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Tall Tales
By Lily M Green
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  Five - True Colours  

Allessia paced the floor in front of Jherek, her fingers pressed to her lips in thought.  Several times she opened her mouth to speak, and closed it again when the right words appeared to elude her.  “Are you hungry?” she asked eventually.  “Yes, food, that’s what you need.  I know you haven’t eaten a thing since morningfeast,”  she continued, without waiting for a response.

The Harper rubbed at his temples and wished she would stay still for a moment, her pacing was a distraction he didn’t need when already struggling to put his thoughts in order.  He recognised her behaviour of old.  First impressions of Allessia would have you believing she was as cool as they come. Outwardly nothing seemed to phase her, yet if you observed her for long enough you would realise that despite her protestations about being unable to hoodwink anyone, the cool customer act was just that; a well practised and thoroughly convincing bluff, and her insecurities manifested themselves in other - less   obvious - ways.  Little things: wearing a groove into the floorboards, scribbling notes or inkblot doodles into her journal, twisting her rings around her fingers, the neat sleight-of-hand tricks she did with the Eye of Helm symbol she wore.  Even standing stock still on sentry duty her piercing blue eyes moved constantly, surveying the scene, searching for signs of trouble.  He doubted even sleep was restful for her and supposed the only time she found any kind of peace was during the deep meditation of prayer.  “No, I’m not hungry,”  he told her.  

“Tea then?  I could make us some tea,”  she suggested, fishing about in her pack.

Jherek stood, crossed the room and knelt by her side, gently pulling her hand away from the bag.  “Allessia, lady, let me do it. You’ve done enough for me already and I’m tired of the this feeling of... powerlessness.  Please sit, rest.”  

Allessia nodded at the imploring look he gave her but ignored his instruction to rest, choosing instead to continue cleaning down her armour.  

Jherek smiled.  ”That isn’t quite what I had in mind.”

“I know, but it is important and in a place like this I cannot risk leaving it much longer.  Besides, sitting idle isn’t something that comes naturally to me,” she replied, returning his smile with a knowing one of her own.  

He shook his head - typical Helmite, never off duty - and turned to the fire.  He refilled the kettle and stoked the fire once more, then rooted through his own travel pack and pulled out tea things and a fresh shirt and knee-breeches, which he pulled on quickly, conscious all of a sudden of his near nakedness.  There were things as yet unsaid between the two of them he knew couldn’t remain unsaid, no matter how difficult he would find it to say them.  But for the moment he was simply relieved to regain a degree of control.  Whilst he waited for the kettle to boil he sifted through the pile of his discarded armour and clothing.  He held his shirt up to inspect it, there was a hole in it the size of a copper where the bolt had torn through it and the folds of fabric were gummed together with blood.  It was beyond salvaging so he screwed it into a tight ball and tossed it into the fire.  

As he lent against the stone surround and watched the flames consume the bloodied remains of his shirt he considered the kiss the two of them shared; barely moments before yet it seemed like a lifetime ago.  There was a part of him - the part of him that was tired of everything in his life being transitory, the part that was terrified history would repeat itself and he would be left with nothing once more - that wanted to tell her it was a mistake and he should never have allowed it to happen.  Yet there was another part of him - the greater part - that hated to think one kiss might be all he would ever know.  Certainly both the setting and timing were far from perfect, but it felt more right than he could have dared to imagine and he hoped there was something to be salvaged from whatever it might have been the beginnings of.  

An astringent note of metal polish and the steam rising from the kettle curled their way through his reverie and he set about making the the tea, sweetening the brew with honey.  When he finished he handed a mug to Allessia - who set aside the piece of plate she was working - and he settled down across from her on the bed.  

Allessia peered at him over the top of the mug as she took a sip of the sweet tea.  “Thank you,” she said, and her eyes crinkled into another smile.  

Considering the way he had behaved, Jherek felt the kindness she continued to show him was more than he deserved.  She in turn deserved the truth; all of it. But he hadn’t been expecting to have to reveal any of it and didn’t know where to start.  

Pushing out her full lips Allessia blew gently across the surface of the tea to cool it, before taking a deep gulp and lowering the cup to rest on her knee.  “The mark, what did it mean to you, before?” she asked.

Jherek sighed heavily.  “It meant... it meant I was looked upon with fear and suspicion by anyone who saw it. That my life was not my own and could be taken from me at any moment,” he told her, absently scratching at a scar as fine as spider silk that cut across his neck.  The day he received it he had risked his neck himself saving the life of a spoilt young woman who had previously sought to buy his affections, then deliberately humiliated him when he wouldn’t accede to her request.  It didn’t matter what bravery he had demonstrated hurling himself into sahuagin infested waters to rescue her or how well he fought in the battle that followed, all goodwill towards him evaporated the moment the tattoo on his arm was spied.  “It is, or it was, the claiming mark of the Falkane. The Salt Wolf.”

Allessia arched a pale eyebrow in disbelief.  “You- you’re a pirate?”  Really the question was moot.  His weary tone spoke more of a person press-ganged or enslaved than someone complicit, and she just couldn’t equate the tales she’d heard of the atrocities committed by the pirate, ‘Bloody’ Falkane and the crew of his accursed ship Bunyip with man of honour she believed Jherek to be.

“Once, in a another time, I was a part of his crew,”  Jherek answered simply.  That someone from as far inland as Secomber knew the name Falkane and what it meant was testament to the pirate’s fearsome reputation.  

“Part of his crew?”  Allessia questioned.

“What I mean to say is that I was a part of his crew by the misfortune of my birth alone and I ran from him as soon as I was old enough to find the strength.  But it appears I am destined never to be allowed to outrun my Father’s legacy,”  he told her.

“Your Father?”  

“Aye, lady.”

Allessia’s eyebrow arched even higher and she regarded him thoughtfully but offered no indication of what she was thinking, instead asking,  “What does it mean to you now?”

“I can only conclude it is a judgement on me.  I am no longer worthy of living free of it.”

“Why would you think that?”

“My lack of faith, for one thing.”  The Harper stood and plucked an amulet from where it lay on the nightstand and handed it to Allessia; he usually kept the amulet hidden and wasn’t even sure why he continued to wear it,  just then, however, he was glad he did as showing her seemed easier than finding the words to explain.  “I take it you know what that is,” he said, turning his back to her to stare into the darkness beyond the window.   

Allessia weighed the pendant in her hands and turned it over, tracing her fingers over the brilliant sunrise motif etched into the solid gold and picked out with tiny pink diamonds.  “Lathander’s symbol.  Priest, or...”  her gaze fell upon Jherek’s weapons - a beautifully carved shortbow and simple longsword of excellent quality - propped neatly in a corner. “No, a knight!” she exclaimed.

Jherek rested an arm on a low beam which ran above the window, rested his head on his arm and looked down into the courtyard below, to where four bodies were laid out beneath a makeshift shroud.  “Aye, My Lady.”  He heard Allessia shift and felt her presence as she came to stand beside him but he didn’t look up.

“You know,“ she said, “back at home, in Secomber, there’s an inn called The Seven Stringed Harp. For a bard it’s considered something of a place of pilgrimage, and so they come from all over Faerûn to perform there.  Not a night goes by when the inn isn’t filled with the sound of music and laughter.  One evening, not long before my first Holy Vigil, my sister dragged me away from my studies to see a young bard named Anselm Ogilvie, about whom she’d heard great things; mostly about his brooding good looks,” she told Jherek with a hint of amusement.  “He played a piece that night and the memory of it has remained with me to this day.  An epic with words so moving and a melody so haunting, so beautiful, it silenced even the rowdiest of the patrons.  The ballad told the story of a young Tethyrian sailor, of how he vanquished a great evil that had risen from the seas and terrorised the port cities of the Sword Coast and beyond, of how he won the heart of a pretty ships’ mage, and of how he came to be chosen by The Morninglord as his champion.  

Later, I asked Anselm how he came upon the tale. He told me that the song was recounted to him by its composer, a bard named Pacys, who bore witness to the events and was proud to count the warrior, who bore your name, Jherek, Sir Jherek of Velen, as a friend.  Before then the story was little more than wild rumour to me.”

Jherek’s face burned with embarrassment and more than a little guilt.  He had begged Pacys at the time not to make too much of his part in the events around the Sword Coast and Sea of Fallen Stars, but the bard largely ignored his wishes, dismissing his pleas as false modesty.  Moreover, he was ashamed for allowing his friendship with Pacys to lapse.  He had no idea where the old man might be; or even if he still lived.  “The story you of speak is true, but I barely recognise the man who did those things.  Too much has happened since then and I’m not sure I was ever meant to be that person.”  He turned to look at Allessia, expecting to see a judgement for his failings in her expression but saw nothing other than sympathy.

“What happened?” she asked.  “How did y- how does a champion lose their faith?”

“Do you know what the symbol you hold represents?”

Allessia gave a nod.  “Huros taught me that to understand the philosophies a person lives their life by makes it easier to understand their intent; and to guard against causing unnecessary offence, consequently I spent more time learning about every other faith on Faerûn than I did my own!”

“Then you know that to bear it is to seek to plant the seeds of hope, to believe that from death comes new life.  It is all too easy to lose faith when you are no longer able share that vision because those things are found wanting in your own life.”  

The Helmite let the pendant she was absently flipping over her fingers fall away into the palm of her other hand.  “I- how?”  

Jherek looked up as Allessia turned away from the window to face him properly.  “Falkane.  My father... took my wife from me. The love of my life.  He... he stole light from her eyes and the breath from her body and in turn I exacted my revenge.  I could have acted for the common good, taken him in alive, made certain he was held to account for the atrocities he committed.  But I lost my self control and went after him fuelled by a selfish desire for retribution, for every agony I suffered at his hands.   When it was done it didn’t make me feel better, it didn’t ease the pain.  I just felt bitter and angry that in death my father had finally succeeded in dragging me down to his level.  The one thing he wanted for me all his whole life.”

“Helm’s Mercy!”  Allessia exclaimed in a whisper.  “Jherek, I had no idea.  I heard other stories, rumours; there were tales of a victory over Falkane.  But those who spoke of what happened didn’t always paint you in the best light, some even went so far as to suggest it was part of a bigger conspiracy and you were biding your time, waiting to take his place.  Living in Secomber I could only imagine the horror and havoc he wreaked on the seas, so it seemed strange to me that there were those who could be suspicious of someone who had rid them of such a terror.”

