Campaign Logs

Twilight Dawn

By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff

Chapter 66 - A Tale to Tell

Berdusk 1371 DR, Eleint, 11th day (Penultimate Thunder: Hoar), mid-morning

The hin-woman, despite her short legs, darts quickly out of the warehouse ahead of any followers, and into the alley. Behind her, Emlyn hears the clattering of hooves coming nearer, but a glance over her shoulder reveals nothing. The garbage littered alley reveals no trace of how Marc and Jez have scaled the wall. Ahead she sees the end of the alley, where it splits to the left and right, probably to where Immerine and Ditalidas have found an entrance.

Emlyn speeds through the alley, looking to the left and right, preparing to take anything that leads to the roof. “Oh, come on, you can’t have flown up there!” Aside from the frustrated comment, she says nothing, listening intently instead, half and half expecting to hear Jez crash to the ground as well in her anxiety.

The sound of horses approaching gets clearer and clearer, and the horsemen seem to be riding for the warehouse. The riders appear uniformed and armed as they halt in the street and dismount, disappearing from the hin’s small view from within the alley.

Even as the horsemen dismount, the fight up on the roof continues with the wounded lizard-like creature advancing again on the leather-clad warrior. Wings flapping to maintain balance as it ambles over, the things wing claws extend and reach for the parrying fighter.

Badly injured Teryn continues to fight, but more defensively now, attacking with only one sword, using the other to ward off blows from the creature. The pair are almost embraced in a deadly dance as sword and claw strive to find an opening. Animalistic instinct versus warrior training, the fight seems to favor warrior on technique, but the creature seems to be very resilient, almost absorbing the blows it receives.

Sweat pours over the young fighter’s face as the wound in his shoulder hampers him and the realization of mortal danger hits home. If somehow the crossbow wielding figure on a nearby roof could help in fast wounding the beast, he might survive. For the longer the battle the worse his changes for survival. Even as these thoughts register in the man’s head, one of the wing-claws darts in under the parrying sword, opening up an ugly gash in the warrior’s side.

The sound of horses approaching gets clearer and clearer. Soon Tarim, from his elevated position, has a brief view of a troop of horsemen in uniform ride through the streets in the direction of the warehouse. With an effort the young Uthgardt tears his eyes away from the street and back to the fighting on the other roof.

As the creature’s wing darts around the warrior, Tarim sees an opening to fire his crossbow. The greenish, almost translucent darkenbeast has positioned itself between the business-end of the sorcerer’s crossbow and the leather-clad warrior. Not willing to waste the moment, Tarim’s finger depresses the trigger and with a twang the bolt speeds of across the rooftops and the street.

Screeching in pain, the creature rears up as a crossbow bolt slams into it’s back, the point protruding on the other side. Teryn quickly grabs the opportunity as the thing leaves itself open to an attack, and the warrior’s sword dart’s in stabbing it clear through the heart. A last wailing screech issues forth from the thing’s maw, transforming into the dying squeak of a rat as the magical creature reverts to its original form.

On the other roof, Kevin’s emotions run from relief to amazement as first his familiar alights on his shoulder – the winged cat purring satisfactory – and as secondly the sudden magical transformation takes place at the end of the warrior’s sword… Then further consternation as behind his friend on the other roof a figure appears…

Kevin’s feeling of success is only heightened as he feels Kethron alighting on his shoulder. The tressym’s sides are heaving from the hurried flight from the temple where Kevin had last been. A wing wraps around Kevin’s neck, and Kethron rubs his head against Kevin’s cheek with a tremendous purr.

Kevin sent his love and relief to his familiar over their bond. “Figures you’d show up after it was all over. Just hiding, were you?” The winged cat nipping the point of his master’s ear in response.

Then, with far less grace than Teryn had done, Kevin jumps the gap between buildings – one hand steadying Kethron – and hurries over to the fallen warrior. “Are you going to be alright…” he asks him, “…or do you need immediate assistance?” He looks over at the hole in the roof. “I have a pair of healing potions, but I’d like to make sure that the others I saw here earlier won’t be needing them.”

Kevin doesn’t voice the worry foremost in his mind, though: that the one who had created the darkenbeast might be in the area. Any mage who could make a darkenbeast was at least of the fifth magnitude, three orders more powerful than a certain Kevin Janis. Kevin feels reluctant to give up any advantage if he were to meet this unknown enemy, but if anyone needed it he’d give the potions up.

As he stands near the wounded warrior, his eyes search the rooftops around them, and he sees that another person has joined Tarim on the roof across the street. Since things seem peaceful between them, Kevin assumes it is one of those Tarim had been assisting before Kevin had been teleported here.

“In the name of the Lady, surrender!” A voice demands behind Tarim, as the young barbarian turns around, he sees a wand pointing in his direction. The wand’s owner appears to be dressed in some sort of uniform and definitely has an air of authority around him. “Who are you, and what are you up to here?” The man asks.

Forcing a smile of relaxed confidence the frail barbarian brings the unloaded crossbow to rest on his shoulder. “I am Tarim Ravenmane, you’ll have no trouble from me sir, I was only assisting in dispatching the Darkenbeast over yon by that gentleman.” Tarim gently motions with his off hand towards the warrior who struck the final blow. “He…” Tarim gestures over towards Kevin “…is my mentor and was doing the same.”

The sorcerer’s manner is easy and his voice mild and reassuring as he looks at the official sounding fellow. “I am but newly arrived here… Might I ask who you might be who commands me to surrender?” his smile widening slightly.

“It is for me to question Tarim Ravenmane…” The uniformed wand wielder replies, “…but I’m Leewan Sammart of the Berdusk Guard. And you’re coming down with me to verify your claim. Please no hostile actions or attempts to flee… and drop the weapon.”

“Yes saer,” Tarim says respectfully, gently setting his crossbow down on the roof. The barbarian sends a need to stay back to his little owl companion who circles above, while he does as he’s told dutifully.

Tarim knows that when one is in strange places it is better to think first and react last. Fortunately the fellow does not seem overly aggressive and Tarim feels pretty sure things will work out well. He is in a fine mood anyway and perhaps just a wee bit full of himself after having helped put down the Darkenbeast without suffering any undue injuries of his own.

Circling around the young barbarian, the point of the wand always pointing in the young spellcaster’s direction, Leewan bends and picks up the crossbow with his free hand. “Through the trapdoor over yonder my good man, there should be stairs leading down all the way to the street.

With the guardsman at his back, Tarim descends the stairs, and appears in the street below moments later. “Please move over to that warehouse.” Leewan says as he points with Tarim’s crossbow to the building in front of which several guardsmen are milling about – though they appear to be at ease. When Tarim looks over his shoulder, he can see a slightly surprised look on Leewan’s face.

Emlyn, having found no easy way up from the alley returns to the street as the patrol has dismounted and voices drift between the buildings. Adjusting her tunic and bringing out Ilmater’s symbol, she steps out of the alley, an air of confidence about her.


“Sammart, bring him over.” A red-bearded officer says as he sees the duo approach. Next to the man is another man, dressed in fine clothes, though they appear slightly worse for wear, as if he has been in a fight. In the warehouse Tarim can see more people moving, including a horse…

From an alley to the side, a small figure appears, a young girl by Tarim’s judgment, though the girl’s next words leave him slightly stunned. “Is there a need for a healer gentlemen? I’m a priestess of Ilmater, perhaps I can alleviate some of the suffering…?” The bound-hands symbol prominently displayed on the girl’s chest seems to give credence to her claim.

