Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Murielle’s body writhed on the wooden floor of the small house in Waterdeep. Her hands and feet bound with shackles to sturdy iron hooks embedded in the thick wooden planks. Strangely though, she found herself watching her body twist and contort in odd ways that she thought physically impossible. She watched from the corner of the small room as Proctor Gertrude, her mentor, looked on with obvious concern etched upon her face.
“What’s happening to me?” Murielle thought to herself, but she could not pull her gaze from the writhing form on the floor of the room. “There’s no pain. Am I already dead?” She thought.
“Do ya wish to be?” A female voice whispered from the shadows in the corner of the room.
Murielle, not easily startled, nearly jumped through the ceiling at the answer to the question she thought no one else could hear. She immediately snapped her head around to face the direction from where the voice had come readying herself for whoever, or whatever, would be coming from the darkness. After what seemed like an eternity, a blonde, half elf woman calmly walked out of the shadows to stand next to her. The half elf woman was dressed in black, skin tight leather armor with a silver belt ornately carved with tiny spiders all over the surface of it. Set into the belt were eight rubies, six smaller ones and two large ones in the center. Upon closer inspection the armor was covered in etchings of small spiders just like the silver belt and as she looked closer she saw that the small spiders would move from time to time as if crawling across the surface of armor itself.
“Don’t fret child, I’m not here to harm ya.” The blonde, half elf spoke in whispered tones. “I’m here to teach ya.” She continued.
“You are… You…” Murielle could not find the words to speak as she suddenly realized who was now standing beside her.
“My name is Tasha, as ya wish yars to be as well, yeh?” The blonde woman looked up into Murielle’s eyes as she spoke so there could be no mistake that this was not just a simple question. Murielle, being tall for a human, was at least a head taller than the smaller half elf but at that moment she felt no less intimidated than if she were facing a storm giant. The blonde, half elf woman stared at her waiting patiently for her answer.
“Yes.” Murielle spoke without really thinking about it. And of course she did, this was all she ever wanted since the time Gertrude and the other two Tasha’s had purchased her from the slave market in Calimport. “Yes.” Murielle said again with more conviction as she straightened herself to look squarely back into the eyes of the blonde woman standing next to her.
“Then we shall begin.” An impish grin spread across the thin lips of the blonde, half elf woman as she spoke. She held out her hand and nodded toward Murielle prompting her to grasp it.
“You are Tasha… the first one?” Murielle said, her voice shaking much more than she wanted, as she moved slowly to take the half elf’s outstretched hand.
“Ya will see, eh? Ya will see.” Tasha said.
The two grasped hands and instantly the small room faded from view replaced by a stream of images and voices to numerous to comprehend. Scenes of friends and enemies alike, of otherworldly beings unknown to Murielle and godlike creatures which she thought existed only in nightmares. She became overwhelmed and found herself nearly losing her grip on the small hand that held hers with a mighty grip. The images and voices lessened suddenly and she found herself floating through the air toward a skyship and gently lighting on the deck overlooking a curious scene.
“The history of Tasha is as important as the future of Tasha.” Tasha said to her young pupil as they touched their feet to the wooden deck of the skyship.
“Mistress Tasha, it is an honor to meet…” Murielle, finally realizing the truth of her companion’s identity, started to say.
“Silence child. Ya’ll learn the history.” Tasha cut her off immediately and nodded toward the main deck where a few people stood talking. “Beware, the godling will sense us if we move too close.” She continued in a whisper while pointing toward a flamboyantly dressed human male of apparent middle age standing in the middle of the deck and doing most of the talking.
“…Finder Wyvernspur, at your service.” The middle-aged man bowed low as he finished. “For your bravery and sacrifice I am entitled to grant you each one request.” Finder continued to speak and for the first time Murielle looked at the others that stood on the deck of the ship.
Immediately two of the figures stood out and her gaze fixed upon them. One was a raven haired, human woman wearing shining plate armor emblazoned with the symbol of the dead god Tyr, and across from her stood a small, blonde half elf woman wearing drab, brown leather armor.
The raven haired woman stepped up and asked the demigod Finder for the ability to better serve Tyr, the Just. The woman’s sword flew out of its scabbard into the grasping hand of the middle-aged man and immediately burst into flames and burned with white light. The demigod then tossed the sword back to the waiting paladin that reverently looked it over and then slid it back into its sheath. Finder spun immediately toward the blonde, half elf woman and stood with a patient look on his face awaiting her request.
“I want… I want more power.” Tasha simply stated, as if it should have been obvious what she wanted.
“Ah! It’s a simple request that carries the weight of the ages!” Finder stated with a flourish of hand gestures. “But can you handle the power little half elf?” As soon as he finished, Tasha’s armor immediately changed from drab, brown simple leather to a black, skin tight leather suit with a silver belt set with eight rubies.
“The armor chose me, ya see. Even the godling didn’t understand it at the time.” Tasha leaned over to Murielle and spoke softly in her ear. “The godling was the unwitting conduit through which the dark lady sank her fangs into me, eh?” The lithe, half elf woman said as a wry grin spread across her thin lips. A grin that was tinged with regret or maybe sorrow, Murielle noticed. Then Tasha looked around as if she sensed something coming near.
“We must move. There’s more to learn, eh.” Tasha again grasps Murielle’s hand and at once the blur of images and whispering voices return as the two of them float past images too wondrous and terrible for Murielle to imagine.
The voices grew louder and the images now started to form more cohesive scenes. Some of these scenes depicted Tasha in desperate battles against creatures too great and terrible for Murielle to comprehend. One scene flashed passed that showed the diminutive, half elf woman plunging two black, horn-like daggers into the skull of an enormous skeletal dragon. The undead beast howled and thrashed and then exploded into thousands of bone shards before the scene faded and was replaced by another. Murielle stared in awe as she held tightly to her new proctor’s hand as they flew through this otherworldly realm toward their next destination that she somehow sensed drawing ever closer. The voices grew clearer with every passing moment, and Murielle was able to make out one word that seemed to be repeated over and over.
