|Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast
Author: Italian Empress 1985 PM
Children of Bhaal: Book One A mysterious conspiracy threatens to throw the whole of the Sword Coast into chaos. A young naive cleric of Lathander, her sister and their talented companions must find the strength within to stop the forces of evil.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Chapters: 15 - Words: 238,047 - Reviews: 44 - Favs: 10 - Follows: 12 - Updated: 02-01-10 - Published: 01-11-07 - id: 3336739
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: "Forgotten Realms: Baldur's Gate" belongs to Bioware, TSR, and Black Isle Studios. Lilliana is mine and situations that you don't recognize from the game are mine, all other material and inspiration for my material is under copyright by the above named. Additional Forgotten Realms material included in this story but not in the game belongs to Wizards of the Coast.
Words From the Author: So this one arrived a lot quicker than most of my chapters, because the bulk of it was already written. ;) It's a tad shorter you might notice and that's because it was originally the second half of the previous chapter. This one definitely qualifies as an action chapter, and over all I'm pleased with it. I still find some difficulty in writing a smooth transition between the actions of different party members, at least when there are a lot of them. So I didn't want to over do that, so you will find that perhaps I didn't stay focused on group combat too long before the characters were split up. You'll have to let me know if that's good or bad.
I would've had this published sooner, but my twenty fifth birthday was the twenty fifth (my Golden Birthday as they call it) so I took a bit of time for myself to celebrate. Let's see if I'm a year smarter now . . . probably not. :p
So without further stammering on my part, I'll let you read on.
As always, thank you dear readers, for joining Lilliana on her journey!
I see a bad moon rising.
I see trouble on the way.
Don't go out tonight, there's a bad moon on the rise.
~ Credence Clearwater Revival
With the Harpers having finished their watch it was Ajantis and Kivan's turn. The wood elf had already been awake and ready when Khalid came to rouse him, and had since taken point at a spot up in the trees. Ajantis was headed to join him, though at a more ground-level position.
The knight stretched the tired muscles in his neck. Sleep was a fickle mistress to him some nights. Sleeping on the ground was more something he tolerated, but never really got used to. Ajantis would have gone straight off to Kivan, but a flash of burgundy hair caught his vision and he turned his head to find Dynaheir standing outside her tent, watching him. Had she been waiting for him, or was it mere coincidence? Ajantis didn't know. Her amber eyes were dark and from his distance, the blonde man could see nothing of her intent as it would have been written on her face. So he closed the space, walking nearer until he finally called out a brief greeting.
"Good evening Madame, have the wolves woken you?" He nodded his head in the direction of the northern woods, where faint howling had begun some hours past.
"No." Dynaheir shifted. She had been laying awake thinking of Ajantis; what she wished to say to him. Even standing before him brought her no closer to a decision. "Sir knight . . . I wanted . . . " For once her fine linguistics failed her and the Wychlaran faltered. Dynaheir took a deep breath and forced a smile, the moonlight giving her deeply honeyed skin a lighter tone, as if candles had been lit just beyond the surface. "Tis obvious to me that thou feels good Minsc and I are speaking out when we have no place to do as such. Though tis more I that has spoken." Her lovely face was marred by a frown, but she dared to step closer and placed a light hand against Ajantis' forearm. "You and I . . . we were forming a bond were we not? Have thine words been so forceful that you are sent reeling back from thou?"
Ajantis shook his head, drinking in her beauty, but he would not allow her to make him heady that time. He'd been thinking about the past two nights and their disagreements and a few things were made clear to him. "Dynaheir, no, you really have not done anything so wrong. I just think your alliances were incorrectly placed." Before the Rashemite could protest, the knight put a hand out to silence her as he continued with an apologetic smile. "I was more forceful with my opinions than I should have been. You have as much right to be in this group as I do, and in so saying, so too do you have the right to speak your mind. It was inappropriate for me to rail at you for it."
"Rail?" Dynaheir raised a confused brow. Her Common was getting better, but there were still some words she didn't know. Only in times like that did it really frustrate her. Having a serious discussion was difficult when one party came across as more well-spoken than the other.
"I should not have gotten angry with you as I did." Ajantis explained.
"Ahh, I see." Dynaheir smiled up at him. "And I should not have told thee that your actions were making Miss Lily turn in rebellion. Her actions are her own."
Ajantis sighed, moving so that the woman had no choice but to let her hand fall from where it had been touching him. "I hate to see so many get angry with her, about something so trivial." Before Dynaheir could add anything, he shook his head with a rueful smile. "Ah, no, there has been enough arguing over that. It is done with now."
"You stood beside her, Miss Lily, you and Miss Imoen. I can see why two sisters would be beside one another, that 'tis no mystery, but for you I am not so certain. T'would be much easier on you to stand with the rest of us, instead thou took a less pleasant course to support our priestess. Why?" One thin burgundy brow went up, and her amber eyes were intense on Ajantis' face.
