Savage Tide; Pathfinder
An Occurrence at Shendilavri
To the members of the Gang of Five, their troubles could be traced back to Vanthus Vanderboren’s murder of his parents, the trigger event that caused Lavinia, his sister, to hire the men who would become the Gang of Five to find him. From there, their fates became entwined with that of the beautiful young heiress, thanks to the depredations of
a parricidal sociopath.
As their path unfolded before them, however, subtle clues began to add up, indicating that they were pieces in a game played by greater powers than they. Securing the identity of their mysterious puppetmaster became a secondary goal of the men as they learned of the plot set in motion by Demogorgon. Nothing, however, could have prepared them for the reality of the situation, and the implications behind their part in this drama put very nearly the entirety of their lives in the shade.
With Lavinia rescued and Shami-Amourae, Demogorgon’s consort, spoken to and the secret of her lover’s weakness discovered, the men of the Gang of Five turned their attention towards gathering an army to bring the fight to the Prince of Demons in his home realm. It was Charon who sent them to Iggwilv, the Witch Queen, and Iggwilv who suggested that the mortals who would seek to fell a demon prince bring the might of his enemies to bear against him. In time, they won the aid of Orcus, Prince of Undeath; Charon, Boatman and Horseman of the Apocalypse; Bagromar, Demogorgon’s trusted general and clone; Irori, God of Enlightenment and Perfection; Obox-Ob, and mad Lord of Vermin and Demogorgon’s predecessor as Prince of Demons.
But it was Malcanthet, Demon Queen of the Succubi, Lady of Delights, who they came to find was the orchestrator of their adventure, and indeed, their entire lives, her machinations stretching back across hundreds of years, the pieces arranged and the circumstances prepared centuries before the men whom she would select as her proxies in her war against her lover were even born. When Demogorgon set his plan into motion a millennium past, the Queen of Succubi began her plans to stop him, recognizing in the Prince of Demons’ mad plan to become whole the doom of all her kind. With the Savage Tide successful, all of humanity would be held in demonic thrall, mad and savage until they tore themselves and each other limb from sick limb; and with mortal life snuffed out, Malcanthet – and indeed, all demonkind – would run dry without an influx of fresh souls to corrupt and torment, effectively collapsing the soul economy of not simply the Abyss, but of the lower planes, and indeed, the upper ones as well.
The Queen of Succubi resolved that this must not be allowed to come to pass. Caring nothing for those it would hurt or the sacrifices that would be required, sparing no expense to her self or the lives of those she would put in harm’s way, the Lady of Delights began to weave a web of intrigue that would one day fell the Prince of all Demonkind.
When the Gang of Five finally came to the rose-hued shores of Shendilavri, the Demon Queen of the Succubi decided to favor her pawns with a look at the whole of the board, believing that knowledge of their role would, at this late hour, convince them of the necessity of their success and better equip them to achieve it. Morever, Malcanthet observed, she hoped to make them mad, so mad that they would succeed out of spite, if needs be.
As they first arrived at her palace, the Demon Queen rebuffed them. Barging in to Malcanthet to ask amongst her followers if they would raise her hand against Demogorgon, her supposed ally, the Lady of Delights laughed them off, condemning them to a lifetime of slavery to her vassals with a wave of her well-manicured hand. As the helpless men were shackled and delivered to holding cells beneath the Palace of Miomanta, the hours of confinement that followed saw reality melting away before them, and the four men were reunited in a space-out-of-time, a dark pocket dimension where the men were forced to walk past a series of scenes, like three-dimensional scale models of their adventures That Could Have Been; a reflection of them and their actions parallel, but rearranged into villainous and greedy reflections.
Having no choice but to face these grim dioramas, Dorian, Othar, Kizziar, and Traxen proceeded to walk the path laid out before them:
The Thirteen Scenes:
The First Scene: The four founding members of the Gang of Five arrive at Vanderboren Manor for the first time, and meet the Jade Ravens. Traxen socks Tolin in the gut, a sneer on his face. Othar laughs as Liamae looks on, shocked. Dorian makes a rude gesture towards Zan. Kizziar holds a wary gun on Kaskus. Kora Whistlegap holds out a hand as if to stop Traxen, a look of scornful panic on her face.
