Part 3 : Incursion
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Posted 27 October 2002 - 05:53 PM
Twilight 3 : Incursion
Grand Vizier Suleiman el Ja'afar was a short, thin man, dressing in multi-layered silken clothing fitting a man of his status. He did not impose a very impressive countenance, however, with his ratlike-face and his thin moustache, but he made up for it with his ferocious manner, at least when he was out of earshot of his superiors.
Suleiman had built his empire of connections and backroom-deals with a mixture of grovelling, deceit and blackmail. He was a man of risk, and a man of utter arrogance, thinking himself capable of defeating every challenge or setback.
But right now, that same man was standing in the highest tower of his bloodmoney-bought estate, looking into an obsidian mirror with buckling knees and a look of sheer terror crossing his rat-like features.
"So," a deep gravely voice sounded from the mirror, "I take it you finally have regained the hearts..."
"Y-yes, s-sire," Suleiman trembled while he regarded the face in the mirror. He knew full well that the person on the other sides could do even worse things to him than merely end his life. "I c-committed my entire elite guards to the operation!"
"Ah, FOOL!" the voice shouted. "A small assassination squad of no less than three people was required here! Are you so insipid as to not realise how much attention you have drawn to yourself?"
"But, I have the hearts..." Suleiman tried.
"The hearts are only the FIRST ingredient," the voice sighed. "I will need your network to gain the others as well, but now..."
"There is nothing the matter, sire!" Suleiman all but shouted. "Those few who witnessed the event are too scared to talk or can be bought..."
"Some people cannot be bought..." the voice accused.
"Nonsense, sire. Every man has his price!" Suleiman said.
"Do I look like I need gold?" the voice mocked.
"Well, no, sire. No offence, sire..." Suleiman groveled.
"Exactly. And if I have no need for it, there will be others as well," the voice added.
"We'll... take care of that, sire," Suleiman almost wept.
"Good," the voice said, "tell me. I have given you a small fortune to finance the operation to gain the hearts, yet you have botched the job by hiring a bunch of half-witted hobgoblins to do the job instead of the hardened professionals I suggested. You haven't simply hired the cheapest workers you could find and pocketed the rest, have you?"
"Well, sire," Suleiman said, getting read to throw himself to the floor to beg for his life. "It was like this... overhead costs, information gathering, taxes..."
"Oh," the voice groaned. "What is it with greed? Why does a man who owns half of Calimport and practically runs the entire slave-ring, simply NEED to skim a thousand of a twenty-thousand gold budget."
"Well, I..." Suleiman tried to say. "Everything worked out fine..."
"Silence!" the voice shouted. "Everything did not work out fine, as you so aptly put it. If I hadn't thought of a way for you to regain the hearts for the Caliph's palace, you'd be up for the high jump right now. Just make sure you shake these adventurers you mentioned of your, and subsequently MY, trail..."
"Don't worry about it, sire!" Suleiman said. "You have the full support of the Carhilian Circle, which is, of course, led my none other than me," he added proudly.
"Yes," the voice groaned once more, "you've reminded me of that fact just about every time we have spoken."
"Well, it takes quite an effort to create a secret organis..." Suleiman tried to say.
"SPARE me," the voice snarled, "the stories about brave Suleiman, the greedy vizier from land of moneygrubbing." The voice sighed, "Two hundred years of meticulous planning. Two hundred tears of waiting. Two hundred years of preparing and I end up giving out the linchpin of my plan to an incompetent twit like you."
"Incom..." Suleiman almost growled, but then remembered just who, and more to the point what, he was speaking to.
"I supposed I have myself to blame for not recognizing your idiocy in time," the voice sighed. "But we might still salvage the operation, if you can get those adventurers off your back. I do NOT need to remind you what will happen to you if you fail this simple task..."
"D-d-don't worry, s-s-sire," Suleiman gulped and grinned stupidly. "They're just a bunch of farm-bred yokels! They just got lucky when they found those hobgoblins. I mean, what can you really expect from a party led by a girl... and a Dark Elven girl at that!"
