By Dave Scoles
This journal is the property of the author, Dave Scoles and is used with permission by Candlekeep. Email the author with any comments and feedback on this story.
The sun wasn't the only thing burning within the Calimshan that day. Kurzin Orbana's red flesh simmered in the hot afternoon sun like coals stoked in a Dwarven furnace. He felt no discomfort however, for it had not been the sun that had scorched his skin to its red color. He had been born this way. Fire genasi were sometimes born with red hued skin or sometimes black as ashes. What might have been a blistering heat to the mob of humans that crowded into the street markets that made up the bazaar of Calimport, was to him as pleasant as he imagined a human would find a cool breeze blowing off the Sea of Fallen Stars .
Kurzin squatted near a merchant tent where exotic spices were being sold for criminal prices. The short, fat, turban wearing man selling them was doing a lot of business this day, as were all the other merchants heaped into their cramped spaces alongside building walls and upon embroidered carpets on the sand dusted ground. Each vied with one another for the attentions of all who passed by them; dust coated their wares and the quick hands of thieves made off with trinkets great and small. It was all a part of the daily routines of the city. Neither heat nor storm nor approaching hoards of dragons could tear Calishites away from their commerce. They were a commercially driven folk, feeling that each day was only worth enduring if a little more gold could be earned, another deal struck. It was a major reason why Kurzin felt detached from the scene and separated from the part of him that was human.
Like all genasi, he was only part human. The other half descended from a race of creatures that had once ruled over all of Calimshan and parts beyond: the efreeti. Kurzin was proud of his heritage. For him the efreeti were symbols of an earlier, more civilized society. Possessing powerful magic and abilities far beyond common creatures, they and the djinn had forged a dynasty that had lasted centuries until finally they were subverted and driven back to their own planes of existence. Yet in their wake both races had left offspring, their legacies: the genasi.
What had once been a proud civilization ruled by beings of power and mystery was now a divided and overcrowded country ruled over by squabbling pashas, dark cabals of thieves and reputable assassins. Yet while Kurzin felt a small sense of loss for a time he had never known, he knew he bore no enmity towards the humans who had risen up against their oppressive masters. His own studies had led him down many opposing paths of thinking and opened his mind to different points of view, one of which was a piece of lore written by Iron Fist Doshiran of the Monastery of the Yellow Rose centuries ago, “The desire of mortals to follow their own paths to Illumination, free of the combined yokes of Tyranny and Oppression will forever take precedence over the cares and concerns of the body to the everlasting Enlightenment of the soul.” Wise words, Kurzin had always felt and he believed in them. That was partly the reason for him being where he was at that particular moment, nearly dead center of the bazaar.
Standing slowly to his full five and a half feet of height, he ran his fingers through his long, wavy red hair that seemed more like live flames than strands of hair that stood up straight in the front and top and cropped short in the back. He focused his black eyed gaze on a building of mud colored clay that stood a hundred yards or more in front of him and directly below the sun at midday . He had been watching the building since before daybreak after bearing witness to a group of red robed men spiriting a cloth covered cage they'd acquired from a trio of what Kurzin had guessed were members of the Black Water Tooth cabal. The cabal were a gang of were-sharks that were reputedly into everything from smuggling slaves to hijacking ships with sahuagin, sea trolls and other aquatic monsters at their command. Kurzin felt that he'd come a long way in mastering the anger that had once ruled his life, but seeing the creatures had ignited a spark in his breast that he knew he could not ignore. As a monk, he felt the attainment of Enlightenment would only come through aiding others. As a member of the Imperial Guard, it was his duty not to ignore anything that could provide a threat to the city.
The only thing that remained for him to do was to enter the building, find out what the Black Water Tooth was up to with these red robed strangers, then slip out again to inform the watch commander.
A minimal amount of smuggling was allowable, it was after all how many of the pashas conducted their business and Kurzin did not want to get involved in some unknown pashas private intrigues. It was more often than not best to look the other way, yet the same courtesies need not be spread to foreigners and lycanthropes with whom he'd had dealings with before and who did not share the same luxuries of being exempt from the law.
