Chapter 15: The Key to the Castle

Disclaimer: I own neither the Forgotten Realms or the cover image.

NSFW Warning: None.

After their meeting concluded and those assembled dispersed to their chambers, or other duties, Viconia made her way swiftly to her chambers within the keep. She was eager to be away from the distrustful gazes of Nors and Eltan’s pet wizard, and especially keen to be rid of the Ranger’s piercing eyes. She wondered if he had perfected such a look, or if it were something that came naturally to a man such as he. Either way, it was unnerving in its intensity and it recalled in her memories of the High Priestesses of Llolth, especially the Matron Mothers, back in Menzoberranzan. 

Coming to her chamber door, the Drow Cleric lifted a key she wore upon a thin silver chain hanging between her breasts. Lifting the chain over her head with a swish of her long, silvery hair that also divulged her of her hood, she slid the key easily into the door’s lock and turned, admitting herself into her room. Once inside, she smartly closed the portal once more, sliding the bolt securely home as she did.

Within, her chambers were dark, lit only by hooded lanterns placed strategically about the small space. A large window stood at the room’s far end, lightly curtained with thin fabric, it would normally have let in the glow of the moon had not the clouds obscured its face. The room was lightly furnished, with merely a bed, eating table and small desk, upon which rested a large, circular mirror.

Striding across the cold stone floor, she shrugged herself from her sheer cloak, leaving it to pool beside the table. Coming to stand before her desk and mirror, she slipped off her robes as well. Tossing her discarded clothing onto the foot of her bed, she stood, looking at herself in the mirror, fully nude. As she gazed into her own violet eyes within the reflective glass, she came to an almost immediate and resolute conclusion. The coming of The Moorstrider and the knowledge that the Harper Master Jherek was at large within the city made her decision a necessity. As far as she knew Kharne had only his mercenaries at his back, men and women who knew little of infiltration and were incapable of the delicate hand needed if they were to pull off the raid of High Hall. No, a more professional touch was needed.

Seating herself upon the stiff chair before her desk, she opened the first drawer on her right and pulled from it three long candles as black as pitch. Setting each of these in the three silver candlesticks before her mirror, she touched each of the wicks in turn, igniting them and sending a soft purple light blooming throughout her boudoir. This done, she closed her eyes, clearing her mind fully, steeling herself for what it was she was about to do.

This was, however, interrupted by a soft knocking at her door. The noise wrenched her from her meditation and sent a pang of annoyance lancing through her. Turning in her chair to glare at the door behind her, she huffed before rising and striding towards the portal, bending slightly to pull her pooled cloak from where she had left it upon the floor. 

Wrapping the sheer, almost see-through, garment about her, she approached the door.

As if sensing her upon the other side of the thick wood, they who had knocked spoke, calling out softly from beyond the portal.

“It’s Eltan, may we speak?”

A small frown touching her lips, the Drow wrapped her cloak more tightly about herself before pulling the bolt and opening the door just enough for her to fill the space between it and the wall.

“Good evening, my Duke,” she said, smiling invitingly, “what business have you to call on me at so late an hour.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about the woman and child?” He spoke bluntly, and she saw now the rigidity of his posture.

Taken somewhat aback, as she had expected him to be there for sex, she responded with, “I figured you knew.”

“I knew,” he almost whispered. “I am curious whether or not you did.”

Taking a step back, she allowed her cloak to fall open, exposing her charms beneath to his gaze, and placed her hands on her hips, a suspicious gleam entering her eye.

“He really has you wrapped around his little finger doesn’t he,” she said.

“I trust Jaryn explicitly,” was his quick reply. “Though he might be more rigid than I on certain ideals that is only because he has the luxury to be as such. As a ruler and a commander I lack that luxury. That does not mean, however, that he isn’t right. In Jaryn there is ever one constant and that is that he will do what is right.”

“But, as you just said yourself, you haven’t the luxury of such tunnel vision,” she retorted. “Though I suppose what I should really be taking from this is that you do not trust me.”

“Why did you not tell me of the wife and child?”

“As I said, I thought you knew but understood my temperament at the time and so dismissed their deaths as mere unfortunate casualties.” 

