Part the tenth: Wherein new mysteries are discoveredUpon arrival at the Black Boar the trio retired to their room for the evening so they could look into the various items they had recovered in the previous days. Silvara went to sleep almost straight away, she would be of no help to Jean and Shadow Flame in identifying the various writings and items they had recovered. She did however have a plan for the morning to help try and locate Unagi, but she needed to sleep so she could pray to Selune for the spell required to follow through on her plan.
Shadow Flame sat with a large pile of scrolls and spellbooks arrayed before him as he cast a spell to make those writings readable. Magical writings were similar to coded texts, their words were indecipherable without the aid of magic, and like ciphers, once they had been read their meaning was forever open to the mage. Spellbooks in particular were valuable as they could be used again and again without consuming them, unlike scrolls that were forever lost upon invocation, although the contents of a scroll could be written into spellbook, but this also consumed the scroll in the process.
Jean retired to the corner of the room with all the magical items they had recovered from foes and found within the sewers of Iriaebor. She laid them out before her on the ground and called upon the power of the staff of knowledge to help her identify their powers. It took considerable time for they had found a number of weapons and other items that bore enchantments, but finally Jean identified them all and exhausted both the identify magic and herself. As she dismissed the effects of the spell she slumped back to the ground, falling unconscious as she had done each time she had previously called upon the staff to identify magic.
Jean floated up from her body, a translucent astral version of herself, and looked down upon her corporeal self, resting fitfully, for a moment before she dived into the grey void that had always been her conduit to the secrets of Amon'Valura. She floated in the stark emptiness for a time, and although there was no indication in that featureless place, she felt she was moving, and very quickly. A large swirling pool of color, shifting reds, pinks and maroons, floated before her, and as she had done before, she moved through the pool, letting it flow over her as a river of mist. She stood upon a plain of drab grey, ash and dead soil at her feet, confronting the monstrosities before her. Looming beasts had arrayed themselves in her path, a lust for blood and death boiled in their eyes, croaking and growling in their throats as they raised weapons, signalling their intent. Gargoylish nightmares rushed toward her, winged and horned, frothing and spitting with the insanity of bloodlust, they charged at the behest of a chimeric fiend. She was was otherwise a beautiful human woman, her skin soft and white, her hair long and dark framing a soft face and deep red lips, but her body sported six arms, each holding a blade, and from the waist down her serpentine body writhed, the dark greens scales reflecting the pall of drab light that echoed ambiently through the land. Jean stepped back in shock as the horde charged toward her, there was no defense in the face of these horrors. Then she felt a presence beside her and looking around her eyes fell upon the now familiar form of the Arcanaloth dressed in flowing sky blue robes, the gold swirling embroidery unnaturally bright in the blighted plane. He smiled through sharpened fangs and calmly lifted his arm and extended it before him, his clawed hand held out with fingers spread wide. A dull buzzing sound rolled outward as a tattered grey smoke began to pour from the open air only metres in front of them. It swelled and bulged, the very air warping as it burst open and rent the fabric of the land, a gaping maw from which stepped several hulking Mezzoloths of various shades of grey. No words were spoken as they placed themselves between Jean and her friend and the onrushing fiends, joining them in battle. Jean looked again at the Arcanaloth who smiled at her, as pleasant a smile as it could muster, and simply nodded as Jean realised that the staff could now be used to open such gates itself. It was a powerful gift, but before she could try and speak, the dream world surrounding her began to collapse in upon itself as a crumpled parchment, and she was violently expelled back into her body.
Silvara awoke to the first day of Uktar refreshed from a long nights sleep. Shadow Flame lay asleep amongst the scrolls and tomes of arcane magic he had been studying the previous evening, and Jean lay in the corner of the room in an uneasy, restless sleep, the items of magic she had been studying still lying at her feet. Knowing that she knew no rest from the night before Silvara went over and gently roused Jean awake. The mage opened her eyes and sat up with weary face and sunken eyes. She smiled weakly at Silvara and stood. As Jean left the room Silvara sat and meditated, praying to Selune to grant her the magic she needed to follow through on her plan.
Jean returned to the room feeling a little better after bathing and found Silvara and Shadow Flame discussing the plans for the day. Silvara had a spell that would allow her to name a familiar item and, if it was close enough, be drawn to it. She was going to name Unagi's armor, and item she was familiar enough with, and one she felt was rare enough, that they may be able to find the gladiator. The range of the spell was limited but it remained in effect for several hours, so they were planning to hire a cart or something similar to ride around Iriaebor for the day hoping that the spell would pick up the armour eventually. They acknowledged it was a long shot, but unless the Selunites or the local law found Unagi it was really all they had.
They headed down to the street, and since the spell required some concentration on Silvara's part, they ruled out simply hiring horses for themselves. Instead they found an old man willing to let them ride in his horse drawn cart for the day. Shadow Flame gave the man 3 gold pieces, probably more than he would earn in a tenday, and they set off to the dock ward in the hope of stumbling across Unagi. It was a boring ride simply rolling around the streets as Silvara concentrated upon her spell, and after an hour or so Shadow Flame and Jean both left her to it as they decided to try and find Unagi by visiting some likely sites about Iriaebor. After briefly organising to meet Silvara back at the Boar after her spell ended they both set off to see if they could find any more information.
With no clear plan Jean and Shadow Flame simply spent to day going from tavern to alehouse, from the markets to the gaols, but they continued to come up empty handed. Whatever had happened to Unagi it was beginning to become clear that he had not simply ended up in a tavern or spent the previous two days with some lucky wench. After they had gone to the three large temples besides the Altar of the Moon, after all Unagi may have been gravely wounded and spent the last couple of days being tended to by a temple for the city or something similar, but having found no trace of him it was getting late in the afternoon. They headed back to the Boar to see if Silvara had had any luck.
As they suspected, Silvara informed them that she had been unable to find even a hint of Unagi's armour. Rather than assuming that meant the big man had been separated from his armour it made more sense to believe he was simply not around. There was almost no place left for them to search, they had exhausted all their options in Iriaebor over the last day and a half, so unless the priestesses of Selune or the watch came to them they had no other obvious option. Shadow Flame however was not entirely out of ideas; even though there were no taverns left in the city they hadn't visited, there was one just outside the city that they hadn't thought of - The Old Talking Ox. He remembered it from Obermasts suggestions of Inns when they had arrived in the city. As he mentioned it Jean and Silvara both agreed, it was definitely worth a try - from its reputation it seemed like the kind of place Unagi might visit. They quickly headed down to the street and went to see the old man whose cart they been using that day, and finding him agreeable to another 3 gold pieces worth of his time they were on their way to the Old Talking Ox within the hour.
The journey there was relatively slow, not much faster than walking really, but a half hour or so into their ride they saw the lights of the Inn ahead in the distance. As they approached they could hear the sounds of revelry as well; it was clearly a popular place, the sounds of cheering and yelling rolling down the road to greet them. The Inn itself was a sprawling affair; a low stone wall surrounded a huge barn-like building that was likewise surrounded by other smaller buildings, almost like a small village as opposed to an Inn. They entered through the main gate without being challenged and tied the horse and cart at a nearby feed trough. They gave the old man an additional gold piece and told him to enjoy himself, and they proceeded to the Inn. The courtyard surrounding the barn was filled with activity; people stood around talking and smoking, mostly human and mostly adventuring types and off duty city guards. There were a couple of fights surrounded by spectators, but whether they were organised fights or drunken brawls the party could not tell. They entered the Ox and found a huge open room set with dozens of tables and chairs. Armed and armoured men and women sat around drinking and laughing, a large arm wrestling competition was underway in one corner and there were several drunk fighters dancing Unagi style to the small trio of bards who were providing the musical entertainment.
They approached the barkeep, and after ordering drinks for themselves began to question him as to whether or not Unagi had been there in the last couple of days.
"Sorry friends, but look around," he replied to them, "dozens of people come here everyday, adventurers, fighters, off duty guards. I can't possibly remember them all."
"True enough," said Shadow Flame, "but our friend kind of stands out, even in a crowd such as this." Jean and Silvara both laughed quietly at Shadow Flames words. "He would have been wearing armour that could give off harmless flames, and he would have certainly used it," Shadow Flame prodded.
The barkeep was still looking at them blankly, "I'd like to help," he said, " but I don't remember anyone with fiery armour coming through in the last couple of days."
"He would have most definitely participated in any games or contests, like that arm wrestling competition over there," Shadow Flame pointed.
"Ah that sort of thing happens all the time here," explained the barkeep, "the crazy adventuring types sometimes start up fighting competitions as well, boxing tournaments and the like. I think there's one going on outside right now."
The party thought for a second. "He likes to ogre dance," prompted Jean. The barkeep looked at her blankly, "you know, he likes to dance but he's, well, he's not very good at it, and ends up kind of looking like maybe an ogre would look if it tried to dance," she explained sheepishly.
The barkeep smiled, "I know what you mean milady," he said, "I've seen some pretty bad dancing in my time. Look friends," he continued, "your friend does sound like a somewhat memorable character all things considered, but I must say I don't remember him if he has been here. Maybe you could ask some of the regulars if they saw him, but I'd guess he probably hasn't been here."
"OK friend," said Shadow Flame tossing the man a gold coin, "thanks for your time. Care to point out a couple of the regulars for us?"
The barkeep indicated a few folk who were sitting around, and, thanking him again, they went and began speaking with some of the Inns patrons.
After an hour of talking with various folk in various states of drunkenness they reached the conclusion that Unagi had simply not been here. It was possible that he had simply gone unnoticed, but they felt that was unlikely enough to not be the case, and so rather than staying and drinking or getting rooms at the Ox, the party went and found their old friend with the cart and journeyed back to Iriaebor and the Black Boar.
They awoke in the morning, Jean especially, feeling refreshed from the nights sleep. It had been a long day yesterday but they were no closer to finding Unagi, or even finding a hint of what he may have been up to. It was if he had simply vanished into nothing. They sat and discussed what other options they had over breakfast. Since they had more or less exhausted the more mundane approaches the previous day Shadow Flame suggested that they should be looking at more esoteric means - magic. He explained that he had heard of magics that allowed a spell caster to communicate with people at a distance, to send them a message and receive a reply, and that it could be worthwhile to maybe go and speak with Prespos about it to see if he could provide them with such a service. Jean and Silvara felt this was a good idea, and the idea sparked a similar thought in Silvara's mind; there were divine magics that could accomplish a similar goal, magics that allowed a powerful priest in good standing with their god to ask questions directly of them and receive answers. She suggested that if Prespos could not help, or if his spells failed to turn up any information, that they could go to Astyaril and see if she was willing to commune with Selune to help them find Unagi. Once they had finished eating they set off, a bit more upbeat than the previous evening now that they had a reasonable plan of attack.
It was still quite early when they arrived at Prespos' place, and after knocking on the door they found themselves waiting for the old mage again. It took him some time to answer his door, long enough that they had begun to worry they had come too early for him.
As the door swung open the kindly mage poked his head out, and upon seeing the three of them he smiled, "well met my friends," he greeted them.
