Copyright 1994 by Edward Keyes
Beaten and bloody, the surviving members of the Toodahilt Band limped back to civilization -- or rather their horses limped back to civilization, while all of the party members slumped in the saddles, barely conscious.
At the head of the band, one rode tall on his exhausted horse. He still wore the sweat- and blood-soaked suit of plate mail that he had set out in, although now the mud largely obscured the formerly gleaming metal, and the breastplate, arms, and thighs had quite a few more dents than before.
Beneath the closed visor of his helm, his eyes were riveted to the road in front of him, scanning the way ahead for potential foes. The trees of the Heartgrove Forest passed by on both sides, an overhanging branch occassionally blocking the evening sun and throwing a quick shadow across him, but he paid them little attention, since no worthy opponents would stoop to an ambush attack.
He was Clannegin, a paladin of St. Cuthbert the True, wielder of the sword Vanquisher, defender of the one true faith, and sworn enemy of all the evil in the world.
"Especially orcs," he muttered to himself. "Especially orcs."
He shifted in his saddle and put his hands to his head. Straining with all his might, though, he still couldn't budge his stuck visor. "Stupid orcs," he muttered. "Didn't anyone ever teach them it's not honorable to bash a club into someone's head from behind?" He fiddled with the crushed visor for a few more moments, then once more gave up. "At least I can still see out of it," he thought, "although only straight ahead."
He tried to turn his head to gaze behind him to make sure the rest of his party was following him, but couldn't see out of the corner of his helm, so he had to shift almost entirely around, to the discomfort of his trusty steed, Steelcharger.
Indeed, the other members were following behind, although this was due more to the obedience and the familiarity of the horses than to any active efforts of the others, half of whom were asleep and the other half fervently attempting to sleep.
Directly behind Clannegin was his fellow warrior Trent. In many ways they were opposites. Clannegin fought for the highest ideals of good, purity, innocence, and valor, while Trent fought for whomever had the most gold. Trent was slow with words, but the quickness of his sword more than made up for it in most situations, while Clannegin's training in honor and courage often made demands his sword could not match. Clannegin had often tried to interest him in fighting for ideals rather than coin, to little effect, but meanwhile he was a reliable swordarm and a valued member of the Toodahilt Band.
Next to Trent was Farefel, a half-elf of usually undefeatable spirits. Not quite a warrior, not quite a thief, and not quite a bard, Farefel defied immediate classification into the usual categories of adventuring life. Half the time he was fighting alongside Trent and Clannegin, whipping his rapier around like a master; half the time he disappeared from sight, only to be waiting for the party around the corner, a sentinel permanently silenced with a dagger wound of surgical accuracy; and half the time he would stay in town, frequenting taverns and inns, entertaining the patrons with harrowing tales of his recent adventures.
He was a very busy man. The party often tired of his seeming inability to take anything seriously, but he had also saved all their lives more than once with his unique blend of skill and luck.
A little further back was arguably the most important member of the band, at least as far as saving lives went: the party cleric, Ironvein, a priest of Moradin, the dwarven god of smithing and war. Under ordinary circumstances, the presence of a priest of another god in the same party as Clannegin would have produced endless theological debates and arguments, but Ironvein and Clannegin had come to an early understanding that what is right for dwarves is not necessarily right for humans, allowing each god an uninterrupted sphere of influence.
This duality was immediately evident in Ironvein's chosen battle role -- human priests would usually stay behind the lines, bestowing the blessings of their gods through spells; Ironvein often as not was out in front, dishing out Moradin's justice at the end of a battlehammer.
And finally, riding alone as usual on his pony was Alvando the halfling. Ostensibly a thief -- or as Clannegin insisted on calling him, a scout -- he often would sit out during battles, crouching in a corner and apparently doing nothing.
And then strange things would happen. Opponents would drop their weapons, screaming and clutching their heads, or else flee in terror from some imaginary foe. Alvando seldom answered questions, and Clannegin considered him a wizard of some type -- halflings very rarely if ever became wizards, so why shouldn't Alvando's spellcasting be different? he had thought.
Tied to Ironvein's mare was another horse, formerly belonging to the party's mage, Grenore. Unfortunately, his scholarly studies at Abradene Academy evidently hadn't included the proper way to dodge a spear, and he had fallen under the final onslaught of orcs; the others were forced to abandon his body to save their own lives. Clannegin shed a single tear in memory of his fallen comrade. Experienced in battle he wasn't -- Clannegin almost chuckled at the memory of his miserable attempt at an illusion of a troll -- but he always had tried his best.
Turning back around, satisfied that all was as well as could be hoped, Clannegin eyed the road once more. According to the map they had bought, the city Jurnre should be only ten miles ahead. He gave Steelcharger a prod with his armored heel in order to spur his mount -- he wanted to reach town before nightfall.
Steelcharger increased his speed for almost fifteen seconds, then resumed his former slow plodding pace, too tired for any extra effort that didn't directly involve life and death or a mare in heat.
Clannegin sighed, and almost shut his eyes for a brief nap, but then started alert again and sat even straighter than before. "A true paladin is always vigilant," his instructors had told him. "Any man can be a paladin on the Night of Weeping Stars, but watch when death is imminent, when all others have given up their courage, then you will see who the true paladins be."
Clannegin so wanted to be a true paladin -- to have his name ever a symbol of valor and purity, to serve St. Cuthbert in the best ways he could. Thus he sat even straighter, willing himself fully awake. "I will not falter," he muttered under his breath. "Only a few more miles to go."
Only a few more miles until Jurnre, where tomorrow he would search out a mage to take Grenore's place when they would return, rested and healed, to deal with the orcs again.
"I have a score to settle with one of them," Clannegin muttered, trying and failing to get his visor open once again.
From the journal of Korel the necromancer:
A new city, a new name, a new face, a new start, a new life.
I was finally able to relax for a few moments today, forgetting for a pleasurable instant the troubles that drove me into exile, forgetting for a little while that the most deadly assassins of the land, the most vile priests known, and the most powerful wizards alive today all hunger for my capture.
For a moment today I almost forgot I used to be Korel the Necromancer, a man respected, even feared, from the walls of Castle Kalannar in the Gran March to the gates of the free city of Greyhawk and beyond. Korel, former priest of Wee Jas and current master wizard. Korel, who defeated dragons and liches, even a demilich, with the power of his spells. Korel, originator of the single most important breakthrough in the magical arts since plane-tapping.
But now I am merely Narabal the Gold, recent graduate of Abradene Academy and low-level mage-for-hire. Narabal, the innocent bookworm. Narabal, the pot-mender. Narabal, a nobody who could not possible attract the attention of those from whom I am hiding.
Now that I am firmly established in my new identity, I have the time and the inclination to resume this, my journal, symbolically starting a new volume with this very entry to denote this new chapter in my life.
The first week was the hardest, leaving the dwarf's citadel with all my possessions on my back, save my library. Of course, when dealing with extradimensional storage bags, a person can carry a lot on his back.
I left there a changed man, literally.
Just before Kalannar and I split up, he used one of my own spells to polymorph me into a new person, at my request. I considered other options for disguise, but none were as suitable as this, a total change of my body. I understand now the sad look on Kalannar's face as he did this to me. Having been polymorphed from his true form himself for more than ten years, I'm sure he knows all too well the identity confusion such a spell entails.
The spell, of course, is itself perfectly safe when the change is minor: from one person to another rather than from a person to a mouse, for instance. No aspect of my psyche was changed by the spell itself, but the consequences go beyond a simple casting. Those who have never undergone such a procedure cannot know how much their self-identity rests in the body.
Oh, of course I've been in other bodies before. As a necromancer, well-versed in the art of separating the spiritual from the physical, the soul from the body, I've inhabited others for short times: other humans and even a few beholders. There is some disorientation, but there is always a sense that this is not you; that your own body is safe and sound in the other room waiting for you to return.
Not so now. I haven't left my body, I've changed it. This isn't some mask I can strip off and yell, "Surprise!" when I tire of it.
I am Narabal the Gold.
Korel in some sense died when Kalan cast that spell on me, and yet I live. When I look at myself in a mirror, I see someone else, and yet I stare out of those very eyes.
So who am I?
I hardly know anymore.
Squinting out from behind his visor, Clannegin caught a glimpse of the city Jurnre ahead of them. Behind the iron city gates, closed now after dusk, the white marble and limestone buildings gleamed in the pale moonlight. Torches set outside taverns, inns, and other establishments open at this hour flickered invitingly.
"Halt! State your name and business," one of the guards at the gate shouted to them while they were still a good deal away.
Clannegin raised his stiff arms in greeting, showing them weaponless, but remained silent until they had come forward so that he wouldn't have to shout. The rest of the band pulled themselves together, sitting higher on their horses despite their wounds.