The two astral travelers touched down the next instant on a dark patch of ground at the top of rocky cliff. The ground was covered in dust and shards of bone littered the dark landscape. Even the rocks upon which they stood were dark as if all color had been drained away from this world and all that was left were shades of lifeless gray. Tasha made her way a few steps toward the edge of the cliff and looked back toward her young pupil with a stern gaze.
“Things ya’re about to see will disturb ya greatly youngling. But it’s necessary to teach ya what it means to be Tasha, eh?” The half elf woman finished and then motioned for Murielle to come join her near the edge of the cliff.
“What… will I see Mistress?” Murielle stumbled over her words and realized for the first time since Proctor Gertrude had rescued her from Calimport more than seven years before, she felt fear.
“Truth.” Was all that the blonde, half elf woman would offer as she turned back to look over the cliff.
Murielle’s fear grew as she realized the blonde woman’s face showed deep concern. Nevertheless, she moved by Tasha’s side and together they peered down over the cliff at a scene that weakened Murielle’s knees so much so that she nearly fell over the edge and had to be steadied by her new proctor. There at the bottom of that cliff, no more than thirty feet from them, stood the Spider Queen herself, Lady Lloth.
The weakness spread through her body and she was jolted back into the small room and back into her body that still lay shackled to the floor. Proctor Gertrude was kneeling over her squeezing water from a drenched cloth into her opened mouth. The room spun around her and she felt like her arms and legs were being torn from her body. The black armor clung to her skin like rotting mud from a bog. But that was not the worst of it by far. The black, leather armor literally began to crawl all over her body. The tiny spiders etched into the leather skittered about the surface of her skin and sank their tiny fangs into her over and over again. She screamed in terror, but the scream was cut short by a sharp pain on her left cheek as Proctor Gertrude smacked her across the face hard.
“Be strong girl! She will protect you, trust in her.” Gertrude shouted at her in her usual harsh but well meaning tone.
The next instant Murielle found herself back in the dark realm beside Tasha, the first one. The small, blonde woman was holding her up as Murielle now realized that her knees were too weak to support her own weight. She quickly found her footing and tried to gather herself feeling rather foolish and unworthy at that moment.
“Be strong youngling! I’ll protect ya, trust me, eh?” Tasha said to her as she glared deep into Murielle’s eyes.
At that moment Murielle knew that Tasha was not encouraging her as much as testing her strength of will. Murielle was dangerously close to having her life snuffed out by the lithe, half elf woman standing in front of her. Tasha’s stare was one of quiet threat. Not a threat born of malice in any way, but a threat of instant death nonetheless. It was the threat of disappointment and unworthiness. Murielle took a deep, steadying breath, regained her feet and then nodded to Tasha in an effort to convince the half elf that her moment of weakness was over. Murielle buried her own doubts deep within her hoping they would not surface again. In truth, the blonde, half elf woman next to her was starting to unease her nearly as much as what lie just over the cliff.
“A close one, eh?” Tasha’s wry, sorrowful grin again crossed her thin lips as she turned away and peered back over the edge of the cliff. Murielle moved to join her immediately.
Again Murielle looked upon the face of evil incarnate, the Spider Queen. Lloth stood in front of a throne made of the skulls of many different creatures, some Murielle recognized and some she did not. The Spider Queen was a dark elf woman that stood at least ten feet tall and wore a shimmering, black silken dress with thin silver strands weaving a web pattern all over the surface. There was an aura about the dark elf maiden that filled one with terror and lust at the same time. The air crackled around the area with a chaotic power that Murielle could not comprehend yet it seemed familiar to her somehow. The two demon lords bowed low as Lloth took a step toward them and for the first time Murielle heard the terrible voice of the Spider Queen as she spoke to the two demons.
“You disappoint your mistress, Azazel. You had but one task to complete.” The drow maiden spoke in a soft, too polite tone as she moved between the two demon lords. “Tell me, was the human female too much for you to handle by yourself that you had to drag poor Zipresil from the pit to help you, hmmm?” Lloth purred as she stroked the horns atop the lowered head of the demonic from of Azazel.
“I serve at the request of my lord, he who cannot be named.” It was all that Azazel could think to offer at that moment.
“Asmodeus assured me that you would serve me well, Azazel. Yet, you have proved him wrong apparently.” Lloth’s voice carried immense weight and the two demon lords seemed to visibly shrink before her.
As the drow goddess finished she casually turned her head to look up to the top of the rocky cliff where Murielle and Tasha stood. At that moment Murielle felt like there was nothing else in all the realms that she wanted to do more than to crawl under a large rock and hide, but Tasha stood there staring back at the drow maiden. She felt her knees going weak again but managed, somehow, to find the strength to steady herself. Murielle noticed then that Lloth wore the same curious, wry grin that Tasha wore, but there was no hint of regret or sorrow in it, only malice and wickedness.
“The bitch senses our presence.” Tasha said.
“Can she…?” Murielle whispered as loud as she dared half expecting the Spider Queen to rip out her tongue before she finished.
“No. The bitch knows, but she’s powerless to do anything. No fear, eh?” Tasha, reading Murielle’s thoughts precisely, said never taking her gaze from the dark elf embodiment of chaos that stood below staring back at her.
“You may go Zipresil. I’ll not hold you to account for this one’s failure.” The Spider Queen said and she waved her hand as though she was dismissing an insect and the demon lord vanished into a black mist which quickly dissipated into the heavy air.
“Azazel, what am I to do with you? I guess you will have one hundred years to plot your revenge against Tyr’s champion?” Lloth said in a mocking tone. “You better hope the little human whore breeds so there will be something to direct your vengeance against.” The dark elf stood smirking at the demon lord daring him to lash out at her.
Azazel literally trembled with anger and Murielle could see smoke starting to rise from the demon’s skin. It seemed that the demon was ready to explode into rage but the dark elf woman simply giggled with glee and turned her back to the smoldering demonic form still kneeling before her throne. Lloth took one more step and the demon could not contain his rage any longer. There was an explosion of flame and a loud crack of energy as the demon launched its ill-fated attack against the Spider Queen.
From the shadows a black blur raced in to intercept Azazel’s attack just before it landed in the dark elf maiden’s back. Lloth turned and sat down on the throne of skulls and smiled wickedly at the small, half elf woman clad in skin tight, black leather armor now standing between her and the angry demon lord.
