The River Of Foulest Corruption

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Who do you Trust?
Chant from the Boatsman
by Jon Winter

Lady's Grace, cutter, or whatever they say in Sigil these days. They call me "The Boatsman", on account of my skiff. What do I call me? The same, cutter. I don't remember me real name.

See, when you ply the Styx like I do, a blood expects to get a mouthful of the fetid water every now and again. Even us kytons are affected by the memory-wiping properties of the fetid water, and let me tell you I've forgotten my past life more times than I care to remember. Or than I can remember!

How do I even know this? Well, I do what many canny explorers of these parts do; I keep detailed diaries of who I am carved into slate, in this pack here. Sure, it's heavy and weighs down the raft, but paper's no good...the Styx eats it like acid. So should I get a dunking, I reel in the pack (which I keep tethered to my leg with one of my loose chains) and have a good old read while I recover.

Anyway, you can imagine the hazards involved with travelling the Styx. If you must hire a boatsman (and I hasten to add you really should!) you've got two choices: 'loth, or non-'loth. I'd recommend avoiding the marraenoloths like the plague itself, because one false move and they'll sell you and your families into slavery as soon as spit. Having said that, the alternative ain't much better...most mortal boatsmen have woefully inferior knowledge of the Styx's infinite waterways, and far less sailing skill. So who do you trust? Why, what about me, cutter!

Enough of the trumpet blowing. You want to know how much it'll cost, how long it'll take, and how safe it'll be. The answer to all three is It Depends. First, on the skill of your boatsman; the better they are at their job, the quicker it'll be to travel the Styx. The better pilots know the shortcuts from the Abyss to Baator missing out the planes in between. That saves days, believe me. And the less river you travel, the less likely you are to be ambushed.

Having said that, though, some unscrupulous pilots've been known to lead a basher into an ambush -- usually the ones they think have more jink than they're letting on, or ones who're rude to the pilot. It's usually the last that ever seen of 'em too...

Average travel times are two to seven days, though it can take very much longer to wind your way up one of the tributaries. Marraenoloths usually take one to three days, but their personalities make it seem much longer!

The more dangerous a location, the more it'll cost, naturally. And the more secret a location, the higher the garnish'll be too. The worst boatsmen will ferry bashers short distances on the Styx from 20 jinx a head. You get for what you pay for. I charge from 100 gold a person, cutter, anywhere up into the thousands. Some charge more still. And I prefer payment in gemsstones, thank you. You have no idea how hard it is to navigate the gorges to Nessus or the rapids of Gehenna, my friend.

If you're needing a guide on the Styx, be sure to ask for me. I've never betrayed anyone who didn't deserve it, and that's the truth....

The Three Yugoloths
Being a Lower Planar fable
by Tom Bubul

Once upon a time, on a now lost backwater of the Styx, there were two maeraenoloths. One of them had his station due to power, the second due to his father being an ultroloth, the third due to cunning. 

One day, a party of baatezu came across the river and decided they needed it would be best to use it to get to the War, so the first baatezu (a barbazu) asked the powerful loth, "Take me up your river now, and be glad I don't rip you apart."

Now, the 'loth being a proud one, and used to being strong as a mezzoloth, decided he wouldn't take the insult. He spat at the barbazu and hit him with an energy bolt. No sooner was this done than the barbazu and his war party ripped through the 'loth and smashed in his boat.

The barbazu, now furious, went to the second 'loth and said, "Take me up your river now, and be glad I don't rip you apart, like your friend."

Now, the 'loth being the son of an ultraloth, was also proud and decided he wouldn't take the insult. He said to the barbazu, "Ask me nicely or I won't take you anywhere. My father is an ultraloth and will crush you."

No sooner was this said than the barbazu and his war party ripped through the 'loth and smashed in his boat.

The barbazu then went fuming up to the third 'loth, fuming with anger and seeing red, and said, "Take me up your river now, and be glad I don't rip you apart, like your friends."

This 'loth was a cunning one, and said: "As you wish."

Without another word, he herded the war party into his boat, took their small fee, and from the shore pushed the boat right into a rock. The boat sank, and the baatezu drowned. The 'loth was happy... he now controlled the river, and had a bit of coin, for nearly nothing.

