Information and Enemies
"That book you brought, it is most interesting," said Ulraunt, the Keeper of the Tomes at Candlekeep.
"Oh," Misara commented, picking at her meal, "I'm glad that you find it noteworthy."
"Quite noteworthy," Ulraunt said, a thin smile appearing on his face. "You know the author?"
"Very well," Misara replied.
Rowan watched the interplay between Misara and the Keeper of the Tomes. It was their first night at the keep and they had been invited to dine with the Keeper and his assistants. Misara had been seated to his left and he had asked her many questions.
Misara was being very taciturn in her answers, and at first Rowan thought her companion was attempting to keep information from the Keeper. Then she realised that she was playing with the man, and apparently the Keeper liked the game.
"I'm curious if your search for knowledge is connected to the book and its author." The Keeper lifted his glass and one of the silent monks stepped forward to refill it.
"Really?" Misara asked. "Why would you think that?"
"The book is quite valuable."
"To some I suppose. As for your question, the connection is only the strength of our friendship."
"Now that I find interesting, that such a friendship could exist."
"I must admit that I often find it interesting as well. Still, such things are not unheard of. It reminds me a little of the story of Daelruc and Thersos."
The Keeper looked surprised. "You know that story?"
At that point Misara said something in a language that Rowan did not understand. The Keeper laughed softly and responded in kind.
"She does like to hear herself talk," Olpara said from her seat beside Rowan.
Rowan stopped herself from laughing and looked about to see if anyone had heard Olpara. No one seemed to be paying much attention to either of them-which Rowan did find a little off putting as she was a very beautiful woman. She leaned in close to Olpara and said, "Seomon use to tell me that she was often a difficult travel companion."
"I can see that," Olpara told her. "I'm not sure if she is just trying to show everyone how smart she is or if she has some other purpose."
"I think she's just trying to stay on good terms with the Keeper. He likes the game she is playing, and I think he enjoys the time he is spending with such a beautiful woman."
"Pity she is a little arrogant."
Olpara shrugged her shoulders. "She's always got this been there, done that attitude."
"She probably has been there and done that."
Olpara smiled. "Fair enough, but I think other elves I've met have had the good taste to be less obvious about it."
"There is something to that. However, I suppose I can forgive her such lapses in judgement."
"But you think she's beautiful."
Rowan nodded. "I'll admit, that can be something of a blind spot."
"Do you think you'll find what you want here?"
"I hope so, and you are part of this as well."
"I'm not so sure of that."
"Why do you say that?" Rowan asked her.
"I'm not sure what I can offer, and," she paused, "I'm not sure that Misara likes having me along."
"Has she said anything to you?"
"No," Olpara shook her head. "It's just sometimes the way she looks at me, as if I am a drag on your progress."
"I'll talk to her about that."
"You don't have to do that," Olpara said. "It's not a..."
Suddenly the Keeper laughed out loud and for a moment almost all the attention in the room was focused on him. "I never thought of it that way," he said to Misara. "An interesting view on the story. Still, it does not really seem that similar to a friendship between you and Lady Vilis. How is it that an elf calls one of the drow friend?"
Rowan left the words she had been about to utter unsaid. Her attention was on Misara and the Keeper.
"It is a long story, one that is not really germane to the conversation. Vilis does not share the views of her brethren, though the book I gave you documents a time in her life when she did, share the views of her brethren that is."
"You've read the book?"
"Yes. It is quite interesting."
"I have only had the opportunity to scan its pages, but I hope to give it a thorough reading when time permits."
"I for one look forward to reading the volumes that follow."
"There will be more?"
"That is what Vilis tells me."
"I suddenly have the feeling that our treatment of you may play a part on whether we see those or not," he said.
Rowan could not see Misara's face but she was almost certain that a small smile played on the elf's lips as she said, "I can't understand why you would think that."
"Well, I'll have to be certain that you get the help you need. You seek information on Asahrass and Taumon then?"
"I do. So far I know very little. The names likely date back to the time before the Crown Wars and Taumon was a golden dragon who fought alongside elves."
"I cannot say that I have ever heard these two names." He looked around the dining room. "Nor does it appear anyone here knows them either, but the library is vast and contains a great deal of knowledge. I'm certain that you'll find something of use."
Misara and the Keeper continued to speak through the meal and Rowan listened, wondering if she was going to hear some other secret that Misara had kept from her.
It was hours after the evening meal. Misara stood upon the battlements of one of the many towers that made up Candlekeep. The fortress stood upon a volcanic crag, overlooking the sea. She leaned up against one of the merlons, her cloak pulled around her, thoughtful of the target she might present, staring out over the sea.
