Bhaalspawn and Co. Part III. The Taintless.
Posted 23 May 2003 - 03:29 AM
Human, Bard, Male
Originally Naljier Skal is a quiet mad human bard who makes gems for you in the Spellhold. I changed his character a lot, giving him new race and new biography. Hope that you will like it!
Posted 25 May 2003 - 05:56 PM
Do not trust, do not be afraid, and do not ask
Or your heart will know no rest
Simply out of curiosity do not give your love
To someone of a different taint.
Valygar gave another sidelong glance to Leonora. “Where, “ he wondered, “where is the passionate woman I knew but an hour ago?” Tai-Shen, gliding softly by Leonora did not add any friendliness. The mage, of course was prepared to cast at every second, paranoid from the moment they set their feet outside her palace. At times Valygar felt eyes trained on him as well and gripped tighter on the hilts of his katanas. Still he was unhappy of Leonora being removed. Maybe he should not have agreed to take the mage along? He was afraid now that the corrupting power of the arts might take Leonora from him, like it took Abyssina from Andreas before.
He would have to trust her however. The answers to so many questions and to so many fears were forthcoming in a short nick of time. Valygar and Leonora left few dark blocks behind and found themselves in front of the “Copper Coronet”. Faint light came from the quarter-open doors of the tavern. Two dark figures lingered there. Valygar and Leonora exchanged troubled glances, but then Valygar recognized the couple and stayed his nervous companion from throwing a fireball and identifying the corpses later.
The melodious voice broke the silence of the night:
“Do not cry, Melirinda,
our life is a blast
let then care for dignity
we shall care for love…
Leonora chuckled: “So these are Kivan and Melirinda?” Valygar nodded his consent, wondering all the while why Melirinda was crying. Melirinda shook her head, and Kivan cupped her face in his palms, now rather whispering, than singing:
Let them roar like dragons
Let then haul like orcs,
We are only mortals
Even if demigods…
Am I forgiven, Lirin?” Melirinda sighed and said quietly: “Kivan, I still do not think you should have rushed out and proceed with attacking the first bandit you have run into. World is probably the better place without him, but I doubt that such an impulsive if poetic justice was called for…” Kivan pleaded: “Lirin, I was so scared. Please, do not, do not walk away when I am asleep. I lost all control over my actions when I could not find you…” Melirinda’s figure merged with Kivan’s, mumbling “silly…”
Valygar and Leonora glanced at each other and Leonora suddenly asked in a loud, clear voice: “Say, Valygar, is Kivan an elf?” Valygar winced and came up with a brilliant “Yes, Leonora…”, rewarded with a sharp elbow (reinforced by the stone skin) connecting on his ribs. The ranger figured the meaning easly enough: “Must I do all the dirty work, they are your friends after all.” Aloud Leonora graced Valygar with an interesting observation, which (to his displeasure) was most probably derived from personal experiences: “They make good lovers, those elves…”
Reddish glow of infravision lit Kivan’s face: “Thank you for the vote of confidence, My Lady…” said he bowing. And then he addressed himself to Melirinda: “Valygar is here and from my best judgement his actions were not stupid ones. Valygar, would you please come closer, so that our leader can see for herself that you are not locked in a mortal combat with a relative of yours…”
Valygar chuckled: “We are not late, are we?”
“No,” even in the darkness it was apparent that the druid was blushing. “I was restless, and since I did not want to wake up anyone else, I went downstairs and chatted with Hendak, who mentioned that you never checked in, Valygar. I went towards the Sphere, half-convinced that you, dare-devil, are settling your old scores on your own… But the doors were still locked, and I went back just in time to see Kivan Ashenbow interrogating some thug regarding my whereabouts…”
To everybody's surprise Leonora has spoken urgently: “Seeing that four of us are arrayed for the battle, I suggest we go to the Sphere immediately. I can feel that we are watched and I would not delay the entry for another minute.”
Melirinda looked at the woman attentively before replying: “I would not go against Lavok without a mage…” Valygar embraced Leonora’s waist and said with a shadow of embarrassment in his voice: “Leonora is a mage, Mel.” Kivan and Melirinda gave Valygar the same quizzical look, which he dismissed with a shrug: “She is a mage,” repeated he defensively. “Which solves the problem,” Melirinda kept her face very serious, repressing a sarcastic “Oh, I see…” Instead she mused: “Let’s just hope that Lavok Corthala has not set up too many traps around his place…”
Leonora nodded: “Yes, there is a risk…Pier?” Kivan went very stiff and Melirinda felt muscles on his arm to tighten as a man walked forward from a shadowy corner of the alley. The rogue wore dark cloak and that’s all any of them could have told, if asked to describe him. “Pier is a friend of mine and he is as skilled in traps and locks removal as one can wish for…” announced Leonora, ignoring Valygar’s suspicious look. Pier bowed shortly to everyone: “Seniora DeVallenzzi, Senior Corthala, Senior Ashenbow…” and then separately he gave a respectful bow to Melirinda, recognizing her as a leader of the group: “Senioritta DeGranier…”
Melirinda liked both strangers and she was immediately fond of Tai Shen, so she gave the command to move towards the Sphere.
