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II. Dance with a Demon


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#1 Guest_Oryx_*

Posted 12 November 2002 - 05:30 PM

II. Dance with a Demon

The circus was packed into strangely-shaped wagons and on the move. It was the Caravan of Chaos, riding west across Amn, nearing the sea. Haer’Dalis, Eldoth, and Cyrex were sitting in the most opulent wagon, lounging on pillows, consuming fine food and black lotus, attended to their Erinyes tiefling servant-slaves. They were listening to a skald spin a recreation of their tales.

“Twenty-and-two years hence by have gone
Since the First Throne War, for the Coin of Bhaal
When the arrogant Onyx, with bastard Kan,
Did topple mighty Cyran and lay waste to all.
He slew Haer’Dalis, a most charming blade
as the suave Eldoth fell to the oaf Minsc.
To the Abyss then were our heroic bards bade
Where they found it rather hot, and boring since
The demons are amused by a bard only when
He is on a torture rack and he screams, not sings.
A revolt did Haer’Dalis and Eldoth start then
Across several layers of the hells’ nine rings.
With a roguish crew in tow from there
They are back to the Prime and the show must resume.
And the jester Cyrex, who is Cyran’s heir
Joins them to spread merry chaos ‘cross Faerun!”

“Indeed,” mused Haer’Dalis, who was getting a massage and being fed grapes, “it would seem these Primes need a little lightening up. I do believe they are quite amused by our antics thus far. Truly, I hope to strike the fancy of more. Particularly the fancy of a certain dove….”

Cyrex was juggling and talking to five skulls, each of which had a black-and-purple-sun painted on its forehead. “yes and next our rolling caravan does travel to the island town of Brynnlaw yes indeed" he babbled paradoxically.

At that moment the caravan, having reached the beach, stopped. Tieflings popped out of the wagons and began tinkering with them. Wheels retracted and the rogues started pushing the cars over the sand and into the water. Soon the curiously-shaped wagons were in the water and then the rogues within them pushed oars out of the windows and began to row them into an interlocking structure. The shape was, in fact, a ship. The hull formed from the tightly locking curved outer walls of the wagons, decks emerged due to their varying heights, and the straight segments of the three circus rings were assembled into masts and raised. Swashbucklers began climbing the masts with masses of rope and then leapt back onto the deck, pulling the ropes out into rigging. Then the great three-piece circus tent was hoisted up in the rigging, forming three sails, which caught the wind.

And finally the ship, Our Lady Entropy, set sail for Brynnlaw. With Haer’Dalis at the helm, Eldoth at the aft, Cyrex juggling his skulls in the crow’s nest, and the other rogues boozily singing a chantey, the flag was raised on the center mast. It was a white skull-and-crossbones superimposed on a black-and-purple sun.

***

Valygar and Nalia were standing in the strategy room of their mansion in the government district, poring over a large map of Amn. Small flags showed the recent movements of the Circus of Chaos. "It was here, then here, then here," Valygar mused, "and then, reaching the coast....it seemed to disappear, yet our spies knew of no ships moored there, nor nearby towns that could have housed an entire circus. It seemed to vanish."

Yoshimo burst into the room, panting and smelling of salt. After being reborn from wraithdom in the Second Throne War, he had been hired by General and Chief Inspector Valygar Corthala to be an undercover agent. Using his underworld connections and bounty hunter skills, he’d entrapped various outlaws and brought them to justice for Amn, a nation reformed under Chancellor Nalia Corthala that sought out true criminals while leaving unharassed mere street conjurers. Recently he'd been promoted to captain and been assigned a ship, the Bounty, and had tracked pirates and smugglers over the open ocean with a crew of rangers from The Sea Rangers Lodge, which had been established by General Valygar for just such coastal and maritime operations of justice.

"What news, good Captain Yoshimo?" Nalia inquired.

"My lady, my lord, it seems, according to our intelligence, that the Circus of Chaos has set sail over the ocean. The sea rangers patrolling the coast saw the caravan float out onto the water and form a ship - I know, I've never heard of such an engineering marvel." He showed them a sketch of Our Lady Entropy, and one of the flag.

"Why, it looks to be a superposition of a pirate jolly roger..." Valygar gasped at the flag.

"...And the Black Sun of Cyric!" Nalia exclaimed.

"The sea ranger patrol returned to Athkatla to deliver to me this news and thus did not follow them far, but the circus-pirates seemed to be making a direct course for Brynnlaw." Yoshimo explained.

