There was smoke and charred bodies everywhere, as far as the eyes could see. Not an uncommon sight in the Gray Wastes, the preferred battleground for the Blood War. But he was not here to see the sights of "The Field of Nettles", he was here to find someone. Find some thing was more like it. He was not looking for a human or elf common enough on most crystal spheres; he was looking for the baatezu general "Bel." A Pit Fiend of uncommon ferocity and size and general of the baatezu offensive and, by the look of things, the victor in this latest of skirmishes.
Walking with the skill and silence of the best of thieves schooled in this type of stealth Cinder Ebondorne' surveyed the devastation around him. No matter how many times he saw these bloody battlefields it still shocked him to his core.
But Cinder Ebondorne' was no thief, if anything he was a warrior of unmatched skill. His strength, speed, agility, and battle prowess had kept him alive these last ten years in the service of the baatezu, ten of his twenty five years of life.
Standing just shy of six feet, with the lean stocky build of a warrior coming into his prime. Equal amounts of elven and human blood ran through his veins. And he seemed to possess the best qualities of both. Long silver hair, which he usually kept tamed with a black ribbon, and charcoal colored eyes that were alive with mystery. His ears where sharp and acute as any surface elf. Pulled from his observations by the telepathic link he and Frizar shared, he could see through Frizar's avian eyes they were only three miles from the baatezu encampment. Frizar circled once then easily glided down in his raven form to land on Cinder's shoulder, sinking his talons comfortably into Cinder's black leather armor. Realizing the need for silence and stealth Frizar called to Cinder telepathically, "We be only three miles from Bel's camp, but there be many surviving tanar'ri nasties still out there. Some feeding on the bodies, others still looking for a fight."
"Let them come then," Cinder telepathically replied to Frizar. "It has been a while since my blade has run red with tanar'ri blood." Cinder could sense the anticipation that Frizar felt towards such confrontation with his dreaded enemy the tanar'ri. And although Cinder felt no love toward the baatezu or the tanar'ri, he would never strike down a baatezu except in self-defense. For the result would be to devastating for him if his master Furcas ever found out. They continued their trek toward Bel's camp. Cinder could not believe that he would have ever gotten conformable with the smell and the pestilence of so many dead, but after ten years in the service of the baatezu - five years battling the tanar'ri themselves in this Blood War - one became almost numb to its effects.
A mile and a half from the camp Cinder came upon the first signs of the enemy. Frizar could hardly control his excitement for the battle he knew would soon come. Cinder thought mentally to Frizar, "Go and let Bel know I will be there shortly." "But master Cinder!" replied Frizar verbally. Loud enough to give away any element of surprise that Cinder had gained through stealth. "Me want to help! Frizar stick bar-lgura good! You no make Frizar miss all de fun." What difference did it make now, thought Cinder. The three bar-lgura had already noticed Cinder's and Frizar's location because of the shouting and were already using their chameleon ability to disguise their location. "When this meeting with Bel is over me and you are going to have a little talk again about controlling your excitement!" replied Cinder. "Frizar sorry master! Frizar not help it! Big ape headed bar-lgura make Frizar to excited! It bar-lgura's fault! You no blame Frizar."
"We will argue this later! They move already to attack!"
The bar-lgura are lesser tanar'ri standing no more that five feet tall, but they are hulking brutes used by the tanar'ri lords for scouting assignments. Their long ape-like arms dragging the ground being used almost as much in movement as their short stout legs.
With his left hand Cinder pulled forth his short sword from its sheath he kept on his back, his dagger was out and ready in his right hand giving off a faint glow. The closest bar-lgura advanced slowly forward, the other two held back, not sure what to make of their foe. Such uncertainty from an enemy was very common to Cinder. Most of the fiends Cinder encountered had the ability to detect the true nature of other beings. Some could look into another's soul and sense the light or darkness that resided there. And from Cinder the fiends most assuredly saw light with a tinge of chaos. While the light was something that most fiends loved to corrupt, the chaotic nature of beings would usually mean that they would side with the unpredictable tanar'ri.
