Epilogue: Happily N/ever After
18 FLAMERULE 0000
ATHKATLA – THE SLUMS
As rain and cloud left the Sword Coast, they moved down to Amn, blanketing Athkatla in wet, overcast night. It was hot and muggy, and unusually dark, and thus two figures trudged nearly invisible through the slums district of the city in a late hour, although their gruff curses pierced the still, oppressive air.
"Ar," cried one, a grimacing dwarf with a matted beard and horned helm, "It be too hot for such work t'night, aye? I dinna know why the dark-elfy be wantin’ these bodies tonight, they be spoil'n too fast in such weather!" He hoisted the heavy, lumpy burlap sack he carried onto his other shoulder.
"Oh, be quiet," groaned the other, an unusually tall and muscular man; his ethereal glowing eyes illuminating much of his face, such as his bald scalp and tattooed forehead, "The sooner we get these last bodies to her, the sooner we may retire to meat and drink." The huge man carried a burlap sack similar to the dwarf's, although whatever was in it seemed about six feet long rather than three.
"Ar, meat and drink, now that be more like it!" chuckled the surly dwarf, licking his lips and then patting the axe at his belt with his free hand. "And after that's we can be findin’ ourselves some pretty lasses for a bit o' fun, aye?"
"Perhaps, Korg," replied the goateed man half-heartedly.
"Ar, ye be soundin’ not so enthusiastic for girlies of late, mister Sarry, is it all be still workin' downstairs? Har har!"
"Watch your tongue, dwarf, or you shall fill a third burlap sack," the man scowled down at his accomplice menacingly.
The dwarf growled back, traces of froth appearing at the corners of his mouth. "Har har, I be figurin' it out!" he laughed at length, "The dark-elfy be havin' another task for ye, so to speak! Har har!"
"Yes, perhaps," the man answered again, with a smirk, while rubbing the tentacle-rod-welt on his neck with his free hand. "Or perhaps I'll have a task for her," he added with bellowed laughter and clenched the hand into a hard fist.
"Ar, we be back in the bones-yard now, this place be givin’ me the creeps! Let us be findin’ yer little darkie, and then I be back off to the Coronet with my money, whether ye come or no!" the dwarf looked around at the gravestones and made some superstitious gesture with his hand.
The man squinted ahead into the gloom. The graveyard district was even danker than the slums this night, and a thick fog hung about it.
"Finally!" a shrill, witchlike voice echoed from ahead. Though neither Sarevok Anchev nor Korgan Bloodaxe could see its owner, they knew it to be Viconia deVir. "Hurry along, you oafs!" she continued, "This is no night for leaving the dead inanimate and rotting!"
The man and the dwarf plodded forward, and came to a large rectangular tomb. They strode within the open doors, and before them was then Viconia, decked out in ostentatious but revealing Sharran regalia.
"Well don't just stand their, you steel-swinging simpletons, lay them out!" she cried.
Korgan laid his burden on one of the two raised marble slabs in the room, and pulled the sack off, revealing the body of a messy-black-haired halfling man with earrings and greasy leather. Sarevok did the same, revealing a messy-blonde-haired human with facial tattoos and acid-green robes.
"Nei iblith!" Viconia cried as she peered over the bodies, brushing the hair out of the faces and studying them.
"We found 'em by the docks," Korgan began defensively, "In a dumper behind tha Harpy-Hold! They be as good condition is ye can be 'spectin!"
"You recognize them?" Sarevok asked the drow more perceptively, arching an eyebrow.
"Yes," Viconia answered, looking up at the living man, her look of disbelief melting into a wicked grin, "The halfling one is the rogue known as Montaron, the other the necromancer Xzar."
"Ah yes," Sarevok grinned, "I have heard of them."
"Now you shall meet them," the drow witch grinned, and rubbed her nimble hands together, causing Korgan to wince as the long, sharp nails scraped one another.
"But they died nigh a month ago, yes?" Sarevok looked down at them quizzically. "They should be naught but bones."
Viconia grinned knowingly. "It would seem that they were imbued with a certain...preservation ward," she laughed, "I would wager this foul, death-cheating necromancer put it upon them himself for just such an opportunity as this."
