This chapter is in particular for Username, who once asked to know more about Melvin. I don’t know if you will read this, since you’ve been inactive for a long time now, but I really hope you’ll come back to writing someday, because I miss both you and your amazing story “Sorcery for beginners”.
Help me, it's like the walls are caving in
Sometimes I feel like giving up
But I just can't
It isn't in my blood…(Shawn Mendes, “In my blood”)
Anomen awoke with a start, ready to fight any intruder, but soon found out that there was none and realized what had woke him up: the other side of the bed was empty and a muffled sound came from the living room. He followed that muffled noise and found Meg sitting on the couch, her face buried in her hands.
"Meg? What’s wrong, my love?", he asked worriedly, sitting down next to her. She remained silent for a long moment, then she raised her head and he could see the grief and exhaustion in her eyes. "I am. I shouldn’t be here, I have no right at all to be alive, while so many good people have lost so much because of me. I should have died long ago, in the old Temple", she whispered, "The world would have been a much better place, had Alianna killed me then".
"Don’t say so", the Helmite gathered her in his arms, stroking her hair, "Some people have died, it’s true, but how many lives were saved and made better because of you? Have you already forgotten about my sister, whom you have saved from our father’s clutches? Or the people of Trademeet, or the citizens of Imnesvale?", he gently took her chin in his hand and made her look him in the eye, "And what about me? My life would be hollow and bitter without your love to sustain me and warm my soul".
The young woman relaxed a little, but the sadness was still there, "I have not forgotten, beloved. It’s just...", she trailed off, unable to find the right words. "I know, you feel awful and this accursed place is not helping in lifting your spirits". "Yes. I can feel the pain of the slaves being punished, the fear and anguish of the prisoners, the despair of those who are going to be sacrificed...", Meg shuddered and huddled closer to him in search of comfort, "It hurts".
It was then that Anomen finally realized the full extent of what being a Painbearer meant: she could feel the suffering of others all the time, no matter how faintly and in that city, where pain was dealt out in abundance without a second thought, that power proved to be more of a curse than ever. "How can I help you feel better?". "Hold me. Hold me and don’t let go".
He held her close, trying to think of something, anything that could distract her from her distress and old memory suddenly popped up in his mind, "Do you remember that squire of the Order we met at the Coronet?". The Ilmatari blinked, "Yes, I do. His name was something like “Marvin”, right?". "Melvin, actually.
You may recall that I was not very pleased to see him". "Yeah, he was all cheerful and friendly, but you were quite, well...Grumpy". He grinned, "Ha, I suppose I was. Do you want to know why?". "Sure". "It’s because of a, shall we say, little incident that happened during my time at the Order Headquarters.
I was in the training field along with other squires, practicing with the mace on the dummies, when Melvin appeared from the corridor...But truth be told, we smelled him long before we saw him, since he’d been assigned to latrine duty and the wind was coming from behind him". "Eww. Now I see why you didn’t complain about the stench when we had to go into the sewers", she commented, a small smile curving her lips. The knight chuckled, "I was already used to it, that’s true.
Anyway, Melvin was coming back from his assignment and was carrying a long brush he used to, uh, perform it, when he spotted us in the training field. He lightened up like sunshine and ran to us shouting gleefully: “Me too! I wanna train too!” and before we could stop him, he started waving that filthy brush around, hitting the dummies with it as if it were a sword and showering us with dirt in the meantime".
Margaret Dawn made a face, half-disgusted and half-amused, "Oh, you poor darling, having to suffer such indignity", she giggled, stroking his cheek. "Ah, but the best is yet to come", Anomen said, currently-crimson eyes sparkling with mirth, "You see, while he was busy showing off, the Prelate happened to come to the field, for he wanted to check upon our progresses...".
"Oh Gods!". He nodded, "It seems like Prelate Wessalen had angered Beshaba that day, because at that exact moment, a very big piece of filth flew off of the brush and landed right on his face". She burst out laughing, "I guess he didn’t take it too well, did he?". "No, not at all: he confined Melvin to his room for a month and assigned him to laundry duty for the rest of his time as a squire, saying that there at least he couldn’t cause any trouble. Though, knowing Melvin, I wouldn’t bet on it".
The Painbearer’s gaze softened, "Thank you, honey. Now I feel better". "I am glad of hearing it, my love. Come, let us go back to bed: you need your rest", he said, helping her to her feet and leading her into the bedroom. "Okay. And Anomen?". "Yes?". She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply, "I love you". "I love you too". They lay back under the covers and she slept peacefully in his embrace, lulled by his strong and steady heartbeat.
After a good rest and a tasty meal, the party went downstairs to the common room, only to find Phaere and Solaufein waiting for them: the woman was smiling smugly, while the warrior was the very picture of barely restrained fury. When she saw them, the daughter of the Matron Mother waved to them, "Ah, Veldrin, you are here at last! I was tempted to come and wake you up with my own flail, but it seems like it won’t be necessary".
