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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tell me my love...Part three

Tresha started to sob as she exited the couples hovel located under the roots of an ancient oak in the forest just south of Myth Drannor.  Aelar had finished recounting his tale of the incredible events that had led him to this shrine to Silvanus, and into her life.  She had known his life before had been difficult and full of hardships and burdens that most would find too great to bear.  She often begged Aelar to open up to her and let her help him with what he obviously struggled with every day since they had been together. 

Tresha never imagined the depth of the struggle that he and his companions had gone through.  Once more, she could scarcely believe some of the events that Aelar had told her of.  A war that stretched into the future for a thousand years, the Fomorian Empire laying waste to the surface world and it would all begin right here, right now.  In fact, it had probably already begun.  Tresha sobbed uncontrollably at that thought.  She knew Aelar wasn’t lying to her, but she was not prepared to hear the ugly truth.  But, how could she leave him now when he needed her the most?  She knew Silvanus had brought him to her for a reason and now that reason had become clear.  She would stand by him, and lead him back to his friends so that they could face this terrible future together.  And she would be there right beside him.

Tresha Van Cortlandt ran from lots of things in her young life, but she would not run from this.  She wiped the tears that streaked down her cheeks and turned back toward the entrance to the hovel where her lover waited.  She would not abandon Aelar.  This time, she would find the strength to lead him back to the path that she knew they would now walk together, wherever it might lead.

A curious shadow caught her eye as the morning sun was just peaking over the foothills in the east.  She stared at it for a moment before she realized that it was Kuriel Misthaven, one of the other druids that lived near the shrine.  She held up her hand in greeting but something was wrong.  Kuriel was staggering a bit and then fell over, face first into the small stream that ran through the clearing where the shrine was located.  She started toward him but got no farther than one stride before she felt the awful sting of the two daggers that now protruded from her chest.  Before she fell Tresha saw the dark, hooded figure that had just hurled the missiles step from the bushes ahead of her.

The light seem to fade and her vision became blurred.  Tresha could not breathe or cry out for her love.  She could do nothing but gasp much needed air that stubbornly refused to fill her lungs.  With every attempt to draw breath, blood poured into her lungs and she began to drown.  The pain was excruciating.  It was dark now, and all she could hear was the gurgling of her own blood as it traveled back up her wind pipe and into her throat.  She was lost.

Inside the hovel, Aelar sat there not knowing if he should go after Tresha or let her be alone to work through her thoughts.  It was a lot to take in all at once and he couldn’t blame her for being upset.  He silently asked Silvanus to be with her as she tried to understand everything that he had told her.

The silent prayer to his deity made him shudder with dread.  Aelar stood up and immediately ran to the shoddy wooden door.  He walked outside into the mist that covered the ground of the forest in the early morning.  As he looked around he saw Kuriel Misthaven’s body lying in the stream and immediately thought of Tresha.

“Tresha!  Tresha, where are you!?”  Aelar cried out.

Just as soon as the words came out he saw her lying motionless on the ground near a brambleberry bush.  He ran to her and grabbed her lifeless body up in his arms and was about to let out a mournful wail but was interrupted by the loud crack of snapping wood from behind him.  The druid laid his lover down gently and turned toward the cracking sound knowing full well what he would see.

The cyclops stood nearly twenty feet tall and wielded a club that dwarfed many of the nearby trees.  That horrible, single eye locked onto Aelar instantly and waves of negative energy flowed forth to engulf the elf druid.  Aelar’s felt his will wavering for just an instant, but the memory of holding his dead lover shook him quickly out of the giant’s evil influence.  The druid lashed out with powerful lightning bolts that danced wildly up and down the cyclop’s body dazing it for a few moments, long enough for Aelar to put some distance between himself and that wickedly, large club.

This mortal dance continued for a few long moments, Aelar blasting away with lightning bolts and making sure to stay out of reach of the evil giant’s club.  The bolts were hitting home but were not causing enough damage to the ugly beast to ever hope to drop it.  Aelar would become exhausted long before that happened he knew.  And, of course, it would only take one swing of that tree-trunk-sized club to crush him to dust.  He had to come up with some kind of plan to stop the mighty giant and avenge his lost love.

It was at this moment that Aelar felt the whoosh of a dagger that flew past his right ear.  The druid spun around to see the dark assassin that had flung the dagger readying a second dagger.  He held up his hand to release another bolt of lightning but halted when he saw the second dark, hooded assassin step out from the bushes to the right and release his missile.  Aelar ducked and rolled away from the two dagger throwing assassins only to find himself too close to the cyclops that had been stomping his way through the trees toward him.  He had been too blinded by the rage of his lover’s murder and had fallen into the trap they had laid for him. 

“Of course!”  Aelar thought.  

The wounds in her chest were dagger wounds not from a giant’s club.   He silently berated himself for being so thick as to not realize that the cyclops was not the only threat he faced this terrible morning.  Aelar found himself within the swinging arc of the evil, one-eyed giant’s club.  There was only one escape for him this time. 

As the gigantic weapon hurled toward him, Aelar fell within himself and called upon his innate abilities to transform himself into a swarm of locusts.  The instant before the club struck its mark, the druid’s elven form burst into a hundred insects.  Some of the insects were smashed and others were swatted away but most of them flew up into the air and away from the immediate danger.  The blow had severely stung but it had not crushed him at least. 

The insects coalesced back into the form of an elf and Aelar stood there looking back at the cyclops and the dark assassins that now started to run through the woods after him.  He looked passed his enemies to the body of Tresha that lay just beyond them on the ground, unmoving.  He knew then he could not hope to defeat these vile creatures.  He had no choice but to flee.  Just then, he thought of his friends Murook and Boucher.  If the cyclops found him out here in the woods, they could surely find the half orc and the dwarf.  He had to get to them as quickly as he could.  Alone they were nothing, together they were feared.

Aelar threw up a wall of thorns between himself and the charging enemies heading toward him.  The thorns ripped at their flesh and slowed them to a crawl.  Even the mighty giant was wincing in pain at every prick of the needle sharp spines giving the druid time to make his escape.  He pulled out a curious onyx figurine in the shape of a fly that he had taken from Fredregar’s lair not so long ago.  Aelar spoke the command word and in a flash he was astride an enormous fly rising into the air and turning toward the city of Phlan where Murook was last known to be.

**********

Another arrow clanked off the stone just after the green skinned blur that was Murook Amphibane flashed by.  He was big, even for a half orc, and although two arrows protruded from his back he still moved with speed and power showing no signs of fatigue.  He counted four archers so far, but he had the feeling there were others lurking around and Murook knew to trust his feelings.  He quickly ducked inside one of the unfinished buildings within the newly constructed walls of the temple complex being built to honor Thaelioth, the new goddess of time and travel.

The building offered some protection from the archers.  His attackers refused to come in after him not wanting to get close enough feel the vicious bite of Murook’s axe.  The bandits were content to wait outside until the half orc made his break then they would take him out from a safe distance.  He had only caught a glimpse of the archers briefly as he dodged the arrows that whistled passed him in his frantic dash for cover.  Murook had received a message from Fredregar, who was the highpriest of Thaelioth and overseer of the temple construction here in Phlan, saying that he needed to see Murook as soon as possible at the temple site.  He did not know what role Fredregar had played in this ambush but doubted that the enigmatic mage would suddenly turn on him.  After all, the decision to tell the Fomorians the location of the boxes was not his idea and, in fact, was the very reason the group had fractured and went their separate ways.

