Part Twenty Five
Nalia felt the world slowing down to a crawl as the mage raised her hands with a cold smile, and began to cast a spell. Her friends were moving, trying to stop the spell before it was finished, but they would be too late, all too late, and now they would probably all die, and...
Nalia clenched her fist, swinging it around for as hard a blow as she could manage, aiming directly for the other woman's nose. Emeral's eyes widened, and she flinched back a little, just as she completed her spell. No! Too late! There was a loud SWOOOOSH, a bright purple light, and then a small shower of sparkling silver stars that floated through the air like snowflakes. The sense of magic around her was strong, but completely chaotic and disorganized, as wild as a freak storm. Nalia's fist swung through the air, and she stumbled forwards as it connected only with air.
“Where...where did she go?!” She demanded, looking around. “Did she turn herself invisible?”
“No...” Edwin said, staring with fascination at something on the floor by Nalia's feet. “No, not in the least. (Ha, a wild surge! Typical for one of those insane wild mages - no control at all over their abilities.)”
Nalia looked down. There, right by her bare and rather dirty toes, was all that remained of Emeral Fress. A large, beautiful, brown and perfectly rounded egg, spinning gently on the floor. “Ah.” Nalia said, in a voice that was slightly higher pitched than normal. “I guess that's that, then.”
She cocked her head sideways at the growing noise outside: shouting, screams, arguments and an odd metallic rattling noise. Dekaras looked idly out of the window. “It would seem that there is a very large number of filthy, naked and rather hysterical people below trying to get out of the chicken pen.”
Andorel grinned. “I guess we're gonna be needed, then.”
The party of three humans and one half-orc left the laboratory. Behind them, the talismans, neatly arranged on their racks, started to crumble into dust.
And they all lived happily ever after...
It's traditional to end a story thus, but does this ever truly happen? Who exactly is the 'all' referred to? If it includes everyone in the story, the passing strangers, the innocent casualties, the villains as well as the erstwhile heroes it is practically impossible for them all to end up happy.
In fact, do stories even have an ending, or is the ending just a different beginning? The start of a thousand new tales, yet to be told?
Thaddeus woke up to the sound of the cock crow. He stretched, blinked lazily and smiled at the thought of a new day serving his Lord Ilmater. As one of the temple’s best healers, he had been called out to the Amn Sanitarium to deal with a particularly unusual case. The hospital was a lovely place, set in peaceful farmland, and had a great success rate amongst the burnt-out nobles of Athkatla. His current patient, though, was a little more unusual...
Thaddeus found himself counting under his breath as the cock crowed repeatedly, celebrating a new morning.. It'd be on five, he'd be willing to bet. One... Two... Three... Four...
“MAKE IT STOP, PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!”
A scream of despair and horror echoed through the well-scrubbed halls of the hospital. Oh. He was early today. Thaddeus smiled sadly, and hastily threw on a robe before heading downstairs to the small tidy cell in which his patient was staying.
The dissheveled-looking man was sat up in bed hugging his knees and staring at the wall, whimpering occasionally.
“Now, Thom, don't worry, we won't let the nasty rooster get you. Now, drink your valerian tea and go back to sleep...”
In a dusty storage cellar on the chicken farm, four people hunted through piles of junk for certain specific items.
“Yes! Look, it's my armour! And there's my sword, too. Thank Tyr for that.” There were a number of clangs in the dim candle-lit room. “Anyone seen my gambeson?”
“Your what?” Another voice snapped.
“It's a padded jacket worn under chainmail or full plate to prevent chafing.” A dry, calm voice replied.
“Minsc’d never wear one, God knows why.”
“Ah. Something only a grunting fighter needs to worry about.”
“There's one here...Is yours leather or padded linen, Andorel?” Nalia’s voice asked softly.
“Leather. I really need it, I've got acid burns on my ar...” He glanced quickly at Nalia. “On my arm.” He paused and rubbed his nose. “Hey, I just thought of summat. I know a word that Eddie doesn't! YES!” He punched the air enthusiastically.
