Part the ninth: Wherein a great deal is learnt and the party loses a member

They climbed up out of the sewer to a midday sun, the streets alive with people going about their business, no one looked twice at a group of heavily armed adventurers crawling out a sewer manhole, maybe it was a common event in Iriaebor. Deciding that they should return to the Black Boar in order to get their thoughts together and come up with a plan. Getting hold of Zulik wouldn't be a problem, the Gith was clearly well known, at least to the staff of the Wandering Wyvern, he was hard to miss after all. The question of what exactly they had in their little bag of holding needed to be answered - the possibility of considerable jink or even some magic was hard to ignore, but it was always better to bargain from a position of strength rather than ignorance.
As they continued towards the Black Boar Shadow Flames train of thought was interrupted by a voice seemingly coming from nowhere, speaking directly to his mind.
"Greetings to you Shadow Flame," the voice said. There was nothing remarkable about it apart from a weak accent that Shadow Flame couldn't quite place. He quickly looked around to see if anything or anyone seemed out of place, but in the busy streets of Iriaebor it was difficult to notice anything out of place or otherwise.
"Who is this? What do you want?" he thought, avoiding speaking out loud although that was his first instinct.
"Do not be alarmed, I do not mean you any harm. In fact, quite the opposite," the voice continued. "You have in your possession an item of great interest to me and I would meet with you to discuss the possibility of acquiring it from you."
"That's all well and good, but you did not answer my questions. I won't even consider anything you have to say until I know who I am dealing with and about what." He was not in the mood for secrets or veiled words.
"My apologies. My name is Ignatius Vallior, and I represent the Readers of the Scroll, a chapter house of the Black Cult of Ahm based in Sigil. I am very much interested in meeting with you to discuss a possible agreement for acquiring the scroll you have only just liberated."
"And how would you know we have this scroll?" asked Shadow Flame, not giving any outward indication that this conversation was taking place.
"I have my means. But really, can we organise a meeting, it will of course be much easier to discuss things face to face. You can name the time and the location and you can set the circumstances to suit you as you choose. I will come alone," offered Ignatius.
"I will have to discuss this with my friends first, I'm sure you understand. Give me 10 minutes."
"Of course."
Shadow Flame continued for another half a block, not saying anything, until he spied a relatively quiet alleyway.
"Everyone, something has happened. Move into that alleyway just ahead so we can discuss it in peace," he said to the party. They did not question him, hearing the tone of urgency in his voice, and they moved casually into the alleyway.
They walked several feet down its length before Shadow Flame spoke.
"This will do," he said, pulling them up. "While we were walking, just then, I was contacted telepathically by someone with an interest in this scroll we just grabbed."
The parties curiosity was piqued, "well, spill it then," said Unagi with his traditional lack of patience.
Shadow Flame shook his head, just a little bit, and continued, "whoever it was claimed to be a member of this black cult of Ahm, and wants to meet to discuss an arrangement to get a hold of it for himself."
They pondered for a moment before Jean spoke, "well, I think it can't hurt to have some options."
"I agree," replied Shadow Flame, "plus I think it could be a good opportunity to find out a little more about this cult."
"Well we need to be prepared," said Silvara, "they do call themselves the black cult after all, not the sort of name you give yourself if you are into sunshine and happiness."
"Absolutely," replied Shadow Flame smiling, "Nug? What do you think?"
"We made a deal with the Planar Trade Consortium, I'm not keen on crossing them," he explained.
"We're not talking about selling to them yet, just a little recon if you will. I'm not big on the idea of crossing the consortium either," said Shadow Flame, "but I think it'd be a good idea to hear what he has to say."
They all agreed, Unagi somewhat reluctantly.
"Easiest place is probably in our room at the Black Boar," suggested Shadow Flame, "it's the only place we have where we can have some sort of advantage. Plus it's small, and only the one exit. Makes it harder for whoever this is to try anything."
The party was in agreement about that much.
"We'll set the meeting for later this afternoon then? Around 3-ish?" was Shadow Flames suggestion. They agreed on the time without any further discussion so Shadow Flame relayed the news.
"Hello?" he thought.
"I am still here," was his disconcerting reply.
"OK, so meet us at the Black Boar at 3 this afternoon and we will discuss the scrolls."
"Excellent. I thank you my friend, you won't regret this. I will see you at 3."
"OK it's done," said Shadow Flame turning to his friends, "let's get back and organised so we are prepared for this Ignatius." They wasted no time returning to their room at the inn.

There was little preparation necessary. Their room at the Boar was small, there was little chance of a fight breaking out, and they would all be sitting so close together that any of them would be hard pressed to get a spell off without being interrupted. So they sat it out and waited the 3 or so hours until Ignatius was due to arrive.
Ignatius Vallior
Right on time, three o'clock sharp there came a knock at the door to their room. Unagi opened the door to a fairly tall human man with a huge handlebar mustache, short cropped black hair and dressed in blue scholarly robes.
"Greetings man friend," the man said extending a hand, "I am Ignatius Vallior."
"Yes?" asked Unagi indifferently.
"Uh, we had a meeting? Your friend Shadow Flame set it up at my request."
"Shadow Flame you said?" asked Unagi. He leaned inside, "any of you know a Shadow Flame?".
"Nug, just let him in," responded Shadow Flame.
Unagi looked back out the door, "and you say your name is Ignatius?"
The man nodded, slightly bewildered as Unagi leant back inside, "is anyone expecting an Ignatius Vallior?" he asked into the room.
"Nug! Let the man in," said Shadow Flame getting impatient. Unagi scowled but stood aside to let Ignatius into the room. "Nug, go boil some water and make some tea for our guest," Shadow Flame said as he rose to shake Ignatius' hand.
"Oh, it's boil some water to make some tea is it?" said Unagi testily.
Shadow Flame looked at him quizzically, "if it's not too much trouble, I'm trying to be hospitable."
Unagi turned and started walking out of the room, "oh I'll get your tea alright, boil the bloody water, do..." he trailed off mumbling to himself as he left the room.
The party looked at each other not sure what had gotten to Unagi, but pushed it aside as they rose and introductions were made. Ignatius wasted little time as he sat and began to explain his position.
"Well, my friends, I assume you are at least passingly familiar with the Readers of the Scrolls?"
"Well not really," started Jean, "perhaps you could give us a quick introduction, as it were."
"Gladly," replied Ignatius, clearly happy to be given the chance to talk about his cult. "We are known by various names, the Black Cult of Ahm, The Readers of the Scrolls, The Scroll Masters, and others as the situation demands, it really depends on the sensibilities of the local populace, some places seem to grow an instant mistrust of anything with the phrase 'Black Cult' in its name, where as others have no such qualms. Either way I am a member of the Readers of the Scroll, a chapter house of the Black Cult of Ahm based in Sigil, the city of doors. You've you heard of it?"
The party indicated that they had indeed heard of it.
"Very good then," he continued. "The Readers of the Scrolls is largely a scholarly organisation that is dedicated to amassing, cataloging and understanding the writings of the great archmage and sage Tulket nor Ahm. During his lifetime Tulket nor Ahm made and recorded the most extensive study of the Abyss and of demonkind, the Tanar'ri in particular ever undertaken. His writings are the most detailed and accurate source of knowledge on that hive of chaos and evil that has ever been recorded. Tulket also penned a large number of magical writings, scrolls, rubrics, librams, tomes and such that possess magical, sometimes very powerful magical writings, as did a number of his students who themselves became powerful archmages. Upon his death many of Tulket's writings were magically scattered randomly about the planes to prevent them falling into the hands of the Tanar'ri, who seek to destroy them to preserve their secrets. It is us who lift the veil. So that is largely what the Cult stands for but it is not all. We also aggressively pursue the acquisition of any writings of Tulket nor Ahm as they are unearthed, such as the one you have in your possession right now. That is my job; I am know as a Black Monitor and I travel the planes in search of lost writings, of which there are many, and acquiring them for cult study as best I can. Which is why we are here. I desire your scroll."
The party sat and considered his words for several moments before Shadow Flame asked, "so what can you tell us of this scroll we just recovered?"
"I have my suspicions as to its nature, but it would help if I could see it, to be sure, before I share my thoughts."
Naturally suspicious, Shadow Flame looked to the rest of the party asking the unvoiced question. Silvara and Jean both nodded so he took the scroll from the bag and held it up for Ignatius to see. As he did, Unagi returned to the room.
"What are you doing?" he asked incredulously as he sat a tray containing the tea and several cups upon a table.
"Calm down Nug," said Shadow Flame, "we are just showing Ignatius the scroll so he can confirm what it is. He was about to tell us about it, am I right my friend?" he asked of Ignatius.
"Of course. No need to be concern my large friend," he said to Unagi, "I merely wished to confirm that the scroll was what I thought it was."
"Well?" prodded the gladiator.
