An adventuring party recruited from Osirion teleports into Azir on the 8th of Desnus. Rahadoum's recruiting contact in Osirion wrote ahead to note they were expected. Couple of guys he's known a long time - a wizard, a ranger - and a new guy, sorcerer, probably to replace the cleric they usually travel with. They spend two days in Azir getting oriented and head out to the front. The ranger wears an unusually high quality amulet of Nondetection; the sorcerer wears a headband for intelligence, which is a bit unusual as sorcerers usually don't need it to cast, but some variants do; they are otherwise unremarkable. Chaotic Good, Lawful Neutral, no reading, which could mean neutral or 'hiding it'. They work quickly and effectively, manage resources reasonably well, get recommended to higher-ups for a closer look on that account.
Word reaches him and Malduoni is, in fact, interested in a closer look.
He would like to observe them under stress-test conditions. Get a closer look at how they reason during a fight. Hmm, particularly in a fraught situation; he has enough information already to pass them on his competence bar, it's their judgement that he wants a real assessment of. None of the current invading outsiders to be dealt with are particularly interesting, so he alerts his contact in Abaddon. Who, one assumes, think they work for someone Evil, because why would anyone else provide helpful supplies and intelligence to Abaddon.
Some daemons show up. They have captive souls with them. They make it quite far during the night, before Malduoni directs the promising adventurers their way.
Malduoni is present, within range of Detect Thoughts (and quite a number of other senses that wizards usually do not have permanently.) He's also invisible, undetectable by any known kind of magic, and additionally hiding behind a rock.
Their wizard identifies the souls, notes this to the sorcerer who apparently has telepathy, draws his summoned creatures away because they might smash the remaining souls. Directing the summoned creatures requires nearly all of his attention, he notes to himself to think about later that it's very unusual, for daemons to have souls here -
The ranger (Aroden is powerful enough to override the amulet) is likewise entirely absorbed in killing these things faster without smashing the souls - well, almost entirely absorbed, there's one thought that he might as well spend his fancy deadly magical ammunition now because it's not like he'll be using it in the war in Cheliax, where even with a Merciful weapon it'll be damned difficult not to kill anyone...
Until this point he's been mulling on various other logistics in the back of his mind while watching, but the situation now has his complete attention. It's - not impossible for someone to have guessed - he chases down half a dozen possible observations and threads of inference someone could have followed. But he's surprised.
The sorcerer's able to hedge out his permanent Detect Thoughts, though maybe he just got lucky. Normally he would leave it at that, two out of three, but it's suddenly a lot more critical than usual that he understand fully, that he be oriented.
(It took him many, many years, but he eventually obtained enough permanent magical senses that he feels mostly oriented at baseline.)
The sorcerer is very distracted and Malduoni can cast more subtly than most, he doesn't think the man has any way of noticing a second attempt. He casts Detect Thoughts as a separate spell. It's one that he's optimized significantly, and his version is far more difficult to block out than the usual one.
The sorcerer apparently ALSO has permanent Detect Thoughts and Detect Magic, somehow, because he's scanning the area, trying to check if he's currently being observed. He is under the impression that he isn't - he's thinking about some type of magic he calls a Gate, though the mental image of a glowing doorway doesn't look like the kind of Gate Malduoni knows, and how he's still not going to risk using it, not that it'd be useful anyway.
He does, however, switch to using some sort of complex immobility spell, unfamiliar to Malduoni both as a sorcerer capability and as a spell at all, the shape of the magic is very odd. It makes it a lot easier for the ranger to shoot the daemons without damaging any more of their captive souls.
And then they can head on over and get the souls. Mahdi and Leareth are talking about whether there 's a way to get them somewhere safe. Releasing them will just send them back where Pharasma thinks they belong - which is probably Abaddon, though sometimes daemons do grab souls they're not entitled to.
If Aroden made the daemons in this area more active just to train up his army to invade Cheliax then that's impressively fucked up, he thinks, as they make plans to leave the souls somewhere safe in Sothis.
