Skin of Glass

Into Grey Mist Keep

The night before the Silver Blade had been full of guests, music, and merriment.

Misara, Rowan and Olpara had arrived in Yarthrain early the previous day's afternoon. They might have left immediately, both Misara and Rowan had considered it, but in the end they decided to rest for one night. Not that they had managed to get that much rest. They were not the only guests that the Silver Blade had hosted.

A group of adventurers had made the village of Yarthrain their base of operations and were at the inn the previous night. They had coin, taken from some hidden place, to spend and were generous with it.

Another group, young nobles and other idle rich, from Waterdeep had come to the Backlands to hunt monsters of one type or another. They were generous as well, and had brought a good deal of ale, wine and spirits with them.

Then there were the six men and women who had crossed the Backlands, travelling from the Stormhorns of Cormyr to Yarthrain. They claimed to be treasure hunters, but Misara had suspected they were Purple Dragon Knights. She had not asked what mission had brought them there.

There had been others as well, a few merchants and a lone traveller or two.

They had filled the Inn, crowding the central part with their bodies and high spirits. Musicians, some of who were actually talented, had played, and people had danced, ate and drank: A few did all three at once.

Misara had thrown herself into the celebrations, hoping to lose herself in the moment, to forget, if for the moment, her loss.

That had been the night before.

Today Misara, Rowan and Olpara rode alone through the Backlands, wary and watching for danger. Misara often looked towards Rowan's back, thinking that she must talk to the other woman. Rowan needed to know what had happened to her. She needed to know because she expected Misara to have the strengths of a Paladin, but Misara could no longer call upon those strengths.

Rowan needed to know, for all their safety.

And yet Misara could not tell her. She feared how Rowan might act when she learned of her loss of grace. More than anything she feared that when she told Rowan she would see pity in the eyes of the other woman. She did not think that she could take such a thing.

So she said nothing and felt like a coward.

Instead she tried to focus on the area about them, though her mind was caught up in inner turmoil.

There were many monsters about and many times the group saw signs of the beasts: Tracks, scat, the remains of something ripped apart. A few times they actually spotted the monsters, or were spotted by them.

At other times Misara and Rowan would have been quite willing to engage the creatures, but time was of the essence, and Misara's mind was on other things. Only one creature that spotted them actually attacked. A large hill-giant ran towards them, hurling a large rock in their direction as it did.

Rowan and Rose Thorn charged the giant. Misara followed some distance behind, having been unaware of the giant's presence until Rowan acted. She pulled her sword free of its sheath, ready to give Rowan any assistance she might need. Olpara seemed frozen on her horse. The giant lashed out at Rowan with its huge club, but Rowan avoided the blow and rode by the giant, her sword cutting a fatal wound into its gut. The giant fell forward onto its knees, its lifeblood pouring from the wound. Misara put the giant out of its misery, cutting it head from its shoulders and ending its life quickly.

They continued on, leaving the corpse behind them.

It was late afternoon when they found the hill that Greysom had told Misara about. She scouted the lightning shaped crevice and the hill, making certain that no monsters had taken up residence in the area. She found nothing.

"Let's go," Misara said as she returned to where Olpara and Rowan waited.

"What about the horses?" Olpara asked.

"Strip their gear and let them go. We'll find them when we leave."

"Wait. While your horses might be that smart, well, Berry is just a horse."

"Rose Thorn will keep an eye on Berry," Rowan told the halfling.

Olpara looked doubtful, but she did as Misara had suggested. They hid anything they would not be taking with them. Once everything had been taken care of they climbed down the crevice, into the hill.

The sides of the crevice were very steep, and it was a distance of about three or four man heights to the uneven, stone and dirt floor. Misara looked around, the shadowy twilight in the crevice as bright as day to her. "This way, watch the floor," she said, leading the way.

A number of creatures lived in the crevice, insects and rodents mostly. None of them were particularly dangerous, though a centipede the size of Misara's arm was threatening enough that the elf crushed its head under her boot heel.

After several minutes Misara found an opening deeper into the hill. It was not an open crevice, but a rough tunnel, something that looked like it had been carved by the passage of water and perhaps the shifting the rock and soil of the hill.

"Never a dwarf when you need one," Misara said, looking into the dark tunnel.

"Do you think its safe?" Rowan asked, crouching down near the narrow mouth of the opening.

"How would I know?"

Olpara moved up beside Rowan. "It looks like the stone may have provided some natural bracing."

Rowan and Misara looked at the halfling. Olpara simply shrugged her shoulders. "I have some dwarven friends. They like talking about mining and tunnels."

"Good enough," Misara said, and she pulled the hood of her cloak over her head. She climbed into the hole, sliding into the tunnel and crawling forward on her hands and knees.

She could hear Rowan and Olpara following. From behind her came a bright light, illuminating the tunnel for some distance ahead of her. Given a choice Misara would have preferred it remained dark, but she did not object.

For a while she could only crawl forward, watching small insect forms move through the dirt. There were larger things on the edge of the light, but they scurried away and she did not think that any of them would be of any real danger.

