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  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    Sadly, my update schedule is...hideously awful. I have waaaaay too many projects up, and I also have to deal with work and keeping vaguely enough sanity to function.

    Life is so mean to me.

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    Chapter Ten (part 1)


    Sarevok had to admit, he rather liked this part of the operation.

    Oh, all of it had its place, he knew that. Rieltar might have earned every last bit of his burning hatred, but he was a master manipulator. The plan he had created, the iron shortage that gripped the coast, would have very certainly earned him a fortune that made his own considerable holdings seem like the contents of a beggar’s cup. But it bored him, it truly did. Stockpiling ore? Delivering the contents between hidden storehouses? Connecting with scattered agents in clandestine meetings? It was so… quiet. So subtle. So tedious.

    But the ‘bandits’, the mercenary companies that Rieltar had contracted to play the part of thieves, driving the crisis to ever greater heights. Those were people he could understand. Whether they were motivated by the love of gold or the sheer joy of blood, they took it by simple, straight force. It was not the best way to claim what you wanted out of life, he knew that, but it was certainly the most refreshing. He could even wear his armor in front of them, since not one had the slightest idea what it meant. It scared the Hells out of even the most hardened killer in the bunch, and he approved of this.

    “So how long must I be out here, guiding small pink things into being something like an army?” Tazok snarled as he stood next to Sarevok, watching men load stolen iron goods into Bags of Holding for transport to the storage facility.

    Sarevok smirked. “Do you mean the Black Talon humans, or the hobgoblins over in the Chill camp?”
    The hardened soldier, one of Sarevok’s most trusted lieutenants, looked over the camp with some disdain.

    “All small. All pink. All equally worthless. Would kill them all if you didn’t think they was worth the trouble, boss.”

    It was hard to blame him; Tazok was not a member of any mercenary company, but one of Sarevok’s personal acolytes and easily the most powerful fighter in his employ. A former soldier from the Sythsillian Empire to the far south, he was a half-ogre who favored his ogrish half far more than his human half. He stood easily a head taller than even the seven-foot-tall Sarevok himself, and was roughly half again as broad at the shoulders and waist. He looked down upon the mercenaries because he could like reach out, lift any one of them with one hand, and crush his skull without visible effort.

    But as he said, he would not do so while Sarevok gave him no orders to do so. Tazok did not respect much in this world beyond his own personal gain and his love of violence, but he very much respected power. His loyalty to Sarevok, and the power he represented, was absolute. He had only been eighteen years old, when he had met Tazok in the wilds. Sarevok had been in the mountains, training, and Tazok had misjudged him as easy prey… a notion erased when Sarevok had defeated him in single combat. The half-ogre had been a trusted servant ever since; a remora all too happy to attach himself to the biggest shark he knew. When Sarevok’s ‘loyalty’ to his father’s schemes had gotten him placed in a position of importance managing the faux bandit attacks, Tazok had been the ideal choice to serve as field commander.

    Sarevok shrugged. “Whatever your preferences, I need someone who can be trusted in command of this operation. Taugoz and Ardenor might be paid in Rieltar’s coin, but you insure the orders they receive come from me. Besides, you cannot claim you don’t enjoy the work.”

    “Enjoy the work just fine. Despise the co-workers,” Tazok growled. “Give me someone I can work with. Ogres. Ogrillons. Would even take puny orcs, in a pinch. Chill Hobgoblins are just barely passable as soldiers, and Ardenor thinks too much to be a good lackey. And the humans… ugh.”

    “You realize, of course, that I am human?” Sarevok asked.

    “You don’t count, boss. Strong enough to rip the horns off a dragon! Might be part ogre, somewhere in there. Would be happy to have you with me when burning a town.”

    “Alas, but serious battle will have to wait. Rieltar has me playing delivery boy,” Sarevok said with an annoyed sigh. “After, I’m to return to the Throne and attend him in his next wave of negotiations. He’ll be meeting the Knights of the Shield in two months’ time.”

    Tazok’s eyes widened. “Big name. This means…”

    Sarevok smirked, raising a finger to his lips. “Nothing more where the men might hear it. We still have much work to do before things go as planned.”

    Tazok smiled. He was one of a select few beings who knew the full plan, and was enough of a psychotic killer to find it a good one. Leaving it at that, Sarevok picked up the loaded Bags of Holding; each one had nearly a ton of iron goods, and each one weighed no more than the cloth it was made of. He was no mage, but he had to admit magic certainly did have its uses. He had many miles to travel, yet, and with these items he could do it alone.

    It was a ridiculous duty, but such things were needed. He needed to stay close to his Rieltar’s business practices, until such time he was able to take them for himself. And then… well.

    Gorion’s ward was still out there, and while he had spent a considerable portion of his wealth on killing her, he knew in his blood it wouldn’t succeed. She would come for him, he knew it. And when she did, he wanted her to be gazing down on her from a throne, showing her how far beneath him she still was.

    A silly notion, perhaps, but he was allowed to dream. Gods could do whatever they wished.


    If someone had told Sephiria, merely even a week before, that she would be hunting a team of bandits back to their camp with a dwarven mercenary and a Drow elf cleric behind her, she would have assumed they were insane.

    Thus far, she had to admit that the dark elf woman, Viconia DeVir by name, was not nearly the mythical monster she had come to expect from the Drow’s dark reputation. They had truly seen no evidence that the Flaming Fist officer’s accusations were true, in any event; she seemed barely able to walk under her own power following the chase that had led her to them. Kivan had not cared, of course; the feud between the subterranean drow and the lighter-skinned elves of the surface was legendary and bloody. The ranger had been very open in his desire to put an arrow in the dark elven priestess and have done with it.

    It had been, oddly enough, Acherai who had spoken up on the woman’s behalf. And Sephiria herself, while wary of Vicionia both for her species and the possibility she actually was a dangerous murderer, couldn’t deny his (slightly cruel) logic:

    “Well, you got my leg broken, and she fixed it, so you’ll forgive me if when given the choice between two elves who are certain to cause problems for the group, I’ll pick her. At least she has more value from a practical perspective.”

    And so, they had allowed the drow woman to remain. She had mostly stayed silent, walking at the rear of the group and shifting her gaze warily between the two male elves as if she expected one of them to turn on her at any moment, but she had not caused a problem or made any effort to start a fight. She even seemed to somewhat approve of Sephiria, apparently liking the idea of a woman leading the party.

    It had taken them a few hours of walking like this before another group of bandits crossed their path. Sephiria nodded at her erstwhile partner as Kivan informed them of the planned ambush, and Acherai smiled and said, cheerfully, “Viconia, dear, to the front, hood just far back enough they can see your face.”
    Under her hood, the drow arched a perfect white eyebrow. “I do not believe I take orders from you, darthiir,” she murmured. “I tolerate your presence for the protection your leader offers, but I have not fallen so far that a faerie elf may simply command me.”

    “Oh my. You are going to be another difficult one, I see,” he said. “Dear heart, if you would? Those fine men with their very fine bows are going to start shooting at us eventually. Having a dark elf involved in negotiations would certainly give us the advantage of intimidation.”

    “Viconia, he does have a point,” Sephiria said, hating to admit it. “The reputation of your people would likely make bandits show whatever respect their sort can muster.”

    The drow rolled her eyes, sighing as if this was an intense irritation to her, but she stepped forward, pulling her hood back as Acherai bowed to her with utter, impossible sarcasm.

    Sephiria tried to pretend she was confident the plan was working, but her company made that difficult.


    “I’m a little surprised. I was thinking that gnolls would be better at tracking us,” Imoen said as the group marched through the wilderness, double-time at Jaheira’s insistence. Dynaheir was not able to keep up, being exhausted and half-starved save for what travel rations they could feed her; but thankfully Minsc was more than able to carry her slender weight.

    Xan also had trouble keeping up, but he seemed to enjoy complaining, so that wasn’t a big deal with anyone.

    “Why,” Jaheira murmured, continuing to tromp through the wilderness at the lead of the group, the underbrush seeming to simply melt away from her before she had any need to cut it, “do you sound disappointed that an army of vicious monsters is not hunting us?”

    “I’m not disappointed!” Imoen said, looking back over her shoulder to make sure there weren’t any slavering monsters coming up behind them. Xan was still alive, so probably not. “I just thought they’d be good at hunting. They’re part dog.”

    “They are not ‘part dog’, child. They are in fact believed in some circles to be part demon, though it is largely unclear as to their true-“

    “They look dog, though.”

    Jaheira tried not to scream, but only because there might still have been some kind of monster close enough to hear them. It did not help that Khalid was (and she knew he was, he might make no sound but she knew her husband, dammit all) struggling very hard not to laugh.

    “Are we nearing to a village of people, my friends? Minsc is strong and can tromp through the wilderness all day and night without rest, but fair Dynaheir needs rest and food and to snuggle with hamsters.”

    “Two of those are somewhat true,” Dynaheir said, her voice soft with fatigue. “The notion of hamsters ‘tis all in Minsc’s mind.”

    “And I notice that I am being abandoned. That none care about my travails,” Xan called out from a little too far behind them for anyone to care. “I too rot with fatigue and pain, and yet I am ignored by my supposed allies. I should not be shocked, I suppose… this is merely a symptom of the universe as a whole, showing its absolute cruelty through the actions of the lower beings that make our way meaninglessly through the-“

    “Ah, and we have found the town! Nashkel ahead,” Jaheira said, just a little more loudly than needed. “I am sure that with the iron mines open again, some sort of caravan will be traveling north to give word and resume trade negotiations; Khalid, you take Imoen and Xan to procure supplies while I attempt to find a likely group and arrange passage. Minsc, please, take your witch to the inn as you wish and allow her to rest as you will. We wish you luck in your journey home.”

    “Home? Silly Jaheira, Minsc and Dynaheir do not walk to Rasheman yet!” Minsc declared heartily. “Surely you remember we came to this land upon our Dajemma? Of course we cannot leave until such time as Minsc has achieved his rite of manhood by facing down the great evils which assail the people of this land, and until wise Dynaheir is even wiser than she is now!”

    “Minsc over-simplifies a tad,” Dynaheir said dryly. “But he speaks more or less truly. I come to study the troubles that plague this land and do what I can to solve them, as part of my rite of passage among the ranks of the Wychlaran. And Minsc… as odd as this may sound to look upon him, he is not technically considered an adult by the standards of the Rashemi berserkers. So he too must pass this test.”
    Jaheira winced. “So, then. You wish to remain with the group, then.”

    “Shall this be a problem?”

    “Your aid shall not be a problem, of course, lady Dynaheir,” Jaheira said respectfully, trying very hard not to look at Minsc. “Yes. Indeed, your aid would be a fine addition to the group, I’m sure, but…”
    “Then ‘tis settled. Minsc and I shall rest and take a meal whilst passage is arranged, and I shall take the time to pen the spells I’ve maintained in my memory to a new book. There will be ample time to sleep on the road, when the wagons begins moving.” Dynaheir said, smiling with approval. “Come, seek us at the inn when you are ready to proceed.”

    Jaheira sighed, watching the two proceed out of the trees and head into town, seeking the inn and a few hours of rest while the party made preparations to travel north. Her husband patted her on the shoulder, and smiled. “T-there there, dear. It won’t be the worst group of people we’ve ever t-traveled with.”

    “Anybody who has ever spent any time with Elminster would be forced to admit that,” Jaheira muttered reluctantly, dropping her voice so only Khalid could hear. “But they have delayed our mission more than once already. They Who Harp might be fond of their doing things the hard way, but they still expect results from We Who Actually Get Things Done.”

    Tenderly, Khalid leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. “And y-you always deliver. No m-matter how angry you get in the m-meantime.”

    She smiled despite herself and returned the embrace. “You are quite lucky I love you so, silly man. Else, I would take your words as sign that you see me as having anger issues.”

    “P-p-perish the thought.”


    The bandit camp was… worrisome.

    Acherai was not an idiot. Kivan was not allowed anywhere near the camp, and Sephiria would be watching him closely at all times. Garrick would be there too, but Acherai had basically already decided that Garrick would be ‘voluntarily leaving the group’ upon their next return to civilization, when Kivan finished dying or whatever he was planning to do. They had acquired a competent cleric, meaning their little team now had both divine and arcane magic, capable warriors, and (ahem) a skilled rogue. It was time to start pruning out the useless bits. In the meantime, he and the two members who actually looked like they could blend in with bandits would handle the infiltration and get any data they needed before making a quick escape.

    But still, he had not been expecting this.

    The camp was not some collection of brigands; the humans were clearly soldiers, with good quality weapons and armor, targets and training dummies set up for combat drills, and a central command tent set up with messengers flowing in and out of it at regular intervals. On the other side of the camp, a small army of crimson-skinned hobgoblins had set up a similar arrangement, and as he watched a pair of them dragged a human corpse from a massive pit dug outside the camp, and threw it into a cave behind their tents. Inside, something furred and massive snarled and dragged the body in.

    *Oh, my. We are in a little bit over our heads,* Acherai thought as the bandit they had convinced to ‘recruit’ them spoke to a lookout on their behalf. His eyes scanned the camp, noting sentries, things that might have been supply caches, any detail that might have been useful in even the smallest way. He felt like he was missing something, some detail about the situation that would make everything click into place, something…

    … Large. Something very large.

    The ogre (or was he an ogre? He was big enough, but he didn’t look quite right…) emerged from the central tent in the camp and stomped over to them, a walking mountain of muscle and metal, and looked down on his men, who appropriately took several steps back. “The Hells you bringing prisoners here for?! What part of ‘no witnesses’ you idiots not getting?! He just left! He comes back to pick something up, he left a paper or some nonsense, he sees prisoners that we should not have, and he starts ripping off heads! I tell you right now, the heads I give him will be yours, idiots!”

    “B-boss, ya got it all wrong! They ain’t prisoners, they’re new recruits. Bandits from up north. I thought…” the man who had brought them here began to say, raising his hands in placating gesture.

    Tazok reached out with one hand and twisted his head so sharply it was left facing completely backwards. He fell bonelessly, twitching weakly as his brain began to catch up on the fact his body was rapidly dying.

    “You. Don’t. Think. I think!” Tazok snarled, looking down on the man. “You! Elf! Tell me why I should not eat your liver!”

    Acherai took a deep breath, and put on his best smile. “Because I was smart enough to seek you out and ask to join. Because I was good enough to succeed in finding you. And, well...” he gazed down at the soon to be corpse, nudging it with his boot, “… because you have a need for at least one replacement worker, I see.”

    The ogre blinked a few times, before his face split in an absolutely hideous grin. “HA! I like you after all, elf. Maybe not kill you right away. Maybe wait until dinner time. Not many deer left in the forests these days, and Elf tastes better than venison anyway.”

    “Or,” Acherai suggested brightly, “you could let us steal you some dinner from someone, what with us all being bandits. And then we can work for you, and everyone is alive and well-fed.”

    “Hmmph. You quick with words, elf, but not mean you can be trusted. Still, not see many good-goods travel with drow, so you probably not decent sort. I like not-decent sorts! Let you live for a while and see if can’t put you to use later.”

    “You’re a pal,” Acherai said cheerfully. “Now, if someone who still has all their bones intact would like to lead us to where we can set up camp, we’ll…”
    And just before he could finish his sentence, Tazok snapped a hand up in front of his face with deceptive speed for his bulk. Momentarily too shocked to speak, Acherai just stared, his eyes trying vainly to work out what the Hells the monster was even doing…

    And then, his stomach fell in horror at the sight of a distressingly familiar black-feathered arrow imbedded in Tazok’s arm. The ogre regarded his impaled limb with a sort of detached look, seemingly unbothered by the fact that the arrow would have been in his eye were it not for his nigh-impossible reflexes.

    Then, after what seemed like an eternity of silence, the creature began to growl with what could only be described as unimaginable rage. He spoke only two words, then, but they were enough to make Acherai wish very much he had stayed back with Sephiria.

    “Kill. EVERYTHING.”

    As long as he starts with Kivan, Acherai thought numbly, I’m kind of tempted to let him.


  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    Chapter 10 (Part 2)


    Kivan had known the arrow wouldn’t do the job. He had seen for himself just how strong and fast Tazok was, and knew the ogre was nigh-unkillable. Between his own naturally thick hide and the steel breastplate the creature wore over his vital organs, the simple fact was that the only option was to wear him down slowly, bleeding him out drop by agonizing drop until an option became available to put a bolt directly into his brain or jugular.

    Which, bluntly, was more along the lines of what Kivan wished for. A slow, lingering death, lost and alone in the woods as he tried vainly to capture an elven ranger in his natural habitat… he could imagine few fates Tazok deserved more.

    He felt little guilt at the notion of abandoning the group. He had been quite certain to leave Garrick and Sephiria as hopelessly lost as he could manage, claiming he was leading them to a vantage point the bandits would not notice them. The odds of them encountering any bandits in the wild forest were slim to none, and he respected the girl’s skill enough to assume she could manage to handle any stragglers.
    As for Acherai… well. He had chosen to support a drow, a blackened murderess, over one of his own people. He, the dwarf, and the spider-worshipping bitch would most likely die, and it struck him that this was probably not an evil.

    Besides, even if they did survive, this was Kivan’s final battle. He knew and accepted it. Whether they lived or died, he would see none of them ever again.

    The underbrush shook as the ogre charged into the treeline, howling his fury. It was a bone-chilling sound, but Kivan felt nothing but smoldering fury at the sound of it.

    *Deheriana…* he thought as he spun, released an arrow, and burst again into flight without a single wasted motion. *I’ll be seeing you soon.*

    *And bringing you a head to mount on the wall of wherever you dwell in Arvandor.*


    “Everyone,” Acherai said, watching as roughly thirty bandits who had been close enough to see Tazok charge into the woods like a mad bull all took aim at him, “follow him!”

    “… What?” one of the bandits said, lowering his bow and blinking in confusion.

    “Idiot, Tazok said-” a hobgoblin, one wearing darker armor than most of the others and carrying a better-quality bow, began.

    “To kill the attackers! They’re out there, in the woods, firing arrows at us!” Acherai snapped. “What are you all doing?! Get out there and catch them! Tazok needs your help!”


    “Well, okay, he probably doesn’t, but you should still offer it! Otherwise, he might be angry when he gets back!” Acherai snapped. Then, more quietly, he murmured to Viconia, “Behind the larger tents in the east edge. There’s a pit of corpses. They’re using them as food for whatever’s in the cave there. Wait until I get their attention firmly on me, then slip away. You can work out what to do.”