"It is as I suspected," continued Ignatius, "it is an artifact called the Hezrou Rubric. Some history, if you will indulge me?" he asked. The party nodded, keen to hear what this rubric was. "During his life Tulket authored a number of large scrolls in the language of the Abyss, each, as the name suggests, a set of guidelines and rules that could be used against a particular form of Tanar'ri for both attack and defense. Tulket wrote many of these rubrics, one for each Tanar'ri species so the stories go. This one you have in your possession concerns the Hezrou, hulking Tanar'ri whose appearance is quite frog-like, bloated and warty, covered in slime and accompanied by the most assaultive of foul odours. The Hezrou are mighty Tanar'ri used in the Blood War to assemble the demonic troops before they are sent into battle. The Hezrou are one of six so called true Tanar'ri races and as such are accorded a high degree of respect and fear amoung the lesser races. This makes the item you have quite valuable."
"I must say I appreciate your candor Ignatius, it would have been easy to lie and claim it was unimportant or a minor item," said Shadow Flame.
"It is not our way to deceive those with whom we deal," explained Ignatius. "The rubric is valuable and we would very much like to have it returned to the Readers. The best way to accomplish this is through honesty."
"That being the case, tell us what do you offer in return for us to hand this scroll to your Cult?" asked Shadow Flame.
Ignatius paused for a moment to consider his words. "We are a scholarly organisation and as such we cannot offer you much in the way of monetary dispensation. What we can offer you is information, something that many would feel is a good deal more valuable than coins. The Readers of the Scrolls have vast resources available to our members, information in particular, but also items that can help those who seek to travel to the Abyss and to deal with the Tanar'ri. I would offer you membership to the Black Cult, and in the face of such a item being bequeathed you would have considerable latitude to access our lore."
"What? That's it? Membership in your cult?" asked Unagi, "hardly a strong bargaining chip is it?"
"Wait a second Nug," said Shadow Flame, "there is still more to be discussed as I see it," he turned to Silvara and Jean who both nodded silent agreement with the tiefling. Unagi tensed a little but did not say any more.
"You know that we recovered this rubric at the behest of the Planar Trade Consortium I assume?" Shadow Flame asked of Ignatius who nodded in response. "Then you know they have offered us considerable incentive to return it to them as agreed. If we do not honour our end of the agreement we would be in debt to them for a considerable sum of money that we would not be able to pay."
Ignatius nodded again, "yes, I understand you position and your agreement makes my position that much more urgent. I have no doubt that if you hand the scroll over to the Consortium that they would sell it on to the Baatezu who would pay considerable coin to possess it. If the rubric fell into the hands of those devils then it would be lost to us forever most likely, as retrieving it would prove to be a difficult proposition. I realise I am asking an awful lot from you on faith, but the word of myself and the Readers of Sigil is good. The opportunities that would present themselves to you once you have the trust of the cult would be considerable. We help our own, and as I have stated, our resources are considerable, you would benefit from our support in unforeseen ways."
It was a compelling argument to most of the party as there was little doubt the Cult would prove to valuable allies, but it was quite a debt to have hanging over their heads if they did not honour their deal, not to mention the enmity of an organisation as large and obviously powerful of the Planar Trade Consortium was not something to take on lightly.
"I think I can safely speak for everyone when I say we will need some time to consider your offer my friend," said Shadow Flame. "We have a good deal to discuss and since we all have a stake in this we need to come to an agreement as to our next course of action. How can we get in touch with you?"
Ignatius reached into his robes and produced a small grey stone that rapidly pulsed with a yellow light. "I will be on this world for another 24 hours after which I will be departing back to Sigil. This, " he held the stone out, "is a seeker stone and it is attuned to me. It pulsing quickens the closer to it is to me, you can use it to find me. If I have not heard from you in 24 hours I will assume that you intend to sell the scroll tot he Planar Trade Consortium or some other party."
Shadow Flame took the stone from Ignatius, and after saying their farewells he left them to discuss what had unfolded in the last few hours.

"So..." began Shadow Flame, "what are you all thinking?"
"There's an awful lot to consider here," replied Jean, "I don't know if we have enough information to make any meaningful decision right now."
"I'm not too sure what there is to consider here," said Unagi, "we have made our deal and we should honour it," it was an odd sentiment from the gladiator, not normally one to be bound by such an agreement.
"What's going on Nug?" asked Shadow Flame, "the Cultist made an interesting offer, we should at least consider it."
"Agreed," said Silvara, "information is often worth more than coin, and this man brings considerable resources to the table, if his word is good."
"That's the problem now isn't it?" pressed Unagi, "we have no way of knowing what exactly this Ignatius is offering us, but we know well and good what the Planar Trade Consortium has offered - magic, or coin. I remember my price and I intend to collect on it."
They sat and considered his words for a moment, the big man had made a good point.
"Fallon?" Jean suggested.
"What about him?" Unagi asked testily.
"He'd be able to offer some insight I'm sure. It's been a while since we last spoke with him, he may have information on the staff as well."
"Good idea Jean," exclaimed Silvara, "I think it's worth considering."
Unagi threw his hands in the air in frustration but did not say anything.
"I have to say Nug I tend to agree with Jean here, if we could speak with Fallon we may be able to find another bargaining chip or get some insight that may work to our advantage. He has proven knowledgeable and helpful in the past."
"That's true," began Unagi, "but the problem is he's in Berdusk isn't he? We don't exactly have the 6 or 7 days it would take to get there and back do we?"
They sat there for a moment not saying anything, it was a good point, Berdusk was three days ride away at best.
Shadow Flame leant forward in his seat suddenly with a smile. "We have another option there - Prespos," he said.
A smile crept over Jeans lips as well as she realised what Shadow Flame was suggesting. Unagi and Silvara looked at each other blankly and then back at Shadow Flame.
"He is a powerful mage," he began, "and seems inclined toward the jink..."
"And very well may teleport us to Berdusk for the right price," Jean finished Shadow Flames sentence.
Silvara smiled at them as well as she saw the plan begin to come together, however Unagi was less than impressed. "That's a total waste of time," he almost complained, "it buys us nothing. The Githzerai is a short walk away, I think we should go and close the deal now, tonight, as agreed."
The rest of them however we all in favour of trying to go and see Fallon.
"I think at the very least Nug we should go and talk with Prespos to see if he is willing to do this," said Shadow Flame. Silvara and Jean both voice their agreement.
"OK fine then" replied Unagi with more than a hint of frustration evident in his voice. "I'll stay here."
"What?" exclaimed Shadow Flame, "why?"
"Why would I go?" asked Unagi, "there's nothing for me there, just a bunch of boring chit chat with a sage."
"Well I would have thought you come along because you're a member of the party, one of us," replied Shadow Flame.
"Like I said," replied Unagi, unconvinced, "What's in Berdusk for me? Nothing that's what, I'll stay here and hold down our interests. What if one of our many new friends needs to contact us?"
"Well we'll only be gone for a few hours if everything works out," explained Shadow Flame, "I don't think anyone will need to contact us that urgently. You're a member of this party aren't you? You should definitely come along, so we all have a say in what happens."
"I don't think so," Unagi said somewhat finally, "I'm staying here. You go off on your little jaunt to Berdusk, and then come back and let me know how you went. I want to make sure everything stays under control here."
Shadow Flame looked to Silvara and Jean for a little support in convincing Unagi to go with them to Berdusk but they both shrugged - he seemed adamant in his decision.
"OK fine, stay here then if you think it's necessary. I still think you should come with us but I'm not going to argue it any further," said Shadow Flame.
"Good," replied Unagi, "it's settled then." He settled back on one of the 2 beds in the room, put his hands behind his head and tried to relax.
"No point wasting time I guess," said Shadow Flame to Jean and Silvara, "let's go and see the wizard."

Prespos lived only a short walk from the Black Boar so they were knocking on his front door in fairly short order. As it seemed to be the custom amoung those of a wizardly or sagely bent, Prespos took his time in answering the door, but they had gotten used to it so they waited patiently for the mage.
Eventually Prespos opened the door and poked his head out. Scanning the faces of Jean and Silvara his face lit up in recognition when he peered at Shadow Flames impassive mask. "Ah well met my students," he said warmly, "come for more tutilige? I'm not too busy and will be happy to provide some mentoring." He was a good natured man once he had warmed to someone but he was not the most exciting of teachers.
"Prespos my friend," Shadow Flame greeted him with a handshake, "no, we do not come seeking teaching, we have come to see if you can help us with your considerable skill in magic. May we come in to discuss our needs with you?"
"Oh of course, of course, mind my manners. Please come in." He stood to the side to let the party enter his home, introducing himself to Silvara as she walked past him. He lead them to a small office of sorts, neat and orderly, and had them sit in formal but still comfortable chairs.
"OK my friends," he started, "how may I be of service?"
"Well Prespos, we came to you because we know you are a powerful wizard and capable of casting the powerful magic we require. We need to get to Berdusk quickly, as soon as is possible, and so we would very much appreciate it if you could teleport us there. Obviously we would pay whatever cost you think is fair" stated Shadow Flame.
"Teleport hey?" mused the wizard. "Aye I can cast the spell, and in fact have it in memory right now."
They all smiled at the news. "And your price?" inquired Shadow Flame.
Prespos thought for a moment. It was a powerful spell but not debilitating though once it was cast it was gone until the next day and he would feel vulnerable without it at the ready. "Let's say 2,000 gold each? 6,000 gold?"