"Dark Elf?" the voice said uneasily. "I know of only four benevolent Drow adventurers. The first, Drizzt Do'Urden is semi-retired and lives in Silverymoon with his wife. The second, Liriel Baenre, is currently exploring the Moonshae Isles. The third, Viconia DeVir, is retired and now a land-owner in Amn. But the fourth... Tell me, Grand Vizier Idiot, might that girl's name be Vierna DeVir per any chance?"
"Well, yes?" Suleiman said. "Is that any problem?"
"Let's see," the voice snarled. "Is this the same Vierna DeVir whose party foiled the Zhentarim's plot to take over Luskan?"
"Luskan? I don't rightly..." Suleiman tried.
"Is this the same Vierna DeVir whose party defended Cormyr from an army of Orcs?"
"I hadn't heard of that..."
"The same Vierna DeVir whose party faced and killed the Blue Dragon Cryos when she threatened to destroy Tentowns?"
"The same Vierna DeVir whose party stole the attackplans of the Thayvian generals during the last Rashemani-Thayvian war, and fought with the Rashemani army, which almost led to the fall of Thay?"
"Thay? That's a little town to the west, right?"
"You idiot," the voice mocked. "You effing stupid utter ass! Have you been living in a cave the last decade? Judging from their reputation, these adventurers are not easily fooled, nor dealt with... You'd better be damn careful handling this one, Grand Moron..."
"Don't worry, sire," Suleiman stammered, "I have agents of the Carhilian Circle on guard here tonight..."
"Ah, yes," the voice said. "Your little 'party'. Try to keep your mind on business, however. More than simply your life is at stake."
"Yes, sire," Suleiman gulped.
"Just remember," the voice snarled. "If your idiocy will botch up my plans even further, I will make sure your shattered soul screams in agony for all eternity."
And, finally, after what had seemed like an eternity to Suleiman, the mirror fell dark. Still trembling, he took hold of the purple cloth and covered the device. A sense of great relief overcame him as the dark surface of the mirror was out of his sight. For the first time in his life, he cursed his own greed, and he cursed himself for ever getting into this deal in the first place. Becoming Caliph definately wasn't worth going through this, not with his delicate nerves.
He thought back about the formation of the Carhilian Circle. How he had manipulated traditionalists to work for him in, traditionalists who were very violent proponants of slavery, thinking it's abolition would be the end of the Calimsham civilization. Suleiman, however, was purely in it for the money, but this time, he considered, greed simply might not be worth the risk. But then he composed himself and put both his hands in a big sack of gold coins and squeezed tightly. Oh, yeah... Greed was worth EVERY risk...
"El Ja'afar!" a black-clad wizard called from behind.
"It's 'exulted Grand Vizier' or 'Your greatness', infidel," Suleiman said.
"Oh, shut up," the wizard replied. "I'm not one of your fawning lackeys. You hired me for a simple ingredient recovery, but I've almost got killed twice over this. I am NOT remaining here unless I get more pay!"
"You dare to..." Suleiman said.
"Goodbye," the wizard simply replied.
"Wait, Morduck, wait!" Suleiman called.
"Yes?" Morduck sing-songed.
"Alright, you in-bred northern infidel, I will double your wages," Suleiman said. "Now get back to your laboratory and prepare a spell to transport the hearts to... him."
"Alright," Morduck sighed.
The estate of the Grand Vizier was a building, which was not as large as it was tall. Several domes jutted from the roofs, as well as four large towers, the largest of which towered over the Palace Ward. The building was created in a typical Calimshite style... But the only thing of the high building which Vierna could see now, was the servant's entrance in the far back.
"The princess is safe," Muzar said, while he led Vierna's party to the back entrance. "And my troops have secured the Caliph's palace. Now all that's left to do is to gather the evidence..."
"Piece of Cake," Gerty said.