"Because I think what she did was not so bad, I agree with a lot of her thinking, and above all, I care about her. I would give her every benefit of every doubt, and if that earns me some sour glares, then it is a small price to pay in order to be the friend to Lilliana that I wish to be." His gaze was just daring Dynaheir to argue. She didn't and he let his shoulders relax again, anxious to head off and join Kivan.
The man's words said more than he might've imagined. Still, Dynaheir couldn't help but ask her next question. The Wychlaran could sense that the Waterhavian was getting ready to leave her for his watch and she grasped his arm.
"And what of you and I, good knight?"
He'd been hoping to avoid what was placed before him then, but he couldn't run from it forever. With a heavy sigh, he looked down to regard the woman. "Dynaheir, there is a bond between us. We are friends. You are a truly beautiful woman and I can admit to attraction on my side, but it will not go beyond that. Surely you know this as well as I do. We are too different, and after I have aided this group with the bandit ordeal, I shall return to Waterdeep and to my Order." Ajantis fought the desire to hang his head. "There is nothing more that I can offer you."
"You . . . You are certain of your course?" Dynaheir's long lashes fluttered at him, but in her heart she already knew the answer, and no coy words were likely to change it.
Ajantis nodded. "I am, and I suspect that you and Minsc will continue on your journey apart from this group as well. Once this is all done." He gestured to the woods around them, and moreover the situation the group faced.
The Rashemite only nodded briefly, looking solemn. "Perhaps tis so, good knight. You . . ."
Dynaheir paused, wishing to say more but unable to conjure the words. She knew in all her flirtations, and there had been a few over the years, that they had a limited continuation. She was a Wychlaran and her love was the craft, never to be beyond her sisters, and attractions were as thus. Never more than the dying wick of a candle, left on the sill of an inn as she and Minsc traveled ever onwards.
For a burning moment she found herself envying the courtiers of the west, women that would walk beside a fine man, call him husband and live as was the wont of ladies of 'good breeding' The moment passed. Such a thing was hollow, it was a life of twittering laughter and endless parties of pretense. Even with the little experience she had with western cities and their nobles, she knew that much. The Weave was everything, it was true and powerful and Dynaheir would always have it. What could the vapid existence of a noblewoman offer in compare? It offered the arm of someone like Ajantis.
She sighed in acceptance, the look between them full of much more meaning than the last phrase to pass through her lips. "Have a good evening on thou watch."
Ajantis smiled. "Try to get some rest." When she nodded, he turned on his heel, looking past his shoulder to see she had gone inside her tent. The woman had taken it better than he'd feared, but the Waterhavian still felt guilt gnawing at him. However, he knew his words were the truth. If Dynaheir had not also suspected their bond would never be anything more than it was, she would've soon enough.
With one last glance behind him, he headed for the periphery of the woods bordering the abandoned village.
Anomen Delryn rolled over, groaning. Someone had tripped over him or nudged him. He wasn't sure who, but he was so tired he didn't really care. Murmuring a short half-awake grumble of irritation he had gone back to sleep. Except it didn't last long and he was once again fighting his sorry excuse for a bed roll, trying to get comfortable and failing.
With a low growl of frustration, he sat up and pushed the edges of the thick cotton away from him so he wouldn't feel stifled. With blurry eyes, he looked around the squatty tent to see that Nathaniel was still sleeping soundly. Lucky git! Rupert, however, was absent.
Anomen grumbled and made his way outside. The night air was warm, but he could feel the dampness through the thin material of his long tunic, and it made him even more uncomfortable. "Thank you for waking me up, Rupert." He groused, glancing about as he ran a hand through his rumpled hair. He expected the younger squire would be nearby, but he didn't answer. Anomen called the young man's name twice more, and still there was no answer. "Ah, damn it all to the Hells."
Back inside the tent, the squire knelt down to wake Nathaniel. The gray eyed lord blinked several times, rubbing at his face. "Wha? What is it?" A shroud of sleep had wrapped itself firmly around him and his mind. Waking up was something he was having difficulty with.
"It's Rupert. He's gone off again, and probably has himself in a right mess by now." Anomen rolled his eyes at the thought, making a grumpy show of finding the rest of his clothes and his armaments.
Reluctantly getting out of his bed roll, Nathaniel watched his companion for a time before he went to get his own gear, only to suddenly stop. "Hold on a moment Delryn, why are we headed out with our armor and weapons? He had to just answer a call of nature, I imagine."
"Because, Warrington, I called his name three times. He's not deaf, so he's left hearing distance." Anomen retorted quickly. "As for the armor, just because we haven't seen any bandits or dangerous creatures yet doesn't mean there aren't any. Sir Trawl says it's always better to be over-prepared rather than under-prepared."
"And? What makes you think we have to go find him? He'll come back eventually. Let Sir Valencia tell him not to leave camp. We aren't his superiors." To further his point, Nathaniel crossed his arms.
"This is Squire Rupert we're talking about. Isn't he usually in some sort of trouble when he goes off on his own?" It was a rhetorical question Anomen asked, but Nathaniel nodded all the same, even as Squire Delryn continued with his line of speech. "I'd hate to see Cadril . . . Sir Cadril, tear into him again. As Rupert's companions we should endeavor to look out for one another, don't you think?"
