By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 59 - Antlered Rest
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, mid-afternoon
As the group has reunited in the misty streets of Berdusk, the weariness seems to finally sink in; the cold, the stench and the pervasive fog dampening all spirit. Everyone seems to be a little on edge. As Matteo caries Immerine into the carriage, the others huddle somewhat together, shivering. Nodding wearily, Portia looks over at Tempest to see if he caught Matteo’s words. Once she’s sure he’s aware of the plan, she follows Matteo to the carriage.
Stress, wounds and numbing shock combine and crash in upon Immerine as she faces Nik in the street above the sewer she just climbed from. This was worse than being encased in the stone keep a couple nights before when she accompanied Matteo to speak to Captain Zaina. Immerine quivers with chill, all body heat sapped from her. All she can think of is the lonely Qwenta on the Tor… “I need Qwenta…” She whispers as darkness finally claims her.
The darkness recedes slightly and gives way to shadows. Words in Rashemi echo through her skull the loudest being ‘Forbidden’. Immerine tosses restlessly in her unconscious state as she feels emptiness and a strange longing take hold of her spirit. Had Khelliara turned her face away? Why did her spells not obey her command? What would the Sisterhood do to her for falling in love with an Outlander, more… what would they do to her for pledging herself to him… even worse he was once and may still be an agent for the Cult?
The darkness reaches for her grabbing her tightly and enfolding her deep in its velvety smooth shadows. “Remember me?” mocks an echoing voice through the wasteland of her unconsciousness. Immerine struggles with the groping shadows, “No!” She screams. “No! Release me! I will not hear you!” She panics and her mind retreats deeper into her psyche.
Looking more unsure and self-conscious than usual, Nik has been watching in silence as Matteo, Portia and Emlyn cluster around Immerine’s prone form. As Matteo lifts Immerine and prepares to take her to the waiting carriage, Nik suddenly scurries over the carriage and clambers in before anyone else can get there. “Just a moment…” He says, and reappears immediately with his precious guitar in one hand and his backpack in the other. Stepping down quickly and moving aside to let the others through, Nik slings his guitar across his back and settles one strap of his backpack over the other shoulder. With a hopeful smile, the bard says “I may as well walk. I’m used to it, after all.” His smile turns sardonic as Nik adds wryly, “I’ve hurt nothing but my pride and ego so far today, and both are rather beyond saving anyway.”
Ditalidas follows Nik to the coach and takes out the papers she had promised to deliver. She sighs deeply. “I guess I’ll do my delivery walking then… why didn’t I pay the fool a hundred…?” Stepping aside to let people pass, the young Lady Jalarghar looks up, a smile hiding the mixed feelings she has. “Glad to see you all save and sound.” Standing next to the carriage and noticing all the activity, Theskul softly addresses Ditalidas, “Milady?” Despite the smell the others have brought up from the sewers, the coachman keeps his expression neutral, as he waits for further instructions from the young lady.
“Take the two priests to the Crystal Mansion Theskul…” Ditalidas replies to the man, “And then take lady Immerine and whomever will accompany her to the Running Stag. When you’re finished, please come and pick me up at Ondraer’s.” Sighing slightly she looks over the assembled companions. Shaking her head she addresses the group, “To solve a small part of the puzzle we find ourselves in, I need to go to Ondraer’s. Nik…” Ditalidas’ eyes try to catch the tall bard’s eyes, “Could you… accompany me? It looks like the others could use a warm bath… and some clean clothes.” She wrinkles her nose at the sight of the muck covered troupe, a glint of humor glistens in her eyes. “We can then meet all again at the Stag.”
Settling herself in the carriage, Portia sighs as the tension seems to flow out of her. Her eyes droop, but she remains awake for now. She uses what little healing she has left on Immerine. Seeing Portia in the carriage, Tempest will follow her. Once inside, after she casts her spell on Immerine, he’ll begin a soft prayer to Kelemvor and cast cure light wounds on Immerine.
Emlyn nods at the tall folk, especially at Tempest taking care of Immerine. “Well, as a matter of fact I’d rather walk than ride anyway,” she shrugs. “Besides,” she adds with a faint smile, “I still have to buy that cloak. If I promise not to go inside or touch anything, I might just get myself one.” The paladin smiles at Emlyn pure admiration in your eyes, “If it would please the Lady Emlyn I would gladly walk alongside you.” Emlyn answers the paladin’s perfect smile with one of her own merry half-smiles. “Sure. While I am not exactly a lady, you are of course welcome to do so. Although I must add…” she chuckles. “…that to any hapless soul we encounter we would be one and a half times as dirty.”
