Into the Evermoors
Misara and Rowan had left Silverymoon before the sun had risen, with only Domas to see them off. He had given them the blessing of Tyr as they had ridden out.
They rode fast, but did not push their horses. They planned to reach Everlund by the end of the day, but were not concerned about getting to the city before the sun set. If the gates were closed they would just spend the night in one of the many inns that surrounded the city.
During a time when they walked their horses to rest them Rowan asked, "Can I ask you where we are going?"
"Excuse me?" Misara asked; her thoughts had been elsewhere.
"Where are we going? You've only said that we would be travelling south. Are we going to Waterdeep?"
"We might, eventually, but my first destination is the High Forest. A friend of mine lives there, and she is very well read. It is my hope that she will be able to tell us of Asharass."
Rowan nodded, accepting the answer.
"If she can't help me then we will go to Waterdeep. And if there is no answer to be found there..." Misara raised her shoulders.
"We could travel to Neverwinter."
Misara nodded. "That is certainly a possibility."
"Of course traveling from city to city, hoping to find someone who knows something will waste a great deal of time."
Misara looked over at Rowan. Rowan looked back, a slight smile on her face. "I will admit, if Vilis does not know the answer I will be at a loss as to what to try next, but that is really no reason to mock me."
"Vilis is the sage you seek in the High Forest?"
"Do you think that she will know?"
"I can't say for certain of course, but if she cannot provide answers then she will at least be able to tell me where I may find them."
"I hope we find the answers quickly." Rowan turned and looked back over her shoulder. "I feel that the fate of the Silver Marches might rest upon this."
"It must be Third-Day," Misara said.
"Just a private joke." She vaulted up onto Iron's back. "It's time to ride." She urged her horse forward.
Rowan stood where she was a moment, then put her foot into the stirrup and pulled herself onto Rose Thorn's back. She flicked the reigns and the stallion leapt forward, chasing after Iron.
The gates had closed when they reached Everlund so they took rooms in an Inn near the gate. As soon as the city opened they would cross through it, and over the river. The City-Gate-the Inn's name-offered comfortable, if small, rooms, decent food, and a good stable.
After putting her things into the room she rented Misara went down to the common room to have some dinner, a little wine, and to listen to the Inn's harper. She did not know if he was a true bard, but he played well enough.
Rowan left, telling Misara she wanted to see if Olpara was in town.
The common room grew a little more crowded as the hours passed. Misara, feeling comfortable in her seat, remained where she was, listening to the music, the conversation, and watching the people.
The harper took up a faster tune. A man with a tin whistle joined him as well as a dwarf with a drum. Tables were pushed back and people began to dance.
"Fair maid," a young man stepped in front of her. "Might I ask for this dance?" He held his handout towards her.
He was handsome enough, though he had bad teeth, and he was obviously a little drunk. She smiled and let him help her from his seat. As she stood she picked up her sword and hooked it on her belt.
She had been wearing a simple dress, wanting to take advantage of any time where she might go without armour-she suspected such times would be rare in her near future. She watched the young man take note of the sword at her side; it was like watching his mind working. The pretty young elf he had thought to dance with was more than he thought. He was likely rethinking his plan.
Misara did not give him time. She gave him a pull, unsteady as he was he had to follow or fall. She moved onto the dance floor, released his hand, and then spun to face him, being careful her sword did not swat anyone. The tune was quick, an old reel that she had heard a hundred times before, with a hundred different names. It was easy to dance to and she fell into the familiar steps readily.
Her partner gave into the moment and together they danced with all the others.
She was on her third dance when she saw Rowan pushing through the people, her armoured form forcing a way where others might have had to go around. "Olpara, she's in trouble," Rowan called out loudly.
Misara left her dance partner to take Rowan's arm and lead her out of the crowd, to a corner where it was quieter. "What kind of trouble?"
"She left the city four days ago with her company. The scout and one of the Dwarven fighters returned the day before, badly wounded. They said the others were attacked, probably captured by giants."
Rowan was worried, that much was obvious, but she was in control of her emotions. Misara nodded. "Do you think they still live?"
"I don't know. The scout, his name is Granson Merfan, I heard he is trying to find some help to rescue them if the are alive."
"And avenge them if they are not?"
"Maybe, I only heard this second hand."
"We can help him," Misara told her.
"But we don't have the time," Rowan said.