“If you can best my pet Azazel, I’ll consider giving you another chance to regain my grace.” Lloth burst into cackling laughter as she finished and the battle was joined.
“I was her slave, her pet ya see? The armor is her creation… or was until I took it from her, eh?” Tasha chuckled as she turned back to face her visibly unsettled pupil.
Murielle was frozen in place trying desperately to work out what she was seeing and how she could be seeing it. Here was Tasha, the one who started the organization nearly two centuries ago, fighting a demon lord for the queen of the drow, Lloth. For what purpose, she thought. The organization, as it was simply known, was responsible for the lives of countless girls from all over the realms. Rescuing these girls from death or slavery or worse, but for what? And yet, her companion was also Tasha. The two of them were apparently on a journey through the memories of Tasha, or perhaps it was the… armor?
Murielle paused and stiffened when the realization hit her like a ballista bolt. Was this the armor that was controlling her mind? Proctor Gertrude said she would have to battle for control of the armor, but she always assumed that it would be a physical battle. Not a fight, but more like an endurance test; like overcoming the effects of poison or a spell. Murielle’s mind swirled with possibilities as she tried to work it all out. And there, next to her, was Tasha who was still staring at her and wearing that wry, sorrowful grin as if purposefully pausing to let her finish her attempt to work through everything that was happening. All the while the battle between the demon lord and Tasha, the other one, raged below them at the bottom of the rocky cliff.
“Are you… the armor?” Murielle hesitated as she finally spoke. Just what was the best way for her to ask her unusual companion that question? She did not know. “I… I mean… is this in my mind?” Murielle was lost and did not expect an answer, at least not an answer that would make any sense, and she was not disappointed.
“Yes… and no, eh?” Tasha finished and let out a giggle as if she was a twelve year old girl. Seeing her apparent light-hearted mood caught Murielle off guard and she nearly fell over with shock.
“I am the armor, and the armor is me, ya know?” Tasha added after seeing the dazed expression on the face of her human companion. She then snapped her head around and looked back into the darkness as if she sensed something watching them. “Let’s move, eh?” Tasha said quickly then grabbed Murielle’s hand and the next instant they were launched back into the shadowy void and were again bombarded by the images and voices that were becoming much clearer now.
“What’s chasing us? Is it… Lloth?” That last word almost stuck in her throat when Murielle spoke. The thought of being chased by the malevolent goddess of chaos was not a comforting thought.
“No.” Tasha stated abruptly.
“Well, what is chasing…” Murielle tried to ask but was cut off quickly.
“Now’s not the time, eh?” Tasha said as she quickly changed the direction of their flight a few times as if she was trying to lose a pursuer.
Murielle was just about to say something else when Tasha shot her a stern look and made her think twice before speaking. This journey they were on through this realm of images and events was starting to take its toll on her. She felt exhausted, whether it was from this form of travel or if it was just the result of the convulsions her real body was enduring back in the small room in Waterdeep, she could not tell. Maybe this was all in her mind. Maybe this was the battle Proctor Gertrude spoke about. Or maybe she was already dead and this was her afterlife.
“You will be stopped, Chaosbringer! There must be justice, my lord demands it!” A voice clearly shouted in the distance shaking Murielle from her thoughts and drawing her attention immediately to the scene unfolding in front of her.
“A few godlings get skewered and suddenly I’m in yar sights, eh paladin of Tyr… my old friend?” A now too familiar voice shouted back from the shadows.
They were standing there only twenty feet from a raven haired, human woman clad in the most brilliantly, glittering armor that Murielle could have imagined. Full plate silvery, metal armor covered the woman from shoulder to foot and etched all over the surface of it was the symbol of a fist clenching the scales of justice. It was the sign of the dead god Tyr, Lord of Justice and Virtue. This god was supposedly killed nearly seventy years earlier during an invasion of the astral realm, apparently sacrificing himself to end a war that threatened all of Faerun. What did Tyr have to do with anything? And, was it true that Tasha had killed astral beings or godlings as she referred to them? Was such a thing even possible?
Murielle turned and focused on the shadows from where the familiar voice had come knowing fully who would appear from the darkness. She had only moments to wait as the small, blonde half elf woman calmly stepped from the darkness into the dim light of the shadowy realm. Tasha stalked around and circled the raven haired woman as they continued their conversation.
“A few? Your work for the Queen of Chaos has claimed more than a dozen exarches and seraphs! It is against the supreme law!” The armor clad woman retorted. “The law must be upheld. Imagine the chaos that would spread if the gods turned on each other and made war!” The raven haired woman shouted at the empty air before her not bothering to turn to follow the circling half elf. A mistake that would cost her Murielle thought. But, to her astonishment, Tasha did not strike at her exposed flanks which would have meant a certain and quick death. Instead, she continued to circle.
“Who’s counting, eh?” Tasha quipped. “So there’s a few less godlings to medal in the lives of mortals. I didn’t know Tyr taught his pets to count Mina?” Tasha continued, and when she finished, the paladin spun around quickly to face her with anger flashing in her eyes, but there was something more there as well. There was sorrow. The sorrow quickly replaced the anger in the raven haired paladin’s eyes when she looked upon the half elf.
“Tasha, please stop this. My lord Tyr can help you.” The paladin spoke in softer tones of genuine concern. “I know what the spider witch did to you… I can help…”
“Lloth no longer holds me!” Tasha shouted back cutting short the words of the raven haired woman. “I’ll not serve another!” The ferocity that flowed forth from the diminutive half elf’s mouth made it seem possible that she could summon the strength to kill a god. If that were even possible, Murielle still wondered.
“Mina ya don’t want to die, eh? Leave… and take yar god with ya!” The blonde, half elf woman pulled the two daggers that were sheathed at her waist free and crouched into a fighting stance as she spoke. “Ya know what these can do, eh?” Tasha held up the two vicious looking daggers; the same two daggers Murielle had seen her fight the demon lord with, but now she could see them more clearly.
