AN: Hey everyone, TheStoryWizard here. I know I've been absent a long time, but I've had a lot happen in my life lately. I've taken a long time to come up with something really good to write and once I finally did I no longer had very much free time to write it anymore. I just got my first job and it takes up most of my time and I also recently lost my father in December. Life hasn't been easy for me but I'm back now and while I can't promise that I'll upload on here very often, I'm going to try to give you guys good content as often as I can.
The realms of Toril are littered with many a fine city, but few are as a large and as regal as the legendary bustling Tradeport of Spire. Three times larger than Waterdeep, Spire boasted nearly fifty districts, a massive seaport and well over twenty guilds possessing a global charter. If one wished to make a name for themselves in their trade, Spire was an excellent place to start and over the last several decades the stories of unbridled success and untold riches began to earn it the well-deserved title of the City of Golden Dreams. One can find all manner of folk in Spire going about their day to day business from shopping for goods, buying fresh fruit and vegetables from the many fields or the daily catch from the bounty of the sea in the marketplace, trading goods in the many merchant stalls, or going to many of the cultural events happening throughout the day. Even at night, the city comes to life with golden light from all of the many lit lanterns and magical orbs that make the city glitter against the sea. That is the beauty of Spire but even a rose like Spire has its thorns, places of wicked splendor that belie their true nature. In places like these there are many kinds of folk that can be found; perhaps even those of a peculiar or dark nature.
The streets were still and the sea's thick fog blanketed the silent alleyways of the slums as a lone figured dressed in black and silver in a dark purple cloak with a red lining walked through the silent streets on his way to the Black Ram Tavern. His demeanor was regal yet imposing as he walked with sure steps as if the ground he tread upon was created for him and him alone. His look was that of a nobleman of many considerable years spent living a rich and privileged life. His clothing was made of the most expensive materials gold could buy, his boots made from the finest leather, several rings worth hundreds of gold were on his fingers and a jeweled longsword at his hip told a story of privilege and high born status. Despite his appearance, however, the man seemed to have no qualms about walking into the darkest shadows of the city, into a place where few went and even fewer returned: Shadow's End.
A dark smile crossed his face as he made his way to the lone tavern in the darkest part of the golden city. Several children ran for cover in the wake of the nobleman; they were just more human debris left over from one of the many small wars in the area. But to the nobleman, they could be used as test subjects for any number of experiments magical or otherwise. In Spire there was section of the city's lower slums where the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low: thieves, cutthroats, highwaymen, loan sharks, fences, and murderers dwelt in the shadows doing the bidding of their dark masters, or up to their own evil deeds, it was Shadow's End. It was a place where the good go to die and evil breeds. Filled to the brim with the refuse of the civilized world, the one place no creature of good virtue or intention would dare set foot without just cause. It was a dark place created by the greed of nobles that had turned a blind eye towards the suffering of their fellow men and the home of those that would kill to see the light of a new day. Yet here was a lone man who looked of great worth and noble status heading to the only tavern in Shadow's End, where one could make the darkest of deals. In the light of truth, however; he was far darker than even this ungodly place.
It was not long before he had arrived at his destination, the Black Ram, where there were three men of somewhat dubious nature guarding the door of the tavern. Two of these men were dressed in black with dark-colored cloaks concealing thick studded leather armor and the weapons they carried. The two armed guards were on either side of the large wooden door, both of the men were tall with narrow rat-like faces, the one on the left had a head of dirty blonde hair while the one on the right had short greasy black hair. Both men had several old scars marring their dark features but the one on the right side of the door had an eye patch concealing part of a fresh scar. The scar went down the left side of his face starting at his forehead and ending halfway down his cheek. No doubt his left eye was damaged beyond repair but the man didn't seem like he minded that fact as he eyed the new arrival with the fierce gaze of his remaining dark blue eye.
The third guard was much younger than the other two by ten or so years and by the way he seemed unnerved with someone approaching without escort or a care in the world considering where the four men were currently standing. The other guards looked like they had seen at least 30 or so winters with 15 of them being in fights as mercenaries and guild rats. They were too scruffy and unkempt to be working for any high-level guild or organization or to have any type of status or power. Just more sellsword trash to be used and thrown away when they outlived their usefulness. The young boy, on the other hand, was the sellsword's opposite in every way. He was tall and of average build and he appeared to be well fed and seemed to be getting some form of exercise or physical training, his hair was dark brown, short and spiky but well taken care of, his clothing was of a fine nature and very clean, but what told the dark man the most about him were his eyes. Those large green eyes wide with fear and uncertainty were the eyes of an apprentice mage of some noble bloodline, a minor one but noble nonetheless.
"Do you fear me that much boy? You don't even know who I am and you fear me. Normally I would tell you that is a foolish thing as you have given away the level of power you have and how weak your resolve is but in this case you have right to fear me." The cloaked man said with a dark grin on his face.