Then the tunnel widened, allowing her to stand up. She turned and looked around as Rowan and Olpara came into the area. There was a nearly flat wall to her right, with rough soil and stone on her left. She reached out and put her hand on the wall, rubbing at it. The thick coating of dirt flaked free. Curious she continued to work at it.

The layer was almost an inch thick, and when she had cleared a small patch away the light of the Olpara's sunrod glinted off glass.

Rowan looked over her shoulder. "Glass?"

"A window I guess," Misara told her. "Enchanted to be strong as stone." She looked along the flat wall. "This entire section might be a series of huge windows, to allow light into the keep's garden."

"So we found it."

Misara nodded. "Let's go find the main doors."

They followed the tunnel that ran near the wall, coming to a corner of the keep after a short time. The interior of the hill was farther from the keep on that side of the structure, allowing Misara and the others to see more of it.

The grey stone keep, what they could see of it, was a fragile looking structure, however Misara knew there was strength within that stone that belied its appearance. It would be a single structure, she though, with high walls and towers. She suspected there would be many windows, like the ones they had passed by earlier. It had likely been very beautiful when it had been above the ground.

They made their way to the front gates. Misara had expected to find them sealed, as they had been described, but the huge portals of enchanted-steel were thrown wide open.

"I thought you said they would be closed," Rowan said.

"They should be," Misara told her. She looked about. "Something has opened them."

The light around them dimmed slightly. Misara looked over at Olpara and saw that the halfling was wrapping the glowing end of her sunrod with a leather binding. "Wise action," she told the halfling, and then turned back towards the door.

One of the doors was slightly warped, and it looked as if the top hinge of that door had been pulled partially from the stone. She moved closer to the doors, reaching out to put her hand on the one that was warped.

Closer she could see the damage that marred the door, and there were burns on the steel. Powerful magic, but it would have had to be very controlled to have avoided bringing down the hill. She looked through the doors into the area beyond.

It was a large space, with a domed ceiling high above. Likely the dome was made up of enchanted glass. There were piles of rock and dirt within the courtyard, and above the piles she could see the dome was marred. Had it been damaged when the doors had been forced, she wondered, or was there some other reason?

"What do you think?" Rowan asked, her voice low.

"I'm not certain." Misara knelt down and looked at the floor, sifting through some of the detritus on the ground in front of the gates. "Something entered this place."

"Is there anything of value in there?"

"There should not be." She stood and moved to the other door. It was covered in elvish: fine, scrolling characters that had carved into the steel. "Some of the history is written here. Sealing and hiding this keep was planned. Nothing of any real value would have been left behind. If they left the Historian as Vilis thinks then it is because they did not know of his value, or they did not consider him worth their time."

"Perhaps it is the keep itself, or the Historian."

"Perhaps." Misara moved to stand in the doorway. "What do you know of Phaerimm?"

"Phaerimm?" Rowan said, and if testing the word. "I've heard the word, some kind of creature of evil I think."

"They are," she paused, "dangerous. They have the ability to," again she paused, "drain, eat, whatever, the power of some of certain magic, wards. I thought that most had been dealt with, but, perhaps..."

"You think one of these phaerimm are here?"

"How dangerous are they?" Olpara asked. She had moved close.

"The damage to the dome, the cracks in the floor, it is almost like the passage of centuries are suddenly making their weight felt on this place. That could suggest that the wards placed here have been diminished, perhaps completely drained.

"As to how dangerous they are," she looked to Olpara, "they are powerful magicians, and capable fighters well. They are very dangerous."

"We don't even know if one is here," Rowan said.

"No, we don't. And we have a reason for being here." She drew her sword. "Keep close and stay quiet." She stepped through the gate and into the keep. As soon as she entered the structure she felt a familiar, if faint, sense of warmth and goodwill. There was, however, an undercurrent there that felt wrong. Not only had the wards been weakened, they may have been corrupted as well.

She shivered slightly, but only for a moment. Squaring her shoulders she kept moving forward, unwilling to allow dread to slow her.

The muted light from Olpara's wrapped sunrod was enough for Misara to see clearly. The floor was cracked, as were the walls, and she could see parts of the interior walls had partially collapsed. The keep could no longer be structurally sound, such damage had to have weakened it considerably. How long could it last with the weight of the hill on it?

Their were several doors that led from the chamber, but Misara continued on straight, towards the largest set of doors, set off centre so they were not directly in line with the gates. Those doors were also thrown open, one of them partially torn off its hinges.

"It must have come this way," Olpara said quietly.

Misara thought that likely, but she knew which way she needed to go. She walked through the doors, entering a wide corridor. Part of her wanted to run down the corridor, but she kept her pace controlled, watching for signs of ambush or traps.

She felt as if she were being watched. As she looked into the shadowy doorways she expected to see movement within the shadows. The farther she walked the more the feeling grew, and part of her would have welcomed conflict.

The corridor continued, perhaps passing all they way through the keep, but Misara stopped where another corridor crossed the one they were in.

