Disclaimer: The Forgotten Realms is not owned by me.
NSFW Warning: Brief mention of nudity.
Lystra awoke in the predawn hours to the ominous rumbling of thunder and the tapping of rain upon the window of her modest accommodations at the Friendly Arm Inn. Sitting up, she allowed the blanket to fall from her naked breasts, stretching her stiff muscles and cursing her body so unused to sleeping with a mattress beneath her.
Sliding out of bed, she padded to the window and popped the latch. Throwing the window open wide, she shivered in the damp, chill morning air, goosebumps covering her nude form.
Leaning upon the windowsill, she gazed out over the lands stretching to the east of the inn. lands still obscured by darkness but not fully to her half-elven gaze. She could just make out the rolling hills tumbling away from her and far beyond, the eaves of the Wood of Sharp Teeth. Over all hung the unending ceiling of clouds, from which they spilled their cursed bounty.
With a shake to dislodge the residual sleep from her mind, she made for her satchel to dress for the day.
Sometime later, the ranger strode into the taproom of the inn, fully clothed in her usual attire, her woodland cloak snapping behind her. She found the room empty except for a small group huddled near the bar, all of whom looked up at her approach.
Comprising the group was Kivan, Huvertrov, Corbin, and a gnomish woman in spectacular purple robes embroidered with swirling patterns of silver and gold. The woman Lystra recognized to be Tyma Mirrorshade, Bentley’s wife and priestess to the gnomish god, Garl Glittergold.
“I wasn’t expecting such a send-off,” Lystra quipped as she joined them, accepting gratefully the cup of tea offered to her by Huvertrov.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Kivan said. “For it may just come true.”
At Lystra’s cocked eyebrow he continued.
“Huvertrov and I have received a message from Myrna Grey,” he explained. “And as such will be headed to Baldur’s Gate. As are you, if I understand correctly?”
As Lystra opened her mouth to politely, and no doubt sarcastically, refuse the unspoken offer that they travel together, Tyma broke in, her voice, as ever, reminding Lytra of the soft jingling of bells.
“There is ever greater safety in numbers, Lystra,” she said. “And I am sure Corbin will be grateful for Huvertrov’s added protection.”
Looking to Hovertrov and seeing his expectant gaze, Lystra realized that this scheme had been concocted well before her arrival and that only one answer would be accepted without further pestering.
“You are correct, Lady Mirrorshade,” the ranger said, bowing slightly to the priestess. “And your wisdom, as ever, has found receptive ears in me.”
“I think you may have missed your calling, Lystra,” Tyma beamed at her. “You would have made a great envoy of the gods.”
Kivan concealed a smirk by busying himself with packing some last-minute supplies into his saddlebags, missed by all save Lystra who offered a glare in reply.
“Please, all of you, yes even you, Corbin, gather ‘round to receive the blessing of The Watchful Protector,” Tyma bid them and they did so dutifully, clustering themselves around the diminutive priestess with heads bowed as she lifted her hands.
Soon after the three travelers rode forth from the gates of the inn, Huvertrov seated on the back of Kivan’s horse, into the moody dawn and under continued assault by the sky.
* * * *
The pre-dawn hours found Rendrick Trotter striding across the flooded town center of Beregost. His high boots sloshing through the ankle-deep water, his grey cloak hanging heavily about his shoulders. His destination, The Burned Wizard Inn, was already abuzz with activity, he saw, with the Dameston caravan readying to depart. Luckily, the storm had subsided somewhat from the night before. Rather than a gale it now more resembled the usual soaking rains not uncommon this time of year.
“G’mornin’, master ranger,” Forsten greeted him as he approached, the dwarf heaving himself to sit beside Karl Dameston under the covered driver’s seat of the lead wagon. Karl Dameston for his part, Trotter saw, carried with him a massive crossbow and Forsten laid his own crossbow across his knees as he sat.
“Forsten told me of your concerns, ranger,” the Dameston patriarch spoke with a voice that reminded Trotter uncannily of rolling thunder. “And I honor them, I do. Tried talking to that Percin fella but he for some ways insisted on leaving at noon today. Don’t make a lick o’ sense to me but there you have it.”
“Very strange,” the merchant continued as he snapped the reins, urging the horses of his wagon into a quick, sloshing canter. “Maybe you can speak some sense into ‘em.”
“Doubtful,” Trotter muttered to himself, raising a hand in farewell as the trio of wagons comprising the Dameston caravan made their departure.
“Are you the ranger, Trotter?”
