Journey to Fate’s doorstep: 24th of Marpenoth (month 10), Catchbreeze

With a popping sound, Kendel appears in the center of an elaborate gemstone mosaic full of magic sigils. He is swathed in a number of extra robes, a hooded, fur-lined cape and a scarf the size of a small country. When he turns to move towards Catchbreeze’s central staircase, he looks like a ship under full sail. One of his wraps unfurls as he walks, revealing a large stack of scrolls, documents and parcels that he cradles close to his chest. 

As Kendel ascends to the library, Petha, in her usual livery but with an added shawl, comes through the decorative panel that serves as hidden doorway for serving staff. She carries a small bundle of scrolls and smiles warmly as she sees Kendel approach. “Ser Kendel! A moment of your time, if you please.” He smiles back at the liveried half-elf. “How do you always happen to know precisely when I arrive, Petha?” She lowers her eyes a tad. “We have our ways, ser. Because you are so close to completing the circle, we have set it to activate  a small bell downstairs when it is used.” She waits a moment, then continues. “Could I have your attention for a bit of correspondence, or is this not a good time?” She offers him some scrolls from her stack. Kendel eyes them distractedly. “I should have time to attend to these before supper. Thank you. Could you perhaps ask Tarrus to mull some wine? It does go so well with the weather, this time of year.” Petha nods. “I will also instruct Joscellan to light the fires in your apartment. Will you require his assistance with evening dress as well, ser? We’re not expecting guests tonight.” Kendel looks relieved at this news and shakes his head. “I’ll likely be overdressed as it is.” 

He winks at Petha, then disappears into the library and unceremoniously dumps his armload of goods onto his favorite desk, which already overflows with piles of books and papers. He rummages for a while, then picks up one of the scrolls the majordomo gave him. It is a small scroll, sealed with a familiar crest. Doubtlessly this was his mothers’ monthly missive, informing him of this ball or that fête, and notifying him of the presence of certain ah.. available and suitable young elvish women from good families. He tosses the scroll, unread, into the fire that burns in a hearth a few feet from his workplace. Next, he picks up an even smaller scroll bearing the same crest. Aleda, his younger sister, liked to write to him whenever his mother did, for reasons he could not discern. Her notes, full of small, homely stories and summaries of her recent lessons always cheered him up. The last note had mentioned an infatuation of some sort. She’d asked him for secrecy, implying that the object of her affections was not a maternally pre-approved candidate. He really should remember to invite her to spend a few days here. She would love the library, and would likely spend hours giggling with Yonica, the stable girl, and she could get a break from their mother’s meddling which would undoubtedly do her good. Maybe he could even persuade her to introduce this interest of hers. Get a feeling for whoever it was. Amused by this sudden surge of fraternal protectiveness he puts the small scroll aside. He’d read that one later and compose a reply.

A third scroll carries the official seal of the royal court of Gauntlgrym. He opens it. He frowns at the note. Just to make sure, he makes a few quick gestures over it. The note remains unchanged. No magic. No illusions. Unusual. Why only him? He’d have to take it up with the others. Well, the few who remained, at least. 

The fourth scroll looks even more impressive than the third. This one has two seals: one of Lady Laeral Silverhand, Open Lord of Waterdeep and another, showing it to have been sent via the hand-to-hand rider service organized by the Caravaneersguild. The news was likely urgent then. He scans the contents of the scroll, his frown deepening. He purses his lips in annoyance, makes a decision and snaps his fingers. In response the old brass bell that hangs in the estate’s foyer as a reminder of its past, emits a sound as if it was rung in a belfry. Before the ringing echoes have faded away, Kendel has swung open the tall, carved doors that lead to Catchbreeze’s magnificent dining room. He seats himself at the head of the table.

A multitude of footsteps approach. Naismith enters at a rushed pace, followed on his heels by a pony-sized, eight-legged lizard with luminescent eyes. Kendel twiddles his fingers at the beast, and she gives him an obliging blink. “What news, Kendel. Are we under attack?” The wizard looks at his roguish friend with alarm. “I’d like to think not. Should we be?” Naismith frowns for a split second, but then denies cheerfully. “Then what? News from Ilian? Nong?” Kendel shakes his head. “Nothing quite so… concrete, I am afraid. But let us wait until Royce is also here.” Naismith gives his elvish friend an exasperated look. “He’s at the temple. He wouldn’t hear that.” Kendel looks smug. “Of course he does.” “Oh.” 

The silence at the table is only interrupted by the sandpapery sound of the large lizard stretching herself on the flagstones in front of the impressive fireplace. Hearing her sigh contentedly, Kendel nods at her. “She seems to do well under your keeping.” Understanding the intent behind the compliment Naismith drops the scowl. “Yeah. Petri’s not bad. Jero asked us the other day to help him deal with a nest of dire hares that was too much for Yonica’s little dogs. She had so much fun.”

They chat about matters of the house for a while, until they hear the estate’s large front doors slam open. A commotion enters the house along with an icy eastern wind. Naismith’s daggers flash in his hands, Petri jumps up, her eyes glowing brighter. Kendel makes the first gestures of a spell. Not until they recognize the voices do they begin to breathe again. 

Yonica’s high-pitched voice sounds panicky “Ser, it’s no way to leave the horse like that! It’s soaking wet. It’ll catch a cold!” Nong responds impatiently: “Then you’ll do me the favor of drying him off, girl. Ride him back to Silvanus’ temple here in Waterdeep. That’s where he goes.” Royce interrupts, trying to smooth matters over. “Best leave it for now, Yonica. Can you handle taking the horse to the temple? Otherwise, Sur will be glad to help you, I’m sure.” 

A pair of light footsteps disappears from earshot. Catchbreeze’s heavy front doors fall shut. Royce speaks up again. “Nong! Not that I’m not glad to see you, man, but you left your manners wherever you’ve been hiding. She’s just a child.” Nong growls: “Who has time to be polite when our arcane taskmaster rings a bell in your head. What am I? Some dog? To be called at will?” Royce laughs at this. “Still, it’s good that you’ve come back. All hale and whole, I hope?” A brief silence falls. “Good, good. Then maybe we should go see what our wizard has to say.” 

Docks Ward

Mordrock sits at the bar at Kissfettle’s and stares down at the small scroll that was pressed into his hand by a hurried messenger an eighth bell ago. Why would they summon him? Why now? Did this have something to do with what happened three days ago? How would she have known? He shakes his head. No other way to find out but to obey the summons. Besides, only a fool ignores a request made by Lady Silverhand.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: 21st of Marpenoth (month 10), Trades Ward

It had been a long day among the graves of the city, and it had been full dark before Mordrock- sore and nigh-frozen – had made his way back to his rooms. Once there, he’d poked the fire and suspended a large copper plate above the flames. After Dewen had brought his supper upstairs, he’d moved the plate to between the blankets and the straw pallet in his sleeping alcove. He decided he was too tired for dinner, choosing to portion out some of the fish to Skeet and go to bed. The other cats would simply have to wait until morning.

He’d dropped his outer clothes where he stood, but kept on shirt and leggings. Even with the bedwarmer it would be a cold night. Frost blooms would creep up his window by midnight, and by morning the water in the ewer would be be covered with ice.

