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"Do you know how it feels to be betrayed...?"

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Chapter XII: Betrayed
Resevered.
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Its nothing personal, you understand.
I am afraid. I am not used to this feeling. It haunts all of my thoughts. I find myself making excuses, creating distractions for myself, anything so that I do not have to think. But the truth is, I am afraid. I am coming to rely more and more on my companions. What is worse is that I am not as uncomfortable with this idea as I should be. I am beginning to think of them as friends, people I can trust. I cannot afford to think this way. Thinking this way is what got me into this situation in the first place. Thinking this way is a path I cannot go down again, it almost killed me last time.


............

There was no warning, just a hand out of the darkness covering my mouth. A brief struggle and I was falling, no way to move, no air. As I fell, he fell behind me and I felt his hot breath on my neck. I tried to move and could not, pinned beneath him he took advantage of the situation to...

"STOP THAT....AAAAHH....Maurtine, you KNOW I am ticklish there. NO NOO ahhahahhahahahah...STOP!!!" I bucked, once, twice, and he flew off of me laughing as he landed on the floor.

"Dammit, how did you do that. I could have sworn you were in the patch of darkness near the curtains. I cannot figure out how you managed to get behind me!", I said. He looked up at me, his blue eyes sparkling with mirth. "Your problem is you think with your heart instead of your head. You could have found me easily if you thought of me as an enemy, but you were too busy worrying about hurting me to pay attention properly.", he said. "Is that what you do? Do you think of me as an enemy?", I said. I looked at him with a hint of anger and hurt in my eyes. Suddenly he was no longer smiling and he looked at me with serious blue eyes, "Yes, I do. I have to do that to be the best. Our profession does not reward second best, you know that. Someday we may be on opposite sides of a battle. If I do not try my best against you now, I will not be able to gauge what you can and cannot do then. It is nothing personal. I care about you, you KNOW that, but I have to try my best. Otherwise I might as well just jump into a snake pit and get it over with. Try to remember, we are mercenaries. We do not have the luxury of having permanent bonds. That is for the nobility and peasants." He stood up and came to sit next to me on the bed, "Mist, do not look at me that way. I do not understand what you expect. You know our situation. We were raised to think of our future, to be self reliant. You act as if you think we can settle down, have lots of babies, maybe find a regular job. I enjoy being with you, I thought you enjoyed being with me as well. Let us not spoil it by pretending it is something it cannot be. Come on, do not be this way." He put his arm around me and drew me into his embrace.

I resisted at first, but then I sighed and gave in. "I know we cannot be anything permanent, I just did not think we would ever think of each other as potential enemies. I thought that if we truly cared for one another we could relax and not be on the defensive all of the time. I do not know if I could kill you. I know that you could end up in another company, working for a different employer, but I am not sure what I would do if we ended up on different sides of the same fight.", I sadly said. He paused for a moment, and I could tell he was trying to figure out how to phrase something I was not going to like to hear. "Mist, you had better figure it out, for your sake as well as mine. You know what would happen if we hesitated, or if your side thought you were working with the enemy. I would far rather be killed by someone doing his duty, quickly and without time to fear, then have my company decide I was a traitor and give me their version of justice." He sighed, "Well, I can see that our practice is at an end. Given your present mood, I doubt anything else will happen here either, so I suggest we go have dinner with the rest of the company and see if there is a dice game we can join or something. Come on, let us go." He got up and headed towards the door. I followed slowly behind him, not really in the mood to join others, but unsure of what else to say and not wishing to dwell on our conversation.

.......

"Did you hear?!!...Racine is looking for an aide to her command staff. It is a great opportunity. The last three advancements to the higher officers came from the lower command staff." Laurica said as she hurried past. "I have to go tell Bethall, she will flip when she hears. She has been trying to get on that command staff for months." I watched her go as I idly drifted down the hall, listening to the buzz of gossip and exclamations from everyone as the news trailed after her. "I heard that the previous aide tried to blackmail her and they still have not found him." said Phenter. "Well, I heard that they DID find him, in pieces, and that she sent his family the head with a note attached to the ear." said Gregory "No, it was not his head that she sent." said Becka smirking, "It was another....er....appendage."

Over and over, rumors, inuendos, second and third tellings of what someone's friend's servant had told them. No two alike, but one fact always the same. The previous aide was gone, no one knew how or where he went. In a world where everything was dangerous, being aide to Racine topped the list of dangers.

Still, it was a way to advance. For those that were bold, impatient, confident, or just plain foolhardy, it was a very enticing chance. I, of course, was not foolhardy, but I WAS confident. Now, how to approach her. Everyone would try bribery, or promise favors from their family if they had connections. Since I didn't have connections, or anything worth bribing with, I would have to use my wits instead. I went to see Gizmo.

..........

It was always wise to go carefully into Gizmo's workshop. You never knew what he was working on, and startling him could result in very terminal consequences. One time I forgot to announce my presence, and just barely ducked in time to avoid the fireball that went past my head. I tapped carefully on the doorframe while preparing to dive to the ground if needed. Without turning he called "Enter." and continued working. He appeared to be tinkering with a crossbow. It seemed to be a masterpiece of its kind. I knew however that whatever it was like now, by the time that Gizmo was done with it, masterpeice would not begin to describe how extraordinary it was. "Gizmo, what are you working on now?" I asked. He looked up briefly at me, his ears swiveling a little, green eyes glowing slightly and his head cocked to the side. "A crossbow." he said while continuing to work. I sighed, "Yes, I know it is a crossbow. What are you DOING to it?" "Making it better.", he nodded with satisfaction. "I see. Making it better. Oh fine then! I am sure you will show it to me when you are done, you always do.", I said glaring at him. I glimpsed a brief smile on his face before he bent to his work once more. "Wait! Before you get back to working on that, I have a few questions for you." I lowered my voice slightly, and glanced back at the door. "Is there someplace we can talk that is a little more...er...private then this?" He looked at me for a moment and appeared to think, "Yes, follow." He turned and headed deeper into his workshop to the door at the other end.

