Chapter #717

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

+     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   +
+   the Crimson Blades, a powerful and evil adventuring group             +
+   Date:           3/26/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           midday                                                +
+   Place:          somewhere in the Solnor Ocean, east of Aerdy          +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "Some people are just born victims."                                  +
+                                    - from _the Crow:  City of Angels_   +

                         DCCXVII.  Tune-up

  The sleek black ship cut through the ocean waters like a knife through
butter.  Powered by magical winds of no small capability, the vessel's
sails were always full, its prow slicing through the salty water, spewing
flecks of foam to either side.  The ship was far out of Aerdian waters,
and it flew no flag...which in this case was enough to get it noticed.

pirate captain:  (peering at the distant vessel through an eyeglass)
  Damned if that thing isn't moving like a demon.  (he puts the device
  down, turning to his wizard)
wizard:  Shall I bring it to a halt?
pirate captain:  Indeed you shall.  (he bellows with laughter)  Such a
  ship is bound to hold prizes beyond reckoning...prizes that will be
  ours, ere this day is done!
wizard:  Very well.  (he prepares a spell)
pirate captain:  Don't damage the hull.  A vessel like that will make a
  fine addition to my fleet.

  The pirate captain's name was Tyros, and he was quite infamous around
these waters.  Operating outside the waters patrolled by the navies of
Aerdy and Ratik, as well as beyond the normal raiding routes used by the
northern barbarians, Tyros preyed on stragglers, ships blown off-course
by the region's powerful winds and currents, and basically anyone who
seemed easy prey.  Tyros had had the novel idea of using spellcasters
to aid his efforts, which coupled with his daring and defiance of the
laws of the kingdoms to the west, made him rather unique.  He commanded
a fleet of three warships, all of them stout and fast.  Even now, his
lookout was giving signals to the other two ships, that each might play
its proper part in the drama that was to unfold shortly.
  It never occured to Tyros that this particular drama might be his
last, or that one of its players was a complete unknown who might just
possess more talent than anyone else present...

  Tyros' wizard summoned a mighty water elemental, an amorphous being
that lived and thrived in bodies of water such as the Solnor Ocean, and
was in fact at its peak power here.  Traversing the span between hunter
and prey in no time, the conjured elemental stopped the sleek black
ship, holding it in place as the three warships converged on their
   Aboard the trapped ship...

Lord Rammstein:  (grabbing a rail, he roars in fury)  What in Hextor's
  name is going on?!?
Kalenon:  We're being attacked.
Chargrim:  (peers over the side)  How true.  Someone has brought forth
  a being of water, likely an elemental, and snared us.
Kalenon:  You can free us, though?
Chargrim:  Of course, but I am annoyed now, and would see who dares to
  delay our passage.
Kalenon:  (smiles thinly)

  The three marauders approached, now convinced that the ship between
them was easy prey.  After all, no soldiers swarmed about its decks,
readying ballistae or catapults.  No crewmen scurried about, readying
the ship for battle.  Still, Tyros was fairly old and somewhat cautious,
and he had his wizard lay down a sleep spell on the enemy ship's decks.
Shortly thereafter, his flagship moved alongside the black ship, his
crew throwing grappling hooks to snare the other vessel and draw it
  And that - the moment of certain conquest for the pirates - was when
all hell broke loose.

  Tyros' third ship, the _Monarch_, shook with a tremendous blast as a
great reddish-hued fireball issued from nowhere and exploded directly
amidships.  Flames covered everything, and the screams of dying men and
the stench of burning flesh filled the air.

Tyros:  What the hell?!?

  Above, the source of the deadly fireball became visible:  a flying
mage, dark-skinned and garbed in rich purple robes, hovered a hundred
feet above the ocean's choppy surface.  The wizard was laughing out
loud as he watched the _Monarch_ burn.
  Aboard that flaming hulk, a few lucky crewmen had escaped the most
unpleasant fate of being burned alive.  These men were backed up onto
the bow of the ship, trying to decide between waiting for help or just
jumping into the water.  Suddenly, the decision was taken from their
hands, as something huge and invisible swooped down and snatched two
men up in powerful clawed hands.  Whatever the thing was, it never did
become visible as it ate the crewmen in midair, their blood staining
the attacker in a few places, revealing scaled crimson skin.

  Meanwhile, aboard Tyros' second ship, the _Emperor_, warriors wasted
no time bringing weapons to bear on the ship they had originally been
attacking.  Catapults were cranked, ballistae loaded, arrows and bolts
brought to bear...and then, just as all of this firepower was to be
unleashed, the ship began to list to starboard.  Crewmen cursed and
grabbed for balance, but the vessel continued to rotate in place.  Men
and weapons slid along the deck, many of them falling overboard.  And
still, the ship kept turning, turning, turning...until it was completely
upside-down in the water!

Tyros:  By the gods...

  Sitting cross-legged on a carpet far above, the elf was pleased with
himself, though no smile betrayed this.  It had been decades since he
had flipped a ship over, and it amused him to try out dusty, forgotten
spells.  To be sure, the elf had forgotten more spells in his thousands
of years than most magi ever learned in the first place.