"Who 'de 'ell are you, ye git? This Tavern is closed for private business t'night. Git yer' 'igh classed noble arse outta' 'ere and find yer' cheap bar wench honey hole some somewhere else. Iffen' ya don't I'm 'fraid yer' going to be robbed n' dead in some back alley" The guard on the left shouted as he reached for his long sword, brandishing it at the cloaked figure. "Who in 'de nine 'ells do ye, think you are trottin' round Shadow's End like 'ye own 'de place? Yer lucky I don't slit 'yer throat meself!"
"Darths, cool your head, you want to lose this job for us? He may be the one we're supposed to let in. Think before you speak next time, fool." The dark-haired guard spoke before he eyed the cloaked figure harder. "Lentorm, stop shaking boy. Do you wish to embarrass the Chief with your cowardly behavior? Check out the cloaked man and ask him his business here. Be quick about it boy we don't have all night in this hell of a place!"
"Y-YES SIR!" the young man shouted before covering his mouth.
"Lentorm get your shit together. We don't have all night. The Chief and the others are waiting. Get on with it boy before I give you something to truly be afraid of, the back of my hand!"
"Sorry Zark, sir. I'm just… I mean it's my first field mission. I'll get on with it, sir." Lentorm muttered nervously. Before taking a few deep breaths to calm himself. Once he had himself composed Lentorm approached the hooded man. "If you are here for the meeting then show me the proof of your invitation."
"Well, you seem to have found your nerve now. I'm impressed with you, boy. I see great things for you should you make the right decisions and allies in the future." The hooded man said with a cool tone before pulling his hood down and smiling sincerely at the boy. "Remember my face well, remember this moment for you stand in the presence of greatness." The nobleman said as he reached into his cloak and removed a coin that he tossed to Lentorm. "This is all the proof of who I am and what business I have here. Do take care of that coin though; I'd hate to see it lost before you have time to spend it's value anywhere of importance."
Lentorm caught the coin and looked it over for a few moments before he grew wide-eyed and shook violently. In his hand was a golden coin but unlike the hundreds of coins, he had seen this one was stamped with black metal in the form of a black scepter emitting green rays on a gold disc, clutched in the talons of a black wyrm. On the back of the coin was an etching of three eyes in a triangle with a staff in the center, it was the secret symbol of the order.
"It's you… you are really here!" Lentorm said in surprise before he stumbled back over to Zark and Darths as he stuttered his reply he wildly gestured to the nobleman and the coin he held up to the two confused guards.
After a few moments of whispered replies and several loud curses from Darths and Zark, the young rogue knocked on the door of the tavern three times. A small block in the door opened and Zark whispered something to the large man behind it. After a moment the block was closed and the door was opened.
Lentorm walked back over to the nobleman with a look of awe and admiration as he informed him that all was ready for his meeting. "It's all cleared for you, sir. Please forgive us for not noticing it was you earlier I wish we had been properly informed that it was you coming here. I hope that we haven't ruined your evening too much with our lack of foresight or manners."
"Ha ha ha, you have nothing to apologize for, mistakes at your level are to be expected. Your two senior members, on the other hand, have much to answer for. I hope that you take what will happen to them to heart and learn a very valuable lesson from it. I will see you in the future, Lentorm and when I do I hope you have become a much wiser man by then." The Nobleman said as he gave the boy a pat on the head before entering the tavern.
As the nobleman passed by the scowling door guards he smirked and wagged his finger at them in a disapproving manner. Both mercenaries scoffed then swore under their breaths knowing full well that their little show of force earlier was going to going to cost them dearly.
The nobleman walked through the main room of the tavern, it was filled with about 20 men in light armor drinking and having merriment. All of them working for one of the five individuals he had come to see. As soon as the nobleman entered the tavern proper all of the boisterous laughter and shouts died out leaving nothing but silence as all eyes were upon him. It was at this moment all in the tavern were scrambling to bow or make some gesture of loyalty as the man passed by them and headed towards the private room in the back. The tavern's owner, a massive man who barely fit the description of a human with arms as large as tree trunks and scars all the way across the left side of his body scrambled to open the door as even he bowed in reverence towards the mysterious figure. As he did so, the large ruby that had replaced his left eye twinkled in the darkness, this was a man who demanded the respect of all around him and even he seemed to betray a hint of fear in the presence of the tavern's newest visitor.
"Enjoy the accommodations, sir" The man spoke with unwavering respect. "If you and your associates require anything at all, I will gladly be of assistance."
The man simply smiled as he held up a hand. "Your hospitality is appreciated, Rubyeye. Rest assured that your cooperation will be greatly rewarded. At the moment, however, I require only that this meeting goes undisturbed. I am quite certain that you are capable of this, yes?"