She had been in a keep like Grey Mist before, on Evermeet, near Leuthilspar. It had been empty, for the most part, but not completely abandoned. She had her friends had explored it, purely for entertainment, annoying the handful of soldiers who lived there.

After a moment she turned left and started down the other corridor. It was narrower than the first, and there were fewer doors along its length. It did not feel as ominous as the other.

At the end of the hall was a set of double doors. They were closed.

"What's in there?" Rowan asked softly.

"The library I think," Misara told her. "If the Historian was anywhere, he would have been here."

"What if he's not in there?" Olpara asked.

It was a good question, but Misara did not have a good answer to it. She stepped forward and put her hand against one of the doors. It swung open soundlessly. Misara stepped in. The large, octagonal room was empty, but for dust and a few statues.

Above her were two, partial floors, and the ceiling was domed glass. It would have once been filled with shelves, full of scrolls and books, and various magical archives. Now there was nothing there but for a few statues. It all seemed to have held up better than the entryway of the keep.

Rowan and Olpara had followed her in. She heard one of them close the doors.

"What are we looking for?" Rowan asked her.

"I don't know. I suppose we'll know when and if we find it."

Misara walked into the very centre of the room. She turned in place, looking about, trying to spot something that would tell her where the Historian was. Vilis had only told her that he would be there, not how he would manifest.

Rowan climbed a set of stone steps along the wall. Olpara followed close behind her.

Misara walked to a small stage opposite to the doors. On either side of the stage were two elven statues, made of the same grey stone as the keep. They were not of any of the gods, nor did she recognise them as any of the great, elven heroes of that time.

She stood on the stage, looking about, trying to picture the library as it had once been. Where would something like the historian be placed?

"Misara," Rowan called from above her.

Misara looked up and saw Rowan looking down at her from the third floor. Rowan made a 'come here' gesture.

Quickly Misara climbed the stairs to where Rowan awaited her.

"Olpara pointed this out," Rowan told her, leading her towards where the halfling stood.

Once she got closer she did not have to ask what Olpara had discovered. Tucked into a small corner was another statue, but where the others had been made of grey stone the one that Olpara stood in front of was made of a black marble.

The statue was of a tall, male elf. There was little detail to it, the face nearly a flat plane. Something had been carved across the chest, so faint as to be almost indecipherable. Misara reached out and brushed her fingers across it, wiping away the thin layer of dust. It was elvish writing.

Olpara shifted the leather bindings on her sunrod and then moved the light closer.

"Call me forth and I shall answer," Misara read. The elvish was a very old form. "I am but a servant to all who would ask."

"How do you call it forth?" Olpara asked.

Misara stood back from the statue. "Come forth. I have questions." She said.

A moment later an elven man stood amongst them. His skin was darker than even that of the wild elves, but not the black of the drow, and his hair was dark and straight. "You have called me," he said.

"I have," Misara told him.

"Ask your questions. I am bound to answer them."

Misara looked about, and then said, "You have been here for a very long time."

"That is so," he said, his tone of voice sad.

"I would like to take you elsewhere. Where you might serve your purpose, perhaps end your curse."

An expression of surprise appeared on his face for a moment. "You would do that for me?"

"I would."

He looked confused. "Forgive me. None have ever given much consideration to me. I am not certain what to do."

"I have questions for you," Misara told him, "but they can wait. Right now I wish to leave this place."

He turned and looked at the stature. He placed his hand over its chest; it rested over the word 'servant'. "One of the Tel'Quessir may break this chamber and take out the stone that calls me forth."

Misara nodded. "Go now. I will call you again."

He nodded, and a look of consternation crossed his face. "Please," he said, almost as if he were in pain, "do not forsake me." Then he was gone.

"He was pained," Rowan said.

Misara grabbed the corner of her cloak and put it against the statue's chest to pad it. "There are some that might say he deserves to be." She slammed her fist into the statue, the material of her cloak muffling the sound.

"Do you?"

Misara hit the statue again and she heard a crack. "I don't know why he was punished like this, but I do not believe that he was given his punishment lightly." Once more she hit the statue, and she felt her fist break through.

She pulled her cloak away, small bits of marble rained down, revealing a space within the statue. Something sparked within, a soft green glow lighting the cavity. Misara reached in and pulled forth what looked a little like an emerald. It was the size of her fist and the radiance seemed to increase as she touched it. It was warm.

As soon as she had brought it forth there was a loud, booming sound from somewhere in the keep, and then from somewhere closer came a barking sound.

Misara cursed as she put the stone into her belt pouch.

"What is it?" Olpara asked, her voice panicked.

Rowan spoke a word and her sword began to glow.

"It was watching us before. Now we have something that interests it." Misara turned and started towards the stairs. "We have to run."

"What was watching us?" Olpara asked.

"No time," Misara said, not looking back.

Olpara would slow them, Misara thought as she leapt down the stairs. Without her she and Rowan would be more likely to escape. Without Rowan Misara was certain that she could win free. It was just a thought, the simple facts of the matter, nothing that she would act on for she would not abandon comrades.