Malduoni does not do much speculating on the spot. It would be stupid to let himself be distracted, even if the adventurers show no sign of having noticed him, and should not be capable of it. (But how do they know - he's missing something huge...)
They know about Cheliax, fine. They also know about Aroden. Or have guessed. He's not at all sure what chain of inferences could possibly lead to that destination.
He watches and waits for them to finish up here and move on.
The wizard teleports to Sothis and back. The sorcerer offers to refill his spell slots, which is not at ALL a thing sorcerers can ordinarily do, but they agree it's probably not worth it. They walk back towards their camp instead, vaguely planning to take the souls to Nirvana once they have their party cleric back.
Malduoni follows them back to camp, invisible (he is not especially limited on invisibility), at a distance but within range of all his permanent magic-senses.
He's thinking that maybe they should have teleported, it's so much less annoying. And that he misses Fazil and hates having to carry water for the day. And wondering whether it's worth the money for a Ring of Wizardry like the one the wizard he was talking to here has, it'd be fun but he's going to retire after they save the world or whatever and how much added utility is it, really, when he's retired - honestly too much of his wealth is wrapped up in magic items useful to adventurers anyway, what if the Age of Glory obviates them or something, it'd be - objectively very good and all but quite a financial hit -
He is thinking that Pharasma should die in a fire (this is not a new opinion of his) and wondering whether Mahdi took the souls to Mahdi's house or to the pharaoh's palace, the pharaoh will probably make some eerie guesses from that - actually the pharaoh is probably spying on them all the time now that he can target Hagan's companions and not just Hagan himself and also possibly now that he's gotten a look at the amulet and guessed who he needs to have scrying if they want to stand a chance. He is pretty sure the pharaoh will not ask Abadar for help finding Hagan, that'd be cheating, but cheating every other way would be completely within bounds, and he's got to be desperately curious.
Well, maybe they'll have news for him as soon as tomorrow.
They get dinner. They bathe. They talk about what to tell the adventurers who are under geases and therefore probably read in about Cheliax. He thinks they should go with 'Leareth has an army' and claim that Leareth could use the army to seal the House of Oblivion. Which he probably could - the pharaoh said he didn't have the resources, not that it was impossible in principle...
Malduoni's feeling about the fact that apparently the pharaoh of Osirion knows about this, what, secret undercover mission to find out if Rahadoum is invading Cheliax or if Aroden is in charge there, is DISPLEASURE. Also confusion.
- the part where they noticed the adventurers under geas is clever. Someone is doing a very good job of guessing, from the outside, at his security precautions. Impressive. He is not particularly happy that they've guessed it but he is nonetheless impressed.
Also the bizarre alien not-sorcerer supposedly has an army, and he is pretty sure no one on the planet could conceal an army without his eventually finding out about it.
The army's from another world as is the sorcerer but he's honestly barely thinking about that, it's old news.
With the cover story they've agreed on, the sorcerer is saying, it will look much less as if they know an alarming number of probably-Aroden's secrets.
:Yeah. And, like, at this point I am leaning that we want to work with this guy whether or not he is Aroden and whether or not he is you - though admittedly it looks likely - so may as well not have everything rest on the most bizarre and hard-to-prove part of the whole thing.:
Which is startling enough that Malduoni nearly loses concentration on the spell he's re-casting to read Leareth's mind again (which is his last of the modified and optimized ninth-level Detect Thoughts), that almost never happens.
- whether or not - he is - you -
He doesn't even know how to parse that. This is possibly the most confused he has been in the last century and he is not pleased about it at all.
At this point he should probably break off soon and make actual plans, but he observes a little longer, they seem to be settling down for an uneventful night after a tiring fight, but he'd like to be more sure than he is.