"I am Clannegin, paladin of St. Cuthbert the True, and these are my companions-at-arms. We seek shelter in your fair city for a few days to rest and recover from our wounds," he said.
"Very well," the guard replied. "Will all of you please sign this book? Thank you. The fee for a temporary bill of passage is two coppers per day, or a silver a week each."
"What? Just for getting through these gates?" Farafel demanded. "That's not the neighborly attitude we've all heard of Jurnre."
Clannegin waved him quiet while he counted out five silvers, a week's worth of rest for them all. The guard replied, "We are indeed friendly to those friendly to us, but outsiders are frowned upon if they have not undergone the full citizenship process. Merchants are, of course, exempt from the visitor tax to encourage trade, but simple travelers are not, especially those fond of battle." He eyed the obvious wounds of the party meaningfully. "In town you'll have to keep your weapons peacebonded, of course; the constable's a stickler for the rules."
At this Clannegin took up the argument, "If more citizens would band together against the evil humanoids as we do, then we wouldn't have need to bother your city at all."
The guard only shrugged as he swung the iron gates wide enough for the band's horses, saying, "They don't bother us within these gates."
One by one the party passed through into the haven of Jurnre. Farafel was the last through, and he turned to the guard as he passed.
From the journal of Korel the necromancer:
Yes, the first week was definitely the hardest, travelling across the countryside totally alone, with not even myself for company in some sense. I never realized how much I had grown accustomed to the companionship of my adventuring comrades when aboveground; indeed, even Temeh or the dwarf would have been welcome company at that point.
That first week I was constantly on my guard, never sleeping for more than an hour at a time with the help of my priestly powers, and always watching my back. The woodland creatures were of course no matter to me; I could handle them without a second thought. But now I know what it must be like for the fox, the hunted, the prey. However, my own predators were far fiercer than anything the woodlands could produce, and their senses far keener than the sniffing nose of a bloodhound.
Indeed, to forget my morning and evening rituals of non-detection spells would have inevitably resulted in my slow and sure death minutes later, for I had no doubt that the mages with their crystal balls and the priests with their scrying pools were searching for me at every hour of the day, waiting only for me to relax my guard for an instant. I could only hope that the followers of Iuz could not call upon more powerful magics to break through the relatively weak ones I was able to muster in defense.
Many a time I came to regret not having my protective amulet about me, in case I were unable to cast the necessary spells for a time, but Kalan surely had much more use for it than I, having no way to cast the blocking spells himself.
We had decided to split up to confound our enemies and divide their efforts, but it was a regrettable lack of communication between us. There was no way for us to know how the other fared, or whether we should already be planning a rescue plan into Dorakka or against the Circle. In six months we had planned to meet again in Greyhawk to plot our next move.
It would be a long six months.
In a few days, I was able to make my way to the northernmost extent of the river and bargain passage south to Jurnre for myself, as well as the purchase of new clothing to further disguise myself. That evening on the boat I packed away my old robe, the same one that Martina had sewn for me in Petravarden nearly seven years previously.
That sorcerer's robe had been with me throughout almost my entire adventuring career, coming through dracolisk acid, several types of dragon breath, and even disintegration, following me into the next world and back again. Under ordinary circumstances it would long since have been reduced to mere wisps of thread, but under the careful maintenance of mending spells, it was still the jet black and gleaming silver creation of seven years ago.
I set it aside, donning the tunic and trousers of a simple tradesman. Of course, after nearly a lifetime of robes, I don't believe I need to relate how the sudden shift to trousers affected my stride for the next few days.
On the boat I received some odd stares every now and again, mainly gazing at my face. I had no mirror on my journey, so I had no idea what could have been wrong with my disguise; it seemed perfect at the dwarf's citadel, and the magic should have been quite permanent.
Borrowing a mirror from a female passenger, I soon discovered the cause of the stares.
Suloise often have reddish eyes, evidently a related phenomenon to the lack of skin and hair color, and my father and I both had darker red than most. Thankfully, though, eyes were about the only thing I inherited from my father, as the family temper evidently skipped a generation in my case.
In any event, I still had my characteristic red eyes, even in this definitely non-Suloise body. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, especially considering what my research had shown in so far as the eyes are intimately connected to the soul. If, as I had planned, my soul remained constant throughout the body change, I should only expect the eyes to remain the same as well.
Nevertheless, such an incongruity in my appearance could easily cause problems for me in the future, so I took to wearing my shaded spectacles throughout the remainder of the voyage, explaining to any with the courage to ask that my eyes were inflamed on account of the pollen in the air, and somewhat sensitive to sunlight besides. It was a nuisance, but I would much rather have my father's eyes than to have changed them and my soul besides.
After a few day's voyage we arrived in Jurnre, my new home for at least the next six months. Built around three low hills, the city's houses sprawled around curving and spiralling roads above the flatter and more regular business district around the port and main city gates.
Peopled with an extensive mixture of races, the city evidently possessed a strong community spirit to accomodate humans, elves, halflings, and dwarves all on equal footing. While necromancers are not social animals, to be sure, I reasoned that I needed such a close-knit community for my own protection. Getting in was to be difficult, but once established in my new identity, I would have thousands of fellow citizens guarding my back against the agents of Iuz.
My first order of business was to acquire a suitable residence, and for that I was first required to go through the process of becoming an official citizen of Jurnre. Far from the simple exercise in paperwork I would have expected, the application process also entailed extensive interviews with several public servants. They questioned me about my profession and about my moral values.
I had run across far too many truth-detection spells and devices to feel comfortable lying outright about my past, but with my knowledge of such spells I was able to phrase my responses in such a way that they were not completely false, but merely misleading. For instance, on the simple matter of my name, I merely told them that my magename was Narabal, which was of course currently true, as I can change magenames at will, but had not been true prior to a week ago.
My evasions evidently worked, and I was able to proceed to the next step, the acquisition of a house. It is Jurnre custom that before a resident can buy a house, he must be approved by his three closest neighbors-to-be. In my case, those were Walyer Fife, a merchant specializing in silks and other exotic fabrics; the Garvazas, a wealthy family of socialites with two young children; and the Jarnets, a couple of the local nobility, evidently living on the inherited wealth of the last several generations.
It was extremely difficult for me to be "sociable" in that manner, having been so out of practice in the proper forms for making friends, but I was eventually able to prevail without even having to fall back upon the suggestive powers of the circlet I wore, although I must admit to using its telepathy to eavesdrop on the thoughts of my neighbors so I might be able to turn the conversation appropriately. It was not a thing I relished doing, invading the sanctity of the mind, but my need for acceptance into this community had to override my general guidelines of propriety in this instance.
By the end of the second week I had firmly established myself with my new neighbors and had signed the bill of sale for my new house, paying for it with some of my collected gems, which I claimed were a parting gift from my family to get me started in the business of wizardry.
My purchase of Willowbough Manor brought many whispers around the town of the new wealthy young wizardling. When I purchased a dilapidated old shop on the outskirts of the market square, setting myself up as a novice mage-for-hire, those whispers brought with them a surge of business and curious onlookers over the next week or two. I tried to keep short business hours, confining myself to the times of day when I would not have to deal with the full market crowd, but even then I was run ragged until I grew accustomed to the pressures of shop life, learning how to make use of short snatches of time to the best effect while studying the spellbooks of Shodei.
At first I was frustrated at the spell selection of my former, and perhaps future, adversary, who evidently had almost entirely confined himself to the study of illusionary and enchantment magics, which I had largely neglected during my studies to concentrate on true necromantic power. In thinking over our recent battle, it struck me that, while my necromantic spells had ultimately been victorious, of course, nevertheless I was severely hampered by my lack of knowledge in the field of illusion.
Then and there I decided that to become a true archmage, master of all magics, I could no longer afford to neglect nearly a fourth of all the spells that existed. In the days, weeks, and months thereafter, I threw myself into the study of illusion and charm, cracking open books I thought I would never see again, from my early academy days. The struggle to understand the basics was certainly frustrating, as I had grown accustomed to an almost intuitive grasp of my fields of magical inquiry, while for these new spells every step was a puzzle to be solved.
While I fear I will never master these spells as thoroughly as my specialty, any knowledge is better than none. My only regret is that I was unable to devote my full energies to the study of true magical power, necromancy, during that time, and when I returned to that subject I found my mind somewhat dulled. My intuitive edge had been blunted by the foreign spellcasting techniques I was forced to add to my repertoire, and while my old spells were still sharp in my mind and my hands, new ones didn't seem to sink in quite as well.
It was regrettable but necessary, both for the completeness of my new persona and for the betterment of my ultimate quest for power. Nevertheless, as I stumbled over Blackmane's treatment of the heart and its vital forces, where once I would have flown, the truth finally sunk in.
