Curse of the Crimson Throne

Summary 20: Into the Belly of the Beast

Chapter Four: A History of Ashes

 
The Mercenaries had faced some truly great foes in the past. Some had pushed them to the limit of resolve. Others had been as easy as tearing the legs off of a spider. There had been a few that had scampered away in the wind. And others that awaited to be MoKed. One such foe was in their crosshairs. The Cindermaw. A beast of legendary proportions, whose tale stretched longer than its own. Whispered both in heroics and nightmares, the worm that was known as the Clan Eater would soon meet its own nightmare.

After exiting the Acropolis of the Thrallkeepers, Krojun and the burnriders led the march towards the clan of the Moon. A few hours into the journey, they came across a grizzly scene in the middle of the dessert. Several sand blasted corpses littered the ground, their eyes each pierced by a crossbow bolt. Krojun made a sign to his god. He said that it was the work of man called the Cinnderlander; an assassin of the Shoanti. For years he had hunted all those he found. He would then imbed the eyes with his implement of death, blinding the soul from ever finding the afterlife. Despite the dead being Moonclan members as evidenced by their garb, Krojun insisted upon a proper burial and removal of the bolts from the skulls.

After another two days of marching, they saw a mountain range off in the distance. This was the Wyvern range, and their destination. Off on the horizon, a small dust cloud could be seen approaching the party. Krojun and the Burnriders took up a defensive position, their bows drawn taught. Of everyone assembled, it was Panian who first recognized their old friend Imp riding upon a flying carpet. Soon he was all smiles and greeting his best clients. He said he had been commissioned by Glorio Arkona to gift each MoK member with a special item for saving his life.

First was the Fatemasters Claw for Duvafoodle. It was a gauntlet that would allow the befuddled gnome to better control his rod of wonder and would also grant better selection if ever he came across a legendary Deck of Many Things. Next was the Precision String for Jansaadi. A bowstring that would channel her own dextrous skill into the damage of each and every arrow. Rudolph received the Helm of the Master Crusader. It would allow him to quickly use sword manoeuvres he had already used. Last was the Hilt of Dismemberment. It was a handle that could be attached to any axe, making the blade sharper and allowing for the blade to mortally wound any creature.

There was one final gift, and that was the magic carpet that Imp had arrived on. Duvafoodle was overjoyed as this would allow him to sleep while he traveled. When asked how he himself would return, Imp said that he had other means, and that he had only used the carpet because he had never ridden on one. He then said that, with the market in Korvosa closed, that he planned on setting up shop where business would always be coming in, Riddleport. He wished his friends all the best and then walked into a magical doorway that appeared before him, disappearing on the waves of magic. Duvafoodle nearly cried in joy at the realization that Arkona truly was a friend, particularly given the flying carpet he had gifted to him (not considering at all that the others might benefit from the valuable item of course). He thus decided to send a sending spell every day to the rakshasa, letting him know in twenty five words or less about how things were going in the gnome’s life.

After another day of walking, they finally arrived at the Temple of the Moon. Strangely, it seemed all the tribe members were camped around the large stone structure, when they should all be within the protective stone walls of their sacred place. Two of the Moonmaidens came out to greet MoK, and upon hearing their tale and seeing the mark of Desna, were brought before the priestess Tekra’kai.

She explained that their Truthspeaker Akram was sacred to the tribe, and there was simply no way she would part with the venerable one. Upon being asked if there was anything that could be done to show how honourable the Mercenaries were, Tekra said that indeed there as one thing they could do to show their worth. She explained that their temple had been taken over by a great beast called a Red Reaver. If had slain many clan members so far, and thus she did not want to risk sending anyone else to their deaths. If the Mercenaries could slay the beast, then she would lend the Truthspeaker.

Upon entering the temple, the Harrow card of Panian’s that had depicted him being crushed by a large foot, began to glow. They looked upon a beast three times the size of a man, with small wings on its back and skin a greyish red. Its arms were seemed to long for its own body, while muscles rippled under its skin. This was the Red Reaver.

