Thursday, March 25, 2021

Part 18: Mirror, Mirror


"I'm waiting..." the Alhoon demanded. "It's not that hard. Give me your soul coins, and I leave you all alone. You don't have all day, and neither do I."

Kalista decided to try stalling for time by projecting her thoughts out to the Alhoon. "Sir, I know soul coins are hard to come by in this economy. However, we also need soul coins in order to survive. You may have half of our soul coins if you leave us alone."

A chuckle seemed to emanate from the Alhoon. "That's not my problem. It makes no difference to me if you live or die."

Thinking fast, Faust quickly added, "That may be true, but can you sustain the damage we can inflict upon you?"

The Alhoon took this as a challenge. "Fools, you think I'm alone?"

On this, the Alhoon's Demon Grinder's doors all opened and various creatures started pouring out. Seeing this, Rylee quickly looked at Seliph. "Sometimes violence is necessary for peace and survival, right?"

"You're asking me?"

"Just say yes so I don't have to worry about this later!"

"Uhh, right, yeah."

She asked this because she knew that the spell she was about to cast could do quite a bit of damage, but she rationalized it as okay since the Alhoon was definitely undead, and it was extremely likely its followers would be as well. Wasting no further time, she quickly summoned a Guardian of Faith to, if nothing else, provide cover for the rest of the party to get back into the Demon Grinder and make a quick getaway. Which was helpful since although the Alhoon could sense where the remaining party members were, I feel it important to note that they were still invisible and would be for a short time, depending on how long they took to take an action.

Anyway, Kalista first took initiative to sneak into the Demon Grinder, with Faust and Sissy following suit. Naturally, the sight of the top hatch opening and closing three times was somewhat startling to Seliph and Rylee, but when Kalista, Faust, and Sissy revealed themselves, they breathed a sigh of relief.

Without thinking, Seliph said, "Everybody strap in. We're out of here!"

And thus they were. Seliph quickly slammed on the gas, angling the Demon Grinder for a small gap between the other and the entrance of the small cave they were hiding in, though not before a few of the Alhoon's goons were struck down by the Guardian of Faith and the other Demon Grinder needed a mild push out of the way.

It didn't take long for the Alhoon's crew to get their own Demon Grinder up and running, and thus began another chase.

Much like the last couple chases, the enemy Demon Grinder's crew did what they could to try to do as much damage to the party's Grinder while the party was doing what they could to escape. Spells flew back and forth along with harpoons and wrecking balls, but the party's Grinder slowly began to pull ahead.

At this point, Kalista, Faust, and Sissy were on the roof, for navigational purposes (as nothing had been done about the smoke pouring out of the engine since the last session) as well as slinging spells at whatever of the Alhoon's crew that that they could hit. Just when it seemed like the party's Grinder was about to make its full escape, it...stopped, as if it had slammed into a wall. Because it had. Specifically a Wall of Force. Naturally, when an object in motion is forced to a sudden stop, those things that aren't strapped down might be flung all over the place, and naturally, while the lithe Kalista was able to keep her footing, the less athletic Faust and Sissy were thrown into the wall. The fact that neither lost consciousness is a bit of a miracle, honestly. are we gonna get out of this situation? Well, I'll explain what I wish I could say had happened first.

Krickendolt, having spent most of the fight obsessively defending his chicken, demanded that Seliph do something to fix the situation, to which Seliph responded, "There are a few weapons that are still functional. I want you and Rylee to get on them." He indicated the Alhoon floating outside the other Grinder, coming upon them. "I want every weapon we have firing on that guy. If we can take him down we're golden."

Seliph quickly threw the Demon Grinder and reverse, slamming on the gas, beginning a quick game of chicken with the Alhoon. Well, what would have been a game of chicken before Krickendolt smacked him out of the sky with the wrecking ball. Seliph said something about a home run or a grand slam, and the party rode off into the sunset.

Well, that's not what happened, but it sounds cool, right?

Instead, we more or less talked the Alhoon, who by this point was the only surviving member of his crew, into leaving us alone. Faust reiterated, "You might be able to kill one or two of us, but all five of us would do so much damage that, honestly, would it be worth it to you to try it?"

It would not, as death for an undead creature such as the Alhoon would be, as he put it, extremely awkward, specifically considering where he was and where he was likely to go after death. So, in the spirit of said awkwardness, he drove off into the sunset, leaving the party to quickly repair their own vehicle and get on the road.