I was no longer a necromancer.
The torch flickered in the breeze flowing over Longwaithe Hill, its irregular orange flare throwing light across the swinging sign of the Silver Dragon Inn and reflecting off the beast's mirror-smooth scales.
Opening the door, Clannegin was greeted with the cheery glow of the fire, almost entirely blocked by the great many people gathered around it, enthralled by the tale being spun by a young bard, his hands flying in description and the light flowing through his long blonde hair in a crown of fire.
"I came down by way of Hookhill, to try to meet up with a chronicler there. Now I'd heard wild tales of the troubles in Hookhill, but didn't put no stock in 'em, what with claiming that devils stalked the streets and all."
Here he paused, taking a gulp from a nearby mug, whether his or not no one seemed to care. When he continued, all eyes were on him. "But lemme tell ya, the tales are nothing. Nothing, compared to the reality.
"I barely escaped there with my life. The city is gone, shut down, the citizens enslaved or killed outright. Devils do walk the streets, great huge monsters with acid dripping from their fangs and talons." The firelight glinted wickedly off the bard's hands, clenched in front of him into knarled claws. "And I seen one of 'em tear a woman apart in the middle of the street, just like that!" he said, snapping his fingers in a man's face and startling the wits right out of him.
"Alvando, check that bard out and get his story. Farafel, get us a room. Trent, Ironvein, you're with me. Well be back in a few minutes," Clannegin said to his party as they paused near the threshold to listen to the bard's tale. While Alvando looked for a fireside seat and Clannegin exited into the night again, helm under his arm, Farafel approached the bar and summoned the innkeeper, who had been seemingly engrossed in the bard's tale.
"Evening, sir, and welcome to the Silver Dragon Inn, where everything's a silver," he beamed. "What can I do for you?"
"We'll need a room for the next few nights, and dinner for five, thank you," Farafel replied.
The innkeeper reached under the bar and brought up a key, handing it to him. "The room's a silver a night, up the stairs, second room to the left. Dinner's a silver each, including drinks. Like I said, everything's a silver at the Silver Dragon Inn," he said with a smile.
Farafel handed him a gold piece. "Here's four nights in advance."
The bartender reached under the bar for the change, but Farafel waved him off. "Please have our dinners sent up to our room when they're ready. Everything's a silver, right?" he said with a smile.
The bartender nodded. "Good night to you and your companions, sir," he said and started to turn away. Farafel stopped him with a light hand on his arm, leaning close.
"One thing more," he said, "if you please. We're looking to hire a mage for our band, and we were wondering if you knew of any in town?"
"I might," the bartender replied, without committment.
From nowhere, Farafel snapped his fingers quietly and produced a gleaming coin to hold it aloft between his fingers. "Everything's a silver," he said knowingly, eyebrow raised and eyes smiling.
The innkeeper closed his hand over the coin. "Your best bet is Narabal the Gold. He's been in town about half a year, a nice guy, has a shop off Tirteren Street, but I don't know whether he'd be interested in adventuring," he said.
"Thank you. Imagine, the silver recommending the gold," Farafel chuckled lightly, and with that he headed upstairs, to wait for Clannegin to finish his check of the security of the inn -- the band had been trapped in an inn once by bandits, and now Clannegin never spent the night in any place without knowing all of its exits.
A few minutes later, Farafel was joined in the cramped little room by Clannegin, Ironvein, and Trent. The room wasn't much, but as long as there was enough space on the floor to pitch their blankets, a simple roof over their heads was more than enough compared to the overland accomodations of their past week.
Once by one the party members collapsed to the floor to await Alvando's return, stripping off their armor in the process. Ironvein, as party cleric, took the opportunity to change the dressings on some of the band's wounds to accelerate the healing overnight. In a few minutes Alvando appeared in the doorway, in the company of a pair of barmaids bearing trays heaped with meats and bread, and a couple of pitchers full of ale, which they handed to Trent and Clannegin with a smile. Farafel, with his well-chiseled half-elf face and natural charm, seemed to have already earned a place in the barmaid gossip downstairs, as the two maids' eyes lingered on him as he cleaned his rapier in a corner. If he even noticed their attentions he didn't acknowledge it, and shortly they left the adventurers to their meal.
Helping himself to a healthy hunk of dark grained bread, Clannegin began the meeting, "Okay, this place is secure, and there's a porch right below our window, so that's fine. Alvando, what's the bard's tale look like?"
Alvando looked up from his intense concentration on the mutton he was in the process of devouring, good food and drink being the average halfling's foremost concern. "Mmmm mmm," he mumbled, then paused to swallow. "You caught the main part of it yourself. He's been to Hookhill north of here, and reports that it's been completely taken over by devils. Definitely out of our league, for sure. Seems that it all came down at about the same time and place as that trouble with Lord Kalannar and his mage, what's his name, Korel."
"Is he for real?" Clannegin asked in amazement.
"All I can say is that he truly believes what he's saying. Either he's telling the truth, he's completely insane, or he's under a very powerful magical compulsion. That I'm sure of."
"How do you know?" Ironvein asked him.
Clannegin shrugged. This line of questioning was an old one, and looked to be going similarly nowhere. Alvando was a valued member of the team, and if he wanted his secrets, he was entitled to them. "Okay, tomorrow our first order of business is to find a mage, so I suggest we split up and ask around, then meet..."
Farafel interrupted, "That may not be necessary. I took the liberty of asking the innkeep for information, and he gave me a name: Narabal the Gold, off Tirteren Street. Hasn't been in town too long, and isn't a known adventurer, but he might be willing to hire himself out for a mission or two."
"Excellent. Well, then, I guess you all get a day off. Ironvein, if you could trouble Moradin for some healing spells tomorrow and tend to the rest of us, I'll seek out this Narabal and see if he's interested in some friendly orc-bashing. The rest of you feel free to explore the town -- it seems pretty tame -- and get supplies if you need them. If you find more mages, get their names and interest levels but don't make any offers until I see about this Narabal.
"Well see if he has what it takes to be an adventurer."
From the journal of Korel the necromancer:
Willowbough Manor was, unfortunately, much too big for just one person, and I had to lock many rooms away and forget about them for the time being. However, I had plans for some special servants in the future, so the extra space will eventually come in handy. The relative luxury, though, was a welcome change from my austere quarters under Castle Kalannar.
The Manor itself was not the reason for my purchase, though, but its location. Midway up Renwaithe Hill, it was built on an unusally steep incline, with its foundations directly in the limestone heart of the hill. I therefore have an excellent access point into the hill itself, where I planned to excavate my secret laboratories.
My cover persona would not be experienced enough in the ways of magic to be able to conduct any more than mere dabblings in original research, and especially not in the realm of inquiry I was pursuing, soul magic. As well, I needed a space to keep prisoners that would be isolated enough that no one would be able to hear their screams.
Much of my free time over the next couple of weeks was devoted to performing those excavations and moving my library from the dwarf's citadel via teleportation. During the day I manned my shop, studying Shodei's spellbooks in the rare free moments, and at night I worked on my secret laboratories. In some sense I was Narabal by day, Korel by night.
My previous underground laboratory had been completely isolated, the entrance filled in with stone and forgotten, with the only way in or out through teleportation. And since most teleportation spells only functioned for those who had been at the destination before, it was secure against almost all my enemies, although to my frustration Rary was once able to track me down and project an image of himself there. Of course, protecting anything from arguably the most powerful mage on the planet is always a tricky thing.
This former teleportation defense nevertheless had a critical shortcoming, which I once almost discovered first-hand when my travelling spellbooks were destroyed. Without those books, I was unable to study my teleportation spells to return to my backup library, and if it weren't for Kalan's ring of spell storing, I would still be trying to dig up my former laboratory.
This time I decided on a different defense, one even more convenient and secure. Through the more powerful spells I have recently learned, I was able to spell a section of solid rock in my basement to allow me and only me to pass through it at will. Excavating the rock beyond enabled me to built my caverns with absolutely no visible entrance, since my own passage never disturbed the natural rock walls of my basement. To provide extra security, I plan to research a spell of proof from teleportation to ensure that my way in was the only one. Of course I could cancel such a spell at will for a speedy arrival or escape should it become necessary, as well as an undetectable way in for when I escort my prisoners.
Now, my caverns are rudimentary, just big enough for a basic laboratory and library, with a small closet to store the treasures of my adventuring career. In the future, I plan to expand them into larger experimental chambers and prisons, but for the time being I thought it best to at least appear to concentrate my time in my more visible laboratory in the house proper and in my shop. Indeed, I have many months of effort ahead of me before I exhaust Shodei's spellbooks and can return to necromantic research in earnest.
