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Scarlet Steel and Crimson Cults

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Part One: The Wizard's Tomb

The rogue stepped within the dank air of the tomb and was gripped by the wave of nausea which seemed inevitable. He had robbed tombs before, so he fully expected that change in the air. What he did not expect was to find the tomb occupied, and by something not human.

"Who comes to the place where my master slumbers? What mortal foolishly disturbs the sanctity of this place!" demanded the cloaked and masked being. The rogue stuttered nervously: "I am but a... a pilgrim, yes, a pilgrim who is... who is come to honor your master with prayer." The being laughed darkly and replied: "Then surely, o pilgrim, you must know my master's name! Speak it and I will let you live. Fail to do so, and I will tear your soul from your flesh whilst you yet live!" at which it seemed the rogue was doomed. However he had done some detailed research, before coming to this particular tomb and that was worth more than lockpicks, in cases like this. "His name was Mor'nadin, was it not? Mor'nadin, son of Valagarth."

The guardian of the tomb was truly not expecting this, and said with most noticeable surprise: "Truly! Come then, pilgrim... and pay your repects to what once was the greatest wizard to walk in his age or any other." The guardian so stepped aside, and the rogue ventured up to the sarcophagus upon it's ancient dais. It was covered in grotesque and twisted images of the darkest of those Old Gods whose names were whispered by necromancers, and then only fearfully. He laid his hand upon the lid, and with a heave pushed it aside. He was not a man of little strength, and could have been a mighty man-at-arms if his life has of been different. But a rogue he was and a rogue he would be. The smell of long-ago death assailed his nostils and he choked a little at it. Iside the sarcophagus, lay the skeleton of a man in black robes, wearing a silver skull cap. The skull was painted with arcane symbols and it was this which was the rogue's prize. He tried to pry it and twist it from it's place, but it would not come free! Then the guardian came forward, behind the rogue, and said in a dark whisper: "It is said that only blood will free the skull of Mor'nadin and only the blood of he would free it can suffice." At which the rogue took his dagger and slit his palm with the quickest possible motion. He let much of the blood from this wound fall upon the skull, which came free at last for the rogue to claim. He wrapped it in a cloth covered with similar symbols to those which were upon the skull and at once addressed the guardian with more than a little air of aurhority: "This is your master's will, what I do. One beyond these walls wishes his power to be known once again in the world, and before long it shall be! Step aside so That I can depart upon my way." And at once the guardian bowed, stepped aside and allowed the rogue to thusly leave.

Part Two: The Terrible Storm

The wind howled and thunder made a mockery of the cries of the sailors as lightning split the masts of the ship. Onboard, their only passenger, a very mysterious rogue they picked up at an island in the south, seemed resigned to whatever fate awaited he and them. More than once, they heard him cry out in a strange tongue which he had not spoken when first he came aboard, and at one point the captain considered this man to be the cause of their troubles, for one accident after another had befallen the crew since departing that island!

"We should slit his throat I say, and throw him into the sea!" screamed the first mate, at which the captain in a more reasonable fashion stated: "We aren't pirates, mister Hawkins! We're merchants, and merchants who are paid to take our paying customers wherever they need to go, even it be Hell itself that is their destination. If it be a murder you're after, you'll have to be murdering me first!" At which the first mate went pale, and stepped away whilst shaking his head. The captain walked to the rogue... who stood at the front of the ship, staring blanky at the horizon as his voice chanted in a gutteral and savage language. The captain struck the man on his back with a hearty slap and yelled over the noise around them: "If I'm to take you to your destination, at least you can tell me what business you are upon, sir! It seems that whatever it is, it is putting the lives of this crew at risk. By the gods, answer me!"

The rogue answered the captain by plunging his dagger into the captain's throat and licking the blood with his tongue as it sprayed out. Seeing this, the first mate charged at the rogue as swiftly as he could, cutlass ready. But the rogue was faster, and disembowled the man before he could swing his blade even once. Reaching his hand into the man's open belly, he pushed his arm up, braking ribs as he siezed the heart of the first mate and ripped it from that bloody mass which the dead man became. Squeezing the heart, he let the blood drench himself and the bundle tied to his belt. "More Blood!" He screamed at the heavens. "I need more blood for my master!" And soon, the ship was filled with corpses, navigated by the dead. At the last, a frightful wave formed, and it crashed upon the ship like the hand of some vengeful sea god. The ship was broken and the rogue cast into the sea along with those he has slain. As if it was not enough to suffer such a fate as this, a whirlpool formed and pulled the living murderer down into it's depths.