Rudolph charged in, his sword drawing a bloody line across the beast leg. Jansaadi somersaulted off the flying carpet and send three arrows flying, each one find a place in the beast flesh, and causing it to growl in pain. Duvafoodle meanwhile used his wondrous rod to enlarge Panian. The big man felt the foreign magic attempting to change his form and used his willpower to resist it, staying the same size. He had once changed into a rat, there was no way he would allow any other physical change to come upon him. Just the thought of becoming someone he was not enraged the barbarian and he charged in and planted his axe in the reaver’s abdomen. Snarling, the reaver punched out at both warriors in front of it, sending Rudolph and Panian flying back several feet.

Jansaadi sent another barrage of arrows, with two of them ripping through the beast's wings, preventing it from becoming airborne. Rudolph shook off the hit he took last and moved in, dodging a reaching claw before again slicing through flesh. Panian too tried to get past the beast defences, but the things massive fist caught the barbarian in a vicious uppercut. That seemed to spur Panian on even further as he slashed his axe high. The blade made a sickening crack as it opened up the reaver’s sternum, and showing broken ribs and a lung labouring in its functionality. Duvafoodle channelled the power of the fates to send a massive fireball at the reaver, bringing burning pain to it and the blade wielding warriors around it.

Now in great pain, the reaver wanted nothing more than to end the fight. He looked upon Rudolph, grabbed the crusader with its two claws and rended flesh from bone. It was not enough to stop the crusader however. With the lung laid bare, Rudolph plunged his bastard sword to the hilt into the fleshy mass, and the reaver collapsed dead to the ground. A few soothing healing spells from Duvafoodle took away everyone's wounds, and MoK walked out of the temple victorious, with Panian and Rudolph dragging the red reaver corpse behind them.

Tekra’kai showed no emotion at the feat that the four had accomplished. She simply presented ninety year old Akram the Truthspeaker to them and asked that they bring him back safe and sound. Akram himself then went on to describe what must be done. He said that to shed their outsider status in order to be considered worthy for the Fire clan, that one of their numbers had to be swallowed by the Cindermaw and cut their way out. Thus they would be considered reborn.

The following day, Akram led the four to the land of the Cindermaw. In order to ensure his safety, they lent the Truthspeaker the flying carpet so that he could observe safely from on high. It was not long before they saw signs of the Cindermaw. A massive coil of scales shot up from the sand and before again burrowing into the dust. Several more times, the Cindermaw displayed its own magnitude as the giant worm approached closer and closer. Upon one of its last passes, it looked at all four MoK members and uttered a single word “Die!”

Suddenly a tremor shook the ground and Jansaadi’s ears caught the sound of the approached worm right nearby. It then breached the ground to the left of everyone, belching forth a cone of fire in the process. Too hurt to cast any spells, Duvafoodle used his rod to attempt to enlarge Rudolph. There was no attempt to resist the growth hormones pumping through crusader blood. Rudolph charged in, his enlarged arms and enlarged blade giving greater momentum to his swing. He cut a large gash in Cindermaw, the wound bleeding red with fire rather than blood. Jansaadi touched Panian’s shoulder and cast a spell that made him immune to fire. He gave her a grunt of thanks before charging in an slashing hard, sending a cascade of fire rolling down the worms body as another wound opened up.

This was a beast of titanic proportions however and it would take a lot more than two small cuts to bring it down. Cindermaw swung its tail around, its stinger impaling Rudolph right through the stomach, and injecting poison into veins. The worm then lifted him in the air and bit him, the force of the blow send Rudolph crashing down on one knee, clutching at a nearly separated arm. From afar, Duvafoodle blasted his friend with soothing healing, likely saving Rudolph from death.

Jansaadi moved to Rudolph and cast the same resistance to fire spell. Rudolph thanked the gnome and ran back into the fray, taking a massive bite in the process. His bastard sword sank deep into flesh and drained away a part of the worm's body makeup, sending it into himself to heal some wounds. Panian in the meantime swung his axe twice in the blink of an eye, and brought a howl of pain from the Cindermaw as more blood fire pooled in the sand. Its anger was still directed at the Crusader as it again stung and bit at the warrior. Again Duvafoodle’s fingers twiddled and he sent a beam of healing energy into Rudolph.