"Alright, alright. It's too early for one of your 'sermons' on duty. Hand me my scabbard would you?" Squire Warrington finally gave in, reaching for his sword sheath as Anomen gave it to him.
Soon both young men were dressed and set to go look for their lost companion, one a bit more dedicated to the task than the other.
"Wolves." Kivan commented from up in the trees and Ajantis almost jumped in surprise, but he held his calm as the wood elf dropped down onto the forest floor. Old leaves crinkled under the ranger's boots but beyond that he was silent.
The wolves he had identified called out around them.
"They sound nearer than before, should we worry?" Ajantis fidgeted, listening to stillness of the night and the animals that shared the woodlands. He knew he didn't have Kivan's practice as a ranger or his elven senses, and he left the judgment up to him.
"I'm not sure. They're making the howls of a hunting pack, though I can only discern three." The ranger's voice was at a low timbre, and it inspired Ajantis to keep his low in response, which reminded Kivan of something. "I think our argument drew them closer to us. We've been talking quietly during the day but last evening and this one, our voices were raised. It was unwise." The elf admitted his own guilt in that, and he saw Ajantis nod from the corner of his vision.
"Yes, and I confess to my part in it as well. I suppose none of us are immune to our passions, anger foremost." Ajantis shrugged and leaned against a tree, so used to the weight of his great sword that he barely registered it until it pressed between his chain-mail clad form and the tree trunk. "I've heard wolves can be driven to attack humans if they are hungry enough and there are a large number of them. You seemed worried about them when we were farther south."
Kivan snorted as if he was irritated, but his tone was even. "That was a different circumstance. I'd been watching those wolves and they were behaving more violently. Listen to that . . . " He fell to silence and let the knight hear the wolves as they began again. "They are calling to each other about a hunt."
The Waterhavian could not help the smile that played on his face. "You amaze me sometimes, elf. I'd never be able to discern the different howling patterns as you do."
"I'm just accustomed to them. There is nothing to be impressed with." The ranger was very blasé about it.
"You know, there is such a thing as just accepting a compliment." Ajantis chuckled, almost feeling the shrug of his partner. When there was no response, he cleared his throat lightly. After coming clean with Dynaheir, the need to do so with Kivan was prevalent. "About earlier, when Lilliana was talking . . . I did not mean to accuse you of anything. I can't imagine what you must have gone through and I wouldn't blame you for what you did, back in the mine."
Kivan visibly stiffened. "Apology accepted, but let us not speak of it again."
"Very well." Was Ajantis' only response as the pair stood in the still forest, listening to the world around them.
A snap of twigs sounded from behind and they whirled around, weapons ready. Through the moonlight a familiar shape began to take form and Ajantis sighed. "Lilliana."
The girl in question had dressed in her traveling garb and chain mail, clearly not intending to go back to her tent anytime soon.
"You should be asleep. Didn't Dynaheir's story relax you?" Kivan's words were simple and to the point, but not as harsh as they used to be with the girl and Ajantis took note of the fondness in the elf's intonation. Something more and more common after the incident in the tomb.
The knight looked between the wood elf and the cleric with a raised brow, but lost his trail of thought when the girl focused on him. Turning his head to regard her, the Waterhavian was a bit startled. Her eyes had a low eerie glow to them that he recognized as an effect of active infravision. Kivan's had been doing the same thing, and Ajantis knew he'd never get used to that.
"I could not rest, at first my own thoughts kept me awake, but the wolves aren't helping." When the Lathanite noticed Ajantis visually searching her over for weapons, she patted her shoulders to indicate the small war hammers strapped at her back.
"There are only three of them, but they sound . . . different. The way it yips down at the end instead of up . . . I am not familiar with those types of wolves." Kivan peered out into the forest, elven eyes unable to spot the perpetrators in question from that distance.
"I thought you were familiar with nearly everything. How long have you been a ranger?" Lilliana asked quietly, coming to stand beside him as she too stared into the trees. She was surprised the question had never come up, and in retrospect, Kivan was not the only one that she was close to and yet still didn't know all that well.
All three companions stopped to listen to another set of howling, a bit closer than the last. The cleric looked at the wood elf, and he shifted under her gaze.
"A little over a decade, but I spent most of my time near my home of Shilmista. I've only widened my area of travel in the past year." He grew quiet again after that, and both of his companions knew enough of his reasoning to leave him be.
Ajantis was growing bored. A few small animals and some white-tailed deer had neared the abandoned village, but little else. He could not help but wonder how the Order was faring, wherever they were. Wouldn't that be ironic? If the information his companions had not wanted to share, was the very same information that led others to success, when they themselves had none to speak of? Slightly amused at the thought, he smirked and something in his stance must have caught Lilliana's attention.
She smiled at him. "Why is it, do you think, that Imoen and I are never assigned to take a watch a shift?"
"Do you even want a watch shift?" Ajantis grinned when Lilliana shook her head.