He began weaving through the crowd of people, the mob itself sparing nary a glance in his direction. Genasi, especially Fire Genasi were not unheard of in Calimport, but were by no means common either. He received a few looks and stares, but these came mostly from foreigners and not a few women. Though he was shorter than the average human, he walked about shirtless and sported the fine physique of one who was not unaccustomed to strenuous activity. Women found him more exotic than strange, more interesting than abhorrent.
Though the crowd was thick, he navigated through it like a ship skirting reef shoals and arrived at his destination. The barrel of olives stood beside another merchant stall that put him as close to the clay building's door as he dared at the moment. He did a quick inventory of his things to make sure some exceptional thief in the crowd had not relieved him of his few belongings.
He carried no weapons, he relied upon hard earned skills to protect himself and he abhorred swords for deep, personal reasons. The only ornament he wore was a single ring upon the middle finger of his right hand that was as clear and translucent as crystal. Around his waste was a brown sash and secreted within it was a small pouch with the few coins he allowed himself to carry. His loose, white pants were only ankle length and he wore the standard sandals typically seen on the feet of those lower classes that could afford them. One could often tell freeman from slave in that way, as slaves tended to go barefoot.
Slipping behind the barrel after making sure the merchant was looking the other way, Kurzin inched over to the wooden door he'd seen the red robed men use earlier that day. He kept his back to the small, rectangular shutter that served as a window for whoever stood inside the door. Kurzin suspected one could get a full view of the street outside from the window, so hiding beside the door and hoping someone would come out to investigate a noisy distraction was out of the question. He took a small breath and let his mind relax. Keep calm and focus on what needs to be done, he told himself and knocked lightly on the door.
Kurzin heard the rectangular window slide open with a bang and a rough voice called out to him, “What is it ye want? This building is private property.”
Without turning around, Kurzin held up the hand that wore the clear ring with his forefinger and middle finger pointed upwards, his thumb crossed over his index and small finger. “I noticed your door was broken.” He then tilted his hand downwards so that his pointed fingers were aligned straight at the door.
“What in Beshaba's name are ye talking about ye red skinned son of a mephit?”
Kurzin's response was one the hidden speaker probably never expected. Kurzin activated the ring's power and the door blasted inward, splintering and cracking with a force that the old wood never could have withstood. All that remained of the door were two old hinges hanging loosely. Within moments Kurzin had leapt through the opening he'd created with the door's destruction and knelt beside the unconscious form of a greasy haired, unshaven human ruffian.
By his clothing Kurzin guessed him a sailor, possibly a hired mercenary, but certainly no Black Water Tooth…he smelled too much of dust and land, two things that the were-sharks tended to avoid.
Kurzin moved quickly. He hoisted the unconscious human over his shoulders and dumped him in a nearby barrel. He did so none too soon, for he heard footsteps hurriedly approaching from the only other door in the small room.
Summoning his will and focusing with a deep breath he leapt upward, far higher than any other person save he could have leapt and grabbed onto a thin wooden crossbeam. He hoisted himself upwards, and then with mustered strength he pushed his body and legs upward until he was balanced on both hands in a perfect handstand and waited. He didn't have to wait long as two men, one wearing red robes and carrying a wand and the other carrying a wicked looking cutlass burst into the room. Cutlass bearer swore and stepped around the destroyed wooden remains of the door. He stuck his head outside, the cutlass in his hands trembling.
“No sign of Krodt. Maybe he's chasing whoever broke inside?”
“Perhaps, but circle around the back to make sure. Keep your eyes open. Someone may be trying to steal our prize.” Red Robe kicked a piece of splintered wood across the floor as Cutlass ran outside to investigate. From up above, Kurzin watched him, inching along the cross beam to get directly above Red Robe. With each movement he feared the wood of the cross beam might creak or give way, being of the same shoddy material as the door, but never once did he fear to lose his balance or run out of strength. Years of training had left his muscles hard and his balance a thing of perfection. His breathing was low and regular and when he was directly above Red Robe, who was now tapping his fingers agitatedly atop the very barrel that held the unconscious Krodt, he allowed his body to fall forward.
