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Heritage of Evil-prequel to Right Place,Wrong Bhaalspawn

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#1 Guest_Wyvern_*

Posted 26 July 2005 - 07:27 AM

DISCLAIMER dark, mature themes, and some disturbing subject matter

This series shows how Shann Lightfoot came to be in Irenicus' Dungeon in my Right Place, Wrong Bhaalspawn series.


Poor, poor, medium, poor, good, good, poor. The small child sighed as she worked. Her long, dark hair was matted with sweat that rolled down in rivulets to leave dark streaks in her dust-covered face. Her name was Shann and she had been born a slave, looked upon as little more than an animal by her Drow masters. Shann wiped her sweaty brow with a dust coated hand as she crouched over a low bench heaped with small rocks. It was her job to sort the illithium ores into rough grades. It was a dreadfully tedious job and her back always ached by the end of the day. Don't complain, she chided herself, soon enough I'll be sent to dig the pit like Momma and Grandmother.

The drow overseer looked her way, and Shann quickly began working again, fearful of being punished. I wish things were different. Grandmother says to trust in the god Ilmater, but she's been praying for years and is still a slave. Maybe the new Commander sent by the Matron Mother will make things better.

Shann furtively watched the new commander, Mistress Sidhie, as the Drow inspected the mine that was the heart of the N'evarn outpost. It was buried in the Nether Mountains. The location a secret guarded zealously by the O'farn family. Against all predictions, a large deposit of illithium ores had been discovered there. The immense wealth generated by the mine more than made up for the discomfort of those sent to work there.

There were no proper caves in the area and both the drow overseers and the slaves were forced to live on the surface. Many of the slaves were surfacers and did not mind the sun. Some, like Shann's grandmother, had come from the Underdark, but gradually became used to the surface. The Drow masters rarely ventured outside in the daylight. Corridors linked the buildings together and a Drow could spend months without ever venturing outside when the sun was shining. The colony slept during the day and most work was done during the night.

The trouble began when the workers gathered for their final feeding. Shann liked mealtimes because she could spend time with her mother, Dornleif, and her grandmother, Berthild. Most of her life was spent working or sleeping and Shann adored the chance to relax. Unfortunately, meals rarely lasted as long as Shann wished they would. Shann soon finished eating, and was idly swinging her feet, when Sidhie looked over at her family and whispered something to the aide by her side. She came over to Shann's mother and stood there, glaring at her.

"Why has this mongrel abomination been allowed to live?" Sidhie asked of the chief overseer, K'ress.

"Dornleif is a strong worker; we are constantly plagued by a lack of servants," K'ress answered as Shann's mother looked down at the table. Sidhie placed the handle of her flail under Dornleif's chin and forced her to look up. "How old are you, girl?" Sidhie asked in a quiet voice.

"Seventy-eight, Mistress," Dornleif whispered.

"Seventy-eight!" Sidhie repeated, with venom in her voice. "And already the filth shows signs of ageing. It ages faster than either elf or dwarf. Is that not proof that Lolth detests the unnatural mingling of drow blood with that of the lesser races? It should have been strangled at birth," Sidhie screeched as she struck Dornleif a blow that knocked her unconscious.

"Momma!" Shann cried, and reached a hand out to touch her mother. She realized it was a mistake to move when Sidhie grabbed her by the hair and pulled her up.

"You allowed the abomination to breed." Sidhie said in a quiet voice that was more chilling than her earlier shouts. "How far has this outpost been allowed to degenerate? It is a wonder Lolth did not destroy you all for blasphemy." She threw Shann down, and then pointed at Dornleif. "Why wasn't it sterilized?"

K'ress trembled as she realized her life was at stake. "It was, Mistress. It should not have reproduced; there was something unnatural about the breeding. The high priestess said the child seemed to be the same racial mix as the parent. It has aged faster than normal too, like the mother. It is only eight, but it is almost grown enough to be useful in the mines." She looked at Sidhie who was getting more and more irritated the longer K'ress continued talking. K'ress swallowed nervously, and then tried to explain why Shann was alive. "The high priestess, she … she prayed, but said Lolth gave permission for the infant to live. I swear it is the truth."

"How convenient that the high priestess is dead and cannot verify your words." Sidhie looked around and frowned. She raised a hand as though to strike K'ress but stopped. It appeared that Sidhie needed K'ress's help to control the colony. Instead of venting her anger on K'ress, Sidhie beckoned to her guards to take Shann away. "Punish the small one for daring to interrupt me. I shall retire now to think about the matter of the abomination."

Shann was no stranger to punishments. Sometimes she earned blows and whippings by not deferring properly to the masters, and sometimes she was punished for no reason she knew of. Shann gritted her teeth as the blows fell on her body, determined not to cry out this time. She knew the cuts and bruises were superficial; the Drow could not afford to lose a worker. Punishments were painful, but rarely did any lasting damage. But, as the pain increased, Shann was unable to stop herself from screaming.

Berthild and Dornleif came over to Shann when the guards threw her into the slave barracks. Berthild stroked the child's hair and tried to heal her as best she could. Shann backed away in anger. Dornleif reached out to comfort Shann, but found herself rebuffed.

"You told me I had elf blood in me. Not Drow," Shann said accusingly.

"It doesn't matter, Shann," Dornleif said, but the look of shame on her face belied her words. "A..a Drow is still an elf."

"The masters are evil! To share blood with them is ... is obscene!" Shann said.

"You cannot be Drow without being raised Drow," Berthild said. "All her life, I have said as much to your mother, but she has never had the sense to accept it. I expect you to do better."

"And I suppose you are not Duergar, Mother?" Dornleif said wearily.

"If I do not wish to be, I am not." Berthild said firmly. "Shann, you have the blood of dwarves and elves within you. What particular type of dwarves or elves your ancestors were is not important." She raised a hand and spoke in a voice that would accept no arguments. "That is the final word on this subject."

Shann knew better than to speak again, and secretly resolved to never think of her Drow heritage again. Grandmother is right, I am not Drow if I do not want to be. Still, I wonder, what else have they lied to me about?

As soon as the sun set, the workers were called to order. After they ate their first meal, they were assembled, as was normal, but this time they were not marched to work in the mines. Instead they were led to a vast clearing where the crude altar that served the needs of the outpost's priestesses was located. Sidhie was standing in the place of honour surrounded by the two lesser priestesses of Lolth and the five other Drow nobles who ruled the outpost. Assembled in a semicircle around them were the Drow commoners not assigned to guard the slaves who formed the outer half-circle.

Shann's attention drifted as Sidhie started speaking. She caught parts of the new commander's speech about no longer allowing degeneracy in the workings of the colony, but didn't really care; she was too happy not to have to work. Shann's focus returned when she heard Sidhie say she would no longer permit abominations in the eyes of Lolth to exist. Two soldiers came and took an unprotesting Dornleif over to Sidhie as she said this.

The soldiers stripped Dornleif and bound her to the altar. Shann tried to call out but Berthild put her hand over the child's mouth and turned her around so her face was buried in Berthild's shirt. "Do not watch, child," she said and gazed forwards with a blank face. Sacrifices of intelligent beings were rare in the labour-starved colony, but still performed on occasion, as Lolth demanded. Berthild sighed, but she was used to outliving her children. All of Dornleif's siblings died in the mines; perhaps a quick death was preferable to further degradation.

"The N'evarn colony will be a testament to the ways of Lolth," Sidhie stated after Dornleif's body had stopped twitching. The slaves were sent to the mines and ordered to work faster to make up for the lost time. Shann found herself grateful for the tediousness of her sorting job. It gave her a great deal of time to think about Dornleif's death. Shann knew she should mourn the loss of her mother, but did not even cry. Instead, she found herself fantasizing about hurting the Drow, and wondering what it would feel like to break their bones and cut their beautiful flesh. Thoughts of revenge comforted Shann and kept her feelings of grief at a distance.

When they returned to the dormitories, Berthild tried to console Shann by reminding her that Dornleif was surely welcomed by her god, Ilmater. "You must be faithful, Shann, and he will watch over you too."

"When it's my turn to be sacrificed?" Shann said flatly as she looked at Berthild. "I am as much an abomination as my mother, and Mistress Sidhie will not permit me to live." Berthild's eyes filled with sadness as she nodded. "I do not want to go to a 'glorious afterlife'." Shann stated.

"Shann, you must have faith and accept the life that you have been given."

"Faith? What good did faith do mother?" Shann said bitterly. "I do not care for your useless god, a human god. He probably doesn't even listen to your prayers. I will find a way to destroy them all. I will feel their blood on my hands."

Berthild shuddered when she saw the bloodlust that shone in her granddaughter's eyes. "Shann, you must not allow hate to overcome you. Better you should die with honour than find joy in killing."

"That's not what Father says," Shann said and saw her grandmother draw in a breath as a look of fear crossed her face. She knows, Shann thought.

"What…what do you mean by father?" Berthild asked.

"He has come to me in dreams. A great, powerful man who tells me that I have the blood of a god in my veins." Shann drew herself up proudly. "He says he can help me escape from this place. He will give me the power to hurt my enemies." She looked at Berthild. "Do you know who my Father is? Is he really a god?"

"Yes," Berthild hissed. "The knowledge was given to me shortly after Dornleif was violated by that monster. Your father was an evil god, Bhaal, the Lord of Murder. He is dead, Shann, he cannot help you, and you must not listen to him. He will draw you into a darkness you cannot escape."

Shann looked at Berthild and smiled. If he cannot help me then why is she worried? I will leave tonight but best not to let her know. "Yes, grandmother, I am upset. I will pray to Ilmater tonight. A live god must be more powerful than a dead god."

The sun was high in the sky when Shann attempted to make her escape. Her Father had promised her a great power that would let her leave unnoticed. Your grandmother's blood grants you the innate ability to become invisible once between resting periods, Bhaal had said in her dream, I will enhance that power so that even the skills of Lolth's priestesses will be unable to detect or dispel that invisibility.

Shann trembled as she crept invisibly from the slave quarters. If Grandmother had been right about Bhaal, and her dreams were lies, then Shann would soon be detected by the wards that ringed the outpost. Shann stood and blinked in the bright light of day. She was unused to the light, but since she had been born on the surface, she was not blinded like many Underdark dwellers.

She walked cautiously towards the common soldiers' equipment room. The single guard was half-asleep and did not stir when Shann crept past her. She went through the supplies and outfitted herself with travelling clothes and a small dagger and slingshot. She wanted larger weapons but realized she could never use them properly. Shann felt a lot more confident once she had filled her backpack with travel rations from the stores and was ready to leave.

With a growing sense of relief, Shann stepped lightly as she moved away from the despised place which was all she had ever known. She did not dare travel on the single path that led away from the N'evarn Colony. She walked through the underbrush that bordered the road, keeping an eye on the path so she would not get lost, never looking back until night was beginning to fall. Then, Shann looked towards the now unseen outpost, and vowed to return some day. When I am strong enough, I will return and destroy all of the masters. I will be the greatest Drowkiller in all the lands. Father has promised.

#2 Guest_Wyvern_*

Posted 26 July 2005 - 07:33 AM

Heritage of Evil : Incubation

A small figure crept along the riverbank, moving just a bit closer to the large, brown rabbit that had frozen in place when it saw her. She lifted a sling and sighted carefully before casting a bullet at the rabbit. The animal jumped when the missile flew past it, and then ran off into the woods. Two weeks I've been practicing, and still can't hit a motionless target. Some Drowkiller I will be, I can't even call myself Shann Rabbitkiller. She sighed, and thought wistfully of the taste of real food; fresh, roasted rabbit would be a welcome change from the dry, flavourless trail rations she had been living on since her escape from the Drow slave pens.

Shann had followed a stream that flowed down the mountain from the N'evarn colony, until it merged with the larger river she was now walking alongside as it travelled westwards. She knew nothing of the lands outside the N'evarn colony, but had been told by some of the surfacer slaves that settlements could often be found close to rivers. Shann both looked forwards to, and dreaded, the thought of meeting people. Sometimes she thought it would be best to walk invisibly among them, but Shann knew she could not move through the lands fast without help.

She had seen how the Drow punished slaves who dared to try to escape, and her memories ensured that Shann's waking and sleeping hours were haunted by fears of being seized by her former owners. Few slaves ever tried leaving more than once; if they were captured alive they were brutally punished, but not killed, and they were left physically capable of working, although their spirits were often broken, leaving them mere shadows of their former selves. Shann was sure she would prefer death to having the Drow track her down and capture her. She wanted to get as far away as possible from her former masters.

It was with relief that Shann came across a large farm. Her food was almost gone, and her hunting skills had not improved. The simple, wooden buildings looked comforting to Shann as she walked up the small laneway and gazed with wonder at the fields of nearly ripened wheat. She slowed when she approached the house and heard the sound of many voices inside. The girl thought about how she must appear after a fortnight of frenzied travel . These are rich people, will they think me a dirty beggar that should be run off? She tried to wipe her face with the least soiled part of her shirt, and then straightened her shoulders and knocked on the door. It was opened by a burly man with a cheerful face who looked with wonder, not disgust, at the small figure that stood on his porch.

The people who lived on the farm, mostly humans with a couple of halfling hirelings, were shocked when they first met Shann, but she was soon being fussed over by the women of the household. They were horrified when Shann explained she had escaped from slavers and had no idea where she was, or where she had come from. It's almost the truth, Shann reasoned, reluctant to mention the Drow.

There were no maps in the household, but Shann was able to learn a bit about the area she was in. The river she had followed, The River Shining, bordered a vast woodland known as the High Forest. A large city, Waterdeep, which lay to the west, sounded interesting to Shann. Or maybe Baldur's Gate, she mused, it's south of Waterdeep, and far away from the N'evarn colony. The Drow will have a hard time finding me among so many people.

She was almost ready to leave, afraid to stay in one spot too long, when one of the younger girls noticed her pointed ears. Shann's mother had been ashamed of the elven heritage she shared with her daughter, and had always used her long hair to cover her elven ears, a practice Shann normally imitated, but she had grown careless among the friendly farmers, and allowed the pointed tip of an ear to peek out from her dark mane. She admitted that she was half-elf when pressed by the girl. The child had never seen an elf before and excitedly told her mother about Shann's heritage.

"Why did you tell us you were half-dwarf, child?" the mother asked, confused.

"I am half-dwarf," Shann said patiently, "the other half is elf."

"Oh, I had assumed you were half-human, your colouring is darker than any dwarf I've ever seen."

"That's my elven heritage," Shann said without thinking.

"But there are no dark ... elves," the woman said, and then tensed as a look of horror crossed her features. "Drow," she whispered, then picked up her daughter and ran out of the house, calling for the men.

I'm no Drow, Shann thought angrily. How dare that woman call me one! She was wondering what do, when the woman's husband came in, followed by two other men, one brandished a hoe, and the other an axe. He looked at Shann with a touch of fear in his eyes, and then ordered her to leave at once. One of the men behind him protested, and said the Drow should die. Shann was confused, she knew she was not a Drow, and did not know what to say. The first man tried to calm the others down. "She's only a child," he said.

The man with the axe cursed and threw it at Shann. Fear made Shann move faster than she had thought possible, and she ducked under the table where she called on her ability to become invisible, and then crawled into a corner of the room. She stayed there, frozen, and tried to still her breathing as the men attempted to find her; they panicked when it was evident that Shann had disappeared. The man who threw the axe was convinced that Shann was an evil, sorceress Drow. "Probably not even a real child," he said, boasting a bit about his perception. "We should look for more of the dark demons to be coming soon."

Shann waited until the room was clear, and then went to the shed where her pack had been stored. She was a little dazed at how quickly the friendly people had turned on her, but was now determined to leave for Baldur's Gate at once. Before she left the house, Shann went to the chest where the household gold was kept. It had a simple lock that Shann was able to pry open with her dagger and she took all that was in there, only a few silver pieces, but more than Shann had ever seen before.

She restocked her provisions from the storehouse and was ready to leave the farm. The people were rushing about frantically, but did not seem to have any idea what they should be doing, and Shann had no difficulty moving undetected among them.

Before she left, Shann went into the barn. She had a vague idea that eventually the fools would settle down and try to track her, and she could not stay invisible forever. She knelt down by the hay that was loosely stacked in a corner and got out her tinder box. For a moment she wondered if she should light the fire, it could spread and jump to all the buildings, devastating the prosperous farm and the people who lived there. They called me a Drow, she thought, and lit the hay on fire with no more hesitation.

She stood there, watching the fire as it grew, and saw the flickering flames dance and make shifting shadows on the walls. Shann did not stir until she heard shouts as people noticed the smoke and came running towards the barn. Then she smiled, and walked out boldly among the excited people.

