The Pakthryxl Proxy

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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Desperate Times!!! Crazy Measures!!!
Captain's log found in the spirketting

Asad Grulios invited everyone to a banquet in honor of Goethe and Hexa’s unexpected, but welcomed return. He didn’t seem to mind that Lorenz, Mr. Finn, and I broke into his dusty old mansion. Asad was all smile from ear to ear, hardly the flesh eating monster Goethe made him out to be. He was tall, bald, and wiry thin like he didn’t eat much. His face was just beginning to wrinkle around his kind deep set eyes. Asad spoke effeminately and with his hands. Again, he looked and acted more like a young genial grandfather than a self-serving devil from the hottest layer of Hell. Maybe Goethe had remembered his childhood wrong? Maybe his hate was misplace? A big misunderstanding? Maybe Asad desperately searched for his lost children? Maybe if Goethe embraced his father, he could convince him to help us? The sky was the limit if Goethe was willing. I sensed all those possibilities and more when I looked at the kind old man at dinner.

Goethe on the other hand, looked uncomfortable, like he was passing a ioun stone through his nethers. Asad repeatedly praised Goethe for this and that, which made Goethe squirm in his chair like a toddler. The dinner conversation deteriorated quickly. The old man was “delicate” to say it politely . Asad took offense to questions. He took great offense to one of Mr. Finn’s off the cuff comments. He took an even greater offense to Goethe not taking offense. He excused himself in an exasperated dramatic display. With his thin skin and heightened awareness to scrutiny, I couldn’t believe he was a Lord of Cheliax. Or maybe that was why he was a lord.

All was not lost, Asad kindly offered before leaving, “Goethe, my darling son. Please come to my study when you have an answer. We have much to discuss.”

Goethe was bent sideways in emotional hell. It was good to see that he had feelings, but seeing him experience them all at once was disturbing. We all gave him a concerned look.
“What did you father offer?”, asked Lorenz.
“He wants to bind a phistophilus devil in me. He wants me back…”, trailed off Goethe, “Please excuse me.” Goethe rose from his seat and followed after his father. We were all dumbstruck. What the hell? We were right to worry outside! I was about to say something, but Lorenz cut me off.

“Let him go. This is something he has to decide for himself. I have faith he will do the right thing”, confidently said Lorenz. We sat there in total silence. What was Goethe going to do? Would he pick family or Apsu? Could he get us into the basement vault?

After a while, Lorenz was called to present our Lirovilex rousing contract. Soon after a bird feather token landed on my shoulder with the message, “Convoy arrives this evening”. Crap! Our timetable just got cut in half! The Emerald Arrow and Drowning Devil must have sailed like hell to make it so fast. I sighed deeply and hoped that Lorenz and Goethe could keep us in Asad’s good graces.

“You are no son of mine! Get out! Get out you insolent brat before I rip out your tongue!”, roared Asad. I sighed again. Goethe and Asad’s intimate conversation must not of gone well.

We regrouped on the street outside. Goethe informed us what happened. He turned down the devil implant, which made his father weep. Asad was aware of who we were, which forced Goethe to bring up Lirovilex’s contract. Suddenly, Murk appeared out of nowhere to review the contract. Murk and Asad tempted him again with a devil bound contract. Goethe refused again, but did so in the rudeness possible way. Asad flew off the handle, his eyes literally turned red with rage. The man did not like to be perceived as weak. The good news was our contract was still intact. I told everyone that Denthanus and Marcellano were arriving in the evening. We had gotten nowhere in the last few days and now the deadline was barreling down on us. Why fret? One thing, I’ve learned on this expedition, “When life gives you shit, make stink bombs!”

