Disclaimer: I own neither the Forgotten realms, nor the cover image.
NSFW Warning: None
Kormak and Jaryn stood in silence, side by side, amidst the carnage in Myrna’s Grove. Whatever tears were to be shed had already fallen and now reigned a stoic quiet, broken only by the chirping of crickets who seemed content to resume their song now that the chaos of the battle had subsided.
“I have ter go check on Marissa,” the Dwarf said after a long time, though he did not turn to face the Ranger and retained his slumped posture.
“I will attend to the bodies,” Jaryn assured him.
Nodding, Kormak turned and began trudging back towards the tunnel entrance. Before he had gone too far, however, he paused and, half-turning, said, “will ye hold ther flames ‘til my return? I would like to see what Alyth would have done with the body…”
Without turning, the Ranger nodded.
Satisfied, Kormak returned to his original course, leaving the Grove behind him as he disappeared into the tunnel.
* * * *
“Will he live?” Nors rasped, standing beside Damion at the foot of Eltan’s bed within the Duke’s ransacked chambers where they had moved him upon securing the keep. A Cleric of Tempus was currently inspecting the Duke who lay, ashen-faced, upon the covers.
“I know not what poison she used on him but I do not believe that its purpose was to kill,” Damion replied. “It would seem as though she wished to mimic death rather than inject truth into the act.”
“Why spare him?”
The Wizard shrugged.
“Perhaps there were some true feelings between them?” He offered.
Nors snorted derisively, casting a glance over the chamber about them.
“You do not do this,” he gesticulated to encompass the room, “to someone you love.”
“You never struck me as a romantic,” Damion quipped. “In any case, I am not trying to justify her actions, nor fathom her intentions. What is done is done and we must see to what greater calamities might come of what occured here tonight.”
“You mean what was taken.”
The Wizard nodded.
“Eltan had in his possession information on every troop movement and operation currently in motion throughout the entirety of the Realms by the Flaming Fist. I cannot be certain that Kharne got his hands on anything useful but, until we can confirm otherwise, I would advise that we shut everything down, pull our agents back, and reassess.”
When Nors did not immediately respond, he laid a hand on the larger man’s shoulder to draw his gaze.
“Do you agree, Commander?” He asked.
“Eltan isn’t dead…” Nors bagan but Damion cut him off with a frustrated growl.
“Though he may not be dead, Eltan is in no position to make any decisions on the behalf of his Company. We cannot know how long he might remain in this state and thus must take steps to mitigate confusion. You are Eltan’s second and thus must shoulder his mantle until such a time as he wakes.”
As he spoke, Damion made no effort to lower his voice, well aware that the Cleric, as well as what other mercenaries stood guard about the chamber, were listening fully to their discussion.
Nors seemed about to argue the point further but caught himself, realizing himself how many other ears were listening. Setting his jaw, he nodded.
* * * *
Kormak was nearing the exit of the tunnel into High Hall when he perceived hushed voices ahead. Pausing, he cocked his head, listening intently. Catching an odd word here or there, he surmised that the speakers were Flaming Fist. Pressing himself against the tunnel’s damp wall, he continued at a more cautious pace. Just because they were friendly didn’t mean they weren’t trigger happy, and after the night they had all had he didn’t want to risk an arrow in the chest from a jumpy sentry.
Coming to the final curve, he peered around the bend to spy five mercenaries at the tunnel mouth. It seemed as though they were debating whether or not to inspect the passage further, or hold their ground. As the Dwarf considered how best to approach the situation, a sixth person arrived, this one seemingly holding some command over the others.
“Any movement?” The newcomer, a woman, inquired.
“Nay, Captain,” was the anxious reply. “We was just debating whether or not we should chase after them who fled this way?”
“Them being the Ranger, Moorstrider?” She said tersely. “Hope you weren’t planning on filling him with arrows.”
As the sentries fumbled with a reply, Kormak took his cue to make his presence known.
“I’m coming out!” He called. “An’ though I migh’ not be ther Ranger ye spoke of, I too would like ter not be filled with arrows!”
As he had predicted they would, the sentries whirled at the sound of his voice, the sounds of swords clearing scabbards echoing down the passage.
“Stand down!” Their Captain barked as Kormak trudged into view. “You’re the Harper aren’t you?”
“Aye,” he nodded tiredly. “An’ ye are the runner Eltan sent when we was watchin’ ther merc estate.”
“Captain Triska Ivenshield,” she jerked her head. “What happened down there? Where is The Moorstrider?”