The experience at the farm taught Shann a lesson about revealing her mixed heritage. In the four months it took her to make her way to Baldur's Gate, Shann became used to hiding her dwarf heritage. She had inherited the broad facial features of Dwarves rather than the sharp, angular elven features, and found that, with her ears covered, she could pass for human. If pressed, she would admit to being half-elf, letting the questioner assume the other half was human.

Once in Baldur's Gate, Shann spent most of her days invisible, which made finding food easy, and changed her sleeping spots every night. She thought she moved around unnoticed, but soon found that she wrong. One day she was swiping a pastry from one of her favourite bakers when a soft voice addressed her. "Hold on lass, I know you're there, I saw the sweets disappear when you picked them up."

Panicked, Shann looked around to see who was speaking. She almost ran, ready to assume she was still undetectable, but something in the speaker's looks made her want to trust him. He was a cheerful, halfling youth, a little taller than Shann, but not by much. Shann glided across the floor and the speaker kept looking at the area where she had been, somewhat comforted, Shann decided to answer the halfling. "You with the guards or something?" she asked warily.

"There you are, lass," he said, and smiled disarmingly. "Nay, far from it." He jumped down from the counter where he had been sitting and approached Shann. "I'm called Jarond, and I work for an organization that could use someone with your, ahem, talents."

Jarond was working for the Southgate Thieves Guild, whose members had noticed the petty thievery that Shann engaged in. Her talent of invisibility, and more importantly, the fact that it was undetectable by normal magic, interested the guild master. Shann's visits to the baker's shop had been noted, and Jarond was planted in the shop to make contact with her; he cheerfully admitted that it was because he had an uncanny ability to make even the most suspicious people trust him.

Shann was happy to join the thieves, she worked for them for more than two years, paying for her training and board by acting as an advance scout for the older members. She was gaining skills, but felt she needed to learn more than the thieves could teach her. She often woke, screaming, from her frequent nightmares about the Drow attacking the guild, and cutting down the thieves with chilling ease.

Jarond had acted as a mentor to Shann and had trusted her with one of the secrets of his survival. He had innate powers of magic at his command, a hidden power he could call on when he was losing a fight. Sorcerer, Jarond named himself. Shann decided she wanted the same power.

"Sorcerers are rare, lass, most mages must study years to master the craft," Jarond had said in an attempt to dissuade Shann. She only shrugged and bribed the guild magician to test her to see if she could become a wizard. The mage found that Shann did have the potential to learn magic, but had no desire to apprentice, as she put it, an underaged, impoverished, nonentity. Determined, Shann used the guild resources to find a mage that would accept her as an apprentice.

Jarond could not understand why Shann was willing to do anything to learn magic. "If you just wait a few years," he said, "you'll rise in the ranks of the guild and have gold enough to buy a tutor in the mystical arts, if you still desire to learn magic."

"Don't you understand?" she answered, "I don't have a few years. I know you don't believe the dreams I have of my Father are real, but they are real, and he has warned me that I must become stronger, or I will not survive. I must go back and destroy my Drow masters, before they come for me."

"Bloody rot!" he replied angrily. "I doubt those masters even noticed you left, and if they did, surely they would have given up by now."

Shann laughed bitterly. "You have no idea how vindictive, and patient, the dark ones can be. They will wait centuries to avenge an imagined slight, no matter how small. I cannot run far enough to be free of them, I must be stronger, no matter what it costs."

"If I ask the Guildmaster; he will keep you here."

"Don't be foolish, Jarond, I know you are trying to help me, but this is the best thing for me," Shann said sadly. "And the Guildmaster will not be so quick to keep me around, if I let him know the truth of my heritage. I won't be gone for good, you know, I'm not finished with the guild."

Arboral was the name of the mage Shann found through the Thieves Guild information networks. He was a blonde, well-fed, half-elven wizard who had spent many years working his way up the social structure of Baldur's Gate, and now commanded huge sums for his services from the elite of society. Shann bluffed her way into his house by forging a message from one of the ruling dukes. Arboral looked with distaste at Shann, after she admitted her deception, and explained to the wizard that she was looking to become his apprentice.

"Why," he asked icily, "would I, Arboral the respected, ever contemplate taking a common urchin like you as my apprentice?"

"Because," Shann said, smiling sweetly, "the pillar of society, Arboral, has a secret, one that could destroy him. Even the corrupt nobles of this city frown on certain, shall we say, activities. And a mongrel like yourself has less chance of surviving an open scandal than the average full-blooded deviant."

"Begone, whelp, I have nothing to hide," Arboral said, even though he had started to sweat.

"That raid on Madame Lyona's was a close one, wasn't it? I heard you had to pay nearly a year's worth of fees to keep your name out of that one. Those society matrons detest the thought of 'the poor little children being kept in those horrid brothels'. Just a hint about your liking for little girls and the demand for your cosmetic alteration spells will suffer most, most horribly. Am I right?" Shann asked as she winked at Arboral.

"I will not be blackmailed, you shall not leave this house alive," he stated.

"Don't be so hasty," Shann said with a sigh. "I have no intention of blackmailing you; I simply wish to propose an exchange of services. I want to learn magic, and you need a safe way to indulge your indecent desires, one that won't expose you to another disaster like the Madame Lyona incident. Agreed?"

"I see," he said as a smile slowly spread over his face. He studied her for a moment, and then lightly stroked her face, from forehead to chin, smiling even more when Shann could not stop herself from flinching. "Yes, if you're a good girl tonight, I might have time to teach you some cantrips in the morning."

The Thieves Guildmaster was not happy when Shann left to apprentice with the mage, Arboral. She mollified him by promising to work with the thieves when she could, that way Shann did not have to end her thief training completely. The dreams she had at night became less frightening when she began learning magic skills, the price of the skills was worth the end of her bad dreams. Rather than dreaming of Drow killing her friends in the Thieves Guild, Shann now had dreams where it was the Drow who died at her hands, and Father was proud of her.

#3 Guest_Wyvern_*

Posted 27 July 2005 - 04:37 AM

Heritage of Evil : Acceptance

Shevarash (shev-uh-rash), the elven god of vengeance, loss, and hatred of the drow, is chaotic neutral. His titles include the Black Archer and the Night Hunter. He was once a mortal elf whose family and friends were brutally killed during a drow attack. He swore vengeance, and he spent the rest of his life hunting drow and raiding their cities. Such was his dedication, that he was made a god after his death. His worshipers follow in his footsteps, swearing to destroy the hated drow and fearlessly hunting them down even at the doorsteps of their own cities. The domains associated with him are Chaos, Elf, Retribution, and War, and his favored weapon is the longbow.

"There, see?" Shann said, brushing some pastry crumbs off her hands, and pointing to an entry in the lore book on elven deities. "That's a god I can follow. Don't you agree, Jarond?" she asked the frowning halfling youth who sat by her in the thieves guild kitchen.

"You know how I feel about your obsession with killing your former Drow masters," he answered. "You've been free for over five years; it's time you stopped letting your past control you. I think you would be better off with a less bloodthirsty deity. Didn't you say your family worshipped Ilmater?"

"What a waste of time that was," she exclaimed, ignoring Jarond's pained look at her impious remarks. "Grandmother worshipped Ilmater for years, ever since that cleric of his befriended her after she was sold to the Drow by her Duergar clan. Mother accepted Ilmater too, but I know better. I will not accept suffering, I will make others suffer instead."

"I don't know if Shevarash would accept your worship considering that you're half ... " Jarond almost said the word 'Drow', but his voice trailed off when he saw his friend's hands start to clench.

"I am not!" Shann said as she slammed the book shut. "It doesn't matter, I want to kill Drow, and Shevarash will approve of that."

"It's obvious you don't care what I think," Jarond said. He scowled as he forced himself to eat, and scrutinized Shann. "Why are you really here? Your studies with that deviant mage don't leave you much time for pointless socializing."

"Alright," she sighed. "Arboral's up to something with some high government official named Reiltar Anchev. I'm afraid it's starting to cross over into Arboral's personal life, and might affect me. What does the guild rumour mill know about this Anchev?"

Jarond sat for a moment, sifting through the various bits of information he had memorized from the guild files. "Anchev is a highly respected member of society," he said slowly. "Though it is amazing how many obstacles to his advancement disappear. More than one of his political opponents has resigned due to scandal or health reasons," he added wryly.

"Then this Reiltar could be dangerous," she said thoughtfully. "If Arboral is gaining in power, and influence, with the corrupt elite of Baldur's Gate, he won't need to keep me as his apprentice for much longer." I'll have to watch this partnership carefully.

It was not long before Shann was able to judge Anchev for herself when he came to visit Arboral. Anchev had not tried to keep his association with the mage secret, and even brought his son with him when he came to Arboral's home. Shann had been left to entertain the boy while her tutor and the boy's father disappeared into Arboral's study. She stood in the middle of the room, and glared at the young man in front of her.

"There's no reason to be angry with me, apprentice," the boy said, half-grinning as he looked at her. "I don't even know why Reiltar dragged me here in the first place."

"I have much better ways to spend my time than catering to some lordling," she said, but decided there was no point in being hostile. "What is your name anyway? And why do you call your father by his first name?"

"He's not my father," the boy said quickly. "That is, he's my foster father. I'm Sarevok Anchev. Do you have a name other than apprentice, kid?"

"I'm not a kid! I'm nearly fourteen and you can't be more than a year or two older than me." She scowled as she looked at him, and then decided she may as well tell him the name she had chosen to call herself by. "I'm Shann Drowkiller," She said proudly.

"Drowkiller, really?" He drawled. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance," Sarevok said bowing with an exaggerated flourish. He looked up with a gleam in his eye. "Your Master Arboral seems like a real charmer."

"Yes he is," Shann agreed. "Almost as charming as that Reiltar Anchev. I'll bet Reiltar's a right bastard same as Arboral."

Few things draw people closer together than the chance to trade horror stories about the people who have control over their lives. Reiltar often brought Sarevok when he visited Arboral. As far as the two youths could tell, Reiltar was using Sarevok to cover the immoral and illegal business he was using Arboral's magic skills to conduct. Anyone following Reiltar's movements would be unlikely to suspect the man of dragging his foster son with him while he engaged in wrongdoing. As a result, Shann and Sarevok became friends. Shann was impressed by Sarevok's sense of justice and desire to someday fight against the corruption of officials like Reiltar. Sarevok was saddened when, just a couple of months after they met, Shann let him know she would soon be leaving.

"I've just about learned all I need from Arboral," she stated. Plus, I'm getting too old to interest him, he rarely touches me now at night, soon he'll start thinking about getting rid of me. "I'll be leaving to go home."

"Where is home?" Sarevok asked curiously; Shann had never told him of her past.

"Up north," she said evasively. "I used to be a slave. I'm going home to kill my former masters."

"You could probably do it too," Sarevok said admiringly. "If you don't get yourself killed, maybe you can come back and work for me in a few years."

On the night Shann determined to leave, she added a sleeping draught to the wine Arboral always demanded she bring him in his study. His wards will detect a poison, but not a harmless drug like this, she reasoned as she handed the goblet to the mage. Arboral absently accepted the drink, and turned back to studying his account books, once again adding up the value of his various investments.

Shann went over to the bookcase, and stood there scanning the titles while keeping one eye on Arboral. He soon started to nod, and dropped his head on his arms as he fell asleep. Shann waited a moment, half afraid he had detected her treachery, and was feigning sleep. Finally, she walked up to him and shook him roughly, relieved when he made no sign of coming awake. She drew a small dagger from beneath her tunic, and pulled the mage's head back, exposing his throat.

The knife shook and almost fell from the girl's hands. Shann's eyes were wide with excitement, but she could not bring herself to make the killing stroke. I don't have a reason to do this, I made an agreement with the mage, and Arboral fulfilled his side of the bargain.

She was almost out of the room, when she hesistated and looked back. I'm being weak, I hate Arboral, and if I kill him, I will prove myself stronger than him. There are other ways to kill, if I can't bring myself to slit his throat with my own hands. She stepped back, and looked around the room a moment, before moving over to the cabinet where the dangerous potions were kept locked up. The lock was easy for Shann to pick, and she took out two orange coloured potions.

She opened one vial, and carefully poured the liquid over the sleeping mage, soaking his heavy robes. Satisfied, Shann walked out of the study, and then turned around and threw the second vial at the floor beside Arboral. She started running before the potion hit the floor, and was half-way down the hall when an explosion shook the room behind her. She turned to see the glow of flames starting to fill the study, and smiled.

Shann left Baldur's Gate quietly, hoping her friends would not think she was dead in the fire that swept through Arboral's house, but not stopping to let anyone know she had not died with her master. She looked forwards to the trip that would take her back to the place she had been born, knowing she was much stronger than she had been when she left, and would be even more powerful by the time she reached the N'evarn colony.

The roads between settlements were filled with hungry bandits, and Shann passed more than one group unseen. She sometimes amused herself by raiding the camps of the thieves, until she realized there was a better use for the desperate outlaws. If I am to track and kill the Drow, she reasoned, I need to find the best ways to take out an opponent. Arboral's death had made Shann feel a little guilty, but the main emotions she had felt were pride, and joy. Now, she realized she wanted to feel that way again.

The next group of outlaws Shann came across was a small one, consisting of four poorly equipped men. She watched them silently for a few days, seeing how they fought when two travelling peasants crossed their paths, one peasant died, but the other was allowed to limp on his way, followed by the harsh laughter of the robbers. They are murderers, I have every right to kill them.

That night, Shann crept up to the bandits' camp, using her night vision to watch them from behind a thick bush. The fire was a bright spot that danced in Shann's sight, almost making her forget to watch the duller shapes that encircled it. Patiently, she watched all four men fall asleep, and waited until one of them woke and staggered out of the camp on his way to the hole that served as the camp's latrine.

Excitement made Shann tremble as she followed her target, eager to see how well her plan worked. Whispering the words, she cast a spell of silence at the bandit. He did not notice the spell, and had no idea he was in danger, until Shann rushed forwards and drove her dagger into the back of his knee as she knocked him over. He fell down in agony, but when he tried to scream, no sound could be heard. He fumbled for his sword, but the small figure with the bright red eyes slit his throat before he could do more than grasp its hilt.

Breathing heavily, Shann stood there, amazed at how easy it had been to kill. She looked towards the camp, and moved forwards. Satisfaction marked her face; she was happy because this murder had been done with her own hands, and the scent of her foe's blood filled her head with an intoxicating fragrance. I am strong, and killing my enemies will make me stronger. Father was right.


*Shevarash entry from: A Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting Web Enhancement by Thomas E. Rinschler

#4 Guest_Wyvern_*

Posted 29 July 2005 - 06:57 PM

Heritage of Evil:Descent

Snow fell softly, and Shann looked up at the swirling flakes with joy. Soon the N'evarn colony would be completely isolated. Whenever a decent amount of snow fell, the two paths that led down the mountain became nearly impassable. The Drow had kept the paths narrow to make it hard for attackers to reach the colony, but the same defence would turn against them, now that an enemy was waiting to stalk the elves from within the valley.

It had taken Shann almost a year to reach the mountain valley. She spent more time learning how to track and kill enemies, than actually travelling. Shann practiced on any sentient creatures she came across, mostly human bandits, but some other races as well, including many of the monster breeds, such as orcs, goblins, and one ogre. Fear was the tactic she found worked best with all enemies. She had trained herself to use a bow, the perfect weapon for killing from a distance. Hide in the shadows, strike once, and then disappear. Have patience, the longer they wait for you to attack again, the better. No one can stay at full alert for days on end, without becoming tired and weak.

Footprints lay in the new-fallen snow, and Shann frowned when she saw them. She would have to be careful when invisible, and try not to walk where the snow was soft, or her tracks would betray her. A large part of her success as an assassin was due to her ability to become invisible, strike her opponent, and then disappear again. Shann's Father had been pleased with her actions when she left Baldur's Gate, and he had helped Shann improve her innate powers of invisibility. Not only was she undetectable by magical means when invisible, she could now become invisible three, sometimes four, times in between rest periods.

They will learn fear, Shann thought, and she smiled as she looked down at the buildings that housed her enemies. For over a month she had been waiting, observing the elves, and devising a plan of attack. She prepared for her first Drow kill carefully, and followed a lone hunter as he stalked and slew a mountain sheep. She waited until he knelt to examine the animal, and then attacked. The Drow was not wearing armour, and it took only one arrow, aimed perfectly at his heart, to end the hunter's life. Shann stood over him as he laboured to breathe in vain, and watched his life depart. The dark one died the same as any other creature. The masters are only mortal after all.

Now that the Drow were trapped in the valley, Shann began her campaign of terror. The hunter had been the first to die, but others soon followed him. She was careful to kill in secret, taking Drow who wandered away from their companions, and savaging the bodies to make it appear like some wild creature had attacked them. It was not long before the elves organized hunts that destroyed all the large predators in the valley, and Shann's kills were recognized as the act of an intelligent enemy.