Murook was shook from his thoughts as another arrow struck the stone wall beside his head.  He looked toward the direction from which the arrow had come to see one of his antagonists had worked around the unfinished building and found an opening.  He quickly picked up two of the other bandit archers as they made their way to firing positions atop the temple’s parameter wall.  Soon they would be able to fire at him from three locations and the unfinished buildings walls would offer little protection from all three, not to mention the other archers that were undoubtedly moving to flank him as well.  He had to think of something, and quickly before he had no place left to take cover.

He could charge one or two of them and drop them quickly, but the others would be able to put at least four arrows in him before he could take cover again, and as strong as he was, he doubted he would survive that.  Murook looked around frantically as the fear that always accompanied him into battle, started to take hold.  He had learned to manage it, and even use it to his advantage over the course of the last year since the Academy had been destroyed, but it was always there.

“Every warrior has fear, Murook.  Those that learn to use it become great, those that do not, die.”  The words of Headmistress Tyranna echoed in his mind as they usually did in times of crisis.  He wondered then how many times her teachings had saved him without him realizing it.  And so they would again.

The distant twang of bowstring let him know that he must move now if he wished to survive.  At the back of the building were steps that led up to the top of the parameter wall.  Archers were up there, but the crenellations would offer him cover from the rest of the attackers and he could use the corners of the walls to draw them in close.  It was a plan, the only one he had at the moment. 

Murook burst from the building and up the stairs in a flash of glinting steel and green tinted skin.  He caught one very surprised archer near the top of the stairs as he headed down to get a better shot.  Murook’s jagged axe slammed into his enemy with such force all that was left was a cloud of red mist and ash floating in the air as he charged on to the top of the wall.  He found another of his assailants when he reached the top and wasted no time bringing his deadly axe around to slice into the unfortunate soul putting an end to another threat. 

The sting of another arrow piercing his lower left leg quickly brought him back from the edge of bloodlust, to the painful here and now.  Murook spun around and locked his gaze onto the archer that stood just down the wall a few quick strides readying another arrow.  He was near a corner where the wall turned and could duck behind it for cover, but what lay around that corner?  Would it be another archer and another stinging arrow?  Murook raised his axe and charged.

The arrow struck him in the right shoulder with great force just before the blood soaked, jagged axe slammed into the hapless archer cleaving him neatly in two.  The air once again filled with the familiar blood, red mist and gray ash cloud. 

Murook noticed the ash this time but had little time to worry about it.  He was hurt, badly.  The half orc scrambled to the corner where the wall turned and peaked around it hoping he would have time to choke down a healing potion before they were on him again.  Three were down, but there were at least three more, probably more.  He had to figure a way out of the temple complex where he could hide among the familiar streets of Phlan.  Slowly he peered around the corner just in time to see two of his attackers climbing down the outside of the wall and fleeing back toward the city.  Typical spineless sellswords, he thought.

“They run just when their pray is weakest.”  Murook coughed and winced from the sharp pain in his back and in his right shoulder and in his lower left leg.

Suddenly he remembered the odd, gray ash cloud that billowed forth from the archers he had killed.  After he pulled the arrow from his leg, and from his shoulder, he drank one of his strongest potions of healing to help the wounds knit together.  The two arrows still protruding from his back would have to wait for Old Merle’s help back at his apothecary shop.  For now, the curious ash that Murook now noticed covering the stones around him attracted the weary half orc’s interest.

The wounded warrior got to his feet and limped over to one of the bodies of the bandits to have a closer look.  The skin of the dead assassin was dark gray, almost black and cracked as if it had been severely burned.  When Murook pulled on the arm he noticed ash floating away from the skin when it was disturbed.  He had never heard of these creatures before, but what he found next left no doubt where they were from.  Under the archer’s tunic was a small medallion with the crest of the Nine Princes of the Empire of Netheril.

“We have a new enemy.”  Murook sighed.

**********

The dwarf priest held fast as he watched the giant, animated skeleton slowly rise from its seat on a throne made from the skulls of every conceivable creature that had ever skulked beneath the surface of the world.  The bone construct was at least ten feet tall and the priest could now see that it was actually made from the bones of many skeletons.  The hideous thing had a two horned helmet sitting atop what looked like the skull of a human and an orc fused together to become one.  It locked its gaze on the dwarf and moved in to strike.

The speed at which the rickety construct moved surprised the priest and he was caught off guard by the first wave of vicious attacks.  He quickly got his feet back under him, reset his defense and waited for an opening.  The bone construct flew into a series of furious attacks and the dwarf was taking more than a few hits, but a higher power had set him upon this task and he would not be denied.

Boucher De Cheval had followed the sun lord, Amaunator, ever since he could remember.  His clan was not like other dwarves.  Clan Cheval did not live underground in mines or crave the feeling of tons of rock over their heads like most dwarves.  They did not like being dusty or dirty; nor did they like to feel the hot humid air flowing off massive forges where metal flowed like water and the unending clang of hammer against steel rang through stone tunnels.  The clan has lived on the surface for more than three hundred years.  They served several surface lords in that time and have become known as master butchers and chefs.  It is considered quite prestigious to have a member of the Cheval clan in the kitchen in most of the northern regions of Faerun.

At a young age, Boucher felt the call of the sun lord and left the kitchens of the north to join the temple of Amaunator in the city of Waterdeep.  Although he was the only dwarf at the temple, it felt like home.  It felt right to him.

Over the past year he felt the light leaving him, or at least changing in some way.  Boucher had made some hard choices and fought many battles, both with his mace and with his heart, in that time.  Some of these choices were questionable for someone who followed the light.  He realized this too late to keep the light from leaving him.  When the choice was made to tell the Fomorians the location of the Boxes of Fredregar, the light left him.  Ever since then he had been trying to regain that connection with the sun lord, and had thus far, failed. 

For the past six months he had been meditating at the temple of the sun trying desperately to reach out to his beloved sun lord to ask his forgiveness and once again set his feet firmly back on the path to the sun.  During this time he felt himself slipping farther away from Amaunator instead of closer and somehow it did not bother him as much as he thought it might.

Last night, while deep in meditation, Boucher felt the familiar touch of the divine, but it was not the warmth of the sun he felt.  The vision this deific presence imparted to him had brought him down to this wretched cavern deep below Waterdeep to face this undead abomination.

The skeletal monster drew back the large bone it wielded like a crude club to strike the diminutive priest, but just as the bone club started its descent a brilliant light erupted from Boucher’s shield and blasted the horrid thing backward.  A few of the bones that made up the construct cracked and it fell to the wet stone kicking and flailing trying to escape the light.  Boucher was on the thing in an instant striking with his mace making sure to keep his shield up and not let the horrid thing back to its feet.

It was not the golden, amber glow of the sun lord’s light that radiated brightly from his shield this time as it had so many times in the past.  This light was pale blue in color, yet it felt just as comfortable as before, and just as inviting to him.  Boucher embraced this light and continued to wail on the skeletal monster as it thrashed wildly trying desperately to get away from the stinging, burning light.

Shards of bone flew in every direction as the dwarf’s mace, now glowing with the same pale blue light of his shield, connected again and again with the evil construct.  The thing struck back a few times but Boucher felt nothing.  He was now firmly within the embrace of the light and whatever wounds the evil thing managed to inflict upon him could not stop his ferocious assault.  In that instant, when his mace struck home and shattered the abomination’s skull, Boucher felt the sun give way to this new light.  It was a natural progression, as natural as life and death or day and night.  He was at peace.  It was as if he had left his father’s embrace and fallen into the arms of his waiting mother.