“Seeing ter the dead,” was his dark reply. “I need ter speak with Eltan, an’ have other business in ther city.”
She eyed him closely for a long moment before seemingly affirming that he was indeed being truthful.
“Come with me,” she bade him. “The rest of you lot hold your positions. There is no need for spelunking. We have all lost enough of our comrades this night.”
She spared Kormak what he could only guess was meant to be a sympathetic look, before striding off, forcing him to hurry in her wake.
* * * *
Alora had just managed to find a decent vantage point overlooking the House of Rolling Thunder when all hell had broken loose. First, the bells at High Hall began to ring. This was quickly followed by a large contingent of what she could only assume were Storm Rising Mercenaries departing the Temple. Soon after, the acrid smell of smoke and the blossoms of flames, as well as distant cries and clashing of blades, could be discerned throughout the city. From her vantage point, the Thief could spy little of actual activity beyond the occasional group of City Watch, or fearful citizens, scurrying along the street that led through the Temple District.
She had considered abandoning the mission. After all, the letter Jherek had bribed her with was safe in her jerkin, why should she risk herself when she already possessed the reward? For his part, however, Jherek had played her perfectly and what was worse was he hadn’t even been subtle about it. Alora prided herself on her skills and had never walked away from a job in the past. It just wasn’t good business. When word got around that a Thief didn’t complete the work laid out for them she wouldn’t be able to find a job in Baldur’s Gate.
Furthermore, the Temple stood quiet. Since the mercenaries had first departed on the onset of the commotion there had been no further movement from the place of worship. Deciding to take the chaos currently unfolding throughout the city around her as a masked blessing from Tymora, she steeled herself and began her approach on the target.
One of the issues with the House of Rolling Thunder was that it did not have any windows. The only obvious way in was through the front door. If the Temple had been busier, she might have risked trying to slip in with a throng of worshippers. As it stood now, her best bet was through an alternate course. It just so happened that she knew of one other entrance to the structure, through the sewers.
‘What is it with evil deities and having secret sewer entrances?’ She couldn’t help but ponder as she stealthily clamoured from her vigil before padding noiselessly to an alley beside the Temple.
Just within the alleyway was a large drainage grate set into the cobbled street. In her profession, she often utilized such feats of engineering. They were common in the richer areas of town so as to keep the more affluent of citizens from suffering the indignity of wading through puddles. As the majority of her jobs were in these more upscale areas, she had learned to rely on the waste works as a veritable highway.
Crouching beside the grate, she looped a thin cord about one of the rusted bars then squeezed between, her diminutive, lithe form allowing her to do so without too much difficulty.
She now dangled in a tight chute. A thick growth of moss hugged the underside of the grate, and all about her water either trickled or dripped. The ever-constant rain these past weeks had made utilizing the sewer systems dangerous and she kept this in mind as she slowly lowered herself into the darkness below.
At the chute’s bottom was a wide passage, cylindrical in shape with a deep culvert carved into its base to allow for the free flow of water, whilst also providing a narrow walk originally designed for those who would perform the tunnel’s maintenance. For the most part these days the walkways were most often exploited by the cities’ less scrupulous denizens, as well as a sizable population of rats. It was the latter that she feared every time she had to visit the sewers. The former was most often easily avoided but the rats were prolific and there were a decent number of them as big as she was.
Given the copious rainfall, the trench was swollen and fast-flowing. In many places it overran the walkway, making finding safe-footing a far more treacherous affair. Not to mention that it made the rat population all the more desperate and territorial. All-in-all, Alora was glad that she had but a short distance of the sewer to traverse before she would come to her destination.
Lowering herself slowly, she allowed her eyes to become used to the darkness, which was absolute. Being a Halfling, however, she was able to see for a short distance and, as such, was able to find a somewhat dry area upon which to set her feet. Crouching low, she surveyed her surroundings and, finding them relatively rat-free, at least of the monstrous kind, she began to quickly scamper down the tunnel, keeping a wary eye on the tumultuous waters flowing uncomfortably near at hand.
Just as she was nearing the spot where she knew the secret entrance to be, the Halfling Thief was surprised when there came a sudden voice from behind her, soft and hissing and almost familiar.
“Where are you going, Little Mouse?” It asked.
Whirling, Alora grabbed for the hilt of one of her swords when something solid connected squarely and forcefully with the side of her head. Dazed, she lost her footing and tumbled sideways into the rushing, murky waters.