    Viconia blinked. “How…?”

    “You don’t hide your holy symbol as well as you think. Sneak off and do what you can,” he murmured. Raising his voice, he shouted, “Well? Get on it, people! Tazok is going to be back soon, and you know that if he doesn’t find what he’s looking for, we’re all going to be missing our heads!”

    “Impudent elfling brat,” the hobgoblin in the black armor snarled, and Acherai was briefly impressed that he actually know what ‘impudent’ meant. Most hobgoblins struggled with ‘door.’ “Do you not think I see what you’re doing? Ardenor Crush did not come to lead the Chill by letting enemies simply wander into his camp.”

    “Then why aren’t you out there catching them?”

    “Because you’re here, and we’re going to-“

    “Actually, he kind of has a point,” the human bandit said, and a reassuring number of the other bandits, of both species, nodded. “Tazok is gonna be angry when he gets back. Someone shot him. If he wants us to back him up, and we don’t do it…”

    “For the love of… human, you do not think. If you need someone to do your thinking, go find your commander, if you can locate him under that thousands pounds of armor he insists on wearing,” Ardenor snapped. “The attack began when they arrived. They die. Simple as that.”

    “Taugosz understands how this works. He understands Tazok is the one the bosses pass their word on down through. We need to keep him happy. Unless you want to see him angry at you, hobbo, you had best quit acting like you’re in charge and-”

    Ardenor blinked a few times, and pointed. Three of the hobgoblins shot the unfortunate man with their drawn arrows. “When Tazok is not in camp, I am in charge. I dislike uppity human idiots.”

    Acherai smiled. Gods, they were going out of their way to help him, it seemed like. “Traitors!” he screamed, pointing his staff at the hobgoblins. “Trying to take over the camp while Tazok is away?! Should have known you slimy monsters couldn’t tolerate working with real people.” He turned to the human bandits, who were admittedly looking very edgy at losing two of their number in less than ten minutes.

    “You aren’t actually listening to this!” Ardenor snarled, though he didn’t look very confident anymore. Particularly in the sight of a massive man, wearing full plate and carrying a warhammer with practiced ease, emerging from his own tent to see what all the fuss was… and looking very unhappy with the Chill arrows in the bandit’s chest.

    Now then. One more spark.

    He shifted the fingers on one hand through a series of patterns, whispering under his breath. It helped that nobody was really paying attention to him; also that the spell was a short one with very little in the way of chanting or that silliness. A basic Charm, something that would make a single, weak-minded target perceive him as their greatest ally. Someone they could trust implicitly.

    In the crowd, a single bandit turned toward him, his eyes glazed over and a trusting smile on his face. Acherai smiled right back, the most guileless expression he could manage, and silently mouthed, 'You should probably shoot some hobgoblins.'

    The man cheerfully nodded, nocked an arrow, and things got fun.


    *Stupid. Stupid. STUPID.*

    The thought kept running through Sephiria’s mind as she ran through unfamiliar woods, trying to seek out the party through the sounds of combat. She had truly expected better of Kivan; when he had vanished into the woods, it had been a shock. She had known he was displeased by Viconia’s presence, and not being given the chance to face Tazok immediately, but she had truly believed she was at least starting to get through to him.

    And now, he was likely to be marching to his own death, and possibly the death of the entire party. And she was lost in the woods.

    Like a child. A damn child. She had failed at every step of this journey, and she was more than sick of it. Acherai treated her like a doll, Kagain treated her like a pest, and now even Kivan treated her like something that needed to be protected, left behind for its own safety. While he went to die, she was to run away and save herself.

    Just like Gorion had done.

    Never. Again.

    That’s right. Face your foes openly, and cut them down. It’s the only path for you, and it always has b-
    It isn’t about death, and it isn’t about any need for battle. It is about my comrades needing me, and me needing them. Sephiria thought, steeling herself as she charged.

    *I am a paladin. And I will never falter again, I swear.*

    She broke the tree line to find not a camp, but a small clearing, three men standing inside it, each one grizzled and wearing battered leather armor, well-worn weapons at their sides. She had just enough time to hear one of them wondering aloud what the ruckus was at camp was and speculating if they would get a pay raise if Tazok killed enough of their fellows.

    No risk of an innocent target here, then.

    A charging woman in full splint mail could not proceed quietly, and she had been lucky to get this near without being noticed due to the camp seemingly erupting in violence. The men saw her as soon as she burst from the underbrush, charging forward sword in hand.

    One of them had bow in hand, nocked an arrow, and Sephiria

    *Was struck in the eye, dying instantly, and ended her grand adventure on the most pitiful note possible*

    Ducked low in mid-stride, the arrow flying past her ear, so close the wind brushed her helmet. She swung her sword low, the tip grazing the ground and slashing as she charged into melee range. He threw away the bow and reached for a well-worn sword, his two allies moving to defend, and

    *She was cut down, an arrogant, petulant child utterly out of her depth*

    *She killed them all, reveling in the violence, becoming the killer she was always meant to be*

    She struck, fast and accurate, natural skill and training overcoming the killer instincts of the mercenaries, the advantage of surprise and her own will driving her forward. Her sword, the simple, heavy blade she had brought with her all the way from Candlekeep, ripped through the air like lightning.

    There was no ambiguity, and there could be no hesitation. She was the daughter of Gorion, she was a paladin, and where she saw evil and the oppression of the innocent it was her duty to put aside all else and strike…!

    The first man fell, clutching at his throat as a deep, diagonal line of red opened across the whole of his neck. His two allies, overextended and moving far too slowly, swung their blades at empty air as she skipped back, the entire charge, kill, and retreat a single perfect motion.

    She raised her weapon, stained with the blood of the first human being she had ever personally killed, and looked at the men somberly. “The group you serve has killed hundreds and spread suffering through this entire region. In Torm’s name, I command you: surrender or join the bowman in death. I will not ask again.”

    Something inside her hissed in fury, though she was not certain what enraged it more: the mention of her deity, or the offer to let victims surrender. You will learn, the thought that was not quite her own came unbidden, and with it a cold rush of dark rage.

    She let a grim smile come to her lips.

    *I already know what I need to know,* she thought, as the two bandits split up, moving to flank her and strike in a pincer. *And I think for the first time, I’m remembering that.*


    Humans were easy. Hobgoblins even more so. If you knew what strings to pull, it was not hard at all to get two groups so predisposed toward violence to turn on each other. It was, however, kind of nasty to get out of a gigantic chaotic melee without getting killed yourself.

    *Which,* Acherai thought with glee as he heard the moans and smelled rot on the wind, *is what Viconia is for.*

    The truth was, he really had been uncertain about her. Yes, she was probably more trustworthy than Kivan in the sense that she could at least be trusted to put her own interests first, rather than willingly marching into certain death if it got her revenge in the process. But she was still a Drow. Even if he couldn’t be bothered to hate her based on her race, she certainly seemed to dislike him based on his.

    But he had spent nearly a day traveling with her now, and she had not kept her holy symbol well-hidden at all. Oh, Sephiria hadn’t noticed, but that was because Sephiria was, bluntly speaking, a nitwit. But a holy symbol of the goddess Shar was hard to mistake for anything else, even at a glimpse.

    Viconia didn’t want this widely known, clearly. Shar was not the sort of deity who encouraged her worshippers to advertise their allegiance; they were supposed to be silent killers who hid themselves from others not of their own faithful, hoarding dark secrets and spreading oblivion and loss wherever they went.
    But Acherai didn’t mind, really. A dark goddess was the sort who gave her worshippers dark powers, after all. And dark powers…

    Really can be terribly useful, if properly applied.

    Viconia had done as expected, and done it gloriously. The corpse pit behind the camp, kept as a food source for the many and varied goblinoids of the encampment, had risen from the grave in a wave of lesser undead. Zombies and skeletons, animated by the priestess’s dark prayers, shambled into the ranks of the already fighting bandits and began to do what they did best. More soldiers swarmed out of tents on both sides of the conflict, and nobody at all seemed to be aware of who exactly they were supposed to be fighting (except the undead, who were fighting anything that was alive).

    And that meant the main tent—and with it, whatever documents that Tazok might have kept in his headquarters—was wide open.

    “Kagain!” he snapped, charging through the melee and sliding beneath a swinging sword, only to listen to the sound of the man who had swung it collapsing behind him as Kagain’s hammer crushed his knee. “Stay close to me! I’m fairly sure that even these people will figure out they should be aiming at us eventually.”

    “Shame about me aiming better!” the dwarf howled in obvious glee, storming through the chaos at a height that most people just weren’t aiming for, and taking full advantage of it. More than one mercenary fell to be crushed underfoot in the crowd because a golden warhammer had smashed their legs beyond use.
    Acherai shuddered, trying to keep focused on the tent. He had been more than pleased with how things had turned out, but the chaos was turning out even more extreme than he had imagined. A fourth faction had joined in, a pack of gnolls that had been kept in the caves and fed on the corpses. They were apparently reacting solely on brutal instinct at this point, drawn by the blood and flame to kill anything they saw. And Kagain was enjoying things a little more than was healthy, which was surprising to the young elf. He had thought the dwarf was more stable than that. Logically speaking, he supposed people who didn’t like killing didn’t become mercenaries, but it was still off-putting.

    The last time he had seen anything like this would always be a sore memory for him, after all…

    *Eyes on the prize, Moonshadow,* he chided himself. *This is not the temple, and you are not a child anymore. This time the blood and chaos is your doing, and you can use them to achieve what you need. Ride the wave to your goal.*

    *And appreciate the results of your power.*


    Sephiria looked down on the bodies of the three bandits, and let out a deep breath. She had been expecting a sense of crushing guilt; these were not like gnolls or hobgoblins, not monsters. She had never killed a human being before now, and oddly it didn’t… feel wrong. It wasn’t like there was anything else she could have done, after all. And she didn’t feel any satisfaction, either. Just a kind of coldness.

    It was something, anyway.

    “Garrick?” she called out. “You can stop hiding now.”

    “I wasn’t hiding!” the bard protested, coming out from behind the tree he had been totally hiding behind. “I was observing! For my ballad.”

    The girl… well, she supposed she was a little bit closer to a woman now… wiped the blood from her sword and sighed. “I’m sure. But we are approaching the camp. I took these three by surprise, but I can hardly expect to stop and ask an entire camp of bandits to surrender. I will need your support.”

    “Um. Well, I… can try…?”

    “… You are a bard. You have some access to bardic magic, I assume?”

    “Theoretically, yes! In practice, I can… um… cast one spell. It’s… it’s called…” he winced, “Infravision! It… lets me see in the dark.”

    She sighed. “You can sing an enchanted song which grants morale to allies? I was led to believe that many true bards can.”

    “My songs traditionally just make allies sad.”

    “… Garrick?”

    “Yes, leader?”

    “I have been meaning to say this for some time, but I felt it was not my place. However, I have been… reconsidering my stance on such things lately, and I feel as ‘leader’ I need to take a more active role both in and out of combat. As such…”

    “Oh, oh, are you kicking me off the team?” Garrick asked with a touch of glee in his voice.

    “… You want me to kick you off the team?”

    “Oh, yes! This is rather more dangerous than I was expecting, and I am… well, not so much good at this. But I was afraid if I tried to leave, Mr. Moonshadow would stab me.”

    Sephiria clapped him on the shoulder. “You have a reasonably good soul, Garrick. But I feel that perhaps adventuring is not your calling.”

    “Yes, I was actually thinking that too,” Garrick agreed. “I was thinking I might go south and try to marry a paladin!”

    “… Why?”

    “They’re quite noble and beautiful, I hear. Amn has many orders just filled with lovely noble knights!” Garrick said cheerfully. “Oh! I know, maybe you should try to become a paladin someday!”

    “… I am one.”

    “Oh, really? When did that happen?”

    She pondered this. “In name, some time ago. In truth, I think just a few minutes now. Please go hide in the woods, Garrick. I will come back shortly, or I won’t come back at all. Either way, I wish you well.”

    And with that, she raised her sword and turned for the camp once again. Garrick watched her go, and smiled. “Finally, someone with a grasp of tactics,” he said, going to hide in the woods like a sensible person.


    Acherai stopped at the entrance to Tazok’s tent, and signaled for Kagain to stop. “There’s someone inside,” he whispered, pressing his ear against the cloth. “They’re… joking. Saying it was only matter of time before the rabble went mad.”

    The dwarf chuckled. “Friendly sorts, then.”

    “Probably not mercenaries. I expect they work directly for the people providing the money to fund this operation,” Acherai murmured. “Which means I doubt they’ll fall for a few charms and a bit of casual racism. We’ll need to kill them.”

    “An’ we do this just the two of us? ‘Cause I don’t see the drow, and… well. The elf and knightling ain’t been a great help of late.”

    “Relax. I just need you to take up position outside the door and stop anyone from escaping,” Acherai said, digging into his pack and removing a scroll tube. “Master Thalantyr doesn’t guard his vaults as well as he thinks. This is a bit outside my ability to cast personally, but the scroll will work, and it’s very lethal. Just hold up the side of the tent enough for me to aim underneath… and make sure they don’t get out of the cloud.”

    “The what?” Kagain asked, but Acherai had already begun reading off the spell scroll, the demands of the magic forcing him to incant it to the end. It was a spell beyond his power to cast on his own, and he could feel it burning through him. But it was okay; that was what the scroll was for, to channel the power and focus it…

    He held his hand out, the scroll disintegrating in his grasp as the Cloudkill was cast, a cloud of thick, brownish gas bursting from his palm and filling the tent with unnatural speed.

    “Aye. That cloud, then,” Kagain whispered, watching the very, very poisonous gas seep out through the seams of the tent, and listening to the pained gasps and choking screams of those within. “I can work with this.” He took up position outside the only entrance to the tent, hammer at the ready.


    Tazok did not slow.

    Kivan had put a dozen arrows in him, each shot one that would have crippled or possibly even killed a man. His arms and legs bristled like pincushions, shafts impaled deep into vital tendons and muscles. He should not have been able to continue his charge, should have found it nearly impossible to even move between the blood loss and the damage to his musculature.

    And yet, he did not slow.

    Kivan would have had it no other way.

    “Does it hurt, Tazok?” he called back over his shoulder as he dodged between trees, sliding through underbrush like a shadow and barely even disturbing a leaf in contrast to the charging animal. “Deheriana made my arrows for me, butcher. Carved them by hand. I’ll make sure you bleed by each one before you die.”

    “Tear! You! Apart!” Tazok snarled, swinging a sword nearly as long as Kivan was tall and bringing down a decent sized tree with one blow.

    Kivan cursed, rolling to the side as the branches scraped against his armor, delaying his frantic flight by precious seconds. He had faced the ogre before, known his power was inhuman and his weapon was heavily enchanted, but this was absurd. Tazok fought more like a force of nature than a living thing. He shouldn’t have even been able to move, much less strike with such force.

    *He’s not immortal. You’re letting the fear get to you,* the ranger thought to himself. He could admit, with perfect clarity, that he feared Tazok on some level. Given what he had endured at the monster’s hands, it would have been stranger if he didn’t. But he needed to make that fear a weapon; wrap it in anger to smother the impulse to flee and in so doing, let it drive him to be cautious and fight intelligently.
    *His hide is thicker than a bear’s and he fights with the adrenaline of rage. I doubt he even feels pain right now.* Kivan thought, leaping forward as the ogre brought his blade down on the space he had just vacated. *I’ll need to inflict a fatal wound just to slow him down. Let us see what can be done about this.*
    He turned, jumped on the blade as it buried itself into the ground, and released another arrow directly at the creature’s face from near point-blank. It wouldn’t pierce his skull, even from this range, but a shot in one of his eyes would be a wound that even Tazok wouldn’t be able to shrug off.

    The ogre tilted his head almost imperceptibly, letting the black arrow slam into his helmet instead of his flesh. The metal dented and cracked under the impact and blood began to leak from the flesh beneath, but the wound was clearly only superficial. The ogre smirked and ripped his sword free from the ground with a single smooth motion, hurling the elf perched atop it as though he weighed no more than a leaf.

    “Remember you,” Tazok growled, his mouth split in a grin that would have looked more at home on a shark’s face than anything humanoid. “Elf couple. Wouldn’t hand over their gold. Killed two of my men. Had to kill you back for the disrespect, you know? Nothing personal. Fun, yes, but not personal.”
    Kivan pulled himself painfully to his feet, nearly passing out from the pain. Perching on the blade had been an effort to pin it, but instead all he had done was slash his own foot open when the ogre had yanked it free.

    Running was going to be… harder.

    The ogre smirked and began to walk slowly toward, him, ripping a fistful of arrows from his hide without even a wince and ignoring the blood that oozed from the punctures. “’Course, I see you lived! Tough, for an elf. Let’s kill you again, see if it sticks this time.”


    Sephiria found a vision of Hell, and her charge halted in mixed shock and disgust.

    The bandit camp was a charnel house. The majority of the population, at least thirty men and goblinoids that she could count dead or dying, zombies and skeletons roaming among them. A few were still fighting, backed against a tent to keep from being surrounded, but most were wounded and the skeletons among the undead had proven dexterous enough to claim weaponry from among the fallen and fight with it.

    She had raised her sword and prepared to charge the undead… not even hobgoblins deserved to be ripped apart by such horrors!... when a hand tapped on her shoulder. She whirled, ready to attack if threatened, only to see the drow woman raising a hand placatingly. “Stay your hand, abbil. The undead are under control.”

    “I… you are behind this?! This abomination?!” Sephiria snarled. “Call them off! Let those men flee!”
    Viconia blinked in confusion. “But they are your enemies, are they not? We are on the verge of victory.”

    “Call! Them! Off!”

    The cleric sighed, and the undead began to fall back in response to her mental commands. “You are wasting a clear opportunity, as well as the gifts of the goddess. I hope you have a reason for it?”

    “Because it’s wrong,” Sephria snapped. “Men of the Black Talon and Chill! Flee this place and you may keep your lives! Return to your evil ways, and you will be destroyed. Do not make me regret this.”

    “I already regret this,” Viconia muttered.

    “Do not test me!” Sephiria said, her temper flared not only by the dark magic called up by her own comrades, but by something screaming in her mind, her mercy sending shocks of black rage roiling through it once again. “Where are Acherai and Kivan? We need to be well rid of this place… and then we have much to discuss.”

    “As I said, the paler of the darthiir is with the dwarf seeking the information you came for. The other… I know not. He was pursued into the trees by the ogre that commands this camp. I assume he is dead.”