"If Korgan Bloodaxe coulds be disgusteded out," the dwarf frowned, "That would be doin’ it!"
Sarevok nodded and chuckled while Viconia began uttering foul words in a foul tongue. A blue haze appeared around her hands, and then upon the body of Xzar, which began to stir. Montaron's then began to glow and to move as well.
"KILL THE HARPERS!" Xzar screamed as his eyes popped open, gripping the sides of his head.
"AYE, KILL THE HARPERS!!" Montaron yelled, wriggling around on his oversized slab.
The necromancer sat up and bit his knuckles, babbling into his fist. "I have in mine sleep seen demons a-dancing and dragons in drag! ‘Tis all true, I swear, and now I wake to a hag!"
"Nay, X, it be tha beautiful buxom blue elf we saw abouts before!" the halfling laughed and licked his lips.
"Yep, that’s ol’ Monty and Xzar," Viconia laughed.
18 FLAMERULE 2200
ATHKATLA - THE SHADOW THIEVES’ GUILD
The only place shadier than the streets of Athkatla’s docks district are what lies beneath, and there, in the bowels of the Shadow Thief complex, in one of its more luxurious chambers, a red-robed and black-bearded man stood, looking at a painting on the wall. In drab colors, it was of a distinctively Thayvian man with a bald head and a black goatee. At the bottom, on the frame, an inscription read “Uncle Vlad.”
“Don’t worry, comrade Vlad,” the red-robed man sighed and held a glass of vodka up, “The Motherland will be proud yet.”
The man downed his drink and then left the room in a huff, and walked into another, even more opulent, chamber. Two men paced and argued. One had roguish but handsome features, clad in a leather suit rife with hidden pockets and daggers. The other wore chainmail and had a large, flat nose.
“Your men are incompetent!” The red-robed man hissed at the man in leather.
“Incompetent? Nae. Untrustworthy, yae,” he responded.
“Yeah, it was pretty f-in far out!” the one in chainmail laughed.
“Silence, you – what was your name?” the red-robed one demanded.
“I told you,” hissed the leathered one, “He’s Quintus Tarantinus, official bard and loremaster of the Shadow Thieves.”
“I always change the names in my work, of course,” Quintus Tarantinus grinned.
“See that he does, Aran Linvail,” the red-robed man glared at the leather-clad one.
“Don’t worry, Edwin Odesseiron,” Aran glared back.
“Hey yo man, are we professionals or what?” Quintus waved his hands, “I know the mission was bust, what with Orange, Pink, and Brown going freelance and turning like that, but it’ll make an f-in story. I’m thinking of calling it ‘Keep Fiction’ or ‘Reservoir Thieves.’ Whaddya f-in think, huh?”
“SHUT UP!” Aran and Edwin screamed at him in unison.
“Right,” Quintus shrugged and began walking out of the chambers, giving a very communicative hand signal as he did.
Aran stared down Edwin defensively. “Yeah yeah, so hitting the de’Arnise girl didn’t go as planned. So what are you trying to say, anyway?”
“Simple,” the Thayvian grinned, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
19 FLAMERULE 1800
THE WINDSPEAR HILLS
The storms plaguing the western coast of Amn did not end there, but moved inland over the country, bringing much-necessary rain to farm crops in many places, but nearly flooding others.
Rain beat down upon the Windspear Hills, filling streams and rivers and creating new ones, eroding the hillsides and bringing tons of mud downhill, much of it reaching the low-lying marshlands to the south, where the rain also came down in tropical downpours.
Through these choked, flooded swamps walked - nay, waded - a lonely wandering woman, wearing both dragonscale mail and ordinary, rugged clothing, scimitars on her back, stores in her magical bag, but no helm upon her head, only matted, muddied blonde hair. Its usually kempt braids had come tangled and undone, and the hair now spilled over a face that would have been beautiful save for the sadness and anger and mud that marred it now. She walked quickly but heavily, looking down at her own swamp-immersed feet or around at the flooded, festering landscape about her, ever looking both sorrowful and scornful, grime on her face and her clothing.