Meg bowed, "Well met, Mistress Phaere. How can we serve you today?". Phaere’s smile widened as she addressed Solaufein, "See, male? This is the proper way to talk to your betters!". He snorted, "If you think I’m going to grovel like her, you are sorely mistaken. Just give us this task and let’s be done with it". "Oh, you would like it, wouldn’t you?
But I’ve had enough of your company, so I will do it: the Matron Mother has decided that the Svirfneblin, those pathetic rats, have not shown the proper amount of fear of us in the last months. She has chosen you to teach them to dread our kin again. Get close to their village and wait for a patrol to arrive, then slaughter them all".
His eyes widened in outrage, "Gnomes? You want me to waste my time in killing thrice-cursed GNOMES? You must be joking, woman!", he shouted, incensed. "Do I look like I’m joking?". "Send Veldrin, then! I’m sure she can handle this oh-so-important task without me holding her hand through it!".
The Painbearer intervened, making sure to sound humble, "Forgive me, Mistress Phaere, but much as I loathe agreeing with a male, he does have a point: my underlings and I can easily dispatch those miserable inferior beings. There’s no need for him to come along". The Drow warrior nodded, "There, see? Even your prideless pet agrees with me on this!".
Phaere reduced her eyes to slits, "I have given you orders and you will obey, Solaufein, like it or not. You will go with Veldrin and this is all. Bring me the helmet of the leader of the patrol as both a proof and a trophy". His fists closed tightly, but he knew he had no choice, "All right, then", he hissed through clenched teeth, turning on his heels and stalking towards the exit, the party in tow. They all walked in silence until they were out of the city gates, not far from Adalon’s cave and at that point, he just exploded.
"I hate her! With all of the worthier things I could do with my time, she sends me to kill some insignificant Gnomes! As if I were just a common slave to boss around, instead of one of the finest warriors of the city!", he growled, gesticulating wildly, eyes burning with rage, "Who does she think she is, that accursed who...". "You don’t have to come along, you know", the Ilmatari said and he cut himself off mid-rant, so stunned that he even stopped walking. "What?".
"I said you don’t have to come along", she repeated, "We can handle the Gnomes on our own and while we’re doing this, you can go and make use of your time as you see fit". The Drow warrior looked at her for a long moment, unsure, "So you would cross your Mistress?". "Look, I don’t need you for this task and I don’t even want you around as we’re doing our job: your mutterings grate on my nerves", she said, though in truth she quite liked the sound of his voice, even when he was ranting, "Just make sure not to be seen sauntering around by anyone before we come back.
We’ll meet you before the city gates". He nodded slowly, "You know, I think I will do as you say: Phaere is having too much fun at ordering me around and I would enjoy the chance to spit in her face, so to speak. I’ll see you later", he said, then he quickly left. She thought she heard him whistling under his breath as he walked away, thought of course it was absurd: Drow did not whistle.
When he was out of earshot, Ilivarra cleared her throat, "Heya, Veldrin...We’re not gonna kill the Gnomes, right?", she asked, worried. The Painbearer smiled and shook her head, "Of course not! Trust me on this, no Gnomish blood will be shed today". They walked to the Svirfneblin village and patiently waited for a patrol to come, until at last they saw five Deep Gnomes approaching.
Their leader, who was quite muscular and fit, forced himself to smile, though his fear was evident in his eyes, "Greetings, Dark Ones, I am Odendal Breachgnome. Why are you here?". Meg smiled and took the red ribbon she used to bind her hair out of her pack, then she wrapped it around her hands recreating Ilmater’s Holy Symbol, "I am a friend, Odendal. Do you recognize this sign?".
He looked closely at her hands and nodded, relaxing, "Yes, I do. You are the friends who killed the beast from nightmares, yes? You have met lady Adalon, then". "We have. And now we need a favour from you: can you give me your helmet?". "My helmet?", he blinked, "Why do you need it, friend of the Light?". "The Drow have sent us to slaughter you, because they think you don’t fear them enough".
He started, "What? But we fear the Dark Ones immensely! They could destroy us without a second thought, if they wanted to!". "I must bring your helmet back to them, as proof of your death". Odendal hastily took it off and handed it to her, "Thank you for your help, friend: we owe you another debt of life now. I’ll warn Goldander that we’ll need to grovel a lot more from now on. May the Deep Brother always smile upon you!", he said, leading his men back to their village.
Meanwhile, the adventurers took the route back to Ust Natha, but as they passed by Adalon’s cave, Margaret Dawn stopped. "I think we should pay lady Adalon a visit, while we’re here. Just to make sure Minsc, Boo and Aerie are okay". Edwin arched a currently-snowy eyebrow, "Don’t you trust the Dragon?". "I do, but you know what they say: better safe...". "Than sorry", he nodded with an approving smile, "Very good, Veldrin, very good".
She frowned slightly, "You know, I was thinking...The barrier closing this cave is made of solid darkness, right? Like the one we found in Amaunator’s temple in the Umar Hills. So, maybe, the Gems of Light we collected there could let us pass through this barrier as well". Jaheira tilted her head to the side, her curiosity piqued, "Maybe, yes. What is your point, child?".