About an hour later, Mordrock tosses and turns in his sleep. He seems to awaken, takes a deep breath and turns onto his side, before he falls back into a slumber. 

A dream gradually takes over his senses and transitions him into a ghastly abyssal scene where he floats over a horrid wasteland. The scent of rot and decay fills his nostrils. Above him, a sickly shade of green illuminates the sky. 

A fierce wind from the South propels Mordrock forward, pushing him at an unbearable pace. He glances South to witness a great host of angels, flying at break-neck speed. They fly past him, sweeping him up as they move northward. Their destination: a castle on the horizon. 

The angels fly over a river red as blood, which leads them to the castle’s doorstep. Mordrock watches as the castle comes into view. It is enormous and appears to be made of bone and sinew. The area surrounding the castle is filled with throngs of undead; loud, ghastly cries rise from their decaying forms as they shamble and stumble in maddened patterns. 

The angels pierce through windows into the castle’s interior carrying Mordrock with them. Crossing the windowed threshold he begins to convulse at first site of the interior walls made of putrid flesh oozing pus and floors of humanoid hair matted with blood, crushed bone and ichor. 

The dream pivots and Mordrock is no longer flying but stands on solid ground. All around him, battle rages. Vast angelic hosts engage hordes of undead demons in a fray that stretches as far as he can see. A squad of angels with golden tridents darts past him, he catches a glimpse of Kelemvor’s symbol tattooed across their backs. 

The angels with golden tridents close in on an undead titan thundering through the battlefield and hastily fell the creature. As it falls, screeching, it reaches out with broken claws and snags several of the angels, pulling them to their doom alongside its dying body. The fighting tangle crashes onto sharp rocks with a horrible, earth-shattering sound. A dozen rivulets of demonic and angelic ichor mingle and run down the rock face.

The dream pivots again. Mordrock is back in the castle, somewhere in the shadows of a huge chamber that smells rancid with undeath. In the center of this chamber sits a large throne made of bone; dark gems outline the arms, back and legs. 

Seven angels fly into the chamber and surround the throne, searching frantically. In seconds, they locate a pulsating gem and force it out of its socket. A black cloud erupts from the empty socket engulfing five of the angels; seconds later, they turn to dust as the gem tumbles toward the floor. 

The sixth angel snatches the gem before it hits the floor; in the angel’s grasp, the gem unleashes a curse that washes over the angel. Gripped by panic, it throws the gem to its last remaining ally before it screams and tears at its skin. From inside the angel’s body a violent figure erupts– an undead balor, roaring in mad rage as it crawls out of the angelic husk and lunges toward the remaining angel. A wave of hopelessness washes over Mordrock as he realizes the angel is no match against the balor. The angel knows it too. Still clutching desperately to the gem it frantically looks around the chamber. When it locks eyes with Mordrock, it sends a jolt of radiant energy down Mordrock’s spine. 

With an inarticulate roar, Mordrock jumps up. Tangled in his sheets and hampered by the low ceiling of his sleeping alcove, he stumbles, half catches himself and smashes into a shelf on the wall. Several glass specimen jars shatter on the floor. He swears, then stands bent over, panting. He’s had nightmares before, but not like this. Nothing remotely like this.

Thunder cracks in the small room and Mordrock flings himself around. A portal opens, obscuring his bed. From inside, a grievously injured angel lunges forward. With a final burst of strength, it fixates on Mordrock. Inside his head, he hears an angelic voice, short and breathy with exhaustion. “Guard this with your life…Until the time is right… To free it…We all…Have sacrificed our lives for this… Keep it safe…Mordrock of Kelemvor.” 

With those words, the gem disappears from the dying angel’s hand.  A weight pulls on Mordrock’s neck as the gem appears there, suspended from a thin chain. Mordrock begins to form a thought, tries to speak. Then, a huge, clawed hand reaches through the portal and crushes the angel’s head. Angelic ichor sprays out from between the monstrous claws across the room as the portal closes. 

Clutching at the gem around his neck, Mordrock stares wild-eyed at the messy pile of blankets where the portal was. Only after several seconds does he blink and realize he’s standing in a puddle of embalming fluid and ichor, surrounded by chunks of flesh, pieces of skin and the well-preserved body of a large, two-headed kitten.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: 5th of Marpenoth (month 10), Grasperspire

The last leaves still cling to their branches at lower altitudes, but a frigid wind whirls around the peaks of the northern Sword Mountains. On one inhospitable plateau on an eastern flank stands a small lean-to. In front of it, a large area is cleared of snow. In the middle of that clearing, with a single bare foot on the frost-covered granite, stands a half-orc. His stance appears relaxed and effortless. 

On the edge of the clearing, a handful of men and women have gathered. Most of them are human, but two young half-orcs are present as well. Some sit huddled around a tiny, smokeless fire. A few others stand, appearing to imitate the man in the center with limited success. They windmill their arms. They sway sideways. One eventually falls, but gets back up to try again. The man in the middle pays them no mind. They might as well not be there at all. This scene continues without change from morning until well past midday. The students break for a meal and hot tea, but the man in the center continues his meditations, as interminable as the wind.

Just as the students begin preparations to descend from the plateau, the unending rush of wind is interrupted by a sound. All but the monk in the center look around in bewilderment. What causes this eerie noise? Where is it coming from? Why is it getting louder? Just as some are starting to look up, seeking a bird, a wild pig of enormous size comes tearing up the narrow goat path that is the only access to this remote location. In its haste, it bowls over three students, and scatters the rest with a long, ear-splitting squeal. Seemingly ignoring the fleshy obstacles in its way, the pig runs straight for the half-orc, who remains unmoving. 

Just as the pig lowers its head in preparation for a charge, the meditating man responds. With a nigh imperceptible movement, he is suddenly airborne, landing again just behind the pig, still on one leg. The pig attempts to stop and turn but slips on the smooth rock and collides violently with the little lean-to. Its dried-out branches break apart into a cloud of splinters that shower the pig. Once the boar emerges from the wreckage, the monk puts down his other leg, opens his arms and grins widely. The pig trots up to his friend and nuzzles him, then presses close and squeezes its little eyes shut in deep contentment. Nong puts his arms around the pig’s neck and smilingly intones: “As Elder Brother Talik says: ‘An unexpected visit from a friend is a string for any harp’.” Hearing him speak, the students suddenly approached their chosen master. A young human woman speaks up: “Elder Brother Nong, please tell us. What is the lesson of the pig?”

Nong stares at her and scowls for several seconds. She blushes and moves to the back of the little group. From behind them all, a voice says “The lesson of the pig is that a visit from a friend is only unexpected if you don’t tell them where you are.” The students turn en-masse to gawk at the windblown, mousy half-elf who seems to have appeared out of thin air “The lesson of the ranger, if you care to hear it, is that you should go down from the mountain for the day. The wind is picking up and night will fall soon. Shoo! Off you go.” Leaving Nong and Tusker to their re-acquainting, she begins to herd the students down the path.