Shadow Flame opened his mouth the argue the price but stopped himself with similar reasoning the wizard had used to arrive at the cost. Neither Silvara or Jean made any objection so Shadow Flame simply said "done."
"Then we are agreed," said Prespos. "I suppose you should tell me where you need to go?"
"Berdusk," answered Shadow Flame, "are you familiar with the city?"
"I have been there," Prespos answered, mostly to himself, "and am fairly familiar with it, where in particular do you need to go?"
Shadow Flame explained where Fallon lived and Prespos' face lit up a little bit, "ah Fallon you say? I have met him. Planeswalkers are rare in Toril, he always has interesting stories. I have been to his home before so can send you straight there if you wish. However, I'm sure his actual home is protected against teleportation magic so would just outside be OK?"
"Well, we can't really afford to have any attention drawn to us," Shadow Flame explained, "we are not really in the best standing in Berdusk," he said pointedly to Jean more than Prespos. "Would you be able to place us in a nearby alleyway? Somewhere out of public view?"
Prespos thought for a moment before suggesting, "there is a tankard house not for from Fallon's residence that I am somewhat familiar with, I could teleport you into the adjoining alleyway?"
Jean smirked at the mage - he did not seem the type to frequent a tankard house and the idea of him boozing it up with his fellow wizards was funny. "I think that would be fine" she said.
"Well it seems everything is set," said Prespos, "I shall cast the spell as soon as you are ready."
They briefly discussed how they were going to move about Berdusk without drawing attention since none of them wanted a run in with the law over Jean's earlier indiscretion. It was a simple matter of using some low level appearance altering magic for Jean, and, for Shadow Flame, taking the opposite approach to usual and removing his mask and normal black attire and walking down the street without any disguise. Since Silvara was not wanted by the Berduskan watch they saw no need for her to disguise herself. There was no reason to sit around waiting so once they had established their plan Shadow Flame counted out 1200 platinum pieces from their seriously depleted coin reserve and handed it over to Prespos. The wizard spent a short amount of time intoning the words to the teleport spell and with only a minor jolt the party found themselves standing in a narrow alleyway at the rear of the promised tankard house in Berdusk.

Jean cast the spell to alter her appearance and they walked from the alleyway and calmly made their way to Fallon's home only a short walk away. Apart from a few sideways glances cast Shadow Flames way they arrived at Fallon's without incident. The door was answered by his Halfling house keeper and the party was ushered in to the waiting room once they had explained who they were. The Halfling girl explained that Fallon was currently with another client and that he would see them as soon as he was finished. They were pressed for time but were happy to wait so they settled in and relaxed on the comfortable chairs provided.
They had been waiting only 15 minutes or so when they heard raised voices coming from the direction of Fallon's meeting room. The voices were raised in anger, on of them in particular sounding very impatient. The party looked at each other briefly before Shadow Flame said, "wait here, I'll go and make sure everything is OK." Jean and Silvara nodded as Shadow Flame made his way into Fallon's house to the meeting room they had met him in before. It was clear the shouting was coming from that room so Shadow Flame crept up to the closed door and listened in.
"Look you clueless sod," spoke the louder deeper voice, "ol' Rule-of-Three won't take too kind to you tryin' to give 'im the laugh. You're at least canny enough to know you'll hit the blinds tryin', and I'm sposed ta write you into the dead book if ya don't cough up the chant. So start coughin' , I won't be askin' you again!"
"I can't cough up no chant if I got none can I basher?" came the reply. It was Fallon's voice but with a heavy accent that Shadow Flame couldn't place. "Any leatherhead'll tell you that much. Those clueless berks with the staff won't be wigwaggin' any chant they're not privy to either so you just let 'em ride alright? Look, you just tell Rule-of-Three that he knows the dark of it as much as I do, and if I tumble to any chant he'll be the first to know, how's that sound?"
"Sorry berk, but you're no good to me without the chant," replied the other voice. "Ol' Rule was petty clear...well clear as the ol' cutter can be anyway. You're to cough up the chant on the staff and those berks who are holdin' on to it or we're sposed to put ya in the dead book. Redegar, Beldon, give this sod a new head hole."
Shadow Flame heard the unmistakable sound of weapons being drawn from their sheaths and Fallon's voice raised as he spoke the words of a spell. He quickly ran back to Jean and Silvara.
"Somethings going on here. Sounds to me like Fallon is being attacked."
"Well, let's go and help him out," said Silvara.
"I'm in," replied Jean quickly, "we really need him alive."
They quickly ran to the room the meeting room adjoined and tried the door. It was locked. They didn't have time to wait for Shadow Flame to pick it so leant back to kick it in. As he was doing so, someone behind them spoke.
"'allo, 'allo, what've got 'ere Fingle?" said a man with a high voice. "Looks like a buncha clueless berks parkin' their ears next to the boss. How 'bout we lann 'em a lesson in manners?"
They turned to see two men standing behind them. One of them was human, a big man dressed in plate armor decorated in razor sharp vines and leaves drawing a two handed sword from its sheath. The other one, the one who was doing the talking, was a wiry tiefling with a long white mohawk streaked with green, falling over his long pointy ears. He wore piece mail armour of chain and leather and held a long curved dagger in each hand. The two men wasted no time launching themselves at the party. Shadow Flame moved to intercept the human and Silvara placed herself between the tiefling and Jean so she could cast her spells without worrying about being interrupted. However, since they had no opportunity to rest since they left the sewers that morning Jean had not been able to replenish her spells and decided to join Silvara in melee anyway.
Shadow Flame wove in and out of his opponents swings, landing several minor hits without taking any damage himself. He clearly outmatched his opponent and knew that the fight would be over quickly. Silvara was in the same boat, the wiry tiefling was quick, no doubt there, but she could fight when she needed to and was wearing him down with some help from Jean. Shadow Flame did not waste any time in the fight and the big human dropped to the ground, dead from a well placed blade, slicing through a gap in his armour and stopping his heart. He leapt over to help the ladies finish off the tiefling and in short order he had joined his friend in the dead book.
They quickly turned their attention to the door, Shadow Flame leaning back to kick it in - the lock was strong but the door itself was not, it swung inward violently. They saw Fallon being attacked by two men. The sage himself was swathed in protective magics - his skin had the same stone like protection as the tiefling in the sewers, his body was blurred and shifted about in place, and he was surrounded by a light purple glowing sphere that rotated slowly upon a vertical axis. His opponents were both warriors and were having a difficult time penetrating his magical protection for it looked like Fallon was uninjured. A man wearing tight black leather armor lay crumpled on the far side of the room, but whether he was dead or merely unconscious the party could not tell. Fallon's remaining opponents were both planar beings. One of them was clearly a tiefling, his light blue skin and small black horns identifying him as such; he was dressed also in black leather armour and moved with a natural swiftness across the room to engage the party as they entered. Standing on Fallon's desk was a huge man, dressed in ornately spiked field plate he looked a little like a tiefling but lacked the horns or pointed ears common amoung them. His skin was jet black and savagely pock marked, his long white hair tied back in a pony tail over pale glowing green eyes, and he was swinging a heavy ornamental two handed sword at Fallon.
Cambion Tanar'ri
Shadow Flame and Silvara both squared off against the tiefling coming at them with both a long sword and a dagger. The dance was lightning fast, the tiefer moving with preternatural speed that did not appear to be magically enhanced more than he seemed to act quickly without pause, without consideration, at one with his weapons in a way that not even Unagi was. His speed was enough to get in several light blows against Shadow Flame, but he was outmatched fighting two on one as both Silvara and Shadow Flame were able to bypass his defences and land their own heavy blows. Jean briefly considered throwing a fireball into the room but it was small and she knew it would fill the room, scorching everyone inside, so instead she opted to stand back as there wasn't enough room in the cramped den for another combatant to enter the fray. Fallon threw a green arrow of acid at the huge man on the desk, hitting home and scarring him badly across his already pocked face, but it wasn't enough to deter him; with the tiefer holding off the newcomers he felt he could still get through Fallon's considerable magical defenses and make got on his promise to write him into the dead book. Shadow Flame and Silvara had landed several more hits on the tiefling and he was looking well the worse for wear, but he was not giving up. With his speed his greatest asset he managed to get inside Shadow Flames blades, making a nice opening for himself to deliver a serious wound to the red skinned mage. As he brought his dagger to bear against Shadow Flame, Silvara found her own opening and before he could land his blow she swung her mace hard against his head cracking his skull and killing him instantly. Shadow Flame nodded his thanks to the priestess and quickly took the fight to the heavily armored warrior still fighting Fallon from atop the desk. The tide had turned drastically and rather than press his luck against 4 opponents his simply cursed at them and disappeared in a pale blue flash of light.
With the fight over they all stood for a moment catching their breath before Fallon dismissed his magical protections and greeted them all heartily.
"Well met my friends, I have to say, your timing is excellent!"
"True enough," smiled Shadow Flame, "a good thing we popped in when we did," he said as he leant across to shake the sages hand.
"Glad we could help Fallon," Jean smiled at him as well, "would have been a bit of a squeeze otherwise."