First thing, Aschiuk must not get to Vira Grulios. We called forth our gremlin crewmates to sabotage the Westcrown canal locks. They might of succeeded too much. After Goethe fetched the wrecking crew I led them to the closest lock to Vira Grulios and told them to do their worse. I instantly regretted the order. Not even five minutes later a chain reaction of epic destruction occurred that the Westcrani papers named “The Gate Collapse of the Century”. The hinges rusted off the huge steel canal doors, the falling doors got tangled in the boom chain, the long chain sliced an enormous merchant ship in half, the ship was transporting explosives, the explosives blew, the blast destabilized the canal walls, and the collapsed walls took down half of the Dottari Keep and both lock towers. I slowly backed away from the mayhem. Check! Emerald Arrow stalled.

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Second thing, stop the Vira Grulios Infernal Line operation. The devil binding probably happened in the basement vault. Since Goethe couldn’t get us into the vault door, we had to find another door. I proposed we go straight to Hell! We could pillage the Lethe, capture Murk, and walk into the Grulios vault from the other side. Begads, we could take Denthanus with us to show him the truth behind the dragon devil abominations. It was time to end the Infernal Line from the inside out!

“Goethe, fire up your talisman! We’re taking a trip”

dis.jpg

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Father

I stand before Lord Asad Grulios, my father, the man I’ve longed to murder from childhood, the key to Infernal Line, the one obstacle in my path, and one thing I have promised not to destroy. I review the preceding twelve hours.

“My Goethe! It that you?”

I stand in the Grulios warehouse in the Miritanza, its nature revealed as a front for Murk’s summoning circle. Shadow beasts dispersed by cloudkill, and warehouse guard dispersed by shadow beasts, two survivors cower before us. Liamond Almus, a worthless functionary & Hily Keelta, a diabolist of some measure lie beaten on the floor. The summoning circle, tied to Dis, was destroyed beyond repair; another way to bring about Kavarkatrilv would be needed. Yet, the aged warehouse ledger proved fruitful. Its first entry dated only weeks after the death of Aroden a century ago, during the last pakthryxl. The entries continue for months before stopping abruptly. Curious initials mark the ledger, L.V.. Lorenz and I share a look. We shall continue this later.

“Is it truly you, my son!? How wonderful to see you after so long!” Father spreads his arms wide. The somatics suggest evocation.

My rage at these impudent serfs grows to boiling, as they refuse to yield to their superiors. I reveal myself as their rightful lord and master. At last, their eyes show amenity, and fear. Slate had passed through a mere two weeks prior. The Aspis Consortium knows little of Grulios dealings in the city. They want to live. It is decided they should board the ship, as crew members, or prisoners. They may yet be useful, Keelta perhaps moreso. I teleport them back. Tebrilith takes them to the brig.

“It’s been a long time, father.”, my teeth clench. It’s not evocation. Perhaps he can still his gestures, I prepare my will against enchantment. I promised Lorenz I would delay my vengeance until our ends by Apsu have been achieved. He cannot die yet, we still need information, but father closed. What is he doing?

Almus and Keelta are taken belowdecks, Keelta’s gaze follows me as Peril drags them below. What is that look in her eyes? Hexa bursts from the shadows, “What’s happening?! Did you see father yet? Where did that blood come from?”
I tell her we will meet with father tomorrow morning, one way or another. “I’m coming with you,” she commands. The encounter would require all my faculties; I could afford no headaches. I acquiese immediately. Her incredulous delight was almost enjoyable, if saccharine. Her good mood might prove useful with father. We return to the warehouse to rest, and plan. A straightforward approach is agreed upon.

I’ve moments left; he is three feet distant. Disintegrate? No, he cannot die yet. Two feet distant. This must be stilled enchantment. I will not submit to you, father, not again. I will resist you, then subdue you. His gaunt arms wrap around my body, gently. “My Goethe.”

“I will subjugate my father, he will know my power, fear it, yield to it, and he will be our means to end the Infernal Line,” I inform the others. The group reacts as they often do. No matter. They will see. We portage through much of the Regicona, landing finally at Vira Grulios. It is in utter disrepair. How could father allow our noble Villa to come to such a state? When he is dead and I am lord, I will bring our estate to the level consummate with our quality. “Who goes there?!,” a voice from behind bellows from beneath its Condotarri helm.