The Second Scene: In the bowels of the Lotus Dragon Guildhall, Othar shakes hands with Rowyn Kellani. Churtle lays dead at Dorian’s feet, his knife dripping with blood. Traxen hefts a backpack full of loot and trophies as Kizziar fires a kill shot into Gut Tugger.
The Third Scene: The boys return to Vanderboren Manor from the Bay of Blood too late, and Lavinia and Kora sit still in their chairs, their throats slit. Othar and Dorian high-five over the slain bodies. Traxen is doubled over in laughter at the dead Bullywug priest, his head staved in mid-casting. Kizziar stands at the open window, angrily firing his gun at the fleeing Drevoraz. The Jade Ravens are not present.
The fourth Scene: On the deck of the Sea Wyvern, the boys have accepted Rowyn Kellani’s offer of an alliance and dispatched with Lavinia. Traxen forces Skald to walk the plank at sword point, the word “SPY” carved into his forehead. Dorian gropes a visibly uncomfortable Lirith as he laughs at the scene unfolding. Othar and Rowyn are turned from the scene, yelling at the crew as if threatening them. Kizziar stands with his gun pointed towards Amella, who is clearly outraged at what is transpiring. Avner stands behind Tavey, covering the boy’s eyes.
The Fifth Scene: On the shores if the Isle of Dread after the wreck of the Wyvern, Kizziar stands behind Avner, who is tied and blindfolded, on the sand near the wreckage, and points a gun at his head. The bodies of Amella, Tavey, Kif, and Banaby lie dead in the sand of apparent bullet wounds to the head, similarly bound and blindfolded. Rowyn and Dorian have bundled all of the remaining loot from the Sea Wyvern and count it in a pile as Traxen loads up Thunderstrike, Avner’s horse, with their supplies and ill-gotten loot. Othar cackles and sets swathes of the fire ablaze to clear a path into the island interior.
The Sixth Scene: The four men – never to be the Gang of Five, as Tobin was never recruited to join them, his wisdom and compassion never touching their lives – stand at the harbor of Farshore as the Crimson Fleet attack is repelled. Lefty, as well as many pirates and citizens of Farshore, bleed out in the sand. Among them are Hevrik Aldwattle, and a dozen women and children who burned to death in both the church and the warehouse. Manthalay shakes Traxen’s hand as Dorian and Othar scavenge valuables from the dead, pirate and peasant alike. Kizziar snatches at Ruby, the Weaver, who cries and struggles to get away. Rowyn stands to the sidelines, looking smug.
The Seventh Scene: Othar launches a volley of fireballs into the Olman town of Tanaroa as scores of Olman run, terrified. Traxen and Kizziar are actively engaged in slaughtering Olman who dare to fight back. Dorian stands over Matron Itzam-Ye, who pleads up at him. Upon Manthalay’s advice, the four men put the Olman to the sword and secure the Isle.
The Eighth Scene: At the second Crimson Fleet assault on Farshore, Vanthus lays dead, surrounded by scores of pirates and the invading force of the Crimson Fleet. Scores of Olman and Farshore citizens lay dead, and the Olman who remain are in chains. Manthalay lays dead, Traxen laughing, having openly stabbed him in the back with the forces of the Fleet routed. Dorian is midway through slitting the throat of a battle-wounded Rowyn, taking the opportunity to turn on their other “boss”. Kizziar grabs at a frightened Ruby, who struggles to get away as Othar watches the Farshore chapel burn, a look of satisfaction on his face.
The Ninth Scene: Back in Sasserine, at the Golden Hind, Dorian stabs Moxie in the stomach as members of the Black Roses look on in horror, the mantle of the Dawn Council around his shoulders.
Meanwhile, Othar, wearing the mantle of the Dawn Council, redecorates Vanderboren Manor to his tastes as Olman slaves mill about under the lash of an ugly taskmaster.
Traxen wrangles the assorted vault keys from the dead hand of Worrin Lidu, his blade fresh with blood. He wears the tabard of a member of the Dawn Council.