Clouds filled the sky, and the air smelled of rain. Out over the ocean lightning flashed and below her the ocean shone with phosphorescent sea creatures. In the distance she could hear the sound the chant, almost a song, of the prophecies of Alaundo.
She relaxed into that sound, listening to it, trying to make out the individual words. A few, raindrops, fat with promise, splattered down upon the ancient stone, adding their soft sound to the quiet symphony of the night. Then the thud of footfalls upon the stone steps wove its way into the blend.
It was likely only one of Candlekeep's guards, treading out their set wards, but she shifted around to watch the stairwell. Lessons learned over many years kept her from ever being completely complacent.
No guard came to stand upon the tower roof, but Rowan. She wore the dress she had that evening at dinner, but had put a cloak around her shoulders, her sword was at her side, and she carried a small lamp.
"Good evening," Misara said.
Rowan turned towards Misara's voice, looking about for a moment before she saw her. "Hello." She placed the lamp down and then walked to stand near her.
Misara noted that Rowan too was careful where she stood, careful not to silhouette herself in the open space between the merlons.
"I wanted to speak with you," Rowan began, "about something the Keeper said this evening."
"About Vilis," Misara said.
"Then ask and I will answer what I can."
"She is drow?"
"Dark elf," Misara corrected.
"There is a difference?"
"Very well. Why didn't you tell me?"
"You had no need to know. It would have led to a situation like this."
"I disagree that I had no need to know."
"Consider that I might have been required to seek out the sage of the High Forest that you told me of. If you were to die on the mission, for example, and I required more information. Were I to be presented with a dark elf when I was expecting otherwise, well, perhaps I might have done something that could have jeopardized the mission."
Misara said nothing for several seconds as she considered Rowan's words. "You are right of course," she told her. "I should not have been so secretive in this case. Again I need to offer you my apologies."
"I'm not so sure you should have been secretive in any case."
"Oh?" Misara replied, surprised for the first time.
"It does not do for Paladins such as our selves to keep such secrets. I suspect that your friendship with Vilis is an old one, and yet you never told Seomon nor Domas about it."
"How do you know that I did not? Perhaps they never saw the need to tell you?"
"You never told them."
"Yes." Misara lifted her shoulders in resignation. "Yes, I never told them. It was a part of my life that they had no need to know about. That you have no need to know about, other than Vilis is a friend to good and an enemy of evil. If you have need to seek her out you can trust any counsel she gives to you."
"Could you tell me how you came to be friends with a dark elf?"
"Because it is not important or because you do not trust me with that information?"
"Trust is not the issue here."
"I would argue that."
"No, you would not."
"You've said nothing to me about Olpara."
Rowan went silent for a time before finally saying, "That's different."
Misara nodded. "I understand. I know that I can depend on you to guard my back when we fight, as you can depend on me. What you are not certain of is how I would view a companion on this quest who may not be up to it."
"She is. And she will not be a detriment to this quest. We can trust her."
"So you believe, and it may be true, but could you prove it to me?"
Rowan did not reply.
"And so you choose to say nothing, thinking you have better understanding of it than I. That may be true. And I will accept your judgement in this." Misara returned her gaze to the sea. "Please, accept mine where it comes to Vilis."
"If you really will accept my judgement when it comes to Olpara, see that you stop making her feel as if she is not wanted."
"I will do my best. If you think that I am failing in that, please tell me." Misara returned her gaze to the ocean. "I fear that there are many things on my mind," she said in a soft, far away voice.
Neither said anything more after that. Some time later Rowan left the tower roof, taking her lamp and starting down the stairs.
Later, Misara said, "I should have told her."
Books lay scattered on tops of tables in the reading rooms, as did scrolls, maps and several esoteric mediums of knowledge. Misara paged through one of the books and then put it aside. She was reaching for a scroll when a young monk came into the room, carrying two large books.
"I think I have something Lady Dawntide," he told her as he placed the books down.
"Tell me," she said as she walked over to his side. He had been assisting her with the research for two days and she still did not know his name.
"This book," he said as he opened the larger of the two books, "contains a collection of ancient dwarven poetry. Long sagas mostly, a few shorter works of course, but those are not important. There is a very ancient saga, written about a great hero and the events he took part in during his life, although the saga is no longer complete, much of it lost."
Misara nodded. "Go on."