"O-of course, without fail, sir. It shall be as you have asked." Rubyeye said with a bit of fear showing in his voice before he walked over and opened the door to the back room. The man walked in with unwavering confidence. After the man had passed through the door Rubyeye closed it behind him and placed a strange charm on the nail at the top of the door. It was a protection and sound nullification charm, once in place, it would protect the room as well as keep anyone outside from hearing anything going inside no matter what it was.
In the back room of the Black Ram sat five members of a secret order waiting for their leader who had summoned them for some damnable plan he was hoping to hatch. All of them were in some off-color mood and far from pleased about being summoned to Spire let alone to the worst section of it.
Sitting on the far left of the large meeting table was the half-elf Quartermaster of the order, Lizabeck Silverblood. The woman reeked of bureaucracy and rightly so as it was her main power. As Quartermaster for the order, there was no trade route or supply chain for the order or it's linked secret organization that she didn't know about. Lizabeck was one of two people in the order that had the power to hasten, stop, or just made a shipment disappear. She was a tall thin woman of 45 summers but due to her elvish nature, she looked as if she were all but 20 summers old. Her hair was dyed purple kept in a bun with a silver clip in the shape of an oak leaf, her style of dress was mostly conservative but she did show a few of her womanly curves, as seduction was a standard business practice when it came to difficult clients. She had a smooth angular face with high cheekbones, slightly pointed ears, a small pert nose, full red lips, and large expressive eyes. She sat in her chair with straight posture holding a mug of un-drank ale as her piercing blue eyes were trained on the door waiting for someone to finally show, doing little to hide her boredom and impatience.
Next to Lizabeck was Torebroic Starhammer, He was the Stone Dwarf Weapons Master of the order. Torebroic was a hard man forged by fire and hammer just like the weapons he made for the order and its allies. Being a dwarf of 158 hard winters in the snowy mountains nearly a hundred of which were spent at the forge he was left with dark brown leathery skin covering hard corded muscles created from long hours smithing many a weapon and suits of armor. Torebroic had a rather square and hard face with a chiseled jaw, thick nose, deep set dark brown eyes with thick bushy eyebrows and a very prominent forehead. His black hair was thick and bristly but cut short in the front to protect it from the fire, his beard was long, jet black, and well maintained with several gold charms in it, Dwarven pride made sure that his beard was always looking its best. Like most dwarves of the stony mountain keeps, Torebroic was a man who dressed for the purpose in front of him, so his clothing was always simple and the best suited to the weather at the time. Torebroic was a man of few words with a quiet almost monk-like demeanor letting his actions speak for him much more effectively. Unless a long night in a tavern with large amounts of ale or hard spirits were involved. In that respect, he was like all dwarves: loud, talkative, and often a boisterous singer of old war songs. On this night, however, he sat eerily silent and sported a stern look on his worn face. He drank deep from his mug leaving the hearty meal before him untouched. He was already well into his ninth hard ale of the night and had no intention of stopping any time soon.
In the third seat facing the head of the table was the Loremaster of the order, a dark smiling gnome known by the name of Darkmali. The three-foot tall gnome looked to only be 80 or 90 winters old but was entering his 290th winter later that year. Being a Loremaster and high-level mage in some well-respected circles of mage craft and a few unclean ones had let Darkmali keep his youth far longer than any gnome should. Only a few wrinkles showed on the reddish tan skin of his face while his long, thick snowy white hair had touches of gray at the sides framing his face which was in direct contrast to his unscrupulous facial features. He had a long sharply pointed nose, thin lips, high cheekbones, thin eyebrows over glittering orange eyes and both of his long sharply pointed ears had a knick in them which gave him an eerie and sinister look. Darkmali was in his usual clothing of just black and brown robes, he had never been seen dressed any other way. The sinister gnome sat at the table leafing through several ancient tomes he had brought with a rather irritated look on his dark face.
Sitting to the right of Darkmali was the order's tiefling Master Spy and Information Broker, Salreth Goldenhand. Salreth was a man dripping with charisma and honeyed words, being a tiefling he had to be a charming man to get people to look past his demonic heritage. Salreth was a lithe man of six feet in height with a toned physique, he was devilishly handsome with features that looked chiseled from expensive marble. He was adored by the fairer sex for his raven black hair. It was a casual jumble sometimes but mostly neat and flowing beneath his smooth goat-like horns which were always adorned with gold or silver bands. His crescent moon eyebrows were thin and narrow. He carried an imperious nose well and his angular cheekbones carved down towards a flinty jaw. His solid mariner-blue eyes were orb round and darted constantly gleaming with the delight and vigor of youth. They shone brightly, like two sapphires. Everyone commented on his vivacious character and his gentle nature. His voice could be loud when he was booming out a guffaw but it was normally mellifluous to the point of causing a common woman and even a fair few noble women to swoon at hearing him call out their names. Salreth's manner of dress was just as breathtaking as his looks as he wore nothing but the finest of imported silks and fabrics, he even had a team of personal tailors and seamstresses to create for him the latest in fashion. His luxurious choice in clothing along with his personal grooming and use of loamy exotic colognes had many swooning in the night. Salreth was dressing in another of his style teams personal picks, he was in a French style white silk foppish shirt, with a dark purple doublet and royal blue trim, dark purple trousers with french style pleats to the cuffs, fine black leather boots buffed to a high finish and a silk hat with a large dark blue feather on its left side. He was wearing four gold bands on his horns, four rather expensive ruby and emerald rings, and three gold bands on the last six inches of his tail.
