A Night of Firsts

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A Night of Firsts

Post by Dungeon Master on Sun Nov 01, 2015 11:38 pm

A Night of Firsts

Another arrow left his bow, hitting the giant scorpion just beneath the head with a satisfying smack. The smell of fresh ozone filled Calmers nostrils as the enchanted arrow delivered it’s lightning payload. The archer wondered again what plane of existence he had ended up in, where men could transform into deadly scorpions. In his travels he had come across a great number of lifeforms, but this was a first.

Few targets had been able to avoid his arrows in his time as an agent of the Citadel. Calmert inwardly counted the dozen or so arch devils, demon lords, celestials and insane wizards that had gotten away. It weren’t many. The operative smiled to himself as he retrieved his arrows while remembering a daring escape from the 666th layer of the abyss where the Planewalker Five had been chased by a Balor. Back in those days Calmert had not seen many demons of that size or power. Actually, back in those days he hadn’t seen many demons at all. Now, they seemed to be everywhere.

The former half-elf lightly brushed his hand against the point of his small horns. That one experience in particular had not had a happy outcome. The demon lord had just kept coming at them, and they had all paid dearly to escort the angel out of the abyss. He didn’t remember much of that former life. He liked to think it had been good. He imagined it more light and serene in his dreams, but also somehow less real. It was all so far away, and the details often came up distorted or wrong according to his friends. It was as if he had once been someone else, a different creature entirely. He knew his soul had been lost in Carceri, a maddening hell, and that he had been brought back by Darion. At least his memories had been clear since he had been reborn into this new form. He did not blame the old bookkeeper for the part of him that was now shaped from the raw stuff of demons, but he did wonder if it meant he had changed more than he actually knew.

With a regretful sigh, he examined a splintered arrow. These scorpion men were impervious to many of his enchantments, but the lightning arrows worked well. They weren’t hard to replace for the arcane archer, but it was an inconvenience. Salvaging the steel elven arrowhead, Calmert discarded the rest of the shaft.

Already alert, and with his blood up from the recent killing, Calmert’s acute senses picked up the song-like voices of more of the dark scorpion men. The open bowl in the sand dunes around him left him few options. With his demon eyes he saw perfectly in the perpetual dusk of the plane. The rolling banks of sand stretching for miles in all directions. With an expert’s assessment, he understood that the only way to avoid a confrontation would be to go back through the portal. Which would mean his quarry would get away, and the assassin was not about to let that happen. Quickly he stacked three of the corpses in a semi-circle, giving him a weak defensive position. It wouldn’t be much of an advantage against the deadly stingers of the scorpion men, but the operative in him never neglected taking any extra precautions. He had only just stuck his last three lightning arrows in the sand for easy reach, when the warparty crossed into the bowl.

There were a lot more this time around. Two score of the tall, dark-skinned men, wearing gold armour and black spears, lightly traversed the hot sand towards his position. He had enough time to establish that it were two distinct groups, one leader clearly deferring to the other. Calmert spent the time before they became fully aware of him to study this leader, using his assassin training to look for any weakness. The man was taller, but not much broader than the others. He wore the same gold armour and a golden full helmet with a sneering face, leaving only two black holes for the eyes. His armour was functional, not sprouting plumes, rings or other adornments that could be used against the wearer in combat. The seams were expertly made, leaving ample space that the wearer could sprint at full speed. Clearly superior to most armour in Faerun, it still somehow seemed archaic and ancient to the former half-elf. The etchings of hieroglyphics reminded him of the hidden tombs in the Yuirwood that only the Witches of Rashemar would go visit.

Calmert had already cast a minor cantrip, allowing him to understand the basics of these people’s singsong words. He did not have much of such magic at his disposal, but he had thought he might need the tactical advantage of understanding his enemy better.

When the two groups finally saw the operative, bow in hand, in the center of a killing field of their fellows, they split up. Quickly and efficiently, two strong combat formations formed, the warriors clearly familiar with the others of their own group. Everyone but the leader instantly transformed into the stronger, faster scorpion forms that Calmert had encountered before. Now that he could understand their words, the operative understood that there was no pause or anxiety amongst his enemies. They were guardians of this plane, and they were not about to fail in their duties. This was going to be a fight to the death.

“Kelemvor be cursed” Calmert muttered to himself, “going to be the hard solution this time.” Exaggerating his movements, he held up his bow in a non-threatening way, throwing back his hood, slightly exposing his neck as a subservient animal would. “I have no intention of harming you, but if you come any closer, I will send you all to see your god.”

The statement didn’t quite have the effect the agent had expected. Most people would sneer at his claims, and die at the point of his arrows. A good fewer engaged in some sort of dialogue, but usually with the same outcome. A few people had run at his threats, but what happened now was a first: The leader laughed. A mirthful, deep laughter erupted from the bottom of his chiselled belly. This apparently confused the other guardians who stopped dead in their tracks, looking back at their leader rather than training their weapons on the deadly assassin in front of them.

The man spoke to Calmert in his singsong language, and whilst there were certain finer aspects that the agent missed, the message was clear enough.

“Yes yes, in this realm, I am a god.” The man said as his laughter died down. He turned his black spear point down and stuck it into the sand. Calmert heard the sizzling of sand being turned to glass as the blade impacted. The man hunched down like a ranger checking a trail, his gold plated face staring intently at the assassin. Although only just within bowshot range, his voice carried cleanly to Calmert through the desert air. Quizzically, the dark man slanted his head a bit and asked with wonder in his voice; “Have you no notion of which god’s domain you have entered, archer ?”