Some time later, when the students’ puzzled, excited voices have stopped echoing off of the mountainside, Ilian, Nong and Tusker huddle together in the ranger’s small tent. Its sides bend and billow under the freezing mountain gale. 

“A few days to yourself, Nong, of course. No one would begrudge you that. But leaving for weeks? No one has heard from you for months! You could at least have sent word.” It’s rare for Ilian to take such a reproachful tone, but Nong is not impressed. He snorts. “Time is like scales on a snake: many, but slithering by without notice. One day of meditation here outweighs a full month of vapid courtesy and listening to the trite little woes of over-fed lords and satin-wrapped ladies. Besides…” Nong lifts a finger at Ilian and gives her a hard stare “you coming here and lecturing me is rich. You’re the one who left. It’s different for you, even. You don’t have Royce watching your every step, eying you like a dog that might be rabid, jealously guarding your own hard-won treasure from you.” 

Ilian sighs and scratches Tusker behind a plate-sized ear. “I’ve told you as much as I can about why I left. The Emerald Enclave needs my help. I’d invite you along if I could,  but it’s really a one-person job and they’ve asked for me to be discrete. Otherwise, you’re right. I don’t have Royce watching me. I didn’t pick up the Wand of Orcus. You did. And I think half of what you’re feeling now, is the price you pay for it.

Nong glowers. “That’s a cheap bit of spirit-reading you’re trying there. Leave it. I need to make something clear to you. We’re a team, sure. I’d put my life on the line for you. Often have, in fact. But that doesn’t mean I have to like you. Tusker, sure, he’s easy to get along with. I like him well enough. Food is really all he wants. But with you, there’s all these added expectations. Play nice. Say pleasant things. Don’t leave without saying so. Be a team. Same with the others. I thought Royce and I could be friends once. Now, he looks at me like he can’t decide whether I am a dangerous madman or a disobedient pupil. Like his motives are pure, hoarding the Wand the way he has been doing.” The monk snorts in anger.

In the silence after that harsh exchange, Nong busies himself by feeding Tusker some scraps of groundhog stew and crusts of rye bread. Ilian pulls her bow on her lap and starts waxing the string. Eventually, she says: “Don’t mistake concern for condescension, Nong, or worry for pity. Maybe you’re right and Royce has his own battle with the Wand of Orcus. And sure, he’s not the man he once was. His return from death took a toll on him. I think it changed how all of us feel about him. But like you, he’d put his life on the line for yours. Often has, in fact. As would I. Any of us would – I’m sure of it. But you’re making it hard on all of us when you disappear like you did. It’s even worse because I had to go away, and then you were nowhere to be found. Drow’s Bane can’t be effective with two of its members missing. We… I mean. They. They need you to come back.” 

Nong looks at the ranger for a while as she straightens the fletchings on the arrow that killed their dinner. “So you’ve come to fetch me back? Is that why they sent you?”

Ilian shakes her head. “No one’s sent me. I’m on my way already for the work that takes me away from you. And I’m not fetching you. But your absence has all the others worried, and they don’t know what to do. I thought I might take time to find you while I’m on the road. Reason with you. See if I could persuade you to come back. Beg, if I have to. Leave your little flock to their own devices and spend time with those who you don’t need to answer questions for.”

The monk pulls his cloak tighter across his shoulders, and rolls to face the tent wall with a grunt, using Tusker’s meaty shoulder as a pillow. After a minute or two he grumbles: “I’ll sleep on it.” 

The tent gets dark as Ilian blows out their candle. “You do that. I’ll take watch.”

The next morning Nong wakes up in an empty tent. In a single, fluid movement, he rolls out through the tent flap, onto his barren mountain refuge. There, he sees some splintered wood from his lean-to set ablaze . A small metal kettle stands beside it in the hot ashes, steam billowing out of its spout. Next to the fire lies the one unbroken piece of wood that formed the backbone of his lean-to: his magic quarterstaff. 

Ilian soon appears with a cloak pocket bulging with tubers and roots and thin, green stalks. She  carries a few pale eggs in her hands. “I was hoping we could have breakfast before I go.” she says. “And you figured you could use my house to cook it?” Ilian’s shoulders drop a little. “There was no way you could have repaired it after Tusker collided with it. I might as well use it for kindling.” After having set down the eggs, she pulls a small pouch out of yet another cloak pocket and tosses it at Nong. “Make tea, will you? I’ll cook all of this.” 

They eat in a silence that’s almost companionable. “Where’s the pig?” Nong asks, as he mops up some yolk with his finger. “Foraging, I guess.” Before the half-orc has finished his food, however, the pig appears with an excited trot and something dangling from his mouth. Before Nong can even ask, Tusker drops his catch at the monk’s bare feet. The dropped items are wet with drool and have a couple of porcine teethmarks, but are nevertheless recognizable as a very nice pair of very magical boots. Nong stares at the pig in astonishment. “I buried those. Where did you find them?” Ignoring the question, the humongous boar sniffs enquiringly at Nong’s bowl. The monk pushes the remains of his breakfast over to the pig, then uses a corner of his cloak to dry the boots. He stares at them for a long while, face unreadable. Eventually, he puts them on.

Across the fire, the ranger begins to smile. 

Through the steam of her mug of tea she says: “Once you get down to Mountainside, go to the inn of the one-horned ram. The innkeeper knows my name, and she’s got a lovely sorrel gelding in her stables. His name is Acorn. Do me a favor and ride him to Silvanus’s Shrine in Waterdeep for me. I can’t take him any further, and you might as well make good time on your way home.”

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: 12th of Eleasis (month 8), Docks Ward, Pier 16

No bed compares to a hammock on a ship in calm waters. Despite the conversation that ran late into the night, Royce wakes up feeling more rested than he’s done since before he took custody of the Wand and ended up in the resulting series of arguments with Nong. He stretches slowly, touching the thick beams that support the deck above, then heads towards the ladder to get up above.

The quay is milling with people. Large kegs of clean water are being carried into the belly of the Flaming Sword, and empty barrels are unloaded. As he makes his way towards the gang plank, thinking he might brave the retrieval of his cloak himself, a lithe figure catches his eye. He’s off he ship in no time and steps between the ware houses into a narrow alley that smells strongly of piss and fish guts. 

“Tempus has guided your steps.” Ilian says, beaming. “I knew I’d find you here. Did your old captain tell you he’d brought me into port yesterday?” “It came up, yeah. He didn’t know who you were, though. Not precisely. Said he thought you were some sort of Emerald Enclave agent. Seems to have no idea you know me.” “He’s a good man, Royce. You’re his spitting image, sometimes. Even if he hadn’t talked about you the way he does, I would have guessed you two were close. I didn’t tell him I knew you. I didn’t think he needed the questions.” Royce frowns. “But I have many questions. I thought you were long gone. Why are you back here? Where did you run off to? Whereto now? And White Hair said you’d paid an inordinate price for your passage. Do you need more gold?” Ilian, laughing, holds up her hands in defense to the onslaught. “You’re asking directions to a known destination, Royce. You know I came from down south for me to be able to sail in on this ship. You know that my decision to disembark here means I must continue inland, otherwise I would have told captain Mollor to head further north. Your dear captain surely also told you that the gold he received came in a bag marked by the Emerald Enclave. They are not stingy and I will be well-equipped for what is to come.”