    “And why are you not aiding him?!” she asked, fear overcoming her rage momentarily.

    “Because I do not care. He made clear he seeks my death. If he seeks his own with even more effort, I have no reason to oppose him. No, should we not aid our more reliable allies? I have little enough concern for a faerie, but the clever one has his uses.”

    Sephiria tilted her head to one side, studying the drow in a new light. She was not the mindless sadist that the tales suggested, true, but Sephiria had perhaps allowed that to blind her to a mundane form of evil in the woman’s heart.

    And perhaps she had done the same regarding another member of her team, as well. A charming face, hiding something amoral and empty.

    She walked through the burning camp, her mind screaming at the brutality around her, and prepared herself to speak with Acherai. He would likely speak down to her, of course, tell her he’d had no choice, done the ‘right thing’, but she was well past accepting that sort of…

    *Oh. Oh, no.*

    Inside the tent itself, Acherai and Kagain were standing among a group of corpses that were coated in some kind of thick brown powder, their hands still grasped in death grips around their necks where they had clearly choked to death. Four of them lay beside weapons and were clad in armor, and despite the pain of their deaths, they were at least enemies, but…

    Lying at Acherai’s feet, killed by the same suffocating poison as the others, lay an emaciated man in shackles, his face and bare torso coated in scars.

    Acherai looked from the dead hostage, to Sephiria, and back.

    “In my defense, it was not done intentionally,” he said, “So please remain...”

    He made it nearly halfway through the sentence before she charged.

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    After way, way too long, I am proud to present:

    Chapter Eleven


    Sephiria’s sword slammed home onto Acherai’s raised quarterstaff, the magically-enhanced metal coating the staff holding up admirably against the very intense strength behind the descending blade. Much better, in fact than the elf holding it.

    Acherai wasn’t exactly weak, but he was built for agility, not for pure strength. The result of a lifetime avoiding trouble rather than facing it head-on; thieves weren’t supposed to get into *real* fights. As a result, the impact, coming in far too fast to dodge or parry, ran down his entire body like the hammer of a god, numbing his arms and pressing him down to one knee with distressing ease as the young paladin crushed him with sheer force.

    “Wait!” he snapped, stepping back and hopping awkwardly back to his feet, trying to ignore how very likely it was that he would die if he couldn’t make the lunatic stop this. She was too close, there was no time for spells, between him and the only exit to the tent, he needed to get her back on the puppet strings before she cut his. “For Mask’s sake, you need to-“

    He was cut off, then, by her snapping his guard out to one side with a swing of her blade, and stepping in to slam her armored elbow into his gut. He fell, gasping for air and choking on the morning’s meal it was forced back up, Sephiria raising her sword high, judgment in her eyes.

    And midway through its descent, a golden hammer interjected, the magical weapon slamming against the flat of her blade. Lightning ran up the weapon, sending a painful jolt through her whole body and pushing her back out of sheer reflex as she instinctively tried to avoid the shock… only to find a jolt far more personal awaiting her.

    She watched in stunned silence as a foot of steel, nearly a third of her weapon’s blade, spun through the air and impaled itself into the ground, snapped cleanly off.

    Kagain shrugged, his magical hammer still crackling with arcs of electricity from snapping her sword. “Sorry. Good weapon, shame ta waste it, but he makes sure I get paid and you’re bein’ a brat.”

    She gritted her teeth, holding her broken sword before her in as close as it could manage to a guard with its balance ruined so. “This was a gift from my first swordmaster. It was special to me…”

    “An’ now it’s a paperweight, ‘cause you picked the wrong fight. Way o’ the world,” the dwarf said. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds ya. They turn and bite back, and then yer doubly in the hole.”

    “He murdered that man!” she snapped, gesturing at the corpse of the prisoner in the corner of the tent. “And you defend him still?!”

    “Wasn’t planned. Though if it was… what matters he to me?” Kagain said with a shrug. “A stranger, a slave? Worthless.”

    Sephiria quivered in rage, clearly on the verge of running at the dwarf again as she said, “Anyone who would call an innocent life worthless is undeserving of his own. You have had justice coming for a long time, mercenary scum, and I am proud to deliver it.”

    “With a broken sword and the skills of a brat, what never fought for her life until a few tendays ago?” Kagain asked. “Like me odds just fine, kid.”

    “Both of you,” Acherai gasped, pulling himself to his feet and coughing up a few drops of blood, “shut up. We’re in enemy territory. If you two really want to kill each other, I officially no longer care. But Tazok, at least, is still out there, so save it for a time when a berserk ogre isn’t going to charge back to his camp and find we ruined it.”

    “Taz… dammit,” Sephiria hissed. “Kivan!”

    “What about Kivan?”

    “Tazok went into the woods after him! Viconia saw it, she…” the young paladin shook her head. “I know what she is. I suspect you do too. But for right now, a good man is in danger and I need all of your help to save him.”

    Acherai narrowed his eyes. “And I have some reason to care about him? All of this,” he gestured outside at the ruined camp, “was his doing. Things were going perfectly until he interfered. So why do I have any reason to dig him out of the hole he’s dug for himself?”

    “Because Tazok is clearly high in the enemy’s counsel. And while I am sure whatever papers you might have found here will help,” Sephiria said flatly, “will they help as much as taking one of your foe’s top lieutenants?”

    Acherai chuckled, wincing at the motion as he held his ribs. “See? You can speak my language, if you put the effort into it. But just so it’s clear, I have the trail and I don’t need you anymore. This will be our final little adventure together, hm?”

    Sephiria threw down the hilt of her broken sword and knelt next to one of the bandit corpses, lifting up his fallen blade. A bit light for her tastes, but it would have to do.

    “Trust me,” she said, looking down on what was left of her first weapon, “I do not wish to spend any more time in your company than I absolutely must.”


    Kivan had lived this dream every night since Deheriana had died.

    The typical elven resting trance of Reverie had been lost to him, leaving him unable to perform the normal refreshing meditations of his people. It was not unheard of for such to happen, in times of illness or due to grievous wounds... or intense grief. His soul was damaged, and he could not balm it. And so when he should have been in peaceful rest, focusing his mind and soul in the Weave of magic, he instead slept as a human might. And in so doing, he dreamed.

    Every night was the same. He relived her suffering, her begging her to save him and the absolute anguish of his helplessness to do so. He relived the ogre breaking his fingers, one by one while Deheriana begged him to stop. He relieved the branding irons, the hooks, the beatings that left his face so bruised and swollen he couldn't even see his helplessly sobbing wife. But he could hear her. Always hear her.

    The blade slicing across his throat had been almost a relief, because for a time he had not been able to hear anymore, or see, or feel. He was left to do nothing but desperately hold the wound closed and focus with sheer, thoughtless will on surviving at any cost. But leading up to that, the one thing he couldn't ever drive out of his mind was the smile on Tazok's face as he lifted Kivan up, and pried his swollen eyes open so he could watch the bandits take the very same blade to Deheriana immediately after, still wet with his own blood as it cut into her again and again and again...

    Most elves who couldn't enter Reverie became a shadow of their former selves. But since Kivan was already broken beyond repair, he was actually quite pleased with the dreams. He needed them. He literally could not keep living in this world, could not fight the urge to pass to Arvandor, without seeing Tazok's leering eyes and bloody blade every night, without feeling the torture, without watching Deheriana fade forever.

    The hate was all that kept him going. And it kept him going now.

    Tazok's blade fell, the weapon buzzing through the air, and Kivan kicked off the ground with this wounded foot, ignoring the pain that tore through him and the dizziness as blood flowed freely. None of that mattered. None of it would ever matter. He was going to die here, he knew it. But he refused to let that happen while Tazok still breathed.

    The arrow was already nocked. He had been preparing to fire it when his foot had been slashed, and his grip was iron. He released it, knowing it wouldn't slay the ogre down no matter where it struck; the creature was borderline invulnerable. Every single shot he had landed had done no more than irritate it. But there was another method he had come to consider, and Tazok himself had made it possible.

    He was feeling slightly dizzy simply from the blood lost from his single wound. The monster had nearly a dozen arrow wounds already, and they bled freely. His natural hardiness and the fact he, obviously, had more blood to lose were slowing the effect, but they were alone, far out in the woods, and Tazok was hardly a healer.

    He might not be able to inflict a single, lethal blow against the creature's strength and speed, but if he could make certain Tazok bled to death before he managed to find his way out of the forest...

    The arrow lashed out, aiming for the ogre's booted foot and pinning it to the ground through the leather and forcing Tazok to shatter the shaft with a swing of his sword, stomping his charge barely slowed as his massive leg muscles ripped the arrowhead from the ground, his blade whipping forth with impossible speed to open another thin line of blood on Kivan’s chest as the attack just barely scraped the archer, yet still pierced his armor like it was made of simple cloth.

    And Kivan could not even feel it, just enjoying the sight of the ogre leaving behind a very satisfying bloody footprint.


    “You’ve ruined everything, child,” Jaheira said.

    Imoen winced, and said in a vaguely hurt tone, “I feel like that’s being unfair to me.”

    “You led us off into the wilderness on the errand of a hamster-wielding madman. And now we have lost our one and only lead to continue the investigation which, I must remind you, is the entire reason for our group’s existence.”

    The two women (one woman and one idiot child) as Jaheira probably would have put it, stood in the main hall of Feldpost’s Inn, in Beregost. Mulahey’s documents had led them here, and they had come to the innkeeper, offering him a few gold for the room Tranzig had been staying in, and his silence in the matter of any loud, violent noises that might be emanating from that room in the near future. Only for Feldpost to chuckle, say, “Aye, yer not the first to want a rough word wi’ that one. Shame the last ones drove him off, I know not where! A few extra gold always be welcome” and go back to washing his glasses.

    “I admit that maybe, just maybe, things didn’t go exactly totally perfect,” Imoen said. “But I think we still have a chance!”

    “Really? Because I think that our only lead has left Beregost for an unknown destination and has at least a full day’s head start on us.”

    “But Minsc and Dynaheir seem well rested now!” Imoen said. “And I think Dynaheir might teach me magic if I ask real nice. An’ I always kinda wanted to learn magic!”

    “… Imoen?”

    “… You don’t care, huh.”

    “I do not.”

    “Still angry, huh.”

    “If my husband had not developed an odd paternal fondness for you, I would hurt you *so badly*.”

    “You, uh… you go tell the team that things are going great,” Imoen said, taking a few steps back from Jaheira. “I’m gonna go… scout out the area.”

    “Things are not going great, Imoen,” Jaheira said flatly. She had one hand on her quarterstaff, just kind of idly drumming her fingers on it.

    “Sorrycan’thearyagottascout!” Imoen squeaked, running away as fast as she could. She sprinted down the wide roads of Beregost, not looking back, and ducked down the closest thing she could find to an alley in this ridiculous town full of cottages and well-lit public boulevards, the space between two houses.

    Honestly. What kind of city didn’t even have proper alleys? Her childhood was weeping with dismay. But it seemed like Jaheira hadn’t even bothered to chase and give the murder in her eyes an outlet.

    “Ho there, child. Might I ask what pushes thee to flee so?” a weird old voice asked her, and she looked up from her heavy breathing to see a suitably weird old man sitting atop a barrel next to her. He had a beard longer than her hair, bright blue eyes that didn’t quite look old enough to match his leathery skin, a burning pipe in his hand, and bright red robes that looked like they had probably been very good quality before someone had done a lot of gardening in them. She was 99% certain he hadn’t been there when she’d closed her eyes to catch her breath.

    “My friends are scary, mainly,” Imoen said, taking it in stride. “So are you, a little bit, but I figure you’re probably not a bad guy since you dress all colorful ‘n such.”

    “Ah, the young. No matter how old I get, a charming lass ‘tis enough to bring me back to younger days,” the old man chuckled, puffing on his pipe again.

    “Uuuum, are you hitting on me? Because I gotta be frank, I’m not really in a situation where I can be getting romantic right now, and you’re… well. *Really old*.”

    The old man chuckled again, shaking his head. “Ah, yes, thy personality will definitely be a help, in its own slightly unknowable way. ‘Tis best I give thee a nudge towards her, then, I fear that things are not at all going how she’d hope, much less how Gorion wished. The world ‘tis a cold, dark place, and a friendly face is sometimes the best remedy.”

    “Wait, what?” Imoen asked, blinking in confusion. “Gorion? You knew…”

    “Hush, child, and accept a bit of aid offered in good faith,” the old man said, passing her a scroll. He had not pulled it from a pouch or his sleeve; one moment he was not holding it, the next he was.

    Imoen narrowed her eyes. “I may be new at this adventurin’ thing, but let me be super-clear: I know not to take weird presents from creepy old men in alleys. ‘Specially not if they’re wizards.”

    The old man… old wizard, more accurately, of course… laughed heartily. “And the world would be a safer place if more people followed such advice. However, there be no harm in a simple map, and possibly avoiding quite a bit of harm if it calms dear Jaheira. ‘Tis up to thee how it is used, of course, but I have faith in thy judgment.”

    “Well, I guess I can-“ she began, glancing briefly at the cloth map in her hands (and hadn’t it been a roll of paper a second ago?), only to find the old man was gone as soon as she looked up from it.

    “Ooooookaaaay…” Imoen said, blinking a few times and wondering if she should throw the map away and scream, only to feel something hard and evil (she could sense the evil) that she bumped into as she took cautious steps backwards.

    “Hullo,” Jaheira said.

    “Eeep!” Imoen squeaked in dismay, whirling and throwing the map at her out of pure reflex. The druid caught it without looking.

    “So, then. We never finished our discussion.”

    “I… swear I didn’t mean it! I didn’t know he was gonna leave, and I didn’t know about the crazy old man, and I only threw that map to the bandits because you startled me, and…”

    “You only threw what now…?” Jaheira muttered, unrolling the cloth and looking at it in some mixture of confusion and disbelief; a map of the Sword Coast region, lovingly detailed and pointing out the most well-maintained roads and safest forest paths possible during the current crisis, and marking a spot to the east of Baldur’s Gate in red was a simplistic drawing of a campsite. She was half tempted to call the whole thing a hoax and wonder how Imoen could have possibly played such a ridiculously elaborate trick on her…
    Save for the top left corner of the map, where the compass rose was not four arrows marking the cardinal directions, but a harp held inside the hollow of a crescent moon.

    “Imoen,” Jaheira asked, her tone barely above a whisper, “where did you get this?”

    “… Would you believe a weird old man in alley hit on me and then handed me a map and disappeared?” Imoen asked, wincing with each word as if she expected Jaheira to punch her in the face. And Jaheira was tempted to hit something, just not for the reasons that Imoen likely suspected.

    “Unfortunately,” she said with a sigh, rolling up the depressingly-probably-real-map and turning to head back to the group, motioning for Imoen to follow, “I really would believe that, a fact which fills me with great sorrow. Well done, Imoen. For a certain value of the words, mind you, as you may grow to consider the connection you have made this day to be more annoying than beneficial. Silvanus knows I do.”

    “… Yay?” Imoen said, not entirely sure if she should be happy or sad, from the way her pseudo-mentor was talking.

    “No. No ‘yay.’”


  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    *Chapter Eleven, Part 2*

    Kivan winced as the ogre’s sword, once again barely dodged, opened a thin line of blood on his shoulder, but it was more reflex than anything. Wounds that would have left him helpless a scant few weeks ago barely registered, as if he was piloting his body from afar rather than living in it; when one knew death approached, and welcomed it, it stopped to be a thing of fear and became a tool.

    *Your life is an arrow. Drive it into his heart. Nothing else matters.*

    He turned the motion of clutching his bleeding wound into a reach for one of his final few arrows, using the second of Tazok’s over-extension following his massive swing to plant the shot somewhere truly vulnerable for once. The ogre fell to his knees, letting out a most unseemly squeal of pain as the projectile dove into the side of his neck, and Kivan felt a thrill of joy at the first reaction he had managed to get out of the thing.

    Tazok’s thick hide and ridiculously corded neck muscles stopped the arrow from traveling completely through and severing his spine, but the wounds had finally managed to snap the ogre out of his berserk rage. The loss of blood, the dozens of wounds, all of them were adding up now, weighing him down. For his own part, Kivan had gone outside his body, the warmth of his own blood coating his foot and flowing down his chest barely registering, even as his vision started to dim from the loss of it.

    The tables had turned, well and truly. The unstoppable juggernaut and the hapless prey had taken on new forms as the ogre began to grasp how wounded he had allowed himself to become, and the elf stepped back, drawing one of his final two arrows, almost feeling the hand of Shevarash, god of vengeance, guiding him as he drew the bowstring back…

    And, just a second too late, saw the flash of cunning glee in the ogre’s eyes as he whipped his sword-arm up in a blur and threw the massive weapon.

    For anyone, anyone else, the tactic would have been suicidal and pointless. A sword, particularly a broadsword as massive as Tazok’s, was not balanced to be thrown. To make it go any distance with any sort of accuracy was nigh impossible. Even the scant fifteen feet between them would have been impossible… for a human.

    But as Tazok had proven more than once, he was far, far more than human. Propelled by the ogre’s impossible muscles, the sword tore through the air with the speed of a shaped javelin. It wouldn’t go far, regardless, but… it didn’t need to.

    Kivan felt no pain, Kivan felt nothing but the need to end it. But the sword diving into his stomach was massive and hurled by an arm a thousand times stronger than his own. Even if he couldn’t truly register the pain anymore he was still a slender elf facing a colossal impact…

    His arrow went wide. And when he tried to draw his final shaft, he found his hands cold, slow, like moving through molasses, even as his mind screamed for any weapon at all, and Tazok smiled as he lunged…


    Sephiria ran, fully aware that only she cared.

    The world had turned against her, and she knew it. Not only had she lost her father and been cast into the wide world alone, but the first allies she had taken on were beings far outside her experience or morality. She was a paladin, and had been duped into an alliance with beings motivated solely by greed and ruthless pragmatism. And the only one among them with any morals, the only one she had thought she could trust, had proven so twisted by revenge that he may have done more harm than any of them.

    She had always felt that deep down, on some level at least, most people were inherently good. Naïve, perhaps, but she was a paladin and the very fact that gods of goodness and justice could exist and thrive seemed to back up that viewpoint. Certainly, people could turn to evil wholeheartedly, become monsters in human skins, but they were the exception, not the rule. Most ‘bad’ people were just misguided, warped against their better nature by circumstance and pain. Given the chance, given a proper guide, they could find their way back to the light.