“I dismissed the charges against you then because I believed you innocent.”

“You dismissed the charges against me then because you wanted to fuck me,” she stated bluntly. “Come now, Eltan, we are not children. Our outlook on the world is not so naive and childish as your beloved Ranger. You trust and respect him because you wish you could be like him but you aren’t.” She reached out and cupped his cheek with the palm of her hand. “You’re far more like me. We see the world for what it is and we react accordingly. I roasted that bitch and her whelp along with her rapist husband and sons because I had just been ravaged and left to die in a shallow grave by them. I was wrathful and I took vengeance. Can you honestly tell me that you don’t have the blood of innocents on your hands?”

“I cannot, no,” he replied. “Though I suppose the hypocrisy of ruling is that you make excuses when it is you spilling the blood but are not supposed to abide by its shedding among your subjects… Good night, Viconia, I will send for you on the morrow if any new information about our enemies arises.”

With that he turned from her and began making his way back down the corridor.

“Shall I visit you later?” She inquired as he departed.

Pausing, he half-turned and said, “ nay, I require rest. Sleep well.”

And with that he was gone, his long strides carrying him swiftly from her sight.

She watched him go before slipping once more back into her chamber, bolting the door tight behind herself. For a moment she stood still, her forehead pressed against the cold wood of the door, before turning swiftly and gliding back to her desk, her cloak once more discarded upon the floor.

This Ranger would drive a wedge between her and Eltan, she knew, and soon. If she were to lose the trust of the Duke and he gave in to the Woodsman’s wishes, she might be finding herself at the end of a noose sooner than naught.

Seating herself once more before the mirror, she closed her eyes and dropped into the meditative state she had been trained long before to achieve. Once there, seemingly of its own accord, her mind reached out. Unbidden by her, her hands rose and began tracing arcane runes in the air between her and her mirror, the flickering, purple light of her black candles playing off both her flesh and the reflective glass. As it did, her image in the mirror began to smear and swirl, twisting along with billowing clouds of smoke until the mirror’s entire surface was a grey miasma.

Speak, Sister,” a wheezing hiss of a voice echoed from the mirror’s opaque depths.

“I have need of your aid, Justicar,” Viconia intoned, her voice devoid of emotion.

“What is the need?”

“Shadow and blood,” the Drow whispered. “I need the Nightbringers.”

*                            *                                          *                                         *

Moving with soft steps few other than a Halfling could produce, Alora crept along the thick support beams that comprised the ceiling of The House of Knowledge, the temple to the God Oghma in Baldur’s Gate. All day she had been on the trail of a pair of Storm’s Rising Mercenaries she had identified as captains. As night had begun to fall she had followed them to a secluded warehouse near the market. They had disappeared within the building and she had been in the midst of seeking out an unobtrusive way inside when she’d spied a shadowy figure slipping out of a top window before taking off across the cities’ rooftops. Curious to a fault, she had pursued this new target, following it all the way to the House of Knowledge. Near midnight, the figure had slipped into the Temple via a side entrance and so Alora had found an upper-story window through which she could also gain entry.

Though it was indeed considered a Temple, the House of Knowledge was in fact a giant, three storied library. It had been built centuries past to contest the reclusivity of Candlekeep to the south. Though both institutions were honorations to the God of Knowledge, one could only find entrance to the fortress library of Candlekeep if one were invited specifically by one of its inhabitants, or else if one possessed a tome or scroll they did not and so could hand over said work in exchange for being allowed entry. The House of Knowledge, on the other hand, allowed any who passed its threshold to peruse its selection but Alora knew that while the library here was indeed great, it housed but a fraction of what one could find in Candlekeep.

All of this interested her little as she was no scholar and found the pouring over of old tomes the epitome of tedium. However, this was not her first time within its walls. On the contrary, she found herself here quite regularly as there was ever an aspiring mage or noble would-be intellectual who desired a specific book, scroll or inscription and wished to possess said object without needing to be bothered with visiting the library themselves. As such, she was quite knowledgeable of the Temple’s layout, especially in the dark, though this hadn’t helped her as of yet to discover they she had followed here.

