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V. Insanity Island

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#1 Guest_Oryx_*

Posted 12 November 2002 - 05:33 PM

V. Insanity Island

As Onyx, Valygar and Minsc were running back down the stairs outside the Copper Coronet, they spied a trio of clownish bards running by down a street ahead and carrying balloons - and two people floating within them. They squinted close.

“Aerie!” roared Onyx.

“Nalia!” yelled Valygar.

“My witches!” screamed Minsc.

“Eep! eep!” squeaked Boo.

They immediately charged after the bards at full speed. The chase proceeded southwest through the slums and finally to the docks district. They saw the three bards leap off the end of a pier, seemingly into the water. But as they reached the edge of the pier themselves, they saw the rogues taking off in a trimaran, their jolly-roger-and-black-sun flag-sail caught high in the wind.

“Was that Haer’Dalis? And Eldoth?” Onyx’s jaw hung open. “Who was the third?”

“They call him the Jester – those three ran the Circus of Chaos!” Valygar shouted to his comrades. “These are the three that Yoshimo informed us got away from him! Quick, to the Sea Ranger Lodge!”

“We need your fastest boat, pronto!” Valygar ordered a sea ranger as they rushed in.

“Yes, Chief Inspector! Follow me!” the man acknowledged and quickly led them to the dock on the back of the building. “She’s our fastest, but be careful - she’s a knife in the water and just as tipsy!”

The warriors leapt into the boat and immediately drew up the sail and pulled out. Valygar drew out a spyglass and directed Onyx and Minsc to maneuver the sail and rudder, setting themselves in hot pursuit of the trimaran.

They were soon out on the open sea, heading north-west-west, keeping the same wind and speed as the trimaran.

The three bards were each standing at the fronts of the trimaran’s three beams, steering and watching their pursuers. “enough now we must kill them yes yes” Cyrex babbled and gleefully let his bundle of balloons go. They floated back over the air, in the path of the trailing sailboat.

“Boo says those balloons no look like fun!” Minsc screamed and drew out his bow, firing at one. The balloon popped in a large fireball that left the others unscathed. Valygar drew out his bow and Onyx his throwing axe, and they began hurling or firing at the balloons. Some popped in other fireballs, some in ice storms or electric bursts, others summoned monsters which fell into the water and drowned, and still others had no visible effect but surely were letting out some enchantment or other.

“I see our secret admirers need some more lively playthings! I have more cards up my sleeve” Cyrex sneered as the last balloon was popped and drew a deck of cards from his sleeve. Every one of them had a shark pictured on it. He began tossing them into the water behind the trimaran. The oceans had been clear and empty, but suddenly shark fins rose above the surface, swimming with the trimaran. "Let's see how they gamble with our cardsharks!" the jester laughed.

Valygar was still peering intently through his spyglass, his dreadlocks blowing about in the high wind. He saw the rapidly approaching shark fins, each of them tattooed with a number and symbol as if they were playing cards. “Cardsharks!” he screamed and the heads soon appeared, opening their jaws to reveal row upon row of diamond-shaped razor sharp teeth that would easily tear the boat’s hull to splinters.

Onyx took over steering as Minsc and Valygar merely held out their hands, not longbows. As the sharks drew close, the two rangers began charming the animals and sent them back in the direction of the trimaran.

The bards were laughing and toasting as they watched their foes contend with the sharks. Then they noticed the shark fins turning around and swimming back towards them. They were coming slowly, now swimming with the vessels, but gaining to be sure. The bards cursed and drew out bows and crossbows, firing upon the sharks as soon as they came within range. One managed to get to the boat, leapt out of the water, and bit the middle beam. It flapped wildly, causing the trimaran to keel side to side in the water and slow down. Cyrex drew his katanas and slashed off the shark’s huge head with one dual swipe. The body fell into the water and he pulled the head up onto the trimaran’s netting as the other two bards laughed. Eldoth began making sharktooth-headed poison arrows while Cyrex cast small fireballs and started up a little shark meat barbeque and Haer’Dalis resumed steering. They all ate and sang together jovially:

“Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
a tale of a fateful trip.
That started from an Amnish port,
aboard this tiny ship.
The mate was a spinning tiefling,
the skipper a jester fool.
With a debutante and two gals they set sail,
for a three hour tour, a three hour tour………
Their do-gooder pursuers started getting rough,
the tiny ship was tossed.
If not for the courage of the fearless bards,
the Circus would be lost; the Circus would be lost.
The ship took ground on the shore of a hidden desert isle,
With Cyrex and Haer’Dalis
And suave Eldoth all bringing a smile
With ginger Nalia, and merry Aerie
Here on Insanity Isle!”