The patrols grew more alert, and Shann stopped her attacks, content to let the Drow scurry about, trying to find the enemy in their midst. She trusted in Bhaal and Shevarash to keep Lloth's priestesses from divining her nature and location. Lloth's altar was bloody for days on end, the Drow commander, Mistress Sidhie, even allowed some valuable slaves to be sacrificed to the spider queen in a vain attempt to identify the predator in the valley. Lloth never answered the Drow's prayers, and Shann could walk freely in the colony, as long as she was invisible.

Shann kept quiet for half a month, letting the Drow think they had chased their killer away, but she was not going to let them relax. "Lloth cannot help you," Shann hissed into the sleeping Sidhie's ear one night. She laughed when the Drow awoke with a curse, calling for her guards, and asking Lloth for the power of truesight. Contemptuously, Shann slew the lesser priestess who had entered the room. For a moment, Shann was visible to the guards, who stared at her as though she was a demon, and then moved to attack her. Shann called on her invisibility just before Sidhie could cast a spell at her, and then slipped out of the room. The guards will tell the tale of the helpless high priestess, and all shall fear me now.

The colony was mobilized, all Drow and most slaves were sent to search every part of the grounds for signs of the intruder. Rather than try to escape through the myriad watchers, Shann walked to the slave quarters, and fell asleep in an empty corner. She woke when the slaves returned from the fruitless hunt, and was about to leave, when she spotted her grandmother, Berthild, talking to one of the other slaves. Shann waited until her grandmother turned away, to find an empty spot to sleep in, and then quietly walked over to her. Most of the slaves were already asleep, too exhausted to do anything else, and Shann was not noticed when she dropped her invisibility, and spoke to Berthild.

"Hello, Grandmother," she said quietly.

Berthild looked at her for a moment. "Shann?" she whispered, and tears formed in her eyes when Shann nodded. Berthild looked around, and then pulled Shann hastily into the shadows, fearful of being seen by unfriendly eyes. Tears streamed down Berthild's face, and Shann allowed her grandmother to hold her, but felt little emotion herself.

"I am glad you are still alive, but where have you been, and why have you come back?" Berthild whispered after she regained her composure.

"I was in the surfacer city of Baldur's Gate, and learned both magery, and warcraft," Shann said. "I have returned to kill them all."

"You mean the Drow?" Berthild said uneasily. "Is revenge all you think of?"

"They killed my Mother, your daughter, why should I not want vengeance?" Shann asked.

"Then you are who the Drow are searching for, the hidden one that kills in secret."

"Yes, was that not obvious?" Shann said, with a light laugh. "You should be happy, because, once the masters are all dead, the slaves will be free."

"You are not thinking of the slaves, do not try to fool me," Berthild admonished, and her voice was sad. "You are drawing this out for your own amusement, you enjoy the fear you create."

"What makes you say that?" Shann asked in a harsh tone. "I cannot face them all at once. I must weaken the Drow somehow, and fear is the best means of keeping them off balance."

"Nonsense," Berthild snapped. "You had the chance to destroy Mistress Sidhie, and did not take it. The loss of the commander would have led to a power struggle among the lesser Drow; that would have unsettled them more than they are now."

"I know what I am doing," Shann said angrily.

"Yes, you are listening to the base urges of your tainted blood. You did not come here to help the slaves. You only want to make the masters suffer."

"Perhaps I am enjoying myself. What does it matter? The end will be the same, the slaves will be free because of me."

"It matters, Shann," Berthild said quietly. "Violence is not the answer, and it is even worse if you enjoy the carnage you create."

"Then what is the answer, old woman?" Shann said dismissively. "To accept your lot in life, and submit to those in power? Pray to Ilmater, if you wish, and hope that when you die he will reward you. I have the power to get what I want in this life."

"Ilmater's way is not one of weakness, or submission, child," Berthild sighed. "I thought we taught you better, but it is not too late. Let go of your hatred, and allow me ..."

"Forget it, I have no interest in your foolish beliefs. Goodbye, Grandmother," Shann said as she faded out of view. She stopped at the door, and glanced back at Berthild, who had hidden her face in her hands. For a moment, Shann looked as though she would go back, but her fists clenched, and she continued on her way. Almost without thought, Shann slit the throat of the outermost guard as she left the colony.

A few days later, two shadowy figures left the colony. They were completely covered in hooded white cloaks, and headed for the closest path down the mountain. "Accursed sun," the younger one muttered.

"Hush fool, the hidden one strikes at night," the other whispered back in a breathless voice. "It will be safer if we travel during the day. We have no choice if we wish to survive. Lloth has abandoned Mistress Sidhie, and she will die like all the rest who stay in this doomed place. The road is difficult in winter, but not impossible to navigate. I will gain prestige by reporting Sidhie's failure to the Matron Mother."

"Or not," Shann said as she stepped out to greet the fleeing Drow. "I move freely in the day, as well as the night. What is this I see? Two baby spiders, all alone."

"Halt! The power of Lloth is with me, you cannot stand against us," said the elder girl. Her words were proud, but a tremor in her voice betrayed her fear.

Shann laughed; the Drow were young, little more than children, and posed no threat to her. "Poor little mistresses, near blinded by the sun," she said in a sing-song voice. "I have half a mind to let you go." The younger girl looked hopeful, but the elder's face grew grim, as she gripped her mace inexpertly, and prepared to fight. Shann saw the weak gesture of defiance, and a feral look appeared in her eyes. She was smiling when she walked away, leaving two small, bloodied bodies in the snow.

The fleeing youths were the last Drow to leave themselves open to attack. Sidhie and the nine surviving elves barricaded themselves in the central building, and set wards at all the entrances. The higher ranking slaves were used to keep order among the lesser slaves, and see to it that the Drow did not lack for anything. Shann killed a few of the slaves, but there were always new ones to take their place, and she was getting bored. Time to finish this, she resolved. Grandmother should be pleased, I will destroy them all at once, and end this game.

The mines were being carelessly maintained, as the absence of the Drow meant the slaves were no longer driven by fear. The overseers still maintained control, but were too busy quelling the pockets of resistance that kept breaking out, to keep the mines operating in their usual brutally efficient manner. Shann found it a simple matter to appropriate a few of the delayed blast explosive spells that were manufactured for use in clearing new tunnels. The trickiest part of this plan, will be adjusting the spell delays properly. It was nice of the Drow to barricade themselves in one place.

The wards of protection were placed around the doors that led to the building, but the walls and foundations were not shielded. Shann went around the circular building, directing the spell explosions inward. She chanted the activation words softly, and walked away, counting to herself, when all the blast spells were in place. She tensed when one of the guards went on patrol around the building, but the first blast occurred before he could spot the faint marks Shann's activities had left in the snow. The spell was followed in quick succession by four more, and a deafening roar filled the air. I mistimed one, Shann thought calmly, and then nodded as the final explosion added its fiery glow to the others.

She saw the guard get thrown backwards, the flames were directed away from him, but the force of the blast threw him violently across the courtyard, and it was clear that his neck had been broken. The building crumbled as the walls were blown inwards, and the heavy stone roof collapsed. She shifted to night vision, and tried to see if any humanoid shapes were moving in the demolished structure.

"Maris!" a voice cried out. "Maris was in there, please we have to find him. Help me!"

Shann saw an elderly human woman being held back from the still-flaming rubble by an orcish youth. Other slaves were starting to gather around the pit, most looked stunned, but a few had started fire brigades, worried that the flames would ignite the nearby buildings, most of which were made of wood, not stone.

"There is no life there," a weary slave, a priest of Tymora, said. "The spells show no one is alive."

"No, you're wrong! My wife ..." a man said angrily as he moved to strike the priest. The priest merely shook his head, and held the man gently when he broke down, weeping.

Shann watched it all, and marvelled at the foolishness of the slaves. The Drow were dead, that was all that mattered. Why weep for the slaves who died? They served the Drow, and deserved no better. I have destroyed my enemies, just as Father promised.

#5 Guest_Wyvern_*

Posted 29 July 2005 - 07:11 PM

Heritage of Evil:Sacrifice

The ruins of the last refuge of the N'evarn Drow had almost stopped smouldering before the slaves realized they were free. Some seemed dazed, and would do nothing without being prodded, while others reacted with a dangerous level of exuberance; indulging in a wild orgy of celebration. A small group, led by the priest of Ilmater, Jonell Shanter, and his acolyte, the dwarf Berthild, did their best to restore order to the colony.

Berthild was in the newly designated temple, what used to be the Drow officer's quarters, preparing the salvaged bodies of the dead, slaves and masters alike, for the death rites, when she saw the neck pouch of one of the dead Drow floating in the air. She frowned and walked over to the pallet where the corpse lay.

"Do you desecrate the dead now, Shann?" Berthild asked quietly.

"I'm only taking my due," Shann said as she dropped her invisibility spell, and pocketed the house insignia of the dead Drow. "Why do you bother with death rites for filth like this? Let them rot where they died."

"The dead, all dead, should be respected. That is what separates us from the animals," Berthild said. "Why have you remained hidden? You succeeded in destroying the masters, though the price was high; many decent people died that should not have."

"Lectures, it's always lectures with you," Shann complained, and hunted through another Drow pouch, ignoring her Grandmother's pained expression. "I'm not done yet, there's still one Drow to eliminate."

"One left?" Berthild said, and her face grew pale. "Do, do you mean yourself?" She asked.

"Watch your mouth, old woman," Shann snapped. "I am no Drow, and if you dare to suggest that again, I will ...," she swallowed, and narrowed her eyes as she looked at Berthild. "I see, you were hoping that I did not know about the whelp. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but I won't be killing myself anytime soon."

"Shann, wait," Berthild called, as Shann turned and hurried out of the temple. Berthild stood for a moment, nervously wringing her hands, and then picked up her skirts, and ran towards a small hut on the outskirts of the camp.

Shann scowled as she left the temple. Why did I speak to her? Now I have to eliminate the dark elf before the old woman interferes. She saw no one outside the small, run-down wooden shack that housed the last N'evarn Drow. Many of the former slaves shared Shann's hatred of the dark elves, and tended to shun the occupants of the hut.

A tired looking human woman with lank, dishevelled blond hair looked up when Shann entered her home. Her soft hands, and well-fed plumpness, suggested she was once treated better than the other slaves. Now she was busy sewing a patch onto a leather jacket, and a pile of other clothes were mounded in a heap beside a rickety table. A small child sat cross-legged on a pallet on the floor, idly playing with a handful of buttons.

"If you've mending for me, I'm afraid I won't be able to help you. I've several days work already," she said, raising a hand to shield her eyes from the bright light that streamed through the open doorway.

"I've come for the dark elf, stand aside and you won't be harmed," Shann said.

"Vel'gar?" She said, standing up and scattering the clothes. "Why do you ... no. You are the assassin, the hidden one. Vel'gar," she said, turning to the boy who was looking at her with a confused and worried expression. "I want you to run when she moves away from the door. Go to Jonell, he will help you."

"Why protect him?" Shann asked, puzzled. "You have lost the privileges that being a nursemaid once gave you. The boy is a burden to you now. Just another Drow; born to evil and better off dead."

The child's guardian's hands shook, but her face grew stern, and she brandished the only weapon she had, a poker from the fireplace. "I will not let you harm him," she said firmly.

"You can't stop me," Shann sneered, and started chanting as she prepared a spell. A cylinder of flame began to form between her hands. "You may consider yourself privileged again, this is the first time I've used this spell," she taunted as she flung an arrow of flame at the defiant woman. The boy shrank into a corner as his nurse fell moaning to the floor, trying to quell the flames that were burning a hole in her stomach.

Shann stepped around the writhing woman, and drew her dagger as she approached the whimpering child. No spells for this one. I want his blood to mark my blade. She turned at the sound of footsteps at the door, and saw Berthild standing there, a dark figure framed by the sunlight.

"Accursed child, I will not let this go on," Berthild said, and raised her voice in a prayer to Ilmater.

"What are you doing, Old woman?" Shann snarled, turning until her back was against the wall. "Grandmother?" she said, with a touch of fear as something seemed to press against her, making it hard to breathe. "Grandma?" she whispered in a child's voice as Berthild reached out to touch her, and they both fell senseless to the floor.

Shann awoke in a panic, and tried to sit up, but fell weakly back onto a hard bed. Where am I? She moved more slowly this time, and grasped the bedpost to pull herself up. The room was dark, and Shann automatically tried to use mage light, but could not make the magic work. Cursing, she shifted to her night vision and tried to make out her surroundings. The room was sparse with no furnishings, save the bed, and Shann saw nothing she could use as a weapon. She tensed when she heard the latch to the door being pulled, and tried to calm her racing heart.

"Finally awake," a quiet voice said. And a thin, pale man entered, carrying a candle. "I greet you, Shann Lightfoot."

"That's Shann Drowkiller; I've earned that name," she corrected, and then frowned when she regarded the Ilmater priest. "Jonell Shanter," Shann said without warmth, and her eyes narrowed as she shifted back to day vision. "I remember you. As foolish as Grandmother in your choice of worship. What has she done to me? I demand you tell me," she said angrily, though weakness made her voice falter.

"Berthild has tried to save you," he answered sharply.

"Save me! The bitch has made me weak. All that I have strived to learn, my magic, my connection to my Father, all gone. I can sense it. She has destroyed me," Shann wailed.

"Fool child," Jonell admonished. "Bhaal's strength was an illusion, and you were far too eager to give your soul over to his wicked lies. Berthild petitioned Ilmater to intervene, and sever Bhaal's hold on you. I do not know why, but Ilmater, in his wisdom, saw fit to grant Berthild's prayer."

"Damn her. Damn him," Shann whispered.

"Not likely," Jonell replied, and his face was grim. "Berthild has earned her place in Ilmater's realm."

"She's dead?" Shann said, her voice emotionless.

"A sacrifice she chose to make, and Ilmater accepted," he said, and searched vainly for a sign of sadness in the face of the young woman who watched him with open hostility. He sighed, and handed Shann a letter. "She wrote this for you, you should read it."

Shann looked listlessly at the letter in her hand, then deliberately held it against the burning candle. The paper caught on fire before the startled priest could move the candle away, and Shann threw the flaming paper on the ground. "I did not ask the old woman for help," she said, turning her back on the priest. He shook his head, and walked out, carefully closing the door behind him.

Jonell did his best to take care of Shann, in memory of Berthild, though it was clear he did not like her. The others in the community were divided in their opinions. Many, even some who had lost family due to her campaign against the Drow, approved of her actions, while others considered her an evil murderer. Even people who came to thank Shann for their freedom watched her warily, however, and Shann became used to seeing rooms empty whenever she entered them. They are all afraid of me, she thought, with both pride and sadness.

As soon as she could walk unassisted, Shann asked Jonell for her weapons, and left the colony. I'm better off alone. That's how I'll get strong again, she told herself, and went back to one of the camps she set up when she was hunting the Drow. For many days she did little except wander the woods, and hunted no more than necessary for her food. She tried to use magic, and found that with study she could cast basic cantrips again, but had no desire to spend time relearning all her old spells. Why bother? The masters are dead, and there is nothing more for me to do.

Bhaal was silent, and sent no dreams or feelings to Shann. I was weak, and he has abandoned me. Tentatively, she tried to reach out to her father, and could almost hear him as though he was calling from across a vast distance. I can get him back, become strong again, she realized, but hesitated. I was powerful, but reckless. I could have died because of my bloodlust and I do not think Father would have cared. Worshipping Shevarash only made my lust for vengeance stronger, and that made me forgo caution to indulge my wish to see the Drow suffer. I cannot listen to Father again, or the desire to inflict chaos and murder will lead me to my death.

For eight years, Shann had focused on gaining the power to return to her birthplace and destroy the N'evarn Drow. She never thought of what she would do once they were dead. She considered finding other Drow to hunt, but was beginning to understand her Grandmother's distaste at her recent campaign of terror. I relished the fear I created. My cruelty made me no better than those I hunted.

Soon the welcome warmth of spring came to the valley, and the paths down the mountain began to clear of snow. The former slaves started preparing for a long march away from the colony; hoping to leave nothing but empty buildings to puzzle the Drow traders that would come for the winter's inventory from the mines. Shann watched the activity, and finally walked into the camp, barely noticing people flinch when they saw her; some even made signs to ward off evil.

"Hello, Jonell," she said, walking up to the priest of Ilmater who was directing the packing of the temple supplies.

He looked up, and waved a hand to dismiss the people assisting him, and then turned to Shann. "Have you come to join us in our journey away from here, Shann Drowkiller?" he asked in a cold voice.