The weapons were not made of metal; rather they appeared to be the fangs of an enormous spider. Murielle could see the black, oily liquid dripping from the tips of vile weapons and the look of fear in the eyes of the raven haired paladin. Murielle turned to her companion to ask if those daggers were a gift from Lloth, but she thought better of it when she saw the expression on the face of Tasha, the first one. The blonde half elf stood looking upon the scene playing out in front of them with a pitiful look of despair splayed across her delicate features. At that moment, Murielle thought that maybe the purpose of this journey was to help her companion through the tortured life she had led. These two circling each other before them were obviously acquainted in some way, maybe even friends, but why would a paladin of Tyr have anything to do with a thief?
“The skyship!” Murielle blurted out and spun to face her companion immediately after the words flew from her mouth.
Tasha nodded calmly never taking her eyes from the scene that unfolded in front of her.
Why did I not see this before? This is the paladin from the skyship. Murielle silently berated herself for being so thick. These two had known each other for many years. The raven haired woman was older but not so much that she was diminished in any way. The sword she now held out before her shone with the same white light that had nearly blinded Murielle back on the skyship. The clang of weapons jolted her back from her thoughts.
“So the Spider Queen’s touch has penetrated you fully.” Mina said with solemn resignation in her voice.
“It appears so paladin.” Tasha quipped and a wry grin spread across her face.
“I have to come to help you my old friend.” Mina, paladin of Tyr, said with conviction evident in her voice and then she held up her sword and readied herself for a fight she knew she would not survive.
The paladin’s sword glowed brilliantly but the light seemed to be sucked out of the air and into the black armor that Tasha wore. The half elf’s form shimmered and seemed to become incorporeal at times as she circled the paladin waiting for the opening to strike. Mina stood there in silent prayer to Tyr as she waited for the killing blow to fall.
“NO!” Murielle screamed. She could not help herself when she saw the fang daggers rush in and pierce Mina’s abdomen easily penetrating the shining armor that she wore.
What the paladin did next astonished Murielle completely. Mina, somehow still standing after taking both of the horrible weapons in her gut, stepped into Tasha and brought her sword down from behind her friend piercing them both. White light burst forth and paladin and thief together were engulfed in a blazing radiance which stung Murielle’s eyes. She pulled her gaze away from the scene and looked to her companion. Tasha stood motionless staring at the light as if she could not turn away and would keep staring at it until it burned out her eyes. The light quickly faded and Tasha, the first one, walked over to where the battle had ended. There on the ground lay Tasha, the other one, writhing in agony born not of pain but of grief. Tasha lay there holding the paladin in her arms, desperately trying to stop the flow of blood and entrails spilling from the older, raven haired woman’s midsection.
“I gift to you the grace of Tyr… of justice.” Mina coughed violently and almost passed away but gathered the strength for one final thought. “May it temper… the tyranny… of chaos.” The final words spoken by the champion of Tyr completed the spell and Tasha screamed as the essences of the murdered godlings, of the venom of Lloth and the tyranny of chaos flowed away from her and into the dark ground beside them both.
“This night, I was born. This night I was… rescued, eh?” Tasha, the first one spoke in hushed tones as she stood over her own form that was sobbing uncontrollably still clutching the dead form of her friend. The images faded and Murielle was left standing beside Tasha on that dark, gray patch of ground that was still soaked with blood.
“It’s coming and we’ll not be running anymore, eh?” Tasha said as she glanced around to the darkness and then back into Murielle’s eyes that were still moist with tears.
“It’s the armor coming for me isn’t it?” Murielle asked in an unsteady voice.
“Aye.” Tasha said.
“Mina saved you from the chaos of Lloth’s essence that was inside the armor?” Murielle asked and quickly glanced back toward the darkness when she heard the unearthly moan of something drawing near.
“There’s evil in everyone, yeh? Mina, tempered it so that it’d not be able to consume me, but she also gave me her sense of justice and duty, eh? She gave me the strength to control the armor and truly become its master, yeh?” Tasha’s familiar wry, sorrowful grin again spread across her thin lips.
“Then Lloth’s influence is still in the armor?” Murielle asked, but in truth she really did not want to know the answer.
“Of course." Tasha immediately responded. “The armor is nothing without it, and I…” She paused and thought for a moment then continued. “We, are nothing without that touch of power and chaos, yeh?” She finished as she moved her hand back and forth between the two of them to make her point clear.
“Will I survive?” Murielle asked.
“No fear, youngling. Yar stronger than most of yar sisters that have come to me, eh?” Tasha quickly turned toward a dark form that could now be seen approaching as she finished. “Defeat fear, conquer doubt, and ya’ll join yar sisters in service to me. Easy!” Tasha finished with a laugh and then backed away allowing Murielle to gaze at the black, shapeless form that was fast approaching now.
The black form wriggled and moaned in a grotesque manner as it approached fast from the darkness. Murielle prepared herself for the black, shapeless mass that meant to devour her. She pulled her daggers and set her feet, just as Gertrude had taught her.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
It had taken nearly a tenday to arrive in Yinnamar, the small, agricultural kingdom ruled by Lord Devronn Crumley. The three companions had procured three of the four boxes for Fredregar, the monkey lich, and had only this last box to obtain. It should be an easy task to get the box from Lord Crumley, who by most accounts was a bit foppish and rather dull of wit. The title, like most lords and ladies, was passed down through the family for generations. Eighteen generations to be exact, for although Yinnamar was small, it was old and long established as the main source of food for Baldur’s Gate and Candlekeep. The fertile soils along the flood plain of the Chionthar River make this tiny kingdom famous for growing the best sugar beets and potatoes in all of Faerun. These crops have made the tiny kingdom extremely wealthy and unlike many lords, Devronn Crumley actually seems to take good care of his subjects. Every farm the three of them pass is in pristine condition. Two and three story Farmhouses dot the landscape of the deep green, fertile plains all the way up to the foothills of the Sunset Mountains where Lord Crumley’s estate is located.
They come at last to the massive gates that mark the entrance to Lord Crumley’s estate. The gates are closed and two guards stand unmoving on each side of the road. The guards wear red, plate armor and fully enclosed helmets with visors lowered. Each one holds a ten foot long halberd and neither makes any move to acknowledge the trio coming down the road toward them.