At last the island came into sight. The bards cheered and hurriedly finished their food and wine. They rode the trimaran into a wave and slid up the beach on it, coming to a gentle rest on the sand. They grabbed the two balloons and began running up the beach into the dense jungle.

The sailboat was led up onto a wave with equal skill, sailing up the beach and then like a knife through the sand almost all the way to the trees. Using its last momentum, the three heroes leapt off it with weapons already drawn, hitting the ground running.

The two rangers were expertly tracking the bards’ path through the lush foliage and Onyx could detect Eldoth’s evil aura ahead of them. Though they were pursuing them easily, the paladin cursed himself for not also having the ability to detect destructive but truly amoral chaos. Then instead his anger turned the unknown workings of magic and auras itself. Why is it that sentient beings may do evil, as their auras remain neutral? He nearly cursed Ao for designing such an imperfect system. His mind went back the childhood of his son and indeed his own. Both had in their youths attacked many an agemate for evil actions, yet the individuals were by aura not “evil.” How could this be?

The three bards came at last to their hidden pirate village. Houses were built in the trees, with ropes, bridges and catwalks snaking all around. Circus pirates were running about, climbing up and sliding down, or just sitting around drinking, gambling, and cursing. They cheered as they saw their three leaders return, and whistled as they saw the two captives in the balloons.

“No time for a tale, my hawks!” Haer’Dalis announced. “Three foes of fun and freedom follow in our footsteps! Entertain these guests and by all means, play rough!”

As the heroes drew close, they could easily hear the pirates and began creeping quietly. They ran up a hill and Valygar leapt onto Minsc’s shoulders and then up into a tree. He peered above the canopy and could see the pirate village ahead.

“Outlaw encampment ahead,” he whispered to the other two, “it’s built against the side of a rock outcropping of the island's lone mountain. Doubtless they’re against it because of some sort of cavern complex.”

The three began running through the trees to the rocks, going around the edge of the pirate village. They climbed up onto the rocks at the foot of the mountain. A stream was coming down from the mount, spilling over the rocks in a series of waterfalls. The three followed downstream to the last outcropping of rocks, just overhanging the edge of the pirate village below. They looked down and saw a rope bridge, some hundred feet in the air and yet also a hundred feet below them, seemingly go right into the rocks.

Boo squeaked excitedly as they peered over the edge. "Boo says that must lead to their underground lair!" Minsc exclaimed under his breath. Onyx drew a length of rope out of his bag of holding and tied it securely around the base of a nearby boulder. Quickly eyeballing the rope and the distance to the bridge, he cut the end of the rope off and threw the remaining length over the edge. It hung just above the bridge, invisible to the naked eye for being within the cloudy mist of the waterfall. The three heroes quickly scaled down it and onto the bridge, themselves hidden from the pirates outside by the spray. They then ran along the bridge under the waterfall, into the cavern complex under the mountain. They ran through several rooms of circus and pirate equipment.

“This place must have been the origin of the Circus of Chaos!” Onyx exclaimed.

“Look!” Valygar pointed to a piece of paper carelessly left on a desk. “It’s an invoice for weapons, materials, monsters…underwritten by the Black Sands Traders – a front for the Zhentarim! “

“So my brother was behind this all along,” Onyx scowled.

The three bards, running deep into the mountain, passed into Eldoth's opulent bedchamber. They froze in surprise and a look of trapped terror caught Eldoth's eyes. Skie was sitting there. Eldoth's lover from Baldur's Gate many years ago, she had been slain alongside him in the first Throne War but had returned from the Abyss with him and Haer'Dalis.