That last blast finally caught the attention of the Cindermaw as it looked at the warlock in a way that spoke a soon to be fiery death for the gnome. Then speaking in a voice that caused the mountains to shudder, the Cindermaw said it would enjoy eating the bearded gnome. Another stinging arrow barrage stopped the giant worms rambling and it finally realized just how injured it was. Rudolph still felt the poison moving ever closer to his brain and ate an anti-toxin to fend off the intrusion. He then looked up as the Cindermaw bit down and swallowed the crusader whole.

Inside the stomach, the Cindermaw’s muscles began crushing the remaining life out of the warrior, while the acids chewed away at his skin. He heard his friend Panian raging in anger and felt the whoosh even from inside the beast as Panian’s axe missed its mark twice. The Cindermaw seemed to be having trouble focusing in its weakened state as it too missed Panian with its sting and bite. Rudolph took out a hand axe and began cutting away, trying to rebirth himself. He was able to open up a large hole, but not enough to get his enlarged frame through. He saw Panian swing his axe again and he feared they had failed, for if the Cindermaw fell before Rudolph could be reborn, then their quest was over. Yet again however, the worm showed incredible agility as it dodged aside both Panian’s attacks. It then retaliated by stinging the barbarian and flipping him in the air before swallowing Panian.

With bones crushed and acid burned skin, there was only a hairs worth of strength left in Rudolph’s body. He swung his hand axe once more, and was rewarded as the Cindermaw’s skin parted, sending the crusader tumbling onto the sand. Now with the ritual complete, Jansaadi fired a trio of arrows into the worms head, ensuring that no more Shoanti would ever fall to the Clan Eater.

After many minutes of healing, the Mercenaries were once again whole. Both Panian and Rudolph were able to fend off the worm poison in their bodies, meaning they were all okay to travel to the Fire Clan. Upon arriving, they were greeted by the Sun Shaman. The Truth Speaker told him of how both Rudolph and Panian had been reborn. Now there remained the final test; becoming a fire clan member. For only those who were of the clan could be imparted with their wisdom. The task was simple, hold aloft a five hundred pound totem for two days straight.

The Mercenaries dragged their totems up the hill and placed them in an indentation set for the totem. The Fire Clan then departed, with several of their number watching from afar. There was no question that Duvafoodle would exert himself for the test, and so he let fall his charge right away and sent a sending to Arkona. To his surprise, he received a return message. Jansaadi meanwhile tried her best to pass the test, but her arms tired out after only a few hours. She thus contented herself with casting spells to ensure her friends didn't die of heat exhaustion, while Duvafoodle too contributed by creating water.

It was on the second day that trouble found the Mercenaries. Six land sharks, or bulletes as they were commonly known as, approached the site of the totem test. Duvafoodle sent a blinding spell at one of them that sent it scurrying away in panic. Jansaadi fired three arrows at another that hobbled a second one greatly. As the bulletes approached, Duvafoodle confused one while Jansaadi continued wounded her foe.

Three of the huge beasts jumped towards the warriors, claws slashing the air to bring pain to both of them. A fourth clawed at Duvafoodle, greatly hurting the old man. The last one, in its confused state, ran away from the scene. Panian slashed at the throat of the one that had been pin cushioned by the ranger. He spun with the momentum of the killing stroke to bring pain to its friend, and then a third strike nearly crippled his new target. Rudolph cut his sword to the left, stealing his friend kill as the bullete fell dead to the ground.

Duvafoodle had already had enough of the battle and withdrew. Jansaadi sent more of her arrows whistling home into the armored plating of the nearest foe. Again, Rudolph and Panian were clawed on both sides as the bulletes jumped up and clawed. Rudolph was lucky to get in a quick strike on the belly of one of them, while Panian too struck the one that had been impaled by Jansaadi. A last axe strike by Panian killed the weaker one, and with an expert throw, he launched a javelin through the eye of the last threat.

Twenty-four hours later, the test was finally over. Rudolph and Panian were welcomed into the tribe as official Fire Clan members. Now it was time to finally receive the whole story of Kazavon…

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