Speaking of the shop, I am amazed at the role evidently filled by the town mage. Luckily for my persona, Jurnre's existing mages are generally a solitary lot, with the exception of an old alchemist by the name of Sarah, who is rumored to be a rather cranky sort. In any event, the town welcomed me with unusual fervor, and yet I was amazed at how little I was able to do for them, even with my hidden reserves of power.
Of course a large part of my business was for enspelled light sources, but I was amazed how many mundane uses people expected spells to be put: a mending spell for a hole in a pot, or an enlarge spell to help with a carver's intricate detail work. I was also struck with how little I was able to help some people. Wizardly spells simply do not exist to remove scars or calm a too-spirited stallion, and I cannot relate how many times I had to turn away young men (and even a few young women) with visions of love charms in their heads. Scrolls, too, I was unable to deal with, since my priceless collection of exotic spell components necessary for scroll inks went up in flames when I was forced to destroy my former laboratory as the priests of Iuz were closing in.
Nevertheless, I found myself rapidly accepted into town, most likely due to the extremely reasonable prices I charged for my services, in some cases performing spells free for those not able to afford them. Charity has never been my way, since I feel that if someone is not strong enough to take what he wants, he doesn't deserve it, but my present need was for quick acceptance into the community, and I calculated that charity was the most rapid such way. Besides, with the wealth I obtained from adventuring, I had no need for a few extra gold scrounged from a peasant's grubby hand.
Outfitting my laboratory was a little trying, since I had to purchase two sets: a smaller one for Narabal's cover laboratory, and a full one for Korel's researches. I tried to hide such purchases by buying from many different suppliers throughout the town, and for those items I could not disguise in such a manner, particularly glassware, for which there is only one suitable glassblower, I hid my intentions by claiming to have broken the first set. In the bumbling young body of Narabal, such tales were easily believed.
For nearly five months I went on in this manner, studying new spell concepts with the help of the spellbooks I won from Shodei in that fateful duel. I was making progress, having gone through about half of the existing spells I possessed in my captured spellbooks, and yet life was becoming tedious.
After reconciling myself to a sedentary life, I found myself strangely missing the open road, the thrill of danger and new discoveries just around the corner. I thought I wouldn't be able to get back into adventuring for quite a while, certainly not for several years and after rejoining with Kalan.
And then a paladin, of all things, came knocking on my door.
Clannegin had little trouble finding the shop of Narabal the Gold, in a back corner just off Tirteren Street. The shop was a simple building, with a small front business room, complete with a relatively large window displaying various pseudo-magical artifacts: crystal balls, tarot cards, and the like. From the dimensions of the building and the front room, Clannegin immediately deduced the existence of a back room behind the counter, the door probably hidden behind a decorative drapery hanging on the back wall.
A swinging sign above the door announced in flowing script "Narabal the Gold, Magician," along with a stylized polished brass lightning bolt, the standard insignia of wizards for the illiterate majority. Clannegin knocked twice and then pushed in the unlocked front door. Melodic chimes from no apparent source tinkled at his entrance, and shortly thereafter Narabal emerged from behind the drapery, a weighty tome tucked under his arm.
He was a young man, in his early twenties at the very most, a little short and just shy of being considered too thin. "Probably straight out of the Academy," Clannegin thought. His blonde hair was cut straight and short, hardly hiding a silver circlet around his forehead, and he sported a carefully trimmed mustache. He wore a gleaming white robe under a darker cloak, gold embroidery tracing itself in complex geometric patterns all across it, with occasional highlights of silver. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of darkened-glass spectacles with gold rims, a single golden blonde eyebrow arching over the right lens.
With an adventurer's calculating eye, Clannegin found him heavily equipped with probable magical items -- rings, amulets and the like -- not all of them visible, most notably a slight bulge under his robe where a necklace pendant would have hung. Narabal smiled, showing perfect teeth, but there was something quite disconcerting in his knowing smile, as a rabbit would be disconcerted by a wolf's grin. "Good day, sir," he said, bowing slightly but keeping his eyes on the paladin, "and what can I do for you this morning?"
At the same time, Narabal was sizing Clannegin up. His plate armor emblazoned with the ten-pointed star of St. Cuthbert left little doubt as to his paladin status, although his build was largely hidden from view behind the steel plates. Above his breastplate erupted a face of calm composure, completely confident in his righteousness. Thick black hair and a tightly cropped beard outlined brown eyes, a solid chin, and a tight grin. Clannegin lifted his right hand from where it unconsciously lay across his sword hilt, removing a gauntlet to extend a bare hand in greeting.
Under the scrutiny of Narabal's detection spell, cast just prior to pushing the curtain aside, Clannegin's sword hilt glowed with a pale blue-white radiance, showing it to be enchanted in some manner. A simple silver or platinum ring on his extended right hand likewise glowed, but blue-green, showing it to be most likely a protective magical ring of some kind. "At least it's not another damn peasant," Narabal thought. He lay Shodei's spellbook on the counter with a soft thud, and took Clannegin's hand, finding his grip powerful and sure. He resisted the temptation to crush the paladin's fingers to a bloody pulp with the help of the strength-enhancing girdle he wore under his robes.
Clannegin took his eyes off the mage for a quick sweep of the front room. Its walls were covered in small tapestries and paintings, mostly landscapes. A small round table held a short stack of white cards, all embossed with "Narabal the Gold" in the same script as the outer sign. On the back wall there was a shelf containing a dozen or two small bottles, all stoppered, along with various specimens: snakeskin, a cat skull, claws from some larger creature, perhaps a bear, and so on. Besides those embellishments, the front room was empty, the bare wooden floor swept clean.
"I can see you're a busy man," Clannegin began, eyeing the spellbook on the counter, "so I'll get right to the point. I was wondering if you would be interested in joining an adventuring band under my command, on a trial basis. We have recently lost our mage and are in need of a replacement for an upcoming mission."
Narabal seemed caught by surprise at this, and paused for a moment. "Hmmm, now that you mention it, I could do with a break from this little shop. What sort of mission did you have in mind? Naturally I'm not that experienced in adventuring, this being my first year out of the Academy," he lied. Feigning concern, he added, "Would it be dangerous?"
"Our previous assignment was to rid a cave south of here of an orc infestation, since the brutes had been preying on people and trade caravans in that area. Unfortunately, we were overwhelmed and couldn't finish the job, losing our mage Grenore in the process, rest his soul. We mean to return to rid the land of those beasts.
"Now I won't lie to you. It won't be easy, since we estimate there are probably still fifty or so of them left, including a tribal shaman or two, although we were able to take out the leader of the tribe before we were forced to retreat. Still, we've done this sort of thing before, and Grenore, rest his soul, wasn't that experienced at combat either. If you can just sling some spells from the back lines and maybe be able to block a spear thrust or two with a staff until we can back you up, you stand a good chance of coming out of it in one piece."
Narabal considered this for a short while, eyeing Clannegin once more, then seemed to come to a resolution. "Very well, you've interested me. How long would it take, and how well does it pay?"
"The cave is about a day's ride south of here, so if all goes well we shouldn't be gone more than three or four days. I, of course, take no payment for slaying evil beasts, but my superiors have empowered me to split any treasure we find among my comrades. I would expect a hundred or two gold each, considering how long the orcs have been preying on caravans."
"Not bad for a few day's work. Tell me, what sort of comrades would I be joining?"
"There is I, Clannegin of St. Cuthbert the True; my fighting companion, Trent; Farafel, a half-elf of some fighting skill and cunning; Ironvein, dwarven priest of Moradin; and Alvando, our scout, a halfling. We've worked together for nearly a year now, and I give you my word that all are decent folk and not apt to run in the face of trouble. Can I say the same of you?"
"I'll leave that for you to decide on the journey. You've got youself a mage," Narabal said with a smile. "When do we leave?"
"Shall we say two days from now? We have an extra horse, so meet us outside the Silver Dragon Inn at dawn."
"Fine," Narabal replied, taking Clannegin's hand once more in farewell. "See you then."
Clannegin left the quiet shop to the tinkling of invisible bells. "And then we'll see how good of an adventurer you are," Narabal chuckled.
From the journal of Korel the necromancer:
Can you imagine, a paladin coming to a necromancer for help? Actually, as strange as it may seem, it was not the first time that a member of the church of St. Cuthbert has sought me out for a favor.
The first time ended as could be expected, with the death of the paladin sent to look over us at the hands, or should I say eyes, of a beholder, while Kalan and the rest of us emerged relatively unscathed.
Since that day, and perhaps even before, I have never quite trusted paladins. Blinkered as they are by strict moral codes, they often can be very poor adventuring companions, not checking their backs because of the belief that any worthy challenge would appear to the front for one-on-one combat.