"Oh, my sweet Eldie, I'm so glad you're back!” Skie hopped up. “I missed you so much that I decided to return early from visiting my parents in Baldur's Gate and......" Skie's eyes trailed up to the balloon Eldoth was sheepishly holding and she focused on the lithe Nalia trapped inside. "And just WHO is THAT!?!?!!?" Skie demanded, jealously eyeing the other thief lady.

"Er, she is, an ah hostage of some import, only that...." Eldoth stammered. He tried to pass the balloon to Cyrex, but the jester merely laughed hysterically and pointed at Eldoth and Nalia.

Skie had seen Eldoth's embarrassment and saw straight through the slippery bard. "You lied to me!" she began crying angrily. "You said you loved me!! I lockpick our way out of the Abyss and this is the thanks I get!? You thinking I'll be away at my parents' for a while and so you bring up a little strumpet to this island? OUR island? You promised me we'd retire in this tropical paradise!!! While in Baldur's Gate I hear how you've been causing chaos and mayhem across Faerun, and so I come back here early to see you, not believing the rumors, and now I find that not only did you in fact just return from just a mad misadventure, but you've brought yourself back a mistress!? I HATE YOU!!!!!!"

Just then Onyx, Valygar and Minsc burst into the room. They had their bows and throwing axe readied, but the crying Skie came bounding over to them, holding out her arms and blocking their shots. "Just kill them for me!!! They're rogues and liars and I hate them!!!" she cried.

Onyx, suspecting a ruse, detected her aura. She was neutral. Curses. Were these bards putting on a little show? He thought he recognized her from a nobleman's house when he first visited Baldur's Gate long ago. "Skie? Stand aside, my lady!" he called to her impatiently. "How do I know you actors aren't improvising?"

"Improvise THIS!" Eldoth sneered and drew his bow and fired a poisoned sharktooth arrow into Skie's back. She screamed and her knees gave out. He fired another into Onyx's shoulder. The sharktooth pierced the cavalier’s armor but he was immune to the poison. Ignoring the slight physical pain to himself, he grabbed Skie, already herself weak from the poison, as she started to fall. Tthe three bards dashed out another door as the rangers’ arrows landed in the wall behind them. The paladin laid his hands upon Skie's back and healed her wound physically, then softly chanted a neutralize poison spell for her. He laid her, fully healed now but nearly unconscious, on the bed.

"At last I see," she whispered weakly into Onyx's ear as he gently let her sink into the silken sheets, "that heroes and villains are more than opposing teams in a game. It is faith and valor, not mere banners and crests, that distinguish good and evil men."

“Yes, actions, not auras, my lady,” Onyx whispered as Skie fell into a deep slumber. The three heroes ran out the other door and down a hallway. They came down a hallway and into a large square chamber with a checkered marble floor.

"Greetings, players" Cyrex's voice echoed around the chamber from everywhere and nowhere, "So glad you decided to gamble with the Jester. And now, let the games begin!!"

They saw two lines of enemies coming at them from across the room. Onyx summoned a deva to his aid, but they were still outnumbered sixteen to four. The first line of eight small soldiers came close and Valygar and Minsc were already picking them off with arrows while Onyx hurled axes. Four made it through. Valygar began slashing one apart with his katanas Celestial Fury and Hindo's Doom while Minsc cleaved through another with Ravager and Onyx made short work of a third with Blackrazor and the Axe of the Unyielding. The deva took out the fourth with her glowing sword but then the back line of enemies drew nearer. Two stone battering rams came wheeling down the squares at them while two knights on miniature horses galloped up. Behind them, two clerics and a sorceress were preparing spells and a large crowned warrior was drawing a crossbow. Before one of the knights reached him, Onyx hurled a potion of explosions at the back line and it exploded, disrupting the spellcasters. Valygar sidestepped one of the rams and swung at its wheels, knocking them off and immobilizing the machine. Minsc braced himself with his halberd and took the other ram head on. It smashed into the Ravager's blade and stopped. After a few more swings, Minsc had reduced it to rubble. Onyx and the deva were dueling the knights, each taking a few minor blows before knocking off the heads of the horses and men. As the four rushed the back line, the clerics called columns of fire down onto the deva while the sorceress sent a wilting sandstorm into the air and the king hit Onyx with a bolt. The deva was shriveled and incinerated on her way to the king. Squinting and bearing the wilting and bolt, Onyx reached the queen and sliced her apart with a single pairs of swings from his sword and axe. Minsc and Valygar each reached one of the bishops before they could get another spell off, and managed to knock their staffs aside and behead them, funny hats and all. Onyx, absorbing the queen's strength through Blackrazor, turned to face the king, who threw down his crossbow and drew a sword and shield. The two thrust and blocked and parried. Onyx managed to use the back of his axeblade to catch the edge of the king's shield and pull it away from his body. He then knocked the king's sword outward with his own and thrust at the monarch's exposed chest. He stabbed him clean through and roared as he drained the king of his life, healing his own wounds. He let the body slide off the blade and then he and the two rangers ran out the back of the room.