Immediately she was driven from her disorientation by the freezing temperature of the noxious concoction of fluids and solids. Sputtering, she floundered, barely managing to get her head above the flow when a firm grip grasped her by her hair, as well as the neck of her jerkin, and lifted her bodily from the flood.
Pain lancing through her from her scalp, Alora tried to grasp the hand that had entangled itself in her hair but it released her too quickly, sending her sailing into the slick brickwork of the tunnel wall. Though she managed to tuck her head and thus protect it from the contact, her shoulder took the brunt of the impact and pain blossomed anew within her as it was popped from its socket.
Landing in a crumpled heap upon the walkway, disoriented and trying desperately to take stock of her attacker, she reached anew for her blade with her good arm. The touch of cold steel against her throat, however, stopped her from drawing the weapon from its scabbard.
“I do so like it when loose ends tie themselves,” the sybillent voice crooned and Alora became aware of a pair of serpentine eyes gazing at her from the darkness. “Come now, Little Mouse, there’s someone I should like to introduce you to.”
* * * *
Keeping pace with the Mercenary Captain, Kormak allowed himself to be led along the familiar route towards Eltan’s planning room. Though he was well-acquainted with the path, the scenes he beheld along its course were on par with the interior of a keep during a siege. Blood splatter colored the floors, bannisters and walls. Wounded members of the Flaming Fist, as well as the Guardforce, rested against walls and stairwells. Tending to them were Clerics of a myriad of faiths, though he most commonly picked out the sigils of Tempus, Helm and Torm, with a sprinkling of Ilmater and Tyr, as well as one devoted to The Red Knight. The fallen were likewise plentiful, though the living were hastening to clear them from the walkways, with honor being given to those allied and a more flippant hand offered to they who had invaded.
Arriving at the planning room’s door, Kormak noticed that it stood ajar, the lock having been splintered by a heavy boot at some point during the fighting. Pushing brusquely through it, Captain Ivenshield strode into a room crammed with the commanding ranks of The Flaming Fist. Holding court over the throng was Nors, his fists planted firmly upon the tabletop, the crackling hearth at his back. Upon the table before him was a torn, and inexpertly reassembled, map of the city. He, as well as the rest of the officers, looked up at the sudden entrance of his second, as well as the Harper.
“Good, you are here,” he rasped to Tris before his gaze slid to Kormak and narrowed slightly.
“I was angered to hear that no Harpers rushed to Eltan’s defense, as Jherek had promised,” the Mercenary Commander glowered. “Where is Jherek now? I surely hope that he succeeded in at least one task as he so quickly abandoned others.”
Clearing his throat so as to keep grief from shaking his words, Kormak stepped forward, pulling his hat from his head as he did.
“Jherek is dead,” he reported, “as well as a fair number of my comrades.”
A shocked murmur rustled through the ranks of assembled mercenaries.
“I regret the loss, though many were they who fell this night,” Nors replied, the hard edge not leaving his tone, though his gaze did soften somewhat. “What of Kharne?”
“He escaped,” was the Dwarf’s rueful response, sending yet another ripple of murmurs through the throng.
“Quiet!” Captain Ivenshield’s voice cut through the whispers like a dagger through smoke. “Are you all a bunch of hens? Let the Commander hear the Harper’s report!”
“Commander?” Kormak was shocked. “Does tha’ mean…?”
“Eltan yet lives,” Nors was quick to reply. “But he is comatose.”
“The Stalwart is hopeful.”
“Thank Moradin for tha’.”
“What we are less sure of are the whereabouts of Skye Silvershield,” the hard edge returned to Nors’ tone. “Can you shed any light on that front?”
“All I can tell ye is tha’ me Agent was hurt badly in the tumult tha’ occurred in the lady’s quarters,” Kormak said. “By the time I arrived wha’ had happened had already happened an’ ther lady was gone.”
“Then that is three fronts on which your organization failed us this night, Master Harper,” one of the assembled officers, a tall half-elven man, accused.
“I don’ remember seein’ any o’ yer lot among the bodies outside her door,” Kormak responded quickly and vehemently, leading to an uproar of defiant shouts.
Nors slammed his hand down upon the tabletop and immediately the ruckus subsided, though many were the baleful glares sent in Kormak’s direction.
“I know your losses to be grievous,” he growled, locking eyes with the Dwarf. “But so are ours, and I will not have you sully their memory. We have heard your report, now I bid you leave.”
Glowering, his own glare matching those sent at him by the surrounding mercenaries, Kormak set his hat firmly on his crown and, pushing his way through the crowd, stepped through the doorway leading to the audience hall.
