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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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Chapter XI: The Sovereign Gate
Samel appeared back through the portal extremely distraught, his skin was paled and he looked beaten and sore. “So…portal bad idea.” Were the only words he spoke before collapsing into a heap on the stone floor of the temple. Argyle and Davi were the first to rush to his aid while the others looked on.

Giving the man ample time to rest, Samel woke feeling better than he had when he first arrived, but the horrors that he faced on the other side of the portal would forever wrack his body, and he now bore a persistent cough that occasionally spewed blood onto his hand or a white cloth.

It was this reason that the group decided to gain as much information as they could from Samel and try to enter the well of words with the best tactical advantage they could muster, and after several hours of planning, each member of the party bore a whitefire mark emblazoning on their wrists and glowing with the beat of their own hearts.

Feeling that they had done as much as they could, they entered the shimmering liquid that would deposit them into the well of worlds. The first thing that each of them noticed with the extremely bright white light that drove into their eyes like daggers and the huge eights rings that encircled the room, each one moving independently but each one stopping for a moment before continuing their rotations.

The astral haze that permeated the area began to coalesce into a semi-solid shape, and the party; thanks to the information provided by Samel was not taken by the creatures appearance and without much more hesitation that a quick glance to gain their bearings, they attacked.

Still not entirely comfortable in this place or with his surroundings Samel simply stay nearest to the Sovereign Gate and pelted the thing with magic missiles while the rest of the party did what they normally do best; the creature didn’t stand a chance and dissipated quickly under the onslaught of the combined efforts of the group.

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Feelings....oh oh oh....feelings
It is strange, lately I find that I must force myself to keep a distance between me and my companions. Although I still do not understand them, nor do I approve of their sentimental attitudes, I am starting to respect them.

My concern for Argyle is growing to be more about a fondness for him, rather then a responsibility. He reminds me of my pet spider from when I was a child, and brings back that feeling of caring and concern. The others are starting to achieve the status of my old mercenary company. There is a feeling of security and a trust that they will be there to watch my back.

They still get on my nerves of course, and I am glad that I picked up various tricks to play on them from the City of Brass. I am also glad that none of the tricks will cause harm. Somehow it bothers me to think of hurting them. These new feelings could become most inconvenient, I will have to be on my guard so that they do not get the better of me. I must also make sure that my companions do not find out I am the one playing these tricks.

I am not eager for our next encounter. Samel seemed very afraid when he ported back. I do not like to think of what he might have met. I am confident that I will come through unscathed of course, but what about the others? Suddenly it seems more important that they all come through. I have to admit that the likely hood of them being able to dodge injury and danger is about as likely as an ogress falling in love with Nevitash and asking him to father her child, considering how ugly he is.

Still, I prefer going to that place then going back to the shadow world. I do not know what lurks there waiting for me, but I have the feeling that it will change my life, and not necessarily for the better. Also, quite frankly it gives me the creeps. I have never met a being able to hide so completely. It makes me uncomfortable to consider that someone might be better then me at hiding in the shadows. I know we will eventually have to go there, I just have a feeling that one of these interminable duties will require it of us. I suppose that there is time enough to face what lurks in the shadows when there is no other choice. Until then, I will continue practicing. I think I will need all my skills for the day we go back to the shadows.




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Thoughts on Space-time
I am caught in a whirl of thoughts, without a clear path before me. Chaos holds where only shining Purpose existed before.

I have completed my great calling, and restored the lost Temple of the Sun Lord. And now I find myself called to further service... one which is not so easily defined or structured.

I have a request from Malistair to perform the Ritual of Breaking at the Temple of the Sun Lord. I know from ritual Seeking, that the entity(ies) which will be released were bound, through an agreement between Sol and Bahamut.

Releasing him/her/it/them would be counter to the agreement reached by Sol... And yet, Malistair would not request that the ritual be performed unless it were important to the smooth continuation of space-time.

