By Deverian Valandil
[ 10:00 ]
Derrick touched his pocket to ensure the angel-pendant was secure. “Do you think I'm a complete fool that I would hand such an important artifact to an enemy?”
“I am not your actual enemy, there is very little for me to gain should the city be completely destroyed. Bad for my line business.” Dace could see that Derrick was still skeptical. “I think you do not know what it is you carry,” the assassin continued, “I believe that pendant is Verskul's phylactery; the vessel of his arcane power.”
“Even if what you say is true, I'd have even less reason to hand it over. Now back away, or else you'll limp away.”
“My request for the pendant was a courtesy from one thief to another. What do you hope to accomplish? We are both aging men faced with an impossible challenge. If you will not give the artifact freely…” Dace clanged his sword and dagger together and raised them up in an ‘x' salute. “… then you are just another walking corpse blocking my way.”
Derrick instinctively reached for his sword, only to grip at air when he remembered that the guards had confiscated his weapons. The ex-thief backed away and turned to flee as Dace advanced.
Running back around the corner into the alley he came from, Derrick was now at a loss for what to do about the phylactery; there weren't any guild agents around that he knew of, and the overzealous guard captain probably wouldn't be very receptive to a fugitive's cries for aid.
Damn it all , he thought, Maybe a new opportunity will present itself…
At that moment, another man wearing black stepped into view at the exit of the alleyway, blocking the path to the street. Derrick skidded to a stop and heard Dace slow down behind him as well.
“Well, well,” Krevis said, grinning at the two older men, “now I find myself with a dilemma; whom do I hate enough to fight first?”
Derrick looked down and saw that Krevis had recovered his kukri blade.
“You.” Krevis pointed his weapon past Derrick at the assassin, “I heard every word you said. Never killed a liche? It's terrible fun. But I'm afraid you'll never have a chance to do so after I finish you here and now!”
Sending a glare at both Derrick and Krevis, Dace said nothing. After a few seconds of tense silence, he fixed his sights on the madman and boldly strode forward without giving Derrick another glance as he shoved past the ex-thief. The assassin raised his blades in salute, and thrust ahead to make the first strike. [ 10:10 ]
* * *
When Derrick realized that Dace had given him an out, the ex-thief quickly retreated away from the duelists and followed his original course through the alleys toward the tower. Before he got far, a few muffled voices were heard nearby over the sounds of clanging metal from the two murderers.
“This way!” shouted Captain Atamir, “Someone saw the killer run through here.”
Derrick swore inwardly and immediately threw himself to the side of the backalley, hiding behind a trash heap as a band of guards came into view from around a corner. Captain Atamir led a squad of officers and a cleric toward the sounds of the fight up ahead. “That must be them. Remember, men, one of them is immune to our weapons, so we'll have to restrain him with brute force.”
As they passed, Derrick frowned with concern; already they had forgotten about the wyvern attack. What's more, none of them even knew about Verskul or the whole matter with the Sigils. Those damned Sigils.
He quietly emerged from the refuse pile after the guards were gone. What were the liche's plans, anyway, that justified going through so much trouble to secure those two artifacts? After everything he'd been through, Derrick still didn't know the full answer.
‘ The power to set the city aflame by noon today ' was what Lorelei had said before her end. Derrick's frown deepened as he sent a final look toward Greyhelm Tower , where Bryn was hiding. With the wyvern threat neutralized, there would be no immediate danger to his son. But if Verskul was going to somehow rain utter destruction on the entire city, he'd certainly be using something greater than a single wyvern…
“Be safe, Bryn,” Derrick whispered, his heart heavy with regret, “I'll see you again …” He turned away and disappeared once more into the back streets of the city to look for Cerdan. [ 10:16 ]
* * *
Dace twisted his head to the side as Krevis' weapon lashed out, shearing off a few grey hairs just above the older man's ear. Striking back with his elbow, the assassin forced Krevis' arm away and slammed it into the wall.
“Weak,” Krevis muttered as he brought his leg up, kneeing Dace in the stomach, “Why are you helping them, these animals that are less than you or I?”
The mercenary reeled back and gripped his dagger, even though he knew the weapon couldn't harm Krevis. “I am not out to help anyone but myself.” Dace allowed himself a slight smirk as he dropped down to one knee, appearing to be tired. “I simply have nothing to gain if your employer destroys this entire city. It would be very bad for my line of business.”