Creeping along her chosen beam, which granted her an ample vantage point of the majority of the libraries’ tiers, she passed one of the floating orbs of light which populated the temple, able to be summoned by a patron wishing to get a better look at whatever it was they were perusing. 

The silvery light from the orb fell across her briefly as she passed it revealing her to be roughly three foot in height, though this was hard to tell exactly given her crouched posture. She was wrapped in a slim cloak of deep purple, beneath which she wore well-crafted, form-fitting leather armor. Her body under the armor was surprisingly lithe given her race as Halflings were well known to be portly no matter their profession, a fact that had led many to assume she was half-gnome. Her face was youthful and pretty, with small features but large, blue eyes granting her an almost cartoonish look. Auburn locks, slightly wavy in appearance and cut short about her throat, framed this face, another far cry from her kin who mostly possessed thick, curly hair.

Passing the orb, she came to a cross-section among the beams and peered about below her, seeking to catch sight of the interloper she’d followed. Scanning the upper levels, she caught sight out of the corner of her eye what appeared to be the swishing of a cloak on the temple’s lowest level.

Perhaps it’s a cleric, or else some late night visitor searching for a love poem to woo a recent flirtation,’ she mused, focusing in on the spot. Seeing no further movement, she decided that this must be her query and so scampered back to the pillar down nearest to where she’d spied the movement. Pulling from her satchel a length of cord, the Thief made a loop in one end and swung it about the pillar. Her trajectory was true and she caught it as it came ‘round, quickly slipping the rest of the cord through as she did, securing it to the pillar. Next, she produced a small device of her own creation that was little enough to fit in the palm of her hand. It appeared to be a zipline of sorts and she hooked it onto the cord. Gripping the device with both hands, she began to descend, head first, down the cord she had allowed to drop all the way to the first story far below. By compressing a lever built in to the device, she was able to keep her decline at a controlled speed whilst her body remained flush against the pillar.

Upon reaching the cold marble of the temple’s ground floor, she expertly twisted her body while still maintaining her grip on the zipline’s lever, so that she landed perfectly, her feet set wide apart, her body in a low crouch. Detaching her device from the cord, she scampered into the nearest culvert between two imposing bookshelves.

Hunkering down, she listened closely to see if any had spied her descent. When she was convinced none had, the Halfling crept forth, moving with careful steps along the shelves, her eyes scanning the deserted library about her as she neared the place where she had seen the movement.

A soft rustle of clothing, picked up by her sensitive ears, alerted her to an occupant in the next alcove. Ducking behind the bookshelf directly abaft of where she’d heard the sound, she pressed herself against the row of thick tomes, all of her senses alert to any further evidence that someone occupied the row next to her own.

Hearing none, she very gingerly pulled the book before her nose from its place upon the shelf. Setting it noiselessly beside her, she reached for the corresponding tome on the next shelf.

A sudden creaking in the next aisle froze her in place. Listening closely, she detected the telltale disturbance in air currents tantamount to the dismissal of magical wards. Choosing to shift the book she’d reached for a fraction sideways rather than remove it completely, she spied the slender, cloaked figure she’d followed to the Temple, bent over a large chest set just within the next set of shelves. 

Alora recognized such a chest as one similar to others that populated many of the culverts on the Temple’s ground floor. These trunks were used to store damaged books or scrolls the clerics deemed still potentially of value and yet not worthy of space upon the shelves themselves. She hadn’t known any of them to be magically warded or possessing of locks of any kind and yet here her query was, bent over one such chest, hard at work dismissing locks both mystical and mundane.

They were a master of their craft, the Halfling Thief had to admit as she observed them work. Not only were they simultaneously countering magical locks whilst actively picking those of iron but their posture remained fixed throughout the whole of the ordeal. Not a curse nor hunching of shoulder or back could be perceived. They were, for all the world, calm, even though any one of the magical wards would have harmed them greatly. Impressed despite herself, Alora had to wonder just who this person was, and why it was they were going through the trouble of cracking what could only be described as an excessively well-guarded trash can.

Crack it they did though for not a moment later they had the lid to the chest open and were rummaging within, desperately searching for whatever it was they were looking for. 

