Time of Troubles
Forgotten Realms & Highlander: The Series crossover
Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun stared at the game board for long minutes before he moved his King forward. Making a note of his move, he sealed the scroll up with a whispered command word.
Instead of handing me the parchment, though, he frowned back down at the board and slowly shook his head.
"Is she beating you?" I asked in amusement.
The powerful mage looked up from the board and turned his piercing stare onto me. One thick eyebrow rose as he contemplated his answer. Finally, a chagrined smile appeared. "Yes, she is," he admitted, returning his attention to the board before heaving a tired sigh and handing me the scroll.
I tucked it away into the pack I had over my shoulder. "How long have you two been doing this, anyway?"
He waved one hand dismissively as he seated himself behind his huge desk. "Since well before you were born, Harper."
I smiled to myself. That was not likely, seeing as how I was a century old.
"This particular game is about twenty years old, I believe," he went on, oblivious to my inner amusement. He leaned forward and steepled his fingers. "To business. I have an assignment for you. Two young folk were sent here from Shadowdale by Storm Silverhand. They are to be escorted to Silverymoon and Ali."
"They're under Harper protection?" I asked in mounting curiosity. I knew the name of Storm Silverhand. She was actually Lady Alustriel's sister, currently a bard in Shadowdale, Knight of Myth Drannor, and one of the unofficial leaders of the Harpers.
Blackstaff nodded. "They are. The young lady has made some powerful enemies and wants only to live in peace. They are on their way to Ali for her council."
"We don't typically take passengers in our caravan," I said, slightly concerned. In point of fact, we NEVER had anyone with us who did not act as a guard.
"I understand. He is a mage, and she has a few special skills herself. You need not worry for them during a fight."
I was still frowning. Explaining this to Survan, Kith, and Andras was going to be quite a trick. However, if they could stand as guards and we didn't have to pay them . . . That was an angle I could use, if they agreed to it.
I grudgingly nodded to Blackstaff. "Very well. I will have to clear it with everyone else, of course, but if my troupe doesn't object, they can come with us."
Blackstaff waved one hand in some intricate gesture and then leaned back in his chair. Apparently talking to the ceiling, he said, "Leolin, please escort Narm and Shandril to my office."
"Aye, Master," a young male voice answered.
"You're presuming I can convince my family to take them with us," I said mildly once the mage turned his attention to me.
"I hold faith in your persuasive abilities, Harper Thian," he answered with a hint of a smile.
While I was still shaking my head in amusement, a peculiar buzzing sound filled my ears. It was a feeling I hadn't had in close to five years. The last time had occurred in New York City, just before a freak accident teleported me to this world. I had not stumbled upon any Immortals in Faerun in all the time I'd been here and had come to the conclusion that I was the only one of my race anywhere nearby. Perhaps even the only one on the planet.
A light tapping on the door preceded the entrance of two apparent humans. The apprentice who had let them in closed the door softly behind them once they'd both crossed the threshold. The newly arrived man was in his mid-twenties, of medium height and build without any distinguishing features. His robe and multiple pouches hanging from his belt marked him as a mage. The lady he escorted was in her early twenties, slightly shorter than he, and wearing traveling clothing without any real clue as to her profession. She was also visibly pregnant, four of five months along at a guess. Neither had any blade bigger than a dagger visible.
Arunsun was making introductions. "Narm and Shandril, this is Thian, a man-at-arms in the merchant band that will take you to Silverymoon. Thian, I present to you the conjurer Narm and his lady Shandril."
I gave each a sketchy half-bow. "Mage, lady," I greeted them politely, not taking my eyes off of him. She was pregnant, so she COULDN'T be Immortal. Therefore, he was. Until I found out his intentions, I couldn't afford to run the risk of turning my back on him.
Narm nodded politely back to me. Shandril flicked her eyes over my attire before they came to rest on my belt buckle. To those who recognized it, the crescent moon made of sapphires marked me as a Harper agent.
She recognized it. "You are a Harper, then?" she asked softly.
I nodded slightly in acknowledgment.
"And we are to travel with you and your troupe?"
Again, I nodded. "We don't usually take anyone with us except guards. If you're willing to stand watches, that would greatly ease matters."
"Certainly," Narm agreed immediately.
I turned back to Shandril and glanced to her distended stomach for a moment before bringing my eyes up to her face again. "I'm afraid we have little in the way of comforts for you. You can ride in the wagon, but I'm afraid it's not padded, nor is there space for you to lie down." I turned to Blackstaff, still keeping Narm within my line of sight. "We could get a second wagon, but you can imagine Survan's reaction to that."
Shandril raised one hand to stop me. "Fear not about me, Harper. I can yet ride a horse."
I frowned at her slightly. "I can't guarantee your safety. There is at least an even chance that we will be attacked by a goblin or orcen raiding party before we reach Silverymoon."
"Do not fear for me," she repeated steadily.
I sighed and turned to her husband. "I don't think you two understand —"
Blackstaff cut me off. "She is more than capable in a battle, Thian. I vouch for her in that regard if it eases your mind."
"And I will see to her comfort, Harper," Narm put in.
I nodded in acceptance. I still didn't like it, but I was being overridden. Fine, then. "Narm, may I speak with you privately on another matter?" I asked.
"If you wish," he answered with a slight frown, "but I have no secrets from Shandril. Speak."
"Very well," I said, hooking my right thumb in my belt in easy reach of the pommel of my sword, and staring at him directly. "How do I know you won't Challenge me? Fairly or not?"
Narm cocked his head in confusion, and his hand drifted into his robes. Shandril's eyes narrowed and so did Blackstaff's. "Challenge you?" Narm asked cautiously.
Glancing at Blackstaff and Shandril, I slightly altered what I had initially planned on saying. "I felt one of my own kind approach just before you entered the room." I tilted my head at Shandril slightly. "She's pregnant, so it can't be her."
Shandril and Narm were both frowning at me in confusion. "What are you saying?" Narm finally asked.
Blackstaff held up a hand. "I believe I understand the problem. Thian, I know a little of your history, but not all of the particulars. Answer me this, please: you are saying that your people can sense each other?"
"Yes," I answered, not knowing where the archmage was going with the explanation.
He turned to Shandril. "Thian originally hails from . . . somewhere else," he finished tactfully. "His people have an innate magic to them. I find myself wondering if he is sensing the energy you have within you."
Narm and Shandril relaxed slightly. I grew more confused. "What?" Magic within her? What on Earth (or Toril) could that mean?
Still looking at Shandril, Blackstaff said to me, "Shandril has a peculiar kind of magic. I believe that is what you are sensing."
"Peculiar magic?" I asked, looking back and forth between them.
Sighing in resignation, Shandril held up her right hand. A ball of flame abruptly appeared, hovering just above her hand. She tossed it upward gently, and it rose and fell into her other hand, where it vanished.
I stared at her in slack-jawed amazement. "I . . . What was that?" I asked dumbly. When the flame had appeared and then when it disappeared again, her Buzz had done something strange. It still felt like a Buzz, but it felt . . . strange.
She shrugged easily. "Merely a little magic."
She's an incantrix, Flick whispered in awe.
[A what?] I asked my intelligent dagger.
Incantrix. She can absorb spells and then release the raw energy in what's called "spellfire".
"Blast, I was hoping you would not know that, Flick," Blackstaff mumbled.
I jerked my head over to the archmage. Narm cocked his head. "What?"
Blackstaff waved at me vaguely. "Flick knows what spellfire is."
I continued to stare at Blackstaff in amazement. Narm glanced at me before turning to our host again. "I thought you said his name was Thian."
"I was not speaking of Thian. It was Flick, his dagger."
My eyes narrowed slightly. "How did you hear that?" I also wished he would stop throwing all my secrets out onto the table, but what was I going to do to an archmage?
Arunsun smiled at me softly. "I know Flick. Within the walls of my Tower, I could hear your conversation." Turning to Narm and Shandril, he explained, "His dagger is sentient and speaks telepathically. I was hoping that Flick did not recognize the spellfire for what it was."
As they were absorbing the facts about Flick, I was thinking about her. "So it was this 'spellfire' that I sensed?" I asked the room at large.
"Apparently," Blackstaff agreed.
"One thing I fear that I do not understand," Narm began.
ONE thing? Flick muttered.
Oblivious, Narm continued, "You thought that I was one of your kind. You are not human then?"
"Not really," I answered calmly now that things had become more clear. "I came to Faerun against my will from either another world or another plane. I've never been sure which."
He nodded, accepting that answer. "And you were worried that I would challenge you?"
I winced. "When two of my kind meet, the result is often . . . violent. I was worried for my safety. Now that I know what it was that I really sensed, I pray that you will accept my apology for the misunderstanding."
Narm nodded, but Shandril was still thinking. "Because I am with child, I could not be one of your kind?"
Gods, I hoped I was not going to have to dump the whole Immortality spiel on them. "No, we are not capable of having children. And before you ask, we do not know where we come from."
"Mayhaps Mystra or one of the other gods created you?" offered Narm.
"Perhaps," I allowed, dropping the topic.
After a few more seconds of silence, Blackstaff clapped his hands and asked, "Is all settled, then?"
Exchanging looks with Narm and Shandril, I turned and nodded to the archmage.
"If there is nothing else to discuss, I shall see you in six months, Thian?"
Nodding at the obvious dismissal, I bowed to Blackstaff and waved my two new charges out the door. Once outside, I started heading back toward the tavern at a casual pace. "Most of the rest of my group don't know that I'm a Harper," I told them. "I may have a difficult time explaining you to them." When neither of them commented on that, I continued. "Do you have mounts?"
"Aye, we have all the equipment we need, save food, for a journey all the way to Silverymoon," Narm answered.
"Don't worry about the food. Is there anything else we need to bring for you?" I asked as I glanced at Shandril's stomach again.
"Nay, the child is not due for another four months. We were told the journey should take two?"
"Thereabouts," I nodded. I was glad she was not due anytime soon. I had absolutely NO experience with pregnant women. I didn't fancy the thought of trying to survive a delivery, even though I probably would have little to do with it if the situation came about.
"As to convincing your troupe to accept us, we are willing to help out in whatever way we might during the journey. We can stand watches for instance. As long as I am not forced to use too many spell components, I do not even really expect to get paid," Narm offered.
I nodded and smiled appreciatively. That certainly helped.
Shandril added, "Nor I. And I can do the cooking and cleaning."
I chuckled. "Careful, or we may want you to join us. We don't have a decent cook among the four of us."
"Oh, 'tis not really all that hard," Shandril tried to downplay her part.
"Yes, it is," I gently corrected. "I do most of the cooking right now, and I know exactly what it takes. If you're a good cook, you'll definitely be welcome."
Blushing slightly in embarrassment, Shandril dropped her head but didn't pursue the discussion any further.
Arriving at the tavern, I indicated to Shandril and Narm to hang back for a minute while I spoke with my family. As I made my way to the table where Survan and Andras were sitting, I peripherally noticed Narm leading his wife to a small side table.
"Survan, Andras," I greeted my partners.
"Thian," Andras smiled back. "How went your meeting with Blackstaff?"
"Pretty well. I have a letter to take to Lady Alustriel. But that isn't the main item of note. He's asked us to escort two people to Silverymoon." I held my hand up to Survan's gathering frown. "I've met them. They have all the equipment they need and are willing to stand watches. He's a mage, as well, so he can help in the case of a raid. She has offered to cook and clean. And," I saved the best for last, "they don't really expect to get paid unless he uses spell components."
Andras perked up at that last one. "That would certainly help."
"Indeed," Survan agreed.
"What would help?" Kith asked, swinging into the remaining seat at the table.
"Two people Blackstaff wishes us to escort to Silverymoon. He is a mage, she will cook, they will both stand night watches, and they do not expect to get paid," Andras answered.
Kith frowned slightly. I knew exactly what she was thinking and so headed off the objection. "I know you're concerned about having fewer blades. So'm I, to some degree. But you and I both know that the Waterdeep to Silverymoon leg of our trip is typically the safest. Even when we're attacked, the raiding parties are smaller here than they are in the north. If you want to hire another guard, that's fine. But I don't think they'll be needed." I grinned and added, "Hell, the four of us alone are dangerous enough."
Kith thought about it for a few more seconds before grudgingly nodding. Giving her a quick peck on the cheek for accepting my opinion, I stood and stepped toward Narm and Shandril. I arrived at their table just as Saran arrived from the bar with their drinks. "Saran, these two will be joining us," I whispered to the half-elven waitress.
One tapered eyebrow rose in surprise, but she nodded and stepped over toward our table.
I waved a hand to Narm and Shandril in invitation. We made it back to the table just as Survan and Saran finished dragging another two chairs over for the newest guests. "Everyone, this is Narm, a mage, and his lady Shandril. Narm, Shandril, starting on the left is my wife, Kith Stormbow. She's our archer. Next to her is her cousin, Survan Stormbow. He's the main merchant of the group and also a mage. Next to him is his wife, Andras Silvertree, follower of Waukeen."
Narm smiled politely at the elves as he held a seat out for his lady.
Shandril was studying Andras and Kith discreetly as she sat.