The door lead to his sleeping chamber, a place I had been to only a few times. The room did not have much in it. A straw stuffed mattress on the floor. A battered trunk under a set of shelves. A large wardrobe sitting in the darkest corner, looming like a troll. I glanced at the wardrobe as I always did, wondering what the goblin could possibly posess that would require such a large piece of furniture. After shutting the door behind me, he turned to face me and waited patiently for me to tell him what I wanted. He was always like that, never volunteering more then he had to. It always drove me to distraction, especially now when I needed some answers.

"Gizmo, have you heard about the opening as an aide under Racine?" Gizmo looked at me, eyes gleaming in the half light and nodded silently. "This is my big chance Gizmo, but unfortunately I am not sure how to make Racine think I am the best choice. I do not have the money to bribe her, so I need to figure out something that will convince her to choose me. I do not suppose you might know something she would like to have, do you?" He seemed to think for a moment and then said, "Wrong question." I gaped at him, "What do you mean wrong question?!! Either you know something or you do not, how can that be wrong?" I paused, Gizmo never gave me any answers easily. I always had to work for them. He said that if I did not learn to think in the right ways, I could not find the right solutions. "Wrong question, hmm. Wait, I am thinking about this the wrong way, am I not? I suppose that convincing someone does not always mean giving them something to make them happy, I suppose you could convince someone by threatening them. Either with harm to themselves or someone they cared about. You could also threaten their business or livelyhood, or their reputation. Blackmail them into doing what you want, if you know something about them."

At the word "blackmail" Gizmo smiled slightly. I was on the right track. "Blackmail would be good. You could use the information, and it would be a currency that would never go bad. It might buy you alot of favors before it was used up. You would have to watch your back, but since we are taught to do that anyway, that would be no hardship." I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye to see him nodding, encouraged I said, "Alright, Gizmo, do you know something I can use to blackmail Racine into giving me that aide position?" Gizmo smiled and said, "Yes." I gritted my teeth and carefully, trying not to sound angry said, "Well, what is it?" Gizmo smiled widely and responded, "Denbi liked the crystal cave." He then turned, opened the door, and stepped back into his workshop, walking rapidly back towards his project.

Well, that was it. Gizmo never offered more then you needed to figure things out. Denbi was the previous aide that had vanished. Apparantly he had liked the crystal cave. From those hints, Gizmo expected me to do my own work and find out the information. He had always been like that, as far back as I could remember. Never giving, only providing. It had given me a distinct advantage to my classmates in tactics, as well as logistics. It was damn irritating though, just once I would have liked to get a straight answer from him. I headed out from his workshop, seeing that Gizmo was already bent over the crossbow busily fiddling with it, I left without saying goodbye. I quickly headed towards the crystal cave, something told me that I was going to need all the logic he had taught me and then some.

..........


The crystal cave. No one knew who had designed the benches, or the bridge going across the chasm. No one understood how the makers had designed and placed the crystals in the waterfall to play melodies as the water went over them. There was no record of who was here before us. We had been here so long that the arrival was lost in the mists of time. All we knew was that it was the most beautiful spot in the underdark. The crystals were in every color that existed. The melodies it played were never the same twice, but the notes were always perfect. The light that shined through the crystals was not natural, on that everyone agreed, but they never wavered and were ever clear.

It was a popular place for trysting. A place people came to think. The one place where no matter what station in life you came from, you could sit relaxing and enjoy the peace. No one was ever killed or robbed here. No harm or danger walked these paths. In unspoken agreement, no one violated this place and the unwritten laws pertaining to it. I used to come here with Gizmo and stare at the waterfall crystals with wonder, listening to the melodies and dreaming of who might have built them.

I entered them now without a glance at the beauty. The cave was large, one of the largest that existed in the underdark. The gardens spread out in front of me. Crystals and benches littered the paths. Strange underdark plants surrounding shadowed corners, glistened in the light from the crystals. Everywhere you looked was a feast for the eyes. I hurried on the path that would take me closest to the waterfall. I had spoken to some of Denbi's companions and found out that his favorite place was close enough to touch some of the crystals in the waterfall. Apparantly he thought that when he touched them, he could almost hear them whisper their secrets to him.

I quickly arrived at the spot and paused to stare at the crystals. As I always was, I became entranced by their strange glow and the sound of the melody they were playing. I broke the spell quickly and started to search the area. I noticed some scuff marks by the railings, a little bit of blood, but nothing else obvious. I glanced over the railing and looked down. I was about to turn away when I noticed something in the rocks below. I looked around casually to see if anyone was paying attention. No one seemed to be close enough to notice me. I quickly unwound my climbing rope and grapnel. I secured it to the railing and climbed down to the rocks. There was a little strip of beach near the water, some big rocks, and something stuck between a couple of them. I headed over to look, trying to stay on the rocks to minimize my exposure to the water, which was ice cold.