To the frail looking barbarian, the voice coming from the girl has an odd level of maturity in it’s tone. To see someone so young speaking thusly among warriors has him in a quandary. Yet she seems to be a healer as she says so there was only one responsible thing to do. “Ah… Miss?” the young man ventures in a smooth tenor as he is being herded towards the red-haired officer. “There is a warrior on the roof who was fighting the beast, he was sorely wounded by the look of him.”


Between the debris of the crates, there is a deep chuckle in the witch’s throat as Qwenta pushes his way inside and comes to a halt near his her. Turning back to the red-haired priestess, she replies, “No Portia. I cannot risk him being jostled in this. Since I do not have the use of a strong set of arms and a solid back to carry him, I will improvise. I am going to make a litter from my rope and blanket then sling it between myself and Qwenta so we can take the boy slowly and carefully to our destination. I am sure Friend will be concerned for her master, so I will need to calm her too.”

Immerine digs for her rope and a blanket in the saddlebags. Once she finds what she is looking for she makes a hammock-like litter to carry Marc. After she completes the litter she looks at Portia. “Let us gently move him onto the litter then I can raise it between myself and Qwenta.”

Portia nods, agreeing with Immerine’s plans. Then, looking about the warehouse and noting Matteo at the entrance with the paladin and what looks like several guardsmen, she says, “Marc might be even better off if we had some of the guards take him. If we let him be for a bit, keep him warm, they should be able to get a proper carriage here, or even better a cart that he can lie down in completely, in only a few minutes. It’ll make the trip to the Mansion a lot easier on him.”

She calls out, “Matteo! We’ll need a cart or carriage for Marc. He’ll need to be taken to the Crystal Mansion!” Then, noting that Tempest is still sprawled lifelessly where he fell, she adds, “And Tempest needs to go too!” With one more look at Marc, she says to Immerine, “Whatever you do, I’m sure you can handle him. I’ve got to take care of Tempest.”

The priestess moves over to the fallen half-orc and kneels again. She straightens his limbs, removes his weapons and shield and rests them to one side, and makes sure that his holy symbol, the symbol of his faith and hers, rests on his unmoving chest. Once she’s prepared the man, she rises and looks up. “Matteo, I’ll need a couple men to help me move Tempest!”

Immerine winces as Portia shouts to the men in the door. Then she looks down at Marc then over at Portia and again at the men. “Hmm, I never thought about calling for help. I suppose that does solve the problem.” She rewraps her rope in a coil and stows it away again.

Behind the women and the horse, Nik opens the door to the squat stone building unchallenged, and quickly disappears inside. Noticing only a closed chest and an open trapdoor as the means out of the stone structure, it is clear to the bard where Ditalidas went. Listening for a moment, he hears the creak of leather and the shuffling of someone in the dark, as well as pounding on a door.

Ditalidas is just about to search for something that could provide her with a source of light when she hears some sounds from above. Quickly she hides in the shadows and aims her cross bow at the trapdoor. There she waits silently for the next move of the stranger above.

In front of the warehouse, Tarim makes sure not to pause unduly lest he irritate Sammart who holds a wand of “only-Mystra-knows-what” pointed at his back. Upon his arrival at the red-beard’s spot Tarim bows respectfully and meets his gaze openly, smiling in a friendly fashion. “Tarim Ravenmane, at your service saer” he says smoothly.

“The… beast?” Emlyn repeats slightly nonplussed. She recovers quickly enough though and shakes her head in amazement. “It seems there has been a war above our heads without us even noticing…” She looks at Tarim and the guardsmen. “If this gentleman is speaking the truth, I will need some help and a way to reach the unfortunate warrior.”

Exhaling deeply, the half-elf slowly begins his descent to the bottom floor once again and steps out into the open. He appears battered, bruised and dry blood has trickled down his arm from an open wound in his shoulder. “You can add me to the list as well,” replies the half-elf as he steps into view clutching an open wound on his shoulder. “There’s some sort of large lizard-like critter with sharp teeth and claws. It’s on the roof.” He grunts and looks at Immerine and the other as they tend to Marc’s medical needs. “Feels like my arm’s been stretched a mile-and-a-half. How’s is he? I did the best I could to catch him and break his fall.”

At Portia’s calling, Matteo frowns and turns his gaze away from the young stranger being escorted by a guard. “Captain, by your leave, if you could lend me a horse, I can arrange for some transportation, as well as return to the castle to report to Captain Zaina.”

The red-bearded captain quirks an eyebrow, yet then signals one of his men over. “The lieutenant here will take your horse. Lead him to it, and then team up with Leewan.” The trooper salutes and waits for Matteo to follow. The Sembian first turns to Emlyn, kneeling next to her. <Emlyn, I’ll send some form of transportation over so Marc and Tempest’s body can be taken to the Crystal Mansion. Please pass that on to Portia and the others.> The halfling tongue rolling easily off Matteo’s lips, he nods with his head in the direction of Jezbodiah, <Jez came down by himself, you might want to talk to him to find the fastest way up.>

Straightening, Matteo indicates to the trooper to take him to the horse. Saluting the captain, he moves away from the warehouse. Getting on the troopers mount with a little difficulty due to his slightly stiff leg, the Sembian gives a quick salute to Emlyn, followed by a wink and rides off in the direction of the castle.

As the sounds of Matteo’s horse recede, a small black bird flutters around the opening of the warehouse. A little owl wings its way above the open doors for a moment, then dives in through the open doors, only to make a sharp evasive maneuver in mid-air. As the little creature lands on a stack of crates, it hoots once indignantly.

On the roof, another winged creature purr’s gently on Kevin’s shoulder as the leather clad warrior next to them grunts, “I could use your help.” Dropping the rat-adorned sword, he turns slightly to inspect the wound in his side, wincing as the movement makes some fresh blood well up. “I don’t know what happened to the other fellow. He dived in. Either he crashed and is most likely dead, or he managed to hold on to the rope.”

Kevin opens a compartment on his bandolier, removing a small potion vial. This he gives to the fallen warrior. “Take this,” he says. “It’s only a minor potion, but it should help. I’ll see if anyone is alive below.”

Kevin – carefully, lest he fall in himself – walks over to where the rope still hangs. As he does so, he notices that Tarim and the stranger have disappeared from their own roof; he wonders where they are at the moment, but then pushes that thought aside.

Taking hold of the rope himself, he leans as far over the hole as he dares. He sees little in the gloom, even with the eyesight he had inherited from his father, but manages to make out some humanoid shapes below. “Hallo!” he calls down. “Does anyone need assistance?”

The little fey flies around watching the proceedings as the soldiers arrive and the wounded are attended. At the sudden arrival of the bird, Puddy is startled at the near miss and chatters angrily at the little owl. Then, noticing that Nik has wandered away, Puddy quickly wings after the tall bard.

Immerine sees the bird and smiles, she is about to call to it when she hears a voice echoing from above. “That depends, who are you and how did you get on the roof? When I left there were only two.” Immerine reaches for her staff and looks up, her voice questioning but with a hint of command.

“A bloody stupid wizard up at the House of the High Hand!” Kevin calls back, ignoring the imperious tone. It sounded like a human noble daughter he’d known at the Lady’s College, suspicious of anyone ‘lower’ than she. Now, however, was hardly the time for complaint about tone of voice, and anyway it was a valid question.

“I was sent here by accident, along with a warrior who’s here with me. Thanks mostly to him, the Darkenbeast is dead. I’ve given him a healing potion, but he’s still injured. Would you be in need of similar assistance? Or can you lend aid to him?”

As he finishes saying that, though, Kevin frowns. He’d been worried that the Darkenbeast’s creator was around. Could this woman be that person? His father had always said to never assume anything but the worst, so that one could be most prepared for whatever happened. It was advice Kevin had been wishing he’d remembered when he’d selected spells that morning.