"What is it?" Kith asked her with a smile. "Have we suddenly grown spots?"
Shandril blushed. "Forgive me. 'Tis not often that I meet female warriors."
"I am not a warrior," Andras corrected.
"But you are an adventurer," Shandril countered.
"Not so. Adventurers go running about, poking their noses into danger. We four follow our trade route and try to avoid it."
"Danger finds us easily enough," I commented with a slight grin at Andras.
She chuckled ruefully.
"You are a mage?" Survan asked Narm.
"I try," he answered with a slight grin.
"If battle does erupt around us, stay near the wagons. Cast spells if you feel the need, but do not fear for our safety. Especially Thian's," Kith added, throwing a smirk in my direction.
"Why should we not?" Shandril asked. "If needs be, I can heal him."
"You are a cleric then?" Andras asked.
"Nay." She frowned at the tabletop for a moment before going on, "'Tis difficult to explain."
Legend has it that spellfire can be used to heal as well as harm, Flick commented. That's probably what she means.
Hoping to head off my family's curiosity for the sake of Shandril's secret, I said to her, "As for why you don't need to be concerned for my safety: Blackstaff told you that my people have an innate magic. Part of that is that I will heal very quickly."
"How quickly?" Narm asked with a raised eyebrow.
I shrugged. "Depends on the wound. Moments for most."
Narm sat up straighter. "Truly? How is this accomplished?"
"He knows not, and we would appreciate you not telling others of this," Kith interrupted smoothly.
Narm got the message. "Very well, lady," he bowed to her slightly. "I apologize if I offended with my questions," he addressed to me.
"No harm done," I answered.
"Where are you staying?" Kith asked next.
"In Blackstaff Tower."
Survan stood and headed toward the bar. "I shall arrange for you to stay here for the night," he tossed over his shoulder.
"Pray, do not go to that trouble," Shandril objected to his retreating back.
Andras laid one hand upon her wrist. "'Tis no trouble. The Stormbow clan owns this inn. This way it shall be easier for us to all leave together on the morrow."
Andras's clear voice floated back from the front of the wagon. She was trying to teach Shandril an Elven hunting song, much to Survan's amusement. As always, Kith was riding point. Narm and I had been relegated to the rearguard, and Survan was riding alongside the wagon. That left Andras and Shandril in the wagon.
They were loving every minute of it.
Their friendship developed shortly after we had left Waterdeep, now two months behind us. Within three weeks, Shandril's pregnancy made it uncomfortable for her to ride her horse all day long. Though she still felt fine, it was becoming clear to her that she couldn't keep up her previous level of activity, so she and Survan traded positions.
Ever since, the two women had been chatting incessantly. The weather, the different gods, the latest fashions in women's adventure wear, the topic made little difference.
Halfway through Andras's third patient repetition, Kith called from the front, "Silverymoon's walls are in sight, all. We are almost there."
I heard Narm sigh from beside me. "Thank Mystra," he muttered.
"Tired of our company?" I asked him with a slight smile.
He shook his head immediately. "Nay, 'tis not that. I shall just feel safer within a city's walls."
I shrugged in answer. "Perhaps you're also interested in a good night's sleep. And privacy with your bride," I commented with a straight face.
He chuckled, not looking the least bit embarrassed. "There is that, as well," he agreed. "No slight upon thee or thy family, but I would think that Lady Alustriel of the Harpers can protect us better than four traveling merchants."
"No offense taken," I said dryly. "It's true that she can protect you better with magic, but being away from everyone on the open road seemed to be protection enough for the past two months," I pointed out. Indeed, other than a few folks traveling in the other direction upon the trail we were following, we hadn't seen anyone or anything dangerous for sixty gloriously calm days.
"Aye," he agreed, "but with our child on the way, would it not be better for us to be within a city?"
"True," I granted. "She is due in two months?" I asked, changing the topic slightly as we approached a guard post along the city walls.
"Aye," he confirmed.
"Good luck to you both, then," I offered.
Kith had ridden ahead and announced us to the guards as Narm and I were talking. Once the wagon arrived at the gates, they waved us all on through with friendly salutes. I idly noticed that the watch leader was my old friend, Chavim. He did not recognize me, however. It had been years since Knight Thian had left Silverymoon, and my appearance was sufficiently different that he only saw me as another nameless man-at-arms.
Once inside the city, Kith led us to a stable where we all wearily climbed down from wagon and horse. Gathering the few items we had brought to hand deliver to Lady Alustriel, I gave Narm and Shandril time to collect their belongings and say goodbye to Andras, Survan, and Kith. Arranging to meet the elves later at Storm Tales, I waved Narm and Shandril along with me toward the castle.
Going slowly in deference to Shandril's gravid state, we eventually made it to the guards at the castle gates.
"State your business," challenged the senior guard.
"Theodore of the Stormbow Merchants and two guests wishing an audience with Lady Alustriel," I answered calmly, coming to a halt and gazing at the guard steadily.
"Their names?" he asked me, glancing back and forth among the three of us.
"Lureene and Gorstag," Narm answered. I nearly looked at him questioningly but caught myself at the last second. After a moment of thought, giving false names made perfect sense. If these two had as many enemies as Blackstaff indicated, then using their real names may not be a good idea.
"A moment," the guard said, ducking inside.
Standing outside with the other stone-faced guards, Shandril looked around at the cheerful bustle of the thriving city. "You were born here, my lord?" she asked.
"Aye," Narm answered. "I was mere days old when my parents moved on, so I have no memories of this place, however."
"It's a nice city," I offered. "I hope you'll enjoy your stay."
"That is my hope so as well," Narm answered as the guard returned.
"The Lady Alustriel has granted ye an immediate audience," he said.
"Thank you," I answered, waving Narm and Shandril ahead.
The further into the castle we traveled, the more nervous they appeared to become. To combat this, I chatted idly with them, telling them of this landmark or that good restaurant in Silverymoon.
Alustriel's audience room door was open, so we stepped right in. When she heard us come in, she looked up from the papers strewn about her desk and graced us with a dazzling smile. "Ted!" she exclaimed, standing and moving toward me.
"Ali," I answered with a smile of my own. Giving her a quick hug in greeting, I turned her to the young couple I had escorted in. "Ali, may I present to you the mage Narm and his lady Shandril. Narm, Shandril, this is Lady Alustriel, ruler of Silverymoon." I turned back to her and said, "Blackstaff asked me to escort them here."
Narm and Shandril had stood in silent amazement as Ali and I talked. Finally, Narm asked, "Ted? I thought your name was Thian?"
"It is," I said, as Alustriel gestured all of us to seats. "Thian is the common name that I use in this world. Ted was my name from before I came to Faerun."
"You failed to tell us that you knew the Lady Alustriel," Shandril accused me.
"The topic never came up?" I offered.
Alustriel huffed out a breath in amusement. "Yes, this irrepressible warrior and I know each other. He was once a member of my Knights in Silver."
Narm looked at me in continuing astonishment. "The city guard?" I nodded. "Pray tell why did you leave their ranks to join a merchant band?" he asked next.
"I was 'killed' defending Alustriel," I answered wryly.
"They know of your people?" Alustriel asked.
Nodding at the information, Ali turned to the two. "Why was it that you came to me?"
"To speak it directly, we need protection," Narm stated. "The Sage Elminster and Bard Storm Silverhand both counseled we come to you for advice. We would be left alone, but Shan's spellfire will not permit that. And so we ask the Harpers for protection and advice."
"Well enough," Alustriel agreed. "I can protect you here for a time, but in truth I do not know why my teacher or my sister thought you needed to come to Silverymoon."
"We joined the Harpers before leaving Shadowdale. They told us to come," Narm answered, shrugging slightly.
"And here you stay. For a time, at least," Alustriel said, gesturing at Shandril's protruding stomach.
"Indeed," Shandril said, resting one hand over her child.
"For the moment, I shall give you a room. We can discuss your future plans in more depth later." She stood and headed toward the door. "Ted, stay a moment. We have more to discuss," she told me as I stood to go.
I sat myself back down and waited patiently as she talked with a guard outside the door and then gestured to Shandril and Narm. They stood and I quietly wished them well as they exited.
Once they had gone, Alustriel crossed back over to the seating area and settled herself down in a chair across from me. Before she had a chance to speak, I asked, "Has our mutual dark friend come to his senses yet?"
Her lip twisted into a sad little smile, and her eyes fell to the hands she had folded into her lap. She knew I was referring to her attraction to the drow elven ranger, Drizzt Do'Urden.
"Apparently not," I answered my own question, seeing her reaction. "He will. Eventually," I tried to comfort her.
"It is not that discussion that I wished to have with you, Ted, though Drizzt is still at the heart of it. What do you know of the dark elves?"
I shrugged. "Not much. Rumors say that they are unparalleled fighters, live deep underground, command magics that are unusual, and worship Lloth, Lady of Chaos."
She nodded. "There are known to be several drow cities. One of the nearest is Menzoberranzan, which is where Drizzt was born and lived the first decades of his life. Several events in the recent past have convinced me that the drow will shortly mount an army and attack Mithril Hall."
My heart dropped. "What possible reason could they have to do that?"
Ali shrugged. "With drow elves, anything is possible. Recall your own words. They worship the goddess of chaos. Perhaps they are attacking simply for the sake of attacking."
I grunted at the answer. "And the dwarves? What will they do?" While evacuation in the face of such an incredible threat made sense to me, this was their home. Besides, dwarves had a well deserved reputation of being stubborn.
"They are defending their homeland and have put out a call for allies. I plan on sending three hundred of my Knights."
Why was she telling me this? Oh, yes. I promised to be an ally to both Drizzt and Ali if they ever needed one. I wasn't quite expecting THIS level of fight, but a promise was a promise. "I will speak with Survan," I volunteered, "and tell him I won't be going with him on his next circuit."
"You will stay and fight with us?" she asked, sounding not the least bit surprised.
I smiled at her. "I promised both you and Drizzt my aid if you ever needed it. It sounds to me like you do."
Are you sure you want to do that? Flick asked.
[Hell, no, I don't WANT to do it.] Out loud, I continued, "I need to, Flick. I promised them help. If I back out now, what would that say about me?"
You have a well-developed sense of survival?
"I can't abandon them, Flick," I growled. "I owe the two of them entirely too much, especially Lady Alustriel. If you want me to, I can leave you here."
No, that's not it, he denied. I'm just trying to make sure you don't get yourself killed.
"It's hard to kill me, Flick," I reminded him.
"These are drow we are talking about," Ali reminded me. "Do NOT underestimate them."
I smiled grimly. "I'm Immortal. They'd better not underestimate ME." Not that I wasn't scared out of my mind, of course. Then something that she had said earlier penetrated. "You're sending Knights?"
"Into Mithril Hall?" I asked. From what few rumors I'd heard about it, it was a typical dwarven community in that it was primarily underground.
"No. It is believed by all the commanders that the drow will send part of their force outside and attack the Hall from without. My Knights and several other groups will fight them out there."
That made sense. Fully armored humans would find tunnels built to dwarven height a little claustrophobic.
"I would much prefer to stay with them, then. Fighting underground is NOT my idea of a good time."
"Indeed," she said with a slight grin. "Enough of this talk of war. Tell me how you have been, Ted."
"You promised what?" Kith asked in a dangerously quiet voice.
I sighed. This was hardly the first time she'd asked the question in the past hour. "To go fight for Drizzt and Mithril Hall," I answered. Again.
"Because I owe him and Ali a great deal."
Survan had been watching the back and forth silently for the past few rounds. "Will you be well here by yourself until the army gathers?" he asked.
"Oh, my crazy husband will not be here alone," Kith disagreed in a lightning change of mood, still eyeing me.
"I won't?" I asked.
"He will not?" Andras asked.
Survan sighed and nodded, leaning back in his chair. "You mean to stay with him, then?"
I blinked in astonishment and turned to my wife.
She was nodding. "Of course."
"Why?" I asked her, echoing her question of me.
"Because you shall be staying here."
I frowned. That wasn't an answer.
"My place is by your side, Thi. If you are determined to fight for the dwarves, then I shall go with you."
Oh, hell. This was likely to become VERY bloody. I would recover from almost anything the drow threw at me, but my wife was very much mortal. I didn't want her to go.
Better not tell HER that, Flick warned.
[No kidding. I like all my body parts attached and in full working order, thank you.]
As he had done on more than one occasion, Survan read my mind. "I dare say your husband does not want you to do so, Cousin," he remarked to Kith conversationally.
Her eyes narrowed dangerously.
Glaring at Survan, I answered, "But I have the wisdom to not say so out loud." Turning to her, I continued, "I would see you safe, that's all."
Her glare softened. "And I, you. Would you not be safer with me there?"
"Probably," I conceded, "but you would be safer with Survan than with me."
"I care not," she returned, visibly getting mildly upset. "My place is with you."
I certainly appreciated the loyalty. "Thank you, then." I turned to Survan. "Can you spare the both of us on this circuit, then?"
He nodded. "I will need to hire a few more guards, but I understand your obligation, Thian. Pray make sure you both are here when we return six months hence."