"My point is that, should it work, we would have some backup in case we somehow lost the gem we got from Goldander", the Painbearer took it out of her pack and gave it to Yoshimo, "You will wait here. I will try to get inside", she said, then she took the peach-coloured Gem of Light from the old temple and walked towards the entrance of the cave. As she had predicted, the barrier opened to let her pass and she turned a beaming smile on her friends, "See? I was right! Come on".
They descended the long staircase, but before stepping into the cone of light at the end of it, the Ilmatari called out. "Lady Adalon, it’s us! We’ve come to visit our friends!". The Silver Dragoness smiled and gestured with a front paw, "Come forward, then and fear not". The party walked on and Minsc instantly put himself before Aerie, raising his enchanted halberd.
"You will not harm Minsc’s witch!", he shouted, but before he could strike, Adalon placed a paw between him and his companions. "Lower your weapon, Human: these are your friends, not enemies. Remember that I changed their appearance to make them look like Drow?". The Rashemi blinked and lowered his halberd, confused, "Are they?". Edwin scoffed, "Bah! Of course it’s us, you brainless gorilla! (Truly, he seems even bigger of an idiot than last time I saw him)".
"Edwin, please, not now", Meg scolded him, "Minsc, it’s me, Meg. I know I don’t look much like my true self, but it’s me". "You speak like little Meg. And he speaks like the grumpy wizard", the ranger noted, then he took his hamster in his big hands and extended him towards the young woman, "Stay still and let Boo judge you! He will know if you’re really Minsc’s friends".
She smiled and let herself be sniffed by the hamster, who then stood on his hind paws and squeaked, twitching his nose. "Boo says that it’s you. Oh, Minsc is so happy to see you again!", the big Rashemi took her up in a bear hug, "Does it mean that we can leave this dark place and kick the evil wizard’s butt now?". She laughed, "Ah, I’m sorry, my friend, but we still have some things to do before that moment comes.
We just came to say hello", she turned to Aerie, "Everything okay, here? Did you have any problem? Do you need something?". The Avariel shook her head with a smile, "No, but thank you all the same. It’s been quiet so far, the Drow can’t pass the barrier, so we’re safe in this cave". "Good. Lady Adalon, thank you again for the hospitality you’re offering to my friends".
The Silver One shrugged, "It’s no bother: there’s plenty of space and I don’t mind some company for a change. I must admit, Human, that your companions have very interesting tales to tell". Minsc beamed, "Boo and I have told the kind lady Dragon about the righteous butt-kicking we have given to the Evil people of the Sword Coast!".
The Painbearer shared an amused look with the Elven girl, "I’m glad of hearing that your stay has been pleasant so far. We’ll try to fulfil our mission as soon as possible, promise. Now we must go, or they’ll send someone to look for us", she hugged Aerie and then Minsc, "Take care and don’t leave the cave for any reason, okay?". "We promise little Meg that we will wait here for our friends to come back". "Good. See you soon".
As they had established, the party met Solaufein before the city gates and the Drow warrior shot a disgusted look at the helmet. "So you’ve really killed the Gnomes. Tell me, Veldrin, do you feel strong and important now?", he spat. Veldrin rolled her eyes, "Oh, please: they weren’t even worth the time we spent in getting there.
But Phaere wanted us to do it and we did it, simple as that. Are you finished babbling, now, male? Because she’s surely waiting for us and I don’t want her to lose her patience and have me flogged for wasting her time". He pursed his lips in annoyance, but nodded, "You have a point. Very well, let’s finish this", he said and they entered the city together.
Phaere seemed very pleased with her trophy, but her good humour didn’t last long, as Solaufein couldn’t help himself. "Oh, yes, I’m sure Lolth is pleased of us having thought a lesson to those useless and insignificant creatures", he snorted, lips twisting with disgust. "How dare you speak like that! I should have you flogged for your insolence!".
"Try it", he said defiantly, raising his chin and despite her obsidian skin, she seemed to pale with fury. "What?". "I said, try it. You would like to, wouldn’t you? But if you did, your House would end up in a war against mine and you can’t allow this to happen", the warrior smirked, delighted in seeing her so incensed. "Just...Get out of my sight! NOW!".
"Gladly", he turned on his heels and left, a triumphant smile on his face. The daughter of the Matron Mother let him go, then turned towards Meg, "Veldrin, I will meet you in my quarters in an hour. Do not be late". "Of course, Mistress", the Ilmatari bowed and Phaere stalked out of the tavern, angrily muttering to herself.
The Deep Brother: one of the names with which Callarduran Smoothhands is known. He is a God of the Gnomish pantheon, also called “Master of Stone” and “Lord of Deepearth”. His Holy Symbol is a golden ring with the sign of a star on it. He is the patron deity of the Svirfneblin and he cares only about protecting his people from the many dangers of the Underdark.