"I'm not one to discount our little band of merry members talents when it comes to shadow work, but I do hate being drug away from important business of a personal nature for this impromptu meeting. I could be gathering so many wonderful secrets or just having fun don't you think so Trugg, my dear friend?" Salreth asked the less than pleased half-orc to his right
"Salreth spare me your whining about being here. I had a night of warring and listening to the lamentations of my foes women planned. Whatever we have been summoned for better be worth it and it better happen soon!" Trugg retorted as he slammed his fist on the table shaking it in its entirety.
Trugg Truecrush was the order's Chief Bounty Hunter and Head Enforcer. A half-orc of goliath proportions, Trugg was nearly eight feet tall and two foot wide at the shoulders. Years of fighting, training, and hunting the scum of the earth had given him the strength of a small giant, he was muscles on muscles, a true force to be reckoned with. Being of orcish descent and living a hard life gave Trugg a imposing face, he had a thick prominent forehead, his dark red hair was long and untamed most of the time, his jawline was hard, his nose was large and almost squarish, his large green eyes were deep set with thick expressive eyebrows and his ruddy brown skin was covered in numerous scars. The scariest thing about his facial features were his large fearsome tusks, while he had never been too proud of his Orc heritage Trugg prided himself on how intimidating his tusks were. With a dark smile, he could make hardened mercenaries cry like lost children, a feat that would take something as monstrous as a dragon or an army of fire giants to accomplish normally. Like any self-respecting bounty hunter Trugg dressed the part of a man of force and power, he always wore some form of light to medium armor, iron gauntlets and his great ax, Deathbringer. If seen without his dark and dread-inducing armor he wore just a simple tunic, daring anyone to question the unceremonious gray rags that in the eyes of many barely counted as clothing.
"Trugg must you always be so orcish in your hobbies outside of lusting after me? I do wish you would be more refined in your personal pursuits outside of warring and the lamentations of wives mourning husbands and sons you have helped to the afterlife." Lizabeck teased as she eyed Trugg with a playful smirk. Trugg's discomfort was something that she could use to pass the time giving the right motivations and teasing comments.
"War is a part of life, Lizabeck and Trugg is a man who knows his true calling. Don't deny him that or would you have me go days on end without the forge or a drop of ale?" Torebroic asked glaring at the half-elf who just rolled her eyes and waved the dwarf off.
"Simple pleasures are for simple minds; but you would know that well wouldn't you, Lizabeck?. I know well the simple pleasures you would seek if Trugg would spend more time chasing you them the thrill of battle. Torebroic speaks truly when he asked that you not deny Trugg his pleasure of war. I for one would love to see Trugg at his best it would give me a simple pleasure." The dark gnome said with sinister laughter before turning to Salreth. "Come to think of it Salreth wouldn't calling a meeting like this give you the simple pleasure of taking from us the secrets you crave?"
"If any of you are the reason for this meeting to spoil my night I will…" Trugg never finished his sentence as the door swung upon ceremoniously and the quiet yet imposing footsteps of the robed man filled the room. In an instant, the scuffle between the five was silenced as each turned towards the sound and sat straight up in the seats as a sign of respect towards the approaching figure.
"Well, now I see I have come at a bad time. Please Trugg, my dear man, finish what you were saying. I do so want to hear what you will do if it was one of them that called my little meeting." the new arrival said in a playful tone.
Trugg's eyes widened in fear as the man spoke. "Cal-Calinforth… I meant nothing by it. Pay me no mind." he said quickly before standing up and bowing to the leader of the First Order and then returning to his seat, his entire body shaking slightly in response to the man's imposing presence.
"Are there any other objections to this meeting? Please feel free to voice them now and know that I will not be displeased if there are, just allow me a moment to alleviate your concerns. So are there any others objections?" Calinforth asked with a raised eyebrow and off-color smile.
The other four order members all looked at each other than to a still visibly shaken Trugg before they all shook their heads. It was unwise to object even if they had valid reasons as Calinforth was not a man they wanted to anger even in the slightest. All comments would be held for another time preferably when Calinforth wasn't in earshot.