Sol exhorts all his followers to do good. And, much as it pains me to admit, I know that Sol is not omniscient. (nor is any other god, for that matter... if any of them truly knew ALL, the struggles between good and evil would come to an abrupt halt as they squashed all of their foe's plans) Perhaps in this matter, things have changed, and that which is bound Should be released... it is difficult to imagine that ensuring the safety of space-time could ever be considered evil.

The other possibility is Malistair being corrupted... which I find Unlikely in a being of his power. Doing the same job for Aeons tends to set one in one's ways... You do not find the Raven Queen suddenly cuddling puppies.

I must think on this.
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Completion; Nevitash
well the party agreed to me getting the eye(as if they had a choice). Samel seems to be a little more understanding of my situation. I see that Davi looks troubled. but i know her she will pull through. and Argyle in all his might and glory, the Kundair that saved the temple of Sol, he will be remembered for that act alone for eternity. I have a feeling that Mist will be able able to exercise her skills in this city we have come to. the city of Brass. i have found that my mount has born himself from his egg while in my bag and i will treat him to some adventure worthy gear. Belkas Deathserpant is what i shall call him. The gith whitefire mark i must bare to get into the well of the worlds, isn't pleasent but necessary. as we enter the well samel tensis and we slowly pass through.......
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Chapter X: Apophis
The events that transpired in the recent weeks gave the heroes a much needed rest period from their constant break neck pace. Many fruitful ventures had been untaken, including seeing the cleansing of the Temple of the Sun Lord and having it returned to its rightful place inside the plane of Irinia.

A weekend spent inside the City of Brass allowed the players to take advantage of a fully stocked city, even its denizens were imps, devils and efreets. New clothes, baths and haircuts or shaves seemed to be the order of the day, and for once they let the world slip by.

However it was not meant to last and the party found themselves grouped up and awaiting Samel to teleport them back after all of their personal quests had been completed. As soon as each member placed a foot back unto the solid group inside the temple of the sun lord the weight of the world slammed back unto them.

Samel began his day by sending word to Bejam and part of the 100 to have them come and secure the temple, after doing so he retreated to the library where he began researching a way to copy the whitefire mark that the fomorians used to access the well of worlds. Killwreck said nothing as usual, and then took off, choosing to see what the plane of the sun might have to offer one such as he. Argyle began seeing to the many denizens who began to flock to the temple, finding that their most hallowed ground had been returned to them.

All seemed right for the companions…save Davi. Davi found herself sitting outside looking on towards the horizon, not quite sure what to expect of the storm that was coming at her and all that she has known. Suddenly she found Nevitash standing beside her, his eyes glazed over and dulled like those of a cow.

Quote:
“We are Apophis, you do not have time to question, only listen. The facts are these…”


Whatever it was the possessed Nevitash soon found itself accompanied by several other of the Kundair, Argyle also among them. The crowd spoke as one and sometimes a lone Kundarian would address Davi. However when all was said and done, none by Nevitash remained.
Davi no longer held Northwind, he head was bowed and tears began to form in her eyes

“Amyria, what have I done to you?”
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Chapter IX: The God of Death; Lives
The party was split; Nevitash and Killwreck heading one way; Davi, Samel, Argyle, and Mist heading another.

Nevitash & Killwreck

Nevitash could feel the presence of the eye pulling and drawing him towards the North East. Whispering quietly to Killwreck the two fall back from the main party during the confusion and conversations erupting all around and snuck out into the darkness that seemed to pervade the entire area.

During the next morning meal the heavy beating of wings could be heard on the air, and without needing much more than looking in the direction that the sound was coming from the pair could see a feathery winged creature descending upon them. When it landed it was the most beautiful creature that either of the warriors had ever seen, albeit she had a deathly grace about her she appeared to be no threat to them.

“I come for the one called Nevitash.” It began, enveloping its bronze feathery wings behind it; “These are dark times, and even darker places to be traveling.” After bantering back and forth for a time, the two agreed to use the angels help. Not fully trusting her, but again she was right…these are dark times.

