Partial Transcript of Lord Sandoval's Speech to the Paladins of Silver Falcon Detachment, Prior to Their Assault on the Second Plane of Hell


     "Gentlemen, I..."

<murmur from crowd>

     "Oh, sorry. Ladies and apologies, Lady Hannah."

<Crowd laughs.>

     "Ladies and gentlemen, faithful servants of Pha Rann, Cuthbert, and Imperius, I won't lie to you about what we're up against. Many of us may not be coming back from this mission, myself included. Any of us who is taken alive can expect to suffer torture that exceeds the bounds of what our mortal minds can even imagine. If you are separated from your squad and faced with capture...what you choose to do in that moment is something I leave between you and your god. Know that I honor you simply for volunteering to be here.
    "Do not lose sight of what we're going there for. This isn't a raid, a sortie, or a rescue mission - I'm sorry, Hannah. And it damned sure isn't an invasion. We're going to retrieve the Helm, and this is our only chance to intercept <name redacted> before he sells or trades it to someone truly beyond our reach. With every moment we spend in the Hells, the probability that we all die increases until it reaches 100%. There will be no grandstanding. This is not the time or place to find that heroic death you've been secretly wishing for. There will only be survival and success...or failure, and a miserable, unsung demise in a place beyond the reach of your gods.
     "All right, now that we've gotten the cheerful bits out of the way..."

<Crowd laughs.>

     "...I think it's important for you to know a few things about the Hells, specifically the ones beyond the First. Thanks to our allies in Morbatten, we will be granted safe passage through the First, contingent on our behaving like the guests we are...Lord Tannehill. Don't roll those eyes, Lady Hannah, I'm looking at you too here."

<Crowd chuckles.>

     "About the Hells, then. All of us in this room are mortal men and women, born on Tehra. No matter whose symbol we wear, we all acknowledge Pha Rann's light and revere His creations. For us, it can be tempting to assume that the Hells are like the Abyss, or that the denizens of one are like those of the other.
     "Nothing could be further from the truth. The High Priest probably wouldn't appreciate me putting it like this, but he isn't here right now, is he?"

<Crowd laughs.>

     "So I'll just say it plain: Asmodei is no more similar to Demos-Gorgos than he is to Pha Rann. They are complete opposites, and their natures are reflected in their realms.
     "The Abyss was created in blind terror, while the Hells were constructed with clear-eyed ambition. The Abyss exists to isolate the Nexus of Chaos from Set, while the Hells serve to shield Asmodei and his not-nexus from any would would try to take it from him. While the Abyss is wild and terrifying, the Hells are leaden and oppressive.
     "Most importantly for us, Set and Demos-Gorgos don't track everything that happens in the Abyss any more than a sleeping otyugh can count the flies that crawl on its hide. But nothing goes on in the Hells without Asmodei's knowledge, and nothing goes on there for long without his consent. Every Lord of the Hells, no matter how great or petty, holds their station only because Asmodeus suffers it to be so, and their squabbles with their fellow devils serve the delicate balance that maintains his power.
     "He will know that we have breached the Citadels of Dis. The success of our mission will depend in large part on how he feels about it. To that end, I've had a few friends of friends call in favors, the details of which I won't discuss in front of the Cuthberics here..."

<scattered laughter>

    "...wait. Bomoki, you aren't writing all of this down, are you? How long have you been here, anyway?"