By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 49 - Dying for Answers
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, mid-morning
As Matteo and Telsom leave the Running Stag, they are greeted by a the same cold drizzle that has been falling all morning long, and judging by the gray and solid overcast sky will remain for most of the day. From what is visible from the inn’s courtyard, there are only a few townsfolk about on the streets, a little more than earlier, but the streets seem certainly not as crowded as they normally would be. The atmosphere outside is in stark contrast with the one within after Nik’s performance.
Across the courtyard a portly woman in a long overcoat is hitching a horse in front of a small carriage. Upon seeing the two men exit the building and looking at the weather, she hollers, “Do you gentlemen need a ride? A silver will get you anywhere in town.“
Tugging his jacket closer around his shoulders Matteo shivers and glances up at the leaden sky, raising his collar to provide a little added protection. “Would you mind?“ He asks Telsom, “I managed to hurt my leg yesterday and it’s still a little stiff. Besides, I’ll pay.“
“Not in the least, come, let us be off to seek your missing friend.“ With that Telsom starts off toward the woman, a warm smile on his face the paladin gives the woman a small wave in greeting. The woman greets the handsome paladin back, tipping the fingers of her hand lightly against the hood of her overcoat. “Mighty fine day ain’t it?“ She says with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “I sure hope the Storm Lord has business elsewhere soon. Don’t like this wet stuff at all.“ When the two men are seated, the woman climbs up the box. Turning around and leaning precariously over the edge of the chariot she looks at Telsom and Matteo. “Where to Saers?“
“The Crystal Mansion, if you don’t mind.“ Matteo replies, settling himself into his seat and wrapping his arms around himself for warmth. After a moment he rubs his hands together and blows upon them for warmth. “You know…“ He says to Telsom, his soft native drawl creeping back into his voice, “There are times every now and then that I wish I was back in Sembia. At least the winter’s aren’t so cold.”
“Perhaps not the winters, but I’ve heard that a large portion of populace has hearts to match the winters of the northlands.“ Staring up into the sky letting the rain soak his face as he takes his seat, Telsom continues. “I care little for rumors however and prefer to make my own observations.“
Matteo gives a wry smile at Telsom’s description of his homeland, though the amusement does not reach to his eyes. “Some rumors are based on truth, you know.“ He replies, “Though I suppose it depends on whether you characterize greed, jealousy, and a lust for coin and power as cold or hot emotions.“ Glancing out the window at the slick gray stone of the streets he adds quietly, “Certainly sentiments such as mercy, compassion, and love have little few followers.“
Telsom continues to look up into the falling rain, his eyes closing as he lets the cold water run down his face. “Sembia isn’t alone in its lack of caring people. Wherever you look there is bound to be people who care more about wealth than life, and dreams.“
The ride to the Crystal Mansion is a short one, there is not much traffic on the roads, and the driver is able to make good time. The rattling of the wheels and the sound of the hooves on the wet cobblestones is enough to make the people get out of the way. The carriage comes to a halt in front of a large mansion. From the outside the building does not appear to be a temple to the god of the dead. Except for the drapes with Kelemvor’s symbol hanging left and right from the main entrance, there is little to indicate the true nature of the building. The temple is actually a converted mansion, and one of the newest temples of Berdusk. Four steps lead up to the double doors that make up the temple’s main entrance. The shutters on most of the large windows are wide open, and a large, newly constructed circular glass-in-lead window.
“Here you are gentlesirs.“ The driver announces, “The Crystal Mansion. Do I you require any further services?“
“If you don’t mind waiting, we shouldn’t be too long and could use a ride to the guard barracks.“ Matteo replies, looking up at the driver while descending from the carriage and making way for Telsom to get out. Reaching into his pocket he hands the woman a gold coin.