“Kormak,” Nors called after him, giving him pause. “Entar Silvershield will not look kindly on the fact that you let his daughter be absconded.”
He allowed the threat to hang in the air, to the smirking of his officers, between himself and the Dwarf’s retreating back.
* * * *
Far to the south of the strife-ridden city, overlooking the townstead of Beregost from a high balcony jutting from the Song of the Morning Temple, the Morninglord Kelddath Ormlyr gazed out into the rainswept night. Wrapped in robes woven from exotic fabrics and colored in hues of orange, yellow, purple, and red, fashioned to give the appearance of a sunrise-given-form, the High Priest watched the rains with pursed lips. He had suspected since its onset that this weather was not the manifestation of nature, but rather the workings of fowl clerical sorcery on behalf of his god’s nemesis, Talos, Lord of Destruction. The occurrences over the past several days had only solidified his beliefs.
Beginning a week hence, reports had begun trickling in of large numbers of Gnolls and Goblins. By now, said trickle had transformed into a flood, a flood he was ill equipt to stymie. With only a small garrison under his command, albeit one bolstered by his clerics, and no fortifications about the town to speak of, he knew that Beregost would not hold out long against an all out attack.
As such, he had summoned to him that night a small number of prominent persons with whom to discuss the potentially precarious situation. Though possessing of no formal council, the citizenry of Beregost trusted each of the three, or at least benefited heavily on their proximity to the town, and any command issued by the Morninglord with their backing held less of a likelihood of being questioned openly.
First, and perhaps most important, among their number was the local smith, Tearom “Thunderhammer” Fuiruim. A Dwarf of great renown, Tearom was widely considered throughout the Sword Coast to be the best craftsman of both armor and blade. This, combined with the fact that he had lived in Beregost for nigh of three decades and was thus well acquainted with everyone living with the townstead, made him the optimal voice to back any of the Governor’s edicts. This was, of course, at times easier said than done as the Master Smith was every bit as stubborn and opinionated as the rest of his kin.
Alongside Tearom, Kelddath had summoned Caspian Craumerdaun, the local representative of an Amnian noble family and the overseer of their horse-breeding stables that lay just to the south of town. Though foreign, and thus not commanding a wealth of good will among the townsfolk, Caspian had nevertheless brought a good deal of trade to Beregost and had, in doing so, won the respect of the town’s merchants, as well as Kelddath himself.
Lastly, there was the enigmatic and reclusive Wizard, Thalantyr, who would be joining them through a projected image via a large mirror the Morninglord had set up beside the chairs for Caspian and Tearom upon the plush rug that dominated the center of his quarters. Though not well known personally among the townsfolk, given that he lived outside of town in an estate known as High Hedge, Thalantyr was nevertheless feared and respected. Knowing that his magics would be on their side would no doubt bolster a sense of security among the citizenry against this encroaching threat. In addition to this, Kelddath himself had, on numerous occasions, sought the Mage’s advice on many an issue.
As he stared forth into the night, the High Priest perceived a shadow shift against the backdrop of the streetlamps of the townstead. Narrowing his gaze, he at first thought it to be the movement of a large bat. Surprisingly, however, after streaking across the town square, it arched up towards the Temple, angling its flight directly towards his covered balcony. Seeing then that it was indeed a large raven, he stepped back, allowing it alight upon the ornate railing before him. Within moments, he was further shocked to see it morph and transform into a man wrapped in a cloak of raven feathers and clutching a gnarled ashwood staff.
“Good evening, Morninglord,” the newcomer entreated him in surprisingly cultured tones.
Though a tall man himself, possessed of a fighter’s build, with broad shoulders, a squared jaw, and a barrel chest, though also, less impressively, a protruding gut and slight jowls, the High Priest could not help but feel momentarily dwarfed by the sheer power of the newcomer’s presence. He recovered quickly, however, and stepped forward, reasserting his own presence before asking, “who are you? Why do you approach me in such a manner?”
“I am the High Druid Blacktree,” the man responded, his gaze even. “And I have been asked to visit you by one whose intuition I trust, to warn you of an impending threat that, even now, raps upon your door.”
“By threat if you mean the Gnolls and Goblins that have been harassing my farmers and tradesmen, I assure you that I am fully knowledgeable of it,” the High Priest countered.
“I would consider you a fool indeed if you did not possess some inkling,” the Druid replied, offering a humorless smile. “And yet the darkness behind them runs deeper than you surely could have yet fathomed.”
“The rain?” Though posed as such, Kelddath’s words were not a question.