Fallon nodded and smiled back at Jean then looked at Silvara, "I don't believe I've had the pleasure milady. My name is Fallon, called by some the Plane Touched, although only here in Toril, glad to make your acquaintance."
"And I am pleased to make yours Fallon," Silvara smiled at his charm. "I am Silvara of Selune and I'm glad we could help."
"OK, so now we're all introduced and caught up we should probably check the various bodies lying around, see who is dead and who is unconscious?" suggested Shadow Flame.
His idea met with agreement and all of them went around checking on the bodies of the intruders. They were all dead unsurprisingly and held little clue as to who they were and why they were there, although Fallon probably had a good idea anyway.
"So what do we do with all these corpses?" asked Jean.
"I have a way to clean it all up don't worry about that. We'll dump them in the cellar for the moment, and when I get a chance I'll get rid of them. They won't be needing them anymore," answered Fallon. "If you'll give me a few minutes friends, I'll clean this place up and then we can talk, for we do indeed have much to discuss." He ushered them back to the waiting room, refusing their offer to help him clean up and went back to his den. There was little to do but wait.

After a short wait Fallon returned and asked them into his den/office so they could talk. Once they were all comfortably seated he began.
"Before we get down to business there is something I need to tell you concerning the bowl you sold to Shemeska, I'm afraid I dropped the ball on that one and she has sent me a letter rubbing my nose in it. I apologise most deeply, and I am happy to refund the monies you gave me for the research into the bowl."
"We have some things we wish to speak to you about as well my friend," said Shadow Flame, "but yes let's see this letter, I'd like to know what the Marauder has to say."
"We would also like to hear what you found out about the staff as well," interjected Jean, " it has become..."
She stopped short as she saw Fallon's eyes roll into the back of his head. His head lolled back and he slumped in his chair breathing deeply.
Shadow Flame rose to go and check on him, "Fallon?" he asked clearly concerned.
"No, not Fallon," the sage said. His voice was radically different, low and gravelly from the back of his throat. Shadow Flame sat back down.
"What is going on here?" he asked, "Fallon, can you hear me?"
"As I just said tiefling, I am not Fallon," was his answer, " but I have a vested interest in some things that are related to your predicament. It is however not in my interests nor, shall we say, my general safety to give anything away to you. I can answer your questions about this Staff of Knowledge, but before I do I must ask something in return. For the time being all I would ask is that you agree to return the favour of my information with a favour of your own at a time that suits me. Let me say that I understand any concerns you may have; after all future favours are vague and can potentially be taken advantage of. All I can do is try to reassure you by saying that these favours will not be unsavoury and will involve you acquiring knowledge for me. I cannot trust you enough at present to overplay my hand and as it is I am taking a not inconsiderable risk in coming to you, for I tread the narrow line between secrecy and the need for knowledge. But I have the lore you require, so the question is – how badly do you want your answers?”
Jean leaned forward immediately and answered, "I will agree to your terms." Shadow Flame and Silvara looked at each other but did not disagree or object to Jean's words. The staff was hers and she had the right to make any deals she felt were necessary in the pursuit of knowledge.
"Very well then," continued the voice that was not Fallon. "Ask your questions."
Jean thought for a moment before speaking, "I know some small things about the staff and it's history, can you tell me more? Who made it? Why?"
"The Staff of Knowledge, Amon'Valura. Named for the Arcanaloth bound to its form in spirit. The staff is old little wizardling, older than you could understand. It was created by a Githyanki Gish named Nazh'Duk and is known by the name Khorle in the Githyanki tongue."
"What of the Githyanki?" asked Shadow Flame thinking back to the attack on the Three Wheels, "why would they create such a thing?"
"Who can say?" replied not Fallon. "The whys and wherefore's of others are not my concern, and by their very nature unknowable. The Githyanki, and indeed most creatures who delve into these darkened corners, do not divulge their motives. I am uninterested in such things anyway; I concern myself with histories and names. There is power in such things. The Gish are the most respected of the non-regal Githyanki, the word translates roughly ask 'skilled'. Nazh'Duk was a high-up in the Githyanki city of Tu'narath, a great city of the Astral plane built upon the husk of a forgotten dead god. His reasons were likely his own, but they would have been driven by great need, the Githyanki are xenophobic in the extreme and would not call upon other races for help, particularly the Yugoloths. You would do well to guard knowledge of this staff from the Githyanki for once they know it has resurfaced they will spare no expense to retrieve it, for while they care little for things not crafted by their own, they will be tireless in hunting down an item of Githyanki origin, even one as unlikely as Khorle."
"Fantastic," said Shadow Flame sarcastically, "more enemies who want the staff."
"It's turning out to be more trouble than it's worth," said Jean to herself. "What else can you tell us about the staff," she asked, directing the question to not-Fallon, "I have used Legend Lore and learnt some of its history, but some details, such as how or why it was created would be good, and maybe the nature of the agreement between the Gish and this Arcanaloth."
"Of course little mortal. Nazh'Duk was a powerful Gish who excelled in Summoning magic. Just the act of summoning an Arcanaloth is difficult, even with its true name, but to bind it such a thing required an exercise of will not common amongst mortals, even those as long lived as the Githyanki. Amon'Valura, the Arcanaloth bound to the staff, from whom it takes its name, was a powerful Yugoloth, but did not rise through the ranks the normal way. It is whispered that it had support from other powerful fiends but this has never been shown for certain. As such, the staff itself has several powers that are innate to the Arcanaloth, such as Illusion and Legend Lore, Shape Shifting and Gating..."
"What are these other powers you speak of," interrupted Shadow Flame, "we were not aware of shape shifting or gating."
"The staff reveals it secrets slowly to its wielder, in dreams and visions. In time it will reveal these powers to you little mageling."
"And what of the agreement? The pact between Amon'Valura and Nazh'Duk?" asked Jean.
"13 Tasks. That was the price. The Arcanaloth agreed to perform 13 tasks for the staff wielder, but as to what constitutes a task is lost."
"So obviously none have ever made use of these 13 tasks," pondered Shadow Flame. "I assume that the 13 tasks must be completed for the one wielder?"
"Insightful for a mortal," not-Fallon almost complimented Shadow Flame. "No, none have ever been able to use all 13 tasks, and each new wielder must be given 13 tasks anew, most likely a result of a poorly worded, or, if you prefer, cunningly worded compact. It would seem to me that Amon'Valura was a poor bargainer, and that, coupled with the fact it was summoned and bound in the first place, makes it likely that it will be in for...punishment, if it should ever be released. This I believe is part of the reason for its not having completed the 13 tasks. On the surface it appears as a curse, a curse that ensures the wielder of the staff dies before 13 tasks can be performed, ensuring the Arcanaloth remains trapped. Whether this is the will of Amon'Valura trying avoid his fate, or some more hidden reasoning, perhaps crafted into the staff itself is not known. Since Nazh'Duk was killed by a Nycaloth after only 12 tasks, it would seem to me that this curse is either self imposed by Amon'Valura or part of some other magic or being, hidden from me. However, I have no doubt that Amon'Valura has plans of it's own, so even if this curse is not of it's doing it no doubt suits it's purpose."
"Well, I think it is pretty important to find out what makes up a task," said Jean, "I don't need any surprise 12th task deaths. What else can you tell us?"
"Not much more, you have the lore of it now. The staff has been used by many over the centuries for it is old, and there have been several notable wielders. The last, as you no doubt know, was Anthraxus the Decayed, once Oinoloth."
"Do you think the Yugoloths will try and get the staff back?" asked Jean, and then added, more to herself than anyone else, "although they haven't tried yet."
"I think it is unlikely many would care either way. If they did it would be to destroy it since it is proof that their kind can be bound to service, knowledge the Yugoloths despise being known to others, although I consider it my...duty shall we say, to see to it that such things do not remain dark anyway. The staff has no import to Yugoloth society that I can divine, and it does not provide any power that most of them possess innately anyway. I think you will find that those of other races will desire it more."
"So why would Anthraxus use the staff? It would seem from what you say that he would not need it," asked Shadow Flame.
"That I do not know, but you are correct, he would not need it. In his natural guise the Decayed carries a staff known as the Staff of the Lower Planes, a powerful artifact that few can touch without suffering the most abysmal of deaths. Since the being you received it from was but an aspect of Anthraxus," not-Fallon smiled as it revealed the fact it knew of them to the party, "it is likely it had some purpose in mind before it was captured by your Torilian wizards."
"What would his purpose be?" pressed Shadow Flame.
"Who can know little mortal," answered not-Fallon, "who can know the mind of one such as the Decayed. He is powerful yes, but also insane. It is rumoured that after he was deposed from Khin-Oin that wandered the lower planes offering himself into servitude as a proxy to mewling gods. A beautiful display of weakness."
"But he has returned," continued Shadow Flame.
"Indeed he has, and with renewed power and confidence. It seems he found those answers which he sought, the light now shed upon the dark of those doubts implanted by Mydianchlarus, and returned with vengeance and death within his corrupt and reeking shell. The chant is he marshals an army with the intention of laying siege to Khin-Oin, a move as bold as it is stupid."
