Friday, February 12, 2021

Part 16: Twisting the Knife


After frantically restoring everyone to consciousness, Seliph quickly suggested the party retreat for now to better plan out their approach.

Kalista suggested, "Can we sleep in the car? I just...really need a nap."

"Yes, that's fine, let's put some distance between ourselves and this hill. That knight might come back and I don't wanna be here when he does."

Kalista then suggested, "What about Rylee?"

Indeed, Rylee was just sitting on the ground with the thousand-yard-stare, not really responding to anything.

"I'll...see what I can do. You guys go ahead. I'll try not to take too long."

Kalista quickly started back, "Okay, good luck! I'm going to bed." Well that was quick...was she...upset? Well, one fire at a time.

Faust stepped over to Seliph and clapped him on the shoulder. "Good luck, buddy." With that, he cast the guidance cantrip on Seliph in case he needed a little extra "help" in breaking Rylee out of her funk. Though to be honest, this was going to take a lot more than one roadside chat, as Seliph would soon find out.

Anyway, Faust himself was planning on eavesdropping, concealing himself about 30 feet away.

Seliph slowly approached where Rylee was seated, quietly sitting down near her. Neither of them spoke for quite a while before Seliph finally said, "I can't begin to understand what you're feeling right now. Still, in saving Lulu you did the right thing."

"That was the first time I have ever willingly hurt something."

"...Yeah, it's not a pleasant feeling for anybody involved."

"I made a vow. A vow I have been keeping since I was four years old."

Seliph nodded. "If you hadn't...if we hadn't acted, who knows what would have happened to Lulu?"

"I just never wanted to be responsible for another death for the rest of my life."

"What are you talking about?"

"My mother died in childbirth..."

"Ah, right, you mentioned that. I don't think it's fair for you to blame yourself for that."

"I have many siblings, and I took their mother from them. I took my father's wife from him. Of course he sent me off to the monastery. Why wouldn't he?"

"That's on him! You didn't make the choice to be born, especially under those circumstances. That sounds to me like your father is a selfish--I'm gonna stop myself there, I don't know your father and admittedly I'm projecting a bit considering my own abandonment issues, but I don't think it's fair for you or anyone else to blame you for what happened to your mother."

"What about my god and my vows?"

"I think she'd be willing to make an exception given the circumstances. But I can't say I don't understand where you're coming from. Remember our conversation with Kalista about where we're going after death? I was being sincere there. I don't know what's going to happen to me. I like to think I'm on the right path, or at least one of them, but that doesn't change the fact that I did a lot of terrible things under the employ of the Flaming Fist, and I don't know what that's gonna look like for any deity who gets stuck with determining my fate."

Rylee said nothing.

"That being said, it would look a lot worse if I just rolled over and gave up. I'm not saying there won't be mistakes in the future. I'm not even saying you'll never have to raise your hand in an act of violence ever again. But I'm willing to support you through this. We're not getting out of here unless we work together."

Rylee finally nodded.

It was around this point that Faust, having heard enough, began his trek back to the vehicle. Seliph and Rylee sat in silence for a few minutes, until Seliph finally said, "They're probably wondering what's taking us so long. Shall we get back?" He stood up and extended his hand to help Rylee stand, which Rylee accepted.

"Before we go back...would you be willing to hold onto this?" She timidly handed Seliph her staff. "It's the only thing my father gave me before he sent me away. I'd rather someone else keep it for a while until..." she trailed off.

"Of course. It's safe with me."

Once everyone was belted in and prepared for travel, Seliph just picked a random direction and started driving. Eventually the conversation turned to what to do next. Lulu suggested that there were two places that could be good leads a place where demons appeared and a place where they were destroyed (really detailed explanation, isn't it?). The party deliberated for a bit, landing on the place where demons appeared, suggesting that at the very least they wouldn't have to deal with fiends. Eventually, satisfied, Rylee decided to lie down on the floor and try to get some sleep.

Kalista thought about doing the same, or at least sleeping in her seat, but she had a request first: go back to the Wandering Emporium, as she wanted to see if she could speak with her sister again.

What happened next was a bit of a blur, but you know how on long drives something happens that might distract the driver, like an argument in the back seat or something? To be honest, I'm not sure what happened, but the DM had me roll a Perception check for Seliph while driving, which I did. Poorly.

Immediately my thought was, "$%@&. What did I just hit?"

Well...I didn't hit anything but...have you ever been driving, focused on the road ahead, not noticing that you have police lights flashing in your rearview mirror?


