Until Our Paths Cross Again...

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Mysterious Travellers
By Mik Mathews the Red, planar merchant extraordinaire
(Rumour has it he's so good he sold blank books
to Thoth's library and was paid well for them.)

(by Belarius)

Winner!Cagers are a peery lot, no doubt about it. Always doubting what they don't know. It's natural, I suppose. After all, when you've got your brainbox addled by fifteen factions vying for your belief, you'll doubt anything. Even out here, in the most infinite and more unlikely expanse of all.

Take the baernoloths, for example. Rumour has it they're the fathers of the yugoloth race. Rumour has it they're all as old as the Gray Waste itself. Rumour has it the General of Gehenna himself goes to them for council. Rumour has it they're just a rumour. Seems most Cagers, never seein' one, assume they're some screed the 'loths came up with to frighten 'em. Poor clueless sods.

Well, I've seen 'em, alright. Alright, I saw one. But I've seen him many times. Maybe he's THE baernoloths, a unique being some idiot decided was one of many. I couldn't say. But he's out there. Wandering about like a lost child or a bounty hunter, lookin' for something.

I first met 'im ten years ago, on the third cargo run of my career. I was taking wines bought at the Vineyards of Dionysus into the gut of Mt. Olympus, to take down into Gehenna. Some petty noble of a cavernous fief wanted 'good old Olympian wines' for his ladies.

Anyway, I was takin' wine into the caverns of Mt. Olympus, right? And suddenly, I see 'im. Eight foot tall and standing like he knew he was someone. Skin rotten, smellin' awful, a big head with curling ram horns and a skeletal mouth. I'd heard of baernoloths, but, like most folks, never seen one. He looked me over with piercing, evil eyes, and spoke in a harsh, grating tone. I noticed one of his horns was broken at the tip.

"You're the one," he says, and I don't know what he's about. He walks up, towerin' over me, so close I can feel the humidity of his rottin' flesh. "I'm called Nelliko the Traveller. Turn around. You're not needed anymore." He holds a thin gold crown two inches from my face, and I can see it's my employer's. I also see its bloodstained. Powers below, I can smell it there, tangy and fresh! I look at my boys. They know what the fiend's sayin', so we head back to a portal to the Outlands and sell the wine in Sylvania. Never did hear from that Gehennan lord again, thought. I don't want to.

After a few years, I was a first rate cutter, tradin' things all over the Land to whoever would pay for it. Copper wire here, weapons there, even ran books for a while. Still do, when the season's right. I thought I knew my way around, and I had some freshly smelted ore to sell, so I headed off to Crux, a tiny burg on Yggdrasil. There's a gate onto the tree in the Realm of the Norns. But as I was headin' up the branch toward the portal and out comes this baernoloth again. first thing I check is his horn, which is still broken. He looks at me and says, like we were drinkin' buddies, "Hello, Mik. Seen any small obsidian statues recently? They're shaped like dwarves." Don't know where he learned my name.

I hadn't, and I said so. He took my word at face value, and walked down the branch past the caravan. As we went through the portal, he shouted back at me, "If you do, say Nelliko's lookin' for them." I shout back that I would, and he walked off into the woods. Strangely enough, I did see those statues about two months later in Tradegate. I told the salesman Kelliko was looking for them, and he cut their price to a tenth, insisting I take them. I was peery, sure, but its a deal I couldn't just refuse. So I took them. Then, a week later, they were gone, a bag of jink with the money I'd paid where I had seen them last.

I saw him one last time after that. This was about three years ago, during the big competition between Harmonium and Abyssal Red Steel. Got rich off of that little market trend, I did. But anyway, I've just bought a truckload of Red Steel in Samora, somewhere in the Abyss. Using the Infinite Staircase, I was transporting the goods with erdlu, since they can use the stairs. We travel down the stairs for a few hours, and there's Nelliko on the staircase. At first, he pays me no mind. But,seeing my trademark jacket, he doubles back and says hello, all jovial. He thanks me for the dwarf statues, and invites us to dinner at his place. I'm real peery of this guy, but it seemed worse to refuse, given how tough they're supposed to be, and how smart. So I say yes, and he takes us back down the stair to the next landing. Then, from a small satchel, he pulls out a little box and set it on the landing. The box widens and grows, and it becomes a door. We opens it and walks through into some extradimensional space. So my men follow, erdlu and all.