“This Pier. He is strange. Melirinda, there was nobody hiding in the corner, when Valygar and Leonora came by,” Kivan cautioned. “It was a very dark corner, Kivan,” Melirinda objected. “Yes, it was, but I was searching the street in the infrared spectrum. Yet I saw no sign of him, until he came out.”
Melirinda shrugged: “Leonora must have teleported him or something… Kivan, I do not know, what is it with you lately… Soon you will stop trusting yourself.” Kivan startled. It was as if she knew, that the last person he could trust now was himself! He tried to distract Melirinda from the dangerous line of thoughts: “Talking about Pier, did you notice that he called you Senioritta? Do not you think Seniora would sound better?” Melirinda bit her lip and replied after a pause: “I love you Kivan…” and pressed on.
The most hated voice laughed into Kivans ears. “Did you really hoped the Bhaal’s daughter would marry a pathetic whiner like you, pointy-eared scum?” Kivan’s body was shaken by another blast of the evil laughter within. “I must say you have quite a taste, ranger… I wonder if this one is just as cold as that Deheriana was, though may be she was just putting up a show for your sake…”
Kivan knew that he could not kill Tazok again. He jailed Tazok, when he opened the half-ogre’s chest and ripped away the evil heart…yet Melirinda was right, he also jailed himself, by committing to carrying around the heart of his worst enemy. Kivan knew that one day his mind and soul would be eroded away. But until that day the elf was prepared to endure the torture to prevent Tazok’s re-appearance in the world in another mortal form. Tazok read his thoughts and mocked him: “You would not last long against me, pointy-ears. And then I shall be free again. Someone would want me alive again sooner or later, because I am strong and I am a loyal servant to the stronger ones. You are nothing… You are nothing…”
The group was climbing the stairs to a small house, half-destroyed by the Sphere, where it landed. Kivan summoned forth all his will and blocked away Tazok’s voice. Leonora attuned to any emanations of magical energies, felt the evil aura around Kivan. “Geas?” the mage pondered looking at the blank, pale face of the Sylvan elf. Marquise decided that she would speak to Kivan to find out the nature of his curse. But there was no time at the moment.
Valygar touched the door lightly and it opened on its own. The light coming from the Sphere drowned the group. They stood there for a moment, each feeling the doom of the place. Valygar made an inviting gesture: “Do come in, my friends. Let’s meet the ancestors.” He was the first one to step over the threshold.
Posted 25 May 2003 - 06:15 PM
“Well, the hall looks like a hall…” Melirinda tried to relieve a tension as the group walked the narrow corridor, “Now it’s getting amusing…” Indeed after squeezing through a hobbit-like round door, they were faced with another three.
Pier glided towards the wall and tapped gently with his long sensitive fingers each lock. “The leftmost one,” announced he his verdict finally. He bent low, pressing his head against the door and stroked the metal surface again with his palms. “No trap. But something is within.” And he stepped back from the door producing a short bow from the shadow of his cloak and nodding to the fighters to go ahead. Mistrust was in Valygar’s heart, yet the ranger rotated the handle and pulled the door open preparing to withstand any pain a springing trap might bring.
Nothing happened. Valygar walked in first and found himself in a small room, really cramped because of a rather upset clay golem. “Mel,’ called Valygar, lazily parrying few thunderous hits, “one of your specials…” Melirinda was there in an instant, her staff cutting the air with a whistling sound. The glowing red end of the staff left beautiful ornaments hanging in the mid-air for mere seconds. Kivan immediately joined Melirinda, producing wielding a light warhammer. Valygar nodded his approval and avoided dulling his katana on the golem.
Instead he kept an eye on Pier who scavenged through four containers, accompanied by Leonora. “A key!” exclaimed the mage. “looks like Lavok have habits of a commoner, leaving a key under his doorstep.” Valygar squinted: “I hope that does not matter that he is out shopping.” Pier grinned: “That would be a pity indeed… Would not you mind holding this masterpiece for a moment, Count? It’s rather heavy,” and Pier passed a huge and ugly tube shaped to resemble a monstrous arm, twice the size of a normal human’s. “That’s not Lavok’s?” smiled Valygar. “No, dear, the competition is not THAT stern, so it is unlikely that somone destroyed him before you,” Leonora shook her own hands in disgust, because they were all covered in black powder. Somewhat satisfied with the cleaness of her palms, she carefully rolled few scrolls in a tight tube and stuffed them into a scroll-case.
“Senioritta DeGranier wants me to pack coal along as well?” Pier was bent on formalities. Melirinda gave a quick look over her shoulder, while hitting frantically with her staff and approved: “Sure, just grub it all. My experience had been that when in mages tower, anything can come handy.” She completed her phrase with a heavy blow on the clay golem’s head, which coincided with Kivan’s hammer blasting a hole in the monster’s side. Well, former monster’s former side. “Terracotta floor…fancy,” Kivan grinned and Melirinda returned his smile.
After it became apparent that the room had nothing more of interest, the party stepped through the next door…which promptly shut behind them. Motion… The Sphere came into motion. The five companions exchanged troubled glances, while Tai Shen simply roared.
