Curse of the Crimson Throne

Summary 25: Into the Mind of an Artist

Chapter Six: Crown of Fangs

 
Heroes are often called upon to destroy the greatest of threats that come upon the realm. The bards sing of these grand missions as the final battle arrives, and the heroes emerge triumphant. That however is where it ends, and so people who hear the songs know nothing of what happened after the mighty demon was slain and the damsel saved. They never hear of how Sir Isaac lost his fortunes and became a beggar. They don’t hear of roguish Slepniir who decided to buy a cottage and fish for his remainder years. And what of Sir Gwart? Why, he formed another adventure group, but died tragically after a troglodyte got a lucky club hit on the back of his head.

Thus we come to the Mercenaries of Korvosa. Their victory against the corrupt queen would be a grand song in cities far and wide. Yet no one would care of what would come of them in the future. They would only care of the deeds of their past. For what could MoK ever accomplish that would be greater than overthrowing a monarch that had been possessed by a dragon overlord? As it would turn out, there would be something that would make the story of Ileosa's defeat as nothing but an afterthought in MoK's history books. Before that time however, there was one last mission, one that tested MoK's sanity more than ever…

As Jansaadi was flying above Korvosa, as Panian was talking to his tribe about how he had acquired the alligator tooth on his trophy helm, as Rudolph was holding Sabina's hand to calm her nerves, they all heard a voice in their head. After many months away from their crazy friend, Duvafoodle's message rang like a bell that spurred their warrior instincts into action.

"Hello MoK, this is Duvafoodle. Miss you greatly. There are giants at the gates. Come join the fun."

It seemed that Korvosa was in jeopardy again, this time from an army of giants. Jansaadi, after consulting with Duvafoodle, flew to get Panian. Rudolph grabbed his sword from the mantle, donned his armor, and took in hand the Fangs of Kazavon before heading to the city on the horizon.

Within a few hours, MoK was united again in the throne room of Arkona, with Duvafoodle sitting in a chair behind him in his advisor place. No longer was the room barren of comfort. In fact it had been converted into the opposite; that of a harem. The air was filled with smoke that was oddly comforting to the mind, and they all knew that they were being constantly exposed to shiver. As Arkona spoke to his guests, it soon became clear that he was not himself. They shook themselves of the illusion in front of them and noticed that Duvafoodle and Arkona were playing the part of each other. It turned out; Arkona had given Duvafoodle rulership over all of Korvosa, while Arkona took on the role of advisor, thus freeing himself up for his other enterprises.

There were two others in the room. The first was a man thought to be dead. Scream the artist stood in front of a blank easel. He seemed to be shaking more and more as he felt his muse had returned to him with the close proximity of the Fangs of Kazavon. The other figure was as imposing a man as MoK had ever seen. This was Karzoug the Claimer. In large part to a group of now mostly dead adventurers, he had been awoken after ten thousand years of slumber. He had been one of the ruling Runelords of the time, but he and his kin had gone into hibernation to protect themselves from a great darkness that had come to the world; a darkness they had been powerless to stop.

He and his giants had come to Korvosa with a proposition for Duvafoodle. He knew of MoK's desire to destroy the Fangs and his own research had led him to a way of doing just that. In return, he wanted to leave a garrison of giants with Korvosa. The reason was that he had felt the stirring of the Runelord of Lust named Shorshen. Her resting place was deep beneath Korvosa. But after some mysterious event in the Sunken Queen, a place protected from his scrying and divinations, Shorshen's continued slumber was no longer a guaranteed. In Thassilonian times, the kingdom the Runelord's ruled over, all the rulers was warring constantly. Karzoug claimed he had no desire for such events to reoccur. He currently ruled the giant armies to the west around the ruins that had been the town of Sandpoint. And, for the moment, he was content.

The idea of sleeping above someone named the Runelord of Lust nearly erased all Duvafoodle's current memories of Mitzsy the dryad. The idea of having an army of giants as his new Korvosa guard was, in itself a bonus. Karzoug was not making a deal at all, he was gifting his kingdom. Keeping this to himself, he agreed to the deal.