Now, he begins moving a hand and whispering some words, releasing a spell he always liked to keep prepared. Energy forms in front of him in the shape of four spheres of light, which he sends down into the darkness. He peers over the edge again, the rope held securely, and tries to see what is down below – but is ready to jump out of the way, should anything come up the opposite direction.

“Accident? Well, it seems you are not the only one to appear thusly for aid. Are you quite certain it was a darkenbeast?” Immerine calls upward towards the distant opening in the roof. Then as if just remembering she adds, “There are wounded here, but most are stabilized. How is your companion? I still possess the blessings of Khelliara and if I could find some way to reach the roof I could aid. Of course it may be best if you found your way down here. I doubt the Berduskan Guard would appreciate having to fetch you from above. They tend to get irritable about the slightest things.” There is a hint of amusement in her voice over the last part.

At the witch’s words, Captain Fairfax throws a dark look in her direction, while gesturing for some of his men to remount. Ignoring, or not seeing the captain’s reaction, the witch is looking up, suddenly she sees four small glowing spheres of light briefly illuminate a face, but the man is too far a way to discern any details.

Rapidly the four globes descend downward at the mental instructions of the young wizard, briefly illuminating two floors packed with crates and barrels before hovering above the humanoid shapes on the ground floor. A willowy woman peers up, though her facial features cannot be discerned, the deep shadows around her eyes seem to give her an insect-like appearance however. Dressed in some sort of cloak or similar garment, she holds a knotted quarterstaff-like pole in her left hand.

Another humanoid shape lies flat on the floor – unmoving amidst what appears to be broken crates. No other movement is visible to the wizard, though he can hear multiple voices drift up.

“Thanks for your help.” The leather clad warrior says as he steps behind Kevin and peers over his shoulder into the depths – from Immerine’s point of view it appears as if the wizard suddenly sprouts two heads – “Can you climb a rope?” The warrior asks. “It seems to be the safest way down from here, unless that winged cat of yours can carry us down.”

As if understanding the warrior, Kethron looks up with an air of cat-like arrogance before padding along the ridge of the destroyed wooden superstructure. Apparently the broken pieces of wood appear interesting to the cat-like creature as it starts sharpening the nails of its front paws on a remaining upright post.

As Kevin can see nothing in the shadows below that would indicate a threat, and as Teryn seemed to think there was nothing to fear, he relaxes. Perhaps he was just jumping at shadows. “You’d best be careful what you say around Kethron, friend Teryn,” Kevin says in an amused tone, noting his familiar’s actions. “He understands a lot more than you might give him credit for, and he finds it insulting to be asked to undertake any ‘work.’ He’s also been known to use those claws of his on people he doesn’t care for.”

With a smirk, Kevin turned back to the hole. “My companion seems to be fine at the moment. And, as a visitor to the city, I suppose I ought not to irritate the Watch. We’ll be down in a moment.” He turned back to the warrior, who was eying Kethron with some suspicion. “After you?”

The leather clad warrior gives a grim smile and then grabs the rope to lower himself down into the warehouse. Before he completely disappears below the roof, he looks up at the young wizard. “The rope isn’t long enough to reach the ground. When you are almost level with the first floor from here, start swinging. That should get you close to the railing to make it safely down via stairs and ladders or such.” Without further ado, he climbs down as Kevin watches the process.

Next to the fallen half-orc Kelemvorite, Portia watches the light show with interest for a moment, before taking the opportunity to quickly scan the warehouse with the aid of the improved lighting. Then, knowing there’s little more she can do for her fallen companion, she rises, gathers her own gear, and makes her way over to those at the entry of the warehouse.

The cleric quirks an eyebrow at Telsom’s classic features, no unmarred once more, with more than a little amusement; then seeing Jez with his torn arm, she winces and moves close. “Hold still, lad. I don’t have anything that will really help, but I can get the bleeding stopped.” With that, she casts a very simple little spell. As the pain in the half-elf’s shoulder eases somewhat, the relief is nonetheless immediately visible on Jez’s face. With a sigh, she shakes her head and shrugs. “As I said, better than nothing.”

Jez sighs and looks at Portia with large fawn eyes, soaking up what little relief he can obtain from her magic. “Marc needs it more than I.” he says with a deep pang of guilt and genuine concern. “I can wait until we return to the Crystal Mansion.” He scans the area looking at the shattered bone fragments and Tempest’s dead form on the floor. “My apologies,” he says to Tempest. “Serve your Lord well in the next world.”

Looking at Portia, he says, “Looks if you had a serious fight. You’ve should have seen the size of the large reptile crawling from the ventilation duct. If Marc and I were not on the roof, you’d have your hand full.”

Shaking her head, Portia says with a sad smile, “As if we didn’t already?”

Leaning against a nearby crate, Telsom once again begins to concentrate, bringing on hand up to rest lightly at his temple. Moving slowly about the warehouse, Telsom examines the entire area expecting trouble at any second.

Turning from the Berduskan, Portia moves over to the guardsmen at the door. Seeing Emlyn, she smiles and says, “Marc is down, but he should be alright once we get to the Mansion. The rest of us are a bit the worse for wear, but again, the clerics at the Mansion can deal with that.” Looking at the slight man standing near the diminutive woman, she asks, “and this is?”

“Sorry I couldn’t be more of help,” Jezbodiah speaks as Portia turns away from him. “I thought the ventilation duct would be the best way inside the warehouse and around the ward on the front door. I wasn’t expecting the seven foot long flying lizard.” He shrugs his shoulders. “Ouch,” he winces from the tang of pain. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

Then a high pitched chittering sound comes from Jez’s shoulder pack. “Oh well, what is it now Alanna? Want to come out and look around the warehouse with me?” A shrill pitch can be heard replying. Jez quickly unfastens the strap to his large shoulder pouch and out crawls an elongated rodent, twice the length of any sewer rat and tail as likely as so.

The long rodent is light brown in color with splotches and flecks of white running along it back and paws. A patch of white fur streaks down its head. It climbs onto Jez’ good arm and sprints dexterously along the length. It positions itself one Jez’s good shoulder than lifts itself. Grabbing a small lock of Jez’s golden hair, it stands on its hind legs. Its bold face searches throughout the darkness. It’s nose twitching as if it were sniffing for something. “Well okay girl, I suppose we can look around the warehouse. No one else seems interested in it.”

Stepping away from Emlyn, Portia, the frail looking young man and the captain Fairfax, Jez moves back into the warehouse talking to the animal on his shoulder passing the concentrating paladin. The Sunite paladin scans the warehouse, but gets no further indications of evil presences in the area, other then the rapidly fading aura’s of the two destroyed undead.

“This young man does not belong to your team?” Captain Fairfax asks Portia, while gesturing at Tarim in response to the priestess’s question. “And how about the ones on the roof?” The captain doesn’t appear quite at ease with the situation, despite Matteo’s words.

While above the conversation seems to center on Tarim, the young Uthgardt barbarian, down below Nik is peering anxiously into the darkness, smothering a nervous cough and reaching for his sword. Finding the sheath empty, the tall bard groans aloud as he realizes his sword is still on the warehouse floor where he dropped it. “Oh, shit…” he moans, raising his right hand to his forehead in exasperation. The blood on his hand smears on his sweat-streaked face and he jerks his hand away, startled by the sensation. Staring at the offending appendage, Nik utters a short bark of bitter laughter as he sees it covered in his own blood.

“Gods, what an idiot.” Nik mutters to himself. “Some help you are. Get yourself skewered, leave your damn sword behind and then get your own damn blood all over your damn face.” Wiping ineffectively at the blood and sweat on his face with one leather-clad arm, the bard concludes his self-recrimination with the bitter appraisal “Worthless. You’re just bloody worthless.”