As she reached the floor the doors into the library flew open and two, large creatures entered. They were tall, with wide shoulders and thick limbs, their faces like that of a cat, their fur a dirty white. Both wore tattered armour, one carrying a heavy mace and the other holding a great sword.

Misara charged them, slamming her shoulder into the one with the mace, knocking it back into its companion. As both fell she stabbed forward, her sword cutting deep into the neck of the one she had hit. As its blood fountained from the wound Rowan moved in, her sword slashing down to kill the second.

"Quaggoths," Misara said to Rowan's unasked question. "They are quick and ferocious. Kill them quickly, for wounded they go berserk."

"I understand," Rowan told her. Behind her Olpara was looking through the pouch at her belt, bringing forth bit and pieces of the items she needed for her spells.

"Let's go," Misara said.

They moved down the corridor as quickly as they could without leaving Olpara behind. Misara could hear the barking, snarling of the quaggoths as they communicated. And under that, fainter, was a sound like the wind.

They were getting close to where the corridor they were in crossed with the main corridor. The sounds the quaggoths made grew louder and a mass of the creatures came around the corner, filling the narrow corridor and charging towards them.

In a way their numbers worked against them. Only two could stand abreast in the corridor, and the weight of the ones behind them actually hampered the ones in front. Misara and Rowan, standing side to side, easily killed several. Then the ones behind began to fall back a little, giving the ones in front more room. It took a little time for them to do so, and there was a glassy look in their eyes. Misara suspected they were under the influence of some kind of mind control magic.

Misara looked at the bodies in front of her and wondered if she and Rowan could cut through the plug in time to get clear. Was that what the quaggoths were for, to slow her escape, or was their another purpose?

She parried the blow of the quaggoth she fought, and then stepped back. It moved forward after her, right into Rowan's blade, Misara moved forward, her sword piercing the other one's chest. Together she and Rowan stepped forward, working in concert, killing two more of the beasts in but a few heartbeats.

Then Olpara cried out, "There are more behind us."

Another group of quaggoths had come out of one of the side doors, the ones in front were already moving forward.

"I'll hold them off," Rowan said, knocking a flail aside before she turned. Misara moved to protect Rowan as she retreated, and to fight both quaggoths.

"We can go through here," Olpara yelled.

Misara slashed her blade back and forth in front of her forcing the two quaggoths to back up a few steps. She took a quick look over her shoulder and saw that Olpara had opened another door, was partway through it.

Rowan was standing in the corridor looking towards the doorway and the quaggoths that were coming towards her. She appeared torn as what to do.

Misara silently cursed the easy way in which the followers of Sune fell in love and the cowardice of Olpara. "Follow her," Misara yelled. "We'll hold the door." It was, at the moment, the best thing to do. Misara was not happy about it, but she would have to find a way to make it work.

She backed off, fighting the quaggoths as she did so. Rowan stayed near the door, facing the second group of the beasts. Rowan went through the door first, followed a moment later by Misara.

As soon as they were in Olpara pushed the door closed and then spoke words of magic, sprinkling gold dust on the door. "There," she said, "they won't be coming through that."

Of all the spells that halfling might cast, Misara thought as she looked about the room. She was not certain what purpose the room had served long ago, but there were other doors out of it. She picked one at random and opened it. Beyond was a large room, square in shape, with several doors leading from it. "This way," she said. Perhaps they might find a way back to the main corridor.

She ran into the room, the other two following her, and to the door she thought might take them the way she wished to go. She tried to open it, but the door was locked. Rowan had tried another door and it opened for her. "This way?"

Misara looked over at her, and the door she had opened. Olpara stood near Rowan, looking as if she were ready to run. It appeared as if the door would take them farther into the keep, but Misara could hear the quaggoths pounding on the spell sealed door behind them and decided that it was the best choice, at the moment.

That was the problem, she thought, as she ran to the door. She was being forced to make the best choices she could in a bad situation.

The three women ran into another corridor, Misara tried doors that looked as if they would lead the way she wanted to go. They were all locked. The doors that were not locked led them deeper into the keep. Misara realised they were being herded towards some place, by the doors and the cries of the following quaggoths.

So be it, she thought. She had planned to avoid battle with whatever laired in the keep, but more so to protect Olpara than fear of the fight. That was no longer a choice. An uncharitable part of her thought that Olpara's panic and cowardice were going to get the halfling what she deserved, but Misara really did not want any harm to come to her.

The trap, when it came, caught Misara by surprise, even though she had been expecting something to occur. They entered a small room and Misara had crossed halfway into it, Rowan not far behind, when the floor fell out from under them. She tossed herself to the side and managed to grab hold of part of the remaining floor. Instead of falling to a hard landing she ended up dangling two body lengths above the floor below.

Rowan had not been so lucky. She had fallen straight down, and had hit the floor hard. Olpara had managed to leap back, and stood safely above.

The sound she had heard earlier, the sound like wind blowing, was louder. Misara turned her attention away from Olpara and Rowan and looked towards the sound. The room was brightly lit and the phaerimm below made no attempt to hide.