Ninety-nine tankards of ale on the wall, ninety-nine tankards of ale. Take one down, pass it around, ninety-eight tankards of ale on the wall.
Flick's voice woke me out of a sound sleep. Unused to being awakened in such a way, it took me several seconds to orient myself.
Ninety-eight tankards of ale on the wall, ninety-eight tankards of ale. Take one down, pass it around, ninety-seven tankards of ale on the wall.
Silverymoon, Storm Tales, in bed with Kith. The brightness of the window announced it was early morning. Several days yet before the Knights in Silver marched to the defense of Mithril Hall. Survan and Andras had left two days previously.
Ninety-seven tankards of ale on the wall, ninety-seven tankards of ale. Take one down, pass it around, ninety-six tankards of ale on the wall.
[Flick, there'd better be a VERY good reason for this,] I mentally growled at the dagger.
He completely ignored me. Ninety-six tankards of ale on the wall, ninety-six tankards of ale. Take one down, pass it around, ninety-five tankards of ale on the wall.
Ninety-five tankards of ale on the wall, ninety-five tankards of ale.
"Shut up," I growled out loud, since mental communication didn't seem to be phasing him in the least.
Take one down, pass it around, ninety-four tankards of ale on the wall.
"What?" Kith asked me fuzzily.
Grumbling incoherently, I rolled out of bed.
Ninety-four tankards of ale on the wall, ninety-four tankards of ale.
Pulling Flick out of the sheath in my sword belt, I hurled him at the door to the room. His blade buried itself an inch into the already blade-scarred surface.
Take one down, pass it around, ninety-three tankards of ale on the wall.
THAT caused me concern. Every time I'd ever thrown Flick, he'd screamed. He didn't like flying, despite being a flight dagger. The fact that he didn't scream was worrying.
Ninety-three tankards of ale on the wall, ninety-three tankards of ale.
"Thian, what are you doing?" Kith asked, sitting up in bed and looking at me in concern.
Ignoring the still singing dagger, I answered her, "Flick. He's singing the most annoying song imaginable, and he won't shut up."
She frowned in sleepy confusion. "Why would he do that?"
I shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe I'll take him to Ali later and see if she can talk some sense into him."
"Fine. Come back to bed," she ordered dropping prone again and burrowing back under the covers.
"Back in a sec," I mumbled. Crossing the room, I pulled Flick from the door and stalked downstairs.
Carith was tidying up the main taproom in preparation for the coming day. She looked up at me as I came down the stairs. Her smile of greeting shifted to wide-eyed amusement. I couldn't really blame her. Hair sleep-tousled, wearing only what could charitably be called boxer shorts, and with a dagger clenched in one hand, I probably didn't appear completely normal. With that song running through my head, I probably didn't appear completely sane, either.
"Good day, Thi," she greeted pleasantly. "Sleep well?"
"Can you hear this?" I asked, waving Flick and trying to ignore the fate of the eighty-seventh tankard of ale.
"No . . ." she trailed off with a frown, studying me closely.
"Good." I walked over to the bar and dropped him behind the bottle of Elvish Moon Wine.
As I shuffled back up the steps, I heard her behind me muttering in Elven, "Humans will NEVER make sense."
Flick's lament over the demise of the eighty-second tankard of ale faded out halfway down the hall. Making it back to our room, I dropped back into bed, curled myself around my wife, and fell back to sleep.
Kith and I made it downstairs a couple hours later. The dawnfry crowd was in full swing, I noticed, as we walked down the stairs. The instant I got close enough, I heard Flick singing again. Fortunately, I didn't understand a single word he was saying, so it was relatively easy to block him out.
As we took our usual seat next to the fireplace, I finally guessed what kind of song Flick was singing, though I still didn't recognize the words.
Kith must have heard my snicker. "Pray tell me what you find to be so amusing?" she asked.
"Flick. He's singing what I think is a nursery rhyme," I guessed, based on the cadence, "though I don't know the language."
"Aye, what happened with him? You climbed out of bed this morning for what?"
"He woke me up with singing."
"You mentioned something regarding an annoying song?"
I started singing "99 tankards of ale" to her quietly. By the third verse, she was glaring at me. "Told you it was annoying," I said, dropping the song.
"Fair morn," Sherith greeted us as she dropped two plates of food onto the table. "Have you heard?"
"Heard what?" Kith asked the half-elf.
"Magic is not working. Every time someone tries to cast a spell, something goes wrong." She pointed to an empty table with a char mark in the middle. "A cleric of Tempus attempted to warm his breakfast a short time ago. His hands spat lightning instead and set fire to the plate. It gave us all a fright."
"Magic is mis-firing?" I asked, beginning to wonder if what was happening to Flick wasn't an isolated incident after all.
"Aye," Sherith agreed. "If you have any such items, I suggest you not use them for a time. The sages and clerics in town are telling everyone not to panic, that this is a temporary thing." She rolled her eyes. "As if there is anything we can do about it, in any event."
Flick finished his song and shifted to another one. I guessed it was a dwarven drinking song. He was starting to give me a headache.
"Thanks," I said to Sherith distractedly. Magic not working meant several things to Kith and myself immediately.
"The Stormbow," Kith said quietly with a panicked look in her eyes. The clan's longbow was definitely magical, seeing as how it created an arrow every time the string was drawn.
I nodded agreement. "That's one. Survan's spells and the bags of holding. Andras's spells. Flick. Most of our swords," I ticked off the list of magical items the group of us had. One final thought hit me with a feeling of dread. What did this mean to my Immortality? Drawing my knife from its sheath next to the one Flick normally occupied, I drew the blade across the back of my left arm, drawing blood but not too badly. I was relieved to watch it heal in seconds.
"At least one thing is still normal," Kith said, having watched the whole thing.
"Aye," I agreed in relief. Becoming mortal was something out of my nightmares. Magic failing was bad enough, but I didn't know if I could cope with losing my Immortality.
"I wonder how Midnight is doing," Kith pondered, referring to Survan's feline familiar.
I shrugged as I slipped the knife back into its sheath. "He's a normal cat, isn't he? If it's only magic that's going crazy, then he should be fine." I hoped.
Kith and I quietly ate our dawnfry. She was worried about her cousin. I was fighting a rising headache. Flick's singing wasn't helping matters any. He was singing in dwarven again. Something rousing and powerful. A call to war, maybe.
I finally stopped eating and just held my head in my hands. This headache was getting to monstrous proportions. What was wrong with me? Immortals don't get headaches without cause.
"Are you okay?" Kith asked in concern, laying one hand on my arm.
"Headache," I replied, keeping my eyes closed.
"Let us get you upstairs and in bed. If you do not feel better soon, I shall find a cleric." She stood and slowly pulled me up.
Once upright, she helped me toward the stairs. With every passing moment, the headache got just a little bit worse.
"No cleric," I mumbled. "Remember what's happening with magic."
"But you NEVER get sick, Thi," Kith said in concern. She was supporting part of my weight by this time.
"Is he okay?" Carith asked in Elven.
"No," I answered in a whisper. Any louder and I was afraid my head would explode. Is this what a migraine felt like? I was leaning on the rail and Kith harder with every step. What was wrong? This CAN'T be happening to me.
"We shall let you know," Kith answered her sister, struggling to keep me upright.
Fifteen seconds later we were behind the door to our room. When Kith kicked the door closed, I collapsed straight down, moaning. She knelt down next to me in a flash. "Come along. Let us get you into bed."
"Is that an offer?" I asked weakly with an attempt at a lecherous grin.
She grunted in amusement. "You can not be feeling too badly. Your sense of humor, warped as it is, is still intact." She pulled me up by brute force and steered me toward the bed before letting me fall to the mattress. Once I was down, she pulled my boots off and then undid my cloak clasp to continue getting me undressed.
And just as quick as that, my headache disappeared. Blinking in surprise, I slowly sat up. Not realizing that I was feeling fine again, Kith removed my cloak and started to pull my shirt off.
I waved her off. "It's gone."
"Your headache is gone? That quickly?" she asked in disbelief.
"Apparently," I said with a frown. The clasp caused me a headache? Had to be, since the headache disappeared the instant the clasp was removed.
"How?" she asked.
"Don't know," I answered slowly. "There are a couple spells in the clasp," I mentioned, picking through the logic as I spoke it out loud. "Maybe one of them caused the headache? Probably the protection from illusions since that is the only continually acting spell."
She shrugged. "It could be. You would have to ask a sage. I am just an archer."
"Yeah," I agreed absently. "But the mages and clerics are having an even worse day than we are, I'll bet."
"Most likely," she agreed in grim humor, seating herself on the bed next to me. She studied my face carefully for a few seconds before asking, "Are you sure that you are again feeling well?"
I nodded. "I feel fine, now." It took several minutes to become a problem the first time around, so . . .
I leaned over the side of the bed and pulled the cloak back up. "How about a quick experiment?" I asked, fastening it around my neck again. She opened her mouth to argue, but I raised a hand. "If and when it starts to affect me again, I'll take it off. Until then, this does not bode well for our other magical equipment."
She sighed and nodded in agreement, eyeing the Stormbow propped in a corner with concern. "I know. I find myself almost afraid to use it if magic is as unstable as it appears."
"It could be fine," I suggested.
"Or it could explode in my hands," she returned. "No telling which is the true prediction until it is far too late, and I certainly do not wish to tempt the fates by trying."
"I can't argue that," I agreed. My head was slowly starting to ache, so I pulled the clasp off again. As predicted, the headache instantly disappeared. I nodded and undid the clasp from the cloak. "That has to be it," I told Kith. Dropping the apparently dangerous clasp onto the table, I rooted around through my travel bag for the spare clasp.
Hooking the clasp to my robe, I noticed Kith was holding my other one. "Would you mind if I try it?" she asked.
I raised an eyebrow. "That thing effectively knocked me on my butt in ten minutes. No offense, but it's harder to knock me down than it is you."
"Yes," she agreed. "Your . . . Quickening, you called it?" At my nod, she continued. "Your Quickening heals you, but I find myself wondering if that is the cause of the problem. If someone who is mortal wears it, would the same thing happen?"
Interesting point. "Okay," I said slowly. "Try it if you want, but please be careful."
"As always," she assured me with an impish smile.
Like I believed that.
While she switched her clasp for the infinity one that had been causing the problems, I slipped my boots back on. While she carefully hooked the cloak about her neck, I stood there in tense watchfulness. No telling what would happen.
For thirty seconds, nothing did.
Then she giggled.
Starting slightly, I tried to relax. "What?" I asked her with a smile.
"You," she responded in Elven. "My handsome protector is standing over me, ready to protect me from . . . a cloak clasp," she finished after a dramatic pause.
I chuckled and answered her in the same language. "Ah, but it is the most mundane of objects than can be the most dangerous."
"Yes," she said dryly. "I shall remain on guard against my boots and especially from doors and water flagons."
"You're feeling all right?" I asked her in Common.
She nodded. "No ill effects. Mayhaps it WAS your Quickening interacting with the magic?"
I shrugged in ignorance. "No telling. Next time I have a moment to chat with a sage of magic, I'll be sure to ask."
"You do that," she agreed with a smile. "In the meantime," she said, standing, "let us go back downstairs. At the very least, we need to check in with Besnell to see if the Knights are still going to Mithril Hall," she said, referring to the ranking Knight who was going. Lady Alustriel had told us that he was in charge of the army, and that we would basically be under his command if we still wanted to join the fight.
Agreeing with Kith's suggestion, we walked arm in arm back down to the taproom. Carith smiled up at us. "Feeling better, Ted?" she asked in Elven.
"Aye," I agreed in the same language. "My clasp was causing me a headache, but it seems not to affect my beloved."
. . . the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: five stolen rings, four falling birds, three drenched hens, two fertile doves, and a cartridge in a bare tree. On the sixth day of Christmas, my --
I tried to interrupt him, [Flick, kindly shut up.]
. . . four bawling curds, three hench-men, . . .
I tuned him out again. "Flick is still singing," I informed my wife as we made our way out the door. "He's mangling a Christmas carol."
"Christmas?" she stumbled over the word.
"A midwinter holy day for the dominant religion in the area I lived in," I answered as we made it outside and headed toward the castle.
The remainder of the day wasn't terribly productive. We got to Besnell, but he was as confused by the situation as everyone else. He suggested coming back the next day to discover if the Knights were still going to Mithril Hall or if they were going to remain in Silverymoon.
I briefly considered trying to talk with Ali, but one look at the crowd of nervous citizens around the castle convinced me of the futility of that.
Instead, Kith and I spent the day helping out in Storm Tales. Considering the fact that I had NO experience at an inn, Carith put me in the kitchen, assisting the Storm Tale's regular cook. She (rightly) concluded I could do the least harm there.
Flick continued his monologue. I suffered through Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" and Edgar Allen Poe's "Nevermore" before I gave up and took him upstairs, out of my hearing.
Business was brisk, but everyone was subdued. Rumors abounded on all sorts of subjects. An army of trolls was on the march from the Trollmoors and was expected to arrive in three days. The gods had abandoned the goodly races because we hadn't fought the orc and goblin tribes enough. The gods had abandoned the goodly races because we had fought them too much. The gods were doing this to us for amusement. A terrible war was occurring among the gods and the lack of reliable magic was the result.