Clearing his throat, Nik asks loudly “Ehm… are you down there, Milady?” He seems to have drawn courage – or at least determination – from his angry tirade to himself and adds “It’s just Nik, come to see if you’ve found anything. Ehm… it’s dark down there. Would you like a little light?”

As he awaits an answer from Ditalidas, Nik takes a coin from his belt pouch, focuses on it and softly begins to sing “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone…”

From down the stairs sounds a relieved sigh. “Nik…You scared the nine layers of hell out of me.” For just a second there’s silence followed by a muffled sound, then the sound of something rattling over the floor. “Darn…” the Jalarghar Lady whispers under her breath. Louder she continuous to Nik: “Light would be really appreciated. It’s kind of dark down here.”

The darkness doesn’t last for long; even before the last words of Nik’s song fade away a bright glow starts quickly to build from the coin in the bard’s hand, illuminating the gangly features of the man and the small corridor in which he stands. Blinking a couple of times, Nik sees Ditalidas standing in a door opening. Beyond the young lady is a dark hallway in which the Ditalidas’ shadow thrown by the coin is playing, and from which the loud banging noise can be heard.

Unseen by both now illuminated tall people, an invisible faerie arrives, silently and quietly alighting on the tall bard’s shoulder.

Ditalidas tosses Nik a relieved smile. “Good to see you.” Then she looks into the dark hallway. “Hear that pounding noise? Before there was someone screaming too. It’s just pounding now… I want to find out who or what is making the noise.” She takes a few steps into the dark, then turns and asks: “Are you coming?” Then she proceeds into the hallway.

The pounding comes from behind a barred door. Next to the door, on a pin hangs a slightly rusted key. As Ditalidas carefully tries to lift the bar, she finds that it relatively easy to do. Taking nothing for granted, she tries to insert the key in the lock as well, and with a dry click the lock disengages. Taking a step back, and bringing her crossbow up, she motions for Nik to open the door.

Hearing the lock click, Skeen stops pounding and tries to open the door. “I’m coming out,” she yells, her voice really hoarse at this point. As she pushes open the door, she spies a woman with a loaded crossbow pointed right at her, as well as Nik. Despite her apparent predicament, she sighs in relief, not seeing the man that scares her so.

Standing naked with part of a table leg in one hand and another part sticking through one of her legs, blood tracking down from it, and two flasks clutched in her other hand, the tall elf really doesn’t look like much of a threat. Old scars around her neck likely explain her hoarseness. Blonde curls fall rather lankly around her head and she shivers for a moment, with cold.

She starts at the two with blue eyes, flecked with gold. “If you’re going to shoot me, go ahead,” she says. “It has to beat laying around down here. If not, would you mind helping me out a little? I’d like to see if the scum that brought me here might have left my possessions here. Some clothing would be nice.” Her voice drops to a mere whisper as she speaks and she coughs with a hoarse racking painful sound.

The tall bard had been ready to follow Ditalidas’ request and open the door when the prisoner opened the door herself. Nik steps back out of the way quickly, his gaunt, angular face filled with surprise and fear. The glowing coin falls from his hand as he raises both arms defensively in front of his face and cringes from the blow he obviously expects from the raised table leg.

When Skeen doesn’t attack him, the fear is replaced suddenly with concern, and then embarrassment as Nik realizes the badly-treated elf-woman is naked. Staring at the ground between his broken-down boots, Nik swallows hard and tugs nervously at the gaudy red and blue silk scarf wound tightly around his throat.

The small fey leans over to whisper in Nik’s ear. “Stare not, impolite it is,” as he muffles a giggle. “Filthy your clothes are. The lady offer garments to her, allow.”

“I… ehm…” Nik murmurs, looks around himself wildly, then abruptly pulls off his blood-spattered leather shirt. Pointedly looking at Skeen’s face and not her naked body, he absently flips his long, single braid of dark brown hair back over his shoulder with one slightly trembling hand. His eyes are a dull hazel, sunken deep in a weathered, haggard face dominated by his hawkish, slightly crooked nose. A faintly-embarrassed smile pulls at his lips, and he says “Here, milady. It’s not silk, but it’s better than wandering around naked while we look for you clothes.” His voice is startlingly deep and rich, seemingly at odds with his frail appearance.

Both of his wrists are bound tightly in strips of clean cloth and a fresh scar can be seen in the blood smeared just below his jutting ribs. The man looks positively skeletal with his shirt off, as if food has not been an option – or a desire – for a very long time. When Skeen coughs, concern twists Nik’s face, and he abruptly steps over to her side to tenderly put his leather shirt over her shoulders. As he moves past, Ditalidas can see many ridged scars across Nik’s bony back, the stripes of a quite-severe flogging in his recent past.

Nik’s large, thin hands are steady and gentle where they rest on Skeen’s shoulders to keep his sweat-dampened shirt from falling to the ground. “Take it easy, milady.” he tells her softly, his deep voice soothing and green-flecked brown eyes kind and worried. “We’ll take care of you. I’m Nik, and this is Ditalidas.” Nik doesn’t even glance at Ditalidas, instead he looks protectively down at Skeen, his careworn face filled not with the habitual fear or bitterness but with an almost paternal concern. “We’ll find your things, and we’ll find who did this.” Nik’s soft voice hardens at the last statement, and his eyes are suddenly dark and angry.

Skeen raises an eyebrow when the young man flinches from her and shakes her head. “Scared of me?” she rasps out, making a laugh that adds to the cough that has been building in her lungs. Hoping his friendliness meant the woman wasn’t going to shoot her, Skeen let the piece of wood slide out of her hand, shifting the flasks she had found.

She further eyes the man as he approaches, unable to stop from flinching as he goes to put the shirt over her head, seeing that the man is actually thinner than she is, something she’d never thought to see. She allows him to aid her with the shirt, rasping a “Thanks” when the cough finally ends. “Skeen,” she adds. “Name Skeen.” She offers Nik the flasks. “No pockets,” she says in a mere whisper. If the dirt or blood on the shirt bothers her, she makes no sign of it.

The shirt falls to around her knees, Skeen being a good eight inches or so shorter than Nik and hangs on her, not really even tight around the chest, just fitting a bit better there. She limps out into the hallway, still watching them both a bit warily, unused to kindness.

The tall bard steps back to let Skeen pass, the flasks she gave him seemingly forgotten in his hand as she limps out of the room. The anger that had been in his eyes is gone now, replaced by anguish. His haggard face is pale under the tan, and he looks as stricken as he did when the skeleton stabbed him. His haunted eyes are vague, looking at nothing but whatever the sight of Skeen has dredged up from his nightmarish past. Nik’s empty right hand reaches up to rub at the scarf wrapped around his throat in the same absent way he has frequently rubbed at the scars under the bandages on his wrists.

Abruptly he snaps back to the present, a single shudder running through his gaunt frame as his hand falls back to his side. He blinks, and the pain in his eyes is gone, replaced by concern. “I wasn’t staring at her.” he tells Puddy absently. “And I really don’t think she needs to wander around naked while we find her clothes.”

Quickly stuffing the two flasks in a belt pouch, the tall bard crouches down to pick up the shining coin he dropped. Nik straightens up to his full, gangly height, the coin resting in his right palm. Now that the light is shining directly on him, Skeen can see that Nik is not young at all. He looks to be in his mid-to-late thirties, and although there isn’t any gray yet in his dark brown hair it has started to recede along his temples, making his high forehead look even higher. The harsh lines in his angular face and the deep shadows around his sunken eyes suggest that most of those years have not been good ones. But his smile is kind, and his eyes are full of concern, even if he won’t meet her gaze.

