The first view I had of Xanlham, the 390th Plane of the Abyss, was much the same as I had seen the last time, I’d looked upon it, when I had first opened the Abyssal Rift that became this permanent gateway between planes. Red-black smoke covered the ‘sky’ of this plane, and yet it was as bright as a partly-cloudy day. In the distance the iron walls and obsidian spires of Xanl City rose, the major landmark in this strange place.
Of course, closer to hand were the counterpart to the garrison on the other side of the Gate, with warriors at the ready to defend against armed incursions from the other side. I was not surprised to see two ballistae lined up with a perfect shot at those coming through the gate, should they be hostile. The road coming from the Gateway had two sharp turns in it as it passed through the iron barricades, not so sharp as to prevent trade wagons from passing around them, but they would prevent someone from rushing the fortifications and breaking through easily enough. There were signs of Earth magic being used as well, to help shape the area into a natural choke point. All in all, it was very nicely done. An army could be held off by a far smaller force here, and breaching it would either take phenomenal power or rivers of blood. Probably both.
A hellion in gleaming black plate armor stood before us and held one hand up, the other resting upon the haft of his halbard. “Halt, and state your names and your business in the realm of Xanlham.” Well, border control checkpoints are the same everywhere, I guess.
“I am Zayn Darkmore, Lord of Lithaes, Knight of the Wyrmwood, Consort of the Princess of the Black Rock Orcs and the Queen of Dragons, Chosen of Sharess, and the one who opened the gateway you are now guarding. With me stand my companions and their children, including Kylana, Daughter of Ozmeros who was, when last I met him, a Captain of the Xanl City guard. Our business is a family visit.”
THAT got more attention our way, for certain, and the guard (who I was now certain was some kind of officer) called out a name. There was movement to one side, as one of the guards who was armed with a longsword and shield. His armor was also black, but less important-looking than the officer’s, so he was probably a lieutenant of some kind. The man advanced next to the officer, and saluted. “Sir!”
Greater Hellion Male
Level 80 Bulwark (Fighter) / Warpriest (Priest)
Titles: Defender, Demon Bane
“Sergeant, this Incubus claims that one of your kin is in his party. Is this true, or are we going to have to question him and his party further on why they’d be impersonating kin of a Guardsman?”
Kylana spoke up then, “Iaryx, you little rat! Hurry up and tell this man who I am, before I start telling everyone about all those ‘interesting’ stories I have from when you were a child! We can start with the time when you were just five, and Mother took us to the market—”
“Agh, shut up, you witch!” The guard grumbled, before looking at the Captain. “Yes, Lieutenant, that would be my sister. She was studying at the Grand Library before she was summoned as a familiar to a warlock, which I assume would be the incubus standing there.”
The captain nodded, and looked back to me. “Very well. If your familiar has not mentioned it, then allow me to say that Captain Ozmeros is well respected by the guards of the city, as he has led the Guard for thirty years now. The penalty for impersonating a Guardsman or their family is severe, due to the power the Guard has in the City. The Captain wishes to keep the ranks free of corruption, see.”
“I understand perfectly. Will we need to prove our identity again at the gates of the city?”
“No, because the Sergeant will be going with you, to make sure you don’t get lost or waylaid while you’re in the city.” The Lieutenant looked over to Iaryx, and said, “Sergeant, you and your squad will accompany these Travelers as an escort for their time in the city. Let Commander Shysea at the Gate know, so she can adjust the duty rosters accordingly.”
“Yes, Sir!” The Sergeant saluted, and then quickly called his squad, a group of five men, and soon they were arranged as a protective detail for us. As we headed to the Gate of the City, just half a mile away, he moved beside me so we could speak. “So, you’re the Incubus that bound my sister, hmm? Glad to see someone finally managed to keep her out of the library. She was always studying and never went out. We were worried she was never going to find a ‘partner’. But here I see she has a child, bearing your name? How did you convince her to leave her books for so long?”
There was a clang, and a curse from Kylana as she hit her brother’s armor with her hand. I decided to be merciful, and ignore that. Instead, I answered Iaryx’s question. “I am an incubus blessed by Sharess. Naturally, I was simply very, very persuasive in getting her to turn some of her studies into practical knowledge. Did you know that there are books in your Grand Library which pertain entirely to magical rituals that can only be completed with a man and a woman conjoined in passion?”
“Really now? Well, that certainly explains why she spent so much time in the restricted sections of the library! OOF!”
I laughed as Kylana hit her brother again, this time with the end of her staff, and soon everyone was at least smiling at this display of sibling love. “At any rate, most of the kids you see here are mine. All but two, in fact, and likewise all but two of the adults are mine, though the other two are part of my guild, which I lead. The children were now at a level where they could travel some, as long as we went directly from one place to another on safe paths, instead of exploring, so we thought it time to introduce them to some of their parents.”