Jherek’s lips tightened into a thin line.  He had held no expectations of being hailed as the conquering hero when he brought Falkane to account.  But what he certainly didn’t expect were the vicious rumours regarding his ulterior motives, which spread like wildfire amongst the superstitious sailing community and dogged his every move.  He understood that it was only natural for people to believe the worst; a fall from grace certainly made for a juicier story amongst the gossip-mongers.  But he felt betrayed that some of those who chose to believe and propagate the rumours were men he’d crewed with and fought alongside.  It seemed to matter nothing to them that the magnitude of the loss he suffered far outweighed anything he stood to gain from Falkane’s defeat.  Even so, he might have been able to endure the rumours, were it not for what happened to Sabyna.

Sabyna.  In the years following her death Jherek had pushed all memories of his wife to the back of his mind.  It wasn’t that he didn’t want to remember; he did, desperately.  It was that the only images of Sabyna his mind would allow him were the ones in her final harrowing moments, and for the sake of his sanity he had decided it was better to live without her memory than to continue to torture himself with such painful recollections.  He closed his eyes, and as he allowed his mind to wander he was presented with a different image.  He couldn’t identify where or when the memory came from, but he guessed by the way Sabyna was surrounded by acres of sky stained deepest indigo and dotted with clouds of deep orange that she was on a ship, high up, perhaps in the crows-nest.  A soft wind blew through her hair, blending its fiery tendrils with the clouds, making her appear as though she was one with the sky. Her face reflected the pinkish glow of the sunlight. A tranquil smile played upon her lips.  

A deep melancholy threatened to overwhelm him and he gulped down a hard lump in his throat.  “There was no sweet victory,” he told the darkness, “and those who were suspicious of my motives were right to be so; no noble sentiment lay at the heart of my actions.   To the hells!”  he said hoarsely, beating the beam with a clenched fist,  “it would have been a whole lot easier if I had wanted to take his place as Captain of that foul ship of his!”

This time it was Jherek’s turn to pace the floor.  He stalked back and forth running a hand through his hair.  “You do trust me, don’t you?” he asked, turning suddenly and fixing Allessia with a hard look.

The paladin was quite taken aback. “Jherek, what sort of question is that?”

“i just mean that... you don’t think, the rumours-?”

“The rumours might be true?  Of course not!  Jherek, I have been to the ends of Faerûn and beyond for you these past months.  I wouldn’t have done any of it if I didn’t trust you.  I’m surprised you even have to ask.”

“You were unaware of my true identity before, and those tasks were not without their reward.”

Allessia gave him an incredulous look by way of a reply, he knew well her reasons for taking his assignments and money was not amongst them; though even she would admit it would have taken her a good deal longer to obtain the magnificent plate mail she wore without the Harper coin.      

“The first group of adventurers I sent out from Baldur’s Gate trusted me.  They haven’t been heard of since The Onyx Tower fell.  Sabyna trusted me.  Look how I repaid that trust.”


“My wife, the mage,” he clarified.

“They each of them knew the risks, they’re in the nature of what we do and no doubt, as a ship’s mage, your wife lived with them before you came along.  It might as easily have been a summer storm that robbed you of her.”

Jherek knew she spoke the truth, Sabyna had lived her whole life at sea and there were numerous ways a seafarer could find their way into Umberlee’s embrace, but it wasn’t a truth that eased his pain any.  “He deliberately targeted her.”

“As well he might.  He was a ruthless man and you were his enemy, and he sought to destroy you by whatever means he saw fit.  He obviously knew how deeply you loved your wife and he used that love against you.”

“From the day I broke free of my father I knew I’d made an enemy of him.  What never realised was quite how high a price I would pay for that freedom.  I let her down.” he uttered, his head bowed.

Allessia shook her head sadly, despite her belief that a desire for vengeance could all-too-easily cloud one’s perspective, on the surface his actions seemed reasonable when considered against the doctrine of her own faith.  Falkane posed a significant threat to ordinary sailors and merchants, a threat they had a right to be protected from, and one way to protect them against such a threat was to eliminate it.  But, if their protection wasn’t the sole motivation, would hunting Falkane down and killing him be the right course of action?  Would she have Helm’s blessing? Allessia wished she had Huros there to consult; he had a gift for making sense of even the most ambiguous situations and speaking with him always helped her see things more clearly.  Lately, she’d been glad to have him close when life seemed determined to thrust her into situations and associations which challenged those beliefs.  “I think you judge yourself too harshly,” she told him truthfully, “Falkane was hardly an innocent and his victims were many, anyone in your place would have done the same, I’m sure.”  

“You judge yourself too harshly.”  It wasn’t the first time he’d been told that, it wasn’t even the first time he’d been told that in connection with his father; in fact the whole conversation had a horribly familiar ring to it and he hated it.  Hated the how the reappearance of the brand had stirred up old memories and emotions.  Hated how it made him feel like the fearful boy he once was.  “Do I?” he replied in a snappish tone he was immediately remorseful for.  “I’m not just anyone, at least I wasn’t back then, and is not the fact that this damned mark has reappeared on my arm a judgement on me?”

“You don’t see it, do you?”    

“See what?”

“You don’t see that this... this... weight you carry is what you sets you apart from Falkane, and you don’t see that by continuing to carry the burden of guilt you do you’ve let him win”

Allessia took Jherek’s hand in hers and laced her fingers around his so that the pendant she held was clasped between their palms; warmth seemed to radiate from the core of it, it tingled against his skin and he felt his heart jolt as though it had snagged on a fisherman’s hook.  He inhaled sharply as the brand on his arm flared with a white heat.

“What is it?”

He rolled up the sleeve of his shirt to reveal the skull, which glowed a deep cherry red.  Allessia’s grip on his hand tightened slightly before she released it altogether, the amulet still in her hand.

“Do you always wear this?” she asked, running a thumb over the pendant’s surface.  She turned it over and noticed for the first time an inscription etched onto the reverse: ‘“Even in the darkest of nights a man may find comfort in the promise of the dawn.” - G. 1370DR’, it read.

“Aye,” the Harper admitted, “a force of habit I suppose.  Today is the first time I’ve removed it in a while.”  

Allessia suspected the reason he still wore the holy symbol of a god he claimed to have lost faith in was more complicated than mere habit, she wanted to ask Jherek who it was that had gifted him something so beautiful, so intimate, but it felt like an intrusion too far, instead she took her own holy symbol - a silver pendant in the shape of an eye; its iris and sclera rendered in enamel of royal blue and brilliant white, a pupil of black jet at its centre - from around her neck and pressed it into his hand as before.  

At first, Jherek experienced the same liquid cool sensation as when she healed the wound on his back: the pure essence of her faith, magnified, made physical, it spread from the centre of his palm, out to his fingertips and up his arm.  But as the cold reached his upper arm again came a searing heat, this time so fierce it was as though the mark was fighting to tear free of his skin, it pulsed red and angry and hurt so badly it caused his stomach to roil and lurch.  He gasped in pain and let go of Allessia’s hand.  “Hell fire!” he cursed, rubbing at his bicep.

Dipping into a tunic pocket, the Helmite pulled out yet another amulet, plain in comparison to the other two this one bore no obvious religious associations.  She reached out to take Jherek’s hand again but he drew it away.  “Allessia, please,” he said, “I’ve no wish to appear cowardly but I’m not sure I could bear pain as I’ve just felt for much longer.”

Allessia smiled sympathetically, “Humour me, if what I’m thinking is right this shouldn’t hurt at all.”

Deciding he should trust her instincts, Jherek offered her his hand and she stepped in nearer to him as she took it.  The scent of her hair made him light-headed; tea roses and something familiar he couldn’t quite place.    

“What do you feel?” Allessia asked, her eyes alight with a familiar look, the one she wore whenever she was sure she was right about something.

He felt a slight warmth, nothing more and he couldn’t be sure it wasn’t the effect of having Allessia so close.

Jherek shook his head.  “I- nothing!  How did you know that would happen?”

“This,” she said, holding up the third pendant before tucking it back in her pocket, “bears only a simple protection spell.  This,” she put her own amulet back around her neck, “and this,” she untangled the twisted leather thong of Jherek’s amulet and placed it around his neck, pressing it to his heart, “hold within them the essence of faith and righteous power.”  

The response was instantaneous; the same sharp jolt and intense heat and Jherek made a grab to remove the amulet but Allessia stopped him with a soft touch, folding a hand over his.

“Keep it on,” she said.

“Why?  What purpose does my being in pain serve?” he replied, though he was surprised to note the pain had subsided to a tolerable dull throb.

“The way you reacted when I put the pendant around your neck, and something you said before about how it took the power of a god to remove the brand caused me to wonder if this holy symbol provides more protection than you realise.”

“So it is a judgement.  If my was faith still strong the mark would not have returned?  Or I must suffer for its protection?”

“I don’t think it’s quite so simple, were it merely a matter of passing judgement the mark might have returned at any time, why now?”

“Aye, you have the right of it there I suppose,”  Jherek conceded, unable to think any specific reason why it would be otherwise, “but if it is not a judgement, then what?”

“I may be wrong,” Allessia said, sounding less certain than she had previously, “but as it was exposure to the holy symbols which drew the strongest reactions from the brand, perhaps it stands to reason that the brand itself is tied to another god?”

Jherek couldn’t believe it possible to feel as he did, the paladin’s words were all at once horrifying and oddly comforting; comforting in the sense of relief he felt that the tattoo’s return might not be a true judgement, horrifying in the realisation he may have unwittingly surrcumbed to something altogether more sinister.  When, at nineteen years old, Lathander had directly intervened and finally rid him of the mark he loathed so much he’d even resorted to cutting his own flesh to remove, he was so relieved he never gave it another thought; never once considered why every other attempt to remove it had failed, and certainly never considered how exactly it was administered in the first place, though he was sure it was a good thing he’d been too young to remember.  

Something of his concern must’ve shown on his face.  “It’s only speculation, a theory,” Allessia said.

He shook his head.  “No, no, what you say makes perfect sense,” he replied, rubbing his face and running his hands over his head and down his neck to massage away the knot of tension which had formed there.  He raised his eyes skyward and asked, “gods help me, what have I let in?”