“These fellas come from a joustin’ tourney?” Boucher whispers to the other two as they approach the two guards to speak.
“Although it’s late harvest season, it’s still much too hot for those helmets truly.” Aelar says while nodding at Boucher.
Murook steps up toward the gate and is immediately blocked by the two guard’s long halberds that scissor down instantly to cross in front of him. Still the guards say nothing. The half orc warrior fights the urge to send the fully enclosed helmets flying off both of their heads, but thinks better of it and backs off a bit to collect himself before speaking.
“We’re here to see Lord Crumley. We have business he’ll be interested in.” Murook states to the guard to the right of him, hoping that would be enough for the guards to let them through.
“No one is allowed entry.” The two guards reply in perfect unison as if they had rehearsed it for many hours.
“Not a joustin’ tourney, maybe a carnival.” Boucher states.
“We have important business to relate to Lord Crumley. Surely there’s some way you can allow us inside?” Aelar steps forward as he speaks, seeking to rescue the two guards from the half orc’s growing frustration.
“No one is allowed entry.” The two guards state in perfect unison.
Murook reaches for his axe not being one to rely on diplomacy to solve anything, but Boucher, who is standing behind him, grabs his hand and stops the half orc before the axe can come free. Murook’s massive axe, which looks as though the blade is made of teeth, would most likely ruin any chance to solve this situation diplomatically.
“Steady yerself. We’re here to be tradin’ for the blasted box, not to be takin’ it from a corpse.” Boucher whispers at the back of Murook’s head. Murook slowly took his hand from the axe and heaved a great sigh as Boucher patted him on the back gently to assure the large warrior that he had done the right thing.
Aelar was getting nowhere with the two guards who apparently only knew those five words. After a few moments of frustration the trio back away from the gates to discuss what to do next. Obviously pleading with those two guards is not going to gain them entry into the Crumley estate.
“Let’s just knock them out!” Murook exclaims when they were back down the road a bit and out of earshot. “I mean it’s like they’re spelled or something.” Murook says after turning back and taking a longer look at the two halberd wielding guards.
“Have either of you noticed that both of the guards are nearly identical in size?” Aelar states as he looks at Boucher and Murook in turn with one eyebrow raised inquisitively. “It’s not uncommon for two beings to be similar in size but it seems like those two sets of red, plate armor could’ve been made for the same person.” Aelar continues, speaking to himself as if in thought more than to the others standing next to him.
“Somethin’ peculiar about em that’s for sure.” Boucher turns back toward the gates as he speaks.
“The potions!” Murook exclaimed a little too excitedly and was immediately shushed by Aelar and Boucher. “The mimicry potions, I still have two of them left.” Murook said in a more hushed tone seeming very much like a scolded child at that moment.
Myrnn Tyranna, little more than a tenday before. The potions were meant to be imbibed while looking at another being of similar make up, and would grant an illusory visage to fall over the imbiber making him appear to be an exact copy of the target. The potions only affected appearance and did not mask the voice. Still, the potions were very effective at getting past outer guards, which is why the making and sale of these potions is regulated in most provinces and takes place mostly on the black market. Fortunately Old Merle, the alchemist in Highmoon where Murook purchased the potions, never had much use for regulations or laws when it came to alchemical formulas or rituals.
“Last two. We got to make these count.” Murook said as the three walked farther away from the gate to find a good spot to hide themselves but still be able to see the guards at the gate when they drank the potions. He pulled the two small vials of yellow colored liquid from his pack and handed one to Boucher.
“You gonna do some druid transformin’ thing aren’t ya?” Boucher turned toward Aelar and snickered a bit as he spoke.
“I’ll scout the way and let you know if I see any danger.” Aelar looked back at Boucher with a smirk of superiority on his face, which just made the dwarf snicker all the louder.
Boucher’s snickering stopped soon after as his druid friend literally burst into a flock of sparrows which took wing instantly and moved as one through the late autumn sky. Normally druids could only take the form of one animal of similar size, but Aelar came from a sect of druids that had mastered the art of the swarm. Boucher had seen his friend use this swarm transformation many times and it always amazed him, but he would never admit that to the elf.
“And just how’re ya to warn us of dangers while flittin’ about like that?” Boucher whispered loudly to the air where the flock of small birds changed directions this way and that. Immediately the flock swung back and swarmed around the dwarf’s head for a few moments then fluttered away leaving Boucher standing there blowing his disheveled hair out from his eyes.
“That’ll work.” Boucher stated while heaving a great sigh.
“Alright it’s time you two, let’s do this.” Murook said trying hard to stifle a hearty chuckle but finally coming to Boucher’s rescue. The half orc nodded to the many sparrows as the flock turned as one and headed back toward the gate. “Can you see the guard from here?” He turned to Boucher and asked.
“Aye. Ready when you are.” Boucher nodded as he spoke.
“Ok, we have only limited time remember, so let’s be quick.” Murook turned back to Boucher and nodded, then he turned back to look at the guard through to thicket of brush that they crouched behind and drank his potion down. Boucher did the same.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Murielle stalked along the cave wall in near total darkness. The stench of pirates, who hadn’t seen a bath in days, filled her nostrils. Not to mention, the pungent odors of rotting fish guts and briny sea air wafting through the seaside cave.
“Stinking wretches.” Murielle said under her breath as she continued to move deeper into the cave.
The target was close, she knew. Perhaps he was just around the next bend. Eight years of training was about to be put to a final test. Her proctor had shown great confidence in her by allowing the final test to commence so early. It normally took at least ten years of hard training before one was allowed to attempt the test, but Murielle took to the training well and quickly surpassed her peers. Now, she was on her final test and she would not fail. Murielle feared disappointing her proctor more than dying at the hands of a smelly pirate in some backwater cave. This was everything to her, without it she had nothing.
Three women dressed in fine clothes had found Murielle in the dungeon beneath a Pasha’s palace in the city of Calimport more than eight years ago. She was caught stealing food from the wrong people and was now facing a life as a concubine to service anyone that the Pasha deemed necessary. She was eight years old, a puny human girl, alone and starving. The three finely dressed women purchased her and two other young girls, also in the Pasha’s harem, for the sum of sixteen gold pieces. Since then, her life has been one of study and training. Her body honed, her mind sharpened and her will fortified. Now was the time she could begin to repay those that saved her from a life on her knees. She would not fail. She must not.