“Yes,” the High Druid answered anyway. “You have felt the truth behind the weather as I have, as have many upon The Coast. As did your resident Ranger before he departed with the caravan.”
“The Amnian Caravan yes? The one mastered by Publio Percin. Do you know of their fate?”
The High Druid gave him a long, searching look before answering. As if trying to discern the true reason behind his inquiry. Seemingly judging him worthy, the Druid turned and gazed out into the rain, saying, “one of my Grove, as well as the Ranger you know as Moorstrider, discovered what remained of them…”
“Why were survivors not promptly escorted back to Beregost?” Irritation laced the High Priest’s words.
“They found no survivors…”
“You made it seem as such…”
A piercing glare was the only response the Morninglord received as answer and so he relented, asking instead, “was it the work of the same beasts who now harry my townstead?”
“I was not there,” the High Druid sneered in reply. “Though it seems a logical probability, would you not agree, Dawn Worshipper?”
The venom in the Druid’s tone alerted Kelddath that he had overstepped and he quickly changed his tone, mentally berating himself for being so uncouth. Before becoming a member of the Church of Lathander he had worked as both a diplomat and a merchant for Amn. The tools he had developed in those trades had served him well in rising through the ranks of the clergy, as well as his subsequent governing of the town of Beregost. It would seem, however, that, through his governing, he had adopted a harder line with people given that he was more often than not these days giving orders to underlings than interacting with equals and counterparts.
“Forgive me,” he entreated, casting a large hand over his eyes, his tone taking on a tired edge. “You have done me a great service by coming here this night, High Druid, and I have no right to interrogate you. As I alluded to previously, I have been dealing with the harrassing of my people for many days now and it has drawn upon my wits, whittled at my courtesy. This night, infact, I have summoned to me some members of the community with whom I desire to discuss the issue more deeply,” he extended a hand to draw the Druid’s gaze to the two chairs and a mirror he had set up. “Would you, perhaps, consider lingering a bit longer so as to tell all of us what it was you have come so far to tell me?”
‘Damn you, Jaryn,’ Criven thought, glaring now at the High Priest. ‘This is why I normally send a bird…’
“I have come in person only because I have no assets to send in my stead,” he said aloud. “The situation is dire all along The Coast.”
“I had feared it was,” Kelddath nodded grimly. “Tell me at least, then. What manner of darkness is it we here in Beregost, indeed the entire Sword Coast, face?”
After a short pause in which the High Druid held the High Priest in a withering glare, his fingers drumming upon the shaft of his staff, he let loose a long breath through his nose and straightened, forcing the Cleric to steadfastly look him in the eye, lest his gaze fall to a more southerly hanging shaft.
“The weather is not the only manifestation of fell magics that plague The Coast,” he began, watching the Governor closely as he sidled to the side of a large desk that stood nearby and began to pour himself a hefty glass of deeply red wine.
“The Goblins you spoke of, as well as…other creatures who walk among them, and appear to act as their commanders, are both spawnings of twisted sorcery. Who or what has worked to create them thusly I cannot say. All I can assure you is that they were birthed from no natural loins.”
“What manner of beast are these ‘other creatures’?” Kelddath inquired.
The High Priest glowered at the response.
“Such monsters are unnatural enough, no matter their occurrence.”
“And yet they are known to appear, however rarely, among orc tribes, or otherwise in nature if the proper stars align for their birth to occur.”
“You mean an Orc lays with an Ogre.”
“Yes, that is what I mean. These, however, have manifested in greater numbers, as well as in greater uniformity, than any other instance I have otherwise observed.”
“And you say they lead the Gnolls and Goblins?”
“That has been my observation, yes.”
“Lathander protect us,” the High Priest murmured into his wine glass that hovered near his lips.
“You and your township at least,” the High Druid replied dryly. “In any case, it is only here in the southern reaches of the Sword Coast, between The Friendly Arm Inn and your townstead, that either they or the Goblins have been seen…”
“So their base of operations lies somewhere nearby.”
“That is my assumption, yes.”
It was then that a heavy knock echoed at the door to the High Priest’s chamber, prompting the Druid to smartly turn and stride once more towards the balcony.
“Wait! High Druid Blacktree!” Kelddath took a step after him, raising a hand in beseechment.
Pausing upon the balcony, the High Druid half-turned, just as the chamber door opened to reveal a young woman dressed in initiate robes beside an imposing Dwarven man with a braided, blond beard and balded pate.