"No, no I will travel alone," she replied, and shifted nervously. "I..I just wanted to know if you knew what Grandmother wrote in her letter to me. I wish I had not destroyed it."

"I see," Jonell said, and his voice softened a bit. He turned and leafed through a box of papers that was stacked nearby, ready to be loaded on a cart. He came out with a short, bitter laugh, and then passed a note to Shann. "Berthild said you might destroy her letter, so she wrote a second copy."

"Oh, thank you," Shann said, and turned to leave.

"One moment," Jonell called, and Shann turned to look at him. "Your mother named you Lightfoot. I believe both her and your Grandmother would prefer you use that name, rather than Drowkiller."

"Perhaps," Shann murmured, and walked away. She waited until she was alone to read her letter:

Shann, beloved daughter of my daughter,

I have waited for you to come forth now that the masters are dead, but I fear you will not, and have been lost to the dark desires of your cursed father. If you are reading this, then my prayers to Ilmater have been fruitful, and your father's influence has, I trust, been diminished. Before you ask, yes, my sacrifice was necessary, remember: the gods cannot grant favours without demanding a price, or mortals will grow slothful and greedy.

I am sorry I cannot express myself better, or make my meaning clearer. Remember that neither your mother, nor myself, loved you less because of your sire. The blood of evil runs in your veins, but you have it within you to deny that blood, and follow whatever path you choose. I understand the lure of power that led you to accept your father's 'gifts', but keep this in mind: Would an evil god really want to be replaced by his offspring? No, he would be more likely to make plans for his resurrection, than lay the path for a successor.

Compassion is strength,

She preaches even beyond the grave, Shann noted, with a wry smile. What am I supposed to do now?

"What are you going to do now, whore?" a harsh voice demanded, and Shann looked up at a red-faced mercenary clad in a tattered leather jerkin. He was flanked by two men who looked as though they had not changed their clothes in a year.

"Not a whore," Shann mumbled, and looked unhappily at her nearly empty mug. "Want to buy me a drink, handsome?"

"I did that yesterday, you stupid ..." he growled, and struck the table in front of Shann, who jumped slightly and grabbed her mug off the table. "Gods, drunk already, and the sun's not even down yet," the mercenary said with disgust.

"What were you thinking, Risto?" one of the mercenary's friends laughed. "This half-breed's worse than any whore. A whore don't give it away for free."

"Neither did this one," Risto said angrily. "Where's my money?" he roared at Shann.

"Don't blame me if someone picked your pocket," Shann said, as the scent of danger started to sober her up a bit. "I don't need to steal; I'm rich 'cause I killed a whole colony of Drow." I was rich, but it's amazing how fast money disappears in these Waterdeep taverns.

"No one believes that rot you spout," Risto snarled, and pulled out a small club. "I'll take my losses out of your hide," he said, and swung at Shann's head. She threw up an arm to block the strike, and the club hit her forearm with a sharp crack.

"Uh, Risto, do you think you should ...," one of his friends said, then stopped and stared at the empty space where Shann had sat a moment ago. "Mages, I hate friggin' mages. Let's just get out of here, Risto. You learned a lesson, leave it at that," he said, and led a fuming Risto out of the inn.

Shann stood in the corner watching them leave, holding her aching arm. At least she had not lost her ability to turn invisible, though she could no longer use her ability more than once a day. Shann winced as she tried to move her arm. I think it's broken, she sighed. Time for another trip to Tymora's temple. At least I have money for healing. That mercenary was carrying a small fortune.

A sailor walked into Shann as she headed away from the inn. She cursed him angrily, before she remembered she was invisible, and chuckled as the poor man blanched, and stumbled on his way. She dropped her invisibility when she reached the temple doors, and stepped into the familiar waiting room. The two priests on duty were busy, and Shann sat down to wait her turn. Her eyes closed, and she drifted off to sleep.

"Good evening, sister, may Tymora's luck shine on you," a cheerful voice said, waking Shann up. "Are you in need of healing?"

"Yes," she said, smiling at the young priest in front of her. "I think my arm's broken."

"You're new here," Shann said as the priest laid his hands on her arm, and called for Tymora's blessing.

"My first posting," he replied. "This wasn't an accident," he said, frowning. "If you need help ..."

"No, I do not," Shann said firmly, as she counted out coins to pay for the healing.

"Ah, Korac, I see you've met Shann," the older priest said as he walked up to them. "You'll see a lot of her; she's been a regular for almost three months now. Comes in with a different social disease every week. What was it this time?"

"Just a broken arm," Shann snapped. "And I always pay for my healing; you've no cause for complaint," she yelled as the priest walked away. "I've only been in a couple of times, well, no more than four or five at the most," she muttered to Korac.

"A working girl then," Korac said. "There are ways to protect yourself from the hazards of your ... profession. I am surprised you don't already own an amulet that will shield you from the worst of the venereal diseases."

"I am not a whore," Shann said, for the second time this evening. "Please don't start listing your wares, I don't want any protection."

"You're relying too much on luck. Sooner or later you'll get something that can't be cured," Korac said sadly. "The Calimshite Disease, perhaps, or the Thayvian Rot."

"Probably," Shann said with a shrug.

Korac sighed and rubbed his temples. He could sense the woman in front of him was deeply troubled, and felt it was his duty to try to help her, but had no idea what to do. "Tymora can help you with whatever troubles you have," he said softly, and put a hand on Shann's shoulder. "I don't know what you are doing that brings you here so often, but it will likely lead to your death."

"So?" Shann said, and stepped back. "What business is it of yours, Tymora's, or any of the gods, if I want to kill myself?" she demanded angrily before storming out of the room.

But I don't want to kill myself, she thought abruptly as she headed for the exit to the street. Shann stopped, and looked at her image in the silver symbol of Tymora that hung on the wall beside the doorway. I look ... old, she thought, tracing the outline of her face. She reached for a strand of her hair and stared at it, unblinking, for a moment. When did it start to go grey? What have I been doing? Did Grandmother die so I could drink myself senseless, and sleep with any man who asks me? I don't even like being touched by them. Why do I do it?

Soon after her meeting with Korac, Shann gathered what remained of her belongings, and signed on as a guard for a caravan that was headed for Baldur's Gate. I had friends there, once, she remembered. It will be better this time, for I will no longer be obsessed with Bhaal's promises. I have no Father.

#6 Guest_Wyvern_*

Posted 29 July 2005 - 07:20 PM

Heritage of Evil:Masquerade

The stone walls of Baldur's Gate appeared in the distance as a dark line that stretched across the horizon. Travel weary guards began to relax when small carriages and farmer's carts joined them on the widening road. The guards, who had been tense for most of the journey from Waterdeep, started joking and laughing as they approached their destination. Bandits were not likely to attack even a rich prize like the heavily laden merchant caravan this close to the city.

After a cursory inspection, the caravan was allowed to pass the city gates, and soon the extra guards hired for the trip were paid for their escort duties, and sent on their way. Most headed for the nearest taverns, but one headed off for the poorer section of town, navigating the maze of streets with an ease that suggested she was familiar with the city.

She walked through the rubbish strewn streets of the slums with confidence, aware that she was being watched, but certain the weapons she carried openly, and more importantly, her evident lack of wealth, would help keep muggers away from her. She stopped outside a narrow townhouse, and looked at it with a small smile. Few who did not live in the neighbourhood would guess that the row of eight normal looking houses were all joined together to form one massive complex.

She rang the bell, and argued with the woman who talked to her through the closed door. Soon, however, she threw her hands up in a gesture of defeat, and walked away.

Across from the rowhouses was a small square which provided space for a collection of vendors, selling everything from fresh fish to spell components. The former guard went to one of the stalls, and purchased a meat pie which she ate with evident enjoyment, before settling down against the wall and resting with half-closed eyes. Few took notice of the lounging figure as the hours passed, and she startled the nearest vendor when she suddenly jumped up, and darted across the street.

"Marte!" she cried as she approached a shuffling, white-haired man on the steps of the disguised complex.

"Who are ye?" he asked, squinting at the young woman while surreptitiously flicking a throwing dagger out of his sleeve into the palm of his hand with an agility that suggested he was younger than he looked.

"It's alright, Marte," she said soothingly. "It's me, Shann. I hope you remember me. I used to scout targets for you and others in this guild. I went away for a while, and now that darn door warden wouldn't let me in."

"I remember you well enough, youngster," Marte said, chuckling to himself. "Glad to see you're still alive. After that fire gutted the house of your master Arboral, Salla the Sly started taking bets on whether or not you were dead too. She tried to declare you dead, and collect from those of us who thought you had survived, a few months ago, but the Guildmaster insisted on keeping the books open a while longer. So, I'd be more than happy to escort you into the Thieves Guild, and collect my winnings from the old girl."

Shann was chatting with her old locksmithing teacher, trading information about events in Waterdeep and Baldur's Gate, when a new arrival, a fine-featured, dark haired halfling youth, shouted her name, with a mixture of disbelief and surprise.

"Jarond," she grinned, and stood up to embrace her old friend.

Jarond stepped back, and scowled up at the perplexed woman. "It's been well over two years since you disappeared without a word," he said. "I wasn't sure if you were dead in that fire, lass, or not. You should have found some way to let me know."

"I'm sorry," Shann said, biting her lip. "I had things to do, and never gave a thought to anything but my task."

"Ay, killing those masters of yours," Jarond said with distaste.

"Yes, well, it didn't work out quite like I thought it would," Shann said, her eyes fixed on the wall behind Jarond.

"I should say not," Jarond replied, eying the fine lines in Shann's face. "You've aged terribly. I told you listening to that father of yours was a bad idea."

There was a short silence, while Shann and Jarond looked at each other, both reluctant to discuss matters further. Eventually they began talking of old times, and laughed at the antics of the newer members of the guild. Shann was not fooled, however, and knew that letting Jarond think she might be dead had hurt him terribly.

Several days later, Shann knew she would not be joining the guild again. Somehow her old home just did not feel the same anymore, and she no longer felt comfortable with her old companions.

Shann was trying to decide where to go next, when one of the assassins mentioned Sarevok Anchev was recruiting talent from the criminal classes. It was generally believed that Sarevok was working on behalf of his father, Reiltar Anchev, who was playing his own power games among the legitimate elite of Baldur's Gate. Sarevok hates Reiltar, and his cruelty. I'm sure he's planning something that will destroy Reiltar in the end, Shann thought, remembering the youth she had known briefly when she was last in Baldur's Gate. I wonder if Sarev will be happy to see me.

Crouching on a thin ledge, Shann peered into a large, sparsely decorated room. A muscular man, clad in a simple dark tunic, sat at his desk studying old battle records. Shann muttered an incantation under her breath, and smiled when the man looked up, every muscle visibly tensing, when a light thump sounded just outside his door. He looked longingly towards his armour, but settled for speed, and simply picked up a large sword, nearly as long as he was, and moved beside the door, ready to ambush whoever came through.

"Wrong move, Sarev," Shann called merrily from her perch. Sarevok whirled with his sword raised, then relaxed when he recognized the grinning girl who was climbing in to his room.

"Shann Drowkiller!" he shouted happily, "I knew you didn't die in that explosion." Shann just looked smug, and Sarevok gestured in the direction the noise had come from. "How?" he asked.

"Simple spell of misdirection, you've no idea how useful that one has been," Shann explained as she seated herself on Sarevok's desk. "Oh, and I've dropped the Drowkiller, I call myself Lightfoot now."

"Why the name change?"

"I'm done with killing Drow," she said, as she unconsciously clasped a pouch that hung from her waist. "I never did tell you that my owners were Drow," she added, answering Sarevok's unspoken question.

"You've grown up quite a bit," Shann said to change the subject. Sarevok was indeed almost a foot taller than the last time she had seen him.

"And you, um, haven't." Sarevok said, and laughed when Shann glared at him. He knew she never did like being shorter than most of the humans she dealt with.

"Word on the street is that Sarevok Anchev is building himself a private little army," Shann stated.

"I will be strong, in time I will control the Iron throne itself," Sarevok said.

"You mean, you will help destroy the corruption that lies within the Iron throne," Shann said, startled by Sarevok's passionate declaration.

"Corruption?" Sarevok said, wrinkling his brow with confusion.

"Yes, the corruption that allows the cruelty of men like Reiltar to destroy lives with no retribution," Shann said, summing up statements Sarevok had made years ago.

"Oh, yes, that too," Sarevok said, after staring at her blankly for a moment. "But, most of all, I want the Iron Throne under my command."

"To what end?"

"For power and control!" Sarevok said, his eyes shining with desire.

"What about justice? You used to want power because of what you could do with it," Shann said sharply. "Now it sounds like power has become an end in itself."

"I deserve to rule!" Sarevok said wildly. "I am destined to become a god, and all shall be beneath me."

Shann looked searchingly at Sarevok. For a moment, she wondered if he was playing some sort of strange game, but one look at the intense fire in his eyes convinced her he was speaking in earnest. Actually, Sarevok sounded insane. What did he mean about becoming a god? She looked around the room and saw his armour on its stand. It was an unusual design that had long spikes decorating it.

"Your armour," she said, "the spikes are not exactly practical. Actually, it almost looks like…" her voice trailed off. It looked like Bhaal's armour that he wore when he had come to Shann in dreams. Now that the thought had come to her, Shann found that if she concentrated she could sense the Bhaaltaint in Sarevok. It was guiding him, pushing him towards chaos and bloodlust.

"Sarevok," she said quietly. "Power is not a goal in itself. I know Bhaal is seductive, but his sort of strength is without justice, or mercy."

"Ah, now I understand," Sarevok said, and it seemed he was listening to an inner voice. A dangerous glint came into his eyes. For a moment Shann thought he would attack her, but he calmed down and almost seemed like the old Sarevok. "Sister, could you have destroyed those Drow masters of yours without the power Bhaal gave you?"

"No," Shann said truthfully. "But it did not stop there." She hated admitting it, but she had to. Haltingly, she told Sarevok about her actions in the Drow colony. She had been eager to embrace Bhaal, and even now had a hard time explaining to Sarevok why she thought Bhaal's promises were nothing but seductive lies, designed to ultimately destroy the one who believes them.

"By the end the Bhaaltaint started driving me to prey on the slaves, not just the masters. I would have slain an infant without remorse. Bhaal was the god of murder, and the bloodlust cares not for justice or right and wrong. Death is all that matters," Shann stated, but was afraid her voice lacked conviction. How can I convince Sarevok to renounce Bhaal, when part of me still desperately longs to embrace him again?

"You were weak, sister. I control my Bhaalblood, and with it I shall reign supreme," Sarevok said with confidence. "If you chose to throw away your chance at power, that was your loss," he looked at Shann, and then smiled. "But I am glad that your rejection of our Father's gifts means that I will not have to fight you, my friend. There can only be one successor to Bhaal, you know. Perhaps you can stay and aid in my rise to glory?"

"I might do that," Shann said thoughtfully. "But first, I have a last bit of business to do. It may take a while but I will be back."

Before she left on her journey, Shann let Jarond know she was going away. "You were right," she told him. "Listening to Bhaal is a mistake. This time it is not me who is making the mistake, though, and I have to try to find out more about my heritage for the sake of my brother."

Shann searched the cities of the sword coast for information on ways to shield Sarevok from Bhaal's influence. Neither the arcane libraries, nor the temples, yielded any helpful knowledge. Little was known about the Bhaalspawn, and what information she could find was usually based on the prophecies of Alaundo. Reluctantly, Shann decided to go to Candlekeep, the library founded by Alaundo himself. They live and breathe Alaundo's prophecies there, no doubt the monks will suspect I know a Bhaalspawn. I cannot let them identify Sarevok through me. They may try to destroy him; to prevent the chaos the Bhaalspawn are fated to bring.

Business was slow at the Friendly Arms Inn, just a few regulars drinking their way to forgetfulness, when Shann walked in. Her confident stride masked an inner turmoil. Can they see through my disguise? Surely it will not work, any moment now I will hear the laughter start. She stifled a sigh of relief when most patrons just glanced at her once, and then looked away. Shann was wearing a weather-beaten cloak, and carried no visible weapons. All she wanted the denizens of the inn to see when the looked at her was a dark complexioned, bearded man. That's right, she thought, watching the humans dismiss her. I'm harmless. Humans often underestimate the abilities of those that are shorter than themselves. Shann made no effort to engage any of the customers at the bar as she ate a quick meal before renting a modest room for the night.

The innkeeper looked pleased the next morning when Shann requested a private bath. Most patrons used the common bathhouse and the extra charge he could get for privacy was welcome. After scrubbing a week's worth of travel grime away, Shann began to dress. She sighed as she tightly bound her breasts again. This was not one of my better ideas, Shann thought. I know I want to enter Candlekeep in secret but I really hate having to grow my beard out and pretend to be a man. But it's going to be dangerous enough searching for information on the Bhaalspawn prophecies without being identified now or later. Gods forbid anyone finds out I'm a Bhaalspawn myself.