Telsom gives the woman a polite smile and then moves to leave the wagon, waiting for Matteo before moving up the stairs leading to the building. “Thank you Saer.“ The driver replies, “I’ll be here waiting until yours business is finished inside. You just hired me for the day if needs be.“
The door opens, and a young man, about Marc’s age greets Matteo and Telsom, bowing his head politely. “Greetings Saers, how can the Temple be of service to you?“
“Lovely day for it.“ Matteo murmurs, eyeing the temple of the god of the dead. Shaking his head slightly he turns to the young man. “Lord Ashgale to see Lord Sillisten. I believe he is expecting us.“ Telsom brushes a hand through his soaked hair as he waits for the boy to lead them to Lord Sillisten.
“Please follow me.“ The young man turns and leads the way up the steps and through the double doors. He waits for Matteo and Telsom to enter and then closes the door behind them. Through the door, Matteo and Telsom arrive into the main hall of the temple. The old decorations of the former occupants of the mansion are still about, yet have subtly been transferred into symbols of passing into the afterlife or other items associated with the clergy of Kelemvor. The young acolyte had been working behind an oak desk, an open ledger and a quill in an inkpot hinting at the young man’s duties.
“This way please.“ The young acolyte leads Matteo and Telsom across a blue-veined marble floor to the mansion’s inner sanctum. There in front of the altar, they see an elderly man, a silver circlet adorning his head, which is otherwise devoid of hair. The man’s ash-gray robes flow fluidly over the man’s thin frame. The altar is an impressive slab of pitch-black granite. From the surface of the granite, a crystalline skeletal arm rises, holding a golden balance. The whole room, devoid of any other decorations breathes an atmosphere of serene solitude and tranquility.
Motioning the two visitors to remain in the doorway, the young acolyte steps a few feet into the room, folds his hands and lowers his head in respectful obedience. In a soft voice, just above a whisper, the young man addresses his superior. “Milord, I have two visitors here who would like to discuss some matters of importance with you. A Lord Ashgale and companion.“ At first, it seems the old man hasn’t heard the acolyte. For several heartbeats he remains standing in front of the altar. Then slowly he turns around, politely nodding his head towards the young acolyte. The young man turns around and walks back to Matteo and Telsom. With a polite gesture, he invites the two to step into the room, before departing.
“Welcome to the Crystal Mansion, gentlemen.“ The elderly priest says in dry husky voice, “How can I be of service to you?“ The front of the man’s robes displays a golden embroidered version of the symbol of the Lord of the Dead. Just inside the man’s sleeves parts of a tattoo are visible on both arms.
Glancing about the room as he enters Matteo stops and gives a slight bow, more just an inclination of the head, and asks, “Lord Sillisten?“ while reaching into his jacket for a folded slip of paper. Gesturing a hand towards Telsom he says, “This is my companion, Telsom of Sune. We have come to enquire about your divinations into the whereabouts of the lady Portia Coldspring and her abductors.“ Handing over the note delivered by Jez the previous night he adds, “We were hoping you might have some information to share.“
Telsom nods to the high priest, his hand moving into the pouch at his side he fingers the symbol of Velsharoon, but keeps it hidden from sight for the moment.
“Ah yes. Saer Ashgale. Welcome. And you too of course, Saer Telsom.“ The elderly priest says. “Yes, yes… Portia. Dear girl… I have not been able to find her through means available to me.“ The man’s forehead crinkles as he frowns in thought. “All that my Lord has revealed to me is mixed pictures of some dark tunnel-like environment with swirling purplish mists.“
The High Priest folds his hands behind his back as he starts pacing back and forth in the room, mumbling to himself. “It is as if something, or rather someone is blocking my attempts.“ The man shakes his head and paces some more, making a half circle around his two guests. When he is almost past the two men, he suddenly straightens and wags a finger in the direction of Telsom and exclaims: “Oh yes… oh yes! The skulls, I should tell you about the skulls… They are flying in the mist, grinning in mockery of my attempts. One of them wearing some sort of crown…“
Matteo raises a single eyebrow at the priest’s words and gives a quick questioning sideways glance at Telsom. “My lord. These tunnels, were they at all familiar? Might they have been the sewers under the city? Can you think of any organization or religion that uses the color purple in their representations or symbols, one that might also have a connection with skulls, death, or undeath?“
Telsom’s eyes narrow at the priest’s words, pulling the symbol of Velsharoon from his pouch he holds if facing up in his open palm. “The crowned head of a lich. The symbol of Velsharoon, I’m somehow not surprised by this revelation.“ the paladin says. Telsom’s voice is friendly but suspicion is evident in his eyes.