The moral: It matters not who you are, or what you've got, but what you know.

Flood Gates
Chant by Ja'arak, male githzerai psionicist and Indep sellsword
by Matt Maybray

My mates and I were finishing up a job on Gehenna, and we had to meet a prospective client on Pandemonium, so we decided to try our luck on the Styx. Now, we didn't have a lot of jink for a marraenoloth, but Tyrus, our warrior, had brought along a folding boat (I swear, that's what he says it's called!), and between my psionics and our mage Alana's spells, we thought we could handle it. So, we hopped in and sailed off.

Now, after about a couple of hours, the Styx got real shallow, and we had to push our way forward with whatever we had (spears, staff, what have you,) so as not to touch the water, but the boat was to heavy with us all in there, and we got stuck in the muck. I quickly scanned the surroundings, and it looked like we were on the Gray Wastes, where the Styx is supposed to flow in full force. Alana was preparing a water spell that would hopefully get us unstuck, when all of a sudden we hear this great rumbling from behind.

I turned to look, and, I don't mind telling you, I nearly messed my sodding trousers at what I saw. This huge torrent of Styx-water was coming towards us. I quickly positioned the boat telekinetically so as we wouldn't get submerged, and before I knew what was happening, we were moving again fast. I managed to anchor myself to boat and keep Alana from falling in, but Tyrus took a plunge before I could grab him. I tried mind-lifting him out, but I couldn't see him through the fetid water. Just then, this skiff sails by with what looks like a small platoon of baatezu, and I swear, the marraenoloth boatman grinned evilly at me and seemed to say, "It's new, cutter what do you think?" The skiff then quickly disappeared over the horizon. We then eventually got to Pandemonium without further incident.

Now, my theory on the whole thing is this: I think the yugoloths have installed flood gates at various points on the Styx so the can control who sails on it. Maybe they heard about the rumour about the other fiends not be able to teleport anymore and decided to capitalise on it. If my theory is correct, the 'loths will have an even tighter grip on the baatezu and tanar'ri.

Peace of Mind
Being a business in the Cage with links to the Styx
by Joshua Jarvis

Izitri Adimov (Planar / male bariaur / class unknown / Bleak Cabal / N) has founded a new service to soothe the troubled mind. Working with the Bleakers he dealt with lots of troubled minds, many of them gone barmy from their experiences on the planes. To help them Izitri founded a small store he calls "Peace of Mind" whose motto is ignorance is bliss. You see, Izitri sell bottled Styx water. Anyone who drinks it forgets their whole life. You may ask "What kind of addle-coved berk would want to do that?" but many who have been tortured by tanar'ri for years at a time or lost in Pandemonium and unable to have a grasp on sanity as long as their mind is affected by their experiences actually welcome the release. That is until after they pay him and they seek to rediscover who they once were.

A New Abyssal Lord
Chant from Rathinayr Crovaxius, Tiefling Shadowmancer-Priest of Mask
by Chet Reeder

Off in the shadows, within a booth of isolation there sits a man everyone seems to stray away from. Upon further inspection all that is left are eyes of deep abyssaline pitch, glimmering darker than the shadows surrounding him. You approach closer, knowing this be the man you were sent to find, sitting down he begins to speak, tones of soft etherealness escape his lips before just some of his hawkish features come into view, knowing immediately he is a tiefling.

"You got the jink?", his voice rasps out, a gloved hand offered as you place a bag of gold within his hand. "That's good berk... you know how things work in the Cage. So you came to here what ol' Rath knows about the River Styx huh? Fine enough but I hope you are not the one going down there sod, or else you will just end up in the dead book like man of the other berks."

He pauses for but a moment then continues, "Well it was a few weeks back, and I was there looking for this plant, growing on the banks of the river Styx deep within the Abyss... about the 457th, or was that the 58th... then again it could have been the 777th for all I know. So I was looking upon the foliage for the Shadowroot, a nice plant for a component on this spell I was working on, but you needn't know about that. Well the narrow valley I was in opened up into a large chasm, almost like if the top of Mount Celestia was dug out from the black scorched land. A large citadel surrounded by a few waterfalls of the brackish water of the Styx was shown there surrounded by a modest berg.