Four - Flesh Wounds

Allessia barely had time to think about what might lie beyond the door to Jherek’s bedchamber as she charged in. She wasn’t even armed.  She kept a a dagger sheathed in her boot but had neglected to draw it before entering the room, so she was relieved to find him alone, sat bolt upright in the bed.  Until, that was, she saw the blank look in his eyes and the sweat beading down his face.

“No, please!”  Jherek uttered, reaching out into the space before him, his eyes wide, the whites like red hot coals as they reflected the dying embers of the fire.  He was so agitated it took a moment for Allessia to realise he was actually sleeping.

She knew from her younger sister’s sleepwalking episodes that she needed to take care not to wake him with a start, so she began to pick her way slowly across the room towards him.

All of a sudden something in him snapped, and he flew at her.

Allessia saw Jherek coming but the space between them was so small she didn’t have a chance to dodge him.  She braced herself for the impact; casting a protective spell, but Jherek was a big man, and hitting her at speed he sent the two of them crashing to the floor.  

Allessia lay pinned beneath Jherek, his full weight crushed her chest and his arm was pressed against her throat. She was having difficulty catching her breath. Jherek didn’t wake, he just stared right past her as if she wasn’t there. He looked crazed, manic, he barely even drew breath. She managed to free one of her arms from between them and used her hand to prize his arm from her neck.

“Jherek!” she croaked. “Jherek, wake up. You’re choking me!”

She bent her legs up at the knees and using the strength in them she managed to force him off her and over on to his back. Jherek’s reflexes were quick as a cat’s however, and as she stood up he lunged at her again.  This time she was ready for him.  She parried the attack with her arm and sent him spinning into a wall with a dull thud.  

In other circumstances Allessia was a good match for Jherek.  She stood almost as tall as him, and while she was undoubtedly much slimmer than him her strength was remarkable.  But these were unusual circumstances. She was reluctant to engage him fully as she knew he had no awareness of his actions, and she had no wish to hurt him because he was not her enemy. She would certainly never use an offensive spell against him as she would likely kill him outright.  She was just fortunate that the defensive spells she had at her disposal did not affect both of them as they could do with an ally.

“Jherek, please wake up, please.” she begged as she approached him slowly with her hands open in a pacifying gesture she hoped he could understand.  It was no use, whatever it was that kept him in his dream state was stopping him seeing her. He was fighting shadows, and she was just one of them.  

Letting out out a guttural roar he ran at her again. Once more she managed to deflect the attack, but as he passed her he shoulder barged her. She stepped backwards, her feet became tangled in something on the floor and she tumbled onto the bed.  He was on her then, knelt over her, his strong thighs gripping her legs, his rough hands around her neck, his hollow eyes still staring into the middle distance.  Allessia’s hands were free this time but trying to push the two of them up off the feather mattress was like sinking in quicksand; the more she fought the deeper she sank into its softness. She pulled at Jherek’s hands, but like a stubborn knot in a fine chain; the more she tried to loosen them the tighter they became.

She could feel herself slipping under; her heart pounded rapidly - too rapidly - as the panic set in.  White stars exploded before her eyes, bright against the darkness of the room.  There was something else too.  Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of what appeared to be a skull; shimmering like mercury in the blackness, bound in chains of rolling fire; hovering in the space between them with sickening menace.  An hallucination caused by a lack of breath?  She screwed her eyes tight shut to obliterate the image and gulped at the air, desperately trying to force it down into her lungs through her constricted windpipe. She couldn’t let this happen to her.  To him.  She ran her hands down his chest and stomach in a last ditch attempt to push him away but his grip on her was unearthly strong.  As they reached his waist her fingers grazed the edge of the bandage and an idea struck her; bringing her hands up around his back she ran her fingers under the bandages until she found the cooled poultice and the wound beneath. Placing her fingers down one edge of the wound she pushed down. Hard.

For one long second, the whole world stopped.

Jherek blinked suddenly and the light in his eyes returned.  He looked down at Allessia lying beneath him and to his hands at her throat. Then he let out an agonised cry and released his grip, allowing the air to rush back into Allessia’s lungs. With the last of her strength she gave an almighty shove and sent him sprawling onto the floor just as Karne and the others burst into the room.

“What in the nine hells?”  Borador yelled.

Allessia heaved as she tried to catch her breath.  “You took your time didn’t you?”

“Are you all right, lady?”  Ysuran enquired.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine. Thank you.”  Allessia replied, coughing and getting shakily to her feet.

“What has gone on here?”  Vhaidra asked in a dubious tone.

“Jherek... I think he may have been hallucinating, perhaps caused by a fever.”  Allessia answered.

“What did you give him?”  Karne asked.

“Nothing I wouldn’t give to any of you.”

“Lady, you would likely give me poison if you felt you could get away with it.”

“Stitch your lips, Karne.”  Ysuran snapped, stepping in to defend Allessia from the slur.  “The lady would never do such a thing, but I might if you continue to speak as you do.”

Jherek remained on the floor where he landed, shaking violently and staring at his hands.

Allessia looked down awkwardly at her feet.  “Perhaps you might leave us for a while?”  

“O’ course.”  Dorn nodded, “if you need anything?”  

“I shall ask.”  Allessia replied.

As they filed out of the room Allessia spoke again.  “Oh, there was something...”

“Name it.”   

“That whisky you found, would you bring me a bottle?”

“A whole bottle?  I’m not sure we could spare a whole bottle, Lady.”  Dorn replied, pulling a horrified face.

“You may have whatever is left with my pleasure, and if you could bring Jherek’s share of our meal too...”  Allessia answered.  For all his coarse ways, Dorn was a good man and she really did appreciate his efforts to lighten the mood.

“Done!  I’ll be back with it in a minute.”  He tramped back down the stairs, whistling softly to himself.

Allessia turned her attentions back to Jherek, who was still sat on the floor in a state of shock. She knelt down beside him rather than directly in front of him and glanced sidelong at his face, her head bowed slightly.  

“I need to take a look at that wound now.” she told him softly.

“I- I...”  he started to reply, but unable to make sense of the jumble of words in his head he fell silent.  Allessia took his lack of a protest as a sign that she could proceed and began untying the bandages with nimble fingers.  Once the bandaging was removed she cautiously peeled back the poultice stuck to his back, terrified that in her frantic efforts to wake him she had pushed the bolt and the scrap of his shirt deeper into the wound.  Luckily however, the poultice appeared to have worked and the object was much nearer the surface of his skin.

Just then Dorn appeared in the doorway. “Your firewater, lady.”  the great barbarian announced in the manner of Amnian manservant, bowing deeply and almost cracking his head on the door frame as he rose.

Allessia chuckled.  “Thank you, good sir.” she replied.

“Will that be all?”  he asked somberly as he placed the bottle and a plate of food on the table.

“Yes, thank you.”  Allessia replied as she stood up.  Dorn gave Jherek a worried look. “He will be fine. Honestly.”  she reassured him.

“In your hands, Allessia, I don’t doubt it.”  Dorn said as he turned and walked from the chamber, closing the door behind him.

Allessia bustled about the room, lighting more candles to lift the gloom and gathering together the things she would need for the next stage of Jherek’s treatment.  She threw the used bandages and poultice on the embers of the fire as kindling and added more logs when they caught.  Then she cleared the tabletop of everything save for the bottle of whisky, and a small and very sharp knife she took from her backpack.  When all her preparations were complete she sat down on the floor in front of Jherek once again.

Allessia reached out and cupped Jherek’s chin with her hand, lifting his head so that she could look into his eyes, which were downcast and shone like silver in the fire light.  “It’s time to take that bolt out,” she told him, “do you need me to help you stand?”

“No.” Jherek replied hoarsely as he forced the word out over the lump in his throat.  “I can manage.”  He clambered to his feet and crossed shakily to the table where Allessia stood waiting for him.

“You will need to lie face down on the table.  It’s a little short but the bed is much to soft to give you any support,” she told him with a wry smile to herself.

Jherek did as she instructed and lay on the table on his stomach, with his head and legs hanging over at either end.  The reason for the bottle of whisky soon became clear to him.  Allessia tipped a good measure over the hole in his back to sterilise it and he had to grit his teeth to keep from screaming in agony.  Next, Allessia took the small blade, tipped more of the whisky over it and thrust it into the fire. The strong liquour ignited in a flash and blue flames danced like marsh sprites along the blade as it burned away.  

Nothing could have prepared Jherek for the pain he felt as she prized the bolt from his back with the red hot knife blade. It was so acute it made every last nerve in his body scream. Instinctively he tried to wriggle away from her, but she placed a forceful hand in the small of his back so he couldn’t move.   

“There!”  Allessia exclaimed as the tip came free. She cleaned the blade and placed both the tip and the knife down before cleansing Jherek’s back with some more of the torn fabric and water from the bucket.  

She rounded the table and lowered herself on her haunches before Jherek so that they were face to face. “It’s almost over now.”  she promised, “drink some of this, it might help.”  she suggested, handing the bottle of firewhisky to him.  He took the bottle from her and sat up slowly, then gulped down a slug of the potent liquid inside, grateful for the heat it spread through his body, warming his chilled flesh and muting the pain.

“How do you feel?”  Allessia asked as she stood up before him.

Jherek wished she had asked him anything but that.  It was one thing to tell her of the physical hurt. But the truth of it was that he couldn’t even begin to put into words the depth of the confusion and shame he felt, and he understood by the way she phrased the question she wasn’t just enquiring after his physical health. He took another mouthful of the molten liquour from the bottle in his hand and looked away, terrified that he would look into her face and see only fear, or hatred, or both.  Though he wouldn’t blame her, he couldn’t bear it if she looked at him that way.

Sensing his discomfort Allessia perched herself on the edge of the table beside Jherek, eased the whisky bottle from his hand and took a swig. The vicious burn of it made her cough. “Urgh, I have no idea how Dorn drinks this stuff in the vast quantities he does. It’s revolting!  I’d take a cup of tea over that, any day.” she wheezed, looking down at the bottle in her hands, “he must have the stomach of a shark!” she added. “Here, keep it.”  Allessia handed the bottle back to Jherek.  He took it from her and put it down beside him. He wasn’t really one for hard drink - seeing what it did to the sailors he was surrounded by when he was younger was enough to temper any habit - so he had no desire to drink any more than he had already imbibed.