The question was posed from the inn’s doorway and Rendrick turned to behold a young man very recently departed from his youth. Despite his fresh-faced appearance, the man held himself well and wore his armaments- a hauberk of chain reaching to his ankles covered by padded leather armor embroidered with the blossomed rose of the church of Lathander, goodly god of dawn and renewal- with ease. Upon his head, he wore a steel pot-helm, from beneath which blonde curls could be discerned, and at his hip he wore a barbed mace.
“I am,” the ranger confirmed, facing the man fully. “Though I am surprised to not know you as I thought myself well acquainted with all at The Song of the Morning Temple.”
One would be hard-pressed indeed in Beregost to not be familiar with the Morninglord’s clergy as their temple resided upon a small hill overlooking the town to the east. Furthermore, the resident High Priest, Kelddath Ormlyr, also held the title of governor of Beregost and the surrounding countryside. An honorary title mostly but one that granted him a certain sway when dealing with the Dukes of Baldur’s Gate.
“Yes, well,” the man cleared his throat awkwardly. “I am new to Beregost, recently sent from the Temple of the Dawn in Athkatla. The High Priest Ormlyr thought it prudent that a cleric accompany the caravan leaving this morning as he has had some sinister premonitions of late regarding their safety.”
“The High Priest is wise to believe such,” Trotter said, but he wasn’t so sure if that had truly been the reason behind Ormlyr’s decision to send this young man to accompany them. After all, it hadn’t been too long ago that Amn had claimed the township of Beregost, and the mining town of Nashkel further to the south, as their own. Despite Baldur’s Gate having wrestled influence over the town from Amn, it was widely believed that Athkatla would inevitably attempt to send agents to undermine the efforts of the Dukes. As such, anyone traveling from the southern merchant kingdom would be looked upon with distrust, even if they shared the same faith as the Governor.
“What is your name, cleric?” The ranger asked, striding forward and entering the inn alongside the younger man.
“Tiberius,” was the Lathanderite’s response. “I have been looking to speak with the caravan’s master but have had little success in bypassing his wizard. The presence of whom, I must admit, calls into question the ethics of their venture.”
“You are not alone in that sentiment,” Rendrick assured him, scanning the taproom and locating Keira holding court near the bar, surrounded by her mercenaries, as well as the Red Wizard, Edwin.
Making his way towards the group, followed closely by Tiberius, Rendrick forced his way through the crowd of armored men and women to stand before their captain and speak with her directly.
“…And any further questions can be directed to Mellick,” she was saying as the ranger and cleric approached. She acknowledged them with a stiff nod before addressing the group once more.
“Ultimately you all know your jobs, and you’re damn good at ‘em,” she said. “As long as we keep a clear eye out we shouldn’t have any issues. Dismissed.”
As the assembled mercenaries began to disperse, she motioned the ranger over to her side.
“So I see you’re a man of your word,” she said, somewhat wearily. “And you brought a friend. Joy. The more the merrier.”
“This is Tiberius, a cleric with the church of Lathander,” Rendrick introduced the younger man. “Who has apparently found some issue speaking with Percin due to the machinations of a particular wizard.”
As he said this he looked squarely at Edwin, who had also moved to join them.
“I merely wished to not bother Publio with the treatise of yet another wayward do-gooder,” the mage sneered.
“Need I remind you, yet again, that the decisions as to who joins our venture is not for you to dictate, conjurer,” Keira replied coolly. “The followers of the Morninglord are of course welcome in our company provided they can feed themselves and travel under their own power.”
“They can,” Tiberius was quick to assure her.
“I see that the Dameston caravan has proceeded without you,” Trotter spoke up before Tiberius could say any more on the subject. “He informed me that you do not mean to leave Beregost before noon.”
“We mean to leave shortly after dawn breaks,” Keira replied, a look of confusion on her face. “Who was it he spoke to?”
“I tried to tell them of our plans to leave when you say,” Edwin interjected smoothly. “But you know how these simple craftsmen can be.”
“As someone born to a family of “simple craftsmen” I am dying for you to tell me,” Keira said, a dangerous tone coloring her words.
“I am merely outlining the pig-headedness of such folk,” Edwin said, unperturbed by her tone.
“That’s twice this morning that you have undermined my authority, wizard. Mark my words, there will not be a third,” Keira growled.
Not offering any more response than a mocking bow, Edwin departed their company, making for the stairs leading up to the inn’s rooms.
“If we could depart sooner we may still reach them on the road,” Trotter said.
Keira glared at him.
“Don’t you start with me this morning, ranger,” she said. “I already have a hemorrhoid growing named Edwin, you’ll wear out your welcome if you force me to name a second.”
“Perhaps we should gather our things,” Tiberius spoke up soothingly, laying a hand on Trotter’s shoulder and urging him away.