As I came to the spot, I realized that what I was seeing was a corpse. It was mangled a bit from being battered against the rocks with the current, and it had been in the water for a few days so it was hard to tell, but I believed it to be Denbi. He had a knife stuck into him, so it was obvious what had happened. I looked closely at the knife and realized it was familiar. I had seen its like with other officers in the company. A dagger with a black hilt and a black adder entwined around it with ruby eyes. Each officer upon being given their commission was also given one of these daggers. They were specially made each time, none existed in the armory. It was not exactly a hand written note by Racine, but if she no longer possessed her dagger, it would be enough to convict her of the crime of improper punishment of a fellow officer. I quickly reached down and dragged Denbi up onto the beach. I pulled him as close to the wall as I could and pulled the dagger from him. I then piled some rocks onto him to hide him and keep him from rolling into the water again. I climbed the rope and headed back to the base, eager to check if Racine was missing her dagger.


................



After having ascertained from scouts under Racine's command that none of them had seen her dagger for a few days, I headed towards her quarters. As I came closer I noticed there were no guards near her quarters, and was pleased that I would not need to talk my way past them. From previously heard rumors, I knew that she periodically sent away her guards when she was going to entertain male company. I hoped I had arrived before her pending guest and moved quietly to the door to listen. I heard some laughter and was about to leave in disappointment when I realized that the male voice sounded familiar. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I pushed the door open slightly and peeked in. On the bed lay Racine and Maurtine, entwined in each others arms. I froze, not daring to breathe and tried to get control of my sudden hurt and anger. I must have made a small movement or noise, because Maurtine glanced up suddenly. His eyes widened in surprise as they met mine. Racine, not noticing his distraction started to nibble on his ear. I glared at him, eased the door shut and tiptoed away as fast as I could. In a blind rage I headed straight to the commander's wing, determined to see Racine pay.


.............


I convinced the commaner's secretary that my business was of the utmost urgency and waited impatiently in an outer chamber while he checked with the commander. I had been waiting about fifteen minutes when Maurtine showed up breathless and slightly flustered. He approached me cautiously, glancing around for the secretary as he did so. I am not sure what he thought I would do upon seeing him, but the fear in his eyes and the hesitation was a soothing balm to my ego. He reached me and started to whisper furiously at me, "What is the matter with you?!!! Opening up a superior officer's door, it could get you put in the dungeons! What were you doing, SPYING on me? Really Mist, this is ridiculous, you must put away this childish jealousy and stop acting as if you own me. I cannot believe you are bothering the commander with this. What do you think she will do? I doubt she cares who Racine sleeps with, let alone if its her aide. She certainly will not do anything about it."

The unmitigated GALL, the CONCEIT of Maurtine, believing I would come to the commander in a jealous rage over his sleeping with Racine behind my back. And what did he mean HE was her aide? A quiet voice in my head was telling me that I was doing exactly that, and since we had no formal understanding, it was not even behind my back per say.

I hissed at him, "Full of yourself, are you not? You actually believe that I would come to the commander because you decided to sleep with damaged goods? I was not there because of YOU, I was there for the position of aide. I had no idea I was arriving too late, or that to get the commission I would have had to pay such a high price." I had the satisfaction of seeing him blanch at the insult, and then turn purple in rage before he whispered furiously at me, "Well, if you are not here because of me, what ARE you here for?"

I opened my mouth to tell him it was none of his business when suddenly I heard a voice behind me say, "I was going to ask that question myself actually. Is this a private argument or would you like to bring it into my office?" I turned with a sinking feeling in my stomach and looked behind me, the commander was standing in the doorway with her secretary standing slightly to the side. "No, commander..I mean yes commander...I mean, we are done talking, there is no need for Maurtine to join us, this does not concern him."

She looked at the both of us with a sardonic tilt to her mouth and said, "Hmmm, nevertheless, I think we will include him. I have a feeling he has more to do with this then you are willing to admit. Follow me, both of you." With that she turned around and headed deeper into her office. I glared at Maurtine and strode after the commander quickly. He followed me in, and as we approached her desk she indicated we should both take the seats in front of her. "I never stand on ceremony, and I hate looking up at people, it gives me a pain in my neck. Have a seat and let us get to the bottom of this." She looked up expectently at us and waited. I took a seat and started to speak, at the same time Maurtine took his seat and opened his mouth to talk. The commander waved him to silence, and continued watching me. I had not really thought this part out, since I had not actually planned originally to speak to the commander, so I had to think quickly. "Well, you see, I was visiting the crystal caves. I go there sometimes to think, and I went there today to think about Denbi. He liked going there too, and we used to talk sometimes in that spot near the waterfall. I was a little hurt and upset that he left our company without saying goodbye, and I figured that going there was a way of saying goodbye to him in my own way. I had no idea it would be so literal. While standing there looking over the railing, I saw what appeared to be a body in the water below stuck on some rocks. I climbed down to look and saw that it was Denbi. He had been dead a few days, and the reason was the dagger still sticking out of him. I dragged him up further onto that little beach and was starting to pile rocks on him to keep him from rolling into the water till I could bring back a detail to help when I noticed that the dagger was one of the special ones that officers get when commissioned." At this point I reached into my belt pouch and took out the cloth wrapped dagger I had kept in it, and handed it across to her. "I remembered that Denbi had mentioned some problems with Major Racine, and decided to come back here to see if anyone had seen her dagger lately. I wanted to check whether I should be going to her, or going straight to you before I bothered either of you. It turns out that no one has seen this dagger since Denbi disappeared, so I came to you with all of this instead of her."