She frowned, and since she lacked a mirror, cast a mirror image and inspected herself. A hard-eyed male human, of indeterminate age, neither young nor old, stared back at her. Shann sighed, it might be useful for a disguise, but her shoulder-length greying hair and bushy black beard made her look much older than her seventeen years. I suppose I'm lucky my voice is deeper than most women's voices. Actually, she smiled, I'm lucky I'm half-dwarf, I don't think I could ever pull this off without the beard to mask my face; an illusion would be sure to be spotted by the Candlekeep wards.

Shann dispelled her magical duplicates, and then grimaced. Once she had learned magic as a means to kill more effectively. Now, after losing much she had learned before, Shann had painstakingly relearned the most basic of her old spells, only to use them in the most frivolous manner. This is much more fun, she realized, and her grimace turned into a grin.

A short time later, Shann walked up to the Candlekeep gate. The gatekeeper saw a middle-aged man wearing the robes of a wizard and a travel cape with a hood. Before he could ask, Shann offered a book for the entrance fee. One of the rarest I could steal from the Baldur's Gate library, she thought, it had better be acceptable. Once inside, Shann introduced herself as the scholar Tallman and let it be known that she was researching the prophecies of Alaundo about the Bhaalspawn. There is no point in hiding the fact, I doubt my use of the library will be unmonitored, Shann reasoned.

Shann's movements were indeed being monitored, and by more than the Candlekeep guards too. Two young teenagers were hiding in the shadows, and raptly watching the stranger. At least, they thought they were hiding, the people of Candlekeep were used to ignoring Gorion's wards when they played their games of stealth. At fifteen, the sandy-haired, serious looking youth Tiswash was bored with his normal life and relished any change to the routine. His best friend, the much more mischievous Imoen, was interested too, but her focus was different. "Did you see the way he favoured that black pouch of his?" She asked.

"Immy, it's just a money pouch."

"I'll bet it's more than that, maybe jewels or something even better."

"Immy," he groaned. "Do not try robbing the stranger. You know what happened the last time you attempted something like that."

"It's not like I ever keep anything, I just like looking at the pretty baubles," she pouted, but privately resolved to keep an eye on Tallman. Imoen loved the challenge of planning a successful pickpocket.

Imoen was at first excited by the prospect of watching Tallman in secret, but soon grew bored when he showed no signs of doing anything remotely interesting. Tallman spent days in the library, restlessly roaming the shelves, studying book after book. Some he opened, and discarded almost at once, others he studied intently. He never seemed to find what he was looking for, and often frowned or sighed after closing yet another book.

The only time he looked the least bit happy was when his fingers roamed over the contents of his black pouch. Try as she might, Imoen could not identify the baubles. They were not jewels, although from the shape they looked as though they could be some strange sort of runes or amulets. Imoen looked up as Gorion entered the library and approached Tallman. She shrank back, and then carefully sidled up close to the table where the two men were now sitting, so she could hear what they talked about.

"Greetings, Tallman, Have you found what you were searching for?" Gorion asked Shann.

"It's all rubbish!" Shann answered angrily. "All those prophecies about the Bhaalspawn written by Alaundo tell me nothing useful. A score of mortal progeny …, shall murder one another …, one shall reign supreme …, not one hint at how to help a Bhaalspawn fight that supposed destiny of sowing chaos and murder!"

Gorion's eyes widened slightly, "Help a Bhaalspawn? Then I take it your interest is not purely a scholastic one. You know of a Bhaalspawn?"

"Yes," Shann admitted. "I think I might, a young lad I've known for years. He's changed, become more chaotic and bloodthirsty. I think it's the influence of Bhaal. I don't know how to help him." It is the truth, Shann thought. I don't need to mention my own Bhaalspawn nature; it really is Sarevok I'm here to help. Grandmother shielded me from Father's influence, but I cannot find a way to do the same for Sarev.

Tallman knows an actual Bhaalspawn? Imoen thought with fascination. What a tragic character that Bhaalspawn must be. Born to a destiny of murder. It's almost like he's in one of those tales of heroism and adventure. She shivered with delight. And Tallman, he's working so hard to thwart a prophecy of doom. How perfectly heroic.

Imoen was concentrating on watching Gorion and the intriguing stranger, Tallman, and did not notice Tiswash come up behind her. She barely muffled a yelp when he put a hand on her shoulder. Imoen knew better than to protest when he dragged her deeper into the library stacks.

"Imoen, are you out of your mind?" Tiswash asked. "You don't spy on Gorion. It's just one of those things," he said as he ran his hand nervously through his hair. "You never, ever, do."

"Ya worry too much," Imoen said breezily, "I was just looking for a book. Is it my fault if I happened to overhear some really interesting things?" She looked at Tiswash expectantly, but he only looked sternly at her. Imoen sighed, "I'll tell you anyway. Tallman knows a Bhaalspawn. Isn't that the most exciting news ever?" she whispered.

Imoen let Tiswash lead her out of the library, but crept back in after he left. She waited patiently until Gorion left, and Tallman got up to search the stacks for more books. Pretending to read a book, Imoen bumped into Tallman and deftly swiped his pouch. She apologized to him, and then strolled leisurely out of the library. Imoen was feeling very proud of herself, but she did not see Tallman turn invisible and start to follow her.

Tiswash had not been happy when Imoen rushed into his room brandishing her stolen treasure. Despite his disapproval, he could not resist looking over the contents of Tallman's pouch. Neither Imoen nor Tiswash could figure out what the strange symbols were.

Shann followed Imoen and marvelled that an adolescent's room could be as pristine and orderly as this one. She leaned against a wall, cloaked by her spell of invisibility, and watched the two chattering friends. She smiled at the sight of their puzzlement, and knew they would never identify her treasures.

"They're Drow house insignia," Shann said, and resisted the urge to laugh when both youths yelped with surprise. She dropped her invisibility shield, and started putting the insignia back into her pouch.

Tiswash looked at her suspiciously. "Why would you be carrying symbols of the Dark Elves?"

Shann smiled as she tied her pouch back on. "I'm not working for them, if that foolish thought has entered your head. Each insignia belonged to a Drow noble I killed."

Imoen's eyes were round as she looked at Shann with awe. "There are eight symbols here. You've personally slain eight Drow?"

"Oh more than that," Shann said carelessly. "I've no symbols for the commoners I destroyed." Or the children, she thought, with a touch of guilt.

Imoen looked impressed, but Tiswash frowned. "Do you mean to say," he said with a look of distaste. "That you have been gloating over trophies." Shann was confused, since she did not see why that bothered him. Tiswash saw the look of incomprehension and continued. "Why didn't you just take the ears of the slain as proof of your prowess?"

"That would be barbaric!" Shann protested, and then realized that to Tiswash the insignia were equally as barbaric. "How dare you presume to judge me!" Shann bristled. "You who have had such an easy life. The Drow deserved to die!"

"Maybe so," Tiswash admitted. "But you harm yourself by gloating over dead enemies. Such obsession with death and the past can hinder your actions today."

"Why you pompous young fool!" Shann said, ignoring the fact that she herself was not more than a couple years older than Tiswash. "Perhaps you should preach to your larcenous young friend. In parts of Toril she could lose a hand for a bungled theft like the one she pulled on me." Shann stormed out of the room before either Tiswash or Imoen could respond to her last statement.

After that incident, both Imoen and Tiswash were careful to stay out of Tallman's way for the duration of his visit. Nevertheless, they still found themselves watching when he left a few days later. Tiswash wondered if one so filled with anger as Tallman could help a Bhaalspawn overcome his own dark nature. Imoen cheered him up a little when she whispered that Tallman had thrown his pouch of trophies away.

As she left Candlekeep behind her, Shann wondered why Tiswash had annoyed her so much. He sounded like Grandmother, she finally realized, she always preached forgiveness too. I was wrong to view my actions with pride. It may have been right to kill the masters, but I must not gloat over any deaths, or Father will control me again.

#7 Guest_Wyvern_*

Posted 17 October 2005 - 04:57 AM

Heritage of Evil:Loyalty

Sunlight streamed through narrow windows placed high above a spacious chamber, reflecting off an impressive display of weapons that hung from the walls. One side of the room was a blaze of light as dozens of brightly polished shields winked across the floor at examples of almost every killing tool that existed in the realms. Two figures moved on the unfurnished floor, oblivious to the display around them, as they put their own weapons to use.

The smaller, unarmoured, fighter feinted to one side, and swept a leg out to trip her opponent, a lightly armoured woman with a lean, muscular build. The armoured woman deftly stepped out of the way, and used the opportunity to press an attack, using her shield and weight advantage to back the other woman into a corner.

"Do you yield, Shann?" the attacker asked as she raised a mace to strike her opponent.

"Not just yet," Shann grinned ferally as she hastily mumbled a short spell. A quick twist of her dagger bounced a ray of light directly into the other woman's eyes, temporarily blinding her. Shann quickly muttered an incantation before her opponent's vision cleared, and four identical duplicates of herself flickered into existence. Which of us is real? Shann gloated silently as she moved to make her next blow a crippling one.

"Blasted cleric!" Shann cursed seconds later when the priestess Tamoko chanted a spell, and her duplicates faded away. Tamoko grinned as she parried Shann's sword strike. I can't take her in a straight fight, Shann thought, and called on her last trump card, her innate ability to turn invisible.

Tamoko rolled to one side before Shann could reach her, and once more cast a spell, bringing her opponent back into view. They fought for a few minutes more, but Shann was forced to accept defeat.

"You've gotten much better," Shann said, wiping the sweat from her face with her sleeve, and giving her kara-turan opponent a look of respect.

"I've been practicing, but it's nice to spar with you again. There's a bit of tactics involved. Most of my sparring matches are with Sarevok, and he's a lot more direct in his fighting methods," Tamoko said, as they left Sarevok's training room and headed for the bathhouse.

"Sarevok's not subtle, but he gets the job done," Shann agreed. "By the way, why didn't you go with him on his latest mission?"

"There's no honour in Sarevok's recent battles. He's leading mercenaries against naught but small bands of gnolls and goblins. Just petty nuisances," Tamoko replied.

"Eliminating those petty nuisances is one of the main things making the people love Sarevok. They don't know how many abusive merchants and nobles he's removed from Baldur's Gate," Shann said.

"I do not understand why Sarevok cannot simply hire lesser men to protect the peasants," Tamoko complained. "He is so busy that I rarely get to see him anymore."

"That's what you get for falling in love with a rising power," Shann said, smiling broadly. "It was Sarevok's drive to be the best that attracted you in the first place. You know very well that part of Sarevok's plan relies on public image, and the people love someone who is willing to risk his own life, and doesn't hide behind guards."

"I know, but I am afraid that soon Sarevok will have no place for me in his grandiose plans," Tamoko said sadly as she walked away.

Every time I come back here, there are new people, Shann thought a short time later as she walked idly through the estate, covertly observing Sarevok's followers. The spacious halls and rooms were grander than most estates nowadays, and you could tell that the place had originally been more of a fortress, than a house. Neglected for years, and allowed to decay under a succession of unappreciative owners, the ancient dwelling had once more become a proud fortress.

For almost two years, Shann had been helping Sarevok build a clandestine empire in Baldur's Gate. It worried her that Sarevok still pretended to be working for the cruel Reiltar, but Sarevok insisted he needed Reiltar to present a respectable front for society, and for the Iron Throne organization. Sarevok is a bit young to be an accepted leader, but his influence is growing.

"I have an assignment for you," a soft voice said, breaking into Shann's reminiscing, and she turned around to see a tall figure, his black clothes merging with the shadows along the corridor, walking towards her.

"Winski," she said, acknowledging the man who had served as a mentor for Sarevok since he was a child. "I was hoping to see Sarevok before I had to leave again; we haven't spoken for more than a few minutes in months. Is this assignment urgent?"

"There is a merchant based in the town of Lorshand who has been making inappropriate inquiries into the ownership of certain businesses," Winski said, clasping his hands behind his back and speaking in a lecturing tone. "This Tomis possesses knowledge that could jeopardize Sarevok's position. The extent of Sarevok's holdings and followers must not become public knowledge."

"Can't you just pay this Tomis to keep quiet?" Shann asked.

"Our business rivals would likely pay Tomis more than we are willing to match," Winski said. "Besides, he owns an extensive caravan fleet that would aid our supply lines immensely. See to it that the authorities find out about the merchant's illegal activities, and I will make sure it is one of our people who take over his businesses."

Reluctantly, Shann left for Lorshand. No wonder Tamoko is a better fighter than I am. All I ever do is covert investigations. I rarely have the chance to wrestle with more than locks and papers. Her mood did not improve during the ride to her destination, and when Shann reached the house of the Anchev agent in Lorshand she grabbed the stack of papers he had prepared on the merchant Tomis's activities, with the barest acknowledgement of the agent's greeting, and headed up to her room to study the information.

Hours later, Shann was no longer bored, but had instead become worried. This Tomis was different from her usual targets. There was nothing in his background that suggested he was anything other than a decent man, who no doubt thought it was his duty to expose Sarevok's covert activities. I have to know for sure, she thought, and walked invisibly to the merchant's house early the next morning.

She searched his house carefully, and found no incriminating evidence. Tomis lived in a modest house, well within his official income. In a small office, Shann found notes he had written about the weapon trader who brought Sarevok's organization to Tomis's attention. A simple mention by the weaponer of the company he worked for, that Tomis recognized as the same company that owned a jewel exchange he had carried goods for. Nothing truly suspicious, but Tomis was curious enough to investigate further, and eventually had discovered that the Anchev holdings were more extensive than any other political faction in Baldur's Gate.

Tomis is a good man, Shann thought sadly. But Winski is right, he could destroy all that we have worked for. I have no choice, the threat to Sarevok's organization must be removed. Maybe, maybe he will listen to reason, and see that the common people are better off under Sarevok's rule.

Winski was waiting for Shann when she returned to the estate in Baldur's Gate. She had just passed by the guard stationed outside, when he stalked up to her and dragged her into his office.

"You failed," Winski said harshly.

"I did not fail," Shann said calmly. "The merchant Tomis is no longer a threat to the organization."

"You were to see to it that he was tried and found guilty of criminal activities," Winski said.

"I found no signs of corruption in the merchant's business or personal life," Shann said sharply.

"So?" Winski replied. "You have planted evidence on troublesome targets before."

"My previous targets were corrupt men, who were guilty of greater crimes than those I helped frame them for," Shann said, crossing her arms, and glaring up at the mage. "Tomis was a decent man, and the least I could do was give him the option of fleeing. He transferred his holdings to our organization for less than half their actual value, and he understands that he will not live long if he is fool enough to return to any lands close to Baldur's Gate."

"Fool," Winski said coldly. "You worry too much about irrelevancies. Sarevok's destiny is more important than all the citizens of Baldur's Gate. I have tolerated you, and that kara-turan, because Sarevok is unwisely fond of both of you. But I will not allow you to weaken his resolve with the petty concerns of lesser men."

"Sarevok's destiny?" Shann said.

"His destiny to destroy his Bhaalspawn siblings, and become a god," Winski said coldly. "I will no longer tolerate these games. I know you and Tamoko have been working to confuse Sarevok, to convince him that his divine heritage is a curse, and not the blessing it so obviously is."

"I did not realize you know Sarevok is a Bhaalspawn," Shann said, wondering how long Winski had known. Does Winski know I am also a Bhaalspawn, she thought, starting to panic. No, Sarevok has not told him, or he would not talk so calmly to me of Sarevok destroying all his siblings.

"I will see the boy achieve the greatness he deserves. We leave for Candlekeep today; I have finally convinced Sarevok that you may have misled him about what you learned there concerning his divine heritage," Winski said, dismissing Shann.

I thought I had convinced Sarevok that claiming our Father's power was not possible, Shann thought uneasily as she brooded in her room that evening. What else have I been wrong about?

Shann refused to be distracted by accepting another mission, and when Sarevok and Winski were at Candlekeep, she searched the estate for records detailing the daily operations of the Anchev organization. Her connections with the Thieves Guild also proved helpful in Shann's quest to find out how the Anchev businesses were being administered.

Two weeks later, Shann strode into Tamoko's room. "You are Sarevok's lover," she said, accusingly. "You must have known how he's been acting lately."

"He doesn't listen to me anymore," Tamoko said, not bothering to refute Shann's statement.