The evil that had once permeated the underground chamber deep below the city of Waterdeep was gone, but the path that Boucher De Cheval had been searching for had led him to the embrace of another.  Questions continued to circle around his mind about how he had been turned from the sun’s light, but the more he thought about it the more it seemed like the pale, blue light that now embraced him had always been there waiting for him to move toward it.  Boucher felt as if Amaunator had released him from the constricting light of order and duty and freed his spirit so that he could truly serve the greater good.

As these thoughts raced through his mind, Boucher caught the faint sparkle of metal half buried within the pile of bone shards.  He bent low and pulled out a curious, metallic medallion, the kind spell casters used to empower their constructs or so he believed.  His eyes went wide as he turned the medallion over and looked at the symbol that was carved into its surface.  There on the medallion was a carving of the skeletal hand symbol of the lich lord, Szass Tam.

At that moment, Boucher felt the heat as the smoke from the burning leather of his gloves filled his nostrils and instantly he dropped the vile symbol.  A vision assaulted his mind the very next moment of his friends Aelar and Murook.  He looked upon Aelar holding a dead female half elf and felt the druid’s mournful wails as a cyclops crashed through the trees toward his friend.  The next instant he saw Murook slumped against a stone wall with arrows sticking out of him from all angles.  The vision faded quickly and Boucher wasted no time bolting from the dark cavern up toward the surface and then to Phlan.

Boucher threw his shield over his back as he ran along the narrow corridors leading back up to the city.  He failed to notice the rising sun motif of Amaunator had been replaced by the large round image of the full moon.  The symbol of the Moonmaiden, Selune was now emblazoned upon the shield, but Boucher did not need to see it, he already knew.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tell me my love...Part two

“He was there?  He was alive?”  Tresha gasped when Aelar had finished his explanation of how he, Murook and Boucher had all met Fredregar inside the labyrinth under the Dragonspire Mountains.

“Well, alive is not exactly correct.  As I said, he was one of the undead.  A lich, I believe that’s the term.”  Aelar said as he searched for a better way to relate this very strange set of circumstances. 

“LICH!  Those are horrid, evil creatures, yes?”  The young half elf maiden blurted out.

“Well, yes.  Normally, you’d be right, but Fredregar… well, Fredregar is… different.”  Aelar shrugged, having no other idea of how to say it.

Tresha stared back at him, her expression one of fascination and horror all at once.  She could not believe what she was hearing and began to understand why Aelar was reluctant to open up to her until now.  She could scarcely believe all he had been through in such a short time.  It was no wonder that the Oak Father had led him to her.  If anyone needed her special gifts it was Aelar, a lost elf in the great wood.



“Yes, yes I know.  It’s a lot to take in.”  Aelar continued.  “Sometimes I don’t believe it all myself, and I was there.”  Aelar shrugged not knowing what else he could say.  He decided to continue and explain it as best he could.

Aelar told Tresha of the magic orb called Traveler and how the sentient artifact had appeared to them as Thaelioth and set them on a quest to find the Boxes of Fredregar.  He recounted how they learned the Cult of the Dragon had been behind the attack at the Academy to steal Traveler or so they had thought.  It was later revealed to them that the cult’s real objective was to steal one of the boxes that were sealed within the keep.  Traveler used the distraction, and Aelar and his friends, to be free of the prison which Thaelioth had created to hide the artifact.

“Traveler is, perhaps, the most powerful artifact of magic ever created, and many powerful beings would lay waste to entire kingdoms just to possess it.”  Aelar paused to collect his thoughts for a moment.

“So, it was Traveler that was there the day of the attack at the Academy and not Thaelioth?”  Tresha trying desperately to follow the winding tale asked as she got out of bed and threw on her earthen colored clothes that hung near the fireplace.

“No.  They were both there.  Thaelioth had been the one that fought the ancient blue dragon, but she apparently was gone by the time we made our way back to the keep to see if anyone survived.”  Aelar scratched his chin as he spoke and Tresha could see that he was working out what exactly had happened that day for himself.

“It was this day when Mandlebrot and Archelios left us to do research about the boxes and the orb to try and make some sense of what we should do next.”  Aelar said.

“And that’s when you went to Fredregar’s lair, yes?”  Tresha asked as she finished putting on her warm clothes and sat down near the fire and stared up at him curiously.

“Yes, but it’s a lab, not a lair.”  Aelar corrected her.

“Oh.  Right.”  Tresha said raising her eyebrow and grinning slightly.

Tresha sat there for a long while listening to Aelar tell the tale of how they escaped Fredregar’s lab with the first box.  When they exited the lab they set out for the city of Phlan, located close by on the north shores of the Moonsea.  On their way there they met a curious harpy named Tierna Whisperwind.  Tierna’s story would prove to be very difficult to explain indeed, so Aelar took a gulp of water from the drinking barrel and tried to gather his thoughts.

He explained how the harpy had come from the future to locate Boucher and warn him about the Fomorians that would be coming for the orb soon.  Boucher apparently was the forbearer of some great general fighting the cyclopsian armies of the Fomorian Empire.  The war had been raging for nearly a thousand years without end and had all but destroyed the surface of Faerun, driving most races to the Underdark.

“Dear Oak Father!”  Tresha gasped in a whispered tone.  “How did you carry this burden alone my love?”  She moved closer to him and wrapped her arms around his waist and laid her head in his lap.

“In truth, I didn’t believe most of it, until Traveler took Murook, Boucher and I there and we saw it with our own eyes.”  Aelar stroked Tresha’s hair as he spoke but was interrupted when she snapped her head up to look at him when he finished.

“The future?”  Tresha was staring at him in disbelief.

Aelar stared back at her and said, “Traveler can take you any place at any time you wish.  As I told you, it’s perhaps the most powerful art…”

“…artifact ever created.”  Tresha finished his thought perfectly.  “You’ve been to the future?  And there’s nothing but war.”  Her voice trailed off as that realization sunk in deeply.

“Only one possibility, or at least that’s how the people there tried to explain it.  They were attempting to end the war before it began, which is why they sent Tierna back to warn us.”  Aelar averted his gaze back down to the dirt floor of their hovel as he spoke not really knowing what else he could say at that moment.

“Oak Father protect us.”  Tresha whispered as she got up from the floor and staggered back to the bed and sat down facing Aelar not knowing anything else to do but listen to rest of his story.  In truth, she was no longer sure she wanted to hear the rest, but she trusted him enough to listen.

Aelar continued telling Tresha about rescuing Headmistress Tyranna from the Cult of the Dragon in the Orsraun Mountains, south of Sembia.  Boucher and Murook had learned from Fredregar that the cult wanted the boxes to use them in their dark rituals involving the dragons, and they kept the two boxes that they had acquired in the same compound where they held mistress Tyranna.  They hatched a cunning rescue mission that involved potions of mimicry and much running and lots of fighting to grab the boxes and rescue the Headmistress all at once.  With a little help from Fredregar, the plan was a success, eventually.  They had all escaped using Traveler to instantly teleport them to safety.

Afterwards, the three of them traveled, by way of the sentient orb, to the kingdom of Yinnamarr to retrieve the fourth and final box.  Aelar recounted the tale of how the three of them breached the castle of Lord Devronn Crumley and found it full of shades in service to the lord of the undead, Szass Tam.  As they entered the keep to locate the box, they discovered that it was being stolen by a female thief clad in black leather armor.  A thief they later discovered belonged to an organization called, The Tashas.  They took the box from the thief and left her to the shades and then made their way back to Fredregar’s lab with the last of the four boxes.