She glanced down at the dagger and then looked at Maurtine, "And what are YOU here for?" Maurtine glanced at me, and I could tell he was thinking carefully before he answered, after all he did not want people knowing that he had slept his way to an aide position. He knew however, that the commander had heard something of our argument and was trying to find a story that would cover it, without revealing that either one of us had been at her quarters. "Ahem...er, I heard people talking about Mist's questions and that they had seen her head off towards your wing. I was afraid she was doing something that could hurt her chances for a career because she was angry at me and jealous. I had just found out that I was picked to become Major Racine's aide, and unfortunately Mist did not seem to take the news as well as I thought she would. She has always been jealous of my ability, and rather then take it in stride, I believe she decided to try to get revenge against both Major Racine for not picking her, and me for advancing ahead of her." He shook his head in a sad, disappointed way as if to indicate that it was not HIS fault I was being jealous.

I looked at him in disbelief, unable to understand how I could not have known this side of him after all this time together. I was still looking at him when the commander cleared her throat and said, "So she was jealous of your...advancement and came here to get even with you both by accusing the Major of murdering her previous aide. And I suppose that she had the dagger made to appear like an officer's dagger in the day that the aide's position has been available? A dagger that is made to order, takes a couple of weeks by skilled craftsmen, and would get anyone else making it without permission killed immediately if found out. This is what you are saying is it?" Maurtine looked nonplussed and said, "No commander, actually Major Racine's dagger HAS been missing a few days. Mist is accomplished at thievery and could easily have stolen it, met with Denbi, and killed him. Planning this all the time to blackmail the Major into giving her the job of aide after creating the opening to begin with. By her own admission she knew where Denbi went to, and he having spent time there with her, would not have been on guard as much when she stood near him." The commander looked at him, "I thought you said she did this out of jealousy for your....advancement. Now you say she planned it all. Well?, which is it...you have to keep your story straight if you expect to get anywhere with lying." At the slight pause before advancement again, Maurtine had flushed, at the commander's statement of lying he turned purple with the effort not to shout. "I did not lie, both reasons are true. She planned it, and when it was obvious she was too late to blackmail Major Racine and that it was given to ME, she decided to use it in another way to get even."

The beauty of what he was saying was that it was partially true. Given the conversation the commander had overheard, it was plausible. However, our commander also knew Racine well, and I could see that she did not believe this convenient story. "I have no doubt that jealousy was partially a motive, as was ambition. I am unsure however that where they were applied is quite as clear cut as you make them out to be.", the commander said. Maurtine opened his mouth to say something and the commander held up her hand for him to stop, "This is quite a puzzle you have brought me. I suppose I should bring in the next piece though, if I want a clearer picture." With that said, she called, "Enter please."

The door to her office opened and Major Racine strode in angrily, four guards following her to stand around the room. "What is the MEANING of this? I was about to take a BATH for goddess' sake!!", Racine shouted. She took a deep breath to start screaming again, when another voice cut in "SIT DOWN!" The commander didn't shout, she elevated her voice in a clipped bark. In contrast Racine sounded like a screaming cuttlefish wife. Racine had the presence of mind to look fearful at her temerity to raise her voice at the commander. She quickly took her seat and glared around at us.

"Now then Racine, I had the guards bring you here to address a serious accusation brought against you." Maurtine looked as if he was about to say something but the commander continued talking as if he didn't exist. "Since I thought you might want to tell me your part, I suggest you calm down and listen before you speak." Racine's eyes widened and she glanced out of the corner of her eye at Maurtine in speculation. "Exactly Racine, I see you are beginning to listen to your head instead of...other parts of your body. First Lieutenant Mist was just telling me that she found your aide, er PREVIOUS aide Denbi, in the water stuck on the rocks under the waterfall at crystal cave. Stuck in HIM was an officer's dagger. I am told you are missing yours? She says that Denbi had spoken of problems between you and him before he disappeared. She believes that you put that dagger in Denbi, as well as pushed him over the railing into the water below. What do you have to say about all this?"

I could see she was wondering what Maurtine's part was in all this. Emotions chased themselves across her face before settling briefly into calculation and then more permanently into outraged innocence. "What a viscious lie!! I have not had that dagger for days, its true it disappeared right around the time that Denbi did, but I thought he had stolen it when he left, since he always admired it. I was going to ask for another one to be commissioned if we could not find him. As for having problems with Denbi, its true he seemed to have his mind on something else the last few days before he disappeared. I am afraid I had to speak sharply to him about his work. I assumed he was having some sort of lover's issue, and did not inquire further. I bet he snatched my dagger thinking to bribe this harlot with something shiny and she stabbed him with it in order to keep it for herself. She probably realized that people would recognize it and came here with these lies to save her own skin. Let me have her for a few days and I am sure we can get the truth out of her."

The commander appeared to think about this suggestion for a moment and it was at that moment I realized how precarious my position truly was. I had only my word for how I found Denbi and the dagger, and if Maurtine and Racine got the chance to compare notes, they could gang up on me and make me look very guilty indeed.

The commander knew this very well though and was not going to give anyone the chance to compare stories. She stood up, put her hands behind her back and glared down at all of us. "Well, it seems either I have a First Lieutenant who is an overambitious murdering blackmailer, with jealousy, revenge and avarice thrown in for good measure. Or, I have a Major who seems to have definite similarities to a black widow spider. Who uses her rank to endow her latest toys with position and power instead of giving them baubles as she ought. Granted either scenario is possible in this company, and so this leaves me in a delicate position."