So that knight we fought last session? Well, there were two of them mounted on their spooky fire horses riding alongside us as we approached the Wandering Emporium. One, catching Seliph's eye, pointed at the Emporium, and the message was clear: Pull over.

"What do I do?" Seliph quickly asked the rest of the party. I don't know if we can run, and I sure as heck don't know if we can fight."

"Doesn't the Wandering Emporium forbid violence?" Kalista suggested.

"They are probably betting on that," Faust muttered.

"I...dammit, fine..." Seliph stammered, resigning himself to the nightmare to follow (no pun intended).

"The five of you are under arrest for freeing a prisoner, striking an officer, resisting arrest, and fleeing the scene of a crime," one of the knights, seemingly the senior of the two, announced to the party, still in their vehicle.

"Dang those warrants get out fast. Did the 'officer' we struck happen to mention that he attacked first?" Seliph demanded.

"If you're referring to Haruman, he has his own crimes that are currently under investigation, since he decided to take the law into his own hands. In the meantime, we're going to ask that you kindly submit to coming with us. Without the hollyphant," he added, nodding in the direction of Lulu.

"And if we refuse?" Faust asked.

"They continue to chase us across Avernus while we flounder about trying to accomplish our own goals."

"Seliph gets it," the knight said. One could imagine a smug grin under his helmet when he said it.

"I'm not even going to bother asking how you know that," Seliph muttered.

"Yes, it's obviously a trap," Faust agreed, before turning to the knight. "We'll go, but first I want it in writing that nothing will happen to us or Lulu for the duration of the trip."

"Fine, fine, whatever you need," the knight agreed.

The party was split across a number of nightmares on a flight path...somewhere...that ended up passing through the Astral Plane to arrive at the fortress of Zariel faster.

Yes, it looks like a big upside-down sword. Because why not.

The party was led into a chamber with the promise that Zariel would be with them shortly. Great, a villain that wants to make a big impression on the party by meeting them personally. What's she gonna do, descend from the top of the room in the name of symbolism due to her status as a fallen angel?

Descending from the top of the room like an angel was the form of Zariel, fallen angel and archduke of Avernus.
I was joking, dang it!

She quickly dispensed with the formalities demanding why the party was in Avernus causing the trouble they were. Faust quickly explained that they were there investigating the disappearance of the city of Elturel, in hopes of returning it to its rightful place.

"And how did you get here?"

"We were sent here by Sylvira along with Lu-" Kalista began before Faust elbowed her in the side.

"Excuse me, what was that you were about to say?" Zariel asked.

"Some elephant thing named Lulu," Faust added.

"Yeah, she said she knows you," Seliph continued.

"Let me get this straight. You brought Lulu here?"

"Well..." Seliph began. "Not exactly."

"It's more accurate to say she was forced upon us," Faust agreed.

"Nothing but suffering awaits her here," Zariel said, looking off into the distance.

Some time passed before Seliph finally said, "Look, we only know a little of the story and you and I both know Lulu isn't exactly the most reliable narrator. Did something happen between the two of you?"

"No," Zariel responded. "She has nothing to do with this. I'd rather her not be here at all but I suppose it's too late for that."

Seliph folded his arms. "Look, I don't want to presume to tell an archdevil what to do..."

"Tread carefully, aasimar," Zariel threatened.

"But...she has nothing but positive things to say about you. She's gone to bat for you constantly when nobody else was. I guess I find myself jealous of that sort of loyalty. I hate to see it go to nothing. If you want to tell her never to come back to this place, I'd ask you to do it yourself. She deserves to hear it from you."

Zariel sat in silence for a while before changing the subject.

"What did Elturel ever do for you? It seems your life has had no end of torment since you got involved with that city," Zariel offered.

"I'm beginning to wonder that myself," Faust admitted.

"We're here for all those innocent people who are here against their will!" Rylee shot back.

"You can have Kreeg though," Kalista said. "He sucks."

"And why would I agree to that? You haven't offered anything I want."

"True," Seliph agreed. "What would you want?"

"There is one tiny favor you could do for me. A trifle really. In addition to that shield you carry."

The shield bit was important as the demon trapped inside was trapped there by Zariel herself, and lest he get out and start causing trouble for her, she wanted him gone.

Kids, whenever a devil says something like this, you better make sure you have a good lawyer present, because odds are it's going to be something grossly to your detriment.