“Excuse me My Lady, does your tiger have appropriate training to appear in public without a leash?” one of three heavily armed persons occupying the room asked. Their glistering armor reminded Melirinda of Anomen and she blushed. “You see, the Sphere had traveled again, and since all hope is lost that it will take us to our own world, we’d want pleasant and joyous company…” Leonora restricted Tai Shen from demonstrating what joyous times means to him and assured the knights in her familiar’s good nature. Valygar thought her opinion to be slightly optimistic. The knights amicably made some small talk with Melirinda and warned her of many terrifying halfings next door.
Laughing softly at the knights’ fears of halfings, Melirinda and her friends proceeded walking over a bridge peculiarly decorated with sculls and bones …when the first three enraged and incredibly fast creatures attacked them, yelling ferocious battle cries. Leonora chanted, while Valygar and Melirinda stayed the charge, and the archers fit their bows. Leonora’s spell covered the beserker-halfings, slowing them down, and giving everyone the time to adjust to the cultural shock of the encounter. Not for long. More halfings poured onto the bridge and few spell-casters lingered behind. Leonora, without pausing for breath started another desperate chant, aiming it at an enemy mage, glowing already with magical defenses. Both Kivan and Pier listened carefully, waiting for the moment, when Leonora’s spell will make the halfings vulnerable to their arrows.
“I will never…” Valygar gasped taking another hit on his hip, “will never underestimate halfings proves in battle… Remember Mazzy?” Melirinda gave a quick glance to a stain of blood enlarging and then diminishing again on Valygar’s clothes and praised the day they got attacked by an insane kensai-mage, whose katana was now in Valygar’s hand. Even vicious halfings were unable to hurt the lightly armored ranger fast enough to bring him down. One of the most mysterious powers of the beautiful weapon was its healing ability.
The arrows finally took down few casters and soon the bodies of scary opponents littered the floor. Wary, the party stepped over them, continuing their search for Lavok in complete silence. They should have figured out earlier that jokes are considered the mauvais tone when visiting a lich.
The path led the companions towards a weird looking machine, built around a golem. The arm they had picked up earlier definitely belonged to the monster. All that was missing was his (or was it her?) head. Leonora hissed: “I hate golems.” Then she sighed and added:” But if we can re-vive this one, it can be beneficial.” Melirinda looked at the mage: “Why, Leonora?” Marquise knocked on the golems’ body, obtaining a hollow sound and finished her thought: “this one looks like a guardian type. He might go on a patrol and lead us to his boss…” “Lavok…” Valygar said quietly. Melirinda shrugged: “Leonora, you seem to know more about Golem Building than any of us, so if you see anything which might help us to bring this to life, let us know and we’d do it.” Leonora nodded her agreement. “Seniora, I think I have found something which might help you,” with a low bow Pier gave Leonora a huge tome, the top page of which read “Golem Building Manual.” Leonora dusted the thing off, and leafed towards the end, towards the blank pages titled “Notes”. To her delight they were not blank, but covered by calligraphic handwritten words. “Uh-huh!” Leonora exclaimed in a manner more befit to a child who was given a toy. “There are furnaces in the next room, they power up the machine…” “Coal!” yelled the foursome in unison and they rushed through the door, glad that at least some tasks are easy.
Pier threw a chunk of coal into the furnace and tried use a fan to get the fire going, but the sudden strike of roaring flame made him to jump away, covering up his eyes. The flame had stepped out of the furnace. Weapons were trained at the fire elemental in a blink of a second, yet Leonora’s chant came faster and an ice cone focused on the creature of fire. It shrieked and shuddered violently, spitting the fumes and boiling water, and diminished in size rapidly, until only a pool of water was left were it was standing. The fire now burned peacefully, just like an oven in a tavern, and the companions looked around, hoping to find the head.
“Stop!” Pier’s voice was untypical agitated, as he went down to his knees and cut few thin translucent strings: “If this passage was trapped…” started he, “then it might lead to something of a value…” The logic was undeniable and they followed Pier into the darkness. Kivan shook his head: for a human Pier oriented himself remarkably easy in the dimly lit hall. And Pier’s hands, slender agile hands with long nimble fingers reminded the elf of his own kin’s, rather then a human’s.
The passage led to a great room full of gears and otherworldly things. It also contained a monstrous head. Loaded with this strange trophy, the group has returned to the machine. Leonora put the notes on the floor and talking quietly to herself, re-attached the arm and then the head. Then she pulled some levers and pushed something, made a pendulum to swing. The golem moved and stepped out. It was a tense moment, everyone gripping their weapons, ready to defend themselves. But the monster pronounced in a squeaky voice: “Intruders… Must defend the Master,” and rushed past the astonished companions, bursting through the closed doors… The quintet followed the suit. When they caught up with the golem, it was bashing on a globular monster with incredible amount of eyes attached to stocks of different length and thickness – a beholder. As far as Melirinda and her friends were concerned, the longer the golem and the beholder were preoccupied with each other, the better. And anyway they had no time to spare on the fight. Like a hunting dog, which picked up a trail of a deer, Valygar raced down the hall and they were hard pressed on keeping the pace with the gigantic ranger.
