Part 126: Sensory Stone of the Nameless One: Part 4Sensory Stone of the Nameless One: Part 4
"I heard all about your fine work, friend. That was an interesting little turn-around. How'd you like Curst's politics, hm?" Dallan quaffed his ale. "Here's your payment from my end." His voice deepened, taking on an almost ritualistic tone: "As far removed from Gods and light of Heaven..." His voice normalized, "For the final portion of the Key, talk to Dona Quisho over there."
"Why did you want that matter taken care of, anyway? What was your connection?"
"Because An'izius forbade me to play in this city." He spat on the floor. "Because Siabha refused to aid me despite our long friendship. She said the time wasn't right to play her hand. Because he was a power-hungry mongrel, and she a self-aggrandizing whore. I knew that, one way or another, one or both of them would fall."
The crawling feeling along my spine wasn't that of another memory resurfacing.
Dona Quisho was a red-haired woman, short and plump. Her face was lined with cares, worries, and hatreds that seemed to have festered for far too long. She rasped out, "You're the one wantin' to get underground, aye? You'll need to do Dona Quisho a favor before she gives you her piece o' the key. There's a fiend locked up here in town. I needs him freed." She pressed a scroll into my hands before I had a chance to react.
"Why?" my eyebrows furrowed and I looked down at the parchment in my hands. The ink seemed to breathe its words beneath my hands, and the clean, violet ribbon seemed to be the only thing holding in the thrumming feeling of malevolence.
"Because it's mine! Because I sacrificed so much for it! Because they took it from me and hid it from me and locked it away and no one would ever help me when it was all I ever wanted for myself!" Her voice grew sly, cunning. "But now I have knowledge you need, and you'll never get it unless you let Agril-shanak go."
"I don't hold with freeing fiends."
She cackled in my face. "That don't matter. You need the fifth part of the Key. I've got it. 'Less you're willing to find another way into your precious underground, you got to do what I say."
"How do I know it won't go on a rampage?"
A little smile filled her eyes, one of the most poisonous smiles I had ever seen. "That's not a problem that concerns me. You cut your own deals with the fiend. I just want him freed."
"What do I have to do?"
"Find the grain silo in town. Find the pentagram inscribed into the floor in it. Use that scroll nearby, and when Agril-Shanak appears... free it. Make whatever bargains you like with it, but set it free. I don't care what you do then."
I wondered if my boots were clean.
Really, you're about to release a soul-devouring horror of the nether realms to wreak havoc on the Planes at the behest of an addled old hag. You're doing this for some unknown purpose, in a town where ignorance has led you down the worst path imaginable.
And the only thing you can think of is whether your boots are clean when you're tromping on what's left of the Town's grain supply.
The grain crunches beneath our feet, the ladder rattles as we ascend. Kept on focusing on the little things to keep myself sane.
Of course, I couldn't be nonchalant here.
Right in the center of the loft was an empty pentagram. The air was dry and cold, and there was a scent in the air, of old magic gone stale and evil permeating the area, held in rein only by a circle of bone-gray ash.
It was the work of that witch Dona Quisho.
The air darkened for a moment, and there was a sense of wind rushing through my head and my heart, bringing a cold chill that seemed to freeze my insides. When my vision cleared a towering fiend stood, over fifteen feet in height with a dog-like head scraping the ceiling. Its massive torso sprouted four arms... two that ended in pincers, and two with clawed hands. Sharp fangs shone ivory-yellow and violet eyes glinted with fiendish intellect. It gazed at me steadily.
The creature's gaze never wavered as it continued to stare at me. I swallowed, not knowing what to say until I felt a tugging sensation at my mind and a voice rang in my head. "Greetings to you as well, human. I am Agril-Shanak. Why are you here?"
"I have some questions..."
"Questions... this amuses me. You may ask." Its eyes stared into mine in the most disturbing way. I was confident in my mental fortitude... I'd gotten out of plenty of scrapes out of sheer will alone, but Agril-Shanak was more alien a force than I'd ever faced.
"What are you?"
"Some call me a fiend... some a friend. I am Agril-Shanak. I am tanar'ri. I have achieved my status through hard work, treachery, blood, and fear. I am a creature of nightmare." He fell silent.