“You won't get close to Verskul. You can't even kill me ,” Krevis said as he pressed in with another attack.
Dace's arm swung up from the ground in an arc and he threw a fistful of dirt into Krevis' eyes. The madman cursed aloud as his eyes squeezed shut in irritation, but didn't slow his approach. Angling his body perpendicular to Krevis, Dace caught his opponent by the collar and redirected the madman's charge, driving Krevis' head into the stone wall.
Krevis' skull crashed hard against the surface and he fell sideways into the dirt. Taking advantage of the enemy's stunned state, Dace made two quick swipes and pinned Krevis' sleeves deep into the ground with a pair of daggers.
“You are correct, Krevis. But I will settle for slowing you down.”
Without paying another second of attention to the madman, Dace got to his feet, short sword in hand, and walked away from the scene. He went off to the east, following Derrick's footprints around a corner to–
Dace froze. That wasn't Krevis' voice…
Atamir and several guards stood on both sides of the intersection, each man looking unkempt and quite angry. Dace's finger twitched and he started to gauge his chances against seven trained and fully armed guardsmen.
“You…” Selena whispered, “You're the criminal with the infernus crystal!”
When she mentioned the shard, Dace suddenly became aware that his breast pocket felt a bit lighter than it was before. He touched his tunic and his eyes widened slightly. The Wizard's Box was gone!
The assassin immediately took a step backward and glanced around the corner where Krevis lay. To his utter disappointment, the madman had vanished from the scene as well, leaving two torn shreds of fabric beneath the pair of daggers in the ground.
“Seize him!” The guards raised their weapons and cautiously approached the assassin.
A sneer formed on Dace's lips. They were too close to outrun, too many and too well equipped to outfight. As capable as Dace was, he wasn't stupid enough to throw his life away out of spite. Slowly, hesitantly, Dace lowered his sword arm and tossed his blade to the ground. The officers quickly closed in and checked his pockets, but found nothing of note besides a series of ordinary steel daggers and throwing knives.
“Where are your comrades, the thief and the possessed one? Do they have the crystal?” demanded the elf woman.
“I have nothing to say, the matter is no longer in my hands.” Dace lowered his head slightly, glaring down into her eyes. “If you do not perish, then remember this day. Know that I will not forget this.”
Atamir sighed softly and motioned to his guards. “Get him out of here. Have a local perimeter set up and seal off the entire district. No one gets in or out until we find his fellow crooks.”
As the guards began shackling his wrists, Dace wondered what had happened to Krevis, and if he had taken the infernus crystal. No matter. The guards were taking him to the nearest jail, so he'd be well away from the area if the crystal were to explode.
One of the guards roughly shoved Dace forward into the street as Selena followed along, continuing to interrogate the assassin. Dace barely listened, as his eyes were fixed on the clock tower to the south. This was all just a temporary setback for him. He'd be back on the streets eventually. It wasn't over yet… [ 10:31 ]
* * *
Creeping through the shadowed backalleys, Krevis found himself trapped within the city district. Guards and clerics were patrolling all the main routes out of the region. With their holy magic, the religious robe-runners posed a serious threat to him. Now that Atamir had an idea of what was going on, it would only be a matter of time before they captured Krevis.
The madman sneered to himself and, as he contemplated his next move, a hand seized him by the shoulder.
“Hold there, civilian. Identify yourself.” It was a lone guard, armed but posing no danger.
With a flashing movement from his wrist, Krevis unconcernedly brought his kukri out from his sleeve and lashed out, cleaving the man's throat.
“Don't interrupt my thinking, bug,” Krevis snapped as the guard fell. Then the murderer's eyes fell to the crossbow strapped to the man's belt.
A smile slowly played across Krevis' face as he then looked toward Greyhelm Tower in the north. The hunt wasn't over for him just yet. [ 10:35 ]
* * *
Atamir checked the tracks in the ground, then glanced up at the clock tower in the distance. “The other culprits couldn't have been moving too fast, judging by the distance between their footprints. They should still be in the district, and with the routes blocked, they'll have no choice but to reveal themselves eventually.”
“What do you intend to do now, Captain?” asked Selena.
