally start working”, blasted Hexa.
“Come again?!”, said Lorenz, in a double take.
“Ehmawgawd! See!”, shrieked Hexa, while pointing to Goethe’s empty chest cavity.

Goethe’s lethal open wound started to close on its own. The bleeding stopped, muscle fibers entwined, and his skin extended until the wound was flush with the surrounding flesh. What the hell? Goethe shuddered and kicked his legs out. He woke in a hoarse gasp that still haunts me to this day. He instinctively grabbed his bloody chest.

“Like for sure, took you long enough, Big Brother”, mocked Hexa.
“What the hell is going on?”, I shouted. Goethe gathered himself and stood up.
“I decided it was in my best interest to take my father up on his offer. I couldn’t let Hexa go it alone. I now have Murk bound into my heart”, replied Goethe. His voice had changed, it was less coarse, and his eyes surged with dark power. The weary bastard excused himself. I had so many questions. Hexa confirmed Goethe’s story that Asad sealed Murk into Goethe’s chest. Murk was now Goethe’s heartbeat. Why would Murk want to be bound into Goethe?

“I wager Asad wanted Goethe to take over Murk’s duty, then Vira Grulios would have full control of the Infernal Line. What is unclear is why Murk consented?”, theorized Lorenz.
“Aye! maybeoldmurkyboytwasforced”, added Mr. Finn.

Goethe returned after a spell in new clothes. His skin was a shade grayer, his tongue a bit more silver. Goethe confessed, he sensed Murk’s strong feelings and deep desires. Those eddies of foreign feelings were impossible for him to decipher and were slowly drowning him. Murk wanted him to do something. Goethe sought relief by communing with Murk and found his answer. He needed to find his contract with Murk, it was unfinished, and waiting for him in Hell. Goethe added that the names of the devils scheduled to be bound into Lirovilex and Ashucik were also in Murk’s hellish office. Lastly, he had a feeling Slate was somehow involved. My instincts were correct! I knew going to Hell was the best option.

We took a vote. It’s the pirate thing to do! We unanimously voted in favor of pillaging Hell, Dis specifically. Like the old pirate saying goes, “no prey, no pay”. I wanted to take the ship so we sailed through one of GIGACETAN’s hellmouths like one does when traveling to the plane of everlasting torment. Hexa stayed behind in order to reopen the portal for the return trip. I activated the water pearl and sailed the ship through the bottom of the vortex to avoid the current. Each portal has its own distinctive feeling, GIGACETAN’s portal felt like you were being chewed, swallowed, and spat out by two mouths at the same time. Usually you pay double for that kind of action! The Deep Sea Current launched out the other end of the portal into Dis’ tinted sky at extreme velocity. I dropped the wing sails and gently dove the ship into the River Styx like a pelagic seabird. We surfaced and let the persistent current take us downstream towards a humongous tower that penetrated the ceiling. Hell has a ceiling!

The channel was wide and its waters mysterious. Every so often, I saw sad faced souls sweep by under the water line in fluttering ribbons. Their haunting wails were barely audile above the sound of moving water. Very creepy! A clear warning that touching the water was ill advised. Sailing the river were the most titanic ships I ever saw! The Deep Sea Current looked like a dinghy compared to these monster ships made of bone and strange woods. The shore looked like any other shore, packed row houses and cobblestone streets, except there were no people. Only evil-looking devil monsters that were the culmination of every bad dream I ever had. scarypic.jpgEverywhere I turned, I saw horns, teeth, chains, and whips. My “we’re dead” thoughts heated up. Luckily, the sweltering heat made everything far away hazy so we were obscured from onlookers to a degree. The city had a distinctly military feel and order to it. What kind of army was being raised? What kind of creature could rule such a fiendish place? I decided to restrain myself from asking too many question. We needed to be in and out as fast as possible.

We inched closer to the twisted mockery of a palace that the Lethe flowed towards. Suddenly, Goethe got a premonition and asked that we stop. We docked next to one of the super ships, named the Mutton Chop, and disembarked in disguises. Lorenz did his best to make us look as devilish as possible, but it wasn’t good enough. We had to dispatch a trio of Greater Host Devils in a back alley in order to advance. We successfully sneaked by several more spine-chilling devils that evoked panicked thoughts of utter hopelessness and endless suffering. My balls were sweating bullets it was so freaking scary!

“We’re here!”, said Goethe after we penetrated the throngs of assorted evil monsters without a hitch. The alley opened up into a intersection of worn streets clustered with four-story buildings stained in black ash and oxidized slag.

“Great only twenty or so buildings to search. I’m sure we won’t bump into anything scary from now on…”, deadpanned Lorenz.

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A Rash Decision

Father’s offer stands starkly before me. Should I accept the binding of a Phistophilus to my heart, I would gain great power, both material and ethereal, and all the knowledge I desire. I would join father in Vira Grulios’ task of binding devils to dragons to awaken them from the pakthryxl, in maintenance of the Infernal Line. I would also assuredly lose Apsu’s power, gifted us to stop said pakthryxl, the Infernal Line being an integral component thereof. I would lose my autonomy, my will subservient to the devil within, and the contract we observe. My soul would become a keepsake for its mantel, a sparkling prison for eternity. I know Phistophiluses; they are bred to make slaves. Even my considerable skills of law and nuance would not escape its hell-forged apprehension. The short-term gains he offers are nothing compared to the loss I would suffer. I am not the fool my father was. I will never be a slave again.