The assassin shrugged. “If it’s not this one, then another. I honestly don’t care. But you fine gentlemen are standing between me and someone running from me.” More times than he cared to remember, the assassin had run into these self-proclaimed gods. He might not be the most diplomatic of operatives, but he believed that his arrows could find solution where his tongue could not. And he was seldom wrong. He bared a fang, smiling a wolfish grin at the dark man.

It seemed like the golden helmet tilted in a sense of wonder or amusement. Still at ease in his half kneeling position, the leader of the scorpion men made a dismissive gesture.

Instantly Calmert went on alert, scanning to see which of the giant scorpions would be first to reach him.
None of them moved. He heard a small popping sound and felt a ring on his finger go ice cold. He did not have to look to know it was the ring the archmage had given him to protect him against detection. He looked anyway. The amethyst in the stone had lost all color and a noticeable crack ran the length of it.

“Shit” was the word that sprang to the operative’s mind.

“Yes yes. Shit indeed, hunter”. The voice was no longer drifting from golden mask of the dark man. It was inside Calmert’s head. It was also different. Potent. Powerful. Evil. He still doubted the man was a god, but it had just become a bit more likely.

“Yes yes, I am powerful. Calmert, is it ?” The voice had an undertone of mirth and a promise of death.

“Feck”, Calmert exclaimed in his thoughts.

“Yes yes. Feck indeed, hunter”. This was turning out to be one big cluster of crud. Rahnefereth’s ring had never failed him before, even against celestials.

“Rahnefereth ? Yes yes, your wizard ally.” The dark man stated matter-of-factly as a series of images and memories of the archmage flashed before the operative’s inner eye.

“Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.” Calmert chastised himself.

“Yes yes. I am in your thoughts, hunter. I am the Will of Set. You are still only a mere mortal, and you have entered the Eternal Night, the domain of the Evil One. Yes yes, I see from your fevered thoughts that you know of the Exalted Dread, the Silent Doom, the Primordial Annihilator.” Calmert was sweating profusely now, and the humid desert air was not helping. Set was not a god that he wished to meet. Not that he wished to meet any more gods, but even Bane, Cyric or Kelemvor would have been preferable to the Eternal Void. Maybe not the Mad Sun, but still.

“Yes yes. You understand now, hunter ?” The dark man delved into the depths of the assassin’s soul, and Calmert could somehow feel his approval for what he had done. For what he was. “Tell me now in your own words why you look for this... visage ?”

Visage was what he called the thing, but of course the dark man knew that. He understood he didn’t have to answer the dark man out loud, but had no doubt it would be the better option than having him rip the information from his mind. So he began talking.

“A killer was loose in Canton. Or so I thought. There were whispers of people going dark. Of agents returning not quite themselves. As always, I found a lead. Renik Crothson. I tracked him down, but it was a dead end.” Before the operatives eyes, he saw himself standing over Renik. The murder still perplexing him even now. The man had been stuffed in a strongbox almost too little to fit him in, stabbed multiple times in the torso and throat. What was weird was that he had locked the box from the inside, and still had the key in one bloody hand. Even though the corpse was at least four days old, the surprise was etched in his rigid features.

As much as Calmert fancied himself an unveiler of secrets, if he had to admit it, most happened at the edge of a blade. Mysteries such as these were better left to the priests. Usually they were busy doing other more important things, and so it usually fell on the operatives to do the hard work.

He had been genuinely surprised when another Renik had showed up. Behaving like normal, and not showing any signs of magic, Calmert had been detoured into finding a priest that could provide him with what he would need to unveil a doppelganger. Imagine his surprise twicefolding as the true seeing potion revealed Renik as being… Renik. Calmert had even checked the lockbox with the powerful magic, with certainty establishing that the dead Renik was no doppelganger either.

This really had been a mission of firsts. Calmert smiled his wolfish grin, as he regarded the dark man. Then he finished the report: He had stalked the alive Renik for more than a tenday before getting a lucky break. Following a hunch, he had snuck into a nearby bathhouse after midnight and found the creature feeding on one of the young girls working there. Like a lamprey, it had been sucking the beauty of the girl out through her pores. He had gotten a clear view of the visage, before he put three death’s head arrows in its back. It was tall, hunched over – ghostlike, with heavy flailing black garments. It’s face covered by a white, blank mask with no openings, it was an eerie creature. He had felt an odd kinship in the sheer maliciousness seeping from the visage. Then it had fled, eventually leading him through this portal.

“So now what ? Set or not, I have killed stronger foes than you…” as the assassin let the trailing sentence hang in the hot desert night, he activated his magical bracers, feeling their powerful magic free him of whatever influence the dark man had on him.

“Yes yes. Intriguing.” The dark man answered in his physical voice, his hold on the operative lost. Calmert knew the spell would not last long, but he reckoned he would have enough time to kill maybe one or two of the scorpions. The dark man, he had no intention of attacking. He had seen proxies before, and had no desire to take one on in a fair fight. If he indeed was what he claimed to be.

Standing from his kneeling position, the dark man drew his black spear in a fluid motion, shards of glass splashing the sand. Strangely, he did not order an attack. Again he tilted his head in that curious motion and spoke with commanding presence:

“You will not prevail in Set’s domain, hunter. These visages you describe are the reason why I am here. We believe them to search for a rare flower known as desert’s night. But no one may steal from the realm of the Lord of all Evil.” The dark man waved his hand regally. “Yes yes. Return to your portal and begone. We have the defence of this realm well in hand. Look to your own lands, hunter. This creature is far from alone.”

The magic nearly spent, Calmert reactivated the portal and stepped through. The last thing that went through his mind, was if the Silken Hand had followed his instruction, and gotten his one untainted soul fragment out of Canton in time.

“Yes yes. Your precious Alovar…”
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