"Well without warning I was assaulted by fiends I could not even see and brought down into the burg. Escaping my captors I found a place to hide for some jink, well after conversing with an addle-coved fighter, trapped in the same predicament as I. Well he told me that this plane was ruled by a supposed solar fallen from the Seven Heavens... what screed that must be...going by the name of Xanado Deathbringer, or something like that, and the place he reigned was known as Bonethorne Keep with the surrounding berg of Bludswraith. Well I didn't believe the barmy for a second until I saw this figure flying high in the sky. His form was like a solar, but surely a solar would not be this far in the Abyss would he? I must be going as barmy as the fighter but....", he trails off, his hand motioning for more money, as you produce another bag of gold, nodding in his satisfaction. He tucks away the bag before pulling out a feather carved from bone.

"This fell from the flying being... so the stories must be true... so a new Abyssal Lord is on the block near the River Styx... and some even say this boy can control the planar way like you or I can open a door. This be flam or not but I know the high ups within the Lower Planes and Higher Planes are watching their backs. For if someone can control them then who is to say he can not put a stop to the river all together?"

The Double Tower of Ben-Imal
Extracted from the journal of O'ja of the Field of Nettles
by Belarius

On the fifth day of the march, we arrived at our ferry point. Three expendable black abishai had confirmed clear sailing, with no visible ambushes laid within two miles in either direction. Of course, the 'loths could have planted their little frogs in the fetid water, but we are prepared for this also. Gristilamm, our vigilant leader, had prepared a few spells fresh from the academies to temporarily negate the hydroloth immunity to the Styx. I simply hoped they would be as effective as his previous spellslinger tactics. No match for physical force, surely, but useful, in its own pettily academic way.

Our osyluth ferryman was a pathetic example his kind. Fauning and obsequious to our vigilant leader, he obviously wanted to be a part of the Ring this cycle. But don't they all? He told us of his experience on the Styx, and of his near mastery of its currents. Why am I not convinced. Perhaps it is the simple urge to force the bone devil into line, even if it means breaking his emaciated frame! But we couldn't touch him, the little prick, so we kept our mouths shut and daydreamed of a covert assassination.

Our first few hours on the waters were without interest, apart from when our little bone baatezu nearly navigated us off of the side of Gehenna. We proceeded through the Gray Waste slowly, even lazily, and the hours dragged on like lazy larvae. We were startled to attention when the boat suddenly rocked violently with a hard impact from below. Made of reinforced pumice and thus quite durable, the attacker was unable to break a hole in the hull, and out navigator quickly slid us up against the shore, where we got to dry ground and quickly organised into our variable stance. IF tanar'ri, we could push them into the Styx with our polearms. If yugoloth, we would surround and separate them from one another, impaling them from all sides at once, and pinning them in place.

I have no doubt that is was this clever tactic that cost many valuable baatezu lives. From the waters, gray as the rest of Oinos, came not tanar'ri or yugoloth, but something strange and unknown to us. A creature much like a finned minotaur slowly rose our of the waters, dripping gray water. Its bone-like horns were exaggerated, curving high over the head and doing at least two full rotations before reaching metal-tipped points. Its skin was taut over what seemed like muscular fat, causing it to literally wobble as it waddled onto dry land. Its face was quite bullish, but it has razor sharp fangs in the place of an herbivore's blunt molars. We quickly surrounded it, as it was clearly immune to the water's effects, and proceeded to impale it from all sides. As its skin pierced, the water of the Styx flowed out, not like water, but like an intelligent ooze, creeping up out weapons and trying to touch our hands. Through sheer luck, I avoided contact with the deadly fluid, which cleared the minds of a half-dozen other barbazu. It was Gristilamm, with his powerful cold, who froze the entity into a solid crystalline statue, which we promptly broke apart and scattered.

The exact nature of this strange creature I have not been able to ascertain from any known records. We simply filled reports when we returned to Baator, informing the Dark Eight of this discovery, and recommending more gelugons be places on styx-faring vessels.

Once the threat was ended, we returned on our course, but three of the mentally drained barbazu were permanently frozen, unreviveable by any heat we could apply. I believe the freezing of the creature caused this reaction in the unfortunate among its victims, extending the damage to the creature to those it itself had damaged.