Apsu’s power overshadows what the binding would offer, and certainly outbids what it would cost. Apsu’s task has been troublesome, but it is a temporal burden, lest we fail as the first crew had. We can not fail. Should Slate be allowed to continue on his path, the material plane will fall into chaos. So many dragons awakened by father’s devils or by Dartakithquent’s necromancy, others killed outright; most of their wealth taken by other powers for their own ends. The transfer of wealth and power at such a rate, into so many unknown hands; there are too many potentialities to consider.

The choice is clear, my desire to see father’s joy collapse around him notwithstanding. How to crush the Infernal Line, then?

“Why so pensive, my son? I know, there must be so much on your mind. No matter! Why don’t you and your friends come have a meal with me, and talk. Although, I have little in the way of food”, father smiles, gesturing at the general austerity of Vira Grulios.

“Here, take some”, he reaches into his robes, pulling several dozen small platinum pieces bearing a device of a binding circle. “Go have your friends get us something good out in the city while I prepare things here. This is going to be fun!”

Again, I stand in father’s study. Dinner had gone poorly. “Son, please, now that we are away from your uncouth friends with their inappropriate comments, tell me. Have you come to a decision?”, father asks. His eyes betray little. About to speak, I notice the two bodies standing on the wall above and behind us. Their shapes, yes, I should have known. An Erinyes, and of course, a Phistophilus; this one is different though, gray, Murk.

“Ahah! So he finally notices us. I thought your son was supposed to be sharper than that, Asad”, Murk mocks as he and his companion drop to the floor. “Tell me, little Grulios, are you ready to join your family business yet, or do you still have some maturing to do?”, his fanged smile is wide and genuine.

I ignore his goading. “I assume you are here to finalize the contract should I accept, Kavarkatrilv, but we still have much to resolve.” I might have been able to handle father by myself, but not with a Erinyes and half-dragon Phistophilus at my back. Murk is too close, and the Erinyes is wise to keep her distance. I smile in return, “Let us discuss my terms.”

“Should I accept the binding, I will have complete autonomy over my actions, taking no direction or guidance by my devil, any others, or those related by blood or business. At my life’s end, my soul shall not be imprisoned within a hellstone gem, as a trinket for your mantelpiece. I shall have the option of termination of said contract should any of my conditions is broken.”, I continue for some time, as both father and Murk’s smiles fade. The Furies’ smile remains, her hand on her bow.

“For these conditions, I would offer you, Goethe Grulios, one copper piece.”, Murk retorts with raised chin and narrowed eyes.

“Then, it would appear we have no deal.”, I conclude. I turn to the door, making my way out.

“Son, please! Do not give up on all this! I have been waiting and preparing this for you. Do you not understand the power you’re abandoning?”, father pleads.

“What power, father? The power to be a slave? I have had my fill, and I would be gone. Release me, now.”

“A slave?! Do I look like a slave to you, son?! The Grulios are not slaves, we command them!”. Father’s patience is about to break. “I do as I please, when I please, how I please, because I am lord Grulios! I have done so for over a century, son! You fret over your soul, when eternal life can be yours, right here at my side!”

“You wish to make me a companion, father, but what of mother? Would she not be here with you today had she taken the same power as you?” This is it.

“Get out! You are no son of mine! Get out before I boil you alive for your insolence!”, I can see the hellfire in his eyes.

“Goodbye, father.”, The door slams behind me with a great crash.

We make our way from Vira Grulios, receiving word that the Emerald Arrow is fast approaching Westcrown. Our gremlins remedy the situation with alacrity. It is only later that afternoon when my mistake, my great failing of attention finally occurs to me. Where is Hexa?

“She’s with father. She must be. I have to go.” The others warn me of the shadow beasts which prowl at night. I remind them I do not forget easily, and that we still have time. By the time I reach Vira Grulios, a red sun hangs low in the sky. I call out to a silent complex, again, and again, and again. A postern creaks open, slowly.

“Hello, brother”, Hexa smiles at me. “You’re not killing father. He’s not as bad as you think he is. We’re doing this.” The scar juts out above her collar, right over the heart. She did it. She really did it. This is what I get for letting her out of my sight! This …complicates things.

My options wash over me. She is now devilbound, and thus at other’s whim. Charm Person? This would be temporary, and enchantment is not my forte, yet she has always been weak-willed, which is what got us here in the first place! I could kill her, here and now. Although, it might prove difficult to revive her. Also, my own frame of mind could be altered in the process. I could plead with her, but her willingness to go so far for father makes apparent my words would fail. Night is closing, and I’ve few options. Very well, sister, very well. This is a harder road you’ve forced me on, but if we are both bound to the same fate, perhaps our survival therein will be linked as well. “Very well, sister. Let us go.”

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