"I see you may be good sports yet," Cyrex the jester giggled. "But such serious and valiant heroes you are! Our next game will give you a laugh!"

They wound up through a steeply sloping tunnel, and the next chamber seemed much more rocky and natural, like a large cave. Onyx sniffed the air and felt his blood boil. A dragon's cave!

"Dragon," he whispered to his comrades. “I don’t recognize the breed though.” Valygar started to nod but then let out a smile. Minsc outright laughed.

"What's so funny...heh heh?" Onyx chuckled. Then he caught himself. He smelled the air again. Could it be....? He'd heart stories of a dragon race created by Mask as a great practical joke, a strange mutation of green dragons who breathed not poison gas, but laughing gas. As he started to laugh and lose control again, he grabbed Minsc and Valygar and tugged them back to the mouth of the cave. They guffawed at his antics but then shook their heads once they were back in the cleaner air.

"Purple dragon - laughing gas breath," he explained. Valygar, now more serious, cast a zone of sweet air ahead of them. They ran forward, swearing they could smell pine trees and hear birds chirping. As they reached thicker, noxious air again, Minsc cast another sweetening spell and they ran further. At last, in the darkness, a pair of bright eyes opened.

“Knock knock,” boomed an omnipotent voice, obviously that of a dragon.

“Who’s there?” Minsc asked, a little confused.

“Your dragon!” the dragon teased.

“Our dragon…who?” Minsc wondered.

“You’re draggin’ your feet because you’re afraid to face me!” the dragon finished.

“Ho ho ho ho….greetings, mortals, I am Laffraag....ho ho ho ho!!!" the ancient purple wyrm continued. "Did you hear this one? So, a cavalier, a berserker, and a stalker walk into a dragon's cave. The cavalier..."

Sheathing his other weapons and drawing out Dragonslayer and the Dragon Shield, Onyx yelled and charged the dragon's head. Valygar drew Ixil's Spike and Minsc held the Ravager halberd forward and they ran its belly. The dragon breathed a thick cloud of laughing gas, but the three were still in the sweet air cloud. The spear and halberd plunged into the dragon's belly but it reared its head up and out of Onyx's reach. It knocked the rangers back again with its foreclaws and then sent all three of them flying with a wing buffet.

They were each up in seconds and charging at the dragon again. It came at them with tooth and nail. Minsc managed to intercept one of its claws with his halberd, and Onyx the other with his sword and shield, each piercing into its hands. It reached in to chomp Valygar whole, but he tucked and rolled, and as its jaw came together around air, he sprang up and plunged his spear through the bottom of its jaw. He twisted the spear and it sent barbs out of the spearhead into the dragon's brain, lacerating through its thoughts and memories and killing it instantly. The three warriors withdrew their weapons from the dead beast and ran down to the end of the cave, which sloped steeply up again.

"So many enemies have fallen before you over the years," Cyrex taunted, "but how will you fight foes who are not even real?"

They found themselves in a maze of mirrors. They walked around, seeing only their own reflections in them. Then shapes began darting across the reflections. They heard laughter echoing through the hall. Then, Cyrex, Haer'Dalis, and Eldoth appeared in some of the mirrors, smirking and chuckling. The warriors began swinging at them, only to smash mirrors. The bards were now laughing hysterically. Onyx felt a slice on his back and spun around, but could see nothing. The same happened to Valygar and Minsc. They swung whenever they saw the bards but only shattered glass.