Once camp was broken down and all had their bellies full the three set out for Tiridith; closer inspection of the watchtower showed that it had recently come under attack and with the presence of what appeared to be two rival Githyanki factions.

“All does not appear to be in order within the ranks it seems.” Nevitash said as he stood up from inspecting a wound on one of the mudskins. Killwreck only grunted, but from the evidence they knew that more Githyanki would certainly be inside the keep.

Davi, Samel, Argyle and Mist

Samel looked to Astrial then back and the 100 who rose up to defend the party in their darkest hour. Two choices were set before them, the news of Nevitash and Killwreck’s flight only making the choice that much more difficult; head to the temple and the eye, or head to the Feywild to defend one of their allies.

“Take the 100 and liberate Quellena; Astrial. We will head to this temple and see what can be learned of it. “The without another word Samel began drawing a circle in the dirt, the beginnings of a teleportation circle. Davi moved to speak but closed her mouth sharply as she watched Astrial nod then look to Bejam, who began crafting a ritual of his own.

The temple was massive, easily having to have been built by the eldritch giants of old, proved by the massive stone steps that led straight up and into the courtyard of hours. Argyle hesitated here, looking around at each of the representations of Sol and the hours of the day. Pulling out his holy symbol and with a final prayer to Sol he proudly walked…the reclaiming of the temple had begun.

Passing from prayer rooms, antechambers, dining halls and passageways it appeared that many battles had taken place, Githyanki fighting other Githyanki and large creatures that appeared to be twisted giants bearing strange marks of silverswords wreathed in flame adorning their forearms.

A slow rhythmic thrumming of steel hitting stone could be heard through a door to the north of them and then a voice called out; "You like that little un? You don’t talk, you get the same!” Without hesitation the party barged in, seeing some Githyanki chained and bound being harassed by one of the disfigured giants.

The ensuing battle saw the party victorious and no more worse off than a normal skirmish left them. When it appeared that there was no more threat a Githyanki female approached Davi, introducing herself as Talanne and leader of the remaining Githyanki whom she called the Chanhiiri.

The two shared information regarding the temple, the Githyanki’s involvement here, as well as the parties. Something Talanne said caught Davi’s attention and the champion stopped.

“What did you just say?” Davi asked, surprise in her voice.

“The well of worlds?” Talanne said a small smile appearing on her lips. “Aye, it is a place that connects all worlds together…without the need of having been there first, and without the need of a teleportation circle to land upon.”

“It is here?!” Davi exclaimed, the tone of her voice rising slightly.
Talanne shook her head, “No, what is here is a world gate. A circle that feeds energy back to the well of words, and one of the only locations for which you can access the well of worlds. However such a place is barred from any that aren’t of Githyanki blood.” Again she smiled but gestured towards the mark one of the Fomorian’s bore. “Unless of course you have the Whitefire Mark .”

The rest of the conversation saw Davi in contemplation, this world gate it seemed was a mere few feet away from them, behind some magical barrier that Talanne and the Chanhiiri and put in to protect the temple from allowing anybody to access it. Knowing that Argyle still needed the eye and that there were still more Githyanki present in the temple, the party continued on.

Bursting through the doors where the world gate was set…and surprised to see several Githyanki surrounded a massive globe of white astral energy protecting a circle set in the center of the room, and atop it all was The Eye of Vecna.

It took several seconds before Davi realized that Killwreck and Nevitash were there as well, accompanied by some angel that looked towards the eye. Seizing the moment of surprise Samel reached out with magic and grasped the eye, pulling it towards him to keep anybody from claiming it…and that’s when the trouble started.

The temple began to shake violently, astral energy both pure and necrotic exploded out all around the circle and a huge figure appeared. First as an insubstantial ghost then becoming more and more flesh like until it became a solid form. It beat great leathery wings riddled with holes and green black smoke drifted out of its mouth like water cascading down a water fall.