Another door, flew off its hinges and it became apparent that the instinct and the call of blood did not fail Valygar. In the middle of the room on top of a staircase stood the lich.
“Lavok!” Valygar cried and charged.
The insane laughter greeted the younger Corthala as he approached a weathered mummy of his old forgotten relative. Lavok’s thin fragile body was hold together by paper-thin and half-transparent skin, his face differed little from a scull, and his robes did not hid the deterioration of his body frame. But the leaving dead emanated power and madness, a combination, which could make any man fearful… But the burning spirit of Valygar Corthala carried him through the fears…it carried him through the fireball exploding at his feet to the very top of the staircase and he faced Lavok squarely.
The women’s chants filled the space, resonating of the empty walls, raising above the roar of fire and the lich’s taunts. Leonora’s voice, clear, heavier and lower one made Valygar’s heart tremble, and he felt stronger than ever. He needed that ferocious wild mage to do the battle with him. Her support proved that his charge and his fury were not senseless. Now he had no doubt that destroying Lavok was not a deed dictated by his childhood nightmares. He felt that he has the right to demand satisfaction from Lavok for despoiling Corthala’s family.
Melirinda’s chant came and coated Valygar with the soft soothing blanket of fire protection. Leonora’s took some of the mages’ protection down. Still Kivan’s enchanted arrows were dissipating as they touched the glowing which surrounded the mage. Valygar made few swings, distracting the mage, and did not even cringe as an acidic vapours descended upon him. He gave Lavok a wink and kissed the hilt of his katana: “you can bathe me in acid if you want to, wizard.” Pier, however thought differently, as he suddenly whined and dropped off to the ground from behind the Lavoks’ back.
Tai Shen paced the base of the staircase protesting loudly the wizard’s spell. Suddenly Valygar’s vision clouded for a brief moment and then he was sorely hurt and unable to move. The wizard must have tricked the time. But his advantage did not last for long. A swarm of buzzing insects interrupted his triumphant laughter. And two arrows penetrated whatever flesh was left on his carcass. Tai Shen squeezed past Valygar and pushed the wizard lightly with his enormous paw. Lavok went rolling down, and Valygar whose legs finally headed his command went right behind.
The ranger’s katanas flew up in the air poised for the last strike, when suddenly a tired voice left the broken form’s lips. “Valygar… The evil spirit had left me…” Valygar swayed astounded. The edge of Celestial Fury stopped a hair width short of the lich’s neck. “The Sphere has traveled again. You need me to tell you how to get back to the Material Plane…and that’s all I want too… I want to die at home…” Valygar’s face showed signs of inner struggle. The rest of them stood in silence. “what sort of trickery…” Valygar started angrily. “No trickery, son. Look at me: do you think I want to keep on leaving like that? Would you want to? No you do not…I can see that you took a different rout than so many of us… You did not let your life to slip away from you for the sake of illusion of power and greatness. I am proud of you, my descendant.”
Valygar thought it to be a dream. Lavok, welcoming his choices? Lavok saying that chasing the rewards of arcane studies was not worth it?
“Prove your sincerity. Tell me how to get the Sphere back to the Material Plane,” Valygar inquired harshly. Lavok coughed and for a moment it seemed that he would not speak ever again, yet he continued in the same tired used up voice: “Son, the Sphere had used up the power source… You need to find a demon’s heart for it to travel back to our world.” Valygar grinned sarcastically: “Demon’s heart? Do you suggest I summon one? I am no conjurer, Lavok.” Lavok suddenly smiled and for a second Leonora thought that she saw some faint semblance to Valygar in the inhuman features. But Marquise has reminded herself, that she saw semblance of Valygar in the flames and in the clouds, in musical tunes and in the heroes on the old paintings… “No, Valygar, you are no conjurer. But you are a hunter. We are in Nine Hells, where demons are common, as you can guess…”
Melirinda looked at the lich and told Valygar: “Can be fun. And I do not think we have much choice other than to trust his word. The great demon safari is on.” She turned and led the party outside of the Lavok’s quarters. Valygar glanced at the lich before leaving the room: “Beware if you had lied…” Leonora shook her head and answered for the lich: “It was the truth…” Valygar wondered how did she know.
Even those who had heard thousands of descriptions of Nine Hells would not be prepared to walk it for the first time. There is no darkness and light, just red glow. The dirt is hot and fluffy like the mischievous byproducts of the mighty explosions of the mountains flowing with fire. But no multitude of such mountains would comprise Nine Hells. In Nine Hells the visitor is submerged in the lava itself, and he floats through it and he breathes it. But when the first shock wears off, certain troubled souls might find the sight attractive. However not even the worst villain can keep a smile on his face in Nine Hells. Paranoia, suspicion and pain drown every being, and it’s simple to loose one’s mind. Both Kivan and Valygar became drowsy and intensively unhappy as the phantom of evil embraced them. Tazok’s voice started picking up the strength, just illegible muttering at first turning quickly into a stream of insults. Kivan recited an ancient song praising Seldarine, and a momentary relief came to the ranger.
Leonora run few steps up a small hill and called for Valygar. He turned and looked. The female was standing with her face uplifted and her hairs were suddenly free and shone red. Leonora extended her arms towards the ranger and chanted hungry frightening words. The wind suddenly swirled by her feet, making her robes to flow backwards, making her to look as if she was naked and shameless. She seemed to grew in size and the shining coated her.