"Curses, we'd never catch up to them," Valygar scowled. "Yoshimo, I want you to take a full crew of sea rangers and Cowled wizards aboard your ship and set course for Brynnlaw. Keep a wide lookout and, try to at least intercept them on their way back to the mainland. Leave immediately."

"Yes sir!" Yoshimo exclaimed, saluting and rushing back out the door. The bounty hunter had just been commissioned to set his biggest trap yet - apprehending the infamous Circus of Chaos on the high seas.

***

Our Lady Entropy was docked in the port of Brynnlaw and the Circus of Chaos was set up open-air in the middle of town. The grand show was in full swing, with rogues swinging and dashing about and monsters lumbering about the rings.

The masters of ceremonies were standing atop their dragons. Haer’Dalis was spinning his swords Chaos and Entropy about to the amazement of all, Eldoth was strumming his enchanting guitar as the ladies swooned, and Cyrex was juggling katanas and skulls and infants and causing townspeople to laugh uneasily.

“And now,” announced Haer’Dalis, “please welcome a very special guest, quite a handsome devil, he’ll dance to your moans as he feasts on your bones, he’s one clever demon and you know he’s been schemin’, to this Prince of Tanar’ri be nice or be sorry, the one, the only, the truly unholy Taaaaaaaaana’Gorgon!!!!!!”

The three master bards cast a spell together and caused a large fiery gate to begin to open high over the middle ring. An extremely large demon stepped through and dropped onto the ground next to Haer’Dalis, looking at the audience and licking its fangs hungrily.

“Mmmmmm humanflesssssh,”: Tana’Gorgon hissed.

Just before the portal closed, two more figures, winged but humanoid, came through. Their wings and arms spread wide, they majestically drifted down from the closing portal and landed beside Tana’Gorgon and Haer’Dalis. They were Eryx and Luna, the avariel-human cavalier and the avariel-drow warrior-spellcaster.

“Ahhh,” hissed Tana’Gorgon, “it issss the legendary Demonhunter and his Dark Angel! At lassst we meet! My unworthy minions desserved their deathsss and now I may have the delicccious honor of feasssting upon you myssself!!!!”

“Only my blades will you taste, foul monster!” roared Eryx, brandishing his bastard swords Foebane and Purifier, slayers of otherworldly evil.

“And your demon-elf clowns shall feel fires hotter than any in the Abyss!” screamed Luna as she clanged her shield and Moonmace together and magical energy began to swirl around her.

“Ah, I’m afraid the show must go on!” laughed Haer’Dalis and began to cast.

Luna flew into the air again and called evocations down into the three rings, scorching rogues who were trying to attack or cast. Eryx and Tana’Gorgon had began a furious melee fight, the knight’s enchanted swords and chainmailed wings clashing against the tough-skinned claws, fangs, tail and wings of the great demon chief.

The three master bards had drawn their harps to give the signal to their circus to start confusing and dominating the audience, but much of the town was already clambering to get out, relatively easy in the open-air circus. The bards cursed and commanded their monsters to start ravaging the town and the rogues to fight the intruders.

Haer’Dalis’s dragon started clawing at and breathing on Eryx, who parried its attacks with Purifier while still dueling Tana’Gorgon with Foebane, resisting the laughing-gas breath. Luna was now casting enchantments on the mass of rogues and they began attacking one another. Eldoth and Cyrex rode their dragons up into the air, coming at Luna from opposite sides, but she deftly swooped out of the way on her raven-like wings and the two beasts crashed into each other, the bards flying off their backs and into each other as well.

As the demon and the center dragon both lunged in to smother Eryx, he deftly pushed Foebane straight through Tana’Gorgon’s heart while slicing off the approaching dragon’s head with Purifier. The two great monster carcasses collapsed and Haer’Dalis leapt off the dragon in a mad midair somersault of blades. He came down upon Eryx and bastard and shortswords clanged against each other furiously. Haer’Dalis landed on his feet and the two began an intricate dance of swordplay. The powerful Eryx tried to knock his opponent back with strong blows and wing buffets, but the wily Haer’Dalis cartwheeled and rolled around and under the attacks, then stood his ground with blinding spins.

As Luna toasted off the two other dragons, Eldoth and Cyrex were on the ground untangling themselves from one another. They looked around and saw their fellow rogues hysterically fleeing Luna’s powerful spells and wisely decided to join them in a dash back to Our Lady Entropy.

As he continued to swordfight, Haer’Dalis looked around and saw his troupe abandoning him. “You haven’t had the last laugh yet, Demonhunter!” he spat at Eryx. “Spare this town from my sideshow, if you can!” With that he started a rapid series of backwards cartwheels and disappeared back down an alley, laughing gleefully.