    She believed this. Despite the machinations of Acherai and the amoral greed of Kagain and the cold logical ruthlessness of Viconia, she had to believe it. She needed to hold onto something, to believe the world was a place worth protecting. Kivan was a good man, led astray, and she could guide him back to…


    She burst into the clearing, the trail of blood and crushed foliage she had been following leading her to the end of the line, and came upon the scene of the final battle.

    She averted her eyes, and tried to stay standing as dizziness and nausea twisted her mind. Not the sight, or the smell, she had come to be painfully used to those over the last few weeks. The idea of it, though, everything was just so wrong…

    “I don’t know what you were expecting,” Acherai said from behind her, his tone cold and hard. “But this was always how he was going to end up. It’s for the best that you see it with your own eyes.”

    “Shut up,” she whispered, closing her eyes. “A man just died, show some damn respect.”

    “You barely even knew him.”

    “Nobody knew him. I think that’s what makes me saddest of all,” she said, taking a deep, shuddering breath. “He had nobody left who cared. I never got to know him, or understand him. And I couldn’t save him. Why can’t you grasp why that would make me mourn? Are you that empty inside?”

    He sighed. “I… suppose I can understand the tragedy of it. But I learned a long, long time ago that letting the death of someone you don’t know pain you is a quick and easy road to madness. Best to focus on what you can do for yourself, and the people who actually mean something to you.”

    She opened her eyes, and behind the tears that still welled up in them was a spark of something just a little too furious for a paladin. “And how many people in this world, Acherai, actually *do* mean something to you?”

    He smiled, and the expression reminded her of nothing so much as a snake that had learned to walk upright and wear an elf mask. On the surface it seemed like a natural expression, but underneath…
    “None who are still alive, my dear. None who are still alive.”

    She shuddered. “I am going to give Kivan a proper burial. And then I am going to return to Beregost and continue on my own. I… thank you for your efforts thus far, at least those which have allowed me to survive where I otherwise would have fallen. And as recompense for them, I will accept your word on the matter in the tent, and not attempt to exact justice for your crimes… this time.”

    “Never doubted it. And for what it’s worth, I do wish you luck, if only because our targets are one and the same,” he said with a shrug, turning to walk away. “As long as you harry them, I’m happy to let you go. But don’t get in my way again.”

    The two stood in silence, her gaze burning into his turned back, and for a moment the tension was so thick that it seemed the tentative truce would break down simply by virtue of general disdain… before Acherai sighed again.

    “Iron Throne.”


    “The group that was running that camp, employing the mercenaries. The documents we took confirmed them as the Iron Throne, a merchant cartel.”

    Sephiria narrowed her eyes. “And you are sharing this because?”

    “Perhaps I like having you in my debt a little more, as insurance. Or maybe I just want to make sure the ‘sword of justice’ is pointed at the people I’d like it pointed at. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ve grown on me a little bit under all the irritation and I feel like being nice, just this once,” he said with a shrug. “Choose whatever explanation you like. I doubt it really matters. Enjoy your work here, and let it be a stark reminder of how not to go about things."

    He walked into the trees, and was gone. Sephiria watched him go, and, with no other tools available to her, hefted the bloody broadsword and began to dig as best she could. The damnable thing was massive, even by her standards, and the simple knowledge of what it had had been used for left her revolted. But the sad fact was that she was alone in the woods, and any tool she could use was something she would have to take advantage of. The blade was a masterwork, most definitely enchanted, and leaving it behind would only make her death more likely.

    If Acherai could be vaguely pleasant, she supposed being vaguely practical herself was not the end of the world.


    The damn elf had killed him.

    Tazok staggered through the brush, uncertain if he was even heading back to his camp and the idiots who made up his weak, pink little army. He had been in enough campaigns, however, to know that if he was not walking toward them, and more to the point the Cyricists who had taken the position of camp medics, he was not going to survive.

    From the moment he’d killed the damn elf and the berserker rage had cleared from his mind, he had felt a brutal chill fall over his limbs. The thrill of battle, the rage, the need to rip the smug little bastard apart, had kept him from truly feeling the pain of his wounds... but he had taken a lot of them. He had killed enough men to know that losing so much blood you couldn’t even lift your damn sword was a sign things were almost over.

    Tazok didn’t mind the thought of dying, not really. He had always been more ogre than human, and an ogre didn’t claim a position of power without killing the person who’d held it before, much like Tazok himself had eaten Sarevok’s former chief bodyguard in order to prove he’d deserved the post more. You couldn’t live like that without accepting that it would someday happen to you. He’d just always hoped it would be something more impressive than a damn elf. Spindly-limbed little forest faerie dancing around under the moonlight? When he met the ogre god Vaprak in the afterlife, he’d be lucky not to have his soul ripped apart.

    He smashed aside a sapling tree, stepping through stinging thorns and leaving yet more of his blood behind on the damn greenery, his throat falling as he stomped into the camp, unsure if his vision was swimming because of the blood loss, or because most of the damn place was on fire. He let out a sound that was halfway between a snarl and a chuckle, simultaneously enraged and kind of amused as he said, “Knew pink little nothings would fall apart soon as I left… ha, ha… if any are still alive… will rip them apart to make bandages of their skin…”

    “Hello, Tazok.”

    He turned, his eyes widening he saw an unfortunately familiar figure stepping from behind the half-collapsed ruins of his command tent. Sarevok, fully armored and his eyes glowing with that off-putting fire, looked upon him. He was a full two feet taller than the human, but he still felt as though he was being looked down upon.

    “Boss… thought you left,” he stopped, coughing up a mouthful of blood. “C-could use a healer, if your woman’s…about.”

    “Tamoko is awaiting my return in Baldur’s Gate. I returned because I saw the smoke rising from the camp… but whoever caused this is long gone. I wanted to kill someone for it, of course, so I’m glad you returned.”

    “HA! S-someone beat you to it, boss. Not long on my feet,” Tazok chuckled, falling to one knee.

    Sarevok sighed, and stepped forward, the tip of his sword lightly dragging on the ground and killing any grass it touched...but his other hand reached into his pouch and removed a potion, and Tazok felt a glimmer of hope. "Well. Gutting a dying weakling would be unsatisfying, so perhaps you can earn your life back. Tell me who did this, and be damn specific."

    "Saw four myself. Elf, slippery little...cold eyed bastard. Drow. Dwarf, seemed...solid sort for a runt. And the wood elf who put all these...arrows in me." He stopped to cough again, his vision swimming and going dark around the edges. "Must have had more in the woods. Elf army, probably, or mercs he hired. Pointy eared bastards...always take things personal."

    Sarevok's grip on his sword tightened. "That's it? No humans among them? A young woman, with bright red hair...?"

    "Didn't... Didn't s-see..."

    "Damn!" Sarevok raised his blade, and for a moment Tazok thought it was the end, but the armored man just brought the weapon down on a convenient corpse, hacking the thing in half with a single swing. "First Mulahey, now this. I had hoped it was her, but nothing confirmed again! Rieltar will start looking into things soon, and if Gorion's brat isn't the one ripping apart his plans this is all a waste of ti-"

    And then, in mid rant, Sarevok stopped, turned his gaze on Tazok, and asked, his tone perfectly calm, "What kind of elf was he? The leader, not the one who humiliated you."

    Tazok shuddered, and not just from the chill of his blood loss. It was never pleasant to be reminded of Sarevok's real nature, his mercurial temper that could flip in seconds from berserker rage to cold cunning without any warning. Even to an ogre, a race not exactly known for their steady tempers, it was just a bit wrong.

    Of course, it was also a sign that no matter how hurt you were, Sarevok could hurt you worse, and when Sarevok asked you a question, you swallowed the blood and bile in your mouth and you *answered*. "P-pale one. Grey elf."

    Sarevok threw his head back, letting out the deepest, most full-bodied laugh Tazok had ever heard from him. "Oh! Oh, our father did have a sense of humor! The odds are impossibly small it would be him, but who else could it be but family?! And chaos will be sown in our passage indeed! Hahahahahaha!"

    "To put it in merchant's terms? I believe destiny has delivered me a two-for-one deal. Well done, Tazok. You have given me a valuable clue, and these mercenaries were outliving their usefulness soon enough anyway. You have earned your life."

    The ogre's mouth watered, his eyes locked on the healing potion... As Sarevok finished, "After you have been punished."

    The blade raised up and came down with lightning quickness, cutting through armor, hide, and bone with disturbing ease. Again. And again. And again.

    Tazok was dead after the second strike, but Sarevok kept going until his arm was half-numb. Destroying the body so thoroughly would make any resurrection more difficult and expensive, but he had truthfully been only barely holding back on the urge to murder Tazok the entire conversation, so much so he had barely been able to keep his hands from shaking. Better to clear out his frustration now than allow it to build up and make his temper flare at an inopportune moment. was fun.


    Sephiria walked long into the night.

    Her armor chilled her to the bone and her limbs felt cold and heavy, but she could hardly stop. She was alone in the woods armed only with a sword she had never used in combat, and predators both natural and otherwise were all too likely to be around. Stopping to sleep with nobody to keep watch would have far too great a chance of ending with her not waking up.

    So she walked. Working out 'west' had not been too difficult with the sun setting, and she had been going for hours. The Friendly Arm, Beregost...even a real road would be a relief at this point. She had to be getting close to something.

    *Unless you got turned around. Because you let your moral high ground make you forget that Acherai had the map and compass, you idiot child.*

    Honestly. Life lately had become one step forward, two steps back. Every triumph met with a disaster, every success turned on her until she could take no pride in it. If Torm was testing her, he was being rather awful about it.

    *Sorry, my lord. No offense meant. Though if you could please see fit to bestow a boon upon your humble servant, she would greatly appreciate it?* she thought up to her god, hoping he was listening to the prayer.

    She took another few plodding, painful steps and raised the sword, hacking apart the underbrush in her path. She could not swing the weapon with much force, but it didn't need much, thankfully. The enchanted weapon went through bushes and vines like they were cobwebs. And the very fact she could lift it told her the thing was at least...morally neutral, despite the former owner. She would probably still sell it, just out of awareness of what it had been used for, but at the moment it was a godsend.

    *...Ha! Perhaps a fine blade was Torm's boon after all*, she thought with a chuckle. The humor was black and laced with a bit of scorn, but something positive was a good thing to focus on. Anything to ignore her broken party, her failure with Kivan, and the simple fact that she needed to keep walking and didn't even know how far...

    *So yes. Focus on the positive. You are alive. You are armed, and have your share of the group's gold. So when you get to civilization, and you will, you can say a prayer of thanks and then buy a nice room at a nice inn and sleep for a week...*

    And then, just barely on the edge of her vision, she saw the fire.

    Realistically speaking, she should not have headed toward it. Anyone could have been out in these woods, and they might well not have been friendly...may even have been agents of the very bandits she had just helped destroy. But she was cold, and exhausted, and increasingly realizing she had not eaten since yesterday. There were some risks a girl just had to take. So she walked, slow but steady, pushing her exhausted muscles as hard as they could stand, wishing only that she could go a little faster...

    From the camp, she heard a female voice say, "And so then Puffguts says to me, 'Oi there missy, we ain't ta be dying the roast pink, na matter how cheerful ya think it is!'. And I say..."

    She burst into a sprint, all fatigue forgotten.


    Imoen had just stood up beside the fire to finish her story (the grand finale, where the pink ferrets stole the soup, required some dramatic hand motions), when a gallumphing red-haired giantess with a sword burst into the camp. She had just barely a second to be as happy at the sight as she had ever been about anything, before her adoptive sister rolled over her like a cavalry charge and swept her up into a cold, painful, armored bear hug.

    "Gaaaack!" She said, eloquently.

    "Immy... Immy, thank Torm, I thought I would never see you again..."

    "Ribs! Ribs!" Imoen gasped out, feeling something cracking in her skeleton.

    "Thank Torm..." Seffie said again, apparently not hearing her pleas, or perhaps just actively trying to kill her; Imoen couldn't be sure.

    The rest of their party, frozen in shock with their weapons and spells half-readied, turned to each other in confusion. "M-my dear? Do you k-k-know what, erm, all this is?"

    Jaheira sighed and sat back down to await the explanation. "Not at all, but since Imoen is involved, I suspect the answer shall make me quite angry."

  • lolienlolien Member, Moderator, Translator (NDA) Posts: 3,101
    edited September 2015
    Brilliant, again. More should read this.

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    Thank you very much! I know my horrible update schedule makes me a pain to follow, but I really do appreciate everyone who does. ^_^

  • ElrandirElrandir Member Posts: 1,653
    Whew. Finally got around to finishing both posts. And I'm so glad I did because oh my gosh it's just as amazing as always.

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    D'aaaaaaw, you guys are awesome. BG fanfic is not something that gets a lot of reviews, so every one is a pleasant surprise. Thank you for reading and I hope you stick around. ^^

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    edited October 2015
    Chapter Twelve


    The meal was watery stew and travel biscuits. There was almost no taste to any of it. Sephiria had never enjoyed a meal more, entirely because of the company.

    "And then we went to a fort full of man-dogs!" Imoen squealed. "I would have been scared, but after I defeated that evil priest and his army of lizard-dogs, I had a lot of dog fighting experience." She paused. "That came out wrong. You know what I mean. And then..."

    "Immy," Sephiria said, trying her hardest not to choke from laughter, because she had never been happier to see Imoen and she almost physically could not stop eating. "You don't need to tell me everything right away. I'm not leaving again."

    Imoen pouted. "You say that. But you left, and Gorion... ...and I have had to spend my time with these people, and Jaheira is scary."

    "Really? She seems nice to me..." Sephiria said, looking over at the brunette half -elf, who was sitting out near the edge of camp staring blankly into space while her husband patted her shoulder comfortingly.

    "Yeah, well, she ain't usually this quiet. I, uh, think she's kinda...embarrassed," Imoen whispered. "She, uh, kinda thought I was you. She's not happy with anyone right now."

    Sephiria blinked. "Why did she think you were me?"

    "... I may have fudged some details on who was actually raised by who. Really, 's her own fault. She didn't even remember your name!"

    Jaheira made a sound halfway between a sob and a growl.

    "Well, being pissy about it don't change anything!" Imoen said, sticking her tongue out.

    "Imoen," Sephiria said, happier to be exasperated with her sister than ever before, "why did you not tell the truth? They are father's friends, they would have helped you."

    "... ... Lying seemed easier?"

    Sephiria smiled. "I am entirely too tired to lecture you about Torm, so I shall settle for saying you are impossible. As well, I believe I am well enough to tell what I have learned."

    "Blessed Silvanus, have mercy," Jaheira snapped, stomping back into the circle of the campfire. "Please, child, continue. I am desperate for business to take my mind off all...this."

    And so, Sephiria, feeling sade for the first time in far, far too long, began to tell her story.

    About an hour later, when she had finished, Xan said, "So, may I leave the group? I fear my life is dangerous enough without adding a bigger doom magnet than myself to the group."


    "Cloakwood Forest," Acherai said, looking on his map toward the woodlands that Tazok's documentation had told them to look for. He took a deep breath, and smiled. "This is going to be awful."

    "Then why, in Shar's name, do you look happy?" Viconia snapped, the absence of any ladies in the group making her cheerfully revert to the traditional Drow response to males: Endless belittling.

    Well, at least she is pragmatic enough to not do anything more than lash out verbally. Better than some women. "Because despite myself, dear Viconia, I am vastly pleased at the most progress I have ever made. And the notion that a hidden mine cannot, by necessity, have too many guards if it wishes to stay hidden. A small, elite team should be able to pierce security and seize the overseer. This is more than manageable."

    "And the 'terrible' aspect."

    "The Cloakwood. A hundred square miles of forest filled with wolves, tasloi, giant spiders, hamadryads, bears, and the occasional wyvern," Acherai said. "The mines will be simple. This damnable forest will be a nightmare."

    "Yer elves. Elves like woods," Kagain said with a shrug.

    "I am not an 'elf,' oaf," Viconia hissed. "My place is in the darkness, not frolicking in some starlit glade like an imbecile."

    "The drow speaks for me, though not so charmingly as I would have put it. Such a trek vexes me. If we want to make it with energy to deal with the mines at the end, we need additional sword arms, and preferably a second mage if possible. Kagain?"


    "You have done sellsword work in this region. Where, pray tell, would you suggest we go looking for some extremely violent people in the mood for a good payday?"

    The dwarf blinked a few times as he pondered this, and grinned. "Aye, mayhaps a few ideas come ta mind."


    Envy was a sin, and so Sephiria was in no way envious of the fact Imoen had managed to find a group of charmingly quirky but overall goodly folks, whereas she had been press-ganged into a group of amoral murderers.

    Not envious at all.

    "So then Minsc was all like, 'gaze upon my hamster!'" Imoen continued.

    "Little Imoen speaks the truth! These words have often issued from the mighty throat of Minsc!" Minsc agreed.

    "Gods above, so often..." Dynaheir muttered.

    "And I assume they never committed any theft or murder, either," Sephiria grumbled. "Merely spent their time frolicking with quirky elf wizards and saving helpless dryads."

    "I am not quirky, and do not frolic. Also, I genuinely do wish to leave the group," Xan said. "This woman is distinctly unlucky. Admittedly, all people are plagued by misfortune to some degree; the world is a cold and empty place which amorally digests us all, slowly and surely. But her. She is perhaps the most certain harbinger of doom I have ever seen."

    Sephiria tried not to growl. "Of course, as soon as I arrive, the group begins to collapse. Perhaps I am a doom magnet..."

    Imoen patted her on the back with far too much force, and then rubbed her hand as Seffie's back hurt the hell out of it. "Don't worry...ouch...sis! Frankly, we should only have six people anyway."

    "... Why?"

    "Seffie. Really. The fact you need to ask that is just one more sign you aren't prepared to be an adventurer," Imoen said sagely.

    "Everyone. Silence," Jaheira said. "We are coming up on the bridge. If the Iron Throne is truly involved in this, we cannot trust anyone in the city of Baldur's Gate, save those too wealthy and powerful to be bribed or threatened them...and any such as they will certainly have their own plans."

    "Will we not need a patron?" Sephiria asked. "There are only seven of us..."

    "Six!" Imoen insisted.

    "... Facing the whole of the Iron Throne. Certainly there must be someone who will ally with us?"

    "J-Jaheira and I have some allies who may intervene," Khalid said. "F-further, we can generally trust the Flaming Fist, w-who act as the l-law locally."

