Another note: revised as of Oct 11, posted
Yet another note: pulled the revision, will look at it again in December when I get my spare time back
Chapter 105: Hell Hath No Fury
With a triumphant cry, Edwin leaped up from his desk.
At last, at long last, the secrets of the Nether Scroll had revealed themselves to him!
It was all there, written in the arcane symbols, the ancient lettering, the short (and, to Edwin's tastes, insipid) verses that were scattered throughout the manuscript, and now, with the final page he'd deciphered, it was all clear.
The scroll contained a spell of transformation, both basic and sophisticated. It was not unlike the transformation of mage to lich, but as far as Edwin could tell, it was without some of the more unpleasant connotations of lichdom, such as the necessity of dying to complete the change. No, there was not a single fragment of necromantic magic in the spell, and yet it would grant a change so true, so profound, so powerful...
Edwin closed his mouth. (It would not do to drool on the scroll like some unwashed, ignorant peasant.)
Whatever the change might be, it was perfectly clear that the creators of the scroll considered it to be a valuable lesson for any who dared seek out such magics - a lesson on a scale that would humble even the proudest mind.
Edwin's mind reeled at the implications. (The ramifications!)
So, Thay had sent the mighty Degardan to find him, had they? Hah! Degardan's prowess would be nothing compared to the might and skill of Edwin Odesseiron! The Zulkirs themselves would be like mere cattle! The Cowled Wizards, dust beneath his feet! Nothing would stand in his way after this! He would show them all! He would-
His thoughts were rudely interrupted by several loud crashing noises from one of the other rooms.
Water seeped out from under the door of the room Anomen was in. Minsc pulled the door open, all but ripping it off its hinges in the process.
On the other side of the doorway, the smashed remnants of an ewer and washbasin of glazed stoneware lay in the middle of a puddle. Some of the water pooled along the edge of an overturned table that was missing one leg; that leg lay on a dry part of the floor, with a crack running through more than half its length. Anomen stood behind the table with his back to the door, venting his anger on a chair that now bore a strong resemblance to kindling. He attacked the wreck with his bare hands, repeatedly smashing it against the floor. Each blow was echoed by a set of small ripples on the surface of the puddle. Anomen's war hammer lay carelessly thrown in the corner; Ember wondered dimly if the walls would still have been standing if he'd used that instead.
"Arvoreen, have mercy," Mazzy exclaimed.
Anomen spun around, his face livid and his eyes black with rage, and seemed to struggle to restrain himself from throwing the ruined chair at the intruders. "Leave me!" he bellowed.
"Go," Ember mouthed to Mazzy and Minsc. The two of them stepped back while Ember braved Anomen's furious glare and entered the room, closing the door behind her.
Edwin's patience had its limits.
He stomped across the room and shoved the door open. The Rasheman imbecile and the aggravating halfling were standing in the corridor, not lifting a finger to end the racket.
"What is this nonsense?!" Edwin demanded.
"Anomen," the halfling said. "He is... upset."
"(Typical. Just typical,)" Edwin grumbled. "Is that any reason to disturb my moment of triumph?"
The halfling gave him an incredulous look.
"You doubt me, diminutive one? Know then that I, the great Edwin Odesseiron, have successfully translated the Nether Scroll, and that I am but an incantation away from power beyond your meager imagination!"
"How is this justice?!" Anomen roared. "My sister lies cold and unavenged, and the murderer remains free to gloat over his victory!" He slammed the broken chair into the floor once more.
"But it might not have been Saerk," Ember said, trying to keep her voice calm and even.
"Who but he could have committed such an act?"
"A burglar, perhaps?"
"Moira had naught that was worth stealing!"
"Would a burglar necessarily have known that?"
For the first time since Ember entered the room, Anomen hesitated for a moment before responding. "You forget that none of her belongings were missing," he said. "Aye, a burglar would have taken what little there was ere he fled, would he not? And is it not well known, amongst nobles and thieves alike, that House Delryn has nothing of value, that its possessions are long since gone; that my father has DRIVEN US TO RUIN?!" He flung the chair at the wall with all his might; the force of the impact shattered what was left of the chair, showering the room with splintered pieces of wood. "I defied my father for what I thought was right, the drunken bastard cast me out of the family for what I thought was right, and my reward is that I can do nothing! I've sought out the law, as I should, but the law will not aid me!! How is this to be borne? I cannot let her murder go unanswered..."