Valygar thought: “That’s how I die…” yet he was unable to move or to take his eyes away, mesmerized by the vision of power and beauty the Marquise had become. What is given from goodly gods is not enough for a woman to become truly irresistible. A pinch of Hell is needed as well.
An angry growl came from not so far away. Leonora smiled: “The demon is coming towards us now.” Melirinda shook her head: “Did you call him?” Leonora nodded and answered shortly: “Yes. No demon would ignore a mating cry of a succubus…” Valygar swallowed. May be his heart could power the Sphere?
Melirinda touched the ranger’s shoulder lightly and he knew that the druid had just warded him from the deadly gaze of the approaching denizen of the Hell. He could never remember the details of the following up battle, his whole being desiring the wild mage. When the demon was dead and Pier ably removed a beating heart from its chest. Kivan looked away and did not react to the gentle touch of Melirinda’s lips. She cursed the day they went to Windspear yet another time. The druid embraced her lover and gently walked him back to the Lavok’s humble home. It never occurred to any of the five companions before that they would be happy to enter the Sphere.
To get to the Sphere’s heart, they had to open a warded door. There was a sort of ornament on the floor and nobody doubted that it was the ward. Pier, Leonora and Kivan studied the yellow runes painted on the bright blue floor of the room. They talked it over between themselves and agreed that the runes were ancient elven and that they were numbers. Finally they managed to decipher the puzzle. Each of them took a position near one of the four runes on the floor. Pier went to his knees by the northern rune and pressed the base of it. The rune lit up. The trio had exchanged a satisfied gaze and Kivan repeated Pier’s action with the southern rune, which glowed in its turn, then Leonora activated the eastern rune. Melirinda and Valygar got the game, but let the trio to complete it by pressing the last, western rune. The light filled the room and the door had opened to their delight. In improved moods they descended the stairs…mechanical noises were unmistakable and they were about to start their journey home.
Leonora saw him first.
“Greetings Tolgerias…” said she.
“My dear Marquise…” Tolgerias bowed mockingly. “I thought you smarter than trying to cross Cowled Wizards… It’s so unlike you to choose the loosing side…”
Leonora answered quietly: “I sided with my love. One who does that always wins.”
Tolgerias laughter was more like barking: “Leonora DeVallenzzi speaks of love? You are growing old my dear. Stop this farce, Leonora. If you join in with me now, I’d be merciful on you…”
In the same quiet and convinced voice Leonora said: “You were my mentor Tolgerias, and I respected your knowledge. Yet there is nothing you can teach me neither of mercy nor of love. Try to harm him…” and she nodded towards Valygar, “and I will fight you.”
Tolgerias hissed: “Foolish female…” Then he announced loudly: “Marquise DeVallenzzi, seeing that you would not repent I have no choice. For participating in a conspiracy against Cowled Wizards and for use of prohibited uncontrolled magical energy you are to be confined to the Spellhold. So declare I Tolgerias the Grey…” and he began chanting.
Valygar, Melirinda, Pier, Tai Shen and Kivan tried to run, to shield the Marquise or to attack the mages, but the tunnel of magical energy created between Leonora and Tolgerias was impenetrable. Leonora’s eyes were closed and her lips were moving.
“What! You are resisting? You think that if you force me to come with you, your pathetic companions would stand a chance to survive? You are out of your mind, Leonora. Four fighters are no match to three battle mages…”
Leonora did not answer, her concentration at its highest… “Oh, have it your way, you stubborn cow, it will change nothing… I will be back in a second, do leave me a piece of action, lads “ the furious mage asked of his amused companions and with that both Leonora and Tolgerias disappeared through the magical portal.
Posted 25 May 2003 - 06:29 PM
It’s raining outside, but I cannot hear
For the windows are barred in my room
I dreamt that homelessness is my doom
And I have seen a friend of old in that dream….
Magical glitter had dissipated… Leonora felt the marble floor with her soles and wondered why she was barefoot. Then she realized that like all things enchanted her boots were consumed when she was transferred to the Spellhold. Despite the grim turn of the events Leonora grinned thinking it lucky that she had a tunic and pans of plain fabric under the posh robes. Otherwise she’d stood in the middle of the Spellhold oval reception area nude…
Tolgerias still held her, his right arm sandwiched between her side and her elbow. Judging from his glance examining her outfit, the Archmage was thinking about the same thing. He must have transported a number of prisoners, pardon, patients, here and knew how the magical defenses worked in this place. How did they call it? A House for Magically Deviant? And the magically deviant were to come here for their own protection and the protection of the society? Leonora sighed. This little detail showed her clearer then many words that the Spellhold was about punishment and humiliation of the unfortunate magical dissidents, not about protection.