Mr. Dakka hangs from a rafter, dead by his own hand, as Kizziar, laughing, smashes a display case full of expensive weapons. He, too, wears garments distinguishing himself as a member of the Dawn Council.
The Tenth Scene: Kedward Bone is frozen in his death rattle as Othar, now showing distinctive indications of red dragon heritage, runs him through with a buffet of magic missiles. Kizziar, now missing an eye, drinks from one of the bottles in the wizard’s meeting room as he absently flips through a book. Dorian tugs at a chain, on the other end of which is a subservient, leather-clad Liamae. Traxen stands to the side, looking imposing in a suit of fine armor and Crimson Fleet captain’s gear.
The Eleventh Scene: Death Knight Vanthus dies, panicking as he is consumed by shadows that appear to be under Othar’s command. In the distance, the awoken magma dragon rains down death upon the combined forces of Kululblax, S’Sharra, Lillianth, Saureya, and Orgosh. Dorian finishes off Lynnara, frozen halfway between her façade as Nurt Bilgeflower and her actual self. Traxen, covered in blood, has a look of maniacal glee on his face, and it is clear he is in rage. Kizziar barks an order at the demons from the balcony, who appear obsequious to his commands.
The Twelfth Scene: Within the walls of Malcanthet’s palace at Shendilavri, Dorian presents a battered Shami-Amourae to the Demon Queen, who appears delighted. Othar appears now to be some ultra-charismatic hybrid of red dragon and human, and he takes advantage of a slave of the court to the side. Traxen appears to be a sentient undead, his body swirling with a miasma of tortured souls. Kizziar, dark and sinister, kneels before Malcanthet, his face not visible.
The Thirteenth Scene: On the shores of Wat Dagon, Demogorgon lies dead, defeated by the party. Iggwilv, in the distance, looks on approvingly as dozens of dead – several of them Olman, citizens of Farshore, and those few left alive whom they knew, including Vincent Marcos, several Black Roses, etc – are dead, torn in half or bitten through, around them. Kizziar, Traxen, Othar, and Dorian fight over a crown made of roiling, black energy.
As Othar reached out for the crown, the house lights came up, and the Gang of Five – not the monstrous obscenities they saw on stage – found themselves putting on a show for an audience of one, containing only the Demon Queen.
While the men were all stunned, it was Dorian who first made the connection, venturing to ask the Queen if she was the one whom Olangru had said they “smelled like” nearly a year before. With a snakelike smile, Malcanthet coolly told them the truth:
“You bear my scent because you have adorned yourself with it, poppets. You splash it on when you need my aid. You use my tools, tools which I created just for you, and you wield them to victory in my service. You are my pieces, selected before you were born – in truth, born because I had need of you – to be soldiers in the final act of a war that has been fought in the shadows for a thousand years. I have created you, guided you, lead you, empowered you, advised you, and informed you every step of the way, so that you may fulfill the purpose I have put before you.
“So yes, Dorian, I suppose that I must be the one you ‘smell of’.”
Met with equal parts disbelief, shock, and anger, the Demon Queen went on to explain her goal, the one they had already dutifully adopted, and the extent to which she helped them to arrive at a position where they might succeed, starting with a personal address to each man wherein she elaborated on the special tool she had given them for the job:
“Kizziar: you cannot have known that the weapon you hold is older even than the Kaidan engineering discoveries that made such weapons possible.
“An adventurer – a man named Murlynd – brought the first of these weapons to our world over seven hundred years ago, from a world parallel to our own, but very different. There is no magic there, and the primitive people who dwell upon that benighted plane developed means of eradicating each other that even Demogorgon, for all his rage and bluster, would blush to behold.
“Murlynd, of course, was as insufferable and incorruptible a man as ever walked the planes, and for many years, he shared his knowledge only with a few souls whom he deemed honorable, responsible enough to not abuse their power. Hundreds of years passed, and one of these select few, a half-fiend paladin – a race traitor, like your companion – named Saint Gaius, breathed his last on the shores of Kaidan. It was from the breaking down and reconstructing of that man’s weapon that all guns trace their lineage.