Samel sighed inwardly, he recognized this creature, this beast, this…monster. Somehow, he had released Faluzure.

Quote:
“Free at last!”
the creature intoned. Stretching to the full extent of its height and expanding its wings which touch both ends of the massive chamber.
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“Free at last, who are the creatures the breathe life into the dragon of death agai…you!”
Faluzure boomed, a massive claw coming down and shattering the tiled floor below him the Githyanki standing below him in wonderment crushed beneath his massive weight.

Faluzure howled with rage,
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“a million years of imprisonment and I am to be set back upon this world by the very man who claimed my essence in the first place!”
Faluzure beat his wings once and a wave of souls brought forth from the Shadowfell began to scream and howl as they latched onto the bodies of all the Githyanki, ripping their own essences out of their bodies as their now lifeless corpses hit the floor; dead.

Davi stepped forward unsheathing Northwind as she did so, the blade glowed its own energy pushing back that of Faluzure’s and the dragon roared again. "A million years of imprisonment hasn’t tempered your arrogance either!"

Quote:
“So Bahamut has found a new plaything to put me back to rest…let us see what the puny ones can do against the might of death!”
With the last a cascading breath of necrotic energy washed over the party.

Quick action by Argyle and his powers over the sun and all that is good damaged the god by a great measure, but it seemed as it all was lost. This foe was too much of a match for them. After another wash of necrotic energies Faluzure stopped his onslaught and began to laugh.
Quote:
“This!? This is what your worlds might has come to!? Pitiful! Bathing this land in a second wash of death will be easy. I could crush you beneath my claw with little effort…but I want you to feel as I have these long years Samel. I want you to know what betrayal feels like. What losing ALL YOU HAVE FOUGHT FOR FEELS LIKE!”
and then, Faluzure leapt, crashing through the roof of the temple and was gone.

The party had suffered a massive defeat, and anger was welling up inside them all. Few words were spoken amongst them, and what was, was met with spite and scorn. Unsure of what to do next the party stands around the lifeless corpses filling the central prayer hall of the sun lord…