At this description I almost could not keep the silence I had deemed my best defense. Luckily before I could make a fool of myself, Racine did it for me. I had observed Maurtine becoming purple and I think Racine realized she had better say something or he would. "Are you suggesting that I would stoop so low as to put a lover in a position on my staff rather then someone of ability? What kind of person do you take me for?!!" Racine shrilly screamed. "I know EXACTLY what kind of person you are my dear Racine, which is why this is such a challenge." Racine looked as if she could have bitten through a lemon in her mouth at the use again of her name rather then her rank, as well as the insult extended to her character.

It started to dawn on me that the commander did not particularly like Racine, and my spirits rose in hope that I would get out of this alive. "This is a serious accusation, and since there is a question here as to who is guilty and no solid evidence as to who is telling the truth, (close your mouth Maurtine you look like a fish), I am afraid I have no choice but to have a trial by combat between you two to settle this. Tommorow in the arena you will both fight till first blood. The winner proven innocent. The loser, proven guilty, will forfeit their right to freedom and become a slave and campfollower of the common soldiers barracks. I suggest you both take this time to prepare. You will each spend the night in guarded cells in order to encourage the right frame of mind. You will be provided with food and weapons from the guards, but no other contact is allowed. Guards, please escort First Lieutenant Mist and Racine to their seperate cells. Also detach one guard to bring Maurtine to his room, we would not want anything to happen to him before this is decided." With that she sat down and started turning the dagger around in her hands while she watched the guards escort us out.


.............


I spent a cold night in my cell contemplating my stupidity in allowing myself to get into this mess. If I had just used my head I could have turned this to my advantage. Instead I let my heart get in the way and now my life hung in the balance against a foe that had infinitely more experience as a scout then I did. The worst part was that Maurtine was right, I WAS using my heart where he was concerned rather then my wits. I promised myself that if I got out of this, I would never again let myself fall into the trap of caring for someone. I would only use my wits and the logic that Gizmo taught me.

They came to get me shortly after breakfast. They handed me a sword and dagger of no particular quality and some basic leather armor. I stood waiting to enter the arena, hearing the cheering of the crowd, and tried to loosen my muscles and stretch in preperation. I heard the commander say something to the crowd, and then they pushed me slightly to indicate it was time to go into the arena. As I entered into the arena from my side, Racine entered into it from the other side. I noticed her equipment was the same as mine, so no special treatment for her then. We turned to face the commander on the first tier of seats in the command box and waited for her command.

"Trial by combat is a traditional method of solving difficult cases of justice. The winner will be proven innocent. The loser will be proven guilty and have their freedom taken from them. They will be remanded as a slave and campfollower to the common soldier's barracks.", the commander paused for the cheer from the common soldiers in the audience. "Since this is a dispute between scouts however, I am using my discretion to add a twist to this trial. The combat will be fought by the light of a few torches, in order to provide shadows for them to use. We all know that scouts rarely fight in plain sight," , there were a few chuckles from the crowd, "and so this will be a much truer test of their innocence. Special helmets have been provided so that we will miss none of the action, and are being passed out now. As soon as everyone has their helmet, the trial can begin." The commander sat down and made a big show of grabbing the helmet a slave was offering and putting it on her head. The crowd murmured at the unusual addition to the combat and quickly took the helmets offered by the various slaves.

I wondered what the commander's game was. I had thought that she disliked Racine and was giving me a chance to beat her, however, since Racine had many more years then me as a scout, this appeared to be to her advantage. I took a deep breath and concentrated. I would need all of my skills in the next few minutes if I did not want to end up as a plaything to common soldiers. The crowd slowly quieted in anticipation and then they started to bring down the lights, leaving only a few torches here and there to create shadows.

The commander looked at us and said, "To your sides please.", she waited as we crossed back to our opposite entrances and then continued, "Begin!!" I immediately dove into the shadow near me and then rapidly moved around the ring as quietly as I could. The weapons were familiar from practice all of these years, and I clasped them comfortably. I listened intently, trying to pick out where she was without giving away where I was. Suddenly I saw movement in the shadows to my left and a glint from one of Racine's weapons. She appeared to be searching the darkness for me, and it was at this point that I realized why the commander had asked for this unusual addition. Racine, leader of the scouts, was out of practice. She had let her skills go unused too long and no longer had the edge needed to be truly gifted at stealth.

As she searched desperately her breathing became more rapid and louder. I think she realized her disadvantage at this point because she suddenly lunged right to a deeper pool of shadows. Unfortunately it was closer to me rather then far away. She had no idea where I WAS!! This was going to be too easy. I inched carefully closer. At that moment I realized that she had been silently whispering something, and then I noticed a dark cloud suddenly appear. It grew rapidly and then enveloped the whole arena.

She had used MAGIC!! That was cheating...was it not? I thought back quickly and realized the commander had said nothing about using magic and so it was not against the rules. I damned myself for a fool, I could have been the one to use that. Now she had me at a slight disadvantage, for while she could not see well in the shadows, I could not see at ALL. I stopped and shrank back against the wall, trying to listen and pinpoint where she was. I heard a slight scratching to my right, and realized that she had circled almost the whole way around to me. I was afraid to move since I could no longer see where the shadows and light were. I could enter into torch light and not even know until she killed me. I knew that regardless of what the commander had said, Racine would try to silence me completely rather then let me spread rumors.