She came at last to a hillock that had been made almost an island by the risen waters of the swamp. Upon it was a stonehenge circle, and it backed against a rocky face, into which led a cave. As she approached the stonehenge, she could see that in its center stood a man. He had long, grey hair, and his face had the care and wisdom of great age, though he did not look actually very old, but like a man worn early by much brooding. His hair had also white feathers in it, and upon his body was plant-woven clothing, including a green cape that seemed a solid mat of leaves. In one hand he held a great staff that looked almost as if it were still growing.
He saw her, nodded knowingly as if he'd been expecting the lone woman, and called out to her. "The hour is late, the skies dark and stormy, the lands flooded and wild, and Jaheira of Tethyr comes before me, bearing a light burden on her back, but a great one on her heart. Come, daughter of the druids, back once more to your family. Join us again, my child."
Jaheira ascended out of the muck onto the hill, and stood just outside the circle of stones, looking skeptically at the man in its center. "I am no child, Cernd, indeed I am older than your mother, and might one Tethyrian druid ask another why you too linger still in Amn?"
The shapeshifter smiled. "A just question, Jaheira, who joined as an orphan and left as a woman our home grove long ere I was born to it. I would have returned, my investigation long now finished, but for obligations to nature - I am now grand druid of this grove, and our family needs me here."
"And what of your own family?" Jaheira asked him. "Did you not have a son, whom you longed to see again, and must still be neglecting."
"Sadly, yes," a mournful look crossed the long-haired man's face, "But even the grandest tree cannot keep its fruit upon its boughs forever; otherwise neither tree nor fruit would grow. I'm afraid that what you speak of, for now at least, it is a necessary sacrifice for the balance. And I am glad, dear Jaheira, to see that you once again desire to serve it."
"I have served it ever, Cernd," the half-elf rejoined defensively, "As a druid, though not with others of our kind."
"I meant nothing contrary, my dear," the man gestured apologetically, even as his face stayed haughty, "But I am so glad you are here once more."
The woman sighed. "I...I want to do what I can, but I know you can sense the real, simple reason I'm here; I can't deny it even to myself. I've..." she bit her lip and a tear welled in the corner of one eye, "I've just got no other place to go."
Cernd stared deeply at her, with compassion but also curiosity, as if looking straight through her eyes, directly into her mind. "Nowhere else should you be, though," he said, "With the young paladin? Certainly not. We both know, as much as he seemed to want to reach out to you, that his growth was stunted, his mind was closed off to any view save his own, indeed to our view, the True View; his mind was as closed off as his heart. He would have tried to lead you down a false path, indeed he did try if not deliberately or deviously, and I sense you have explored it with him, but that also you saw that it was false. And this, even were his pet pigeon to have never walked our beautiful planet, would have ever kept you two apart, even if you had tried to be together. That could have happened physically, perhaps, but spiritually, never. And you have journeyed, in both these realms, but now you return home. And that, I sense is the real reason you have returned, to leave both him and his warmongering philosophy behind, and make yourself pure again."
Yes, you hate him, Jaheira told herself.
No, I love him, she thought back.
You hate him. He is your enemy.
I love him. He is my best friend.
No! He scorned you. Your friendship, your love, your body, and your ways. He lusted for you once, but he hates you, and you hate him.
No! He loved me. He had to follow his heart, but he wanted us to be all he could be, and he would have wanted all else and to change his own heart if he could have.
Never, he was a delusional fool who could trick himself and thus you as a charlatan might trick you.
No! He had clarity. He wanted us to understand each other's views, and I think he was right about some things.
He is like an arrogant child. A naive little boy with his naive little girl and their naive little beliefs.
He is enchanted by his love for her, but no more deluded than are any of us who love, and more consistent and clear in his beliefs than any.
You are right that you are deluded that you love or believe him. You do not. You hate him and his dogma!
I cannot, we were soulmates.
You were his nanny, no more. Be glad you are rid of him!
I...yes, I am glad that I am rid of him, in a way..I wanted to be his friend, but I could not stand to be with him and less than his beloved. It hurts so much even now.
It hurts less with hate...this you know…
But that's wrong! But yes, it does…
Jaheira shut her eyes and clenched her teeth, grabbing both sides of her skull like she were trying to prevent it from splitting in half.
"You struggle with questions of the balance, my dear," Cernd's mesmerizing voice filled her ears and her mind, "Both external and internal; balance of our world, and within your own head. You are tired, cold, hungry, wet, muddy, and confused. Come join us inside, where all will be made comfortable and clear."