But as the bar-igura approached closer the dagger in Cinder's hand began to glow brighter and brighter. A tell-tale sign that it was enchanted to inflict greater damage on a particular type of foe. This caused a deep grumble to come from the approaching bar-lgura and the two that held back. Frizar launched itself from Cinder's shoulder circling some 100 feet above the two-rear bar-lgura. At any other time Cinder would probably have been able to talk himself out of the coming conflict. But the message he carried to Bel was urgent and battle was quicker than parlay.
With a beastly growl the front bar-lgura jumped high into the air crossing over thirty feet in one leap. It bore down on Cinder feet first hoping to make quick sport out of him. But Cinder was used to such tactics by the bar-lgura. As quick as thought, Cinder rolled left causing the fiend to miss his target. With two lightning fast strokes, dagger leading then short sword, Cinder tore into the face of the bar-igura. The dagger hissed as it took out both the fiends eyes and it was followed by Cinder's short sword sinking half way into the bar-lgura's skull. Before the beast could even recover from its landing it was already dead on the ground, adding one more tanar'ri body to the littered battlefield.
The two remaining bar-igura looked at each other uncertainly after the display then slowly advanced on Cinder not willing to perform the leaping attack for fear of the same results. Their bodies' color shifting to match that of their surroundings creating an eerie effect as they advanced on their prey. However, this time Cinder took the battle to them, not allowing the fiends to gain the advantage of a unified attack. Keeping left, Cinder circled the larger of the two bar-lgura, charging in on the fiend with controlled ease. The bar-lgura swiped its five foot long arms ending in sharp wicked claws toward Cinder attempting both to maim and to bowl over its foe. But Cinder leaped over the blow bringing down his short sword and dagger in unison in a overhand strike depositing both blades in the chest of the fiend. Cinder left the hissing dagger in the fiends chest clogging it lungs. He then tore the sword forward splitting its other lung in a viscous downward path in the process of removing the blade. Cinder could hear Frizar's excited cawing as it attacked the eyes of the final remaining bar-lgura. But all the fight had run out of the fiend as it viewed the demise of its two mates. It bounded with all haste away from the raven and deadly warrior turning itself invisible on the fly.
"Let it go!" shouted Cinder to Frizar. "Bel awaits our message."
Most sods will tell you there are few things in the multiverse that inspire greater fear than walking into the center of a baatezu war camp. One of these though is walking into a baatezu general's war tent unannounced.
Cinder was very surprised by his acceptance into the ranks of baatezu when he first reached the edges of the army. Although he had personally fought on the side of many of the fiends he encountered, more than five years have passed since he had done so. Cinder suspected though to the immortal fiends all around him it seemed not so very long ago.
"Our scouts tell us you had a little fun on your way here," replied a baatezu Cinder remembered being called "Grundlgar."
"They were correct," replied Cinder. "And congratulations on your promotion, Lieutenant Grundlgar."
This brought a wicked grin to the baatezu face.
"So `Cinder' you have come back to into our ranks with your sword and dagger already red with tanar'ri blood. That is good. I should also let you know that your record of 66 still stands."
Cinder could not help but grin himself at that. It was baatezu custom to count the number of consecutive kills during a single battle. Kills won without magical healing of any type to keep one going. To Cinder it was more a record of his determination to survive than any war record.
"I am sure the mighty Grundlgar has come closest to beating it," replied Cinder. A comment that brought another grin to the fiends' face.
"Have you come to rejoin our army? Or does Furcas have his `Agent of Stealth' here for another reason?" Grundlgar asked with a knowing glance. Cinder could tell that Grundlgar was very aware of the urgency of whatever message he held for Bel since this was the first time Cinder had been in his camp since he left the Blood War five years earlier.
"I have a message for Bel." Cinder replied. "It is very important I speak with him."
"Then you had better follow me. I am already late for a meeting with Bel and his other lieutenants." replied Grundlgar.
Using his telepathic link with Frizar, Cinder summoned him. The black raven landed lightly on his shoulder again drawing a third grin from Grundlgar's battle scared face. After making their way through a maze of Blood War soldiers they were finally in sight of the war tent. Cinder knew that if Bel was already in counsel with his other lieutenants there could be any number of warding magics already in place around the tent, so he fell back allowing Grundlgar to take the lead.