I held perfectly still, not breathing, becoming part of the wall, waiting till she came within reach. I heard her breathing before I felt her presence right in front of me. I quickly, with all the force I could find shoved my dagger into the shape I could feel in front of me. She gasped and started to turn when suddenly every light in the arena flared up at once.

I was dazzled after the darkness, as was she. She blinked rapidly in the light, my dagger still imbedded in her arm. I had aimed for what I thought was her center, but she must have turned just before I landed the dagger. She froze when she saw what I was looking at, glanced down at the dagger, and in one horrified look dove at me screaming, "NOOOOOOOOO!!!! NOOOO!!!! You cannot do this to me!!!" she wailed. I was trying to fend off her madly flailing sword, luckily she had dropped the dagger when mine went into her arm. The guards rushed over and pulled her away, one of them getting a small nick on his thigh as she fought them. He cuffed her hard and she dropped the sword and stood swaying in their hands as blood dripped down her arm.

"MAGNIFICENT!!! Truly magnificent. It has been a long time since I have seen such talent in a scout. As the winner you are of course innocent, but such skills and the nature of the accusation deserves some further reward. What say you all?...should we make her our new Major of the scouts?!!!", bellowed the commander. Racine's cry of anguish was drowned out by the cheer from the crowd in approval. I looked up in a daze as the commander said, "Well Major Mist, have you anything to say?", she smiled at me.

I blinked rapidly, trying to assimilate my turn of good furtune, "Thank you commander, I promise you will not be disappointed. I will do my very best for you." The commander replied, "I am counting on that. Seeing how you are a new officer, and we just happen to have a dagger without an owner, I think you should have this. It will probably mean alot more to you then one we could have made, since it was involved so closely in giving you this opportunity.", and with that she handed down the dagger I had brought to her as evidence, the ruby eyes glinting in the light suddenly gave me a shiver. I looked up at her as I took it and saw her wink at me and whisper, "Let us hope you use it much better then your predecessor, we would not want it to get lost again." , she stood up quickly as if she had said nothing. She looked down at the guards, "Since Racine is obviously guilty of murder, you can bring her to the slavemaster to be fitted with her collar and bracelets. After that you can do what you wish with her, as long as she is not killed or injured too greatly to do her...duties." she smiled evilly and started to walk away to her private exit.

I stood there in amazement as I went through the last few days and realized that I was not as sure about the circumstances of Denbi's death as I had previously thought. The commander was an old hand at intrigue and it occured to me that while I had gotten a scout company out of this, she had gotten an officer she could trust to watch her back. She had disposed of Racine, an officer that was unstable at best, a distraction to her company, and given the type of person she was, probably a scheming traitor as well. The fact that she got rid of someone she disliked intensely probably only added to the situation. She also had managed to give me a veiled warning as well as a pat on the back all in one sentence. Really, she was masterful. I would be proud to serve such a scheming genius. I turned away shaking my head in admiration when I happened to meet the eyes of Racine.

She was still standing there in shock, and it was when she met my eyes that she suddenly whispered. "Why?..." I looked at her and replied. "Maurtine." As her eyes widened in understanding the guards suddenly realized they were free to drag her off to her new position. I did not envy her the next few days, but I also did not pity her. The sight of Maurtine in bed with her still imprinted on my memory. I headed off to find Gizmo and tell him of my good fortune.

.........


As I approached Gizmo's door, I saw Maurtine waiting for me. I glared at him when he stepped in front of me. "So, you are the new Major of the scout company. I am glad you did not lose.", he smiled at me. I did not believe it. He actually thought after all that he had done, sleeping with another woman, accusing me of murder, jealousy and spite, that we would continue on as if nothing had happened. "You are standing in my way First Lieutenant. Unless you want to be brought up on charges of insubordination, I suggest you move.", I said.

He looked at me his smile faltering, "Oh come on Mist, you would have done the same thing. I did not want you to get into trouble, but I did have to protect myself. Do not be this way. After all, we will be working together closely since I am your aide. Oh, and I am a Captain now by the way, I received that rank with my promotion.", he said giving me a cocky grin.

I looked at him in astonishment. I never noticed before how calculating his eyes were, or how oily his voice became when he wanted something. "I said, get out of my way First Lieutenant. I know of no promotion. As for the position of aide, I believe it is up to me to decide who is to have that opening, since it was never filled. It is nothing personal, you understand. Now unless you want to be dropped a rank, I suggest you go find something to do that does not include pestering me."

I watched his blue eyes widen in shock and felt tremendous satisfaction as he moved aside silently for me. Suddenly I was the in the best of moods as I moved to enter Gizmo's workshop. I wondered if there was some place I could take Gizmo to celebrate. I had never heard of anyplace that served goblins, but there was bound to be somewhere if I threw enough money at them. After all, I could afford it now.

I instinctively ducked as I tapped on the door, and heard a twang and then a thunk behind me. I turned to look and saw a crossbow bolt sticking out of the wall an inch from Maurtine's head. I laughed loudly at the expression on his face and entered to speak to Gizmo.

.........


Slowly I came back to my surroundings. I realized that now was not the best of times to be thinking of such memories. It had made me more determined however to put my mind on my skills. All these feelings would get me nothing but dead. I had already learned these lessons, I would just have to remind myself of them more often.
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Argyle's Reverie

As the creature in the portal chamber finally fell to the ground, I breathed easier. I had run out of useful options, excepting ones that were likely to prove severely harmful to some of my companions. I was quite glad that it had not come to that eventuality... this time.