I had lived long enough to survive several mass hysteria situations. I was used to the kinds of rumors that started up in the wake of an event that nobody understood. I knew that the truth was the only reliable defense, but nobody had the truth (or at least any proof of THEIR truth) to provide.
Over the next few days the situation became clearer but no less concerning.
Messengers from the surrounding communities had arrived, proving that this problem wasn't limited to Silverymoon. It seemed that the gods had stopped responding to the prayers and spells of clerics for no discernible reason. Similarly, mages had stopped trying to cast spells altogether. After a few days of spectacular misfires, the surviving mages decided to leave well enough alone.
Rumors and speculation continued to fly, but everyone was growing immune to the fantastic tales, which was why neither Kith nor I reacted to the rumor of a flight of a hundred dragons spotted west of the city. It was simply one wild rumor among many.
I finally got in to see Ali on the fourth day. She expressed her concern over Flick but couldn't offer any kind of suggestion as to what I should do. When I mentioned the clasp, she frowned for some time before offering a theory.
She hypothesized that my Quickening was another manifestation of the energy that magic drew upon. Based on the basically electrical nature of this energy, she further assumed that the Quickening was primarily aligned with the Evocation school of magic. In addition to a light spell in the clasp, it also held a protection from illusions spell. Illusion school spells (of which protection from illusions was one) were not diametrically opposed to Evocations, but were nearly so. She ventured the theory that this time of mixed up magic altered either the clasp or my own Quickening enough so that they were in conflict with one another. Hence the headache.
That all sounded plausible enough to me, but it delved much further into magical theory than my painfully limited knowledge allowed me to keep up with.
Ten days after magic went haywire, Survan entered Storm Tales. Shocked to see him (he SHOULD have been past Yartar by now, on his way to Longsaddle), I joined him at a table as he slumped into it.
"Survan," I greeted him in concern. "What happened? Why are you here?"
"It attacked us and took Andras," he mumbled quietly in Elven. "Killed almost everyone else. Destroyed the wagon."
"Slow down," I soothed him. Waving frantically to Carith, I indicated Survan to her with another wave of my hand. After a blink of surprise, she started fixing a plate of food for him. He looked like he needed it. He didn't seem to be hurt, but he DID look like he was in shock. "Slowly, Survan. What happened?" I said, returning my attention to the mage.
He answered in a monotone, staring at the fire. "Two days out of Silverymoon. We were on the river. Dragon, blue, I believe, came at us. My spells all mis-fired. Andras's spells just would not work. Spat lightning at the ferry. Blew a hole in it and set fire to the wagon. Dragon came down and grabbed Andras. Took off to the southeast." He took a breath and continued, still in the same, flat voice. "The ferry sank. I swam to shore with a few other survivors. A few of the items from the ferry washed ashore. One of our bags, some of the other passengers' belongings. We lost everything else: my spell books, all of the trading items, Midnight." He continued looking down at the table, but I could see tears running down the side of his face. Carith arrived with a plate of food and a glass of wine for him, placing it down silently. Reassuringly gripping his shoulder for a moment, she then left without having said a word.
Taking a moment to gather himself, he continued, "All of the survivors walked back here, carrying all that was left. Once in the city, I came straight here."
My heart ached for him. His world had crashed down around his ears in a matter of minutes. His wife was kidnapped, apparently by a blue dragon, his familiar was lost, and his entire business burned down.
"Are you okay?" I asked him quietly.
Staring through his food, he gave a hiccupping little cough before shaking his head.
"I mean physically," I told him.
He smiled grimly, finally looking up at me. "Not a scratch. How is that for Tymora's favor?" Now that he was looking up at me, I wondered if he'd slept since the attack. His eyes had deep bags under them, and his complexion was even more pale than usual. Even more disturbing, his usually neat appearance was disheveled to the point of looking sloppy.
Kith came into the taproom at just short of a run, followed by Sherith. Carith had apparently sent the waitress to get Kith from the marketplace, and I was glad for her presence, though her timing was bad. Holding up my hand to Kith in a clear command to stay away, I said to Survan, "Sit here and eat, Survan. Kith and I will talk and then all three of us can decide what to do."
He absently nodded his assent and began to mechanically eat what was in front of him. I seriously doubted that he was tasting anything, though.
I stood and walked over to join Kith and Carith at the bar. Quickly and quietly, I brought both of them up to date with the information I had gotten out of Survan. I continued to use Elven in an effort to keep from panicking too many of the other patrons. "We have to do two things," I told them after relating what I knew. "One, tell Lady Alustriel. Two, track down this thing and get Andras back."
"This is a DRAGON, Thi," Carith quietly reminded me. "Be careful you do not take on more than you can deal with."
"IT should worry about US," Kith growled in response.
Smiling at my wife's fiery attitude, I crossed back over to Survan who had finished his plate and was staring blankly into the fire. I seated myself and Kith did the same. Survan hardly blinked.
"Survan," Kith quietly called, touching his hand.
He swiveled his head and stared at her, not making a sound.
His silence seemed to startle her, so I jumped in. "Survan, why don't you go to bed? I'm going to talk with Lady Alustriel, and then the three of us can decide what to do tomorrow morning."
He slowly frowned as what I was saying sunk in. "But Andras - -"
"Is most likely just fine," Kith reassured him.
"How can you be sure of that?" he asked, a note of hysteria creeping into his voice.
"Think on it," she gently bid him. "The monster took her. It did not take anyone else. It was powerful enough that there was nothing any of you could have done, therefore it did precisely what it desired. It could have destroyed all of you, but it refrained from doing so. It simply took her. Therefore, it wanted her for some reason." There was a great deal of repetition in her answer, but based on his condition, it made sense for her to do so.
He slowly relaxed as her logic worked its way into his mind. "What shall we do now?" he asked eventually.
"You go to bed," Kith ordered. "Thian will speak with Alustriel. We shall decide what to do in the morn."
"Fair morn," he greeted us the following morning.
Putting down my spoon, I studied my cousin by marriage. The bags under his eyes had almost completely disappeared, and his posture looked almost normal again. His eyes still reflected his stress, but more than a full night of sleep had done wonders for him physically. "Fair morn," I returned after my examination.
"Fair morn," Kith echoed after she completed her own assessment.
"Pray tell, do I pass?" Survan asked us in amusement as Saran placed a plate in front of him.
"Yes," I answered with an echoing smile.
"Did Alustriel tell you anything of use?" he asked without preamble.
I considered pointing out how impolitely that was phrased but decided to let it slide. He was under enough stress. "Yes," I answered. "Several things, actually. First off, she's having one of the local mage scribes create a new spell book for you."
I watched in amusement as his mouth fell open. "She . . . That is . . ."
"She's a very nice person. That's wonderful," I helpfully finished his sentences with a smile.
Finally regaining the use of his tongue, he said, "That is wonderful. What will I owe her for this?"
I shrugged. "Talk to her about it. She was refusing to hear about it from me. Maybe you'll have better luck. Either way, I strongly recommend we don't charge her for courier fees ever again."
"Depending on how good the book is," Kith temporized.
"Of course," I agreed. I wasn't the least bit concerned. She had never stinted on gifts before, and I couldn't imagine she would start now. "At any rate, that book will be done in three days. I also have from her the name of a sage in town. We should go talk to him soon so we know what direction to go from here."
"What manner of sage?" Kith asked.
"Item identification mostly, but she heard that he's also something of an expert on dragon lore."
"His name?" Survan asked in curiosity.
"Staal. She told me where to find him. She sent word, and he's expecting us sometime this morn."
He nodded and continued working on his breakfast.
"What will he expect from us?" Kith asked hesitantly.
"I asked that myself." I didn't have to mention the sages typically charge astronomical prices before dispensing their dubious wisdom. "Ali assured me that he would only charge us an eagle for the initial information. If he has to look something up, then that could go up rapidly, of course."
"I care not," Survan answered flatly.
"I know," I answered soothingly. "I'm just telling you what I found out. He has Ali's recommendation, so it's unlikely that he's going to turn out to be a charlatan."
Survan settled down, and the rest of the short meal passed in silence.
Presently, I led the two to the location that Ali had given me the previous day. We found a small home built of sturdy stone in one of the more upscale parts of town. The man who answered the door was an average looking human with a youthful face belied by his steel gray hair. "How may I help you?" he asked us cheerfully.
"Lady Alustriel recommended we contact you," I answered. "We have some questions that we hope you can answer."
Smiling even wider at us, he threw open the door and gestured us in. "Come in, come in. Yes, the High Lady of Silverymoon warned me that you would be here today. Please, have a seat," he offered, leading us to a comfortably appointed study. Survan seated himself in a chair in front of the desk. Kith propped the Stormbow against the arm of the couch and sat down near it. I took a seat beside her and casually threw an arm onto the couch back behind her.
Our host seated himself comfortably behind the desk and gave us all a cursory examination. His wandering eyes stopped at Kith's and my casual intimacy. "You two are mated?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Aye," Kith answered warily. "Thian and I exchanged wedding vows over three years ago."
"An elf married to a human," he muttered to himself, staring off into space. "That is fascinating." Shaking himself back to the here and now, he said to us, "I am called Staal. Ali recommended you see me?"
"Survan Stormbow at your service," Survan said. "My cousin Kith and her husband Thian," he waved back at us. "A ferry I was riding in upon the River Rauvin was attacked by a blue dragon a week past. It sank the ferry, killed only a few of the passengers, and kidnapped my wife. We are hoping you can provide us information on where to find this beast."
"If I can," he answered solemnly. "When did this occur, and where exactly where you?"
"Eleven days ago, two days west of Silverymoon on the river. The ferry left third day morning shortly after first light, and we were attacked at just past highsun on fifth day."
"Describe the beast."
"It was a dragon," Survan answered with a shrug. "Head to tail, I would guess at nearly two hundred feet long, though truthfully it was difficult to tell. The wingspan was roughly similar. It was a deep blue, though it was not dark enough to be black. One thing I do remember about it. It banked above us once, and I saw a long, white line tracing from its left wing shoulder to right hindquarter."
Staal nodded. "How did it sink the ferry?"
"It spat lightning during its first pass, blowing a hole in the bottom."
"Did it cast spells?"
"Did you not try to defend yourselves?"
Survan nodded. "Aye, but no spells worked. Neither mine nor Andras's."
"She is a mage, too?"
"No, she is a cleric of Waukeen."
"You said it kidnapped your wife?"
"Swooped down and snatched her off of the sinking ferry."
"And it let you live."
Survan slumped down in his seat.
Staal raised a hand. "Forgive me, I did not mean for that to sound like an accusation. I was just pointing out that it knowingly left you alive. For whatever reason, it decided not to kill you. How many others on the ferry?"
"A score or so left Silverymoon on the ferry. An even dozen survived to walk back."
Staal nodded and leaned back in his chair, staring up at the ceiling with a slight frown. After nearly a minute of silence, he said, "I know of the dragon you describe. He goes by the name of Razarenkarth. That white line you saw is actually a scar, given to him by a red dragon, or so the rumor goes." He turned to the bookcase behind his desk and pulled down a large book with a heavy cover. I first thought that it was leather, but revised my opinion when I saw a scale pattern on the surface. Flipping through the book for a few moments, he stopped at one page and browsed it for a few moments before reading it aloud. "Ancient blue wyrm, makes its lair on the outskirts of Anauroch. There is even a map," he added with a small smile. "Not known to venture far from home often. The last known time was to attack a younger red near his lair. The red dragon chased him off, giving him the scar you saw." He closed the book and replaced it onto the shelf before looking back up at us. "That is really all I know of that particular wyrm. Blue dragons in general have lightning as a breath weapon, a relatively small spell repertoire, but they make up for it in raw size and strength."
"You said there was a map to the dragon's lair in your tome?" Survan asked, barely keeping his impatience in check.
"May we have a copy?"
He stared at Survan before shifting his attention back to Kith and myself. I gazed back at him calmly. "You three are going after him," Staal stated.
I nodded as Kith said, "We are. It kidnapped one of our own."
Staal sighed and pulled the book back down. Also pulling a blank sheet of vellum from the desk, he flipped back to the appropriate page and started copying the map. Without looking up, he said, "If you all are so determined to commit this particularly messy form of suicide, then the least I can do is try to help you. The older blue dragons are known to have the ability to create illusions upon the terrain, and they set traps and ambushes. In addition to its lightning breath, it can attack by claw, bite, or tail. Arrows tend not to work terribly well, though magical means work to some degree. Sword or axe are the most efficient if you can get through the dragon's hide, but that subjects the wielder to all the dragon's attacks." He stopped copying the map for a minute and looked each of us in the eye. "When humanoids try to attack old dragons, they usually employ an archmage and an army. Even then, most of the army does not return. Are you sure you want to do this?"
I grinned, but the humor didn't reach my eyes. "We're tougher than we may appear."
He snorted in disbelief. Still staring at me, he slowly cocked his head and continued to study me.