His words flow like tepid poison on my neck, he is still taller than me. “Please, come, sit, we’ve much to discuss…,” he smiles, releasing me back into the darkness of his study. I shudder with rage, and confusion. What in the Hell is this?!

Lorenz and I subdue the Condotarri’s insolence, but he remains steadfast. My guise as Goethe Grulios the human, remains unpierced as the guard allows us passage to inspect the perimeter, the front entryway proving futile. The rear harbor was in acceptable condition, boasting all equipment necessary to bring even greater dragons below the villa for infernal-binding. I grow impatient, foolish. The harbor rocks prove perilous, my instincts proved false, and the teleport trap proved useful. A tall figure sits behind a massive desk, papers laid high in unkempt piles. I ready myself for blood. “My Goethe! It that you?”

“What is this, father?”, I ask, calming my blood. The room is filled with books, floor to ceiling on three sides. Little light pierces through a window high above.

“Whatever do you mean, my son?”, he asks. That smile never leaves his face. Where is that cold, iron mask of contempt? Where is the face of ridicule?!

“Where was this warmth decades ago, father? What is this embrace at my return? Do you forget my years imprisoned, caged? Am I not some animal for your amusement?”, I demand.

“My son, surely you know why. You can’t be that blind, can you? You know the exact reason for it,” his voice maintains that genial tenor I’d never heard before today, “It was necessary, for you and your sister, especially with the ways things are here in Westcrown.”

“Shall I show you my whipscars, father? I am your firstborn, your…”

Asad Grulios’ tone drops for a moment, “Life is cruel for the hellborn, my son. It must be.”, before becoming sanguine once again. “Look at you right now, what a sight! Would you be the man you are today had your childhood been, shall we say, sweeter? Would a coddled childhood in the lap of luxury gift you with such…motivation?”

His words burn like acid in my chest. I understand. Strength is born of hate, and hate born of pain. I know pain. It has fueled me, disciplined me, focused me, given me purpose. It has brought me here. “No, I doubt I would be father."But what of Amon? He did not recieve such treatment.”

“Oh Amon, yes, well. I think we can both agree he is more suited to life in Egorian. He is best kept with the rest of the nobles of Thrune. You and I, yes, you and I are better suited to handling to true affairs of House Grulios, wouldn’t you agree? Oh yes! I imagine you are here for your inheritance, aren’t you? We must see to that too, musn’t we?”

“That is one reason for my return.” Father seems actually… elated to see me. This is troubling. I must reassess. “Did you know Hexa is here as well?”, a calculated risk.

“She is?!” Father conjures himself away, returning moments later, swinging Hexa around like a loved child. She giggles, laughs, and smiles in father’s embrace. “Oh, my sweet daughter, look at how you’ve grown, and look at the blades you’ve got! I bet you’ve done your share of dancing with those, haven’t you, my dear?”, he winks.

I ignore father’s inane banter, “My inheritance, father. As firstborn, I am your rightful heir. You’ve disguised your appearance from all of Westcrown for all this time, so can I. It is time.”

“What in the world is your brother talking about, Hexa?”

“Idiot Goethe thinks you’re a half-fiend, dad. He always jumps to dumb conclusions.”

“Ha! Really, Goethe, my dear boy. You’ve missed the forest for the trees!”, father pulls apart his collar, revealing an enormous scar across his chest. “This is where your and Hexa’s little eccentricities come from!”, he laughs.

I should have known; binding devils into dragons, binding devils into men. I almost weep. “I see it now, father, but on to business. Tell me of yours. I know it is binding devils like your own into dragons, to wake them from this pakthryxl. I understand you’re working with a Murk Kavarkatrilv.”

“Yes, my Goethe. It is. We have much to discuss, indeed. How did you come here, by the way? Please, tell me of your travels. I want to hear it all.” Dangerous.

“We came by ship, some aboard call it “Gradon’s Folly.”, the less father knows of our party’s purpose, the better. “I found the jou…”

“Oh! We have intruders. I love intruders! Just a minute, my children!”, he interrupts.

