Dangerous and Stupid

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Dangerous and Stupid

Post by Dungeon Master on Sat Nov 28, 2015 4:34 pm

Dangerous and Stupid

Scrutinizing the broken ring, the gold elf did not betray the emotions of disappointment and disdain that Calmert was sure he felt. Rahnefereth was a noble of an ancient Myth Drannan bloodline, and as well as Calmert knew the gold elf, he could still only guess at his emotions. He knew that the wizard loathed when he broke any of his trinkets though. Really, he should be used to it by now, Calmert grinned to himself. When you were in the field, stuff got used or broken, or you ended up dead. He knew which he preferred of the two, but sometimes he wondered if the mage really would rather keep his trinkets.

“Not a small investment in time and money you force upon me, half-elf.” Calmert knew the use of his former heritage was an insult coming from Rahnefereth, but such things didn’t affect him. As a mortal, yes he would have felt slighted, and often did when in the presence of the elf noble. Now, things had changed. He had seen things. He knew things, and his view of the multiverse stretched far beyond what most mages ever saw. The wizard was no longer his superior just because he knew of the weave or had lived hundreds of years longer.

“Uhum.” Calmert mumbled, sounding absentminded as he took a practice swing with an dragon bone scepter beset with white diamonds that he had slipped out of a locked display case. He knew it would annoy the mage, and took a certain satisfaction in that. “Can you make me something better ? Don’t think that was really your finest work.” From the silence emanating from the elf, he knew he might have taken it a little too far. Without looking at Rahnefereth, he carefully replaced the scepter and reactivated the wards. Turning around, he offered his widest of roguish grins. “I mean, surely you must be able to make something that can withstand the power of a god ?”

“A god ?” Rahnefereth asked with incredulity. Calmert immediately saw that whatever had annoyed the elf had been forgotten, and his full attention was once again turned to the ring. “Tell me more, operative. I was wondering what could have bested my wards in such a complete manner. A god you say ?” While the wizard did more tests on the ring, Calmert described the encounter with the scorpion men in the realm of Set.

“I’ve already scried Canton for any visages. So has the master of the plane, and in that place he is omnipotent. Neither of us have found any evidence that more of the creatures exist. It is beyond the realm of possibility that we are both wrong about such things. Nonetheless, I will not tolerate any disruption to the trade in magical items flowing from Canton to the Cage. I have an important shipment coming in next tenday, and I will not accept any delays to my experiments.” He looked sternly at the tiefling, as if addressing a child. “You, my friend, will go and find out who these creatures are, who they work for, and what their interest are in Darion’s realm.” The discussion had ended. Calmert knew the elf was done talking, and no more would come from him. It didn’t stop the rogue, though.

“I know you don’t care, Rah, but I’m going to the Outlands to get answers. I’ll need protection.” The gold elf looked up, disapprovingly. As Rahnefereth muttered something in elven, he opened a reinforced locker behind the counter, took out a few choice items and wrapped them in a protective suede cloth. “Try not to break them all, half-elf.” He said with a glare. Calmert simply pocketed the bundle and shot the elf a wide grin.

The Outlands was not Calmert’s final destination. He had hoped to learn something of the visages and their plans in Sigil. As usual, there had been an abundance of rumors in the Cage. Unfortunately, none had made him any wiser. Not unusual for the hub of the multivers, the factions were at each other’s throats. That was one of the things about the clack in the Cage – it was impossible to know what was true and what wasn’t. Calmert had quickly realized he would have to turn to a much more reliable source of information. At first he had tried avoiding going to Rahnefereth, but where he was headed, he would need as much protection as possible.

---

Even to a tiefling, the abyss was not a nice place. The first of the six hundred and sixty-six layers, the Plain of Infinite Portals, was soaked in desolate vileness. Red rocky emptiness stretching for miles in all directions, scarred by scattered rock spires covered in spikes jutting from the ground. Roads and landmarks seem to shift with the heat of the huge red sun, scorching the landscape with crimson tongues of flame. Nothing would move under the glare of the unforgiving red ball of flame, yet in every shadow and in every crevice, there was something waiting to kill you.

Arriving in Broken Reach, Calmert immediately noticed the marketplace had been closed. From the scowls of the merchants, and the frustration of the caravan masters, he gathered the Red Shroud had kept it closed for days. Calmert smiled. He had no love lost for the money grubbing scum that would traverse to the Abyss to sell their wares. Dangerous and stupid if you asked him. He couldn’t know, but at least it seemed like there hadn’t been any kind of mass execution of traders trying to circumvent the rules of Red Shroud this time around. These poor sods were lucky.