Jaheira opened her eyes, moving her hand and mouth to object, but she could not lift her arm above her breasts, and only a feeble groan escaped her lips. Cernd gestured to her, warm and welcoming, and she found that, though she was tired, she could not close her eyes, for she could not tear them away from his, and his gaze and continuing words of welcome seemed to both weaken her and nourish her.
At last the shapeshifter bent towards the ground, as if taking a step towards her but crouching low. Then, hands become like paws and his arms furry, his staff melding with them, and then his ears and jowl grew large, and he looked like a wolf, and then she realized his entire body now was as one.
The great werewolf trotted towards her, and she felt weaker still and fell forward, but upon its waiting back rather than the ground. It turned around, easily bearing her, and plodded back past the circle of stones and towards the entrance of the cave.
Jaheira's last thoughts flowed like water through her mind. I had a family....my parents were taken from me by revolutionaries. Then the druids were my family, but my foster parents were taken from me by poachers. Then the Harpers were my family, but Gorion was taken from me, by Sarevok, and then Khalid was taken from me, by Irenicus. Then my party was my family, but Onyx was taken from me, by his ignorance, by Aerie, by their shared beliefs and love. Now the druids are my family again. Cernd and the druids are my family...
20 FLAMRULE 1300
ATHKATLA – WAUKEEN’S PROMENADE
“Yegads, mister Quayle, lookie at all these elves pourin’ into town! Why, I haven’t seen this many elves in Athkatla since my great-great-uncle, ‘Saint’ Nicolas Jansen, tried setting up a Jansen Seasonal Toys & Gifts Co. elf-labor sweatshop in the slums district, only to find that his business rival, miss Snowy Whyte (a.k.a. Kaithae Laie) of Poison Apple Sweatshops Inc., had undercut him with cheaper dwarven labor! I hear tell she had a thing for the rock-eatin’ buggers too, there were this seven she always kept around….Anyway, I hear these elves are all fresh from that evil ‘Chaos Circus’ my good good friends trashed!”
“And might I add, mister Jansen, that if you had a fraction of my intellect, you’d also know that one of those ‘good good friends’, that Sir Onyx fellow, just happens to be my niece’s fiancÚ!”
“What in the nine turnipless hells? Why, I haven’t heard of a human & a gnome getting’ hitched since uncle Hugo Hefsen and one of his Playgnome centerfolds, Arra Nycara Smythe…”
“No, Jan, you writhing imbecil! Why, if you were even nearly as smart as I am, you’d surely know that Aerie the elf is my ‘niece’, by adoption, and that’s a-course who I meant, you rotund little slowbrain!”
Jan Jansen and Quayle, gnomish illusionists and annoyances extraordinaire (who were proving no less irritating to one another than they did to everyone else), were standing (on a very tall podium) just in front of the entrance to Quayle’s circus, watching in amazement as caravans of tieflings and elves – wood, moon, avariel, drow, sea - poured through Waukeen’s Promenade. As the gnomes had realized, these were the “refugees” of former Chaos Circus slavery, who had been freed by Onyx, Jaheira, Arra, Anomen, Valygar, and Minsc, given the provisions of the disbanded circus, such as food and drink (mostly already consumed) and caravans for the journeys to their respective homelands: the forests, the caves, the mountains, the sea, or the planes.
Despite the fact that few of them lived in Athkatla, many were apparently going through, presumably on their way to lands to the south, or to use the Five Flagons’ now well-known interplanar portal. Quayle saw this as a business opportunity, of course, and was trying to convince these itinerant elves to stay and join his circus. (This, of course, was not the first time he had acquired labor from the Chaos Circus, as his ‘niece’ well knew). He was standing on a tall podium with an enormous magi-megaphone, broadcasting his message across the Promenade. Unfortunately, Quayle was greeted by more thrown rotten tomatoes than offers, due to his rather insulting and ineffective way of ‘coaxing’ them, and also their understandable aversion to circuses after their previous big-top interment.
