A D&D Venger series by Tina Price
Preview: Eleven years have passed and things have not fared well in the Realm. The Children have long since disbanded, after having abandoned Dungeon Master and his manipulations. During the years that followed, good has slowly been consumed by evil...
Now Sheila pays a visit to an old friend and ends up being thrown into the path of an old enemy.
Disclaimer: Dungeons & Dragons, Venger, all characters and images therein, as well as story elements put forth in the role playing game are the property of the Walt Disney Company, Marvel and TSR. Several characters appearing in this story are my own creation. Any similarity with anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.
This Chaper is Rated G
Authors note: Criticism and advice are always appreciated!
Another dry, miserable day was beginning in the town of Meridian as the morning coach arrived and its weary travelers quickly disembarked, eager to seek shelter from the climbing suns.
Amongst them was one who moved more slowly than the others, having learned the value of caution. She gathered her large traveling bag, tossing it over a shoulder and paused at the side of the street to look in both directions. To the west was the road they'd come in on, while to the east lay the Hills of Regret, home of The Citadel of Shadow, which was just visible over the peaks.
Pushing back the dark hood of her cloak, she revealed herself to be a young woman of perhaps twenty-four, with pale freckled skin and brilliant red-orange hair. Several of the coachmen stopped long enough in their chores to give her an appreciative once over, but she ignored them all.
With a sigh, she headed off towards the Citadel, her demeanor one of someone marching into the lion's den.
It was well past noon when she'd finished the treacherous climb to the Citadel. The town was clearly visible below when she stopped to catch her breath and drink a little of the water she'd brought along. It had to be well over one hundred degrees already.
Only the thought of the cool stones and air within the structure's walls gave her energy enough to ascend the massive stairs leading up to the entrance. Once there, she rapped on the massive wooden door with the iron knocking ring and a servant quickly let her inside.
"I'm here to see Kareena," she told the old man. "She sent for me."
"The lady has been expecting you; please follow me," the old man said, failing to bow his head to her, for he'd correctly surmised that she was not his superior.
Unfortunately, that was the way things were in the Realm, she reflected with a frown; very strict class systems were the norm here and she was one of the poor.
She followed him up several levels to the large door of Kareena's personal chamber, where the servant took his leave.
Before she could even knock, Kareena called out for her to enter and she slowly pushed the large door open. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the gloom and then she moved forward through the huge room, having spied her old friend in the over-sized bed on the far left of the chamber.
"Please sit next to me," Kareena said, patting the bed next to her. Then she took her hands. "I've missed you ever so much, Sheila!"
Sheila squeezed her friend's hands in return. "And I you," she replied, looking her over.
Kareena did not look as she remembered, for she now aged normally and although she might otherwise look to be Sheila's own age, illness had added years to her appearance. Her eyes were sunken, the skin around them dark and her cheeks were sunken. She looked wasted, gaunt and gray. Her hair, once a radiant golden color, looked like dry straw. Even her hand where it gripped her own looked like a claw.
Sheila felt a great pain well up within her as she realized that the rumors she's heard were true; her friend was dying.
"Don't cry, Sheila; please don't!" Kareena pleaded. "It is not so bad as all that. I may not look it, but I'm an old woman who has lived many, many lifetimes. I'm tired of this life, Sheila, and I welcome the next one wholeheartedly!"
Sheila nodded, but tears still slipped from her eyes. "I'm so sorry that I've stayed away so long," she said.
Her friend sighed. "I know why you had to. I know how difficult your life has been, Sheila; I've checked up on you when I could. I am sorry for not having been able to do more for you in years gone by and for bringing you out here now. Please forgive me; I so wanted to see you one last time."
That was when Sheila finally broke down and sobbed. "Isn't there anything that can be done?" she cried. "Surely Dungeon Master..."
"No!" Kareena cut her off. "Don't even think it; if he could help or was willing to do so, then he would have shown himself long since!"
"But he is your father!" she exclaimed. "How can he turn his back on you, on his daughter when she lies dying?"
Kareena turned her face away then and Sheila heard her stifle a sob of her own. "It is my time and saving me does not suit his plans, I'll wager." Then she looked back and lifted a hand to stroke Sheila's face. "You were kind to me when no one else was and when I deserved it least. I have a gift for you; one that I beg you to accept or I shall find no peace. Will you accept it?"
She nodded. "For you."
The woman in the bed clutched her right hand and slid off a beautiful red ring, then offered it up. "This is to be yours until he who holds your heart finds you again. Only then will the two of you be able to start over."
Sheila gaped at her as she took the proffered ring. "The Ring of the Heart? I don't understand, Kareena; are you saying the ring is supposed to be mine?"
The blond woman smiled. "The ring finds its own wearer. It cannot be taken by force. You slipped it from my finger once, but only because it was indeed meant to be yours. It is your destiny to wear it once more. Please put it on."
"But I've never worn it before," Sheila protested as she slipped it onto the third finger of her right hand. To her amazement the ring vanished; nor could she feel it any longer.