Zariel continued. "I'm sure you've noticed the little demon infestation my lands have been having lately. Now, I don't mean to imply that I don't have the situation under control--" insert snark from myself or Seliph which was promptly ignored "--but the truth is any help would be greatly appreciated, so I'm going to ask your assistance in hunting down a couple demons for me: Baphomet or Yeenoghu. Preferably both, but if you can at least kill one of them for me and bring proof, I'll let you go, along with the city of Elturel and the Companion that floats above it."

A thick silence hung in the air before Seliph spoke up.

"Those are some big names. That hardly seems like a 'trifle.' What makes you think we can succeed, and what if we don't?"

"Pah, you think that matters for me? Under these conditions I lose nothing! Either you fail and you're one less headache for me, or you succeed and they're one less headache for me!"

"Fine. We'll do it." Seliph relented.

"Wait!" Faust broke in. "We do nothing without a written, formal agreement."

Kids, this is why you should have a lawyer present in these cases. Thankfully Faust is close enough.

"Of course! Go on outside and speak with the knights present, and they'll help you draw up the contract. Oh, before you go, though, Rylee, would you mind staying here for a bit? There's something I'd like to talk to you about specifically."

Naturally...everyone in the chat's reaction was...

Maybe a little...

Possibly a little...

Okay I'm done. Seriously though, this isn't a good sign, as we're about to see.

Anyway, the party exited the room with the door shutting behind them, and Zariel immediately launched into her pitch.

"I know we've already made an agreement, but I can sense some trepidation on your part, so I'm going to offer you a special, easier solution. Bow down and serve me, and all these problems will go away."

Without missing a beat, Rylee fired back. "I already have a god whom I love very much."

"Yes, and what has that love gotten you? In your time of greatest need, you and all your friends nearly died. Where was your god then?"

"We're still alive, aren't we?"

"Yes, but who knows when your miracles will be gone for good? Just...think on this for a while, you don't need to give me your answer immediately." With that, Zariel ascended back to where she was, leaving the door closed for a while. Jerk.

While that small conversation was going on, Faust was rather loudly debating with the knight over what should go into the contract. Once things were drawn up, the knight asked if there was one more request.

Sensing that there was an unspoken wish, the knight reached out to Faust telepathically. "There's clearly something you don't wish to vocalize in front of your comrades. What is it?"

Faust quickly explained his situation with his current contracts, the breaking of which was something the knight said was out of the question for this sort of work.

The conversation was quickly brought to an end by Rylee screaming and throwing the Shield of the Forbidden Lord at the floor of the now open audience chamber. She quickly joined the rest of the party, signed the contract after everyone else finished, and said, "Let's go. I wish to leave now."

"Oh, you can leave shortly, but there's one more surprise we have for Seliph."

At this point the curiosity got to him. "Okay," Seliph began. "How do you know who I am? How long have you been keeping tabs on us?"

"Oh, just since the incident with Haruman, but..."

"Don't tell me you know Seliph," Kalista said.

"But of course. What would I be if I didn't recognize my own nephew?"

"Wait...nephew? I...guess I didn't know my father had any siblings," Seliph admitted.

"You didn't know him that well, to be sure. Would you like to meet him?"

"He's here? But I thought-"

"Oh let me guess, 'But my daddy is a good man, he wouldn't be in service to a devil, wah wah wah,' does that sound right?"

"That's...a terrible impression of me..." Seliph said, not making eye contact.

"Well, regardless, you're right. He betrayed Zariel at the time when she needed him the most, so now instead he's her prisoner, and thus shall he be until he finally agrees to serve her again."

Rylee noticed Seliph's attempt at concealing his thoughts behind a poker face and decided to try to detect his thoughts to see his headspace. Well...

Rylee quickly terminated the connection to avoid the headache, then offered, "Would it help if someone went with you?"

"I...yeah...that would be great." Seliph offered.

Kalista then added, "I'll come too!"

Seliph quickly scrambled for a response, already feeling bad for any possible mixed messages he'd sent before. "That's great, I appreciate that, but maybe Faust needs you to help with the contract? Yeah, that's it!"

Naturally nobody was happy with this suggestion, but in my defense, I've never had to reject anyone before! I've always been an awkward nerdy guy, so forgive me for not knowing what it's like to have a suitor you'd rather not deal with, let alone not knowing how to deal with them, and it's even worse when you're trying to roleplay the scenario. It's definitely not an experience I've had to deal with, and I can really empathize with just kinda wishing you didn't have to deal with the situation. So...there's that. Color me a more knowledgeable person.

Anyway, this is where we called the session, and boy...I'm worried about what's coming next. Things have to start getting better at some point, right?

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