It was a strange looking creature, looking something like a cone made from green cloth, with an oval head at the wide end. Its large mouth was full of teeth. It had four clawed-arms that surrounded it head.

She was certain that it was watching her and the others, taking enjoyment in their fear and their pain. That was one of the things she had learned of the creatures. They enjoyed inflicting pain.

Misara let go of her hold on the floor, dropping to the carpet below. The impact jarred her bones, but she managed to roll and bleed of some of the force. She came up thirty or forty feet from the phaerimm, staring across the distance at it. It floated above the ground, watching her.

As she charged it she took note of the room around her. It was gaudily decorated, reminding her of nothing so much as a Calimshan brothel. The rich furnishings clashed with the torture devices, some of which were occupied by the bodies of the phaerimm's victims. There were also some dead bodies lying about the room.

Nothing within the room seemed to be a threat so she returned her full attention to the phaerimm. She wanted to kill it quickly, before it could use the impressive array of spells that such creatures usually had.

Its voice spoke within her mind, 'Serve me, bow down to me.'

The weight of the magic behind the command hit her almost like a physical force, and she stumbled slightly, but she fought off the domination. In five steps she had closed the distance between her and the evil creature and she swung her sword at it.

The phaerimm was deceptively agile, and bobbed away from the blow. Misara carried through with her attack, calling on her sword's ability to dispel magical energies. For a moment she feared that Ree'anor might not answer her call, but she felt its response and knew that the sword still served her. The phaerimm fell, hitting the ground with a loud 'thump'. It angry mind-voice echoed in her head and promised pain and death.

It clawed at her, but that attack was likely made only to distract her. Its long, tapered tail snapped forward, over it head, like a whip. Misara leapt back to avoid the poison stinger, knocking the tail aside with her blade, cutting it.

The phaerimm lifted one of its hands, pointing it at Misara. A moment later a bolt of lightning flashed from its fingers, straight at her. She tried to dodge aside, but she was too close, and the bolt hit her. 'Die,' she heard it say in her mind.

There were magics worked into her armour that offered her protection. The spell did not kill her, as it might anyone else, but still lifted her up and hurled her across the room. She hit the far wall hard, her breath knocked from her lungs, and then slid to the floor. Small bits of stone from the keep fell down on her.

If the thing hurled a few more spells like that it might bring the keep down.

It rose off the ground darted over to a table pushed against the wall. From the table it picked up four swords. Misara had seen that the creatures did not care much for physical combat, but the one she now fought obviously wanted to be ready for such conflict. It spun about and began floating forward, to where Rowan lay. Misara tried to get to her feet, but for the moment her body did not seem to want to do as she wished.

She saw Olpara kneeling on the floor near Rowan. Had the halfling leapt down to help, or had she fallen down? For all Misara knew Olpara might be under the control of the phaerimm and was in the process of killing Rowan.

With her left hand Misara reached under her armour, feeling for a pendant that she wore around her neck. Her hand closed on it, the smooth metal growing cold in her hand as she whispered the arcane phrases that would release the magic within. She got onto her knees, a wave of dizziness making her feel as if she might vomit. As the metal in her hand crumbled to dust, its power spent, the teleportation spell was cast.

She appeared directly above the phaerimm, her sword pointing down at it.

Again she called on the blades ability to dispel magic. The phaerimm fell to the floor, and Misara landed atop it, her sword biting deep. The creature quickly rolled to the side, throwing her off of its back. She came up on her knees and stabbed forwards at it, but the short sword it carried in one hand snapped out to block her attack.

It rolled the other way, putting distance between them. Misara, ready for another spell, dodged to the side, moving away from Rowan and Olpara.

The phaerimm swung towards her even as it lifted from the floor. From the hand that held a scimitar a cone of blinding colour flashed out, catching Misara on the edge of the spray. The bright lights pained her eyes and brought on a headache, but did not slow her. Still, she chose to act as if spell had effected her, and stumbled back, lashing out with her sword as if blinded.

Her opponent rose up and flew directly at her, the swords in its hands weaving out a deadly pattern. Misara made a clumsy sweep, setting up her sword for a surprise stroke that would take one of the phaerimm's arms off.

A moment before the phaerimm would come in range it rose into the air, passing high over her head, not even trying to make a sword attack. Instead it attacked with a spell that sent a curtain of fire down at her.

Misara threw herself forward, feeling the heat of the fire wash across the back of her legs. As she came up in a low crouch she realised that the creature was playing with her. The phaerimm was no easy opponent.

She looked over to where Rowan had fallen. She was getting to her feet, helped by Olpara. She looked back to the phaerimm, watched as it slowed and turned to face her. She had to get it on the ground, to hold there so that she and Rowan might finish it off.

However it would be unlikely to risk getting so close so that she might dispel its magic once more.

Rowan stood and called out, "Sune, aid me!" She charged forward. As she did so she multiplied and there were four of her.

The phaerimm shifted its head toward her. Misara pulled a dagger free from her belt and hurled it at the creature. She watched as the short sword flashed out and knocked the dagger away.

