Saturday, May 1, 2021

Endgame: Take Care Of Yourself


"A little warning would have been nice!" Faust exclaimed once brought back to consciousness and his situational awareness returned.

"I'm sorry," Rylee began, "but it's not like I knew drawing the sword would lead to the citadel exploding!"

"About that," Sissy started, "what exactly happened?"

"We...have a lot to unpack," Seliph replied, before launching into an explanation of everything that went down while the two of them were outside the citadel.

"Oh, right, Rylee," Kalista broke in, "do you remember everything?"

"Of course, as far as I know I haven't forgotten anything," Rylee responded.

"But...but are you on our side?" Kalista continued.

"Why wouldn't I be?" Rylee asked.

"It's just...hard to tell, I guess," Kalista offered.

After a brief moment of quiet, Rylee then said, "We should probably go. That explosion will have drawn some attention towards us."

"Yeah," Seliph agreed, "we've got a long way back to Elturel. Do we know how much Zariel was delayed by when we sent our distraction?" Seliph then asked Olanthius.

"Can't say," he admitted, "but we don't have much time. Less than a day, for sure."

Travel back to Elturel took a few hours, but once the great city came into view, there was a much bigger problem at hand.

The city, formerly suspended hundreds of feet above the surface of Avernus, was now floating feet above the River Styx. Another few hours and it would be completely submerged, damning all within the city to a swift end, only to be brought back as devils in service to Zariel.

This was bad enough, but there was one more detail that came into view.

Legions of demons and devils were locked in a fierce battle surrounding the city, with Zariel, as Lulu observed, "right in the thickest, most dangerous part of the battle, like always."

In case that wasn't enough, the party caught sight of a nightmare flying down from the sky at breakneck speed, carrying a figure the party instantly recognized as Advocati.

The party all slowly turned to face Faust.

"What? It isn't as if the angels were offering us any better alternative."

Seliph rolled his eyes and pulled over, and the party climbed to the roof to speak with Advocati.

"Thank you for agreeing to meet me so quickly. I've been hard at work undermining Zariel, and I'm still absolutely thrilled you guys agreed to let me take over this place once Zariel is out of the picture. I can't begin to thank Faust and Sissy enough." Faust's quick shift between confusion and anger seemed to be the exact reaction Advocati was hoping for.

"Now now, I'm here to make things easy for you. Like I said, I've been undermining Zariel, and to do that I've spoken at length with a lot of her, shall we say, less enthusiastic soldiers, and they've agreed to step aside and let you through, but only if you show them this." He then flipped a red coin towards Faust.

A red soul coin.

Faust, trying to keep his cool, merely asked, "And whose soul is in this coin?"

Advocati chuckled, then responded, "What makes you think I know or care about that?"

"What's so special about this coin then?" Kalista demanded.

"Why, it's red. Show this to any fiends you run into in that field. The ones who are out of the loop will probably just ignore you, but the ones who are in the loop will specifically get out of your way. The demons...however..."

Rylee quickly responded, "The demons, however, will be no problem for us."

"Precisely. Love the confidence and the new look, Rylee," Advocati added with a wink.

"Don't think you're suddenly in my good graces. I could and still might end you without second thought."

This response was...not what the rest of the party was expecting, but Advocati just smiled. "Either way, I've done what I could. Now, go work your magic."

"Sincerely though, thank you," Rylee said. "We hope to end this now."

Advocati bade the party farewell, then mounted his nightmare and flew off. Where? I dunno, out of the plot for the rest of the story though.

With their goal in sight, the party slowly made their way through the battlefield towards Zariel's location, being interrupted a few times for direct combat or, in a few cases, avoiding magical explosions nearby.

At this point, Zariel was levitating above the battlefield, her attention drawn to what the party was up to. While three people in the party were capable of modest levitation or flight (some more than others), getting up there and maintaining that height could be difficult. To that end, Lulu finally transformed into her true, giant golden mammoth form, offering to lift those who were incapable of flight to Zariel's location.

As the party closed in on Zariel's location, Seliph shouted her name at the top of his lungs. She was watching the party close in on her, so it wasn't to get her attention. It was a show of defiance.

"Zariel," he repeated, once they were within a decent range to speak. "It's time to end this."