Pulling from the trunk a tightly wrapped bundle of parchment, the figure immediately made for the tall window at the culvert’s end, not even bothering to close the truck or reset the wards before they made their departure.

Alora waited for them to pop the lock on the window and swing it open, hauling themselves without before she made any move to follow. She was happy, at least, that the other thief had closed the window behind themselves lest she lose all respect she had gained for them at their expert lockpicking and ward-dismissal skills.

Once she was sure that they had indeed left, the Halfling stole from her hiding spot and made for the chest they had left open. Peering within, she saw that it was filled with rolls of parchment wrapped similarly to how the one the other thief stole had been. Picking one up, she raised a corner flap to identify what it held without breaking its seal. She saw that they were architect plans for what appeared to be a warehouse on the docks. Grabbing another, she saw that it too was the outlines of an architect’s scribbles. A third yielded similar results and so Alora sat back on her haunches, somewhat put off by the lack of excitement at what the chest held.

“Think, Alora,” she murmured to herself. “Just because it’s boring to you doesn’t mean it useless. What benefit would the seascum gain from grabbing blueprints?”

As she deliberated upon this thought, she felt the kiss of damp, cool air upon her cheek. Her reflexes activated before her mind could put two and two together and she dove aside, just as the air where she had just sat was cut by the slashing of a dagger.

Coming out of her roll, she saw the slender figure before her, splayed in the space between the bookshelves like a spider in a web. Their limbs seemed impossibly long and she saw tight,dark-hued, leather armor encasing what parts of them extended beyond their cloak and the flash of yellow, serpentine eyes before they sprang once more into action. 

Alora had barely wrenched her dual shortswords from their places at her hips before she was forced to utilize them, deflecting the myriad of blows her assailant was raining down upon her. 

Driven quickly into a fighting retreat, she fell back across the library floor, her attacker pursuing her with each step, the constant stabbing and slashing of daggers unrelenting. 

At one point, having driven one of her foes dagger’s wide, the Halfling spied the roll of parchment tucked within their belt at their side. Pulling her blades close, the Halfling went into a roll, aiming for the space between her opponent’s legs, slashing her swords to either side as she did. With uncanny agility, her adversary leapt over her, successfully saving their ankles from Alora’s blades. Though, in doing so, the parchment they’d tucked into their belt fell loose, landing on the floor between them.

Twisting out of her roll, Alora immediately dove for the parcel, her need to know what it contained overriding any sense of caution. Dropping one of her blades allowed her to grab the parchment firmly within her fist and she managed to regain her footing just enough before her opponent whirled on her to throw her other sword straight at the interloper’s face. Not waiting to see whether or not her attack had struck home, she turned and sprinted away, straight towards the window the other thief had left open when she’d returned to the Temple.

A loud clang told her her assailant had deflected her attack and the sound of soft-padded shoes on tilework told her she was pursued. As such, knowing that she had no further way to defend herself against her foe, she wrenched open the rolled parchment and attempted to absorb all she could from it before she reached the window. 

She discerned little in her quick perusal but it was enough and so she tossed the paper aside, hoping its recovery would dissuade her pursuer from chasing her further, and dove out of the window.

She had a brief moment of bliss, the night air kissing her cheeks along with droplets of rain, before she hit the slant of the tile roof hard and began her swift descent across its surface, towards the awaiting rooftop edge.

Digging into her satchel once more, the Thief produced a second length of cord, this one with a small grappling hook at its end. Just as she reached the precipice, she jammed the teeth of the grappling into the crook between two slates just as she flew into open space, the cord unraveling in her hands, praying to Tymora that the tile would hold her.

The Goddess of Luck was seemingly with her that night for the tile did indeed hold, though this did leave her to smack against the Temple’s solid stone wall hard, still two stories above the cobbled streets below. Dazed, but able to retain her grip, the Halfling began her swift descent down the building’s side. 

Just as she became flush with the roof of the Temple of Helm beside the House of Knowledge, Alora spared a glance back towards the ledge above her. Her heart stopped cold when she spied the outline of the hooded figure peering down at her directly where her grappling hook was secured. She saw the blade of a dagger flash and so did the only thing she could before her life-line was cut. Bracing her boots firmly against the Temple’s side, she pushed off hard, launching herself back towards the edge of the Watcher’s temple roof. Twisting in midair, she crashed against the roof’s edge hard, the impact driving the wind from her lungs as her small hands desperately scrambled for purchase among the adjacent temple’s similarly tiled roof. 