Eventually, the party arrived at the obelisk that they were told about, or at least they were pretty sure that's what it was, as the obelisk was surrounded by eight pillars. In the middle of the eight pillars stood a man gesticulating wildly, spouting off the grossest of obscenities. The party glanced at one another. Surely, this crazy person wasn't the person they were supposed to be meeting, right?

"Are you going to come out here or are you just going to sit in your vehicle and stare at me?!" the man demanded, seeming to read their thoughts.

Naturally, the party was willing to put up with a lot of things but weren't all that willing to help someone being that rude to them for no real reason, but he pleaded with them to not leave him behind, saying that he had information on how to find the Bleeding Citadel, and he would give them that information if they helped him escape where he was, stating that he was pretty sure that he could escape if the party activated the pillars for him.

Rylee read his mind and discovered that he had absolutely no idea that this would work, and Seliph, sensing a trap, used his Divine Sense to...well...sense anything suspicious about the man. Well, as before, the man was not a man at all, but this time a demon, trapped there by the pit fiend Bel. At this revelation, the party was like, "Nope, we already released someone who was strung up by a big name fiend in Avernus and that got us into this mess, we can find someone else." Naturally, this didn't last long as the party knew for a fact that they were lost without any morsel of info they could get (to Rylee's chagrin in particular), and they agreed to help him out.

Basically, the pillars surrounding the obelisk were all tied to the eight schools of magic in the Forgotten Realms, and the demon thought that activating them and, through them, the obelisk, would set him free. Being trapped there for as long as he had, he was running out of ideas.

Well, needless to say it didn't work. As far as we know. Faust took his hand off his chosen pillar before the ritual was complete, but considering almost everyone was injured or suffered an adverse effect, it might not have really been worth the party's while.

The demon shrugged, stating that maybe a deal with Mephistopheles would help him out, but being a man of his word, he suggested that the party might find the next step in their quest at the Crypt of the Hellriders. Which sounded just peachy.

So, those adverse effects on the party? Well, one of them was that Rylee, who put her hand on the Transmutation pillar, had her skin turn blue for 24 hours. So...that was kind of awkward. the party went.

Along the way, Faust approached Seliph and Rylee with a request. Specifically, he wanted them to write their names in his book. He said that this was in case one of them should die, it would be a form of insurance.

He was more honest with Rylee, stating that Hadar might offer a solution (since well, she knew about the Hadar contract anyway).

Naturally both realized he was hiding something, so Seliph weaseled out of the conversation saying he'd think about it, and Rylee flat out said no, she wanted nothing to do with it.

So on the journey went in some mild awkwardness until Faust offered to take over the drive so Seliph could get some rest.

Things were actually going pretty smoothly until Faust, staring out into the distance, was startled back to reality by sudden thump against the windshield, as an imp had flown straight into it. Faust slowed the Demon Grinder down gently, so to not wake the rest of the party, and the imp made the gesture of removing a ring from a finger, obviously referring to Faust's ring.

Once Faust removed his ring, the imp immediately contacted him telepathically. "Finally! Listen, I need you to take a bit of a detour. Your employer wants to speak with you."

Faust cursed silently, then nodded. The imp left Faust with an image of a giant shard of ice that looked similar to an item Sissy was given earlier (that totally isn't meant to help her use ice magic against the usually ice-immune demons).

Great. Can't wait to see the man behind the man.

Following the imp's directions, Faust found the ice shard, also known as the Mirror of Mephistar. He quietly exited the Demon Grinder, taking extra care not to wake the rest of the party, and made his way over to the mirror.

Definitely seems a bit excessive--his thoughts, along with any sort of voluntary motion, suddenly stopped as he gazed into the mirror, where he saw his reflection, but something about it was just wrong. He looked haggard, his eyes lacked any sort of light. Suddenly, something pried into his mind, and he saw a vision of a large frozen fiend, whose face was occasionally thawed out just enough to talk by an imp pouring water over his icy prison.

"Mephistopheles," Faust muttered, not as a greeting or a question, just a statement of fact.

"Jerrod Anton Faust," the fiend began (okay, so the DM didn't have him actually first name Faust, but doesn't it just sound like something a king of Hell would do?), "You've mainly been corresponding with my agent Advocati, but it certainly is nice to finally meet you face-to-face, or as much as can be done without you coming all the way down here."

"I can see that you bypassed my ring," Faust noted, slightly changing the subject.

"You see, that's what I like about you, Faust, m'boy. You're intelligent. You're ambitious. I can use that, and to that end I have an opportunity for you to break your pact with Hadar."