“As to why…” she continues, “You know I can’t share that. But I’ll tell you that I plan to visit an abandoned town called Conyberry, in the hopes of getting some answers from an ancient source of knowledge that is said to reside there. I’m hoping she can lead me closer to my eventual goal, but also give me a hint about Nong’s location. I heard he’s left without a word and it worries me that he has not returned. If I can, I’ll seek him out.”

Royce nods “Can’t say I’m satisfied with your answers, Ilian. Don’t blame me if I try to keep an eye on you.” She laughs again. “I wouldn’t expect anything else. Besides, after letting me convince you to spare Menzoberranzan, I feel like there isn’t anything I could refuse you.” Royce pauses for a moment. “It made strategic sense. That’s why I agreed. But now that I’ve had time to think, I believe it would have been unjust to slay those who are trapped in a system with no real choice between good and evil. And most of that city… They had no choice. They see themselves as slavers, but I couldn’t tell many of them apart from the slaves they kept.” Ilian eyes her friend for a few seconds “That sounds… unusually nuanced, for someone of your faith.” “Tell me about it. Those acolytes I’m training… I’ve tried to talk to them. But they dismiss it as me getting soft in my old age. They only want the stories. None of the lessons. I just wish they’d stop treating me like I was their father. They’re barely younger than me!” Ilian smiles “Going down below ages anyone before their time, I think. Even if they don’t run into evil ghosts. I must be off, in any case. Can’t stay long.” Royce raises an eyebrow. “You said you couldn’t refuse me anything. So I say we’re having breakfast before you go. Call out Tusker from wherever you hid him. There’s a tavern in Shinbone Alley that I’ve been meaning to go to and you’re coming too.” 

Ilian places her hand in the crook of Royce’s elbow. “Tusker is with Yonica, so his breakfast is arranged. Let’s go eat. You can tell me how you’ve been doing keeping that big evil wand from corrupting anyone.”

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: 12th of Eleasis (month 8), Skullport, Hope Street

Naismith, in a muted disguise and without his shiny rapier, has claimed a stool in the Pick and Lantern, one of the more human-friendly taverns down here. It’s just past midnight and it’s a good night – busy, with a mixed crowd of regulars and newcomers. He’s finished his fourth drink and wonders if he wants another one when a young serving lad approaches him. He gestures to order another drink. Much to his surprise, however, the boy slides a piece of paper towards him. “Your reck’ning, sir”. Much faster than any human child has a right to, he is gone. The hair on the back of his neck prickles, but he forces himself to sit quietly. Behind his cup he carefully unfolds the slip of paper that he palmed. It is blank, but smells vaguely of lemon.

Of course he could go back to Catchbreeze to read the message, but the two-mile climb would take hours and the small candle on the table tempts him. Doing his best to look utterly careless, he holds the note a small distance from the flame. One minute and one blister later he glances surreptitiously at the text

You lying charlatan, 

You are not the first to approach me about the craven thief I am ashamed to have once called my brother. While you were perhaps cleverer than most in claiming to be him, rather than to have caught him, you should know that Alasdair is dead. 

Years ago I myself spilled his life blood on the streets of Waterdeep for all to see. His right hand, with the scar of the wound I gave him the night he betrayed us, was on display for months beside the Skullport gates, and his severed head is still held in the archives of the Xanathar Thieves’ Guild as a reminder for other bleeding hearts and guilty consciences.

Let it be known that I do not take kindly to anyone who rings the bell of memory that is his name within earshot or eyesight of myself or the omniscient power that employs me.  

Lulach Northbron

Naismith feels dizzy. He’s never claimed… He’s never even asked directly. And when Lulach – if it really is him – mentions an omniscient power, does he mean… And why the mention of the scar, if Lulach knew bloody well he’d gotten that scar on one of their first jobs together. None of this makes any sense.

Another young server, this one a deep gnome, approaches him, eyebrows raised in inquiry. He nods. She fills his cup. He picks up his drink and inhales deeply. The raw alcohol sears the inside of his nose. One slow sip, and then another. An idea begins to form inside his head. Staring back down at the note, he checks the corners. A small ink spatter draws his attention. He counts. Counts again. Mouthing the numbers quietly to himself, he tries their old boyhood code. He finds an I. Then a D. In less than a minute, he’s deciphered the message. ‘Idiot. Run.’ The same words he heard from Lulach on the night they’d parted ways. He can only hope the order is not as urgent as it was then.

He sips again, appearing relaxed while scanning the crowd. Nothing seems amiss for now. He pretends to search for his purse and roots around for coin. Just for show, he gives a few good yawns. It was a brilliant move, because – as if on cue – half a dozen drow in various corners of the taproom yawn as well. The hair on the back of his neck stands up. Six ordinary Skullport ruffians are just a bit of sport. Half a dozen of whatever these are… probably not so much.

He calmly stacks the coins, rises from his chair and adjusts his cloak. It takes a fair amount of willpower not to bolt, but he slowly weaves his way through the crowd. The first of his shadows only rises as he reaches the door. Knowing full well what will happen, he slips through and turns into the alley that runs alongside the building. It leads to a small yard, from which a number of quiet streets fan out. If luck is on his side, they may split the group.

Unlike all the other times he’s done this, he’s not taking any chances. He darts through the quiet street and into a busier one, slides underneath a fishmonger’s cart that pulled into the street and dashes into a washerwoman’s shed where he’s stashed a piwafwi. He slings it around his shoulders, then climbs up onto the roof of the laundress’ house.

This move has been anticipated. He’s barely pulled himself up before he sees a number of shadowy figures – at least four – approach his location. He moves faster, making a few daring leaps to higher, harder to reach areas. Soon, he’s moving as fast as he can, ducking behind chimneys and weaving though forests of drying laundry, but wherever he glances, someone is trailing him. He counts at least a dozen. Who could rally this kind of manpower? Slavers? Unlikely. The Zhentarim? Maybe. Thieves’ guild bounty hunters? More likely. Lulach himself? Even more likely, but then, why send a note? That seems so unlike his brother. Purely on instinct, he leads his pursuers north to the Threads – hoping he can shake them off in the warrens and use the tunnels to make it to the surface.

Just as he wonders which tunnel gives him the best chance of running into a huge crowd of people, he hears a familiar sound below. Without thinking, he jumps, landing with a single roll in front of an enormous boar. Behind Tusker, he sees Ilian’s startled face. He hisses “Trouble. We’ve got to go.” At that point, the first of Naismith’s pursuers lands beside the trio. Naismith’s dagger flashes, and the shadowy figure dodges, thereby stepping right into the scimitar that Ilian just drew. The shadow collapses. “There’s too many of them.” Naismith snaps. Ilian nods and stows her sword before making a few swift hand gestures and a hissing sound. “Lead the way.” In a very different tone of voice, she says “Tusker, leave that corpse. You don’t know where it’s been.” Then, they run.