    "Ha! Mercenaries," Jaheira snapped.

    "D-darling, you know Duke Eltan c-came highly recommended."

    "He came recommended by someone I would not recommend. The man is impossible."

    "I t-tend to call that t-the right of the elderly," Khalid answered with a chuckle. "And y-you may notice the F-Fist are holding the bridge, so."

    "Fine. We shall speak to them," Jaheira said with a sigh. "At the least they will probably be less dishonest than Imoen."

    "That was rude," Imoen said.

    "We are going to ally with the Flaming Fist?!" Sephiria squealed. Yes, squealed. "I have heard many stories. Duke Eltan is widely known as a fair and noble ruler."

    "Stories of most rulers tend to be exaggerated, child. For good or ill."

    "Indeed. For instance, the story of why people call me 'Scar' gets more exciting every time I hear it," commented one of the first men Sephiria had ever met that she had to look up to talk to. Besides being unreasonably tall, he was broad-shouldered, with the build of a fighting man and his dark beard was streaked with enough grey he was clearly good enough at it to live a long time. He gave the group a friendly smile as he stepped past the gatehouse and off the bridge into the city, but it didn't quite show in his eyes. "And nobody has ever gotten it right. Imagine that!

    "Now, then. Seeing as you all match the description we have been getting regarding some folks who raised a ruckus in Nashkel, how about you share your story? We'll compare it to the ones we've heard, see how everything pieces together, and maybe even not arrest you all."


    The reason Acherai valued Kagain and considered him the best possible companion was that he was, in his own way, reliable. He was unerringly competent and did every job that came to him with steady determination, and he didn't stop doing it until he was either done or felt that he couldn't gain anything from continuing. If you paid him, he would do it for you. If you didn't, he wouldn't. Acherai paid him, and so when he asked Kagain to acquire some like-minded sorts, he did it.

    And the reason why Acherai was in command of the group became apparent shortly after, because while Kagain was certainly reliable, he was not terribly creative, nor all that discerning in terms of the blades he gathered.

    "No. Not my way," the woman said, brushing her strawberry blonde hair out of her face, a gesture that would have been rather attractive had that face not been set in the most venomous scowl he had ever seen on a human woman. "A group with this many men is asking for a knife in the throat. I'll need assurances I can trust any of you scum to watch my back."

    He was forced to admit he kind of missed Sephiria; this Shar-Teel was nearly as tall and similarly muscled, but where Sephiria had made it seem elegant, the new arrival appeared to be one rude comment away from gutting everyone in the room, then spending their money on ale until she passed out. He hadn't even realized armor could get as absolutely abused as hers without outright falling to scraps. The other two crazies the dwarf had dug up, the orc and the mage, seemed workable enough (if rather overbearing), but this woman was distressing.

    "My dear Ms. Shar-teel..." He began.

    "Talk down to me again, and I'll make you watch while I eat your liver."

    Sweet Mystra, patience. "Fine. Blunt we shall be, then. You have been offered one-sixth the plunder of an illegal mine run by ludicrously wealthy merchants. What more assurance could you possibly need?"

    "One. Two. Three. Four," she snarled. "Four men. Only woman in the whole squad is a damn drow. I know that every damn group I've worked with that had a makeup like this ends up dead. Horribly."

    "... Because you kill them?"

    "What did I say about talking down to me?!" she snarled. Did she have a tone of voice other than snarling, really?

    "I was not. I was just assuming based on the fact you seem to have presented no actual objection other than hating men. In general."

    "Clearly the result of not meeting many," the red-robed mage said. "Few enough in these lands could be called a real man. (Indeed, none in this company, save perhaps the crazed barbarian herself. I shall watch closely for an Adam's Apple.)"

    "And I do. For instance, I'd love to wear this squirrelly little bastard's head as a hat, and I will next time he mocks me," Shar-Teel said flatly. "But more than the hate, I just don't trust them. They get greedy, rush in, turn on you if something better comes along. And then you have to cut off their pr-"

    "Wow," Acherai said sadly. "I pine for Garrick, suddenly. Look, my dear horrifying lady. I understand that you are horrible. So let me be frank: I need someone to murder an awful lot of hired mercenaries, and my friend informs me you'd have a gift for that. I believe him, based mostly on the fact I think you'd probably murder anyone who got within sword distance anyway. Do you want in, or no?"

    "Depends. I need proof you have my back. I need to know you're reliable."

    "Fair enough. How can this be-"

    She drew her simple, battered, but awfully sharp-looking sword. "I'm going to kill you. Stop me."

    "... Son of a..."


    Seffie was only about six inches shorter than Minsc and definitely had the shoulders of someone could put a sword through both a shield and the person behind it. This made it kind of hard to remember, at times, that she was actually not any older than Imoen herself.

    This was not one of those times.

    "And then the serial killer Neb was caught outside Beregost, ending his deadly rampage," she squealed. "And then they defeated the bandit lord Markos the Red in the Woods of Sharp Teeth, ending his raids on the coast road. And then..."

    "Seffie. Think he knows his own career," Imoen said. She turned to Scar, who against all odds had turned out pretty nice, and said, "Sorry about this, big guy. She's the goofy one, y'know? Hard on her family."


    "What? It's true. The moment anyone in shining armor going on about justice shows up, you go all goofy! It is so hard on me being the responsible one," Imoen sighed. Jaheira, already unhappy that the two girls had somehow taken over negotiations, made a kind of choking sound at this declaration.

    Scar chucked, waving off the protest. "Worry not, ladies. Believe it or not, enforcing the law does not win many fans. It's good to see such enthusiasm in the young."

    "Indeed! Let the voices of the children ring out for justice!" Minsc declared. "Friend Scar, your words have touched Minsc's heart. Should you journey ever to Rasheman, know that you will be welcome in the Ice Dragon Berserker lodge, assuming Minsc is there to welcome you or has had time to deliver a reasonable description of you to the proper parties."

    "... How...nice?"

    "Boo appreciates your thanks."

    "...Right. Anyway..."

    "You can ignore them, sir," Sephiria said. "But, um, I really do think they saved the mines. I don't...have the documents anymore, but I know that the person tainting the Nashkel mines was connected to the bandit camp my previous group destroyed, so they wouldn't let me travel with them if they had been helping him!" She paused. "Not even Imoen, though she can't trusted around cookies or shiny objects."

    "Dammit, Seffie, stop making me sound like a bird or something."

    "If it helps," Scar said dryly, "it didn't take long for lawman's instincts to suggest your group was not made of rampaging criminals."

    "I am not with them," Xan said.

    "Really? Because I have need of someone competent and new to the city, and I pay well."

    "Money is meaningless in comparison to the utter despair brought on by every waking moment we continue to struggle through an uncaring cosmos."

    "Don't listen to him, we love money!" Imoen squeaked.

    "But, I fear we also have our own goals to pursue, you may recall," Jaheira said, standing up. "I apologize to the officer, but no more delays. We have much to do and little time to..."

    "We would be happy to help, is what she means," Sephiria said firmly. "Anything for the good of the city and its people."

    "And get paid! Don't forget payment," Imoen agreed.

    "However, rather than a payment in gold..."

    "Seffie don't you dare."

    "...we would instead request the Flaming Fist's help investigating a group we believe connected to the Nashkel crisis. They are called the Iron Throne...?"

    Scar blinked a few times, and that smile which didn't quite seem real stretched across his face again. "Well. I have to say that making an accusation like that toward a pillar of the local mercantile community is quite an unkind act. However, if you were to, perhaps, investigate a series of very strange events at the Seven Suns trading coster, in the Merchant district, I would forgive your rudeness. They are, after all, run by a good friend of mine, who has been behaving oddly and running his business into the ground...something the Iron Throne quite approves of, them being competitors and all. Of course, I am sure upstanding businessmen would never be involved in such a thing. Unless someone were to find some proof, perhaps."

    And for the first time in the conversation, Jaheira actually smiled.


    "You cheated," Shar-Teel snapped for the tenth time, as the group hiked through the outer edge of the Cloakwood.

    "You never said 'no magic.' And technically speaking a Dire Charm can be resisted by those with a strong enough will, so by not doing so you basically beat yourself."

    "And I admit to some amusement that you literally forced her to do so. (Even if your casting technique is so sloppy it brings to mind a particularly stupid infant.)"

    Acherai sighed. "Edwin. I can hear you speaking. Do not make me kick you out like I did...what's his name. The creepy orc who kept staring at my ass."

    "An' why did ye kick him out?" Kagain muttered. "Good sword arm. Good reputation fer slaughter. Built like a damn giant."

    "First, because he kept staring at my ass, as mentioned above, and while I don't mind being admired a bit I do ask they be charming about it. Also female, and ideally not a giant black-armored murderer. Second, he wanted to drag is into another damn vengeance crusade, and after dear, unmissed Kivan almost killed us all, I am in no hurry to take that road again." He paused. "Also, I don't know, I feel like he didn't fit. Does anyone else feel like he just kind of stood out in a weird way? It made me jumpy. So we'll make do with a smaller team, unless we meet someone useful in the woods."

    "In the woods?" Shar-Teel asked, her tone somewhere between disgust and confusion. Hey, it was better than a snarl.

    "You mock, my dear, but it happens. Just ask lovely Viconia back there! Right in the middle of the woods, just as we needed a cleric's aid. I consider it a sign Tymora favors our path," he said cheerfully. "Or that most adventurers are wood-dwelling maniacs."

    "Lookin' at us, guessing the second," Kagain said.

    Shar-Teel turned to Viconia. "You tolerate this?"

    The priestess shrugged. "I have few other options. Besides, for a darthiir he is actually admirably drowlike. A bit soft and frivolous, but what surfacer isn't?"

    "Gods, I may have to kill everyone here just on principle."

    "A thought I share, my lovely," Edwin...well, oozed.

    "Especially him."

    "(As if the harpy will survive my own inevitable rise to power. Certainly losing the trail of the Rashemi witch has not helped my status, but each mockery they level my way makes the wrath of Thay more certain to fall on them.)"

    Acherai smiled at Kagain. "You know," he murmured softly. "I had my doubts at first, but they will work out well. I have rarely seen a group of people so thoroughly expendable."

    "I do good work, boss."


    The Seven Suns trading coster, with its glittering gilded exterior and the sun motif on its banner, was simple enough to find. Indeed, the only way to miss it would have been to suddenly go blind, as it stood out like a sore thumb compared to its neighbors...or at least a slightly tacky thumb.

    "So," Imoen said. "Do we go in through the front door, or...?"

    "Child, please. This calls for subtlety. To march in boldly through the front would be certain to alert our targets, whoever they may be, and only harm our efforts to locate this 'Scar's' supposed friend," Jaheira snapped. "You are a petty thief, you should know these things."

    "Hey, I am not petty!"

    "Actually," Sephiria said slowly, "perhaps the front door is an option. For some of us, anyway."

    Jaheira arched an eyebrow. "You suggest a diversion?"

    "Yes. Some of us pose as, perhaps...negotiators, here to buy goods? And while they distract the door guards, others may enter clandestinely."

    Jaheira nodded, and while she wasn't smiling, that was mostly because she almost never did unless her husband was involved. "Sound plan. Good to see one of you inherited Gorion's good sense."

    Imoen elbowed her in the ribs teasingly. "Heeey, when did Seffy learn sneaky? I would have expected you to suggest we kick the wall down and rain justice on them or something."

    "Oooh, Minsc likes this plan! Yes, he casts the votes of himself and Boo for the kicking and the justice!"

    Sephiria blushed furiously and smack Imoen's elbow away while the smaller girl giggled. "I have had some direct experience, you know. Possibly a bad influence or two on top of it, but one area I cannot fault Acherai on is that a subtle approach can often be successful. He was not intending it as a method to spare innocent lives, perhaps, but that doesn't mean I can't."

    "... I thought you said he was a jerk, though?"


    "Fancy meeting a team like this in the middle of the woods!" The elf said cheerfully, balancing a well-worn bow on the shoulder of his fine leather armor. "My name is Coran. Adventurer of sorts, and wondering if such fine folks as yourselves might be interested in an alliance to get us all quite a bit of gold? I need some additional muscle, you see, and well...who doesn't need money?"

    Acherai turned to Shar-Teel, and smiled.

    "I will gut you."

    "I didn't say a thing, my dear."

    "You were thinking it."

    Baldur's Gate...

    "Oh, the worst. But an awful person may have occasional good ideas," Sephiria said primly.

    Dynaheir raised a hand. "I may be a good option to lead the group in the main entry. As a wychlaran, albeit one of low rank, I am considered nobility in my homeland. It gives me a reason to be present few others have, no?"

    "And where wise Dynaheir goes, so goes the evil-dispersing wind of Minsc and Boo, dispersing all evil before them. Like wind," Minsc said. Boo kind of chewed on his shirt.

    "Of...course. Well, I fear I am not gifted at stealth, so perhaps I should serve as your second bodyguard, lady Dynaheir?" Sephiria suggested.

    "Your blade would be welcome indeed, little friend! Minsc has not yet had chance to kick butt beside his newest ally!"

    "We are...trying not to do that, noble Minsc," Dynaheir said with a wince.

    "Also yes!"

    "Imoen, you are our go-to expert on infiltration, as depressing as the notion is," Jaheira said. "Find an entry point. Khalid and I will guard your path."

    "What about me?" Xan asked.

    As one, the group turned to him.

    "... We...thought you left, actually." Sephiria said.

    "You kept talking about it," Imoen agreed.

    "Well. Yes, but I have nowhere to actually go, as it turns out," Xan admitted. "I will not be welcomed in Evereska with half a report, no matter how obvious it is that I had no hope of succeeding. I need to remain in the Sword Coast and continue to pursue this crisis."

    "Oh. Um..." Sephiria said.

    "Just watch how things go and intervene when needed," Jaheira said smoothly. It seemed easier than actually trying to get Xan to be sneaky, as he had almost literally not stopped whining since they had met him.

    "Are...are you trying to push me into the background...?"

    "... ... ... Nooooo," Imoen said. "Now then! I see a house we can use to get onto the roof of the coster, so. Who wants to watch my back while I jimmy the lock? I got a good feeling about this!"


    "So, Coran," Acherai said flatly. "I notice you said that you sought a bounty."

    "Indeed, my friend! Fine pay for all."

    "And that it was on the way to our destination."

    "Convenient and profitable!"

    "And that you felt you could probably do it alone, but a group assured adventure and pay for all."

    "Right again, good man!"

    The wyvern chose the moment to swoop over them, screaming out an odd trilling cry as it flew towards the cave where it made its lair, half a bear clamped in the powerful claws of its legs. Where the other half of the bear might be was something not even Shar-Teel probably wanted to think about.

    It didn't take a cartographer to note that the cave it was landing at was also where Coran was leading them.

    This was the third wyvern they had seen land in that general area.

    "I sense," Acherai said dryly, "that you may have withheld certain crucial details of this bounty."

    "I am sure I don't know what you mean."

    *And that,* Acherai thought, *is why I should never trust anyone who even slightly reminds me of myself.*


    Author's Note: Kind of a short chapter, yes, but I actually couldn't think of a better place to end it. Going on would have just made things all clunky, and there is nothing I love more than a cliffhanger anyway. You know this. I'm a monster.

    Post edited by Moczo on
  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    Chapter Thirteen


    Acherai was not a moron.

    Fighting a cave full of wyverns at melee range was a moronic thing to do. But, he considered, invading a hidden mine populated by an unknown enemy force was also kind of dense. He had been planning to do it, certainly, but only because he had few other options, and (bluntly) he had been planning to sacrifice Shar-teel and Edwin in order to improve his position if needed.

    (Viconia could stay. He was starting to realize that yes, he could find a drow physically attractive, even if she had the personality of mud. It turned out ingrained racism only went so far when she had fantastic legs)

    But then he had some time to think. He had some ideas. And an avenue became clear.

    Edwin might still die, mind you, but one needed to be willing to accept that.


    The Seven Suns was...wrong.

    Sephiria could think of few other words for it, as she entered at Dynaheir's side. She may not have been a very good paladin, but Torm had not yet seen fit to strip her of her status, and the building made her skin crawl. She could not say, specifically, what it was; some aura of ill-ease that permeated the building, as if she was being watched from all sides even though she saw no eyes on her.

    And in fact, was that not a bad omen all on its own? A merchant coster should have been busy, with folk moving in and out at all hours. Why was this building so empty?

    "Approach, noble merchants! Approach and hear the words of Minsc's mighty witch as she seeks commerce!"

    Other than fear of Minsc, that was.

    A door across the grand hall opened, and without fanfare three men entered. All had the look of successful merchants, at least; fine clothes, gems on display, a certain... What was the polite way to put this? A certain roundness. Everything she would have expected to see.

    Instinctively, she moved so she could watch Dynaheir's back while simultaneously ensuring her own back was against a wall. Something was just wrong.

    "Welcome to the Seven Suns. We are not open for business. Please leave," the lead merchant said, his voice smooth and warm to contrast the blunt dismissal.

    Dynaheir drew herself imperiously to her full height (which nearly made Sephiria laugh out loud because the woman was still a foot shorter than both her 'bodyguards,' at least) and said, "I have come far, good man, to foster relations 'tween Rasheman and the peoples of this region. 'Tis appalling to consider you would turn away a diplomat without even hearing her proposal."

    "Be that as it may, the Seven Suns is not open for business. We are...reconsolidating our resources, and taking no new clients, nor funding new caravans. Even if we were, trade routes to Rasheman hold no interest to us. Perhaps go speak with the Iron Throne?"

    Dynaheir arched an eyebrow. "You send me to your competitors?"

    The man smiled. "Our influence does not stretch as far as Rasheman, we have no agents or caravan routes to that distant land. The Iron Throne does. They can help you. We cannot. Please leave."

    The merchants turned to leave without another word, the height of rudeness had Dynaheir actually been a negotiator. More to the point, Imoen would have likely only just started her infiltration. They needed to keep attention on themselves, because something was very off.

    "Please, sirs," she said, taking a risk. "My father, Gorion, often spoke of the fairness and savvy of your coster. Are you sure you cannot aid my lady? She has come so far."

    The three men stopped. As one, they turned and favored the young paladin with identical smiles. "Well, then. A personal referral from an old friend. That changes much," the leader said, and Sephiria could not help but feel like a mouse that had just made too much noise near a cat. "Please, follow us."

    "And close the door behind you, if you don't mind."