Misara understood the anxiety she had sensed from the other woman. She wanted to help a friend, and yet she did not want to put off their mission, their quest. "You should never get so focused on the end goal that you ignore the smaller things that happen around you. Many a good person has ended up doing great evil because of that. We can spare a day, perhaps two, to look into this. If necessary we can make up the time later."
"What if we can't?" There was fear in Rowan's eyes, a fear that Misara understood all too well.
"Trust in Sune Rowan Jassan, as I will trust in Corellon Larethian. It is what we do."
Rowan nodded, the anxiety and fear in her eyes fading.
"Where can we find Goodman Merfan?"
"He's in the city."
"Then tomorrow when the gates open we will go and speak with him."
Misara had travelled within the Evermoors before. Hunting trolls in the region of bogs and hills and the long areas of open land had given her a chance to sharpen her skills when she had been younger and first in Faerûn. It had not changed in the many years since she had last trekked across it.
The snow made footing more dangerous, there was always the possibility of a deep hole hidden under a thin sheet of ice. It was why they had left their horses behind and were pursuing the giants on foot.
She would not have given much for their chances of finding their quarry, but for Granson's insistence that the giants would remain close to where they had last been seen. She suspected that he was not as certain as he appeared, but desperately wanted to believe.
They had been on the moors for six hours, moving quickly, stopping only when Granson had to search out the trail. She could see that the fast pace was wearing on the man, who had only recently been healed of grievous injuries. He did not ask that they slow their pace.
There were only five of them on the moors: Granson, Misara and Rowan, along with Krall Hammertoe, the Dwarf from Olpara's group, and Red Esquima, a young sell-sword who had volunteered to help them.
Misara would have preferred a few more, they were tracking five frost giants, by Granson's estimate, but there had not been time to put together a larger group.
They had already been to the site where Granson and Krall had last seen their companions. That had been two hours earlier and Granson claimed they were getting close.
"What do you think we'll do when we find them?" Red asked.
"We'll kill 'em, that's what!" Krall said, and there was a thump as he drove his hammer into the ground.
"We'll be massacred if we fight," Rowan told Krall.
"If you're fraid to fight, why'd ya even bother coming?" he demanded.
"We can save lives without fighting," she told him, not rising to the insult.
Misara had been staring out over the moors, considering their options. Krall might be right; it could come down to fighting. She did not think they would do well in a battle, she was certain that they would lose lives, but sometimes one had no choice.
"I've found their trail," Granson said.
Krall got to his feet. "Let's go!"
Misara turned to follow, as she did so Rowan moved up beside her. "If we fight, we'll lose." She was echoing Misara's thoughts.
"Possibly. We do not know if there will even be a fight. Leave predicting the future to the sages."
"I suppose you're right. I'm worried however."
"You have good reason."
"That is not really helping."
Misara smiled. "If you don't want the truth, don't ask a Paladin."
"Hurry up!" Krall called, far too loudly. Granson had started jogging and Krall had followed. They were moving ahead.
"The hunt is on," Misara said as she started running in a light-footed glide that took her quickly across the snow.
He screamed, screamed and screamed and screamed until it did not seem like he could scream any longer, and yet he did. The giant, an ivory skinned, hulking brute, nearly sixteen feet tall, held the man's left arm in between two fingers and a thumb, twisting it, causing broken bones to grind together under the torn skin.
Finally the giant stopped and the man collapsed onto to the ground, retching and sobbing in pain.
"Tell me about the city," the giant said on common.
The man did not answer, likely could not answer.
The giant reached down towards the man again, but another of the giants, a slightly shorter, but much cleaner male, stopped him. He said something in the giant tongue. The first giant growled, but left the crying man alone.
"What'd he say?" Krall demanded, his voice too loud.
"I think he said that if he killed him then they would get no answers, but my giant is rather poor," Misara told him. "And keep your voice down."
Krall spat, but his tone was softer when he next spoke. "That's Midan," he said, obviously meaning the man who had been tortured. "Our wizard, soft, lazy man." He shook his head. "Can't believe he's still living after all that."
"I'm not certain how much longer he will be alive." She shifted around, trying to get a better look into the campsite.
There was no fire burning in the camp, not that the giants needed one. A few lanterns provided enough light for them to see, more than enough light for Misara. Five giants, three laid out, likely asleep, two awake: The one that was torturing Midan, and the one that was probably the leader.
There was Midan, still sobbing, and she could just make out another form, lying on the edge of the light. Perhaps there were others, but she could not see them from her vantage point.
"We've sat here long enough," Krall said as he started forward.
