Chapter #707

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                                   +   +
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                             +               +
                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic IV      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  However,   +
+   TSR has in no way endorsed or authorized their use, and any such      +
+   items contained within these stories are not representative of TSR    +
+   in any fashion.                                                       +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2001 by Thomas A. Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons        +
+   or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.       +
+   Copying and/or distribution of these stories is permissible under     +
+   the sole condition that no money is made in the process.  In that     +
+   case, I hope you enjoy them!                                          +
+                                                                         +
+                                                      Thomas A. Miller   +
+   Date:           3/26/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           dusk                                                  +
+   Place:          a citadel somewhere within Rauxes, capital of Aerdy   +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "It has always been the privilege of the few to hunt the many."       +
+                                         - Foucheau, from _Hard Target_  +

                      DCCVII.  The Crimson Blades

  The wizard's laboratory was spacious, filled with arcane things of all
sorts.  Atop a huge iron slab rested a half-constructed golem of mithril;
nearby, a small brazier was suspended over a magical, self-sustaining
flame, its lethal contents bubbling away merrily.  A worktable held a
half-dozen enchanted weapons of various sorts, beside which were several
scrolls and quills.  Suspended from the ceiling, within a brass cage, was
a metallic bird, its silvery eyes darting to and fro.  In one corner, a
dusty pentagram was carved into the floor; it appeared to have remained
undisturbed for a long, long time.
  These were only some of the many and varied things to be found in the
workroom of the one known as Chargrim.  A mighty wizard and member of the
inner circle of Rauxes' Guild of Magi, Chargrim was also one of the group
known as the Crimson Blades.  This term wasn't exactly accurate, as some
of the Blades didn't even use one, but the term had been coined for its
catchiness and for the impression it would have on others.
  The Crimson Blades were a band of adventurers known, respected, and
feared throughout the region.  In a sense, they were the eastern lands'
answer to Greyhawk's Circle of Eight - except, of course, that not all
of them were wizards.  It was the Blades who had spearheaded the assault
against the giants and drow, that conflict ranging from Sterich to the
Jotens to the Hellfurnaces, before a climactic final battle against the
demoness Lolth, in the Abyss.  This campaign had played a pivotal role
in the world's future, yet it was largely unknown to the average person,
for much of the grim work done by the Blades went largely unheralded and
  They were heroes, perhaps, but not in the conventional sense.  They
were content to save the weak from certain doom, that they might have
someone to rule over.  Dungeons and foes weren't just obstacles to be
defeated in the name of making the world a better place, but also ready
sources of wealth and magic - which they would use to further their own
ends.  Kings and kingdoms weren't there to be helped and saved, but
rather to be bargained with, to gain favors short, to use as
needed to gain what was needed.
  In an archetypical sense, the Crimson Blades represented every sort
of adventurer.  Chargrim himself was an archmage, but one unbound by the
conventional ethics of many adventurers.  To him, magic was the most
important thing - indeed, the only thing.  There were others, though...
others who made the wizard seem almost benevolent.  Kalenon, also known
as the Supreme High Priest of Hextor, had thrived in Aerdy and grown
incredibly powerful.  As the god of war and discord, Hextor might not
have gained a great following in some kingdoms.  In Aerdy, however, he
had done just had his highest of high priests.  Kalenon asked
only one thing from his followers:  blind, fierce loyalty to the deity.
He also asked only one thing from non-followers:  conversion to the
grim faith of Hextor.  Kalenon was a zealot, and his methods were not
  The Blades had another member of Hextor's faith:  Lord Rammstein.
This hulking warrior wasn't Kalenon's right-hand man, but rather his
equal.  Together, they visited the dire wrath of their god upon those
who needed it.  Kalenon handled the spellcasting, divinations, and
converts, while Rammstein dealt in swift, deadly brute force.  It was
widely known that these two adventurers were among Hextor's most
favored mortal pawns in the world.  Standing well over six feet tall,
Rammstein towered over those around him.  He was usually clad in his
suit of jet-black plate mail, its breastplate emblazoned with the red
fanned arrows that represented the god Hextor.  Atop the warrior's
head was a great horned helmet of black metal...legendary, symbolic,
striking terror into all who glimpsed it.  Rammstein had an entourage
of followers, fanatical warriors of Hextor who were loyal to the death
and beyond.
  The Crimson Blades had other members still - a number of others, all
of them just as dangerous - but it was Rammstein who had come a-calling
to the citadel of the mage Chargrim this day.  The latter detected his
visitor's presence before the warrior lord had even arrived at the
structure's outer door; among other things, the Crimson Blades wore
amulets that allowed them to sense and communicate with one another,
even over great distances.  It was commonly known amongst the group's
ranks that some, such as Lord Rammstein, didn't care much for such
devices; thus, Chargrim allowed the other to enter.
  The door slid open silently, admitting the huge, armored warrior;
after he was inside, the portal closed behind him.  Chargrim, who had
been working on a formula to poison an entire sea in one fell swoop,
left a magical, invisible servant to continue transcribing as he went
downstairs to greet his guest.  The mage was garbed in deep purple
robes which accentuated his black skin; the robes' hood was thrown
back, exposing a shaven head and deep, silvery eyes.  Even one as
staunch as Lord Rammstein had to wonder about those eyes.

Chargrim:  What is it?  Some dire emergency?  Do we need to go forth
  and repel Ratik again?  Or perhaps the barbarians?  I've been busy
  here, and not monitoring outside events as much as usual.
Lord Rammstein:  (answers, his voice a deep rumble)  Nothing like, this is perhaps a quest.
Chargrim:  (trying to recall what great artifact or foe the Blades
  haven't bothered with yet)  Quest?  For what?
Lord Rammstein:  That's just it...we're not sure.  We were hoping you
  could help with that.

