Alys was a beautiful animal. A beautiful brown mottled with large white splotches all over her body. Her mane was the same brown from the top of her but half way down her neck it became white. The opposite for her tail, white where it met her body, becoming brown half way down its length. She was a young strong animal. Eshrin had bought us horses and when I had saw her I had fallen in love. I claimed her and named her Alys. It seemed she took to me easily as well. The first time I patted her and petted her neck she had nuzzled me and afterwards she did any time I came hear enough to her head.
The seven of us had headed out of Telflamm early in the morning. I was sad to leave it as I had fallen in love with the place and the exoticness of eastern culture that grew there. But it was a clear and warm day. We had two pack horses with us carrying supplies. I chatted with Maeve as we traveled and Nolan, Eshrin, and Tralin soon joined us. Rhia and Galen were riding side by side and talking quietly, and I had to smile every time I heard Rhia giggle, or saw Galen look away from her, his face burning a bright red.
The going was easy enough. We would follow the Golden Way into the Hoardlands. The journey would be longer than the sea crossing was and I realized, time seemed to pass so quickly traveling this way. I could not believe it had been so long since we had left Waterdeep. I had always worn my hair chopped short, it reached to my chin but no longer, and now it fell long down my back. I decided to ask Maeve or Rhia to cut it for me when we stopped to make camp for the night. In the meantime I chatted with my friends, though now I think we were more family than friends, long months on the road and the dangers we had shared saw to that. That made me think of my family back home. I wondered what things had happened at the temple in my absence, and what about the people.
Had Liania and Mirindal finally married? They were inseparable when I left, Mirindal always waxing poetic about his love for her, while she listened in a starry eyed silence. They were never good poems, I always laughed when I heard them, but to look at Liania as she listened I could believe they must have been the most romantic words ever spoken. I could only hope to find love like that some day. I think few did and I was happy for them. I wished that if they had indeed been married I could have attended, but I could smile imagining Mirindals poorly written, and likely inappropriate vows, and Liania swooning at the sound of them.
What had become of Azzain? He had always been a kind and wonderful friend to me, he was but a youth when he followed his mistress to the surface, and though he was much older than I was in years, he was close to me in age. His early life had been spent in martial training to become a soldier of his house and he learned to play, and smile with me, and that made him all the more special to me. I had spent many wonderful days chasing and being chased by him in the grassy clearing the temple used for important occasions and for the priestesses nightly dance and prayer. Now he used his strong sword arm to forge goods and blades for the community. I wondered if maybe he had fallen in love and married, would he have children when I returned? I think I felt some jealousy at the thought but it passed quickly. He was a good man and he deserved a good family.
And Jesimae. My closest friend, my teacher, my mentor, my confidant, and though it took time to admit it even if only to myself, my first and best love. It was not something I would ever tell her, though I wondered if she knew anyway. It would never be, but I thought that was ok. I was glad for her friendship, and that was enough. I wondered if she thought of me, and I knew she must. I remembered laughing as my combat lessons degraded into tumbling and wrestling. I remember her warm reassurances when I could not properly wield a sword no matter how much practice. I remember her smiles as she teased that I would marry Azzain one day, and how she laughed when I angrily announced I would never do such a thing. But mostly I remember the care for me, the concern in her eyes when I became sick or hurt myself, the warm meals she cooked for me alone, the sadness to see me go and the confidence in her eyes when she saw me off on my quest.
I fiddled with the ring she had given me, then reached up to hold my amulet. These things were most dear to me in the world, they were my only physical connections to the people I loved back home.
On our third day of travel we passed a merchant caravan carrying good from the far east to the western portions of Faerun. We stopped to do some trading with them and I asked the caravan master if his travels would take him to Waterdeep. He said it would, eventually, but it would be a very long time. I guessed not as long as it would take me to get back there. So I took the portrait of me I had purchased in Telflamm. In my best writing I scribed, "For those I love, I miss you all dearly. You are in my thoughts every day. I can not wait to see you all again." Then I took it to the caravan master.
He was an aging man, he looked to have been well built and strong in his youth, but his body was becoming softer with age. I paid him a full ten gold to promise to take it to Jesimae when he arrived in Waterdeep. He read my message and smiled warmly at me, "Dear girl, I don't need your gold to deliver your message. I understand being away from those you love. I myself have spent most of my life on the road." He looked a bit wistful and very sad, "The last time I saw my son he was a toddler laughing on his mothers lap. I hope to see him when I get home. I will make sure your friends get this." He the portrait into a pocket on the coat he wore and gave me back my gold.
I wanted to give him something, what he was doing for me meant more than I could put words to. I reached into my pack and pulled out one of the figurines I had bought. It was a small eastern dragon carved out of a green stone I was told was called jade. On its flanks it wore letters in the Shou tongue, I knew now they meant 'good fortune' and 'good health'. It was a good luck charm. I asked Galen and Nolan both to bless it in the name of their gods and they both did. I also prayed that Eilistraee would bless it as well, I was no priestess but never in my life have I doubted that my prayers found listening ears. Then I gave it to the man, "If you will not take my gold take this. For your son. Tell him it was sent by a woman who knows his father to be both kind and honorable."
He smiled and nodded to me. Then he placed the figurine in another pocket, "Thank you. My best wishes go with you wherever it is you go. May you get there and back home safely."
I nodded, "And to you as well."