“As much as I want to find Krevis, I need to head back to the tower and check on the diplomats.”
“Very well, I shall continue the search for the thief who took the silver pendant from us.”
“Yeah, you do that,” Atamir grumbled, waving his hand half-heartedly.
Selena watched as he stormed off, obviously upset over the corrupting changes that he had seen in his former friend. The elf shook her head. The Captain would have to find his peace in his own way. Right now, she had a more pressing duty to follow.
Although she had only examined the pendant briefly, her short divination revealed that the artifact housed some sort of dark energy, like that of a truly black-hearted soul. The cleric quickened her pace and followed the trail of footprints deeper into the maze of alleys. [ 10:39 ]
* * *
Not far away, another elf was making his way through the very same back-routes in search of Derrick as well. Cerdan had seen the wyvern burn up and die, but was left puzzled as to why the guards were now stopping people from leaving the district.
“Derrick, Derrick, Derrick. What have you gotten us into now?” he mumbled as he paused near an intersection to get his bearings. Less than a day ago, Cerdan's biggest concern was that he had forgotten to feed his cat. Now he was risking life and limb for a friend he hadn't spoken to in almost six years.
“One day, I'm going to look back on all this and hate myself. Ah well, it wouldn't be the first time.” Letting out another sigh, the elf picked a random direction, then stepped around a corner.
And he nearly crashed into a familiar white-cloaked cleric. Cerdan and Selena stared at each other in surprise and said nothing for a moment.
“You again!” he suddenly cried, “We just keep on running into each other. What, are you stalking me or something?”
Selena was in less a mood for jokes and stepped back, reaching for her mace, “If you make any moves, I will be forced to harm–”
Cerdan moved, grabbing her by the wrist with one hand and deftly knocking the mace away with his other. “You're a little slow there, miss. Spend much time in sparring rooms?”
The red-haired cleric suddenly brought her knee up, slamming Cerdan in the groin. He crumpled amidst a litany of elvish curses, giving Selena enough time to retrieve her mace and raise it in a defensive posture.
“I'm placing you under arrest for assaulting a representative of Tyr,” she said.
The thief croaked, “This is the thanks I get for saving your life back at the tower?”
“Tell that to the judge. I have a duty to carry out.”
“Wait,” Cerdan raised his hand as he slowly got up on a knee, “there's a liche somewhere in the city. He's planning to destroy all of Baldur's Gate, and I'm trying to help stop him.”
“Why should I believe this nonsense?”
Still partly stunned from the low blow, Cerdan started babbling, “The wyvern was a distraction, so was the summit assassination and Derrick and Myrk's framing yesterday, and–”
“Hold on. This ‘Derrick' person, tell me who he is.” Selena remembered her ordeal back at Derrick's shop, where Krevis had been tearing the place apart.
Regaining his composure, Cerdan managed speak slowly, “Derrick was framed for the murder of Verskul yesterday at that dwarf's tavern. That man I was chasing, back when I hit you with the wooden board? He was involved in a conspiracy to draw everyone's attention away from the real threat…”
“That liche you mentioned…” Selena thought back to the silver pendant, wondering if it could have been a vessel for a liche's infernal soul. She held her mace up over Cerdan's head. “Get up. You will tell me everything you know about this.” [ 10:45 ]
* * *
Derrick hurried through the alleys of the district, searching for Cerdan. Clutched in his hand was the small jewelry box he had stealthily pickpocketed from Dace when the assassin had shoved past to face Krevis.
The ex-thief had only opened it for a brief second, but the stench of brimstone and the sphere of darkness that emanated from within told him plainly enough what lay inside. In all this time, the crystal hadn't exploded, so Derrick assumed the box was being used to nullify the magical effects for the conspirators to transport the infernus crystal safely.
“And that's all I know, miss.”
That sounded like Cerdan's voice. Derrick stopped and listened carefully to the voices nearby.
“So if you really want to save lives, you're going to have to cancel my arrest and let me go.”
“Don't be so sure of that,” said a female voice, “From what you've told me, you wouldn't stand a chance against a liche anyway.”
Grabbing a heavy rock from the ground, Derrick looked around the corner and saw Cerdan standing by a wall, speaking to a red-haired elven woman. The ex-thief stealthily moved forward and raised the rock up high.