"What?" I asked, becoming uncomfortable under such scrutiny.
Waving me to silence, he stood and slowly approached me, stopping a couple of feet away. Finally done staring into my face, his gaze slowly drifted over my belongings, pausing slightly at my ring and sword. Once done with me, he studied Survan and his belongings only momentarily but lingered for some time studying my clasp that Kith was wearing, the Stormbow, her bracers, and the plain copper ring she wore. Once he was done, he nodded sharply and went back to his desk.
"What was that all about?" I asked.
Hardly glancing up from the map he was once again copying, he asked, "You are aware that in addition to being knowledgeable in the topic of dragon lore, I am also a sage? Particularly in item identification?"
I nodded. "Lady Alustriel mentioned that, yes."
"I was studying your items," he finished.
"You were studying ME as well as our items," I retorted.
"You have an interesting face."
"Thank you," I said in wry amusement.
"You are most very welcome," he said in the same tone, finally letting a smile twitch at the corners of his mouth.
Kith huffed out a breath in amusement. Even Survan smiled.
"By the by, what are you planning on doing with everything in the dragon's hoard after you kill it?" Staal asked.
"You suddenly seem a great deal more optimistic," Survan observed dryly.
Staal shrugged without saying anything.
"I'm sure you can supply us with a few suggestions," I said in amusement.
"As it turns out, I can."
"Big surprise," muttered Survan in Elven.
Staal glanced up at him from the map before looking back down to what his hands were doing. "Sarcasm aside, are you aware that magical items can be cursed?"
"Yes," Kith answered. "They can have harmful effects. Is that what you mean?"
"Mostly," Staal confirmed. "Also, there is the minor point that a cursed item cannot be removed once it is worn."
"So you will generously let us know which items are cursed if we bring back the lot to you, correct?" Kith asked calmly.
"For a small fee," Staal corrected.
"Big surprise," Survan again muttered in Elven.
"Would you care to continue the conversation in this language?" Staal asked him in Elven.
Survan had the good grace to not appear embarrassed. "Either Elven or Common would be fine."
Staal looked at me. I shrugged. "I'll try to keep up," I said in Elven.
Nodding his acceptance, he turned back to Survan, and we continued the conversation in Elven. "Yes, I am interested in Razarenkarth's hoard. Anybody in their right mind would be. Yes, I will charge you to run identifications on anything you bring back. I must. That is how I make my living as a sage."
"And what if you're wrong on something?" I asked him pointedly.
"Then I shall apologize profusely."
"Then you will pay for the damages to persons and property the curse causes," Survan corrected.
Staal cocked his head slightly and thought it over. "Then I will pay for any damages," he agreed.
Well, that definitely simplified the aftermath. If everything worked out.
"What will you charge?" Kith asked.
"An eagle per item. If it turns out that I am incorrect on any one item, then I will refund all your money. If one is cursed and I do not inform you of that, I will pay for any and all damages. Do we have a deal?" He looked back and forth among the three of us.
Survan glanced back at Kith and me with a raised eyebrow. I shrugged. I didn't have any other suggestions.
Apparently getting agreement from Kith as well, Survan turned back to Staal. "Agreed. Depending on how much we get, we may not ask you to identify everything."
"Understandable," Staal said, laying the map aside to dry. He closed the book back up and replaced it onto the shelf. "I would also recommend you start thinking about how to transport what could potentially be thousands of coins. Though Razarenkarth did not have a great deal of coinage the last time I heard, that could have changed."
"The last time you heard?" Survan asked with a raised eyebrow.
Staal shrugged and smiled cryptically.
Yo, ho, yo, ho, it's a pirate's life for me.
I replaced Flick into Kith's saddlebag and walked back over to my mount. I was the only one who could hear him, so Kith was carrying him outside of my hearing range until he "got better".
I'd checked him every morning since his apparent insanity started, some three weeks past. Every day, he was singing or reciting poems. It was really beginning to get on my nerves.
Magic was still unstable, and Flick was still nuts. I hoped that they'd both calm down soon.
Two days after meeting with the Sage Staal, Survan, Kith, and I headed east on the road to Sundabar. After a day in the predominantly dwarven city, we headed south and east through the Nether Mountains, finally emerging on the northern area of the lands controlled by Hellgate Keep. Skirting past the keep itself, we continued south and east and were now in the Far Woods. According to the map Staal had provided for us, Razarenkarth's lair was somewhere just east of the woods which was also the western edge of the desert called Anauroch.
We just had to find him before he found us.
"Ready?" Kith asked as she swung up upon her mare.
"Lead on," Survan bade his cousin, climbing up onto his own mount.
Kith was always our scout and since my clasp protected the wearer from illusions, she was wearing it. Staal warned us the dragon was likely to use illusions against us. We didn't want to stumble into anything REALLY ugly.
It took only another hour's riding before the forest began to thin. I stopped at the brush line that marked the end of the forest and stared to the east.
"Pray tell, what is the matter?" Survan asked from beside me as he pulled his horse to a stop.
I waved ahead of us. The land changed from forest to sandy desert in the span of something like a mile. I couldn't conceive of a weather pattern that would produce such a thing. "THAT. How are forest and desert so close together?"
He shrugged easily. "This edge of Anauroch has been this way since long before I was born. I have never questioned it."
"It's just . . . weird, I guess."
Since Razarenkarth's lair was reportedly within sight of the Far Woods, we'd angled our way slightly more north of the south easterly direction we guessed we'd need to travel to go straight to his lair. Therefore, we'd come upon the desert north of where we hoped to find his lair.
Just ahead of us, Kith turned south and started paralleling the forest, keeping most of her attention on the desert. We traveled this way for another two hours before she stopped. When we pulled up beside her, she pointed out across the desert. "What do you see out there?"
I peered closely before shrugging. "Sandy desert."
"I, too," Survan said.
"You do not see the dark rock outcropping, then," she stated with a smile.
Surprised, I looked again. Nope, nothing but desert.
"I shall take your word for it," Survan said, swinging off his horse. "Much as I want to go to Andras now, I would suggest we camp here for the night. Dark will fall quickly enough, and I do not fancy walking out there after nightfall. We can go at first light."
"Two points," I said, climbing down off Shadow. "One, let's camp out of sight of the desert. If we can see his lair from here, he can see us from there. Secondly, WE won't be going out there tomorrow. I will."
Survan's eyebrows came up. Kith turned to glare at me. "How did you come to that conclusion, husband of mine?"
"With magic run amok, how much do you two honestly think you can do against a dragon? Survan, casting magic could very well kill you right now. Kith, forgive me for saying so, but without the Stormbow, you're only a mediocre fighter. A dragon as old as Razarenkarth is reputed to be will chew you both up without even trying."
"I suppose you have convinced yourself that you can do better?" she asked, though her expression was a great deal less angry.
I wordlessly held up the hand where I was wearing a ring of invisibility and inaudibility.
"You are assuming that will work properly," Survan commented.
"Yes," I agreed. "Even if it doesn't, almost anything it does won't hurt me. Remember that I heal quickly. For the same reason, I'm more likely to survive the fight than you are."
Both elves frowned at me, but neither said a word until the camp was set.
"I can not say that I like the thought of you going off to fight the dragon by yourself," Kith began, "but I do not find flaw with your reasoning."
"Despite trying," I teased her.
She grunted agreement but smiled slightly.
"I do wish that I could help," Survan said, piling some brush to start a fire, "but I concede to your superior logic."
I grinned. Trying to reduce the stress, I said, "Quick! Write that down and sign it."
He gave me a sour look in return.
For the fifth time that morning, I fastened my cloak with the infinity clasp and looked before me. As had happened each of the previous times, the rolling sand dunes became hazy, revealing a dark brown rock outcropping that rose like a cliff on the west-north-west side and the back sloped downward until it was lost under the ocean of sand.
Studying the layout of the cliff that I was approaching from slightly south of straight on, I began to see some features that had been lost to the distance before. Toward the slightly nearer south corner, there were several smaller openings, easily man-sized. About a quarter of the way in from the north corner was a much larger opening, probably the one the dragon himself used. Above and to the south of the large opening was a ledge. Starting at about noon and until sunset, the entire cliff face would have full sunlight.
Before the headache got to me, I removed the clasp and put the plain one back onto the cloak. It was a pain to keep switching back and forth like this, but I needed the ability to see through the illusions.
When I looked up again, I saw that the cliff was in plain view. I grinned. As Survan had once explained to me, knowing it was an illusion was at least half the battle of seeing through it. Now that I KNEW there was an illusion there and I was close enough, the illusion lost its power over me. Or maybe the chaotic nature of magic was finally catching up with the dragon.
I hoped it was the latter.
Crouching down in the shadow of the cliff, I tried to look into the large opening. I ignored the other openings in the cliff. Blue dragons were known for laying traps and ambushes, and I was sure all of those entrances would be rigged with traps. The dragon himself would never need to use them, so there was no reason for him not to make as nasty a trap as possible. I might survive a rock fall, but I didn't fancy being stuck in one for a couple hundred years.
Not seeing or hearing anything in the yawning entrance I was studying, I slowly crept forward until I was just outside. Standing, I took a deep breath and whispered, "Aberlith".
The plan was for the ring to make me invisible and inaudible, sneak in past the (hopefully) sleeping dragon if he was even there, locate Andras, free her, and both of us sneak out again.
That was the plan. Too bad it didn't work that way.
The time of chaotic magic had affected the ring.
Instead of invisible and inaudible, the ring was now acting like a strobe light and giving off an ear-piercing screech. Definitely NOT according to plan.
Wincing in pain, I jerked the ring off my hand and let it drop in the sand. The light and sound faded the instant I got the ring off of my finger.
My reprieve was short lived, though. What felt like a human- sized sledgehammer hit me in the back, catapulting me into the dragon's lair. I hit ground again after twenty feet and stopped rolling ten feet further along. Groaning, I forced myself to get up and moving again. I'd probably broken a couple ribs in that tumble, but that wouldn't stop me from moving. And if the dragon had just attacked me outside its lair, then it knew exactly where I was.
Looking up, I discovered that I was right. The huge blue monster landed lithely on the ground in front of the entrance from the direction of the upper ledge I'd seen earlier. Spotting me immediately, it let out a huge bellow of what I took to be challenge.
Sometimes I hate being right.
Drawing my sword, I pushed away the mind-numbing fear I suddenly felt. I certainly had reason to fear this dragon, but try to face a sword-wielding maniac in an alley at midnight in Harlem sometime. Fear really is something that can be ignored with practice.
I quickly scanned the area available to me. The first ten feet in from the entrance were a rough tunnel, and then it opened into a huge, irregular cavern inside the cliff. Based on the way it sloped downward toward the back, I expected that at least some of the lair was underground.
I heard the dragon take in a deep breath, and I bolted to the side without looking. Sure enough, a blast of lightening sizzled through where I'd just been standing. I had enough other problems by that point, though. Because of the speed of my reaction, I hadn't looked where I was going. I landed among hundreds of bones. They were all in a shallow pit, stacked without care.
With a grimace of distaste, I hoped they were from camels or something else similarly suited to being called a meal. I didn't have time to check, though. Stumbling through as quickly as I could, I exited the impromptu graveyard out the back, deeper into the lair. I regained my feet and my bearings just in time to hear the dragon bellow another challenge. I turned to look at it and brought up my sword just in time to intercept the foreleg streaking at me. I had the momentary pleasure of watching my sword score deeply into the "palm" of the dragon before I realized that wasn't stopping him. Now coming at me, this time with several hundred pounds of force (not to mention a dragon's paw) behind it, I tried to twist my sword so the flat side would hit me instead of the edge. Under the circumstances, I had no doubt it was perfectly capable of cutting me in half.
I was successful, but only to a certain extent. My sword crashed into my left shoulder breaking my collar bone with a sharp snap before the dragon's clawed hand reached me. Another one of those huge sledgehammers got me fully across the face and chest, launching me into the air again. I vaguely felt myself flying, hitting a wall, and then falling. I thought I was falling further than I should for where the floor should have been, but it wouldn't have surprised me to learn that my sense of distance was just a little off by this point.
It was only a few seconds before my body started to respond to commands again, and I immediately opened my eyes. I discovered two pieces of good news. One was that my sword was still gripped in my right hand. The other was that Andras was staring at me in astonishment. We seemed to be in a small pit, something like five feet deep in a rough oval ten by seven feet across. A glowing chain was attached to the wall and Andras's ankle, giving her enough room to move about the pit, but not much further. She appeared otherwise unhurt.
Coughing to get my lungs into working order, I croaked out, "Fear not, fair maiden, I am here to rescue you."
Another bellow from the dragon stole some of the force of my words.
Ignoring the dragon and my comment, she asked, "Did Survan survive?"
I nodded and rolled to my feet, looking for a way out. There, the rock formed a natural ramp back up to the cavern's floor. "He walked back to Silverymoon and told us about what happened. Are you okay?"
We both heard sibilant hissing, as if the dragon was casting a spell. I ducked down behind the wall to keep me out of the line of sight of the dragon. A blast of flame tore into the ceiling. The dragon roared again, this time in apparent anger.