Luckily, she was able to find a secure handhold before she tumbled to the street below. With a desperate heave, she hauled herself onto the rooftop where she collapsed into a heap, her breath coming in labored gasps. Glancing once more towards the roof of the House of Knowledge, she saw that the figure yet crouched where she had seen her before, dagger still naked in their hand, poised about to cut Alora’s rope as if unbelieving of what they’d seen the Halfling do. Making a rude gesture in their direction, the Halfling Thief pulled herself to her feet and made her trotting retreat over the Helmite rooftop and towards the safety of the alleyways beyond.

*                        *                                     *                                       *

Far across Baldur’s Gate, near the cities’ main gate, within the Elfsong Tavern, Alyth was giving the bar a last wipe down as Gyselle busted about the now deserted taproom, extinguishing candles and clearing away any debris left by that night’s patrons, trailed closely by Ethon with a shallow crate in which she might deposit any spare mugs she came across. It was at this moment that a soft, yet insistent knock sounded at the tavern’s door.

“We’re closed for the night,” Alyth called absentmindedly, her attention locked on a stubborn bit of grime on the bartop’s wood surface.

“I am Jaryn Moorstrider seeking a room for the night if any you have,” came the tired reply from beyond the portal.

All three within the taproom froze and looked to one another with wide-eyed gazes. Alyth was first to come to her senses and called back, “just a moment, Master Ranger,” before hurrying around the bar and approaching the door, Ethon close on her heels having abandoned his burden on the nearest tabletop.

Unlatching the portal, Alyth swung it wide, coming face-to-face as she did with the Master Ranger himself upon her doorstep. 

Jaryn, for his part, yet managed a stiff posture despite his long ride from the south and meeting with Eltan. He stood upon the Elfsong’s stoop soaked from head to toe, one forearm resting upon the pommel of his blade whilst the opposing hand caressed Sundril’s muzzle, the horse eyeing the Innkeep with almost equal intensity as the Ranger.

“We, of course, have a room available for you,” Alyth said. “In fact you can have Lystra’s considering she’s off on an errand for the Dukes and all.”

Jaryn dipped his head in thanks before asking, “have you stables?”

“Yes, around back, I can meet you there if you are in need of assistance,” Ethon broke in before Alyth could reply. 

“Assistance is unnecessary,” the Ranger replied, making for the alley beside the Tavern, Sundril following obediently at his heels.

After securing his loyal steed in the stable stall beside the Calimshan Charger he saw already housed there, Jaryn made his way into the Inn via the larder entrance Ethon had unlatched for him. Securing the portal behind himself, he traced a path among the quiet shelves and into the taproom proper where he found Ethon and Alyth awaiting him near the bar.

“Gyselle is making Lystra’s room ready for you,” the barkeep explained. “Would you like anything whilst we wait?”

“Whose horse is that in the stable?” He asked, moving to join the duo, slipping off his hood as he did.

Seeing no reason to lie, Alyth replied, “it’s Jherek’s.”

Ethon’s eyes widened at her words but he said nothing, though it was clear to the Master Ranger that the Barkeep observed his reaction closely.

“Is he here?” Jaryn asked.

At her nod he motioned to the stairs with a questioning look. 

“To the right, the farthest room down,” she replied and he nodded his thanks, dropping a heavy coin pouch on the bartop as he did.

“I do not charge Lystra for her staying here, I see no reason to charge you,” she said, pushing the coins back towards him.

“Then consider it a woodsman’s way of showing gratitude for the friendship you have offered his apprentice all these years,” he replied, nudging the purse back in her direction. “I thank you for your hospitality and your service to those who work to better this realm.”

With that, and leaving no room for further debate, the Master Ranger made for the stairs, his footsteps light despite the heaviness of his gait.

“You knew Jherek was in the city?” Ethon asked her as Jaryn made the stair’s zenith. 