"It doesn't even make sense," Shann exclaimed, dropping a pile of notes on Tamoko's richly embroidered rug, and starting to pace around the room. "Years ago, even before I came to work for him, Sarevok would replace abusive landlords and merchants with decent people, who treated the workers and tenants with respect. His businesses, both legitimate and black market, thrived, and even the Iron Throne began to deal with Sarevok, albeit with Reiltar as the front man, on an equal basis. All Sarevok had to do was wait, and in time he would have become one of the richest men on the sword coast."

"Sarevok wants more than wealth," Tamoko said quietly.

"Sarevok has started to treat his people like chattel," Shann said angrily, giving no sign she had heard Tamoko. "Look at this," she said, kicking one of the fallen papers with her foot. "Less than two months ago, for no reason at all, he cut the dockworkers' pay by almost twenty percent. And for what? A miniscule increase in profits."

"They're still paid more than they were before Sarevok took over," Tamoko observed.

"I'm sure that comforts them," Shann growled. "I haven't even mentioned the outright malicious acts Sarevok's been engaging in."

"The bandits," Tamoko said.

"Yes! The bandits," Shann stated. "With so many real threats to deal with, why would Sarevok create new ones? Unless he wants the citizens to be afraid. If Sarevok's alliance with those bandits is made public; he'll lose the regard of both the nobles and commoners that he's worked so hard to gain. Even the Iron Throne, with it's own often suspect activities, will condemn Sarevok's association with those pillaging murderers."

"I know, but Sarevok thinks he is more than a man, and above men's laws," Tamoko said sadly.

"Even worse," Shann said, practically hissing the words. "The stupid bastard has reopened the Cloakwood Mines."

"I don't know about any mines," Tamoko said.

"Don't you?" Shann said suspiciously, but Tamoko seemed sincere. "He's using slaves to work the mines."

With nothing more to be said, Shann left Tamoko, and waited tensely for Sarevok's return. She spent most of her time lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. I kept hoping Sarevok would see through Bhaal's lies as I did, but I never started doubting until after I killed my Drow masters, and had no more goals to focus on. Sarevok is never satisfied, no matter how many successes he has. There is always more for him to strive for. I will speak to him, but Sarevok cannot possibly convince me he has a good reason for using slave labour.

Shann resolved to seek out Sarevok as soon as he came back to the estate, but she was summoned to a meeting with him before she could go confront him. A young, and visibly nervous, messenger escorted Shann to Sarevok, who was waiting for her in his training room. He waved at the messenger to leave, and smiled without warmth at Shann when they were alone.

"Winski was right, you have been hiding things from me," Sarevok stated.

"I am not the one with secrets," Shann said bitterly. "How dare you make me a party to slavery!"

"I care not for such minor matters," he said dismissively, ignoring the deepening scowl on Shann's face. "Why didn't you tell me about my Bhaalspawn brother in Candlekeep?"

"What are you talking about," Shann said, startled enough to let the issue of the Cloakwood slaves rest awhile.

"That annoying little whelp, Gorion's ward!" Sarevok said, sputtering with indignation. "I left him alive, for now, but I will have to return and destroy him, and that guardian of his, when I am more powerful."

"Wait, you mean Tiswash is a Bhaalspawn?" Shann said, surprised. "I didn't know that, but even if it is true, there's no reason to hurt him. The boy was far too self-righteous to ever contemplate fighting other Bhaalspawn. I'm sure the idea of becoming the new lord of murder would be absolutely repugnant to him."

"He's no more harmless than the others I've hunted down," Sarevok declared. "Perhaps even more dangerous because he's being brought up by Gorion, who I'm sure is affiliated with those manipulative Harpers."

What others? Shann thought, watching Sarevok warily.

"It would be foolish of me to let one of my siblings live," Sarevok continued. "Don't you agree, sister?"

Sarev? What are you doing? Shann thought, standing frozen with shock as Sarevok drew his sword and began moving towards her. She stumbled back, and looked with disbelief at Sarevok, whose brown eyes were starting to shine with an unnatural yellow glow.

"I am sorry, Shann," he said, sounding genuinely sad. "You have been useful, and I had hoped to save you until the end, but Winski said you are too dangerous to keep around. I will miss you."

"Shevarash damn you," she spat as she pulled a shield down from the wall. She threw in it front of her, holding it with both hands, just as Sarevok's sword slashed down, denting the shield with the force of the blow, and driving Shann to her knees. If he hits me once, I'm dead, and I don't have my swords or my spell components. I didn't think Sarevok would ever hurt me.

Sarevok grunted as he hefted his sword again, and roared with laughter when Shann rolled to one side, and disappeared. "Give up now, and I'll make it quick," he promised, and then let his sword drop to the floor, and closed his eyes.

Gods curse him, Shann thought, and tried to still her breathing. She looked towards the nearest door which was more than fifty paces away. The only other exit was half again that distance at the other end of the room. Sarevok is sure to hear my footsteps, and would reach me before I made it half way to the closest door. A muscle in her cheek began to twitch nervously when Sarevok began moving towards her hiding place, using his sword to slice through the air around him.

Shann's face grew calm, and she looked first at the bent shield in her hands, and then towards an immense tower shield hanging on the wall behind her. She took a deep breath, and then lunged forwards. Sarevok's head turned towards the sound of her feet hitting the floor, but before he could approach her, Shann clouted the hanging shield with the one in her hands, and a loud clang rang out, and started to echo in the cavernous chamber.

The ringing only lasted a few seconds, but it was long enough for Shann to reach the farthest door, and open it before Sarevok could move more than a few paces towards her. She stepped away from the door, back into the training room, and watched as Sarevok rushed by her into the narrow hallway. She could hear him racing down the corridor, bellowing words she could not quite make out.

The training room was silent for many minutes before Shann stopped trembling, and glided carefully towards the door Sarevok had not left by. Worried that the estate guards may have been mobilized to find her; Shann made her way to the back of the kitchen store rooms, and settled down to sleep behind a stack of wine barrels.

When she woke up after a short nap, Shann peered cautiously out at the kitchen workers, who were preparing dinner. There was no mention of a hunt for a traitor, and Shann felt confident enough to walk out into the corridor, although she kept her invisibility shield up. The few guards she passed also made no sign of being on the lookout for her. She made her way to Tamoko's chambers without meeting any trouble.

"Tamoko?" Shann asked hesitantly, after searching Tamoko's room twice for any sign of traps or spying devices.

Tamoko jumped when Shann materialized in front of her. "Shann! Thank the gods you're still here. Sarevok has been worried he scared you away for good."

"Sarevok has been ...," Shann said. "Tamoko, he tried to kill me."

"I know, he told me," Tamoko said, nervously twisting a length of her hair between her fingers. "He said madness came over him, but he won't let it happen again."

"Did he say anything about denying Bhaal?" Shann demanded.

"No," Tamoko admitted.

"Then Sarevok's madness will increase," Shann said. "I can't stay."

"Sarevok is truly sorry, he cried when he told me of his rage. For a moment he was almost like the man he used to be," Tamoko said, tears forming in her eyes. "I want him back."

"I've been thinking about that," Shann said. "The more victories Sarevok has, the more power he gains, the more he believes he is destined for godhood. The only way Sarevok will learn his divine blood does not make him invincible, is to teach him he can still be defeated."

"Sarevok has lost some of our sparring matches, not many, but I do win sometimes," Tamoko said. "He knows he can be defeated in battle."

"That's not real defeat," Shann said. "He needs to know his grand empire can be destroyed," she explained.

"To lose his empire, and become just another man," Tamoko said, beginning to understand Shann. It did not take much for Shann to convince Tamoko that the best thing for Sarevok would be to work against him.

"I shall begin by closing down the detestable Cloakwood Mines," Shann determined. "You should come with me, Tamoko, it is not safe for you here."

"I have nothing to worry about; I am no Bhaalspawn," Tamoko said with a weak smile.

"This is no time for jesting," Shann said, grabbing Tamoko's arm. "Winski already detests you for telling Sarevok he is being misled by Bhaal. What do you think will happen if either of them find out you do not worship the Celestial Bureaucracy?"

"I do worship the Celestial Bureaucracy," Tamoko insisted, looking around the room furtively.

"Maybe you do," Shann acknowledged. "But your divine powers come from Cyric. Not a god I'd trust to aid any child of Bhaal."

"Cyric murdered Bhaal, and took his place as god of murder, I know," Tamoko sighed. "I don't really trust him, myself, but Cyric does not want Bhaal to return, and our goals are the same for the moment. To prevent Sarevok from becoming a part of Bhaal's plans for his resurrection. Or are you going to tell me Cyric has lied to me about Bhaal's true designs for his children?"

"No," Shann said, raising a hand in acceptance. "Grandmother also said it was more likely that Bhaal would make plans for his resurrection, than lay the path for a successor. Her knowledge flowed from Ilmater, and he's not a god known for deviousness."

"And Bhaal's plans call for the deaths of the Bhaalspawn, and Sarevok is just another pawn to him," Tamoko said.

"A pawn who is becoming unstable, and dangerous to all who would oppose Bhaal's plans for him," Shann said grimly. "Tamoko, please leave him, and come with me. You are not safe here."

"I can do more here," Tamoko said, shaking her head. "There is a chance I can still reach Sarevok, and make him leave his destructive path."

"A chance so small, it may as well not exist," Shann snapped.

"Yes, I know," Tamoko agreed. "But I can also aid you by staying here. I can keep in touch with you, and let you know what Sarevok is doing. Perhaps, if he is forced to admit he is not infallible, Sarevok will be more willing to listen to my words of reason."

"It makes sense. Still, I do not like leaving you here," Shann said, biting her lip. "Do you remember my friend, Jarond?"

"The cute halfling trader?" Tamoko said, puzzled.

"The cute halfling high-ranking Thieves Guild member, actually," Shann replied. "Before I leave, I'll talk to Jarond, and have him contact you. He should be able to help you keep an eye on things here, and if you run into trouble the thieves' network will aid you."

"That solves the problem of how I'll get messages to you, too," Tamoko grinned. "We may have a chance of making this work."

"We have to make it work," Shann said, looking straight into Tamoko's eyes. "I believe it's the only way we'll break Sarevok free of Father's control."

#8 Guest_Wyvern_*

Posted 26 November 2005 - 05:37 AM

Heritage of Evil:Betrayals

"Stop playing with your hair," whispered the dark-haired elf to his companion as they walked along a well-travelled dirt road. "I assure you it looks lovely, Shann."

"That's Kalina, Coran," she hissed back. "How many times do I have to remind you this is not a game? Do not use my name."

"I know very well this is not a game," he replied in a dour voice, and then winked when Shann looked at him suspiciously. "It's an adventure," he added, grinning.

This was a mistake, Shann groaned as she plodded after her cheerful companion. Why did I think Coran would be a useful ally? Oh yes, because he was a skilled enough thief for the Beregost thieves to notice him, but smart enough not to cross the guild. He's unbelievably good with a bow, too.

Unbidden, her hand strayed to her recently cropped hair again, and with a curse she tore her hand away and gripped her belt tightly. I feel naked, she thought, and suppressed the urge to cover her pointed ears with a hood. I am a half-elf, and proud of it, she reminded herself. No one will recognize me as the 'human' woman who worked for Sarevok.

Coran whistled happily as they approached the stockade surrounding the entrance to the Cloakwood mines. "Do cheer up, Kalina," he said. "This was your idea, after all. Though I must admit, fighting against wicked tyranny is much more exciting than my previous work as an animal exterminator."

"Wyvern hunting is not quite the same as rat catching. I'm not sure how much more of this excitement I can stand, though," Shann said as she stepped too close to the edge of the road and her foot sank ankle deep in the mud. She sighed and moved to the center of the path, thankful that they were near the end of their journey. Charming, she thought as she gazed ahead at the muddy water flowing under the crude bridge that lay across the deep moat encircling the Cloakwood enclave.

"Who are you?" a bored voice called out from behind a high wood fence that paralleled the path of the moat.

"Coran and Kalina, archers hired by Lonell to join your garrison," Coran answered, waving a parchment in the air. Authentic recruitment papers for the Cloakwood garrison that Tamoko had sent to Shann.

"More unlucky sods who signed on in the grips of drunken dreams," the guard muttered as he unlatched the gate and waved them in. "Th' captain's in the barracks, first door on the right. Go on in an' introduce yerselves."

"My thanks, soldier," Coran grinned, and waved jauntily as he strolled towards the barracks.

They were accepted by the garrison, a motley collection of mercenaries ranging from young farmers on their first trip away from home, to hardened veterans with the look of men amazed to still be alive. They greeted Coran's cheerfulness with warnings that he would soon become dour given the dreariness of the work, but were quick to befriend him once he proved a deft hand at cards and tale-telling. Shann they accepted, and dismissed, quickly when she proved to already be dour and untalkative.

The flamboyant Coran drew all the attention of the guards, and they did not notice when his quieter companion took to disappearing from the barracks when not on duty. Shann prowled the upper levels of the mines, learning the layouts (and rifling the guards' personal belongings for hidden treasures) while Coran learned what he could from both the guards and the slaves.

Coran was assigned to patrol the outside perimeter of the mines, a duty that included hunting forays to stock the kitchens. The elf proved to be the best at both stalking and killing prey. A few friendly duels during off hours showed Coran's prowess at hand-to-hand fighting too. This earned him the respect, and attention, of the other guards.

"You're a decent fighter," a small, shifty-eyed guard said to Coran one night after he won a duel against two opponents.

"The best," Coran agreed, grinning.

"You treat the slaves with courtesy," the guard continued, after checking to be sure there was no one listening to their conversation. "You don't care much for slavery, do you?"

"Well, I wouldn't have taken this position if I'd known," Coran said, and then shrugged. "But what can I do about it?"

"Alone? Not much," the guard whispered. "Come to the tunnel north of the slaves' quarters after lockdown tonight. Bring your companion, Kalina, if she's of the same mind about slavery as you."

"We'll be there," Coran said.

What Coran and Shann found at the far end of the tunnel, was a gathering of both guards and slaves. "This is interesting," Coran said, blinking at the crowd that moved to surround him and Shann.

"Can they be trusted?" a slave asked the guard who had invited Coran.

"As well as any," he answered.

"I'm guessing you're planning a rebellion," Coran said cheerfully. "Sounds like a fight I'd like to be a part of. Who are you, and what's the plan?"

Most of the guards had joined the garrison without knowing they would be overseeing slaves, and some were dismayed by their new jobs, but could not break the contracts they had signed. A group of slaves, led by a merchant named Rill, who was captured by bandits and sent to the mines when they were first re-opened, had formed an alliance with some of the disgruntled guards to find a way to free the slaves.

"So you see, Coran," Rill said after detailing their escape plans. "We can get the slaves out, but can find no way to kill the master of the mines, Davaeorn. He is a powerful mage, and as long as he lives any escape attempt would be doomed to fail. He would undoubtedly recapture us all, and any who aid us would wind up working alongside us in the mines."

"Then you want us to eliminate Davaeorn for you," Coran said lightly. He stole a furtive look at Shann, who gave him an almost imperceptible nod. "A task we're more than up to, I'm sure. We'll be glad to help you."

"What about afterwards?" Shann said as the conspirators thanked Coran.

"Afterwards?" Rill repeated.

"Your plan will free the slaves that are here now, but as long as the mines stay open, the Iron Throne will find more slaves to work them," she explained. "I want to close the Cloakwood Mines permanently."

"I suppose we could try collapsing all the tunnels," Coran said with scant enthusiasm. "It's a daunting task, however, and I'm not sure it will be possible."

"The dwarves who first made the mines were flooded out when they breached an underground river. It took years of work to dam the river and drain the mines," one of the older slaves stated. "You could destroy the plug holding back the river, and flood the mines again. It might not be permanent, but I can guarantee the mines won't be operating for a good number of years."

"Are you talking about that contraption with all the gears in the east passage?" Shann asked, receiving a nod in reply. "It's more than 'a plug'. There are layers of magical protections around that thing, and I don't think I can bypass them. So, unless you know the key to destroying the thing, we'll have to think of some other way to destroy the mines."

"Yeslick should know how the river plug works," the slave said. "He's the one who built it all those years ago."

"Yeslick, that's the dwarf who has his own wing in the prison level," Shann mused. "The one with the foul temper."

"The boys have mentioned that one," Coran said with a grimace. "The naive fool who let the Iron Throne trick him into helping them re-open the mines."

"Which probably explains why he won't speak to me," Shann said. "When we first met, he called me 'a pointy-eared slaver', and won't do anything but scowl at me now."

"That's Yeslick," the old man agreed, smiling cheerfully. "Just convince him to help us, and we'll be all set. Just don't forget to tell us before you start flooding the place."

"Don't get your hopes up," Shann warned. "Yeslick might be a bit hard to convince."