Anger rose in Leonora’s heart against the Coweled Wizards and since Tolgerias was the closest representative her rage turned against him. The Marquise adjusted her left arm slightly, bent it and aimed her elbow just under Archmage’s lowest rib. Her palm closed into a fist, yet stayed lump and relaxed. Her right arm was lightening fast though and flew with all force connecting onto the fist. Leonora’s unrestricted bony elbow shot and hit the target. Tolgerais, unaccustomed to physical attacks like the majority of the high-level mages, yelled out in pain and frustration and jumped away from Leonora, hissing the insults. Marquise laughed…
But Leonora knew it was a mistake as soon as she felt first hard pulses waking in her temples. She had lost her concentration and in few minutes she’d be facing the painful consequences of her rapid spell memorization. Just as a bodily haste harms and wears off the person, skipping proper amount of rest after spell memorization rapes the mage’s mind. Leonora knew that, but she hoped there would be Valygar’s arms supporting her and comforting her through the inevitable pain.
A small and grumpy dwarf appeared in the doorway and a puzzled look spread across his face when he noticed Tolgerias. “My Lord Tolgerias… Ahem… We are very much honored…But why did not you leave the prisoner with Perth…”
Tolgerias interrupted the dwarf with an irritated: “Lonk, mind your own business! Go fetch Wanev. There is a patient of importance with me…”
“Wanev…yes Wanev… I will fetch the boss at once, Master Tolgerias…” with many bows the dwarf retreated from the reception and disappeared behind a great oaken door. Leonora felt that something was out of place in the Spellhold. Why was Lonk so confused? It seemed that Tolgerias shared her suspicions. The tall wizard paced the marble floor nervously, chewing his lips and mumbling quietly…
The voices came from somewhere behind the great door. “I am sorry Master, but he is an Archmage from Athkatla itself… “ Lonk whimpered. The other voice coming in short, barking sequences ignored the pleas: “I am NOT to be disturbed when experimenting.” A roaring sound and a burning smell came immediately thereafter. Leonora sighed in relief, when she heard Lonk’s voice, still humbly apologizing. After all a scorcher is not enough to seriously hurt a dwarf. But she had no time for contemplation.
“It’s not Wanev’s voice… Something funny is going on here…” Tolgerias exclaimed and started a teleportation spell. But the door swung open and his jaw hang in mid-air and his words froze without leaving his lips. Indeed the person (for Leonora cannot name him as a man or an elf, a dwarf or a gnome, and certainly not as a hobbit, or any kind of a known monster) stepped over the threshold. Leonora’s instinct was to run and she did just that, then dropped to the floor and slipped behind a large couch.
“I am tired of fools intervening into my studies here!” the stranger roared at Tolgerias. The energy emanating from the imposing tall and well shaped figure was swooping the Archmage off his feet. He turned very pale and mumbled: “I am sorry, Master… I just wanted to see Wanev… I will return to Athkatla immediately and you will be unhindered…” The stranger’s chin lifted as he burst into laughter. “You will go to Athkatla? And then come back with a bunch of imbecile Cowled Wizards? No, that’s not going to work. “ He pronounced a single, terrible word and Tolgerias’s body felt to his feet in one limp mass.
The stranger could be only one person – the evil mage, Irenicus, whom Melirinda was chasing. His power was above all possible and impossible boundaries. Marquise would lock herself into a duel with Tolgerias or any other of her former brotherhood. But attacking this one, even after full night sleep and after she had prepared the deadliest spells she knew was in the best case a suicide. At worst – a long painful torture.
Leonora knew the only way to keep her life. Squinting from the intensifying pain she drenched herself to her feet. Leonora knew that she looked like hell, her eyes bloodshot, her hair in disarray and her speech impaired by pain, so she was perfectly equipped for her favorite disguise of a brain dead drunk noble. She was dizzy from horror and weakness, so she propped herself against the couch, which somewhat, but not altogether limited her swaying. Leonora doubted that anyone looking at her now would call for a second opinion regarding her state. Marquise started talking speedily, interrupting herself with silly giggling:
“My dear, my dear! By Mystra, the trick like that should have enormous success at the Lady’s Jeestev’s Tuesday salon… Would you mind if I ask if poor Tolgerias is still alive and just pretending or…” and her voice became dramatic whisper, “or you have indeed killed him?” Without waiting for an answer, she continued: “You must be Elminster, yes? I guessed right? Only Mystra’s Chosen can have enormous power like that… May be you are one of the unknown sons of Mystra? I have heard from very knowledgeable people, that Mystra was getting around no less than Bhaal in her times… I am such a fan of yours! ”
“Lonk! Get this cretin out of my sight,” Irenicus commanded shortly, and rushed out of the door without giving Leonora another look.
The dwarf commanded to Leonora: “You, Lady, move! I have a chamber for you. My name is Lonk the Sane and you shall treat me with all the respect if you want to get your walk…” Leonora was too exhausted to laugh at Lonk the Sane. She followed the dwarf, holding to the wall and resting after each step. The corridor was impossibly long and the grayness of the fainting spell was closing around her, when a slender arm wrapped around her shoulders and kept her from falling down.
Eyes, clear, transparent golden-green, like gemstones called chrysolites watched over her…
Leonora did not know how many hours she was unconscious, yet she remembered the pair of beautiful elven eyes, belonging to the male sitting on the floor by her bed, his legs crisscrossed and his head resting against his arms, interlocked behind his head. He was leaning backwards absolutely at ease. While ageless, as majority of elves, there was a shadow and sadness in his features, betraying trials he had faced and showing that the years lay between his present and his youth.