"Not really, no. It is not as if I am afraid of the dark, mind you, but it does not make me comfortable either. Don't tell Imoen, but I think you, Kivan and our Harper companions are far better suited than her and I, being more experienced as you are." She rubbed her itchy palms on her tunic, where it peeked out from the edges of her light chain mail.
"Then I think you just answered your own question." He cleared his throat. "In all honesty, you should go back to your tent and get more rest. Morning will come before you know it, and Lathanite or not, you wouldn't like to greet it with a weary mind. The day will be full of travel." He nudged her gently, nodding his head towards the abandoned village that was their camp.
She smiled. "I will soon enough. You do not mind my company do you?"
"Not at all, my trainee." Why Ajantis had added the title of old, he didn't know, their training had been over since they had rescued Dynaheir from the gnolls. When Lilliana looked back the infravision glow had left and she was watching him shyly with her normal gaze. Prompted to speak again, the knight went on. "You know, if you would like to continue lessons, I am certain . . . "
"Quiet!" Kivan hissed, though not unkindly so much as cautiously. The howling had gone silent and that worried him, having ceased so abruptly.
"Is everything alright?" Lilliana peered into the woods around them, but saw nothing.
"I don't hear the wolves anymore." The ranger returned, gaze narrowed in concentration and the tips of his ears almost twitching.
"Maybe they just found their prey." Ajantis supplied, relaxing back against the tree that had previously been his make-shift leaning post.
Lilliana made a face of disgust at that thought but said nothing. She took a deep breath of woodland air. An aching tiredness had settled into her bones, but her mind wasn't nearly as weary and though not plagued by nightmares, just the thought of the ones previous was enough to keep her awake. It was a good thing, she told herself, to have gone out to join the other two, instead of remaining in her tent cowering from fear of night terrors. The cleric sent a triumphant grin to the moon where it peeked through the branches; the evening reflection of Lathander's glory. You see My Lord? I can step out of my shell.
Her companions seemed willing to remain silent, Kivan's brief interruption stealing away whatever words Ajantis might have had for her, and Lilliana was left to further thoughts. The howling of the wolves may have been preferable to the sudden eerie stillness that surrounded them. Something winked in the bushes, like a brief flicker of light, and the half-elf's spine straightened, head turning in that direction. Her eyes narrowed curiously that way and she edged closer, drawing Ajantis' awareness.
"Did you see something?" The knight whispered out, unsure of what feeling it was that crept up his back and prompted him to whisper.
"Lilliana, what is it?" Kivan's whole body had become alert.
A rustle in the bushes made all three of them freeze where they stood, a low growl sounding from around them. Lilliana could see nothing, but the sounds were enough to give her pause and she moved back toward Kivan and Ajantis.
"The wolves . . ." Her voice came out like a strangled peep, because something was wrong. A smell on the breeze, the sounds. The skin on Lilliana's forearms pebbled up, but she barely noticed, gripped with a sudden and inexplicable fear. Behind her, the elf and the human had both slowly drawn their weapons. There was one beat, then two, heavy thuds of the cleric's heart in her chest, loud in her ears; waiting in anxiety for action.
Then the beast was there, bursting from the trees to throw itself at Ajantis with a fearsome growl. In the moonlight the size of it was revealed as nothing close to a wolf. Ajantis yelled as it bowled him to the ground, snarling maw closing in on his face. The knight dropped his sword to push at the thing's head, keeping the sharp teeth from getting at his throat.
Kivan was spurred into action, releasing an arrow into the beasts ruddy brown fur. It snarled at him as it turned shining eyes on the elf. Letting out a bloodcurdling howl it tore the arrow from itself with one large paw. Bits of spittle flew from its mouth as the monster roared, and left the knight to pounce at the elf. Kivan didn't have the opportunity to draw another arrow and the bow was knocked from his hand.
Ajantis rose up from the ground, wincing at the lacerations that had pierced the chain mail between the exposed sections of the half-plate he wore. There was no time for his pain, and the knight quickly picked up his sword and went to Kivan's defense. Swinging at the beast with might, he sliced across its shoulders as it had the ranger pressed against a tree, trying to bite at him.
As the beast dropped the wood-elf and turned back to Ajantis, the Waterhavian saw the wound he had caused was rapidly healing over and he could've sworn the beast smiled at him. Weaving for a few moments on wide wolf-like feet, it stared at him and then howled again, resuming its attack.
Swing after swing connected, slicing into the beast, but every time the injuries healed soon after, making Ajantis' attacks useless. Even in his erratic mind, the knight recognized what the monster was. He kept at it as Kivan recovered and joined him, drawing his elven long blade.
Lilliana was still in shock, but was finally shaking herself out of it, enough to hear Ajantis shout 'Silver!' at her, over and over. Not understanding she still stood as if in a haze, until finally the knight yelled 'Werewolf!' and then clarity dawned and she drew her silver war hammer out. She bounded over, preparing a swing. The handle was yanked from her grasp from behind, and for a moment all Lilliana could do was look at her empty hand as her companions fought the werewolf. Then she slowly turned her head to come face to face with another of the snarling beasts. As the werewolf would've lunged at her, she ducked, meaning to roll away but the thing grabbed her ankle and threw her like she was a rag doll. Lilliana connected with a tree, nearly knocked unconscious as she fell to ground.