“JOIN QUAYLE CIRCUS,” the gnome bellowed into his magi-megaphone, “IT IS FUN AND EXCITING AND PAYS WELL. YOU ARE ALREADY SKILLED TO WORK HERE. YOU WOULD HAVE TO BE A MORON NOT TO WANT TO WORK HERE.”
In response, a rotten watermelon sailed out of the window of a caravan, smacking Quayle and sending the megaphone (as well as chunks of moldy melon) flying about. Luckily, Jan caught the megaphone in midflight.
“Lemme try, mister Quayle!” he chirped while the other gnome cleaned off his spectacles and muttered something about the intellectual inferiority of everyone around him.
“LADIES ANG GENTLE-ELVES,” Jan Jansen called into the megaphone, “WELCOME TO QUAAAAAAYLE’S CIRCUS! I KNOW, I KNOW, YOU”VE HAD SOME ROUGH TIMES, AND THAT’S AN UNDERSTATEMENT, AND RIGHT NOW A JOB IN THE LIVE ENTERTAINMENT BIZ IS ABOUT THE LAST THINGS ON YOUR TROUBLED MINDS. BUT HAVE NO FEAR, QUAYLE’S CIRCUS IS HERE! IT’S A CLEAN, FUN-AND-FREEDOM-LOVING PLACE, WITH 100% VOLUNTARY LABOR, NO COMMITMENT REQUIRED, COME AND GO AS YOU PLEASE, NO STRINGS ATTACHED! WE’RE ALWAYS ROTATING ACTS AND SHOWS, AND ALL SORTS OF TALENTS, ACROBATIC, COMIC, OR MAGICAL, ARE WELCOME AND NEEDED! AND WHAT BETTER PLACE TO LIVE AND WORK THAN ATHKATLA, A DIVERSE CENTER OF FAERUNIAN CULTURE AND COMMERCE THAT NEVER FAILS TO EXCITE AND AMAZE! THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS! THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO MAKE IT BIG, BIG, BIG! DON’T DELAY! SPOTS ARE GOING FAST!”
Pointy-eared heads were now sticking out of the windows of the caravans, and immediately entire elves began hopping out and a throng amassed in the already-crowded promenade just in front of the circus, at the foot of the podium where the gnomes were standing. “Better get the interviews going!” Jan whispered to Quayle.
“Er, right,” the bespectacled gnome chuckled, wringing his hands happily as he looked down at the clamor of elves. “You just ah, keep sayin’ what you’re sayin’, and I’ll use my superior skills of inference and deduction to weed out the most talented of ‘em!”
“SAY,” Jan babbled to himself (so he thought) as Quayle hopped down, and didn’t notice that he happened to skill have his mouth really close to the megaphone, “I HAVEN’T SEEN A THRONG OF YOUNG DEMIHUMANS THIS THICK SINCE I LAST WENT TO A BRITTANY OF SPEARS CONCERT…OF COURSE, THAT WAS NOTHING COMPARED TO THE INTENSITY OF WHEN I WENT BACKSTAGE TO GET HER AUTOGRAPH AFTER THE SHOW, AND I CAME ACROSS HER IN THE MIDST OF A ‘HUMBLING OF THE UNBELIEVERS’ ORGY-CEREMONY IN HER CHANGING ROOM, WHICH SHE DRAGGED HAPLESS LITTLE ME INTO THE MIDDLE OF, AND SHE SPENT THE NEXT SEVEN HOURS ‘TICKLING’ ME WITH HER TENTACLE ROD! WHO’D EVER HAVE THOUGHT THAT BRITTANY OF SPEARS WAS ACTUALLY A PSYCHOTIC EVIL ARCHPRIESTESS OF LOVIATAR BENT ON USING THE HYPNOTIC POWERS OF HER MUSIC OVER THE WEAK-MINDED, AND THE PAINMAIDEN-WORTHY AGONY IT CAUSES IN EVERYONE ELSE, TO ENSLAVE THE WORLD.
WELL, IT WAS KINDA FUN, AND YOU”D NEVER GUESS WHERE SHE SIGNED HER AUTOGRAPH…AS A PERMANENT TATTOO…”
The gnome abruptly shut up (an amazing event in and of itself) when he realized that the entire promenade was now deathly silent, and every pair of eyes for hundreds of yards around was staring at him. “Eep!” the little illusionist cried and hastily cast an invisibility spell.