Kareena nodded. "It hides when it must. I don't think I need mention that you should never let my brother know you have it."
She shook her head in agreement. "I don't know what to say..."
Kareena again took her hand. "Then say that you will grant me my last request of you."
The dying woman hesitated. "It concerns my brother..."
"Venger? What about him?" she asked warily. "I thought you had nothing to do with him anymore…"
Kareena nodded. "That is true. Not long after you freed me from evil, he sent his shadow demon to tell me to stay away from him and he would turn a blind eye to my existence." She searched her face, as though gauging her receptiveness to the coming request, then sighed and spoke, "I've summoned him, not because I want his help or his sympathy, but because I want him here when I die. Sheila, I've sensed a change in him lately; he has grown as weary as I of living. My request is that you go with him when he leaves here."
"What! Are you insane?" Sheila sprang to her feet. "Go with Venger? To what purpose; so that he can torture and kill me?"
Kareena shook her head. "No; so that you can redeem him! If he is hesitating in fulfilling his destiny, then now is the time to act! Don't you see; he is the key to everything! As he goes, so goes the Realm. If he should die… all will be lost!"
"You think that I can change him?" Sheila laughed long and hard, much bitterness spilling out of her at the irony of such a thing. "I couldn't even save my brother, Kareena; how am I supposed to save yours?"
"Nevertheless, promise me that given the opportunity, you will go with him," Kareena pressed. "Only by undertaking this task will you find the man I spoke of earlier; the one you are meant to be with. He is somewhere in Venger's castle and your ring will lead you to him."
She remained silent.
"Please, Sheila? It is my only request of you; my final one."
With both fear and hope at war inside her, Sheila nodded. "OK. Besides, it's not like I have anything or anyone home worth returning to."
Her friend smiled. "I've procured a room for you at the Blue Shade Inn. Everything is being taken care of, so have a nice bath and a hearty meal. I will have word sent to you regarding the promise you've made."
Here she held her arms out and Sheila embraced her tenderly. When they parted, they were both crying. "Don't forget me," Kareena whispered.
"I never will!" Sheila broke from her and ran from the room. It was only when she reached the great hall before the front door that she stopped and tried to compose herself. Leaning her head on the cool stonewall, she hiccuped and wiped away her tears. Then, with a few more sniffs, she threw her bag over her shoulder and let herself out.
Surprised and shocked, she saw Venger's Nightmare standing on the landing far below while the fiend himself ascended the stairs towards her. With as much dignity as she could manage, she held her head high and descended the steps, intent upon ignoring him.
He might have flown up to the landing or even to Kareena's balcony, but for once he settled on a more mundane arrival; after all this was a solemn occasion and it never hurt to keep the masses guessing about him. And so he left his steed near the base of the steps, a guard that the rabble were unlikely to attempt passing and started up the steps to his sister's home.
As he neared the midpoint landing, he noted with some surprise that a woman was coming down the stairs despite his presence. On the landing he actually stopped to watch her, not bothering to conceal the fact that he stared.
She was long limbed but with pleasing curves and she moved in an unhurried, graceful manner down the stairs. She was wearing a long, burgundy colored dress and her red hair hung past her hips, bouncing behind her as she descended. She had a large sack thrown over one shoulder and seemed completely unconcerned by his presence.
It had been centuries since a woman displayed so calm an air in his company…
She was a vision of beauty and he found himself instantly intrigued; there was something very familiar about this woman as well…
As she reached the landing she had the actual audacity to meet his eyes and he saw at once that she'd been crying. Normally he would have found the sign of such weakness annoying at best, but she wore her tears almost proudly; as though daring anyone to judge her by them… and that was something he admired.
Who was she? It seemed obvious that she'd just seen his sister. It was as she broke their eye contact and turned her head that he recognized her as the little thief, now all grown up.
To his own surprise he paid her a small compliment, showing his admiration by bowing his head ever so slightly to her. He only continued on his way once she'd moved past him and begun descending the final flight of stairs.
As it was, he only made it up a few more stairs before turning to catch one last look at her. To his surprise, his mount not only let her pass, but neighed in friendly recognition.
He found himself watching her until she disappeared on the path through the hills.
Sheila's heart beat so quickly that she feared she would faint as she hurried down the path towards town.
She could not believe that she'd not only defied the self-styled Lord of the Realm by failing to show him any deference, but that she would live to tell the tale! And topping it off was the polite acknowledgement he had made her after she'd had the cheek to actually look him in the eye.
She was still confused by what she'd seen briefly reflected in those crimson eyes; surprise... and appreciation as well.
Perhaps Kareena was right; Venger did seem changed. The fiend he once was would not have hesitated to flail her alive for her disrespect just now.
Stopping briefly to splash some water on her face and compose herself, she then picked up the pace, eager to reach the safety of the Inn.
"I am here, little sister."
Kareena tried to sit up a bit in her bed, but was too weak to do so. How like her huge sibling to announce himself so theatrically!