Karzoug then explained what he had discovered. It seemed that the Fangs could only be destroyed in the mind of an artist, hence the presence of Scream. He said that he would trap the souls of each of the MoK members in a gem. This gem would then be ground up and mixed with Scream's pigments. As the artist painted, MoK would enter the places that were created upon the easels. Through this process, Karzoug believed that the artists mind would create a way to destroy the Fangs. It didn't take long before all the MoK members were on board with the plan, despite how odd it all sounded.

Duvafoodle was the first to volunteer. The initial spell seemed to go off without a hitch as Duvafoodle was simply sucked into a red gem. And then Karzoug brought out a small bowl with a grinding stone. He shattered the ruby and there was the sound of Duvafoodle screaming in pain. As the gem was grounded into smaller and smaller fragments, those screams multiplied tenfold. Karzoug had left out the fact that the pain would be greater than they had ever felt. Yet no one had thought to ask the question. Resolved to their fates, all the MoK members went through the same process, with each feeling more pain than they ever thought possible.

They soon found themselves together in a vast dessert. On the horizon was the town of Korvosa. And riding towards the town was an army of skeletal riders, their forms made completely of skulls. It seemed that MoK was in for a fight right away, and Jansaadi awaited her hippogriff mount that never appeared with Karzoug believing it to be a waste of a precious gem. Soon a skeletal rider road up to MoK. It spoke of its mission to help Korvosa against the horde of nightcrawlers and nightwalkers that were attacking it. MoK said they would help, and so the rider motioned to some of his friends to give them all a lift. He said that they would require something of importance. Reaching into his ribs, he pulled out an empty paint pallet and handed it to them. Bones, as was the name given to him by Duvafoodle, rode off to the battle.

It seemed as though the distance passed by within only a few seconds as suddenly they were within Korvosa's walls. All around, the riders broke off and began fighting the hundreds of dark undead that were terrorizing the town. MoK too, dismounted and saw three massive nightwalkers in their vicinity. Rudolph charged in, dodged a reaching dark claw, and plunged his holy sword into the black shadow stuff that was the nightwalkers form. Iomadae's hand drank deep the evil of the undead, creating a near fatal blow. Jansaadi fired off a volley of arrows that nearly destroyed the beast.

The nightwalker retaliated with an icy slash across Rudolph's ribs. It then sent its fearful gaze upon the crusader, but it was pushed aside. The other two cast spells to hasten their movements. Panian let his barbarian rage enfold him and charged the injured one, not even feeling the giant claw that opened his shoulder. He jumped fully forty feet in the air and brought his great axe cleaving through the nightwalker's skull. He rode the beast down as it collapsed to the cobles. Only then did he wrench the axe free.

Duvafoodle hoped that Olidammara would hear his prayer and attempted to turn the other two. His faith however simply wasn't strong enough to dispatch such powerful undead. Rudolph charged in, hamstringing one of them. Five arrows then pierced its chest, but still it stood its ground. Panian then moved in and cut more of the walker's undead lifeforce away. It slashed at Rudolph, drawing blood. Duvafoodle blasted a vitriolic blast, melting a hole in the beast’s chest. A final arrow from Jansaadi finally destroyed it.

She and Duvafoodle were then hit full on by a cone of cold cast by the remaining one. Rudolph avenged his friend with a divine surge blade slash, disemboweling the stalker. Jansaadi sank two arrows into it, but she was forced to open her defenses and the nightstalker slashed her four times, nearly killing her. Duvafoodle blasted it with more acid and Rudolph slashed it again with his holy sword. Panian flexed his muscles and missed with his strike, but Jansaadi avenged her own pain and sent a volley of arrows into the walker’s skull, destroying it.