“Fredregar later told us that Szass Tam was the Red Wizard that had polymorphed him.  The lord of the undead is Fredregar’s former master.”  Aelar stated and then looked up from the floor toward Tresha who was sitting on the bed blankly staring at the fire.

“Now you understand why I was reluctant to open up to you.”  Aelar sighed.

After long moments of silence, Tresha cleared her throat and spoke.  “What you’ve been through, how you’ve survived I couldn’t begin to understand.”  She said softly.  “The Cult of the Dragon, the Undead Lord and an organization of thieves, not to mention the Fomorian Empire and Silvanus knows who else is after these boxes and this orb that calls itself Traveler.”  She said shaking her head more vigorously with every word.

“There’s more.”  Aelar dared to add

Without a word the half elf woman sat on the bed and nodded to him to continue his tale.  Aelar knew she was having a difficult time reconciling the enormous forces arrayed against him and his friends.  He could not blame her.  As he heard himself telling the tale, he grew more and more unsure about what he should do.

Aelar explained how they made Fredregar’s lab their base and gathered a sizable contingent of troops to help defend it against the Fomorians.  Many harpies came to serve Tierna and they had liberated the lost dwarven city of Dimmenstein from the clutches of a mind flayer.  The dwarves joined them and brought many others with them, including halflings, deep gnomes, some elves and even a few drow.  Their coalition was taking shape, and they managed to fight off a cyclops attack with the help of The Tashas, who pledged their support shortly after.  They had built a small army dedicated to protecting the Boxes of Fredregar and stopping the Fomorian threat.

Fredregar used the boxes in a ritual to transform himself back to his natural form and promptly took the boxes to the newly ordained goddess of time and travel, Thaelioth.  It was decided the boxes would be safer inside her realm, the Desert of Time.  Traveler disappeared after Thaelioth decided the orb must be destroyed in order to ensure the balance of power.

Boucher, Murook and Aelar were reunited with Mandlebrot and discovered that the enigmatic gnome had been in contact with Traveler for a long time.  He had been leading a team that was creating a mechanical body that the orb could merge with.  The three of them also realized that the gnome had changed somehow and was now on his own crusade and seemed to be allied with the sentient artifact.

Aelar paused and stared at Tresha for a long while until she turned to look back at him.  Her expression was solemn and tears filled each of her dark brown eyes.  At that moment he knew that he had made a mistake in telling her.  What right did he have to lay this upon her shoulders.  Gone was the cocked eyebrow and flirtatious smirk she always wore when she looked at him.  The beautiful half elfs face was now sorrowful, much like his own he imagined.

“The war will still begin, yes?”  Tresha asked nearly choking on the words.

“It has already begun.”  Aelar could not bear to look into her eyes any longer and dropped his head toward the floor as he prepared to tell her the final part of his tale.

“We told the Fomorians where the boxes were to save ourselves.”  Aelar finished still sitting motionless by the fire.

He heard Tresha get up from the bed and start to sob as she walked out of the hovel.  He moved toward her but she threw up her hand to stop him and continued outside.  Aelar sat back down and put his head in his hands.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tell me my love...

“Tell me my love, what weighs on you so?  Is it the friends you told me of?  You wish to see them again, yes?”  Tresha said to Aelar who lay next to her on their bed of animal skins which was situated in front of the comforting fire inside their hovel.

Tresha’s face, so delicate and lovely, was marred by a few smudges of soot and dirt from the daily chores that were a part of life out in the forest, but these did nothing to diminish her beauty.  A sort of innocence burst forth from the half elf woman. How could he not love her, Aelar thought.  He remembered coming upon this shrine to Silvanus on his way to Myth Drannor.  It was as if he was led here, and perhaps the Oak Father had done just that, so that he could meet Tresha.  She and the other two druids at the shrine had welcomed him without questions or judgments of any kind.  Such was the way of the followers of Silvanus, and so it was that he found a home.  The gentle nudge of Tresha tugging at the pelts which covered them both brought Aelar back from his memories to once again look into her eyes as she stared back at him with one eyebrow cocked and that curious smirk she wore when she expected something from him, and then he remembered her questions.

“It ALL weighs on me.”  Aelar’s expression went from a smile of fond remembrances to the solemn fa├žade of one with the deep regret of unfinished business.

Tresha knew that Aelar had something that haunted him in his past.  He spoke little of his life before they had met in the woods nearly 9 months ago.  She knew enough not to ask him too many questions, but lately he had grown even more sullen and she worried for him.

“If you would talk with me about it, maybe it would make you feel better.  Maybe the Oak Father sent you to me for this reason, yes?”  Tresha’s smirking smile returned along with the cocked eyebrow.  There seemed to be nothing that could keep the smile from the beautiful, half elf’s face.

“You’re right.”  Aelar said after a few moments of silence had passed.  He sat up and reached for his robes that were draped across the foot of the bed.  “There’s no need for me to keep things from you.  You deserve to know what disturbs my heart.”  Aelar felt an enormous relief just by saying those words.

And why shouldn’t he tell her?  She has done nothing but love him and in return he has kept his pain from her.  Of course he did it to shield her, lest it corrupt her as well, or at least that is what he had been telling himself for the last six months as they had grown closer.  Tresha did indeed deserve to know him, and he would tell her everything.  Nothing held back.  Would she think him a coward for leaving his friends?  Aelar thought about that for a moment and nearly lost his new found conviction.  He could not bear the thought of disappointing her, but he trusted her enough to know that she would understand and be able to see the truth of things.  Aelar dismissed his doubts and sat down at the small table next to the cooking pots that lay around the hearth in front of the fire.  Tresha was propped up on her right elbow with the animal pelts draped over her body.  She stared back at him and gave an understanding nod for him to continue when he was ready.

“Begin at the beginning.”  Aelar sighed.  He gathered his wits and began his tale.

“The Dalelands Defense Academy was my home for nearly four years.  I know it seems odd that one called by nature spends his time at a school and in a city no less, but I always knew I wanted to be out there answering the call of Silvanus to right wrongs and protect the innocent.  It was the best place I could think of to prepare for that.  Martial skills, alchemy, ritual magic and secrets of meditation and prayer were just some of the things I learned while there.  My time at the Academy was well worth putting up with stone under my feet for so long.”  Aelar paused to collect his thoughts, and then continued.

“It was at the Academy that I met Boucher, Murook, Arquelios and Mandlebrot.  If you can imagine a half orc, dwarf, drow and gnome hanging around with an elf like me.  We were certainly not a normal looking group, but we were close.”  Aelar paused smiling and shaking his head as he remembered the carefree times the five of them had.

“Folk must’ve parted when this group walked toward them, yes?”  Tresha chuckled as she sat up on the bed made from crudely carved wood piled high with straw and wrapped the pelts around her as if she could feel a bit of the warmth of Aelar’s fond memory.

“Aye!”  Aelar chuckled with her.  “In truth, the people of Highmoon were used to the odd mix of races from all over Faerun that attended the Academy.”

“Highmoon?  That’s in the south, yes?  Near Sembia?”  Tresha asked.

“Yes, the Academy is… or was… located just outside in the foothills of the Thunder Peaks.”  Aelar’s voice trailed off as the realization that the Academy was gone always seemed to hit him just as hard as it had the first time.

Tresha remained silent sensing his solemn contemplation, and trusted that he would continue when he was ready.