But I digress. We returned to our course, and soon made our way to our objective: The Double Tower of Ben-Imal. Built at even intervals on a huge bridge crossing the Styx on Othryx but reaching neither side, this building was deemed a threat to the baatezu cause (considering the problems we have had with the Bridge at Khalas), and were ordered to destroy it, clearing it of inhabitants and taking the stone back with us. Elegantly tall, with its towers plunging into the Styx itself, the stained marble towers were an impressive sight.

We docked under the bridge to avoid detection, and proceeded up the walls into small doorways placed near the water's level. Inside, all was darkened, as if by some magic, but our vigilant leader was able to temporarily negate the gloom with his own magic. We proceeded into the towers, searching for signs of life.

metal bit
Of life, we found not a rat. Both Towers were still and silent as mausoleums, devoid of any sign of recent inhabitation. Stone furniture lay, fused with the stone of the building, with dust deep enough to refresh a 'death' mephit. Gristilamm and the second in command, a quiet cornugon, debated what should be done about this surprising discovery. They finally agreed that the osyluth and a skeleton guard would take the stone skiff back to Baator to get new orders, while the rest of the war party would camp in the towers, which we found could be accessed from one to the other by going outside and crossing the bridge. Our hope was to get an idea what, if anything, the 'leths, 'loths, or tanar'ri were using these empty towers for, while the ferryman fetched orders. If Gristilamm could secure the Towers as a baatezu base and supply station, it would be very helpful for incursions into the Abyss. such a success would look very good on the resume of every member of the war party, even the black abishai.

For the first six hours, we finished surveying the exact details of the towers. Structurally sound, despite the apparent decades of disuse. Over 100' tall at the water line, and descending at least 50' below the waters, the interior capacity of the 50' wide towers was extensive. If vertical stables could be built, it would be no great challenge to keep a standing army of abishai inside each tower, ready to defend them with the backup of cornugons. Their location was ideal, inaccessible from either shore. We determined the stone it was built with was tempered to prevent any teleportation through its walls, and stout doors could easily be mounted on the openings by the water. Out only real concern was a styx-immune fiend breaking away the stone at either tower's base, but there was sign of this being easy, as long as we our two amnizu guards to help defend.

After six hours, though, things got strange. After our run in with the horned Styx-beast earlier, we were already on edge, expecting something odd to happen. This, of course, disturbs a body all the more when it DOES happen. We spied a huge ferry, of undetermined construction, approach us at a lazy pace, idly but purposefully drifting to the tower. The nearer it got, the more clearly we saw that is was ephemeral, not fully solid. It passed under the high bridge, barely clearing the overhang, and docked at the opening, its gangplank perfectly aligned with the doorways on both towers, a testament to the sheer width of the craft. We watched from the bridge and at the door, and saw ghostly forms of ourselves leave our bodies and walk to the boat, disturbing not a mote of dust. They were perfect examples of ourselves. I saw myself, groomed to court an erinyes with polished arms and armour and a look of satisfied conviction I knew all true baatezu held. On the boat we saw all manner of passengers, equally ghostly. there were ultroloths and guardinals, dreches, and glabrezu. Orcs, elves, githzerai, githyanki, tanar'ri, baatezu, all standing still, making no move to kill one another, or even notice their existence. Each was a perfect member of their race. Out ghostly selves boarded the ship and sailed off, continuing lazily down the Styx.

From that point on, I felt a hollowness inside me, as if, with the spectres, we had lost what it meant to be a baatezu. Though none would speak of it, for fear of being accused of treasonous thoughts, it was clear all others were similarly affected. Even the great Gristilamm, gelugon mage and master tactician, seemed disinterested. When the osyluth returned, he charged Gristilamm of negligence, seeing the lackadaisical behaviour as a sign of weakness, a way to depose the gelugon and thus gain power. Casually, chaotically, selfishly, Gristilamm killed the bone fiend, and we were all surprised that we didn't care. We waited for another, less ambitious ferryman, who took us wordlessly back to Baator, where, despite our technically flawless performance, we suffered greatly. We neglected our duties, having lost faith in the baatezu cause. That's how I ended up at the Field of Nettles. Once the Dark Eight had rounded up the troublemakers from that expedition, we were all sent to a skirmish at the Field, an obvious suicide battle. I check, and every member of the expedition was present, even fallen Gristilamm, the amnizu guards, the cornugon commander, all of us. We even learned of a second expedition, which had the same effect as the first, involving a large team of erinyes who were to pretend to be a cabal of human tiefling wizards, to avoid revealing our new base. Every one was assigned to the Field that day.