“So did you,” she said simply, turning from him and moving to finish her nightly cleaning.

*                                 *                                        *                             * 

The Harper Master Jherek sat alone in his room at the Elfsong, stripped to the waist on his bed, staring hard at, yet not truly seeing, himself in the mirror set upon the wall opposite. Beneath his cloak and armor his body was as wasted as his face, his pale skin stretched across his ribcage like a thin cloth draped upon an uneven surface. A myriad of scars festooned his flesh, as well as a number of open, weeping sores. 

From behind the room divider where his room’s bath was located stepped Myrna Gray. The Druidess held in her hands a shallow bowl from which steam rose. A number cloth strips hung from the bowl’s sides, the contents of which smelled strongly of fragrant herbs. As she approached the Harper Master, her owl familiar hopped from her shoulder to the top of the divider, a vantage point from which it could view the entirety of the small room.

Just as Myrna began to drape the salve-soaked bits of cloth upon Jherek’s sores, there came a soft, yet insistent knock upon the door. Immediately, the Harper Master’s hand fell upon the haft of his sword as it lay within its scabbard upon the bed nearby. As his fingertips grazed its surface the ruby at his sword’s hilt, as well as those ingrained in the buckle of his belt shone softly.

“Who is it?” He rasped, as Myrna, unaffected by the distraction, continued her tending of his wounds.

“Jaryn Moorstrider,” the reply came and the Harper relaxed, though he did reach for his armor where it sat at the foot of the bed. Myrna, however, waved his desire to cover himself away. “If you trust me with this sight, so can you him,” she murmured, before returning to her task. Taking but a moment to think it through, Jherek relented and called forth, “enter, Moorstrider, it is high time we spoke.”

The latch was lifted slowly and the portal swung inwards to reveal the Master Ranger hovering in the hall. If he took anything amiss with the scene he beheld, he gave no sign and entered fluidly, closing the door behind himself and securing the latch once more before turning and facing Jherek and Myrna fully.

“It has been some time, hasn’t it, Jaryn,” the Harper said, a wry smile twisting his thin lips. 

“That it has, Jherek,” the Ranger agreed. “It does not appear as though the road was kind to you.”

“Nay, it was not,” was Jherek’s rueful reply. “These are keepsakes from my time among the Zhentarim. At their hands I experienced much cruelty but none more so than at the behest of Kharne.” 

As he said this his hand fell to his groin and Myrna rose, her task completed, and withdrew to the room’s small table where she set the bowl, her eyes only for Jherek, a deep sadness resonating from her.

“He sought to steal from me that which most men would cherish most,” the Harper Master continued as if, now that the words were loosed there was no stopping the entirety of the tale being told. “Perhaps he wished for me to commit suicide, save him the trouble.” 

The mirthless chuckle that bubbled up from him then was, to those others in the room’s ears, equivalent to a wail of anguish.

“He gelded you,” Jaryn observed, his tone kept carefully neutral.

“Worse than that, old friend, he took stem over seeds as it were,” Jherek confirmed, wincing as he stood. “Myrna has been so kind as to take command of my care for once Kharne had his fill of me another took over, one whose goal for me, I believe, was far more sinister.”

“Who was it?”

“It was not so much a who as a what. It was most assuredly a Tiefling of some form, possessing of both demonic blood and draconic. Furthermore, it seemed to bridge the gap between male and female, a hermaphrodite. In any case, it infested me with some sort of disease, one with both destructive and regenerative properties. As you can see, I am wasting away, my body literally deteriorating while I utilize it. On the other hand, my energy perseveres. I have had little sleep and even less food or water and yet I live on, my energy and strength unabated.”

“Have you sought clerical aid?” The Ranger inquired, casting a concerned look to Myrna but the Druidesses eyes were only for the Harper.

“While I rested in Shadowdale, after Storm’s fortuitous rescue of me, I did yes, or rather she on my behalf,” the Harper nodded, slipping on his ragged shirt once more, his fingers moving slow upon the buttons. “A cleric of Ilmater among the Knights of Shadowdale inspected my body, and his conclusion was equal to yours now…”

Jaryn moved his gaze from Myrna to the mirror on the wall where he saw Jherek’s eyes set firmly on his, the Harper Master watching him closely as he dressed, though he was focused more so on the Ranger’s hand which had fallen to the hilt of his blade that protruded from his cloak.