“We were attacked by a dragon, an ancient blue by all accounts.”  Aelar continued after several moments.  “The foul beast laid waste to the old keep that served as the main building of the Academy.  The five of us were caught out in the open, in the main courtyard.  I thought us all dead for sure, but the blue beast had other things to worry about.”  Aelar stopped and thought for a moment.  “You see, the Dalelands Defense Academy was founded centuries before by a powerful elf sorceress named Thaelioth.”  He paused awaiting the expected question that he knew would be forthcoming.

“Wait… the same elf sorceress that it was rumored just recently ascended to godhood?  THAT Thaelioth?”  Tresha leaned forward with anticipation.

“Yes, the same one.”  Aelar continued.  “She was there, you see, Thaelioth herself was there that day.  We could see the top of the highest tower erupt with magic spells so powerful that they sundered the very air.  The ancient blue fought back with searing blasts of lightning breath that blew stones the size of an ogre’s head from the tower ramparts.  The stones rained down all around us.  Many people died.  We just ran as fast as we could and didn’t look back.”  Aelar paused, as he tried to stop the memories of that day from flooding back into him.

“But what could you do but run, my love?  If you’d stayed…”  Tresha fell silent then as Aelar looked up at her with a pained expression and she understood then how he struggled with that very question for these long months.  She could do nothing else, nor could she say anything that would bring any comfort to him at that moment.  Tresha sat there feeling helpless.

“You’re right.”  Aelar said after long moments of silence.  “I don’t feel there was anything more any of us could’ve done had we stayed, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.”  He said with his head lowered staring at the dirt floor of the couple’s hovel.

All of his young life had been spent in battle or training for battle and now he had found happiness with this half elf maiden of Silvanus.  They had a small dugout cave beneath the roots of a mighty oak right next to a shrine to the forest god.  They were happy, or at least Tresha was happy.  How could he not be happy here with a creature as lovely and kind as Tresha?  At that thought he looked up to see her lying on their crudely made bed of wood and straw with only enough of the animal pelts covering her to make his mind race with memories of the times they had held each other on the long, cold nights during the past winter.  She stared back at him with her head cocked to one side and her face showing deep concern for what was troubling him.

Oh, she was easy to look at, and even easier to love.  Tresha had a way about her.  A capricious flirt and a sharp wit made her irresistible to him.  It did not hurt that she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, and though his years be few, he had seen more than most would in a lifetime.  He was shaken from his pleasant memories by the half elf maiden as she spoke after the long moments of silence.

“All five of you made it into the cave, yes?  What a terrifying thing to endure.  I wouldn’t know what to do if I saw a dragon.”  Tresha said and then lowered her head.  She shuddered at the thought of having to face a dragon, and suddenly, she felt cold.  Tresha pulled the skins around her tightly and noticed that as soon as she did that, Aelar got up and added more wood on the fire.

“Aye, the five of us made it into the cave just as the lightning breath from the great blue dragon collapsed the entrance and trapped us inside.  We stumbled around for a while before we finally discovered a way out once we defeated the dark one assassins sent by the Cult of the Dragon, who we later learned had planned the attack to recover an artifact of immense power, but not the artifact that we first thought.”  Aelar rubbed his chin and looked over to Tresha who looked quite perplexed at that moment.

“I know…, I know. I will attempt to explain it all.  It sounds rather confusing when I say it aloud.”  Aelar offered to his befuddled love that accepted his promise without hesitation and settled back down in her spot on the bed and waited.  The elf druid started to realize then that talking to his love about these extraordinary events might actually help him work out what had gone so wrong and, more importantly, what was to come.

“This Academy was founded by Thaelioth, as I said earlier.  A powerful mage ascended to godhood in our time, but in the beginning, over three hundred years ago, she was just another adventurer like all the rest.  She fell in with a grand group of heroes calling themselves the Guardians of the Balance.  By all accounts they were a mighty force for good in the realms.  The founding members of that group included Himoro, always quick with a blade but just as quick with a sharp retort.  Treefiddy, a curious halfling with the strength of an orc and the agility of the drow all wrapped up in a small, ferocious package.  Razmussen Whiteblade, a man that was always prepared with a clever song or a shrewd scheme, whichever was needed.  Ragnar of Arabel, a man whose strength of arm rivaled that of giants, but the greatswords he wielded proved to be less than able to cope with his powerful swings most of the time.  And lastly, there was Fredregar.”  Aelar took another sip of water from the drinking barrel and sat back down at the small table to continue.

“As curious a creature as I think I shall ever encounter.  Fredregar began his life as the apprentice to a powerful Red Wizard in the land of Thay, but he apparently disappointed his master so greatly that the Red Wizard polymorphed the poor man into a small monkey.  The tormenting wizard kept the little monkey in a cage in his study, feeding him rarely and beating him often, apparently content to watch him grow old and die in misery.  The Red Wizard didn’t count on one of the side effects of his spell.  Fredregar was now a creature of magic, and thus was able to feel the call of the weave itself.  This didn’t help him at first, for even if he could learn to cast spells, he would never be powerful enough to escape his prison.  Then one night, while the little monkey lay in his small cage listening to his tiny stomach growl from hunger, he heard a strange call.  It whispered on the weave of magic like the wind playing with the surface of a still pond.  It was a summons.  Someone was using magic to summon a creature to bond with them.  Without hesitation Fredregar answered this call and was pulled from his cage to serve as Himoro’s familiar.  Thus, Fredregar escaped his fate and became one of the Guardians.”  Aelar heaved a great sigh and shook his head when he thought of the enigmatic wizard Fredregar, and all he had been through.

“Well, I’d heard of Himoro’s pet and all the rest of the Guardians.  I mean everyone growing up in the Dales has heard the tales, yes?  But, I’d not known how the monkey came to be in service to Himoro.”  Tresha raised an eyebrow and her face screwed up as she thought about what she had just heard.  “But, how and where did you learn of this?”  She asked finally and try as she might, she could not work out just where this tale was leading.  She was truly intrigued now and her expression begged Aelar to provide the answers.

“I learned it from Fredregar himself when we entered the lair where he had been trapped for the last hundred years.”  Aelar patted his hands in the air before him to cut off the torrent of questions that Tresha had sucked in a mighty breath in preparation to shower upon him.  After a moment she let out a great sigh and resigned herself to remain silent and let him continue.  Aelar smiled at his exuberant lover fighting so hard to keep her thoughts inside, and at that moment he decided to tell her everything.  Indeed he thought that he had been foolish to not confide in his love these last months.

                                                                   **********

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Tasha is Born Part Two

Murielle’s body writhed on the wooden floor of the small house in Waterdeep.  Her hands and feet bound with shackles to sturdy iron hooks embedded in the thick wooden planks.  Strangely though, she found herself watching her body twist and contort in odd ways that she thought physically impossible.  She watched from the corner of the small room as Proctor Gertrude, her mentor, looked on with obvious concern etched upon her face.

“What’s happening to me?”  Murielle thought to herself, but she could not pull her gaze from the writhing form on the floor of the room.  “There’s no pain.  Am I already dead?”  She thought.

“Do ya wish to be?”  A female voice whispered from the shadows in the corner of the room.

Murielle, not easily startled, nearly jumped through the ceiling at the answer to the question she thought no one else could hear.  She immediately snapped her head around to face the direction from where the voice had come readying herself for whoever, or whatever, would be coming from the darkness.  After what seemed like an eternity, a blonde, half elf woman calmly walked out of the shadows to stand next to her.  The half elf woman was dressed in black, skin tight leather armor with a silver belt ornately carved with tiny spiders all over the surface of it.  Set into the belt were eight rubies, six smaller ones and two large ones in the center.  Upon closer inspection the armor was covered in etchings of small spiders just like the silver belt and as she looked closer she saw that the small spiders would move from time to time as if crawling across the surface of armor itself.