“Aaah! You idiot simian, don't do that while holding your sword!”
“Ah, there's my robe!” Nalia exclaimed, picking up a blue garment with a rustle of expensive cloth. “Here's yours too, 'Dwin.”
“Ah, finally! Where are Teacher Dekaras' clothes? They must be here somewhere.”
There was a snigger. “I don't think you'll find those, seeing as he ripped 'em to bits when he was turned into a chicken.”
There was a quiet muttering from the assassin, too quiet for the other three to make out the words, but somehow, they simply didn't need to.
It was good to stretch one’s legs, and walk again. Nalia took a deep breath of the sweet countryside air. It was wonderful to be human again- no feathers, no eating bugs, no...egg thing. She still felt a little sore from that. Her companions were ranged around the road about her. Andorel, striding confidently ahead, while Vadrak and Edwin strolled along behind, deep in conversation. Well, not exactly. They were both concentrating hard enough not to notice anything else, but neither of them was actually saying much, just the odd stammered sentance that trailed off. Then again, what can you say to each other after all that? Better leave them to it. In fact, this was as good a time as any...Nalia sighed in resignation, and trotted up to join Andorel.
The half-orc was humming cheerfully under his breath, apparently completely unaffected by their recent experience. Nalia blinked as she noticed something different about the warrior’s appearance. Oh...not totally unaffected, then. His dented helmet had sprouted a feather- a mottled brown feather, attached to the metal just above his pointed ear. Best not to say anything, really. It’s not my place to comment.
“Yep?” Andorel said, turning to smile at her. “Feelin’ better? Thanks for keepin’ me warm, by the way.”
“Oh, er, thanks.” Nalia replied, squirming in embarassment. “Look, I thought I’d better...about that....you know, the thing is...” She trailed into silence.
Andorel looked at her curiously and grinned. “Spit it out.”
“Look, you know that half-orc I attacked? Well...I’m sorry.”
“Why?” Andorel said, screwing up his forehead in puzzlement.
Nalia shook her head and tried to start again. The words came out in one long rush. “Well he was a half-orc and you’re a half-orc and there’s not many of you around and I killed him and I thought you might be upset that he was dead and I’m really sorry that I did it but I had to and I lost my temper and I hope you understand that and I’m very sorry.”
Andorel looked at her in completely blank bafflement.
He blinked and shrugged. “He nearly chopped my head off, ya know. An’ he kicked me in the guts. He bunged me in a scrap with Eddie. He was an evil bastard.”
“But...” Nalia swallowed. “You can’t have met many half-orcs.”
One side of Andorel’s mouth twitched slightly. “Nope. Only met two. They’re both dead. This guy called Mulahey, I chopped his head off ‘cos he was sendin’ kobolds off to kill folks. An’ the other...” He reached out hesitantly and patted Nalia gently on the shoulder. “Don’t worry ‘bout it. You did the right thing.” The half-orc cleared his throat, and continued humming cheerfully.
Nalia bit her lip. She wasn’t sure if she felt better or not.
“So, now what?” Nalia asked, several hours later. The four companions had already left the farm well behind them, and now they were settling down to camp for the night, seeing that it was too late to reach any town this evening. She was sitting on the ground, trying to sort through what few spell components she had left, while trying not to let Edwin's loud complaints about the torn stitching on his robe distract her.
“First things first,” Andorel said. The half-orc was hunched down on the ground, with his back towards her, busying himself by the fire. “We get summat nice an' hot to eat, some proper rest, an' then...”
“And then hopefully something decent to wear,” Dekaras muttered. The assassin was lounging against a large oak, still looking rather put out. Not wanting to wander though the woods wearing only a loincloth, no matter how stylish, he had been forced to settle for what remained in the storage room. This meant that he was currently wearing a very worn white shirt with puffy sleeves dripping with ragged lace, a pair of canary yellow riding pants and a bloodred coat that reached all the way down to his knees. “I feel like a complete peacock in this ridiculous outfit.”