One needs to ask yourself…If the greatest heroes the world has ever known don’t trust each other, or their allies…what hope does the world have?
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my eye is neer: Nevitash
With the hand awakening some kind of power within me i now know the eye is indeed necessary. I was able to fly, i have powers that are far mightier then my own. As we discovered the truth of the lie we just lived me and killwreck leave the party to journey through the sand towards the northeast. In that direction is the ruin temple of sol and also my eye. As we have traveled only a few short moments, i begin to feel as if someone is talking about me, but only because of a name they speak which is not mine.(fool we are one when you realize that your transformation to your true destiny will be complete)..As i try and make sense of the noises i feel like something is pushing in to my mind,(its not only yours anymore)I begin to see them talking about me.. though i cannot here them. I have a bad feeling about where they are going.(its not a feeling you know where they are going and you must stop them). I need to hurry and get to the eye but how? YOU KNOW HOW SO DO IT... The hand is forward with commands but will not trade iformation as well. So with that i pray to vecna, and i truely feel as if i am talking to myself...I really thought vecna would answer. Again the hand signs with such anger. I do not know what it means, and now even when i think to myself the hand knows. Its like when i gave in to it in the areana it has control of things it shouldn't. This doesn't bother me because my action have been my own. Thats it I will make it happen. Now how does a god make things happen??? My eye will be safe or at least i can scry on it and see the dangers that present itself... While in deep thought we have manage to only travel maybe an hour from overlook.. Killwreck has been beforming some kind of ritual i think, continually imbueing his blade with more power. Its strange i felt that i could help and waved my hand over it to give it even more power, and his blade began to decay with an acidic rate. He was able to shake it off in time and started his imbueing process again. mMe and killwreck dont phyically talk much but even with our power of telepathy we find conversation in our actions alone. We began to travel again, i need to find a faster source of transporation. Hey maybe i can just wave my hand like i did over killwrecks blade.... huh ha nah...well maybe......
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Time to stand or get out of the way! Davi (Zanne)
I was invigorated and excited to see Astrial rip through our foes in fiery glory, coming to our aide. Then the floor was gone. I didn’t have much time to think, so as the last solid piece fell from me, I kicked off and jumped for Virizian, climbing his back to make sure he didn’t survive the fall, but he is one with tricks. I am starting to think I will need to come up with better tricks as well, since all my enemies have unlocked several of their own. Virizian turned to mist as soon as I had gained enough leverage to strike, my blade never finding purchase. The sound of his laughter almost drowned by the rush of air as I fell farther away from him. Frustrated and angered, I banished my armor and prepared for, what I hoped, would be an unleathal landing, when one of my nightmares came into existence as I glanced Nevitash's direction. His skin changed; darkening with such a foul spectacle. He grew wings, and charged, if that’s what you can call it in midair, towards Virizian, sending his misty form to the ground. Then he came for me. If the ground was not rushing up to meet me so quickly, I think fear, revolution, and confused sadness would have found me striking at him, but instead of a fight, his wings folded around me, and saw me safely to the ground. I tried to thank him, but I stepped away in a hurry, ready to be rid of the feel of his unnatural wings from my skin. I tried not to let him see the feelings I was having, but I am sure some still played through on my face. I have not been able to keep him from what he has chosen for his destiny, I can only hope that it will not end with my blade through his heart. I know that it would break mine if it ended this way, but I must continue to have faith; faith that Nevitash will not be completely corrupted by Vecna's power, and faith that if his heart turns dark I will have the strength to end him before he can destroy others they way his village was. Oh, Bahamut forgive me, but with you gone I must ask for Sol to help give me the strength I will need for the trials I must go through before I see you upon your throne again!

Virizian had way more tricks then I thought, but we were able to finally subdue him, and those in the arena. As the party started going through our enemies belongings, hopefully finding information that would help direct us to Athis, I saw a female figure drop down into the arena, and something about her made me stop an attack. She looks very familiar, but as all things, I still need more practice at pulling the memories I need from the tirade that comes when allowing them to surface, but I know that she was not an adversary. As she walks towards me, I have the strangest sensation of being shook awake from where I stood, then the world started to fade, and I was on my back, the woman leaning over me, calling my name and telling me to wake. I try to sit up, and I have to shake my head as if waking quickly from a very deep sleep. I am confused, but what is new there, but I am reassured when I hear Astrial,

"Davi, take a moment, you were under the effects of a Mind flayer. Steady yourself."

I glance towards the sound of his voice, I see the rest of my companions all rising from the same effects, and the headless body of the flayer near Astrial's feet. Astrial is quick to fill us in. Bahamut, thank the light, has not been defeated, but is loosing ground as we speak. It has only been 20 years since we were last in Overlook, and I can see that time was not kind to these people, since we not stand in the cities ruins. I try to feel the sorrow and compassion I know I should for those who lost their lives and homes here, knowing that I may have been able to help prevent the tragedy, but the overwhelming feeling of connection to Bahamut I have not had for, who knows how long, casts all other feelings into shadow. Allowing my emotions out again is going to take some practice as well as the memories. I know that I was feeling things before my vision, but not at this unchecked rate, and...... wait.....my vision, was it really mine? Or just a trick to confuse me by the mind flayer? The pain of doubt is one I should be accustomed to by now, but it rings clearly through my heart as Astrial gathers us with the 100. I am glad to see them all, but I believe that more information will be needed as Bejam and Amyria greet us. Doubts' blade digs in deeper. Amyria should not be here, she is a part of me, or that’s what I was lead to believe, so how can she be....

"Sister, it is good that you have awoken." Amyria smiles warmly at me as she greets me. Sister? I don’t understand. Almost as if she can read my mind, why not seems everyone else is these days....