"Well, there is a passage here," he placed his finger on a set of dwarven runes, "that speaks of the hero, Cacklan Forkbeard, dealing with the three plagues of Domtonon, Asharass and Claergia."
"Does is say anything more of Ahsarass?"
He shook his head. "I'm afraid not, but we may have some information on Domtonon." He opened the second book and began to look through it. Misara could see that there were illustrations within, pictures of horrible creatures, obviously not of Faerûn. "Approximately four thousand years ago a terrible demon lord called Domtonon threatened the Netheril Empire." He indicated a picture of creature that looked like a pile of dung with eyes.
"Several great heroes of that time managed to destroy him, or at least forced him back to the Abyss."
She picked up the book and read through the entry. "He does seem to be rather a terrible creature."
"It appears he was my Lady. I suspect that the Domtonon that was defeated four thousand years ago was the same Domtonon that Cacklan defeated many millennia before."
"Does this help us?"
"Well first of all it does confirm the time frame you believed that Asharass existed in. It also tells us something about the power that Asharass had."
"The nature of sagas like these. If Domtonon, Asharass and Claergia were grouped together then it is a safe assumption that the threat they represented was equal."
"So, Asharass was similar in power to Domtonon."
"Yes. Unfortunately I think that this is all the information that we can provide you with about Asharass. I do not think there is anything else to be found."
Misara nodded. "So, this search is likely fruitless."
"I fear that is the case Lady Dawntide."
She nodded. "I had begun to suspect that as well. Very well. I wish to start the search for a fortress called Mith'hisie, or Grey Mist Keep. It is elven and dates back to the time of the Crown Wars."
"Yes Lady Dawntide. I will find Brother Shimen. He has made a study of such places over the years."
"Good. And thank you."
"Of course," he said with a slight bow.
She returned to the scroll she had been about to examine before the monk had interrupted her.
Hours later the number of books spread out on the tables before her had decreased significantly, however there were a great deal more maps. Misara sat beside a monk, Brother Shimen she assumed, examining one of the maps. The monk carefully made a copy of the larger map onto a smaller piece of paper.
"Make sure you give me full details of this area," she told him, pointing to the map.
"Of course Lady Dawntide," he replied as he reached for one of his finer brushes.
She put the map to the side, so that the monk could still see it, and reached for another map, and the copy beside it. She really was very impressed by the quality of the work.
"You wanted to speak with me," she heard Rowan ask.
Misara looked up from the maps. Rowan stood at the entrance to the room. At her side was the acolyte Misara had sent in search of her. "Yes," she said as she put the maps aside and got to her feet. "You can handle this?" she addressed the question to the monk.
"Very well." She moved out from behind the table and approached Rowan. "I know where we are going next and thought we should discuss it."
"There is a small room nearby where we might talk comfortably."
"Would you like anything else Lady Dawntide?" the acolyte, an older boy, asked.
"No, that is all."
He bowed slightly and then ran off.
"This way," Misara said.
The room that Misara led Rowan to was a small, cubby hole sort of a place, made crowded with a pair of wooden chairs and a small table. Once they were both seated Misara said, "I've found out everything I need and can here."
"Rowan nodded. Do you know who or what Asharass is?"
Misara shook her head. "Powerful and evil is the best I have been able to uncover so far. We're going to have to travel to Grey Mist Keep and consult the Historian."
"When do we leave?"
"Tomorrow, early if at all possible."
"Olpara and I will be ready."
Misara nodded but did not say anything. She and Rowan had been avoiding each other since their talk on top of the tower three days before. She still was not certain of Olpara's state of mind or the wisdom of including her in the mission, but she had decided to accept Rowan's decision on the matter. "Very well. I should tell you more about the Historian, however. In case something happens to me."
Rowan moved forward in her chair, leaning towards Misara.
Misara told her the story as Vilis had told her. It did not take long and when she finished Rowan nodded. "I see," the human woman said. "How should I approach this Historian if you are gone?"
"I'll have some notes for you tomorrow, and we'll discuss it while travelling."
"How long will it take us to get to Grey Mist Keep?"
"A tenday, perhaps two. I know its general location, in theory."
"This keep has been lost for over two thousand years, and perhaps moved three times before it was abandoned long before that."
Rowan did not looked pleased by that piece of news. "A tenday or two to get there, and then we have to return to the Silver Marches." She shook her head. "It is too long."
"Yes it is, but we have no choice. We know little more than when we left Silverymoon. Returning now will not be of help to anyone. I've already sent a message to Domas, informing him of what we have learned. For now that is the best we can do."