“Can we rely on your aid?” the Morninglord asked, “if these forces were to come crashing down around us.”
Giving no answer, the Druid transformed into a giant raven and, hopping onto the balcony rail, swooped away out into the night.
* * * *
A short time later, Kormak strode out of the keep’s front doors, his teeth gritted and countenance grim. Stamping across the courtyard, however, his anger turned steadily to a more stern resolve. This was the way of things, he reminded himself. Rare was it that the deeds of Harpers were openly applauded among those who they strove to help and even rarer were the times that their passing was mourned more widely than the confines of their inner circles. Crossing the courtyard of High Hall now, and seeing the carnage about him, lightly obscured by mists not fully lifted, he knew that there was much more that would need to be done in the days to come, whether the Dukes supported his actions or not. This was only further clarified when, upon passing beneath the arch of the keep’s gates, he beheld the sight of the wider city, parts of which were yet aflame. It would seem as though the night’s conflict was not yet fully resolved. Narrowing his gaze and squaring his shoulders, he stepped forth to delve into the chaotic streets below.
The cry from behind gave him pause and he glanced back to spy the Flaming Fist Captain, Triska Ivanshield, approaching him with hurried steps. Shrugging the blade on his back to a more comfortable position, he turned to face her fully.
“If it be yer intention to arrest me, Captain, I assure ye I won’ go easy,” he said boldly, sticking his thumbs through his belt. “I have business in the city an’ will no’ be held from it.”
Pausing within the confines of the gateway, the woman placed her own hands on her hips and offered him a wry look.
“Don’t be so dramatic, Harper,” she said. “I merely wish to keep some semblance of a relationship alive between our two factions. Nors may be Commander now but eventually Eltan will wake, of that I am sure, and he will not so soon forget the sacrifice given on behalf of the Harpers for Baldur’s Gate and so nor shall I.”
“I appreciate yer words, an’ forgive me harsh tongue…if I am no’ mistaken this makes ye second in command.”
“Then if ye have need of me, Captain, seek me at this address,” he approached her and handed her a slip of paper, careful to keep it safe from the rain as he did. “There may not be many o’ us left but ther Harpers will not so easily shirk their duty to the Realm.”
She nodded, accepting the paper from him, then, without a further word, she turned and strode once more back towards the keep, from which, Kormak observed, Nors and his retinue were just then departing.
Turning his back to them, the Dwarf made his way down the High Avenue, his boots taking him down the nearest alleyway and towards the seedier side of town.
* * * *
Seated at the small table in his dingy cottage, Lortimer starred sightlessly at the clouded glass clutched in his long-fingered hand. From the room’s far corner, obscured by a moth-eaten curtain he’d set up to give them privacy, he could discern the light movements of Huvertrov and the Cleric of Ilmater, a young man by the name of Fayed, that he had summoned as soon as the Gnome had materialized in his kitchen with the unconscious Marissa Tame. He knew not what had befallen the young woman and Huvertrov had offered no explanation. As such, he was left to sit and wait for further word from without as to what had occurred that night.
The bearer of that word came at that very moment in the form of a hard knocking at his door.
Rising swiftly, the small man rushed to the door and opened it to admit Kormak McKinnik to the room’s interior.
“Thank the gods that you are here,” Lortimer whispered, locking the portal behind the Dwarf. “What has happened? Where is Jherek? What befell Marissa?”
At the sound of his voice, Huvertrov appeared from around the curtain, a questioning look on his own features.
“Ye look terrible,” Kormak said tiredly to the Gnome, who indeed seemed drawn and pale, whatever spells he had cast the night having sapped him thoroughly of his strength. In his eyes, however, there yet shone a grim resolve and he signed vigorously at the Dwarf, pressing him for answers to Lortimer’s questions.
With a heavy sigh, Kormak seated himself at the table.
“A glass o’ yer finest if ye will, Lortimer,” he requested, pulling the cap from his crown as the Information Broker rushed to fulfill his request. Looking to Huvertrov, his eyes brimmed with concern, he then asked, “how is she?”
The Gnome shook his head and made further gestures, none of which had the appearance of good news.
Once Lortimer had placed the half-filled glass before him, the Dwarf scooped it up immediately and took the entirety of its contents in a single swig. Bringing it heavily back down upon the tabletop, he looked first to Huvertrov, then Lortimer, both of whom were watching him closely.
“Jherek’s dead,” he said, bowing his head.
“What?” Lortimer gasped.
“He ambushed Kharne in Myrna’s Grove along with Jewel, Baldwin, Ethon and Myrna herself…”
“And the others…?”
