A.N. I'm so sorry this is so late! As a present to make up for it, I give you a brand new painted portrait of Casavir and one of Evelyn. Check out my deviantart page (linked from my profile) to see them. It's worth it, I promise! They both took me fucking ages, and Casavir is pretty damn hot if I do say so myself ;)

Chapter 31

The relief as I felt food sliding down my throat was enough to make me groan in pleasure. I hadn't eaten for so, so long, and my first proper meal was close enough to old-fashioned tavern grub that it felt like a feast. Safiya had picked at a plate and confessed to me that she was still worried about her mother, though she knew nothing could be done until Okku was out of the way. She also explained to me the sudden attack of 'the voices' a she called them, a strange collection of, well, voices, that had been with her most of her life, and how they had saved or guided her more than once.

Ah, so she was that kind of crazy.

In return I told her a little more about my home and its destruction, as well as the Keep I'd left behind. She'd been sympathetic but hardly grief-stricken on my behalf, clearly understanding that although some pains never leave us, time and necessity can heal most wounds. The food had been so, so good. Although, considering how long I'd been without eating, a bowl of orphan-grade gruel would have sufficed. Perhaps that was an inappropriate expression, seeing as I was an orphan. And Casavir, and Neeshka, and Kendra, now. And, probably, Safiya, too. Maybe I just attracted the parentless types.

I'd won a pouch of pipeweed in a card game with one of the sailors. Safiya had told me to watch myself as I'd strolled over, but I wasn't just some pretty little lass with a sword in her hand, I was a battle-scarred, battle-tested warrior with a sword in her belt and a 7-inch knife in her boot. They'd chuckled at first, as sailors did, and then, when they saw I was serious, thought it was a harmless bit of fun. And then I proceeded to take a chunk of their money and a pouch of their finest tobacco, as well as a pipe to smoke it in. The sight of the smiles vanishing from their faces would keep me happy for many a night. You didn't work as a barmaid for six years without picking up a trick or two. And you also didn't work long, sober winter nights without a smoke to keep you warm. I'd given up that particular vice when I was promoted to Captain, but I figured that recent events had more than given me an excuse to take it up again. At least temporarily.

As I'd puffed away in the corner of the sloop, I was the happiest I'd felt since I'd woken that...morning, maybe? It was late at night, then, but there was no chance for sleep by the way things had looked. The shadows were thicker and darker in the night, somehow, and what little information Safiya had picked up about shadow Mulsantir told me to be careful.

I'd excused myself for a few short moments and, with a couple of coins changing hands, found myself an empty room in the back with a small basin of warm water, a mirror, and a set of shears. I didn't look at myself just yet. I wasn't that stupid. Instead, I'd scrubbed my face with a rough but damp cloth, and winced when the cut on my chin reminded me I still hadn't properly dressed many of my new wounds. After I was sure at least my face was something approaching clean, I'd lifted the mirror and took a long, hard look at my reflection. There were thick, yellowish bags under my eyes, and a number of new scratches that fit in well with the lightening scars I already held. What had struck me the most was how thin I looked. My cheekbones were hollow, and my skin looked wan and pale. Grimacing, I'd propped the mirror up against a crate and tugged my wet hands through the bird nest that I called hair. With some convincing, it had straightened itself out into frizzy, lank locks held together by dirt, with one side now obviously longer than the other. It was grim, to say the least. It was then I'd taken the sheers and hacked off the other side of my hair so the two were roughly even. It now just reached my shoulders. Before, it had flowed down my back in an impractical but beautiful mane of crimson. Now, I looked like a neglected ragdoll.

It wasn't a proper bath or a night's sleep, but at least I looked human. Well, sort of. Safiya's eyes had actually bulged in their sockets as she'd caught sight of me. Apparently, she'd said, I'd been dirtier than I thought, for I looked very different with a clean face. Kaji had said how pretty I was. Coming from a creature made of mud and twigs, I wasn't sure whether or not that was a compliment.

Efrem and Susah, the bizarre, winged set of celestials I'd met as we left the tavern had pleaded with me to find their sister in some dead God's temple. It was a strange request, but upon finding a hidden portal to Shadow Mulsantir, I was too curious to refuse. Besides, she'd sounded like she'd be pretty helpful in a fight. We'd waded through shadows and pools of grey blood to find Kaelyn the Dove staring at a huge, black-on-black door in the vault, which had been guarded by two of the same hideous, screaming creatures that Garius had left us with, back in the Keep's courtyard what felt like a lifetime ago. Kaelyn had a soft, pleasant voice that sounded strangely fragile, though she herself looked like she could have held off the legions of undead that stormed the Keep without any help. Her skin was a muted shade of grey, and her hair was silvery white. Her eyes, though, they were the thing that caught me. They were so dark, almost black, I realised as we re-entered the colourful world of the living, and in them was such pain, such emotion, that I found them difficult to look at, or look away from. She was beautiful in an ethereal, angelic sort of way – which made sense, all things considered – and, if I was perfectly honest, was really, really weird. In the short moments she'd been in my company, Kaelyn had barely said a thing to either me or Safiya, and stared out at the world with a single-minded determination that I found less than comforting. Still, if she knew how to use that mace of hers, she'd be a hell of an asset against Okku.