Her face showing open relief at my news of her husband, Andras nodded. "I am as well as can be. My spells are not working, but other than that, nothing seems to be amiss. The dragon appears to be trying to take care of me, bringing me food and the like."
"I hate to break this short, but I'm kinda busy." I chucked a thumb in the general direction of the dragon. "Andras, we WILL be back for you."
She frowned in worry but merely nodded tightly. "Tymora's Luck to you."
I was already most of the way back up to ground level. Spotting an opening in the wall, I ducked into it, hoping it led to one of the smaller exits. I knew I was in for something ugly if my suspicions of traps held true, but it was preferable to working my way past the dragon.
Before I made it three steps down the tunnel, I heard another huge breath followed by a bright flash. I was suddenly flying through the air again. My face and shoulder were the first pieces of my battered anatomy that collided with the wall when the tunnel turned to the right. Landing on the floor, I rolled as quickly as I could to the right, out of the dragon's line of sight.
I felt a spot on my arm tingle as I rolled, heard a pop, and a puff of smoke drifted up. I froze and tensed, bracing myself for whatever I'd triggered. Nothing happened. Breathing a quick prayer of thanksgiving that the trap, whatever it'd been, had failed, I rolled to my feet and bolted out into the desert.
Fortunately, the dragon didn't follow.
"What do you mean, you left her there?" Survan all but shouted.
I was halfway tempted to respond with, "Which word didn't you understand?" but decided that I'd better not do that. With a rag I'd wetted, I continued to clean my face of the blood from when I went face first into the tunnel wall. "I found her, she's alright, and I told her we'd be back. I had to leave or the dragon would've probably killed both of us." Dropping the wet and now bloody rag down on my lap, I rotated my shoulder, loosening it up. Just because my Quickening had long since healed it, didn't mean it didn't hurt.
"I was under the impression that you could not be killed," Survan snarled at me, pacing back and forth.
My patience finally reached its end. I opened my mouth to shout back at him, but Kith beat me to it. She'd been rubbing a hand across my back ever since I'd made it back to camp, reassuring both of us. Now, she pressed that hand down on my near shoulder and said calmly, "Yes, he CAN be killed, cousin. Even if the dragon does not know how to do so, it still IS a dragon. It might simply tear his head off by brute strength without aiming to do so."
Survan still looked ready to spit fire for a few moments before abruptly deflating. Sitting near the fire pit, he hung his head and mumbled, "Forgive me. I am just worried for her."
Abandoning me, Kith knelt down next to Survan and said softly, "We all are. But nothing can be done about it right now. You heard Thian's account of the fight. No one person can take down this wyrm."
"So we'll just have to wait until you two can join me before we try again," I finished.
Kith looked over at me with a raised eyebrow.
"Once magic returns, we'll try again. That way, all three of us can use our strengths against this thing simultaneously. It'll have a lot tougher time dealing with all three of us." I didn't want my wife to get anywhere near this thing but having the Stormbow working against it was too large an advantage to give up easily.
I just hoped we all survived this plan.
Since we all agreed that camping at the foot of the dragon wasn't such a bright idea, we decided to backtrack for a couple of days and stay in a small village at the edge of the Far Woods. Upon arriving, we arranged to stable our mounts indefinitely and took out a couple of rooms at the only inn in town. Being so near the High Forest, the villagers weren't at all surprised to find traveling elves. A human in the company of those elves was the cause of a few raised eyebrows, but no comments came our way.
We had a vague plan in mind to wait until the chaotic magic repaired itself, but after three days of doing absolutely nothing, I began to be concerned that it may take quite some time before that would happen.
That same afternoon, I visited the town armorer. Something had occurred to me on my way back to Kith and Survan from the dragon's lair. I had never used a shield before because I used my left arm as a weapon. I didn't hold a blade with it, but I would punch with my left fist, for instance. The problem was when I was up against a dragon or other large creature; my left arm as a weapon was worthless under those circumstances.
So I went to the armorer to find a reasonably light shield to use on my left arm when facing such large creatures.
With the dwarven armorer's assistance, I chose a medium sized wooden shield. It was big enough to provide some protection for me, but light enough that it didn't affect my maneuverability on the battlefield. The armorer would have preferred that I use a metal shield due to its better defensive possibilities (not to mention the price difference), but I refused to carry something that would slow me down.
Early in the morning of the fifth day we'd been staying in the hamlet of Farthingsworth, I became aware of a curious silence. It took a few minutes for my sleep-befuddled mind to pin down exactly why silence would wake me up.
It finally came to me: Flick wasn't chattering incessantly.
"Flick?" I asked.
Yes? he asked in a subdued tone.
"What about him?" Kith mumbled into her pillow.
"He's not singing. Flick, are you okay?"
I heard him sigh. Yes, I'm fine. Now. I don't know what happened. I'm sorry about all that.
[Magic went on the fritz all over.]
Fritz? Is that a technical term? he asked in a teasing tone.
[Yeah. I remember an archmage using it once . . . Anyway, I'll eventually forgive you for singing for the past couple months.]
Really, I AM sorry, he said apologetically. It's not like I had a whole lot of choice.
[It's all right. I especially liked the dwarven drinking songs. You'll have to teach them to me, sometime.]
Later that morning, after everyone was actually up for the day, Kith and I told Survan about Flick. He was immediately excited to be able to go back after his wife, but I pointed out that this didn't necessarily mean that ALL magic was stable again. We discussed how to test whether magic was working. Understandably, Survan didn't want to risk casting any spells, nor did Kith want to try to fire the Stormbow.
"It has to be something small," I murmured, casting my eyes around the taproom. They came to rest on my infinity clasp that Kith was wearing again. Smiling, I pointed to it. "There we go. If I can wear that without getting a headache, then that would be a good indicator, wouldn't it?"
Both elves nodded with brightening expressions. Kith swung her cloak off and rapidly removed my clasp while I was doing the same. Taking my clasp back, I hooked it to the cloak and put it back on.
Everyone stared at each other for a few minutes before I slowly began to smile. "All better."
They both visibly relaxed.
"You realize you both have to try before we leave, don't you?" I cautioned them.
They both deflated a little. Nodding, Survan took a deep breath and started mumbling his way through a spell. Seeing what was going on, some of the other patrons cautiously stood up from their tables and backed away. The barkeep watched us warily but didn't do anything to interfere.
On the table in front of us, a hazy, three inch tall replica of Survan popped into existence. He gave his larger image a stiff bow and said, "If you can see and hear this illusion, then magic is working." The little Survan repeated his bow to Kith with a, "Milady," and me with a, "Milord," before dissolving.
The room breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Kith stood and hurried up to our room. She came back down the stairs moments later with the Stormbow in hand and headed out the front door. I quickly followed to find her standing just outside the door, looking around. "Better aim at something that's not flammable," I suggested, smiling with relief now that magic appeared to be back to normal.
Now that I was looking around, most everything around here WAS flammable. I finally spied a rock wall and pointed it out to my increasingly antsy wife. Nodding at what I was pointing to, she swung around and drew the bowstring. A flaming arrow appeared just like it should, and she released it. It sped away and lodged between two rocks in the wall. It continued burning for a few seconds before evaporating back into the magical weave of the multiverse. The only thing remaining was the scorch mark.
Grinning widely, Kith pulled back on the bowstring multiple times in rapid succession, leaving three tightly grouped scorch marks around the original one thirty seconds later.
Having watched everything from the doorway of the inn, Survan breathed, "Finally. Now let us go and retrieve my wife."
Three mornings later found us again staring across the expanse of sand toward the dragon's lair. I was wearing my infinity clasp, so I saw through the illusion, though my two companions were seeing endless tracts of sand dunes.
"How do you want to do this?" I asked, looking for movement. Just because I apparently almost snuck into the lair last time didn't mean I had any hope of making it that far this time.
"Kick the door in and shove a fireball up his ass," Survan answered flatly, staring in the general direction of the lair.
I blinked and turned to stare at my elven cousin in amazement. I understood he was upset over his wife being kidnapped, but the last couple days had been out of character for him even given the circumstances. He'd even used an Americanism that he'd no doubt picked up from me somewhere along the line.
"Cousin, are you well?" Kith asked hesitantly, peering at him closely.
"I feel well enough," he smiled with a feral gleam in his eye. "Let us just get this over with."
"Okay," I answered after a few moments of studying him. "One vote for a full frontal attack. Kith, how about you?"
She shrugged. "Other than hiding behind you or a convenient rock, I just planned on putting arrows into the dragon as fast as I am able to pull the bowstring. How we get there matters little to me."
I'd already described the layout of the caves to them as well as I could, so I didn't need to do that part. "Survan, can you cast invisibility over us?"
He shook his head. "I do not have that spell available to me. Even if I did, I do not believe it would work." He waved toward the lair and continued, "The plain fact that the dragon can hide an entire CLIFF indicates that he is an illusionist of no small power. Most any illusion that I could perform may not work against him."
I sighed. So much for sneaking in and sneaking out. Walking back over to Shadow, I pulled my shield down from where it was hooked to the back of the saddle and said, "Well, let's go, then. No sense in prolonging this."
Survan stood and immediately headed toward the desert, hardly waiting for Kith and me. Kith followed a bit more reluctantly, but with determination.
Since I could actually see where we were going, I sped up until I was slightly ahead of Survan. Speaking quietly (why take anymore chances than we absolutely had to?) I asked, "Let me know when you two can see the cliff, okay? Last time, the illusion failed once I got close enough."
We trudged through the featureless tracts for several minutes before Kith whispered, "I see it."
We'd only gone another two feet when Survan whispered, "Me as well."
We continued sneaking forward as quietly as possible until we were kneeling in the shadows of the cliff. "Now what?" Survan quietly queried.
"I thought you were the one all gung-ho to charge in and rescue your fair damsel?" I asked him in grim humor. We were about to do something monumentally stupid, and I had to look for humor anyplace I could find it. That, or run screaming back for Silverymoon.
He grunted at my comment. "I am. I just do not fancy becoming the morning snack for an oversized lizard."
Kith snickered. Survan's sense of humor came out at the strangest times.
I turned to study the entrance again just as an overwhelming wave of dizziness and fatigue gripped me. I leaned against the rock wall and started sliding downward. Maybe a nap wouldn't be such a bad idea.
No, NO! Don't do this! WAKE UP! Flick was yelling at me, but I didn't have the energy to tell him to shut up.
Survan grabbed my shoulder before I made it down to the desert floor. Pulling me back upright, he leaned me against the rock wall and backhanded me sharply.
The fatigue vanished instantly. I found myself staring at him with my sword in hand before I realized I'd moved. Combat reflexes are wonderful.
Seeing I was standing under my own power and coherent again, he turned and started looking around quickly. "Sleep spell," he explained to me. "Elves are naturally resistant. I had to do something to snap you out of it. Are you okay?"
Finally piecing together what had just happened, I nodded, even though Survan wasn't looking at me. "Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks."
"Since he hit us with a spell, he can see us," Kith said from my other side, also peering around quickly with the Stormbow drawn.
Remembering how he'd ambushed me previously, I looked up toward the ledge above the main entrance. Sure enough, I saw the dragon's head peer down on us. Seeing he'd been spotted, the dragon drew a breath. I had just a moment to shout, "Up!" before the dragon released a breath of lightning at us.
Desperately trying to protect Survan and Kith, I lunged forwarded and raised my sword. The dragon was too far away to actually reach of course, but that wasn't the reason for raising the sword. I was hoping to use the sword and my body to act as a lightning rod to absorb the entire bolt so that my two companions wouldn't be affected.
It worked. The full force of the lightning slammed into me and sent me sprawling back in a shower of sand.
Jumping to my feet and shaking my head to clear the cobwebs and ringing, I ran back forward just as the dragon jumped down from the ledge to the sand in front of us. Survan was in the midst of a spell as Kith fired her second arrow into the chest of the monster. I got back into my position as a defensive wall with my shield in front as Survan finished his spell. A jet of flame narrowly missed my head and barreled full-on into the chest of the dragon just as Kith put her fourth arrow into him, this time aiming for the a joint.
The dragon bellowed and swung its right foreleg toward me, clearly in an attempt to smash me into the wall. Instead of bringing my sword across the paw's line of attack as I had the previous time, I tried something different. Bracing my right leg, I knelt down slightly, covered myself with the shield as much as possible, and stuck the sword straight out toward the descending paw. My wild idea worked. My sword sunk straight into the claw. Not slowed in the least, it swung across where my chest and head had been. But I was slightly below that. Instead of hitting me solidly and smashing me against the wall, the dragon's paw skipped across the rounded surface of my shield and continued its course over my head. Desperately holding onto the pommel of my sword, I pulled it back out of the palm as the dragon's swing pulled it out of line. I didn't need to withdraw the sword so much as hang on as the paw pulled away from me, but the pierced side was no longer facing me. Based on the grinding sound I heard and the wrenching my shoulder and wrist got, I expected the dragon's paw had gotten torn up pretty good as the sword came out at a different angle than that which it had entered. Continuing its arc, the paw smashed into the cliff face. I got one more hit on the back of the wrist before the dragon pulled it back with a scream of what I hoped was pain. Based on the blood smear left on the wall, I was willing to place money on it.