"Well met," all three of them replied in chorus. This clearly pleased Prespos as he smiled widely and opened his door all the way.
"I assume this isn't a social call, given the hour," he mused, "and there is little more I can teach either of you," he motioned toward Jean and Shadow Flame, "until you gain some deeper understanding of the art, so I would guess you require some service of me?" he ended with the question.
Shadow Flame stepped forward slightly and replied, "indeed, you are correct. Would you mind if we came in so as to discuss our needs?"
Prespos stood aside to let them into his home and showed them to a small dining room. "I was preparing to break the fast as you arrived, which is why it took so long for me to get to the door. Would you care to join me?" he asked, "I have more than enough for us all."
"The offer is most generous my friend," replied Jean, "but we have all already eaten, but please do not let us interfere with your meal."
The old mage sat down at the table with them, "no, no, it is fine. I can wait," he replied and then stopped and waited for them to explain why they were there.
Shadow Flame took the lead, "we have need of your help Prespos," he began. "We seem to have lost a friend of ours, Unagi. Last we saw him was a short time before we came to you for the teleportation magic. When we arrived back in Iriaebor, care of our friend Fallon..."
"Fallon!" exclaimed Prespos, "how is that plane jumping scoundrel?" he asked with a wry smile.
"He is well," answered Shadow Flame. "It would seem as though he has much to do of late, but he is good."
Prespos smiled to himself briefly before saying, "I apologise my young master, you were saying about your friend?"
"Yes," continued Shadow Flame, "when we arrived back here in the city he was nowhere to be found. It has been nearly two and a half days since we saw him last, and after spending the entire day yesterday searching for him it seems he has vanished without a trace. None of the taverns or temples in the city have seen him, and he has not wound up in gaol either. So since we have failed to find his trail through more mundane means and minor divine magics, we thought we would come and speak with you. I know of magics, magics beyond my ken, that may be able to help and we are hoping you may be familiar with the required spell?"
Prespos thought on Shadow Flames words for several moments before motioning with his hand, indicating for Shadow Flame to spit it out.
"The sending spell," Shadow Flame explained, "I know it can be used to send messages to those far away and allow them to send a short answer. If Unagi is close enough then the spell would allow him to tell us where he is at least."
"Yes, sending," replied Prespos, "I know of it, but I am afraid I do not have a deep enough knowledge to cast it. I'm not really much of a Diviner," he explained, "Alterations and Transmutations are more my forte."
They tried to hide their disappointment but it was evident for Prespos continued, "I am sorry my friends, you know I would help you if I could."
"No apologies are needed," said Silvara, "we appreciate your time," she smiled at the mage.
"Yes, do not apologise my friend," Shadow Flame said. "Perhaps you possess or know how to get a hold of a scroll containing the sending spell?" he asked after a moment.
"Again I must say no," answered Prespos, "I am certain I have no such scroll, and getting hold of one in Iriaebor may be difficult. I feel you would have better luck in Berdusk acquiring such an item given the large Harper population," he suggested.
Each of them gave their own ironic smile to the mage; if only they had known that Unagi had gone missing while they were in Berdusk. "OK, well, never mind Prespos, we shall find another way to locate our friend," said Shadow Flame rising to leave.
"Yes, thank you," said Jean, "we shall let you get back to your breakfast."
Silvara also stood to leave and thanked Prespos as well as they made their way to the front door and left the mage to his morning meal.
Astyaril of Selune
They arrived at the High Altar and were able to quickly gain an audience with Astyaril. The high priestess always had time for the Silverstars, the specialty priests of Selune of whom Silvara was a member, as she trusted the blessed of Selune to only come to her in times of need. They were shown to Astyaril's quarters on a floor quite high in the Moontower, set up for both Astyaril's personal quarters and meetings rooms. They waited in the opulent meeting chamber for a short while before Astyaril came in and greeted them.
"My friends," she began, "I understand that your companion Unagi has gone missing and you require help in finding him?"
"Yes milady, we do," answered Silvara unsurprised at the moonmaidens knowledge, after all they had asked the priestesses to keep their eyes out for Unagi.
"I'm not sure what else I can do that we aren't already doing," she said.
"There are magics that could be used to answer some of our questions," prompted Silvara.
"Yes there are sister," replied Astyaril, "spells I could use to commune with Selune and gain some of her knowledge, but you must remember these spells will not provide absolute knowledge. You must ask the right questions."
"I know," said Silvara, "but we have run out of options. We have spent almost two days looking for Unagi, and my limited knowledge and skills in the divine arts have not helped us. Any aid you can offer at this stage will be most welcome milady."
"I can commune with Selune which will allow you to ask a series of yes-no type questions, that should allow you to find out something about your friend, maybe give you a direction you can head," suggested Astyaril.
The party looked at each other, and after a moment both Jean and Shadow Flame nodded to Silvara. "That would be great," she smiled.
Astyaril seemed pleased they were happy with her suggestion. "I will not be able to cast the spell until tomorrow," she said, "if you can come back in the morning I will see you immediately and we can begin trying to find out about your friend."
They all stood with her and said their thanks and goodbyes.
With a plan of action, one that seemed likely to at least give them something to work with, they returned to the Boar to decide what to do for the day. They had already scoured the city looking for Unagi and felt it would not be useful to do so again, so they decided to simply spend some down time, relaxing and waiting until the next morning.
Not long after they had finished their midday meal, they were relaxing in the Inns common room enjoying a drink when they were approached by a familiar face.
"Well met my friends," Obermast greeted them, "may I join you?"
Jean indicated to him to take a seat, so the bard sat down and tried to smile at them but the expression he wore was serious and his smile didn't quite work. "I'm afraid I have some bad news for you all," he said.
"Great," replied Shadow Flame, "that's all we need - more bad news. Well, let's have it then, no point dancing around it."
Obermast dropped his eyes to the table as he spoke, "I've received orders from Berdusk to bring you in to answer the charges of murder," he looked back up at Jean as he finished.
All four of them sat in silence for a minute at the news before Shadow Flame flatly replied, "yes. That is bad news."
Obermast quickly continued, "it is not a decision I agree with but my hands here are somewhat tied," he spoke mostly to Jean, "but let me say, when the time comes, I will speak in your defense. I do not think you have a murder charge to answer for, all things considered, and I will be happy to say as much."
Jean smiled at him, but she was clearly distracted by the news. While she had intended to return to Berdusk to explain her actions she had not intended on having to do so so soon.
Obermast continued in the face of her silence, "I am sorry things have to go this way, but I must follow my orders no matter how much I disagree with them, you understand don't you?"
"I understand," said Shadow Flame. "I understand that these ridiculous charges do nothing but waste our time. What would you say or do if we refused to go with you?"
Jean started to answer Shadow Flame, but Obermast spoke before she did, "my friend, I have been ordered to bring you in, and that is what I will do. I would of course prefer it if you came of your own free will, it will be much easier on everyone if you do so, but if the need be I will take you by force."
"That won't be necessary," said Jean, "I will..."
"I doubt you could take us by force," interrupted Shadow Flame, "there are 3 of us and only one of you." It was not a threat, just a simple statement of fact.
"I know enough not to show up to a magic fight with a rusty dagger," replied Obermast, "I am trying to be civil, but if it comes down to it, I have not come alone."
Shadow Flame smiled a half smile, he really expected no less from the bard. "Don't get me wrong my friend," he said to Obermast, "I bear you no ill will, and consider you a friend, but you must recognise that I am not inclined to return to Berdusk to answer charges I am innocent of, for I did not kill the old man."
"Absolutely," replied Obermast, "I did not think you would be agreeable, but I did think you would be interested in clearing your name. As I have said, I will be happy to testify on your behalf for I believe and understand the story and reasoning behind what happened. At another time it may have been me who killed one such as Aghal. But here I am, having received orders to bring you in to answer these charges formally and that is what I intend to do. No doubt you recognise that coming in voluntarily will speak well for yourselves?"
"Yes I understand this," replied the tiefling, "but you must understand that things are not as simple as all that. We have other concerns that take precedence over this farce."
"Enough Flame," interjected Jean. "I will accompany you to Berdusk Obermast. I had not intended for this to happen so soon, but since things are the way they are I will make good on a promise I made to myself and return to clear my name."
Silvara smiled at Jean, a smile of encouragement. "It is the right decision," she said to the mage, "I am sure it will work out for the best and we can put this behind us."
Shadow Flame shot Silvara an annoyed look and started to argue, but he stopped himself before any words were spoken. Seeing Shadow Flame drop the argument Obermast turned to Jean, "I thank you milady for your words. It will be much better this way."
"So when are you intending to go?" asked Shadow Flame.
Not sure whether the tiefling was agreeing to go with them or not Obermast replied, "I see no reason why we shouldn't leave this afternoon. The sooner we get this over with the better we will all feel."
"Well we can't leave this afternoon," Shadow Flame told him, "in case you haven't noticed we are one party member down. Unagi has gone missing and we are trying to find out what happened to him. Until we do we won't be accompanying you anywhere."
Jean looked apologetic towards Obermast but she did not disagree with Shadow Flame. "He is right," she explained, "I will not leave until we at least have some idea of what happened to Nug. Please understand, I cannot leave him behind."
Obermast nodded his understanding, "that is fair," he replied. "How much time do you need?" He was more than willing to cut them some slack since it appeared they would accompany them of their own will.
"We have organised to meet with Astyaril of the High Altar of the Moon in the morning so that she may commune with Selune and hopefully provide us some answers," Silvara said to Obermast. "Assuming that we do find something out there then we could leave with you tomorrow afternoon?" she asked of Jean and Shadow Flame.
Both of them seemed agreeable to that plan, so Obermast nodded again, "in that case I will wait here for you tomorrow at noon?" he asked.
"Fine," replied Shadow Flame, "There is nothing else to say."
"Then I will leave you," said Obermast standing to leave.
Shadow Flame stopped him, "even with things as they are we bear you no ill will my friend. You are welcome to stay and drink with us if you would like."
Obermast smiled and sat back down. "I thank you my friend, and I appreciate that you understand the position I am in, of course I will stay."
The mood at the table relaxed considerably as a new round of drinks was ordered. They spent the remainder of the afternoon drinking and telling tales amongst themselves, and after the evening meal the party took their leave of the master bard and returned to their room to rest for the coming day.
The man sat up suddenly, stirred from sleep or unconsciousness he couldn't be sure, his head swimming as he sat. Stars danced before his eyes and he dropped back down, wracked with nausea. He reached up to feel his brow, and finding it damp and cold his pulled the palm of his hand down his face. He looked down at his palm and saw it washed with blood. Well, that answered that - unconscious, unless he had been sleeping harder than usual. Was he a heavy sleeper? He couldn't remember, but it seemed there were more important things to worry about right now. He tried sitting up again, and managed to remain upright long enough for the stars to fade. He looked down at his body, clad in heavy armour, well most of it was - his feet were bare and caked in filth like his armour and he noticed that he was sitting in the mud. Looking at his hands he noticed he wore a ring on each hand, a silver ring studded with small black gems on the left, and a golden ring styled as a string of oak leaves on his right. Where had those come from? He didn't know, just as he didn't know where he was or how he got there, but as he looked around he found he was sitting in a grimy alleyway amoung the garbage and the mud from a recent rain. He looked out of the end of the alleyway - it opened into a wider thoroughfare, but he didn't see anyone, it appeared as though he were alone.