"Well with that out of the way we can begin," Calinforth said with a dark smile before he removed his cloak, he hung it on the back of his chair, so he would have access to the items he need for the meeting hidden within it, and took his seat at the head of the table.
Calinforth was a human man of some 45 autumns and as a man entering into the twilight of human years he didn't look it. For a man soon to be half a century old, he looked surprisingly strong and youthful. His light brown hair was only slightly graying in the front and sides, It was still cut short and well groomed due mostly to his station and status as a noble. His face bore several of the wrinkled lines of a man who had lived and learned some hard lessons many of those dealing with magic and his early lack of understanding of the intricacies of the arcane arts. He had a well defined but pointed chin with a slightly rugged jawline, his nose was slightly broad but fit his reasonably angular face and average eyebrows sat above grey-blue eyes that shone with intelligence, a fearsome dark intelligence that seemed to consume all that he laid eyes upon. Even with the look of a man born to be a leader his greatest power lay in his inexhaustible charm. To say Calinforth was simply charming was an understatement, for he was much more than that as he was rumored to have charmed a Succubus into becoming his servant just to test the limits of his abilities. Charm, intelligence, presence, wealth, power, and influence were all words that described Calinforth and were the core of his character. With all of this he had become the 32nd Elder Leader of the First Order and now he was beginning a bid for even greater power.
"I know that all of you had other plans this evening but I have called you here because I have some important news about the item we have been searching for. Each of you will play a rather important role when the time comes but rest assured that all will be rewarded once we have the item of legend." Calinforth told the others as he folded his hands together.
"Surely you mean this as a jest Calinforth, I mean it is unlikely that an item of that power would just suddenly show up and be ripe for the taking? Even I have not heard any of the larger magic organizations good, evil, or neutral, if such a thing were possible, whispering about something of that magnitude. So how have you come by this information?" Salreth asked as the implications of his leader's words did not bode well for the order in the long run. If Calinforth had found the ultimate weapon of magic then the goals of the First Order to reshape the universe at its very core were closer than ever before. Even so, the danger it would entail would be beyond anything the order had ever faced or would ever face.
Darkmali just broke out into uproarious laughter for a brief moment before turning to Salreth. "Please do tell me another funny jest like that Sareth I find them oh so entertaining." the very irritated tiefling just rolled his eyes at the gnome before turning his attention back to the head of the table.
"What nothing to say to that? Oh, you are soured by my words? Well, then you will find this amusing as I have sensed a great stirring in the arcane energies that make what Calinforth said ring true. This is no jest fool, but fact. I cannot locate the item in question but having to acknowledge the power of our leader I can tell you he has already done so."
Calinforth just smiled at the gnome's praise knowing full well how maddening it must for the Loremaster to be bested by a wizard he thought inferior to him. "Yes, I have located it and doing so was no easy task. It took a considerable amount of time and resources to do so. I had to make a few deals and use up some very important favors but It will all pay off when our goals are finally realized."
"If you have found it why even bother to summon us? You could have just gone and gotten it, right?" Trugg asked not even bothering to mask his annoyance at the situation.
"If I already had possession of the weapon, Trugg you wouldn't be sitting here asking that but kneeling before me as I sat at the highest pinnacle of power. The fact I can't get to it is the reason why I called you here in the first place. We need an individual or several individuals with a particular set of skills and powers to brave the danger of the Shattered Realm to retrieve it." Calinforth informed Trugg with a matter-of-fact tone.
"You can't be serious! The Shattered Realm is just a fairytale, something that wizards and other mages tell one another like a ghost story. There is no way it's real or that a weapon of that type of legendary power would be in a place like that!" Torebroic said as he slammed his empty mug on the table. "I have heard the tales like all young dwarves do, that the Shattered Realm was once the Garden of Elisfire the birthplace of all high magic and where the Sacred Flame of the Forge was born but it was torn asunder when the All God smote those that would steal magic beyond magic. If it's real that place would be worse than the Nine Hells and the Plane of Chaos combined. No man would be able to brave it and live to tell about it."
"Yes, those stories are true my dear Torebroic. I have read all of the legends on the Garden of Elisfire and its powers. It was a place of pure arcane force where magic was born and it is the place where a weapon with a power beyond even the gods resides. I have searched for it since I was but a boy and now my friends we are so close to unlocking its secrets and restoring the Garden of Elisfire to its former glory. All we need to do is retrieve the weapon and it's power as well as the garden's magic will be ours." Calinforth told the disbelieving dwarf before pulling a fist-sized crystal ball from his cloak and rolling it over to Torebroic. "Here is all the proof you will need Forge Master this crystal will show what I know to be true."