Both Kivan and Ajantis were locked in fierce battle with the werewolf. Unaware of the second beast, the blonde heard Lilliana's scream of surprise and pain. A growl of frustration came from him as he made an attempt to break from the monster he was fighting. "By Helm! Just die!" But no matter the effort, the beast would only regenerate at such a rapid rate that not even the knight and the elf could defeat it as a pair. From somewhere behind him, he heard Imoen yelling, and the mixed druidic summons of Jaheira and the spell calls of Dynaheir.
Minsc bellowed a war cry in Rashemi, swinging his mighty blade enough to wound the beast and cease the attack. Though the berserker, like Ajantis, soon came to dismay that the creature could heal from its wounds so rapidly. Minsc had bought his companions only seconds of respite, before the werewolf was at them again.
The second beast was fighting against Khalid's blade and Imoen's arrows, as Dynaheir blasted it away with flames from her fingers. It kept trying to get back to the cleric it had injured, but the others held it at bay, though they were quickly tiring out from the effort it took with the monster's regeneration.
Jaheira winced as the acrid stench of charred fur wafted up her nostrils, the sounds of combat, the horrifying growls and howling clanging in the druid's ear drums. She could barely hear the calls she made to Silvanus in her head. Violet eyes focused on the beast that was circling the dazed Lilliana, and even as the girl rolled to avoid another attack, Jaheira let her druidic summons spiral from her soul out to the tips of her fingers and into the earth.
The werewolf howled in anger as a flurry of vines formed from the ground to grab at it. Jaheira drew close with her husband at her side, ready to attack the beast but it soon ripped free from the vines and the druid barely managed to escape its charge. Khalid had dived aside, and shouted his wife's name as he lit into the beast with Nithryon's sharp edge.
Dynaheir could not focus well with the flurry around her, but in her mind she realized what they were fighting, and as Ajantis had, also recognized what they needed. The moonlight glittered down on the silver mage's staff, held tightly in her hands. A wide smile curved her lips as they pursed to let the words of her next spell escape. Even as the wide tail of flame lashed out at the beast as a burning whip, the Wychlaran had her staff held aloft and tossed it to Minsc. He grabbed it with surprise, but at his witch's rambled words of explanation, he was quick to nod.
The large berserker dropped his own great blade, by then knowing its inadequacy, and held Dynaheir's staff as a spear. Minsc prayed to the Great Witches of the Citadel for the strength he needed to drive the blunt-tipped weapon into the beast's flesh. As the werewolf fighting against Kivan and Ajantis continued to battle them, the berserker came at it for all that he was worth, and drove the staff into the monster. For a few agonizing moments he wondered if it had worked, but then the beast howled in pain as it tore the staff from where it had been forcefully driven into its side. The wound didn't heal and Minsc gave his own howl of triumph.
Imoen fumbled with her bow, dropping it several times as nervous fingers shook while she tried to ready another arrow. She didn't notice the werewolf that Minsc had injured, only the second beast that was set on ripping Khalid and Jaheira apart. She whimpered in frustration as another arrow slipped from her fingers. Having left her tent in a rush the thief was dressed in her night clothes still, the long shirt she had worn was tucked haphazardly into the waist band of breeches she'd hurriedly pulled on. Her mind was equally haphazard from being yanked from slumber. She took a deep breath and tried again. With a yell of surprise she fell over her sister and the two landed in a jumble.
Though the cleric had been searching desperately for her silver hammer, the chaos of the situation created a massive swell of unease. Lilliana had seemingly no sense of her own movements or of what to do. Untangling herself from her sister wasn't helping the situation and seeing was no easy task either; one eye blurred by the sluggish trickle of blood that had begun to cake in her lashes. Lilliana panicked as the din of combat threatened to swallow her up. Any moment one of those things could break free and come after me. Her head throbbed a painful drum beat against her skull and the cleric moaned, tilting sideways as she tried to stand, legs wobbly even after success in that endeavor.
Imoen was too busy looking for the bow that she'd lost when she'd tripped. When she noticed what was behind the cleric she stopped. "Lil! Look out!"
Lilliana whirled around and screamed as a third werewolf snarled and came at her. She threw herself to the ground as the beast's size carried it crashing into the trees. Before the cleric had recovered, Imoen had her hand and was pulling her up. Both girls were without weapons, and that left them in peril.
Imoen called out for their companions in panic, but they were too entangled in fighting the other two beasts. A third werewolf?! Where had it been while its pack members were battling the others?! Then a sickening thought occurred in her frightened mind. The third monster had been waiting for its partners to keep the stronger of the companions occupied, so it could pick the weakest members off when they were without defense. She was almost crying in despair as the beast began to circle them, a terrifyingly human smile pulling up its lips to reveal teeth that might very well be their demise.
"Run!" Lilliana screamed, in a moment of fear induced lucidity, tugging her sister's hand.