"When you were severed from the Astral Sea, I was returned there. Sol found me and offered to bring me back to help in our struggles. Of course, it was only if I agreed to join into his service." she speaks the last softly, almost as if she is unhappy with her decision. I don’t blame her, I know how hollow I felt without Bahamut myself, but the reaction from Samel was one that shocked me. After hearing of Amyria's, and it seems Bejam's, fate, he scoffs at them, and turns his nose up as if he were the Gith, in the mind flayer’s illusions, looking at one of the Skaa. The arrogance he has! How does he think we will win against Tiamat without the help of our allies? Yes, I am just as sad to see that Bejam and Amyria have lost their connection with Bahamut, but it is only semantics, their hearts truly belong to our Lord, for they walk in a world, void from his grace, only to strengthen his cause, and all Samel can do is treat them as if they were the dirt beneath his feet. Samel needs to be put back into his place, he acts more every day like there is none greater then him, has he forgotten why we are all here? Does he not realize that we all fight for the same cause? No, I think he is surely loosing his mind. I watch him take over as we all move out; acting as if all is settled now that he has "reclaimed" his leadership over the 100. Pride burns. He is not general any longer, he has lost his place, and Northwind at that. Yes, his judgment is clouded by his arrogance, deciding that heading towards that Feywilde and stopping in some city are to be our destination. I move to pull him aside to discuss that matter with him, when Bejam points out that I am missing comrades. I look around to see that Nevitash and Killwreck are no where in sight. What has happened to them now? I knew that Nevitash would leave us at some point, and that Killwreck would go with him, but not one word? Very troubling indeed. Argyle approaches then, a look of sheepishness about him, this can not bode well.

Oh, for the love of Bahaumut! Argyle has finally revealed one of his cards. He brings me the list of components he has been collecting for his temples cleansing, and what is the last, most important item, yes that right, the EYE OF VECNA!!! The eye is to be used as the rituals focal point, and as I look out over the desert, knowing the temple lies that way, I wonder just how well that ritual will work with the eye attached to Nevitash's head?!

"A fine moment to reveal this, Argyle." I practically hiss the words at him. I look from the priests face, to the back of Samel, who is riding at the head of the band, back out to the desert, thinking that Nevitash couldn't have more then an hour head start. If I hurry maybe I can catch him, and try to keep things from getting worse. A moment of indecision, should I stay with the larger group? Chase after Nevitash? Get Samel? No, I have no more time. Damn it Davi, time to stand up and take charge, or just get out of everyone’s way, and with that I head for the sand. I don’t stop to see if any have followed or not. I know that some have, when I can hear, what I seems to be curses in a foreign language carry up to me. I know that Mist is with me, and if she’s here, then so is Argyle.

I don’t travel for long before and angel summons me, apparently Argyle, before trailing after me, clued Samel in as well, and the angel claims that Samel will be able to make us a portal to get there ahead of Nevitash. As much as I would love to be away from Samel, the fact that, for once, he can get me somewhere faster has its appeal. I get back in time to see that the cards, that have picked up residence around Samel all the time, are no where to be seen, and Samel is working his magic like I have never seen. From the expressions of others, I can only assume that they have never seen this either. I wonder just how much those cards are using Samel, or he them? The portal opens, it is dark, but not the blank darkness like the portal Samel never followed us through, but a world of shadows. Argyle and Mist vanish through, a look of excitement on Mist's face, this will be a place that will hopefully make her happy.