Battle was still at hand however as a pair of nightcrawlers came burrowing towards them. Duvafoodle had just enough time to heal his gnome friend before they were on top of MoK. Jansaadi's arrows ricocheted off the nearest hide, but Panian was able to imbed his axe deep in worm ochre. It reared up and blasted the barbarian with a cone of cold. The other nightcrawler burrowed into the ground and emerged right in the midst of the gnomes. It brought its tail around and struck Jansaadi with its stinger. Rudolph used his battle leaders charge and seemed to teleport right next to a nightcrawler. His holy sword drunk deep the evil undead essence as the worm screamed in pain. Duvafoodle flew out of the way and blasted a vitriolic blast, melting away shadowy hide with acid.

Panian easily hit his nightcrawler, but these undead were made of meaty undead flesh, and it would take much more to bring it down. It retaliated by biting down upon the barbarian and swallowing him hole. Rudolph meanwhile dodged aside his opponents attacks and again let Iomadae's blade to all the work as it cut away the foul crawler. Jansaadi jumped away and hid in the shadows, waiting for a better shot with her bow. Panian used his might to rip through the nightcrawlers innards and escape its belly. Duvafoodle saw that his friend was greatly wounded and blasted him with healing energy.

Rudolph took a massive sting and then bite, but used his training to escape the maw of the beast and thus the fate of Panian. He then cut into the crawlers exposed throat, and sent a cascade of gore to the ground that was the undead's life blood. From the shadows, Jansaadi let fly five arrows with a single bow shot, but they sailed wide as the beast recoiled from Duvafoodle's acid that was still eating away. The acid had finally reached its brain, and it fell dead to the ground.

Panian was still fighting a solo fight, and soon he found himself swallowed again, but not before burying his axe all the way to end of the haft in the beast’s hide. That left it staggering for unlife. And when Panian finally emerged from the gut yet again, he saw the nightcrawler had finally fallen, thanks to a last volley of arrows by Jansaadi. It soon began dissolving, leaving behind a vial of black paint.

Soon Bones arrived, saying that his undead riders had saved the city from the rest of the nightwalkers. He then said that MoK needed to move onto the next world in order to gather the rest of the tools they would need for victory. Out of the blue, a painting appeared, depicting a tropical forest. One by one, MoK jumped into this shimmering gateway.

They appeared in a setting as was shown. Trees rose high in the sunny sky while insects and birds flew with joy in the air. They were in a small glade, before a sleeping tiger. A rabbit was curled up next to the creature. As MoK approached, the animals awoke with a stretch of their legs. Duvafoodle of coarse had to name them, and so Hippity Hopper and Tigress looked upon the strangers with inquisitive perplexity. Tigress looked to Hopper and asked in clear common whether he knew these guys? 

MoK addressed the animals, saying they were looking for paint. Hippity said they had some, but they would only hand it over if MoK did something for them. There was a new creature in the forest called Imno-tafriend. They wanted him to become a friend like all the other animals in the forest. Hippity said to be wary as only the power of friendship could affect the spider they were referring to. After some directions, MoK headed off.

They soon came into a small patch of ruins, with spider webs everywhere. In the middle was a huge spider. This was Imno-tafriend. Rudolph asked him to be his friend, but the spider refused and stared at the crusader with such hatred that it set a ripple of hurt to his very soul. Duvafoodle said he had purchased some antitoxin for him so that if he bit himself, then he wouldn't poison himself. That seemed to cheer the spider up, and it manifested in a physical form as one of the spiders knees changed to a rainbow hew. Panian then vowed he would catch the biggest of flies for Imno-tafriend to eat. This too seemed to bring color, as was Rudolph's offer to give over a silk rope to reinforce the webbing. Jansaadi said how wonderful the new colors looked, and it seemed to befriend the spider even more.

Yet Imno-tafriend could not deny his own nature. He looked to Duvafoodle and said that the old man would die soon. That seemed to send a shock of disappointment that manifested in the form of physical trauma. Duvafoodle attempted to counter the argument by putting on a light show, but that didn't interest the spider. Panian complimented its eyes, but that only depressed the arachnid. Rudolph however was the master diplomat, and expressed in a friendly voice how Imno-tafriend had a forest filled with friends. That seemed to add a large amount of color.