"Who calls you 'fiend' and who calls you 'friend,' exactly?"
"The ignorant who cannot see beyond fear and prejudice. It is their shortsightedness that causes them to label me such... and those who desire power often see me as a means to an end. It is they who call me friend."
"Those are vague answers..."
"Ah, but they are answers nonetheless." He leaned toward me. "The only answers I will give you..."
"What are you doing here?"
"Awaiting my freedom. Perhaps you have come to grant it? You have the scroll..." He pointed a clawed finger at the parchment Dona Quisho gave me.
"How did you come to be trapped here?"
"I do not know..." There was a long pause before he continued. "I was summoned and I answered the call. A greater force then intercepted me and I came here. I have been trapped since."
"Who summoned you?"
"You know the answer, you hold the scroll in your hand. It was Dona Quisho."
I nodded, "Dona Quisho sent me to free you. How do I do that?"
He pointed a clawed finger at the edge of the pentagram. "Simply break the diagram by erasing a small portion..." He looked at me, his eyes boring into my skull.
I paused, "What's in it for me if I do?"
"My gratitude will know no bounds. I will lay the planes themselves at your feet... free me!"
"I need something more concrete than words... if you can't deliver, I'll just be leaving."
"Very well..." I could feel his eyes boring into me as he thought. "I will grant you a magical weapon, a weapon of great power, a weapon to bring your foes to their knees... I will grant you Heartgrinder!"
"Yes... A weapon dear to me, but one I would sacrifice for my freedom. What say you? Will you free me for Heartgrinder?"
I glanced sideways at Grace. If anyone knew the heart of a tanar'ri it would be her. She returned the gaze with a firm coolness, and the barest hint of a nod. Do what you must, she seemed to say, so long as you are willing to pay the price.
I had no interest in fiendish weapons, nor in any power that carried the stink of the Lower planes. I knew I'd be opening a Pandora's box doing this... but by all the Powers I'd gone this far. At the very least I'd have eternity to hunt down Agril-Shanak and correct things with the edge of a blade. Until then, robbing him of some power might help limit what havoc he would wreak.
Somehow, I had the feeling that his release would be inevitable anyway.
I knelt, touching the diagram, and a surge of energy washed up my arm. With a quick stroke I erased a part of it. Just as quickly the energy faded and a cry of triumph roared within my mind. "Free at last!"
"I'll take Heartgrinder now."
"Yes... I will abide by our bargain, human. The weapon is yours and freedom is mine. A fair trade..." He glared at me and then a rusty axe appeared in his hand. He held it out. "It looks like nothing... but it is powerful."
I was momentarily skeptical, but a touch of that rusted axe told me all I needed to know. It screamed with power and a thirst for blood... such a weapon shouldn't be in anyone's hands, much less a fiend's.
"You have done me a great service and, out of gratitude, I will not slay you." He pointed a clawed finger at me. "Know this, however. If ever we meet again, you shall rue the day. Farewell."
He was already gone when I murmured beneath my breath, "I look forward to it."
"You're done, ain't you? Yes, you are... but where's Agril-Shanak?" Dona Quisho crooned.
"I'm sure it'll be around shortly."
She cackled. "And we shall make our plans and lay our traps and they shall rue their mistakes, oh yes." She pressed a bag of coins into my hands. "Here's the last part of the Key: 'As from the Center thrice to the utmost pole'. Go on back and talk to Tainted Barse now; he'll steer you right." Still cackling, she gathered her belongings and scurried out.
Barse was polishing a mug with a filthy rag. Seeing me come up to the bar he casually pulled out a shotglass and filled it with a good shot of strong liquor.
I downed it in one gulp. The stuff had a hard time affecting me, but I might as well try after the crap I've been put through for a poem.
"Such place eternal justice had prepared for those rebellious
Here their Prison ordained in utter darkness
Their portion set as far removed from Gods and light of Heaven
As from the Center thrice to the utmost pole."
Barse nodded, "Are you ready to go? There's no coming back - the door'll be locked, barred, and magically protected once you pass through. You want to do this?"
"Trust me, I'm in the mood to put something in its grave, and I doubt you'd enjoy having me around for that."
He gave a curt nod, "Good luck, cutter. You'll need it."