"We could ask Bayle-"
"I should confront Saerk," Anomen said, suddenly calm.
"I'd suggest restraint," the narrow-minded halfling said. "It's dangerous to meddle with magic that you know nothing about."
"(Words of an uninformed fool!) I've prepared for this moment all my life, and lifetimes before! This will be mine, and I'll wait no longer!" Edwin slammed his door shut, hurried across the room to the desk, and picked up the scroll.
Unlimited power! Knowledge unimaginable! (And who deserved it more than he?)
Feeling more excited than even the first time he'd conjured a fireball, Edwin began to cast the Netherese spell.
"Do you not see? A direct challenge may force him to-"
"Anomen, he hates you and you hate him! If you walk into his house to confront him, especially in such a mood, how will it not end with one or both of you dead?"
"What would you know of my 'mood'?!" Anomen reached for the second chair in the room, no doubt to give it the same treatment he'd given the first; Ember seized his wrist with both hands and held him back. He pulled his arm back in an attempt to wrench it free from her grasp, but she tightened her grip, and all he accomplished was to pull her closer.
"Listen to me," she growled, her face only inches away from his. "I know what you told me at Moira's grave. And I know what I see in your face right now. You want to find someone, anyone, who you can blame for this, and make them pay. Can you deny that?"
Slowly, sullenly, he shook his head.
"You'd go to Saerk's home, and you'd accuse him of this murder, and you'd tell yourself that you would only act fairly," she continued. "But if he were to deny it, you'd regard him as a liar. If he were to get angry or mock you, you'd see it as an attempt to hide something. You'd go in, ready to see anything as an admission of guilt and an excuse for you to attack him, and then you'd be at his throat and you wouldn't stop until he lay dead and broken at your feet or his guards killed you, and even that possibility wouldn't hold you back, because all you want right now is to spill Saerk's blood!" She could see it in his eyes, clear as day, and part of her ached to help him do it. "Am I right?!"
Colour drained from his face. "I am so full of hate I can barely control it," he whispered. "My heart cries out for vengeance, even when I know I should not act without proof. No matter what the circumstances indicate..." He looked her in the eyes. "Please, my lady... Did I do the right thing? Should the dictates of the law truly overcome my duty to my family?"
"How would you feel if you were to kill Saerk and then found him to be innocent after the fact?"
"Aye... aye, that would be a stain to my honour I surely could not bear. But still..."
"Would Moira have wanted you to commit murder for her?"
He looked away. "Nay, she would not."
"There is no form of vengeance that will bring her back," Ember said quietly.
Anomen's knees buckled, and he sank to the floor.
The spell was rather unremarkable in execution. For a moment, Edwin wondered if anything had happened at all; he'd expected to feel the wisdom of the ages flow through him, but his mind felt just like usual. (He couldn't possibly have misinterpreted the incantation, could he?)
Then, he noticed there was something odd about his chest.
He touched his face.
His impeccably groomed beard had been replaced with smooth skin.
"This is bad," he muttered nervously in a voice that was best described as a somewhat nasal mezzosoprano.
His nerve broke.
"Blasphemy!" he shrieked. "An outrage against nature and order! This is beyond treachery!"
The door burst open, and the halfling and the imbecile rushed in. They halted after a few steps.
Was the halfling covering her mouth in surprise, or was that a grin she was trying to hide?
"Boo does not understand," the Rasheman fool said. "It is not as though the scoundrel will be missed, but where has Edwin gone and who is this woman who wears his clothes?"
"What?! How dare you, you stone-headed oaf! (A woman?!) This is shameful and revolting!"
"Revolting? You seem to have gained a fair enough shape," the halfling said. She most certainly was grinning at his plight!
"Plebeians! Vagrants! You dare gawk at my mantle," Edwin snarled, and tried to adjust his robes, which felt very tight around his upper chest. (Hmm, they weren't that bad, upon closer consideration...)
He nervously reached for a lower area of his body.
"(Oh no,)" he moaned. "(No. NO!)"
In the other room, Ember sat on the floor beside Anomen. She held him in her arms and gently rocked him back and forth while he, for the first time since he received the news, wept for his lost sister.