Meanwhile, just inside the big tent, Quayle had set up a little sub-tent, inside which was a chair and a desk. “Next!” he called from behind the desk, as the drow jester standing before him finished a juggling act involving five scimitars and an infant.
As the drow departed, a beautiful moon elf woman stepped into the mini-tint. “What?” Quayle exclaimed as he noticed she, too, held a newborn. “Another brat-act?”
“No, no, mister Quayle sir, he’s just my son,” she sighed demurely, and set the half-elven baby in the chair. “My name is Iri. I am a dancer,” she said simply, and began her act. The gnome watched enrapt as the elf, clad in a strange but alluring outfit of many multicolored and nigh-translucent pieces, almost like she were merely wearing a large number of thin scarves, began a slow, graceful dance while singing an enchanting but haunting and mournful tune in some exotic language.
“Marvelous! Marvelous!” Quayle clapped his stubby hands excitedly. “Why, even the insipidly stupid denizens of this city will be able to appreciate such a beautiful act. Iri, was it? What is your son’s name?”
“Cyrex,” Iri said simply. They looked at the boy, who was but an infant and yet had managed to find three stones and was juggling them expertly.
“My my! Quite a talented lad! He’ll be perfect here. But now, who’s the father?” Quayle asked, holding a quill up as he wrote things down.
“The father’s…gone, dead….” The moon elf mother sighed.
“Yes, but whom?” the gnome asked tactlessly.
“Please…it…doesn’t matter,” Iri pleaded.
“Very well, very well, I suppose it really doesn’t,” Quayle adjusted his glasses and handed her a paper. “Here’s your contract; standard weekly wages, bonuses for each performance, conditions, waivers, fine print, and all that. Just sign along the dotted line….ah, good…NEXT!!!”
As Iri tenderly lifted her son into her arms, walking away from the gnome’s desk and out of the mini-tent just as a fire-breathing tiefling walked in, she kissed her half-elven son’s forehead and whispered to him. “My poor, darling little Cyrex. Those brave heroes gave us a chance for a better life. Won’t it be fun growing up in the circus, little Cyrex? Far away from your father…” Cyran, she thought to herself silently. I pray, my son, that you never know who your father was, especially not what he was. May you be spared what one of very heroes who rescued us endured. I pray, my dear son, that you never know.
20 FLAMERULE 2100
THE SEA OF SWORDS
As well as moving south to Amn, the rains which had pounded and left the Sword Coast had moved out west upon the Sea of Swords itself. The maritime night sky was made even darker by the blanket of dark stormclouds smothering all light of stars or moon, and the only light came from the many lightning flashes that danced across the ocean. The water was rough, and upon it was a tossing ship. It was a sleek three-masted vessel, and swashbucklers ran to and fro across the decks and climbed through the rigging, trying desperately to keep the ship sailing in the great storm. The sails were let very slack in the high wind, but each bore the symbol of a purple sun with a superimposed skull.
Across the side of the ship was written the words “Our Lady Entropy.” Above these words upon the ship’s fore deck stood two figures, a man and a tiefling whose faces were made frightful by their tattoos, piercings, and manic grins. The man wore acid-green robes and the tiefling wore multicolored chainmail.
“Strange things have we seen in death oh yes!” the robed man laughed hysterically and bit his fist. “Some demons too have rabbit’s feet, and cloven-hooved clowns prance ‘cross the hells! ‘Tis true, ‘tis true!”
“Few denizens of the multiverse, much less clueless Primes, speak as poetically as you, dear Xzar,” the tiefling smiled. “So glad you decided to join my suddenly-understaffed troupe. We new characters like you on board….literally!” he laughed and stomped on the deck.
“Ahoy cap’n Dalis!” cried a halfling pirate from the crow’s nest. “Man overboard!!”
“…and fewer dagger-biting drunkards who can’t even keep to one side of the railing,” Haer’Dalis added with an exasperated sigh. He then shouted up to the halfling, “Kill the sails, Monty!”
“Kill the sails! Near the aft ‘pon starboard side!” Montaron up in the nest shouted. Immediately the sails went totally slack and the ship slowed in the water while several men ran towards the starboard side of the aft deck and threw a net overboard. Within a minute they had hauled it back up, now with a body entangled in it.