He stood up, well at least he tried to. As he rose and placed his weight on his left leg he was greeted with sharp screaming pain racing up his leg from his ankle, and he fell back to the ground with a thud, his head again threatening to sink into unconsciousness. As the stars cleared for the third time that morning (was it morning?), he sat up again, and, reaching down, removed the greave from his shin so he could see his ankle. He dropped the armour like a hot potato as he saw his leg - blood dripped slowly in drying rivulets from the gem that appeared to be embedded in his leg just above the ankle on the inside. He reached down and touched it. It was cold, colder than the surrounding air or even the muddy ground, but it did not react or do anything at his touch. He leant down for a closer look as he ran his finger around the outside of it. It was definitely embedded in his leg, as though a large of scoop had been removed and replaced by it. He pushed against it, then wiggled it as best he could, but apart from the pain, which was beginning to dull, there was no response, and no apparent way to remove it that didn't involve cutting open his leg - or cutting it off. He blanched at the thought, sitting there looking at the cold, black gem, trying to remember how it got there, but his mind was blank. That was another thing - his mind was a blank. As he sat there and thought about it he realised that he was missing an awful lot of information - information that by any normal standard he should already know. Where was he? How did he get there? How did that gem end up in his leg? Then came the big one, the realisation that sent a cold chill running up his spine - who was he? Stupid question, he thought, of course he knew who he was, he was...no one? He thought harder, he must know at least who he was, but the more he thought about the less he realised he knew. In fact he had no knowledge of his life at all. It was if he had just now begun to exist. He started to panic - he breathing quickened and he began to sweat, all he could think was 'who am I?' over and over.
His thoughts were interrupted by a loud crash coming from down the alley. The man looked up and saw a door open from one of the walls of the alleyway. A squat black, winged creature came stumbling out of it, covered in scales that did not reflect the light, its glowing red eyes looking out from a gargoylish face.
"Didn't want any of yer stinkin' bub anyway ya wretched sod," it yelled back into the doorway in a croaky voice, "tastes like Deva piss!"
The creature stood for a second looking at the door after it had been slammed shut and then turned and walked down the alleyway towards the man. He stood up as the creature approached - it scowled at him as it passed but did not say anything. As the creature neared the exit of the alley the man's need for information outgrew his fear of this ugly beast, and he stepped toward it.
"Excuse me good sir," he began, "but where am I? I mean, what is this place?"
The creature turned sharply at the mans question, it's clawed hand reflexively moved down to the sword it wore on it's belt. It scowled even deeper and simply said "pike it berk", before turning and walking off onto the adjoining road, folding it's wings tightly to it's back.
The man stood for a moment, a bit confused. 'Pike it berk'? What was that? The meaning behind the words was clear but he could not recall ever hearing such a phrase. He looked back down the alleyway to the door the creature had come out of and decided to go and have a look. As he made that first painful step he caught a glint from the ground in the corner of his eye. Looking down he saw a piece of metal buried in the mud, and crouching down found a muddy sword. After clearing away the filth he lifted the blade, a long sword, and swung it around. It was a fine weapon, of cold wrought iron, it's cross piece fashioned in the shape of grasping taloned claws, and in the pommel a large clear crystal was set. Strangely, the weapon felt familiar to the man, like an old friend, or a favourite childhood food that he hadn't eaten for a decade. He slid the blade into a sheath slung over his shoulder and went to look at the door. The pain in his leg lessened as he walked, now more of a twinge, a reminder it was still there, than a pain anymore.
The door was locked from the inside, the handle not turning or giving at all. He punched the door in frustration and moved to the exit of the alleyway. The road it joined was also muddy with several large pools of stagnant water along its length, and it sloped gently downward to his left. The houses along the road were uniformly drab grey stone buildings with no colour to them at all, as if this place where set in shadow. Looking to his left he saw the black scaled creature he had encountered earlier walking down the road, and to his right there was what as obviously a tavern of some kind, the muted sounds of chatter spilling out into the street. Since the streets were mostly empty he walked over the entrance, and looked up; the sign read "The Flayed Petitioner".
Standing in front of the door was a big tiefling dressed in heavy leathers and draped with an assortment of blades. He wore spiral tattoos on his face and the long horns sprouting from his forehead had small rune-like symbols etched into them. He glanced at the man as he approached through dark grey, almost black eyes, but did not speak to him. Figuring the tiefling was just a bouncer the man stepped around him to enter the bar but found his entry blocked as the tiefer lowered his arm in front of the man.
"You need to give the password to get in basher," he said disinterestedly.
"I don't know the password," the man replied after a moment.
The tiefer looked hard at him for second before speaking, "there are other ways, more traditional ways to gain entrance," he suggested.
The man stared blankly at him, not catching his oblique hint.
"Garnish ya dreary sod," explained the tiefer, "a little garnish goes a long way in these parts."
The man patted himself down briefly, understanding the tieflings intent, but finding nothing simply said, "It seems I haven't a copper to my name."
"Well you'd best be moving long then hadn't you berk?" sneered the tiefling.
The man opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it before turning to leave. He took a couple of steps then stopped and turned around. He walked back up to the tiefling and said, "sorry to bother you good sir, but I just woke up a few minutes ago in the alleyway a bit worse for wear, as you can see, and I don't even know where I am or how I got here."
The tiefling looked up and down the street to see who was about, seeming to ignore the mans question, but as he turned to leave the tiefer said, "you're in Hopeless ya barmy sod, gate town to the Grey Waste."
The man stopped and turned back to the tiefling. Hopeless - the name was not familiar, but the Grey Waste rang a distant bell in his mind, it was familiar in the way the word you are searching for is familiar but ultimately eludes you.
Sensing the tiefling might be inclined to talk the man pressed his luck by asking, "and how did I get here?"
There wasn't a lot happening at the time and he was a little bored, and although he felt no real compassion or interest in the man's plight he answered him, "bunch o' tiefers dropped ya round there 'bout hour ago."
'An hour ago', he thought. "What do you mean, dropped?" he asked.
"There were four of 'em, couple of tiefers and a couple of, humans maybe. You were slung over a big teifers back. They just walked down the street, walked into the alley and dumped ya on the ground like a sack o' sod. Threw that sword next to ya, and walked off down the way."
"What did they look like?" he asked.
"Tieflings ya dense berk, pay attention will ya," snapped the tiefling.
The man looked at him for a second and then walked off, thanking the tiefling for his answers, but he was simply ignored in response. He headed down the road, in the direction indicated by the tiefling. There were few folk walking the street and those he saw walked with their heads bowed or with hoods pulled up, it was clear that no one was interested in talking to him, or to anyone else for that matter. It was difficult to tell what time it was, there was no sun, just a hazy grey light that washed over the place as if reflected by a giant sheet of tarnished metal. The man tried to focus his mind but there was something about this place, something that imposed itself upon his will, soft yet tangible, an invitation to surrender. He put the thought from his mind, he had to think, had to find a way out of here, find out what had happened to him. As he walked slowly, deep in thought, a large shadow grew over him breaking his concentration. He looked up and hastily took a step back - he had almost walked straight into a huge creature with a large spherical body covered in mottled brown skin. It gazed at him through a large eye in the centre of its body above a long mouth filled with pointy dagger-like teeth. A swarm of tubular stalks rose from the top of it's round body, each of them ending in another eye, and the man had no trouble recognizing what this creature was.
"Watch it ya leather'ead," the beholder said in a deep gurgling voice, "we don't take too kind to bubbers roaming the streets here. If ya not careful I'll scrag ya and let the Mocking sort ya out," it smiled through rows of crooked teeth.
The man stood open mouthed for a few seconds before blurting out hastily, "I'm sorry sir, really sorry, I should be more careful, watch where I'm going, so sorry."
The beholder let out a quick barking laugh before turning and floating off up the road. The man stood for a moment, working through the fear of almost walking into a beholder in the middle of a city street, but figuring that it might be able to help him out he called after, "excuse my good sir, but I seem to be lost, I was wondering, could you maybe...." he stopped as all ten of the beholders eyes turned on their stalks to look at him, one of them glinting green, another shining with a deep red.
"On yer way ya clueless berk before I chuck ya in a birdcage, " said the beholder, not pausing to talk to the man.
Not willing to test his luck the man quickly turned and walked purposefully down the road. There were still few people out and about, but as he walked he noticed a form curled up in a doorway wrapped in a dark, almost black, green cloak. His eyes met it's greenish eyes for a moment before it looked away. The man walked over to the form and found it was a tiefling, white furred cloven hoofed legs protruded from the bottom of the cloak.
"Excuse me friend," the man said, "but I appear to be lost, I was wondering if you could help me out?"
The tiefling snorted derisively at him but not otherwise responding.
"I have no coins," the man tried again, "but I would be very appreciative of any help you would give."
"Pike it you clueless sod," croaked the tiefling through a parched throat.
The man continued to press however, "please, I have nothing, I just woke up and don't remember anything, I really need some help."
The tiefer laughed to itself, "that's the Waste for ya berk. Most around 'ere would welcome that, but bar yer tongue and leave me be!"
"But I have..." the man leant back quickly as the tiefling took a blind swing at him. It wasn't malicious, more like a movement to swat a fly than to cause harm to the man, but he got the point this time and left the tiefling lying in the doorway.
Nothing was really working out for him so far - this place didn't seem to foster a particularly caring attitude from its residents. Since his choices were either to accept his fate and curl up in a doorway of his own, or to keep trying to find a friendlier face, he continued down the road. He knew one thing though - it was cold, morbidly so, and his bare feet began to feel it, growing numb and blue. Deep in thought on his situation he almost didn't notice the brilliant flash of green light burst over the road. He looked up and saw there was no one about, as if the light had washed away any travellers in a tide of colour. He was looking at a long drab wall pierced by three arches that appeared to lead to some sort inn or tavern. The left arch had a pale residual light slowly fading into the air in the middle of it, and he approached this light to see what it was, but by the time he had reached it it had faded completely.
"Step aside bubber," a voice startled him from behind. He turned quickly to see a dwarf, heavily armed and armoured standing behind him, so he did as he was asked and stepped to the side. The dwarf walked up to the arch, turned his head and spat to the side of it. Instantly the archway flared into the same sickly green light as before. The dwarf walked up to and then into the light, disappearing in a burst of green as the light flared brighter and immediately subsided.
'A portal!' the man thought excitedly, although how he knew that he did not know. 'But where did it lead?' he wondered briefly before dismissing his concern. 'Anywhere was better than this cold grave town' he thought as he walked closer to the arch. He stood for a moment without moving before turning his head and spitting beside the portal. Nothing happened. Puzzled, the man turned his head and spat again. Nothing again.
"Watch where yer spittin' ya leatherheaded fool, or I'll 'ave a piece of ya," a voice came from the side. Where were all these people coming from? The man looked across at a tall thin, half-elf was it? He couldn't be sure, maybe just a more human-like tiefling. He was with a short, red haired human woman, both were dressed in leathers and wore several short blades about them, probably adventurers he thought.