    Drasus had worked for Rieltar as a merc for a long time, and he knew the score. Do your job, do it well, and don't piss off the boss or his creepy son, and you'll be paid ridiculously well and be allowed to do anything you want.

    Guard an iron mine? Worked for him, pay was pay. The workers were slaves and and the mine was illegal? It was fine, Drasus had no morals. Kill or enslave any adventurers that happened by, especially a red-haired girl? Drasus hated women, children, and especially female children. Too whiny for his tastes. Always screamed when you killed them to take their money.

    And so Drasus stood near the bridge into the palisade surrounding the mines with his boys. It was pretty good work; nice weather, good trees. They had killed a few druids the other day, that was always fun. And carrier pigeon had brought a note; pay was doubled if they gutted the brat who had taken down Tazok. Overall, Drasus and his boys were having a good day.

    Right up until two elves, one with dark hair and a nasty smirk, and one with weird eye makeup, both covered in blood, ran out of the woods, threw something at their feet, and ran away, melting into the shadows with hardly a ripple in the leaves.

    "The Hells?" Drasus said.

    "Were those elves?" Genthore, his second in command, asked. "We need to kill 'em, they saw the mine."

    "How we gonna find them, ye arse? Damn tree-lovers move through a forest like squirrels," Drasus snapped. "Kysus! What did they drop? Make sure it ain't some magic trap."

    The mercenary band's mage knelt over the strange, damp object. "Not at all. In fact...rather disgustingly it, it appears to be little more than a half-eaten chunk of deer carcass."

    Drasus blinked. "... Hells. Kysus, what ate it?"

    There was a loud, trilling shriek overhead, and Drasus heard the flapping of great, leathery wings as the first wyvern descended like lightning. Kysus never even had time to scream.

    Drasus did, however, calling out the alarm, calling for archers and medics to the surface. A quick glance up confirmed at least three more of the damn things, full-grown and furious.

    Not how I wanted to find the answer to my question.


    *Imoen giggled as the lock slid open. "Told ya I had it."

    "Imoen, please. Stop. Talking so loud." Jaheira hissed.

    "Jarry, really, whispering carries further than normal talking. It's magic. Or science? I forget which."

    "That is c-correct, Imoen, but volume is still a concern," Khalid said.

    "As if I could be louder than Minsc," Imoen said, rolling her eyes. "Here, help me steal stuff. Look at all these contracts! Routes to Sembia, Cormyr, Waterdeep... bet we could ransom them real good to someone."

    Jaheira arced an eyebrow.

    "Could! I said could," Imoen added quickly. "But anyway, look. All these documents are like, old. The parchment's going yellow, and the cabinet is all covered in dust. They haven't done any new business in months."

    "Suspicious, but it could be proof of simple failure as easily as foul play," Jaheira said. "We need more."

    Imoen, choosing another door, began to work at the lock with a pair of picks. "Well. This door has blood on it, does that help?"


    Imoen smirked. "Jaheira. Please. Stop talking so loud."

    Jaheira growled under her breath as Khalid patted her on the back. "P-please elaborate, Imoen."

    "Bloodstain in the wood, near the bottom there. Like the door was opened into a puddle or something," Imoen said. "Dried out and hard to spot against the wood, but I remember how to check from that one time I thought a deadly murderer was staying at the inn." She chuckled. "Turned out he just liked to hunt in the woods when he wasn't studying. Bloody outfit was for skinning deer. I really regret getting him arrested."

    Khalid and Jaheira said nothing, because sometimes there was nothing to say.

    "Man, this is a good lock. And...yeah, there's a wire hidden behind it that will set off a trap when the door is opened. I can see it past the tumbler. I think we found a good door, guys!"

    Once again. Only so much to say. The couple chose to stay silent, waited until the door clicked open, and followed Imoen down the stairs that was revealed.

    They stopped at the bottom, entering the basement of the coster, and stared for a few seconds.

    "So, um," Imoen said slowly. "Let's say that there is a pile of gnawed human corpses in the corner. And a guy covered in blood chained to the wall. Would that be, y'know. Evidence?"

    "Dammit. The other team is in danger. Stealth is no longer an option," Jaheira snapped. "I will heal this man. The two of you, get up there and warn them."

    Upstairs, there was a crashing...followed by the shrieking, furious wail of something not remotely human.

    Imoen winced. "I think they don't need that warning anymore."


    Sephiria felt a bit like a fly that had just not merely been seen by a spider, but had actively chosen to taunt said spider's family.

    The merchants, who she couldn't help but notice had still not given their names, had split up upon reaching the conference table; one sat at the head, while the other two took up positions on either side of the room.

    Flanking them, Sephiria couldn't help but notice.

    "Now then," the head merchant said with a smile that did not reach his eyes. "We can begin negotiations as soon as sir Jhasso arrives with his retinue. They have been summoned, it should take only minutes."

    And they will come in through the only door, letting them surround us, Sephiria thought, giving Dynaheir a warning glance. The witch's calm expression did not waver, but she gave a slight nod to show she recognized the issue. "Actually, I feel we could begin n-"

    "Your opinion was not asked," the man snapped. "Sir Jhasso is an old friend of Gorion. It is only in honor of the man's memory he negotiates with you at all."

    Sephiria stepped back, ensuring she could block the man on the left, and said, "Interesting. Because my father was not a merchant, nor did he deal with them regularly."

    The man twitched slightly, just short of a wince. "You yourself claimed him a friend of the coster."

    "Something anyone who knew him," she said quietly, "would know as a falsehood."

    "Well. I am sure you can discuss that with Jhasso when he arrives. He will have many things to say to you, I am sure. You have become something of a celebrity in certain circles," the man said. He tilted his head to one side, a curious motion. Like a lizard that had spotted something it wanted to eat.

    "I think we shall be leaving, actually," Dynaheir interjected. "I find this atmosphere most distressing."

    The merchant smiled, and his mouth stretched too far across his face to be natural. "I think you shall be staying. Our brethren will miss the feast, but that is preferable to letting you leave.

    "Kill the apes. Leave the eyes for me, you know I love the texture."

    And that was when Dynaheir, smiling angelically, slid a slim, orange wand from up her sleeve, leveled it, and said a trigger word.

    The explosion pretty firmly showed how she felt about being eaten, thank you very much.


    Acherai smiled as the wyverns tore into the guards in a bloody frenzy. The creatures were reacting on furious instinct at this point, lashing out madly with intent to kill anything that moved for the violation of their nest and not particularly caring that the mine guards had nothing to do with it. The men were putting up an admirable fight, and more kept running out of the mines to join the fray, but a single sting was a death sentence and it had taken them far too long to organize archers. They may yet bring the creatures down, and indeed one had already fallen, but perhaps a tenth of them would live to enjoy the victory.

    "And there you go," Acherai said with a smile. "One wyvern slain, as per the terms of the arrangement. Now that they have proper archer support they may even bring the other three down. Good for them."

    "Well. Not how I envisioned things, but it did get results. Good show!" Coran said. "I don't suppose those chaps would be kind enough to let us collect the head from the fallen beast?"

    "Well, we're gonna kill any that survive, so that counts as permission," Shar-teel said. "Anyone got a skinning knife? Bandit scalps and hobgoblin ears are going for fifty gold each in Beregost these days."

    "You are a horrifying woman," Coran said helpfully.

    "Good. Means you know better than to try getting in my pants."

    "Well, I wouldn't go that far."

    "Hmmph. Inbred barbarians one and all. Wyvern venom is far more valuable, and far easier to carry," Edwin said. "(In addition, it will give me something to pour into the meals at camp when these imbeciles finally push me too far.)"

    Acherai, maintaining a cheerful smile, sidled up to Viconia and whispered in her ear, "You, myself, and Kagain. Focus on healing the three of us when we enter the mines. The rest of these people are disposable."

    Viconia smiled sweetly. "Please. You are all disposable to me."

    "Fair. How about this: He is our most useful warrior in terms of sanity, so his survival impacts yours."

    "And you?"

    "Clearly, I am the handsome one."

    She actually laughed at that one. "Well, you don't lack for confidence. Were you not so sickeningly pale, I might consider keeping you as a pet."

    "My dear, if you are holding out for a nice drow male to abuse, you will likely spend your surface life celibate," he replied cheerfully. Then, more loudly, he said, "Well then! Is everyone ready to move on in? This is going just beautifully."


    "This is not going beautifully!" Imoen squeaked as the smoke began to roll down the halls.

    The building was on fire, which she supposed wasn't a huge shock; they tended to be a destructive bunch. The issue was that she also heard, over the sounds of people running the other way, a distressing number of people heading toward the fire, on the floor below them. Seffie might be big and lumbering like an ox, but she was a fuzzy bunny on the inside, and...

    Imoen turned a corner, finding the steps down, and stopped.

    She and Khalid had reached the stairs at the same time as what appeared to be two of the serving staff; a plump older lady in an apron, and a little freckled boy who couldn't have seen more than twelve summers.

    They stared at her. Just stared. The building was on fire, and they barely seemed to react to the presence of intruders? You didn't need to be a master adventurer to spot something wrong there. "Um, Khalid...?"

    "Back, Imoen!" He snapped, stepping past her, shield raised, even as the little boy hissed at her like a viper and charged. The fighter caught the boy on his raised shield and was pushed back, the impact stronger by far than a scrawny child could have managed, and to her distress, she saw the kid had claws, that he was trying to dig into the shield with his damn fingers and rip it apart. Khalid thrust his blade to the side of his shield, cutting into the kid's shoulder and drawing blood, before stepping forward to slam the boy back.

    The 'child' fell back a few steps, bleeding thick gray gel, and narrowed eyes that had gone hollow and quicksilver. "Hsssss...fighting meat. Back me, Thalsirel."

    "We have our orders. The target is downstairs, and we are needed with the others," the old woman said, and her tone was neither female nor noticeably human.

    "They'll devour her and we'll get nothing. Help me bring this meat down, and you can eat the big one."

    "Hsssssss, fine, lets just gut the damn primates," the old woman snarled, her words garbled by the mouth full of needle sharp teeth she had grown.

    "... I feel like I missed something," Imoen said dully, as the creatures began to shift and warp, their flesh flowing like water into something else...


    "Well, the slaves seem happy," Coran said cheerfully as a scarred, emaciated man brought his pick down on the head of one of the few remaining guards. As it turned out, the wyvern plan had brought an unexpected benefit; when there were over one hundred miners in the tunnels and only about fifteen guards, even the dumbest of the slaves could do the math. Mining picks and chains might not have been ideal weapons, but when you had ten miners swarming every armed overseer, they added up fast.

    "And that matters why?" Kagain asked.

    "Well, beyond the fact that slavery is vile? Letting them revolt is certainly making our job easier."

    "Easy," Shar-teel grumbled. "I was hoping for some blood, dammit."

    Coran turned to Acherai, and said, very slowly, "Where did you find these people?"

    "Recruiting for substance over style produces unusual results," Acherai admitted. "They do good work, and they haven't started randomly slaughtering slaves yet. Consider this a win."

    "Ain't been a winner since I joined up with this lot," Kagain muttered.

    "I am sorry, but is not your literal only motivation money? Do I not pay you? And look at this!" Acherai said. "We have started a slave revolt in a secret iron mine, and that is fine, but it also means the mine will be empty soon. Iron is in short supply, man. We can sell the location for a lot, and the odds of starved, abused slaves beating us back to civilization? Through a forest full of wyverns and spiders and those ridiculous ettercap things?"

    "... Ye always know how ta cheer me up, elf."

    Coran blinked, and leaned in to whisper to Shar-teel, "Are things always like this?"

    "Touch me and I'll stab you."

    "... Yes, then," Coran said, stepping over the body of a fallen slave with an arrow through his eye. The bowman appeared to have been beaten to death with several lengths of heavy chain, so avenging him wouldn't be an issue, at least.

    "Found the stairs down," Acherai called out. "We must be close to finding the overseer's quarters. Maybe the slaves can help us break in, or..."

    He stopped, trailing off as he reached to the bottom of the steps, and found a disaster.

    The slave revolt on the lower levels had not done as well those above, apparently, but not due to an abundance of guards. It had been stopped by one man. He stood among a dozen burned corpses, shadowy monsters flanking him on either side, a shimmering violet barrier surrounding him and his features blurry and indistinct...though a pair of icy cold eyes were easy enough to make out. The only other living thing in the room, a blonde-bearded dwarf who looked like his arm was only barely still attached, huddled defiant and doomed behind a cracked pickaxe in the corner of the artificial cavern.

    The mage turned from his current victim to look at the new arrivals. "Breaking in to the overseer's quarters, you say?" he asked in a voice that promised horrible, horrible pain, "I fear that would require the overseer be hiding in his quarters. He is most clearly not.

    "My name is Davaeorn. These are my mines. And you are all in a lot of trouble."

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    Chapter Fourteen


    Xan watched the building burn, and pondered.

    On the one hand, there was nothing he could do that would make the slightest difference. All of his erstwhile allies were doomed, destined to suffer and die in this hideous blaze. And in reality, this was a blessing, for although it would be painful and terrifying for them, it would be merciful in comparison to the long, slow decay that was life.

    On the other hand, it was a rare person who would accept that as an explanation, and ghosts were real. The last thing he needed was to be haunted by Imoen. Yes, he would have to try and save them, even though it was only prolonging their suffering.

    He walked toward the door, hand on the blade at his hip. He had inherited the thing from uncle Xemnious when he had retired from adventuring some decades ago, and had come to rather consider it a burden; Moonblades were originally supposed to determine the royal family of Evermeet, the elven island of refuge, but they had already done that and so now mainly just kind of passed down family lines randomly killing anyone they deemed unworthy to wield them for no real reason.

    Xan was not sure why he had been found worthy by the blade, truly. He had mainly accepted it on the notion that if it killed him, at least he would see death coming instead of being surprised by a more random doom. But he had drawn it and been accepted, and now the magical silver sword was an additional burden on his fragile soul.

    But, he did have to admit, one that came in occasionally useful.

    He strode through the flames, protected by his sword's magic, and glanced about. Rather surprisingly, nobody seemed to be trying to flee the building, even though much of the first floor had been consumed. Brushing aside some fire, he pushed open a burning door and shouted inside, "Well, I don't know if this matters, but a door outside is over this way! You'll probably still die, but maybe you want to struggle first!"

    Xan had a unique notion of pep talks.

    He continued walking into the building, hunched low under the smoke, and said, "Ms. Dynaheir? Are you and your giant man-bear in this direction? I have come to attempt a rescue!" He pushed open another door, and blinked. "Well, no, then."

    The thing inside was about six feet tall, lanky and skeletal, without a single hair on its grey skin and no clothes to hide a lack of any visible gender. It walked hunched over like an ape, but quick study showed its skin was closer in texture to scales, and it narrowed snakelike eyes at him as he looked at it. Without warning, its fingers lengthened and hardened, becoming six inch talons.

    "Oh dear. Dopplegangers, then? That does make things worrisome," Xan said, blinking.

    "Oh look. Enough meat even for the rear guardssss to have a bite," the thing hissed, a cruel smile stretching its lips.

    Xan sighed, rolled his free hand in an elaborate pattern, and spoke out five syllables that did not form any actual word but which made the room feel slightly colder.

    "Hsssssssrrrrrrrrrarrrgh! My eyes, filthy meat! What has it done?!" The creature screamed, grasping at suddenly blind eyes. Xan stepped forward and, shuddering in disgust, held his sword about level with the thrashing creature's neck.

    Black blood and some kind of thicker gray ooze began to flow from the doppleganger's slashed throat, and Xan sighed. "I knew it. I knew it would even more vile on the inside. Truly I have the worst of all possible existences."

    The doppleganger made a noise somewhere between a scream and the gurgle of a drowning animal.

    "Oh, stop that. This discussion really doesn't involve you."


    So, Acherai thought, because it helped get past the fear to think something absurd, the mine overseer is not, in fact, a fat bureaucrat. Good to know.

    Out loud, he said the far more practical, "Scatter!"

    This mage was powerful. Summoning shadow monsters and the spells required to destroy that many people at once were both beyond Acherai's own ability, he knew that much, and therefore he also could not be certain what spells were coming next, and what defenses Davaeorn had in place.

    So it was time to improvise.

    Kagain and Shar-teel took to the front, the blurred shadows crashing against the defensive line they formed, side by side, as Coran nocked and released an arrow in a single smooth motion, the bolt digging deep into his target and sending the half-formed thing falling. Both Viconia and Edwin fell into spells, and the whole team was like a beautiful clockwork machine.

    Except they had not, in fact, scattered as ordered, and Acherai was half-tempted to just let them all die when the mage sent his first spell against them and it hit every single one.

    'Horror'. A simple enough spell, a favorite of bandit mages up and down the coast. All it did was create an aura of fear that coated a chosen area, causing anyone within it to be struck by blind, unreasoning terror. It was not a powerful spell, easy to learn, and...yet, depressingly often, it was also good enough.

    Kagain shrugged it off, and brought his hammer down on the first shadowy figure that approached him. Viconia, with that legendary drow resistance to magic, continued her spellcasting without any obvious discomfort.

    The rest of the team was a damn disaster.

    Acherai would have enjoyed the sight of Edwin literally running down a tunnel screaming like a girl, but it was not, in fact, funny right at that moment, because it was accompanied by Shar-teel falling to her knees, murmuring something with wide, tear-filled eyes, and Coran just...vanishing. Even Acherai couldn't spot where in the shadows he had vanished.

    And that meant half the team was just out. And Davaeorn had already started his next casting.

    Cursing under his breath, Acherai fell into his own spell, casting from one of the precious and powerful scrolls he still had up his sleeve; not for him, but for Viconia. If there was one person they needed intact for this, it was the one person who could piece them back together after the bastard finished taking them apart. She found herself surrounded by a gleaming blue shield of light, even as her own spell surrounded Kagain and Shar-teel with their own aura of protection (if that was the right word for a Blessing of Shar...).

    The spell protecting her worked perfectly. The spell protecting them...

    Well, it probably kept them from dying, as Davaeorn laughed and his Fireball illuminated the cave, rolling over all four of the intruding adventurers.


    Why, Sephiria thought, must everything come back to crazed monsters?

    She stepped into the flame, ignoring the pain as she lashed down her blade, slashing the arm off an approaching monstrosity as she pushed down the hall. "Follow me! They are strong, but no more durable than men! We can best them!"

    "New little friend speaks the LANGUAGE OF MINSC!" Minsc roared with glee, his own sword slamming straight out to impale the creature she had 'disarmed' directly through the head. Then he swung down, and...