“How curious,” Haer’Dalis scratched his tattooed chin as he and Xzar ran to the back of the ship to inspect this piece of humanoid flotsam. “He’s not one of ours.”
The blade and the necromancer peered down at the body as the swashbucklers untangled it and laid it upon the deck. It was a young human male, his blonde hair spiky despite his waterlogged state, with a very athletic physique. He wore a simple black-and-purple fighting suit and a matching headband which more the dark sun of Cyric. Most striking, though, was the enormous slash that ran down the left side of his young face, a deep katana slash from his forehead to the corner of his mouth, as if he had sneered so horribly it had sliced all the way up his face. It was so bloody and deep that it was difficult to tell whether the man’s left eye was still in its socket, and if so, whether in one piece.
Haer’Dalis leaned over the man and smiled. “Why, I believe this is a former business partner of my dear departed brothers and myself – none other than the Saint!”
The surrounding crowd gasped and Xzar shrieked as the body suddenly came to life. It spasmed once and the arms flew up and clutched Haer’Dalis round the neck, and the mouth, opening freakishly wide thanks to the gash which severed part of the left cheek, spat bloody saltwater into the blade’s surprised face.
The swashbucklers immediately drew scimitars and prepared to converge on the waterlogged semi-alive man strangling their master Blade, but the tiefling immediately lifted up his own arms out to the sides and signaled them back with open hands.
The Saint made more gurgling sounds as he continued to expunge saltwater from his throat. “Yes…the Saint indeed…Cyran lives!” he croaked at last, then threw Haer’Dalis violently aside. The blade rolled nicely and sprang up laughing merrily as the waterlogged kensai got to his feet.
“I take it your little undersea palace has had a plumbing mishap, dear Cyran?” Haer’Dalis smiled. “I don’t suppose the Jeweler is swimming about?”
“He is…extinct,” Cyran chuckled darkly. As if just now becoming aware of his scar, he held his left hand up over the side of his face. “My head….hurts…..feels like katana in brain…..hurts Cyran…..Cyran mad!!!! HA HA HA HA HA HA….” the kensai began to cackle insanely. Haer’Dalis raised an eyebrow and looked between him and Xzar, mentally comparing the kensai’s sudden eccentric behavior with the necromancer’s habits.
“Yes Xzar understands he too had head hurt once,” the green-robed wizard giggled and rubbed his temple and crown with his hands, shaking up his already disheleved hair. “Xzar knows what it is like to feel the pounding in the brain forevermore, yes truly I do!” Before Xzar’s eyes flashed childhood memories, the fist of a paladin-to-be slamming into his temple, a hard wall of Candlekeep smashing into his crown, a rock in the courtyard’s grass hitting his forehead as he fell, then all the noises and voices and colors…. Xzar began to titter and almost cried, then his face twisted up in rage and he screamed, “I shall help thee, Cyran!”
He began to reach for the Cyran’s face, but the kensai screamed and flailed back with incredible strength at the necromancer, who barely managed to dodge the kensai’s fist. “No touch stupid wizard,” Cyran began ranting, his slashed face twisting horribly as he spoke, the torn left cheek flapping about, “I shall kill kill kill have revenge very soon…I will regenerate wound Cyran super tough heal natural no worries yes indeed oh yes…”
While Xzar began to babble in arcane tongues, Cyran kept holding his head and muttering incessantly. After pronouncing his final syllable, the evil wizard clapped his hands and then pushed them forward together, sending an ethereal yellow orb into the Cyran’s chest. The kensai was immediately stunned and fell backwards onto the deck, lying absolutely silent and motionless.
“Poor Cyran!” Xzar screeched and bent over the fallen, frozen kensai while drawing a spherical white gem from his robes. “It the wound regenerates, no left eye will thou have for seeing our common enemies, indeed! Let Xzar help, please, oh yes!”