Jherek gathered his thoughts. “You saved my life today, twice over.” he said, finally.

“I’m not quite finished yet.  The hot knife cauterised the wound but I still need to heal it properly.  Will you let me?”

“Are you sure you still want to help me?” he asked sadly.

“What in Helm’s name would make you think that I wouldn’t?”

Jherek gathered up his courage and turned to face Allessia properly. “I could have killed you!”  he exclaimed.  

“I don’t doubt that.  Still, you didn’t.”

The sight of his fingerprints outlined on Allessia’s neck made Jherek feel physically sick.  He lifted his hand and tentatively reached out to touch the marks, tenderly running his toil roughened fingers over the reddened skin. After what he did to her, Jherek fully expected her to back away, instead she tilted her head back so that her neck was fully exposed, and closed her eyes. The gesture drew tears like pin pricks to his eyes.

“Allessia, lady, I’m sorry.” The words hitched in his throat as he spoke.

“You have no reason to apologise to me.”

“I damned near kill you and you tell me I have no need to apologise.  I believe I have every need.” Jherek replied, irritated that she wouldn’t accept.

“Jherek, you have no need to apologise to me because I know I wasn’t your intended target.” The look she gave him was one of impassioned sincerity, “I know you would never hurt me intentionally.”

Jherek wondered how she could know such a thing when he didn’t even know it himself.  Despite everything that had happened to prove to him he was his father’s son in name only, he still feared that one day the veneer of decency would crack and his true nature would be revealed to him, and to the rest of the world.  It was as though he couldn’t be just a normal man; occasionally given over to fits of anger, jealousy, greed, callousness; emotions his father revelled in. Jherek viewed allowing himself to succumb to such emotions as the start of the slow slide towards becoming like his father, and believed the only way he could distance himself from his father’s legacy was to be his polar opposite.  Everything he did was undertaken with a sense of integrity, honour and innate goodness, and when his actions fell short of the mark he punished himself.

The sensation of Allessia’s fingers tangling with his own pulled him back into the moment and made his heart lurch. She was stood so close to him he could almost feel two hearts beating in his chest. She skimmed his hip with her free hand and slid it around his back to rest it over the hole left by the bolt. She closed her eyes and began to chant a low prayer to Helm.  

Allessia’s face took on a mask of concentrated serenity and the two of them became bathed in a light the colour of sun through shallow water, which caused the woman’s pale blonde hair to take on an elfin sheen. Jherek felt the hand at his back and then his back itself grow cold, then completely numb. It was like no healing he had ever experienced, or given.  Through the numbness he felt an oddly detached sensation of skin and sinew stretching to knit together. Then the light slowly faded and the numbness that filled Jherek’s body with it. When Allessia opened her eyes again he realised for the first time why he found them so beautiful.  They were just a little too big for her face; their colour a little too intense - perhaps an indication of elven blood somewhere in her lineage - but they held the inviting azure depth of the oceans he had once called home.

Allessia stooped to check out her handiwork. “Barely even a mark. I worried it might scar as it was left so long.” she commented with a note of relief in her voice. “Twice over, you said.” she added, without pausing for breath.   

“Mmm?” Jherek responded, unsure if he heard her correctly.

She regarded him intently, taking in every feature of his strong face, relieved to see that the colour had returned. “Before, you said twice over. What did you mean by that?”  Allessia asked.

“I meant I was fortunate it was you who found me and not one of the others. They would have surely killed me.”

“I believe that Karne may have done, yes, not the others. Though you may not have come away unscathed as you did.”

“Not counting my wounded pride.” he admitted.

“What do you remember of it?”

Jherek sighed. “Very little. Flashes, that is all. I wish I was able to remember more.  It’s as though the details are there, but they are behind a locked door I cannot open.”

“Tell me what you remember.” she urged him.

“I was alone in a tower, trapped.  The enchantments I tried had no effect. I called for help but no one came.  All of a sudden I felt the ground give way beneath my feet and I began to fall.  When I stopped falling I found myself on the plane of shadow, surrounded by nightshades. I could see a shadow gate before me.  A way out.  But there was no safe passage to it and as I battled my way through the portal faded away.  The creatures descended on me and I continued to fight them off. That’s when I woke.”  Jherek concluded. hanging his head.

“Don’t hide your face.  Why are you so unable to look at me?”  Allessia asked softly, placing her hand over his as he gripped the table top.

“Because it was a nightmare and I allowed myself to be controlled by it, and I nearly killed you as a result.”

“Jherek, you were in the grip of a fever caused by your injury.  You were hallucinating.  If anything, the fault was mine for leaving you alone for so long.  May Helm forgive me I should have kept a better watch over you.  I failed you.”  Allessia told him in a vehement manner as much for her own benefit as his.  Knowing what they might have to face before this hell was over, some of the details of Jherek’s dream were veering too close to being visionary for comfort.

“No! Please don’t do that.”

“Do what?” Allessia asked innocently.

“Please don’t try to absolve me of any responsibility, for this.” Jherek said, his voice dropping to a low whisper as he placed a hand on the back of her neck and brushed his thumb over the bruises down one side.  He didn’t stop at her neck, his calloused thumb caressed her cheek as he slid his hand up into her hair, which was cut short for practicality’s sake.  Allessia’s breath hitched in her chest and bit her lip, letting her eyes fall to his lips...

If you were to ask them who kissed who first neither Allessia nor Jherek would be able tell you.

Jherek stood up as they kissed - slow, feather-light, curious - narrowing the gap between them to a hairsbreadth. He dipped his head to accommodate his slight height advantage, deepening the kiss. He opened his eyes momentarily to see her looking back at him, her eyes sparkling like aquamarine.  Allessia’s lips curved into a smile beneath his and she slid her hands up his back, from the hollow at the base, her fingers either side of his spine.  Like a miner following a seam in the hopes of finding precious metal she explored every scar with the softest touch until she reached his shoulders.  She curled her hands over them and gripping their breadth she pulled him closer still.  

Jherek felt the curve of her warm body pressed tightly against his naked chest through the smooth fabric of her tunic, and his hands shook lightly with nerves as he threaded his fingers through her hair.  He had spent so long keeping people at arm’s length he had almost convinced himself that he no longer needed the simple intimacy of another’s touch, but as they kissed he realised that, unconsciously, he had been reaching out for her affections for some time.  A quiet word here, an offer of supplies there, details of the best routes to use, of Harper friendly inns and safe-houses.  He could have given such things to any of the five adventurers, yet each time he chose her, hoping that the assistance he offered would bring them back safely; would bring her back safely to him.  Of course, he never allowed himself to imagine anything beyond, let alone that she might feel the same way.

He broke the kiss, breathing deeply and resting his forehead against hers; feeling rhythmical the rise and fall of her ribcage like the roll of a wave breaking against him.  He dropped his arms around her waist and laced his fingers together into the small of her back.

Allessia smiled at him shyly and glanced down at the strong arms that encircled her.  “So I didn’t imagine it, this what I saw.”  she thought, sliding her hand up Jherek’s arm and skimming her fingers over a tattoo that adorned the inside of his left bicep.  There was no mistaking its design as the same image she witnessed in the midst Jherek’s nightmare, and it still possessed a certain luminescent quality; though it was nowhere near as vivid, or held the same menacing potency.

“So, this is...?”  She asked, circling the brand with a tapered finger.

Jherek looked down and let go of Allessia as if he had been scolded.  He clapped his right hand defensively over the mark on his arm and turned his back on her.  Not before she had a chance to register the horrified look on his face.  “No.” he said thickly.

Allessia spoke gently “What is it?”

Jherek hugged himself more tightly and stared into the dwindling fire. “Go, leave me be.”

Utterly bewildered by his reaction, Allessia reached out to touch his arm.  “Jherek?”  she said in a worried tone.   

“I said go.”  he replied darkly.

“If that is what you wish then I shall go.  I still have my armour to attend to and I must pray.”  Allessia told him, trying to keep a neutral tone as she began to gather her belongings together.  Anything to distract her from the sting of his sudden rejection.  “It is no business of mine what that mark is on your arm,” she continued, “though if you think I believe it’s just a tattoo then you are very much mistaken.  I saw that look on your face just now.  I know what I saw when-”  She stopped short of saying “when you had your hands about my throat.”

“When what?”  he asked, his back still to her.  What did she see?  

“It is of no matter.”  She told him, failing to keep the wounded tone from her voice.  Another lie; one that would earn her a penance from Helm she was sure, but the words left her lips before she could stop them.  It mattered greatly, and if she had told him he might have opened up, but she was reeling from the notion that he didn’t seem to trust her enough to offer an explanation unprompted.  “I think you ought to know, as you are so reticent to speak of the mark I can only draw my own conclusions regarding its nature.  As such I can only assume it may pose some sort of danger to us.  It is my responsibility to make the others aware of such a threat.  If nothing comes of it then so be it, but I would be failing in my duty to them and to my Lord Helm if I did not share my suspicions.  I could not forgive myself if one of them came to harm because I didn’t pass on the information, such as it is.”

A knot of anger born of frustration began to tighten in Jherek’s stomach as he listened to Allessia speak.  Her words sounded so callous.  He couldn’t understand how, in the space of a few short breaths, he had slipped from the position of a lover to an enemy in her eyes.  Why can’t she just leave me?  Why does she always have to have the last word?  

Common sense would have told him she was simply assessing the situation the same way she did with every potential risk  Rational thought was beyond him, though. The shock of seeing the hateful brand he thought long gone etched upon on his arm once more saw to that.  He spotted the bolt Allessia had pulled from his back lying discarded on the table, he snatched it up between his thumb and forefinger and scrutinised it closely.  A ferocious scowl formed upon on his face.

Behind him he heard the creak of chamber door opening as Allessia went to leave and he turned on the balls of his feet to march from the room.

“Where are you going?”  she asked as he stormed towards her.

“I’m going to tell that half blind idiot, Borador to watch where he’s firing that crossbow of his in future.  If he’s the best bowman we have then we are in trouble.  And once I’ve done that I thought perhaps you could tell our comrades just what sort of a danger I pose to them.”  He spat, knowing full well she wouldn’t go straight to them with her suspicions.  She would consider the position carefully first, weighing up all the evidence, and when she did speak to them she would select her words with equal care so as not to cause alarm; or a bloodbath.