“My father would probably dangle me from my small clothes on the front gate were he to hear me say this, but I feel nobility comes more from action as well as birthright.” The paladin says to the halfling woman with a small smile. “Nobility can be bred, but it is most astounding when it comes out on it’s own in those it is least expected from. It is a rare treat and treasure when it is found.” Emlyn grins at the first remark and slowly shakes her head in remembrance. “There would be many a noble in Calimshan who would agree with your father, but they would rather dangle people from their ears than anything else.”
“Aye that’s true,” Emlyn responds to the paladin’s last remark, “Although I see myself more as someone who can bring that to the surface in other people rather than being one.”
Looking at the mist that envelops the streets and obscures their surroundings, Matteo nods his head and absently scratches his ribs. “Sounds like a good idea. I’ll drop the Captain a note informing her that Portia has returned, but will then have to go my townhouse as that is where all my clean clothing is. Still, it isn’t too far off the way back to the Stag so I should be there by the time the rest of you are finishing your baths.” Pausing for a moment as his eyes flicker over the group, he looks at Jez. “If you don’t mind Master Wisp, I am going to ask that you walk as well. You are familiar with the city and can ensure that any others walking don’t take a wrong turn in this fog.”
“I’m soaked in cold sewage and you ask me to walk to the Stag in this chilled fog.” The shivering young half-elf replies. “No thank you. As for a guide through the fog, Berdusk looks and feels all the same in this weather.” He begins to rub his hands together using the friction to generate some warmth. “I’ll ride with Immerine and the others to the Mansion. I have a need to speak to a certain odd old crone on something of a personal nature.”
“Do as you wish then, Master Wisp, but do not expect others to put themselves out for you either,” Matteo replies coolly, turning his back on the young half-elf. “Like they would?” Jez rebuts as he moves towards the carriage. He readies himself to climb the carriage and sit next to the driver. “I’ll be more careful of nets.” Looking about and seeing Marc, Matteo steps towards him, laying a hand upon his shoulder. “Marc,” he says kindly, warmth entering his voice, “I know that you probably wish to accompany the lady Jalarghar about town, but can I ask you to ride back in the carriage and keep an eye on the lady Immerine? Someone will have to see that she is looked after at the Stag before the rest of us get back.”
Nik stands slightly away from the others, narrow shoulders hunched against the damp, watching nervously as his companions discuss their next moves. The tall bard flinches as Ditalidas invites him along on her errand, and for a moment the fear is back in his dull eyes. But he offers her the ghost of a gallant smile and bows slightly, saying “Of course I will come with you, milady. While I may not be as brave or adept as those who rescued the missing priestess, I certainly smell better at this exact moment.” Nik smiles crookedly, his eyes not filled with fear – for a change – but instead alight with his wry, sardonic sense of humor. “Anyway, it’s the least I can do, considering that if I had paid more attention in class years ago we wouldn’t be running this little errand, now would we?”
Nik steps to Ditalidas’ side; standing to her left so she is at his off-hand should he need to draw his sword. Leaning slightly towards her, he adds in a low whisper “You’ll have to lead the way back to the Stag, I’m afraid. I was a bit… pre-occupied… on our ride here, and I haven’t the faintest notion of where we are.” He winks at her, the crooked grin back on his haggard face. “I’m not known for my sense of direction, either.” Ditalidas smiles at Nik, a warm and friendly smile. “Don’t worry, I know the way. And Theskul will be picking us up at Ondraer’s when he has dropped off the others at the Stag.”
The tall bard seems reassured by the warmth in Ditalidas’ smile. Most of the apprehension leaves his shadowed eyes and he straightens up to his full, impressive height; squaring his narrow shoulders and looking confident and nearly at ease. Nik glances back at the carriage, concern in his craggy face, then sighs and offers Ditalidas a cheerful smile, saying “Well, then, shall we be off? The sooner we can finish this little errand the sooner we can get the translation from the priests, yes?”
Nik seems to have recovered some measure of control, but Ditalidas can tell that the insecurity and self-loathing lurks just beneath the man’s poised appearance – like some great beast in the forest just waiting for the right moment to leap out and shred the mask of confidence and good-humor. Nik is obviously trying very hard to be a good companion but there is brittleness to his cheer, fragility to his confidence that betrays the fact that the man has not dealt with the days events, he has only slapped a rough bandage on psychic wounds that still bleed.
Theskul takes the carriage with an unconscious Immerine under the care of Portia and Tempest to the Crystal Mansion where the two priests get off to report back to Sillisten, accompanied by Jezbodiah. As soon as Portia, Tempest and Jezbodiah enter the Crystal Mansion, acolytes usher them into the temple’s sanctum. Opportunities for bathing are offered, and when the three emerge refreshed and clean, all wearing simple robes of the Kelemvorite clergy they are welcomed in Lord Sillisten’s study. All three have to endure the scrutiny of the elderly priest as one by one he examines his charges and guest. Quite dead-pan he informs the half-elven rogue in his husky parchment-like voice about the disease the young man has contracted in the sewers. Admonishing Jezbodiah with the words that he has to watch out in those filthy surroundings, the priest uses the gifts of the Lord of the Dead to remove the illness from the half-elf’s system.