After a time on the road we finally arrived at Lake Ashane. We had passed towns at regular intervals along the way but Eshrin said the one on the far bank of the lake would be the last town we would see for the rest of our trek east. It was called Mulsantir. We waited patiently on the shore until a ferry arrived. More than one caravan rolled off it and began their treks west. We led our horses onto the ferry and traveled to the eastern bank. Poor Alys was terrified the entire way and it was all I could do to keep her calm. I do not think she liked the water at all. We took the night in Mulsantir to give our horses a days rest before we took to the road again.
Not long after we found ourselves at the feet of the Sunrise Mountains and ready to follow the road up and into the passes through them. The way was difficult and through much of it we led our horses. We began to come down out of the mountains and saw that the road disappeared leaving only stone markers to show the way. Also near the bottom of the range was an old fortress. It was mostly ruins but the central keep still stood and what looked like much newer fortifications and towers were connected to it by a series of long, covered passages. There were small, run down houses scattered around the keep as well, but none looked lived in from our distance. The place was a ways off the path and seemed to have only a limited view of the road. From our high vantage point we could see the ruins quite well. There was some movement in the ruins, but it was not the movements of animals Rhia said, it was deliberate and intelligent. We decided to give the place a wide berth and perhaps look into them on the return trip. Our biggest concern at the time was securing at least one artifact piece. We traveled down, careful to avoid the ruins and vigilant for ambushes. Rhia said we were being watched and I knew she was right because I could see Peck gliding in long circles around specific areas then moving to another to do the same.
The place was like the sea, only in faded greens and browns instead of blue. The grass swayed in a slight breeze and made it look like the waves on the water. It stretched out as far as I could see and met the horizon well beyond my vision. It was absolutely beautiful.
We could see the stone markers that made up the path that the Golden Way was in the Endless Wastes, each within eye sight of the last. It was fairly easily to follow, and we went mostly east and sometimes turn sharply south skirting the edge of the mountain range. Alys seemed to like the place, she would often lift her face up into the breeze and shake her mane. The nights were clear and cold. I was sure our campfires could be seen all the way in Kara-Tur. We were vigilant for any monsters since anything anywhere nearby would be able to see the light of our fire. I took the darkest watches because I could see in the dark.
Eventually the road moved away from the mountains and into the Endless Wastes, and we began to be able to see a forest well ahead of us, which became clearer and clearer as we rode. The path turned south of the forest and steered clear of it but Eshrin said the wood was our destination, the Lake of Mists at its center was where we had to go. He said the place was dangerous and that he did not know what to expect inside the wood. He had heard some stories of the place and said it was largely unexplored and that of those who had entered to explore it only a few small few had ever returned. I thought that boded ill for us, but we had to go in and secure the artifact. This was one whose keeper had gone silent.
The wood itself seemed misty and the air was think. We discovered the reason for this when we reached its center and found the lake. The water evaporated but the level of the lake did not seem to diminish. The evaporated water hung over the whole place like a thin fog. It was aptly named. In a brief exploration of the area we found a small and mostly hidden tunnel and determined this must be where we had to go. So we tied our horses at the tree line near the water. We had exhausted the entire supply one of the pack horses carried, and had just enough for the return trip on the other. Galen took it all off the horse and tucked it into a crevasse at the foot of one tree, then he asked Tralin to cast a spell to make it invisible. In case bandits came he said.
I led the way into the tunnel, I could see in the dark and the place was likely to be trapped. I moved slowly looking for any hidden dangers. It was a small tunnel, I had to crouch slightly as I traveled through it, and it appeared to be natural, to me anyway. Roots dangled from the roof over my head, and the occasional clod of dirt would thump into my skull causing me to start and spook the rest of the group. Tralin carried a stick with a soft glowing light on the end but I stayed ahead of it and just beyond its illumination. The light would interfere with my ability to see in the dark, my vision would not turn to the black in white I saw with in the dark if there was any light to see by.
The path began to slowly slope down, into the earth. I did not notice it at first but Rhia mentioned we were descending and when I paid attention she was right. I found nothing to suggest any creature had been through the tunnel in a very long time. After a long ways, I do not know how long we had been traveling in it, the tunnel opened up to a huge cavern. The floor evened out and the far end of the cavern faded into darkness beyond my sight. I could make out the ceiling but it was just within my range of vision. We continued forward and finally I saw the back wall, but I could not see and tunnels or other openings, it appeared to simply be a cavern wall. Tralin moved closer and began to examine the far wall, "This is an illusion I believe." I could not tell if it was or not, but Tralin knew enough about magic that if he said it was I would believe him. I began looking around for a means of turning off the illusion, Eshrin, Rhia, and Galen did as well. Tralin, Maeve, and Nolan examined the wall at various parts.
Galen was the first to speak, and I jumped a bit when he did. "You are right, it is an illusion." He began chanting a prayer. Tralin watched him a moment then began a spell of his own. Tralins finished first but I did not see any effect of it, he looked content enough so I thought it must have been cast successfully. The Galen finished and the wall disappeared. Before us was the front of a massive building. Made from dark stone it filled the cavern floor to ceiling and wall to wall. Beautifully fashioned pillars rose up to support the top. Six of them spread at even intervals across the face of the building. Separating them into groups of three on either side was a wide and tall opening. We all gasped as we looked, it was truly a marvel. Galen again broke the silence, "I didn't remove the illusion, only suppressed it temporarily. We should go in if we're going to.
We all nodded, Tralin cast a spell and I saw a brief flare surround him, that quickly faded. It looked like a suit of armor in the instant I saw it for. Eshrin drew his sword and nodded at me. Galen drew his and moved right to my side, "Don't worry. You'll be fine." He whispered. I glanced around at my companions, he was right, I would be. There was no better company to be in.
One hand on a dagger the other ready to search tiny crevasses I nodded and led us into the building.
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