Imoen needed no second command as the sisters took off, hoping to lose the werewolf in the trees until their companions could come help.
The cleric's booted feet hit the uneven forest bed, and she willed herself not to stumble. Twigs and branches slapped at her, but she barely felt the small cuts and lashes beyond her adrenaline. Lilliana's lungs were already burning copper with the effort of hard running. Her only real conscious thought was her sister's hand in hers. She couldn't let Imoen fall behind, she wouldn't; forcing her sister to keep her frantic pace.
The moonlight slashed through the trees, flickering across the forms of the fleeing girls, creating shadows that undulated around them. It made it difficult to asses their surroundings and Lilliana soon lost all sense of direction. She was hoping to run a loop and double back to where her companions were, with a bit of luck having given them more time to defeat the other beasts.
In the wake of the sisters, the werewolf was snarling through the woods, snapping thick branches as its strength and girth rent the forest asunder before its passage. It could smell blood off the two girls, nothing more than small cuts, but the scent was enough and the monster kept on their trail.
Up ahead there was a clearing in the moonlight and Lilliana could've sighed in relief had she the breath to do so. They must have made it back to the abandoned village, circled back around, and the werewolf would run right into her friends. She pulled her sister even more, anxious to push the pair of them into the space before them. Just a little further . . .
Lilliana let out a yelp of pain and surprise when something hard hit her shins and she went tumbling over it, the hold on Imoen's hand pulling the human behind her.
"Lil . .. What . . . " Imoen stood quickly, looking down at the stone torso of a man. The object that had caused their fall. As the human gazed about her, she felt frozen to the spot. "What is all this?" Her voice came out in a frightened squeak.
The cleric expected it had been some fallen log, so when she glanced up at the sound of her sister's voice, a cold dread seeped into her stomach.
All around the girls was a glade of statues, hundreds of stone men and women stretching out across the clearing, even a few animals. At their feet was half a man, his legs having crumbled as the torso was on the ground, mouth open to a silent scream as stone arms shielded his petrified face. "I don't know." She whispered.
From behind them, the snarling werewolf was closing in and Lilliana jerked her sister under a large statue of a bear. The fit between the stone belly and the ground was limited, but they made it. Lilliana held Imoen's shaking hand tightly in her own palm, which was not so still itself. "We must be quiet!" She cautioned in a low murmur, and Imoen only nodded, eyes as wide with fright as Lilliana's were. The cleric's gaze turned to take in the furred feet from beneath the statue, talons at the end.
The werewolf had dropped low to the ground and was sniffing it. "I can smell you!" It growled in enjoyment of the hunt.
Imoen swallowed back on a scream, afraid to keep her eyes open and afraid to close them. Lilliana clamped a hand over her mouth, muting her whimpers. The cleric herself was rigid, too terrified to move. An elongated snout came into view, drool dripping from the werewolf's jaws and Lilliana started to shake in terror, clamping her teeth tightly so they wouldn't chatter. Then she shrieked when claws tightened around one of her ankles and yanked her out from her hiding place.
"Hello, she-elf!" The werewolf smiled, in a horrifying way that was partly animal and partly human, the broken common it spoke slurring over a thick tongue, dripping with hungry spit.
"Run, Imoen! Run!" Lilliana screamed, prone as she was held upside down, hair brushing the wet grass as the werewolf seemed to be studying his prey. She heard her sister crying and then movement. The cleric squeezed her eyes shut, not wanting to watch her own demise, but long seconds went by and nothing happened.
Trying to see in her position was difficult, but she could tell her beastly captor was looking out into the glade, sniffing the air. A reptilian hissing echoed around the stones and the werewolf stiffened above her, howling, and Lilliana yelled in shock as she was let loose and fell to the ground. Scrambling away, she began to scream as a huge reptile slithered between the statues and spit a strange ooze at the werewolf. Soon the monster's fur began to calcify and the cleric ran while she had the chance, heart beating maddeningly against her aching ribs.
Around her the statues watched in frozen terror, faces etched in eternal fear. Some of them had arms stretching out, and others cowered to the ground. Lilliana saw them all as she whipped past, the full moon lighting the glade around her like a large candelabra on a macabre stage. There was a roar behind her and she knew it wasn't the werewolf anymore. Panting, the half high-elf ran as fast as she could, the world around her passing in a blur of stone gazes.
"Imoen!" Lilliana yelled, hoping to find her sister in the maze of statues in the rush to get out of the clearing. A thin shape darted ahead of her and she shrieked, feet sliding on the wet grass and she went to the ground hard. There was an 'oof' of air when she hit, and for a moment her breath was taken from her. As the cleric went to stand again she nearly shouted aloud at the sight of the young woman before her.
"Shh! Elf, you must be silent. The stone eaters will hear you!" A worried whisper from the ghostly girl came complete with a frightened sideways glance of her dark eyes. Her figure was slender, and the clothes care-worn. She tugged on Lilliana's arm and pulled her around the statue of what looked like a rather bulky man.