Only then does the man return to his seat and proceeds to listen to the tale the three have to tell. Lines of anger forming on the man’s bald pate beneath the silver circlet, as the picture of the events becomes clearer and clearer with the details the three provide. Though there has been no clear evidence of Velsharan involvement, the Death’s Hand of Kelemvor is sure they are involved. The vision he had when scrying for Portia’s location, the recovery of a representation of Velsharoon’s symbol and the piece of paper describing a ritual to create bracers of unholy blight convince the priest. When Portia asks about the gemstone the group originally found, Lord Sillisten cannot help them out, not without a better description of the gem or the actual gem itself – last in possession of Portia before her abduction. Then Portia remembers the small stone she recovered from her captor’s body, and she pulls out the leather string with the small, flat stone attached.
The high priest studies the item for a moment, bent over the little stone as it lies in front of him on the desk. When Jezbodiah is almost ready to give voice to his impatience, the man looks up at the three. “…A fortunate find. My dear…” He addresses Portia, “This small innocuous item is a ward token.” At the blank faces the three people across form him display, Lord Sillisten explains a little more, “It allows you to pass the wards set by the item’s creator. No doubt there are some lethal traps in or near that warehouse you spoke about. Those working there would most likely posses such an item… and if not for the warehouse, it is probably designed for the wards that protect their nefarious lair, wherever that might be.”
Letting the information sink in, the elderly priest leans back in his chair, folding his hands into the sleeves of his ash-gray robes. “When you are ready Tempest, Portia… I would like you to continue the investigation into this matter.” Focusing his grayish eyes on the half-elf, the priest continues, “Of course you are free to choose to accompany them…” The rest of the sentence trails away into silence as the Death’s Hand of Kelemvor let’s these words sink in. Leaning forward in her chair, Portia politely requests her superior if she can be re-equipped. Scribbling down the young priestess’s needs, the High Priest promises her to arrange as much as he can.
Suddenly a voice familiar to Jez sounds from the back of the room, “Ah there you are, just as I expected.” The old crone from yesterday walks towards the table, heading straight for Jez. “And did you deliver your message young man?” The High Priest leans back in his chair; a slight amused expression on his face at the half-elf’s startled expression, as well as the visible confusion on the faces of Portia and Tempest. Looking from Jezbodiah to the two junior priests of Kelemvor, the old woman’s lips purse and eyebrows crease together. “Hmm, I guess you did. Young Portia seems safe and sound enough again.” Placing her hands on her hips, the crone faces Jezbodiah once more. “Good, then it is time for you to take leave of your friends here. There is someone else waiting for you, and I see you need some help in finding her.”
Curious expressions on their faces, Tempest and Portia look at each other, and then at the High Priest. Lord Sillisten merely shrugs his shoulders, a small grin still on his face as a puzzled Jezbodiah follows the old woman outside. With no further explanation from their superior, the two priests take their leave and retreat to their cells upstairs. Tomorrow will bring more answers…
Taking leave of the others and giving the last minute instructions to Theskul, Ditalidas sets of for Gollahaer, accompanied by the tall bard and his invisible companion. Stepping briskly through the misty streets, it doesn’t take long before they reach the Handspan Bridge. Crossing the cold waters of the Sulduskoon, the trio find themselves on Gollahaer and soon at the door to Ondraeas’ shop. The inside of the shop smells a little dusty and dry, mixed with the vapors of glue and cured leather. Shelves upon shelves of scrolls, bound volumes, small and large tomes line the walls of the shop. It takes a while before someone takes notice of Ditalidas and Nik – Puddy helping subtly – for a faerie that is – to keep Nik from borrowing an interesting looking scroll – but eventually they can deliver the documents from Twilight Hall. Without further business at the shop, the trio waits for Theskul. When the carriage arrives, it is only a short ride to the Running Stag where Nik and Puddy take their leave.
Ditalidas continues to the Inner Chamber of Denier, during the ride her mind wandering once more over the events of the last days trying to puzzle out the significance to her, her family and her friends. Theskul almost startles her when he informs his mistress that they have arrived at Twilight Hall. Once more entering the grounds of the temple and into the building, Ditalidas looks around for the priest who would do the translation. She doesn’t see the man; however a familiar elf once more approaches. After politely spending some time with her rescuer, she asks if he can show her to the priest. Inclining his head, Druth motions her to follow him, and for the first time the young woman enters deeper into the sanctum of the Lord of Glyphs.