From the hand holding the long sword a series of magical bolts flashed out. Three of the images of Rowan winked out as soon as the bolts hit them, and Rowan herself, hit by two, stumbled slightly. She regained her balance and continued to charge forward.

Misara moved at the phaerimm as well, whispering a prayer as she did so. The symbol of the crescent moon she wore between her breasts grew warm and as she flung out her left hand a long sword of spiritual energy appeared, speeding directly at the phaerimm.

The spiritual sword slashed at the beast. The short sword rose up, as if in an attempt to parry. The short sword could not stop the spell but as soon as the blade contacted the flesh of the phaerimm the spiritual sword disappeared. Misara was not surprised. She had seen spells cast by powerful elven wizards fail to affect phaerimm. It did not matter, however. All that mattered was that short sword had been moved away from Rowan.

Rowan's sword lashed out. The phaerimm tried to parry with its long sword and falchion, but is seemed less adept with those blades. Rowan's blade bit deep into the creature, between the arms on its right side. Blood flowed from the wound and the lower of its right arms fell limp, the falchion slipping from its fingers to the ground.

Snapping from behind it, the Phaerimm's tail lashed forward, directly at Rowan. Rowan shifted to the side, ready to parry, but the tail was stopped short a few feet from Rowan. Misara could see Olpara standing nearby, her fingers moving as she cast some spell.

Misara came up on the other side of the long beast, her sword leading, but the phaerimm rose quickly into the air, moving away before she could dispel its magic.

The entire length of the monster quivered, and there was a sound of wind passing over its body. The noise made Misara think of someone screaming in anger. A bolt of lighting flashed down at Rowan. She managed to leap out of the way, but some of the force caught her, sending her stumbling back.

The bolt shattered the floor where it hit and the entire room shook with the force of it.

Misara ran towards the phaerimm, grabbing up its dropped falchion as she did so. The heavy sword felt light in her hands, and superbly balanced. She hurled the sword with her left hand, sending it spinning towards the monster.

The short sword whipped around to block, but the falchion hit it hard, knocking the smaller weapon aside. The blade was deflected, and spun upwards, the hilt slamming hard into the phaerimm's mouth. She watched as several teeth fell from its mouth, and it rose unsteadily into air.

"We need to bring it down," Rowan shouted.

Misara moved to stand near Rowan, facing the floating phaerimm. "It prefers to use magic. It will avoid physical combat as much as possible."

Above them the phaerimm was recovering from the blow that had momentarily knocked it senseless.

"I wish we had a bow," Rowan said.

Misara was inclined to agree. She looked back and saw Olpara moving into a shadowy corner of the room.

"It likes causing pain and fear. It will eventually go after Olpara. I'm certain of it."

Rowan's eyes grew wide with concern.

"We'll use that when the time comes. Protect her."

"I understand," Rowan said.

"Stay alive."

The phaerimm had finally recovered. From one of its outstretched hand came a projectile of liquid. Misara and Rowan managed to dodge away. The liquid hit the floor where they had stood, splashing. The stone sizzled and melted where the acid touched.

Rowan charged it, and it met her attack, parrying her blade with the short sword and then countering with the scimitar. The blade cut across Rowan's shoulder, some of it turned by the armour she wore, but as she leapt away there was blood in her arm.

Misara came in fast, trying to strike the phaerimm, but it rose quickly into the air and, beyond her reach. She grabbed a nearby chair and hurled it up at the monster.

The phaerimm responded with a wave of its hand, and the air suddenly filled with a swarm of bats. It was playing with them, Misara thought, scything her sword about to chase off the bats, wincing in pain as tiny, sharp teeth found exposed skin. She had no idea how long it would be before it tired of the game. She had to kill it before then.

It dove down towards Rowan, trading blows with her, again managing to wound her before lifting into the air, out of Misara's reach. She could hear it laughing in her head. It was enjoying itself.

The pattern repeated itself several times, the phaerimm focusing its attention on hurting Rowan, almost as if it planned to take her apart slowly, piece by piece, and casting a variety of minor, annoying spells.

It also worked them further apart, making it difficult for one to aid the other. Misara was pushed farther and farther from Rowan as she was forced to avoid the spells it threw at her.

Thick webbing suddenly formed around Misara, the many layers holding her and trapping her. The phaerimm hurled a small, flaming sphere at Rowan, and she leapt out of the way, ducking behind an iron maiden to avoid the spell.

She had Rowan had been pushed to nearly opposite sides of the room, far from each other, and far from Olpara. Even as Misara called on her swords power to dispel the webs about her she knew that Olpara was the phaerimm's next target. Almost eagerly it flew forward, towards the halfling, its swords slashing the air in front of it.

Olpara tried to defend herself. Bolts of arcane energy flew from the halfling's hands only to splash harmlessly against the phaerimm. The halfling, seeing her spells would have no effect, froze, staring at the oncoming monster.

Misara started across the floor, knowing she would never reach the phaerimm before it had killed Olpara.

Rowan stood up from behind the iron maiden. In her hands she held a scroll, her mouth moving as she read the words on it. Misara recalled the scrolls she had taken from Kesk, and the ones she had given to Rowan. If Rowan was casting the spell that Misara thought she might... She had to hope.