No one barred his way when he lightly walked up the winding wooden staircase to the alabaster tower in the marketplace. Pausing slightly at the central dais to look at the four statues in red marble of the demon lord, he tried to think of a way to avoid having to meet the capricious ruler of the Plane of Infinite Portals. He couldn’t think of any, so he made his way to the very top. The red curtain of roaring flames stopped him as surely as the demon bouncer would have. Standing more than 30 feet tall, the demon was a grotesque blend of an enormous ape covered in coarse, gritty fur with the head of a boar. Its long tusks were covered in gold, and rings attached to skulls of fallen enemies had been pierced through its nipples. Bony spikes like small horns protruded around its eyes, each one covered in gold. Its long claws and fangs sticking out of its disturbingly huge mouth were likewise covered in gold. Ygrax the Skullbiter was a type of demon that would normally scour the Fugue Plain looking for lost souls to claim for the abyss. Calmert knew that the nalfeshnee had a formidable array of supernatural abilities that would dwarf any physical damage it could do to him. Which again reminded him that being here was… well, dangerous and stupid.

“You wish to speak to Mistress Shroud, tiefling.” The heavy abyssal accent dripping venom did not confuse Calmert. He knew it was not a question, but a statement of fact. At least the gargantuan had addressed him in a common tongue he could understand, rather than the tanar’ri tendency to mind-speak. Calmert tentatively nodded, ever so slowly reaching into his tunic and producing a clear cut rose diamond the size of a baby’s fist. Offering it up to the demon bouncer, he was clearly reminded of how insignificant he was in the abyss. The demons clawed hand engulfed his as easy as it could have his skull, and with much more deftness than its size would have suggested. Awkwardly the exchange took place, the demon regarding the valuable stone as he held it wedged between two claws. “Looks real. Valuable. Nice cut. This will get you access, tiefling. I hope you brought more.” Touching one of his nipples, the roaring curtain of red flame turned opaque, and then disappeared into the ground. The bouncer didn’t warn Calmert about starting any trouble or offending the mistress of Broken Reach. He didn’t have to, and they both knew it. Calmert steeled himself for the exchange that would follow, hoping it wouldn’t cost him his life this time.

The building that he entered was one big throne room with one purpose alone; to make the mistress of the first layer of the Abyss seem as imposing and powerful as possible. And it did just that. In the center of the floor was an intricate design in red glass pointing towards a central dais at the far end of the room. The roaring flames springing up behind him bathed the room in red abyssal light, and the glass sparkled and reflected the shifting flames as he walked up the glass design. At short intervals on either side of the wide room were alcoves. Most were concealed by a heavy dark satin curtain, creating the illusion of flowing blood as the flames danced across the fabric. A few were empty, and only one had an occupant that was revealed to Calmert. A thin halfling with long fingers and an elongated face, grey and almost insubstantial. His oversized pointy ears only overdone by his spiky orange hair. The wispling wore a tabard with a fire motif that could be the sign of some fire or war deity the operative did not know. As Calmert passed the alcove, it observed him with a curious stare.

Surrounding the huge onyx carved throne were a quartet of hezrou. The most destructive and single-minded of the demon commanders of the army of the Abyss, hezrou were ruthless in their pursuit of victory. Any one of the four could rip the former half-elf apart with its bare claws in a heartbeat. Calmert knew that, like all the tanar’ri, they also had a formidable array of magical abilities to help them fight dirty. Although small compared to Ygrax, each hezrou stood 8 or 9 feet tall and almost as broad. Their thick toad like frames were muscular and scaled. Their heads sat low in their chests giving them a hulking appearance, their huge fanged maws ever open in destructive smiles. Their eyes sat deep in their sockets under bony ridges protruding from their otherwise flat faces, glowing with embers of pure hate. Yet, the assassin knew that neither of the demon guardians would be nearly as dangerous as the creature lazily draped over the throne before him.

Red Shroud was a stunningly beautiful succubus. A female demon cloaked in the skin of an alluring and enticing form. The flames danced over her fair skin, reflecting in her crimson hair and her gleaming black bat wings. Her intense eyes, burning with sinister desire, rivaled all her beauty. Lounging in a position that could only be relaxing if one was extremely flexible, the mistress of Broken Reach seemed almost bored. As she shifted her position ever so slightly, her black satin gown would open to reveal a bit of her physique that had previously been concealed.

Coming to a halt before the creature, her splendor drew in all of the former half-elf’s senses. As she regarded him for a few heartbeats, and him her, each of her movements revealed something new, and concealed something else. Her dress and her form was hypnotizing, and it took all of the operative’s self-control not to get lost in her black eyes. Although she only said one word, Calmert felt like the entire world became a tiny backdrop, as he listened intently.

“Yes ?” the succubus said in a voice like flowing honey. Calmert took a moment to remember why he was where he was, and what the proper protocol was. Deliberately he reached into his tunic and produced another perfectly cut rose hued diamond. Her slim eyebrow slightly raised, Calmert instantly knew that even though the gem was worth a king’s ransom, it would not be enough. He produced another two of the pristine gems before he spoke.