Eryx and Luna started flying over the town slaying the monsters, who were hungrily chasing after townspeople and tearing into buildings. Meanwhile the rogues were all converging on Our Lady Entropy and hastily lifting anchor and setting sail for Athkatla under cover of the foggy night.

Cyrex laughed as they sailed off with their rogues. Huddling the jester and Eldoth, Haer’Dalis sang:
“And our force of monsters is slain, yet we are cheerful thus,
For we understand that it’s fated so, that all things come to dust,
Falling to chaos and entropy is how the universe will end, it must.”

***

In Ust Natha, the great temple of Lolth had been converted to a temple of Shar. Within, Viconia was performing a bloody sacrificial ceremony in front of her cult. Sarevok, Korgan and a few of their bodyguards stood at the back, chugging dwarven mead and watching with disgusted curiosity. Sarevok heard one of his men’s comments turn from the ceremony to the priestess herself, and without missing a swig he reached out and wordlessly broke the soldier’s neck. Gluttonously exercising his tyrannical power, sloshing back his rich mead, and eyeing his enchanting dark maiden, Sarevok mused on the pleasures of a mortal life. Surely being a tyrant lord was more enjoyable than being a god of murder. Yes, let another joker slouch on the Throne while he, Lord Sarevok, basked in earthly delights.

“Oh dark Shar, we thank thee for the rapid progress of our rightful reclamation of our world,” Viconia chanted in drow. “We are most grateful that our worship and many sacrifices of infidels have pleased thee.”

The intelligent Sarevok grunted as he made out enough of Viconia’s drow words. He mused how that accursed harpy talked so much - all the time, no matter what she was doing - that he couldn’t but help have learn some drowish.

“It’s the muscle of my men we have to thank, sub-human witch!” he yelled in common.

“Ar,” spat Korgan in agreement, “that thar be ninny dark-elfish hocus-pocus!”

Sarevok pushed open and marched out the front doors in a huff, his men following. Viconia spun and cast a curse at him but it hit the last bodyguard instead, causing him to drop dead instantly. Sarevok finished his flask and threw it at a passing worker as he walked back into the city. Soldiers and miners were going to and fro in a hurried but orderly fashion. The adamantium mining was proceeding rapidly and the non-renegade drow had yet to launch a counteroffensive. The Zhentarim held the tunnels almost halfway to the next drow city. The Black Network had for generations been infamously effective in using “terror teams” consisting of small, cohesive units of fighters, clerics, and mages whose task was to wreak havoc and cause skirmishes in enemy territory, more as a distraction to keep the enemy on the defensive than to actually gain ground. It was working beautifully and the drow had, according to the extensive intelligence of the Network, been fortifying their own nearest cities rather than organizing a counteroffensive.

He walked to the Male Fighters’ Society. His soldiers were training within, practicing with both their own and drow weapons. He walked up the stairs to the top story, which had been converted into an adamantium lab. Human and drow metallurgists were working side by side, muttering racial slurs back and forth as they debated and discussed. They all turned to look at Sarevok as he ascended the stairs and even the dark drow went deathly pale.

“How comes the work? Shall I need to test an experimental blade….upon one of you?” he threatened. One of the scientists gulped and quickly handed Sarevok a two-handed sword. The mighty warrior took it and swung it around, cleaving through a chair or two.

“Marvelous craftsmanship, powerful and yet perfectly balanced….for one weaker than myself!” he sneered and lopped off the head of the worker who’d handed it to him. “But can it pass the real test?”

He walked over to a table and laid it down. A drow cleric approached and cast a small sunray upon the blade. Nothing happened. “Keep it up!” Sarevok yelled. “Can’t have it disintegrating halfway through a battle!” The cleric kept casting, focusing the power of entire sunrays onto a small area. This went for minutes on end, the cleric struggling to maintain enough energy to keep casting while Sarevok’s sneer failed to soften.

At last Sarevok laid his hand upon it. “Not even hot!” he exclaimed. Then he picked it up and pounded it against the stone wall, cutting into the wall and not even scratching the blade. “Not even weakened!” Then he swung it at a non-adamantium sword mounted on a wall, easily breaking the ordinary steel weapon in two.

“It is done, and it is glorious!” he roared triumphantly. “Redouble the mining efforts! Begin refining the ore and mass-producing weapons and armor immediately! This exact formula! Soon we shall outfit the entire force of the Zhentarim and sweep across the face off Faerun, unstoppable! Then I shall see the court jester sit in the Throne, and I will be the worldly Emperor of Murder!”




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