"You all came back. brought Lulu, the sword, Olanthius. What's this all about?"

"Rylee," Lulu began, "present the sword to Zariel. That's the only way to break this."

Indeed, Rylee noticed that the sword seemed almost magnetically attracted to Zariel. Thus, she let it go, saying, "Come, Lady Zariel. This isn't the real you. You have a mission to fulfill. Let us leave this place. Come home."

Seliph added, "We know about what happened in Idyllglen. What happened afterwards. All of it. But we also know that you don't have to do this anymore."

The sword landed in Zariel's hand, and she began to scream in pain as the sword seemed to burn her on contact.

And as much as I want to say she pushed through the pain, let it change her back into her original form, and we all got the happy ending we wanted and worked so hard for, the truth is...I can't. Sometimes, you can do everything within your power in the most proper way you can find, and due to the agency of others, it just doesn't work. Sometimes, like in this case, the dice have other plans.

Snarling in pain, Zariel shouted, "With this final rite, I discharge my divine duty. Let my name be forever struck from the ledger of Mount Celestia." She then tightened her grip around the sword, crushing it.

"Now, I'll do the same to all of you fools who dared mock me!" Zariel shouted, readying herself for combat.

Seliph quickly leaned in close to Lulu's ear, saying, "Time for Plan B!" Even though neither one of them knew what Plan B was.

"Wait!" Rylee shouted. "Zariel, you made me a proposition. I serve you, you let my friends and the people of Elturel go. Is that still on the table?"

Zariel, taken aback, relaxed her stance and smirked. "Why, yes of course. I had wondered if you'd even remembered my proposition considering how quickly the five of you abandoned the one quest I gave you. It almost felt like our discussion didn't even happen. But yes, of course," she said, extending a hand. "My word is law. Agree to bow down and serve me, and your friends and Elturel can go back to the material plane."

"Rylee, stop!" Seliph began. "Don't do this!"

"Yes," Faust added, "you know this isn't going to work."

"Please," Rylee said, "it's the only way. Lulu, please take everyone to safety."

Lulu reacted in shock, asking, "Wait, who are all you people? What's going on?!"

You see, something terrible happens with Lulu if the party fails to persuade Zariel to turn, her mind breaks, and any number of trauma-related stuff can happen. Thankfully, she didn't faint, leading most of the party to fall to their deaths, but instead, her amnesia came back, and it came back strong.

"Don't worry, Lulu. I'll make sure you're safe. Just get everyone a decent distance away from here. Go!"

"Uhh, right!" Lulu then turned and shot in the direction of Elturel.

Seliph, however, was not taking this well. "RYLEE!!! IT'S NOT TOO LATE!"

Thing is, it was. Rylee took Zariel's extended hand, and could feel a fundamental change within her. That is, she became keenly aware of the pact her soul had just forged with Zariel, and her appearance began to shift to look more like Zariel, or, even more disturbingly, like the image of herself Rylee saw in the mirror not so long ago.


Seliph's shouting eventually lost all coherency as he broke into sobs.

Eventually Lulu landed on one of the broken streets of Elturel, frantically asking the party what was going on, to which Seliph muttered, "We...we're nobody. It doesn't matter. None of this matters anymore."

High above Elturel, Zariel and Rylee floated towards the Companion (brief reminder, the thing that was meant to help with their vampire problem but ended up being the very thing that dragged the city into Hell in the first place). Once there, Zariel handed Rylee the hammer she had previously been using in combat, saying, "It only makes sense that this be your first act in service to me. Just hit the Companion, and all will be returned to 'normal.'"

Rylee looked down at the city of Elturel. She thought she saw her friends looking back up at her, but at that distance it could have been anyone. A tear rolled down her cheek as she said, "My beloved friends...I'm sorry." Without another word, she destroyed the Companion.


A few days later, Faust found Seliph in a tavern sitting by himself staring at a full pint of whatever excuse for alcohol this particular barkeep had managed to scrounge together. The barkeep warned Faust that he'd been like that for days, ordering something to be polite but just sitting in silence, completely despondent.

"I don't get it. Man comes back as a hero, but the way he carries himself you'd think he was just another one of those undead that plagued the city in Avernus. He barely eats. Once it's time to close up shop, he pays his tab and leaves. I feel like I oughta say something because he might be scarin' off my regulars, but I can't bring myself to do it. A man with that look in his eyes...something's definitely wrong.

