My skin was tight under the now drying and caking blood that coated it. My arms, my face, my torso were all coated in it. Long, thick, red lines rolled slowly down my legs to drip into the pool at my feet. Only the area around my mouth lacked any, I had licked clean as far out as my tongue could reach. The scent, and lingering taste on my tongue, intoxicated me. The world swam in my vision and I felt a pleasure I never had before. There was nothing that felt as good as the death I had dealt. It was power and pleasure and self rightousness all squeezed together.
I reached down to Galens torn body and pulled his now still and silent heart from his chest. Earlier, as he lay there I had pressed my ear to his chest and listened to the beat of it. It was strong then but slowly, very slowly, it had slowed and the strength of the sound had become less and less. I had grinned as the final weak beat thumped into my ear. It was an almost orgasmic pleasure to hear. Now, I took the thing, and I tore into it with my teeth. It was not enough to kill. In eating the flesh of men they became not men, but food. Animals. Livestock.
As I devoured my meal a voice of silk drifted into my ears, "Good. This is what you are my little demon. At last you are ready. Come, join us."
I looked away from the remains of the heart to see the same dark man I had met in Shadowdale. He sat on the lump that had once been Nolan and grinned that insufferable, knowing grin. A wave of emotion, hate, and terror, and anger, washed over me. I tried to speak but only a feral growl escaped my throat and I rushed at the man, thinking to tear his limbs from his body, to listen to his pitiful screams as I tore his flesh from him, to ignore his pleas. He would suffer, and then he would die. And I would eat his flesh in front of him.
He laughed as I lunged at him.
I hit the hard floor hard and a spike of pain ran up my side. I was coated in sweat and my breathe came in deep heavy gasps. Glancing around I saw there was no blood on me. I thought I could taste it, and even smell it, but it was only my imagination. I started to rise, getting my bearings as I did so. I was in my room at the inn. Both Rhia and Maeve sat upright on thier beds looking down at me. They both seemed concerned.
Maeve came to me, "Are you ok?"
She radiated an aura of good, like Galen did. But Galens came from his god, Maeve appeared to be unaware of hers, as did everyone else. Sometimes when she was close it made me queesy, and now it did, more than ever it had before. She was descended from some good and holy being and as much as I tried to be a good person I knew that I came from an opposite bloodline, and that was the reason that often her mere presence could cause me to cringe a bit. It was instinctual I thought.
"It was just a nightmare..." I knew it had been more than that, but what could I tell her? That I had dreamed of ripping her throat from her neck with my teeth?
She wrapped her arms around me, I dont know if she noticed me flinch when she did so, and said, "Well, its over now."
While she embraced me I wondered if she ever had that same instincual reaction to me. Did she ever cringe in my presence? Or flinch at my touch? Or feel queezy near me? She must, but she never showed it.
I couldnt fall asleep the rest of the night. To be honest I was afraid to try. The morning took an eternity to arrive. I wanted to play my flute, or sing, or dance, or even just walk under the moon. But none of these things was possible. I had to stay there, in the safety of the room, and the others slept, as did people in other neighboring rooms and I didnt want to wake them.
I took breakfast early. It was a delicious meal and even though I was hungry I mostly just poked at it while I moped. The others trickled in as the early morning drew on and soon enough we were all sitting around the table. Everyone was somber so no one noticed my black mood. We had to think of how we would escape this city. It was sealed up tight and only Eshrin knew much about it. We would have to send someone out to discover numbers of patrols and press gangs and scout means of escape. It would be dangerous but it had to be done. I would go, and so would Maeve.
Maeve and I both disguised ourselves. I had darkened my skin to a light tan and I liked my coloring that way. My hair I dyed as dark a black as I could and Maeve lent me lenses from a kit she carried that made my eyes a bright green. Maeve wasnt quite as fair as I was and she didnt bother to tint her skin at all, but she dyed her normally pale blond hair a pleasant brown and placed beautiful blue lenses over her normally bright golden eyes. To top it all off she added a long pale scar over the bridge of her nose. We traded our now worn travel cloths for more common workers clothing.