Of course, there were many battles at the field. I was posted there for the better part of thirty years, surviving by secretly breaking tactical edicts to protect my own life. Many of my fellow faithless did the same. Some were caught, and executed. Others, including Gristilamm, were not, by sheer virtue of skill.

But slowly, our seemingly infinite forces were depleted, even as they were replaced. More and more of the faithless expedition members disappeared, apparently turning stag instead of fighting. I and the other barbazu had no choice but to remain, as we were in the constant company of other, normal barbazu. So we fought.

One day, I was sent among the bodies with a small group to scout the area. the entire group was composed of faithless, I noticed. We were ambushed fairly quickly by a tanar'ri force, but managed to defeat them. Then, we saw him. Unmistakable an Ultroloth, from his stare, his faceless eyes, and his black, body concealing robe. He stood atop a pile of corpses and spoke in our minds. He told us of an upcoming battle to try to wipe out the tanar'ri totally. He told us of its inevitable failure. Then, turning, he walked away down the other side of the hill.

We conferred, trying to decide what we should do. Once we had made clear to one another our disinterest in the baatezu cause, we decided to make for the City of Soot and hide in the buildings of dirty air. In less than a day, the fighting started, and we could hear the din of battle below us through the clouds. Few tanar'ri came into the City during the battle, busy with the baatezu. We thought we were safe. We were not.

After thirty hours of fighting, the battle came to a halt, with no one left to fight. Soon, cambion scavengers came to the City, and caught us off guard. Forced to scatter, I lost tract of my fellow rebels, and was badly wounded. I thought I would die in that dark, cold City, but a group of benevolent mortals came to my aid, saving me from the cambions and taking me to safety.

Their benevolence taught me the value of help for the sake of help, good for the sake of good, and it brought me here to Mount Celestia. After some years of training, I have become an honorary Hound among the archons, who treat me with respect. But I cannot help but wonder about the Twin Towers of Ben-Imal. Were the ghostly images our own guiding philosophies. If so, did the Towers somehow steal them from us? And then, who received them? The yugoloths knew of my group's loss of faith, though that much was evident from our recent records. Did they use the Towers to steal our souls, as it were, and to react our movements. I known not. I have lived well in Mount Celestia, and have repented and become an Archon. How this could aid the yugoloths I have no idea. I known not what became of Gristilamm, or the abishai, or the cornugons, or the amnizu. I have no knowledge of my fellow rogues, though I highly doubt they would approve of what I have become. The strange circumstances of my desertion haunt me to this day, and I wonder at how the Unity of Rings will bring my past back to my present, and what it will make of my future.

Ilsensine and the Styx
Ilsensine, mind devouring god of illithids, and River Styx connection revealed!
by Aaron Infante-Levy and Jon Winter

The strange thing about the planes is that the more exceptions there are, the more the rules seem to reinforced, and the stronger the rules get, the more numerous their exceptions. So, where's this ring going to take an intrepid planewalker? To the realm of Ilsensine, of course.

That'll give most berks the pause. Ilsensine? Why Ilsensine? First of all, Ilsensine is the main deity worshipped by the mind flayers -- who're also called the illithid. This being is the embodiment of mind-flaying, of sucking out all the thoughts in a basher's head and leaving him a mindless husk to wander around his realm like a zombie.  Where beliefs and thoughts are the things that matter most on the planes, the greatest threat in existence would have to be their utter obliteration.  Well, actually, Ilsensine doesn't obliterate them, per say, rather, it absorbs them. Either way, it doesn't do the sod getting mind-flayed much good to understand the semantics, after all, he's on the wrong end of the pike regardless.