Part Three: A Tavern's Tale

"And so that's how the vessel came to be lost, as it bore with it the old skull of that devil of a wizard. Today, none know who it was that sought after it's power. Likely some lich or perhaps a warlord seeking conquest! Whatevet it was, the skull was the death of a crew of mighty sailing men... and some say, that on certain nights when the moon is full and the wind blows strong, a shape not unlike that of a man is seen near the shore, covered in blood and heard to utter words in a savage tongue. In all my days as owner of this pub, I've never seen any such thing, however, and mind you: I've a house on that shore!"

The tavernkeep concluded his tale and poured another mug of ale for the man who sat at the bar across from him. As he listened to this tale, the man was intrigued and said: "Perhaps I will go to the shore tonight. It's going to be a harvest moon, and I might catch sight of something." At which the tavernkeep laughed loudly: "Luck to you, my lad!"

What nobody knew, was that it was to be the sixth anniversary of the loss of that ship. Six is an evil number it is said, and in this case it proved so. The man who stood upon the shore was in a way amused to think he might see some ghost in the moonlight, but when winds howled upon him and rain began to fall, lighning crackling across the starless sky, he was more than a little uptight about this turn of events. Suddenly, a man-like shape shambled out of the sea strode across the shore... his voice a savage murmur barely audible over what seemed a storm from Hell itself. In his hand, a bloodstaind dagger! The closer the apparition came, the more the man who witnessed it found he could not be moved to run. Some force held his will and soon he saw the vacant eye sockets of this fiend, his wild hair mixed with seaweed, his flesh encrusted with many a barnacle. "Blood!" The fiend chanted in a gutteral croak. "Blood! Blood, for my master!" at which the dagger found the witness's eyes and plunged itself into them, killing him. "More Blood!" screamed the fiend, and stumbled over to the tavernkeep's house, pounding on the door in an attempt to break it in.

He had never heard such a racket on such a night before, but he was no fool, the tavernkeep! He took a musket in hand and came to the door, asking in a thunderous bellow who it was that now disturbed him. "Blood!" was all he was able to make out, and assuming the man was a certain local surgeon by the name of Blood, he opened the door and to his horror saw not the surgeon but the dead man of his tale. "Gods!" he screamed as he fired his musket, blowing a portion of his attacker's face off. The killer from the depths felt neither pain, nor the loss of so much of his head. Not a moment sooner than the shot reached him he had sliced the tavernkeep, from his neck to his belly. It was a long night!

Part Four: One Against Death

Hearing the shot ring out in the night, a certain ranger by the name of Scarlett was moved to investigate. The man was dressed in his red cloak, with it's hood protecting him from the cold of the night. His slender silver blade was drawn, and it shone in the moonlit evening... the raindrops glistening on it's metal. He found the tavernkeep on the floor of his home, dead and nearly split in half. Bloody footprints were everywhere and one pair ran out across the sand of the beach, towards the wood nearby. Following the crimson trail to the forest, Scarlett grumbled as now it seemd the ground had become a mess of mud in which his boots sank up all the way to his ankles. Struggling to still follow the ever-deepening footprints of the mysterious murderer, Scarlett soon came upon what appeared to be a group of ancient ruins in a clearing deeper amongst the trees. Hastening to reach the ruins, which it seemed the killer was bound for, he was glad to stand at last under some overhanging stones and be out of the rain for a few moments.

Suddenly, a dagger nearly struck Scarlett as it entered the rocky wall just a degree away from the side of his face. He screamed, and brought up his sword to meet the arm of his attacker. What met his gaze was an inhuman mockey of what had once been a living man, who was missing a good portion of his head in a gruesome fashion. The ranger was not intimidated for long, and stabbed at the creature, who was trying to free his dagger from where it was stuck in the wall. The monster groaned and fled into the door what must have once been some sort of temple amidst the henges which dotted the lanscape all about it. Scarlett pursued his foe, and soon was within the temple itself. The howling of the undead thing echoed across the stone walls, and Scarlett offered more than a passing prayer for protection, altough he was no man of the cloth he hoped the gods would smile upon him.