The half-elf reached for a blade sheathed across his chest as he said, "listen ya barmy, I've had enough of your lost and worthless lot, this town breeds 'em like the inside of a fiends gaol, stand aside or I'll cut you down."
His anger seemed out of place in this morose place so the man quickly stood aside. They walked up to the arch, and in between muttering under his breath about "barmies and clueless", the man spat next to the arch. Again it immediately burst into life and pulsed vividly as both of them walked through. The man thought for a second about the three travellers that had passed through the portal before realising what was missing. He let his anger free, let it wash over him in the wake of what had been a series of coldly indifferent encounters and circumstances. Fueled in part by his fear over his predicament the man stepped up and spat forcefully on the ground beside the arch. He smiled to himself as it burst into green life, the light washing over him like a tide. He turned and looked at the street behind him for a second before stepping through.
The world disappeared, replaced by a shimmering emptiness, cold and featureless, but not threatening or dangerous. He recognised the effects of the portal - maybe he had used them many times before? He couldn't remember, but this journey had a feint feeling of familiarity to it, right up until the shimmering void became a violent purple ocean. Electricity crackled around him as he was wrenched from the calm nothing of in between worlds and forced onto a different path. He knew that this was not normal, that something was wrong with the portal, but he did not have time to think about it, or worry about what might be happening as he was expelled in a wave of blinding white light.
The light was excruciating, and the sound deafening after the hollow greyness of Hopeless. It was warm here as well, and as his eyes adjusted to the light he found himself kneeling in another alley. This alley was much more welcoming however - it was paved for a start, and was not awash with shadow and mud. Looking up he saw the alley opened out into a busy road - people, dressed in rich and brightly coloured clothes, horse-drawn carts, armed and armoured men with bright tunics, small children, all walked, bustled or ran past without so much as a look down the alley, the rattling of carts, chatter and the yelling raging down the alley like a waterfall after the near silence of Hopeless. He stood up and walked to the end of the alley into the bright sunlit street of a seemingly large city.
"What do you hope to accomplish by going with him?" Shadow Flame asked Jean, his patience nearing an end. They had been arguing amoungst themselves ever since they woke.
"I've told you already Flame," answered Jean, "this is something I was always intending to do. I trust Obermast, and I think this will all work itself out." Silvara nodded her agreement, but, given the hard look thrown at her by Shadow Flame, she didn't say anything. After all, she was not the one staring down the sharp end of a murder charge.
"I think it is foolish," replied Shadow Flame, "this whole scenario has trap written all over it. Why, I ask you, would they bother? Why go to such lengths to bring us in for the murder of an old slave trader - on the word of an old woman?"
Jean shrugged, "well that's just it isn't it? It's not really a question of our word against hers, I've admitted my guilt to Obermast, there is no backing out of that now, but I also know he is on our side. I need to do this."
Shadow Flame stared at her, clearly frustrated with her stubbornness. He did not intend to go with Obermast to answer charges he was not guilty of, especially given the circumstances. The whole thing smelled bad to him, there were too many people, or creatures after them, after the staff, and this would be a grand opportunity for them to strike - while they couldn't defend themselves.
"Are you prepared to give up the staff then Jean?" he changed tack slightly.
Surprised at the question, Jean simply looked at him and said, "no, of course not."
"Well you're going to have to aren't you?" asked Shadow Flame. Jean looked at him a little bit confused. "Do you think they're going to let you keep it? The Harpers?"
"Why would the Harpers want the staff?" asked Silvara, clearly in the same boat as Jean.
Shadow Flame rolled his eyes, "what's going to happen when we get to Berdusk? I mean we're there to answer a murder charge yes? You think they're going to put us up in a fine inn, bring us slippers and scented bath water? Maybe a nice roast meal each day until the trial? Of course not, they're going to throw us in gaol aren't they?"
Jean and Silvara both began to realise the implication in Shadow Flames words, but he finished the train of thought for them anyway, "so traditionally when you get thrown in gaol they don't let you hold on to your weapons and spellbooks and lock picks do they? They take them from you, hence, you will be giving up the staff, and if its not taken and investigated by the Harpers, it'll be easier for other, hmmm... interested parties to take it for themselves. And once the Harpers work out what it is do you think they'll be so happy to hand it over to you? Meddlers the lot of them, can't go five minutes without interfering in other peoples business, do you think they'll just hand back something like the staff? I don't think so," he finished.
Jean looked at him without saying a word, and Silvara was looking nonchalantly at the floor. Shadow Flame had made a good argument, one that neither of them had any really convincing rebuttal to.
"I'm still going with Obermast," Jean said quietly to Shadow Flame, "I'll deal with those problems when, if, they arise." Silvara smiled to herself, not to spite Shadow Flame but a smile of happiness that Jean had made the right decision.
Shadow Flame stood there for a while, not really believing that his words had fallen on deaf ears. "Well someone has to plan for that eventuality Jean, and I guess that it's probably going to be me. I think you have made a bad decision, possibly one of the worst you've ever made. Look we have the morning to sort something out before we have to go to the High Altar of the Moon, I'm going to use it constructively, you both can do as you please." With that he moved over to his pack and grabbed a few items before leaving by the window.
Shadow Flame reached the street and looked quickly around. He wanted at least this part of his plan to go unnoticed by anyone, especially Obermast and whatever agents he had watching the party. If Jean and Silvara weren't going to invest in a plan B or C then he was - there were too many unknowns and too many interested parties for him to ignore what he felt was the obvious. Since he had proven to be helpful in the path Shadow Flame decided that Prespos would be a good first stop. He headed off toward the mages home making sure he wasn't being followed and choosing his path carefully to cause the least amount of exposure to the open city, going from alleyway to alleyway, keeping to the shadows and mingling with larger crowds when sheltered thoroughfares weren't available.
It took him some time but he did end up at Prespos place quite sure that he hadn't been followed. He knocked on the mages door and waited until he answered.
"Well, well, my friend, welcome," the old mage said, poking his head around the door.
"Greetings Prespos," replied Shadow Flame, "I have come on a personal matter, may I trouble you for a short while?"
"Of course, no trouble. Do come in."
Shadow Flame took one last quick look around before entering Prespos' home.
"So, how can I help you this fine morning?" the mage asked as they each took a seat in his office come meeting room.
"Things have taken a bit of a turn for the worse for us," Shadow Flame explained, "I fear we need a quick and clean way to get out of Iriaebor, and I thought, considering you have proven to be so adept in the past that perhaps you might be able to help us out."
"I'll do what I can," replied Prespos, "I always tend to end up better of financially whenever you visit," he smiled.
Shadow Flame returned his smile and nodded his agreement, "so you are willing to help us with some teleportation magic?" he asked.
"I don't see it being a problem," answered the Mage. "If you don't mind, would you explain what has happened, maybe I can help in other ways."
Shadow Flame saw no reason not to let him in on what had happened, after all, he considered himself innocent of any wrong doing, "we are to be taken to Berdusk to answer some trumped up charges. The Harpers have come and told us they intend to take us to answer these false charges. We have some final business here in the city relating to Unagi's disappearance, then we are expected to accompany them to Berdusk. Unfortunately, out of some misguided sense of...I don't know, my friends have agreed."
Prespos considered his words for a moment before asking, "what are you charged with?"
"It is a murder charge."
"And you say you are innocent?" he asked. Shadow Flame nodded in response. "In that case my tiefling friend, I would recommend that you return and answer these false charges and clear your name. Trust in the law and in the Harpers to see things put right. It is not a good thing to have such a charge hanging over your head, and if you are truly innocent then the law should see that and exonerate you."
"There are other considerations," explained Shadow Flame, "others who have declared an interest in some...item, we possess. I fear it may be a trap to remove us from the equation, to maybe place us in a position where we have no bargaining power."
"Be that as it may, I cannot in good conscience aid you in fleeing from the law. I do not think your motives are wrong, and your suspicions may end up proving correct, but without the law there is nothing and I will not ignore it. You should trust to the law and to those who uphold it. Perhaps my view is a little idealistic but it is a belief I have long held. I am sorry," Prespos explained.
Shadow Flame recognised the mages feelings on this subject were not going to be swayed. "Than I guess there is nothing left to say," he said flatly.
A sad, perhaps sympathetic, look passed over Prespos' face as he said, "really my friend, the city of Berdusk is perhaps the most just and honest in the western heartlands, I would put my trust in its system of law. If you are innocent, and I have been given no reason to think otherwise, then I trust your name will be cleared and you will be given your freedom."
"As always it is not as simple as that my friend," replied Shadow Flame. "I do not mean to be rude, but if you are not willing to help then I must try and find alternatives."
"You must do what you feel is necessary," said Prespos. "I wish you luck my friend, whatever happens next."
Shadow Flame tried to smile at the old mage but he could not hide his disappointment and frustration as he shook hands with Prespos and left the mages home. Back on the streets he let his anger take him, and rather than trying to avoid detection he simply openly walked back to the Black Boar.
Back at the Black Boar Shadow Flame found Jean and Silvara in the common room having breakfast. It was a bit late for breakfast, but as Shadow Flame had yet to eat he joined them. Over the meal they discussed what they were going to ask of Astyaril, what questions they would put to her to ask of Selune to hopefully get enough information to learn, firstly if Unagi was still alive, and secondly, where they might find him. They finished their meal and walked quickly to the High altar of the Moon, and, since they were expected, they were quickly taken to meet with Astyaril.
They sat in an ornate room, several columns ran its length holding up a ceiling painted black and containing an accurate astrological map of the night sky from Iriaebor. Astyaril sat upon a raised platform at the end of the room and the three of them were invited to sit upon plush, dark blue velvet cushions before the platform.
"Well met this fine Uktar morning," Astyaril greeted them as they took their seats. They each in turn returned her greeting and sat quietly as she explained how the spell would work.
"It is a commune spell, allowing me to open a connection to Selune so that she can hear my voice and know my mind. The spell allows me to ask any question of her that I will as long as the question can be answered with either a yes or a no. The spell is not perfect, it is not an open door into the mind of Selune and, as such, not all questions have answers. The gods are not omniscient, there is much that escapes their notice, they cannot be expected to know the comings and goings of all mortals, but I expect that you will learn enough to at least set you on the right path. Do you have any questions before we begin?"
"How many questions may we ask milady?" asked Shadow Flame.
"It should be possible to ask many questions," replied Astyaril, "but the spell will eventually end, and you will know when this happens. I think it is likely that you will run out of questions before I run out of magic," she said with a smile.
Satisfied, Shadow Flame nodded and, looking to Silvara and Jean to make sure they had no questions, he nodded to Astyaril that she should begin. The priestess lit several small bowls of incense alight, each burning with a different colour as she began to intone the words of the spell that would open the conduit to Selune. She spoke for several minutes in a quiet musical voice before announcing that they could now ask their questions.
Shadow Flame started off by asking "is Unagi alive?"
"Yes," was the answer.
"Is he being held prisoner?" asked Jean.
"Is he in Iriaebor?"