  At this point, the pirate's flagship, the _Sovereign_, cut loose with
everything it had:  rocks, spears, flaming oil, bolts, arrows, even a
hurled knife or two.  The pirate wizard swept the black ship's deck
with a volley of fiery missiles, each of them a minor fireball in its
own right.
  When the smoke cleared, however, there was no damage - only a small
band of people, standing behind a translucent screen.

Sydaar:  Our turn.

  The master thief backed up, then made a running leap, an astounding
leap that should have been impossible.  She landed behind the row of
pirate archers, and before they could turn, two were falling to the
deck, dead.

Lord Rammstein:  (grabbing one of the grappling-hooks that sunk into
  the black ship's deck, he braces his feet and heaves on the rope)

  Amazingly, the two ships drew _closer_!  The hulking warrior's pure
physical strength must have been incredible, for he was actually
pulling the pirate ship alongside, completing the work that normally
required ten or more pirates.  Two pirate archers tried to stop him,
each one scoring a direct hit with a well-aimed shaft...but both of
the arrows rebounded just before striking the jet-black plate mail.
And Lord Rammstein laughed, a deep and hearty rumble that struck fear
into the pirates.
  Seizing this opportunity, the dwarf charged forth, easily clearing
the few feet of open space now between the two ships.  Orgthrok's
wild red hair and beard flew about his face like a wreath of fire, and
his battleaxe, a great double-headed instrument of gory death, swung
and took a life, smashing apart the wooden railing behind the slain
foe.  The axe hummed as it worked, speaking to the dwarf and fueling
his fury, all others unable to hear its words.

  At the stern of the ship, Tyros, his wizard, and a knot of his best
men prepared to make a desperate last stand.  No one saw the dark form
that seemingly slithered from the sea, up the side of the ship, and
over the railing.  Just like that, the wizard was gone, pulled back
and overboard before anyone knew that anything was amiss.

Tyros:  What the hell...?!  (he dashes over to the rail)  Where...?

  A huge form landed on the deck, right in the midst of Tyros and his
pirates.  The landing was more like that of a wild cat than a man, and
indeed, as they looked on this new attacker, they weren't entirely sure
if he was was human at all.  A wild mane of brown hair framed a wide,
animalistic face whose sides sported bristled sideburns and whose chin
was covered with a thick layer of stubble.  Pointed teeth could be seen
within the man-beast's mouth, and he had long, thick, sharp fingernails.
On top of this, he was _huge_, nearly seven feet tall and broad.

shaggy figure:  Grrrrr...

  Fast as a weasel, strong as a wild bear, and savage as a starved wolf,
the hulking figure tore into the pirates.
  They never had a chance.
  Tyros' last thought was that he'd never know who these strange people
were, these people who he now realized were the truly strong, the truly
mighty of the world.

  A short time later, the Crimson Blades had regrouped on their black

halfling:  (strolls out on deck, thumbs hooked in his belt)  This always
  happens.  I bet you're going to tell me now that we don't have time to
  search the bodies and the ship.
Kalenon:  Ships.  (he eyes the vessel that still rests, upside-down, in
  the water)  And no, we don't.
Chargrim:  If anything, we weren't moving fast enough.  My scrying tells
  me that our quarry is still on the move, and gaining distance on us.
ancient elf:  (hovering above the deck, only his green eyes and the vague
  outline of his angular face visible beneath the hood of his grey robes)
  How can anyone possess a ship that moves faster than ours?
Chargrim:  That, my friend, is just one of the things we're going to find
  out when we catch these people.  (he turns to the female thief)  Very
  astute work, Sydaar.
Sydaar:  Of course.
Kalenon:  (regards the burning hulk of the third ship, which is sinking
  fast, and then gestures to the various survivors floating in the water)
  Such a many who could have been brought around to the ways
  of Hextor.
Orgthrok the dwarf:  (brushes back his wild red hair with a bloody hand)
  Hextor, Hextor, Hextor.  Is that all you ever care about?
Kalenon:  As a matter of fact...yes.
Chargrim:  Leave them in the water.  Either they will drown, or better yet,
  the sharks will take them.
ancient elf:  (spies a particularly hardy survivor trying to climb aboard
  the ship, and with a gesture, he magically knocks the man down and back
  into the water, unconscious)
unconscious pirate:  (sinks)
halfling:  Sucks to be him.
Chargrim:  (to the halfling)  Have you seen our dark muse?
halfling:  (frowns)  Yeah, she's around, somewhere.  You know I don't ever
  really talk to her.
Orgthrok:  (snorts)  None of us do.  That bitch is weird!
Kalenon:  Most definitely, but she does have her uses.
Chargrim:  Enough delay.  (he looks down into the bloody waters around the
  ship)  I'm going to call upon an elemental force - in fact, the very one
  already summoned by our defeated foes.  It would be a shame to let a
  perfectly good elemental go to waste.
Kelenon:  Indeed.
Chargrim:  Batten down the hatches and get ready - this will speed up our
  trip considerably.
Lord Rammstein:  (anticipating more battle, and with far worthier foes than
  the ones they just defeated)  Good.

next:      back to the isle
released:  2/26/01
notes:     The movie named in the quote at the top of this episode, _The
  Crow:  City of Angels_...I want you to know that the only thing I got
  from the movie was the quote.  It blew, big-time.

    New fan art of the Crinsom Blades can be found at:


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