In the aftermath of the battle, I moved about our group, ministering to their wounds. None of them were out of the ordinary, except one. The githyanki tattoo on Mist's arm was charred and smoking, with the cloyingly sweet smell of burned flesh that is so reminiscent of roast pork....

..........

The young man's arm was charred and smoking, with the cloyingly sweet smell of burned flesh that is so reminiscent of roast pork. I quickly cut away the remnants of his tunic sleeve, and applied a salve to the burn, then swathed it in light linens, before saying a quick prayer to Sol for rapid healing. His light green eyes were glazed with the pain of the burns, and I wished that I had more time to do a more thorough job, but many others still awaited my attention.

As the next wounded militiaman was being brought to me, I looked about at my fellow priests, hurriedly administering to the injured. I noted how low the supplies available for us to work with were getting.

After three days of dealing with the stress of constant ritual healing and prayer, I was able to keep working while thinking on other things, and I found myself reflecting on how I had come to be in such a situation.

I had received my newest directive from the seers, and I found myself sent to the port city of Kamalen, part of the kingdom of Diuth.

When I started trying to make travel arrangements, I found that Kamalen was under siege. The southern empire of Y'Marr had made claims to Kamalen for generations, and when their latest attempt at bribing the nobles of Kamalen had failed, they had assaulted the city. Y'marr had brought north catapults and trebuchets, and used them to fling burning pitch, naphtha, and alchemist's fire into Kamalen.

Kamalen had only held out as long as it had so far, due to its sea lines... and those had just been cut by a band of pirates that Y'marr had paid to blockade the port.

And I had to perform a ritual step at the Temple of Sol Rising in Kamalen, in less than a month.

I arranged passage to Lonabel, as the nearest port to Kamalen which was not under blockade. There, after much wasted effort, I finally made contact with a self-styled "free buccanneer" by the name of Rusmis Thistlewhiskers. Rusmis was willing to run the blockade of Kamalen, for a price. Fortunately, the Temple's writ was accepted by a local moneylender, or I would never have been able to come up with enough.

Rusmis' ship, the "Mara sha'Imbris" ("The Lady of Imbris"... Imbris was apparently Rusmis' home port, far, far to the north), was unlike any I had seen before. He termed it a "Schooner" and boasted that it was more weatherly than anything else in these waters. He even professed to have gotten the design from a shipwrecked "Sea Vrolfin" that claimed to have come from the other side of the Endless Sea.

While he was obviously delusional, I had little choice in the matter... he was the only one even willing to TRY to run the blockade. And besides, he already had my money.

After seeing how much faster his "Schooner" was than the pirate vessels, I felt much better about spending Sol's geld on his services. The Mara drew pirates out of their position in the blockade, and then came back around on the tack much faster, and further into the wind than the pirate's Galleys could manage, leaving them far in her wake.

The Mara saw me safely to port, and I made my way through the streets towards the Temple. Along the way, I noted the huge amounts of fire damage to the city. Fire-scarred buildings dominated the view, and not a few were gone entirely. I passed no less than 3 bucket chains leading from the bay, and various cisterns to blazes being fought. If not for the construction tending towards brick on these plains, and the ready supplies of water, the city would surely have burned into flinders long ago.

When I reached the Temple, I found the main hall a scene from hell.

Tables were scattered about the floor, covered with wounded and burned militia and civilians. Priests and laity moved purposefully among them, applying salves, chanting prayers, and even using lesser disciplines such as (I shuddered at this...) surgery. Usually "surgeons" were kept in their dingy little holes, bloodletting and dosing their patients with mercury. Things must be truly desperate for their services to be called upon.

I found the abbess in charge, and offered my services. They were gratefully accepted, and I spent the rest of the day dealing with a steady stream of casualties. After 16 hours, we were forced to take a break, and renew ourselves physically, and spiritually.

I found a sleeping pallet in the commons room among the other young priests, but sleep refused to come. The horrors of the burns kept replaying in our minds, forcing us to try to push them out through gossip and chatter.

I learned that Y'Marr was ruled by their emperor in name only. That the true power lay with their great Alchemist's Guild, who ran the privy council and controlled the emperor. (Depending on which rumor you wanted to follow, the emperor was variously a weak fool who did not even realize he was a mere figurehead, a sot who didn't care what the alchemists did as long as he was given all the wine women and song that he desired, or just flat out controlled through the alchemist's potions)

The Alchemist's Guild was run by an ancient named Krenet Y'Namthaz, whos life was unnaturally extended through his mastery of the potions. Through his control of the alchemists, Krenet had levered his family into many positions of power in the empire over the years. It was truly said that any position of power in the empire was either outright occupied by an Y'Namthaz scion, or else had one holding it's ear.

The Alchemists had pushed the war when it was found that a rare type of coral was to be found in the sea-caves below Kamalen. With it, they were able to make their alchemist's fire burn even hotter and be more difficult to extinguish.

Having seen what their current batches could do, I heartily understood why their enemies felt that they needed to be kept from the coral at any cost.

The next days passed in a wash of healing, the faces of the injured blurring, each one into the next. And now, as I neared the end of my endurance on the third day of this ordeal, I was no closer to getting the space that I needed for my ritual freed than when I had begun.