Allessia was shocked by the depth of the rage she saw in his eyes, he was usually so even tempered.  Even in the heat of battle he possessed a level of controlled aggression she could only aspire to.  She felt her heartbeat quicken as she placed a hand firmly on the door frame, barring his path.  Something was definitely amiss, she didn’t need a spell to divine that.  Casting her cool eyes over his arm she noted that the mark glowed ominously just as before.

“So I am to be held captive in this room whilst you decide if I am about to kill you all in your beds am I?  What happened to None of this is your fault?”  he said in a sneering tone more befitting Karne.

“Think about what you’re saying,”  she told him calmly.  “Firstly, you have no proof it was Borador who shot you.  Many of our enemies were wielding crossbows.”

“Yes I do, this is one of his.  It has Durbem’s stamp on it!”  Jherek interrupted, waving the bolt angrily in her face.  

“That’s as maybe, but he didn’t hit you intentionally and there is no lasting damage.  And secondly, the Jherek I know would not behave in this manner, he would never say such vicious things.”

Jherek glared at her but made no attempt to force his way past her out into the hallway.  “You don’t know me at all.”

She took a deep breath before she spoke again.  She needed to regain control of the situation, quickly.  Why couldn’t I have just kept quiet?

“You are right.  I don’t,” she sighed, “all the more reason for you to talk to me.  I meant no offense with the things I said.  You must understand, I rushed in here before without thinking of anything beyond my concern for you, and both of us nearly paid the price for my recklessness.  I cannot allow something like that to happen again.  If my cautious attitude towards this has pained you then I apologise.  Now, are you are still determined to confront Borador?”  she concluded, meeting his hard stare with a sympathetic gaze and then raking her eyes pointedly down his naked torso.

Jherek looked down and his stony face crumbled.

Any relief Allessia felt was tempered by the look of defeat in Jherek’s eyes. She reached out and took his hand in hers, led him back into the room, closed the door behind them and turned to face him once more.

“I have never seen you look so scared before.  Whatever that thing represents and however, um, wary, it makes me, you must know that what worries me more is the fear it engenders in you.  Please, let me help you.  Please tell me what it is.”

“I- I can’t.”  Jherek told her, sinking down onto the bed and burying his head in his hands.

Allessia looked down at him, at a loss for a way to comfort him.  “You can’t, or you won’t?” she asked.  The question wasn’t meant as an attack, and she hoped he didn’t see it as such, she was just desperate to understand.  Before the events of that evening unfolded his countenance had always been one of complete composure and control.  It was an unnerving thing to watch that semblance of composure disappear before her eyes.

“I can’t.  Once I could have told you exactly what it was and what it represented, but that was before... before it was removed.  Now, I just don’t know.  All I can tell you is that if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it was possible.  I know of very little that could undo the work of a god.”

Three - Sustenance and Singular Pursuits

After washing, and changing her tunic, Allessia made her way back downstairs to find that someone - most likely Karne - had taken her words to heart and found them something to eat beyond the rations they carried in their packs.  A small boar was skewered on the spit that stood above a fire in the grand hearth, which was large enough to accommodate even someone of Dorn’s hulking size without stooping.  

“Allessia!  We eat well tonight, lady.”  Borador cried heartily as he turned the spit.  Allessia eyed him suspiciously, searching for signs of an enchantment.  Such cheery greetings from the grumpy old goat were unusual to say the least - you were lucky if you got a grunt of recognition at morningfeast - and getting him to do anything that didn’t involve the accumulation of large amounts of looted gold and trinkets was nigh on impossible; so for him to both cheerful and making himself useful at the same time meant there had to be more to it than met the eye.  The ruddy glow on his face could have been explained away by the heat of the fire or his natural colouring, but the half-empty bottle of vicious looking liquid that lay beside him was the thing that gave the game away.  So, not under a geas then?  Just half cut.  “May Helm forgive me, but I believe I like you better this way.”  Allessia thought.  

If she was honest, she wasn’t entirely sure why Borador continued to adventure with them; especially after she insisted that all finders fees and spoils be split equally.  He made several vociferous protests about it and set about staging a revolt against her, canvassing the others for support.  He didn’t get very far though as the others agreed that it was a fair arrangement.  In the end, for the sake of peace, they decided to pay Borador the fee his clan brother, Durbem, would have asked for the Halls of the Hammer vault key had Borador not been with the party.  Of course the price was greatly inflated, but the gesture seemed to placate Borador, and Allessia supposed that, in the end,  he must have come to the conclusion that a share in something was better than a share in nothing at all.  All of this wasn’t to say that he didn’t have his uses, his ability to disarm traps had got them out of several tight situations, and only Jherek came close to his accuracy with a bow.

She considered asking him where the boar came from - there was certainly nothing living worth hunting down to be found close by - but decided that she didn’t care too much about its origins, just that it would soon be satisfying the hunger that overtook her the moment she inhaled the sweet roasting aroma.  “So it seems.” she replied.

Ysuran sat in a chair on the opposite side of the fireplace from Borador.  Everything about the Moon Elf was long; from his legs stretched out before him; to his mane of sleek, blue-black hair, which was tucked behind his ears to keep it from falling in his eyes as he leafed through the great black tome he carried with him.  

Allessia didn’t much care for Ysuran’s brand of magic.  As a necromancer, his craft went against every principle she held dear, and it wasn’t usually associated with someone who sought to do good deeds, but together she and Ysuran had somehow managed to find common ground between their wildly differing and often conflicting abilities and combine them in battle with potent effect.  

The elf looked up from his spell book and furnished Allessia with a small smile.  “How is he?”  he quietly enquired after Jherek.

“He should be fine,” she told him.  “I’ve left him to sleep.”

“Good.”  Ysuran nodded and turned his attentions back to his book.

Dorn sat at the table closest the fire, a large tankard of something foamy and a small glass goblet filled with something that looked like liquid fire before him.  Allessia thought it odd that he bothered to use a glass.  She assumed - wrongly - that swigging from a bottle was more his style.  As it was, the glass only served to prove that despite knowing Dorn the longest of all her travelling companions - having met him on previous expeditions from her home in Secomber, where she served as a cleric for hire - she still knew relatively little about him, except that he hailed from Daggerford and had elevated having a good time to an art form.  What she did know was that she could rely on him wholeheartedly to be right beside her in the front line whenever there was a battle to be fought.  His fighting style wasn’t as refined as her own, but faced with a baying horde she couldn’t think of anyone else she would rather have at her side.

Even Vhaidra, normally so aloof, was sat amongst the group clustered about the fireplace. In many respects, Allessia and the Drow monk were as different from each other as it was possible to be; where Allessia was warm and empathetic, Vhaidra was cold and dismissive. Where Allessia’s motivation was the restoration of harmony and order, Vhaidra’s was the acquisition of power and influence, be it in Baldur’s Gate or in her home of Menzoberranzan.  In other ways they were more alike than either of them would care to admit.  Each of them lived their lives by a rigid code of honour and duty and both were single-minded in the pursuit of their goals.  

The two women met when, on her way to Baldur’s Gate, Allessia discovered Vhaidra lying by the roadside on The Tradeway, badly injured.  Vhaidra refused to reveal any of the details of how she came to be in such a state, and at first she refused Allessia’s offer of help; saying that she had made it that far on her own and she would be beholden to no one, but in the end she begrudgingly accepted her offer.

“I owe you nothing, remember!”  Vhaidra had said to Allessia when she finished the healing process.

“I expect nothing from you.”  Allessia had replied.  “Where is it you are headed?”  

“What business is it of yours?”  The Drow had asked.

“It is no business of mine.  However, I am headed for Baldur’s Gate, and if that is where you are headed too, would it not make more sense for us to walk side by side rather than trailing along in one another’s shadow?”  And that was how the two of them remained. Vhaidra did return the favour; hauling Allessia from Luvia Bloodmire’s diabolical laboratory and taking her to Huros to be healed when she was overcome by poisonous gas.

Karne sat away from the fire, but only by a short distance.  He lay stretched out on a bench in a recess at the back of the room with his back rested up against the wall, and his sword rested on his lap as he methodically sharpened the blade with a whetstone.

The fire in the hearth and the lamp light gave the bar room a cosy air at odds with the hostile environment beyond the walls of the inn. It was entirely possible that if they stayed too long here they could be lulled into a false sense of security. The thought of which made Allessia distinctly uneasy. They were there at her suggestion after all.

“Allessia,” Dorm called, “sit, I’ll pour y’ a drink.” he added, pulling out a chair beside him.

“I will, in a moment.  There is something I need to attend to first.”

Dorn downed the tankard before him and stood up, scraping his chair loudly on the stone and sawdust floor. “Suit y’self. I’ll pour y’ one for y’ return, but don’t be too long mind, or I may be forced to drink it m’self.”  He chuckled.

“Thank you, Dorn.”  she replied, a small smile on her lips.   

Allessia passed Karne on her way out to the courtyard, as she did so he reached out and grabbed her.  She stopped in her tracks but didn’t look down at him, or attempt to wrest her arm from his grip.

“Is it done?”  He asked.

“Not yet.”  Allessia replied. “Soon, Karne, but you should know that your lack of patience in this matter is beginning to try mine.“

Karne snarled, “is that a threat, paladin?  I would have thought a Helmite was above such things.”  

“No, Karne, it is merely a statement of truth.  However, should you wish me to pay you the same heed when you are injured I should hold my tongue, if I were you.” she concluded, starring resolutely ahead.  Karne was right, of course.  She would never resort to threats, but what she had just said to him was as close to a threat as she was ever likely to come and she resented the fact he managed to draw such a reaction from her.  For some reason, any slight he levelled at Jherek got her hackles up more than the knowledge of any of Karne’s past transgressions, and that made her even more uncomfortable.

Karne let go of her arm and Allessia walked away from him without looking back, her head held high.  

Allessia Faithhammer had a knack of cutting Karne dead he didn’t much care for.  He knew too that he didn’t scare her, and he didn’t much like the idea of that either. In his profession fear was a very valuable commodity and people who didn’t fear him were a problem.


When Allessia returned the others were already hungrily tucking in to the freshly roasted hog and chunks of blackened bread.  Dorn pushed a wooden plate heaped with meat into the empty space beside him. “Saved you some.” he mumbled through a greasy mouthful of rib.