"I have here two servant uniforms for you and Vierna, curtousy of our man inside," Muzar said. "At a night like this, servants can roam freely through many sections of the estate."
"Man inside?" Lenny asked. "Just how many 'men inside' do you have?"
"Oh," Muzar smiled. "Only one in every noble household in Calimport. But don't tell that to the Caliph, if you please... The soldier's name is Achmed, and he knows the layout of the entire building. He'll be waiting for you in the laundryroom with weapons and leather armors..."
"What?" Gerty asked. "We can't take our own stuff?"
"How many servants you know carry crossbows, swords and Red Dragon Plate?" Vierna chuckled.
"Three!" Gerty said resolutely.
"Sorry, Gerty," Vierna said while taking off her armor and weapons. "Hand them over..."
"Five?" Gerty tried, but then begrudgedly tossed her crossbow to Lenny.
A few moments later, Vierna and Gerty stood dressed like servants, in bland uniforms vaguely resembling potato-sacks. Vierna had covered her hair and face with a veil to disguise her dark elven heritage, since a Drow servant wench would definately stand out in a crowd. The two adventurers regarded each other for a while and prepared to enter the estate.
"Alright," Muzar said. "The kitchen is straight through that door. I had the Caliph's butler sent him a letter explaining this all. If you find the evidence, see if you can find a way into the fest-room, so we can expose that traitor in front of the Caliph and the noble families. My troops will not be far behind. Remember, tonight is the only chance we have to enter El Ja'afar's estate... Good luck, my friends."
"Ah, we're all gonna die," Gerty sighed.
"Don't be so fatalistic, Gerty," Vierna said.
"Yes," Glyill smiled wickedly. "You might die, Gerty, but we will be safe outside..."
"Oh, THANK you so much for the support, miss Gloomy," Gerty snickered.
"Be careful, Vierna," Shivon said, while he and Vierna embraced a moment.
"Hey, I'll be back, Shiv," Vierna chuckled. "You still owe me a romantic dinner for two, remember?"
The inside of the estate was bustling with servants heading back and forth from the fest-room to the kitchen and supply-chambers. To Vierna, the whole scene reminded her of an anthill, where many different creatures worked together to get the job done. But the only thing that was missing from that image was the harmony one could find in an anthill. Instead, a cacophony of voices drowned out every individual sound at this event of the year in the land of Calimsham. Apparently, being picked to host this festival was a great honor indeed.
Several of the master-servants were constantly barking orders, while others carried foodstuffs towards the hungry guests. Vierna and Gerty had remained inconspicuous thus far. But then they hit the first obstacle...
"How many guards?" Vierna asked, while she and Gerty observed the going ons.
"Only two," Gerty said.
"Damn," Vierna said. "We can't knock them out in plain sight, and we can't explain why we need to be on the second floor either..."
"So we might as well turn back?" Gerty tried. "I'm a rogue like any other, but this is just too much trouble for a Turnip-eater like me..."
"We have to figure out a way to get to the second floor," Vierna told Gerty with a hint of frustration.
"Hey!" a coarse voice called from behind. "You two! The short and the skinny one! You don't look busy, and the Lord's wizard has requested his meal. Go and bring it to his laboratory on the third floor immediately."
Vierna grinned to Gerty, who could make it out even through the veil. It seemed that, sometimes, the solution presented itself.
"Ah, you must be Vierna DeVir," a man who was definately a hardened warrior told the Drow as soon as she and her friend had entered the laundry-room. "I am Achmed. Welcome to this little pit of snakes..."
"Ah, it seems we've found a sceptic guard around here," Gerty said. "Figures..."
"Well, at least you must be competent to have made it this far," Achmed said. "Look, there's been more security here today than there has been all year, but most of the regulars seem to have been delegated to the lower floors. The upper floors are being guarded by others, and I've never seen them before. They might be mercs, but I'm not sure about that..."