The orderlies took away the man I finished working on, and brought another onto my table. I could tell immediately that he was a lost cause. The poultices and salves remaining simply weren't up to the task of dealing with burns as extensive as this young man had sustained. I eased his discomfort as well as I could, praying to Sol to help ease his path into Dolurrh. Just before he passed on, he gazed up at me with his light green eyes, and I recognized the boy that I had first healed that day.

I stood, stunned for a moment, then the disbelief turned into fury. I demanded the nearest orderly explain how the boy had come to be burned further. He stammered out that the empire had actually hurled a crystal containing a fire elemental into one of the buildings that we had been using as a recovery ward. It had slain most of the wounded, as well as the few guards, and burned the building to the ground, before they had been able to banish it.

I strode out of the Temple, and headed south, towards the battlements facing the thickest of the enemy lines. Strode up the access stair, and looked out over the parapets at the siege engines that were undoing my hard work.

The fury I had felt in the Temple, boiled over, and I shouted Sol's name in a rage, my anger and the torment from all the wounded I had treated bundled up into an incoherent whole. A fiery column lanced down from the clouds overhead, striking a catapult, and igniting it into blazing flames. The earthenware jars surrounding it exploded from the heat, spraying burning naphtha over the siege engine's crew.

I shouted again and again, drawing from a well of anger deeper than I had thought could exist within me. With each cry, another burst of Sol's flame struck down one of the siege engines. Alchemist's Fire and blazing pitch clung to the shoulders of the southerners as they shrilled their agony, and tried to flee from the sudden conflagration surrounding them. Terrible flames devoured their flesh and stole the air from their bursting lungs.

And I did not cease.

........


I had gotten to perform my ritual in the Temple of Sol Rising, and left to continue in my great quest. I would have considered it a pure victory... except...

Over a year later, I learned that Kamalen had finally succumbed to a renewed assault from the empire. I had won them a reprieve, but they had been unable to follow it up effectively.

Also, rumors had come to my ears of an enraged Krenet Y'Namthaz... One of his favorite great (to some huge Nth degree... how old WAS this guy, anyway?) grandsons had been among the southerners tending to the alchemist's fire around the siege engines that I had destroyed. The rumors had it that he had taken it upon the guild to restore him, and make it so that he would not fail so easily next time.

The stories told of a huge bone golem, powered by their new Alchemist's Fire, and able to breathe huge gouts of it at his foes... containing the soul of the grandson, who was driven further and further insane by his memories of the fire consuming his flesh, and unable to get away from the heat, forever burning inside of his new form. My nightmares were focused on this abomination for many a night thereafter...

........

I tried to clear my head of the visions, as I once more became aware of the present, and of Mist's wounded arm. The burns were bad, but nothing compared to what I had seen in the siege of Kamalen. And I had learned Many further ways of healing since then. She would be fine in short order.

I shook my head ruefully, surely having a reverie which included remembering another reverie must be against some sort of universal law... I decided not to dwell on it, lest I be drawn into some sort of paradoxical time loop, like brother Jervis had.

To think that I had once thought myself to be called to the pacifist healing sect. Kamalen had made clear to me that I was meant not only to heal others, but also to smite down those enemies of Sol that dared to inflict the injuries in the first place.

And so I shall.









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Too many questions, not enough answers: Davi
Tired. I am so very tired, but sleep does not come easy anymore. There are too many things to do, and too many enemies to counter. Events have been coming in rapid procession ever since the Temple of the Sun God. I was glad we were able to cleanse the temple and restore it to its rightful location, but things will not be the same anymore. Its seems that every time we get closer to taking care of one adversary, we find we have 5 more we didn't know about. The information that Telanne gave me only proves this. I should have known better, being in a war of the God's, but how does one accomplish all the tasks set before them? Having Bejam and most of The 100 near is comforting, and it’s sad that I can't say the same for my closer companions. We all seem to have similar goals in this campaign, but I fear that personal gains or glory cloud the bigger picture. I need to rally them and restore some leadership that we are all sorely lacking. This is no small feat. How can one follow someone who is still trying to figure out who she is? And after the encounter I have had with Apothus, will they all still trust me? Did they ever really trust me to begin with? I know I have my own doubts, and with what I think I have done to Amyria, would it be wise to allow myself to make any further decision for the group? I know in my heart that I am taking a path in the right direction, but is that just my personal goals that are clouding my judgment? I don't know. I don't have all the answers. All I can do is keep on going, and hope that in the end, I will find a way to keep the balance and all my friends alive. There must be a way!
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new companionship: Nevitash
As we venture through the unknown of this place all i find myself thinking about is the pain of putting my eye in and how my dragon is doing. He was brought fully into the world without any schooling and now his master is nowhere to be found. I hope he will forgive me for this. I must find something great or foolish to do in here, there is much stench of githyanki in the air. By some force(not sure what or how)my whitefire mark mixed with my armor and the astral substence and imbued my armor with greater power then before. Making heat from open flame seem friveless.. Im changing in ways i never knew were possible, i am dark hearted by good natured. That is not me, I must regain control of myself. I feel with the power of Vecna that is not possible, but as a free willed mortal i will choose to believe i can change anything. Maybe i just need to kill some mudskins and take some time off for awhile. Adventurers are not needed everyday. Ok well this adventurer is not needed but maybe the rest are. I dont know how much they need me but i wish i could have some space and time alone. Thats it i will just leave for a short time. Hmmm where to go????
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