After a brief word of thanks to Helm, Allessia settled into the seat next to Dorn and took up the cup that sat before her. “And you didn’t drink my wine either.”  Allessia replied with her eyebrows raised in a look of mock surprise.  She looked across the room to see Karne still sat on the bench opposite, sullen faced.  “Will you not join us, Karne?” She asked in as light a tone as she could muster.  He looked up at her but offered no reply.

They ate in silence for a time, each of them as ravenous as the other.  Vhaidra surprised Allessia with her appetite, she usually picked disinterestedly at any food that was put in front of her.

Once the six of them had eaten their fill they cleared away the dishes and distributed the leftovers between them, Allessia made certain there was a good share left for Jherek.

With the obvious exception of the room at the front of the inn, the beds in the rest of the chambers were made up and ready to be slept in, but none of the party seemed ready (or willing?) to retire upstairs.  Instead, Karne and Ysuran went back to polishing their weapons and polishing up their spells respectively, and Dorn, Borador and Vhaidra settled down at the table by the fire to indulge in a hand or ten of cards.  Allessia declined the offer to “deal her in,” as Dorn put it.  The game they were playing relied heavily on a players’ ability to deceive their opponents, and by her own admission being deceptive wasn’t her strong point.  Besides, she wasn’t prepared to gamble what she saw as the church’s money.  Instead, she took the opportunity to begin the nightly ritual of cleaning down her armour.  The bulk of it was where she left it in Jherek’s room, but her helm still lay on the table she placed it on when they entered the inn.  She wasn’t usually so haphazard with her kit but she had been somewhat preoccupied.

If there was one person in the room who should have joined the card game then it was Karne. Allessia didn’t doubt that someone as mercenary as him would have taken great delight separating them from their coin, yet he kept his distance; appearing to all intents and purposes to have fallen asleep on the hard bench he lay on.  Allessia knew better than to take Karne at face value, and sure enough a closer look at him revealed that he slept with one eye open, his hand rested on the throwing daggers sheathed at his side.

As the drink flowed and the stakes got higher the gamers got a whole lot rowdier.

Borador slammed his hand of cards down on the table. “Argh!  You’re a bare faced cheat yeh damned dark pixie.”  He roared.

“How dare you, gnome!”  Vhaidra retorted. “You only accuse me of cheating because it would not do for you to be beaten fair and square by a woman.  Though, if you were a Drow male you would have the good sense to let me win.” she added, laughing loudly.

“Me arse I would.”  he yelled in reply.  “Just for that, I’m doubling the stakes.  Time to put yer money where yer mouth is, Dark Destroyer.”

The moniker Barador bestowed on Vhaidra appeared to please her greatly, and Allessia wondered if this rare show of camaraderie wasn’t something to do with the sense of disquiet that lay beneath the surface of the place. Left alone here too long she felt she would be likely to dwell on things it didn’t do well to dwell on, she wondered too if the others felt the same?

Karne was the first to hear the shout.  He sprang to his feet from his sleeping position with his hand hovering over the knives at his waist.

“No, NO!”  The shout came again.

The rest of them were not far behind Karne, their weapons drawn, their stance ready for an attack.

“ No, NOOO!”  A third time the cries came from above them, more anguished than the last.

“Jherek!”  Allessia exclaimed, and without any further hesitation she sprinted up the stairs. 

The rest of the party lingered behind, unsure if they should follow her. Karne made the decision for them.  “She can handle herself.  She will call if she needs us.”


Two - Succour for a Soldier

Allessia pushed open the chamber door to find Jherek stood before a flecked and misted mirror in the darkened room.  He had removed his robes and leather body armour, which lay in a heap at his feet, but he moaned audibly as he struggled to peel the blood soaked shirt from his back. Inevitably, the effort was too much for him and he collapsed onto the chair beside him with a bellow of frustration, his arms half in, half out of the sleeves and the body of the garment still fastened around his waist.

“I feared the water in this place might be tainted, but the water in the well Karne found on the other side of the courtyard is clean.”  Allessia announced, holding up a battered leather bucket as she crossed the room to where Jherek sat dejectedly.  She placed the pail at his feet, and busied herself removing the eye-bright plate mail she wore; relieved to be rid of its cumbersome weight.  Next, she lit the candles and a fire in the hearth the old fashioned way - with flint and kindling rather than by magical means, which would have smacked of ostentation, and in all likelihood would have taken her eyebrows off in a space so small - and filled the kettle hanging over it with water from the pail.

“Jherek, do you think you can stand?”  Allessia asked, “I need to get a better look at that wound.”  

Jherek nodded, and clinging tightly to her arms for support he slowly got to his feet.  He realised that this was no time to let his pride get in the way, he needed her help; but accepting it meant accepting weakness, and admitting weakness of any kind didn’t come easily to him.  Still, he knew that if he refused her she would only push at him until he gave in, and as such it was far easier to just let her get on with whatever it was she needed to do “to fulfill her duties in the eyes of Helm,” as she would pronounce grandly.  He wondered if he was ever as zealous back then, back before, well... he supposed he must have been, he was certainly as idealistic.

He allowed himself a small smile when he remembered how, in the course of the enquiries he made about the group of adventurers prior to procuring their services, Huros - a Warrior Priest of the Helmite church in Baldur’s Gate - had confided in him that he thought his charge, Allessia, stood to become one of the most powerful servants of Helm the church would ever know.  No doubt the priest’s comment held a certain amount of bias but who was he to argue?  During the time she’d worked for him as a Harper agent and the short time they had spent travelling together, the paladin had proved herself more than capable both clerically and in combat.

When she was sure he could stand unaided, Allessia knelt before Jherek and carefully eased his arms from his shirt, before deftly cutting away the bloodied fabric with a sharp blade, leaving only a small square around the wound in his lower back. Then she took up a candle so she could better see the wound.  Seeing Jherek bathed it’s soft glow, Alessia suppressed a gasp of shock; the scars she saw criss-crossed over his body were so numerous they resembled the trade routes marked upon a map of Faerûn. She was well used to scarring - she already had a nice collection all of her own - but if she had ever seen anyone so heavily scarred before Allessia couldn’t remember when, and unless Jherek was very lucky he would have another to add to the map.  

Aside from the scarring, Allessia saw little to indicate Jherek was the old man Karne delighted in calling him.  He seemed a little world weary; there were crinkles at the corners of his eyes that likely weren’t there five years ago; and flecks of silver - which might have been blond at one time or another - through his shortish light brown hair and neatly trimmed beard.  But his chest was broad and taught and his arms were strong and sinewy, the sign of an expert bowman and melee fighter at their peak.   

She lent in to take a closer look at the wound.  It was bloody and inflamed, but something bright reflected in the candlelight caught her eye.  Very gently she ran her fingertips over Jherek’s skin. The lightest touch made him flinch in pain; there was certainly something buried deep in his back.

“Mmmm, it’s little wonder the healing hasn’t worked. You have something lodged in your back, the tip of a crossbow bolt most likely. Some of the cloth from your shirt has been drawn into the wound too.” Allessia remarked as she got to her feet and placed the candle back on the table beside them.  Even in the dim light, she could see that Jherek’s complexion had taken on a deathly pallor.  She knew she needed to work quickly.

“It will take more than magic to heal you, and for a time the cure may be worse than the wound itself.”  Allessia told Jherek earnestly.  “The tip is too deeply embedded for me to remove it right away, even with a sharp blade I could do more harm than good, it will have to be drawn out with a poultice.”

Jherek nodded, then what little colour was left in his face drained away and he slumped forward.  Allessia managed to catch him as he fell, but for all her strength his dead weight sent the two of them stumbling into the table, almost upending it.

“Easy, easy!” Allessia urged as Jherek came to.  “I think it would be best if you were sitting.”  Taking his arms she guided him back to the chair and sat him on it back to front so he could rest his head its ladder back, and she could easily tend to the wound.

She set to work.  First, she rummaged through the cupboards in the room, searching for something that would serve as bandages and found a fine cloth sheet, which she tore into long strips.  Then she soaked one of the strips in the cool water from the bucket and gently mopped away the sweat that glistened on his face and neck.

“Surely, you have been sent by the gods to me.”  He murmured, his sonorous voice rumbling in his chest.

“By Helm, perhaps.” Allessia replied, smiling fondly at Jherek and pausing for a moment with her hand cupping his hollow cheek.  “But it is my calling to protect the weak and innocent and heal those who do battle by my side.  I would do this for anyone in the same position,”  she lied.  Of course, she would do what she was duty bound to, and she would do it with pride, efficiency, and without complaint, but she doubted that it would ever bring her the same strange pleasure she felt in being able to help him.

Turning away to hide her embarrassment at the thought, - she was no silly, frivolous girl - Allessia rummaged in her backpack and pulled out a variety of things including; a pair of leather gauntlets, a piece of stale bread and a small tin.  Using the gauntlets to protect her hands she poured a little of the hot water from the kettle into the stone bowl on the wash stand, added a little cold water and washed her hands.  Then she soaked another strip of cloth in the water and painstakingly cleaned the congealed blood from around Jherek’s wound.  He winced and tensed in his seat, but he didn’t cry out.  When she finished she threw the soiled rag into the fire, which hissed and cracked loudly, spewing out a great cloud of steam.

She took the bread, placed it in a small dish and added a black powder of charcoal, lobelia and slippery elm from the tin, and some hot water from the kettle.  As the hot water mixed with the charcoal powder a pungent aroma filled the air.  She made a thick black paste with the bread mixture and scooped it into a wrap of muslin, made from a strip torn from a net that hung over the bed.

“This will hurt.  Maybe you should bite down on this?”  Allessia suggested, handing Jherek the wooden spoon she used to make the bread paste.  Her manner was matter of fact but she was not without compassion, and again she soaked a cloth in cold water and pressed it to his fevered brow.   

Jherek cried out in agony as she placed the poultice over the wound.  “Argh! What kind of dark magic is this?”

“The pain will subside, I promise you.”  Allessia assured him as she bound the poultice tightly on each side of the wound with further strips of cloth, “and it isn’t magical.  It is a remedy my mother taught me, to draw impurities and foreign bodies from the skin.  Once I am better able to remove the bolt tip I will use a spell to accelerate the healing.  But for now you should rest.”  Once she finished tying off the final bandage Allessia helped Jherek to stand again, and supporting him under his arms, she helped him move to the bed, neatly made for guests who never arrived.  