It turned out to be well past daybreak, though not quite noon, when the Amnian caravan departed from Beregost. Rendrick watched the wagons trundle from the town square atop a low rise just off the Coastway a short distance outside of town.
He sat astride a brown stallion he’d come to know as South-Eye due to its tendency to stare southward when idle. He was fully armed with his twin hatchets at his waist, a spear in hand, and his short bow holstered snugly alongside his saddlebags.
Keira rode at the head of the caravan, he noted, followed closely by Percin’s wagon, the fat merchant huddled beneath the awning of his wagon alongside a petite young woman in the blue dress, pale skin, and long, raven hair. Rendrick had spied her earlier when the merchants were making ready their wagons and had found himself struck by her youthful beauty. It seemed as though she had gained all of her mother’s favors, whomever such a woman had been, whilst being spared the poor genes of her father. He had felt his resolve to defend the caravan strengthened tenfold at the sight of her and had bid Tiberius stay close to her side as they traveled.
Indeed it would seem that the cleric had heeded his words as he rode close behind the lead wagon on a small grey horse. Though perhaps he did so less to safeguard the girl as to keep an eye on Edwin who stayed close to Percin’s side astride his own black thoroughbred.
Pulling his gaze from the wagon-train, Rendrick looked north through the mists that yet clung to the land and, with a set jaw, urged his mount down the hill and towards the road.
* * * *
Despite the foul weather, the docks of Baldur’s Gate were abuzz with activity and a heavy din hung in the mist-laden air. Sailors of numerous different races and cultures moved about in a chaotic rhythm. Their shouts mixing discordantly with the cries of seagulls circling overhead, watchful of any untended crates of fish or other foodstuffs.
Through the maelstrom, a finely dressed and well-groomed half-orc strode with grim purpose. His heavy boots carrying him from the ship he’d disembarked towards the rising streets of the city before him.
Despite his bestial heritage, one couldn’t deny that the man was attractive and several heads were turned at his passage, not least of which those of the dockside prostitutes. Those not distracted by his appearance at his approach hastened from his path once they caught sight of the insignia embroidered into the front of his well-tailored coat. The image was that of three lightning bolts radiating from a single point, the symbol of Talos, god of storms and other destructive forces of nature.
While any would view the god of destruction’s symbol with trepidation, sailors became especially nervous in its presence and the half-orc noticed more than one making a sign to ward off evil as he passed. Such reactions only caused him to chuckle, however, and continue on his way unabated.
The journey from the docks to the city’s Temple District was a short one and within the hour the newcomer was striding up the steps to the black-stone temple dedicated to his deity, the House of Rolling Thunder.
Within, the temple seemed surprisingly small, though this had more to do with the nature of its architecture rather than any lack of square footage. Jagged pillars of obsidian rose towards vaulted ceilings where orbs of electricity bobbed. Lighting was minimal, restricted to a handful of low-burning braziers and alcoves abounded.
Moving about the temple’s interior were a handful of brown-robed figures, priests, as well as a surprising number of leather and chain clad mercenary-types in blue and grey tabards depicting the image of a cresting wave. The half-orc recognized the insignia from the docks where he had spied numerous others of these mercenaries. Furthermore he knew it to belong to the Storms Rising Mercenary Company. A relative newcomer in the city and a pivotal piece in the half-orc’s machinations.
Unheeding of any other in the room, the half-orc made his way through the temple with determined steps. None acknowledged his passage, as it should be. As far as the city of Baldur’s Gate was concerned, he wasn’t there.
Reaching the very back of the temple where a large altar of melted stone stood, he passed through a secretive door, securing it firmly behind himself. He now stood on the landing of a stair that twisted down and out of sight. Images of lightning bolts decorated the walls of the stair and glowed very faintly blue, offering the meagerest of light but proved to be more than suitable for him to find purchase on the stair and descend rapidly.
As he traveled ever downward the air about him took on an increasingly damp and chill feel, alerting him that his destination was close. Indeed, soon enough the stair ended in a long, tight passageway. Awaiting him here was a tall, thin, robed figure bearing a torch. As the half-orc came into view the figure lowered their cowl to reveal the cold, severe beauty of a human woman with smooth, ebony skin, high cheekbones, and malevolent, violet eyes. The woman had shaved her head smooth and purple runes glowed faintly along her scalp.
“Your arrival is impeccable as ever, Gelrius,” she spoke, her tone deeply feminine.
“High Priestess,” the half-orc murmured, dropping to one knee before her.
“Rise,” she bid him, “and report.”
As she spoke these words, she turned and began gliding down the passageway. Gelrius hastened to match her stride.
“The Warchief’s army marches,” he said. “Garbrand is not the patient type but luckily he recognizes the wisdom of a good plan.”