Once their pursuers are far enough behind them, Naimith turns: “You shouldn’t have been down there. You have no idea.” Ilian fixes him with a stare. He pushes on. “It’s different for me. I… well…” She cuts him off. “You get to come here. Play mouse in some cat’s game. You can try to tell me I don’t get to be here. But with you down here, do you expect me to listen?” Naismith shakes his head. “It’s not like that. Not anymore. This was something else.” He pauses. “Glad you’re back, though.” Ilian smiles wryly. “I’m only passing through – came off a ship at evening tide. Finally learned that I’d have the best chance of finding you down there.” “I don’t go as often as I used to. Probably won’t go back for a long time after tonight.” Naismith grimaces in frustration. Ilian gives him a curious glance. “Care to tell me what’s changed?” He gestures dismissively. “I’d been looking for someone. He’s not wanting to be found. The news could really be worse.”

In companionable silence, they hike through the last, steep stretch of tunnel. The sky has lightened in the east by the time they make it outside through the abandoned, half-finished shafts of the Hoist. “Let’s go home.” Ilian says. “Show me how fat Petri’s gotten before I look in on Royce and Nong.” Naismith makes a face. “Better turn around then. Nong’s been gone for over a month – no one knows where – and Royce went to the docks tonight. I’ll go home though.” He yawns, this time for real. “I think I might actually get some sleep.” 

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: 11th of Eleasis (month 8), Sea Ward

Before the last stroke of the gong in the House of Heroes, Tempus’ temple, had echoed away, Royce stood on the border of Waterdeep’s Sea Ward, looking west and squinting into the setting sun. There used to be a street here that gave a view of the harbor, a perfect vantage point to see if any new ships had come in that day. However, some new construction around the Hall of Shipwrights now blocked the view. 

The cleric begins the walk down to Dock Ward. Soon, it would be prime dinner time in the taverns on Fish Street, and if he wanted to find who he was looking for, he should expect to hit at least a half-dozen of them before the sailors got too drunk to respond to a description. Should he start at the Cat O’ Wine Tales? The Mainstay Inn? The X Marks the Spot? No, not that one. He’d just run into all the acolytes he’d dismissed from weapons training at last bell. They’d just ask him to tell them more stories. He could hear their voices even now. Olaf: “Can you tell us more about the man who rode a dracolich?” Seriah: “No, no, about when your friend sacrificed his own pet basilisk to save a Drow maiden!” Jessup: “I want to hear about how you revived your friends when they had been petrified!” Dytre: “I think you should tell us about when your boat was sunk in the Dark Lake and the undead tried to pull you under the wa…” Royce cuts off the thought with a quick hand gesture. He’d only tried to reach Jimjar a fortnight ago, and while the deep gnome turned Deva did not seem to mind his attempts at conversation, it was poor form to dwell on him so much. Unbecoming to someone meant to show Tempus’ less experienced champions what it means to fight and worship as one, decisive action.

His musing is interrupted by the smell of tar, old sweat and cheap beer and the sound of someone scratching out a tune on a poorly-tuned fiddle. Royce looks up to read the weathered sign. Safe Harbor. Picklock Alley is probably as good a place as any to start the search. If Tempus has faith in him, he might get a dinner here that wouldn’t leave him puking later, and maybe the apprentice tariff clerks would be in there sharing gossip. 

More than an hour after his planned time for ‘just dinner’ had passed, he steps out of the door of the bar. His pace is hasty. Behind him, a slurred voice calls “Hey man, just let me buy you a drink. You’re a real hero, man. Come oooonnn…” After a minute’s brisk walk past the now-lit lanterns of the bars, he swears. He’s left his cloak behind. Luckily, the night is windy but not cold – a good night for a place at this latitude. Tomorrow, he’d send one of his charges to fetch the cloak for him. They’d probably think it was an honor anyway. He shakes his head. 

Just as he suppresses a smile at the thought of one of the acolytes bragging to the others about the silly errand, a suspicious noise gets his attention. He tries to whip around, but is stopped when a pair of arms grabs him from behind. “Ho, mate. You’re late for deck swabbing duty.” says one familiar voice. The other, also familiar, responds “Nah, he’s too good for that now. Little Roycey the cabin boy is faaaamous.” A calloused hand swats the back of his bald head, he is released and hysterical laughter erupts behind him. Royce himself begins to laugh as he turns around. 

“I’ll swab the deck with you Erich. And when I’m done, I’ll make you famous, Terka. But not in a way you’d like” He exchanges hugs, first with a rawboned man whose heavy tattoos obscure his pale skin, and then with an exceptionally tall, dark-skinned woman with a cutlass at her side. He continues. “Has either of you made captain yet? Or is old White Hair so desperate at your stupidity he still hasn’t let go of the big wheel?” Terka responds with a raised eyebrow. “You know as well as we do that no one’s taking Captain Mollor off of The Flaming Sword with anything other than a piece of sailcloth and a prayer. And you’ll be pleased to know that hasn’t happened yet.” Royce nods. “I’d heard a rumor you might have come into port. Thought I’d see how you fared.” “We’re on pier sixteen.” Terka says. “Had to offload a passenger, so it was civvie docks for us this time.” Royce snorts, but looks pleased. “I’ll go pay a visit, then. Enjoy the night’s leave, you two.”

Some time later, a curly-haired boy hails Royce with rapid-fire speech. “Welcome to the finest vessel on the Waterdeep docks – a beauty called The Flaming Sword, good sir! What is your name and purpose good sir?” The cabin boy doesn’t stop when Royce has proved his credentials and is admitted aboard. “Please follow me to the quarterdeck sir, no sir, please let me be your guide sir, I shall inform the captain of your visit, sir, yes sir, I will ask if he will see you sir, please wait here sir!” With that, the cabin boy slips behind a massive wooden door and closes it in Royce’s face.

The cleric smiles, and when the door swings open and the boy gestures to welcome him in (please come in sir, the captain will see you now, sir), he grabs the boy’s hand and presses a silver piece into it, giving him an exaggerated wink. 

From behind a desk laden with papers, a man gets up. He isn’t as old as the wild shock of snow-white hair seems to imply, but there is a touch stiffness in how he rises, and when he smiles at the sight of his visitor, his face wrinkles and folds with age as well as joy. “I rejoice to see that Tempus has kept you safe.” he says, before enveloping the cleric in a rib-cracking hug. “It does me good that you come see me, when – if the rumors are anything to go by – you could be in the company of fine lords and rich ladies.” Letting go of Royce, the captain pulls on a thin rope on the cabin wall and asks “Drink?” Royce smiles, but shakes his head. “I’ve done enough of that, cap. Thank you. Care to tell me how you and the old tub are doing, these days?” The captain makes a sound in the back of his throat. “Sit down. I’ll tell ya. We’re the same, mostly. Got my letters of marque to patrol the waters south from here. The pickings aren’t quite as fat as they were when the conflict was at its peak, but merchant shipping is picking up and most know me as a man worth his salt. Sometimes we serve as armed convoy to a trade fleet. Other times, I pick up a little business myself. That’s how I took on a passenger this time. Came with little requirements, destination Waterdeep and a big, big sack of gold. I had said yes before she’d even finished telling me about this beast that she also wanted me to take aboard.” 