"Let me guess, some sort of contract?" Faust responded smugly.

"But of course! You come down and serve Advocati, and through him, me, and you've got an eternity of power and arcane knowledge at your fingertips. All I require is that book of yours and half of your natural mortal lifespan, which given the way you've been living up to this point, you likely won't even notice it's gone."

"And what are your plans with the tome?" Faust asked.

"Same as yours. Increase my power. Which, naturally, would benefit you as a sort of trickle-down effect."

If Faust were capable of moving, he would have stroked his chin. "I almost want to give you the book to see just how you screw this up, as I bet it would backfire just as spectacularly for you as it has for me. But I will have to take some time to ponder on the proposition."

"If you must," Mephistopheles allowed, "but the clock is ticking, and the longer you spend in Avernus, the less likely it is that you'll leave."

With that, Faust found himself back in his body, again in control of his voluntary movement, and suddenly he found himself collapsing to the ground, vomiting.

Once he fully composed himself, he slowly made his way back into the Demon Grinder. However, in his distraction he woke Rylee's dog Yasha, who in turn woke the rest of the party.

Seliph groaned. "Rylee could'ja do something about that dog?"

"I'll try, why are we stopped?"

Faust, thinking quickly, threw out the first thing that came to his mind. "I...needed to take a bit of a private break."

"Maybe I'll take Yasha for a walk, that should calm her down."

DAMMIT! Faust cursed within his mind, knowing that there was no reasonable way he could prevent her from going outside without drawing attention. The best he could do is scramble to prevent anything from getting worse.

Well, naturally when Rylee saw the giant shard of ice, she had questions, but because she'd looked at said giant shard of ice, well...she was in for a ride.

You see, what Rylee saw inside the mirror was an image of herself if she decided to follow Zariel. Fallen. Dark. Corrupt.

Something bored into her mind, finding her fears the same way that it had done to Faust, and like Faust before her, she found herself face to face with Mephistopheles.

"Ahh, here we have a guest I wasn't expecting," Mephistopheles announced.

Curse that Faust, Rylee caught herself thinking.

"So I heard on the winds that you had a rather interesting conversation with Zariel. As well as that encounter you had with the Alhoon. Very interesting indeed. It seems your stay in Zariel's little corner of Hell has changed you quite a bit. Your precious vow of non-violence, so casually disregarded. Why, you've killed three beings since you've been here."

"I didn't kill the Alhoon's minions. They were already dead!"

"Oh, Rylee, Rylee, Rylee. The Alhoon was dead, but I assure you his thralls were not. They weren't even acting of their own accord. Doesn't that just tear you up inside?"

"I'm not proud of what I had to do, but I did it to protect my friends!"

"Pah, friends, whatever helps you sleep at night. My agent will be in contact with you soon enough."


"Advocati. He's got another task for you, and he should be able to help you."

"Task? Help? With what?"

"Help you kill devils, and if you mean to make a move against Zariel you're gonna need to kill many, many more than you already have. But I believe you could prove useful to me to get to Zariel."

"I will not be used as a pawn for someone's schemes!"

"You already are for your god. But all will sort itself out in time, and Advocati will be in touch."

Rylee...took this conversation significantly worse than Faust took his. In addition to the sickness, she collapsed to the ground with a thousand-yard stare, repeating the phrase, "I don't want to be that person."

Yasha, alarmed at her master's sudden worsening condition, rushed to the Demon Grinder, barking up a storm.

Without thinking, Seliph grabbed his sword and shield and dashed outside, with Faust close behind shouting, "Seliph! Whatever you do, do not look into the mirror!"

Dang it Faust, you of all people should know not to tell someone not to look at something if they're not even aware it's there.

So Seliph, like Faust and Rylee, found himself unable to move, gazing upon a corrupted image of himself, but once he noticed something probing his mind he immediately put up some resistance.

A voice rang out in his head...

Don't you want to speak with Mephistopheles?

Seliph recoiled, then redoubled his resistance.

No. I'm here to save my friend.

The voice seemed disappointed, but then responded, He has nothing to offer you at the moment anyway. But since I got a quick look at your fears, I think I'll just let you stand there motionless for a little while, unable to watch as your friend suffers. So long!

Seliph recoiled again. What? No, stop, you BASTARD!

It was only for one minute, but it seemed like an eternity before Seliph could finally move as Faust was trying to get Rylee to respond to literally anything.