“All, except yours. Murlynd, you see, while immune even to my charms, had the same weakness that all truly good men have: a love in their breast for their spawn. It was his son, Demetrius, that was the lone exception to his rigorous vetting of candidates to show his art. It was his son, Demetrius, who was the most morally weak of those so instructed. It was his son, Demetrius, who fell, swayed by the ministrations of my daughter, Tyralandi. And it was his son, Demetrius, who forged…this”, she holds up the weapon, suddenly vanishing from Kizziar’s grasp. “For you.”
“The Fourth Horseman’s Forge“, she continued, “designed and crafted by a fallen Paladin, forged from Abyssal iron made molten by the heat of angel’s blood, cooled in the waters of the Styx. To ensure that neither Heaven, nor Hell, nor anything in between could stand in your way.
“You no doubt noticed the markings on the bullets: each the seal of a demon, daemon, devil, deva, archon, eladrin, inevitable: each representative of a target intended. A bullet with someone’s name on it.” She twisted the cylinder, and seemed almost to unfold something from within the chamber, a barrel that secured into a gilt frame. The weapon resembled something pure and menacing, the primal expression of ‘gun’. She threw the weapon back to the gunman. “You are Kizziar, son of Stone, wielder of the Fourth Horseman’s Forge, and the might of your irons lays low even those whom the gods call their own.”
“Othar: you probably thought that the rod I gave you is what lent you such power. The truth is rather the opposite. The iron coils that you hold in your hand when you call upon my power are the only thing keeping the power inside them restrained. And the only thing keeping that power from consuming you in a torrent of arcane power that consumes you like flame to butterfly’s wings.
“Under my palace in Shudderwall is a fault in the ever-expanding plates that comprise the Abyss, sitting atop a line of ley energy that runs through the planes. In that canyon of swirling gale-force currents, the laws that hold reality together disintegrate, scattered like sand in the wind. If you could survive there – and you could not – the casting of a cantrip could tear your fragile, mortal shell asunder with the force of its birth screams.
“It took centuries, and more spells than you will cast if you see a thousand years, to seize and harness a portion of that energy. It was not enough. My children died by the hundreds as the natural magical energies inside them burst them like ripe fruit. And yet. In the end, I managed to enclose a small square of it – three inches high, one inch wide, one inch deep – in an envelope of antimagic woven from the very stuff of the Plane of Shadow, a gate through which it could pour unimpeded into this world.
“This, too, was not enough. I had captured a portion of it that could fit in my hand…and tear apart anything it touched in an explosion of violent magical dissonance. In order to be wielded, it would need to be imprisoned. This rod…”, she gestured with it, now in her hand, “is such a prison.
“Crafted from the iron bands that have bound and imprisoned demon lords, what you hold is the cage that keeps the arcane fury of terrible nature at bay. And through the miniscule imperfections and weaknesses in that cage, you channel that awesome power through yourself and into the magic you weave.” With an uncharacteristically rough motion, she clutched the rod and smashes it into her throne with a force that the assembled men could feel in your feet from where they stood. The metal was heard to split and rupture…but not break. And when Othar looked upon it anew, the pale, magical light that shined forth from the fissures in the iron cut lines of light throughout the room. With an approving nod towards the now compromised stack of bands, the Demon Queen rolled it towards the sorcerer, the thing stopping fast as it touched his toe.
“Magic is your plaything, Othar Torr, The Dragon, keeper of the Ley Fault. May the might of your arcane power consume those who oppose you.”
“Traxen: the breastplate you hold depicts a lone man standing against the world. A single soul, defiant against all those who would stand against him, be they men, beasts, monsters, or the forces of the planes. That man is you, Traxen Cadrel, and as your enemies grow stronger and greater in number, you ever shall rise to the occasion, defiant, prepared to destroy all who stand in your path.