Survan started another spell as the dragon reared back on its hind legs. Keeping its balance with its left hand on the cliff wall and the right wing extended, it started hissing out the words of a spell.
Kith continued battering it with arrows, now aiming at the throat and head.
Seeing an opportunity, I dropped my sword and ripped Flick free of his sheath. Throwing him, I bent to retrieve my sword as quickly as I could. Flick shrieked through his short flight. Usually when throwing daggers, I would aim for the chest or head. This time, I aimed for the thin surface of the extended right wing.
My aim was true, even with the gently moving target. At the bottom of the wing's arc, Flick's blade easily tore through the nearly translucent membrane. The cross guard, not being the least bit sharp, caught the nearly flat surface it was trying to go through and stopped the dagger's flight. Tipping forward and through, the handle widened the hole in the tightly stretched wing. Hanging for a moment on one side of the cross guard, the dagger eventually fell down to the sandy desert floor.
Between the dagger tearing a hole in the delicate wing and the continuing barrage of arrows, the dragon's spell was disrupted. While it was again screaming, Survan's spell finished. The dragon's eyes immediately began glowing brightly.
I grinned. Survan had mentioned he might try this. The light spell itself wouldn't hurt the dragon, but it did effectively blind him.
As planned, I immediately sprinted forward and both Survan and Kith drifted away from where they'd been standing. Without sight, the dragon's ability to aim was severely hampered. The best it could do was to aim in the direction it felt hits coming from. As long as he stayed quieter than the dragon, Survan was safe as spells generally couldn't be tracked backward with any reliability. As long as Kith kept moving, the dragon similarly couldn't try to harm her. The best it could now do would be to charge one or the other and blindly try to hit them with physical attacks.
And that's why I was charging forward like an insane bull against a matador 100 feet tall. So long as I could keep its attention with physical attacks, it would concentrate on me and leave the archer and mage free to continue dealing damage.
At least that was the idea.
Reaching the hind legs of the still upright dragon, I deliberately chose not to try a standard slice. Remembering the damage my sword had done to the dragon's paw in its earlier swipe, I took a moment to locate the ankle joint and plunged my sword point first into that juncture before leaning on the pommel, sweeping the blade sideways while still buried in the monster's ankle. It came to an abrupt halt after about thirty degrees of movement.
Predictably, the dragon screamed again and kicked sideways. Expecting the attack, I held onto the sword pommel and let my own momentum pull it out of the dragon's ankle.
Once I came to a rolling stop on my back, I noticed that my flailing sword had apparently managed a swipe through the already wounded wing as I was flying away from the kick. Grinning wildly, I charged forward again, this time content to make a basic slice at the base of the dragon's tail. Shifting its weight to its good foot, the dragon kicked backwards at me with its wounded foot.
But his aim was off. Holding the shield over my head to keep the ever-increasing rain of blood from blinding me, I stepped aside and swept my sword along the extending leg, opening it almost to the bone from ankle to knee.
Hopping up, using his still good leg and mostly intact tail for the initial push, the dragon tried to fly a short distance directly away from the cliff to get me out from almost completely under it. But it hadn't taken into account that one wing was torn. After an abbreviated flight, it made a bad landing due to the bad wing and two nearly destroyed legs all on the same side of its body. It recovered its balance just in time for Survan's latest spell, a fireball, to erupt just around its head. Whipping its head from one side to another, it spat lightning again at where I had been standing when it hopped away.
But the bad landing and fireball had given me a chance to move. The lightning missed me cleanly. Just as the last of the lightning left its maw, I arrived at his feet again and swung at his previously unhurt forepaw, drawing a bright line of blood.
Having a good angle on me and knowing just where I was standing, the blinded dragon tried to bring its muzzle down and bite at me. Based on our relative sizes, it would either bite me in half or swallow me whole. Fortunately, I jumped aside just in time. When the dragon buried its own open mouth into the sand, I took as hard a swing against its jaw as I could.
Four things happened nearly simultaneously. I heard a splintering crack from the dragon's jaw. My arm rebounded so hard from the strike that my teeth rattled. The dragon again screamed, this time showering me in blood. It also jerked its head sideways, effectively using its muzzle to body check me so hard that I landed ten feet away.
Due to a bad angle with my left leg, I momentarily pinned my shield down under me as I tumbled. Since the shield was strapped to my arm, my arm and the shield straps essentially tried to bring me to an abrupt stop against my own flying momentum that had been augmented by an enraged, blood-crazed dragon.
Needless to say, I did NOT stop. My arm lost the fight against the straps, breaking in at least two places in the forearm before the straps tore completely free and I continued my uncontrolled tumble.
Finally coming to a stop, I unsteadily rolled to my feet, angling the sword defensively. My left arm hung uselessly, though I could already feel my Quickening at work.
Because of how dizzy I was, the dragon had a more or less clear shot at me, and I knew it.
But the dragon had apparently had enough. By the time my eyes focused on it, it was in the air, trying to fly away to the south-east. With one wing cut in two places, it was having a very difficult time staying in the air. Even as I watched, Kith's tempo incredibly picked up a little more speed, this time aiming at the undamaged wing joint. Survan shouted out the last syllables of his latest spell and three glowing darts of magic leapt from his hand and traveled to the dragon in a heartbeat, impacting against its belly.
The accumulated damage was finally too much for the dragon. It heeled over and fell to the ground, landing on its left wing and shoulder. We all heard the wing splintering just before the dragon let loose another bellow. I broke into a staggered run toward the fallen behemoth, knowing that on the ground it was more dangerous than in the air. I still had to protect Kith and Survan.
But Survan had other ideas. He ran forward himself, drawing his dagger as he did so.
"Survan, no!" Kith called, still firing arrows.
Survan ignored her, heading for the monster's head.
The dragon struggled to stand up.
I gritted my teeth and forced my battered body to speed up.
Kith stopped moving forward and took her time lining up a shot. I had no idea what she had in mind, but if we let Survan get near that thing's head, he'd get himself killed. It looked to be mortally wounded, but it was still more than capable of killing an unarmored, unprotected elf.
Just as I was reaching the near edge of the out flung wing, Kith released the shot she'd been lining up. From my angle, I had a perfect view of what she was doing. Her flaming arrow entered the monster's near eye. Due to the angle at which the dragon's head was lying, the arrow lanced upward and into the area where I expected the dragon's brain to be. The entire body gave one massive convulsion before collapsing and lying completely still. I could even see a faint wisp of smoke curl out of one of the dragon's ears.
Seeing that the dragon was finally dead, Survan slowed his run in a skidding shower of sand. I also slowed down from my run, sheathed my sword, and leaned against the monster's flank, resting and letting my Quickening start to catch up with all the damage I'd been taking.
I heard Kith walk up, but I didn't take my eyes from Survan's unmoving form. "Are you well?" Kith asked quietly.
Her voice apparently pulled Survan from whatever trance state he seemed to be in. His attention jerked to Kith and me. Seeing both of us upright and under our own power, he turned and jogged toward the main entrance of the lair, calling Andras's name.
I smiled at his retreating back for a few moments before I turned to look at Kith, drawing a startled gasp from her. I grunted in grim humor. I'm sure that I looked like a mess, literally drenched in blood, my arm broken, and the gods knew how many bruises and scratches. As she was cataloguing my injuries, I looked her over. Other than breathing heavily from the running, she appeared to be just fine.
"Far too much blood to entirely be your own," Kith observed after a cursory examination.
I nodded. "I think I broke its jaw right at the end. It screamed, spraying me with its own blood. Really, the only problem is my arm." I looked down at the arm in question and then back up at her. "If you could set the bone, it would speed up the healing process." I winced as the Quickening tried to start moving things together. "And hurt less," I added once my breath allowed speech.
"Come along," she took me by my uninjured hand and started pulling me toward the lair. "I know not how to set bones, but I do not doubt that Andras does."
"And you think we can interrupt them?" I asked in genuine amusement. It'd been something over a month since the lady had seen her husband, after all.
"I will not be anything we have not seen before," she commented with a wry smile.
As we entered the short tunnel to the lair, I called out, "Stay decent, you two. You have visitors."
Kith lightly slapped my good shoulder, smearing blood all over her hand. "Be nice."
"I was being nice," I objected. "You'd rather find those two in some state of undress?"
"Your point is taken," she acknowledged with a wide smile. Her good mood vanished as another spasm of pain flashed over my face. "Come along. I would like Andras to look at that arm. I know that given time you will heal, but there is no point in being in pain in the meantime."
I led Kith over to the pit where I'd first found Andras and looked in. She and Survan were gripping each other tightly, rocking back and forth. They both appeared to be crying.
Kith smiled softly at the scene for a few seconds before she cleared her throat. Survan didn't react, but Andras looked up at us and smiled through her tears. Her smile vanished as she saw my arm twisted in a strange shape. Gently maneuvering Survan to the side, she ordered, "Get yourself down here and let me have a look at that arm of yours."
Already walking around to the ramp, I chuckled. "Yes, ma'am."
Survan, finally seeing what was going on, composed himself before he bent to study the chain keeping Andras in the pit. It was no longer glowing, but other than that, it was the same as I remembered it. Once I was close enough, Andras ran gentle hands over the multiple angles of my forearm, slowly shaking her head. "As many times as I may see it, your people's ability to absorb punishment continues to amaze me," she mumbled. As Kith came down into the pit, Andras pointed at my arm with a quick jerk of her chin. "Hold his elbow and try to keep it still. I shall to try to reset this. With a bit of Tymora's luck, that will speed up the healing."
Kith wrapped both hands around my upper arm and elbow as I grabbed a convenient rock with my other hand. "How does she know this about you when I do not?" Kith asked me conversationally.
I knew she was trying to distract me, and I let her. This was not going to be fun. "She's as close to a family doctor as I have. She knows more about my body's healing than you do."
"She is merely a cousin by marriage. Twice, at that. I am your wife. Do I not deserve to know?"
"Of course, but you usually don't have to help when someone's been - AAH!" The rest of my answer to Kith's question ended in a scream as Andras pulled on my wrist and reset the bone with a few well-placed twists and shoves. My right hand went white as I squeezed the rock hard enough to squeeze the blood out of my hand. I kept my head down as my forehead broke out in pain-sweat. After a few seconds it was down to merely excruciating, and a few more seconds brought it down to a dull ache as the Quickening started repairing the now minor fractures.
"By the by, what is a doctor?" Andras asked calmly.
"Non-magical healer on my world," I answered as my breathing returned to normal.
She nodded and asked Kith if she was hurt. When my wife shook her head from where she was studying the chain with Survan, she turned her attention back to me, wrinkling her nose slightly. "There is an underground spring in the back. Might I suggest you use it?"
I looked down at myself and studied the blood slowly crusting in my chain mail armor. "Yeah, I think I could use a bath. I'm going to check the perimeter of this room first, though. I don't want anyone stumbling into another trap."
"What about you?" Kith asked, looking up.
"Worse comes to worst, you can dig me out. I'll survive."
Andras smiled and Survan grunted in what I took to be amusement. Kith just rolled her eyes and bent back to her task.
Starting back at the tunnel entrance, I carefully checked along the walls and floors for any traps or triggers around the edge of the entire room. I didn't find any, but I did find several other items of interest. Paying a little more attention to the "graveyard", I spotted several skulls in the pile of bones that were definitely not humanoid. That made me feel a little better. I found the natural spring easily enough, but continued my search of the room. In the corner opposite the graveyard, I found a relatively large open area with a lot of loose sand. Based on the indentations, I guessed that this was the dragon's "bed" and that he liked to sleep curled around the small mountain of coins in the center. Sifting quickly through it, they all looked to be copper sparrows. Along the wall in a small niche, I found the rest of the dragon's horde all neatly lined up. I counted fifteen potions of various colors, twelve gems of multiple sizes and stones, three rings, a pair of boots, a maroon robe, a book of some type, and the oddest item was a brass horn. Keeping in mind Staal's warning about cursed items, I left everything where I found it with the exception of the plain, scratched ring that I recognized as my ring of invisibility and inaudibility. The dragon had apparently collected it after my last attempt to free Andras. I slipped it on and whispered, "Aberlith". The ring started glowing faintly. The glow faded over the next ten seconds, though. Sighing at the loss of the item, I removed it and dropped it back in its spot with the other rings. Checking the rest of the cavern quickly, I didn't find anything more of interest. Calling out to the elves that this cavern was safe but that the tunnels were not, I headed back to the spring to clean the worst of the blood off.
Shivering slightly due to the water still on my body and due to the fact that I was only wearing the local equivalent of boxers, I left the dragon's lair to see what my family was up to.
Kith was leading the horses toward the lair. They were having a hard time traveling over the loose sand, but they were all managing. She'd apparently already been to the forest and back, and was now walking away from the dragon corpse, having left some tools, jars, and containers for Survan and Andras. They'd removed Andras's shackle, and she was now standing with Survan, pointing to various parts of the dragon and discussing something with him. Based on the saws, pliers, and knives next to the large assortment of jars and sacks, I expected them to begin a partial dissection of our vanquished foe at any time.