"Welcome brother," she replied as he approached the bed. One look at his face was enough to make her want to cry again. Why did she keep expecting to see her reflection in him, only to be greeted instead by the fiend he had become?"
He hadn't seen his sister in many years, hadn't even thought of her in nearly as long, yet when she'd requested his presence, he'd suddenly had the strangest premonition that her end was near. Seeing the thief's tears had confirmed his suspicions and now he found himself face to face with the truth.
Hardly thinking twice about it, he sat on the bed close to her and studied her face. That face; he'd known it all his life. They'd once looked remarkably alike. How bitterly ironic that now, at the end of her days, they again shared some resemblance; her skin was a bluish tint, her nose pinched, her eyes bloodshot. It filled him with a grief he did not know he was still capable of.
They were one flesh; twins brought into this life together… and although they hadn't been close in many years, still he felt the tug of their birth bond. He was about to lose the last reminder of his humanness.
For her part, Kareena merely stared back at him as though waiting for him to speak. When long minutes passed and he still had not said anything, she took the lead. "Will you miss me, brother? Are you still capable of that at least?"
Still, he remained silent, turning his head to look instead towards the balcony.
"Though you cannot or will not say so, I can see in your eyes that you will," she finally continued. "It has been eleven lifetimes since we shared the closeness we once had," she continued. "I have one request to make of you before I die and I can only hope that you will grant it based upon that closeness that once lived within us.""Kareena, before I hear your request, answer me this; what foulness has done this to you? From whence came this fell malady?"
She closed her eyes and tried vainly to stop the tears that leaked from them, then looked straight at him and said, "From you. It is the work of a spell you cast years ago on the town of Greylake. Do you not remember it?"
He came quickly to his feet. "Impossible! The spell was meant to cause famine and hardship, then dissipate!"
"And it did exactly what you wished it to, but not in the way you intended," she replied. "The earthlings come from a world based upon knowledge and technology and the Ranger was first to help identify what must have happened. Your spell mutated, changed the very foundation of micro-organisms in the area. They in turn destroyed the crops and the livestock and then mutated further into forms that attacked the human inhabitants." She stopped and coughed violently before collapsing weakly back into her pillows.
"Plague, brother, is what you unleashed. And it is one with no known cure in this world. Neither magic nor our primitive medicines affect it. The majority of those who catch it these days survive, but some do not..."
He stared at her in shock. "How many? What is the extent of the damage and why was I not told of this?"
"The plague you wrought has claimed untold lives; nearly every inhabitant of Greylake and thousands in the surrounding areas. Meridian was the last town to be ravished by it. I managed to contain it by quarantining the town and all its people, but while putting the magical barriers in place, I too was infected. It would seem that I shall be its last known victim." Seeing the look on his face she quickly added, "Be at ease; you are here because I am no longer contagious."
"And why was I not told? I might have countered it before it came to this!"
She sighed. "Or you might have made it worse. Face it, brother; your subjects would rather take their chances with the plague you set off than risk your aid."
It was a bitter pill to swallow, even for him and he did what he did best; feigned indifference. "Bah! Then the fools got what they deserved in the end."
Kareena sighed as she watched her brother's face grow cold and hard. "Yes," she breathed. "I suppose we did."
That got to him. His face softened as he again sat beside her on the bed and for a moment at least she thought she saw her twin again. "Not you, little sister," he breathed, his voice dropping into an even lower register. "Your bravery has saved the Realm further ravage, but at the cost of your own life."
To her surprise he brushed a few stray strands of her hair away from her face. "Now tell me; what is this last request you wish to make of me?"
"It concerns a dear friend of mine."
"The thief?" he asked, looking amused.
"She has a name, Venger." He raised a finely arched eyebrow and she sighed. "Her name is Sheila and she has suffered much in the years since the earthlings turned away from Dungeon Master."
She could see that she was losing him by the sneer on his face and decided to come to her point. "I want you to take her in."
At his disbelieving look she added, "I want you to look after her; to protect her from our father and those who would use her."
He stood, suddenly agitated and angry, his wings flaring out. "You dare too much!" he snarled. "You would have me fetter myself with her; she who was once my enemy?"
"I have not asked you to be kind to her or even to associate with her," she responded. "I ask only that you not harm her; that you give her shelter and some protection. Besides, you have much in common…"
"What do you mean?" he asked, calming somewhat.
"Sheila was abandoned by her lover and then lost her brother, while you, dear brother were also abandoned by your lover and are soon to lose your sister."
He walked to the window and watched the suns setting on the horizon as he folded his wings, apparently deep in thought.
"Will you do this for me, brother?" she pressed, after several silent minutes had ticked by.
"You are up to something, my dear little sister," he replied. "But I daresay that I've little to fear from the likes of her, so I will do as you ask."
"And I will put in a good word for you when I cross over to the other side," she whispered.
They stared warily at each other in the gloom as the light faded around them.
Next time: Gain