“Better than a chicken though, right Vaddy?” Andorel chuckled. “Anyway, ya know what the only other spare thing that might have fit you was.”
“The pink tutu,” Dekaras said with a small grimace of revulsion. “I remember. That doesn't mean I have to like looking like an escapee from a circus though.” He pinched the sleeve of his coat as if he expected it to bite him, and Nalia blinked. She looked from the assassin to Edwin, who was eyeing his torn robe with that exact same look of distaste.
That is funny...you could almost believe they were...
“Hey guys, it's ready!” Andorel's hearty voice interrupted Nalia's train of thought, and the thought scattered and fled from her reach. “This'll do us all fine after a rough day, I think.” He held out the sizzling pan in front of him, beaming proudly, and as Nalia stared into it she felt her stomach drop with horror. There was something white in the frying pan. Something white, and yellow, and round, and flat.
“Please tell me,” Dekaras said in a distant voice laced with horror, “That that is not what I think it is.”
Behind her, Nalia could already hear Edwin's rapid footsteps pattering away from her, along with some loud retching sounds, and the nausea that swelled inside her wasn't all her own.
“Andorel...” she managed, clasping a hand in front of her mouth. “How could you?”
“What?” the half-orc said, sounding completely baffled. “Hey, it was just lyin' around there on the floor, I'm sure somebody would have stepped on it anyway, an' there's good eatin' on one o' these. It's not as if it's really a person, any more. You sure none of you want some?”
When he received only two strongly affirmative nods, along with the background noise of Edwin's enthusiastic emptying of the contents of his stomach, he shrugged, and scooped up the egg, then noisily ate it. “Tasty!” he declared, then smacked his lips and patted his stomach. “Well, guess that's the end of that adventure, right Vaddy? Vaddy?”
Dekaras looked up from his careful contemplation of his own feet, and there was a rather concerned look in his eyes. “I certainly hope so,” he said. “And yet, I feel as if I have forgotten about something important.”
“If I knew, I wouldn't have forgotten, now would I?”
“Well,” Nalia declared, “If it really is important, I'm sure you'll be reminded of it eventually, somehow. That sort of thing tends to come back to haunt you, you know.”
The moon was full tonight, and it was the perfect time for a little indulgence. Well, any night was the perfect time for indulgence, but tonight especially, what with the new delivery. She poured the different beverages with great care into the crystal glasses she had set out - her favorite child would enjoy that little bit of flattery, and be all the more devoted to her, as was only right and proper.
But first, a little tasting, to make certain the quality was as exquisite as it had been promised to be. The regular thing she could acquire on her own, but according to the seller, this ought to be special.
The first glass looked odd - the fluid was a murky dark brown, not red as it ought to have been. Perhaps there was some sort of residue from the cork? But it looked even enough, as it should be, not grainy. She took a careful sip, than spat, her delicate nose wrinkled with distaste. Oh. Oh no. That won't do at all. Powerful, with a full body, and an aftertaste of leather and armor polish. Just a hint of sweat...and beetles. Interesting, but too mixed, too impure. Powerful though...yes, and familiar. It reminds me of...something...pink...oh yes, I know this one. How curious.
She frowned, black brows knitting together in thought, and reached for the second bottle. Now, this was a more proper colour, a deep red. She poured herself another glass, sniffed the bouquet, then took another sip. Now what is this? Mature, yet fresh, with a slightly bitter aftertaste...definitely an edge there, and...and...
There it was again. The power, that heady power that she had sensed before. She knew what it was now. Same as the other one, but different.
Dark blue eyes glittered with glee, and the two sharp fangs became visible as Bodhi's pale pink tongue licked her sensual lips. Bhaalspawn. Not just one, but two, and two powerful ones. The half-orc, and one other, unknown to us before now.
“Wait for me here, my dears,” the vampiress purred to the two bottles. “I will come back for you later. And in the meantime, Irenicus must learn of this.”
The End - For Now