At that point, the boy stumbles back into the cabin, still chewing. “Waffan I do fow youw, siw?” “A pot of tea, please, Rodi. And a bottle of the Calimshan brandy. Tell Gerey to bring it, so you can finish your supper and get to bed.” With a nod, the cabin boy is out the door again. “Good kid,” the captain says. “Reminds me a little of you at that age.” He pauses briefly “What did you do with your curls anyway?”

Royce stares down at the polished wood of the cabin floor. “It’s a long story. How much of it have you heard?” “Songs and whispers, really. The songs are all heroics and battle and sacrifice. The whispers are of madness and great evil come to corrupt those very same heroes.” The cleric grimaces “Half of one, and most of the other. But mostly there was exhaustion, endless darkness and the deep hopelessness of almost everyone you meet being divorced from reason and sense. Suffice to say that…” 

Conversation halts as a portly female dwarf with an apron and a kerch steps through the cabin door, carrying a bright blue teapot and a fat glass bottle on a small tray. She places the tray on a corner of the desk, and disappears, but not before giving Royce’s shoulder a very firm squeeze. 

“Well.” Royce continues. “… I caught a glimpse of what awaited me… them… all of us at a very crucial moment. I knew then that I needed to understand Tempus’ teachings differently in order for us to complete our task. My hair, the drinking. Those are details.” The captain eyes his former crew member with worry, but continues pouring tea.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: 15th of Flamerule (month 7), Catchbreeze

The last session of the Evokers’ Annual Calling had ended shortly after midday. Since he opted not to stick around for yet another luncheon where he’d be asked to hold forth on the breakdown of algorithms for precise height determination when casting fireballs over allied forces, this meant that Kendel arrived back at Catchbreeze just an hour or two later – in time, if he was lucky, to still get some fresh-baked scones and chilled juice of oranienap before the kitchen started in on serious dinner preparations.

The delightful weather makes him briefly consider sitting down at a table in the estate’s small orchard to work through an intriguing set of arithmancy problems, but he swiftly changes his mind and heads down to the library. Fewer chances of bugs in the inkwell or wind blowing away a loose leaf and also less chance of Sur finding him and trying to convince him to schedule a full re-roofing of the chapel this very instant. The man knew his business, for sure, but finding finances to have the estate kept up to his exacting standards was a challenge Kendel did not relish nearly as much as arithmancy. Come to think of it, he’d start learning divination spells before he’d do any more fundraising.

Just as Kendel sits down at his favorite desk, Petha Amers, majordomo of Catchbreeze, soundlessly steps up beside him. She is holding a tray. “I trust you’ve had an interesting conference, ser?” she says. Kendel rolls his eyes a little. “I don’t think half of them had left their houses at all between this one and the last. They are ink-stained up to their elbows, and have beards so long they trip over them and all I ever hear of them is theoretical mumblings and vague theories of how things might work if the stars aligned just right.” Petha gives the wizard a genuine smile. “Whereas you, ser, are of course beard-free and only ink-stained at the very tips of your fingers.” The wizard grimaces. “You did ask me not to remove any more spiders for the house staff. And it was such good practice. Soon I, too, will be ink stained beyond measure” Kendel retorts, arching an eyebrow at the liveried half-elf. She bows briefly and smiles. “We do so appreciate that you leave this duty to others now, ser. Your dedication to their disappearance was sometimes a little…” she pauses, still smiling, “…fiery.” Kendel shrugs. “We all have to make do. I can’t just pick them up and take them outside like… well.. like some people.” Petha’s expression softens and becomes sympathetic. “There is that, ser. But that is not why I am here. Would you like some iced tea and biscuits?” Kendel fakes a look of exasperation and exaggerates a sigh. “I know what this means, Petha. You want me to check the ledgers again, don’t you?” 

“It is time to review spring quarter numbers, ser, and it is custom that a member of the house review the books for final approval.” Kendel sags in his chair, twirling one hand in half-serious annoyance. “Fine, o valued keeper of this esteemed and ancient house. Bring me the ledger and I shall review them, if only because I am apparently the only member of the house who can sit still and look at rows of numbers without suffering psychic damage.” 

Some time later, when the biscuits and tea have been disposed of and all the numbers have been added and subtracted properly, Kendel wanders through the herb garden to gather materials for a new ink he wants to make. Then he sees Royce, who leans over a large silver dish that brims with water. The wizard watches his friend for a moment, wondering who he is looking at this time. He has long since stopped asking, but he was glad he’d brought the dish back for the cleric from his recent excursion to Neverwinter. The gift had made him happy, and it gave him something to do beyond hanging out at that temple complex trying to teach some city kids what end of a cudgel to hold. 

He feels a little bad at the uncharitable thought. Royce’s magic had always stood them in good stead throughout their adventures, and Tempus had seen fit more than once to send a celestial being their way to help them out of a sticky situation, or into a safe one, like that wonderful expanding fortress that they found. Still, the gap between the divine and the arcane is not so easily crossed. If his friend had been a little bit less upstanding… if maybe his response to seeing Orcus standing in his path had been different… if maybe they had made a different choice somewhere that this god had disapproved of… No. No, magic from a god is a fickle thing. Better to keep it in a spell book. 

A small chime goes off. Royce, lost in his scrying, doesn’t hear it, but it makes Kendel turn on his heel and walk back to the house. Almost time for his daily casting of the teleportation spell. He heads down to Catchbreeze’s basement level to prepare.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: 7th of Kythorn (month 6), Catchbreeze

The balmy dawn promised a gorgeous early summer’s day and Naismith was climbing up the short, steep cliff that forms the border of Castle Ward and the estate called Catchbreeze – home to him and his friends. He was drunk and exhausted, but the climb was familiar to him, and he scaled the rocks without effort. With a bit of luck, he thought, he’d be able to catch a wink or two in Jero’s hammock in the rose garden as the sun came up. It would be his best chance to get some sleep

The night had been long and boring, starting with some drawn-out dinner because Ilian would have to travel for a bit, to do… well… something. Naismith shrugged as he climbed. She’d be back soon. She’d looked uncomfortable about the formal affair, and surely would not mind that he’d snuck away as soon as he could.

He’d spent the night in Skullport, two miles below the surface of Waterdeep. There too, things had been disappointingly quiet. Not until he’d gone down to the Dredge had Naismith found his mark: a group of down on their luck slavers who looked just desperate enough. He’d made his rounds around the Scupperden then, cracking a joke here, sharing a laugh there until, finally, he was noticed by the gang. They had assumed he was what he pretended to be: some bored Waterdhavian kid with exaggerated stories and a flashy, dull blade. Once he was certain he was their target, he’d left, allowing them to follow. He’d let them chase him as he dipped into narrow alleys, trotted across suspended catwalks, and lead them into cul-de-sacs from which they believed his escape was impossible, and then faking clumsiness as he evaded their grasp by inches.

Eventually the gang had become winded, so he let them catch up. Once he was surrounded, he’d drawn his rapier and take them on. Not that they were really a challenge. His only challenge was being quick enough to avoid notice of the Skulls and coming up with yet another disguise to prevent being recognized. Well, that, and waiting until one of his contacts would get back to him with the information he’d so furtively been searching for since coming back.

