III. Hijinks on the High Seas
Haer’Dalis, Eldoth and Cyrex were sitting on reclining chairs on the ship’s deck, sunbathing in short trousers and smoky-quartz sunglasses while breathing in the pheromonal aromas of their profusely-sweating Erinyes tiefling servant-slaves, who were fanning them and feeding them otherworldly grapes and wines. Haer’Dalis’s demonic tiefling skin was starting to glow all sorts of strange colors in the natural sunlight, but he was ignoring it and ranting.
“These Primes are too lame, they just can’t play a game!
Onyx is the name on which rests this blame!
It’s all since, I claim, that Bhaalspawn-paladin came!
And now thanks to his fame, things just aren’t he same!
All are pious and tame, good and order their flame!
But I’ve a new clever aim, Athkatla’s minds will I maim!
And then I’ll steal and claim that knight’s angel-dame!”
Cyrex clapped his hands and two of his swashbucklers ran below deck and soon returned with a bound-and-gagged elven mage in a purple robe. “before our Brynnlaw show Spellhold did I visit on the island only it is now Spellstudy that bleeding-heart Nalia converted in from a magic prison to a magic school yes but I did find one very interesting elf there an enchanter is he may help us sow the seeds of chaos yes it is Xan!”
One of the swashbucklers removed Xan’s gag. The gloomy enchanter sputtered and coughed. “Oh, I’m doomed, I know they wouldn’t let me stay a Spellstudy professor forever!” he moaned.
Eldoth smirked wryly and walked up to the elf. “It’s what you make it, dear friend. We require but a simple task and then shall you be free in the Realms once more. We can ever arrange certain….comforts….for your humble service. The job is simple. A trifle of magical research for such a great enchanter. All we need is a spell that can dazzle and amaze and bring merry chaos, one much like many you know, but with more…range. Say, the radius of a large city, mmmm?”
“Oh no!” gasped Xan, “What an awful thing! Oh, to doom the poor folks.”
“Doom, hardly, my over-dramatic friend,” Eldoth coaxed. “We merely wish to…open their minds to the exciting possibilities of causing chaos and anarchy and fun! And if they happen to go on homicidal rampages, well hey, you can’t make a great ballad without a little angst, mm? Or…if you don’t see it that way…we could introduce you to Mr. Geas, he’s already in you and just waiting to come out and play!”
“I’m truly forsaken!” cried Xan. “Woe is me. I suppose I will do as you ask.”
Eldoth smiled and led the enchanter to a nearby cabin where they’d set up a lab for him. The bearded bard then popped an olive into his smirking mouth as he walked back to his chair.
A short while later, a swashbuckler suddenly came sliding down the rigging.
“Masters! A ship! A ship approaches!”
With a flashy flick of his arm, Eldoth pulled an extremely long telescope out of his pants and looked in the direction the swashbuckler was pointing. Sure enough, a ship approached, a mere merchant vessel bearing the flag of one of the Amnish trading company.
“Grab thy cutlasses and man the spell-windows!” Eldoth yelled. “'Tis booty to be had by all!”
The crew all knew what to do and were suddenly scurrying around and through the boat and up and down the rigging. The most magic-adept bards stood at the spell-windows below deck, reading to cast evocations at the enemy ship when it came within range. Rogues wheeled tiny catapults to the edge of the deck and loaded them with jars of flammable oil. Others stood along the decks with bows while swashbucklers armed themselves to the teeth - literally - with scimitars and daggers. Haer'Dalis was now looking through his spyglass at the other ship. On its helm, he saw another figure with a spyglass looking back. It seemed to be a smiling Kara-Turan with katanas and a bow over his back. He looked vaguely familiar….
This man was, in fact, Captain Yoshimo. His ship the Bounty was disguised as a trading galleon but in fact its only cargo was Sea Rangers and Cowled wizards. Order members Sir Anomen Delryn and the honorary paladin Mazzy Fentan were among the warriors and the wizards were joined by Imoen and Jan.
Our Lady Entropy began to come alongside the Bounty, its few visible crew members innocently whistling, hiding their weapons and the catapults. Haer’Dalis stood in the middle of the deck strumming a harp. As he hit a dissonant chord, tiefling archers suddenly popped over the edge and began firing at the visible people on the Bounty. But the Amnish crew had been expecting this and quickly ducked. Haer’Dalis gave another order and his men began throwing grapples onto the other ship. They began pulling the ships together as gangplanks shot out from their deck to the other and swashbucklers began running across with blades and scraggly smiles.