"I suppose you are right," Rowan said with a long sigh. "I simply fear for what might become of my companions while I am gone."
"We will make the best time that we can," Misara told her.
Like a spider on a silk line, Onica dropped into the vaulted chamber. Her line was a steel wire, fed through a clever gnomish device on her climbing harness. Headfirst she fell towards the floor, the quiet ratchet spooling out wire at a slow pace. A body length from the stone floor she reached up and triggered the brake.
A soft hum filled the room as the wire was pulled taught.
Right below her was a glass toped case, within which rested a large book. It was why she was there. The book was written in blood, the blood of a man who was the offspring of a god. Tyr to be specific.
As Onica slid several picks from the leather sheath at her wrist she wondered if Alasan had truly been the son of Tyr the Even Handed. The church certainly believed it so. She was certain that Alasan had written the book below her in his own blood. She slid a probe into the case's lock, exploring the interior by touch.
He, Alasan, had suffered a wound that would not close, given to him by another man also purported to be the son of a god. The other demigod had died immediately. Alasan had lived long enough to write the book below her in his own blood. She did not understand why he might have done so, but she was certain he had.
There was a simple trap in the lock, poisoned needle. Likely a sedative; the ones who had set it followed a good god after all. She disabled it and then picked the lock.
The book rested upon a pressure trigger. It probably set off an alarm Onica thought as she jammed it. She lifted the book free of the case and then slid it into a small sack she had brought along just for that purpose.
After tying the sack to her climbing harness, she tended her abdominal muscles, her upper body rising towards her legs, and grabbed the steel wire. Quickly she began climbing, pulling herself back towards the roof and success.
Kesk lay on the cot in the small tent that he had been provided. Around him he could hear the sound of the camp's daily routine. Someone asked about the guard rotation; a goblin yelled something to its fellows; in the paddock a horse whinnied. He shifted his head and looked at the spear that was propped near his cot.
The dark weapon seemed to be urging him to action. If it was, then he shared its impatience.
Something moved in the shadows of the tent. He turned his attention towards the movement, his hand dropping to the long dagger at his belt. A small creature hoped from the shadows, a strange combination of a bird and a lizard. Membrane covered wings flapped as it leaped from the floor onto the cot by Kesk's feet.
He had seen the creature before so he simply waited as the thing bobbed its head back and forth for a moment, then bent over and began making choking sounds. From its wide, beak-like mouth a scroll began to push forth, each choking convulsion forcing the scroll father and farther out. Finally it fell from the creature and landed on the bed.
As Kesk leaned forward to take the scroll the bird like beast leapt from the cot to the floor. The scroll was dry and cool, as if it had just come out of a leather pouch. The first time such a creature had delivered a message he had expected the scroll to feel damp and warm.
The creature jumped towards the shadows, even as it moved it faded away. Kesk took note of that, but give it only a little of his attention. He had unrolled the scroll and was reading the information there.
He smiled as he got to his feet. Letting the scroll fall to his bunk, he strode towards the outside. He only slowed enough to grab his spear. It was time for action.
Jaztar sprinkled a fine dust of powdered bone across the slab of polished obsidian. The dust fell across the stone, forming intricate runes and patterns. He stepped back from the stone and examined his work. It would do.
The room was a large, dark chamber, lit by a series of magical lights; many of them free floating globes. There were shelves, tables, and desks pushed up against the four walls of the room. Almost the entire centre was left empty, but for the slab of obsidian.
Jaztar walked to a shelf filled with wine bottles. He examined several and then chose one. The cork he removed with a corkscrew, placing cork and corkscrew on a table near the shelf. He carried the bottle to the slab, careful not to disturb the powder as he stepped onto it. He poured some of the red wine onto the slab, and then sprinkled some of the powder onto the puddle of wine.
He stepped away from the slab and then placed the opened bottle on the floor.
Patting his robe to ensure that his wands and spell components were all where he expected completed his preparations. He took one step back and then said 'Sertasus'.
There were no flashes of light, no wind blowing through the room, no strange sounds to herald the coming of the Sertasus. One moment the slab was unoccupied, the next a chain-shrouded kyton was crouched upon it.
The kyton lowered its head towards the puddle of wine. From the curtain of chains that covered its mouth a tongue the colour of a slug darted out, lapping at the puddle. There was a quiet, rasping sound as its tongue passed over the stone. The sound of chains rattling and slithering over each other was surprisingly soft.
The kyton looked up from the stone, its yellow eyes locking on Jaztar. "Oakwater," it said.