“Dead…all of ‘em…”
Lortimer sat heavily in the chair across from him, speechless. Huvertrov stood unmoving near the curtain, shoulders slumped, a look of disbelief on his face.
“All of them?” Lortimer finally asked, his gaze desperate. “But Ethon was to remain in cover…he wasn’t to be seen.”
Kormak had no answer for him but stared sullenly at the heavily grooved tabletop before him for a long time before lifting his gaze towards the curtain.
“We have ter look to those o’ us who yet live,” he said gruffly. “Marissa must be kept safe. Can I trust ye ter see to that Lortimer?”
Nodding mutely, the man reached for the bottle with shaking hands and refilled both his and Kormak’s glasses.
It was at that moment that the Cleric, Fayed, made his appearance, ducking out from behind the curtain, and they were awarded a brief glimpse of Marissa laying upon Lortimer’s bed, turned away from them and wrapped in a woolen blanket.
Hauling himself to his feet, Kormak gripped his hat to his chest and asked, “how is she?”
“Her wounds will heal,” the Cleric murmured, his youthful features flushed from the exertion of his healing magics, his blue eyes tired beneath the strands of his thinning blonde hair. “Though I feel as though her ordeal will scar her far more deeply.”
The Dwarf nodded, seemingly wishing to make a move towards the bed but holding himself back with difficulty.
“I have given her a tincture,” Fayed continued. “She will sleep for the next few hours.”
“Good,” Kormak replied gruffly. “There is yet another errand I must see to and I would ask that ye accompany me, Cleric, if ye would? And ye as well Huvertrov.”
“Is there more wounded? For if not I must really return to the Houses of Suffering,” the Cleric protested. “There was much pain in the city this night.”
“Funeral rites,” the Dwarf countered. “Five men and women who served the city well in life must be seen onward.”
“Could it wait for the dawn..?”
“The dawn is fast approaching.”
With a sigh, the Cleric nodded tiredly.
“Very well,” he said, disappearing behind the curtain once more to collect his kit.
“And what would you have me do?” Lortimer asked.
“Look after her,” Kormak replied pointedly, fixing the man with a close glare. “Huvertrov will put up wards about ye place before we leave but ye’re to make sure no ill comes to her, ye hear?”
Taking a sip of his drink, Lortimer allowed it to flow down his throat, burning the entire way, before leveling his gaze with Kormak and nodding.
* * * *
Pacing nervously along the breadth of the bar, her gaze unfocused, her fists balled in her apron, Alyth waited for Ethon’s return. Seated at one of the tables nearby, the Gnomish woman, Gyselle, watched her friend closely. Though her own gut churned with anxiety at what was occurring throughout the city, as well as for Ethon’s safety, it was towards Alyth that her main concern was focused. Neither of them spoke, there were no words to be said, all they could do was sit, or pace, and wait.
After a time, Alyth strode once more towards the tavern’s door, as she had done multiple times already, and wrenched it open to look out across the courtyard for the approach of her beloved. The sight that greeted her was similar to that which had since the chaos had first unfolded earlier that evening, though there was now a far less frantic air about the Guardsmen and Militiamen gathered there. The source of this calm, she saw, was no doubt the newly acquired presence of the Flaming Fist Captain, Nors, as well as a fully armed and outfitted retinue of his Mercenaries. Sat astride his horse it appeared as though he had firmly taken charge of the situation and was directing the actions of the Guardsmen.
‘Where is Eltan?’ She thought to herself, then with a deeper sorrow asked the further question aloud.
“Where is Ethon?”
Speaking his name caused her stomach to twist and she fought hard to keep her tears at bay. Wiping her cheeks furiously, she ducked once more back within the confines of the Elfsong, just as a knock echoed from the larder door. She froze in place. Sorrow and trepidation echoed from that knock and it stopped her heart cold. Even then she knew, it would not be Ethon who walked through the door.
As if in slow motion, she saw Gyselle leap up and rush towards the larder door. She saw it open and watched as Kormak crossed the threshold, hat pressed against his chest, his features lines with pain and grief. On his heels were a worn out, equally sorrowful, Huvertrov, as well as a fresh-faced and weary looking Cleric she recognized as Fayed as this was not the first time he had visited her Tavern, having been caught up all those years ago in the machinations of Xanthum’s Guild.
Reaching out, she grasped the corner of the bar for support as Kormak approached her. Behind him, she saw Huvertrov nod to something spoken by Gyselle and the Gnomish woman burst into tears, turning to Alyth with pity and pain in her eyes.