Dammnit, the others found their way in, “I came with companions, father. The ones you must have seen collecting Hexa. I would not have them harmed.”

“…Well, anything for you, Goethe. Now where we were? Yes, your inheritance, both of yours! It is time for you to take up your rightful place in our house, and your true purpose. You will have the full power and wealth of house Grulios at your command, my Goethe!”

The power and wealth of Grulios, my house, in my hands…no. Follow the gold. “You’ve been taking in hoards of wealth to bind devils to dragons for some time now, father. This is no place to stow such a stockpile.”, I gesture around to the basement we must be in.

“My Goethe, you’re exactly right! It’s in the Lethe of course, right where we do the bindings!” father exclaims, “We’ll go there soon. But first, I think we need to have one bound for you, as well. A Phistophilus I think, that should suit you perfectly!”

The hoard wealth is kept in the Lethe, in the second layer of Hell, Dis. “Perhaps, father, but let us further discuss your operations…” ….Phistophilus have substantial power. One bound to me would…

“Oh Goethe. You don’t know the power you’ll have! Look! Do you see an withered old man before you, or power that does as it will?”, the devil-bound man boasted. “All the power and wealth you’ve always deserved, here, now, just for you, my son. Time to rejoin the family.”

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A Grulios Family Reunion!!! Shoddy Plans Got You Locked Out?
Captain's log found on the fairlead

Planning shit out is a tough business. Frustratingly hard to do by yourself and nigh impossible for a group. Devising a complicated plan among my crew takes a miracle, sly bribes, and molasses rum; lots of molasses rum. We instantly become a crew of whiny contrarians or even worse a bunch of antsy noncommittal limp dicked cowards. We go around and around until something sticks. An exhausting process. Goddamn, it makes me angry just thinking about it! I gotta hand it to bank robbers and criminal masterminds around the world. Bravo! Give those guys medals. Let them keep the gold. Just think of the thousands of hours they spent arguing – I mean planning. Don’t get me started on the Gray Dragons. It probably took them millions of hours to plan the stinking pakthryxl. Plus they failed once and were undeterred. Begads, I don’t know if I’d have it my stomach if I were them. I barely had in my guts to sit through our Infernal Line planning.

That being said the value of a good plan is priceless. It’s worth the investment and struggle. Searching for the right plan to crush the Infernal line was a necessity. Westcrown was behind enemy lines, we had no allies, no ship, precious few cards to plan, and a tight deadline. We had been short on resources in the T-Rex’s mouth before but this time it felt vastly different. Apsu had raised the bar and was watching. Cracking open Vira Grulios was going to take more than a wink and wiggle from Lorenz. Unfortunately, we worked through the night to come up with the perfect plan. We constantly analyzed, tweaked, and refined. Drew inspiration for legends of old and contemplated modern arts of war. It was terrible work that turned my brain meat into gravy sauce. What was our perfect plan? I will tell you. The plan was to have Goethe knock on Asad’s door and demand an audience. Nailed it!

We had other plans. No one liked my idea of breaking down the manor door and putting a gun to Asad’s head. We thought about having Liamond send word up the food chain that the Deep Sea Current had arrived and was ready to rouse Lirovilex. Of course, we didn’t have our ship or dragon with us. We thought about reporting Asad to the Westcrani government, but he probably had the right officials in his pocket. Tunnelling, teleporting, trojan horsing, and thieving were all out. All that was left, staring us in our dumb faces, was leveraging Goethe’s delicate family ties. Goethe was the key! God help us.

We still had a few messes to clean up before going to Vira Grulios. Interrogations of Liamond and Hily revealed some interesting tidbits. Murk was a contract devil, the dragon waking occurred at Vira Grulio, and devils from the second layer of Hell were required. I disliked dealing with enemy survivors, so I gave the pair the standard offer. Join up or get exiled. Liamond, the greedy tool, was bought with the promises of riches. The busty beauty Hily was persuaded by Goethe’s powerful revelation.