Silently he fell, but before he hit the ground he had wrapped his legs in a scissor hold around Red Robe's neck from behind and twisting in mid air, he spun his body and flipped the surprised man to the ground. Red Robe took the brunt of the impact and lay stunned upon the ground, but Kurzin wasn't finished.
Flipping to his feet, Kurzin brought his leg down upon the man's throat and applied just enough pressure to keep the man from screaming.
“Now then,” the genasi began as he pressed a little harder into the subdued man's larynx, “we're both going to do an exercise in cooperation together. You will be brought to your feet and stand where I tell you to stand. You will not move or speak; if you do it will only go worse for you, understood? And I am not here to rob you.”
The man's eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. He stared at Kurzin and for a moment it looked like he wanted to say something, but then thought better of it and nodded hurriedly.
“Good.” Kurzin took his foot away and helped Red Robe to his feet. True to his word, he kept his promise and neither moved nor spoke when Kurzin positioned him the middle of the room.
Cutlass chose that moment to walk back into the room from outside, but he neither saw nor heard Kurzin who was hiding behind Red Robe's larger body.
“I couldn't find Krodt and the market is thick near to bursting today. No telling where he's got too. Should we go tell Smoke?”
From behind the human's body, Kurzin was unable to tell what Red Robe's face looked like, but he knew from Cutlass' next question that Red Robe might have been trying to send a signal.
“You be all right? What are you so scared about?” Kurzin tripped Red Robe forward, sending him sprawling to the ground and ran straight at Cutlass who gasped when he saw him. “Why you're a…” He never got to finish, for Kurzin's sandal caught him across the face sending him flying back into a wall. Kurzin followed up with a punch to the gut that caused Cutlass to sink to the ground in a heap. Kurzin turned and looked at Red Robe, expecting an attack, but was surprised to see Red Robe was up and held his hands out imploringly.
“Please, Blessed One, how have we offended you?”
Kurzin eyed Red Robe and his confusion must have shown because Red Robe's fear turned to anger in a heartbeat. “You are not of the Anointed? Traitor! Kossuth will see you burn ungrateful whelp!”
Red Robe turned and made to flee back through the door he had first emerged from with Cutlass, but Kurzin beat him to it. The genasi blocked a backhand swing easily and calmly placed two fingers at Red Robe's throat and jabbed quickly. Red Robe sank to the ground a final time and Kurzin stepped over the unconscious form and smiled. So far three men had been subdued and none had died. Perhaps this would be a mission without any penance to be fulfilled later on.
He crept to the door and listened, but no other sounds of movement could be heard. He pushed the door open silently and found a short hallway that led to stairs going down to what he assumed was a cellar. There were two braziers at the foot of the stairs flickering with orange flames that illuminated the first few steps and Kurzin began to wonder if he should go for help first rather than descend further.
He decided quickly that it would take too long to go for help; the men he'd beaten would awaken eventually or be discovered. Besides, Red Robe had already provided him with an inkling of what was really going on in this particular one of several hundreds of nondescript buildings in the city. Were these Kossuth worshippers making deals with the Black Water Cabal? He admitted it was far fetched and he wasn't usually one for guessing, but it was all he had at the moment and it was enough to propel him forward and down the steps into darkness.
The cellar turned out to be more than just a cellar and more than what he'd expected once again. The room was huge, circular with a flaming dais to one side bearing a large representation of a holy symbol of Kossuth. He saw three, rather than one cage. One appeared to be occupied; one was empty and the third seemed to hold a large pile of dirt, which puzzled him greatly. His confusion mounted as he crept closer and hid behind a large flaming brazier wrought of black iron and stamped with the red symbol of Kossuth.
Tunnels that undoubtedly ran underground lined the walls, some holding torches of their own and others black as pits. Crates were stacked near them, some bearing the standards of Amn, Tethyr and even a few from Waterdeep. He'd stumbled across a smuggling operation that ran under the markets of Calimport! Yet where did they lead? Kurzin now began to suspect something far deeper than simply pashas moving stolen goods about. The presence of Kossuth worshippers and were-sharks working in concert together bespoke power and influence that few pashas commanded.