Misara reached out and grabbed him, easily pulling him back. "We don't do a thing until the others are in position."
"All this sneaking around, one of them giants is going to hear something and then the chance for surprise will be gone."
"They will only hear something if you do not keep it quiet. Now wait."
He frowned, but knelt down. "Just wait. You're plan'll cock up, and then it'll be down to fighting without no surprise."
"We'll see," she told him. Krall was anxious for a fight, perhaps he had something to prove, but she knew he was right in some respects. The longer they waited the more likely that something would go wrong. She picked up her bow and quickly strung it. Rowan and the others should be in position.
She reached around to her side, fingers brushing lightly across the fletching of her arrows. She stopped when she felt the fletching of the one she wanted. She nocked the arrow and drew back, amazed at the ease at which she did so. The bow had been built for her strength, and always before she had felt that in the draw. Not now.
Holding the bow steady, she shifted up, silhouetting herself on top of the small hill. All the giants would have to do was look to see her. The big giant, the one that had been torturing Midan was now approaching the form that lay unmoving on the edge of the lantern light.
Altering the angle of the bow ever so slightly she released the arrow. It sped through the air, the fletching making a soft whistling sound. Then the bodkin point punched into the thick muscle of the giant's neck, piercing deep.
The giant screamed in pain, grasping for the arrow. It was possible that the wound was a mortal one; the arrow might have severed the large artery in the neck. It did not matter however for a moment later the arrowhead exploded, decapitating the giant. His body fell back, crashing over one of the lanterns.
"Now that is the way to do it!" Krall yelled, standing up and hurling a throwing axe at one of the giants.
Chaos had taken hold of the camp. The explosion, Krall's shout, the fact that the oil from the broken lantern had set the dead body of the giant on fire, it all meant that the remaining four were, for the moment, too surprised to act.
As Krall hurled another axe Misara put another arrow to string. It was just a normal arrow, but it plunged deeply into the leaders arm.
The confusion could not last for long, and the leader pulled the arrow from his arm as if it were just a thorn and screamed something in his own language, pointing to the hill where she and Krall stood.
Calmly she unstrung her bow, even as the giants charged. She slid it into the rig on her back and then drew her sword. "Get ready to run," she called to Krall over the sound of the giants' war cries.
Krall hurled another axe, and then reached for his hammer. "I don't like leaving high ground!"
He scowled, but nodded.
As the giants began to climb Misara turned and jumped down the hill, sliding on the snow and grass. The slippery slope gave her and Krall a speedy way down at the same time it was slowing the giants. Krall had been right, they were giving up a huge advantage by leaving the top of the hill, but Misara wanted to be certain no giant was close to the camp when Rowan and the others went in to rescue those captured.
She and Krall ran across the uneven ground, listening to the sound of the giants behind them. Fortunately the huge creatures were not throwing anything. All she and Krall had to do was stay ahead of them. They were aided in that by the terrain. Pools of water had frozen over and the water had drained away beneath. The sheets of ice were strong enough to support Krall and herself-though at times they crackled alarmingly-but broke under the weight of the giants.
For several minutes they managed to stay ahead of them, but their lead had shrunk. When she heard the nearby sound of ice cracking she stopped and spun. They would have to fight, to at least slow them down, and the time was nearly perfect.
One of the giants was sprawled out on the ground, he being the one who had just broken through the ice. The other three were strung out behind them, the leader just closing on them.
Misara drew her sword and stepped forward. Krall had jumped forward and savagely driven his hammer into the skull of the fallen giant. The thump, while sounding painful, did not have the crack to suggest any bones had been broken. It was likely Krall had just made the fallen giant that much angrier.
As the leader of the giants charged her she prepared to meet him. He held a battleaxe, sized to him. The huge weapon was almost the same size as Misara, and he swung it back forth with obvious proficiency.
As the blade swung towards her she lifted her sword, catching the axe blade and redirecting it so it whistled by just above her shoulder. She had expected to be pushed down by the deflected blow, to feel the sting in her arms, but she easily maintained her balance, easily pushing the blade away.
It was the sash. It gave her the strength to match the giant, to easily meet it with equal force. For a moment she considered it, heady with the power. However, she did not try to match it blow for blow. Her sword would likely shatter were she to put such stresses on it, and it would be a mistake to change her fighting style because of a magical sash she might lose one day.
Again she deflected the giant's attack and then moved in, swinging her blade against the giant's hip. The chain links of his armour parted under blow, and the edge sliced deeper as she pulled it across the wound, opening flesh and muscle right to the bone.