The elf looked at Leonora and a shy smile curved his lips, chasing away the shadows in his eyes… “Violet…how pretty!” the elf exclaimed and then confided to Leonora: “There are so many pretties…” Leonora was not ready to speak again, throbbing pain still breaking apart her head. The elf made few passes with his delicate hands and they were covered for a moment by the blue and golden glimmer. Then the elf extended his hand to Leonora and opened his palm: “For the pretty Lady… It’s violet as your eyes,” the excitement in his voice was genuine, giving to a cheap purple gem unusual charm. “Thank you,” The Marquise managed seeing how proud is the elf’s of his artful trick. “It’s very pretty… But may be you want to keep it? “
“No, no” the elf shook his head intently. “Bad things happen when a Noldor takes too much pride in his work and loves the gems of his making too much… Feanor, he had loved his gems and was proud of them and we had been cursed for this love and this pride…”
“Naljier Skal! You promised not to tell this tale to anyone, but me!” Leonora looked in the direction of the owner of the high-pitch voice and there stood yet another visitor. A tiny gnomish girl. She crossed the room skipping and started to climb upon a narrow bench serving as Leonora’s bed. Next thing Leonora knew was that she was staring at her own self…only dressed into a shiny white outfit.
“Now I am…now I am a White Lady of the Noldor!’ Leonora finally recognized the illusion spell for what it was. The girl had a talent beyond her years… Naljier blushed and got up to his feet in one smooth graceful motion: “Dili, you had been listening too much of my tales lately…” But Dili was paying no attention to the bard. She turned to Leonora and explained her, imitating the intonation of a chanting scald: “The White Lady of Noldor, she was called… ahem… Ar-Feiniel…”
The elven name gave the gnomish youngster some difficulty, but it did not discourage her: “She was pale, like the Ladyship, and her hair was dark, like the Ladyships’ and she was never clad but in silver and white…”
Naljier’s ears turned incredible deep pink, reminding the Marquise beautiful sunsets over the Sea of Swords. The bard pleaded: “Dili, the Lady is very tired, may be we can keep the tale for another time.” The gnome made a very cranky face and shifted from white-clad Leonora’s image to her own tiny and charming self.
“You do not want to continue the tale because “her heart’s love was given to none?” asked the gnome watching Naljier attentively and putting a finger into her mouth to help with thinking. Leonora stroked the girls dark-red curls: “You know, you do not have to change to other people… You are the most beautiful little girl I have ever seen.” The girl was really happy with the crude compliment and she curled up by Marquise asking why she was sick, and where she is coming from and if she knew her mommy and daddy…
Naljier sat by the gnome and tried to substitute Leonora and answering the endless questions. Leonora closed her eyes falling down a deep dark shaft, Dili’s and Naljier’s voices coming from afar.
Posted 25 May 2003 - 06:39 PM
I dreamt that you saw me in a dream
How wonderful and strange is that?
At least you were laughing
When you woke up…
A gentle voice was singing. Leonora smiled: she did not have a memory of falling asleep with a lullaby, yet waking up, listening to unknown words was a pleasure. Unknown words? She shook off the dreamy state and finally saw the back of the blond head pressed against her bunk.
Marquise raised softly and looked at the singer. The elf’s eyes were closed, his lips moved only just and his voice was so quiet that she was surprised she even heard him. May be she was dreaming? “Naljier?” He smiled and asked without making a single motion, even his blond eyelashes at peace: “I could not leave until I knew your name, dear Lady… Lonk the Sane does not know, and I’d rather not ask Jon.”
“Leonora…” she thought of adding her last name and title, but then she was worried about many ears that the walls may grow in such a place and let it hang unsaid. Naljier was satisfied. "Leonora… I rather like it…” Leonora was at a loss of what to say to the elf who seemingly had no intention of leaving her side: “I am glad you do. So you are Naljier, noble soul?”
“Naljier Skal and I am not a noble soul… I am a Noldor…” came a quick response and it appeared to Marquise that his face was paler for a moment. “I am afraid I do not know who Noldor are,” Leonora did not know if that would hurt the elf more or he’d be distracted of whatever troubled him. Neither thing happened. Instead, he answered in a voice of a bored schoolboy, repeating the same axiom: “None here does. We are elven nation from another plane, as that mad wizard would say.”
“What mad wizard? Irenicus? He brought you here?” inquired puzzled Leonora.
“No, not Irenicus, though he is mad… May be all wizards are insane? No, cannot be – you are a mage and you are the most reasonable person in here.” Leonora asked surprised: “What makes you think I am a mage?” Naljier shrugged: “The way you were sick. Lonk said you were drunk, but I can distinguish an overexertion after taxing one’s casting skills to the limit from a hangover. I have seen both before. May be you are the exception and all other wizards are crazy.”
“You start sounding like someone I know,“ Leonora chuckled. Naljier did not join into her merriment. “You are well now, Leonora. I shall be going… Sorry about Dili last night, she can be very demanding sometimes. You still need rest.”