“Mistress-ruler. I have come to seek both broad and specific information about a creature that I have come across. I have reason to believe it may be part of something bigger, and I need to find out what its plans are and who it is working for.” Under the gaze of the curious succubus, he continued the tale of all he knew of the visages, carefully avoiding giving any information about Canton or the Citadel. Red Shroud regarded the three perfect gems in Calmert’s hand, gave the tiniest of shrugs and started speaking:

“The visages, as you call them, are remnants from a forgotten time. The goddess Kiaransalee rose in power within the drow pantheon, rivalling her mother Lolth, as the Spider Queen was destroyed. Becoming the Lady of the Dead, she took Thanatos, the 113th plane of the Abyss, as her own. When she did, ancient powers went dormant deep within the plane. The visages are of such a nature that your magic useless to reveal them, as they carry within them the residual power from a dead god.” The demon paused for effect checking if the operative understood the nature of the information she was giving him.

“They exists primarily as negative energy, and a symbol imbued with enough holy power may repel or reveal them. They do not have the nature of vampires or lampreys, nor do they need to feed on others. The beauty they have been gathering had another purpose entirely.” Smiling, the demon was clearly displaying her superior knowledge of the creatures. “In the Abyss only one thing carry more value than any other; the souls of mortals. Not so in the Outlands or the Empyrean. In the realm of Maanzecorian, captured beauty can be bartered for knowledge. The illithid god of secrets would know much information stolen from the minds of those preyed upon by the brain eaters. One such secret was the location of desert’s night, a flower that can restore the memories to someone who have drunk from the river Styx.” Calmert instantly recalled the fevor of the dark man as he had claimed no one would steal from the realm of Set.

“The flower is located in Baator, the realm of Set. But you already know this, servant-agent.” Red Shroud gave Calmert a wink, as he clearly displayed surprise that she knew this. “You have met the Voice of Set, Nekrotheptis Skorpios, under whose stewardship the artifact is placed. As we speak, the proxy is tending to his wounds from the massive invasion of Baator staged as a diversion. Thousands died on either side, and the fact that the flower has been stolen will be a bigger blow to Skorpios than the wounds he suffered in that battle. He does not yet realize desert's night has been taken.” The demon paused, as if more was coming, but she didn’t speak again for a long time. Cocking her head to the side, her crimson tresses cascaded over her shoulder as she sent another playful wink to the assassin.

“Is there more ?” Calmert finally asked.
“Is there ? What more do you want, servant-agent ?” the succubus asked, her tone suddenly cold and threatening, her glare disdainful.
“Forgive me, mistress-ruler, I forget my place.” Quickly Calmert produced another two of the precious stones and held them out towards the fickle demon lord. He cursed himself for forgetting etiquette, hoping his last gems could get him out of the exchange alive. He already knew the lord of the Citadel would squirm at the fortune he was giving up, but he had to admit he valued his life higher. “Is there any information you can give me that will further enlighten me as to the plans of these creatures ?”

“Of course, servant-agent.” The alluring succubus sent the assassin a dazzling smile, instantly banishing the anger that had marred her fine features a moment before. “Maanzecorian was murdered. I don’t have to tell you, servant-operative, what it takes to put a god in the dead-book. I can only speculate as to what wealth in secrets was gained from the murder.” The demon clearly admired whoever had been able to pull off the murder of the illithid power, but her features also betrayed some sliver of worry. “What secrets would Maanzecorian not have given up, servant-agent ?” She mused. “What for instance, if it knew of the secrets of the smoking eye ?” She stared intently at the assassin, almost challenging him to betray that he knew what she was referring to. Calmert didn’t exactly, but he knew that the lord of the Citadel had one such magical eye tucked away under the jeweled eye patch he always wore. He didn’t tell the demon lord. Holding her gaze for long, the succubus finally gave him a dazzling smile, revealing her small canines. “The Athar took most of the blame. The factions of Sigil have been in a vortex of subterfuge, and many machinations have been brought to bear against the Sign of One. The other factions believe that the recent fall of powers and proxies have been orchestrated by those factions.”

A twinkle in her eye, the succubus leaned forward, her dress revealing more than before. “But they are wrong, servant-agent. Something stirs, something ancient and forgotten. The visages are tied to this, in ways that are still hidden from the world. If you wish to learn the thick of it, you will have to travel to the World Tree and find the Salience – the place where the giant eagles worship their faith.” For a second, Red Shroud’s black eyes glazed over, as if she was looking at a vista far away. “This is where the visages dwell, awaiting their next instructions. And this is where you must go, if you want to find out more.” Completely back to the present, the demon relaxed back in her throne, sending a disarming smile at the assassin as she levitated the precious gems out of his hand.

Leaving the throne room, Calmert wondered how the succubus could have that much information ready at hand on such an obscure subject. Not once did she have to consult advisors, books or magic. He knew that there was not many other places in the multiverse that he could have gotten such a complete account. Still, he somehow felt that he had paid far more than the information was worth. He shrugged to himself, remembering that he always had that feeling when dealing with demons.
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