"Is he on Faerun?" Shadow Flame broadened the question.
He took a chance at wasting one of their questions by asking "is Unagi in Berdusk?"
"Is he with anyone from the Three Wheels?"
"Is he with anyone from the Planar Trade Consortium?"
"Did he meet with Zulik after we left for Berdusk?"
All three of them paused at the answer, and Jean and Silvara both looked at Shadow Flame unsure why he asked the question. "Does he have his free will?" he pushed further in that direction.
Astyaril paused for a moment before answering, "unknown."
The three of them looked at each other silently asking if there were anymore questions. When none of them spoke up Shadow Flame said, "milady it would seem we have no more questions."
Silvara nodded, "we know he is alive and in Berdusk and that he isn't being held prisoner...it's a good start," Jean nodded her agreement.
Astyaril closed her eyes and spoke under her breath for a short while before leaning back and opening her eyes again, "then the commune is finished."
The three party members stood and thanked Astyaril for her help.
"If there is nothing else I would ask a favour of you," she began. They stopped and waited for her question. "I know I did not ask anything of you before you came, and as such I do not expect anything, but it would be greatly appreciated if you could make a small donation to the church in return for this aid."
Shadow Flame opened his mouth to speak but Silvara quickly interjected before he could, "I would be happy to milady." She shot Shadow Flame a mild look of annoyance and simply smiled benignly in response. They said their farewells and left the tower. As they left Silvara spoke with one of the acolytes and gave a small donation to the church as she had promised Astyaril while Jean and Shadow Flame waited.
They waited until they were past the gates before they discussed the answers they had received from the commune spell, but before they were able to say anything a loud voice rang across the road.
"You three! Stop!" they looked up, not expecting the voice was directed at them but stopped as they saw several watchmen walking towards them lead by the captain who had questioned them after the fight between the Three Wheels and the Githyanki. "Stand aside ladies," the captain said to Jean and Silvara before turning to Shadow Flame and saying, "you, Shadow Flame, you are under arrest by order of the Shields of Iriaebor."
A look of intense frustration passed over Shadow Flames face, "what in the hells for?" he asked, his voice rising in anger.
"Silas Coldstone has decided to press charges against you for aiding in the Githyanki attack on his caravan. Surrender you weapons and come with us."
Shadow Flame looked at Jean and Silvara before turning to the captain with furrowed brow and saying, "so I'm to be arrested by a corrupt city official to answer for a crime I did not commit? I don't think that's going to happen."
"It would be best if you surrendered quietly I cannot guarantee your safety if you resist," threatened the captain.
"I have nothing to answer for, I had nothing to do with that attack and you know it, you're just too deep in Silas' pocket to think for yourself."
"It would be wise of you not to make things worse by making wild accusations such as those."
"You mean the kind of wild accusations you are making against me?" Shadow Flame asked acerbically.
"Men, arrest him, do whatever you must to make it so," ordered the captain as he drew his own blade.
Jean called the words of a spell to her mind as Shadow Flame drew his own blades, and even Silvara stood ready to fight such an unjust arrest. As the the guards began to close on the party a new voice rose above the din that had arisen from the onlooking crowd.
"Hold captain," called out Obermast as he walked past the edge of the crowd. He walked up to the captain and continued, "I am Obermast, master bard and Harper," he pulled his cloak aside to reveal a small pin that identified him as such, "these folk are wanted to answer charges in Berdusk and are already under my guard. By the laws of the Lord's Alliance, as a representative of Berdusk, they are to remain in my custody to answer for their crimes there. They have been released on their own recognizance in Iriaebor since they have agreed to travel to Berdusk of their own free will and now the time is come for them to accompany back to face the previous charges. By the letter of the Lord's Alliance, once they have answered for their crimes there you may begin proceedings to bring them back here to answer whatever new charges are being brought against them."
"Well...I...err...they..." the captain stammered, looking to his men for support and not finding any.
"Let's go now, we leave for Berdusk at once," Obermast made a show of ordering the party off. They didn't need to told twice and all four of them quickly moved off with Obermast looking official and in charge and leaving behind a clearly confused and embarrassed watch captain.
"Thanks Obermast," said Shadow Flame as they walked, "I didn't fancy having fight the city guard but I wasn't going to be taken in on that utterly idiotic charge."
"I had heard the telling of what happened with the Githyanki, and did some asking into things. Seems out friend the watch captain is in the employ of the Three Wheels, they use him to intimidate local merchants and traders."
"You don't say," said Shadow Flame. "Anyway let's get out of here, I've run out of reasons to stay in this damned city."
They arrived back at the Boar shortly afterwards.
"OK friends, go and grab you things, I'll wait for you down here, we will leave as soon as you have you gear," Obermast said to them.
Shadow Flame grabbed Jean by the arm and quickly guided her upstairs before she could say anything. They reached their room and Shadow Flame closed and locked the door behind him.
"So Jean, you're determined to go through with this?" he asked.
Jean looked to Silvara before replying, "yes I am."
"I don't plan on coming along," replied Shadow Flame, "we have an easy out here." Jean looked at him curiously. He walked over to his pack and opened it up. After rummaging through for a second he pulled out one of the scrolls that they had found in the Black Cult chapter house in the sewers. "Are you forgetting this scroll of Teleport Without Error we found?" he asked her, "we could be gone from here to where ever we want in a second."
Jean thought about his idea for a moment before shaking her head and saying, "sorry Flame, but I really am going to go with Obermast. I want to see this through whatever may happen," she paused before adding, "and I really want you to come with us. I think it's a bad idea to split up the party."
Silvara nodded her agreement with Jean, "I think you should come too Shadow Flame."
"As I've said before Silvara, this isn't really your decision, you are not the one facing charges."
"But I'm still a member of the party," she replied, "and I think it is a bad idea to split up, look what happened when we left Unagi here."
He did see her point, it would be unwise to split the party up for the very same reason he wanted to avoid returning to Berdusk as a prisoner. By himself he would be an easier target for their enemies, and more importantly, so would Jean. The damned staff was going to be the end of them all he lamented to himself, not for the first time. Finally he nodded to Jean as he rolled the scroll up tightly and then shoved it down his pants, "insurance policy," he explained with a weary smile. "First sign of any trouble and we're out of there. Damned staff."
Jean's face lit up,"great!" she exclaimed, then, looking at the staff she agreed with him, "yes, I think we're way past the point where we can drop it off and walk away from all this. I know you are concerned about what will happen in Berdusk, but I'll tell you now, I won't be letting this thing out of my site. Whatever happens, whatever we need to do, I'll do it, but right now I'm trusting in Obermast to work with us, and I think there's a better chance of that happening if we work with him as well."
Shadow Flame nodded, "I do trust him Jean, but he's not really the main concern. Silas? Githyanki? Yugoloths? Other crazy things we don't know about yet? If I'm right about all this then maybe we can count on his help if something goes wrong. I just don't see why we should take that chance."
"Because it's the right thing to do," said Silvara.
Shadow Flame opened his mouth to argue with her but let it drop, there was nothing to be gained in that argument, and no matter how much he disagreed with the sentiment the decision had been made. They grabbed all their gear and headed downstairs to begin their journey back to Berdusk.
The four of them reached the city gates as Obermast stopped them and said, "before we leave there are some things to be said." He made a quick motion with his hand towards the gate, and as the three adventurers looked back they saw a small group of mounted warriors ride over to them, each wore the black tunic with the silver shield of the Iriaebor watch. There was four of them and they lead a fifth horse, pulling up as they neared the party.
"These guards will accompany us," explained Obermast as he mounted the spare horse, "for protection mostly, as watchmen and the like."
"No horses for us then I take it," said Shadow Flame.
Obermast sighed, "no. Look as much as I'm not happy about this you are technically my prisoners. I intend to make things as easy as possible, but it is still best to abide by custom. I trust you all and I believe you are as good as your word, so for starters I'm not going to make you peace bond your weapons or anything like that, and yes that obviously means you can hold onto your weapons and other possessions. We will not be setting a cracking pace, and we will rest frequently as you desire, and all things being well I guess we will be in Berdusk within 3 days."
There was little left to say, so with that they set out to return to Berdusk.
The man looked up and down the busy street as people walked past going about their business. The few that noticed him gave him a wide berth and it didn't seem like a good idea to press the point and get in anyones face, so he walked off to the left looking for a merchant or peddler or anyone who might be able to answer his questions who wasn't a watchman or guard or similar law enforcer. He approached the door of the first store he saw - Sarlin's Fine Dressables, and entered.
It was pretty clear from the outset that he was dramatically out of place in this store, for while there were no customers the man behind the counter was dressed in the finery of nobility. The man walked up to him and introduced himself.
"Greetings good sir" he said, "I'm....err...I'm...well I'm in need of some help" he finished vaguely.
The man behind the counter was an older man, maybe fifty or so with greying, receding hair, and dressed in finery that appeared to be well above his station. "My friend," he replied, "I do not mean to be rude, but are you quite sure you are in the right place?"
The man looked at him and began to speak, but then, as he caught a glance at himself in a nearby mirror, he realised that he did indeed look quite out of place. "Sorry," he laughed quietly, "I know I don't quite look the part of a noble, but I haven't come here to shop. I need some basic information and yours was the first shop I came upon."
"Very well," the old man said, "ask your questions, I will answer them as best I can. Then I'm afraid you must leave before you frighten away any potential customers."
Something bristled in the man at the quiet condescension in the shopkeeps tone, and he thought that normally he might be offended at such a thing, but he choked back the indignation, for he needed answers, not satisfaction. He looked at the shopkeep and asked flatly, "where am I?"
"Well, as the sign says, you have come to Sarlin's Fine Dressables, for clothing that befits a noble," the old man replied a bit confused.
"No, no," replied the man, "what city is this?"
The old man stared at him like he was a town drunk, but answered, "you are in Berdusk, the jewel of the western heartlands."
Berdusk, the man thought, it sounded familiar, but he really couldn't be sure. "And this...world? What is it's name."
The shopkeep looked a little incredulous at the question, "Abeir-Toril," he answered, "also called Faerun."
The man thought hard about the name, but it didn't mean anything to him. He swore under his breath and continued, "as you may have gathered I'm in a bit of a bind," he explained, "I have recently lost all my memories. I woke up in a strange place and, although I'm not sure how, ended up here in your Berdusk. Do you know of anyone who may help me?"
The shopkeep began to shake his head but then his eyes brightened a little and he said, "maybe you could try the Temple of Deneir, The Inner Chamber, maybe the priests there can help you. There are also Harpers there, they know all kinds of things."
"The Inner Chamber hey?" the man mused, "where can I find this Inner Chamber?"
"It's up on Castle Hill - it's the biggest hill in Berdusk, to the north, you can't miss it. Anyone you ask will be able to give you directions," he explained in response to the man quizzical look.
"OK then," the man said, "thanks for your help."
"That's OK," the old man said, relaxing now that the man was leaving, "I hope you find what you're looking for," he added.
The man smiled his thanks as he exited Sarlin's Fine Dressables back on to the busy streets of Berdusk. Looking up he immediately saw where the old man was referring to - a large hill dominated the north of the city, and, as luck would have it, the road he was on lead pretty much straight there. The man set off towards Castle Hill a little happier for finally having some direction.