“I loved chatting with Dili. Naljier, thank you for looking after me…and for the gem.” She almost forgot about the cheap stone. The mentioning of the amethyst, however, touched some cord in the elf’s heart. His face was lit suddenly and he stood tall and proud and his weariness was gone. “I shall make a necklace for you, Leonora.”
Marquise smiled sheepishly. If that makes the sweet madman happy, let it be the necklace. Naljier looked her up and down with his unusual golden-green eyes and promised: “I shall tell you of Noldor… if you would not cry… Dili always cries at my tales. I should not have told them to her.” Leonora chuckled: “A child who cries for a tale has a great heart… No harm comes to her through you, Naljier. I think she enjoys your company.” The bard slowly moved his fingers through his thick wheat-colored mane. “I would never imagined that I would end up in a house without windows telling tales to a child who can become anything at a whim. I wish there would be someone with more warmth here for Dili, than me.” And he again looked Leonora up and down. “ I am a lousy fatherly figure. I must go now, Leonora. Lonk would be making his rounds soon and he is not supposed to see me here, even if it was he himself who let me in. I will work on your necklace and we will come in the evening with Dili.”
The elf was gone and Leonora walked her chamber aimlessly. She put her hand into the pocket, wanting to give another look to the Naljier’s gem, but to her surprise she found a ring there. A clouded memory came to Leonora of herself falling by Tolgerias and pulling this very ring off his dead hand, while Lonk was shouting at her… She smiled: the Ring of Ram was not much of a trophy, yet it was better than nothing. It might serve her well one day. At least she was not completely helpless. The magical devices that the Cowled Wizards carried were apparently safe in Spellhold.
Leonora wondered what other kind of magic might penetrate the wards of this place. A thought, a crazy thought crossed her mind. There was something she learnt from a village witch, long ago in her childhood, before engaging into proper scholarly wizardry. “I wonder,” Leonora murmured, “if they planned on having a wise woman Naheena’s student in this place…” Leonora sat down and prepared for an enchantment more ancient than the speech of Men.
Slowly she imagined herself to become a spirit… Leonora herself was sitting still, yet the wandering spirit walked through the door of her cell, which Naljier carefully locked and proceeded to the oval reception room. Lonk must have cleared Tolgerias’s body, but the space stunk of the recent death. Leonora directed herself to the exit. It was a terrible moment, for she could not live long with her spirit wandering elsewhere, and she knew not how the Spellhold magic would alter her communication and control. Yet she pressed on.
Not even a shadow of a shadow, the wandering spirit stepped through the doors. To Leonora’s relief, the worst thing that happen to her was the burning sensation on her bare soles from the steps heated with the sun outside. The feeling was so real, that Leonora cringed, but the warmth of the sun on her skin and the touch of the fresh sea breeze made up for that first inconvenience. The wandering spirit run gliding over steps and passed unhindered by the shades and monsters who patrolled the entrance to the Spellhold.
The spirit slowed down trailing through the narrow, unfamiliar streets of the Brinnlaw, the dust swirling around its bare feet, the happy laughter tickling Leonora’s throat…. She finally saw and felt the ocean. The sadness came to her when she comprehended the endless horizon, broken only by slender ships with tall sails and restful seagulls. Leonora’s spirit called the closest bird.
-What do you want of me, cloud on the water?
-I need you to cross the ocean and come to a large City of Humans on it’s other side…
-No. I will not do that. There is only water and air in between here and the City you speak about. I will have no rest or food. I will drop and die before your senseless quest is over…
-You will not. I would give you strength and I will see through your eyes and keep you out of danger. You will do what I say…
-Stronger is your will than is mine. I shall go. But what is there in the City of Humans over the ocean that you cannot find on this shore?
-You will look for a man…
-Finding a man in the City of Humans? I would not know one from another…
-He is tall and dark. And my eyes are your eyes… Go now, and let your wings be swift…
-I cannot disobey…yet you are mad…
Leonora watched the bird to speed away and the spirit wandering came back and she was whole again… And she said to Naljier that night: “I am no exception… I am a mad wizard as well. At least that’s what a seagull thinks… Naljier did not respond, but looked at her with pity.
There is certain tenderness that a barefoot woman wakes in a man’s heart. She stood there, a woman in a simple tunic, barefoot. The bubbling tongues of waves covered her up to her knees sometimes and sometimes left her standing on the wet sand and debris… Her dark hair was thrown to her face sometimes by the wind and she pulled them away with an impatient gesture, searching with her eyes the ships docked in Athkatla. For a brief moment Valygar saw her face and immediately he recognized it. He rushed to jump off “Gallante”, crying: “Leonora” when a slender, yet strong arm caught him.
A motionless cold face appeared before him: “None is there, Count Corthala. The exhaustion and toil of the last few days are overpowering you. I suggest that you use this voyage to rest. There are many battles ahead.” Valygar would flatten Pier, but then, over the rogue’s shoulder he noticed that there was only a shadow on the beach, though a very bright one because of the intensity of the rising sun. He nodded and walked away. Valygar tried to sleep, but the events of the last days were on his mind. Ever since Leonora was taken away from him it was one endless battle. No wonder he sees her as a shadow on the beach… Ever since she was taken from him…
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