"Do we need to be worried about Anthraxus returning for the staff?" asked Jean, clearly concerned at such a prospect.
"Doubtful. I cannot foresee what use he would have for it. The former Oinoloth has more important things that concern him at the moment. I am sure the humiliation at being removed from the Siege Malicious by a single secret, some would say lie, burns within his soulless body. Whatever has happened, whatever new dark he carries in his mind returns him to his former vigour and spurs him to grandiose acts. He marshals his army from the City at the Centre in the Grey Wastes, a sprawling place built at the conjunctions of that planes three layers. Not exactly hidden nor secret. It would seem amazing things are about to happen," not-Fallon smiled.
The party looked at each other in response to that familiar phrase but said nothing. Shadow Flame changed the topic as their new "friend" seemed knowledgeable about Yugoloths more than Anthraxus in particular.
"Do you know of a Yugoloth called Shemeska the Marauder?" he asked.
Not-Fallon chuckled slightly, "yes, a vain and pretentious Arcanaloth. She has a good deal of power in Sigil, but like most of her kind she overestimates her power and import considerably."
"We have dealt with her before," continued Shadow Flame, "and it seems likely to me we came out the raw end of the deal."
"There is an old planar saying," replied not-Fallon, "it says 'when you find yourself on the better end of a bargain with a Yugoloth then it is time to worry'. It is indicative of the way they work - if you seem to be getting the better end of a deal then you should concern yourself with hidden agendas, not that they work with anything else, nothing is as it seems with them. They do not like ending a deal as equals or worse off and will only do so if there is something hidden they wish to remain hidden. It is the appearance of power, or the lack of it, that they concern themselves with."
"Sounds about right I'd guess," said Jean.
"Maybe in future we try and avoid bargaining with them then?" offered Silvara.
Jean and Shadow Flame both smiled at her but said nothing. There was nothing to say; it was of course a sound idea, but none of them could be sure of what the future held.
They sat for a moment, thinking over this hidden friends words, thinking of whether there was anything else it might be able to shed some light on. Shadow Flame had an idea.
"My friend, there is something that we would know. Some time back we encountered the ghostly form of a small girl, dressed in the clothing of a farmers daughter. Her left leg was lame, crippled, and she leaned upon a shepherds crook. We were in an old abandoned temple of the god Jergal and saw many ghostly scenes from the past. We could not interact with these ghosts, it was if they were simply reliving their past, replaying scenes from their lives. But this little girl could see us, and talked to us, even though she was there in the vision as a ghostly visitor of some kind. We could see her but the ghosts could not. It was all very strange. Are you perhaps able to provide some insight?"
Not-Fallon sat for a while, not moving, not speaking. Shadow Flame thought for a moment that he had gone, departed from Fallon's body. He looked at Jean and Silvara and shrugged. "Perhaps our new frie..."
"I have some thoughts on your encounter," interrupted not-Fallon, "but you have not given me much to work with. I have an idea as your words have kindle the spark of a memory, but before I tell you you must understand that this is guess work, conjecture."
"I understand. Take your guess," replied Shadow Flame.
"Very well then. I know of beings who fit your description, or in particular one being. It is not common for some beings to take pleasing innocent forms when dealing with others, but it is certainly not unheard of, and if you had not provided the details of this child being lame I would not have been able to theorize. But I have heard stories of one such as you tell of, a young Aasimar girl dressed in common clothing, lame in her left leg and using a shepherds crook. Have you perchance heard of creatures called Baernoloths?"
"No we haven't," replied Shadow Flame as Jean and Silvara shook their heads.
"The Baern," continued not-Fallon, "they are to be feared by all but the most powerful. They are the original fiends, creatures of the foulest aspect, the darkness beings, lurking in the shadows of shadows. Manipulators and masters of the Yugoloths, they are the original betrayers clothed in folly and treachery. If you believe the stories, the creators of the Yugoloths, and, indirectly, the Tanar'ri and the Baatezu as well. The stories are of course pathetic lies, spawned by a race of weaklings and fools, as I said before do not believe the words of a Yugoloth, they are the masters of deceit, " not-Fallon almost spat, his hatred for them coming forth. He regained his composure before continuing, "the Yugoloths call them the father-mothers and many spend life times seeking them out, searching for their wisdom, twisted as it is. I know of a Baern that fits your description, but I will say no more until I can be sure."
"So no more?" asked Shadow Flame a little incredulously. "You cannot begin a tale like that and then stop half way through."
"I can and I will," answered not-Fallon flatly. "But I will say one thing to you. If you have indeed attracted the attention of a Baernoloth then you should know fear for they do as they please. Even gods fear them and are thankful they are not concerned in their affairs," his voice again betraying his hatred.
"So what then? What can we do in the face of such a threat?" asked Jean.
"There is one place where you can be safe from them. Sigil. The Lady will not abide their presence in the city and, like gods and other beings of such power, the city is forever closed to them for the portals will not open for their kind."
"What other beings of such power?" asked Silvara.
"The self styled Demon Lords or the Lords of the Nine, the masters of Baator. Make no mistake, agents of these creatures may enter, but any being that may be considered a god or as the gods is barred. It has been so for centuries. It does not stop them from trying, but none have ever entered Sigil."
"Do you know why this girl was able to see us through the visions?" asked Shadow Flame.
"Again I can offer only speculation," not-Fallon said again, "but it makes a certain sense that the staff acted as a conduit of kind. It is strongly tied to the Yugoloths, and while it is of little import to them it is still one of them. It is possible that the staff provided a link of some kind between this little girl and your time, an anchor between timelines so to speak. Creatures of this kind do not experience time in the way that mortals experience it. You could say that they exist outside of time and within it simultaneously. It is known to me that certain powerful beings, such as your benefactor Anthraxus, have experience of alternate timelines, and perhaps your mysterious child has this same experience. This would explain her ability to experience the future from a ghostly anchor in the past. But as I said, it is conjecture and now I stray into the realms of the metaphysical so I will not waste more words on the hypothetical. Unless you have more pertinent questions concerning the staff I will take my leave and return your friends body to him."
"Wait," exclaimed Jean, "how can we find you in the future?"
"Do not worry little mageling, you have given me almost as much to ponder as I have given you. When next you find yourself in the city of doors I will seek you out."
Fallon closed his eyes and then leant forward quickly as he coughed hard for several seconds. He looked up at Jean, Silvara and Shadow Flame clearly disoriented, a slightly curious, bewildered expression on his face. His mouth turned up into a half smile as he said, "uh, did I just pass out for a while or something?"
"No Fallon," answered Shadow Flame, "your body was taken over by some mysterious, uh,  friend I guess. Do you not remember anything that has happened or been said in the last 15 or 20 minutes?"
Fallon rubbed his temples with his index and middle fingers as he spoke, "no, nothing. I feel as though I have just woken up from a particularly deep sleep. My head aches a little as well."
"The only way I can think to put it is is that you were possessed. We have spent the last 20 or so minutes speaking with someone who was using your body as a channel to talk with us," explained Shadow Flame. "Whoever it was was very knowledgeable in the staff and in Yugoloths in general. We picked up some very useful information."
Fallon looked worried, very worried in fact. "I remember nothing," he offered, "it is as though time skipped ahead on me."
"Well," said Shadow Flame thinking out loud, " where have you been recently? Have you met with anyone who may have been able to place some sort of spell on you? Have there been other occurrences of this lost time recently?"
Fallon thought for several moments before answering, "I have just returned from Sigil two days ago. I was there looking for information about the staff for you. I had gathered that my investigation had proved fruitless since I had no lore of my own to pass on to you. The answer to your questions is no. I do not recall speaking to anyone I have not spoken with many times before, and I have no other blank spots in my memory."
"How had you began your investigations into the staff?"
"I spoke with a contact of mine in Sigil, a Bleaker who goes by the rather flowery name of Solace-in-Emptiness."
"Bleaker?" asked Shadow Flame.
"A member of a Faction called the Bleak Cabal in Sigil. I have done business with him before in the past and is as trustworthy as any other Bleaker I guess. I mean there's only so much you can expect from someone who dedicates their life to the idea that there is no meaning to the multiverse and that existence is pointless. Oddly, the outlook often turns those Faction members to good works as helping others is often the only meaning they can find in a pointless multiverse. The Bleakers run the Gatehouse in Sigil, a huge building dedicated to helping the unfortunate, of which there are a lot of in Sigil, especially the insane. But I'm rambling now aren't I?" Shadow Flame nodded in response. "Well, I'm just a bit concerned about this mystery friend of yours who took over my body."
"As we all are Fallon," replied Jean.
"Yes my friend, we share your concern," said Shadow Flame. "This Solace-in-Emptiness, can you remember your dealings with him while you were in Sigil?"
"Yes I can," replied Fallon, "there was nothing out of the ordinary about it. I inquired as to whether he had any knowledge of your staff as I have often been surprised by some of the things he has known of in the past, and since I was getting nowhere with my other lines of inquiry I gave him a go. He told me he did not know of your staff but that he knew someone who may, someone who he claimed knew a great deal about the Yugoloths and their history. We arranged to meet up later that night, but he never returned. I waited for him for a day before giving up and returning here to Berdusk since I have other business to attend to for Lady Cylyria."