Seliph looked the situation over quickly. "We need to leave. Now."

Faust looked at Seliph in disbelief. "What do you think I'm trying to do here?"

Seliph quickly scooped Rylee up into his arms. "I'll carry her. We need to put as much space between us and soon as possible."

Once Faust and Seliph got back on the Demon Grinder, Faust said, "No time to explain, someone drive. Seliph and I will do what we can to bring her back to reality."

Kalista quickly put herself in the driver's seat and started driving in the direction Faust gave her, and on the ride people tried everything they could think of. I-Spy. Faust playing the drum (that for some reason he had even though he didn't know how to play it). Seliph casting a spell to create food and water.

However, Rylee wouldn't come out of her funk, leading Faust to commit some...slightly more drastic actions.

As in, he slapped her.

"Get ahold of yourself. Every single one of us has done terrible things. None more than me. Unfortunately it's probably going to get worse before it gets better, so get ahold of yourself so we can move on."

Rylee looked back at Faust, a mix of rage and sadness in her eyes. "Have you ever not hit someone, Faust? Have you ever held it all in, no matter how much the other person deserved it? I have done things I promised, swore never to do. Maybe I'm not the same person anymore..." she trailed off, tears forming in her eyes.

Kalista responded first. "I think it's true that we aren't the same people we were when we came here. We've all done things we regret, or that we wish we hadn't."

Seliph added, "Of course we're not the same people. Change happens all the time whether we want it to or not. But that doesn't mean that you're stuck to a path you don't want to be on. There's always a way."

"Until you make a contract with an archfiend," Kalista muttered.

"Yeah...I've got nothing for you there," Seliph said, "but I'm sure something will turn up."

Rylee remained unconvinced. "Zariel...offered me a deal. While you were out of the room. She said that if I swore allegiance to her, she'd let everyone go. It would be so easy. I wonder if I made the wrong choice in saying no."

"Rylee," Seliph started, "you already know that it's not that simple. You making that decision would negatively affect each one of us." Images of this alternate timeline flashed in his mind, specifically how he'd be affected. Images of casting aside his oaths as a redemption paladin, of a one-man war against the forces of Hell itself, of suffering and death flooded his mind.

Faust added, "Zariel knows that too. She doesn't care about you or any of us. Her bargain with you would certainly be beneficial to her, damn the consequences for yourself or anyone associated with you. She approached you. You are in control. Don't forget that."

"I...need to be alone," Rylee said, finally.

"Honestly, I was about to step out onto the roof for some fresh air. At least, as fresh as this place has got, anyway," Seliph said. "Come with me? I'll give you some space."

"Yes...I'd like that."

It was brief and faint, but above the hellish atmosphere as well as the (literal) screaming from the engine, Rylee felt a connection with Eldath, that she was still loved, and that things were going to be okay.

Seliph noticed her slightly more relaxed posture and stated simply, "That's a relief."

At this point, Faust frantically leaped out onto the roof of the Demon Grinder. Gasping for breath, the only words he could manage to form were, "Sissy...warlock!"

Sissy popped up right behind him with another skeleton, replacing her other one that perished during the fighting. "Yeah, I' a thing."


Let's back up a few minutes. Faust had approached Sissy with condolences about her fallen skeleton.

"Oh, not to worry. I've got another one stowed away here somewhere. A couple, actually."

Faust's eyebrow twitched. "This is...very troubling behavior. Doesn't it bother you?"

"Not at all. It's kinda like an organ donor."


"Ah right, I should explain. You see, we don't have magic where I came from, so doctors use science to treat their patients."

"Yes, I'm familiar with science, what sort of scholar do you take me for?" Faust asked impatiently.

"So some people have it in writing that they permit the use of their surviving organs to be used for medicinal purposes when they die. Someone needs a new heart? Great! Someone just died whose heart can still be used!"

"I suppose that makes sense, though that does sort of beg the question about your magic, anyway."

"My friend helps me out. He came to me when I was scared and alone." She pointed at the bottle her patron, a genie, dwelled in.

The gears were already turning in Faust's head. "Ah, so this friend of's because of him that you can use magic?"

"Yeah. Also he helped me get rid of my dad."

"He...I beg your pardon?"

"My dad. He was a bastard. He needed to go. My friend helped me get rid of him."

"I...see..." Faust, panicking, then said, "I think I shall join Seliph and Rylee on the roof." His speech hastened. "Good luck with your skeleton friend byyyyyyyyyyyye!" and up the ladder he went.

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