    It was messy, to say the least.

    "Be happy Minsc is our ally," Dynaheir said dryly. "Alas, he is no tracker and the halls of this vile den art twisted indeed. Finding our path out is difficult, and these creatures seem here in force. Perhaps we could break a wall?"

    Sephria shook her head no, and held out a hand to grab Minsc before he actually did it. "No. The structure is already compromised, I'll not risk it collapsing until I am sure Imoen is safely outside."

    Dynaheir winced at the sight of smoke leaking from under the door ahead of them. "And yet, we may have no choice. My spells may have kept the worst of the flames from us, but the smoke..."

    "We will survive. I refuse to let a simple fire stop me after I have come this far," Sephiria said flatly, pressing open the door. Backdraft rolled over her, heat and flame that pierced even the magical ward against fire Dynaheir had cast. Pain echoed through her; she could hardly see, barely breath.

    She stepped forward anyway, and continued to the stairs up, hoping against hope to find someone there who wouldn't be yet another killer in disguise.

    She found Khalid, coated from head to toe in grey-green blood, stepping rapidly in to slice her head off.


    Oh gods.

    Acherai leaned against a wall, his clothes mostly ash and the skin under them not much better. He felt very little pain, mostly just coldness, which was a terrible, terrible sign. He could barely see the others, so he didn't know if they fared better. He just knew that Davaeorn stepped out of the inferno untouched, smiling with a distressing amount of glee, and as far as he could tell only Viconia would be standing against him at this point.

    That was...bad.

    Kill him.

    Of course I need to kill him. How? His powers are so far beyond mine he might as well be a god for all the hope I have of matching him. I can't even move. I can't feel my hands, I can't even open my mouth to speak. There's nothing but cold...

    You know how. Murder is a part of what you are.

    I can't move...

    Can barely breathe...

    But murder. Is a part.

    Of who I am.

    I'm going to survive. I always survive. And if I have to eat the world alive to do it, that is someone else's problem.

    He raised his hand despite the fact he couldn't even feel himself doing it, and for the first time since killing Nimbul with it, he tapped the power Sephiria had awoken (or had it just felt her own power and woken up in sympathy?).

    His body instantly erupted in pain, and it felt right. It was not the pain of dying, but the pain of dead flesh becoming alive enough to feel again...and it was matched by a snarl of shocked agony from Davaeorn as his life was stolen to accomplish this.

    It's not enough. I'm still hurt. He's still alive.

    He raised his hands, the spell he cast simple and quick; invisibility, among the most basic of illusions. But one that would disguise him well as he did the one thing no sane mage would ever do.

    Each step agony, he sprinted at his target, his scarred face twisted into a wolfish grin.


    The attack came with lightning speed and the accuracy of a veteran warrior. Khalid's sword would slide past her guard and open her throat in a single perfect move, and she would die in minutes, well before a healer arrived. It wasn't his fault, really; visibility was poor and he had clearly just left combat, he had every reason to attack the first thing he saw.

    And yet, disturbingly enough, she wanted to kill him for it anyway. She wanted to, in her bones. She saw the counter in her mind; raise her shoulder, catch the blade on metal, muscle, and bone, while bringing her own sword up, a strike to the midsection... Not much force behind it from that angle, but it is a stroke to soft tissue. Just need to pierce the armor, and then nothing but organs and blood until you reach his spine...

    Oh, get stuffed. I will not kill a good man for my own benefit, rather absurdly proud at her ability to even think that.

    Of course, the general idea wasn't bad, as far as counters went, so...

    Ignoring the screaming in her mind, she raised her shoulder and twisted her body, catching the blade on metal instead of flesh. It dug in, but rather than jerk away, she tensed her arm, trapping the weapon in her upper arm. And then she did strike out; not with the blade, but when she slammed the pommel of her own weapon into Khalid's solar plexus.


    The man fell to his knees, coughing violently for several seconds. After nearly hacking his lungs out, he managed to gasp. "A-ah. I a-apol...apologize. Dopplegangers, a-all over."

    "Yes, we have met our share," Sephiria said, helping him up even as Imoen peeked her head out of the stairwell. "I am sorry I struck you."

    "N-no, child. You saved y-your own life, I could hardly fault that," Khalid said, smiling...and wincing. "N-now I just hope you did not break a r-rib. Q-quite a sword arm you have."

    "... Damn, Seffie. You like...adventured," Imoen said, apparently not sure how to process this development. She had always been vaguely aware that Sephiria could be dangerous if she tried, but the older girl was such a...well, not to be rude, but kind of a doof? And yet, here she was; on the receiving end of an attack from Khalid, and the one cradling a broken rib was him.


    A door down the hall fell off its hinges, and Xan stepped in with them, coughing smoke out of his lungs. He looked up at them, and oh my he looked so annoyed.

    "The building is on fire, why are you all still here?!"

    If a band of warriors fleeing death could look childishly embarrassed, this one did.

    "I swear, I should have just found a ship home, but noooo. My better nature shall doom me, for certain," Xan said sadly. "Well, I do have a way out for you, so follow me. This building is a bit of a maze, and there is quite a lot of fire."

    "... Thanks?" Imoen said.

    "Oh, do shut up."


    Viconia was not sure what she was seeing, precisely.

    She was devoting all her power to trying to get the dwarf back on his feet; despite her sniping with the darthiir leader, she actually did see quite a bit of wisdom in keeping a thick shield between herself and the enemy. So she was deep in a prayer to Shar when said faerie launched his counterattack, and rather unprepared.

    Because even she had to admit it was...beyond expectations.

    She had seen spells to drain life before; many drow wizards used them as a pragmatic way to heal wounds without the aid of a cleric. All you needed to perform one, after all, was your hands, your mouth, and an unlucky slave. But Acherai...

    There was no spell. It was more like he had reached out and dragged the life out of Davaeorn with an effort of will. Psionics, perhaps? But he'd shown no sign of such a power, and drow could always spot the signs. Between the mind flayers and House Oblodra, if you couldn't pick up a psionicist in Menzoberranzen, you were going to end up with your mind ripped open in short order.

    This was something different. Darker. Shar's presence in her mind felt vaguely annoyed, even, which was odd. The Lady of Loss normally cared little for mortal powers.

    Well, he is still acting as a guardian to me, so best to preserve him for now. Shar approved of selfishness, if her will was a bit inscrutable in other matters. She had watched the elf vanish from sight, and saw the human mage prepare a spell; probably another one intended to strike a wide area and flush him out.

    He didn't think like a drow, and it was about to get him killed. Viconia smirked with delight at the simple and yet efficient plan as her healing spell brought the dwarf back to his feet. She chose to add to it, another prayer already on her lips.

    Davaeorn finished his spell, a cloud of thick, nigh-unbreakable webs to snare and paralyze his invisible target.

    They accomplished precisely nothing, and Viconia revealed why when her own spell, a Dispel to strip the wizard of his defenses, also revealed Acherai.

    Directly behind him.

    The elf's hand glowed with magic, a pale, hungry light. And with a grin that brought to mind some of the Underdark's more hungry predators, he drove it into Davaeorn's back. The wizard screamed, his skin growing tight and wrinkled as the attack sucked the life from his bones, even as Acherai's burns grew more pale, fading from red to an almost healthy pink.

    The elf laughed in exultation as the wizard fell forward to his hands and knees. "Oh. My. That is a rush, isn't it?!" He asked nobody in particular, his tone giddy and mildly unstable. "Well, not for you, but that's okay. I'm told the afterlife is pretty nice too, if you pick your gods right."

    Davaeorn, snarling in fury, pulled a wand from his sleeve and leveled it. Acherai laughed and moved his hand in the gesture of a simple spell...

    And an arrow flew from down the tunnel, striking the downed mage between the eyes, and sending him collapsing backwards, flopping pitifully as his nervous system tried to catch up with the fact he was dead.

    Coran stepped back into the room, waving cheerfully. "Sorry about that. He had some magic against arrows, you know, had to wait for that to come down, so I took to the shadows, and..."

    Acherai was across the room and in his face before he finished the sentence, and though Coran was taller than the other elf, he felt somehow lesser. Something about his eyes, and the subtle hints of a second voice beneath his normal tone as Acherai growled, "I. Wasn't. Done."

    Coran blinked a few times, resisting the urge to take a step backwards. He had run into enough angry animals to know running just made them want to chase you. "Are you legitimately upset that I stopped him from using a wand, of unknown power, three feet from you?"

    Acherai stood silently, clenching and unclenching his fists, and the look on his face shifted from anger to worry and back again several times before he said, "... No. Of course not. That was clearly the right call. Let's...finish here. Loot the body. Look for any paperwork, any letters. See if that dwarf off to the side is dead or not, he might know something. Just...just go. Everyone."

    Viconia, watching intently, sighed a little. She had been hoping the newly-interesting darthiir would demonstrate a few more of his interesting little secrets before he was stopped, but there was always next time.

    And she fervently hoped there was a next time. D her general disgust toward her surface kin, well... it really had been awhile since she'd enjoyed a male's company, and power was a hell of an aphrodisiac.


    Scar sat behind his desk, rubbing his forehead. "So. I sent you to investigate the Seven Suns. Subtly."

    "You did," Imoen agreed.

    "And you burned it down."

    "Not...intentionally," Sephiria said a bit weakly.

    "Honestly, the building was an eyesore anyway. Plant a tree where it stood, and let a little green into this urban blight," Jaheira said with a shrug. "We saved your friend, and that is what matters."

    Khalid winced. "D-dear, that is...a b-bit harsh..."

    "Yes. It is. Particularly for the people still inside!" Scar snapped.

    Minsc raised a hand. "Ah, friend Scar knows not that the people inside the blazing den of evil were fiends of the foulest sort! Much evil was crushed with blade and boot!"

    Dynaheir winced, sharing a glance of shared pain with Khalid before she said, "And more to the point, they were not people. All we found in the building were dopplegangers, sir Scar. A large colony of them, at least twenty."

    Scar's expression went with barely a flicker from anger to worry. "Gods. Dopplegangers are...always a threat in any major city. Drawn to people of influence like flies to carrion. But so many...?"

    "And the behavior was unusual for them," Xan noted. "Why take over a merchant coster only to run it into the ground? I would assume they would prefer to have the wealth and such, for whatever good it does them."

    Scar almost smiled, though it was more feral than reassuring. "Unless they were there under the orders of another. Someone intent on destroying the Seven Suns."

    "Like us?" Imoen asked, before Sephiria elbowed her in the ribs. She fell to her knees, hacking violently as the wind was knocked out of her.

    "... Right then. I think that we can say," Scar said, "that the Iron Throne are the primary suspects, as Jhasso's greatest competition and, well, having the reputation for it, to put things mildly. And I am willing to allow you to investigate them on my behalf. As long as..."

    "... We avoid any and all fire?" Sephiria finished for him.

    "Yes, that."

    Dynaheir sniffed delicately. "Well, certainly no promises can be made. A lady must stand up for herself."

    Scar sighed. "And you know, the sad thing is that I am so short on reliable manpower, that promise is actually good enough for me."

    "... ... ... So would this be a bad time to say I kinda wanna learn magic?" Imoen asked. "Fireballs are pretty neat."

    Scar sighed again. "Sad. And getting sadder all the time."

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    Chapter Fifteen

    Looting was normally pretty reassuring to Acherai. Particularly since Davaeorn had been exceptionally well paid for his services; his robes alone were so heavily enchanted he wagered they’d fetch enough to buy a decent sized manor in the Gate, and they were far from the only piece of interest. Scrolls, wands, several expertly carved gemstones, and down one particular hallway near his (surprising comfortable for a slave pit) bedchambers, a literal chest full of gold.

    Kagain had been literally drooling.

    And yet, despite a very real victory and a major acquisition, Acherai felt no particular interest in the riches they’d unearthed. Even the papers and ledgers, real clues toward the heart of the conspiracy they hunted, gave him very little joy.

    He had killed people before, certainly. His first had been at the tender age of seventeen, shoving a young guardsman off a balcony during a heist gone bad. But this was the first time he had really wanted to. Not out of anger or self-preservation, but a bone-deep joy at the thought of ending life. Inexplicable, insane, and yet painfully compelling. Nearly as compelling as it was horrifying, in fact...

    “I still say I should get the robes. I am a real mage, after all, not a trickster hedge wizard. (And calling you that insults hedge wizards everywhere, believe you me.)”

    And then then are the perfectly natural urges to murder. “Kagain, next time Edwin talks today, kill him.”

    “You cannot-“

    “And yet I have! Starting now, unless you have a problem with the idea, Kagain?”

    “Can I have this?” Kagain asked, holding up a diamond the size of his thumb.

    “But of course.”

    “Then no problem here, elf.”

    Edwin stopped talking.

    “You have the papers. We have the treasure. Lets just get the Hells out of here,” Shar-teel grumbled. “Already made enough of a fool of myself in this hole. Get me an ale and someone to murder before I snap.”

    “Found yerself some winners here, boy,” muttered the dwarf they had first saved from Davaeorn, standing near the back of the chambers with Coran as the rest of the group cheerfully ransacked everything. His name was Yeslick, apparently, and he had been the owner of the mines back when they had been filled with dwarves instead of slaves.

    When asked if he wished to travel with them, he had replied, “Nah, ye seem crazy. Show ye where they keep the gold if ye promise to kill every one of them slaving Throne bastards what took over me clan’s mine.”
    Acherai couldn’t exactly blame him for that one, and he had gotten them into Davaeorn’s chambers, so it was a good arrangement, really. And dark distractions or not, he did have what he had really come for, so there was a certain satisfaction to that.

    He held the letters he had taken from Davaeorn’s personal desk, and squeezed them tight. Letters from as high in the enemy’s counsel as one could hope to find, and they had been so very thoughtfully signed.
    Rieltar Anchev, the author of the plan. And his personal agent, Sarevok.

    I finally see the spiders at the center of the web. It is past time to squash them.


    The Iron Throne tower in Baldur's Gate was an intimidating structure, to be certain. Solid stone and easy five times as tall as any building near it, it loomed over the district with the menace of a bandit fortress more than a merchant headquarters. Which, given what they knew of the owners, was actually rather appropriate, Sephiria supposed. They disguised themselves as merchants, certainly, but beneath it they were little more than raiding Orcs.

    This was it. The end, the place they could finally expose her enemies to the light of law. She closed her eyes, taking a moment to appreciate the gravitas of the concept.

    "Big building," Imoen said cheerfully. "It will be hard to burn down, so good for us."

    Oh, right. Imoen is the undying foe of any sort of seriousness. "Immy, we are not trying to burn this building down."

    "Yeah, and we weren't trying to burn down the last one, either," Imoen said. "How'd that work out for us?"

    "... A fair point."

    "Silvanus, I wish it were less fair," Jaheira muttered. "Which is why the two of you shall not be talking to anyone."

    "Hey, Dynaheir is the one who started the fire," Imoen protested. "I was with you."

    "And yet I still feel your influence was at fault, somehow. This says much of the impression you have made on me," Jaheira said. "Now. Enough babble, the plan is known to us all?"

    "Lady Dynaheir and yourself are merchants from Sembia, with the remainder of us as your bodyguards," Sephiria said dutifully, putting on a face-concealing helmet and tucking her red hair beneath it as she did. "Once inside, we are to look for the offices of the highest ranking on-site merchants in hopes of finding either a paper trail, or an actual member that can be caught alone and interrogated."

    "Good. The team for insertion will be myself and Dynaheir as 'negotiators,' Khalid and Sephiria as 'guards,' and the elf as our 'magical advisor,'" Jaheira began, adjusting the modest green traveling robe she had slipped on over her armor to help her role. She hated the flowing thing, but Khalid thought she was fetching in green and she could deny him little, the lovable bastard.

    "You could refer to me by name," Xan muttered.

    "Yes, I could. Imoen, Minsc, you will remain out here, making no noise and pretending you do not exist," Jaheira finished. "Questions?"

    Minsc raised a hand.

    Dynaheir sighed. "You will only be pretending to not exist, my large friend. You will, in fact, still be here."

    Minsc lowered his hand. Boo made a little squeaking sound.

    "Gods, give us strength," Jaheira murmured. More loudly she said, "All right then. Heads high, smiles on, pretend you do not wish to purge this nest of vipers, and in we go."

    And Torm willing, Sephiria thought, we can avoid another disaster.

    They stepped into the main entrance hall of the Throne fortress, a lavish affair that did not at all match the stony exterior; marble floors, flowers in crystal vases lining the walls, and a pair of pools set up to reflect sunlight from windows cut into the stone walls across the ceiling in a shimmering pattern of dancing light. It was a very beautiful building, and unlike the nearly abandoned Seven Suns, a busy one; the line at the reception desk showed at least ten parties in front of them, and a woman wearing a city badge of office was heading up the stairs already.

    Were Sephiria not one-hundred percent aware of how evil the owners were, she'd have been quite impressed with the operation. They clearly were good at making money, if nothing else.

    And then, of course, disaster happened.


    Sarevok was in a bad mood.

    He always was, of course. Rage was power. But this was less about fury and more about simple annoyance. He had grown to regard his personal armor as a second skin, and wearing the chainmail of a Throne guard commander felt like tearing that skin off and gluing wool in its place; both demeaning and uncomfortable to the point of being nearly painful. He was surrounded by merchants, possibly the type of person he hated most of all and a far cry from the mercenaries whose company he had come to enjoy.

    And of course, and by far the worst thing in the entire building, he was currently standing at attention before the desk of Rieltar Anchev.

    Everything about Rieltar enraged Sarevok, but the thing that aggravated him the most was how the older man looked, oddly enough. Though they had no blood connection, they looked similar enough they could have been related. Both dark skinned, both bald save for a neatly trimmed beard (though with Sarevok it was by choice, rather than his 'father's' advancing years), and sharing the same cold, sharp black eyes. They even shared a few personality traits; primarily ambition and ruthlessness, though Rieltar had no idea how far Sarevok's extended. Sarevok was a foot taller and vastly more muscled than Rieltar, but the resemblance in other areas was enough that few had issues accepting them as family.

    It was sickening.

    Oh, it wasn't about his mother. Not anymore, at least. Truthfully, while he had cared for the woman, he was rather glad for her murder. The pain had taught him a valuable lesson about attachments: the strong could not afford them. Just look at Tamoko; the woman clearly disagreed with his plans and detested that he took other lovers when he was in the mood, and yet her affection for him kept her from the edge of betrayal even though she knew she would be left behind when he ascended to his birthright. He enjoyed her company and admired her skill, but that weakness of character kept him from truly loving her with all his heart, as he had when they were younger. He still valued and even, to a degree, cared for her... he had simply grown beyond any real need for her. Or anyone else, for that matter.