Best meal I ever ate. The fiend had infinite food, which he kept having some ghostlike servants fetch us from the 'kitchen.' And none of it was rancid or poisoned or anything. Not a single one of my men ever got sick that entire trip. So the fiend and me, we get to talkin' and I learn a little about him.

Seems he's a traveller, like his name says. Mind you, I'd trust a 'loth as much as the next guy, but this is what he told me. He said he's got to find something important, but it got lost. Magic shows it's not on the Outer Planes, not on the Prime, nowhere. Now, he implied this... this thing couldn't be destroyed, so he figured it must be on one of the pathways. Stuck in a conduit, lying in a cavern in Mt. Olympus, or something. Somewhere where it wasn't really in a plane, but just on the path. So he travels, looking for it.

We ate well, and left. I haven't seen him again, or at least I didn't see him in a true form. But I'll bet a stinger he's watchin' me, and that he still follows my movements. I don't want to know what he's looking for, I don't want to know where it is. Suffice to say I'm avoiding the pathways from now on.

-- Mik Mathews, to confidant Remy Ray, about three years ago

[Author's Note: If the DM wishes, Nelliko could be the baernoloth
who appears as a random encounter in
TFTIS, Tale 1, Planewalkers.
In fact, that's where I got the idea.]

Arms Traffickers
By Mik Mathews
(by Belarius)

It's a funny phenomenon, the arms trade. Especially in the Blood War. I've never quite understood why the fiends needed weapons so badly. Most can do as much damage with their bare claws than if wielding a clumsy chunk of metal. I know it's sometimes the only way they can hit more powerful creatures, but why not wear silver of cold-wrought iron gloves instead? It's as if the fiends are trying to be civilized about it by using weaponry. Even the tanar'ri. As if either race needs a justification anymore.

Case in point: about ten years ago, I was a weapons runner for the Blood War, mostly for the yugoloths. Can't say I'm proud of it, or even content about it, but that's what gave me enough jink to retire, though I haven't yet. We used a few portals, but portals are a bad way to Travel in the Blood War. Most are mapped and therefore protected. If they hear you're working for the 'loths, most baatezu or tanar'ri will attack anyway. So we used the Great Paths. You know, the Infinite Staircase, the Styx, Mt. Olympus. We had a set route, which took us to the very base of Khin Oin, where we sold the weapons and made ourselves scarce. How I survived that trip two dozen times I'll never know.

It's not like it's even possible anymore, so I'm not telling you any darks. Don't worry about the 'loths comin' after you, they gave up on the route too. Anyway, we started in Rigus, where there's weapons a-plenty, and varied enough to fight for both sides of the War. There, we used a secret doorway onto the Infinite Staircase, and travelled about an hour to a cavern in the heart of Mount Olympus. We got into the Gray Waste, has the marraenoloth ferry us to Khin Oin, and left by any means possible.

Seem simple? Not on your life, cutter! You see, the more we followed this route, the more aware the other fiends became of our presence. We were shipping a lot of weapons, after all, and going halfway around the Great Ring to do it. Eventually someone gave up the ghost and the route was deemed impossible. That's what I wanted to tell you about.

Things went alright in Rigus. We wore our slabs with as much dignity as we could muster, bought our weapons, and snuck out through our secret door. I had hired some new help, and their backgrounds seemed to check out okay, so I didn't worry too much about it.

Our first problems were on the Infinite Staircase. Some vile creature, obviously set directly in our path and too stupid to have done it by chance or by itself, was hiding underneath the stairs. I never got a good look at it, but three sharp-tipped chitinous limbs shot up from either side of the stair and slashed blindly at us. The beast was dense as a manes, though, and we managed to get past it, loosing only one pack animal. Even as it left our field of vision, the insane beast kept stabbing it over and over, even though it was long dead. Even when we reached our landing, there was still a blood trail, seeping down the stairs from the shredded animal.