He found the Inner Chamber without any problem. It was a huge dominating building on the edge of the hill, impossible to miss really. He asked a passing merchant if the place was indeed the Inner Hall as it was decorated only with the eye and candle symbol of Deneir, a symbol that was unfamiliar to the man, and upon confirmation he entered into a large foyer. It was opulently furnished with soft carpets and walk rugs, marble columns trimmed in gold and sculptured ceilings. There were quite a few people going about their business - merchants and scholars, priests and lay men, worshippers and the curious, the Lord of all Glyphs and Images kept his doors open to all in search of hidden knowledge. The man stood in the foyer for several minutes, a little overcome by the extravagance of the place, before a passing acolyte noticed him and walked over.
"Well met my good sir," he said a little stiffly in response to the man ragged appearance.
The young mans words snapped him out of his wonder and the man turned quickly to look at the acolyte. "I am Gussan," the young acolyte introduced himself, "an acolyte of the Inner Chamber, is there something I can do to...help you?"
"I don't know," replied the man, "it was suggested you may be able to help me out."
"I will do what I can, tell me your concerns," prodded the acolyte.
The man smiled to himself . 'Concerns' he thought to himself, 'yeah I have some concerns.' "I am new in town, and to be honest with you, I'm not entirely sure how I got here. Earlier today, at least I think it was today, well I haven't slept since I....sorry, don't mean to ramble," Gussan smiled indulgently at him as he collected his thoughts. "OK here it is, I've...well...I've lost all memory of my life, of my self. I cannot remember anything about me, personally I mean. I can remember the things that everyone knows - I know the days of the week, I know I can use this sword...maybe I used to be a guard, or a mercenary, or a..."
"So you remember nothing of your life then?" interrupted Gussan. The man nodded to his question, "I have heard of this," continued the acolyte, "it is rare but not unheard of." He thought for a minute although it seemed much longer to the man who was trying hard to be patient. "I know someone in the temple who may be able to help you," Gussan finally said, warming to the man and his predicament, "come with me, I'll take you to see Anders, he has some knowledge of the mind, he should be able to help you."
The man breathed a loud sigh of relief, "many thanks to you Gussan, I have been lost these last hours." The acolyte just smiled that indulgent smile once again and indicated that the man should follow him. He was lead deeper into the temple for several minutes until finally they stopped in an open waiting area that lead to a small corridor with a door at the end. Gussan asked him to wait while he went to check if Anders was available and willing to meet with him. The man waited anxiously for a few minutes before Gussan returned.
"Anders is most interested in meeting you my nameless friend, please show yourself through the door at the end of that short corridor, I have other things I must attend to. Good luck." The man thanked Gussan as the acolyte swiftly walked off back the way they had come. Taking a deep breath the man walked down the corridor and knocked at the door. He was bid enter by a somewhat high pitched male voice, and doing as instructed, the man opened the door and walked in. He found himself in a small study or maybe an office. There were shelves all around stacked with papers and folders and books, filing cabinets and bookcases lined the walls, and in the centre of the room, stacked almost to collapse with papers was a hefty oaken desk. From behind the stacks of paper a man stood up, middle aged and balding he walked out from behind the desk and extended his hand to the man.
"Greetings to you...err...well, yes I guess that's what you're here to find out," he smiled, a little uncomfortable. "My name is Anders and I have some small knowledge of these kinds of matters. Please take a seat," he continued, indicating the only paper free seat in the room, a rather sparse looking wooden chair, co-opted from what the man guessed was some sort of patio set. Patio set - why could he remember such mundane things but not remember even his own name? Anders remained standing and asked, "tell me what you know will you?"
The man sat and told him all that he remembered from the time he woke up in Hopeless to the minute he sat down on the chair - it didn't take very long. He looked up at Anders who wore a concerned expression on his face.
"Hmm...this is an interesting situation you find yourself in," he said.
"Well, interesting probably isn't the word I'd choose to describe it," replied the man, "but I guess it would be if you weren't me."
"Oh, yes, true," Anders said hastily, "didn't mean to...err..belittle you, I guess I was just thinking aloud." The man waved his hand to indicate no offense was taken. "Please, if you don't mind, I'd like to try something. I have a spell that may provide some insight. I will have to cast the spell and then touch my fingers to your head. You may find the experience...unpleasant, but not painful" he warned.
The man shrugged, "I can live with unpleasant if it has a chance of helping. Cast your spell."
Anders smiled in excitement as he began to cast the spell, intoning the words with a confidence and force that the man wouldn't have guessed him capable of. After uttering only a handful of words the priest reached out and placed the first three fingers of each hand on the man's temples. Instantly the world went black. He tried to speak, to call out, unsure of what was happening when he heard Anders voice, 'do not be alarmed, this is normal. Try and relax, it will make this all much easier.'
Although he was still concerned, Anders words had calmed him enough that he was able to relax a little. He swam in that darkness for what seemed ages - it was calm and silent, warm and still.
Then a flash of light, intense and white and the man found himself looking out through eyes into a darkened room. He tried to sit but found himself bound to a table by thick leather straps as a dim light flickered above him. A sharp pain dug into his leg where he knew the black gem was. He raised his head and looked down at his leg, his eyes widening in terror. Standing above his leg was a thickly furred creatures, dressed in heavy robes of grey and blue, it had the head of a wolf? No, a jackal. The man recognised the creature for what it was - an Arcanaloth. It held a long steel instrument of some kind and was digging intensely at the man leg. As the jackal headed fiend lifted the instrument out of his leg the man saw it end in a large scoop, like a sharpened spoon, it was covered in blood and had some dark glistening substance in it. He opened his mouth to scream but no sound came out. The Arcanaloth looked at him through a large magnifying glass that was suspended before his eyes and smiled through a mouth full of fangs. It lifted its right hand an indicated toward the man. The shadow behind the Arcanaloth shifted and the man heard a clicking sound as a hulking Mezzolth stepped forward and swung a large club at him. He passed back into the swirling blackness as it hit him in the head with a crunching thud.
Again his sensory deprivation was shattered by a bright flash of white light, and again he found himself looking out into a dark room, a single flickering light above him. He was again strapped to the table. He looked down at his leg but this time found no one standing over him, no one scooping the marrow from his bones. He looked to the side and saw the silhouette of two figures standing in front of a dull light. One of them was clearly an Arcanaloth, it's snout and pointy ears visible as shadows, but the other being was nothing but a vaguely humanoid shape, its head and body smooth and featureless. He groaned in pain, and as he did both figures turned in his direction. He heard the throaty chuckle of the Arcanaloth before he felt the searing words of the other. They dug into his mind like a scalpel into soft flesh, a sound that frayed his nerves and brought tears of blood to his eyes.
"My instrument awakens. Fear not mortal, your time is not yet come, you may go back to sleep, to oblivion, for when you awake I will have given you the mercy of forgetfulness. Leave now and dream of wheels within wheels..." The man felt the thud of his head hitting the table as he passed out.
Back into the darkness, the nothingness. He thought about those words, they buzzed around his mind like a hive of angry bees...wheels within wheels, whatever that meant. Before he had time to consider them, light flashed again, bright and intense, drawing him from his thoughts. He found himself looking at the sodden ground, swaying too and fro as he travelled over it. Was he floating? Not on those legs he thought as the hoofed feet trotted along - he was slung over somebodies back, being carried through...Hopeless. He recognised that dismal town from the grey buildings and muddied streets. He tried to look up but his head swam, on the verge of unconsciousness. The world spun through a circle before he landed heavily on his back in the mud, in that familiar alleyway.
"There ya go berk, food for the rats," he heard a gruff voice say followed by laughter. He looked up and saw four filthy men, well, two men and two tieflings, about as low brow as you could get, probably cost whoever paid them less than a silver all up to buy their time. The tiefling that had been carrying him kicked him hard in the side of the head, and the last thing he remembered before passing out was the sound of their laughter as they walked off.
He snapped too and looked at Anders who was leaning down looking into his face. He jumped back a little as the man opened his eyes. "Well?" he asked excitedly, "did it work? What did you see?"
The man felt that it would be prudent not to give up too much to the priest at this stage - he needed some time to think. "Um...kind of, some flashes, some scenes, nothing that felt familiar..."
Anders face fell, "oh well, I'm not surprised really, whatever has locked your mind has it locked up tight. It is magical in nature whatever it is, and whatever it is was placed there by someone with a great deal more skill than I possess. I suspect that your memories may return in time, when who - or what - ever did this to you desires. I'm really sorry I can't be of more help to you."
The man was still a little shaken by what he had seen in the spell void, "no, no, it's fine," he managed to answer. "Listen, Anders, is it possible to rest here, in the temple, I'm exhausted, I need to rest, but I haven't got a copper to my name."
"Of course," answered the priest, "you shouldn't be out on the street in your condition. Do you not have any friends, any family in Berdusk?"
"Well maybe," the man replied, "but..."
"You can't remember, of course, how stupid of me," Anders chided himself. "Wait here and I will see what I can do."
"One more thing," said the man as Anders walked off, "some boots? If possible..."
Anders smiled and nodded as he walked off.
The man awoke from a good nights sleep, a sleep of no dreaming. He sat up on the edge of his bed and looked down and smiled at the pair of new boots that rested at the foot of the bed. He found that new clothing had also been delivered and his armour had been polished. He walked over and washed his face in the provided basin and got dressed, foregoing his armour for the present. Refreshed, he found himself feeling a little stifled by the confines of the room; to take his mind off this he began to exercise, the routine he set about seemed second nature, perhaps drilled in from years of practice? He couldn't sure, but it did feel natural and he enjoyed it.
As he sat recovering from the exertion of his routine there came a knock upon his door. He looked up, momentarily concerned before he remembered where he was and relaxed.
"Come in," he called to his visitor. The door opened and Anders walked in with a smile on his face.
"Good morning to you my nameless friend," he greeted the man, "I trust you slept well?"
"Very well," the man replied, "in fact, I can't remember ever sleeping so soundly." Anders laughed at the mans joke and went and sat across from him on a chair beside the basin.
"So I take it that you remember nothing still?"
The man shook his head, a little frustrated.
"I had an idea last night, something that may help, but I wanted to make sure I had your agreement before doing anything," the man nodded his encouragement to Anders - any plan was better than none. "It seems we have somewhat limited experience here in the Inner Chamber with those who find themselves in your position, but Berdusk as a whole is home to many Harpers and other mages, perhaps one of them could help..." he let the idea finish itself.
The man nodded, it was a good idea - put the word out and see who, if anyone can help. "It does expose me to those who may have less than honourable motives," he pointed out.
"I had considered that," answered Anders, "but I do think you are in the safest place for such eventualities. It would be a brave soul indeed who attempted anything in the midst of all these priests, not to mention all these Harpers."
A good point, and one that sealed the deal for the man, "then I say do it, at the very least it may end up bringing forward someone I know, or used to know, or..." he trailed off.