Shann soon found that she was being optimistic about Yeslick. He would not even talk to Shann. He stood silently in his cell, glaring through the bars at Shann and Coran, as they tried explaining they escape plan to him. It appeared that Yeslick thought the whole plan was nothing but a trick, and the only move he made was to spit on Coran's boots.

"Cursed rock-eater," Coran grumbled as they gave up, and headed back down to the guards' quarters. "Maybe we can sneak Rill past the prison guards, and he can try talking to the dwarf."

"No, I doubt it will work. Yeslick will probably think Rill's either been deceived or bullied into helping us. I have an idea, but I'll have to convince Stephan to sell me some of Davaeorn's spell scrolls."

"There's a spell to force sense into a dense dwarf's head?" Coran asked.

"Something like that," Shann replied sadly. She left a puzzled Coran, and went to seek out Stephan, Davaeorn's apprentice.

Stephan was enamoured of the power Davaeorn promised him, but fond of the luxuries gold could buy, too, and more than willing to sell off his master's lesser possessions. There were only two spells Shann needed, but she bought several more to avoid rousing Stephan's suspicions.

"Found what you were looking for?" Coran said, looking up from the nightly card game that always ran in the guard's common room.

"Yes," Shann said curtly, already dismissing Coran as she passed him on her way to scribe her new spell into her spellbook.

The next day Shann snarled at anyone who approached her, and her fellow guards avoided Shann as best they could when she worked her regular shift, guarding the entrance to the mines. Coran tried speaking to her about her plans for Yeslick when he returned from patrolling the outside perimeter, but soon gave up when she snapped at him. He walked beside her in sullen silence when their shifts ended, and Shann curtly told him they were going to see Yeslick again.

"Back to taunt the prisoner again?" the door guard to the prison level when Shann and Coran passed him. The guard smirked when Coran nodded and grinned at him. "Well, just keep your play to words only," the guard warned as he waved them through. "Don't know why, but the higher-ups want the little dirt-eater in good shape."

"I hope that one drowns," Shann muttered as they headed deeper into the prison. Her scowl deepened when they approached Yeslick's cell. He was curled up on a pile of straw in the corner, and made no sign of being awake when Shann called out to him.

Growling softly, Shann unlocked the cell door and walking over to the dwarf. "Will you stop playing games and just start talking to me? We've no more time to waste; if just one conspirator lets something slip we'll never free the slaves without deaths on both sides."

"Stubborn bugger," Shann muttered, before chanting the new spell she had memorized the night before. She winced when the final words were uttered, and a soft glow formed briefly around the dwarf. "Yeslick, come here," she said softly.

"Yes, my friend," Yeslick replied as he stood up, brushed vainly at the dirt clinging to his simple tunic, and walked towards Shann, smiling vacantly.

"That's it," Coran exclaimed as he watched the dwarf with narrowed eyes. "You were all upset about a simple charm spell? It's a perfectly common, useful enchantment."

"It's worse than slavery," Shann snapped, shifting her weight from one foot to the other as Yeslick eyed her fondly. "He'll do anything I ask him to. Even die for me, or kill."

"Or end up freeing himself, and the rest of the slaves," Coran said, with a touch of laughter in his voice. "Yes, it's a truly horrid fate you're condemning him to."

"It was just an observation about the nature of the spell," Shann said sullenly. "I'm not thinking about abandoning the plan. Yeslick, can you destroy the river plug?"

"Yes," Yeslick answered brightly.

"How long do you think it will take you?"

He scratched his chin below his beard as he thought for a moment. "Six, seven minutes at the most."

"That's ... very good," Shann said. "Will there be time for you to escape the flood waters?"

"Who cares?" Coran muttered, earning a glare from Shann.

"Yes," Yeslick answered. "A stasis spell will delay the destruction long enough for me to escape the area."

"Good," Shann said, waving Yeslick out into the corridor. "Now, pay attention, Yeslick. I'm going to make you invisible so the guards won't see you, and you're going to follow Coran. He'll let the conspirators know about the flooding, and then take you to the river plug. Destroy it when he tells you to, and then follow Coran out of the mines."

"Coran," she said, turning to the elf. "Have Yeslick flood the mines forty minutes from now."

"What will you be doing? Looting the master's chambers?" Coran said with a wink.

"Making sure Davaeorn doesn't follow us," Shann replied, and then looked nervously at Yeslick. "One more thing, Yeslick. I don't want you dying while trying to carry out my orders. That is ... I order you to abandon the mission if something goes wrong."

"Ye're a right strange one," Yeslick said, startling both Shann and Coran. A charmed person shouldn't speak without prompting, and Coran's stance changed from casual to defensive as he stared suspiciously at the dwarf.

"Aye," Yeslick said to Shann, seemingly oblivious of the hostile Coran. "Your little spell didn't work on me. Clangeddin saw fit to protect his priest from your charm."

"You're a priest?" Shann asked, stalling while she tried to decide what Yeslick was up to. Could he be planning to call the guards, and turn us in to gain favour? That doesn't make sense, his best chance for freedom lies with us.

"That is what I just said," Yeslick said impatiently, but with amusement in his eyes. "I believe you said there was no time to waste, shouldn't you be turning me invisible now?"

"You're willing to help us?" Shann asked.

"I don't like the thought of flooding my clan's mines again, but better that then leaving them in the possession of those twisted slavers. It's my own choice, Kalina, don't you worry."

"But," Shann said, exchanging a look with Coran. "Last night ... so stubborn ... and why pretend ..."

"I've put my trust in the wrong people before. You'll understand if I'm a mite wary about trusting strangers now, especially one of those tree-loving deceivers," Yeslick said sorrowfully, and jerked his chin in Coran's direction. "And your own blood's a touch polluted too," he added, this time looking straight at Shann's pointed ears.

Shann shook her head, smiled, and quickly said the incantation to turn Yeslick invisible. "I suppose you think my blood's polluted because of my dwarven ancestry," she said to Coran.

"Your what?" he said, his voice rising on the last word.

"Nevermind," Shann said curtly. "Get moving, I'll see you two at the rendezvous point."

Coran left, after giving Shann a puzzled look, and she wasted no time before pulling out one of the spell scrolls Stephan had sold her the previous day. It was a spell that would make her undetectable to wards designed to spot invisibility shields. Combined with her innate powers of invisibility, the spell would allow Shann to pass safely through the wards protecting Davaeorn's private rooms.

Embrace your birthright, your Bhaal essence, again, and you won't have to rely on outside spells, a voice Shann hoped was her own whispered in her mind. The enhancements to my invisibility were incredibly useful, she admitted, before shaking her head, and heading towards Davaeorn's quarters.

The wards were easy to pass, but the physical locks guarding Davaeorn's rooms were not, and Shann found she had sorely underestimated the time needed to open them. The mines were due to be flooded in less than fifteen minutes when Shann finally opened the final lock, and approached the Master of the Cloakwood Mines.

Davaeorn was lounging in a cushioned chair by the fire, wearing a well-worn robe, and idly flipping through the pages of a book. He looks so harmless, Shann thought as she crept up behind the aged wizard. Like an old grandfather.

Even the more brutal guards call him an evil bastard, Shann reminded herself as she unsheathed her dagger. With one sure stroke, she sliced half way through his throat, and watched with a small smile as Davaeorn's face went from startled surprise, to slack emptiness. Best way to kill mages, slit their throats before they can cast a spell. How often have I done this now?

Shann looked towards Davaeorn's bookshelves and locked drawers with longing, but turned away from them with a sigh. No time. I wonder what treasures will be lost beneath the waters?

Choosing speed over stealth, Shann raced through Davaeorn's rooms, heading for the exit. As she neared Stephan's study, he stepped out, a look of confusion on his face, and blocked the passageway.

"Move," Shann said curtly. When he tried to stop her, Shann growled, and threw Stephan into the wall. The slightly-built man lay where he fell, moaning loudly, and Shann paused as she stepped around him. He'll probably drown if I leave him here, she thought as she started to move towards him. Why should I help him? He'll only slow me down; we'll both die. He chose to become Davaeorn's apprentice; what kind of man would do that?

Shann turned her back on Stephan, and ran through the rest of the mines. There were few people left in the upper levels; only some of the less-popular guards who were never warned of the approaching flood, and who were just beginning to realize something was wrong. Some of them followed Shann as she raced by them, heading for the surface. A sound like distant thunder drifted out of the mines as Shann walked away from the entrance, and she felt a bit disappointed that the destruction of the mines was so quiet.

"You timed that a bit close, Kalina," Yeslick remarked when Shann trotted into the cluster of slaves gathering south of the mines.

"The name's Shann," she told him. "I used a false name to sneak into the mines, but now that they're gone, I can use my true name again."

The former slaves soon began to disperse in small groups, headed towards their various home regions. Many asked Coran to join them, knowing an experienced fighter would be needed in the treacherous journeys through the wilderness, but he chose not to join any company, preferring to follow Shann.

"What are your plans?" Yeslick asked.

"The Cloakwood Mines were just one of Sarevok's depraved businesses. The largest nest of bandits in the region is in league with him; I'd like to do something about them."

"Who is Sarevok?" Yeslick said. "The mines were controlled by the Iron Throne, a group run by several leaders, not one man."

"Sarevok's controlling the Baldur's Gate branch of the Iron Throne," Shann said, and told Yeslick all she knew about Sarevok, excepting his Bhaalspawn nature.

"That's quite a tale," Yeslick said when the explanations were over. "I'm certain Clangeddin would be pleased if I aided you in this task of yours to halt Sarevok Anchev's quest for power. There are few things as dangerous as a man with more ambition than morals."

"I'll be glad to have your help," Shann said softly. "Thank you."

They headed south, towards Beregost, planning to rest and gather supplies before starting another quest. Shann also wanted to meet with the Thieves Guild representative in Beregost and, through her, contact Tamoko and learn what she could about Sarevok's latest plans.

"What's wrong with you?" Shann asked Coran when they stopped for a mid-day meal.

"What do you mean?" Coran said, scowling.

"You've been tense and nervous all morning. At first I thought it was Yeslick, something to do with the legendary rivalry between the dwarves and the elves, but you've been watching me and frowning. I want to know why."

"Do you?" he replied. "Then tell me about that dwarven blood you mentioned. Were you talking about a distant ancestor, or someone more recent? When we met, you claimed to be half-human; have you any human blood at all?"

"I never claimed to be half-human," Shann said, crossing her arms defensively. "I said I was half-elven, and you assumed the other half was human."

"Then you didn't get your complexion from your human ancestors ..." Coran stated.

"Eh, lad, maybe you should just finish your meal there, and leave the lass alone," Yeslick interrupted.

"I will not!" Coran said, his hand hovering over the hilt of the sword sheathed on his belt.

Shann sighed, and took a step away from the elf. "Yes, I'll admit it, I'm half Drow, but I suspect my hatred of the Drow, and their ways, is much greater than yours."

"The evil of that blood is undeniable," Coran said. "Why don't you tell us the real reason you wanted the Mines destroyed?"

"I think Shann's already told us her reasons," Yeslick said softly. "To free the slaves, and put an end to one of Sarevok's plans."

"No wonder they tricked you so easily," Coran spat at the dwarf. "Obviously the woman has some other motive. She wants to take this Sarevok's place, perhaps, and needs to weaken him first. The Drow are an evil race."

"I am no Drow," Shann said, unsheathing her dagger and stepping towards Coran. "I'll let no one call me such."

"You see how quickly she reverts to savagery?" Coran said to Yeslick as he pulled his sword and faced Shann. "Come, dwarf, and aid me against this Drow."

Shann had time to do no more than cross blades once with Coran before Yeslick, scowling ferociously, invoked the power of his god. "Damn fool elf," he muttered as Coran's body stiffened, and he stood unmoving with his sword half raised.

Why did he help me? Shann slowly backed away from Yeslick, watching him warily. "I'm only half Drow, you know," she said, sheathing her dagger and staring challengingly at Yeslick. "The other half is Duergar."

"Is that supposed to bother me?" Yeslick asked, cocking an eyebrow. "I doubt you're a worshipper of Laduguer or Deep Duerra; so your Duergar, or Drow, ancestry doesn't bother me none. We'll just leave that daft tree-hugger his share of the spoils, and be on our way; none the worse for the loss of that one."

They left before the hold person on Coran began to weaken, with Yeslick setting the pace. Shann walked alongside him in silence, never really looking at her companion, but frequently looking behind her and scowling. They had travelled for little more than half an hour when Shann stopped Yeslick. "I want to go back and check on Coran; make sure he's not following us."

Yeslick regarded her searchingly for a moment before nodding at her. "Do what you think is best, Shann. I'll stay here and use the time to pray. I've not yet thanked Clangeddin properly for his aid in cleansing the mines.

Shann travelled much faster without the dwarf to slow her down, and soon reached the clearing where they had left Coran. She crept forwards cautiously, using the trees and shrubs for cover, until she spotted the elf. He was kneeling by the stream to fill his waterskin. Shann pulled her bow of her shoulder, without taking her eyes off Coran.

He's dangerous, Shann thought as she reached into her quiver for an arrow. I should never have let him know about Sarevok. I wonder if he's thinking of the bounty he could get from Sarevok for me? She held the arrow loosely in her hand, and watched as Coran straightened up, stretching cat-like as he stood up. He could make trouble for me simply by following me and letting people know about my Drow heritage.

Coran slung the full waterskin around his waist, and turned to leave the stream. Abyss, Shann thought as she loosed the arrow, I hope this won't turn out to be a mistake. Her face was calm when the arrow struck, and passed though, its target.

"Tymora's tits!" Coran exclaimed, and threw himself to the side, diving down the riverbank, but not before Shann put another arrow through his waterskin. Two arrows, the same target, she thought with satisfaction. He'll know I could have hit him if I wanted to. Consider yourself warned, elf.

Her satisfaction soon faded as Shann walked away. Her hands were trembling slightly, as she fought an urge to go back and kill Coran. I shouldn't leave an enemy alive, it's only asking for trouble. Shann felt both sickness, and desire, as images of his blood spurting over her hands filled her mind. He didn't really threaten me, she argued with herself, I drew my blade first. I won't destroy a man just for thinking of me as a Drow. If Coran ever tries to come after me, then I will kill him, but I won't kill him, or any other people, because of what they could do. It's not right. Forging a path of chaos and murder was Father's way; it will not be mine.

#9 Guest_Wyvern_*

Posted 04 January 2006 - 05:48 AM

Heritage of Evil:Siblings

Beregost was a town built to provide services for travellers. Nestled in the hills, just off the main road that traversed the length of the coasts, the inns and stores of the town provided a handy resting place for caravans and travellers headed along the road from Amn to Baldur's Gate. The locals complained about the often raucous nature of the wayfarers who passed through Beregost, but the coin they brought with them was always welcomed.

On a quiet street, buried between two mansions, was an ivy-covered two-story house with brightly coloured flowerbeds covering the front lawn. A small, discrete sign on the door read 'Amala's Boarding House', beneath that sign hung a shingle proclaiming 'No Vacancies'. Amala's house had never, to the knowledge of the Beregost citizens, had a vacancy. "My people are so considerate," Amala would say, blue eyes shining in her round, kindly face. "They always find another tenant to take their place when it's time for them to move on."

Amala was the leader of the Beregost thieves, and her house was a favourite spot for thieves to rest in on their way to or from Baldur's Gate. It was also a convenient place to sell excess goods. More than one storekeeper in Beregost was willing to purchase things from Amala's guests without asking foolish questions.

Many people of questionable morals stayed at the boarding house; assassins, cutpurses, pirates, child-killers, all had at one time sought refuge in the waystation. Amala tolerated them all, but even she found the behaviour of one of her newest guests to be unacceptable.

There was a look of sheer fury in Amala's eyes when she strode into the cramped sitting room that served as a library. "That detestable companion of yours is at it again," she stated with flushed cheeks and her hands on her hips.

Shann looked up from the map of the area northeast of Beregost, where reports placed the main camp of the bandits plaguing the regions, at the glaring woman, and sighed. "Yeslick's preaching doesn't harm anyone. I know you believe he convinced Selina to quit the life ..."

"Ah, the poor wee lass," Amala said, dabbing moisture from her eyes with a scented handkerchief. "She had such promise, a fine, deft hand with a purse. Why, that girl could swipe the sword from a Flaming Fist mercenary without being noticed. And that swine has her toiling in a store for mere pennies."

"If Selina's not happy, she can always quit her job," Shann said crossly. "Honestly, if a couple of remarks about morals affected the girl that much, then she had no business working outside the law in the first place."

Amala sniffed. "That priest cast a charm on her, I know it. Selina was one of my girls, but I am willing to accept her loss. I am nothing if not understanding. However," she said, shaking a finger at Shann. "I will not allow that priest to subvert another guild's follower. It's just not polite."