“There’s a chest up the steps, milady, I hope your things are in it.” He tells her, his deep voice gentle and concerned. “And there’s a priestess of Kelemvor and a very capable Rashemi witch upstairs. I’m sure they can help you better than I can.” His green-flecked brown eyes are suddenly full of sardonic, bitter humor as he adds “And I wasn’t afraid of you, milady. I was afraid of that table leg in your hand. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been hit with one, and I’m quite sure it won’t be the last.”

Skeen tries not to laugh and manages to subdue herself to a small harsh chuckle. “It’s Skeen,” She reasserts. As for the table leg, the thought of her hitting the man with it still made her want to laugh. Especially in her current condition.

Nik offers Skeen his wry, crooked grin, finally looking directly at her face instead of a point off above and somewhere to her left. “I’d carry you, milady, but as you can see I’m not exactly hero material.” He waves a long-fingered hand in vague dismissal of his skeletal physique, his tanned, weathered face and hands a stark contrast to the unhealthy pallor of his chest and arms. “If you don’t think you can make it up the stairs, I’m sure Lady Ditalidas can help you. She’s much stronger than I look.”

Skeen looks directly at Nik as well, letting him see her own sardonic blue eyes, flecked with elven gold. “I’ll make it,” she says finally. “I’ve been hurt worse. Will be again.” She looks at the open door from which some daylight emerges and begins to move towards it.

While Ditalidas – eyebrows quirked in a quizzical manner and wondering if she has become invisible – Nik and Puddy have apparently freed another captive of their elusive enemy, above – near the open front doors – other introductions are being made.

Looking slightly distressed at the small woman’s suggestion that he might be lying of all things, the young barbarian is taken aback. It takes a few seconds for him to gather his wits before he bows deeply to the two ladies. The young man is slight and stands at bit over five feet tall but not much. His eyes are an electric blue that stand out against his lightly tanned face and dark hair. But it’s the hair that one truly notices, hanging down past his shoulder blades in straight, shining, midnight-black silk. He’s wearing clothing that marks him as a barbarian, roughly crafted brown leathers and a cloak of white rabbit furs. His boots, too are of white fur and are surprisingly clean. Across his back is slung a pack and a staff and out of the rough backpack another wooden stick can be seen. His appearance is rather odd actually as his gear marks him as uncivilized yet he is well put together and clean, quite handsome actually, despite his fragile build.

“Tarim Ravenmane, Wizard and Sorcerer of the High Forest, ladies. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.” He smiles with a surprisingly relaxed manner as he meets their gazes briefly. “I am recently arrived here in Berdusk after riding guard on a caravan traveling south. I saw the Darkenbeast circling overhead and came to investigate. Seeing a pair of fellows under attack I attempted to help and managed to do so to some small effect. I was preparing to congratulate myself when good Sammart here asked me down to see this gentleman.” Tarim nods first to the officer holding his crossbow and then to the red-bearded fellow.

With one hand clasped over her right fist, Emlyn bows her head, eyes slightly downcast as if addressing one of her betters. “Well met, Tarim Ravenmane,” she says in a pleasant voice which has a southern accent and belies the apparent childlike exterior. “I am Emlyn Ashenleaf. You look a stranger to this city, and so am I. It’s not that I didn’t trust you, just that in this few days I have seen…” she hesitates. “Much.”

In contrast to the young human, frail for his manner of dress and his looks, Emlyn looks quite compact for a halfling. Dark brown curls, caked with sweat and some blood, surround her round, bronzed face. Her clothing is very simple, nothing more than a loose, somewhat grubby white shirt and breeches bound together with a sash, a pouch and sling hanging from it. A wooden staff, about her own modes size, is strapped to her back and a tarnished bronze disk with Ilmater’s symbol rests on her chest.

Upstairs, Immerine laughs harshly behind her mask, “Oh captain? We do have a prisoner; I caught him skulking from the rear of the building. He wasn’t much prepared for a fight though.” Immerine walks over to where she dragged the unconscious form of the man she conked. Qwenta knickers softly as Immerine moves away and tosses his head at the two figures beginning to dangle down into the warehouse. “Just keep an eye on them dearest. If they make any undue moves – incapacitate them,” the voice echoing is cold.

Momentarily distracted from the conversation on Tarim, the captain looks in the direction of the witch, reddish eyebrows knotting together. Then he signals for two of his men to move inside towards Immerine. Both men giving Qwenta a suspiciously wide berth…

Overhead, two men descend on the rope Jezbodiah used earlier. A leather-clad man makes his way down first, at some point stopping and then starting to swing. A couple of swings and he reaches the railing of the third floor. With ease the man manages to move over the railing an land on the floor, holding the rope with some slack for the next person to climb down.

With, once again, far less grace than the warrior, Kevin starts down the rope. “Wish me luck, Kethron,” he says softly as he lowers himself over the edge. It would have been far easier if he had known how to cast a spider-walk spell like the one Tarim knew. Of course, the act involved in casting it would have been far too distasteful. By comparison, breaking a bone or too was more comfortable.

He thanks the shade of his father for making him learn how to climb a rope; it was mostly in how you used your feet. You had to firmly clamp the bottom of one foot against the top of the other, trapping the rope in between. Once you had that done, you could simply use your hands to lower yourself down, with the only trick being that it had to be in a steady fashion.

Kevin’s father could climb up and down rock faces and free-hanging ropes like a High Forest treecat. Kevin, on the other hand, moves like a sack of apples. He is therefore briefly surprised to find he has made it to the first floor without slipping. Summoning his globes of light from below, he directs them to illuminate the railing Teryn had just climbed over.

A flutter of wings passes by overhead, and Kethron alights on the floor in front of where Kevin is hanging. He immediately settles down and starts cleaning himself. “Showoff,” Kevin accuses him. Kethron just ignores him, though he does make a catlike sound – something like ‘meek’ – that Kevin had come to associate with humor. It was a sound Kethron made a lot.

Fortunately, Teryn is also waiting, and after a bit of swinging, Kevin manages to grab hold of his outstretched hand, and, with the warrior’s help, haul himself over the railing. “Thank you, Teryn,” Kevin says, a bit breathless from the exertion of climbing down. “I’m not sure I could have done that myself without looking a fool.” Or falling, Kevin thinks to himself. He picks up his familiar, who settles into his usual spot on Kevin’s right shoulder. As Kethron’s claws sink into the tough material of his master’s vest, Kevin replaces his hat from where it had been hanging by its strap. That settled, he walks down the stairs to meet the people below.

With Teryn on his heels, the first person the two meet is a lithe half-elf with a long-bodied rodent-like animal perched on his shoulder. Rodent-like at first glance, then Kevin recognizes it as more of a ferret- or weasel-type of creature. Behind the half-elf Kevin sees an armored man looking concentrated into his direction and not far from him the staff-bearing woman he had been talking to from above.

Kevin nods to the other half-elf, and is about to greet him, when the woman he’d been talking to from the roof speaks.

The witch leaves the two soldiers to deal with the unconscious man and moves back towards Qwenta and the pair descending from above. When she sees the winged cat she sucks in a breath of air and holds it in wonder. She speaks to her horse in hurried rough speech and even Jez has a hard time following what she says. She moves to plant herself in front of the pair, “So you are the pair of talking heads from above.” Her eyes scan their bodies, “Fascinating. So was it a darkenbeast? What poor creature was subject to the transformation?”

“Indeed,” Kevin says, giving her a bow that might have contained a hint of mockery. “Kevin Janis, late of Silverymoon, wizard and talking head. At your service.” He smiles with humor, but no malice.