Just as he reaches his hand over the low wall atop the cliff that marks the end of Catchbreeze’s private garden, a hand comes down upon his wrist and begins to pull him in. 

Startled, he looks up. “Ho, Ilian.” Hells! He wishes he’d sounded a bit more sober. In less than a second he is over the wall, standing in the garden at the heart of the estate. The half-elf looks him up and down. “Secret staircases not secret enough for you, Naismith?” He opens his mouth for a rebuttal, then changes his mind and shrugs. A large pack leans against the wall he just climbed over. He gestures at it. “And you? More formal dinners?” He aimed for a joke, but it falls flat. He sighs and shrugs apologetically. She shakes her head. “It’s alright. Spare me a few minutes? I’ve barely seen you lately. ” “You see me more than most.” he retorts. “My rooms were next to yours, Naismith. I would wake up.” The rogue looks at his feet. “I just have a lot to think about.” “That’s not what I’d call it. Look, man, it’s no surprise any of us have nightmares. That we’re still haunted by… well… by everything. And I really didn’t mind keeping you company at night.” Naismith clenches his jaw even tighter. “You worry too much. They’re just dreams. And why are you talking about everything in the past tense? You’re just traveling, that’s all. It’s not a big deal!”

Ilian frowns, grabs her pack, takes Naismith by his arm and moves further into the garden. She pushes him down on a carved stone bench, reaches behind him and pulls out a jug, which she uncorks and hands to him. It’s coffee. She stands in front of him and folds her arms. “You barely sleep at night. You have constant nightmares. You wake up screaming and swear up and down that there is a medusa standing in the corner of the room. During what little sleep you get you talk of Lulach this and Lulach that and beg not to be sent away. Nobody has any idea of the state you’re in! You go on excursions to Silvanus-knows-where looking like some North Ward popinjay. You come back with cuts and bruises you refuse to let me tend. And now I have to go away and I can’t look out for you and I have no idea if I’ll ever be back and I can’t decide if I should tell Royce on you or shake you like a rag doll until the truth falls out of you! It is a big, bloody, godsrotten deal!” The little ranger spits the words at his feet, raising her chin as if expecting a punch

Naismith, feeling like he’s just been punched himself, stares at her wide-eyed. “D-don’t tell Royce. Or anyone.” After a while, she relents “I won’t, then. But you’ll take Petri.” “I… No. I couldn’t. She’s your basilisk. And you know what happened to Fosse. I killed him.” “And I killed Fluffy. And Achtoë. And Sunflash.” Ilian says, curtly. “I don’t say this for Petri’s sake, but for yours. I want you to have her. She’s a fierce little thing, and she can be your friend if you let her. She’ll guard your room when you sleep and keep you company when you can’t.” She pauses briefly, then continues. “ And I wasn’t asking. You keeping her is my price for your secrets.”

Naismith gulps more coffee. Eventually, he nods. “I’ll take her.” Ilian deflates with relief. “Good. Then get up and say your farewells. I’m leaving.” Naismith splutters. “Surely not now? And besides, you’ll be back soon, right?” Ilian gives him a dark look as she straps on her pack. “You can walk me to the gates. Tusker is waiting there with my guide.” 

Clinging to the jug of coffee as if his life depends on it, Naismith walks with her through the courtyard, the dining room, the library and the lush gardens out front. When a last copse of trees stands between them and the gate, she stops and puts an arm around his shoulders. “Sorry if I was harsh just now. I just worry.” Naismith squares his shoulders and aims for the best of his reassuring smiles and his most jovial voice. “Don’t. It’ll be fine. I’ll fatten up your lizard while you gallivant across the country and you and mister pig will be back before you know it.”

Suddenly she squeezes him fiercely and plants a kiss on his cheek. Before he can respond she’s let him go and stepped through the trees, in full view of the gates. Naismith watches from the foliage as she wipes her face with her sleeve and spends a long moment fussing over the already perfectly adjusted straps of her pack. She calls over the big boar and finally hails a tall figure in green robes who stands outside the gate holding a pair of horses. They’re gone so swiftly he barely manages to catch a glimpse of Mielikki’s holy symbol on one of the saddles.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: 28th of Hammer (month 1), Trades Ward, Waterdeep

Mordrock hastens home through the narrow, dusky streets. Give it an eighth bell and the lamp lighters would be out and about. The cobbles he walks on aren’t slippery yet, but soon they would be, and it would be hospitable to put some sand on the steps for this visitor he was supposed to receive. Veras, one of the senior priests in Kelemvor’s temple at The Plinth, had mentioned that the man, though no noble himself, was associated with a fine estate in Castle Ward, and that there had been a request for a consultation. 

Halfway between annoyance at having his routine interrupted and curiosity about the nature of the request, he had left his duties in the City of the Dead earlier than normal to make sure he could receive company. Not the best of times. So close to midwinter it was important to keep an eye on things.

Trudging up the steep alley that leads to his rooms, he keeps an eye out for his furry friends. Nosey he had already spotted near the now-empty spot for the fishmonger’s cart. Sashay would be ensconced near the row of boarding houses – the crowd that occupied those louse dens was usually drunk enough to drop food or even vomit up what they’d just eaten. Mouser and Whisky would be strutting up and down between Goosey’s Kittle Housie and his front door. Skeeter would normally have hidden high up, between the crooked chimneys and laundry lines but not anymore. She stayed indoors now. 

He eyes the worn stone steps that rose off the alley, then grabs the shovel out of the communal sand bin. Once the steps are well covered, he climbs them, feeling for his key. Light shines behind the windows to the right and left of his front door. Must have been a quiet day at the quayside if both neighbors were home already. 

His rooms are up two flights of stairs, right under the eaves of the tenement. Some might not like the amount of climbing it takes to get there, but he enjoys the extra light that the elevation brings him, as well as the privacy of not sharing a front door. Plus, his neighbors are not the kind of folk to call the city guard for unusual noises or the odd experiment that got a little lively.

Once inside, he hangs his bearskin mantle on a hook and puts his boots on a reed mat to catch the mud. He pokes at the fire and adds a log, then uses a thin splinter of kindling to carry a flame over to the brace of candles on his table. Before he can light the last one, he is interrupted by a knock on the door downstairs.

Mordrock goes over to where he hung his mantle and pulls on a thin cord until he hears the latch lift. That would be Dewen, the ale boy from Kishfettle’s. “Bring it up here, lad. You can set it on the table, as you please. Light footsteps come up the stairs. “Was it four quarts tonight, ser Ironpost?” “No serring me, Dewie, but yes. Four quarts. Seems I might have company.” Dewen, a scrawny human boy of maybe twelve years old, appears in view with a wicker basket and an earthenware pitcher which he places on the table. Before the boy darts out again, Mordrock tosses him a copper piece. 

The smell of roasted meat begins to fill the air. Mordrock swallows. As he rummages through a low cupboard for a second trencher and cup, he hopes his guest will not be late. 

Sur Hennerly is never late. Just as the temple bells strike Evenwatch, another knock falls on Mordrock’s door. This time, he makes his way downstairs to open the door in person. He looks up at a young, red-haired human male, clean-shaven and in simple garb.