"Well if I were you I'd be trying to find this Bleaker and see what he knows," said Shadow Flame. "Maybe try and find out who our mystery benefactor is as well."
"Absolutely," replied Fallon, "I will begin my investigations into this matter as soon as I am able."
They could tell by Fallon's response and demeanor that he considered the matter closed for discussion, at least for the moment, so Shadow Flame changed the subject.
"So who were those goons we helped you take care of before? Do you know this Rule-of-Three character?"
Fallon frowned, "yes, I know Rule -of-Three. Unsavoury sort he is."
"Well?" prodded Shadow Flame as Fallon sat there for a moment caught up in his own thoughts.
"Sorry, just thinking about what it all might mean. OK, I'll start with the basics. Rule-of-Three is a wily old Githzerai who spends most of his time in Sigil. I mean, he's not really a Githzerai, that is just the face he wears the most often for I have seen him about as an old dwarven sage as well. I'm not totally sure on it but my best guess, based on my own observations and the large amount of rumour that surrounds him, is that he is Tanar'ri, probably a Cambion - like that big fellow with the sword who you helped chase off my table earlier," he smiled as he remembered the fight. "Seems he has taken an interest in that staff you carry, and his friends paid me a little visit with the intention of finding out what I knew. Well, since I don't really know all that much anyway I told them so, maybe played it a bit more clueless than I really am but I saw no reason to help them out, they didn't exactly arrive with the friendliest of intentions."
"No they didn't," said Shadow Flame, "we appreciate your discretion."
"Not at all," Fallon smiled. "I really don't know why Rule-of-Three would be interested in the staff, it's not really within his usual realms of interest. You see, Rule-of-Three has a reputation as a chant broker, and a good one at that. He is basically the go to man in Sigil for any and all inquiries concerning the Abyss. Bit of a difficult cutter to deal with though, always answers in threes. That is to say, you'll always get three answers to every question, and they're not always mutually inclusive, it's up to you to take away from them what you will, but it is rare he gives bad advice. You don't get that sort of reputation by steering folk in the wrong direction."
"So now we, and by proxy you Fallon, have a new enemy" Shadow Flame said, annoyed at the large number of unknowns they faced.
"Not necessarily," answered Fallon. "Rule-of-Three is not someone to mess with, but as far as it goes he not entirely unreasonable either. He's not in the business of making unnecessary enemies. My feeling is that this is something that can be worked out. But I wouldn't concern yourselves about it right now, there's more important things to discuss, and I doubt those berks will be back any time soon."
"Fair enough," said Shadow Flame, "maybe we could see the letter from the Marauder you started talking about?"
Fallon frowned again and swore under his breath, "yes, Shemeska. You're probably not going to like this, and as I said, I'm truly sorry for the way this worked out. I'll refund the coin you gave me for my work if you like," he offered.
"Let's just see this letter first," said Shadow Flame, "then we'll see."
Fallon opened one of the desk drawers and pulled out a rolled up parchment and handed it across to Shadow Flame who unrolled it and read it aloud to the party.

To Fallon the Plane Touched,
Shemeska the Marauder, King of the Cross-Trade sends you her deepest best wishes. Considering your reputation as a well-lanned blood, I felt it would be remiss of me to not supply you with the dark of a certain item you had spent some time researching recently. I have acquired the artifact known as the Bowl of Adlab, an item of ancient Netheril. Chant on this item is scarce, and due to your recent interest I have decided to share it with you.
As you no doubt know, the markings on the bowl form a riddle which I will not repeat as you are most certainly familiar with it. In short, the answer to the riddle, as you no doubt discovered, is the letter 'A'. What is still likely dark to you is that it is also the command word to open the secret compartment placed in the pedestal by the creator of the bowl, one Ermek the Crafter of the floating city of Desillion. When the letter 'A' is pronounced in Netherese in combination with a Knock spell, the compartment opens. Inside the compartment is a recipe for the creation of an empowered Staff of the Magi.
As a token of my appreciation for your inability to discover this dark before my deal to procure the Bowl was completed I would be happy for you to have this minor trinket.

Yours warmly,
Shemeska


They sat there for a few moments absorbing the contents of the letter before Shadow Flame looked at Fallon and asked, "what is this trinket to which she refers?"
"A ring," replied Fallon, placing it on the table.
"What does it do?"
"It is a Portal Ring, it allows non-planar beings to see portals."
"What do you mean?" asked Shadow Flame, "non-planar beings can't see portals? Why?"
"Well, creatures born on the outer planes are able to see portals if they concentrate on doing so. They can all do it, it's just an unremarkable fact of existence. Primes cannot see portals, no matter how hard they try. This ring is crafted for that purpose - to give Primes, and creatures of the Inner Planes, the ability to see portals if they concentrate on doing so. It is yours if you want it, it is the least I can do for failing to find out this information."
"Yep, good call. I'll take it," replied Shadow Flame, picking up the ring and slipping it on. "So what is an empowered Staff of the Magi?"
"You know what a Staff of the Magi is I take it?" asked Fallon. Seeing Shadow Flame and Jean both nod in response he continued, "well when you empower a spell or magic item you are setting it to work at maximum efficacy. In the case of spells, empowering them is physically and mentally draining, and the spell must be cast as if it were of a level three higher than normal. It is a useful ability but typically reserved for more extreme circumstances. Empowering a magical item removes this cost, as well you can imagine. An empowered Staff of the Magi would be a formidable item. The cost is in the creation. While the particulars are obviously unknown to me I would imagine the physical cost of creating an item would be severe, except for maybe some outer planar creatures. It would be well beyond the abilities of anyone I know."
"Well that's all fine," said Shadow Flame, "but it's not really the point of the matter is it? We sold the Bowl for 75,000 jink. How much do you think we could have asked for had we known about this 'recipe'?"
Fallon thought for a moment before answering, "maybe as much as a quarter of a million jink."
"Ah Fuck!" exclaimed Shadow Flame and Jean at the same time.
"Damned Marauder," Continued Shadow Flame, "I officially hate that bitch!"
"Hey," added Silvara, "you're preaching to the choir there! I hated her long before we found out about this."
They spent a few minutes laughing and a few more minutes cursing the Marauder for getting the better of them in the deal.
"250,000 jink," mused Shadow Flame, "damn..."
"So yeah, as I said previously, I feel really bad about not finding that information out, and I'll help you all in anyway I can to make it up to you," said Fallon.
"Don't feel so bad Fallon," replied Jean, "I think the Marauder has a few more resources available to her than we do. But damn...250,000..."
They all sat for a while talking about Shemeska and how much delight they would take in stringing her up, cursing her name to each other, and joking about it.
"OK Fallon," Shadow Flame began, changing the topic again, "here's a hypothetical. If you had to choose between dealing with the Planar Trade Consortium and the Black Cult of Ahm, who would you deal with?"
Fallon looked a bit confused at first, but thought for a minute before answering, "well, they are really very different organisations, it would depend a great deal on what I was after. The Black Cult, I have had some dealings with them in the past, nothing major, just some minor work they've asked me do for them, seem a decent lot, or at least the chapter in Sigil are. Thing is, there's not a lot you would go to them for, they deal almost exclusively with lore of the Abyss. If there was some important dark you needed unveiled about the Abyss then you would choose them, but otherwise they would have little to offer I would think, although I imagine they probably have a fair bit of jink at their disposal. The Planar Trade..."
"Sorry to but in there, but I'm going to need you to explain a few of these words you are using, and it seems like a good opportunity," Shadow Flame interrupted. "What is 'the dark'?"
"No harm, I understand, it can be a bit...opaque? Sigil, and as a by product, many places in the Great Ring, has its own slang, called by most who speak it, the cant. It's not really used much outside of Sigil or the Gate towns but you will encounter folk using it almost anywhere. 'The dark' means a secret. When someone wants to share the dark of it, they mean they tell you this secret. Whether they actually do have the dark of it is another matter. Similarly, 'the chant' is rumour, speculation or just the latest news. When someone asks for the chant or claims to tell you the chant they are just passing on what they heard or were told."
"OK makes sense...I guess," replied Shadow Flame. "What about berk and cutter?"
Fallon laughed to himself, "a berk is a fool, usually someone who should have known better, but it get tossed around a fair bit and can be used a neutral kind of name for anyone. Be careful who you call a berk though, some folk'll take exception to it. A Cutter is someone worthy of respect, someone resourceful, it's actually a pretty strong compliment, but is also used as a fall back term if you've just met someone and want to sweet talk them. In that case you would normally call them a basher, which is a neutral catch all term."
"And clueless?" asked Shadow Flame, "it seems to have been thrown around a fair bit lately, even by yourself..."
"Hmm, yes...it has different meanings depending on who you say it to. For instance, you three are clueless since the main meaning of the word is someone from the Prime who has no idea about the planes or how they work. That usage is pretty benign. You can also use it to describe someone who doesn't know what is going on, but you need to be careful because if you call a planar clueless they'll probably get very angry very fast, it can be one of the worst insults to throw at a planar. If they don't know you're calling them clueless for a specific reason, and think you're just calling them clueless, then it's game on my friend."