Wielding Gram the Sword of Grief, at last Minsc swung and hit the body of Cyrex himself. The jester sneered and swung back with his katanas Lies and Madness. He was quick and tricky, but Minsc managed to parry the blades with his own and, far the stronger, drove his opponent back into a mirror. Cyrex laughed madly as shards of a mirror cut through him and he continued fighting, cartwheeling and cavorting about madly and confusing poor Minsc, giving himself opportunities to score hits.

Onyx felt another sword rake across his back, and quickly turned and caught Haer'Dalis's arm with Blackrazor. Energy flowed into him and healed his wound and he swung with the Axe of the Unyielding, which Haer'Dalis parried with Chaos. The blade then swung with Entropy, but Onyx parried it. They both fought with great skill and speed, weapons flashing about. Haer'Dalis charged forward into an aggressive spin, but Onyx went into a whirlwind attack of his own. Steel clanged steel and a frightening pace and the two continued to swing away at each other, scoring occasional blows across or through each others' armor.

Valygar was swinging his katanas about taking out mirror reflections of Eldoth, and finally he hit the evil bard himself. Eldoth spat blood and swung his scimitars Seducer and Abuser in his hands and then at Valygar. The stalker parried the overhead swings with his katanas and kicked Eldoth in the chest. The bard fell back and cast magic missiles at Valygar, who cast them back. The bursts of energy flew past each other and smashed into each men, sending them both back into mirrors. Eldoth ran at Valygar again and swung at him, only to hit a mirror himself! Cursing at getting deceived be his own maze, he turned and swung at the real Valygar, who cleverly leaned far back to duck Seducer and swung Celestial Fury through the bard's leg and cut it clean off. As Eldoth was swept off his feet, Valygar met his fall with an upwards slash of Hindo's Doom that decapitated him.

As Haer'Dalis was quickly bringing his swords in at Onyx's chest, the knight held Blackrazor vertically between them and Chaos and Entropy clanged harmlessly against them. Before Haer'Dalis could move, Onyx had already brought the Axe of the Unyielding in for a low sideswipe of his own which made a clean vorpal slice through Haer'Dalis's waist and cut him neatly in two.

As Cyrex's katanas plunged into Minsc while the Rashemanian's own sword was caught between them, Minsc roared with frustration and went into a berserker fury. He simply let go of his sword and fell upon the small jester with his bare hands. The psychotic effects of Lies and Madness were lost on Minsc in his enraged state, and as Cyrex tried to cartwheel away, the ranger gripped the jester's head with his bare hands and crushed it between them.

As the three bards' bodies fell the floor, they vanished. The warriors gasped and realized it had all been an illusion. They heard the bards' laughter echo throughout the maze and saw their reflections cartwheeling away. The three warriors gave chase, only to find themselves swinging at reflections of the cavorting madmen.

At last they made their way out of the hall. They had stepped out onto a natural rock terrace on the top of the mountain, overlooking the jungle, beach and ocean below. There was one circular table, at which Eldoth, Cyrex, and Haer'Dalis sat side by side. In the middle of the table was a deck of cards, surrounded by bread, cheese, wine, and bowls of grapes and olives. The balloon of Aerie was tied between Haer'Dalis and Cyrex, and that of Nalia between Cyrex and Eldoth. They held daggers out across the strings of the balloons, ready to cut them loose and send the women in their weightless cages blowing away in the high ocean winds.

"Sheath your weapons or spend an eternity searching for your loves in the sky," Cyrex, sounding unusually lucid, sneered as he pressed his blades against the balloon ropes. The warriors complied and then held out their bare hands. "Ah, you understand at last the fallacy of true devotion, true commitment, and true love. It binds you down and it clouds your judgment. It is not we, but you who are insane. We are free, ours is a life of fun and mayhem, yours, of mere obligation and duty. That, my worthy foes, is madness for you."

“Madness is not making the most of that one lifetime – the one lifetime I chose,” Onyx stated. He looked down at the deck of cards in the middle of the table and the two chairs. "What game is it this time, Jester?"

Haer'Dalis laughed musically. "Let's have no more illusions; I think we've all seen enough. We rogues can't possibly hope to compete with such legendary warriors physically, but you oafs are no match for our wit - or our luck! The deck here is a Deck of Many Things. The game, Three-Man Three-Card. Be seated and let the game begin. It shall be a battle of wits – and chance." He gestured dramatically to the three empty chairs.