The Temple of Sol. Nothing that I would have expected. They have placed it nestled in behind a mountain, where the sun would never be able to reach it, odd. But the temple itself looks inviting enough. The shadows are not so inviting. Of, they do beckon for us to enter, with boasts of eating our bones, and even Mist is unnerved by them, she stays within site. This is not going to be as easy as getting here before Nevitash, not with the living shadows and the Githyanki ship that has made it here before us up ahead. And just to make matters even better, Argyle has no idea where the eye is located in the temple, and we will have to keep him undisturbed for 24 hours to conduct his ritual. Its going to be such a fun day. *sigh*
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OOOO....Platinum bars!!!
How could I not see? A MINDFLAYER!!! I am such a fool. Only months away from home and already I am too trusting like these topdwellers. Have I forgotten all that I learned in my life? To be so captured and not to question ONCE!! I must redouble my efforts to practice my life skills. I cannot lose them. To do so would mean never going home, letting my captain win, and giving up. Giving up, such simple words to be so abhorrent. NO!...I will NEVER give up...NEVER!!! Its the influence of these topdwellers I travel with. I have become complacent traveling with them. The small tricks I play are not enough. True, it is boring and so easy. They never suspect a thing. But I must force myself.

Perhaps if I play actual tricks...yes..yes...I can try some of the practical jokes we did to each other back at camp. I may have to tone it down some for them, after all, none of them have as quick of reflexes as my company does. I cannot expect them to jump out of the way of poisonous snakes for example when surprising them in their bedding. But maybe if they were say..beetles? Yes...that would work. I will have to get started right away, no rest for the wicked after all.

Well, now that is settled. What should I do about these angels. Traveling with three of these topdwellers with mercy and goodness in them almost killed me several times over, what will traveling with 100 more do to me? (shudders) I cannot even conceive of such an idea. It makes my skin crawl thinking of all the money we might pass by, not to mention the getting me killed part, that might put a kink in my plans for revenge. No, I cannot bear it, I will have to think of something to get Argyle and me away from them. Hmm...money....I wonder what the mindflayer had around here.

..........


OOOO....Platinum bars!!! (drools slightly) It has been so long since I have had the simple pleasures in life I had almost forgotten. (polishes it a bit with the hem of her shirt) Now, what to do with these. I wish I might take them all, but no way to know if any of these 100 plus beings have seen me find them. I know, I will take one and then present the others. I will still get a share of those and this will make sure to lull them into thinking I am honest. Also, there is the little matter of making sure they are up in repairs and components. If I am to use them for my revenge and depend on them for help, I must make sure they are ABLE to help. (sighs)....oh for the good old days of simple greed. Oh well, I guess I must get used to thinking in these ways if I am to run the company after the captain is dead. After all, TOO much greediness is what got the captain in trouble to begin with, and will get her killed in the end.

What is this?....how DARE he!!! That hypocritcal moron has the gall to tell ME he is going to take the bar and sell it and donate the proceeds to some mewling orphans and widows? How does Samel think he can cheat me and call himself a "good" being? And he has the nerve to call ME dishonest in the same breath. ME....the one that shared those bars with him to begin with. I go out of my way to be kind and honest and look what it gets me!!! Well, see...I should know better. I am getting too soft. I will have to make sure to think of some appropriate response to this when we are less focused on by...others. He is lucky that Argyle stepped in when he did, if he had actually taken that bar I would have had to kill him later. This way I will just make sure he is inconvenienced greatly. It would have been great fun to rip out his spine and show it to him and explain exactly why developing a backbone where money is concerned is a bad thing to do around me. Ah well, such is life.

..........

Oh thank the shadows!!! I could almost kiss Argyle and Davi. It was all I could do not to thank them for giving me an excuse to get away from the hundred. Poor Argyle looked so apologetic. I almost laughed right there, but it would not do them good to think that I actually wanted to go on their quest...for any reason. Still, I have to admit to some curiousity about the temple...and of course the eye. All these months of helping Argyle collect the components of this ritual, it will be interesting to see what becomes of it. It is of course balanced by the fact that the timekeeper asked us to release whatever is being kept in that place, but I am sure I can find some shadows to hide in, and be able to hide Argyle as well. The eye seems interesting as well. I have seen the power that Nevitash has with the hand. I cannot say that I would want to look like the being he briefly became under the effects of the mindflayer, however it might come to that if I want revenge. I will have to consider carefully before deciding. I do know that I will prevent Nevitash from getting it. I have no compact with him. As much as I want my companions help in exacting my revenge, I do not want any of them TOO powerful. I must be able to get rid of them later if needed and somehow I do not think Nevitash would be easy to get rid of if he possessed both the eye and hand. One thing I learned in my old company, some power for your allies is good, ALOT of power for your allies leads to you being dead. I will have to make sure that when the time comes I make that eye disappear before Nevitash can reach it.