Back and forth went the standoff as MoK would let fly a compliment, while the spider would sometimes interject with an insult that would hurt one of them. Yet in the end, Imno-tafriend became a rainbow spider and he ran off to join his new friends in the forest. As he left his web, MoK noticed there was a hole with a ladder that had been hidden by its bulk. Rudolph, the intrepid leader, braved the uncertain depths of the hole. What he found was a blank canvas to paint on. After showing it to his friends, Panian remarked they didn't have a brush, one of the most insightful comments the barbarian would ever make. After arriving at the glade, Hippity handed over a vial of red paint, and Tigress a vial of yellow paint. They then pointed to a new painting, that of a forest in the grips of the fall season.

After MoK jumped through the painted portal, they found themselves surrounded by colorful leaves upon towering trees. They stood before a statue with a message that described the wanting of the seasons in various orders. Four paths led away from the statue, so they selected one and followed it. Soon the trees gave way to the winters chill and then another fork. Duvafoodle figured that each path led to a season, and that they had to follow the seasons as described in the poem. After doing do, they finally arrived at a clearing with a vial of orange paint. There was also a canvas with a blue dragon painted upon it, with its maw open wide as though about to unleash its breath weapon. This was Kazavon, and it appeared that MoK would get a chance to fight him after all.

Rudolph was the first to jump into the painting. As he did so, the others noticed that the painting had changed as Rudolph's image appeared, and the dragon's lightening breath hitting the crusader. They all jumped in to see their friend scorched from a blast of Kazavon's breath weapon. Duvafoodle moved out of range and sent a vitriolic blast at the beast, melting scales. Panian raged to the gods of battle and sliced his axe across the dragon's abdomen, sending intestines sploshing to the floor. Kazavon sent out a blast of lightening that hit all the MoK members with burning pain.

Jansaadi recovered from the shock, and sent two arrows right below the dragon's eye. Rudolph then used a battle leader's charge, and planted Iomadae's Hand into a melted part of flesh from where Duvafoodle's last blast was still eating it away. Duvafoodle sent another warlock bolt into that same spot, and the dragon howled in pain. Another two axe swipes from Panian staggered the beast, but it again breathed forth its deadly breath. Yet still MoK stood, though all were now burned to near death. Jansaadi sent three hours flying, with one piercing the dragon eye and lodging in its brain. That brought it crashing down, with only a hairs breath of life remaining. Rudolph cut that last cord, and Kazavon was dead. The body disintegrated, leaving behind a paint brush, and another canvas depicting the harem that was the throne room of Korvosa.

There was much indecision as to what to do next. Being in an unknown world, the laws of realism did not exist. Rudolph thus decided to touch the Fangs of Kazavon onto the blank canvas they had found under the spider. The fangs disappeared and reappeared in the canvas. Hoping this was part of the puzzle to destroy the fangs forever, they used the paint brush and painted black upon the canvas. The paint seemed to fill in an image of a volcano, with the fangs at its center. Using the red, orange, and red in the same manner, these three colors formed the lava of the volcano. And as MoK looked on, the Fangs of Kazavon melted away.

Finally after so many thousands of years, the artifact was completely destroyed.

One after another, the Mercenaries jumped into the painting of the throne room of Korvosa. They found themselves back in their own world. All around them, there were as many as fifty paintings, each one painted by Scream, and each depicting a part of their recent ordeals. Whether it was he who was guiding their fates or their own battle-hardened skills was a debate that would never be answered. The only casualty was Scream's muse as it had left him again with the destruction of the Fangs. Karzoug the Claimer then simply teleported away, leaving his giants in the care of Duvafoodle. With nothing else to do, everyone departed to the lives they had left behind.

The Mercenaries of Korvosa had finally finished their last adventure together. They had brought peace to a nation, and now they could live in peace in their own lives.

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