I'm paranoid, I'll admit it. It's a trait that keeps you alive. But I didn't guess the beast was a trap until our second incident. We hopped off the Stair and into the caverns of Mt. Olympus. The travelling is easier there than in the Infinite Staircase. Rough terrain, but less climbing. It's always been a relatively safe Path to use (at least, compared to the Styx).

Imagine our surprise when a small platoon of baatezu suddenly appeared around us. Led by a foul cornugon with green-tinted scales, the baatezu quickly subdued our ill-prepared party and quickly chained us up, like slaves.

I thought I had my named signed in the Dead-book in blood that time, but I knew something few people realise: Not a single rank-and-file baatezu can tell when you're lying. Lying, I suppose is essential to their hierarchy, so they can't tell when one of their own speaks an untruth. That extends to we mortals too. So I identified myself as the caravan leader to the cornugon and played up my being scared real good, pretending to spill darks about where we were going. I tricked the poor sod into going down the wrong passage, simple as that.

We travelled for about a half-day, leading the fiend-run caravan to a place I'd discovered in my travels: the Silver Cavern. I contemplated getting rich from the ore there, but never had a need. Still haven't. The cavern is really big, and seems normal, if dark, until you shine a light. It's like a mirror, but much stronger. The fiends took the bait hook, line and sinker, and all it took was a little nudge to send the first toppling into a bed of silver stalagmites far below. We were scolded, but they couldn't prove we had done it. They started suspecting each other, as we wended our way across the thin walkway, with beds of lethal spikes on either side. Some baatezu even did kill each other. All the better.

When at last someone got it in their heads to off the cornugon (which took the pathetic black abishai in the platoon frightening long to do), there was a power struggle. For a day we were stopped dead in our tracks, as the remaining troops debated, fought, and argued about who got credit for the success of the mission. There were more than a few successful assassinations that day.

Suffice to say, the poor sods weren't a match for us when, after only four of the original twenty remained, the caravan simply took the weapons we were shipping and killed off the remaining baatezu. I prefer to spare the lives of my enemies, but sometimes mercy is too dangerous, and too cruel for my tastes.

We lost three men and a day of time on that fiasco, and we knew someone was out to get us. But we knew better than to turn stag on the yugoloths, so we pressed on, eventually emerging on the third Gloom, Pluton.

We got to the Styx as fast as we could, hoping to make up for lost time and avoid any ambushes. No such luck. Within minutes of loading our equipment onto the maerennoloth's skiff, three rafts bulging with baatezu converged on us, piloted by osyluths. We thought our skeletal guide would be able to save us, slipping away to another plane, but my certifiably reliable workers suddenly transformed into a pack of red abishai (who'd pretended to be slaves during the first baatezu episode), and swiftly killed the surprised navigator.

We though we were dead for sure, so we vowed to go down with a fight. We quickly got the reds wet in the Styx, forgetful, waterlogged, and drowning. We didn't know how we were going to escape the three warships of baatezu, but we thankfully didn't need to: a combined force of hydroloths and wastriliths came from below and broke the ships asunder. We thought at first we were saved. Again, no such luck.

It didn't take long for us to realise the hydroloths considered us targets as much as the baatezu, so we ran from the distracted fiends and polled our way to shore. Before the frogs and serpents could follow, we disappeared into the depths of the wooded Waste. Yes, we had reached the second Gloom by this time. They tried to follow, but soon got confused by the twisting trees and gave up.

I don't know what Power of luck was laughing at our tragic bad luck, but someone must have blessed us for once: we were near the Town at the Centre. We got past the guards with jink and got into Oinos. We got lucky and made it to Khin-Oi in a week (though that was a week and a day overdue) without loosing anyone to the Wasting disease.

We were ushered into Khin Oin and thrown through a portal, apparently into some major conference chamber. One wall was a solid glass (or glassteel, or nothing at all, for all I know), allowing us to see out into the Waste, and we realised we were very high in the tower. Our navigator estimated 8 miles later on. Anyway, we got shunted into a council room full of ultroloths! At least three dozen of the implacable faceless creatures eyed us and politely asked for an explanation for our tardiness.