Faust nodded, but frowned. "I was hoping to have this taken care of before I set off for Candlekeep, but I suppose it can't be helped." Indeed, he and Kalista had decided to travel to Candlekeep together. Kalista was going to turn in her findings to Sylvira, and Faust...well...Faust had a lot of studying to do.

You see, once the party had arrived in Elturel and were clear of all the grateful citizens, Seliph...exploded. He grabbed the amulet he carried as a reminder of his oath as a paladin, that being the oath of redemption, tore it from around his neck, screamed, and threw it before breaking down into tears again. After composing himself, he said, "I need a drink," and quietly stood and left Faust, Sissy, Kalista, and Lulu unsure of what to do.

"Let's give him some time," Faust finally said. "In the meantime, what the hell are we supposed to do now?"

Kalista folded her arms. "I was hoping to get out of my pact before leaving Avernus, and unfortunately now, my clock is ticking. I'm going to need to start killing people..." the thought made Kalista sick.

Sissy also piped up, "Yeah, and I've got some stuff I've gotta figure out as well since I made that deal."

Faust then looked at Lulu, and then said, "Well, I suppose Candlekeep is as good a place to start as any. I never thought I'd be researching this for someone else." When the others looked at him, he clarified, "What? We all have things we want out of, and I'm most likely our best bet in finding the next step."

It was at this point that Kalista agreed to travel to Candlekeep with Faust and Lulu, who had forgotten everything. Mercifully, this included Zariel, so hopefully she would be able to find some semblance of peace in what remained of her life.

Figuring out which tavern Seliph was at wasn't difficult, it being one of the few buildings that wasn't completely destroyed. Faust wasn't sure if he'd get through to him, but he knew he had to try.

After explaining briefly all that Seliph was dealing with, Faust crossed over to Seliph's table and punched him right between the eyes.

In truth, this punch hurt Faust much more than it hurt Seliph, but Faust balled up his fist for another one.

"Just how long are you planning on keeping up this sorry performance?"

"What do you care?" Seliph muttered. "Zariel took everything from me. Even things I didn't realize I still had like my father. Besides, it's not like it matters. Rylee's gone."

"That was a quick change. Just a few days ago I seem to recall you swearing to take revenge on Zariel. Something about burning her entire kingdom to the ground. Was that all a bluff?"

"That was before it finally sank in that Rylee is gone. Gone and can't come back."

"She may not be. I'm going to Candlekeep to continue my research on oaths and pacts."

Seliph raised an eyebrow. "What's your game, here? I thought you and Rylee hated each other."

Faust glowered. "Oh, so the hero has a few private chats with her and suddenly he thinks he's the only one who can be upset at what happened?"

"That's not..." Seliph began before trailing off.

"We all want to try to get her back."

"But...why though? I thought you couldn't stand her."

Faust finally sat down next to Seliph. "You see, there is another thing I've kept from you. Rylee discovered my warlock pact quite a while before the rest of you did. At first I thought she was going to do something drastic about it, but she promised to keep it a secret from the rest of you, and she kept that promise. I'm not sure, but that action surprised me. I'm not accustomed to people actually following through with promises. I'll be honest, I grew a grudging respect for her. No no, you don't need to feel jealous or threatened or anything of the sort. I'm doing this because she is my friend."

"All this for a friend?"

"I don't have many of them." The implication was clear.

This is totally an embellishment of what happened based on Faust's player referencing a specific scene in the movie Tombstone, but I felt like throwing it in anyway because it does illustrate a way Faust changed throughout his journey.

Faust continued, "Look, I understand you need a little time. And I'd understand if you didn't want to join-"

"I do. Of course I do. I just...have some stuff I have to figure out first." Seliph cast a look at the amulet which had been returned to him by one of the city guard, who said he'd received it from an anonymous fan. "I'm not sure if my oaths as a paladin are really going to help me here. I...failed. And I don't know if I'll be able to succeed in the future."

"Take whatever time you need. You know where to find me." With that, Faust took his leave for Candlekeep.

What happens next? Who knows? There's definitely room for a sequel story, but for the purposes of the current campaign, this is the end.

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