“You are a forthright, direct man. I will not bore you with a history lesson. The blue mithral that your breastplate is comprised of was taken from the crowns of sixty generations of Olman kings and infused with the blood of sixty generations of their bravest warriors as they died in the arenas.” Traxen found himself, without realizing it, standing directly before the Demon Queen, close enough that she could reach out and touch the mosaic across his chest with a languid, seductive brush of her hand. Traxen watched as the mosaic on his chest spread out, the details filling in, the engraving becoming finer, until he saw himself, standing atop a craggy tor. Spreading out before him, across a vast and endless and stygian expanse, waited every opponent, every creature, every thing that crawls in the dark, waiting for him. And yet, he stood tall.
“The Revengencer’s Aegis”, she whispered to him, almost tenderly, “will ensure you suffer no insult twice. Go, now, Traxen Cadrel, Furious Blade, holder of the Revengencer’s Aegis. Cut down all that stands in your path. Conquer all your gaze rests upon.”
“Dorian: you were right to claim the knife from the tiny hands of Tegan Kellani when you did. No doubt it ‘spoke to you’; but that’s no turn of phrase. ‘Speak to you’ is exactly what the imprisoned soul of a succubus does, since that’s exactly what I told her to do when I put her in there.
“The shape of the piece, you see”, she fingered the handle of the knife like she was pleasuring herself, “is more than decoration; it is representation. Six-hundred and sixty-six succubi bled into the powdered crystal and clay that make up its form, compressed into shape with the hammer and anvil of Gunnarkrigg, the smith and fallen Paladin of Torag, and ground sharp on Demogorgon’s own teeth. And when it was done? I bound the soul of one of my most powerful general inside.” She smiles, and caressed the figurine that made up the blade’s handle. “My daughter, Jezebel.”
“Ever hungry, she has lent her might and her influence to you, just as she did to the youngest of the Kellani family. Jezebel hungers and lusts perpetually. Each time you thrust into an opponent, every time you feel warm blood run down your hand, you feed her, and as you’ve no doubt observed, you satisfy also yourself.” She smiled a wicked smile at Dorian. “I admired your ingenuity and perseverance in all the things you tried in your attempts to make her more receptive to your advances. And you were so close! It’s wasn’t enough merely to pleasure her, you see. Oh, but you tried so hard, and with each step you took towards the satiation of your lusts, you got a little bit closer to getting my daughter to give it all up for you.”
Malcanthet seemed as though to pull the knife from between her thighs as she shifted in her seat, speaking some words into the figurine’s ear, and she then took it in both hands, manipulating it. It seemed to come alive in her grip, moving and writhing like a diminutive demoness. The look on the tiny figure’s face contorted into one of pained ecstasy, the arch of her back becoming more pronounced, her curves becoming softer, until she finally froze in a form that appeared to be altogether more sensual in appearance and more comfortable in the hand. Dorian realized that during this display, he too had been inching his way closer and closer to the demon queen’s throne for an increasingly better look, and it was only now, as he could feel her hot breath on his neck, that he realized how close he’d come. She gently slid the blade into his belt, letting her hands linger on his body for an agonizing amount of time.
“Jezebel, the Ecstasy Configuration”, she whispered to him. “May your hungers never be sated, your desires ever greater. Take her, Dorian Ridgetide, Golden Son of the Abyss, Rake at the Gates of Hell, and take as you please that which you desire.”
The men of the Gang of Five were revolted and enraged to hear Malcanthet’s confession, that the Queen of Succubi had been manipulating them since their adventures began. But the implication of her description of the tools she had given to them indicated so much more, confirming that her intervention in these events went back hundreds of years. Incensed, Dorian and Othar pressed the question, demanding to know what else the Demon Queen had done to manipulate the turn of events to her choosing. She happily obliged them:
Things Malcanthet Plotted:
- Sent Tyralandi to Sasserine twenty years earlier to sell the Shendilavrian perfume to Heldrath Kellani, knowing eventually that Rowyn would take it, where it would fall into the hands of the Gang of Five in time. While there, she sired a daughter with a gnomish whore.
- Once Tyralandi returned to Scuttlecove, she was instructed to save a pirate named Virgil from the Plaza of Hanging Ruin so that he would later take part in the siege on Farshore, survive it, and enable the Gang of Five to defeat the Crimson Fleet.