"Ah," inquired Valygar, "but there must be a wager first."

"Indeed," sneered Eldoth, popping himself an olive, "Any game with a Deck of Many Things is its own wager, for the loser most often ends up....broke, shall we say? However, the spoils to the last team standing are this: if we win, there will be nothing between us and our captives here on this beautiful deserted island, I think that is obvious enough, hmmm?"

Onyx and Valygar fumed. Minsc nearly went berserk.

"As for Cyrex, son of Cyran, son of Cyric, he will with your great deaths have enough power as a Cyricspawn to challenge Kan for the throne."

"And if we should kick your butts?" Minsc asked.

"Then we will be no more and you may return to your boring, predictable lives. Along with what you came for." Eldoth withdrew a scroll of Otiluke’s Popping Needle from his outfit, and showed to it to the warriors. Valygar, somewhat magic-literate, nodded in approval but before he could start chanting it, Eldoth had pinned it facedown to the table with a dagger.

"And now, let's make a deal!" Cyrex laughed and held out his palm to the deck. Telekinetically, he started dealing it to the players. To his left, Eldoth, then Valygar, then Minsc, then Onyx, then Haer'Dalis, then he himself got a card, and the cards dealt themselves around twice more. Each man carefully picked up his three cards and held them close to his chest. The three bards exchanged complicated signals of winks and smirks while the three warriors looked at each other confused. Then Boo furtively crawled down Minsc's back and onto Onyx's, whispering in his ear, then it crawled over to Valygar and did the same, then back to Onyx again and then back to Minsc. The warriors looked much more relieved. Minsc fed Boo a peanut.

Eldoth, to the left of the dealer, got to start.

"Void Card, to Valygar" he stated, laying down a black card with disintegrating powers.

"Key Card, to myself," Valygar countered quickly, playing a card showing a rich man. An ornate ring of protection appeared on Valygar's finger and helped him resist the disintegration.

"A defensive move!” Eldoth smirked. “We retain initiative - passed left on our team to Haer'Dalis."

"Knight Card, to Onyx," Haer'Dalis sang. Suddenly a trio of demon knights appeared behind Onyx.

"Star Card, to myself." As Onyx leapt from his chair with Carsomyr drawn to engage the demon knights, he threw down a picture of a young woman emerging from a pond and felt this strength increase permanently. With powerful blows, the paladin knocked one demon knight back with a parry and then sent the other two smashing into rocks with mighty kicks. He ran past and beheaded the one he had parried to the boulder where he had slammed the second and now impaled him on Carsomyr. As the third swung again, Onyx knocked his sword away and flying off the cliff and then halved the demon knight neatly.

"Now our initiative to me!" Cyrex laughed. "Magician Card, to Minsc," he tossed down a card showing a young magician pointing to the earth and sky. Suddenly Minsc transformed into a rabbit and began hopping about. Onyx cast a remove curse spell and Minsc returned to normal - or at least as normal as Minsc ever is.

Minsc studied his cards carefully, Boo squeaking in his ear. "Talons Card, to evil Eldoth!" he cried and laid down an icon of a wicked-looking woman. Eldoth screamed and clasped his hands over his eyes as he was blinded.

Fumbling with his cards, he laid one down and hoped it was what he thought. "To Valygar!" he whined, not sure which card it was.

The warriors laughed out loud when they saw the picture of the throne. "A Throne Card!" Valygar announced as he and his comrades felt themselves gain in an instant the experience that comes from many battles.

"Rogue Card - to Eldoth," Valygar scowled, laying down a picture of a vicious backstabbing man that just might have been Eldoth. Suddenly the evil minstrel found himself quite charmed by Valygar and was overcome by a strange desire to help him.

"Skull Card - to Haer'Dalis," Eldoth announced dreamily. Haer'Dalis cursed as a Death Shade materialized behind him. He somersaulted out of his chair and cast a magic missile at it, only to find the bone-golem-like apparition resistant to his magic. He engaged its bony scythes with his shortswords and the two dueled at the edge of the terrace. The strong Death Shade backed the blade up to the very edge of the drop-off, and he desperately went into a defensive spin and would not be budged. As he came out of it, the monster lunged at him with its claws but he rolled between its legs, gave it a swift kick on the backside, and sent it toppling onto the rocks below with the sound of many breaking bones.