The ruling pashas tended to avoid the clergy of Kossuth when possible. The priests were too unpredictable, too bent upon destruction to ever fully be trustworthy. It would almost certainly result in instant suspicion by one's enemies if a pasha threw in their lot with a cult not known for their peaceful missions of prosperity.
Kurzin was like a shadow, moving from brazier to crate. Then, tiptoeing closer, he peered into the occupied cage. What he saw shocked him, but it was nothing compared to the shock he received when a chain wrapped itself around his neck from behind him and jerked him backwards off his feet. He immediately began to choke and he rolled onto his stomach as he grabbed at the chain to try and give himself some slack. When he saw the hulking figure holding the other end he knew he would need more than his strength to escape.
There was a growl that sounded very much like a chuckle from the creature that continued to yank on the chain with only one hand and held what looked like a curved blade attached to the other end of the chain in its opposite hand. Though his eyes were blurry from the dirt on the ground and lack of air, he recognized the creature for what it was: a Githyanki.
The Githyanki, or Gith as some preferred to name them, were plane travelers and not native to this world, or so Kurzin had been taught. He didn't know where this one had come from; he could only assume it had been invisible all this time and had bided its time to strike. It spoke to him in a growling voice full of anger.
“For imprisoning a Gith against his will and taking that which is his, you invite the wrath of the Lich Queen herself.” It jerked upon the chain, forcing Kurzin to cough and sputter in protest. He tried to push himself to his feet, but the Githyanki jerked the chain with its wrist, sending a ripple that traveled up the chain to snap the genasi in his face bringing forth a cry of pain.
“You will not live long enough to summon your followers to aid you, this I swear.” The Gith began to swing the other end of the chain with the hooked blade menacingly while Kurzin finally was able to sit up to his knees, both hands now pulling on the chain, but unable to budge the Gith. The blade in its long leathery hands whirled faster, gaining momentum and Kurzin knew he had to act before that blade was sent flying to impale his helpless body.
The fire genasi flung out his right hand and activated his ring's magic. The githyanki cried out in surprise as one of its feet flew out from under it, nearly causing it for a moment to lose its footing. A moment was all Kurzin needed.
With a burst of speed he came up running, straight towards the githyanki whose eyes widened in surprise. With an angry bellow the githyanki let loose its spinning blade which sailed from its hand straight as an arrow and trailing chain, but Kurzin was no longer in its path. With a leap he was in the air sailing first towards, then over the githyanki's head, trailing chain that was still wrapped around his neck. With a jerk on the now slack chain, Kurzin twisted like an acrobat in midair and snapped the chain so that it now wrapped around the githyanki's head.
Kurzin landed lightly on both feet and pulled on the chain with both hands, squeezing the chain's metal links into the githyanki's yellowed flesh. They were momentarily in a standoff; Kurzin held greater slack in the chain, but the githyanki's strength was superior and was once again twirling the bladed end of the chain. Kurzin knew he had to act fast, he sensed more trouble drawing closer and he still had to get what was in the cage to safety. Then the githyanki made its fatal error.
The creature seemed to shift in space, its form blurring and becoming insubstantial. Magic was nothing new to Kurzin, the Calimshan was rich in it, but this was something he'd never seen before. The chain went fully slack in the genasi's hands and dropped to the floor with a sound like spilling coins. Kurzin wasted no time and gathered the chain up in his hands. The githyanki was still in the room, he sensed it, but he'd abandoned his weapon. Most likely he'd teleported away to make Kurzin believe he'd escaped and then ambush him when his guard was let down. Kurzin would give him no such chance.
The chain had cut deeply into his neck and his red flesh burned not with the heat it always radiated, but with the pain of torn skin and that pain brought forth anger now unchecked. He twirled the bladed end of the chain and waited. He didn't have to wait long, for space soon shifted again, this time behind him and the githyanki reached out to grab his neck, but Kurzin was faster.
Still twirling the chain, he jumped lightly and kicked upwards with his left foot, his sandal just missing the githyanki's face. The creature jerked away in time, but Kurzin had only meant the move as a feint. He released the chain with one hand, allowing the blade to sail underneath his still raised leg. It sailed true, slicing the githyanki across the face to sail past trailing chain as it went. Kurzin leapt into the air bringing his other leg up and over the chain as he jerked back on the chain with his other hand, sending it sailing back like a sling shot towards him to catch the githyanki on the back of its head, slicing a deep gash just above the neck.