Rowan finished casting the spell, the scroll dropping from her hands.

Misara ran towards the phaerimm, shifting her course slightly so she was running towards a piece of torture equipment.

The phaerimm flew forward, apparently unconcerned or unaware of Rowan's actions.

Between the phaerimm and Olpara appeared a curtain of blades, slashing and spinning. The phaerimm flew right into them. The magic that called up the blades must have been powerful, for they did not fade, but cut deep into the monster's head.

It screamed, its voice a telepathic projection that made Misara feel as if someone was screaming in her ear. The phaerimm retreated from the blades, blood dripping from the many cuts that covered the front of its body.

Misara leapt forward, landing on the rack, which was occupied by the stretched and broken body of a bugbear. Her foot almost slipped in a patch of gelled blood, but she kept her balance and launched herself into the air, towards the phaerimm. It was, for the moment, blinded by the pain, and it did not move to counter her.

The tip of her sword bit into its body. She struck near the top of her leap so did not have the force to drive it deeper. But that was not what Misara wanted. With her blade in contact with it she dispelled the magic about the phaerimm. The phaerimm began to drop. It tried to shift its ungainly weight about, but Misara held onto the sword and when her feet touched the ground she shifted the blade so it remained directly under the monster.

Misara bent at her knees, staying under it for far too long. She released her hold on the hilt and threw herself to the side at the last moment. The huge body fell across her left leg, the weight crushing her limb, perhaps even breaking it.

The phaerimm came off much worse.

Its weight had driven the entire length of Ree'anor's blade into its body.

The telepathic scream was so loud that Misara thought for a moment her head might explode. The phaerimm twisted about, its hands desperately trying to grasp the hilt of the sword that had pierced it through.

As it thrashed about it flung spells about, bolts of lightning that slammed into the walls and blasted chunks of stone out of the wall, and a ball of fire that rose straight up to explode in the room above. The entire Keep shook. The monster rolled away from her, off her leg, right into the curtain of spinning and slashing blades.

The telepathic scream was cut short.

Misara watched, with sick fascination, as the blood sprayed from the barrier of blades. Her sword was thrown out of the mess, hit the ground, and slid to a stop near her hand. Perhaps Celeb was right about Ree'anor coming back to her no matter what she might do.

For a moment the room was silent, but for the soft clicking and whirring sound the blades made. Misara could feel blood running from her nose and her head ached.

Then the keep shook and bits of stone rained down on them as cracks appeared in the walls.

"Olpara, are you alright?" Rowan ran across the room, towards the halfling.

Misara was about to put her hands on her leg, but instead reached into her belt pouch and removed a potion vial. She broke the wax seal and twisted the stopper free. She drank the potion. The pain in her leg faded, as did the sting of the many minor wounds she had taken during the fight.

She got to her feet, picking up her sword as she did so. She wiped the blood from it with her cloak, which took quite a bit of work. The keep rumbled again.

"We have to get out of here," Rowan said as she came around the curtain of blades. "This place looks like it will come down any moment."

Misara knelt down and picked up the scimitar that the phaerimm had dropped. She whispered a prayer that would allow her to see magic. The scimitar began to glow. "We will." She opened her belt pouch and dropped the scimitar into it. The long sword, also magic, went into the belt pouch as well.

The keep shook again, and somewhere far off there was a crashing sound.

She picked up the short sword and carried it over to where Olpara and Rowan stood. "Take this," Misara said, giving sword to Olpara. "You might find it useful."

Olpara stared at the sword as if she was not certain what it was. "Thank you," she said after a moment.

Misara waved off the 'thank you' as she crossed the room, towards a chest. "Get anything that looks magical. Something will eventually dig this place up. I'd rather not leave anything too dangerous here."

"Do we have time?" Rowan asked her. As if to give her words weight, the structure once more trembled.

"Work fast," Misara told her.

The room was full of magical items: scrolls, wands, staffs, jewellery, and other things. Misara grabbed as much as she could, for the most part ignoring the simple gold and jewels. She said a quick prayer so that she might see the taint of evil as well as magic. Those items that had the stain of evil she threw into the centre of the room. A helm, a dagger, a whip, several scrolls, even a chair, all went into the growing pile. Rowan added a number of things as well. Whenever Misara looked towards the pile the miasma of evil about them made her eyes hurt.

Finally they had finished. Rowan and Olpara carried sacks, made from sheets taken from a bed, full of magical items, and no doubt a few other things. Misara herself had taken a few trophies as well as things of beauty.

The shaking of the keep had increased while they had rapidly worked. Misara wondered if perhaps staying might prove to be a mistake. She ran to where the phaerimm had died, the barrier of blades had faded, leaving only blood and the monster's savaged body. Misara found its hands, two of them no longer attached to the body, and pulled the rings it had worn from its fingers, putting them into her belt pouch. The pouch, she noted, was near full.

"Let's go," Rowan said, starting towards the door.

"A moment more," Misara told her, running to the pile of evil objects. She drew her sword.