“And yes, madam, it was a darkenbeast,” he goes on. “It was a rat before it was twisted; perhaps merely a creature of convenience. It looked to be the sort of ordinary type one finds in any city, though ordinary animals are not my area of expertise, I’m afraid. Personally, I dislike rats almost as much as my friend Kethron…” here he motions to the winged cat on his shoulder “…does, but no being deserves to be twisted by magics so foul.

“Have you any idea who did the deed? And is it your mission to hunt this person down?” Kevin smiles again, this time with a bit of embarrassment. “I confess to not understanding what is, exactly, going on here. All I know, in fact, is that I was speaking with Teryn…” a motion to the silent warrior at his side “…at the House of the High Hand when he was sent here to lend aid in quelling a disturbance. I was sent by accident – I assure you, I will have a few words with the wizard who did not take time to clear the area.” He scowls in memory, and then moves on.

“I also saw my companion on another roof – Tarim of the Tree Ghost clan of the High Forest. He was aiding in subduing the darkenbeast. However, he left with another man I didn’t recognize. If the immediate situation is under control, I’d like to find him. Then we can, if possible, discuss what is happening here.”

As the newly arrived Kevin starts a conversation with an intrigued Immerine, at the other end of the warehouse near the open doors, Portia too is distracted as the another newcomer identifies himself, Emlyn offers her aid, and Immerine calls to reveal her prisoner. Then, having collected her thoughts, she addresses the guard captain. “As he says, Captain. He’s not part of our team, but from what he says, he’s earned our thanks. Jez,” she nods back into the warehouse, where the young man is making his way to the first landing, “mentioned the same lizard thing only a few moments ago. He got himself mangled too.”

Portia shakes her head. “This is obviously more than a simple warehouse. The undead we faced were not simple skeletons. The, ah, Tarim here called it a Darkenbeast? The lizard thing isn’t, I take it, a standard guardian for a warehouse?” She quirks an eye questioningly. “I wouldn’t think so anyway. Too much potential for random, uncontrolled violence.”

The redhead pauses, looking back into the warehouse’s shadowed interior. “If this sort of thing exists here, where else might whoever set this up have little hidey-holes? The sewers, from what I understand, and from personal experience, have been compromised, and here’s this warehouse. Who’s to say they don’t have holes that look like shops or even wealthy mansions?” The Kelemvorite shakes her head. “The potential for this rot spreading is scary.”

She rests her hand on her mace and glares at the Captain, though he’s obviously not the subject of her ire. “They’ve made a serious mistake here though!” She says coldly. “They’ve attacked and killed a priest of Kelemvor here, and used undead to do it. The Lord of the Dead, I feel sure, is not pleased with this. It will be my pleasure to be one of his agents in this, to be sure.”

Looking away, she can barely make out the other two new-comers moving to meet Jez. “Regardless, I doubt the new-comers have anything to do with these necromancers. If you wish to make a reasonable assumption that they aren’t involved however, Sir Telsom of Sune is within. He can taste any evil present, and I’m sure he won’t hesitate to let us know if any of these men reek of it’s taint.”

“We’ve destroyed all with the taint.” Telsom says loudly enough for all in the warehouse to hear from his position leaning up against the crate. “These were simply minions though, the answers we seek and those in command are obviously somewhere else.”

“Well, there you go Captain,” Portia says, waving a hand toward the paladin within. “I’m not sure where these men have come from, but stranger things have happened lately.” The Kelemvorite frowns thoughtfully, looking about the interior of the warehouse again. “If you wouldn’t mind a little advice though, you might want to have some of your men secure the warehouse offices. There may be documents that can shed some light on who’s been running things here.”

“There’s also the chance that there are chambers below that might be revealing in their contents. If it has an outlet to the sewers, that too might be good to know. I was held in a place in the sewers that was obviously attached to a residence of some sort for a bit, though I couldn’t tell you where that place might be. I had to get out through the sewers myself. I seriously doubt it was here though.”

Turning, Portia scans the street. “I hope Matteo hurries.” Turning to Emlyn once more, she asks, “Do you have the healing left to help out Marc? I don’t have any real healing left, myself.”

As the red-haired priestess is waiting for the halfling priestess’s reply, another newcomer arrives on the scene. From the squat stone building in which Ditalidas and Nik disappeared, a lithe female dressed only in an all-too-familiar patched coat (Nik’s) exits, looking slightly furtively around. The woman’s arrival also announced by a loud hoot from the small black owl on one of the doors. On silent wings the animal glides and maneuvers to land on its master’s shoulders – the young barbarian Tarim.

Seeing the crowd, Skeen steps backward. “Nik…” she says, “…I hope these are your friends.” Giving the newcomer an appraising look, Telsom looks up at the owl. “I agree.” he says with a lecherous tone to his voice.

The young mage smiles upon the return of his friend, “Ened’ome” He chides her gently “I wanted you to stay back where it’s safe. We don’t know these people yet…” Yet his smile does not abate. Distractedly he begins to fish in his pouch for something. Casting about he says to no one in particular, “My mentor should be hereabouts. He was up top with me and his name is Kevin Janis…”

“I will take a look at Marc.” Emlyn replies to Portia, “With your and Immerine’s aid, I don’t know if I can contribute, but not trying is a lost chance.” Then the barbarian’s words register and she tugs at the man’s arm while pointing into the warehouse. “Might one of those men be your friend?”

The direction in which the little woman is pointing reveals a slender woman holding a staff talking to someone with a very familiar cat-like creature on his shoulder. Behind the woman stands a horse and some more figures can me made out moving about in the building’s interior.

“I don’t know anything about your companion,” Immerine says as she tries peeling her eyes away from the winged cat. “What is she? She is exquisite. Is she a nature spirit you have to serve you?” Qwenta leans his head over Immerine’s shoulder and sniffs the winged cat ruffling her fur, then whinnies quietly and bumps Immerine roughly. The masked witch laughs, “Oh all right, I’ll stop staring.” Her hand snakes up to lovingly touch Qwenta’s cheek.

“If your friend was on the roof and taken down then it may have been by the Berduskan Guard. I believe the Captain is outside. Perhaps you should ask him.”

Kethron bristles at the horse’s touch, and starts to swipe at its nose, sharp claws extended. Kevin, fortunately, manages to twist his torso so that Kethron is brought out of reach. “Stop it,” the half-elf hisses at him. “He’s not an enemy. He was just saying hello.”

Eyes wide – the sign of a feline in an aggressive mood – Kethron glares at the horse. It is obvious that he wants to “greet” it in turn.

“I apologize,” Kevin says to the woman. “Kethron doesn’t like being touched by just anyone.” He frowns a bit in disapproval at the war horse, but his eyes hold no reproach for its mistress.

After a moment of calming the winged cat down, the wizard turns back to the woman to answer her question. “Kethron isn’t a nature spirit; he’s a tressym. When I attempted my first familiar summoning, he was the one who answered. It was quite unusual; tressym normally prefer a mage more secure in their power, not an apprentice just starting out his training.

“But, madam, with your leave, I’d like to see if my companion is outside as you suggest. I’ll answer the rest of your questions then, if that is all right with you.”

“Do as you will. I do not command you,” Immerine turns back to Qwenta and Marc. Figuring it is going to be awhile before anyone arrives she decides to cast another spell on the boy. She settles on her haunches and touches the amulet of the unicorn around her neck and her other hand touches Marc’s chest. She begins drawing her strength from the creatures and spirits in the area. “Khelliara aid me in giving this child you blessing.”

Captain Fairfax in the mean time appears to feel as if he has lost control over the situation, and is even thinking if he ever had… Stepping away shaking his head slightly, he moves to his men and gives some instructions. Four men move inside the warehouse and split up into two pairs – one pair moving towards the stairs where Kevin and Teryn descended from recently, and the other moves towards the office-like structure.