"Alright then, that should cover it, didn't want to kick off a lesson in learning the cant, we'll pick it up if necessary. Back to the Planar Trade Consortium..." Shadow Flame lead back to the original conversation.
"Sure thing. The Planar Trade Consortium is pretty much the biggest merchant and trade alliance in the multiverse. If there is a pie somewhere out there you can bet they've got at least one finger in it, assuming the pie is actually worth something. Although they're based primarily in Sigil and Tradegate there have arms everywhere and as such can find pretty much anything you could ever want if you're willing to pay. So if you have something in mind then dealing with them will be easier than the Readers of the Scrolls. The consortium will not be able to dish out the dark of the Abyss, nor the Tanar'ri as well as the Readers, but they will be able to deal in just about anything else. So I guess that's your answer. If you want knowledge of the Abyss or the Tanar'ri, or you want to make some useful friends then the Readers it is. If you want jink or something a little more exotic then the consortium it is. Plus I would say it is very unwise to cross the Planar Trade Consortium. While they won't come down on you as a whole, some of them have long memories and bottomless pockets. They could make your life very difficult."
Everyone sat and kept to themselves for several minutes, mulling over the days events and the evenings conversation. Finally Shadow Flame spoke "Well Fallon, we thank you very much for your counsel, you have given us a great deal to think about, and I'm sure we have, indirectly, done the same for you."
"No doubt of that my friend," replied Fallon.
"I have one, no two more favours to ask of you."
"Of course, I'll do what I can."
"Firstly, we need somewhere to stay the night, can I impose upon yourself to stay here?" asked Shadow Flame.
"Absolutely my friends," answered Fallon, "I cannot offer you beds, but I can set you up with cushions and blankets and you can stay in the waiting area. It nothing special but it will be comfortable, and free," he added with a wink.
Jean and Silvara expressed their gratitude before Shadow Flame continued with his second request.
"We need to get back to Iriaebor as soon as possible," he began, "and we were really hoping you would be able to teleport us back there in the morning."
Fallon thought for a second before replying, "I can, but I should warn you that I cannot teleport without error, you will have to take your chances with a regular fifth circle teleport."
"Are you familiar enough with Iriaebor to manage it?" the tiefling asked.
"I've have been there many times and am familiar with the city, but you are aware that even if I were teleporting you to my own house there is still a small chance that the spell can drop you high or low?"
"We are aware, and for those that weren't, well, they're aware now right?" Shadow Flame asked Jean and Silvara who both simply nodded. "I am prepared to take the risk myself. Jean, Silvara, how do you feel about it?"
"I am happy to take the chance," replied Jean, "it's minuscule."
Silvara seemed less certain, "uh, what do you mean by drop you high or low?" she asked.
"It means that the spell has a very small chance of teleporting you either higher than your target, in which case you're in for a fall, or, lower than your target in which case you are more or less dead, unless you get very lucky and end up in the sewer or something," answered Fallon.
Silvara turned a little pale at that thought, "but the chance of that happening is..."
"Virtually zero," answered Shadow Flame, "and given this is really the only way we have of getting back to Iriaebor without a 3 day journey I think we should do it."
"Very well," she answered, "I'll trust you on this one, I agree as well."
"Then it is done," said Fallon. "I have the teleport spell, and in the morning I'll study it, and when you are ready I'll teleport you to the Wandering Wyvern tavern. Will that be OK?"
"That would be great," answered Jean.
They all said their good nights to Fallon who then gathered them some blankets and cushions before retiring up to his room, leaving them to setup their beds for the evening.
Once they were setup and relaxed they talked about what they were going to do next.
"So," began Shadow Flame, "what in the hells do we do next? Who are we giving the Rubric to?"
There was no answer immediately, both Jean and Silvara thought for a while before Silvara answered.
"I say we give it to the Readers, they have offered us information and an ongoing resource that may well prove to be very useful in the future."
"It is a tempting offer," replied Shadow Flame, "but I'm not convinced. It is vague, or at least of undefined value. Make no mistake, I am very interested, their knowledge could be useful and I am interested in it personally, but I'm not sure it is worth crossing the Planar Trade Consortium over. Jean?"
"I tend to agree, as much as the Readers could supply useful info, I doubt they'll be able to provide much insight on the staff which is what I'm primarily concerned with. I think keeping in the good books of the consortium could be a better plan."
"But think of what we could learn from the Readers," pressed Silvara. "Information is the most valuable commodity as I see it. There are people in Sigil who make their entire living from rumour and information from what I understand. Chant brokers? Chant mongers? Yes?"
"You're right," said Shadow Flame.
"And who says we need to keep their information to ourselves?" she continued. "We could be sitting on a gold mine of information, not only useful to us but also maybe to others, for a price of course. And the offer wasn't only information, it was aid, and items for any Abyssal sojourn we might undertake. I think it'll pay for itself in short order."
She made a good case and both Shadow Flame and Jean thought about it for a while.
"I do agree with your reasoning," said Shadow Flame, "but I am not keen on the idea of going back on our word to the consortium. Are you forgetting the 25,000 jink they'd want for that Holy Word scroll if we don't cough up the Rubric?"
"No..." she replied.
"And there's the agreement we made," added Jean, "Zulik was talking magic, not just jink."
"That's what I'm thinking," said Shadow Flame, "there's a fair bit to gain and a lot to lose when it comes to the consortium. Is there something in particular you're hoping to get from the Readers Silvara?" he asked.
"Well...no, nothing specific, I just think it is the better deal. I'm prepared to deal with the consortium, I doubt they can bring anything to bear against us any time soon."
"I have to disagree with that," said Jean, "you heard Fallon, they've got the jink which means they have the resources. I think we'd be hearing from them much sooner than you'd expect. We don't fully know what we'd be dealing with either."
"I'm with Jean, I think the cons of backing out of the deal and delivering to the Readers far outweigh the pros," Shadow Flame explained. "My vote is sell the Rubric to the consortium, we still have the historical tomes and coded ledgers from the sewers, maybe we can use them, give them to Ignatius and maintain some sort of good will?"
"Flame, that's a sweet idea," said Jean with a smile, "we can get the best of both sides that way."
"I admit that is a good idea," conceded Silvara. "I would still like to give the Rubric to the Readers, but I won't press it and will accede to you both."
"Democracy in action," smiled Shadow Flame. "How about we have a word to Fallon about it in the morning before we go? Just to make sure we aren't missing something. I didn't bring up the Rubric tonight because, well, there was no need as far as I could see, he's already done a lot for us...damn Marauder," he added with a curse, "but I think it's be good to get his view on it."
Jean and Silvara both agreed, and without anything further to discuss they all slept peacefully until morning.

Marpenoth 30th
They were woken in the morning by Fallon bringing them a hearty breakfast of bread, cheese and a thick stew. Thanking him perhaps a little more than was necessary they all ate their fill without saying much of import. Once they were done Shadow Flame brought up their discussion of the previous night with Fallon.
"Fallon, last night I left out a bit of the story." Fallon smiled and raised an eyebrow but did not interrupt Shadow Flame. "Yesterday morning, at the behest of the Planar Trade Consortium we went into the sewers of Iriaebor and retrieved this item," he said, pulling the Rubric from the bag of holding and holding it to Fallon to inspect. "Soon after we were contacted by one of the Readers, a man calling himself Ignatius Vallior. He claimed he was a Black Monitor for the Readers of the Scrolls chapter house in Sigil, and told us we had something called the Hezrou Rubric, asking if we would give it over to the Black Cult."
Fallon looked up from inspecting the Rubric and half smiled, "well that explains your interest in the Readers and the Consortium last night."
"I wasn't sure whether it was really necessary to involve you," explained Shadow Flame, "I don't really want to drag you into anything else, you've already had to fight off a Cambion and his minions and got on the wrong side of Rule-of-Three."
"No need to explain," replied Fallon, "your business is your own of course. This is an intriguing discovery though," he continued, "did this Ignatius give you any further information?"
Shadow Flame told Fallon everything that Ignatius had told them about the Rubric and his suspicions about who the Githzerai was going to sell it to.
"I must say I love it when you all come to visit, you always have such interesting stories to tell," Fallon smiled widely. "But yes, I would guess the consortium will deal with the Baatezu on this, they will almost certainly pay the highest for it, although I imagine there would be quite a few Celestials prepared to pay for such a thing."
"Celestials?" Shadow Flame asked.
"Hmm? Oh, it's a catch all term for upper planar beings such as Devas, Planetars, Archons, Eladrin and Guardinals," Fallon counted off on his fingers as he spoke before catching himself and rolling his eyes at himself, "sorry, you probably don't know what of any of those are. Celestials are to the upper planes what the Tanar'ri, Baatezu, Yugoloths and similar races are to the lower planes. They are exemplar beings, each embodying a different ideal of good and righteousness, and it would make sense to me for if any of them sought an item such as this Hezrou Rubric. Ultimately though I feel it matters little where it ends up from this perspective, any of those races, good or evil, will use it against the Tanar'ri which is a not so undesirable result in my opinion. The obvious down side is that if it ends up in the hands of the Yugoloths or Baatezu it will be lost forever since they would never give it up, and I feel it would be equally inaccessible in the hands of a Celestial although they would be more likely to share it's lore."