  The warrior briefly outlined the turn of events thus far:  various
strangers had stopped in Rauxes for a brief time, some loading up on
supplies, others being rather careless in their wanderings.

Chargrim:  A reptilian, eh?  Now that _is_ interesting.  And you are
  certain that these people are all part of the same group?
Rammstein:  Sydaar is certain, and that is enough.  Her spies are,
  after all, everywhere; as always, they keep an eye on outlanders.
Chargrim:  Ah.

  Sydaar was another of the Crimson Blades, a master thief.  Unlike
almost every other member of her profession who possessed her degree
of skill and experience, Sydaar did not run a guild - not in Rauxes
or anywhere else.  She simply maintained a small band of varied and
widespread minions, who kept an eye on things while the mistress was
away or busy.  Sydaar had been doing some casual gambling in one
of the city's many such establishments, the other day, when she'd
spotted the two foreigners.  The master thief had always been one
to follow her gut instincts, and thus, when presented with a golden
opportunity, she had seized it.
  The idea of the tracking-coins had been hers and Chargrim's, actually.
Non-magical, yet unique, these tokens were easily located by the right
spell, if one knew what to look for.  Chargrim, of course, did.

Chargrim:  So the halfling now carries one of the tokens?  Excellent.
Rammstein:  The entire group left in a hurry, too...though nobody saw
  them ride away from the city.
Chargrim:  Curiouser and curiouser, as an old colleague of mine used
  to say.  (he looks around)  Come.  Let us find these outlanders.

  The mage led the other to a small, round room with no windows.  This
was Chargrim's scrying chamber, its walls fashioned of a rare, highly
magical stone.  At the room's center was a square table of deep grey
crystal; atop this table was an ancient parchment.  Atop that parchment
was another piece of glass, this one thin and clear.  The whole arcane
apparatus served to preserve the map - a map that depicted the known
world, including some regions that the majority of Oerik's population
remained unaware of - and also to facilitate scrying upon it.

Chargrim:  Which token did Sydaar pass on?
Rammstein:  (grins mirthfully)  The brass one.
Chargrim:  Very well.  (he opens a nearby cabinet, retrieves a scroll,
  then checks an arcane formula within)  Ah.  (he begins speaking
  words of power)

  Shortly, a green blip appeared within the outer layer of glass...

Chargrim:  Green, so it's moving.  Interesting.
Rammstein:  (never one to care much for these sorts of devices)  What?
Chargrim:  They are out over the Solnor Ocean...far out over it.  Where
  could they be headed?
Rammstein:  Sydaar's instincts were correct, then.
Chargrim:  It looks that way.  (he thinks for a moment)  Now what sort
  of destination could be all the way out there, in the middle of the
Rammstein:  (shrugs)
Chargrim:  (pleased with himself, he answers his own question)  Why, the
  sort that bears further investigation.
Rammstein:  (cracks his knuckles)  We'd best fetch the others.
Chargrim:  Aye.

  Shortly, the summons went out...and in different places, different
situations, it was heard by the other Blades.

  Sitting in her modest but pleasant chambers, the master thief Sydaar
smiled to herself, knowing now that her hunch had paid off.

  Deep within the inner sanctum of his temple, the high priest Kalenon
lit another stick of incense, preparing to seek Hextor's guidance in
this new quest.

  In a manor house in Rauxes, a tiny halfling rose from his prey, the
knife in one hand dripping blood and poison, his other hand clutching
an emerald-studded necklace.  A twisted smile crossed his cherubic face.

  Several streets away, sprawled amidst the wreckage of a tavern, a
snoring dwarf suddenly bolted upright, his battleaxe in hand, already
whispering new tales of carnage and destruction.

  Across the city, a dark form slithered out of a window, its quarry
disposed of, not even a drop of blood remaining as evidence.

  Elsewhere, in a secret chamber within a windowless tower in a place
where none dared to intrude, an ancient, solitary form awakened.

  In the small Aerdian village that she was currently passing through,
a dark muse strummed her ebony lyre, thinking horrific thoughts that
would freeze the blood of any who might know them.

  And last but not least, in the wilderness far to the north of Aerdy,
a huge, shaggy figure rose from its last kill, the prey's heart held
in one hand, a grisly delicacy to be savored and enjoyed.

next:      enough of this - back to Belphanior and company, on the isle
released:  1/22/01
notes:     Usually, when I do episodes like this (ones that feature not a
  single Adventurer, but rather others, e.g. Misadventurers, the Nine) I
  hear about it from the readers.  For some reason, you people seem to not
  like stories that don't feature the Adventurers themselves, even if it's
  a necessary evil like this episode was.  I worked (and will continue to
  work) hard to set this group up right, though.  The idea here is to show
  an evil version of each of the basic archetypes that PCs are based on.
    I'm sure that someone will bring up the opinion that Bosco has brought
  the wrath of a Big Bad Enemy down on the party.  He might have helped,
  in his own way, but he alone can't bear the entire blame...and anyway,
  it's unlikely that Belphanior will ever find out _how_ his party was
  tracked down.
    I didn't make up the name "Rammstein" - it's one of the bands on the
  "Mortal Kombat:  Annihilation" soundtrack.  For more details, go here:
    Just as a side note, I seldom think of proper nouns all by myself.
  Sometimes, years after I "invent" a name, I come across something that
  has that same name.  I think my subconscious retains them all and as I
  need them, they bubble to the surface, even if I can't properly give
  credit at the time.

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