The old man’s eyes briefly widen in surprise at the piece of metal displaying the skull of the Lich Lord. Furrowing his brows and narrowing his eyes, his gaze darts to and fro between the item in Telsom’s hand and Telsom’s face. After a long silence, he finally speaks, though his voice is barely above a whisper and contains controlled anger. “The Vaunted might indeed be behind this. Portia came here with a group from Baldur’s Gate, initially to track down one of the Necromancer’s cursed followers.“ Lord Sillisten almost spits out those last words.
“Yet I wouldn’t rule out involvement of our neighbors in the Sunset Mountains. The Prince of Lies uses a grinning skull too, and his favorite color seems to be purple. The obscuring mist does fit him and his upstart Strifelords as well.“ Absentmindedly the venerable priest is rubbing his left arm under the sleeves of his robe. “The sewers of Berdusk… hmm… could be, but they could also be caves in the Reaching Woods, or even further in the Trielta Hills or the Reaching Mountains.“ The High Priest has started pacing through the room, all the while rubbing his arm.
After another long silence in which he paces about, circling Matteo and Telsom once more, when suddenly he stops in front of Matteo and stares in the Sembian’s eyes. “They might even be the dungeons of Darkhold!“ Still staring in Matteo’s eyes the priest’s eyes narrow as he says, “There is an organization that favors purple… they even refer to themselves using that color.“ Almost too quick for a man his age he snaps his head around and stares Telsom in the eyes, slowly walking up to the paladin. He opens up his hand in a request for the metal item with Velsharoon’s symbol.
The priest picks the item up from Telsom’s hand with a thumb and index finger. Turning the item this way and that the priest regards it carefully, “That organization employs heretics of the Dark Sun as well as The Necromancer’s…“
“Only the leaders of the Cult are referred to as Wearer’s of the Purple.“ Matteo replies in an almost absentminded manner. A slight frown mars the smooth skin of his forehead and his eyes cloud over in thought. “So it could be the followers of Velsharoon or those of Cyric? And they could be acting alone or in concert with either the Zhentarim or the Cult? Portia could be anywhere between here in the city and Darkhold?“
Glancing towards Lord Sillisten he adds, “Whoever is involved appears to be raising the dead from the Fields of the Dead. Bodies we encountered yesterday wore clothing and equipment of the correct style and era to match the battles that took place between the failing Shoon Empire and the Cormyrian armies. Might that mean anything? Are any of these group or organizations particularly strong in that region?“
Pursing his lips, Matteo looks over the other two, his mind still turning things over. After a moment he asks, “You both probably know more of the gods than I, what might these groups have to do with slavery? We found the body of a Tethyrian Janessary yesterday at a place that whoever is involved had been using. Is there a link there, or was he simply in the wrong place at the wrong time…“
The High Priest’s brows rise in question at Matteo’s mention of the dead Janessary. “Ilmater’s warriors, this far north… ? Strange… The only possible connection I can think of right away is slavery. The Cult of the Dragon is not really known to use slaves, though they deal in any commodity that might earn them a good profit. Though maybe he is just one more random victim to fall prey to the Necromancer’s cronies.“
Again focusing his attention on the button with Kelemvor’s symbol, Lord Sillisten turns the item over and over between his fingers. “If I had some closer link to these villains, I might be able to penetrate the barrier they have erected. One of their animated corpses might do. Their unholy magic leaves residual traces that I could use to identify the magic’s origin. Hmmm…“
“Unfortunately we burned all the corpses we found at the farmhouse.“ Matteo replies. “There are the buried bodies of those that attacked the Lady Jalarghar.“ He adds. “Perhaps you could send someone to recover one of those.“ Taking his eyes of the metal button, Lord Sillisten regards Matteo, a thoughtful expression on the elderly priest’s face. “I will send some people to look into those corpses. Can you describe where these corpses are, or is there someone who could lead my priests there?“
“You could ask for Lieutenant Aluar within the town guard.“ Matteo replies, meeting Lord Sillisten’s eyes. “He and his men were responsible for their burial.“
“Initially I had planned to keep the Temple’s involvement on a low profile, but things have changed.“ Folding his hands behind his back, the High Priest walks towards the altar. “To aid you in your endeavors, especially now that you might be facing the followers of the Vaunted One, I would like to send one of my priests with you.“ Lord Sillisten pulls a small silver bell from somewhere in his robes. Whispering a few words, he shakes the tiny bell, yet no sound can be heard.