    No, what infuriated him was that Rieltar was so weak. Soft and pampered in body, limited and small in mind, his ruthless ambitions confined to no greater goal than lining his purse. Certainly, he had success at that, with great wealth to his name, but it was so pointless. Gold had its uses as a means to an end, but when gold itself became the end then it might as well just be any other shiny rock. The old man had pieced together an impressive web of intrigue, muscle, and magic...but at the center of the web was a half-blind spider without fangs.

    Sarevok was divinely inspired, the Chosen One who had been born with the right to define the future of the world. The thought that people believed so readily that he was the child of a soft, spineless thief with delusions of grandeur was repellent enough to keep his rage simmering all his waking hours. Not that he needed much help with that, admittedly.

    Though if he had needed help, Rieltar was great at driving his rage to new heights with every damn word.

    "You are late, whelp."

    "As I said, father, there were extenuating circumstances. Tazok's camp was nearly razed and he was mortally wounded. I had to investigate the area, and secure a cleric for his revival."

    "Your subhuman pet is meaningless to our plans, brat! Your presence is needed for the talks at Candlekeep. The Knights of the Shield will expect the highest-ranked executives we can field, and my chief of security must be present. Yet you flail about concerning yourself with bandits and ogres when I have summoned you."

    Yes, because your summons mean nothing to me. You do not have the spine to enforce your will on anything but defenseless housewives, insect.

    Calm. Calm was against his nature, but it was needed for a bit more. The Iron Throne was a source of wealth and resources he needed for a brief while yet.

    And, well, after Candlekeep, he wouldn't have to share it with Rieltar. The joy of setting up the security details was that he got to decide who was in it. Rieltar got final approval, of course, but he didn't really know the men...

    "I am ready to travel, of course," Sarevok said smoothly, no hint of his searing contempt flaring out. "And security is prepared. I merely need to brief my subordinates on their duties while I am gone."

    "No. None of that. Your...cult can wait until we return. As it is we are already late. Follow."

    Sarevok watched the man descend the stairs from his private office, and fought off the urge to clamp his hands on either side of his skull and squeeze until it split like a melon. "You are being paranoid, father. The Knights don't want a war, so they will be inclined to be respectful to us." Until they die and the dopplegangers I replace them with return home to tell their masters what a warmonger you are. Don't worry, you won't be alive to see your reputation be tarnished.

    "No, you will not escape your punishment with cheap excuses, boy. We are on the verge of a war we do not seek, and no failure can be tolerated. This has been a failure, and from this point on there is no excuse for failure, Sarevok."

    A war you don't seek, old man, he thought, stepping aside on the stairway as an Emissary from the Ducal Palace headed up the stairs to meet with Thaldorn, one of the other executives. Halfway there she would be intercepted and replaced with a doppelganger by one his acolytes, which Sarevok did admit cheered him up a bit. Enough to give Rieltar a soothing, "And of course, I understand that I must...atone for this. But you are being paranoid. Everything is still proceeding well."
    And that was when a screaming armored woman charged up the stairs from the first floor, swinging a sword at his chest.


    Two men walked down the stairs from the second floor as the party approached the central desk to deliver their cover story; one older and slightly out of shape in colorful, expensive robes, the other a giant of a man who towered over his companion by at least a foot and had the muscles to match, dwarfing even Minsc. It seemed unimportant, at first, but she still felt an odd sense of foreboding.

    And then she heard the tail end of their conversation.

    "... No excuse for failure, Sarevok," the older man had said.

    "And of course, I understand that I must...atone for this," younger man replied, his voice a bass rumble, "but you are being paranoid. Everything is still proceeding well."

    And with every word, Sephiria felt her blood freeze in her veins.

    You know why I'm here. Hand over your ward and no-one will be hurt. Resist, and it shall be a waste of your life.

    The moment he had finished his sentence, her hand had clamped onto her sword, and within an eyeblink after that she was charging, steel drawn and that familiar cold emptiness running through her veins. For the first time, she did not resist it.

    I'm sorry that you feel that way, old man...

    That voice ringing in her ears and her mind clouded by visions of glowing yellow eyes beneath a cloudy, starless sky, Sephiria did not even hear Jaheira's scream for her to stop as she leaped halfway up the stairwell and drove her blade at the giant man's heart.


    From outside the building, Imoen's ears perked up at a very unwelcome sound. That was to say, women and old men screaming and running away from the building that her friends and entered literally not five minutes earlier.

    She shouldered her bow and sighed. "Oh look! New record."


    The man's counter was, considering he was caught off-guard and with his sword in the sheathe, about as perfect as could be expected. His arms snapped up in an 'x' shape, catching her blade on a double-layer of chain mail and forcing her slash upwards and away from his chest, stopping her from just slamming the blade through his filthy heart.

    And that made the look of shock on his face very gratifying when she reversed the momentum on her attack, bringing her blade down against his arms. He was stronger than her, which was something she was not terribly used to, and she could not hold her weapon still against his raw power. But that same strength meant he was just as able to drive steel through chainmail as she was, and she felt her sword scrape bone before he was able to stop his 'counter' and yank his bleeding forearms free.

    If she thought this would buy her any significant time, however, she was sadly mistaken. The giant man ignored the wounds, dropping one hand to the sword at his hip, but rather than drawing it dropped into a rush, stepping into her guard and slamming her down the stairs with his shoulder. She rolled with the landing, coming to her feet in time to meet a descending broadsword that slammed into her own weapon with such force she felt her teeth vibrate in her skull.

    "Guards! Guards to-" the older man shouted, bracing himself against the bannister, only to be silenced by a far more commanding voice:

    "Anyone who interferes dies right here. She's mine," the murderer said, his face set in a grin of primal joy as he pressed his weight against their locked blades, and Sephiria felt herself pushed back a step... but not afraid. Not bowed, by his power. The voice in her head, the dark piece of her soul that she hated more than anything, drove her on. For once, telling her something she could wholeheartedly believe.

    Animal. Monster. Murderer.

    This is righteous. This is justice. He DESERVES to die for what he did.

    With little more than a feral snarl, Sephria showed her agreement.


    Jaheira was not caught off-guard often, in her own opinion. But this group, Gorion’s insufferable children, seemed to delight in ruining her self-esteem. Friend or no, she truly was beginning to wish she has never agreed to foster the headstrong little monsters, and the feeling was only growing as Sephiria, screaming madly, continued trading vicious blows with a seemingly random…


    It was him. She had shared her story, and with it the tale of the armored assassin who had cut down her father. He was plainer than described, but the sheer fury of the girl’s reaction…

    “Khalid,” Jaheira said conversationally, “the plan has gone awry, and we must get Sephiria away from this place. Help me kill that man?”



    Her husband cut himself off mid-sentence, his eyes widening…and then getting colder than she had seen on him in many, many years, not since their days in the south fighting the slave trade.
    This was not the time or the place, logically. But Gorion had been a friend, and more than that a comrade in arms. Any adventurer knew there was only one way to respond to the death of a party member.

    “Back us up,” Khalid said to the mages, before he charged alongside his wife.

    “Must we?” Xan asked.

    Dynaheir, already deep in her first casting, gave him a glare that could have withered a tree.

    “Oh, fine.”


    Tamoko heard the laugh of glee down the stairs from her chambers, a rumbling chuckle of pure malicious joy that carried even over the sound of ringing steel. Or rather, she supposed she was hearing it with her soul, not her ears.

    Ah, my love, your blood betrays you again.

    Tamoko had no objections to Sarevok's violent nature; quite the opposite. Her homeland, Kozakura, was one of the most militaristic nations in Kara-tur, and as a priestess of the Eight Million Gods she had always felt particular kinship with spirits of war and battle. She was as deadly with a warhammer as with a spell, and Sarevok's unmatched combat prowess and strength of will had been a great factor in her attraction to him.

    But there was a major difference between the love of battle, and the love of murder. And more and more, Sarevok was falling on the wrong side of that line. To do battle against a foe of strength and best them with muscle and skill was honorable. To hack an old man to pieces, desecrate his corpse beyond recognition while his daughter fled in terror...

    She sighed. Still, she could not abandon him or allow him to fall, and so she stood by him. And from the sounds of battle below he needed her now; though he would likely not admit it, so blinded was he by the bloodlust.

    With a sigh born less of frustration and more of disgust, she left her chambers and strode down the hall to her lover's chambers. He kept no possessions or even furniture there, caring little for creature comforts aside from pleasures of the flesh; when he slept in the tower, it was in her bed or (her teeth gritted involuntarily) Cythandria's. The room reserved for his personal use, he kept set aside for...darker things.
    Dark, but useful.

    She opened the doors, and the smell of blood washed over her. "Rise. Your lord requires you to kill and die for him."

    Six men wordlessly rose to their feet from their positions kneeling in a circle around the freshly murdered body of the ducal emissary who had recently ascended the stairs. All of them were smiling.


    Sarevok felt every nerve ignite in agony as a bolt of lightning slammed into his chest, his vision going red with black spots and his muscles spasming madly.

    He laughed and kept fighting, his blade turning aside one of the half-elves and slamming him into the other when she tried to step in to his flank, so he could focus on the girl in the armor. She was the one who mattered. Her features might have been covered in a helmet, but he felt the power in her blows, and saw the golden fire flickering in her eyes, just as he knew it gleamed in his own. Driving her on to kill, to rip him to pieces, to purge her competition at all costs. Their swords clashed again, and he twisted his blade against her guard to nick her shoulder; barely a scratch, not enough to even slow her.

    He just wanted to watch her bleed.

    "You're stronger than the last one I killed, but you are no match for me, little sister!" He crowed in delight, feeling a mage trying to cloud his mind and shrugging the spell off with the sheer joy of facing and destroying one of his siblings.

    "You killed my father," she hissed, all righteous wrath and strength driven by fury.

    He smiled as he met her blade again, the shock of metal against metal resounding in his ears and making his smile even wider. "I killed the old man holding you back! Your true father is proud of you!"

    "And yet, all of us here were rather fond of the old man," the female half-breed said coldly. And that was when Sarevok realized that despite her armor and trying to crush his skull with a metal-shod staff, he probably should not have assumed she wasn't a spellcaster. Primarily because one moment he was not coated in a cloud of stinging, biting flies, crawling under his armor and into his mouth, and the next he very much was.

    With a snarl of frustration he raised a gauntleted hand to crush against his own face, accepting the pain in exchange for clearing his vision, and lashed out at the druid. The man stepped between them, and Sarevok's sword slammed home in his shield, splintering it nearly in half, fully intent of hacking through the barrier and the man behind it in one stroke. He did not make it quite as planned, but the smaller man's arm fell uselessly to his side, as broken as his shield.

    The man, to his credit, did not back down, choosing instead to drive his longsword forward and through a hole Gorion's brat had opened in his armor.

    Sarevok clenched his muscles around the blade, twisted his body, and ripped it out of its owner's hand, sending it clattering to the floor. His own blade, following quickly behind, was quite primed to make the half-breed's head follow it...

    And a shock of agony rocked him, matched in timing with half the world going black.


    The shock of seeing an arrow embed itself in the giant murderer's eye was surpassed, in Sephiria's mind, only by Imoen shrieking, "What are you all doing?!"

    It was probably something about Imoen's voice that pierced the wrath surrounding her heart. What, indeed, was she...


    No. No, that...there was justice, yes, punishing the guilty, but this was...

    There was justice. And there was the law. And far from slaying shapeshifting monsters, they had just tried to assassinate an executive of the Iron Throne, in his home, in broad daylight.

    No. Not 'they,' she had done this. Flouted not merely law but basic common sense. Given in to her worst impulses. And the party had been forced to step in to save her from herself, putting all of them at risk.
    She could practically smell Kivan's blood on the air, and realized with a hollow ache in her heart that she had not learned a damn thing from his end. Just Tyr and Faithful Torm have mercy.

    And then she was reminded the gods, even those of goodness, rarely bothered to give mercy.

    Smoothly, too smoothly to be human, Sarevok stood. Imoen's arrow still sticking out from his ruined right eye, he smiled, an expression disturbing for how serene it was. His intact left eye burned gold, so bright it cast shadows over his face and lent his features an air that was positively demonic.

    "Well done. You are strong among our siblings, and worthy to die in my name. When I rule, my scepter and crown will be forged from you bones.

    "Kill her, my children. Kill them all."

    And that was when the first spells tore down the stairs, flame roaring through the entrance hall and shaking the entire fortress, and Sephiria's world became pain. The last thing she heard was amused laughter, and she had just enough presence of mind to recognize that although it sounded very much like Gorion's killer, it was inside her mind.

    The blazing orange flames filling her vision became blood red, and then pitch black.

    Three Days Later…

    Keldath Ormlyr, mayor of Beregost and Priest of Lathander, smiled a bit shakily as the adventuring party deposited the reptilian head on his table. “Ah. Well. You certainly are making quite a name for yourselves in the bounty field of late. First the madman Bassilus, and now the wyvern threatening the northern paths.”
    Acherai smiled back, not very shakily at all. “Sorry about the smell. We’ve had it for half a week now and the damn thing is very moist.”

    “Yes. I… I noticed,” the priest agreed, trying not to look at the rotting head. “Well, that is 2,000 gold for the wyvern. And if you like, we have put up some new bounty notices outside the temple.”

    “Sorry, no. We’re not staying in the region long,” Acherai said, ignoring Kagain and Shar-teel they both glared at him for turning down the combination of violence and money. “We have an appointment waiting with the Iron Throne’s regional director that I hope should be quite lucrative.”

    The man winced. “In that case, you very much should check the notices. Your appointment has been cancelled. Good day, sirs and ladies, and thank you again for your service.”

    “What do you suppose he meant by that?” Coran asked as the party left Keldath’s temple to check the notices outside. “I fear I’m only half caught-up on your odd hatred of merchants as it is, but he made that sound quite ominous.”

    “Well, he was a priest, and they do love their drama…”

    “A-hem!” Viconia snapped.

    “… but I think it’s likely the Throne has cracked down on security, given the setbacks they’ve experienced of late. Let’s see. Hmmmm, this one looks…” Acherai began, stopping mid-sentence as he began to read down the written notice intently. Then he read it again, just to be sure.

    Then again.

    “What the Burning Hells did she do?!” he snarled, punching the wooden board so hard his knuckles bled out of sheer aggravation. Shar-teel laughed, and really the fact that he was too angry to hear her was the only thing that stopped him from spinning and putting a dagger in her throat. Kagain leaned past him to look at the notice, and winced visibly as he read:

    The Flaming Fist, by the authority of the Grand Dukes of Baldur’s Gate hereby place an official bounty on all known associates of Sephiria of Amn, the murderer of merchant lord Rieltar Anchev. A fee of 2,000 gold will be paid for each member of the conspirator’s group, dead or alive. 500 gold will be paid to anyone who provides information to the Flaming Fist directly leading to their arrest. A bonus of 1,000 will be paid for any successful bounty claimant who delivers before the assassin’s execution on the 25th of Flamerule, 1368.

    Contact Flaming Fist bounty officers at any local guardpost for further details and images of the conspirators.

  • MalicronMalicron Member Posts: 629
    Fantastic work; I love the writing style and the use of two CHARNAMEs/parties. Any chance you plan on continuing into BG2?

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    @Malicron Thank you for the review! And ideally, yes, I would like to do BG2 and TOB. Though by the time these two maniacs get there, they may not be totally recognizable.

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    It's... POSSIBLE... I forgot to post the last chapter here.


    There's a link. It's long and the formatting on this site is a pain at the best of times, so it's easier on everyone to link it this time.

    ... ... ... Sorry.

  • lolienlolien Member, Moderator, Translator (NDA) Posts: 3,101
    edited June 2016
    Beside my joy over keeping Scar alive (at least for now) [someone should really make a mod for this, or maybe i should do it myself], i just would like to share this oldie:

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    You know, it's actually a lot easier to just post a link here than deal with the formatting. For those who prefer to not go to, I've also started attaching it as a word doc you can download for your own reading pleasures.

    So there's chapter seventeen, in which things go wrong and everyone is unhappy (which could apply to every chapter). On the plus side, Sephiria gets to react to Neb in the way I think we all wanted to.

  • ElrandirElrandir Member Posts: 1,653
    This song pops in my head every time I see this thread update.

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    .... Well, at least you're not saying it reminds you of Taylor Swift or something. That would just be embarrassing.

  • ElrandirElrandir Member Posts: 1,653
    I'm now tempted to post Taylor's "22" song. It feels the most apt, though damned if I don't hate it.

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    edited December 2016
    'I don't know about y'all, but I'm feeling like a spawn of Bhaal
    Everything will be okay if, those ghasts don't kill us all
    You don't know about me, because I'm in stealth
    'Cause I'm a thief this run, and I'll backstab all your health.'

    Now that I got that out of the way and permanently killed any respect you people may have had for me, the new chapter is up here:

    And once again, the document is attached if you prefer to not go to Do enjoy!

  • ElrandirElrandir Member Posts: 1,653
    Wow. That was simultaneously so much better and worse than I could have imagined. A Baldur's Gate themed Tswift cover. *shakes head for lack of words*

    As for the chapter, it was amazing as usual. =p

  • ObsidianShadeObsidianShade Member Posts: 69
    An excellent read all told, and I shall be looking forward to more!

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    @ObsidianShade Ask and ye shall receive!

    Well, unless you asked again right now. Because I don't have another chapter written yet. But I mean, I will eventually, so if you ask... you can have it later?

  • ObsidianShadeObsidianShade Member Posts: 69
    @Moczo You've actually inspired me to do a bit of prewriting on some fanfic stuff myself, though due to probable NSFW content, I'd have to host it elsewhere, and link it. I've started at an advanced point in BG II, but may have to go back to BG I, simply because the backstory seemed more interesting.

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    Oooooooooooooooh. Well, be sure to let us know when you've started posting things! BG fics aren't exactly the most common thing in the world, and a new one is always worth looking in on. Like the rare white elk, you should always stop to look at one when you see it in the distance.

  • MoczoMoczo Member Posts: 236
    Hey, I'm not dead!

    I mean, I'm dead on the inside, but that hasn't stopped me writing a new chapter. Slooooooooowly writing it.

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