Trustworthy and courageous, they can be relied upon to hold up their end of the fight, but they can also be frightfully naive when it comes to anticipating the dirty-fighting methods of enemies with fewer moral constraints. They simply do not understand that when life and death are at stake, there are no rules save one: the correct strategy is the one that leaves you standing at the end.
In spite of this, I felt reasonably safe accepting his offer. In fact, in the absolute worst case, I would be able to easily defeat fifty orcs and Clannegin's party besides should it become necessary. From a life-energy point of view, orcs are usually very weak creatures, and their typical human hunters only slightly stronger: a single death-field spell would drop dozens of them like flies, to say nothing of the devastation one of Temeh's explosive fireballs would bring in confined underground passages.
And with my plethora of magical items collected over the years, along with my own combat experience and defensive spells, I would be more than a match for any of the fighters in melee. An automatic teleportation spell should I get into trouble and traps on my bags should make me proof against this Alavando's prying hands as well.
The one thing I do fear is the paladin. Oh, not fear for my life, to be sure, but fear of exposure. Paladins seem to have an uncanny knack of finding people with hidden intentions, particularly those with less-than-perfect moral codes. Since I am entering into this agreement with the honest intentions of joining the band to dispatch some orcs, not to kill or enslave any of the party, I should have no problems, but I shall have to keep my thoughts in check around that paladin.
The priest, too, probably has access to spells relating to the detection of general moral codes. Of course, use of such spells is widely viewed as an incredible breach of trust, so I shall just have to give them no cause to suspect me as anything other than I appear. My detection-blocking spells would prevent them from learning my true alignment, but the existence of such a block in the first place would throw suspicion on me nearly as quickly.
The one thing working against me now is that I have long advertised myself as a recent graduate of Abradene Academy, a novice in the ways of magic. As Clannegin and the others are evidently somewhat familiar with mages' abilities, I shall have to be careful to curtail my spellcasting, relying only on the weaker spells of my earlier days.
It will certainly be an inconvenience to practice casting magic missiles with only two or three fingers, but I believe I can also use some of the higher-level spells that have few visible effects. Of course, if things get bad, then I can just pull out my wand of fire ... or lightning ... or frost ... or one of my other staves.
And if any of the party see through my disguise, I will simply have to kill them.
It shouldn't be too hard.
A soft glow from the east foretold the coming of dawn to Jurnre. Outside the Silver Dragon Inn, Shelding Road ran directly east, providing a clear view of the sunrise for the members of the Toodahilt Band waiting by the inn door.
All five of them stood by their mounts, gazing towards the east, waiting for the sun to peek above the horizon. Behind them, a little puff of dust suddenly stirred with a slight scuffle of feet on dirt. Then another a few feet ahead of the first, and another, and another.
Alvando glanced behind him, hearing the slight sound, but strangely he saw nothing. He looked around suspiciously, but then turned back to the sunrise. The footsteps continued their march forward, coming to a near-silent stop directly behind Alvando.
Just as the sun burst above the eastern plains, throwing a golden beam of light across the inn and then the faces of the Toodahilt Band, at that same instant, Narabal shimmered into sight directly behind Alvando, the invisibility field dispelled in a second. "Ready to go?" he inquired, startling the party, especially Alvando, who whirled around with surprise.
Narabal stood there calmly, a metal-banded staff in hand. On his back was a new adventuring backpack, over a cloak pulled tightly about him in the cool early morning air. Underneath, his gleaming white and gold robe shone through, a piece of finery completely at odds with the rough tunics of the others.
Alvando looked flustered, but didn't say anything, evidently embarrassed enough about Narabal's success in sneaking up on them to not press the point further. His dark cloak barely concealed a short sword sheathed at his side, and Narabal had no doubt that several other knives and daggers would be concealed in other places. Unlike the others who wore mud-caked travelling boots, his feet were bare, the little folk's calloused heels providing adequate protection for walking as well as quieter movement than hard boot leather. His rather pudgy halfling face gave Narabal an appraising look, then shrugged, not that impressed with his new companion.
Next to the halfling, Trent towered above his diminutive companion, his mailed shirt doing little to conceal the power possessed by his chest and arms. At his side was sheathed a bastard sword, so-called because the illegitimate cross between a long sword and a great sword could be wielded one-handed or two-. A badly-dented but still sturdy round shield was strapped to his mount's side for times when he chose only one hand. He also gave Narabal a look of appraisal, then grunted his approval and turned back to inspecting the arrangement of gear on his horse.
Next was Farafel, standing with his hands on his hips, head tilted and eyebrow raised, giving Narabal a good look. His green eyes, high cheekbones, and slight build gave away his half-elven ancestry just as easily as his pointed ears would have had they not been hidden beneath long blond hair and a more-than-ample hat. He immediately broke his stance, taking a few easy strides towards Korel, his thin scabbard barely bouncing against his leg. He extended his hand in greeting, a wide smile breaking across his already sunny face. "Glad to have you aboard, Narabal," he said as Narabal returned his handshake.
"I'm glad to be here," he replied. "The shop gets awfully dull, you know." He smiled back at Farafel. Then he paused for a second, taking a closer look at him. "You know, you remind me of an old acquaintance -- you wouldn't happen to be a bard, would you?"
"Afraid not," Farafel replied. "Although I can play a mean lute when the mood strikes me."
"Please, not again with the lute," Alvando interrupted. "Haven't you been run out of enough taverns already?" he added with a chuckle.
"I'll have you know that the keeper of the Waltzing Kobold had absolutely no artistic sense whatsoever," Farafel shot back. "Can I help it if his daughter liked my playing that much?"
At this, ripples of laughter passed through the little band, and when they calmed, Clannegin performed the introductions, matching names with faces for Narabal, pointing to Trent, Farafel, and Alvando. "And here is our cleric, Ironvein," he concluded, sweeping his arm in the direction of a stout dwarf next to his mount.
Ironvein, like all dwarves, had a beard, and his reached to his waist, the bottom half braided. On his head was a helm, obviously repeatedly dented and repaired over a period of many many years to reach its present smooth dimpled state. Like Clannegin he was clad in plate mail, the hammer and anvil of Moradin painted on his chest and shield alike.
"Hmph," he grunted as he took Narabal's proffered hand. "I trust you know how to make yourself scarce when swords start flying? Moradin's mercy is vast, but all the healing in the earth below can't cure stupidity."
Narabal smiled down at the dwarf. "Believe me, one doesn't become a mage by being stupid. I'll keep my eyes open and my head down, and hopefully I'll have no cause to seek out Moradin's mercy."
"Well then," Clannegin said as he mounted Steelcharger. "Now that we're all acquainted, shall we be going? We've a long ride ahead of us today, and the sooner we get to our campsite the more sleep we can get before the morrow."
He grinned over at Narabal as the latter was trying to induce Grenore's mount to accept a new rider. "By this time tomorrow we should already have a few new notches in our swords from orc necks."
Narabal finally succeeded in convincing his horse of his good intentions and mounted it, strapping his staff onto a saddlebag within easy reach. He turned to Clannegin with a smile on his lips but steel in his eyes. "I'll be ready."
And there was something in the deathly serious tone he used that told Clannegin to concern himself no more with the welfare of the small-time wizard from Jurnre.
From the journal of Korel the necromancer:
The members of the paladin's band were certainly a mixed bunch, assembled that way on purpose, I was told, in response to an advertisement posted by Clannegin himself some months ago. The paladin I have mentioned earlier, but the others deserve a few sentences as well.
Trent, the warrior, struck me as a rather dull sort, good with a sword but little else. I suppose he would be useful for a simple mission such as this, but someone so one-dimensional sooner or later would turn from a benefit to a hindrance, just as the dwarf did. Nevertheless, I have no qualms about using such a tool in the manner it is presented to me, just as I did with Loco.
I disliked Farafel on sight, owing I suppose to his resemblance both in appearance and temperment to that bard of so many years ago. Nevertheless, on the journey to the orcs' cave, I found myself warming to his charm, since his humor showed itself to be more sophisticated than mere barroom jokes.
Ironvein, on the other hand, I liked immediately. His stoic manner was so at odds with Loco's behavior that I had to re-evaluate my long-held view that dwarven intelligence was an oxymoron. There was nothing I could put my finger on directly, but I have the feeling that Ironvein's past contains much of interest. His attitude of almost total disinterest towards the upcoming battle with the orcs so closely mirrored my own that I had little doubt that he was a veteran of conflicts that would far dwarf (excuse the pun) this one.
For the most part I have long since dismissed the halfling race as of no consequence, being more concerned with a soft pillow than with the proper competition for power. Nonetheless, I found that Alvando was to the typical halfling what Darkwind was to the average bard: so far from the norm as to be respectable in spite of the overall characteristics of the breed.