Torebroic picked up the crystal as it rolled to a stop in front of him. As he looked at the clear orb as it began to cloud over in white smoke until an image of a partially shattered stone gate of gargantuan proportions with large iron doors came into focus. The gateway was carved from some type of marble-like stone as far as Torebroic could tell. The stone and metal work was ancient but still in good condition even if part of the gateway was missing, but what got his attention about the gateway were the dwarven runes carved into its masonry work. It was the work of the first Dwarven Masons, the metal work on the iron doors, the etchings, the gold and brass filigree, and the doors themselves were the work of the first Forgemasters, the dwarfs that brought back the first forge's flame from the Garden of Elisfire. This was the gate, or what was left of it, to the Shattered Realm, the graveyard of what was left of the Garden of Elisfire. The legends were all true and the ultimate weapon of power forged by his ancestors in the flames of the first-star fire was ripe for the First Order to take it.
"By Gauldur the Red's beard, it can't be true even as my eyes see and read the runes, I cannot believe it! The birthplace of magic beyond magic and home of the first dwarves is real and you found it! Surely I must be drunk and dreaming." Torebroic bellowed as he stared at the crystal ball with tears in his eyes.
"Torebroic's disbelief aside there's still a bigger question yet to be answered. If we need someone or a group of someones of a high caliber, I take it you have this person or party of people in mind and that they are controllable to a point?" Lizabeck asked wanting to know more.
"Yes, I have," Calinforth answered promptly. "However, we may have a slight problem."
"What problem is that? I find it hard to believe that you would have trouble finding someone or even a group for that matter that would be worthy enough to go on a suicide mission for you with a smile on their faces. So what trouble could there really be?" Trugg again asked with a voice full of displeasure.
"Even with lands full of adventurers, Trugg there are only a small few that possess the skills, items, and magic to brave places as dangerous as the Shattered Realm and even less that would do it for the order without wanting something in return," Darkmali remarked with a sour look on his face.
"Do you think me foolish, Darkmali? I know this well for I have killed many an adventurer in my time, I know the skills that many of them boast of, so why is it so hard to believe that no one has ever tried to get this so-called weapon yet? Why should there be a problem with finding someone dumb enough to try for the right amount of gold? Even you seem to be afraid to try or are you just that lackluster in power and knowledge compared to Calinforth?" Trugg asked the now angry gnome.
Before Darkmali could answer with a venomous reply Calinforth silenced the whole argument. "Enough, both of you! If I wished to watch the two of you bicker why would I waste a perfectly good night or tavern of this caliber to do so?" The half-orc and gnome both stared at each other with contempt before turning back to their leader who seemed less than pleased with them. Both members gave quick apologies then Calinforth continued. "There is a problem but it is easily solved by all of you being on the lookout for selected individuals. I have a list for all of you of various areas and cities of the world like Blingdenstone, Calimport, Nashkel, Luskan, Glister, Candlekeep, Evereska, Athkatla, Mulmaster, Ravens Bluff and Waterdeep to name a few." Calinforth told the other order members before tossing all of them two scrolls each. The first was a list of names of the various people they would be on the lookout for and the second scroll was a list of areas and cities that their targets were known to frequent.
"As you go about your day to day cover jobs make sure to observe them closely taking note of their skills and with them if you must but never let them know why you are so curious about them. Report all of your findings back to me at regular intervals and we shall see who will be our chosen adventurers to secure our legacy of power." Calinforth said with a dark smile. "Are there any further questions?"
"I have two questions, what will we do with all of the adventurers that don't make the cut?" Trugg asked.
"Nothing or whatever you like, they are of no use to us if they don't have what it takes to get us the item. And the second question, Trugg?"
"What will we do with the adventurers that are worthy and bring back the weapon to you?"
"Why kill them of course. Once we have the weapon it will take some time before we can unlock its true power. Naturally, the party that will retrieve the item will need to disappear as we don't want anyone finding out about it until it is too late to stop us. Darkmali will get them first for his experiments and study them under strict supervision but after that, if any of them survive you may kill them. I will leave the final details of the party's ultimate fate and disposal to you, Trugg. You may do whatever you wish to them just make sure that none of them survive it and bring me proof that the deed is done afterward."
"Very well Calinforth I look forward to your ascension into a power beyond the Gods and all of the havoc we will sow before and after," Trugg said before raising his mug in a toast. The others after refilling or pouring themselves a mug of ale followed suit.
"To Calinforth Elder Leader of the First Order, Long may he reign as a God above Gods!" All of the members of the order toasted as Calinforth watched with a smug look on his face.
"Thank you, my friends, I will reward all of you when the time comes for me to ascend. All who have served me well will find riches and powers beyond their wildest imaginations in my new kingdom." Calinforth happily replied as he raised his mug and clanked it into the others before they all drank deep. "There is one last bit of business before fore we adjourn for the night. The two men and the young boy out in front guarding the door, to which of you do they find themselves employed?"