Yoshimo gave the order and his own men began firing arrows at them, while the wizards below deck blasted fireballs out of their own spell-windows.
“'Tis a trap, a tragedy!” screamed Haer’Dalis and ordered his own bards to cast back, now willing to destroy the Bounty rather than try to claim its cargo intact. The two ships had been varnished carefully and the fireballs did not set fire to the outer hulls, although a few got through opposing windows and exploded inside.
"Mutiny on the Bounty! Charge, men!" Haer'Dalis screamed. Rogues were now running along the gangplanks to the Bounty in full force of even leaping from the rigging of their own ship, landing on the Bounty’s deck in hordes. Anomen, Mazzy, and the rangers were fighting them off, smashing and slashing them down or knocking them into the water. Imoen and Jan cast enchantments onto the deck of the other ship and the tiefling crew started running around madly, jumping into the water or attacking each other. Then the two thief-mages cast incendiary clouds up into the circus-tent sails and set them alight.
Haer’Dalis, Eldoth, and Cyrex screamed in anguish, with varying levels of sanity, and started casting fireballs back at the Bounty’s sails. As Cowled wizards put them out with ice storms, Imoen and Jan cast storms of comets and meteors into Our Lady Entropy’s hull, knocking holes in it and killing some of the rogues within. The ship began to take on water. But it was so close to the Bounty that the rogues were now simply leaping from the deck of one ship to the other or even popping out of their spell-windows and climbing up the Bounty’s hull with hand-over-hand dagger thrusts.
The rangers were taking out the rogues right and left but more and more came. Mazzy cut through her fellow demihumans with quick and true short-sword thrusts while Anomen with his mace smashed them to the deck or even batted them over the side of the ship. Imoen was pummeling and tearing open the back hull of Our Lady Entropy with energy blades while Jan fired flasher master bruiser mates through the hull with his crossbow. The circus ship began to upend, its aft sinking slowly into the water while its helm lifted out and pointed to the sky.
Yoshimo, recognizing Haer’Dalis, spied the master bards running into a cabin in the helm of their sinking ship and leapt from the Bounty, running up the diagonal deck after them and brandishing his katanas Hunter and Trapper. Some of his rangers followed him onto the deck of Our Lady Entropy.
"Free the slaves!" Yoshimo commanded, pointing to the shackled Erinyes tieflings with one of his katanas. The rangers ran up to them, expertly smashed open the cuffs without damaging the delicate wrists, necks, and ankles underneath, and carried the servants back to the Bounty’s safehold before themselves rejoining the melee to prevent tailing pirates from breaching the hold.
As Yoshimo neared the door the master bards had gone into, Cyrex sprang back out with his katanas Lies and Madness at the ready, singing a mushy ballad of some love lost on a sinking ship.
“Near, far, wherever you are…” he sang as he clashed weapons with Yoshimo. The two rogues fought one another as crates and tieflings slid by then on the steeply sloped deck. As it became too steep to stand on, Cyrex cartwheeled back through the air and landed on the main mast, which was now nearly horizontal. Yoshimo leapt down after him. The two engaged in a deadly bridge duel back and forth on the mast. Rigging rope was sliced by their flashing blades and fell all around them. They ducked and jumped to avoid incoming rigging, flying pieces of wood, and burning pieces of sails. The two fought fiercely and evenly, moving back and forth and even leaping on and off the mast using the ropes around them. Yoshimo tried to push Cyrex back but the jester cleverly feigned and dodged and would not yield. Then Cyrex did a backwards cartwheel and his feet flew up and kicked Yoshimo under the chin, sending the bounty hunter somersaulting back himself and nearly off the mast.