From outside the rattling of wheels on cobblestones can be heard, and soon a black hearse comes into view, a upright skeletal arm holding a golden balance, prominently displayed on its sides. With some difficulty an elderly man descends. His ash-gray robes and the silver circlet on the man’s hairless head immediately let Portia know who it is: Death’s Hand of Kelemvor, High Priest Sillisten.

A younger priest remains on the hearse’s box, watching the warehouse with a solemn, even somewhat sad expression. Wheezing a little from exertion, the High Priest shoos Captain Fairfax away in a croaky voice, “No young man, my time hasn’t come yet, I can take care of myself. Now let me through, I have some urgent church matter to attend.”

Taking an almost stumbling step backwards, Captain Fairfax mumbles an apology as the old priest makes his way towards the open doors of the warehouse.

Seeing there is nothing for him to do, Jezbodiah with Alanna firmly secure on his shoulders, makes his way from the various crates and what-nots of the warehouse and moves towards Immerine. He looks at Marc then at Immerine. Once she finishes her incantation, he looks at her and asks, “Milady, will he be well?”

Immerine looks up at Jez, “My power helps to heal the bodily hurts. I think he needs rest and greater strength than I can impart to heal the other hurts to his form. The spirits are silent on this. I do not know if he will recover.” Immerine stands as she hears a vehicle arrive outside. She takes an involuntary step back hissing to Jez, “What is that thing?” She points at the black hearse.

“Alanna’s not a thing…” The half-elf says. “…She a sophisticated woman and my new companion. Oh my apologies.” he shakes his head. I thought you were speaking about her.” He strokes Alanna’s soft fur. “Whatever hit me struck me harder than I realize.” Jezbodiah sighs and breaths deeply, expecting Immerine to berate Heartland culture once again. “That vehicle is a hearse. It’s used to transport the deceased to a grave or however there remains are disposed.”

“Um, you wouldn’t happen to have another healing spell. I’ve seem to have lost track of a certain halfling.”

Immerine stares at Jez in horror and disgust, then looks down at Marc. “He is NOT going to be transported in that – that conveyance! I would rather take the extra time to make him a proper litter and take him to the temple myself.”

“I don’t believe so,” Jezbodiah says as he tries to downplay her outrage. “I think its for Tempest, but I could be wrong.” A look of concern for Marc crosses Jez’s face, but his thought momentarily converge on the situation’s symbolism and irony. “I feel responsible for this.”

Immerine takes a deep breath, “I am sorry Jez. I have expended Khelliara’s blessings already. I do have a few minor blessings though. Let me see.” She tenderly looks at Jez’s wounds and then touches the symbol around her neck calling on the link between herself, her goddess and the spirits once again.

“It’s no problem.” He replies softly. “You’ve harried yourself enough today as is. I think I can get the cures I need when we return to the Crystal Mansion.” Alanna looks at Immerine with eyes shining in gratitude. “I’m sure the church elder’s will wish to speak with all of us.”

Thumbing to his pet, Jez says with a smile, “Look who I picked up today? And you won’t believe what I found rummaging in the warehouse.” He moves closer to her and whispers, “When we have a chance, may I speak to you in private.” Alanna, Jez’s ferret, looks at Immerine and blinks repeatedly.

Immerine looks around and sees everyone otherwise occupied, “What is wrong with now? No one else is near enough to hear you if you whisper.” Her gaze falls on Lord Sillisten and she shudders involuntarily.

“It’s private and personal,” Jezbodiah whispers to Immerine, “And covers and a great deal of confidentiality. It’s not for anyone else’s ears… if you know what I am saying.”

The witch looks blankly into the young man’s face, “Are you sure you didn’t hit your head too? What are you going to tell me the people who are working out of this warehouse are Zhents or Cult of the Dragon? I wouldn’t be surprised. Why can’t you tell me here? I am NOT going to the Crystal Mansion when you all do, so you can tell me now or later tonight when we meet up at the inn.”

The two guardsmen near the stairs veer off towards the back of the warehouse, where Immerine and Ditalidas have left their quarry. Teryn looks at the whole chaotic gathering with interest as well as the activities of the guard. Then his eyes catch sight of the nearly nude slender form near the squat stone construction. And frowns as he sees another person appear.

The tall bard appears behind Skeen, his gaunt face even more haggard than usual. His shadowed eyes are filled with anguish for a long moment, looking blankly over the woman’s head. When Skeen backs up she nearly runs into Nik, and that near-collision is enough to snap him from his thoughts. Shaking his head sharply as if to clear it, Nik smiles down at Skeen. “Yes.” he says softly. “These are my friends.” Laying one long-fingered hand gently on her shoulder he tells her “There’s a chest back in the room here. I hope your clothes are in it.” The tall man is shivering now, and he gives Skeen an apologetic grin. “I’m just not made for the cold.” He runs his free hand through the thin hair on his bony chest and adds “Not quite enough of a pelt on me for this kind of thing.”

His hand tightens on her shoulder -not enough to hurt, but enough to get her attention- and he gently tries to turn her back to the room. “C’mon, mil… Skeen.” he corrects himself, tugging nervously at the gaudy scarf around his neck, his dull hazel eyes apprehensive, as if he fears offending her even though she has asked him to call her by name. Clearing his throat and glancing away from her, Nik continues “Let’s see if your clothes are in the chest. I’m sure you want out of my ratty old shirt as much as I want back into it.”

As the tall bard escorts the elven woman to find her clothing, the little pixie sits quiet on Nik’s shoulder, content to ride and observe Skeen for the time being.

Growing bored, with the events transpiring around the downed form of the street urchin, and the milling about of the guardsmen Telsom pushes off from his leaning position and begins to move across the warehouse to see what is happening with Nik, Ditalidas and the newcomer. Fingering the slight marring on his face, Telsom’s handsome features scrunched up for a moment, anger swelling up in his eyes. Looking in the direction of the first downed skeletal warrior, Telsom’s lips part into a snarl but as he continues to move across the room he regains his composure and looks quite civil as he nears the others. “I could use some wine.” he mutters more to himself than anyone else. Noticing that he still has his hand on his face, Telsom quickly drops his hand away when he reaches the others.

Skeen’s eyes the approaching man warily, stopping in her undressing to see if he means her ill. She notes his prettiness and rather likes the scar, deciding it gives him character that the beauty alone does not. And she’s seen a lot of pretty bastards in her life. She manages to stop coughing as he reaches them, but she steps back, so that she is parallel to Nik. “Friend of yours?” she whispers.

Nik keeps his hand on Skeen’s shoulder as she starts to undress. “You keep it until we find your clothes.” He murmurs to her, eyeing the approaching paladin with a mixture of wariness and fear. At her question about Telsom, Nik swallows hard, looking away from both the elf and the paladin. “Yes.” Nik whispers hoarsely. “I guess you could say we’re friends.”

Down below Ditalidas watched with a frown the released woman quickly move away upstairs, almost followed on her heels by the lanky bard. “Hey… what about the light…” She says, but the words either don’t reach Nik’s ears or he is too pre-occupied with the elven girl. Stamping her foot in annoyance and planting her fists on her hip for a moment, the Lady Jalarghar scowls in the darkness. “Great support crew!” She mutters, then moves to the door through which Nik and Skeen went back upstairs.

Appearing in the squat stone building behind the bard and the elf-girl, she notices Telsom has come closer as well. “Nik, I appreciate your interest in the well being of Skeen,” Ditalidas says, her tone betraying irritation as well as her upbringing, “but next time before you take the light away from a dark place where others also dwell, you might leave it there instead of taking it with you.” Frowning at the bard, one hand on her hip, the crossbow dangling from a wrist-strap, Ditalidas holds out the other – palm open – towards the bard. “If you’d please!”