The cleric yanked her arm from the surprisingly strong girl's grasp. "My sister is out there. I must find her!" Lilliana went to double back, but the ghostly young woman was in front of her again, though the half high-elf couldn't fathom how she had moved so quickly.
"No time, no, no time at all, pretty one." The girl cooed in an almost condescending fashion, perhaps not meaning to as the words drew the suspicion of the cleric.
"Who are you?" Lilliana whispered, craning her neck to watch for any sign of the lumbering beast.
"Please, come with me, and all will be well." The mysterious woman beckoned the elf girl again, but she didn't follow.
Instead the cleric had one brow raised at her abrupt companion. "No. I am going to find my sister. Help me and we may both escape this stone 'garden'"
Clearly the elf wasn't going to co-operate and the strange woman snarled. "Fool! You would've been young forever, but now I'll have them tear you apart!"
The façade began to melt away in a bevy of enchanter's smoke and Lilliana watched in horror as the vision changed before her very eyes. Pale skin melted away, twisting in a torturous mess of color and harsh odor.
Lilliana fell in revulsion on her hind quarters, skittering back on the wet grass on her hands. When the transformation before her had finished, a mad looking gnome stood there, staring at her with hateful black eyes. Already he was casting magic in a quivering tongue and Lilliana had all she could do to leap out of the way of a nasty acid arrow. The spell hit one of the statues with a loud sizzle, and the cleric screamed as a small explosion was sent reeling against the stone she had taken refuge behind.
"I have done nothing to you!" She shouted, dashing between the effigies, but still the gnome always seemed to be impossibly close. The hideous monster of before was not forgotten, and green eyes went wide with both fright and alertness.
"You trespassed into my glade! Like all these foolish settlers around you, hacking at the trees, burning them! They destroyed everything that stood in their path, and now they are finally at harmony with the woods! My pets saw to that, oh yes!" The madness was evident in every hissed word. If anyone would've doubted the danger of the illusionist because of his size, the crazed manner of his being would've silenced those doubts.
The realization of his words sunk in like cold water within a sickened stomach and Lilliana almost cried out. The statues . . . They were what was left of the settlers that had once lived in the abandoned village, and other poor creatures that had stumbled upon the ghastly display. She heard the gnome calling to his 'pets' and anxiety coiled in her belly. A bulky shape lumbered into view and the cleric threw herself under another large statue. Chunks of rock crumbled around her when the monster's tail connected with the effigy.
She shielded her face, wincing when a piece of stone hit the back of her leg. Scrambling out from under the breaking statue, she tried to take off at a run, skidding on the dewy blades of long grass. Though the beast seemed sluggish, it was its size and strength that Lilliana feared, and above all being petrified by its stone gaze. A sharp pain shot through her skull, her head injury of before left unhealed, and her boots slipped on the wet terrain as she lost her equilibrium. The cleric seethed as she fell into one of the statues, the rough stone scraping at her cheek.
Pets, he said pets, multiple. Just as that thought came to her, another of the large beasts was in pursuit and Lilliana gathered her scrambled wits to dash away. She was running in circles and soon, her energy would be depleted. Someone grabbed her hand and yanked her to the other side of the effigy of a woman. It was Imoen.
Lilliana didn't even have the time to be relieved. "Basilisks! I recognize them from Elminster's Monster Guide. That gnome must be controlling them somehow!" She shrieked and shielded her sister as the tail of one of the massive reptiles tore the head and shoulders from a statue two spaces over; the pieces flying everywhere.
"What are we going to do?!" Imoen hissed.
"I don't . . . wait! I have an idea!" Lilliana's face all but lit up with insight. "We have to get to the stone bear, and you have help me get up on it."
The sisters took off at a run, barely dodging the spell work of the mad gnome, and the petrifying spit of his pets. Lilliana could see the bear in the red haze of her infravision, though the lines were difficult to make out. She tugged Imoen along behind her, focused on her goal. Once there she dropped to ground as her sister did the same, panting for breath.
"Now what?" Imoen whispered, looking around the statues for the reptilian beasts or their master.
"You trust me?"
"Of course I do!"
"You have to give me a boost and then run out to get the beasts' attention, keep them distracted. Don't let them look at you!"
Imoen's eyes widened in disbelief. "No way, you're crazy!"
"I'm not. I promise you." Lilliana looked around the statue, wincing in trepidation as the moonlight glinted off golden scales, not far from their location. The mad gnome's angry shouts and spell calls seemed to echo from all around them. She put a palm to her head, leaning back into the statue with a weary breath.
"You're hurt! Heal yourself first!"
"There isn't the time for that. Just be careful and let me do this"
Imoen just groaned, drawing sharp huffing breaths with the effort of helping her sister clamber onto the back of the stone bear. She crossed her fingers and ran as soon as Lilliana appeared to be doing alright.
Atop the statue the cleric was careful to keep herself low to its back and not stand, watching as Imoen fled. She prayed for her sister, keeping track of the girl as best she could. One of the basilisks came past the statue and Lilliana knew it was then or never, she wouldn't have a chance to do it again. She leaped from the statue to the backside of the giant lizard, holding on for dear life, the thin muscles in her thighs clinging to the beast's neck as it began to thrash under its unexpected rider. Lilliana put her hands to the basilisk's head.