The giant screamed and fell back, hands pressing against the wound to stem the blood flow. Another of the giants was approaching, but she spared a moment to look to where Krall was battling.
The fallen giant had regained its feet, but it seemed unsteady. Perhaps Krall's earlier blow had done more than she had thought. Krall ducked under a huge, iron shod staff and delivered an over hand hammer blow to the giant's knee.
She turned away, the crack of bone loud in her ears, and readied herself to face the next giant.
Carrying a pair of human sized great swords, the giant leapt forward, using its much longer reach to drive her back. Misara was forced to retreat, unable to close with the giant. She had fought against the twin sword style before, a difficult style to break through, even when one's opponent did not have such a huge advantage in reach and size.
Finally she found the opening she sought. Diving forward, neatly avoiding one of the swords, she tucked into a roll and came up between the giant's legs. Stabbing up, the tip of her blade skittered across an armoured codpiece, and then punched through an area of weaker armour, sinking deep into flesh.
It was hardly an honourable blow, she thought as she rolled away, but combat in general tended to be much less honourable than many supposed.
Getting to her feet she surveyed the battlefield. Her two opponents were out of the fight, for the moment at least. The giant that Krall had been fighting earlier was laying on the ground, holding what was likely a shattered knee. The last giant was charging Krall, a huge maul in its hands.
Krall looked as if he planned to dart under the giant, a Dwarven tactic against larger enemies, one that usually worked well for the dwarf warriors. The giant either got lucky or was expecting it, for the maul swung down and slammed into Krall, lifting him into the air and sending him flying.
Misara drove her sword point first into the ground, then freed her bow and strung it with the speed and certainty of over a century of practice. Choosing an arrow by feel, she nocked, drew, and fired in one smooth move. The arrow flew true, driving into the giant's chest.
The giant seemed to hardly notice, until he began to burn, the flames spreading out from the arrow. He screamed and dropped his weapon, his hand beating at the flames in an attempt to extinguish them.
The fire would not last long, and she doubted that it would cause a great deal of harm to the giant, but for the moment it had his attention. She snatched up her sword and slid it into its sheath even as she ran across the uneven ground to where Krall had fallen. She expected to find the dwarf dead, but as she got closer she heard him moan.
As soon as she stood over him she could see how he had survived. The heavy wooden shaft of his hammer was broken, and he held the two parts of the weapon across his chest, right where the maul had hit.
"You dwarf, are far luckier than you deserve," she said as she knelt beside him. "Can you get up? Are you even conscious?" She leaned in close.
He opened his eyes, neither of which seemed to want to focus on her. "I can get up. Take more than a little blow like that to lay out a dwarf." He tried to sit up, then fell back, coughing. There was blood on his lips.
She placed her hand against the skin of his bearded cheek, letting healing power flow into him. His eyes cleared and he sat up, shaking off her hand. "Let's get those giants," he said.
Misara stood and pulled him to his feet. "Not tonight. We killed one and hurt the rest. That will have to be enough."
He looked as if he was going to argue, then seemed to notice that his hammer was broken. "They broke my hammer!"
"You're lucky they did not break you. Now let's leave while we can."
Krall looked back at the giants. He scowled and then spat, blood and saliva. "I'll be back," he said. Misara knew he was not saying it to her.
Leaving the wounded giants behind them the two moved away from the battle site. Misara listened for the sound of pursuit, but it never came. She suspected that the giants had had enough of a fight for that evening. Perhaps one or two might not recover from their wounds, but she did not think that likely. Giants were made of stern stuff, and it was hard to cripple them.
They took a circuitous route to the meeting place, doubling back to make certain that they were not being followed. She noticed that Krall was breathing heavily and coughing softly, but he was keeping up.
The others, Rowan, Granson and Red, were waiting in a sheltered hollow, the rescued survivors with them. Likely Misara could have been on top of them before they knew anyone was about, but Krall, not particularly quiet at the best of times-at least as far as she was concerned-was loud enough to herald their arrival.
Rowan relaxed as she identified them, and moved back from the narrow opening that led into the shelter. Misara let Krall enter first, then, after looking about, making certain they were alone, she followed.
The shelter was very warm, a pair of charcoal braziers were burning, the soft red glow not likely to give them away, but the warmth welcome. She could see that Rowan and the others had accomplished their mission without any difficulty. Red even had a large bag beside him that Misara was certain contained loot. She did not fault him, as she had been young once.