As calloused hand meets calloused hand, the men take each other’s measure. “Sur. Of Catchbreeze. Pleased.” “Mordrock Ironpost. Come in. I was to sit down for supper. You can join me and talk while we eat.” The human nods, steps inside and begins to unbutton his wool coat. 

Soon, the men sit opposite each other at the table. Mordrock serves out the food and ale. Sur reaches into a leather satchel and pulls out a bottle of wine. “Gift from the house.” Courtesies thus fulfilled, there is a quiet moment as the men devote themselves to the food. After a while Mordrock – mouth full – gestures for Sur to state his business. He does so, between bites. “Catchbreeze. It has been empty some time. Only recently staffed in preparation for a re-deeding. You familiar with the place?” Mordrock shakes his head and swallows. “Back when I lived in Castle Ward with my old lot it was already empty. Never saw much but the fence.” Sur looks at the dwarf with a bit of surprise. “You lived there? When was that? “Och, some twenty years ago, I think? Eventually most of them had… other business that took them away from town. I decided the place was too big for me. Downsized a bit.” He gestures to the rooms around him, which, though clean and in decent repair, do not compare to even the most modest house in Castle Ward. 

“Well, the place is set to no longer be empty.” Sur says “A staff has been assembled to prepare it for this group called Drow’s Bane. Heroes who did something in the Underdark against the demon lords. Haven’t heard the details. They’re still in Gauntlgrym at the moment.” Mordrock nods with a half smile. “Familiar story. I’d heard something was going on down there. Some of Kelemvor’s order had their fair share of visions about it. So it’s a bunch of rat catchers that gets to live above their station, eh? And you to clean the place up for them?” Sur chuckles. “Like that, yes. Heard they’re alright folk, though. One of them is actually a proper North Ward kid. One of those old elven families.” Mordrock grimaces. “Those starchcollars need to unlace their corsets every now and then. It must’ve sent them all in a tizzy to have one of their own run off and do something other than sip cordial and compose poetry.” He takes a swig of ale. “Be that as it may, what do you need my counsel on?” “Catchbreeze has an old plot. All family graves of a century or two. The land has shifted over the years, more than I’d expect. I want advice on how to determine the cause and how to restore…” Sur pauses “… proper order.” “Rehallowing is your best bet. Can do that for you in a jiffy. Regular order’s rates, too. But that’s only if nothing is already rumbling there. Noticed any unusual mounds or small depressions? Animals avoiding the area? I take it there are no walkers yet?” Sur shakes his head. “Nothing yet. Just want to make sure.” 

“I’ll be happy to come by. After midwinter, though. There’s much for me to do this time of year.” “Understood.” Sur says. “Leave a note for me at the carpenter’s guild two days before you want to come. List of supplies too, so I can get those, and your fee slip. No order prices though, I want your own rate. The high one. City foots the bill. Oh, and sup with us that night. We’re on the grounds already and Jero knows his way around a stove.” 

Sur gets up, preparing to take his leave. As he glances about the room, he sees light reflect off of a row of dragon scales set on a shelf. His eyebrows raise a bit. As he puts his coat back on, Mordrock gets up as well. The day’s digging made him a little stiff. He walks his guest downstairs. Sur steps through the door into the freezing night, then turns back and extends his hand once more. “Glad you’ll be helping out.” He pauses. “And thank you for your service. My father used to tell stories of you and your companions to my sister and me.” 

Mordrock shakes his head after he closes the door. Nice to know someone remembers. Guy seemed decent. The money would come in handy too. 

Once he is back upstairs, he sees a sleek grey bundle of fur on the table, sniffing at the remains of the roast chicken. “Clever lass to stay up in the rafters while that fellow was over, Skeet.” In response to his voice, the small cat crouches and looks back, prepared to jump off the table if he moves too fast. Other than her eyes, which are clouded over, she looks completely ordinary. Mordrock moves very slowly, keeping up a low-voiced stream of soothing talk. “Wouldn’t want to startle him. How about I get you a wing of that nice bird, eh? Maybe we’ll give the rest to your outside friends. They need it more than you now.” Still suspicious, the milky-eyed cat backs away from the platter but stays on the table. Mordrock is able to reach the chicken now, and breaks off the wing, which still has some meat clinging to it. He pushes it a little into the direction of Skeeter, then picks up the platter with his other hand. He would keep the remaining leg for breakfast. The rest could go to the outside cats. 

As he goes downstairs for the third time that night, he thinks about Skeet. She wasn’t really supposed to have been an experiment. She was just the most friendly of the little colony of Corkscrew Alley cats. Had been for years. When he’d found her struggling a year ago, trying to give birth to an oversized, two-headed kitten, it had seemed kindest to just give her a grain of his most powerful sedative and let her pass without any more pain. But then, after he’d carefully removed the kitten from her limp body, the idea of not having her around had been unbearable. First his mother’s letter about the debtors still hounding her years after the closing of the family foundry, then the last of his old friends moving away. Not getting the warden job at the City of the Dead. A man needs a friend in times like those, and if a little grey cat was all he had, then that’s what he would pray to Kelemvor to keep. 

Journey to Fate’s doorstep

An epic campaign (level 16 to 20) that picks up where Out of the Abyss left off for the mighty ‘Drow’s Bane’.

Faerun Calendar of Harptos months explained

Hammer (month 1) through Kythorn (month 6), the Sword Coast

The Drow’s Bane have been ‘pop’ stars in the months since their epic victory overthrowing the demon princes of the Abyss, saving the Underdark and Faerun.  Besides much needed rest, each character has been invited all over the Sword Coast to accept awards, give speeches, and be sculpted or painted. Bards across the Sword Coast are singing songs about the glorious victory and the trials and tribulations of the characters’ lives down under.

Two of the most esteemed awards to be received are the title of Emissary and Royal Advisor to Laeral Silverhand of Waterdeep and Emissary and Royal Advisor to King Brunnor Battlehammer of Gauntlgrym. As emissaries to Waterdeep, Laerel gifts them occupancy to the estate known as “Catchbreeze” in the Castle Ward.  As emissaries to King Battlehammer, they are assigned a residence in Gauntlgrym known as “Hwemenocter” in Vault of Kings.  The expectation and new responsibilities as royal advisors require the characters to spend time between both places on a constant basis.

But as the Drow’s Bane settles into their new residences and responsibilities, the ranger Ilian and her companion Tusker are recruited by the Emerald Enclave for special assignment.  She cannot share details with her comrades, who are now family to her, but the farewell feast is a hearty, joyful and tearful one.

Nong Sung Roc continues to struggle with hearing the voice of the Wand of Orcus in his dreams and constantly fights off Royce to open the bag of holding to have a little look at it, maybe even pet it slightly (i.e. imagine Gollum and ‘My Precious!’).  A few days after Ilian’s departure, Nong disappears from Catchbreeze with just his personal belongings.  Royce feels deeply disappointed but understands Nong’s affliction. With Nong absent, the wand becomes a constant burden to Royce; it subtly tempts Royce to join forces with it for ultimate power and authority…even greater than Orcus himself.