A flickering light bouncing off the walls of the cave caught her eye and brought her back from the memories of the distant past to the present and the test that she must complete. She was very close now. Murielle eased her head around the bend and looked into the large cavern beyond. There were more than twenty pirates, a few scullery maids and a couple of cabin boys in the cavern. The scullery maids giggled and flirted with the gap-toothed scum in between delivering drinks that the cabin boys were busy refilling. There were no other exits save the natural chimney that was in the ceiling some fifteen feet above a central fire pit.
Murielle entered the room as no more than a shadow among many that danced along the cavern walls. At one point a pirate stumbled over to relieve himself on the wall just a few feet from her, but the homely man was too inebriated to notice the teenage girl frozen against the rocky wall of the cavern. A teenage girl who could end his miserable existence with the slightest effort, but that would not fulfill the contract and complete the test. Murielle continued on toward the back of the cavern where the target was most likely to be.
The pirate Captain Dervante was sitting on a big, stone chair carved directly from a large limestone formation that jutted up from the floor. A large bottomed lady sat on his lap and giggled incessantly at his every utterance. The pirate downed another mug of ale and slapped the wench on the thigh which made her giggle even louder.
Murielle began to scan the room, as she had been taught. The cabin boys worked furiously at filling the steady flow of empty steins that piled atop the table near the barrels of ale and whiskey, the serving wenches twirled and whirled about the rowdy throng of stinking pirates and Captain Dervante sat on his throne of stone feeling totally secure surrounded by his underlings. There is no such thing as total security; Murielle recalled her proctor’s teachings. She studied the esteemed captain for many moments from the wall just to the side of his throne looking for the necklace that she was to grab as proof of the deed done. It was there around his neck just as the client had said it would be, along with an impressive looking dagger sheathed in a bandolier across Dervante’s chest. Murielle silently told herself that she would go for the dagger only after the deed was done and the contract fulfilled. It was certainly a nice dagger and would fetch a good price to support the organization. The pirate captain had fallen heavily into drink and would be an easy kill.
The simple, leather armor Murielle wore creaked and groaned as her muscles tensed in preparation to launch her attack. She waited for the large bottomed woman to get up from Dervante’s lap and then she rushed in behind the woman and expertly shifted around behind the throne using the woman to shield her movements perfectly. Dervante lets out a boisterous laugh and forces Murielle to pause for a few seconds to let the pompous windbag finish. Cutting the loud captain off abruptly by severing his spine at the base of his skull, would draw immediate attention and make it more difficult to make her escape, not to mention she might have to leave that shiny dagger behind. She crouches back behind the throne to wait for the unsuspecting dolt to accept his death more quietly.
Captain Dervante’s laughter dies down and he leans forward a bit and then pumps his fist into his chest to coax forth a belch. The belch erupts from his gullet as the last breath from a dead pirate as Murielle’s stiletto pierces the base of the captain’s skull and then instantly pivots to the left neatly severing the spinal cord.
“A fitting end to a stinking wretch such as you, captain.” Murielle whispers under her breath as she snips the chain of the necklace and slips back behind the throne in an instant.
Feeling no restlessness about the room she decides to go for the shiny dagger before making her escape. From the shadows behind the throne a small feminine hand reaches around the pirate captain’s chest and fingers the shiny dagger in the bandolier, and then quickly the dagger and the hand are gone. The drunken pirate watching this small hand take the dagger blinks stupidly at the sight for more than a few seconds before realizing something is wrong.
“Thief!” The drunken fool stands up and shouts, not realizing the irony of that declaration given the company he currently keeps.
The large cavern erupts into chaos and shouts of alarm fill the air moments later when the true deed is discovered. Murielle looks down on the floor of the cavern one last time as she braces herself against the walls of the small, yet adequately sized, natural chimney where she will make her escape.
“Too easy.” Murielle scoffs and then tucks the shiny dagger into her belt and begins the climb up and out of the caves.
Murielle’s proctor sits at a table in the back of the small, common room at the Two Skulls tavern in Waterdeep. She wears a dark brown traveling cloak tied neatly at the neck with a simple iron clasp in the shape of two crossed daggers. She pulls the cloak’s hood back when a stranger enters and moves to sit at the table with her. Her blonde hair is cut short and closely cropped in the back with longer strands hanging loosely in front of her face. She peers up at the stranger as he sits down and places a large pouch of gold on the table in front of her.
“My pupil has not yet returned with news.” The blonde woman whispers as she pushes the large pouch back toward the man.
“Your organization has never failed me before.” The man states flatly as he stares back at the woman.
“No payment until the deed is proven. It is our way.” The mysterious woman’s voice shot back in a serious tone.
“Honorable murderers, eh? Very well, have it your way.” The strange man grabs the large pouch and stows it away at his belt.
“Would you rather us be unreliable cutthroats and thieves?” The blonde woman smirked back at the man.
“I would rather bed you, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t wake up the next morning.” The man chuckled a bit at his clever retort but found that the blonde woman’s smirk was gone replaced by a serious stare. His chuckle ended abruptly. The man grew more uncomfortable as the silent moments dragged on.
Murielle entered the Two Skulls tavern near midnight precisely as her proctor had instructed her to do. Her dark brown traveling cloak pulled tight around her to ward off the chilly night air of the late harvest season. She looked around the common room and quickly noticed her proctor sitting at a small table with a man who was most likely the contractor. She quickly reminded herself of the protocols of public greetings especially in the presence of a contractor and then pulled back her hood and started toward the small table. Her shortly cropped, blonde locks hung loosely just passed her jaw line and she nodded to the contractor when he looked up at her as she approached the table. Murielle stopped in front of the seated woman, bowed low and then spun around her chair with lightning speed to stand directly behind her while resting a hand on the sitting woman’s shoulder. Murielle’s face was stern and her chin was raised as she stared straight ahead and held a rigid posture.