"Has anyone seen the Grand Vizier?" Vierna asked.
"Nope," Achmed said. "I think he's still up in his private tower. Not even the servants are allowed up there, and the only entrance to it is from the lower floors. But the evidence you are seeking might very well be in the vault of his office on the third floor. The only one who has been known to have a key other than the one the Vizier has in his pocket, is his hired wizard."
"Lemme guess," Gerty chuckled. "All dressed in black? Tall, dark and spiffy?"
"Yes," Achmed said in surpise, "how did you know?"
"He has a knack for fleeing through dimension doors," Vierna grinned.
"Alright," Achmed said. "I've got two leather armors, two short-swords and a dagger for you. They are magical, but they are only mildly enchanted."
"A dagger?" Gerty groaned. "Oh, MAN!"
"Food for the wizard," was the line most used when Vierna and Gerty worked their way up to the back of the third floor where the laboratory of the hired wizard was located conviently down the hall of the luxurious office of Grand Vizier El Ja'afar. Taking a deep breath, Vierna and Gerty stepped through the heavy door leading into the laboratory with a sense of anticipation.
There was no window in this room and its only lightsource was a number of flickering candles. All manner of concoctions and brewings adorned the many shelves and tables, while instruments were set up haphazardly across the room. In the middle of the room, on a small desk, sat the bag filled with the stolen hearts, next to a stack of papers. A Cauldron containing a green ooze dominated the laboratory, however, and the brewing cast an eerie green glow over the entire room.
"Okay," Vierna said, while taking bag of hearts and putting it in her Bag of Holding. "Look for the key around here."
Gerty nodded and snooped around a little. Only moments later, the black-clad wizard stepped out of a backroom with an angry glower. "You two? What the hell are you doing here?"
"Ermmm, your dinner?" Vierna asked, disguising her voice.
Just then, as she picked up and put the tray in front of the man, the wizard looked upon her with piecing gaze. With a snarl, he pulled a wand from his robe and pointed it at Vierna.
"Those eyes!" the wizard screamed. "I knew I had seen those insidious blue orbs before!"
'Damn,' Vierna thought and ripped the disguise from her body.
"I swear, as I am the great Morduck, I will make sure you will never bother me again!" Morduck crackled.
"Morduck?" Gerty giggled loudly. "Quack, quack, quack..."
"Like I haven't heard that one before during my ENTIRE childhood," the suddenly enraged wizard shouted. "Well, I turned all those bullies into jellies and ATE THEM!"
Morduck slammed down his wand and two hulking ogres appeared next to him. Immediately, Vierna drew her shortswords, while Gerty grimaced and made a face when she held what she called her little 'potato-knife'. Immediately, the two ogres where upon her, while Morduck cast a lightning bolt at Vierna, which she deftly dodged. The young Drow overturned one of the tables, causing all the concoctions on it to spill to the floor. Vierna immediately returned fire... Six magic missles slammed into Morduck.
"Look out, you fools!" Morduck shouted to the two hulking ogres, who were chasing a giggling Gerty across the room, breaking everything in their path. The wizard stood up and prepared to run towards the ogres in an attempt to save some of his delicate equipment, but he found himself held by his cloak by a certain Drow ranger/mage. Morduck whipped around, but realised his mistake too late. Once again, six Magic Missles slammed into him, causing to step back and... slip on one of the concoctions on the floor. Morduck shrieked in terror as the cloak tore and he toppled forward... into the cauldron.
"Ouch," Gerty said.
"Pretty corrosive stuff," Vierna said while dipping a metal rod into the cauldron.
"He forgot his rubber ducky too," Gerty giggled.
As the enchantment over the ogres was broken, they snarled in anger and made their way into the hallways. The sounds of combat sounded shorty thereafter.
"Well, we have our diversion..." Vierna stated.
"But do we also have his key?" Gerty asked.