“Don’t fret child, I’m not here to harm ya.”  The blonde, half elf spoke in whispered tones.  “I’m here to teach ya.”  She continued.

“You are… You…”  Murielle could not find the words to speak as she suddenly realized who was now standing beside her.

“My name is Tasha, as ya wish yars to be as well, yeh?”  The blonde woman looked up into Murielle’s eyes as she spoke so there could be no mistake that this was not just a simple question.  Murielle, being tall for a human, was at least a head taller than the smaller half elf but at that moment she felt no less intimidated than if she were facing a storm giant.  The blonde, half elf woman stared at her waiting patiently for her answer.

“Yes.”  Murielle spoke without really thinking about it.  And of course she did, this was all she ever wanted since the time Gertrude and the other two Tasha’s had purchased her from the slave market in Calimport.  “Yes.”  Murielle said again with more conviction as she straightened herself to look squarely back into the eyes of the blonde woman standing next to her.

“Then we shall begin.”  An impish grin spread across the thin lips of the blonde, half elf woman as she spoke.  She held out her hand and nodded toward Murielle prompting her to grasp it.

“You are Tasha… the first one?”  Murielle said, her voice shaking much more than she wanted, as she moved slowly to take the half elf’s outstretched hand.

“Ya will see, eh?  Ya will see.”  Tasha said.

The two grasped hands and instantly the small room faded from view replaced by a stream of images and voices to numerous to comprehend.  Scenes of friends and enemies alike, of otherworldly beings unknown to Murielle and godlike creatures which she thought existed only in nightmares.  She became overwhelmed and found herself nearly losing her grip on the small hand that held hers with a mighty grip.  The images and voices lessened suddenly and she found herself floating through the air toward a skyship and gently lighting on the deck overlooking a curious scene.

“The history of Tasha is as important as the future of Tasha.”  Tasha said to her young pupil as they touched their feet to the wooden deck of the skyship.

“Mistress Tasha, it is an honor to meet…”  Murielle, finally realizing the truth of her companion’s identity, started to say.

“Silence child.  Ya’ll learn the history.”  Tasha cut her off immediately and nodded toward the main deck where a few people stood talking.  “Beware, the godling will sense us if we move too close.”  She continued in a whisper while pointing toward a flamboyantly dressed human male of apparent middle age standing in the middle of the deck and doing most of the talking.

“…Finder Wyvernspur, at your service.”  The middle-aged man bowed low as he finished.  “For your bravery and sacrifice I am entitled to grant you each one request.”  Finder continued to speak and for the first time Murielle looked at the others that stood on the deck of the ship.

Immediately two of the figures stood out and her gaze fixed upon them.  One was a raven haired, human woman wearing shining plate armor emblazoned with the symbol of the dead god Tyr, and across from her stood a small, blonde half elf woman wearing drab, brown leather armor.

The raven haired woman stepped up and asked the demigod Finder for the ability to better serve Tyr, the Just.  The woman’s sword flew out of its scabbard into the grasping hand of the middle-aged man and immediately burst into flames and burned with white light.  The demigod then tossed the sword back to the waiting paladin that reverently looked it over and then slid it back into its sheath.  Finder spun immediately toward the blonde, half elf woman and stood with a patient look on his face awaiting her request.

“I want…  I want more power.”  Tasha simply stated, as if it should have been obvious what she wanted.

“Ah!  It’s a simple request that carries the weight of the ages!”  Finder stated with a flourish of hand gestures.  “But can you handle the power little half elf?”  As soon as he finished, Tasha’s armor immediately changed from drab, brown simple leather to a black, skin tight leather suit with a silver belt set with eight rubies.

“The armor chose me, ya see.  Even the godling didn’t understand it at the time.”  Tasha leaned over to Murielle and spoke softly in her ear.  “The godling was the unwitting conduit through which the dark lady sank her fangs into me, eh?”  The lithe, half elf woman said as a wry grin spread across her thin lips.  A grin that was tinged with regret or maybe sorrow, Murielle noticed.  Then Tasha looked around as if she sensed something coming near.

“We must move.  There’s more to learn, eh.”  Tasha again grasps Murielle’s hand and at once the blur of images and whispering voices return as the two of them float past images too wondrous and terrible for Murielle to imagine.

The voices grew louder and the images now started to form more cohesive scenes.  Some of these scenes depicted Tasha in desperate battles against creatures too great and terrible for Murielle to comprehend.  One scene flashed passed that showed the diminutive, half elf woman plunging two black, horn-like daggers into the skull of an enormous skeletal dragon.  The undead beast howled and thrashed and then exploded into thousands of bone shards before the scene faded and was replaced by another.  Murielle stared in awe as she held tightly to her new proctor’s hand as they flew through this otherworldly realm toward their next destination that she somehow sensed drawing ever closer.  The voices grew clearer with every passing moment, and Murielle was able to make out one word that seemed to be repeated over and over. 

Chaosbringer.

The two astral travelers touched down the next instant on a dark patch of ground at the top of rocky cliff.  The ground was covered in dust and shards of bone littered the dark landscape.  Even the rocks upon which they stood were dark as if all color had been drained away from this world and all that was left were shades of lifeless gray.  Tasha made her way a few steps toward the edge of the cliff and looked back toward her young pupil with a stern gaze.

“Things ya’re about to see will disturb ya greatly youngling.  But it’s necessary to teach ya what it means to be Tasha, eh?”  The half elf woman finished and then motioned for Murielle to come join her near the edge of the cliff.

“What… will I see Mistress?”  Murielle stumbled over her words and realized for the first time since Proctor Gertrude had rescued her from Calimport more than seven years before, she felt fear.

“Truth.”  Was all that the blonde, half elf woman would offer as she turned back to look over the cliff.

Murielle’s fear grew as she realized the blonde woman’s face showed deep concern.  Nevertheless, she moved by Tasha’s side and together they peered down over the cliff at a scene that weakened Murielle’s knees so much so that she nearly fell over the edge and had to be steadied by her new proctor.  There at the bottom of that cliff, no more than thirty feet from them, stood the Spider Queen herself, Lady Lloth.

The weakness spread through her body and she was jolted back into the small room and back into her body that still lay shackled to the floor.  Proctor Gertrude was kneeling over her squeezing water from a drenched cloth into her opened mouth.  The room spun around her and she felt like her arms and legs were being torn from her body.  The black armor clung to her skin like rotting mud from a bog.  But that was not the worst of it by far.  The black, leather armor literally began to crawl all over her body.  The tiny spiders etched into the leather skittered about the surface of her skin and sank their tiny fangs into her over and over again.  She screamed in terror, but the scream was cut short by a sharp pain on her left cheek as Proctor Gertrude smacked her across the face hard.

“Be strong girl!  She will protect you, trust in her.”  Gertrude shouted at her in her usual harsh but well meaning tone. 

The next instant Murielle found herself back in the dark realm beside Tasha, the first one.  The small, blonde woman was holding her up as Murielle now realized that her knees were too weak to support her own weight.  She quickly found her footing and tried to gather herself feeling rather foolish and unworthy at that moment.

“Be strong youngling!  I’ll protect ya, trust me, eh?”  Tasha said to her as she glared deep into Murielle’s eyes. 