On the second floor of the Crystal Mansion, a young and powerfully built half-orc is distracted from his studies when he hears his mentor’s voice in his head. Lord Sillisten is bidding him to come downstairs to the Temple’s inner sanctum. Fully equipped. Closing the prayer book reverently, Tempest gathers the equipment he had prepared yesterday. ‘Could this be the mission Lord Sillisten said he would assign him?’ Eagerly Tempest makes his way downstairs, only to catch himself just before he’s about to enter the inner sanctum. Composing himself with the dignity he can muster, Tempest enters the room.
Inside the room, he sees, besides the High Priest, two other men. Both humans, they appear still young, though older than Tempest would be. Both are also taller then himself, though with some manner of pride, Tempest notices that he is much more muscular then the other two. The man closest to Tempest is a lithely build young man, who carries himself with an air of one who moves naturally in the social upper classes. He is dressed in dark subdued clothing, and his dark hair frames a fair skinned face that holds an impassive expression.
The other human, slightly taller than the first, is wearing an impressive suit of banded mail. Wearing no helmet, the man’s face strikes Tempest as very good-looking; as far as humans go that is. The fellow has deep gray eyes and a ready smile under a short mop of blond hair.
A few moments after the soundless ringing of the little bell, footsteps in the hall announce someone walking towards the altar room. Emerging from the doorway is a priest resembling a human in most ways, but having some distinguishable orc traits as well. His broad shoulders carry a shirt of fine chain links. He is dressed in black trousers and boots, and wears a chain shirt over the wide torso. A symbol of Kelemvor is hanging from a cord around his neck.
“Ah, there you are.“ Lord Sillisten says, a gentle smile on his face. “Gentlemen, this is Tempest, one of the stalwart members of the Crystal Mansion. Tempest, these Lord Ashgale and saer Telsom.“ The High Priest first gestures to the man in gray, then to the man in the suit of armor. “These fine men and their companions were working with Portia to investigate certain disturbances in the area. Disturbances where the Necromancer’s hand is suspected to be involved in.“
“Lord Sillisten, what can I do to help you and our Lord, Kelemvor?“ The man asks as he enters the room. He bows to the priest and then nods to the newcomers.
The elderly priest walks up to Tempest and lays a hand on the man’s shoulder. Looks him in the eyes, the High Priest says, “Be vigilant in your quest my friend. The followers of the Vaunted One are not to be trusted. I hope you and the others will be able to rescue Portia from the clutches of her kidnappers.“ The priest turns around looking at Telsom and Matteo again, “If you allow me a little time, I will provide you with a few items to aid you against the Necromancer’s henchmen.“ With that the priest moves down the hall with the grace of a man younger than his years would suggest.
Matteo’s eyes follow the aged man as he departs for a moment before flicking back towards the half-orc. Shifting his weight upon his feet he silently regards the man, his face expressionless, waiting for him to speak if he wishes to.
Taking in all that his superior has instructed, he bows his head and says, “I will not fail you, Kelemvor, and especially Portia.“ He replies. “I am Tempest.“ The half orc says to the strangers. “Well met, and may Kelemvor embrace you in your old age.“ Tempest says to the strangers with his usual ‘blessing’. “Well met, Lord Ashgale.“ He says, extending his hand to the man.