"Let's see," Vierna said while rummaging through the pockets of the cloak. "Hey, what's this? It looks like a list of... ingredients," Vierna said while looking over the piece of parchment she had found. "Yes," Vierna added. "The hearts are listed too!"
Thinking there was litte time to act, she pocketed the parchment and eventually found the key to El Ja'afar's office. Under the cover that the two hulking ogres provided them with, Vierna and Gerty snuck towards the office of Suleiman el Ja'afar.
"Friends, fellow nobles, my Caliph," Suleiman said as he stood on the podium in the large fest-room. The room had an extremely high ceiling, adorned with artful murals telling portions of Calimport's history. The symbol of the land of Calimsham adorned the large, marble floor. Numerous pillars flanked the room, also giving the presence of several luxurious balconies. All the noble families were gathered on the marble floor, the Caliph and his eldest daughter standing in front of them all.
"It is my great pleasure to welcome you all here for this grand event of the year," Suleiman spoke pleasantly. "Let us reflect on the wealth of Calimport and yet more wealth to come, now that slavery will soon be a memory due to the greatness of our Caliph Harun el Poessah! May he reign forev..."
"Oh?" A young Drow shouted from the entrance near the kitchen. "Then you should tell these people why you're the head of a secret organisation which is working covertly to PRESERVE slavery!"
"What?" Suleiman said with mixture of anger and fear, while the gathered nobles shared astonished whispers. "WHO DARES TO SLANDER MY GOOD NAME!" Suleiman shouted.
"Well, it isn't slander when it's the bloody truth!" Gerty giggled, while swinging around her lockpick. "Man, a Mark VIII Safe-a-Gold? Please, I have standards... Didn't even break a sweat..."
"And when we were rummaging around in his safe," Vierna said smugly, while walking over to the Caliph, "we found documents, financial records, letters of corrospondence, and even a list of names of all the noble families who financed this so-called Carhilian Circle..."
Immediately, a few nobles tried to break from the crowd and headed towards the exits, only to be foiled by Muzar, who walked into the fest-room with three battalions of guards and the rest of Vierna's party.
"Harun," Suleiman tried desperately as he saw his world crumble. "You... you know me..."
"Exactly!" the Caliph said. "If you think your artificial grovelling act was convincing, you are truly delusional..."
"See, that was your first clue..." Gerty giggled.
"Guards!" Suleiman tried. "Arrest these two women! Execute them!"
"NO ONE will touch these noble adventurers!" the caliph shouted while he and his daughter examined the documents.
"This is treason!" Muzar shouted at Suleiman. "I'll have your head!"
"Cat's out of the bag," Vierna snarled at Suleiman. "And he's not going back in..."
"THEN you all DIE!" Suleiman shouted, dropping all pretenses. "Guards! ATTACK!"
Most of the guards belonged to the Carhilian Circle, and thus obeyed only the Grand Vizier. The false guards immediately engaged Muzar's troops, while total chaos broke out on the formerly festive dancefloor. Nobles ran everywhere, trying to get away from the battle, while Lenny, Glyill and Shivon protected the Caliph and his daughter. During the fray, the false Grand Vizier ran towards the door leading to his private tower.
"He's getting away, Vierna!" the Caliph said. "Get him!"
Cursing the day the gods had ever created the Drow, Suleiman el Ja'afar slammed the door to his private room shut. Panting after running up all these stairs, he realised his life in Calimport was over. No matter, he considered. He could start over with the money he had made here.
This room was filled with many golden object and bags of coins. Immediately, Suleiman rolled out a carpet with started to float a little when it lay on the floor. After that, Suleiman, knowing the accused adventurers were hot on his trail, started to fill a Bag of Holding with as many bag of coins and golden objects as he could manage.
Suddenly, a hot wind entered the room. Immediately, Suleiman realised the source... While fear gripped his heart, he decided that if he was quiet, he might escape his fate, but it was for nought. The purple rag covering the mirror burst into flames, leaving Suleiman to stare into the face of his employer.
"I take it," the voice sighed. "That you have failed again?"