“Alyth,” Kormak was saying, his voice echoing in her head as if from a great distance, and it was at that moment that her knees buckled and she sank to the floor. The Dwarf rushed forward, his hand outstretched to steady her but he held back, as if concerned that his touch might in some way harm her.
“Alyth, my dear,” he said, standing awkwardly before her. “Ethon’s gone lass…”
He spoke further, of Kharne’s escape and the deaths of Jherek, Jewel, Baldwin and Myrna, but she heard him not and eventually he lapsed into silence, his head bowed as she stared sightlessly at him, her cheeks adorned with rivers of tears.
* * * *
Just as the pre-dawn light was beginning to bathe the world in its blue-tinted glow, as a soft rain fell and the morning mists curled about their legs, the small procession reached Myrna’s grove. Just at the edge of the towering oaks stood Jaryn Moorstrider, the Ranger stoic and statue-esque beside four raised pyres of wood and stone. Despite having no doubt toiled through the early morning hours to raise them, he showed no sign of fatigue and merely stepped aside as Alyth, Kormak, Huvertrov, and Fayad approached, granting them access to the bodies which lay upon the beds of thresh he had made for them.
Closest were Baldwin and Jewel and, upon closer inspection, the newcomers saw that it was indeed upon a single pyre that Jaryn had lain the lovers, though it was built extra wide to accommodate both bodies. Beside them was the body of Jherek, his features still locked in the contented smile that had been frozen upon them in his death.
Furthest out, and slightly removed from the others, lay the body of Ethon. It was to this that Alyth walked, heedless of the mud spoiling the hems of her skirt, as well as the rain plastering her hair to her scalp. Standing beside the pyre, she looked down upon the body of her beloved, her face contorting in sorrow, before laying herself upon his blood-soaked chest, her eyes closed and her lips moving in some unheard speech.
Kormak and Huvertrov moved to stand beside the Ranger and it was to the Dwarf that he gave the fallen Harper’s pins, all of their further belongings having been left on their persons, to be carried further with them to whatever afterlife they were bound.
Striding forward, the Cleric Fayad, lifted his arms and began to softly chant a funeral hymn, splashing blessed ointments upon their brows before softly laying his hands upon Alyth’s shoulders to draw her from Ethon’s body. Lifting herself, the Barkeep unhooked from about his neck the medallion of Tymora he wore and, holding it firmly against her chest, she allowed herself to be led from him.
At a nod from the Priest, Huvertrov came forward and withdrew a clear bottle from the folds of his worn robes. Pouring a drop of thick, crystalline liquid upon each of the pyres, he then retraced his steps, touching each of the spots where the fluid had been placed and murmuring an arcane phrase. At each touch and utterance flames spread from his fingertips to engulf the bodies. This task complete, he returned to stand with the others, watching the flames climb to meet the brightening sky.
Not long after all of the pyres were lit, a clear blaring of a horn drew every gaze but Alyth’s to the Tradeway that wound a mile or so down the hill from them. There, upon the road, stretched a column of knights in silver and black-clad Guardsmen, as well as a small train of wagons. Riding up the hill towards the plumes of smoke was a single rider they all recognized, even from a distance, to be Commander Adrian Durham. Leaving the others to grieve, Jaryn strode forth to meet the Commander some ways away from the pyres.
“What happened here?” The Guardsman demanded, his gaze alternating between the pyres before Myrna’s Grove and the walls of the city, beyond which further smoke trails rose.
“Jherek’s intel proved accurate,” the Ranger informed him. “Kharne attacked High Hall in the night with mercenaries and Night Bringers of Shar. I know not the full extent of what chaos was wrought upon the city for I sought to pursue him to this place, to stop his escape.”
“Who lays there?” Adrian pressed, his gaze on the pyres.
“There lies Jherek, Baldwin the Bard, Jewel, and Ethon,” Jaryn said, his head bowed slightly. “Myrna likewise fell but I laid her to rest in her Grove…”
“By Helm,” Adrian murmured, his gaze lingering on Alyth.
“With you rides Entar?”
“Good, ride into the city, Commander. I will meet you in High Hall.”
Tearing his gaze from the grief-stricken features of Alyth, Adrian nodded to the Ranger before wheeling his mount around and riding hard back towards the head of the column upon the road.
Watching him go, Jaryn then retreated back towards the others, saying his final farewells to the fallen before ducking into the Grove and striding towards the passage that would lead him back to the seat of the Dukes.