Allessia turned back the covers, disturbing a layer of dust which made the two of them sneeze and causing Jherek to clutch at his side.  

“Try not to touch it.”  She chided softly.

As she pulled his hand away and bent to check that he hadn’t disturbed the bindings she felt a jolt of electricity course through her as Jherek slid his hand up over hers and over an angry welt on her wrist.

“Mayhap you could use some healing yourself, Lady?”  He asked, looking down at her with unfathomable eyes.

Allessia shrugged.  “The dragon, Aizagora.  I got off lightly, but wounds from dragons are stubbornly resistant to magical healing, it seems,”  she replied, and dropping her eyes from his searching gaze she focused instead on unlacing the long leather boots he wore.  

She removed his boots and stood them in a corner of the room, then she helped him to remove his breeches, easing them down his legs and trying her best to keep her focus on anything other than the firm thighs revealed beneath. She took hold of his calves and helped him swing his legs up onto the bed before pulling the blankets up over his chest.

“You should try lie on your side, if you can. You will be more comfortable that way.“

Jherek laid down on his side as Allessia instructed, but as she tidied away her things and headed for the door he sat up again.

“You won’t stay a while?”  He asked, suddenly - uncharacteristically - unsure about being left alone in such a state.

“I should find out what’s happening downstairs.  Borador and Dorn have offered to take a watch, but Dorn found several bottles of something that looked suspiciously like Firebelly whisky and the two of them had already cracked the seal on the top of the first when I came up here, so I’m not sure that there will be much watching being done.”

As if to confirm Allessia’s suspicions the sounds of raised voices and cackles of laughter floated up from the floor below, and she distinctly heard the words “drinking” and “game” in Borador’s Dwarven brogue.  She rolled her eyes heavenward and sighed.  “I will come back in a little while.”  She assured him, pausing on her way out of the room to place a candle and cup of water on the nightstand beside the bed.

Outside in the corridor Allessia closed the latch with a click and rested her back against the door, breathing deeply.  It would be a long night for Jherek. The longest night, and only time would tell if her actions were for the best,  All she could do was wait, and hope, and offer up a prayer to Helm.

In the chamber beyond the door, Jherek lay on his side with his eyes wide open, watching the candle before him slowly burn away and listening to the voices that drifted up from below, gripped by an old dread.  He fought the sleep that threatened to engulf him for as long as he could, but as the last of the candle spluttered and died with a wisp of smoke the weight of his eyelids became too much, and he drifted into an uneasy sleep even the hot pain in his back could not stave off.

Mel Odom - The Threat From The Sea - Cover

Amongst begging forgiveness from those whose characters I've abused, and begging for your feedback, I mentioned in my last post that the tale I'm attempting to te
ll will take wilful liberties with several members of the cast of characters that feature in author Mel Odom's 'Forgotten Realms' Trilogy, 'The Threat From The Sea'.

I stumbled upon the novels whilst looking for background information on the NPC's that feature in the 'Dark Alliance' games; specifically the Zhentarim assassin, Karne (Kharne, dependant on which game you're playing) and the Harper leader, Jherek.

As a new Forgotten Realms reader, I felt, overall, that the books served well as an introduction to a number of geographical locations on Faerûn.  Whether they give a true flavour of the setting, however, remains to be seen.

Events in the book(s) are centred on a long-foretold uprising of sahuagin (sea devils) and their aquatic allies, led the by the mysterious, Iakhovas.  Described as a 'Realms Shattering Event' the story follows the path of destruction wreaked by Iakhovas' army; first along the Sword Coast at Waterdeep and Baldur's Gate, and then onto the Sea of Fallen Stars and the undersea domain of Seros.  The story is told from several different perspectives, including those of Laaqueel - a priestess of the sahuagin god, Sekolah - (who is) struggling to prove her worth to her fellow sahuagin because of her 'deformed' malenti appearance; Jherek, a young swashbuckling sailor with a dark secret in his past, and finally, Pacys, an elderly bard, compelled to finish an epic ballad - fragments of which have haunted him for years - and secure his musical immortality.

There were lots of things to enjoy in the trilogy.  The 'high seas' setting was exceptionally well portrayed, with lots of nice details of shipboard life.  The battle scenes (for the most part) were very exciting.  I especially liked the close quarters altercation in The Copper Coronet towards the end of the first book.   

As to the characters;  Iakhovas is a fantastically malevolent antagonist, power-hungry, greedy, vengeful and entirely without scruples, and pirate captain Bloody Falkane makes for an equally good villain. Fantastically ruthless and debauched, seemingly fearing nothing and no-one.  The information revealed about him throughout the first two books is quite terrifying.  I would have liked to have seen more made of the association between these two, how the deal was struck, and what Falkane took from the bargain.   

Half-elf pirate captain, Azla, in many ways the opposite of Falkane, gutsy and charismatic, with an honourable streak.  She struck me as a character with hidden depths I would have liked to have seen explored.  There were mentions of an event or events in her past that lead her to piracy that were never fleshed out. 

Laaqueel, as an outsider - even to her own kind - struggling to come to terms with her differences and prove her worth, is a very well drawn and sympathetic character.  Arguably she is the one character who undergoes the greatest transition throughout the three books and I liked that she was rewarded with a definite and positive conclusion to her story. 

Jherek:  I've read various (mostly negative) opinions of Jherek, but I have to say I like him.  He's a very intense character, prone to bouts of self pity and melodrama; and on finishing the trilogy I couldn't help but feel that, given these frailties and the open ended nature of his story, he'd been set up for a whole heap of heartache further down the line.  That said, I found his fiercely loyal and chivalrous qualities immensely appealing.  I'm not sure he's the 'the complete man' love interest Sabyna tells him he is, however.  I'm more inclined to agree with his paladin mentor, Glawinn when he tells him (paraphrased) he'll take a lot of teaching. 

Moving on to Glawinn, he was another character I really liked; laid back, charming, caring and patient.  Quite frankly I failed to understand how he could possibly still be single? ;)

There were also some things in the trilogy I didn't enjoy quite so much.  The final instalment of the trilogy felt incredibly rushed.  The final confrontation seemed to me, messy and anti-climactic.  It really didn't do Iakhovas justice as a villain.  Also I didn't care much for the build-up, I found myself skimming past pages of the undersea march of Seros' allies and not really caring a great about any of them.

Several interesting sub-plots specifically relating to Jherek were either; left unresolved or; wrapped up as an afterthought. 
Bloody Falkane being chief amongst them.  His presence in the first two stories was considerable, yet he vanished almost completely from the third, warranting only a brief mention at the end.  Again it seemed a shame to waste the potential of such an interesting character, although I suppose he does remain an enigma.  Perhaps there were plans for further stories featuring the character(s) or perhaps it was simply that the author hit his word count limit before he could address them?

The moment of 'godly intervention' in the third instalment had all the subtly of a brick through plate glass, and was very contrived.  Admittedly it could be considered in-character for the god in question, but it felt like an 'I'm running out of time here' moment.

The romance seemed a little heavy handed, one more thing for Jherek to angst over amongst everything else that had happened to him, and some of the dialogues with Sabyna made me wince and left me quite confused.  I really didn't care if they got it together or not, even if the were destined to be together.

All in all I would say that the story is worth reading but it could have been vastly improved if the scope of the story had been reduced somewhat, or the author given a greater word count to work with. 

TITLE:  A Dark Alliance
FANDOM:  Baldur's Gate / Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance / Forgotten Realms
RATING:  12 / PG-13 / T  (Changes to this will be indicated in chapter).
WORD COUNT:  Oh, thousands.
SUMMARY:  Based on and inspired by events in Baldur's Gate:  Dark Alliance & Dark Alliance II, this is my humble attempt to finish the story.  Herein, you'll find familiar faces, new faces, and quite possibly spoilers for the whole Baldur's Gate arc and Mel Odom's Threat from the Sea.
All the usual disclaimers apply.  For the most part they aren't mine, WoTC, BioWare, Black Isle, Snowblind et al created 'em and I'm just playing with them for a little while.  I promise to take good care of them and let you have them back in one piece.
Comments and constructive critique are very gratefully received.  Thank you :)

BG:DA Logo
One - The Battle Of The Bones
Raising her arms high above her head Allessia brought the Templar's sword crashing down on to the skull of the skeleton, causing it to disintegrate before them in a white hot flash.

“It’s no good,” Jherek gasped as he lent against an upturned cart, “they just keep coming.  We should rest a while, regroup.”

“What’s wrong, Old Man?” Karne replied scathingly, “can’t take the pace of battle?' Tis a pity, really, you were a fair opponent before you hung up your sword,
” the Zhent added, a wicked grin on his face.

“Aye, we stop now and the element of surprise will be lost.” Borador growled, swinging his axe in great circles around his head. The others in the party muttered their agreement.

“You assume Mordoc Selanmere has no idea we are coming.”  Jherek answered. “Rest assured that even now, so far from the Keep, he is aware of our presence.  Perhaps the only thing we can rightly assume is that he is arrogant enough to believe that his undead army will keep us at bay.”   

“Jherek is right-”  Allessia began, but Karne interrupted her.

“When is he not?” He sniped.

She narrowed her eyes at him irritably and continued.  “We could carry on, but this onslaught is almost relentless and we would be left with little strength to take on Mordoc by the time we reach the Keep of Pale Night.  We passed an inn a mile or so back, no doubt the owners have long since fled; or worse, but there may be a bed to be had. I don’t know about any of you, but I don’t much relish the thought of making camp out here. I have an enchantment I could place upon the building to offer us some protection, that is if there are not already enchantments in place.”  Her tone of voice indicated that it wasn’t so much a suggestion as a definitive course of action.

Jherek smiled his thanks for her support, but Allessia caught sight of a momentary flash of pain that crossed his face as he shifted his position, and realised there was perhaps more to his suggestion than simply to give them a tactical advantage. She muttered a healing prayer but it was of little use. Her energy was low, and called in the presence of so many others the effectiveness of the invocation was diluted.

Allessia wasn’t the only one to notice Jherek’s discomfort so it seemed, as moon elf, Ysuran, stepped forward from his position at the back of the group to speak.  “I too feel a chance to rest would be, beneficial.  It is taking me longer to recover each time I cast.” he said, glancing at Jherek.   