The High Priestess did not reply and, when looking at her, Gelrius couldn’t help but notice a certain stiffness in her posture. Something had her on edge.
Opening his mouth to inquire about whether anything was amiss, the half-orc shut it just as quickly as she pushed open a door set into the wall of the passage and he found his answer readily available.
Standing within the room, gathered somewhat around a rough-hewn wood table that stood as the space’s sole furnishing, were three men.
He who drew the eye most was a massive specimen standing just within the doorway. Easily six and a half feet tall, and as broad as two men at the shoulder, he struck an imposing figure. Adding to this were his rippling muscles, easily perceived as he wore no shirt, only baggy cloth trousers striped black and purple, road-worn boots, and thick fur-lined, studded leather pauldrons resting upon his great shoulders. His face seemed to have been chiseled roughly from a block of solid stone so pronounced was his bone structure and long, black, shoulder-length hair fell loosely about his features. He currently wore no visible weapon but Gelrius doubted he truly needed one for this truly seemed a man who could rip a person limb from limb with ease.
Beside him, standing nearest to the table, was a man who could only accurately be described as mysterious. He wore black studded leather armor over dark cloth with absolutely no skin able to be discerned. Even his face and hair were obscured behind a steel full helm with a spined crest. Unlike his counterpart, this man was armed to the teeth with twin belts of throwing knives criss-crossing his chest, a finely crafted bastard sword on his back, and two long daggers sheathed at his belt. Taking his appearance in in its entirety, Gelrius had no issue imagining several more weapons concealed otherwise about his person.
Lastly was the least noteworthy among them, standing well back from the others and seeming for all the world as one attempting to be one with the wall. No identifying features could be made out with any ease about him as he was wrapped in a cloak so dark it seemed to absorb any light shone upon it. In truth, it could not be fully discerned whether or not they were a man at all as all that could be seen of them were their eyes, slanted in such a way as to suggest elven, far-eastern, or perhaps even Yaun-ti heritage.
All three looked up as the Talosites entered and though none present made any sign of acknowledgement, Gelrius felt a small thrill of excitement run through him as he recognized the centermost man. After all this man represented the cornerstone of the half-orc’s plan.
“Kharne,” he rumbled in acknowledgement once he and the High Priestess had fully entered the room, the door closing securely behind themselves.
“My reputation precedes me,” the centermost man replied, his voice bearing the cultured notes of a Cormyrian noble, though one forced into an almost bored drawl. “Perhaps the High Priestess Vendralla can introduce us, given that you have me at a disadvantage.”
The High Priestess scoffed.
“Do not insult us, Kharne by playing the fool,” she countered. “You know full well that this is Gelrius, my right hand, and he who holds the leash of a warlord.”
“I hope for his sake that you never introduce him as such in Garbrand’s presence,” Kharne chuckled humorlessly. “Or he will find how quickly a leash might become a noose.”
“It pleases me to see that your mercenaries have assumed their roles with such ease,” Gelrius hastily interjected before the sparring match could continue.
“Oh they aren’t mine,” Kharne replied dryly, indicating the cloaked person to his right. “They’re Nook’s. And I suppose in some ways Dorn’s,” he looked to the hulking man. “Leastways the women among them.”
The large man grinned hungrily at his words in a manner Gelrius found unsettling.
“In any case they are here and that is what matters,” the half-orc continued.
“How go your other arrangements within the city?” Vendralla cut in, stepping forward, seemingly annoyed by being sidelined.
“I have only just arrived within the city,” was Kharne’s reply. “Be rest assured they will go at the pace with which they are needed to.”
“Perhaps we could be of further assistance if you could enlighten us as to the nature of..”
“You can be of assistance seeing to your end of the bargain.”
The High Priestess’ eyes flashed dangerously at his words.
“Have you brought what it is we need?” She said coldly.
Kharne nodded and stepped back, allowing Nook to glide forward, lending further credence to Gelrius’ suspicion of Yaun-ti origins. Reaching into their cloak, Nook produced a large, semi-translucent egg that could only have been laid by some sort of massive reptile or amphibian. Within the soft shell of the egg, a dim, red light throbbed dully.
Vendralla could not contain a small gasp and Gelrius felt his own eyes grow slightly at the sight.
“I trust that all is in order,” Kharne said but it was clear that Vendralla heard not a word of it. Looking to the man over his High Priestesses head, Gelrius nodded firmly.
Returning the half-orc’s nod with a slight incline of his chin, Kharne strode past them towards the exit, Dorn and Nook in tow.
“Ensure your plan works, Kharne,” Vendralla all but whispered, approaching the egg with reverence. “For if any fault occurs it will not be by the hand of Talos.”