Farther into the temple, Scarlett found his enemy croched upon the altar of some forgotten deity, between two mighty statues of goddesses. The air in this chamber was hot, and steam arose from cracks in the floor. The ranger cast his cloak aside, the long tresses of his blonde hair falling just to his waist. The monster eyed him stangely, at which he replied: "What is it? You look surprised to see my appearance!" and at the sound of Scarlett's softly lilting voice, the beast seemed even more startled. Taking advantage of the creature's confusion, the ranger was quick to drive his swordarm forward, wounding the fiend in the chest which seemed to hinder it not. Then, it was Scarlett's turn to be surprised, for the undead rogue's head wound healed itself to compensate for the new and more pressing chest injury. As the two closed to fight, they fell through the floor, the stone of which was rotten. At once darkness was overcame all light of the moon, and Scarlett was afraid.

Part Five: Not Man nor Woman

Scarlett had plunged into water, up to his neck. The chamber into which he had fallen was low-ceilinged... and his head touched the roof. He swam for a good way and found himself in a small room in which the statue of an angelic goddess smiled down upon him. suddenly the undead rogue came up behind him and made to stike with his fists. Scarlett heard movement and spun around. Having retained his weapon, he managed to hit the beast in the shoulder, which made it stumble back towards to water. This was when the fiend noticed the peculiar shape of Scarlett's form as his clothes clung to him. The monster's voice then croaked out the words: "What are you?"

which Scarlett had not heard in many a year. "I am not man nor woman, both a mix of both, really!" said Scarlett in noticeable surprise that the dead man could speak at all. The ranger saw an advantage here and inquired: "Why are you doing this?" and the monster had croaked out as best an answer as was possible for him: "To satisfy my lord and master's will, so he will allow me to rest in peace." Scarlett asked at this: "What is your master's will?" to which only one answer came: "His will is that I annoint his skull with the blood of the living, until he drinks enough so he can live again." That was when Scarlett noticed something very strange: "Your master's will, has no hold on you any longer. For look, you, his skull is not anywhere to be seen!"

For the first time since he had risen out of the sea, the dead rogue noticed the skull was no longer in his possession. It must have been lost in the depths long ago! "Free! I am free at last!" screeched the monster, and no sooner had he uttered those words than thunder sounded through the room which heralded a moment in which the flesh of the dead rogue melted from his bones, which clattered to the ground and were scattered about, some falling into the water. Scarlett slumped to the floor at the nearby statue's base, and took a long, hard breath. "They'll not know what to call me..." he mused: "I will be called the bravest man as well as the bravest woman in the entire town!"

The only trouble was, he had no idea how to get out of this place. Getting to his feet, Scarlett waded into the water and made for the nearest tunnel in hopes that it would lead him out.

The storm had ceased, and by the time Scatlett returned to town, a bit of a crowd was gathered by the shore, where the victims of the murders were being prepared to be moved for burial. Scarlett explained what happened, and produced the skull of the murderer as proof of his deeds. He showed them the dagger he freed from the wall on his way back, even... but they refused to believe his tale, and blamed him for these deaths, assuming the skull had belonged to yet another victim. It was impossible to disguise his form in his wet, clinging clothes, as he expected it would be, and the superstitious way of the villagers made them assume this hermaphroditic being was some sort of a demon come among them. They chased him into the woods and back to the ruins, where they pursued him into the temple even as he had pursued the dead rogue earlier that evening. Then, one of the villagers noticed the goddess statues and saw a resemblence between them and Scarlett. They proved indeed to be a superstitious lot, and immediatelty so altered their opinion that they held Scarlett to be an angel sent by these goddesses of old to punish the town for it's sins. More than a few cut their own throats to sacrifice themselves to the goddesses, as others made many a ritualistic upon their arms. Every one dropped what weapons they carried, and Scarlett, horrified, cried out to them that enough was enough and not another drop of blood was to be spilled there in his presence! The villagers swiftly complied, and soon Scarlett began to get a taste of power, and liked very much the idea of being treated like an emissary of these ancient goddesses.

Epilogue: The Scarlet Goddess

"It was said the worship of what is today known as the Scarlet Goddess had begun in a maritime town near some old ruins. This Goddess of Assassins, said to be neither male nor female, is often invoked by pirates, thieves, and other cuthroats seeking to avoid being caught for their crimes. She... or he... held the power to lay the undead to rest by his/her voice alone, or so legends say, though like all legends likely there is some unknown truth from which it thusly stemmed. It is beyond the scope of this scribe to comment further upon this."

- "Crimson Cults of the Sword Coast" by noted scribe Theramon of Candlekeep

Scarlet Steel and Crimson Cults © Chaos_Theocrat

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