"What are you doing?" Rowan called from the door.

Misara did not answer. She lifted her sword and brought it down on the helm, sundering it with a single blow. The chair followed, reduced to splinters with only a few strikes.

She crushed a cup under her heel; she tossed the scrolls into a nearby brazier and watched them burn. In the end there were only a few things left that she could not destroy: a necklace; a ring; an arm bracelet; and a pair of large, hoop earrings. Those items she scooped up and put into a small pouch, tied to her weapon belt.

She ran towards the exit where Rowan and Olpara stood.

"I hope that was time well spent," Rowan said.

"As do I."

They left the room, entering a narrow corridor, lined with doors. "Straight. Look for stairs," Misara called out.

Again Olpara slowed them down, but Misara used the extra time to try to get her bearings. The keep from long ago had been laid out in a similar pattern. All she had to do was remember it.

"This way," Misara called, darting down a corridor to her left.

There were stairs at the end of the short corridor. They led up into a large, rectangular room; pillars stretched several man heights above them, holding up the roof. The tremors had grown more frequent as they had run. Misara looked up, wanting to be certain that the roof was stable.

Satisfied she had a small amount of time she looked about. Where had this been in that other keep? She could not remember. What had been there? What?

"Look at this," Olpara called out. "Glass walls. This must be the wall we passed on the outside."

Misara spun around to look at Olpara. The halfling was running towards the far wall. It was all glass. Flowers. There had been flowers here in the other keep, she thought. The windows let sun in, for the garden.

She ran after Olpara, drawing her sword. Could she break the enchanted glass? Should she? It might weaken the structure further. Once more the Keep shook, and a fine rock dust fell from the ceiling. It looked as if she did not have time to worry about it.

Olpara was searching through her coat, putting her hands in the pockets.

Misara leapt forward, her sword striking the glass. There was a ringing sound and a small chip of glass broke free from the window. "We'll never get through these," she said, looking at the tiny chip.

"I'll get us through," Olpara said, and pulled from one of her coat pockets a small, leather satchel. Inside were various thieves' tools and other things, including four rings, each with a large, heavy, silver band and a different coloured stone.

Misara felt the need to run, or pound on the glass, and she really did not trust the halfling, but she watched, curious as to how Olpara planned to get through the glass.

Olpara chose the ring with the green stone. She folded the satchel shut and then put it back in her pocket. The ring she put on the pointer finger of her right hand. She placed her hand on the glass, then with the thumb of her left hand she pressed against the stone.

Misara watched for several seconds, then turned and looked at Rowan. Rowan shook her head, looking as confused at Misara felt.

Misara turned back to Olpara, about to ask what she was doing, but she noticed that the dust was falling from the glass, and she heard a sound: A soft hum. Olpara was pressing harder on the stone. The glass began to visibly shake, the edges of the window making a grating sound where they met the stone.

Misara took a step back.

The window suddenly shattered. A fine spray of glass exploded away from them and out into the dirt and rock beyond.

Olpara stumbled back, and looked as if she might fall, but Rowan caught her. "Excellent work," Rowan told her.

"Yes," Misara said, putting her earlier feelings aside. "Thank you." She put her hand on Olpara's shoulder and then moved forward, stepping out of the window and into the tunnel beyond. It was the one they had passed through before. She looked back at Olpara. "Can you run?"

Olpara nodded. "I'll be fine."

"Then let's go." Misara started down the tunnel. She looked over her shoulder to make certain that Rowan and Olpara followed. They did, but Rowan was helping Olpara, holding her up as they ran.

Misara slowed her pace, but did not begrudge Olpara that time. The halfling had got them out of the keep, and quicker than Misara might have done. And, she admitted to herself, it was a good thing they had killed the phaerimm.

The keep and the hill around it continued to shake, and far off crashes told her that it would not be long before it all collapsed.

They crawled through the small tunnel, bits of dirt falling upon them. At one point part of the tunnel fell in behind her, cutting her off from Rowan and Olpara. She squirmed around in the tunnel, crawling back so she could dig at the blockage. Soon her hand touched Rowan's, who was also digging through. Misara grabbed her hand and pulled her through. Rowan pulled Olpara through.

"Thanks for coming back," Rowan said.

"Always," Misara told her, then turned and around and continued forward.

When they finally crawled from the crevice parts of the hill had already fallen in, the keep below must have already collapsed in places. The three of them ran down the hill, and continued for some distance, until they felt certain that they were safe.

In the light of the moon and stars the three of them watched the hill collapse. When it finally stopped the top part of the hill and part of its north face had all fallen inwards. It appeared as if no one or nothing else had escaped the collapse.

None of them said anything for a time, then Olpara let the bag she carried drop to the ground with a loud clank. She settled down cross-legged and opened the bag. "They might just be able to built that ship now," she said as she pulled a large ruby from within.

"Let's hope so," Rowan said, also sitting on the ground.

Misara wondered what they were speaking about, but only for a moment. She reached into her belt pouch and pulled the green stone out. It seemed to glow brighter in the moon and starlight. "Let's hope that this is what we need."

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