The weather out fit my mood. The sky was a dark grey and a drizzled drained out of it. I worried that my disguise would be ruined by the water but Maeve assured me that it would not. She was correct. The place was not a happy one. There was no smiling faces anywhere I looked. There were quite a few patrols moving around the city but I got the impression they werent looking for us in particular. It would be very hard to get out even if they werent, but I was sure all of them had descriptions of us.
I had traveled around for some time when a woman came up to me. After a few moments I realized it was Maeve and she giggled as I came to the realization. She had found a man who would be leading a trade caravan out of the city in the morning. She thought we should talk to him about buying passage out of the city. I went with her to meet him. He was staying at a rather run down inn. More a hovel than anything. The place was built with dull grey brick, thatched with straw that, while apperantlly once a pretty pale yellow, was now a dark faded orange. The floor was little more than hard packed dirt. Inside it was dark and smoky, with only a few small shafts of light lancing through a handful of tiny slit like windows. Tables of old rotting wood littered the room and a long, drink stained, bar took up almost the entire back wall, leaving room only for the staircase on the far left, right next to a door into a back room which I assumed was the kitchen.
We wandered over to the bar and ordered drinks. The ale seemed more watered down and stale than what Id had at other inns, but I didnt complain. Maeve asked for Kral. The bartender, a dirty halfing man who looked like he had lived too long and too hard, told us he would go get Kral and to take a seat. We went to a table and sat down. It didnt take long for a very large, very ugly half orc to sautner down the steps. He leered at us both for a moment before coming to our table and taking a seat. He was very tall, easily a head and a half taller than myself, and easily twice my bulk. His skin was a greenish grey coloring, a shade quite unusual to me. Two tusks jutted up from his lower jaw, the one on the right was broken off at about a quarter of its length and had been smoothed over and polished. The other had been sharpened to a fine point, both were a disgusting yellow and pale green color, as were the rest of his teeth it turned out. He wasnt wearing a shirt and pale scars were generously scattered all over his chest, back, arms, neck, and face. This was a man who had seen violence, and a lot of it. Not one we should cross.
His voice was gravelly and raspy to being almost unintelligable. One of those scars on his neck must have badly damaged his ability to speak. "Well, looks like some women have come calling for Old Kral. This is something new." I could smell the reek of his breath all the way across the table, it seemed he had eaten a dead and rotting animal raw recently. He chuckled at his own wit and looked at us appraisingly, "Kral Boarsplitter at your service." He chuckled again as he stood and performed an exaggerated bow that I could only guess was intended to be a mockery of those the upper class in many places tended to.
Maeve replied before I could, "Well met. I am Shinda Lynne and this is my companion Rachel Morgan."
He nodded, "What can Kral do for you fine ladies today?" He grinned as he spoke. I had only just met him and already I didnt like him.
"We heard you're leading a caravan out tomorrow. We'd like to sign on."
He laughed loud and hard. "Mercenaries!? You two work as hired swords!?"
Maeves expression darked. While his comments were somewhat insulting it was true that neither of us had the look of warriors. My build was compact and slender, more well suited for slinking around unseen than combat. Maeve was slightly larger than me, but not by much, and Kral easily outweighed us both combined. I was sure he could snap us both in half with minimal effort had he so chosen. Since Maeve appeared flustered and angry I spoke up. "No, you misunderstand. We are not offering our sword arms, but rather other talents. A strong sword arm stands for much." I nodded at him, ackoledging his obvious martial prowess, "but so does a potent magic defense." I nodded towards Maeve. "A caravan strong in both could hardly be better defended I would think."
He stared at me a moment then said, "Thats true enough. So why dont you ladies care where Im going?"
That caught me a bit off guard, he was apperantlly smarter than I would have given him credit. But then he was the leader of a merchant caravan, one does not come by that position through stupidity. "We look for work and get paid. We go where the work takes us."
He shook his head, "No. You're running away from here. I dont know why and I dont care, but I bet theres gold to be had turning you in."
"Not as much as there is in helping us." In truth we had very little gold but Tralin was discovering the properties of the magical items we had collected and surely they would be worth something.