“I am, Goethe Grulios, the first son of Asad Grulios! I return for what is mine. Come walk through the fires of Hell with me. The path leads to justice”, elegantly said Goethe. He dropped his disguise revealing his true form. Hily gasped. She started running his fingers across Goethe’s smooth horns. It looked very sexaul to me.

“You have his BIG horn! Is it really you Master Goethe? I will follow you anywhere, Master”, replied Hily with yearning. The lustful obsessed look in her eyes was scary and alarming. Goethe didn’t seem to mind it.

We rode out the night in the Miratanza warehouse. The mysterious shadow beasts scratched the doors every so often. Goethe teleported back to the ship with our newest crew members. In the morning, he returned with Hexa in tow. We all took some time to map out the Rego Laina canals with our folding boat before making it to Vira Grulios. The Vira Grulios estate was the most rundown noble mansion I had ever seen. The exterior had wild ivy growth up the walls, broken shutters, chipped paint, weathered bricks, and missing roof tiles. What a dump! Compared to Lorenz’s family ivory castle it looked like an outhouse. We approached the dilapidated main gate. It was time for the rubber to meet the road, could Goethe do this!

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First came knocking. Nothing. Next came banging. Nothing. Then came screaming. Nothing. Lastly, came the Condottari.

“Halt! Who goes there?”, demanded the guard captain.
“Is this place abandoned?”, asked Goethe.
“What is your business? Do you have an appointment?”, said the guard.
“I need no appointment! I am, Goethe Grulios, the firstborn son of Asad Grulios. Do you dare insult me peasant?”, intimidated Goethe. He was really amped up, but it worked.
“My apologies, Master Goethe. This mansion is always locked down tight when not in use; which is why we patrol frequently. Please let us escort you to the private harbor in back. You may find a servant there”, bowed the guard.

The private harbor was large and well maintained. We came around on to a small peninsula with a few out buildings that oversaw the main dock. The wooden dock was long and study, lined with a heavy steel track from end to end, and at water’s edge an impressive crane sat at the ready. On the other terminus, the tracks led to an enormous basement door the size of a dragon!

The harbor was unfortunately deserted. We all hopscotched over some slippery rocks to the the main dock to take a closer look around. Goethe slipped. To save himself, he activated his magic and shifted out of existence like one does. He never reappeared. So much for our way in!

A few minutes later, a tall munthrek figure shrouded in purple robes appeared behind Hexa and embraced her. A caught a glance before the figure and Hexa disappeared. He looked like Goethe if you aged him forty years and he learned how to smile.

“Was that Asad?”, Lorenz asked.
“Lord Grulios is home. We will leave you in his care. Please excuse us”, said the Condottari captain. The city guards left us to wait. Lorenz, Mr. Finn, and I sat down.

“I wonder what they are talking about?”, I said.
“By the look of fatherly love on Asad’s face, I say emotional healing”, cracked Lorenz.
“ayeisaytemptation ”, garbled Mr. Finn.
“This plan was shit! Fuck, we can’t leave them in there by themselves. There’s no telling what will happen next with Goethe!!!”, I shrieked.

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Materializing in Westcrown!!! The City of Twilight
Captain’s log found on the deadlights

Lorenz’s intimidation worked faster than a tea clipper on a day’s run. In no time, we were face to face with Captain Marcellano on dinghies in open water. Lorenz patched up relations by weaving a half truth about Apsu entering the Cage to wage war against the perversion of his precious children. It was Apsu who took their sarglagon and attacked our ship. Apsu was to blame for everything. Lorenz laid it on as thick as mud, using all his creativity and non-verbal trickery to get the point across. Somehow it worked! Marcellano backed off and agreed to hold up his end of the contract, if we upheld our end. Later, Lorenz explained that Marcellano was probably just playing along just to keep a close eye on us. He further explained Aspis Gold agents were shrewd bastards, unlikely to face a foe head-on unless victory was assured. Fine by me. I gave zero shits if Marcellano sifted through our poop trail. But if he ever touched my ship he was in for a world of hurt.