- Malcanthet seduced Noltus Innersol in the guise of Sarenrae, thereby setting in motion Skald’s downfall and eventual alliance with the party, as well as spurring the investigation of Thanaclan and the shutting down of shadow pearl production.
- Selected Lavinia after Demogorgon chose Vanthus, and then used her to call the party together and form them into a cohesive group.
- Sent Tyralandi to Sasserine to give the Ecstacy Configuration to Tegan Kellani, and to guide and aid her in hatching her plot to kill so that it would attract the attention of the Gang of Five, thus allowing it to fall into Dorian’s hands.
- Sent her varrangoin minion, Camazotz, to the Shrine of Zotzilaha to steal his idol, and then to Tamoachan to place it in the ruins, knowing full well he would become trapped there, leaving the Ley Fault to be found and collected by Othar.
- Entrusted the Fourth Horseman’s Forge into the hands of a Scarlet Brotherhood captain who, in a drunken stupor, allowed the ship to drift into Journey’s End, itself a creation of Demogorgon used to snare Cold Captain Wyther centuries earlier, then forced the Sea Wyvern to run aground at Journey’s End.
- Caused the wreck of the Sea Wyvern by sending the storm that ran them aground and killed all her passengers and crew.
- Fed lies to Demogorgon so as to cause Olangru to lose favor and be forced to flee Thanaclan, taking the Revengencer’s Aegis with him. Desecrated the ground to create Fogmire, knowing Olangru would establish himself nearby.
- Used a low-level proxy to sell a false “treasure map” to Urol Forol, navigator for the trip to the Isle, which would force her puppets to investigate the grounds and locate the bat idol stolen from the shrine, thereby allowing the Gang to both forge a much-needed alliance with the Olman and to acquire the Fang of Zotzilaha, which the Demon Queen knew would provide a valuable bargaining chip in brokering with Ahazu for Shami-Amourae’s freedom.
Malcanthet also shared what she knew of the Prince of Demons’ plot and the motives behind it:
Things Malcanthet Knows:
- That the Olman came to this plane over two thousand years ago, from another reality. Demogorgon saw in them a fine opportunity to capitalize in their belief in their gods to infiltrate Thanaclan, their great city, from within. Demogorgon used the Olman war with the aboleth to establish Tlaloc’s Tear so that he could seize and use both Thanaclan and Golismorga to create shadow pearls.
- Demogorgon chose his champion in Vanthus when he was very young and working on his uncle’s plantation. She knows about Vanthus’ deal with General Ghorvash, and it was for this that she selected Lavinia as her pawn shortly thereafter.
- Knows of Demogorgon’s ultimate plan, as well as his weakness, but remains confident that it has a chance of working, and if it doesn’t, she believes Aameul will use the chaos to succeed at his plan. She knows that Aameul thinks he has discovered a way to capitalize on the Savage Tide for his own ends, and that no matter who is right, everyone in the Abyss will lose.
With these revelations unboxed and laid out for the boys, their reactions came in varied shades of red: while Kizziar and Traxen seemed simply to accept the reality of the situation, that they were pawns in a demonic political struggle on which the fate of everyone they loved hinged, and that, regardless of the circumstances, they were the ones who were chosen to be agents of rescue for the entire world. Neither were especially happy about being so plotted against, but the lives of all their friends and family were more important. Othar was angry, rejecting the fact that another had forced or held power over him, but, he, too, acknowledged the gravity of the task before them. Dorian, most of all, felt violated and sick, especially as he came to the astute observation that he, too, was nineteen years old and did not know his father, leading him to believe that he may be half-siblings with his current lover, and on a greater scale, revolted and horrified to learn of this treachery, to the extent that hatred of the Queen of Demons became primary in his heart, greater even than that of his desire to stop Demogorgon’s plans.
Unapologetically, Malcanthet summed up her involvement; "I’ve arranged all these events because Demogorgon must not succeed, and I do not care how much pain it causes you, how much you must sacrifice, who gets hurt, whether your friends and loved ones are beaten, raped, killed, or flayed alive because of this; all of demonkind and all of your piddling, delectable mortal ilk demand you succeed, and to succeed, you will dance to the fucking tune I have composed for you.