This man was definatelly smarter than any half orc I had encountered. I jingled my coin purse, subtly fingering the back of the pouch to make the front look fatter and pressing the coins together to make them appear more packed in, as if there was more in the pouch than there was. In truth there was only a handful of coppers mixed in with a few silvers and a single gold floating around. He eyed the pouch but didnt seem to notice my manipulation of it. He was quiet a moment as he appraised us once again. "You dont look very dangerous, you're probably not worth much turning in. But I dont know what you did to get into this trouble and I dont want it coming down on me and mine. Fifty gold a head, and you walk out the gates trusted guards of my caravan. When those gates are out of eyesight you get out of mine."
I nodded, "Theres others. Five more."
"Five more!?" He stared at me, and I was worried he was changing his mind. "I want all the gold up front."
Maeve shook her head but let me continue, "No. You'll get half before we leave in the morning and the other half when we part ways."
There was a long moment of tension before he stood up, "Be ready and with my wagons at sun up. We leave an hour after that with or without you and yours. If you're not with us there'll be guards looking for you. I'm going to get gold on your account one way or the other."
I didnt trust him. And neither did any of the others when we told our story back at the inn. But there were too few other options. Tralin had spent the day looking into the magical items we had taken. The dagger was a potent weapon and the group let me have it. It was beautiful as well. Tralin told me it was forged in ancient Myth Drannor and the elves of the place and time had called daggers of this sort Daggers of Defiance. It was quite a treasure. Some other items were distributed to others of our group because like the dagger to me they were suited to thier talents. Between the seven of us we scrounged up the three hundred and fifty gold I had promised Kral. Eshrin suggested we cut and run without paying the other half once were out of the city. Galen would have none of it. We promised a sum of gold and we would deliver a sum of gold. I agreed with Galen.
I was reluctant to sleep that night. The previous nights nightmare was still fresh in my mind. I hadnt had much time to think about it during the day, but laying there in bed I could think of nothing else. Dread overwhelmed me, what if some day I lost control and attacked and killed my friends? That scared me more than anything, that I would hurt any of them. I prayed for strength and while I was no cleric I knew my goddess was with me. The prayer made me feel warmer and more secure. Reluctantly I closed my eyes to get the rest I needed. I dreamt of the temple, and the people there that I loved. I laughed with Jesimae while she drilled me with my dagger. I danced and sang with the priestesses in the clearing our portal led to. I ran under the stars with the others during the Hunt. It was a wonderful dream, and one I very much needed.
The moring was the same as the day before, grey and drizzly. The sky was still dark, with a line of pink showing on the eastern horizon. We all got our things, put on our disguises, Maeve didn most of that work, and headed out to the caravan. Kral was there shouting orders to his people as they got ready to move out. He looked much as he had the day before, only now he wore a worn leather vest. It was far too small for him and provided no protection at all, leaving his chest and arms exposed. He looked over our group and scowled as we approached. As soon as they were ready to go I paid him the first one hundred and seventy five gold we had promised and he positioned all of us in the places he wanted us and we began to make our way to the city gate. The caravan moved slowly and it seemed to take a small eternity to get to the gate. I was nervous while Kral spoke to the gate guard, if he was going to sell us out this would be the time. He presented the guard with papers for every member of his caravan and the guard inspected his wagons and goods. After what felt like hours he finally let us pass. Kral hadnt sold us out.
We traveled with the caravan for a few miles after we left the city. Once the place was out of eyesight Kral came up to us and waited for his money. I paid him the rest. "Was a pleasure. Maybe we can do buisness again someday." He chuckled at himself.
Galen bowed low, "You are a good man Sir. We could very well owe you or lives. If ever you are in need call on me, Galen of Lathander, and I will help as much as I am able."
Kral nodded, "I never forget a favor owed, and I will call on you one day." Without another word he turned and led his caravan on down the road.
We had to decide where to go next. Eshrin told us there were artifact pieces in the Hordelands, Chult, and the Moonshae Isles. There was two other pieces besides those and the one we lost but he didnt know thier locations. The Zhentarim knew of all the ones we did and had a headstart on getting to them. We decided to head to the Hordelands first. Hillsfar was not far and from there we would turn south and east to Harrowdale and sail across the Sea of Fallen Stars to Telflamm, from which we would take the Golden Way east into parts none of us knew. So far our quest was a failure, but even though the odds seemed stacked against us we were confident we would not fail again. With determination in our eyes we turned east.
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