"Indeed," agreed Anders. "I will set things in motion right now, the sooner we can find you some help the better. I don't mean to be rude but there are limits to what we can do here. There is no problem with you staying for a couple of days, but we do not run an Inn here. Conversely I personally would not feel comfortable with just tossing you out on the street. I think this idea is the best compromise between both view points."
The man smiled his understanding, he was already beginning to feel like he was imposing - it seemed it wasn't in his nature to outstay a welcome.
"You are of course free to walk around the temple, within the general limits of the public, don't feel as though you have to stay in this room."
"I understand, and appreciate your help, but I have a lot to think about," explained the man, "I think I will stay here, it is comfortable and warm, and I can use the rest."
"Very well then," said Anders, "I will start getting the news of your predicament out to the city."
The first days journey had been reasonably smooth for the party. Very few travellers were encountered, and all that they saw gave them a wide berth - a group of soldiers escorting prisoners was not something that most people felt the need to interfere with. Shadow Flame had continued to try and convince Jean that continuing with this journey was a bad idea, reiterating the danger of the staff being lost, or worse, being lost to those who were actively seeking it, but she was adamant in her decision to see this situation through to the end.
They set up camp in the evening, Shadow Flame, Jean and Silvara were set up in the middle by the fire, with two guards patrolling the perimeter of the camp, and two of them sleeping ready for the change of watch. Obermast would stay with them and talk into the evening until they fell asleep. The first night of their journey passed without incident.
The travelling was easy for the party, with Obermast and the guards worrying about the day to day tasks of the journey - keeping watch, maintaining bearings and directions and similar concerns, they were free to talk amongst themselves, and talk they did. Shadow Flame continued to try and impress upon Jean the risk he felt was being taken in satisfying her need for closure. He did not include Silvara in the conversations, she had made her position perfectly clear and he recognised that she was easily as stubborn as he was. He had little luck in swaying Jean from her course, she was determined to see it through. She was not going in blind, a fact that she reminded Shadow Flame of several times; she knew the risks, knew their situation, and she was prepared to deal with any problems that arose at the time. For his part, Shadow Flame kept his word, and did not try and use the scroll to leave Jean and Silvara behind; he may have disagreed with Jean's decision but he was smart enough not to try and break up the party, it was an all in or none in proposition and he recognised that. It did not stop his anger at the situation though; he felt strongly that the whole thing was a setup and was unable to get the idea that it was an elaborate scheme to get at the staff. He did not know by whom but he wasn't ruling anyone out at this point.
The time had passed uneventfully for the man in the small room in the Inner Chamber, but it also passed fairly quickly. Nothing had returned to his mind, no memory that could be considered significant in any way. He played over those flashes of the past that Anders' spell had unlocked, over and over, trying to divine some meaning from them. The aspects that were familiar were only vague impressions, nothing concrete had come from them. Arcanaloth - a creature he knew of somehow; had he dealt with them in the past? Had he worked for them? Willfully? There was nothing there, nothing that might give an indication as to how he knew what it was. The same for Mezzoloth, familiar yet meaningless. His mind kept returning to the phrase that was burned into his mind - "wheels within wheels". He had heard it before but failed to understand its import. The morass of emptiness that was his memory became infuriating, his frustration boiling over whenever his mind returned to those half memories, those memories that seemed as though they belonged to someone else. Someone else - he wasn't prepared to dismiss that idea either.
The keep himself from dwelling on his failed memory he exercised. There was some solace to be taken from it - punish the body to clear the mind, and it worked mostly. It felt very familiar, and he could tell from the fact he was in good shape that he spent a good amount of time pushing himself physically. There was also the blade, the cold iron blade that was in the alley. It was his, he had no doubt of that, it felt comfortable. He spent a good amount of time working with the blade, testing his skill, and was often presently surprised at what he could do - he had clearly received extensive training in the weapon.
Towards the end of the day there came a knock at his door. It was not time for a meal so he assumed that he had a visitor rather than just an acolyte bringing him food.
"Come," he called out.
Anders opened the door and stepped in. "Well met again my friend," he avoided calling him nameless, it seemed the man did not like to be reminded of the obvious.
The man nodded to Anders in greeting. "I have some potentially good news I think," Anders continued, "there is someone here who would like to meet with you."
"Can they fix my memories?" the man asked quickly, his hope rising.
"I apologise," said Anders, "I handled that poorly. No I do not think he can help you with your memory, but he claims that he may know you. Yesterday I sent out your physical description and some words on your condition. Until now none had come forward to offer any aid, but one man has come claiming that your description matches that of someone he knows. He is waiting outside if you would care to meet with him?"
"Of course," the man said urgently, "even if there is only a slight chance, I must know."
Anders nodded and walked quickly to the still open door. He leant out and signalled for whoever was waiting outside to come into the room. A man walked into the room, pale with short dark hair, he wore simple dark blue robes. As his eyes fell upon the man they lit up in recognition.
"You have no memory of your life I understand?" he asked the man.
"No I do not, but it is clear that you do, tell me please, who am I?" the man urged.
The walked across and sat in a chair across from the man's bed. "Your name is Unagi," he said simply.
"Unagi," the man repeated, trying it on for size, "Unagi, Unagi," he said it several times more before frowning and saying, "it does not change anything, it does not feel familiar."
"I think that is to be expected," said Anders from the doorway, "if it were such a simple matter than I doubt we would even be here with you discussing this."
The man nodded his understanding - Anders was right, he had set his hopes too high. Still, this man knew him, knew his name. "What else can you tell me...?" he asked, fishing for a name.
"Ah, sorry, how rude of me," the man stood and extended his hand to Unagi, "I am Fallon, called by some the plane touched, although that is a misnomer since I am human. The name plane touched is used to refer..."
"Pleased to meet you Fallon," interrupted Unagi with a wry smile.
Fallon smiled apologetically, "sorry, didn't mean to run on and give you a lesson in proper names."
"It's not that I wish to be rude, but I have more urgent things on my mind as it were. I am keen to hear what you can tell me about my life, about who I am."
"I understand all to well," replied Fallon, "and I would not extend your anxiety, but I feel that perhaps this is not the best place to go into details, there are some parts of your story that you may not wish to be, shall we say, out in the open?"
"What do you suggest?" asked Unagi, noticing Anders attention was drawn by Fallon's words.
"Anders my friend," said Fallon, turning to the priest of Deneir, "I do not mean to be rude, but I expect you can understand the need for discretion in this matter? This man does still have his right to some privacy."
Anders nodded, "it was never my intention to keep him here, or to act against his will, and I am glad you have come. I would appreciate being kept informed of how it plays out. I'm no so much interested in you life story," he addressed Unagi, "as much as I am interested in the manner of magic involved in locking your mind. I have always maintained an interest in mind affecting magic as a bit of a hobby I guess, and really would like to know what you find out about it."
"Sound OK to me," said Unagi, "I will let you know anything of interest I find out about it."
"With that settled," said Fallon, "may I suggest we return to my home and I will tell you all that I know."
Unagi paused for a moment, unsure of whether to trust the man he had just met, but with little choice he nodded his acceptance of the idea.
"Very well," said Anders, "I wish you luck Unagi, you have proven to be an interesting character, or at least you have an interesting problem."
Unagi smiled and extended his hand to Anders, "thank you Anders, your help has been invaluable, and I promise to return and tell you all that I find out about my, ah, condition." They shook hands, and after Fallon and Anders said their goodbyes, Unagi left with Fallon to return to his home.
The days journey had been uneventful again and Shadow Flame, Silvara and Jean were resting near the fire as camp had been made. Two of the guards sat with them, far enough away to give them some privacy but close enough to keep an eye on them. Obermast would sit with them on occasion but spent most of the early evening wandering with the perimeter guards.
The night wore on and Silvara and Jean slept, Shadow Flame dozed lightly so he could keep half an eye on what was happening as the non-patrolling guards slept in preparation for their watch. Early in the morning, a little after midnight Shadow Flame was awakened by the sounds of heavy footsteps and a crunching sound as Obermast leapt into the camp near the fire. Shadow Flame looked up at the bard, who was slightly out of breath from running, with a raised eyebrow.
"Wake the others," the bard whispered hoarsely, "I fear we are under attack."
Shadow Flame looked up at the guards slipping their armour on and grabbing their weapons before rolling over and waking Silvara and Jean.
"The perimeter guards hadn't reported in on time," explained Obermast, "so I went out to look for them and could not find them, and as I searched I narrowly escaped being hit by several small cross bow bolts. I quickly ran back here so we could prepare."
As he finished speaking Jeans body flared into light, her form surrounded by dim fiery light that they all recognised as faerie fire. She cursed to herself and began speaking the words of a spell as the rest of them flattened against the ground waiting for indication of what was out there in the night. They did not have to wait long as several small crossbow bolts screamed into the campfire. Most of them missed their mark but Shadow Flame was struck in the shoulder by a single bolt. It was not large enough to cause much damage but he immediately began to feel the nausea associated with mild poison. Jean finished intoning the words to her spell and blinked out of sight as the invisibility took effect nullifying the flames of the faerie fire. Shadow Flame fought of the effects of the poison and looked at Silvara mouthing the words "on three".
Silvara nodded as Shadow Flame whispered his count, turning to Obermast and the guards as he finished his count and leapt up, drawing his blades and charging forward in the direction the bolts had come from. Obermast started to object, but seeing Silvara spring up a second after Shadow Flame and follow him out of cover he gave the order for the guards to follow them out as he in turn stood and ran in the direction the cross bow bolts had been fired from. As they charged forward another sortie of bolts whistled through the air but none of them found their mark. Their attackers were close, such bolts had only a short range where they could be accurate, and sure enough both Shadow Flame and Silvara spotted their attackers through the heat signatures given off by their bodies, only a few yards ahead. Even without the benefits of infravision Obermast and the guards did not have to search for long as their charge had drawn their attackers out of hiding, and they were close enough to spot their forms by the moonlight as the fight was joined.
Jean had put on the glasses found in the cult chapter house under Iriaebor which afforded her full dark vision, albeit with a very limited range, but enough for her to navigate easily towards their foes. She circled wide enough around the main thrust to give her cover from stray bolts, but close enough to stay in visual contact with her allies, and did not waste her opportunity to raise some defensive magic from items she wore, quietly invoking their powers so as not to give away her location by sound. She crept towards the melee grounds and saw her friends engage their enemies. They were somewhat short, lithe humanoids, probably not human but she couldn't really tell. She could however hear voices raised intoning the words of magics, divine magic from the sounds of it, from the rear of the battle, so she continued forward until she was close enough to see the spell casters.
The party joined their foes in melee, they were short, only about five feet tall, and appeared to be elves, their slender faces and long pointed ears giving them away. They were like no elves any of them had seen before though as their skin was jet black and their hair of the purest white; each wore chain coupled with small shields - bucklers, and they brandished long swords with practiced ease.
"Dark elves!" Obermast called out above the din of melee. Drow! Each of them knew of the dark elves, evil and degenerate, thy lived under the earth in a world of caves and underground cities, rarely, if ever, venturing into the lands above, but none of them had ever seen a drow before. Shadow Flame and Silvara both adopted a more defensive fighting style to give themselves a chance to study the dark elves who had a fearsome reputation as fierce and skilled warriors.