As Yoshimo fell onto the beam and gripped it tightly, Cyrex looked up and saw the doorway of the cabin open above him, the faces of Haer'Dalis, Eldoth, and Xan peering out. Yoshimo tried to get up but Eldoth had drawn his bow and shot a poisoned arrow down into the Kara-Turan’s back, causing him to moan and grip the mast tightly for dear life as he weakened. Cyrex fired magic missiles into the beam just below the crow’s nest, which then began to tear free and fall. Cyrex climbed in, working with the pirate flag. As the crow’s nest fell, the wind caught the flag and caused it to right itself. Just before it hit the water, Cyrex pulled a lever in the crow’s nest and three parallel hollow metal beam extended out of its base, nets stretching out between them, turning the nest into a getaway trimaran. As it splashed into the water and the three hollow beams held it afloat, Cyrex looked up.
Eldoth and Haer'Dalis were holding Xan, who was clutching a bag of spell components. The two bards gripped the wizard tightly and leapt out of the downward-pointed door. They fell from the helm, now high in the sky, and Eldoth and Haer'Dalis then sprouted parachutes bearing the skull-and-crossbones-on-a-black-and-purple-sun insignia.
“Next time we’ll set the trap, bounty hunter!” Eldoth sneered as they sailed past Yoshimo. The thief was getting up and quickly swigging an antidote as he watched the two bards float down with the wizard into Cyrex’s trimaran, too far away for him to jump to. Our Lady Entropy was now sinking down into the water. Yoshimo quickly cut a rigging rope and sheathed his katanas, and then held the rope with both hands. As the ship knifed into the water, he pushed off the horizontal mast and began to swing through the air on the rope, aiming for the deck the Bounty.
“Aaaaahhhahhahhahhahah!” he yelled like a jungle barbarian as he came around the side of Our Lady Entropy and over his own ship. He let go of the rope and fell through the air, drawing his katanas in midair and slicing down two rogues before he even landed on his feet on the deck of the Bounty. He and Anomen and Mazzy soon polished off the last of the pirates and Yoshimo looked back out to sea. The helm of Our Lady Entropy was disappearing beneath the waves, a statue of a tiefling mermaid grinning mischievously at him as it was swallowed by the ocean. Yoshimo saw the three master bards getting away with their captive wizard, their trimaran’s flag-sail catching the wind. The three were toasting with healing potions and laughing. They guzzled them, threw the bottles overboard, and then looked back at Yoshimo, making rather rude hand gestures. And then they all mooned him.
Haer’Dalis toasted his mates another round and quipped,
“And as all things must, do die our men and Our Lady Entropy.
And yet we only laugh and sing, we drink and are merry.
Death’s curtain must come down for all, such is life’s comedy.”
Valygar was at the Athkatla rangers' lodge. They were exchanging and discussing information pertaining to the now well-known Zhentarim conquest of Ust Natha. They were poring over maps of the surface world and the Underdark and trying to figure out Lord Sarevok's next move - would it be to push further into the Underdark, or would his Black Network spring from the ground like an army of ants?
Heads turned as a dark, hooded ranger with scimitars over his back strode into the room. "Drizzt!" Valygar exclaimed. "What news from the Underdark?"
The famous ranger threw back his hood to reveal his drow features. "As much as I hate sneaking back to the vile homeland of my race, I fear I have important news from there. It seems that Sarevok has had his metallurgists collaborate with those of archpriestess Viconia's renegade Sharite drow, and they just may have developed an alloy of adamantium which can withstand sunlight."
"That can only mean one thing," Valygar mused. "That he plans to attack...."
"Yes, above ground," Drizzt nodded. "As soon as he can outfit his army with this new equipment - and their production is well underway - he will be taking a large force and marching them to Athkatla."
For the merry month of Mirtul, a traveling circus from the east had come to Athkatla, led by Garrick and the wife who had taken him to her homeland of Rasheman long ago. Escorted by Minsc and his Justice Fist adventurers, now they were back in the city where they had once wooed. Combining with Quayle’s Circus, the carnival took up nearly the entirety of Waukeen’s Promenade.
Minsc was mud-wrestling all challengers and the slippery Saemon Havarian was making quite a bit of coin taking side bets on him. The illusionists Jan and Quayle had cast up a maze of unreal sights and sounds that intrepid circus-goers dared to enter and try to find their way out of. Onyx and Aerie were strolling past various booths and exhibits, arm in arm. Actually, Onyx was essentially carrying her in one arm and their grown daughter Sky in the other. Nearby, Nalia had just given a speech to the present crowd and was now looking around the festivities with Valygar.
“I’m amazed she can enjoy a circus, after….” Nalia trailed off, looking at Aerie.