Now, connections on the planes are made by...belief (you guessed it!). It goes without saying that this is true. Groups of like-thinkers band into factions, Powers form alliances based on common ground (or so it's said), towns cluster to planes of similar alignment, and the flow of the River Styx follows certain beliefs like a moth to a flame.

Think about it, why doesn't the Styx flow through the Upper Planes? Cause it's whole purpose is to drain a sod's memories, not inherently a good thing, least by most cutters' interpretation. Thus, the Styx flows into places of evil. Hey, now, isn't Ilsensine a Power of evil? What's it doing in the Outlands? Well, that's just another one of those planar conundrums that'll get a body so twisted she won't remember who she is anymore. Hey, it could be Ilsensine meant to do this...

But doesn't it make perfect planar sense that the Styx would flow into Ilsensine's realm, Caverns of Thought?  Ilsensine is an evil Power of mind-flaying, and the Styx is a foul river of memory stealing. Both are sides of the same coin, if not the same side entirely. Chances are, the Styx enters the realm through an interplanar portal from one of the nearby Lower Planes (eg. Pandemonium), and exists through a different one.

Course, none of this can be proven. Not many adventuring companies are too keen on sending their best bloods to go investigate Ilsensine in its home realm. Besides, Ilsensine probably keeps it a well guarded secret, so a body'd have to be tough enough to resist his mind-draining influence until he could find the River; there are few bloods with that strength of will. It may never be proven, but remember one thing:  If you believe, it may be true.        

Think on this, though. There's dark chant drifting round that the Styx never used to drain a berk's memory, and it was about the same time that Ilsensine appeared that it did. Some cutters have put two and two together and reckon that the illithid-god dips its temtacles in the River, and its him that sucks all the memories from your head should you take a gulp. Anyway, that's just one with it what you will...

Bittersweet Memories
Ash Bloodvult (Planar / male tiefling / Bleak Cabal) lanns this chant
by Kathryn Wallace

You want to know something about the Styx? Okay, I'll tell you something about the Styx. But I gotta warn you I heard this bit of chant from one of the barmies when I was putting in time at the Gatehouse. See, this poor sod couldn't seem to remember his name, his kip, or anything else for that matter. Just this theory of his, and that he kept babbling over and over again. Like if he hangs onto it, it'll make everything okay. I've seen them do that when they're just tumbling to the pointlessness of the multiverse. Damn painful to watch. Anyway, just a warning: this may be a big jink-drawing dark, or it may just be some addle-cove's screed.

Okay, you've heard of "thought objects"? Right, neither had I. I had to ask this spell slinger friend of mine about them. Basically, he says they're the memories of folk what got put in the dead book, that break off while their spirits float through the astral on the way to petitioner-hood.

That's why petitioners don't remember anything about their life, I guess. Supposedly, these thought objects just float around in the Astral and no one can find them unless they know how to look and have some pretty specialised equipment for nabbing them.

What's all this got to do with the Styx? Stop flapping your bone box, I'm getting to that. You want chant or babble? That's what I thought, now stop rattling that bone-box of yours and let me finish. Most folks know that if you get dunked in the Styx, you lose all your memories, right? Well, this poor sod I heard it from apparently knew the "thought object" chant and put two and two together, so to speak. So he came up with this theory. Seems it's his take that the River Styx captures "thought objects" from folk by contact, just like the Astral saps them away from folks what got lost. More to the point, he thinks that if a basher can somehow get to the bottom (if there is one) of the river without loosing herself, she could make one mountain of jink off capturing these things.

From what I could tell, the sodding berk tried it himself. Did it work? Well, a group of kind-hearted 'walkers found him lying on the riverbank covered in slime, rattling on just like when they dropped him off with us. Maybe he did get hold of a "thought object." Maybe it was his own theory. Maybe that's just all that's left of his mind after a dip in the Styx. Me, I wouldn't go Styx-diving if there was a pile of jink as tall as the Spire down there. But if you really want to mess with this, go find some solid chant on these "thought objects."

Now, since that's all I know about that, I'll be taking that jink you forked over and go rediscover the "meaning of life" in the bottom of a tankard or seven of bad ale: cheap, empty, blurry, and cracked. Kind of like that poor sod's head.

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

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