At that moment Murielle knew that Tasha was not encouraging her as much as testing her strength of will.  Murielle was dangerously close to having her life snuffed out by the lithe, half elf woman standing in front of her.  Tasha’s stare was one of quiet threat.  Not a threat born of malice in any way, but a threat of instant death nonetheless.  It was the threat of disappointment and unworthiness.  Murielle took a deep, steadying breath, regained her feet and then nodded to Tasha in an effort to convince the half elf that her moment of weakness was over.  Murielle buried her own doubts deep within her hoping they would not surface again.  In truth, the blonde, half elf woman next to her was starting to unease her nearly as much as what lie just over the cliff.

“A close one, eh?”  Tasha’s wry, sorrowful grin again crossed her thin lips as she turned away and peered back over the edge of the cliff.  Murielle moved to join her immediately.

Again Murielle looked upon the face of evil incarnate, the Spider Queen.  Lloth stood in front of a throne made of the skulls of many different creatures, some Murielle recognized and some she did not.  The Spider Queen was a dark elf woman that stood at least ten feet tall and wore a shimmering, black silken dress with thin silver strands weaving a web pattern all over the surface.  There was an aura about the dark elf maiden that filled one with terror and lust at the same time.  The air crackled around the area with a chaotic power that Murielle could not comprehend yet it seemed familiar to her somehow.  The two demon lords bowed low as Lloth took a step toward them and for the first time Murielle heard the terrible voice of the Spider Queen as she spoke to the two demons.

“You disappoint your mistress, Azazel.  You had but one task to complete.”  The drow maiden spoke in a soft, too polite tone as she moved between the two demon lords.  “Tell me, was the human female too much for you to handle by yourself that you had to drag poor Zipresil from the pit to help you, hmmm?”  Lloth purred as she stroked the horns atop the lowered head of the demonic from of Azazel.

“I serve at the request of my lord, he who cannot be named.”  It was all that Azazel could think to offer at that moment.

“Asmodeus assured me that you would serve me well, Azazel.  Yet, you have proved him wrong apparently.”  Lloth’s voice carried immense weight and the two demon lords seemed to visibly shrink before her.

As the drow goddess finished she casually turned her head to look up to the top of the rocky cliff where Murielle and Tasha stood.  At that moment Murielle felt like there was nothing else in all the realms that she wanted to do more than to crawl under a large rock and hide, but Tasha stood there staring back at the drow maiden.  She felt her knees going weak again but managed, somehow, to find the strength to steady herself.  Murielle noticed then that Lloth wore the same curious, wry grin that Tasha wore, but there was no hint of regret or sorrow in it, only malice and wickedness.

“The bitch senses our presence.”  Tasha said.

“Can she…?”  Murielle whispered as loud as she dared half expecting the Spider Queen to rip out her tongue before she finished.

“No.  The bitch knows, but she’s powerless to do anything.  No fear, eh?”  Tasha, reading Murielle’s thoughts precisely, said never taking her gaze from the dark elf embodiment of chaos that stood below staring back at her.

“You may go Zipresil.  I’ll not hold you to account for this one’s failure.”  The Spider Queen said and she waved her hand as though she was dismissing an insect and the demon lord vanished into a black mist which quickly dissipated into the heavy air.

“Azazel, what am I to do with you?  I guess you will have one hundred years to plot your revenge against Tyr’s champion?”  Lloth said in a mocking tone.  “You better hope the little human whore breeds so there will be something to direct your vengeance against.”  The dark elf stood smirking at the demon lord daring him to lash out at her. 

Azazel literally trembled with anger and Murielle could see smoke starting to rise from the demon’s skin.  It seemed that the demon was ready to explode into rage but the dark elf woman simply giggled with glee and turned her back to the smoldering demonic form still kneeling before her throne.  Lloth took one more step and the demon could not contain his rage any longer.  There was an explosion of flame and a loud crack of energy as the demon launched its ill-fated attack against the Spider Queen.

From the shadows a black blur raced in to intercept Azazel’s attack just before it landed in the dark elf maiden’s back.  Lloth turned and sat down on the throne of skulls and smiled wickedly at the small, half elf woman clad in skin tight, black leather armor now standing between her and the angry demon lord.

“If you can best my pet Azazel, I’ll consider giving you another chance to regain my grace.”  Lloth burst into cackling laughter as she finished and the battle was joined.

“I was her slave, her pet ya see?  The armor is her creation… or was until I took it from her, eh?”  Tasha chuckled as she turned back to face her visibly unsettled pupil. 

Murielle was frozen in place trying desperately to work out what she was seeing and how she could be seeing it.  Here was Tasha, the one who started the organization nearly two centuries ago, fighting a demon lord for the queen of the drow, Lloth.  For what purpose, she thought.  The organization, as it was simply known, was responsible for the lives of countless girls from all over the realms.  Rescuing these girls from death or slavery or worse, but for what?  And yet, her companion was also Tasha.  The two of them were apparently on a journey through the memories of Tasha, or perhaps it was the… armor?

Murielle paused and stiffened when the realization hit her like a ballista bolt.  Was this the armor that was controlling her mind?  Proctor Gertrude said she would have to battle for control of the armor, but she always assumed that it would be a physical battle.  Not a fight, but more like an endurance test; like overcoming the effects of poison or a spell.  Murielle’s mind swirled with possibilities as she tried to work it all out.  And there, next to her, was Tasha who was still staring at her and wearing that wry, sorrowful grin as if purposefully pausing to let her finish her attempt to work through everything that was happening.  All the while the battle between the demon lord and Tasha, the other one, raged below them at the bottom of the rocky cliff.

“Are you… the armor?”  Murielle hesitated as she finally spoke.  Just what was the best way for her to ask her unusual companion that question?  She did not know.  “I… I mean… is this in my mind?”  Murielle was lost and did not expect an answer, at least not an answer that would make any sense, and she was not disappointed.

“Yes… and no, eh?”  Tasha finished and let out a giggle as if she was a twelve year old girl.  Seeing her apparent light-hearted mood caught Murielle off guard and she nearly fell over with shock.

“I am the armor, and the armor is me, ya know?”  Tasha added after seeing the dazed expression on the face of her human companion.  She then snapped her head around and looked back into the darkness as if she sensed something watching them.  “Let’s move, eh?”  Tasha said quickly then grabbed Murielle’s hand and the next instant they were launched back into the shadowy void and were again bombarded by the images and voices that were becoming much clearer now.

“What’s chasing us?  Is it… Lloth?”  That last word almost stuck in her throat when Murielle spoke.  The thought of being chased by the malevolent goddess of chaos was not a comforting thought.

“No.”  Tasha stated abruptly.

“Well, what is chasing…”  Murielle tried to ask but was cut off quickly.

“Now’s not the time, eh?”  Tasha said as she quickly changed the direction of their flight a few times as if she was trying to lose a pursuer.

Murielle was just about to say something else when Tasha shot her a stern look and made her think twice before speaking.  This journey they were on through this realm of images and events was starting to take its toll on her.  She felt exhausted, whether it was from this form of travel or if it was just the result of the convulsions her real body was enduring back in the small room in Waterdeep, she could not tell.  Maybe this was all in her mind.  Maybe this was the battle Proctor Gertrude spoke about.  Or maybe she was already dead and this was her afterlife.

“You will be stopped, Chaosbringer!  There must be justice, my lord demands it!”  A voice clearly shouted in the distance shaking Murielle from her thoughts and drawing her attention immediately to the scene unfolding in front of her.

“A few godlings get skewered and suddenly I’m in yar sights, eh paladin of Tyr… my old friend?”  A now too familiar voice shouted back from the shadows.