Leareth thinks they don't have much reason to think Rahadoum is going to war with Cheliax if it's not secretly run by Aroden - right, it is Vanyel that Hagan explained his logic to, two weeks that feel like two lifetimes ago, and he's pleased with how well the prediction held up -
- I think Rahadoum's going to go to war with Cheliax, he'd said at the time, because they're recruiting under tighter conduct standards than make any sense for handling evil outsiders in the desert in Thuvia - you ask for that kind of thing when there are going to be civilians, and civilians you give a shit about, and Rahadoum will still think of their lost northern province as their own people...
He was (probably) right about the general picture but he will concede that he was wrong about one thing, Leareth and Aroden are in fact the kind of people who'd probably care about that just as much if they were invading Thuvia or - Valdemar - or some other place they'd never had a claim to. Lawful neutral, but not like Abadar, disinterested in the war of Good versus Evil - the opposite of that, really, doing a bazillion astoundingly Evil things for the side of Good, he wouldn't have guessed you could swing it but - maybe you can.
They go to sleep.
Malduoni switches from invisible to his usual illusion-disguise; he prefers not to do most of the hands-on work as himself. He discreetly asks some people he trusts a reasonable amount to keep an eye on that tent and alert him if anyone inside moves.
He teleports himself out, back to his usual base, already with the beginnings of a plan in mind. He gives some orders, collecting a few people who he'd like to assist him with this - it's not that he doesn't trust the random camp guards, they're recruited to a high standard, but there are levels of trust, and they can't cast the spell he needs anyway. Also he doesn't want to explain why a random group of adventurers requires kidnapping at all, much less with this many layers of contingency.
He gets some sleep - he's had a Ring of Sustenance for a very long time, so two hours is plenty - and that gives him a lot of remaining night, to prepare spells, and go over what could go wrong so he can patch it.
He teleports back to the camp an hour before dawn, invisible. The wizards who are helping him are arriving separately. He points Detect Thoughts and Detect Magic at the tent.
He is just waking up to prepare his spells for the day. He makes himself a magic light and begins.
The amulet of nondetection is hedging out the one who wears it, and the other one is also blocking him, but to the wizard's eyes they're both sound asleep.
He casts a quickened heightened mass Hold Person, it should hold all of them for a few seconds and then there's a high likelihood of at least one of them throwing it off, they're all powerful casters, and so he needs to move faster. He Plane Shifts Leareth, the not-sorcerer, out first, as planned - the unknown quantity here, the most baffling member of the party.
Leareth struggles against it but does not successfully throw it off, and he's gone.
- he prepares for his second round of spells–
He identifies the spell and can guess, from that, at what's being brought to bear against them, and he's unsure whether it's in fact wise to fight but this doesn't stop him from throwing off the Plane Shift and then the paralysis - he's thinking he can jump a short distance without any spells prepared, and then if he can get a Teleport prepared he can get to Sothis -
Their wizard is very impressive, honestly, but also there is no way he's going to throw off all of the wizards he brought casting Hold Person at him, even if theirs aren't as powerful, so he signals to them, and uses his second Plane Shift to grab the ranger next in case he's about to pull anything unexpected.
Then he does not get the chance to do that. He does think angrily in probably-Aroden's probable-direction that if anyone hurts his snake he will murder them about it.
He feels a little apologetic but not very; he's not intending to harm the snake, why would that help anything.
He Plane Shifts the wizard, who is very Hold Person'd.
He appears in the library and the Hold Persons stop working, though not before he collapses to the ground.
Mindspeech doesn't work, which is deeply frustrating, but at least he seems unhurt, having fallen on one of the rugs and not headfirst into a bookshelf.
There are additional thuds.
Leareth rises in a crouch, he's settle for using just his eyes to look around. "Mahdi, Hagan?" It does appear to be both of them, and no one else yet. Not that he'd know if there were someone hiding in a bookshelf, since he doesn't have Thoughtsensing.
(He is somewhat ticked off about being thrown in an anti-magic demiplane for the second time this week.)