Almost every surface, from wall to floor to ceiling seems decorated with glyphs, symbols and other exotic lettering. The sun elf leads her into a small room, where behind a desk a priest looks up from his work. “Ah, young lady Jalarghar… Thank you for delivering the documents.” Picking up a scroll from his desk, the priest steps from behind it and approaches the pair. “An interesting little poem you and your friends have discovered. I have translated it for you onto this scroll.” He hands the rolled and bound document to Ditalidas, who thanks the man and then lets Druth escort her to the carriage. Once more taking leave of the elf, she instructs Theskul to take her home. Feeling more tired then she realized, she decides to send a message to her friends at the Stag that she will join them after breakfast. Though curious to what the priest meant with ‘an interesting little poem’, Ditalidas leaves the scroll unopened, it can wait until tomorrow.
Matteo, Emlyn and Telsom walk through the foggy streets of Berdusk back to the Running Stag. The exercise keeping them a little warm, though the cold of the mist makes them huddle in their wet clothing. Agreeing to meet again in the morning at the Stag, Matteo leaves for his townhouse, while Emlyn and Telsom continue the last leg to the Stag. Keeping a brisk pace, despite the nagging old wound in his leg, Matteo makes his way across town to his townhouse. After taking a relaxing and soothing bath, the Sembian dons some clean clothes. Pouring himself a drink from the small liquor cabinet, he seats himself behind his desk and pens a brief missive for Zaina. The thoughts of the blond woman mixing with the concern for the Rashemi witch. Taking another drink in an attempt to clear his mind, Matteo seals the letter and leaves for the castle.
Despite his earlier intentions to meet the captain in person, Matteo at the last moment decides to hand the message to the guard on duty and heads back into town. A visit to the smiths near Amberside and then off to Alamather’s by the Water for a new rapier. After finally selecting a weapon that meets his Sembian standards, Matteo realizes more time has passed then he realizes. The mist hid most of the passing of the day and when he steps outside, dusk has progressed close towards the darkness of the early evening. The prospect of a quiet night in bed seems very appealing and Matteo quickly makes his way back home.
Having seen Portia, Tempest and Jezbodiah off, the carriage continues to the Stag where Marc and Theskul carry Immerine inside. Mumadar arranges for hot baths and soon Immerine is asleep in a warm bed. Marc and friend occupy a corner in the common room while waiting for the others to arrive. Basking in the worried attention he receives from the Elisa, and telling her about his exploits of the day. Friend, ignoring all lies curled up at the young man’s feet.
When they make their appearance at the inn, Emlyn and Telsom receive a warm bath from the Inn’s staff as well. The hin-woman treating the paladin’s wounds and finding new strength in her faith while curing the wounds the young Silvaeren received in the sewers. Soon after, the two join Marc downstairs in the warm forest-like environment of the Stag for a meal and a drink. While going over the things that have taken place today, the three pair of ears pick up snatches of rumors about trouble in Cormyr, about a war within the Zhentarim and Manshoon gone crazy; angry mutters about Waterdeep and the lords, more specifically Khelben the Blackstaff. Since trade is in the blood of almost every Berduskan, there is worried speculation about the fate of Amn, where a monstrous army still seems to be in control, and the recent arrival of a small caravan, which had been beset by well organized brigands. More rumors about another more mysterious caravan. It seems to have originated in Amn. Yet the vague details know about it enhance the mystery and rumors apparently and seem to hint at Zhentarim or Cyricists involvement.
It is not too long before Nik arrives at the Stag as well. Most of the haggardness of the day seems to have gone, but there is still the haunted look in his eyes. Shifting restlessly on his seat, the tall bard spends a little time with the others, before retreating to his room with a bottle, muttering something about a ring. Puddy, growing bored with the bard’s moroseness alights from the man’s shoulder and finds a comfortable perch in the boughs of the common room’s trees. Discovering another faerie, Pudruelantreda finds himself in good prank- and drinking company.
In the solitude of his room, the tall bard hunches over the ring and the piece of cord Ditalidas found on the undead. Time seems to pass unnoticed when finally with a mixture of exhaustion and elation Nik discovers the nature of the items. The ring is Cormyrian and issued to the purple dragons or Cormyrian nobles; a Purple Dragon Ring, it allows the wearer to detect poison by touching the ring to an object or even a creature. Aside from that, it allows the wearer also to create light. Interestingly the other item’s origin is a different corner of Toril; Calimshan. The cord, an agal, is typically used to keep those southern headdresses in place. This version is imbued with a power to cause a bright light to burst forth and dazzle a creature in front of the wearer. Satisfied with his discoveries and tired by the effort, the bard prepares for the night and soon falls into a dreamless, restful sleep.
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