All of them are apparently completely loyal to Clannegin. Now that I have seen the paladin in the action of leading, I can understand why. He knows their strengths and weaknesses; he knows how much to order and how much to leave up their own judgment. It is because of his influence and command that the band functioned as regularly as a well-wrought spell rather than a mere assemblage of adventurers.
All this I could see firsthand on the journey to the orc cave as Clannegin questioned me intensely about my magical abilities, so that he could direct my efforts more effectively.
This intense questioning caught me somewhat by surprise. I had planned, of course, to limit my spellcasting to the less effective spellslinging techniques typical of fledgling mages, which I had in fact practiced over the previous few days: casting magic missiles with only a few fingers rather than a whole hand, clearly enunciating the incantations as if I hadn't yet learned them as thoroughly as my own name, breaking off the flow of energy prematurely to avoid too intense of a fireball, and above all remembering not to invoke a high level spell out of reflex or convenience. Even so, I had taken the precaution of packing a number of useless scrolls along, just in case I needed to perform high level magic regardless, under the excuse of having purchased a spell scroll previously.
Clannegin's questions grew aggravating after a time, though. I hated to limit my options prematurely by describing the complete extent of my supposed abilities to him, but at the same time he was not to be content with anything less than full information.
In fact, we got into something of an argument after a while. I argued, rightly so of course, that he should leave the strategy of proper spell choice to the spellcaster, just as I didn't try to direct his use of the sword, although I most certainly could, having seen Kalan in action over the years. He argued that as commander it was his job to know the complete abilities of everyone under his leadership, and to make the decisions that would affect the entire group.
I, of course, broke off the argument before it descended into a shouting match, leaving Clannegin with hints that I had not described the full extent of my abilities. That should cover my actions later should I find it necessary or convenient to use spells other than those he knows about.
As he left, he said to me, "I swear, you're just like Alvando!"
Now that comment struck me as rather odd.
Throughout the day, the dirt road rolled past the trotting hooves of the party's horses. Breakfast consisted of the munching of an apple or two, and lunch was also taken on the run: salted and dried meat combined with a bit of fresh bread obtained from the Silver Dragon that morning.
The road stretching south from Jurnre ran more or less straight, only swerving from its course to parallel a stream or two for a little ways in order to find a suitable crossing point for men, mounts, and wagons. Towards the afternoon, as the terrain became increasingly hilly, the road curved more readily, finding the easy way around the rolling mounds in its path. Decades of steady, if not particularly heavy, use had ensured that no troublesome or steep stretches remained in the well-worn path.
Making quick time, the party came across other fellow travellers, overcoming overladen carts of clay pottery and beaten bronze pots destined for the coastal cities further south and meeting face to face the occasional lone traveller or escorted passenger carriage on its way to the marble columns of Jurnre.
As the sun neared the western horizon, signalling the end of the travelling hours, Clannegin announced, "I see our timing was near perfect. On that hill ahead is the site of our previous camp, within easy striking distance of the orc's lair."
"I wonder if it has remained undiscovered these past few days? If the orcs have sentries posted, our surprise attack might turn into a surprise of a different sort," Farafel said.
"If you like," Narabal volunteered, "I can check out the site undetected. I have had some experience in covert matters," he added as Clannegin looked back at him.
Clannegin nodded, saying, "Alvando, go with him. Take no risks, look for signs present and past, and by all means get back here if you discover something."
Alvando slipped off his pony, silently agreeing, and took off around the hill to the left, towards the side already hidden in shadow by the setting sun. His passage could be seen only sporadically by the others, just a minor lengthening of one shadow after another as he made his way to the top of the hill.
Meanwhile, Narabal reached into a pouch at his side, taking out a bit of a translucent amber wax. Muttering softly and waving his arms, he swiftly faded into invisibility before the party's eyes. Ostensibly having cast a spell, the gestures he performed were instead used to cover his movements as he replaced a ring on his left hand with the ring of invisibility from his pocket. In truth he was able to cast the invisibility spell, having learned it from Shodei the illusionist's spellbooks, but had not committed it to memory that morning, preferring to utilize his ring. Still, he thought, no need to let the rest of the party know I carry such a bauble.
He took off directly up the side of the hill, hopping from rock to rock with the use of his magical boots to avoid making tracks. The party saw only an occasional puff of dust stirred by his passage. "My, that mage sure has a spring in his step," Farafel commented, observing Narabal's rapid movement up the hill.
"Well, don't just sit there, you three," Clannegin snapped. "Get your weapons ready. If they find something, I expect us to charge to the rescue immediately."
Ironvein grumbled but unslung his battlehammer, twirling it slowly to loosen his muscles. Trent drew his sword, laying it lightly across his lap. Farafel checked the state of his rapier but didn't unsheath it; a fast draw was one of the many swordman's skills he had already perfected. On his left side his main-gauche remained untouched as well, since during a horseback fight the short parrying weapon would be next to useless.
As Narabal made his way up the hillside, he rummaged through his extradimensional sack for an item he seldom had cause to use. The magicked magnifying lens he finally withdrew was extremely useful in making out the minute signs that the passage of a few orcs might leave to be found several days later. Luckily, it had not rained in the area for nearly a week, so most marks would still be present.
When he arrived at the crest of the hill, though, no such sensitive tools were necessary to conclude that orcs had been in the area. Depressions in the grass and dirt made by spear butts and the distinctive clawed toes of orcs were obvious to even Narabal's untrained eye. Quickly he surveyed the rest of the hill to determine that no enemy guards remained, then returned to inspect the tracks more closely.
Several minutes later, the remainder of the party was startled by the sudden reappearance of Narabal. He reported his findings to Clannegin: "The campsite has indeed been found. However, it doesn't look like anyone's been here more recently than about two or three days ago, probably soon after you attacked them before. As near as I can tell, the immediate area is secure; I'd recommend heavy security tonight, though, if we intend to remain here."
"Thank you, Narabal," Clannegin said. "Yes, I think we will stay here tonight. I feel we should be able to hold our own against any patrol party they send, and the presence or absence of such a party will give us a good idea of the state of the orc defenses."
Narabal nodded in agreement. Still, he thought, I had better set up my own warding spells tonight, with both orcs and unknown comrades to possibly contend with. When asleep and defenseless, even Mordenkainen could be defeated by a lucky orc. After all, the same blood flows in his veins as in anyone's, blood that can be spilled just as easily.
In a few minutes, Alvando reported back, corroborating Narabal's assessment. With his more trusted lieutenant's word now to rely upon, Clannegin gave the order to make camp. The party tramped up the hill, letting their mounts free to graze on the wild grasses surrounding them.
Ironvein, Trent, and Clannegin began unpacking the party's gear while Farafel began to light a campfire in preparation for cooking dinner. To provide that dinner, Alvando readied his sling and disappeared into the light woods covering the west side of the hill, hoping to find a rabbit or two made careless by the approaching dusk.
Narabal was left with nothing to do, being a newcomer to the rhythm of the party. He wandered over to Farafel, who was having a little trouble with the fire on account of the wind that was blowing over the crest of the hill. Idly, Narabal bent down, snapped his fingers, and set the pile of sticks ablaze with a short jet of flame that suddenly erupted from his thumb. He looked around the campsite casually, as if such magic were completely trivial, which in truth it was to him, and asked Farafel, "What function did my predecessor perform during the process of making camp?"
Farafel looked up from the now well-established blaze. "Thanks," he said. "Well, actually, Grenore wasn't one to get his hands dirty, so to speak. He would usually go read one of his books, or sometimes try his hand at whatever instrument I had around at the time -- usually the lute, and thank lady Milil he didn't try to sing but once or twice."
"I see. Well, do you need any more help here?"
"Nope. The fire's going nicely, so I'm done until Alvando gets back with something for me to cook. The party voted me cook-for-life, as they decided my work made them least likely to gag," Farafel chuckled. "Actually, Ironvein's cooking wasn't that bad, but dwarves seem to appreciate plain -- nay, bland -- fare more than the rest of us. Unless you're talking ales, of course -- if you think dwarven ales are bland, there's only two explainations for it."
"I know I shall regret this, but what, pray tell, are the two?"
"Why, either you must be dead, or you have your mug upside-down, of course," Farafel straight-faced.
Narabal grimaced in mock pain. "No doubt dwarven ales are a primary cause for both those conditions," he added.
"No doubt," Farafel smiled. "Don't worry about finding something to do. Just relax and wait for dinner. Unfortunately I don't happen to have a lute for you to fool with; my last one was, sadly, pierced through the heart by an orcish spear. It gave its life to save my own, you know -- a valiant instrument, to be sure."
"A far better use than I've heard other lutes put to, let me tell you. Still, if it is music you desire, I may have just the thing," Narabal said. He turned to reach into his backpack, drawing out his violin case after a short bit of searching.