"Sire, I..." Suleiman tried.
"I warned you," the voice mocked. "Our association is hereby terminated..."
A ruby-colored ray shot from the mirror.
"Okay, V," Gerty said. "He's behind this door!"
"Okay," Vierna added while grabbing on to the short swords. "One... Two... Three!"
Vierna and Gerty stormed through the door, only to witness a horrific display. A screaming Suleiman was slowly being disolved by an orange light. Agonizingly slowly, he body was being turned to ashes. Gerty nodded once and threw the dagger at Suleiman's head, mercifully ending his life while his body was still being burned from the inside out. Immediately afterwards, a large, round obsidian mirror suddenly exploded into thousands of black shards which hurtled to the floor.
"Vierna?" Gerty asked. "Did you throw something at that mirror?"
"Nope," Vierna said. "You?"
"Nope, but hey," Gerty chuckled. "Ding-dong, the witch is dead! Or the Evil Vizier in this case..."
But Vierna listened intently and strolled over to the door to close it.
"What's going on now?" Gerty asked.
"Guards," Vierna grimaced. "At least fifty of 'em..."
"Oh, just great!" Gerty said. "We saved the day, and we'll still get killed!"
"Not neccesarily," Vierna said while glancing at the floating carpet. "Are you thinking what I am thinking?"
"You mean, about ending up as a splat at the bottom of the tower? Stuff like that?" Gerty said, while Vierna pushed the carpet to one of the open windows.
"Come on!" Vierna called.
"Just a minute!" Gerty said, while she grabbed the Bag of Holding from Suleiman's pile of ashes. "NOW, we're ready to go!"
And just as the guards burst through the door, Vierna and Gerty pushed the carpet out the window.
"AAAAAAHHHHH!" Vierna and Gerty both screamed as the carpet spiraled down and the ground came closer and closer. Vierna, preparing her last-ditch effort, crawled across the carpet and took hold of the tassels at the front of the rug. And, with all her might, she yanked on them as hard as she could.
The carpet sprang to life and pulled up just before they would have crashed into the ground. The carpet flew in a staight line and kept low, while the rug took on a tremendous speed.
"LAND!" Gerty yelled. "LAND!"
"Hold on," Vierna said. "I think I just figured out left and right on this thing..."
The carpet flew over the heads of startled people as it hurtled through the narrow and bendy streets of Calimport. Vierna, making every effort to steer the carpet and to keep it from crashing into a building, yanked on the tassels with all her strength.
"AHHHHH! WE'RE GONNA DIE!" Gerty shouted. "I'LL NEVER EAT TURNIPS AGAIN! OH, CRUEL FATE!!!"
"This ISN'T helping!" Vierna yelled as she pulled the tassels once more. This time, the carpet blasted into a straight line upwards.
"Look at that!" Vierna said excitedly when they overlooked the entire city of Calimport.
"Just LAND!" Gerty stressed again.
"Sorry," Vierna grinned. "I haven't found the tassels for landing and slowing down yet!"
After another tug at the tassels, the carpet took a nosedive again, and once more sent the screaming adventurers hurtling towards the ground. Again, Vierna pulled the tassels, making the Carpet bank and pull up a little so they were just above the ground. Then, Vierna tried another experiment. Immediately, the carpet came to a sudden halt, but, unfortunatly, Vierna and Gerty didn't...
Vierna and Gerty hurtled forwards and slammed into a stack of filled trashcans with a loud crash. A few seconds later, Daoud and Kasim stepped outside of the 'Smiling Camel Inn', worry evident in their faces.
"Memsahib Vierna! Memsahib Jansen!" he called. "Oh, my goodness, are you alive? And why are you sitting in my trashcans?"
"Well," Vierna said, while fishing through the trash and coming up with a very surprised cat. "I think we just found that missing cat I read about on the adventurer's messageboard..."
"Just give me a turnip and a hot bath..." Gerty groaned.
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