They were standing there only twenty feet from a raven haired, human woman clad in the most brilliantly, glittering armor that Murielle could have imagined.  Full plate silvery, metal armor covered the woman from shoulder to foot and etched all over the surface of it was the symbol of a fist clenching the scales of justice.  It was the sign of the dead god Tyr, Lord of Justice and Virtue.  This god was supposedly killed nearly seventy years earlier during an invasion of the astral realm, apparently sacrificing himself to end a war that threatened all of Faerun.  What did Tyr have to do with anything?  And, was it true that Tasha had killed astral beings or godlings as she referred to them?  Was such a thing even possible?

Murielle turned and focused on the shadows from where the familiar voice had come knowing fully who would appear from the darkness.  She had only moments to wait as the small, blonde half elf woman calmly stepped from the darkness into the dim light of the shadowy realm.  Tasha stalked around and circled the raven haired woman as they continued their conversation.

“A few?  Your work for the Queen of Chaos has claimed more than a dozen exarches and seraphs!  It is against the supreme law!”  The armor clad woman retorted.  “The law must be upheld.  Imagine the chaos that would spread if the gods turned on each other and made war!”  The raven haired woman shouted at the empty air before her not bothering to turn to follow the circling half elf.  A mistake that would cost her Murielle thought.  But, to her astonishment, Tasha did not strike at her exposed flanks which would have meant a certain and quick death.  Instead, she continued to circle.

“Who’s counting, eh?”  Tasha quipped.  “So there’s a few less godlings to medal in the lives of mortals.  I didn’t know Tyr taught his pets to count Mina?”  Tasha continued, and when she finished, the paladin spun around quickly to face her with anger flashing in her eyes, but there was something more there as well.  There was sorrow.  The sorrow quickly replaced the anger in the raven haired paladin’s eyes when she looked upon the half elf.

“Tasha, please stop this.  My lord Tyr can help you.”  The paladin spoke in softer tones of genuine concern.  “I know what the spider witch did to you… I can help…”

“Lloth no longer holds me!”  Tasha shouted back cutting short the words of the raven haired woman.  “I’ll not serve another!”  The ferocity that flowed forth from the diminutive half elf’s mouth made it seem possible that she could summon the strength to kill a god.  If that were even possible, Murielle still wondered.

“Mina ya don’t want to die, eh?  Leave… and take yar god with ya!”  The blonde, half elf woman pulled the two daggers that were sheathed at her waist free and crouched into a fighting stance as she spoke.  “Ya know what these can do, eh?”  Tasha held up the two vicious looking daggers; the same two daggers Murielle had seen her fight the demon lord with, but now she could see them more clearly. 

The weapons were not made of metal; rather they appeared to be the fangs of an enormous spider.  Murielle could see the black, oily liquid dripping from the tips of vile weapons and the look of fear in the eyes of the raven haired paladin.  Murielle turned to her companion to ask if those daggers were a gift from Lloth, but she thought better of it when she saw the expression on the face of Tasha, the first one.  The blonde half elf stood looking upon the scene playing out in front of them with a pitiful look of despair splayed across her delicate features.  At that moment, Murielle thought that maybe the purpose of this journey was to help her companion through the tortured life she had led.  These two circling each other before them were obviously acquainted in some way, maybe even friends, but why would a paladin of Tyr have anything to do with a thief? 

“The skyship!”  Murielle blurted out and spun to face her companion immediately after the words flew from her mouth.

Tasha nodded calmly never taking her eyes from the scene that unfolded in front of her.

Why did I not see this before?  This is the paladin from the skyship.  Murielle silently berated herself for being so thick.  These two had known each other for many years.  The raven haired woman was older but not so much that she was diminished in any way.  The sword she now held out before her shone with the same white light that had nearly blinded Murielle back on the skyship.  The clang of weapons jolted her back from her thoughts.

“So the Spider Queen’s touch has penetrated you fully.”  Mina said with solemn resignation in her voice.

“It appears so paladin.”  Tasha quipped and a wry grin spread across her face.

“I have to come to help you my old friend.”  Mina, paladin of Tyr, said with conviction evident in her voice and then she held up her sword and readied herself for a fight she knew she would not survive.

The paladin’s sword glowed brilliantly but the light seemed to be sucked out of the air and into the black armor that Tasha wore.  The half elf’s form shimmered and seemed to become incorporeal at times as she circled the paladin waiting for the opening to strike.  Mina stood there in silent prayer to Tyr as she waited for the killing blow to fall.

“NO!”  Murielle screamed.  She could not help herself when she saw the fang daggers rush in and pierce Mina’s abdomen easily penetrating the shining armor that she wore.

What the paladin did next astonished Murielle completely.  Mina, somehow still standing after taking both of the horrible weapons in her gut, stepped into Tasha and brought her sword down from behind her friend piercing them both.  White light burst forth and paladin and thief together were engulfed in a blazing radiance which stung Murielle’s eyes.  She pulled her gaze away from the scene and looked to her companion.  Tasha stood motionless staring at the light as if she could not turn away and would keep staring at it until it burned out her eyes.  The light quickly faded and Tasha, the first one, walked over to where the battle had ended.  There on the ground lay Tasha, the other one, writhing in agony born not of pain but of grief.  Tasha lay there holding the paladin in her arms, desperately trying to stop the flow of blood and entrails spilling from the older, raven haired woman’s midsection.

“I gift to you the grace of Tyr… of justice.”  Mina coughed violently and almost passed away but gathered the strength for one final thought.  “May it temper… the tyranny… of chaos.”  The final words spoken by the champion of Tyr completed the spell and Tasha screamed as the essences of the murdered godlings, of the venom of Lloth and the tyranny of chaos flowed away from her and into the dark ground beside them both.

“This night, I was born.  This night I was… rescued, eh?”  Tasha, the first one spoke in hushed tones as she stood over her own form that was sobbing uncontrollably still clutching the dead form of her friend.  The images faded and Murielle was left standing beside Tasha on that dark, gray patch of ground that was still soaked with blood.

“It’s coming and we’ll not be running anymore, eh?”  Tasha said as she glanced around to the darkness and then back into Murielle’s eyes that were still moist with tears.

“It’s the armor coming for me isn’t it?”  Murielle asked in an unsteady voice.

“Aye.”  Tasha said.

 “Mina saved you from the chaos of Lloth’s essence that was inside the armor?”  Murielle asked and quickly glanced back toward the darkness when she heard the unearthly moan of something drawing near.

“There’s evil in everyone, yeh?  Mina, tempered it so that it’d not be able to consume me, but she also gave me her sense of justice and duty, eh?  She gave me the strength to control the armor and truly become its master, yeh?”  Tasha’s familiar wry, sorrowful grin again spread across her thin lips.

“Then Lloth’s influence is still in the armor?”  Murielle asked, but in truth she really did not want to know the answer.

“Of course."  Tasha immediately responded.  “The armor is nothing without it, and I…”  She paused and thought for a moment then continued.  “We, are nothing without that touch of power and chaos, yeh?”  She finished as she moved her hand back and forth between the two of them to make her point clear.

“Will I survive?”  Murielle asked.

“No fear, youngling.  Yar stronger than most of yar sisters that have come to me, eh?”  Tasha quickly turned toward a dark form that could now be seen approaching as she finished.  “Defeat fear, conquer doubt, and ya’ll join yar sisters in service to me.  Easy!”  Tasha finished with a laugh and then backed away allowing Murielle to gaze at the black, shapeless form that was fast approaching now.

The black form wriggled and moaned in a grotesque manner as it approached fast from the darkness.  Murielle prepared herself for the black, shapeless mass that meant to devour her.  She pulled her daggers and set her feet, just as Gertrude had taught her.