"A fiddle! How marvelous!" Farafel exclaimed.
"It is a violin," Narabal stated. "There is a distinction. Bards play fiddles, but musicians play violins."
"I stand corrected," Farafel said. "As I am a bard and musician both, I hope you will not take it amiss if I sometimes confuse the two, since they look so similar. Whatever the name, though, please do play it. Do you happen to know 'The Tavern Lass with Three...?'"
"No, I do not," Narabal interrupted. "Thank the gods," he added under his breath. "Now, if you would be so kind...?"
"By all means," Farafel said, miming a bow from where he sat cross-legged.
Calmly, Narabal brought the violin to his chin, plucking the strings to ensure proper tuning. His instrument was very fine, bought from a master in Hookhill, but it was not unaffected by the cooler temperatures that accompanied the setting sun.
His first note was brought forth into the world boldly and truly, Narabal's recent practice having given him much more confidence in his ability than in previous years. He began with a selection of passages from Van Gregor's Nightwinds symphony, then moved on to Malniso's Pantheon. In respect for the other party members, he made sure to play the cavalier's song to St. Cuthbert and the rhythmic mining chant to Moradin in full, and hoped they didn't notice the emphasis he bestowed on the dirge of Wee Jas.
By this time, the soaring mellow tones had drawn in the entire party. Alvando returned with a plump hare, but no one noticed, least of all Narabal, who swayed slowly with his eyes lightly shut, totally absorbed in the emotions the music evoked, and the music that those emotions evoked in turn.
The flickering light of the campfire played along the varnished wood of the violin while sparks rose to the heavens, seemingly sent on their journeys by the motions of the bow, its horsehair strands virtually glowing orange with reflected fire.
Finally, when all that was left of the sun was the fiery red of the patchy clouds near the horizon and the deep purple of those nearer the zenith, Narabal was moved to play one last song, one with more personal meaning than the classical operas he played before. It was a noble tune of love and sorrow, "The Sun Set on My Heart."
After a few bars, a lone voice was joined to the mellow wailing of Narabal's violin. Farafel's airy tenor blended perfectly, giving words to the feelings that the notes alone, however moving, could not hope to fully express. Narabal didn't even open his eyes at the half-elf's contribution, too enveloped in the drifting strains of melody to notice the vocalization of the words he was already singing to himself in the privacy of his mind.
All too soon, the last note faded into the shadows, carried by the wind off into the depths of the falling night. The party stood or sat transfixed, utterly quiet.
Even the crickets were silent as a single tear traced a path down Narabal's cheek.
From the journal of Korel the necromancer:
I'm not sure what it was about that night to inspire my playing so. Perhaps it was just the thrill of the open sky; perhaps my new friendship with Farafel; or perhaps just the beauty of the setting sun. There is no doubt, though, that the choice of my final selection was inspired by that last particular sight.
Once again I find myself thanking the gods for my superb memory. The last time I played that particular song was over fifteen years ago, and still the notes were etched indelibly in my mind, fresh as the day I learned them from old master Walner. When I learned them, though, I did not fully appreciate the meaning, but such understanding was to be mine shortly thereafter.
All thanks to a woman I once knew, and a day when the sun did indeed set on my heart.
It all started when I was just a lad of not even twenty summers. My acolyte training had already been left far behind, and in fact I had been given the opportunity to take charge of a small parish in Keoland. The lands of Suel kept me, though, as I had my eye on a more central position in the temple hierarchy and was unwilling to travel to foreign parts yet. It's rather ironic that my native Suel is nearly foreign to me now, while I call Keoland and its neighbors my home.
In any event, in the following month I became very thankful for my decision, but for a different reason than I had originally intended. That reason was the transfer to the temple of a certain young priestess by the name of Leradrill Malchanor.
As luck, or perhaps fate, would have it, she was assigned a schedule of worship and duties very similar to my own, and I took it upon myself to acquaint her with the rhythm of the temple. Over the days and weeks, a strong friendship developed between us, and the transition to a more intimate relationship was an easy one to make for both of us.
She was beautiful, to be sure. Not a purebred Suloise like myself, but with a dash of Bakluni blood, she had very fair skin and blonde hair with highlights of copper that flashed into view when the strands chanced to catch the light just right.
But for a man like myself, such attraction could never be merely skin deep. No, ours was a marriage of minds, too.
Even in those early days, my outlook on life was not substantially different than it is now. Oh, the details have evolved, to be sure, and my recent insights on the nature of the soul and the afterlife have colored me for good or ill, but by and large I remain the same sort of person now as then, concerned first and foremost with my personal well-being and power.
Not so Lera. She was ... good.
There is no other word to describe her. The woman just exuded pleasantness towards all creatures. Many of the followers of Wee Jas had been called on account of their interest in matters of death and the life to follow, but she was different. Her purpose in following Wee Jas was simply and solely to ease the sorrow of those left behind in this world.
Not a funeral would go by that she would not be seen comforting friends and family members with words of compassion and truth. For the deceased, the journey was an easy one, but she made it easier for the others to let go and return to the full enjoyment of their time left in this world.
It's very possible that I would have ended my priestly training and entered the world a man much harder of heart had I not known Lera as I did. Oh, the debates we had! I, with my ideas of society as a competition between self-serving individuals under the rule of law, and she with her ideas of cooperation and belief in a right above the law. We never did come to an agreement in that particular debate, although it could be said that we agreed to disagree.
Those months were wonderful times for both of us, but like all good things, they, too, came to an unpleasant end.
The beginning of the end happened during one of our debates. We were discussing the use of detection spells in courts of law. I argued that such spells would violate the last bastion of privacy the accused, or the witness, could hope for. And besides, I argued, reliance on such things, which could be circumvented, after all, would lessen the importance of other relevant evidence. She argued that finding the truth should be the highest priority of the court, and that concerns like privacy were clearly secondary to that overriding goal.
Unlike most of our other debates, we could not even agree to disagree. The debate actually had some concrete applicability, since a trial of political scandal was in progress at the time, where the use of such spells was a hotly debated topic, considering that the assused most likely possessed knowledge outside the immediate realm of the trial that would be extremely valuable to political rivals. I don't believe I ever found out what they finally decided, since I soon had more important matters on my minds.
Something was different between us after that. I never could understand exactly what division of intellects took place. Most likely we would have been able to patch things together again, given time.
But fate was apparently against us in that regard.
A few days later, Lera was offered a parish of her own, and she accepted the offer. Our farewell was tearful, but somehow detached, as if neither one of us could quite believe what was happening.
That night I skipped the evening prayers entirely, retreating to the hills with only my violin for company. As the sun set, I played and finally heard the music of the song as I hadn't before, the sorrow pouring out of me, carried away by the winds.
I didn't return until the following morning, chilled from the night air and damp with morning dew. But my prayers for guidance had been answered, for that was the night I received the vision from Wee Jas that was to lead my steps in the years ahead.
When I returned, I found that I had been turned down for the position in the temple I had sought. Fate had given me too many disappointments in too short a time, and so that very day I said farewell to the temple altogether, with the same teary but distant goodbye.
The next month found me a student at Abradene Academy.
I never found out what happened to dear Leradrill. Whether she remained in the priesthood or struck out as I did to a new life. Whether she even remembers me as I do her. Whether she is even alive today, with all the wars that have of late rampaged across the lands.
I suppose it was a shadow of Lera that I saw in Jallarzi, the lady mage that Kalan was forced to try to kill. Although I would never tell him so, considering how upset he was at his failure, I am glad that she escaped, for I saw the same goodness in her that I loved in Leradrill, and I take heart that there are women like those two alive today.
Good must never entirely die.
"Okay, guys, watches are as follows: Ironvein first, then Farafel, Trent, myself, and Alvando. Narabal, you'll habitually be getting the early morning watch like Grenore did; he was able to study his spellbooks for the day and watch the camp at the same time. Think you can manage that?"
"Don't worry about me. The spell hasn't been written yet that would distract me enough to ignore an orc."
"Well, then, everybody, let's grab some shuteye. I intend to see us at the cave entrance come the first rays of dawn. Orcs are late sleepers, you know, being the slothful and degenerate creatures they are. Let their shortcomings be the source of their downfall!"
"Are you planning, then, an ordinary and basic frontal assault?" Narabal asked.
Clannegin looked over at him. "We will discuss strategy in the morning, but you shouldn't concern yourself with battle plans. Let the experienced warriors make such decisions; you just make sure your spells are ready."
Anger flashed across Narabal's eyes, and he opened his mouth to shoot back a reply. But then he evidently decided against it, visibly burying his imminent outburst with an "As you wish, sir." The sarcastic tone he placed on the last word did not go unnoticed by the others.