Midan was there, looking better than he had in the giant's camp. His arm was secured with splints and a sling and he was leaning close to the brazier, appearing desperate for the heat.
Olpara was wrapped in a blanket, her skin pale, only the slight raise and fall of her chest indicating that she still lived. Rowan was kneeling near her, grinding something with a small mortar and pestle.
There was a tall man as well who had the looks of the northern barbarians. He sat away from the others.
"How did it go?" Misara asked as she knelt down near Rowan.
"Good," she said, not looking away from her work. "The giants went after you and we moved in once they were out of sight and grabbed Olpara, Midan and Ockal. It all went exactly as planned."
She nodded and looked around at the others. "You've healed them?"
"As much as I could."
Misara got to her feet, pulling at a mithral chain around her neck, drawing forth a silver and gold crescent moon. She walked over to Krall and knelt down beside him.
"What are ya doing?" he demanded.
"Seeing if the god of elves will let me help a thick headed and ugly dwarf," she told him. "Now shut up and let me pray."
Krall said nothing as Misara softly chanted the elven words that called upon Corellon Larethian's power. She felt the healing energy flow from her to Krall, for a glorious moment she was a conduit between the material and the divine.
She moved away from Krall, who was looking better, and took a seat near Midan. The mage, his clothing stained and ripped, shied away for her. The strain of the ordeal he had been under showed clear on his face. She knew that, deep down, he expected that she was going to hurt him. Even as she left his side, his broken arm nearly whole again and all his other wounds gone, he still thought she might cause him pain.
There were wounds that she could do nothing about.
Ockal held up his hand when she neared him. She could see that there was a burn mark across his palm, like a brand. There were other such marks on him as well. "Save your healing for Olpara," he told her, his voice surprisingly soft for such a large man. "She needs it more than I."
"She can't carry you," she told him.
Ockal seemed to think about that, and then nodded. "You are wise," he told her, and then in a quieter tone, "and you make the difficult decisions."
She nodded and healed his wounds.
Finally, using what little healing power she had left, she tended to Olpara. The halfling woman's colour improved, and her breathing got deeper, but she did not wake.
"It's time to go," she said as she stood. "Gather everything up. We'll move quickly. I want to be off the moors as soon as possible."
Midan did not move as the others began to break down the small camp. Rowan wrapped the blankets more securely about Olpara, and then stood up, holding the slight form of the halfling in her arms. For a moment Misara thought to suggest that Rowan give her burden to someone else, to better be able to fight if it came down to that, but she remained quiet instead.
Granson moved over to Midan and coaxed the man to his feet. Even with someone he knew the mage still was wary.
Once everyone was ready Misara set the order of march. She would walk the point; Krall and Ockal would be on rear guard. She would have liked to have Granson with her to pick out the path, but he needed to stay with Midan.
They moved across the moors as fast as they could. The starlight allowed Misara to see almost as if it were day. While she did not have Granson's trail knowledge, she led them well enough. Twice they hid from trolls, and once from a pair of hill giants that were foraging in the darkness.
It was near dawn when they reached Everlund. Misara sent the others ahead to the Inn where hot food, warm rooms and some healers awaited. She stood where she was, staring to the east, watching as the sun rose over the mountains.
Iron shifted slightly as Misara tried to put the saddlebags across his broad back. She lightly slapped him across his withers as a warning to behave, then reached up and scratched him between his ears.
"I'm worried about Olpara," Rowan told Misara from where she was saddling Rose Thorn.
Misara was not at all surprised to hear her companion say such a thing. For one reason or another a bond had formed between Olpara and Rowan, or at least Rowan felt something. She also knew that worshipers of Sune would follow their hearts wherever it might lead them. It was not something that Misara would even think of fighting against.
"Stay here then and help her recover." Misara straightened the saddlebags.
"What? But our mission."
"I will be several days in the High Forest, at least." She checked the straps and then reached for her backpack. "While you would have been welcome, the truth is that you might have slowed me a little. Stay here with Olpara, and as soon as you can continue after me. We'll meet in Beliard and continue from there."
Rowan looked relieved, but she said, "Are you certain? You might need my help."
"Don't worry about me," Misara said with a smile as she swung herself onto Iron's back. "I'll see you in Beliard as soon as possible." She wheeled Iron around and set him galloping towards the road. She slowed and turned to wave as Iron's steel shod hooves touched the main road, then she was off at a full gallop, leaning low against her mount's neck.