Selena saw a shadow move in the corner of her eye and immediately ducked to the side as the stone flew past. The cleric spun around and raised her mace again, expecting to have to fight both men at once.
“Wait, let's all be civil about this!” Cerdan shouted, “Gee. Can't believe I'm being the mature one here.”
“You! You're the thief who stole the silver pendant!” accused Selena.
“What are you doing with her?” Derrick said to Cerdan, paying no heed to the woman's comment.
“Trying to get us some extra firepower. Nothing wrong with having a priestess on our side when we take on the liche.”
“What do you mean, ‘we'?” the cleric asked, “And I'm not a priestess, I'm just a divination cleric.”
“I mean we have to find that liche and stop him right now.”
“Cerdan's right,” Derrick added after a moment of consideration, “One of the conspirators told me that the city is to be destroyed before noon today.”
“That's less than an hour away!” Selena protested, feeling carried away by all this, “And besides, how do you plan to find this liche?”
Both men were quiet for a moment and glanced at each other uncertainly.
“Well,” Derrick said, “Lorelei said he would be using some massive spell that would encompass the entire city. So Verskul will likely need to cast it from some high vantage point, where he can see all of Baldur's Gate.”
“He wouldn't be atop Greyhelm Tower . Arcane spells can't be hand-cast from there.”
“So what, praytell, shall we do now?” asked Cerdan, “We're running out of time.” [ 10:52 ]
* * *
Bryn glanced around the hallway in the tower to make sure no one was watching him, then slipped inside a windowed room and locked the door behind him. It had taken a while to slip away from the clerics and the pages, all questioning him as to who he was and why he was in the area.
Even though they received word that the wyvern was dead, they were ordered to remain inside the building due to some crazed killer wandering the streets. As if I'd ever run into him , thought Bryn as he pushed the window open.
He peeked outside from the second floor and looked down. “Okay, I can do this,” he assured himself, “Just tuck and roll.” He climbed up on the sill, then prepared to jump.
“Hey, you!!” The voice from below startled the child, making him stumble and fall face-first into the soft dirt of the garden below. Spitting and sputtering, and with the sting of impact all over his body, Bryn raised his head slightly to see a person standing before him.
Krevis wore a grin on his pale face that sent a chill through the boy's spine. Even more chilling was the loaded crossbow in the man's hands.
“On your feet, boy. I need a hostage to get out of here, and you'll do just fine.”
Glaring defiantly, Bryn stood and remained silent, not bothering to wipe the dirt from his face.
Krevis tilted his head. The kid wasn't whimpering or crying, not even wetting himself. That tipped the killer off that Bryn might be more trouble than he was worth.
“Oh, hells with it. There's probably a better hostage somewhere inside that tower, anyway. Say good night, kid!” Krevis raised his crossbow and prepared to fire.
A moment later, there was a whoosh from a crossbow bolt and blood on Bryn's face. [ 10:57 ]
* * *
Verskul momentarily paused his chanting as the first part of the spell ritual was completed. A spell powerful enough to rain fiery destruction down upon a whole city took time to complete. Less than an hour later, his mission would finally be at an end.
The Sigil around his neck began to hum softly and the liche could sense a shadowy cloud forming in the sky overhead, drawn by the dark energy he was attracting. Verskul looked out across the city, satisfied that all he saw would soon lie burned and shattered. Yes, at long last, things were coming together… [ 10:59 ]
* * *
Off in the distance, the bells from the clock tower began chiming, signaling the end of yet another hour in this fateful day.
“Somewhere high, somewhere that can be seen from all points of the city…” Derrick whispered to himself. The two elves stared at him expectantly.
With dawning realization, the ex-thief slowly turned and craned his neck toward the city clock tower to the south that overlooked all of Baldur's Gate. “… Somewhere like that .”
Cerdan followed his friend's gaze and squinted at the top of the clock building, “What the – is that a red cloud? It wasn't there before…”
They watched as a dark crimson cloud in the sky was rapidly extending its reach to create a blood-like shadow over the entire city.
Derrick reached into his tunic and took out the silver pendant. The eyes of the flame-winged angel engraving were now glowing warmly like two red embers. He turned to the others with a focused look in his own eyes. “This is it. Things are about to become much worse today.”
[ 11:00 ]
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