Clannegin kept his eyes on the mage for a long moment, then turned to other matters. "Good night, all," he said. "May the allseeing eye of Cuthbert watch over us as we sleep."
In a low tone, Narabal added, "And if we die before we wake, may our risings be peaceful and joyous."
Next to him, Farafel commented, "I've never heard that particular benediction before. What god do you follow?"
Narabal started at the half-elf's question, internally cursing himself for forgetting the naturally keen ears of that race. "It's just something my grandmother taught me," he said, covering with half-truth the fact that his grandmother had also been an avid follower of the teachings of Wee Jas.
Farafel nodded, satisfied, then turned to find his blanket. With less than two hours before his watch was to begin, he intended to get as much sleep as possible in the time he had until then.
Narabal spent a little time setting up a personal alarm spell, enchanting his blanket to speak in his ear should anyone -- comrade or foe -- approach. Satisfied in his efforts, and confident in his ability to handle anything that the night might toss his way, he drifted off to a sleep sweet with the rememberings of dear Leradrill.
Later that night, in the course of the wanderings of his dreaming mind, he found himself back in Castle Kalannar, walking around the perimeter of the castle roof, surveying the defenses mustered against the marching armies from across the river.
Unlike the original battle, the armies here were headed right for the gate, and Kalan had ordered the walls manned with every available soldier. Even some of the household servants had grabbed a sword, spear, or bow to defend their home from the fiends of the Nine Hells.
Now the army was coming into extreme spell range, and Narabal fired off a long series of fireballs into the ranks of the humans accompanying the fiends, then followed with lightning into the ranks of the fiends themselves, knowing which form of attack would be most devastating to each.
By now they were into good bow range, and the archers let loose with salvo after salvo of steel-tipped death. Scores of men fell, but more stepped up to take their place. Defenders now were falling, too, picked off by enemy bowmen.
Narabal was about to start another barrage of spells, but then something unusual caught his eye about the attackers. Looking closely, trying to see through the illusion, he immediately succeeded in unmasking the true faces of his enemies.
Halflings! And every single one of them looked exactly like Alvando!
Narabal awoke with a start, immediately sitting bolt upright and scanning the campsite. Clannegin, Farafel, Trent, and Ironvein were asleep as they should be. It was Alvando's watch, but instead of peering towards the woods for orc intrusions, he was staring right at Narabal, seemingly lost in some internal meditation.
Alvando didn't react as the mage sprang to his feet and in three extremely long strides bounded over to him. Narabal could still feel a prickling at the base of his neck, a sense of something ... foreign ... at the edges of his mind, so he lost no time in confronting the source of the intrusion.
Alvando blinked into awareness a moment later to find himself hanging several feet off the ground, held aloft by a single hand around his throat. He struggled to break free of Narabal's grip, but the mage's strength was like iron, and when the hand began tightening its grip in warning, he ceased his struggles, wide-eyed in fear.
Make a sound, and I will crush your scrawny little neck to pulp, a voice rang out in his mind. Alvando started, terrified that he had finally tangled with a true psionicist instead of the half-trained tricksters he had run into before, but almost immediately he realized that the flavor of the telepathy was all wrong -- no specific contact had been made with his mind; the mage was just broadcasting in his general direction. No finesse, but plenty of power.
He replied in the same manner, hopeful that Narabal had the means to receive such signals as well. What do you mean to do with me?
That depends. What did you intend by violating my privacy of mind so? I caution you, though: I can easily tell if you are lying, so if you value your life, I would advise you to be truthful to me, Narabal lied. Ordinarily, the telepathic circlet he wore could tell such a thing during an interrogation, but the halfling's mind was too closely guarded for the reading to be accurate now.
Alvando licked his lips, for his mouth had gone suddenly dry. He couldn't understand what had gone wrong. He had entered Grenore's mind countless times, and had used the exact same procedure tonight. The only explanation must be that this mage Narabal must have some psionic talent of his own, but it must be very unusual -- this conversation is like no psionics I've seen, but I never saw him cast a spell. Either that, or this mage is a lot more powerful than he is letting on.
You're a new party member. I was just checking your trustworthiness.
That is not for you to judge. If I say I will help you kill orcs, then I will do so, and that is all you need know. Is that clear?
Good. I'm glad we have come to an understanding. Now, one last question: what did you see?
What did I see?
In my mind, you dolt! What did you see in my mind?
Nothing, I swear! You woke up before I could make full contact.
Do you so swear by your very life? Because I assure you once again that if you are lying, your life is exactly what is on the line here!
It was like seeing a mountain at a distance. No details, I swear on my life! Alvando frantically explained. In truth, he had gotten but a glimpse of Narabal's mind, but that had been enough. It was vast, huge, and clockwork in its perfection. The halfling had never seen a mind like it before, almost supernatural in its complexity. But there was something even more strange: it was not completely unified. Two colors, two flavors of mental processes seemed to overlap throughout. Alvando didn't know what to make of it, but in the depths of his mind he resolved that it would be worth risking his life to explore this further -- to a psionicist, a mind like this was like a new continent to be discovered.
Very well. If you so much as look in my direction again, your death will be slow and excrutiating. Your watch is over; now SLEEP!
Alvando tried to resist the telepathic command, but the sheer force of the suggestion, backed by all the power of that vast mind, was too much for him to overcome. He was fast asleep even before Narabal lowered him to the ground on top of his blanket.
Narabal slowly walked over to the fire, shaking his head in a vain attempt to clear out the last traces of the intrusion in his mind. Tossing another log onto the blaze, he sat with his back to the fire, staring out into the night.
Alone with his thoughts.
From the journal of Korel the necromancer:
It was not the first time I have come across psionics, but my opinion of the practitioners of that art, if it can be called such, was not improved by this latest experience.
Meddlers, all of them!
They think that because they have abilities that others do not, it gives them the right to invade the sancitity of another's mind, another's soul, as if they were somehow superior, somehow above the respect and right of privacy.
Do not mistake my meaning. I would not argue that such powers should not be used at all.
When battle is joined, and the enemy confronts you, there are no rules. I have said it before and I will say it again: when one's life is on the line, the right strategy is only the one that leaves you standing at the end. The privacy of the mind is clearly a secondary concern against larger matters of life and death.
But these psionicists violate the minds of even their supposed allies, or random bystanders of no import whatsoever. Was I a threat to old lady Jarnelle when she invaded me? Was I a threat to this little halfling when he did the same that night?
Well, I soon became so, in any event.
I have only met one psionicist of proper discipline in my time: Jarnelle's young apprentics, Dami. Perhaps her moral worth was somehow greater than the others. More likely, though, was that she had simply not had the use of her powers for a length of time sufficient for her to forget that non-psionicists are people too, with all the rights afforded sentient beings.
In our comradeship, I sincerely hope I was able to impart such values to her. A morally responsible psionicist could be a great source of benefit to many people, for afflictions of the mind are as serious as those of the body, and in much more need of suitable healers.
Eventually I grew to trust her intentions, and I allowed her into my mind, confident that she would obey the boundaries I erected, even though I knew she likely had skill and power enough to easily circumvent them should she have wished.
These days, though, I doubt if there is anyone on the planet I could trust enough to grant such access. Kalan, perhaps, if he had the ability, although I doubt if he would even accept such an offer.
Certainly not Temeh, though! If I did that, I would probably find myself speaking in tongues on account of the mayhem he could wreak on my thoughts!
Yes, I've certainly grown much since those first adventuring days, with accumulated secrets that could spell my death a dozen times over should the wrong person learn of them. I am fortunate that my powers have likewise increased, so that I might have the chance to hold my own against the enemies I have so far made. I sometimes long for the far gone days of simplicity, but I would never trade away my present power in order to return to them.
Under ordinary circumstances, I might have killed Alvando instantly, since I certainly had the ability and the chance. Still, though, I had known him less than a day. Who was I to interfere with the obviously smooth workings of this Toodahilt Band? A silly name, I know, but when I asked about it I was told it was in honor of a former, particularly bloodthirsty, comrade of theirs. Clannegin had tried to change it several times, but I gathered that his alternatives were not nearly as spirited.
The obvious course for me to take would have been to leave this little band, and the little halfling, to their own devices. I owed them no allegiance beyond the promise of ill-defined treasure in the orcs' cave, and with the paltry spells a mage of Grenore's level would have been able to throw, I doubt my presence or absence was intended to make much of a difference beyond the peace of mind a well-rounded party creates.
As I studied my spells that morning, though, I was somehow eager for the excitement of battle once again, even against such puny foes as orcs. I set myself a sort of challenge then. I would attempt to protect every member of the band from harm while still not revealing myself as anything more than a weak mageling with perhaps some interesting spell scrolls.
Except for the halfling, that is.
He's on his own.
I'm sorry to do this to you, but this story was never completed.