Haer’Dalis and the crew, standing in an awestruck circle around the two figures, watched in horror as the kneeling necromancer began a disgusting procedure. He used his clawlike bare fingernails to tear apart the mending flesh around the stunned kensai’s empty left eye socket, then pushed the gem into it. He then used his bloody fingers to pull the flesh back around it, molding and kneading it like clay as it resumed regenerating. Finally it bled no longer and the skin seemed unbroken again, but there was still a horrible scar running from the left corner of his mouth up to his now-solid-white left ‘eye’ and trough his now-split left eyebrow and up his forehead, which now had an indentation that seemed to go in to where a human’s forebrain should be. Several crew members ran over to the railing and vomited over the edge of the ship at the sight of the necromancer’s unnatural surgery.
Xzar backed away just in time as Cyran unfroze. The kensai’s right eye blinked and he sat up with a start. He moved a hand up to the left side of his face, gingerly tracing the scar and poking at the gem in his eyesocket. He sprang to his feet and looked around. Haer’Dalis, Xzar, and the rest of the crew peered it him with disgusted curiosity, and stared into his new jeweled eye. Each thought at first he could see his own reflection in it, but when he looked deeper, the spherical gem seemed like a crystal ball in which could be scene unspeakably horrible images of torture, carnage, murder, and other things sicker still. The corners of the kensai’s now ever-sneering mouth twitched as the images moved and changed; as if he were watching them himself, or perhaps they were indeed projections of his very thoughts.
Chills went down the spine of every man present as Cyran began to laugh maniacally. “Now can I see clearly yes! To Mouth Ith must we go there is my flock of faithful to lord Cyric the Saint has converted must we go organize army new task lays before us!”
“Task, my dear Saint?” Haer arched an eyebrow. “Cyric has some new designs of merry chaos-making you perceive?”
“Oh yes yes indeed,” Cyran laughed, “He will show you yes indeed here he comes…”
The vision of Haer’Dalis and Xzar went dark for one moment, and then came back.
The blade, the kensai, and the necromancer stood upon an endless plain of sand. Somehow the place was both chillingly cold and scorchingly hot; and the sky both dark and bright; for at its zenith was a dark-lit purple sun, and a skull grinned within it.
“WELCOME TO PANDEMONIUM,” the omnipresent ‘voice’ of the skull above pierced their minds, “IT IS I, CYRIC.”
“What do you command, lord,” Cyran looked up, staring straight at the dark sun, the skull reflecting in his eye-gem. Standing on either side of him, Xzar and Haer’Dalis felt as though they were nearly blinded as they tried to look upon it.
“THE TRADING OF SLAVES HAS SERVED THEE WELL. MUCH HAVE THEE NOW IN WEALTH AND MIGHT. THE TIME FOR THY DESTINY IS NOW AT HAND.
“RETURN TO THY FAITHFUL FLOCK, SAINT CYRAN, RETURN TO MOUTH ITH, AND LET MY PRIESTS IN THE CITIES RECRUIT EVER MORE TO JOIN THEE AT ITH AND SWELL THY RANKS. BUILD AN ARMY, RAID THE LAID, BEGIN FULL WAR WHEN THEE ARE STRONG, ACCUMULATE MURDERS, THAT IS THY GOAL.”
“CYRAN, THOU ART A SWORD SAINT, BUT THOU MUST BE MORE.”
“NECROMANCER, THOU SHALT NOW TEACH CYRAN THE WAYS OF THE ARCANE. THY REWARD SHALL BE ARCANE KNOWLEDGE AND TERRIBLE POWER BEYOND THY RECKONING AT THY FINGERTIPS.”
“BLADE, THOU SHALT NOW BIND THYSELF AND THY CREW TO THIS ARMY, AND THY HARP SHALL SING OF OUR GLORY. THY REWARD SHALL THE POWER OF ENSLAVING ENCHANTMENT OVER ANY THY DESIRE.”
“CYRAN, BUILD THY ARMY AND GO FORTH. THOU MUST SLAY. FOR SLAYING IS THE PATH TO THE THRONE.”
The kensai, the blade, and the necromancer found themselves standing upon the deck of Our Lady Entropy again, their vision gone, the rain beating down as before.
“I don’t understand,” Haer’Dalis looked at Cyran, “Throne? The Throne of Bhaal? Is it not now rejected and gone? Was not its war, the Bhaalspawn War, already fought?”
“No, no, dear bard, it is rejected and unclaimed,” Cyran smiled, “The real throne war has just begun.”
Epilogue: Happily N/ever After
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