Telsom raises an eyebrow at Skeen’s appearance and manner of dress but says nothing to the girl, instead waiting for the bard to either do introductions or at least say he is a companion. Looking past Nik at Ditalidas, Telsom chuckles. “So forceful, perhaps you have more of your father in you than I had believed.” He says with a smile. “It grows congested in here, the guard will probably soon send us on our way, if you are looking for something in particular I suggest you hurry.”

Ditalidas’s bright blue eyes look at the paladin, but she doesn’t comment, only her chest heaves once with a deep sigh. Lifting her chin up, she looks past the others into the warehouse, “Where’s Jezbodiah? His parents are locksmiths and there’s at least one chest here that he might be able to help out with.”

Nik flinches at Ditalidas’ sharp words behind him, his sunken eyes suddenly wild and terrified. The tall man whirls around to face the lady, narrow shoulders hunched as if he fully expects a blow to follow her command. “I… I’m s…s…sorry.” Nik stammers, cringing. The bard fumbles in one of the pouches at his belt before coming up with the glowing coin. He drops it into her outstretched hand, shivering with more than just the cold now. He can’t meet Ditalidas’ eyes, his frightened, ashamed gaze fixed on the wall to her left.

Now that his back is to Telsom and Skeen, the two of them can clearly see the multitude of raised whip scars that criss-cross the man’s bony back – old enough to be healed, but recent enough that the scars are still an angry red that is stark against the pallor of his skin.

Narrow shoulders still hunched and trembling, Nik slinks past Ditalidas and further into the stone building, giving Skeen and Telsom room to come in after him. He turns back to the others, swallowing hard, arms now hugged tight across his skeletal chest. For a long moment Nik’s haggard face is full of fear, his eyes bright with terror and shame. Then in a blink the fear is replaced by the acrid self-loathing, the old, bitter smile Ditalidas hates pulling at his mouth. His acid gaze falls on Skeen, and the sight of her battered form in his too-large shirt slaps the bitterness from his expression.

The bard heaves a ragged sigh and looks away, and when he looks back at the three of them his face is composed, his dull eyes filled with shame again, but this time the shame is mixed with a strange determination. His arms fall to his sides, and he straightens up from his defensive huddle. “You’re right.” he says to Telsom, his deep voice steady and calm now. “The guard will want us out of here sooner than later. Why don’t you help us find mil… Skeen’s… things?”

He clears his throat, tugging again at the scarf, and says “I suppose introductions should be in order, shouldn’t they? Lady Skeen, this is Telsom Torentshed, a paladin of Sune.” Something hardens in the bard’s sunken eyes, and he gives Telsom a surprisingly sharp glare as he adds to Skeen “He won’t hurt you. No one here will hurt you. I promise.”

Telsom laughs outright at Nik’s sharp glare. “You are right that I will not hurt the girl, but had best think twice if you ever choose to raise your sword against me bard.” Squinting at the man, he cocks one eyebrow. “I’ve definitely seen you before…”

While Telsom tries to remember where he might have seen the tall, lanky bar before, a few paces behind, Tarim follows the halfling woman’s outstretched arm and sees the accustomed sight of his mentor’s hat-wearing silhouette. He grins, a relieved expression crossing his face as he produces a brush from his pouch and Ened’ome promptly switches to his left shoulder. “ Ah, thank you Emlyn, If you’ll excuse me…”

The young barbarian looks to Sammart and says “I believe the gentleman has lost interest… Might I have my weapon back?” before turning back to the direction of Kevin and calling out “Kevin!” Tarim casually tends to brushing his hair, which is clearly not in need of it as he waits to see if his fellow mage has heard him.

Sammart, who had been following the conversation and revelations with quiet interest, turns towards Tarim at his quarry’s words, blinking once and appearing slightly flustered that he had forgotten his position. Quickly he looks at his captain, seeing the man involved with the High Priest, the guardsman shrugs and hands the weapon back. “Don’t do anything foolish with it. It would be no good if you’d accidentally hurt the wrong person with it.” Then he turns and moves toward the office area in the warehouse where two of the guard have gone to investigate.

Portia’s eyes widen slightly at the sight of Sillisten himself arriving, but then she realizes that she shouldn’t be too surprised. Tempest was a native of the Berdusk clergy, after all; one of Sillisten’s own disciples. Seeing what he’s brought with him, her face takes on an expression very similar to the young priest in whose care it rests; becoming somewhat sad.

As the Death’s Hand approaches, Portia sketches a brief bow – all that her armor really allows, and says, “My lord. We now have undead within Berdusk, skeletons that can blink and fire off magical missiles at will. We managed to end the existence of two of them, but the cost…” Tears glimmer in her eyes as she continues with, “Matteo obviously delivered the news about Tempest,” she says, nodding toward the hearse, “There was little I could do to prevent his passing.”

Reaching out a parched and wrinkled looking hand, the High Priest pats the red-haired Kelemvorite once on her shoulder. “I know, our Lord warned me and told me of my young ward’s entry into His realm. With some more scrying I found out where Tempest had fallen, and came over as quickly as I could.” The old priest’s voice is husky and croaks with age, yet his piercing black eyes seem to gather in all that happens around him.

Taking a deep breath to steady herself, the Kelemvorite priestess turns and gestures with her bloody arm, indicating the activity in the warehouse, and adds, “We have others wounded as well, one particularly severe. My healing is spent, and the other priests of our band are in about the same condition. My I ask that the Crystal Mansion lend some aid for them?”

Portia, turns back to face the Berduskan Patriarch of her church, squaring her shoulders and standing tall. In a lower tone, just for the Death’s Hand, she says, “I know there is much work to be done, my lord. I hope that Lord Kelemvor grants the time we need to hunt down the blasphemers that caused this.”

A thin smile appears on the Death’s Hand’s face, causing even more wrinkles to appear. “Yes, yes, you will my dear, you will. Our Lord informed me of your actions and sees a great future for you as one of his crusaders against the un-living abominations.” Ambling over into the warehouse, ignoring the others standing about, but somehow compelling Portia to follow, the High Priest moves towards the remains of one of the skeletal things. He sniffs the air a few paces away from the pile of bones, then nods, mumbling something to himself.

At the smashed remains of the undead, the High Priest’s hairless eyebrows raise a little. “Blinking you said, and magic missiles… hmm, interesting. And that here in Berdusk.”

“Captain!” The Death’s Hand’s voice croaks loudly and his skin-over-bone-thin arm motions for Captain Fairfax to come over. With the loud clanking of armor, the captain hastens to the High Priest’s side. “Yes milord?”

“Have you ever heard of Bane Guards or Dire Guards? No? I thought so!” Lord Sillisten’s voice croaks, the sound reminiscent of parchment crumbling, “Like all undead they are of course the province of those immoral wizards and priests who dabble in the necromantic arts. However, Bane Guards, as you might have guessed are the brain child of Zhent wizards and priests from before the Times of Troubles! Of course the secret of how to create one can have fallen into the hands of non-Zhent affiliates after the Lord of Tyranny was vanquished by Torm.”

“The bottom-line however is dear captain, that right under our nose the enemy of Those Who Harp have made some bold steps and dared to defile a part of the city. You’d better investigate this building thoroughly and report to your superiors.”

The captain’s eyes widen in the revelations of the High Priest of Kelemvor, “Yes milord, immediately.” He hastens to say. “Sammart! Guide the civilians out of this building, on the double!”

The content of Twilight Dawn are the property and copyright of J P Hazelhoff, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.

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