Now, a 'loth can see a lie like blood in the Waste, so we told the truth. And somehow, the 'loths let us go. they cancelled our contract for two more runs, and sent us on our merry way with a bonus. The damn 'loths said, total, under 100 words at that meeting, but I knew they were saying something that we couldn't understand. Some kind of double meaning trick, you know? I'm sure we got peeled somehow, but I have never figured out how. To this day, I've never felt the repercussions of that unfulfilled cancelled contract lying in Khin Oin somewhere. I have no doubt I will, though, and that doubtlessness gnaws at my very soul. Why do I keep working, as old as I am? Simple. If I die on the job, the 'loths can't come after me to collect!

SweetEvil Cavern
Being a dangerous nexus between three Planar Paths
(by Belarius)

Hearsay: This obscure location is more myth than reality, existing in a very remote location unknown to all save the best-lanned sages. A confluence of three Planar Paths, SweetEvil Cavern is located in the depths of Mt. Olympus, where caverns lead to various Lower Planes. From these dark caverns flows a tributary of the Styx, the single location anywhere outside the Lower Planes where the Styx touches. Oceanus, in its meandering path, also flows into this water-sculpted cavern, and the two currents battle in a deadly whirlpool of sweet purity and foul corruption. Most disregard the tales as screed. A few do not. These are the wise ones.

Description: The chant is at least partly true: the Styx does meet with Oceanus in a single location, a gaping cavern seeming sculpted by the enteral whirlpool at the cavern's centre. The currents of the sister rivers meet and spiral around each other, with vicious waves and dangerous undertows across the entire spiral. Eventually, the waters both flow into the bottom and disappear. Where they go is not known, because no one has survived the currents at the bottom of the whirlpool, or at least has ever returned.

The Eladrin are understandably disturbed by this bizarre phenomenon, but have been unable to stop it. Not amount of conjured stone has plug the hungry depths, and no amount of damming has ever safely blocked either river. The Eladrin dare not block Oceanus, or the Styx might gain an advantage and overflow into Arborea! Damming the Styx presents its own set of problems as well.

The Rilmani are said to have had a hand in the creation of this conduit. If the Blood War should ever end and turn against the Upper Planes (something that has nearly happened at least three times), whoever controls SweetEvil Cavern has a chance, albeit a slim one, of piloting the dangerous waters and secretly entering the opposing plane. The contest is a balanced one. The Eladrin have foreknowledge of the Cavern, and so know its intricacies better. The fiends have individuals immune to the mind-wiping effects of the Styx. In any case, an Eladrin force waits patiently for fiendish explorers to find their way into the Cavern to try to slay them, hoping to keep the location a secret. None have ever entered the Cavern itself from the Styx end.

Special Features: SweetEvil Cavern is a mixing of the best and the worst rivers of the multiverse, and as such has created a very strange combination. The liquid is much less potent than either was originally, so the water can drain, as a maximum, a month of memory, and then only when ingested. As an odd side effect, the liquid is a miracle cure for insanity or mental imbalance, as the mental clearing of the Styx and the positive properties of Oceanus mix.

The maelstrom of waters itself is nearly impossible to navigate, and would challenge even the Marraenoloths or the Balaena. [In game terms, a boating proficiency check must be made every round with a -12 penalty. It takes 1d4 rounds to make it across the cavern going either direction. Every failure forces the craft to save vs. crushing blow with a -5 penalty or be destroyed. Successful saves still add a round to the travel time needed.] Of course, someone using, say, a magic carpet can cross the maelstrom with ease.

Cutters might discover the cavern accidentally, or use it to escape the horrors of any Lower Plane Mt. Olympus connects to (Carceri, the Gray Waste, or Gehenna). The cavern could become, with the assistance of magical levitation, an incredibly valuable smuggling route to bring weapons from the Upper Planes to the Lower Planes (and, as such, connect with Spiral Hal'Oight, Tripicus, Koe, or Cirily). Finally, an anti-Upper Planar strike would come from here, one a band of heroes might try and stop.

Copyright 1998 by Jon Winter and respective authors,
artwork by Jeremiah Golden and Jon Winter

Consult the Mimir Again