"Really I'm not personally concerned where it ends up," said Shadow Flame, Jean nodding her agreement next to him while Silvara remained silent on the matter.
"In that case my advice from last night remains the same. If you have no need for the information and resources offered by the Black Cult of Ahm then you should consider making good on your agreement with the Planar Trade Consortium. I wish I could have a few days with this thing to study it," he lamented, "you will tell me everything you find out about it, if anything?" he asked.
"Of course," replied Shadow Flame, "I take it there is nothing you have to add to what I've told you?"
"Not really, I've never really heard of this Rubric."
"Well I guess it is all settled then," said Shadow Flame. "Jean, Silvara, do you have anything else to ask, or anything you need to do?"
They both shook their heads in response, so with nothing left to say Shadow Flame asked Fallon to cast his teleport spell.

They appeared in an alleyway to the back of the Wandering Wyvern having landed on solid ground. Silvara breather a loud sigh of relief but neither Jean nor Shadow Flame gave any indication they were concerned.
"Smooth ride hey Silvara?" asked Shadow Flame jokingly.
"Would have been smoother if I didn't have to worry about teleporting into the ground," she replied with a shaky smile. "Let's head back to the Boar and see what Unagi's been up to."
They moved off quickly down the street towards their Inn. They arrived to find that their room had been given up as they hadn't renewed their stay before they left. Approaching the barkeep about the situation they found some disturbing news. After they had left the previous day Unagi had left straight after them, but the barkeep could not say where he went. Since they had not paid for the next day Unagi's gear was being kept behind the bar in a small room as it had been removed when the maid went to clean the room. The barkeep had no idea where Unagi was but he was sure that he had not returned the previous night. They thanked him for the information and paid for another nights stay at the Boar, and, after collecting Unagi's gear they went up to their new room.
They discussed what to do about Unagi; Iriaebor was a big place and trudging around looking for him, even though he tended to stand out in a crowd, seemed, at least initially, to be a bad place to start. Where would he go? There were some logical starting places, the gaols for one - if Unagi got into any trouble it was a reasonable bet to check there first. There was also the market place in the Lower City, Unagi may have been passing the time or showing off his weapon skills which he proven want to do in the past, but it begged the question why had he been gone long enough that his gear had been removed by the Inn maid? It meant he hadn't returned last night, and that by itself was not cause for concern, but the fact he still wasn't back now and his room had been cleaned was. Since it was still reasonably early in the day they decided to try and find him in the more obvious locations; that was the gaols and at the market, as well as asking the Priestesses of Selune to keep an eye and an ear out for him. After organizing to meet back a the Inn just before the evening meal so they could go to the Wandering Wyvern to close their deal with Zulik, each party member set off in search of Unagi.

They found themselves all sitting back in the bar room of the Black Boar after a fruitless day of searching, and they were starting to get genuinely worried. No one they had spoken to had seen or heard from Unagi at all, it was as if the man had simply vanished. However, Silvara had got the Priestesses of the High Altar of the Moon to keep an eye out, and since they were well liked and respected in the city there was very little that went on that they were unaware of, so the party was hoping they would turn up something by the morning. But right now they had a more pressing concern because it was time to go and settle the agreement with Zulik of the Planar Trade Consortium.
Making their way to the Wandering Wyvern early enough that they did not have any trouble finding a table, Shadow Flame let it be known to the bartender that they sought the Githzerai and had something for him. The news travelled quickly and within 15 minutes they were approached by Zulik wearing a large grin on his face.
"My friends, I am glad you have returned," he said. "I trust you have been successful?"
"Please," replied Shadow Flame, "take a seat."
The Gith sat and clapped his hands. A waiter promptly appeared to take his order, "my friends please order whatever you wish, it is on me," he smiled graciously.
They ordered their drinks and got straight down to business.
"We have your scroll," Shadow Flame stated flatly.
Zulik's face lit up, "excellent! That being the case it seems we should begin discussing your payment."
"Yes, we should," replied Shadow Flame. "You stated we could claim magic?"
"Yes I did," answered the Gith, "but before we continue I'd like to note that your friend, Unagi was it? isn't here."
"No he's not," said Shadow Flame, "but that changes nothing. We will deal and he will take a quarter of the payment, in jink if necessary. We all speak for him and will continue with what we feel are his best interests at heart."
Zulik considered Shadow Flames words for a moment before replying, "that will be satisfactory, but you will need to sign to indicate that was the case. If your friend is unhappy with the payment then obviously we don't want him coming to us. You must accept the responsibility if it turns out he is not satisfied with this arrangement."
"Fine, draw them up," Shadow Flame agreed.
Zulik spent a few minutes writing a brief contract that indicated the party accept full responsibility in the event Unagi was unhappy with the way the payment was settled. Shadow Flame looked over it briefly and, satisfied it was a reasonable and legitimate document, signed his name to it, as did Jean and Silvara.
"OK then, with that out of the way, let's talk payment," said Shadow Flame.
"By all means," prompted Zulik.
"I'm not really sure how you expect this to go down," began Shadow Flame, "but I will state that I would like a weapon. A long sword, imbued with the magics of haste."
"So everyone would be happy if that weapon was the full payment for the job?" asked Zulik with a wry smile.
Jean and Silvara both voiced their objections quickly and firmly.
"The weapon you ask for is worth easily the price of the job you did and really quite out of the question," Zulik explained. "Perhaps it would be best to negotiate a price in jink and then offer my services as a salesman, so to speak. That way you know how much you have to spend and I can reasonably provide items of the requisite value."
The party looked a bit dubious but they agreed. Shadow Flame was the negotiator and opened at 20,000 gold pieces each.
Zulik snorted derisively, "80,000 jink to pull a simple heist? Out of the question. I would be prepared to bargain around 5,000 jink each. 20,000 jink total, a fine payment."
"Surely you jest?" Shadow Flame mocked  the Gith, "we almost lost our lives several times in that sewer, and would not consider payment of less than 15,000 jink apiece."
The Gith paused for a moment to consider the proposal before returning with, "10,000 jink apiece. It is an impressive offer - double my initial one."
They all looked at each other, trying to talk without talking. It was an impressive offer, and truth be told, more than they truly expected to get for their trouble. Jean and Silvara nodded subtly to let Shadow Flame know they were happy with the deal. Shadow Flame turned to the Gith and said, "50,000 jink all up."
Zulik narrowed his eyes at the tiefling and stared at him for what seemed an age before stating, "done. It is a deal."
Shadow Flame smiled at him and turned to Jean and Silvara smiling at them, proud of his bargaining prowess.
"So it's to be jink then?" the Gith inquired.
The three of them shared a quick look and it was clear that all would be happy with taking the jink, so they all nodded their agreement.
"We want it in platinum," Shadow Flame said, "easier to carry around and all that."
"Agreed," replied Zulik. "Hand me the scroll and I will arrange for the payment to made within the hour."
"I don't think so," Shadow Flame disagreed. "You hand over the jink, we hand over the scroll. It is a simple transaction and there will be no sitting around waiting while you run off with our bargaining power."
Zulik chuckled, light heartedly it seemed, although they couldn't be certain - the Gith had a strange way about him. "Then it's agreed. I will return in one hour with your coin and the deal shall be done." With that he stood and said, "feel free to stay and drink on me," and then he simply turned and left.
They did exactly as was suggested by the Gith, they sat and drank on him, not to excess but they had no moral objection to ordering the most expensive drinks available. During this time they discussed how they would go about finding Unagi, there was still no sign of the gladiator and enough time had passed that they were starting to really worry. However, until the morning there was not much they could do, the Priestesses of Selune and the local law were all either looking for him or looking out for information about him, and given those numbers they decided it would be best to finish this deal and return to the Black Boar - they had a lot of magic to identify and a lot of scrolls and texts to discover.
Zulik returned in less than an hour with a small chest cradled in his arms. He sat at the table and said, "here is your jink, hand me the scroll and you can place the contents of this chest into whatever bag or backpack you feel will comfortably hold ten thousand platinum coins."
Shadow Flame produced the Hezrou Rubric from the bag of holding and handed it across to Zulik who immediately began studying the item, holding a handkerchief up to his face so as not to inadvertently breath in some spores, and also to cover the rank stench of the scroll. Not waiting for the Gith to give any indication he was happy with the rubric, Shadow Flame dragged the chest over the table, it was small and surprisingly light, and upended it into his bag which again filled with platinum coins. He picked several coins up and inspected them, and finding they were indeed genuine he closed the bag. The party stood to say their farewells, and Zulik looked up at them.
"Farewell my friends," he said, "it had been a pleasure doing business with you. I will make sure the consortium knows you can be trusted to act in good faith, which is a fine thing as we may have more work for you in the future."
All three of them voiced their farewells, but none of them had any more to say on the matter. They left the Wandering Wyvern and returned to the Black Boar to begin the process of finding out what new magic they carried from their encounters in the previous days.

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