“Now you come to mention it, I’ve a hellish thirst on me.”  Dorn remarked, rubbing at his throat. “Must be all these dusty ol’ bones.  What say we see if the barkeep of this inn o’ yours happened to leave behind a couple o’ barrels of Suzale?  Or better still, a few gallons of Firedrake!”  He laughed and clapped Allessia on the back, knocking the wind out of her.

Only Vhaidra remained silent, stretching her legs and flexing her arms as if preparing for a race.  

“Well, Old Man, it looks like you will get your rest!”  Karne sneered, and he marched off in the direction they had just come from without a backward glance.  The rest of the party followed close behind him save for Allessia, who under the pretext of adjusting her armour hung back to keep a watchful eye on Jherek.  He moved off somewhat gingerly, clutching his left arm tightly to his side where an ominously dark stain had appeared on his robes.  She knew only too well the fierce pride of a fighting man, and she knew equally well that he would not thank her for drawing attention to his injuries.  He would bear the pain of the wound for as long he could still physically put one foot in front of the other.  

It was at times like this Allessia wished she hadn’t refused Huros’ offer of the use of Fellwyn - his magnificent grey stallion - at least then Jherek could have ridden him, or ridden with her.  But the terrain just wasn’t suitable for a horse - they were barely able to feed and water themselves off the land as it was - so all she could do to help Jherek was to ensure that he didn’t come to any further harm before they reached the sanctuary of the inn.


As the first of the group neared the Inn they saw lights in the windows of the previously lifeless building and heard raucous cackling coming from inside.

“Shhhhhhhh!”  Vhaidra hissed.  “Goblins!”

“Grrrrr, damned vermin don’t waste much time!”  Borador growled under his breath.

“A scouting party, most likely.  It isn’t long since we passed this way so they won’t have had time to move in in any great numbers, yet.”  Karne muttered.

“Well, now we’re here I’m not about to let some scouting party keep me from good ale, or ale of any sort.  I say we make short work of them and get to supping!”  Dorn said, lunging forward with his great blade outstretched.

“Aye!”  Borador added, “No kobold ever came between me an’ a jug o’ ale, and they’re not about to now.”

“Agreed!”  Karne replied, and pulling his sword from the scabbard on his back he charged headlong through the door of the inn followed closely by the others.  The first - and last - the goblins inside the inn knew of the attack was the crash of the heavy wooden front door splintering as Karne and Dorn barged in.  

In truth the battle was over almost before it started.  Even in their numbers the goblins were ill matched against Karne and the others, so by the time Allessia and Jherek - whose progress back up the path was laboured to say the least - caught up, the skirmish was all but over, and there was little for them to do but mop up the dregs of the fleeing Goblin pack; Allessia dispatching them swiftly with a series of well aimed blows from the enchanted bastard sword she wielded.  Neither Allessia nor Jherek were fond of killing for killings sake so the pair briefly considered allowing one of the creatures to escape with its life; sending it back to its horde with a warning.  But with no way of knowing if the horde in question was one hundred or one hundred thousand strong, and Goblins being tricky creatures who couldn’t be trusted, the kobold met the same sticky end as the rest. - Besides, what better warning was there than a scouting party sent out and never heard from again?   

They entered the inn to find their fellow adventurers already busy clearing away the battle debris; righting the upturned tables and chairs, and disposing of the bodies of the fallen goblins and kobolds.  Everyone except for Karne that was, he was busy starring moodily in the empty fireplace.

“If you’re going to stand there gazing into that hearth the least you can do is light a fire in it.”  Vhaidra drawled tetchily.

“So good of you to join us, now the action is over.”  Karne said sarcastically, looking up at Jherek and Allessia as they walked in.

“We played our part, Sellsword.”  Jherek replied curtly.

“Mmm, I’m sure she did.” Karne grunted in response and stalked off towards the rear of the inn.

“It seems at least that the goblins were not here long enough to turn the place into the kind of fetid hovel they usually inhabit.” Ysuran commented to the room at large.

“Or drink it dry!”  Dorn roared gleefully as he emerged from behind the bar holding a full keg of what appeared to be mead above his head.

“Why don’t you check on the upstairs chambers?”  Allessia suggested privately to Jherek.  He nodded his grateful agreement and began his slow, painful assent of the stairs to the first floor, silently cursing his battered body.

Once she saw Jherek safely reach the top stair, Allessia headed back outside to cast the warding spell she hoped would offer them some much needed protection.  She had no idea if the incantation would work, having never tried to cast the ward over such a wide area before; or if it did work, how long it would hold.  Still, she had to try.


Allessia rounded the side of the Inn, entered the courtyard to the rear of the building and collided with Karne; and a grim discovery.

Laid out on the cobblestones were four bodies, - a man, a woman, and two boys who couldn’t be more than fifteen years old - each of them with glassy eyes, skin as white and delicate as tissue paper, and a look of abject terror etched upon each frozen face.

“I think we have found our hosts,”  Karne said flatly.

“They’ve been exsanguinated, the fiend has taken every last drop,”  Allessia sighed. Kneeling at the head of the smaller of the two boys, she pulled off her plate gloves and gently closed his eyelids.  Offering a prayer for their souls to Helm under her breath she repeated the action with the other three corpses.  Feeling as though she was being watched she glanced up at the windows above them to see Jherek looking down, ashen-faced.  “They should be buried,” she told Karne, “but not here, the ground is bad and Mordoc’s influence strong, we could be condemning them to a a waking death to bury them here.  We should find something to cover them, for now.”

Karne strode off across the courtyard and around the back of an outbuilding, returning momentarily with a large waxed tarpaulin - “from the wood pile” - which the two of them set about putting in place and weighting down with rocks.

“Jherek is injured?”  Karne asked as they worked, although in truth he already knew the answer.  Every member of the group bore some marks of battle.


“He’s out of condition, he should have left the fighting to those of us who can still wield something more substantial than a dagger.  You’re a healer. Go, heal him and we can be on our way.”

“It isn’t as simple as that. I can heal him but the process will take time to work and he needs to rest.  If this desire of yours to move on is simply about satisfying your thirst for blood, Karne, perhaps your time would be better served dealing with the rest of the goblin pack those scouts came from.  I would be willing to bet that they are holed up not too far from here; perhaps a days walk.  Or better still, you could go and hunt us down something to eat,” Allessia suggested.  Coming from anyone else the comment would have sounded flippant.

“This is not about blood-lust, Paladin.  This is about my concern that we are giving Mordoc too much time to put into action whatever plan he has for the Onyx Tower.”

“Two days, Karne.  Two days is perhaps all we will need.  You have no need to remind me of the repercussions should Mordoc be allowed to succeed, but whatever his plans, they have been a long time in the planning and he has taken full advantage of the enmity between the Harpers and the Zhentarim to further his cause.  Two days will make little difference, unless you wish to lose two from our number?”


“Yes, two.  Whilst it is my calling to serve the greater good, I would never willingly leave any of you alone to face certain death either from injury, or at the hands whatever manner of horror roams these lands.”

At that moment, Jherek appeared beside them as if from nowhere.

“Blood,” he growled, breathing heavily; the effort it took to reach them had clearly taken it’s toll on his already weakened body. “Blood everywhere in one of the rooms at the front of the inn!  It looks as though the family barricaded themselves in, but the raider smashed the door off its hinges.”

“Xanhast’s work, no doubt.  Mordoc is too... tidy, in his methods to leave a scene like that.”  Karne replied, scowling.

“Even with the misguided idea that he might be able to defend his property, I can’t understand why the Inn Keeper wouldn’t send the rest his family to safety?”  Allessia questioned, looking down sadly at the curved mounds of the bodies that lay beneath the sheet.

“Perhaps he didn’t get a chance?  Perhaps the thought he was up to the challenge?  It would take a certain, bloody minded, mentality to set up shop somewhere like this in the first place.”  Jherek suggested, shivering slightly and glancing around.  His speech sounded laboured, Allessia cast him a look of concern.  It didn’t escape Karne’s notice either.

“Shouldn’t you be resting?” Karne asked Jherek in his usual contemptuous manner.

Allessia sighed.  Before they left Baldur’s Gate, Jherek and Karne managed to agree an uneasy truce.  Maintaining that truce whilst living in each others’ pockets was difficult though, and their constant sniping was becoming tiresome. “Karne, I think that if you are unable to say anything with a note of civility then you should say nothing at all.”  Allessia said coolly, fixing him with an icy stare to emphasise her words. “He does have a point, though,” she continued, turning to Jherek.

“I am fine,” Jherek protested, dismissing her concerns with a wave of his hand.  “If they were killed in a room upstairs.  I wonder how they came to be laid out down here?  I can’t imagine the Goblins would have done such a thing.”

“Is it of consequence?”  Karne asked.  “They are dead, we know how they died, and we have a very good idea who killed them.  Why don’t we leave the detective work to someone else and concentrate on more important matters?”

Allessia ignored Karne’s comment and instead resorted to employing her favoured strategy for dealing with their spats; bossing them about.  “Jherek, there is nothing you can do out here.  Why don’t you speak to Ysuran and find out if he has anything in that book of his he could use to seal the room?  Karne, thank you for your assistance with this,” she added, gesturing towards the sheet that covered the bodies, “if you are looking to expend some more of the boundless energy you seem to possess maybe you could find us a source of clean water?  Now, if you will excuse me I must finish what I came out here to do.” she concluded, pulling a small drawstring bag from one of the pouches on the belt around her hips.

As she walked away from the two men - sprinkling the contents of the bag on the ground and murmuring a low chant - Allessia felt a pang of guilt about speaking so firmly to Jherek, as Karne was invariably the antagonist in their disagreements.  However, she had somehow found herself leading their little expedition - possibly because, save for Dorn (who seemed to be there for the sheer thrill of it) she had the most obvious agenda.  Also, she possessed what the more fair minded members of the group liked to term leadership qualities.  Dorn, by contrast, had no desire to lead anything except the charge to the nearest inn at the end of the day, and the comely wenches he found within by the hand to his bed -  So, for the sake of maintaining the relative peace amongst the ragtag group she found herself at the head of she couldn’t be seen to actively favour Jherek, or anyone else for that matter.

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