The seated woman gently stroked Murielle’s hand and then tapped her index finger lightly on the back of it. The next instant Murielle pulled out the necklace she had taken from the corpse of Captain Dervante and placed it gently in her proctor’s waiting hand. The sitting woman placed it on the table in front of the man.
“The deed is proven?” The sitting woman asked quietly.
“It is proven.” The man said as he grabbed the necklace and examined it for a few moments. He then lifted the large pouch of gold from his belt once again and placed it on the table in front of the sitting woman.
“The contract is fulfilled. Our business is ended, unless we have other things to discuss?” The woman at the table asked as she scooped up the large pouch of gold and absently handed it to Murielle standing behind her all the while keeping her gaze fixed on the man sitting across from her.
“You did well for one so young, sweetheart. I’m sure they have big plans for you.” The man took his gaze from the necklace and looked directly at Murielle as he spoke. Murielle stood unmoving and did not acknowledge his words at all.
“Oh, that’s right. They don’t let you young girls talk at all do they?” The man continued when it became clear there would be no response.
“Any other business?” The sitting woman cut in sharply which immediately pulled the man’s attention back to her.
“No other business as of now.” The man stated flatly seeming finally defeated in his efforts to rattle either of the stoic women.
“Then we shall take our leave.” The woman said as she stood up from the table and headed out of the tavern. Murielle pulled her cloak tight around her as she followed two paces behind her proctor out into the streets. She spoke not a word as they walked along the back alleys and dark side streets of Waterdeep. They took a circular route to make sure they were not followed and then finally they were at the door to the one of the organizations safe houses. Once inside Murielle knelt on the floor in front of her proctor with her head bowed low.
“I greet you formally as my superior, Proctor Gertrude.” Murielle’s voice was filled with reverence and respect as she spoke the words. In truth, she felt uneasy until she could openly greet her proctor and formally show her the respect that she deserved.
“Are you injured?” The older woman said with obvious concern in her voice after she had judged the greeting to be genuine.
“No Ma'am. The only thing that assaulted me was the stench of the place.” Murielle said still kneeling on the floor in front of the older woman and keeping her eyes downward. “If I may, Proctor Gertrude, I liberated this dagger from the smelly windbag.” She said, and hastily pulled out the shiny weapon and laid it down on the floor in front of her.
“Yes, well done young one. It will fetch a fine price for the organization.” The older woman could not keep the pride from her voice as she spoke those last words which made Murielle look up and smile. Murielle expected to see her proctor standing over her, but she was surprised to find Proctor Gertrude sitting on a chest in the corner of the room.
“Rise Murielle, my catechumen, I greet you as my sister.” Proctor Gertrude said flatly.
The older woman’s smile grew wider as she looked upon her pupil with all the pride and respect that she had come to feel toward the young girl over the past eight years but could never show her until now. Murielle rose to her feat clumsily still in disbelief that her proctor, her teacher and mentor for the past eight years was greeting her as an equal. She had passed her final test.
“In this chest is the armor of our sisterhood.” The older woman rose and pointed to the chest she had been sitting on and then she straightened herself and continued. “Once you put it on, it will become part of you for the rest of your days.” The older woman reached down and pulled open the heavy lid on the chest to reveal its contents.
Murielle reached into the large chest and cautiously pulled out the small, blackened leather suit that lay there neatly folded. The suit was one piece with a long split down the back but there were no fasteners to be seen. She cautiously looked it over as the smile grew wider across her face matching her growing excitement. The suit looked like it was sized for a halfling but Murielle had seen Gertrude remove her armor a few times and knew that the suit would stretch to fit her perfectly.
“Once you don the suit, the struggle to command it will begin. Steel your will as I have taught you young one and you will prevail.” Gertrude’s voice was one of an instructor giving a few last commands to a pupil. She knew the young assassin would have a long night ahead of her.
“I’m ready Proctor Gertrude. I’ve never been more ready for anything.” Murielle’s smile disappeared and her gaze grew serious as she looked to Proctor Gertrude for final permission.
“The challenge is accepted. You may begin my catechumen.” Gertrude said with a finality that gave Murielle a surge of confidence. “On the morning, I will greet you formally as a true Tasha Vexx.”
Those last words echoed inside her head and filled her with excitement and panic all at once. For eight years Murielle had trained her body, honed her mind and learned ancient arts of combat to bring her to this ultimate goal. She now had the chance to become a Tasha Vexx. The chance to serve the organization that had rescued her so long ago from a life of servitude and humiliation at the hands of some large, sweaty Pasha in the city of Calimport.
Murielle stood naked in the center of the small, common room of the organization’s safe house holding the suit of black, leather armor out in front of her. She took a long, deep breath and then proceeded to don the armor. Murielle’s right foot slid down into the leggings through the slit in the back of the armor and then her left foot slid in the same way. At once the armor began to stretch as it rolled up her body across her thighs and over her hips. Then, it covered her mid section, and then her chest and finally rolled down the length of her arms and up the back of her head. The split in the back of the armor sealed up and there she stood only a few moments later covered in a shimmering, black second skin made of leather.
Murielle’s mind was immediately flooded with sensations. Her senses became sharpened and her muscles tensed with a new found power. A few short moments later images started flooding into her mind and she felt as if the room was spinning. She hit the floor lost in a barrage of memories that were not her own. Murielle was now battling for control of the malevolent armor, Gertrude knew, and she wasted no time shackling her young sister’s hands and feet to the large iron hooks that were set firmly into the floor of the safe house for precisely that purpose.
It would be a long night indeed.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Myrnn Tyranna was lying on the cold, stone floor of the cell that she had called home for the past several days when she heard the calls of alarm coming from the upper levels of the cult’s compound. She managed to summon the strength to sit up against the wall, although the chains that bound her hands and feet would not allow her to stand, she doubted very much that she could have even if she were free of them. She opened her weary eyes to look out of the small, barred window in the heavy, wooden door that kept most of the light out. Her drow heat vision was the only thing allowing her to see anything at all she knew. Other races would be nearly totally blind in this situation, but she was from the Underdark and although she had spent most of her more than two centuries of life on the surface, the legacy of her race once again serves her well.