"NO! What are you doing?!" The gnome shrieked, ceasing his spell castings, worried about hitting his pet. The other basilisk seemed just as unwilling to attack the intruder for similar reasons.
The half high-elf shut her eyes, trying to concentrate as she reached out to her god with her soul. She wasn't sure it would work, but she had no weapons and no one to aid her and her sister. Lilliana could only hope that the beasts were indeed under some charm enchantment, and furthermore that Lathander would grant her the strength of a calling that could dispel it. "Ahl runaes, ahl adiem, ahl kaeda. Deruse runaes!" The cleric's eyes came open, white pooling towards the center of her irises until the bright light filled her entire socket, her hands the same bright hue. "Ahl runaes, ahl adiem, ahl kaeda. Deruse runaes!"
"NO! NO! You cannot!" The gnome screamed, panicking as he realized what the girl was about to do.
Lilliana sent Lathander's will outward, the spiraling glow enveloping the beast she was atop and widening to encircle the second basilisk as it chased her sister. The effort drew energy from her and she fell from the beast to land upon the ground, rattled skull quailing at the impact with a tremor of pain and vertigo.
The gnome was shrieking, running from his pets, as they turned on the one that had enslaved their minds for so long. Free of the mad mage's influence, they were intent on animalistic vengeance.
"I am your master, your father! Back away!" He shrieked, and in his panic he cast magic missiles, sending them into one of the basilisks. It hissed and kept coming, the one beside it equally as focused. They spit on him as he tried to run, and soon the mage was as much a statue as the others that stood in the glade.
Imoen smiled in triumph, stopping at long last to catch the breath that seemed hard to find before. She put her hands on her knees and drew night air into her exhausted lungs.
The basilisks were breaking apart the stone of their former master, with large swipes of their powerful tails, and eating the rock that crumbled to the ground. They seemed preoccupied enough, and Imoen managed to weave her way back to the statues and find her sister. Rumbling in the background kept the red head ever aware of the danger that yet remained, for she certainly wasn't convinced that the basilisks would just go on their merry way.
Lilliana was laying on the ground, slumped in what looked to be a very uncomfortable position. Imoen kneeled on the wet grass, pressing her hands lightly to her sister's frame and attempted to rouse her.
"We gotta get up, and get outta here, while those things are still busy eating." The thief's stomach gave a lurch at that thought, but she had more dire concerns. Escape the foremost of them. There was a hissing from behind the human that made her very wary.
Her sister didn't respond. Lilliana's wearied and injured mind had reached the limit the cleric had pushed it to, and the girl had fallen into unconsciousness.
A writhing human lay naked on the ground, the silver staff still embedded in the man's body as Ajantis Ilvastarr stood above him.
"Who are you? Why did you attack us? Answer me and I shall see your suffering lessened." The knight offered, grimacing as the dying werewolf only laughed, blood bubbling at the corners of his pale mouth.
"My brother . . . . will get the reward." He smiled, racking coughs traveling through his body, the dark embrace of death having stolen away his changed form, and abandoned him as he was then. Little more than a man left to delirium in the last moments of his life. He looked up at those that had sealed his end with silver, his defeated and deceased companion lying merely a breath of space away. "She's dead . . . your elfess." Another laugh and he was gone.
Ajantis growled in frustration, pulling the man up by his shoulders, but there was naught for it and he let the body drop.
"Miss Lily and Miss Imoen are gone! There must have been a third one, the 'brother' he spoke about!" Minsc looked about him, even as he wrenched his witch's staff from the dead werewolf's chest. He handed it to her, failing to notice her look of disgust when she took in the sight of the gore staining one end of it.
"Calm thyself, good Minsc. Their weapons lay here with us, and in thy confusion tis likely they ran in fright. Fear not, faithful companion. We shall find them." Dynaheir patted the berserker on the arm as she used the raggedy end of her cloak to wipe her staff clean, sniffing in distaste.
Jaheira stood from where she had been kneeling by the other corpse, druidic magic working over it. The scent of fresh spilt blood would draw more predators that might've been living in the forest, and her summoning would mask the smell for a time. "We must go, to find the girls."
"He said they were dead!" Ajantis wailed in angry despair, kicking at the corpse of the one that had claimed as such.
"He didn't know that any more then we do now." Kivan supplied, picking up one of Lilliana's fallen hammers, the golden gleam of Ashideena bright under the full moon. "Would you leave them to whatever fate is out there?" The infravision in his eyes gave them an angry luster.
"Of course not, but I don't see how you can all be so calm about it. Let's go then, we shouldn't tarry here a moment longer!" Ajantis scowled and retrieved the other hammer, tossing Imoen's fallen bow to Khalid, who glanced at it once before slinging it to his back with his own.
"T-Then we go." The Harper narrowed his eyes on the tree line, as the group wasted no more time, leaving the dead werewolves to a deserved fate, lain upon the earth they died on.