The five senior members of the First Order turned towards Calinforth before whispering amongst themselves, clearly one of them had made a very grave mistake but only one of them was truly aware of just how dire their circumstances had become. Slowly and unwillingly, Darkmali raised a shriveled hand in confirmation towards his leader but said nothing.
"I see, well it may come as a shock to you but your two men minus the boy are, how should I say this? They are brutish, vulgar, ill-mannered, and worst of all stupid beyond any reason to let them live." Calinforth said with his eyes narrowed and focused on the dark gnome who just shrunk away from the glare. "While I see value in the boy Lentorm as he could be of use given the right teachers and access to magical knowledge, those two guards of yours, Darths and Zark are far too ignorant and unskilled to be of any use without being a danger to our goals. Darkmali, since they are employed by you it must be you that rectifies their folly in judgment. I leave to you to decide a worthy punishment for their numerous transgressions ."
"Ri-right away Calinforth, I will see that they are made into an example of what not to do," Darkmali said quickly as he readied himself to do just that.
"No, I want it done now and in front of the whole tavern. I will not have any of those under our command think they may do as they please without consequences. You will put them to death as it was your fault they have committed such crimes against the First Order or would like to take their place on the execution block?" Calinforth asked with a calm tone to his voice.
Darkmali froze in place as the color drained from his face and he dropped the tomes he had been picking up from the table. this was not happening, how could he have been so stupid? How did Calinforth see through his plan? He had covered his tracks, he had hired those idiots and even blanked their memories of the dark suggestion he had placed in their minds and yet they had failed to do their job. They should have attacked him on site and wounded him slightly, nothing fatal just enough to get Calinforth to become paranoid and needy of more loyal followers like Darkmali himself. No, Calinforth's presence alone had seen that his two well-placed daggers had failed to hit their mark and now Darkmali was going to have to save face by playing the loyal dog. He was not Trugg nor would he ever bow and scrape like the half-breed because, in the long run, he would be the one ascending to the power of God of Gods if he played his cards right.
"Y-yes at once. I will make sure that all know the fate of those that displease you." Darkmali said as he scurried away to make Calinforth's wishes known.
After Darkmali left the room the others filed out into the tavern to see that all of the tables and chairs had been arranged into a large circle with two chairs in the center. All of the hardened mercenaries in the room looked frightened or forlorn as they sat at the tables or stood by waiting for something to happen.
Calinforth had taken a seat at the table facing the two chairs with the rest of the order's senior members, minus Darkmali, sitting with him. The leader of the First Order seemed pleased with the setup and his dark smile only grew as two of Trugg's men dragged a very beaten and bloody Darths and Zark into the tavern. After a few curses and empty threats, the two battered humans were placed rather roughly into the two chairs. Moments later Lentorm walked in with Darkmali who told the boy to stand next to Calinforth and to watch everything that was to happen.
"I told you two that you would have much to answer for; and Lentorm, do make sure to watch what happens well as this is an important lesson for your future," Calinforth said without taking his mirthful eyes off of the two bloody guards. "You may begin and make sure they scream. I do so love it when they scream and curse my name as they die."
Darkmali just nodded as he walked between the two chairs before he reached into his robes and pulled out two vials that contained small centipede-like creatures. The black and red insectoid creatures were wriggling and squirming around in the vials as they made an eerie buzzing noise and clicked their mandibles together. The dark gnome smiled at the two men before speaking. "You have two choices you can kill yourselves or you can take what's coming to you for daring to harm our venerable leader. What do you choose, humans?"
Before Darths or Zark could plead for their lives Trugg's men grabbed them and slammed them to the floor. Holding both men in a death grip they forced the two screaming and cursing humans to turn their heads to the side. Darkmali kneeled between the two men opening the vials before pouring the insects on the cheeks of the men. The insectoids wasted no time in crawling towards the eyes of their victims. In Zark's case the creature went under his eyepatch, the whole time it made the strange buzzing noise and rapidly clicked its mandibles. Both men screamed and begged for mercy but those cries fell on deaf ears, no one dared to try and stop this nor did they look away for this was the fate of all who dared challenge Calinforth.
Soon the creatures vanished into the eye sockets and behind the eyes of their victims, there was a moment of quiet as the two men stopped thrashing and just lay still. After what seemed like forever both men let out a blood-curdling scream and threw off the two guards holding them down. They frantically clawed at their own faces as if trying to tear them off as their veins stood up and their skin began turning black. Both men started dancing around in large circles as if on fire and screamed for the pain to stop cursing Calinforth to the Nine Hells for their fate. It seemed as if they would drop dead from the lack of air when the first signs of a truly darker fate began to surface.