With Iaryx there to vouch for us, and pass on the word for a change in deployments, we were allowed to enter the city without much issue. Once we were inside, I noticed a bit of movement as the crowd of a city pushed around us, and said, “Now, I know we did not announce when we would be arriving in the city because we didn’t know how long it would take.” My hand darted out and grabbed a slender arm, the hand of which was still attempting to slip into my coinpurse without my noticing.
Half-Hellion Succubus Female
I looked down at the child who had been attempting to steal from me. “Tell me, Iaryx, what is the penalty for thieves in the City? I seem to have caught a little one who has fingers that are defter than they ought to be.”
Iaryx looked at the girl, who could not have been more than three or five by the looks of her, dressed in rags that spoke clearly of her being a street rat of some kind, and said, “Depends on the extent of the crime, and the target. A thief caught stealing from nobles could expect to lose their hand, if not their life, unless the target suggested some other arrangement.”
I ignored the girl’s struggles to try and get out of my grasp, since that simply wasn’t going to happen. “I see. Then I think I will do this.” I looked at the girl, and touched her at the back of the neck. “[Soul Chain].” A white chain appeared momentarily, encircling her neck before stretching out to wrap around my wrist, before disappearing.
“Now hear me, child. That spell binds you to me for twenty-four hours. No matter where you go on this plane, I will be able to find you, and should you not do what I tell you, then I will hunt you down and make sure you live to see your error.” I paused, to make sure that the severity of my threat was made clear, before continuing. “You will run to the home of the Captain of the Guard, Ozmeros, and present yourself at the door. You are to inform those who live there that Lord Darkmore of the Wyrmwood is coming to visit with his comrades, and that Lady Kylana and her daughter are with him. You will report our numbers to them accurately, and tell them that we shall arrive after we check in with the various guilds, to ensure that we are in compliance with local laws as we practice our trades. You will then tell them that I have ordered you to obey their commands until I arrive to pronounce judgement on whether I offer you something better than just taking your hand and leaving you to suffer in squalor.”
I leaned in and whispered, “And next time, you should get a better read of your target, and see whether they are actually distracted when you attempt to pick their pocket. Still, you’re talented for one so young. What are your Sleight of Hand and Sneak skills at?”
The girl sighed, and said, “Advanced 1 for Sleight of Hand, and Intermediate 5 for Sneak.”
I nodded as I released the girl’s arm. “Very impressive. Now go, and do as I’ve commanded. When I arrive at the house, if you are still there, and have behaved yourself while in the house, I may have an offer for you. But I will expect your story before I offer it to you. Oh, and it goes without saying that stealing from the Captain of the Guard would be a sure way to make me revoke any leniency I may grant you.”
The girl narrowed her eyes, and said, “I’m not going to be doing any of those things with you, not ‘till I’m older, and definitely not as some kind of threat.”
I laughed at that. “Oh, no, my tastes do not run to unripened fruit, do not worry. But you clearly have talent, and if you prove that you can follow instructions, I may just happen to have a job for you, but it might take you out of this city, to a castle I control. But in exchange, I can offer training, and you will not worry for food or clothes.”
The child’s eyes went from distrustful to skeptical to hopeful, and I could not help but smile at the transition. When I nodded, she turned, and ran off, heading into the city. Iaryx looked at me with wonder, and said, “Forgive my saying so, but what was that just now? The pictures of you from the letters Kylana has sent us did not exactly paint a picture of you as the charitable type.”
I laughed, and shook my head. “Oh goodness, no. Charity is not something I’m interested in. However, this is more like an investment. You have a child who has yet to advance to her first class, but has already managed to get a title like ‘Survivor’, and has skills in the Intermediate and Advanced ranges? She is young enough that she could be molded into a potent weapon, either as an assassin, or a spymaster, or whatever pursuit seems best. I am investing in her future ability.”
Iaryx nodded. “All right, that sounds more like what we’ve heard.”
I smiled. “Now, let’s get a move on. I need to check in with the local Adventurer’s Guild, the Slaver’s Guild, and the various crafter’s guilds to ensure there are no problems with authorizations and the like, and I don’t want to give her too much time with the temptation to either try and steal from your parents or run away. That would be a waste of good material.”
Kylana sighed. “Only you, Master. You let her get her hand in your pocket to make sure she was caught, didn’t you?”
“Naturally. She’s skilled, but I’m much better at spotting things like that than she is at hiding them. And she will be able to tell me about the parts of the city your parents can’t officially know.”
Iaryx shook his head. “This is going to be an interesting assignment, I can already tell.”