It was agreed upon to limit contact among the ships. We stuck to our ship and they stuck to theirs. Fine by me. We had a mission in Westcrown to get too. No more parlor games. Apsu wanted action so it was time to give the Gray Dragons and Vira Grulios more action than they can handle. Master Goethe materialized us to the middle of Westcrown the instant we were away from prying eyes. It was time to crush the Infernal Line underfoot!

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Westcrown, The City of Twilight, was both impressive and ugly at the same time like a gold polished turd. The baroque castles of the Chellish nobility were truly dazzling sights, but the rest of the city rotted in the flea bottom. While strolling through the Parego Regicona, it was obvious to see that Westcrown was once a powerful city that easily rivaled Absalom in terms of dominance. On the other hand, my trained senses could tell that the canals once ran red with blood. The smell of atrocity lingered in the waters. Likewise, a heaviness in the air seemed to weigh down the people with invisible shackles. To me, the soul of the city was gutted.

Goethe explained Westcrown was the site of the bloodiest battles during the Chellish Civil War, which happened 100 years ago caused by the God Aroden’s death. House Thrune turned to Asmodeus and the infernal powers of Hell to unite the people under one banner. They were successful. Many died. Goethe further lectured that House Thrune goes to great extremes to maintain their supreme control of the government. Everything from state controlled textbooks, to Hellknight inquisitions, to sudden disappearances were used to control the populace like a demented Big Brother. In fact, Westcrown was House Thrune’s prison for the old aristocracy. The noble Houses in Westcrown were too powerful to erase outright so they were forced out of new capital of Egorian. My instincts were right, Infernal Cheliax was as suffocating as I suspected. No wonder Goethe turned out the way he did.

Speaking of Goethe, the deep scars of his tortured past were as visible as glitterdust to the naked eye. He was moody, irritable, and fearful all at once. I can’t imagine the enormous stress he was under, considering his father’s involvement and Apsu’s demands He took no comfort being home. Another funny thing was, even though he was home, the people on the street were all incredible prejudice towards him. I was ignored, but he was practically stoned to death by the glares. So weird. I thought Tieflings would be revered given the whole Chellish devil-worshiping thing. Goethe reminded me, that the Chelish credo was “Cheliax doesn’t serve Hell, Hell serves Cheliax”. Devils were treated like livestock in Cheliax and you don’t fuck the livestock. Lorenz decided it would be prudent to use disguises. I was dressed to look like a burned halfling slave and Goethe had to wear a ridiculous Orision Pharaoh headdress to hid his horns. After the quick change, we had more success talking with the merchants and tavern owners.

Lorenz easily found Vira Grulios’ warehouse in the Miratanza district that was described in Dartakithquent’s contract. So we knocked and talked our way past the steward, Liamond. I swear we just wanted to poke around and gather some information. A fight broke out. Two hidden wizards attacked after I tried peeking into a secret room. We had the upperhand until the city bells started going off. Were we found out?!

The bells signaled the twilight curfew. For some fucking reason, after twilight packs of wild shadow beasts materialize in the city to feed on the unprepared. You could barely make out the inky black beasts’ muscular canine bodies from the darkness; your eyes got immediately pulled to their large white fangs. Begads, their twisted howls opened the floodgates of your worse nightmares. I should know, I instantly wanted to flee as soon as I heard the infernal howls. Luckily, Mr. Finn got a pair of brass balls.

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One of the idiot munthrek wizards came around the warehouse and opened the front door with a pack of beasts chasing him. Mr. Finn headbutted the dummy wizard unconscious, picked him up, threw him out, and closed the door. He took several savage claws to his chest and face but it barely affected him. The sound of the man being torn apart from behind the door was disturbing. Better him than us.

We regrouped. Liamond was out cold and the other wizard named Hily was panicked. It was time for some answers. With arms crossed, I confidently stared at our prisoners and menaced, “What is this place? Where is Murk? Tell us everything or your…um…um…whatever the hell those things are, food!”

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