"I'll go talk to him," Shann said, laying aside her maps and standing up. "Where is Yeslick?"

"Down in the kitchens, lecturing a very sweet boy who just came in from Baldur's Gate," Amala said, taking Shann by the arm and dragging her down the hallway. "A charming lad. Far too nice to be dragged into a life of law-abiding drudgery by that dwarvish friend of yours."

"There," Amala said, giving Shann a small push through the kitchen door. "Now go help the poor dear."

Shann looked towards the boy Amala spoke of. The youth had a frizzy head of brown hair and his wide brown eyes watched Yeslick with evident fascination. He looked at Shann when she came in, grinned, held a finger to his lips and nodded at Yeslick who was so absorbed in his speech that he did not notice Shann's arrival or the boy's actions.

Shann crossed her arms and frowned as Yeslick continued speaking about the rewards of a virtuous life. She waited a moment, and then spoke. "That's enough games for today. Leave Yeslick alone, Jarond."

"Ah, good day, Shann," Yeslick said, turning around. "I didn't hear you come in. I was just telling this young lad, Berel, I believe he said his name was ..."

"Yeslick," Shann said. "His name is not Berel, and he's not a boy."

"I ... what?" Yeslick said, furrowing his brow.

"Take another look at the young lad," Shann said, pointing at the boy. "Jarond's the one who brought me into the Thieves Guild a few years ago. He's been like a big brother to me, and I'm very fond of him, but he does have a rather annoying sense of humour."

Yeslick looked at Jarond a little closer, and grunted. "A halfling?" he asked, and Jarond winked at him. "I thought yer boots seemed a mite overlarge for a human youngling."

"Don't let on to anyone who I really am," Jarond said seriously.

"Jarond has been supplying me with information about Sarevok's actions," Shann said.

"Speaking of which," Jarond said, and then stood up and bowed to Yeslick, who looked as though he was not sure if he should be angry or not. "I have some matters to discuss with Shann. If you'll pardon us, we will take our leave."

"I didn't expect you to come yourself," Shann said, rounding on Jarond as soon as they were alone in her room.

"I've had to enforce stricter secrecy rules on my people," he said. "This whole sorry situation, what with the bandits and rumours of impending war with Amn, has every power in Baldur's Gate enlisting spies at a ridiculous rate. I can't be sure of my own people's loyalties. The fewer people who know about you, the better."

"After the way I closed down the Cloakwood Mines last month?" Shann said proudly. "Sarevok, at least, must have seen to it that his organization knows about me."

"Ah well," Jarond said, shrugging. "As to that, the whole mess is being kept quiet. Word on the street is some elven archer triggered the destruction. Tamoko says your description made it to Sarevok, but he seems to have dismissed the Mines, and you, from his thoughts."

"He's not admitting failure at all?" Shann asked.

"No, he's focused on grasping power by controlling the flow of iron on the sword coast."

"He's behind the iron shortages in the region, then," she said. "That's more of a problem than the bandit trouble."

"Potentially, and all my sources point to the Nashkel Mines and the man running them, Mulahey, as being the main source of the difficulties."

"More mines. I haven't spent so much time in depressing tunnels since I was a child," she sighed.

"There's something else you should know about," Jarond said, as he passed a paper over to Shann.

"A bounty notice?" she said with puzzlement. "Wait, from this description it sounds like ..."

"Your Bhaalspawn brother you met in Candlekeep, Tiswash. Sarevok killed his guardian, the retired Harper Gorion, but the boy managed to escape."

"Gorion was a very powerful mage," Shann stated nervously.

"Aye," Jarond agreed. "Sarevok is dangerous, and Tamoko says he's more convinced of his own destined godhood than ever. Ye'll never convince Sarevok to give up his quest for power, no matter how many of his schemes you disrupt."

"Perhaps not, but I won't stop trying to stop him."

"Not saying we should," Jarond said. He leaned forwards and jabbed the bounty notice with a finger. "Sarevok's become obsessed with this Tiswash. The longer he stays alive the better. It will give us more time to find a way to expose Sarevok's malicious actions. Now, I've convinced the guild not to cooperate with Sarevok, and that means no guild assassin will try for this bounty. But that doesn't mean some amateur headhunter won't get lucky."

"If you're worried, why don't you just assign someone to keep an eye on him?" Shann asked, and then groaned when Jarond grinned at her.

"No," she said.

"You'll still be able to attack Sarevok's operations," Jarond said. "Tiswash might be untrained, but he's travelling with two friends of Gorion, and my people say they're both experienced fighters and Harpers. You should join Tiswash and his allies. You needed help to destroy the Cloakwood Mines, and the next battle may be even harder."

"If," Shann said slowly. "I agree to this, there is the problem of just how I can become part of Tiswash's group. His foster father was just murdered; I doubt he'll be eager to trust someone. Particularly someone with my ancestry."

"You could try telling him about your shared Bhaal blood," Jarond offered.

"Yes, that worked so well with Sarevok. He'd either not believe me, or be even more suspicious of my motives."

"Then you won't mind using a little subterfuge to get you into Tiswash's party?" Jarond said, a look of delight crossing his face.

"You've already got everything planned, don't you?" Shann sighed.

"The boy's headed for the Nashkel Mines I mentioned earlier," Jarond said, assuming a businesslike manner as he pulled out a map of the area and started pointing out areas on it. "But he's been distracted and at last report was on a rescue mission to the gnoll territories west of Nashkel. We should have time to get you captured and imprisoned by Mulahey in the deepest parts of the mines."

"Throw me in prison; sounds like a fun plan," she snapped.

"I have a couple of agents in the mines that will see to it that you're taken alive. A hint that you're spying on Mulahey for his employer will ensure he keeps you unharmed until he can contact his superiors. Of course, before Mulahey learns you're not a spy, Tiswash and his people will rescue you. It's a classic ruse," Jarond said. "The damsel in distress, ... do you want that Yeslick with you?"

"Will that be a problem?" Shann asked, starting to look thoughtful.

"No," Jarond replied. "Alright, it's a classic ruse, the damsel and dwarf in distress. Tiswash will have to rescue you. I'm sure he'll be willing to let you join him and seek revenge against your captors."

"It seems complicated," Shann said. "But possible, and it may be my best chance to get to Tiswash. I've lost Sarevok to Father's lies, but my other brother may still be saved."

#10 Guest_Wyvern_*

Posted 28 February 2006 - 07:10 AM

Heritage of Evil:Allies

Part One

"The floor's damp, the walls are damp, and the cold's getting into everything," Yeslick grumbled. "Rescued from one prison, only to get thrown into another."

"Sorry," Shann said listlessly from the other side of the small cave they were locked in.

"Not your fault your contact turned traitor," he said. "I'm just worried about what's going to happen to us once they find out we're not really working for Mulahey's boss. I'm not looking forwards to the guards making bets on how long it will be until we expire, like they've been doing with that elf in the other cell."

"I'm sure I'll figure out how to get past that lock soon," Shann said confidently. Yeslick shook his head, and sighed as he tried to find a comfortable position to sleep in.

Distant screams woke them up, and Shann and Yeslick peered through the bars as several kobold servants ran down the tunnel to the higher levels of the mines. The sounds of battle gradually grew louder until finally the high voices of the Kobolds could no longer be heard and the heavy footsteps of more than one person approached their cell.

"Think that elf had friends?" Yeslick asked.

"They're sure not Mulahey's friends," Shann said, shifting to darkvision for a moment to watch the people coming their way. "A bunch of humans by the looks of the type of heat they're giving off. A couple of them are a bit odd; half-elves probably."

The group that were making their way through the tunnels moved with confidence, if not discipline. Liberal splatters of blood on the weapons and armour of the fighters bore witness to recent battles. The warrior in the lead must be Tiswash. He looks as though he's aged ten years in the three since we met, Shann thought.

"If there are more kobolds down here, I say we quit and let the Nashkel Mines close down," a young archer, who looked barely into womanhood, said in a weary voice.

"We have a duty to clear these mines, Imoen," sniffed one of her companions, a proud dark woman dressed in the robes of a Rashemen Witch. "A few paltry pests cannot thwart us."

"Lady Dynaheir is right," a large warrior, hovering protectively by Dynaheir's side, boomed in a voice that echoed down the tunnel. "Minsc will step on all the nasty, yipping monsters."

"But when Minsc sees nasty, barking monsters he flees and leaves the witch to become dogfood. (What a pity we found the annoying harpy before the gnolls feasted on her tainted flesh,)" sneered a man who was also wearing mage robes.

"Will you lot be quiet. You will alert every enemy in these mines to our position," hissed the half-elven female as she stopped walking and turned to glare at the chattering quartet behind her. The effect of her reprimand was spoiled by the actions of the half-elven male who had been walking beside her, and now casually draped an arm around her waist and winked at the assembly.

"It doesn't matter, Jaheira," said Tiswash. "Word of our arrival must have spread by now, we didn't sneak quietly into this place."

"Right ye are, lad," Yeslick called through the bars. "We've been listening to the sounds of fighting for over an hour now. You wouldn't have happened to find anything that could be a key to our cell on a dead human, would you?"

"Don't think so, all we've been fighting are Kobolds. Every human we've met has acted like an innocent miner," the leader answered, walking up the bars. The two half-elves gripped their weapons and watched the corridor, and Yeslick, with wary eyes.

"I'm pretty good at picking locks," Imoen said as she brushed past a scowling Jaheira to peer at the lock. She rummaged through a small pouch for a slender lock pick and started prying at the keyhole.

"There ya go," Imoen said brightly a few minutes later as she swung the door open with a flourish. Behind her, Jaheira gripped her staff and gave Yeslick a look that said he would be foolish to try attacking the girl.

"Impressive, Shann's been trying to pick that lock for a couple of days now," Yeslick said as he stood in the entrance and spread his hands in a gesture of peace. He looked back at Shann and a frown creased his forehead.

"I was working without any tools," Shann said defensively.

"Who are you, and what do you have to do with the Kobolds poisoning the iron?" Jaheira asked abruptly.

"N..now dear," the man beside her said softly. "There's no need to be so confrontational."

"I wish we had been a bit more untrusting," Yeslick said, scowling. "I'm Yeslick, a warrior in the service of Clangeddin, and the lass behind me is Shann Lightfoot. We came here to put an end to the poisoning of the mines, but the man who was supposed to get us past the guards turned us in instead."

"You know the source of these evil doings?" Tiswash exclaimed. "Tell us where to go and we will end this."

"Humans, always so impatient," Yeslick sighed. "We'll find Mulahey soon enough, but first I want to check on that elf they caught spying and see if he's still alive... might he be a friend of yours?"

Ti shook his head, and Yeslick started walking down the passage. "Come along, youngsters, you can walk and talk at the same time, can't you?"

Tiswash looked at Khalid, who nodded briefly, and then led the group after Yeslick.

"Ye got a name?" Yeslick asked when Tiswash trotted up beside him.

"I'm Tiswash, late of Candlekeep," he answered. "The girl who freed you is Imoen, also from Candlekeep. I'm ashamed to admit that I used to chastise Immy for indulging her taste for the often illicit art of locksmithing."

"Heya," Imoen said absently from the center of the group trailing after Tiswash and Yeslick. She was walking beside Shann and eyeing her with intense scrutiny.

"You look kinda familiar," Imoen said to Shann. "Ever been to Candlekeep?"

"I'm not much for libraries," Shann said, speeding up to walk beside Yeslick.

Tiswash waved vaguely at the two half-elves still watching Yeslick and Shann warily. "That's Jaheira and her husband, Khalid. They're both good fighters. The mages are Dynaheir and Edwin."

"I would thank thee not to mention me and that ... that person in the same breath," Dynaheir interrupted, glaring at the red-robed wizard striding beside Imoen.

"For once, the witch is right," Edwin added. "There is no need to mention lesser beings such as her when Edwin Odesseiron graces your presence."

"They both tend to talk too much," Tiswash muttered to Yeslick and Shann.

"I think this is the place," Yeslick said as they walked into a dark cavern. There were no bars in this prison, the lone occupant was sprawled in a corner, chains keeping him in place. He did not stir, and Yeslick hurried over to him, muttering to himself.

Jaheira followed him and Shann frowned, until she saw the woman lay her staff aside to help Yeslick minister to the elf. "She's a druid and a very good healer, although her patients rarely like her tongue," Khalid said to Shann.

"Who's the big warrior?" Shann asked Tiswash as they waited for the healers to tend to the elf.

"That's Minsc, he's with Dynaheir," Tiswash answered. "He's on a journey, something about a dejemma, but basically he protects Dynaheir. He's very enthusiastic."

"Yuck, what a filthy hole," Imoen said, poking into the corners of the cave.

"Apparently, we were in the luxury quarters," Shann laughed.

"How fortunate," Dynaheir said icily.

"I'm sure it was only temporary," Shann said. "We'd have been treated the same as the elf eventually."

"Perhaps," Dynaheir said, studying Shann's features. "I do believe travelling in the outside world has made me a touch suspicious of strangers. I do not like mysteries, either, the dwarf seems easy enough to classify, but thou hast been puzzling me since we met."

"Woman, caged, freed, how hard is that to understand, you fool female?" Edwin muttered condescendingly.

"Then tell me what race she does belong to, thou insufferable twit," Dynaheir said.

"Short, needs a shave," he said in the same condescending tone as before. "Were you sleeping when they mentioned dwarven females in what passes for a school in Rashemen?"

"Hast thou ever seen a dwarf with pointy-ears, thou lackwitted charlatan?"

"Instead of discussing me like some lab specimen, why don't you try asking me about my ancestry. I do speak Common, amazingly enough," Shann said with a scowl.

"It's none of our business," Tiswash said, stepping between the mages and Shann.

"Some races are prone to evil," Dynaheir said insistently. "From the cast of her features, my studies suggest she may be ..."

"Half Drow," Shann hissed. "And half Duergar, to save you the trouble of further speculation. I've known many humans who were prone to evil, perhaps you should answer for their actions."

"I did not mean to suggest that thou wert evil, only that thee may be more easily lured into darkness," Dynaheir said stiffly. "I would not presume to judge thee by any actions but thine own."

The two women stared uncomfortably at each other for a moment, but before either could think of something else to say, they were distracted by Edwin. The mage had been pacing back and forth, studying Shann, and was now starting to talk to himself.

"Interesting field of study, the crossing of various slave races ... what you get is often inferior to the parent classes although the odd success occurs, ogrons are quite useful," he said, seemingly oblivious to the quiet that had settled around him. "I believe it was Anstru of Priador who had a habit of mating his elves with his dwarves ... what did he call them? Eldwars, no, dwelves. Complete waste of time, of course ... too weak to match the dwarven labourers, and not as graceful and well-formed as the elven concubines ... still, playing with the races is a fascinating hobby I may take up some day ... or not," he trailed off after finally noticing the dark looks being sent his way.

"Are you quite finished?" Shann asked the now quiet wizard.

"Watch thy back," Dynaheir said. "I am certain the Thayvian beast would be delighted to dissect thy corpse."

"Not while she's alive!" he protested. "Er ... that is ... I don't ..."

"Now would be a good time to stop talking, Eddie," Tiswash said as he gripped the mage by the sleeve and steered him away from the two scowling women.

"Don't mind Edwin," Tiswash said when he walked back. "He's ..."

"A Thayvian Red Wizard," Shann said, making the words sound like a curse. "I thought the robes were a pathetic attempt by an imitator to look more intimidating. A suicidal action perhaps, but not unheard of. If that man truly is a Red Wizard ..."

"He is, and proud to belong to that vile clan, too," Dynaheir stated.

"Why is that filthy slaver with you?" Shann demanded of Tiswash.

"He's useful, and I trust him," he answered. "Five minutes ago you were berating Dynaheir for judging you by your ancestry, and now you have the nerve to judge Edwin because of his ancestry?"

"It's not the same," Shann hissed, flicking an angry glance at the wizard on the other side of the room. Edwin scowled back at her.

"It's not your place to question my judgement," Tiswash said calmly. "You are the newcomer here, and if you do not agree with my choice of companions, you are quite welcome to go your own way. That goes for you, too, Dynaheir."

"Have I not shown great restraint in these past days?" Dynaheir asked. "Truly, though I have been sorely tempted, I have held Minsc back from throttling the Red Worm."

"Fine," Shann said sourly. "For as long as I'm with your group, I will attempt to work with the slaver, and not kill him."

"A dreadful situation, I know," Dynaheir said, patting Shann's shoulder sympathetically.

"The loving camaraderie of this group brings tears to my eyes, it does," Imoen grunted as she dragged a chest out from beneath a ledge.

Good, Shann thought, I was beginning to be afraid I'd have to 'stumble' across the chest myself.

"Let's see what we've got here," Imoen said as she snapped open the lock.

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