Darths was the first to change as the flesh of his right arm swelled as if the muscles underneath were being inflated like a wineskin, his skin turned a sickly yellow color before it split open like an overripe piece of fruit. There was a hideous tearing sound as his skin split in several places with patches of it coming off as yellowly leather while what remained began turning a putrid green. The visible muscle rotted away into yellow puss and blackened maggot filled meat, some of it fell away while some clung to partially blackened bones.
Zark's transformation was faring far worse, as maggots began to erupt from under his eye patch and the flesh around his missing eye began to necrotize. Before too long the once hardened mercenary was clawing at his own face in vain desperation. In doing so he pulled a chunk of his own face clean from the bone revealing a bare skull with cracks that had worm-like tendrils spilling from them. Zark screamed louder as his right shoulder exploded in a mass of black tendrils ripping rotted and living flesh from his body. Seconds later his left shoulder followed by the same changes. Soon the corruption spread to his chest and the armor on his torso rapidly aged and fell apart before his ribs cracked and broke through the surface of rotten flesh and mangled armor.
Darth's had reached the second level of his transformation and his legs had split into four sections as the rotted flesh and splintered bone began to reshape into bladed spider-like legs that reattached themselves to his waist and the spine begin to grow as more bone was added from out of nowhere. The new bone growth continued until there was a long blade like tail that was slowiy being covered in the skin and putrid muscles that had fallen to the floor earlier. Next, the rotted and aged pieces of armor, his boots and the rags from his pants began to wrap themselves around his new legs in twisted patterns. Soon the corruption reached its third level and his chest ballooned as skin and armor began to age and warp violently. Soon a gaping maw broke open revealing row after row of serrated yellow spike-like teeth. A thick and slime oozing purple tongue lashed out over the teeth and the maw made a gurgling sound of hunger for the flesh of the living.
Zark a few moments after his companion had reached the third level of his painful transformation reached the second level of his own. His legs seemed to liquify into a puddle of inky black thick and viscous goo. From the goo several boney arms half the size of his own reached out searching for the living to consume them in the darkness of unlife. At his waist, the goo transitioned back to the rotted flesh and visible bone of his spine and from this meeting point six long tentacles grew out from each end in what looked to be a beholder eye stock. Each was a sickly yellow color with a red pupil and no visible eyelid. The next transformation was in his arms as they as they split in half before morphing into insectoid form with three digits and covered in segmented black chitin. As Zark screamed his final human scream the last level of his undead enslavement began and his blue eye bulged from his skull before a line appeared across the center of it. From the line, the eye opened up into a fanged mouth and slithered out of his skull with the nerve still attached and hissed like a snake. After the hiss, the fanged eye vomited a torrent of hot venomous green blood onto the floor.
Darth's final stage of his unlife transformation caused his head to split cleanly down the middle of his neck. Once there his tongue soon changed into a horrid sickly oozing four foot long silvery forked tongue and exploded from the blood gushing neck hole. The two sides of his head were still just barely attached to his neck as the long stringy muscles at the base of the two head halves grew thicker keeping it connected to his grossly bloated neck. The two head halves began to take the characteristics of the mouth but the strange part was the six fanged eyes on the rotted grey matter that was once the poor man's brain. His left arm which had remained still human and living underwent a terrifying transformation and an oversized dark blue crab claw complete with barnacles, coral growths, strands of seaweed, and the reek of dead fish at low tide burst forth to replace it.
The most horrifying thing about the whole scene was that in the chest of the new undead Zark a glowing orb appeared that bore an eerie likeness to the form he bore before his punishment. It was his soul, it had been retained to suffer inside the undead monstrosity that his body had become. In the new body Darth's soul now called home he could be seen at the back of the throat in the gaping maw that was his chest. Both souls screamed for eternal rest but neither would see hope until their undead vessel had been destroyed and the curse broken.
"It is done and let this be a lesson to you all. Those that defy the order in life will serve it without question in unlife, like my two new pets here." Darkmali told the gathered spectators before looking forlorn at Lentorm. The boy just swallowed back more bile and fear as he stood frozen in place. He was now reconsidering Calinforth's offer to become his servant or apprentice, although those words seemed interchangeable when it came to Calinforth.
Calinforth just smiled as he watched the two hulking undead chimera twitch and shuffle back and forth as they looked for prey. He was pleased with the look of fear on the faces of the men that worked for his subordinates and more importantly he was pleased with the look of disdain fear and anger on Darkmali's face. "This will teach you to try and undermine me and then try and worm your way out of me chastising you in a public manner. Now the stage is set for the greatest play in all the world's history, Now all we need is a lead actor for act one to begin…"
I hope you all enjoyed the prologue, I'll try to update as often as I can. Before I go I'd like to credit my co-writer for this story, Heashfox. We've already begun work on the next few chapters, It's all a matter of having enough time to write them now.
Until Next Time,