Obermast had a lute in his hands almost straight away and he began to play it and sing in a rich baritone, words of encouragement and praise for his comrades. As the music washed over the battled field Shadow Flame and Silvara, along with the guards from Iriaebor felt strength and confidence flow through them, buoyed by the subtle magic of the bards song, and they attacked with a renewed vigour and speed, now unconcerned with defensive tactics, and they pressed the attack. The drow were strong opponents however, quick and precise, and it took all of their concentration to keep them at bay. It became clear in short order that they were outnumbered, but only slightly - Shadow Flame counted six dark elves who had singled out the guards as each faced two of the drow whereas himself and Silvara were only facing one.
Jean looked on as the fight raged on only meters from her, and as she closed she spotted the spell casters at the rear of the battle - two priestesses, each clad in chain with flowing dark robes over the top. They both finished casting spells, neither of which had a visible affect, but Jean did notice the dark elves seemed to gain a momentary advantage in combat as both Shadow Flame and Silvara received wounds from quick attacks, and both guards were wounded by a concert of well timed and placed attacks from their foes. She was now in position to release her magic upon the priestesses and did not waste any time, as she stood firm and began speaking th words of her most powerful magic.
Shadow Flame felt a wave of cold magic seep into his body, numbing his bones and slowing his movements as his joints creaked in frozen pain. As the magic took affect the drow warrior he was facing off against stepped inside one of his attacks and delivered a strong blow, knocking the wind out of him and staggering him for a moment. He concentrated upon the magic and was able to force it affects away, pushing the coldness from his body and pressing the attack upon his foe, scoring two very strong hits upon him. Silvara similarly was able to defend against the attacks of her foe, taking a glancing hit on her armour as the dark elfs attack seemed to blur the air with magical speed. The affect of the magic was short lived as the words of Obermasts song countered the affect of the spells aiding the dark elves at the cost of losing its benefit to the party.
Jeans invisibility magic was dispelled as she finished the words to her spell and a roiling ball of fire burst forth from her hands. It screeched across the field towards the priestesses exploding in a huge ball of fire that engulfed them both. She shielded her eyes as she watched one of them leap clear of the blast and turn her attention toward her, rising and beginning to intone the words to a spell already. The other was not so lucky and as the flame dissipated Jean saw her on her knees wracked with coughing, as parts of her robes continued to burn.
As the fireball exploded behind the dark elves the party stepped back under the force of the blast and the blinding light, their vision temporarily removed under the explosion of fire. It was all the drow needed, enough to give them even a slight opening and press home their attacks, Shadow Flame and Silvara both receiving wounds, and both guards being hit heavily by the drow attacking them, with even Obermast faltering momentarily in his song. They all recovered fairly quickly, with especially Shadow Flame returning the attack and heavily wounding his foe.
Jean did not waste any time and immediately began casting another spell. The priestess who had dropped to her knees cast a spell upon herself, light blue light washing out from her hands over her body as she stood with renewed strength and began casting another spell. Jean had almost finished her spell when a pall of silence fell over her nullifying its effect - the other priestess smiled triumphantly as her spell of silence took effect, canceling Jean's spell. She was familiar with the silence spell and knew that she could shake its effect and leave the area of silence. Jean ran forward, towards the priestesses, hoping the silence would not follow her.
Silvara staggered her opponent as the smooth head of her footmans mace arced down across his head. The dark elf dropped to one knee under the blow but was able to counter Silvara's attack, his blade getting past her defense and glancing against her armour with little affect. Shadow Flame too was able to deflect his opponents attack and follow through with two devastating attacks that left the dark elf dead upon the ground. He quickly turned and raced over to the guard nearest him to render aid.
After moving about 10 feet the sound of battle returned to Jeans ears and she smiled as she realised she had left the silence behind. She turned once again to the priestess who had dodged her fireball and began casting another spell. The other priestess finished the words to her own spell and watched expectantly at the effect she hoped would come.
Silvara got the advantage over her foe who was heavily wounded from her previous attacks, and he fell heavily to the ground, dead as her mace struck the side of his neck, breaking it. She turned to look at the other guard, he was definitely much the worse for wear and turned to run across and provide some aid. She looked puzzled for a moment as she realised her body was not obeying her orders - she was held fast by magic. Obermast saw Silvara unable to move and abandoned his song in favour of magic, the words of a spell coming to his mind. Shadow Flame joined the guard in battle, pushing in to force one of the dark elves into fighting him, leaving the guard to fight against only one foe. His arrival was unexpected as both he and the guard were able to get past their enemies defenses to land blows, the dark elves unable to respond immediately, leaving themselves open for another attack.
This time Jean finished casting her spell before the priestess and two small glowing green darts flew from her hands, weaving around each other in a helix as they hit the dark elven priestess full on forcing her to abandon her spell as she cried out in pain, the acid of Jeans darts sinking into her flesh as it seeped between the links of her chain armour.
Obermast finished his spell, dispelling the magic that held Silvara in place. She turned and nodded her thanks to the bard before turning towards the priestesses with the intention of returning the favour. She looked across and saw Jean locked in spell battle with one priestess, so she began speaking the words of a spell aimed at the other one. The priestess however unleashed a spell aimed at Obermast; the bard felt the cold waves of another hold spell roll over him as he fought with its effect, trying to fight it off. Shadow Flame and the guard he fought beside finished near simultaneous attacks upon their foes, both of them striking home as their blades sheared through the chain armour of the dark elves both of whom died as blood filled their lungs. Shadow Flame turned to the other guard just in time to see a drow blade bite deep into his neck, killing him instantly. He called out in rage as he charged across behind Silvara, the other guard close behind.
Jean laughed as the magic missiles she had just cast crashed into the priestess who was still crying out in pain from the acid boiling away on her skin. The missiles crashed into her with a force that knocked her back several steps. She pulled a potion bottle from her belt and raised it to her lips, hungrily gulping the liquid down. Jean cursed at the priestess and began casting another spell in her direction.
Silvara finished casting her spell and a ball of magical silence descended upon the other priestess before she could finish the words to her own spell. Realising what had happened she opened her mouth in a silent scream of rage and drew her long sword from its sheath before running toward Silvara. Shadow Flame stopped and exchanged a glance with the guard who nodded in understanding as the tiefling stopped and ran to join the priestess in battle. The guard met the two drow who had just killed his comrade, charging them with his shield, his sword finding purchase on one of them as melee was joined. Obermast forced the effect of the magic away, and, pausing momentarily to catch his breath, ran across to help the other guard out with his dark elven foes.
Jean cast her final sortie of magical missiles at the priestess who staggered briefly as they hit her full force. She was badly injured but not ready to give up the fight yet as she began to intone the words to her own spell. With no more offensive magics at her disposal Jean began to cast some defensive magic in preparation to fight the priestess physically, she only hoped she could get her spell of before the priestess did.
Silvara, seeing Obermast and the guard taking the fight to the remaining drow warriors ran over to help Shadow Flame fight the priestess. She was a fierce opponent, more skilled with her blade than the warriors Shadow Flame had fought so far, and she was able to hit him with a well timed swing of her sword. Shadow Flame cursed himself for underestimating his foe and fought back, but was unable to pierce her defences. The guard, pressing the advantage gained from his charge, swung his blade at the same dark elf had struck a moment ago, this time his blade bit deeply into the drow's chest, piercing his armour and chest, stopping his heart with cold steel. The dark elf tried to breath in, his eyes rolling back as he fell dead to the ground.
Jean cursed loudly, dropping the last words of her spell to dodge the bolt of black energy that had poured from the hands of the priestess. She dove to the side, limbs flailing wildly as the energy ball flew harmlessly past her, over the ground where she had stood only moments before. She stood up, and brandishing the staff of knowledge in both hands she charged at the drow priestess, imagining the staff crushing her skull under her well timed blow.
Silvara had arrived next to Shadow Flame and, seeing him badly wounded, cast a spell of healing on the tiefling. It was all he needed. As he felt the warmth of the healing spell wash over his body he attacked with renewed strength, his dagger swinging under the priestesses defences and biting deeply into her side. She screwed her face up in pain, and anger as she returned his attack which was harmlessly parried by Shadow Flames long blade. It was to be her last attack as Obermast had stood aside to let the guard fight the last drow warrior and cast a sortie of his own magical missiles at the dark elven priestess. Shadow Flame smiled at the expression of surprise on her face as she dropped to her knees on her way to the ground. The guard had not wasted any opportunities of his own, and as the priestess died both Silvara and Shadow Flame looked across to see him crush the final drow warriors skull under the weight of his shield.
That left only the priestess. Silvara, Obermast and Shadow Flame all started casting spells as Jean closed to melee the priestess who had drawn a long sword to face the mage. As soon as the fight began Jean regretted her decision - the priestess was skilled with that blade as she had no trouble stepping past Jeans staff and slicing open Jeans' side through her robes. The mage gasped in pain as the priestess pressed her advantage, digging the blade deeper into Jeans side as the mage began to scream in pain. The priestesses advantage was short lived however, as she was held firmly in place by Silvara's spell and then pummeled by a rain of magic missiles from both Shadow Flame and Obermast. Her rigid form toppled under the weight of the missiles and she crumpled dead to the ground.
Drow Holy Symbol
"Well Jean," said Shadow Flame, "seems you've managed to attract more enemies."
Jean tried to smile but could only grimace as she said, "I wasn't even trying."
Silvara and Shadow Flame both laughed at her joke before Silvara said, "it's pretty clear you were the intended target here Jean. The faeries fire at the start and now this scroll. Do you think they were after the staff?"
"Who knows," Jean replied, exasperated.
"My bet would be no," said Shadow Flame, "no one we spoke to has mentioned anything about the drow in relation to the staff, so I'm thinking they were after something else. Any ideas Jean?"
She thought for a moment before replying, "none, no idea. To be honest I don't really feel like thinking about it now either. Let's just grab these weapons and worry about it all in the morning."
They nodded their agreement and began gathering the weapons of the dark elves up to take with them. As the last of them were placed in camp Obermast and the guard returned, each carrying the body of a guard.
"We found them both dead, pierced with cross bow bolts, and with their throats cut," announced Obermast as they placed the bodies at the edge of camp. The guard wandered off to pick up the body of the other guard who had fallen in battle as Obermast sat beside the party.
He looked at the pile of weapons the party had gathered. "Leave the weapons, they will be useless to you."
"Why?" asked Jean.
"Drow weapons are destroyed by sunlight," Obermast explained. "I don't really know the whys or wherefores but their enchantments are tied to the underdark and are destroyed immediately by sunlight. The metal itself becomes brittle and they are then useless."
Jean cursed to herself before asking, "so what now?"
"Well, so nothing," replied Obermast, "I don't see how this changes anything. We will continue tomorrow to Berdusk..." he let his statement hang to see if there were any objections. There were none.
"OK," said Shadow Flame, "we should just set the watch for the night then." They all agreed and Shadow Flame and Obermast volunteered to do the watch for the rest of the night. The rest of them went to sleep for what remained of the night, exhausted from the battle.