“I think she really grew up over the course of our adventures and the growth of her kids,” Valygar mused. “You two are archmages I really, really, really wouldn’t want to tango with.”
“What!?” Nalia swatted his arm playfully. “You sure did la-“
“Er, tango? I meant tangle,” Valygar backtracked. “Um, let’s tango,” he announced and swept her up, carrying her to a nearby tent where couples were dancing to the band of Garrick himself.
Nearby, Onyx spied a young paladin he knew, a rising star of the Order and as true an inquisitor as his grandfather had been.
“Say, Sky, you’ve never met Kelron Firecam, have you?”
“That’s him?” Sky gasped. “Can we meet him now?”
Onyx winked at Aerie, who watched her husband escort her daughter over and introduce her to Kelron. She laughed contentedly and kept looking around for Quayle. They hadn’t been able to find him yet. She thought she spied a small, perhaps gnomish figure scurry by and she ran around the side of a small supply trailer after him.
“Ah, what an angel we have here!” exclaimed the masked bard, not Quayle certainly, but a rather curious quasi-elven figure. “Tell me, my dove, would you hear a tale I have to tell?”
“W-why, sure,” she giggled.
The mysterious minstrel drew a harp and began to step quietly behind her, almost whispering in her sensitive elven ears as he began a haunting ballad. A tale of a woman become a wife, a wife grown unloved and neglected by a warrior away at wars. Aerie could tell there was enchanting magic in the song but was moved and let it wash over her, shedding a single tear. Haer’Dalis grinned devilishly but didn’t miss a beat. The tale continued. A wife grown bored and unfulfilled, until one day a mysterious but charming rogue happened by…
Aerie could feel her robe begin to move as if a hand were starting to brush over it. Her hair stood on end and she suddenly knocked the offending hand aside angrily with her elbow, the spell broken and her thoughts returning to her loving husband.
Aerie stepped away and turned to accost the rogue, but he had vanished without a trace. She muttered a divination but there was nothing there, visible or not. She blinked several times, wondering if the entire thing hadn’t been some illusion.
Onyx came wandering around the small trailer, puzzled and looking for her. He visibly breathed a sigh of relief when he saw her and smiled. “I think Sky will be preoccupied for awhile, my bride,” he grinned devilishly. He peered into the door of the deserted trailer and snaked and arm around her waist. “We could go look for your ‘uncle’, or we could enjoy a little time to ourselves first.”
“Enjoy the….time?” Aerie arched a thin eyebrow as Onyx scooped her up gently and carried her into the supply trailer. “How about…me?”
At the Most Noble Order of the Radiant Heart, Valygar sat with Onyx, Anomen, Mazzy, and other knights. He was explaining the situation they faced with the Zhentarim and outlining a battle plan.
"We will need to station a large force outside the moat, otherwise their mages will just blast the wall to smithereens and the army will bridge its way across. We'll need as many paladins and rangers outfitted with enchanted armor and weapons as we can - the mundane equipment of the soldiers of Amn may not stand up at all against these adamantium weapons the Zhentarim may very well be carrying. And we'll need every archer or wizard in the city stationed along the ramparts of the wall to help take out the invaders. All right knights, get to work. We need to mobilize fast."
They broke and went about taking personal and material inventory and organizing their battalions. As Onyx turned to start barking orders, Valygar caught him. "My paladin friend, I will need you stay within the walls with me."
"What nonsense is this?” Onyx demanded. “You and I will be needed at the front lines more than ever. This is going to be a grave battle, Chief Inspector.”
Valygar nodded seriously. "Indeed, High Protector, it may be the gravest this city has ever faced. But with a battle of this scope, you and I will best be able to run it from a watchtower, not at the front lines. And I fear that on the day of battle, we may find enemies spring up within the city as well as from the fields outside. Minsc will be with me to help me track such activity, but I'll need your unparalleled abilities in detecting evil as well."
Onyx swallowed his pride and nodded. "You're right, my brother is most conniving. And who knows whether we'll have elements from that blasted Circus of Chaos appearing, such as those three whom Yoshimo said escaped from that naval battle. I wouldn’t put anything past those tricksters."
"Exactly what I've been thinking,“ Valygar nodded. “Let's move out."
III. Hijinks on the High Seas
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