Looking around and trying to remember exactly where the dragon had been, I walked away from the tunnel entrance for a bit and started looking around on the ground. "Flick, you around here somewhere?"
Of course. What, did you expect me to sprout wings and fly off? he asked sarcastically.
[Smartass. I was just making sure you were close, otherwise I'd have to search until you could hear me, THEN I'd be close to finding you.] Even as I was speaking with him, my eyes were searching. I found him quickly enough, lying on the desert sand, blade only partially covered. Picking him up and brushing him off, I asked, [Everything okay?]
I'm fine. I can see everyone else is okay, too. After a short pause, he asked, Do you want to talk about it?
I sighed. [Not really. Razarenkarth's dead. We're alive. Nothing more to say.]
There was a pause as I headed over to where Kith was leading the horses. I suppose, Flick finally said.
My wife was having a hard time convincing the animals to enter the lair. As happy as they were to walk away from the dead dragon moments ago, they were uneasy walking into that same dragon's lair. I couldn't really blame them. I'm sure their instincts were all still screaming that this was a very dangerous place. It'd probably be years before this cave was inhabited by any of the local wildlife again.
Between Kith and myself, we eventually convinced the horses to enter and led them all the way into the back to the spring. Pulling my pack off of Shadow's back, I pulled out one of my spare shirts and a pair of trousers and slipped them on. I checked my drying clothing and armor as Kith commented, "Do not feel the need to get dressed on my account."
I smiled at her. "Don't want anything to get cold and fall off."
She just smiled and shook her head at my juvenile humor.
Oh, brother, Flick muttered from where I'd left him beside my sword.
"What are Andras and Survan up to?" I asked.
"Various parts of dragons are quite valuable as spell components, apparently, but only if they are harvested quickly. Some other parts can be made into weapons. My cousin and his wife are collecting what they think we can sell or use."
I raised an eyebrow. "Like what?"
"The blood is used in some spells, horns and longer teeth may be turned into weapons, the bones and claws may be powdered and used in some other spells. Several things."
Thinking about my destroyed shield, I asked, "Can the skin be used to make shields?"
She nodded. "And armor, however it requires a master armorer to produce a full sized suit. Your mithril armor may well be better protection and is most definitely easier to take care of in an case."
I shook my head. "I'm just worried about a shield for me. Your elven chain mail is almost as good as my mithril, and you never use a shield. Survan and Andras can't use either armor or shield."
Kith shrugged. "Ask Survan. The worst he may do is say no."
I gave her a quick kiss. "Anything you need from out there?"
She shook her head. "I will just set up camp here by the stream. We will be here a day or so while they work on that carcass. We may as well be comfortable while they work on it."
Nodding absently, I headed out to speak with Survan. He was stripped down to his shorts, as was Andras. They were both already spattered with blood. Andras was systematically skinning the entire dragon with something that looked like a small sword, while Survan was working on prying one of the horns out of the skull. The other horn lay in the sand next to several large jars of what appeared to be blood. As I was surveying the systematic disassembly, Survan noticed me. "Ah, Thian. Would you take the bag of holding inside the cave? Put the blood in it first, if you would. Much of the rest of this stays out so that it may dry first."
"Sure," I answered as I put the jars into the innocuous looking bag. The large jars fit easily as I knew they would. Ah, the joys of having a bag of holding. "Survan, do you think I could get a new shield made out of the skin?"
He shrugged. "That should not pose a problem. I shall be getting several spell components out of it. Andras and Kith were offered as well, but they cannot think of anything that they need that can be manufactured of dragon bits. Did you find anything of interest in the lair?"
I nodded, watching Andras work. "Small mountain of coins, but it all looks to be sparrows. Fifteen potions, but I don't even want to guess what they might be. Twelve gems of various sizes. Couple miscellaneous other things. A robe, some boots, couple rings, like that. I'm all in favor of letting Staal take a shot at it all except the ring I had. I know that one is dead."
Andras spoke up. "That is unfortunate. That one was useful."
I nodded agreement. "When it was working, yes. Now, it's just a silver ring. At any rate, I'll take this inside," I indicated the bag of holding, "and you two give a shout if you need help with something."
Survan nodded without looking up from leaning against the scorched horn, still trying to pry it up. "We shall."
It took another day and a half before we left Razarenkarth's lair and his gutted corpse. We started slowly heading back toward Silverymoon, retracing the route Kith, Survan, and I took to get to the lair.
During the trip, Andras became increasingly anxious. When pressed for a reason, she finally admitted that she was having trouble communing with her god Waukeen.
Nobody quite knew what to make of that. She resolved to discuss the issue with other members of her sect in Silverymoon when we got there.
It took a little over another month to make it back to Silverymoon. Once we were back in the city, we immediately heard the story of the Battle of Mithril Hall and the fact that Lady Alustriel had been hurt severely. She had been healed by one of the dwarven priestesses and was now back in Silverymoon.
On a personal level, I was glad that the battle had worked out. I'd felt guilty about leaving Ali and Drizzt in order to chase off after Andras, and I was glad that it turned out that the fight had come to a satisfactory conclusion, though the number of rumored casualties was frightening.
After checking in at Storm Tales, we each went our separate directions. Survan took most of the "dragon bits" to the marketplace to see what he could get for them from the various apothecaries. Andras took the gems to the jewelry maker for sale. Kith took the hopefully magical items to Staal for identification. I took the majority of the intact hide to Durak the armorer.
I'd tried to convince Survan that going to Waterdeep with all of these items (especially the "bits" and the hide) would work out better, but he seemed convinced that Silverymoon was more than sufficient for our needs. I only hoped he was right.
Fortunately, Durak didn't seem to recognize me when I entered his shop. Once I pulled out the dragon hide, his eyes literally bugged out. Composing himself quickly, he sent an apprentice to rouse his brother Garak. Once the second dwarf was there, Garak and I got down to business while Durak went back to the work area of the shop.
After nearly an hour of haggling, Garak agreed to produce a medium shield for me from the hide and buy less than a quarter of the remaining hide as well, paying us the gem equivalent of four hundred eagles. After carefully measuring and cutting his portion, he immediately set to work on my shield, clearly excited about the opportunity to work on such an unusual and rare material.
After a short visit with Alustriel, I went back to Storm Tales to await the rest of my family. Andras returned first, reporting success selling the gems with the exception of a sapphire, an amethyst, and a diamond. Those she was having turned into matching rings for her and Survan.
Kith returned next, carrying nearly all of the items still. She deferred explaining until Survan arrived, instead sipping on the water she had asked for and appearing to be lost in thought.
Survan arrived nearly an hour later, still carrying most of the items he'd started out with. He explained that while the apothecaries and enchanters around town were happy to buy some of what he had, there weren't enough people willing to buy sufficient quantities to take even a quarter of everything off of his hands.
Once Survan finished his report, I pointed out to them that I only got less than a quarter of the hide sold as well. Though I didn't say it, Survan still clearly heard my, "I told you so," regarding taking the items to Waterdeep instead of Silverymoon. With no argument, Andras suggested that we needed to start up our trade caravan again and at least make it to Waterdeep to hopefully sell off the remainder of our items. The good news was that the incredible rarity of what we had sold meant that we were now flush with cash. Even after buying a brand new wagon and team, we were now in better financial shape than we had ever been.
Once that conversation was concluded, Andras explained what she had learned about what had happened to magic. Apparently the "leader" of the gods, Ao, discovered one the gods had stolen the Tablets of Fate. As punishment, he cast them out of their plane of existence until the guilty party surrendered them. That's why clerics and mages couldn't work their magic. Nearly all of the gods took avatars. The problem with this was that the avatars were more or less mortal. Several of the gods had been destroyed (THAT concept took some time to sink in), but several mortals had been elevated to replace the lost gods. The pantheon was once again more or less intact. With the exception of Waukeen. He'd disappeared. Nobody knew exactly what had happened to him, but the goddess Lliira had taken Waukeen's followers under her wing. What, precisely, this meant in the long run nobody quite knew. For the moment, Andras's spells and abilities were not affected, so that was some relief for us all. After we all expressed concern and sympathy for her, she promised to keep us up to date as she learned more.
Kith started explaining what she had learned. Staal had determined that three of the potions were cursed, one of the new rings was, and the robe was as well. Instead of trying to keep everything straight, she asked him how to dispose of the cursed items. He offered to do so with her watching to prove to her that he really was destroying them. When she accepted, he dumped the potions together into a cauldron and put it over a magical fire, burning it all away. The robe was dropped onto the same fire and then immediately enclosed behind a wall of force just in case destroying the magical item resulted in something seriously unpleasant. Though Survan nodded at the wisdom of this precaution, it proved to be overkill. The robe burned as cloth should, without any unexpected effects. The ring proved to be trickier. Staal first put it into a crucible made for metal smiths. He let it sit over the fire until it had reached the maximum temperature that the fire was capable of producing. Then he quietly chanted a spell and let a slow fire spring from his hands and envelope the ring. After nearly a minute of both fires working on it, the ring finally deformed and melted into a little puddle of metal, utterly destroying it.
Kith then went on to list the non-cursed items she had. A ring of protection; boots of levitation; a tome that would teach the reader how to increase his or her strength, nimbleness, or hardiness; and the brass horn that would summon fighters to the aid of the person who blew the horn. The potions had been labeled as to what they were. I paid little attention to them since my Quickening might very well negate any effects they may have. The horn sounded interesting, but it wasn't useable by me or Kith. Something about only responding to wizards and clerics. The ring and boots had definite possibilities, though, as did the tome.
After a great deal of discussion, we agreed that Kith should wear the boots and I would get the ring. The horn would stay on Andras, but she would only use it as needed to protect us. Survan kept most of the potions with him.
It took us even longer to decide what to do with the tome. As Kith explained, Staal had no way of knowing which of the three effects it had, but he had assured her that it was indeed one of them instead of something harmful. Kith's first suggestion was for me to use it. As the primary melee fighter in the group, any one of the effects would benefit me. That sounded good to me, but I pointed out that we didn't know if the book would work on my Immortal physiology.
Survan and Andras didn't have the patience or the time to devote to it that Staal explained that getting any use out of such a book would require, so they politely declined. Kith stared at it for nearly a minute before slowly shaking her head. "No, I do not believe I wish to devote that much time to it."
Andras and Survan nodded in acceptance. Survan quietly slipped the book into the bag, but I was still looking at Kith. Something was bothering her, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what it was.
Shaking my head, I asked the table at large, "What does everyone think of offering some of this stuff to Lady Alustriel? I'm sure she can use a lot of it."
"SELLING some of it to Lady Alustriel makes sense," Andras countered. She didn't have quite the level of personal loyalty to her that I and now Survan did. Me for the first year after appearing in this world, and Survan for his new spell book. Both of us frowned a little but nodded. We may be indebted to her, but the Stormbow Merchant Caravan still had to conduct business.
"However, I will give a few of these potions to Lady Alustriel in exchange for my spell book," Survan said.
"So we're offering to sell the tome and any of the other dragon items to her?" I concluded.
Survan and Andras nodded, but Kith's frown deepened. Andras glanced over at her with a concerned look.
"Meanwhile," I continued, "we'll need a new wagon and mule team. If our caravan is going to begin its route again, we a setup like what we had previously."
Kith abruptly turned to Andras and asked, "Pray would you take a walk with me? We need to speak."
Baffled, I watched Andras nod agreeably. The two women stood and walked out the door. I turned to Survan, but he merely shrugged in ignorance.
It was early evening when Andras and Kith came back. Survan was out pricing wagons and mules, and I was sipping an ale and people watching.
Andras firmly steered Kith to my table and sat her down. Leaving without a word to me, she walked over to where Carith was standing at the bar and whispered to her for a few moments before heading upstairs to her room. Moments later, Carith placed a flagon of water down in front of Kith and leaned over for a quick hug and a whispered comment. Kith blushed slightly and smiled. Carith smiled wider and left after a quick smile to me.
I had watched all this in growing confusion. Finally, I asked, "Okay, are you going to explain what's going on?"
Kith toyed with the flagon for a few seconds before saying, "Do you recall that shortly after magic stabilized, I attempted to wear my old clasp for a time?"
I nodded. "You felt sick. Andras thought that the magical chaos had damaged your clasp because you said there were a few protective spells in it." Not that she'd ever told me what those spells were, but I'd never worried about it.
She nodded and took a sip of her drink. "Yes. Protection from diseases and poisons. I had thought they would be useful."
"No doubt they are," I offered, not knowing where this conversation was going.
"They have been," she acknowledged. "However, there is another enchantment within in the clasp that I had almost forgotten about these past few years."
"And what is it?" I asked when she didn't seem likely to continue.
"Anti-fertility," she said quietly.
I blinked in confusion. Huh?
"That was what was making me ill. When I had it ensorcelled, I was not interested in having children. When I was wearing your clasp, I did not have that protection. Now my body is fighting the enchantment." She took a deep breath and looked up at me for the first time since coming back into the tavern. "Because I am pregnant," she finished.