"Welcome Sertasus," Jaztar said, his voice calm and even. "Did you like the wine?"
"It was," Sertasus paused in thought, "like the fear of a woman in a dark place, after she has been stalked for hours, with only the sound of my chains for company."
"So you liked it."
"Yes," he said, drawing out the final 's'. Sertasus reached out and grabbed the wine bottle front the table beside the obsidian slab. The neck of the bottle disappeared into the chains in front of his mouth. He upended the bottle and drained its contents in a few seconds. A moment later the empty bottle was tossed aside to shatter on the floor.
Sertasus moved off the slab, disturbing the powder as he did so. His chains grew louder as he walked across the floor, towards Jaztar. Some shifted about, as if they were snakes, rearing up around him as razors and spikes appeared on the ends. When he stood directly in front of Jaztar he said, "You are still not frightened."
"You have called me. As a good host you have given me a fine wine. What else do you have to offer?"
"The blood of Misara Dawntide."
Sertasus cocked his head slightly to the side. "This name is known to me. Her blood would have a fine bouquet, and yet she would not be easily prepared."
"I am aware, and she travels with companions."
"More difficult still."
"I offer this to aid you," Jaztar said as he reached into his belt pouch and pulled forth a piece of metal. It looked like a coin that had been partially melted. There was an eleven-point star carved into the metal.
Sertasus shifted about, examining the thing that Jaztar held. "You would give up one of your tokens?"
"I have been well paid to ensure that the Paladin Dawntide dies. One of the services that Egantar is bound to seems a fair price."
Sertasus reached out and took the token from Jaztar. Jaztar felt the devil's chains pass against his robe. He was careful to maintain complete stillness. It would not do to allow the kyton to think that any movement might be a shiver of fear.
"Where will I find the Paladin?"
"She has left Candlekeep and travels north."
Sertasus nodded. "She will die."
"And when she is, you and Egantar will leave this plane, immediately."
"Perhaps we will stay a little longer," Sertasus said.
"You will leave immediately." Such was always the most dangerous part of the negotiation with Sertasus. The devil's desire was to remain in Faerûn. Jaztar would not allow that.
"Be careful who you attempt to order mortal," Sertasus said, the chains about his body becoming more animated.
Jaztar moved closer to Sertasus, pressing his body up against the chain vestment of the kyton, ignoring the small barbs that pieced his robe and scratched his skin. "Do not attempt to intimidate me. You will have more than enough time to sate your bloodlust, and there will be other times, if you do as I ask."
For several seconds neither the man nor the devil seemed likely to back down. Then the chains about the Kyton fell limp to lie against it, as if they were normal chains. "Of course, of course," Sertasus said as he stepped back from Jaztar. "I would not like to do anything that might jeopardize our," he paused, "friendship."
Sertasus backed up, as he moved the rest of the room seemed to grow brighter. And then Sertasus was gone.
Jaztar relaxed and walked to one of the desks, pulling a chair out and settling heavily into it. There would come a time when the Kyton would not back down. He should fear that, but he did not. There was a price to power after all.
He removed from his belt pouch one of the rubies he had been given. For a time he became lost, staring into its flawless depths.
A pair of tigers ran across the wild lands, close to the cliffs that lined the Sword Coast. They were unseen and unnoticed. They left behind but a few tracks and tufts of fur.
As Liman ran he thought about what he was doing. The day before he and Siishi had spoken of it. Siishi had said, 'We could keep running south, we could move into the far off jungles.'
The offer had surprised Liman slightly, not that he had not been thinking about losing himself in Chult. Siishi was a creature of the North more than he; her white, now turning a darker grey, fur would not stand her well in a Jungle.
She trusted him as her leader, however, and would do what he asked.
His choices seemed limited. He could kill the Paladin, and return to his home in the north, his debt to the Oil and Steel man paid. Or he might simply run away. He was not bothered by the idea of running away; survival was of far more importance than the very human concept of courage.
There was another possibility that Siishi had also voiced. They might join with the Paladin. She was an enemy of the Oil and Steel man, whether she knew it or not. She could be a valuable ally. There was value in the suggestion, and he had told Siishi so, but he was not certain such an alliance would stand.
It was not that she had killed Ippla, for Liman considered such things of little importance. Vengeance was not a concept that he had very much time for. What concerned him was that she was a Paladin. Liman did not think of himself as evil, but he had little use or concern for the laws of society. Such an attitude would not make for an easy alliance.
For the moment he was willing to track down the Paladin. What he might do when he found her was a decision that he would make then.