.........

BETRAYED!!! My lovely shadows, what have they DONE to you?!!! I know not what lives in you, but I will stop at nothing to rid you of them. Such a perversion cannot be borne. How dare they try to get into MY head!! Do they not realize where I come from? If I can withstand all the evil in my home, and still stay myself how do they think to enchant me? They do not even promise me anything good. No money, or death to my enemies!!! What kind of demons ARE THEY to not know the basic standards?!! How insulting that they think to take over my mind without even a nod to the classics. I do not know what evil is coming to when they cannot be bothered to even follow the niceties. Must be substandard demons. No, this insult will not be taken lightly. I will find their power and smite them for this insolence. Make no mistake, someone will pay for extending this slur on my intelligence. Even the mindslayer knew enough to appeal to my better nature!! Besides, they are giving me the creeps, I hate that!! How am I supposed to hide in the darkness when they keep nattering at me?

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An Excerpt from the Journal of the Sunpriest Argyle
An Illusion...
Everything that I thought happened in the last week was the work of a Mind Flayer.
Why did I not realize it? Was it because I WANTED to believe what it showed me? A world where Sol stood even mightier than in our own? Despite the fall of Bahamut, and the rise of Tiamat, was this world BETTER in my eyes, purely because Sol was ascendant?

I think it must be so.

The aggrandizement of Sol is paramount. I do what I do, solely for his greater glory. Helping others in his name, so that they may know His love, His mercy. Smiting down his enemies, so that there will be fewer to oppose His mighty will. Converting the lost, and the weak of faith to the worship of His eternal glory.
I serve Sol. Entirely, and without any reservations. I Believe. I KNOW his power, his Divine Radiance.

And I feel pity for all that do not.



Now I am freed of the illusion, and a "mere" 20 years in my own future. There is a mighty legion, of Sol and Bahamut. Angels, immortals, and mortals alike, joined together to fight against their mutual foes. They march now, to fight a battle against the incursions of Githyanki from the Astral Sea. I wish them well, but my focus is on my quest, the goal that I have sought for so long now appears to be in reach.

And yet, more obstacles lie before me. I had decided against revealing the final component to my companions, once I realized that Nevitash was under the influence of the Hand of Vecna... for the final component is the EYE of Vecna. I fear that he would seek to claim it for himself, to Incorporate it into himself, before I have the chance to use it in my Ritual.

Once the Ritual is completed, and Sol's Temple is restored unto Him, THEN he can have the Eye. Assuming that the Ritual does not consume it entirely.

As I contemplate this, I realize that Nevitash and Killwreck are gone... And knowing that the Hand had gained further influence over Nevitash whilest we were under the spell of the Mind Flayer, I must assume that he has gone off to claim the Eye. I had to reveal the final component to my remaining companions immediately, so that they would know the urgency of our reaching Sol's Temple. So much for a chance to consult the sages... there is no time.

The Great Temple of Sol lies in everlasting shadow... how did this abomination come to pass? The temple has either sunk further into the valley floor, or else the mountains surrounding it have been raised up, to blot out His Holy Orb.
I had expected the temple to be desecrated in spirit, to be fouled by evil, but did not think it would be PHYSICALLY removed from Sol's sight.

The Great Ritual which I am to perform requires 24 hours. Hours in which I must remain undisturbed. The ritual can be performed from anywhere within the temple in which there is sufficient room, and my remaining companions can guard me whilest I enact it... but first we must recover the Eye from within the temple itself.
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