Kurzin had the chain twirling in his hand once again as his black eyes burned in anger, boring into the gith's own red ones. He had the creature hurt, its black blood was running down its face and it had a hand pressed to the back of its head. The githyanki was staring at Kurzin in amazement and was truthfully shocked that its Kusarigama was being used to such effectiveness against it. It assumed a fighting stance and prepared itself to fight to the death against a worthy adversary.
Kurzin didn't recognize the stance the githyanki had assumed, but he knew it was one that the gith could only use to full effectiveness if he allowed it to get close to him and he didn't plan on letting it.
Kurzin let go of the bladed end of the chain again, but this time he let it swing upwards like a pendulum and swing back down again. The gith's eyes followed the blade's arc, which was the distraction Kurzin was hoping for. He lashed out with the other half of the chain, the end catching the gith in its eye with a smack as the links tore out its eyeball. The githyanki howled and clutched at its empty socket, the enemy forgotten for a moment as pain clouded its judgment.
Kurzin let the bladed part of the chain to swing downwards again and this time he allowed it to wrap around an arm and he twisted like a dancer to give the blade's momentum more speed as he brought it back, over and downwards in a slashing arc straight down onto the githyanki's head. The blade sank into its mark, parting the gith's gravity defying hair and sinking deep into its skull. It was dead before it hit the floor.
Kurzin shook the wrapped chain from his arm and allowed it to drop to the floor in a heap. He ran to the githyanki's corpse and knelt beside it, checking for signs of life. When he found none, he sighed. There would be a penance for this one, he knew. This creature had not been his enemy, though he'd sensed evil within it. It had believed the genasi to somehow be responsible for imprisoning it, though Kurzin wondered what could imprison a creature that seemed to be able to teleport at will. Whatever the creature's story, it had attacked him furiously and it was all he could do to defend himself until his rage came uncorked, as it unfortunately sometimes did.
The genasi knew others of his kind dealt with the same rage as he, a curse of his efreeti blood. For him it had become a personal battle he fought with discipline and will, strengthened by his training as a monk, a way to combat that which he felt was a fiery demon in his soul that sought to consume him. Kurzin knew that the only way to win against anger was to let go of self-ego and embrace self-discipline. It was a battle he sometimes won and sometimes lost. He measured his victories by enemies subdued peacefully. Defeats were when they lay out on the ground dead, just like the githyanki.
Kurzin could hear voices approaching from one of the tunnel entrances and with his ring's powers expended for the moment, he had to find a pry bar lying near one of the crates to force the lock on the cage. Kurzin gazed at the bound and gagged creature within it that looked at him with terrified eyes the color of seaweed. She was a female by her pretty features and sinewy curves. Her scaly blue skin was cold to the touch and made Kurzin recoil slightly when he lifted her into his arms.
He wasted no time on words, hurrying back towards the stairs that led back up to the main floor of the smuggler's hideout. Kurzin had seen enough. A whole operation was going on beneath the marketplace of Calimport and it somehow involved a gang of were-sharks, a cult of Kossuth, a dead githyanki that had perhaps been a prisoner down here as well and this creature that now lay cradled in his arms. Things just didn't add up in his mind. He would need to report what he'd seen and see this creature to safety, then return with force.
Before his eyes a few more pieces of the puzzle fell into place and a few others settled themselves into a pattern of disarray in his mind. A huge, barrel-chested being with coal black skin, a baldpate and eyes of fire emerged from a tunnel with no less than thirty red robed men behind him. The two parties stared at each other in shock for a moment before the bald one began to laugh.
“Well, this I did not expect! Kossuth, your ways are strange, yet appropriate.” The black skinned fire genasi gestured with a hand and thirty red robed men swarmed towards Kurzin, weapons in hand. “The Water Genasi is ours little brother, you should not have released her!”
Kurzin set the water genasi down gently on the steps he was on as she looked on frightened. Kurzin sighed and turned to face the approaching gang, assuming a defensive stance. He knew this would be a day that would end in a great many more penances.
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