Turning to face Jaryn fully, his rueful smile returned as he slid his armor on over his threadbare shirt.

“Storm allowed you to return, knowing what you are,” Jaryn stated flatly, his fingers curling about the grip of his blade. “Why?”

“If it makes you feel any better it was Elminster’s idea,” Jherek said by way of answering, buckling his armor to himself.

“It doesn’t.”

“I didn’t imagine so…and nor would it me, if I were in your boots. However, Storm acknowledged it, as does Myrna. My condition is…different than others who have walked the path I do now. Whatever it was that creature did to me, it preserved something of my former self, something it perhaps felt was necessary for me to fulfill whatever goal it was it wished for me to see through. My body rots, slowly, but my spirit remains, and that spirit had but one purpose, the thwarting of Kharne and the erasure of all Zhentarim machinations within the city.”

“Why would a creature working for the Zhentarim wish such a thing?” Jaryn questioned. “Perhaps it merely wishes for Kharne to be removed, for it to fill the void left by his passing.”

“Perhaps,” Jherek conceded with a nod. “Or perhaps its work was not yet done when Storm sprung me. Perhaps I am a half-baked experiment gone awry. That is what I believe, and that is what Myrna believes,” he indicated the Druidess. “But, most importantly, that is what Storm Silverhand believes. Do you really think she would have allowed me to return to the city, to continue on my path, if she believed otherwise, Elminster’s will or no?”

Looking at the Harper Master hard, Jaryn gazed deeply into his sunken eyes and indeed saw the spark which he had hoped he would within their depths. His fingers loosened their grip upon his sword just as a swift series of knocks sounded at the door. Swiftly, the Master Ranger stepped aside as the door was flung inwards emitting into the room the Halfling Thief Alora, flanked by Jewel and Baldwin with Marissa Tame taking up the rear.

“Ah, Moorstrider, nice of you to come,” Baldwin acknowledged the Ranger with a swift nod as if unsurprised to find him there.

“What is it? What’s happened?” Jherek demanded, his gaze turning fierce and leaping to each of the newcomers in turn as if seeking a culprit.

“We found this vagabond in the streets,” the bard explained flippantly. “She seemed rather flustered so we figured we should bring her here.”

Jewel smirked at her lover at his words but Marissa rolled her eyes. Pushing her way to the forefront, she laid a hand upon the Halfling Thieves’ shoulder and said, “Alora uncovered something of note whilst trailing someone associated with Storm’s Rising.”

As she spoke, the Swashbuckler cast an inquiring look at Jaryn, then Myrna, before she focused herself firmly on her commander. 

“Well, speak up, damn you,” Jherek demanded, pulling his sword belt from where it lay upon the bed and securing it about his waist.

“If you are all quite finished, I’ll tell you,” Alora said indignantly, shrugging off Marissa’s hand and stepping forward.

“First off, Jherek, you look like shit,” she said unabashedly whilst shaking water from her cloak.

“Yes, I was just discussing that with The Moorstrider,” the Harper Master replied, casting a sidelong glance at Jaryn, one Marissa followed with her own.

“Secondly,” the Halfling continued. “Fuck you for not coming to me directly and rather sending Kormak to seek my aid. It’s been ages, you bastard, how could you not see me yourself?”

“Um, Alora, there is a reason why we are all crammed in this rather rustic suite,” Baldwin drawled, his eyes roving the room about them. “You can take your punch at Jherek later, but I do warn you, there is a line.”

“Fine,” Alora shot back, running a hand through her thick, auburn locks. “I tracked an agent I believe to be in the employ of the Storm’s Rising Mercenary Company to the House of Knowledge earlier this night. We had a wee bit of a scuffle but I know what it was they were there to steal.”

“What was it?” Jherek pressed, growing annoyed by the Halfling’s cryptic retelling of her tale.

Looking about herself to ensure that all eyes were truly trained on her, Alora replied in proud tones, “the architectural plans for High Hall.”

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