If Grundlgar used any words or gestures to get past any magics that may have been active Cinder did not detect any. Grundlgar opened the entrance flap to the tent, holding it up for Cinder and a perched Frizar to enter. The interior of the tent that appeared no longer than twenty by twenty feet on the outside betrayed its actual size on the inside. One would have thought that they were in a king's war room filled with lavish tables, chairs, maps, and tapestries hung everywhere.
The second Cinder entered the room whatever discussion was underway ended immediately. Bel's and all five of his lieutenants looked towards the entryway to survey their new visitor. Recognition showed in Bel's bloodshot eyes first then in the eyes of the other fiends that Cinder had fought along side five years earlier.
As soon as Bel's eyes crossed Frizar's raven form the excited imp released his shape back into his natural form - shifting, shifting back into its true impish self. The little imp rubbed its hands together excitedly and without introduction or leave it said, "Oh great fiend general Bel, may I introduce master Cinder and myself, Frizar, yer most humble of servants." This brought a chuckle from all the fiends present with the exception of the annoyed Cinder. Frizar immediately sensed then his displeasure and was already preparing a string of excuses and apologies when Bel stood from his seat towering over even the largest of his lieutenants and said "Come little Friz, you will be my personal guest." Bel then lifted his arm in invitation. Frizar looked towards Cinder excitedly, then, after Cinder gave him a nod of agreement, the little imp flapped his bat-like wings until he was perched on the mighty fiend's arm.
It is a well-known fact that in the Nine Hells the Pit Fiends hold a certain reverence for their imp servants, their small impish minds mirroring their fiend lord's own in many ways. Cinder could no more have held back the little imp from his excited outburst than dam the River Styx.
After a short period of silence, in which Cinder was sure that Bel and Frizar were communicating telepathically, Bel looked back to Cinder and said. "Cinder, I see you still carry the dagger `Demonthorn' I gave to you seven years ago."
"Yes and it has served me well these last five years in the service of Furcas." He replied.
The dagger was forged eons ago for the sole purpose of slaying all things tanar'ri. It could inflicts great wounds in the chaotic fiends with the merest touch to tanar'ri flesh and it would also allow its wielder to see the true form and location of any tanar'ri holding a different shape than that of its natural form. The dagger was given to Cinder the day after he managed to single handily slay 66 of the demon foes in one battle those seven years earlier. Given to him by Bel himself.
"So what news does Furcas bring to my war counsel this day?" asked Bel.
Getting straight to the point Cinder began to relay his message.
"What we feared when I was among your legions has finally come to pass." Said Cinder in somber tones. "The tanar'ri have completed the creation of their Ships of Chaos."
This brought the council into dead silence. Fear was evident even in the eyes of Bel.
"Illssender now has at least ten such ships ready for battle. Each capable of holding no less than 500 tanar'ri."
If there was truly any among the tanar'ri that rivaled Bel in power and battle skill it was Illssender. He was a balor general of incredible size and fury, preferring to wade into the middle of any Blood War battle and fight along side the lowest of manes than let them hog all the blood and glory.
Cinder could sense the fury rising in Bel, and even the adoring Frizar took a step away from the pit fiend's side fearing his wrath.
"And how has Furcas come by this intelligence?" asked Bel, using all his formidable will to control his mounting anger.
"By my own eyes, general Bel. I have spent the last two weeks scouting the area around his tower on the 313th layer of the Abyss. And as you know, it is difficult for the lesser tanar'ri to hold any secrets for too long. And Demonthorn has a way of making the most stubborn of demon sods loosen their tongues."
Bel's mental image of the tanar'ri interrogations Cinder had probably performed to gain this intelligence brought the slightest of smiles to his face and the tension present in the room loosened ever so slightly.
"Then I take it Dagos is aware of this also?" asked Bel.
"Yes. Furcas has dispatched messengers to Dagos's and all of his generals and to all members of the Dark Eight." Replied Cinder. "But he sent me personally to you; knowing the rivalry between you and Illssender, he figures your army will be the tanar'ri general's first target."
"He was right in thinking so." replied Bel. "Now let's get down to specifics, Cinder."
Cinder knew he was in for the interrogation of his life, and by the time Bel finished with him he would be wishing he was just another soldier of the Blood War and not one of Furcas' Agents of Stealth.
The Main Chamber