Matteo accepts the offered hand, “Well met Tempest.“ Though politely greeting the priest, Matteo seems to be elsewhere in thought.
Having exchanged greetings with Lord Ashgale, Tempest turns to Telsom, doing the same and saying with a nod of his head, “Well met, Saer Telsom, I am honored to meet you both.“
Having remained quiet until this point, Telsom looks the half orc in the eyes and gives him a friendly smile. “Well met.“ The paladin replies while shaking the priest of Kelemvor’s hand. “Portia will be returned and the culprits behind her kidnapping will be punished.“ “My thanks, and I agree!“ Tempest says with a toothy smile.
After a short while, Lord Sillisten returns, carrying several scrolls in his arms. He enters the room and proceeds towards the altar, depositing the contents of his armload on the black granite altar. “Let’s see what have we here…“ The man mumbles, rummaging through the papers. “Ah yes…“ He exclaims, picking up two scrolls. Both adorned with the symbol of Lord of the Dead at the top of the page. Handing the scrolls to Tempest he says, “These will ward one person against the un-living creatures. It shields the recipient from their senses.“
Turning back to the altar he picks up the next scroll. Giving it a cursory glance he picks up another. “This scroll will help any archer in dark or obscured circumstances. Use this at a distance, preferably at a close group of opponents. They will be outlined in a pale glow, making them easier to spot and hit. The second scroll enables you to create an area of silence, it can also be used at a distance.“
Once more the elderly priest turns to the altar, rummaging through a couple of scrolls, discarding a few to the floor while muttering something unintelligible. “This one will do.“ He says at last. “This will boost a person’s health and combat prowess for a short period. This scroll and the previous one are especially useful against the Vaunted One’s unholy priests.“ The fourth scroll he hands to Tempest also has Kelemvor’s symbol drawn at the top of the page.
He looks back at the pile of scrolls on the altar and the floor, “Hmmm… I think that’s all the useful ones I have for you right now…“ The man scratches his head. The furrowing of his brows in thought causes the skin on his head to crinkle. “I almost forgot!“ Reaching into the folds of his robe the man pulls forth a long strip of leather. He hands it over to Tempest. Reaching once more into the folds his hand emerges a second time holding two vials. “These will be useful whenever one of you gets hurt. Swallow this and it will restore vitality and heal some of your wounds.“
The half orc bows to Lord Sillisten and the proceeds to carefully pack up the new items into his backpack. “We will find Portia and return her safely, lord.“ He says with a nod after he finishes storing the items for travel. “I am ready to go, may Kelemvor smile on you in your old age.“ He smiles as he clasps the priest’s hand and then waits for the other two to leave.
Seeming to come out of his reverie, Matteo nods briefly towards Lord Sillisten. “Thank you for your assistance, my lord.” Taking a step backwards he glances at Telsom and then Tempest. “Time to leave? The carriage is still outside. I have to take a quick trip to see the Captain and you are welcome to come along or, if you would prefer, I can provide some funds and you can purchase any equipment or supplies that you might need before returning to the Stag.”
“Aye let us be off.” Telsom says in reply to Matteo. “I think I will accompany you on your errands my friend.” Turning to Lord Sillisten, Telsom nods to the older man. “If Portia can be rescued, then rest assured that she will be, if not… then someone will pay.” Seeing the two friends ready to rescue his fellow priest, Tempest says with a nod to Matteo, “I will join you, m’lord!” A smile crosses his face as the thought of adventure crosses his mind.
“May Fate be on your side, and may the Judge of the Damned protect you from the Necromancer’s fiends.” Nodding his head gravely while solemnly intoning the words, Lord Sillisten moves back to the altar where he starts to retrieve the scattered scrolls. Matteo, Tempest and Telsom take their leave and climb in the waiting carriage outside. After Matteo orders the driver to take them to the High Lady’s castle, she slaps the reigns and the horse brings the carriage in motion. Paralleling the Amberside market, the carriage rattles across the cobblestones up the slope to Steelsword Street and up towards the castle.
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