Haer'Dalis took a sip of wine as he seated himself again. He hissed at Eldoth, who had regained his sight and was gazing longingly at Valygar. "Fool Card - to idiotic Eldoth!" he announced. The card bore a picture of a fool walking off a cliff. Eldoth felt his wisdom plummet and he started wandering around in a confused stupor. The other five all merely watched as, chasing a butterfly and laughing like a fool, he followed the insect over the edge of the cliff and fell far to the rocks below with a sickening thud and a quickly-terminating scream.

"The target is folded, so initiative passes to us, to Minsc," Onyx stated.

Boo squeaked and Minsc laid down a card of flames. "Flame Card - to Cyrex!" he stated. Fire elementals and a Balor appeared behind Cyrex.

"Jester Card to myself," Cyrex laughed, laying down a card with a jester and gaining combat experience as he did a handstand on his chair. As the monsters rushed, he vaulted off the chair, spinning his katanas in the air and cutting down the Balor before he'd even hit the ground. He cartwheeled back and as the fire elementals rushed him, he cast a cone of cold through them and then finished them off with a mad whirl of katanas. He leapt back into his seat and devoured a handful of grapes.

"Initiative back to me," Onyx announced and laid down a card showing a medusa. "Euryale Card - to Haer'Dalis."

The blade grimaced as he felt himself grow more susceptible to magic. He sheepishly played his last, worthless card. "Gem Card - to myself," he grimaced and showed the picture of a diamond as actual precious stones, worth a fortune but unhelpful at the moment, materialized around him.

"Initiative to me," Valygar stated. "Donjon Card - to Cyrex." He laid down a card showing a man in a cage - a card with the power of imprisonment.

As an imprisoning orb began to materialize around Cyrex, he laid down a card showing a beautiful elf maiden weaving a thread. "Erinyes Card to myself" he laughed, suddenly enhanced and saving himself from the spell.

"My initiative!" Minsc guffawed. He played his one remaining card. "Ruin Card - on not-funny Cyrex!" he played a card showing a tower being struck by lightning. Haer'Dalis and Cyrex cursed as their new gems and all their other money disappeared.

Cyrex and Haer'Dalis, both devoid of cards, looked at each other. "Your team is out, my initiative," Onyx stated calmly. But he knew he and Valygar each had only defensive cards left. "Moon Card - Valygar," he said, laying down an icon of a woman holding a lantern. Valygar felt himself become hardier.

"Comet Card - Onyx," Valygar returned the favor. The cavalier felt himself become even more resistant to fire.

The five remaining players looked at one another, all their cards played and only Eldoth gone.

"We win," announced Onyx, "one-nothing. And you, Jester, have nothing to show for it."

"Oh, boo hoo hoo," pouted Cyrex, wiping nonexistent tears from his cheek. "Boo hoo hoo hoo ho ho ho hee hee hehehehehehehehe!!!!!" The dagger he had been holding across Aerie’s balloon's string he pulled away and, still laughing, plunged into Haer'Dalis's back. The jester felt his blood quicken as the blade's power surged into him.

Cyrex cartwheeled back out of his chair. "Enough power have I now to challenge Kan yes hahahahahha!!!! And one last card up my sleeve!" he laughed and drew from his sleeve a card, which bore a picture of a jester – him - surrounded by the Black Sun of Cyric. He threw it upon the ground and a portal opened. “I’ve a throne to own a monk-god to kill, and Sarevok and Viccy shall partake of the thrill!” Laughing, he cartwheeled through it.

Onyx cursed. "Three to one, the cheat - we can't go through – only one who could summon a conduit could…like my son Eryx…”

Valygar read the Otiluke's Popping Needle scroll and caught Nalia's fall from her popping balloon while Onyx caught Aerie. Minsc bent over the stabbed Haer’Dalis and curiously listened to the blade’s last words.

“Thus, as the Circus of Chaos has, now I shall end my run,
And yet I only laugh and muse ‘pon my moment in the sun,
Nonexistence shall greet us all, in our one life we must have fun!”

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