Myrnn heard Brathus come out of his chambers across the common room and head toward her cell. The overwhelming feeling of dread at the thought of another encounter with this particularly cruel priest of the Cult of the Dragon begins to well up within her. Her bones start to quiver and ache at the thought of what he will do to her this time. Myrnn had never known fear like this. She was helpless, completely at his mercy.
“Soon you will see all your fears pass away. They have come to carry you home my love.” A voice sang sweetly in Myrnn’s ear. The voice was welcomed with sobs of joy by the weakened and battered dark elf.
“Goddess…” The whispered prayer of gratitude escaped Myrnn’s dry, cracked lips. It was perhaps the most heartfelt prayer she had ever offered to her dark elven goddess, Eilistraee.
The sounds of battle erupted from the common room just outside of her cell. They were here fighting to save her. Brathus was no easy opponent though, and his pets would undoubtedly be called to their master’s side to defend the vile man. The booming sound of thunder soon crackled through the air and shook the heavy door to her cell. The priest’s blue dragon pets had indeed arrived to protect their master and were sundering the air with blasts of their lightning breath.
She sat in the dark listening to the furious battle occurring just beyond the door to her cell for what seemed like many moments until, at last, the death roar of a dragon split the air. The sound was as sweet as any song from Eilistraee, Myrnn thought. Soon after another agonizing roar from a mortally wounded dragon filled the common room and just as quickly faded to silence.
“Head mistress Tyranna!” Aelar called out just after the silence had taken hold.
“Here… I’m here.” Myrnn gasped as she tried once again to stand. The chains still held much too firm to break in her weakened state.
A torch soon thrust through the small window and Aelar peered into the small, dark cell to see his former head mistress on her knees pulling desperately against the chains that bind her to the floor.
“She’s here!” Aelar shouted excitedly.
“Keep looking for the boxes, they have to be here somewhere. We’ll get the her out.” Murook said to Boucher as he rushed over to where Aelar stood by the heavy, wooden door.
“Aye. Them boxes won’t escape the nose of a dwarf!” Boucher immediately ran into the side chambers to search for Fredregar’s boxes.
Murook bashed the strong door for many moments with little success. He searched for something heavier to use as a battering ram. Aelar peered into the small window again while Murook was busy searching.
“Mistress! Did they keep a key anywhere that you know of?” The elf asked the drow woman in a desperate tone.
“There is a key… but I know not where.” Myrnn’s weak voice came from behind the heavy door. “If you cannot get me out… you must leave me and save yourselves.” She said meekly and Aelar heard the despair in her voice.
“NO! We’ll not leave you. We will all travel out of here in an instant. We need only be touching.” Aelar exclaimed. The instant the last words escaped his lips his form begins to quiver then suddenly bursts forth into many locusts. The tiny creatures hop and flitter about and slowly make their way through the bars set into the small window of the heavy door. Moments later Aelar reforms inside the cell and kneels down to help his former teacher.
“Even if I can’t free you from your chains, you will leave with us I promise.” As he finishes, Aelar pulls out Traveler from his pack and holds it up so that Myrnn can see it. A weak smile creeps onto the drow’s face at the sight of the artifact that she knows well.
“We need only to find Fredregar’s boxes and then we’ll be out of this wretched place.” Aelar says as he smiles back at Mrynn.
“Under the altar… just outside. Push from the side.” Myrnn looked up at the elf and her smile grew wider. Aelar smiled back at her and then jumped up to look out the small window.
“Push that altar on the side there!” Aelar shouts at Murook who is still trying to fashion a battering ram.
Murook looked up instantly to see a slender finger sticking out of the small, barred window and pointing toward an altar to some evil god that was set along the back wall only a few feet from the cell door. Murook called for Boucher immediately and quickly started moving toward the altar, but he stopped suddenly when he heard the loud crash against the large double doors that they had passed on their way here. The doors were heavy and strong and just then it occurred to Murook that Boucher’s idea to stop and lower the locking bar into place was a good idea. Indeed it was probably the only reason that they had not been overrun yet.
Boucher joined him at the altar and both started pushing on the side that Aelar’s protruding finger was pointing to. The altar looked heavy but it slid easily aside. So easily in fact, that both Boucher and Murook tumbled to the floor with an unceremonious thud. They had judged the altar to be solid stone and it should have been very difficult to move, but this altar was designed to be pushed aside with one hand to reveal the hiding place below. There, set into the floor were two shining, metallic boxes. One a shallow rectangular shape, the other almost a perfect cube, yet both of them no more than the size of a small back pack.
The crashes coming from up the hallway and around the corner told them the strong, double doors had been breached and it was only a matter of seconds before they were overrun. Myrnn and Aelar were still inside the cell and there was no way to open that door in time.
“How can we get you out?” Murook said now realizing that they would not have enough time to free Myrnn before the cultists were upon them.
“You don’t have to.” Aelar said calmly.
“Then how’re we to get outa here?” Boucher huffed as he glanced at Murook who was pulling the massive axe from across his back. Boucher too, readied his mace and set his shield in place on his left forearm.
“Just grab my finger.” Aelar said as he pulled Traveler from his pack. “Grab hold of my foot Headmistress and you’ll be out of those chains in blink of a beholder’s eye.” Aelar smiled at Myrnn as he stretched his foot out toward her. She grabbed hold and hoped the elf was right.
“I gotcha. We just need be touchin’ for the thing to yank us outa here.” Boucher rushed over as he spoke and grabbed Murook by the arm to pull the half orc back toward the cell door. He held Murook by the arm and grabbed Aelar’s finger and then shouted. “Go elf!”
A slight rush of air was all they felt as they appeared in the entrance hall of Fredregar’s underground laboratory. Aelar still standing in an outstretched pose with one finger extended and one foot held out toward the figure that now lay on the stone floor beside them.
“How bad is she hurt?” Murook said rushing over to Myrnn to check her for injuries.
“Lemme see to her.” Boucher shouldered the big half orc aside and went to work with his healing magic. “She’ll need a place to be restin’.” Boucher smiled looking up to the others after a few moments of chanting.
“She’s going to be ok then?” Murook said hopefully.
“Aye. She’s a strong one.” Boucher said happily.