'Perhaps you were called here, just as I was. If so, perhaps the planes have need of us.I pledge myself to your service. Let us see what good we can achieve by our alliance, and may Ilmater bless our endeavor...'

Her words chilled me more than I liked to admit. She gave simple phrases such weight and importance, accepting her into my command felt like I was giving an oath. She was pleasant enough, I supposed, but talking with her was deeply unsettling. It made me feel as if there was so much more going on around me than I could ever hope to know. I just prayed that none of it had to involve me this time, just for once.

And now, as the sky began to lighten before the dawn, I found myself leading a celestial cleric and a Red Wizard to Mulsantir's prison to pick up convicts. If I could have imagined how I'd be spending the first day after the battle in Meredelain had been won, this wouldn't have been it. Thinking about what I'd hoped to see upon awaking only dragged up the dark thoughts in the back of my mind that maybe that woman in my vision was right after all, and I was the only one who made it out alive. It didn't bear thinking about. All it did was force my heart into my throat and cause my stomach to twist unpleasantly. Funnily enough, I was still hungry. Even after eating enough to satisfy a full grown man, there was still something gnawing in the pit of my stomach. I put it down to lack of sleep and, in what was becoming a habit recently, pushed it to the back of my mind.

The prison looked thoroughly uninviting. It towered over the temple in front of it, and the large, misshapen stone blocks it was constructed out of made it look like a dank cellar in the middle of a city. Still, if this was the only leg up we were going to get from those bloody witches, I'd take it happily. Well, not happily, but I wouldn't complain too loudly in case they took it away again. With Kaelyn by my side I felt better about facing Okku, but seeing as the reports spoke of an army and not just the bear god himself, a few disposable lackeys wouldn't go amiss.

The heavy door creaked as I pushed it open, squinting in the sparse light inside to try and make out the image of the woman before me. She was a witch, by the look of her, though all I knew about witches could have been written on a thumbnail, and she looked as ill-tempered as a swamp troll. The thick, sagging wrinkles that lined her prune-like face squashed together as she scowled at us. A knobbly old digit pointed shakily at me as she spoke, her voice rasping and accusing.

"As you have disturbed the spirits, you also disturb me," she hissed, apparently holding the same opinion of me as her superiors did, "For what reason are you here?"

"Sheva told me I could talk to the convicts," I said, nodding towards the rows of thick, dark doors that were bolted shut down the corridor, "And any that will help me I may take to fight the spirit army outside the gates."

"Help?" She spat, "From this lot? Trust in their help and you'll find yourself alone when trouble comes."

"I don't care if they abandon me the second the fight's over," I replied, my voice as even and calm as I could manage, "just so long as they're near enough when it starts."

"Hmph. If you wish to persist in this foolishness, you may speak with the prisoners."

"Who are they?" I asked as I moved towards the cells.

"A murderer, a thief, and one whom I will not speak of. Dangerous, he is. Be warned: you need not fear the first two, but the third...guard your thoughts, girl, and guard them well."

I marked the tremble in her voice, and the genuine fear in her eyes. Who was this prisoner who'd shaken her up so? Whoever he was, if he could do that to a witch, I'd happily have him aboard. As long as he wasn't the violent sort of crazy...

I pleaded with the inhabitants of the first two cells with little success. One was a brute too stupid to see reason but too smart to be tricked. The other was a gnome who'd seen the way I'd tried to manipulate his fellow inmate, and wanted no part of it. And then, I'd pushed open the door to the third cell, curious as to why there was, at the very least, no window...

What I found, sitting, leaning against the wall as if he was in an open meadow instead of a tiny, cold cell, was nothing like I expected. His features could have been chiselled from stone, with his strong jaw, high cheekbones and thick, enticing lips. His skin was a strange colour, even in the dark light of early dawn, and must have either been a light blue or grey. His hair lay in a careless, smooth mop over his head, falling over one eye even as he rolled his head languidly to regard me. His mouth curled up into a smirk, and his eyes...his eyes were hooded, dark, and a myriad of colours, swimming together and sparkling with amusement. His whole posture was one of effortless grace, of one who knows he is beautiful to look upon and is happy to take full advantage of that fact. He was bound like a demon with the glyphs scattered across the floor, but acted as if he was having the time of his life, as if I was an intruder rather than a visitor.

"Ah, more jailers come to rattle my cage?" He spoke before I found the will to, his voice like honey, rich and smooth.

And then it began. I tried to follow his train of thought and not let myself be frustrated by his flippantness, arrogance and, annoyingly enough, the fact that he actually seemed to be enjoying this, but it was something of a lost cause, considering how short my fuse was when I was tired. He was still talking. Something about how Okku the Bear God was going to kill me in a flurry of colour and how peculiar that would be to watch.

"Look," I interrupted him finally, digging my fingers into my crossed arms and stepping inside the circle of glyphs chalked out on the floor. They flashed briefly, but I wasn't incinerated so I assumed I was safe. "You can stay here and rot behind bars as you hidefrom your legions of admirers if that's what you want," I snarled, my voice laced with sarcasm, "Or, and this is just a suggestion, you can actually do something interesting and come with me. Whatever happens, it'll sure as hell be more exciting than this place," I jerked my head to indicate the cramped, dim and tiny cell he occupied. I could tell he was interested. Scratch that, I could tell he was going to say yes, but if the minutes I'd spent with him so far were any indication, he'd drag that out too.

"Oh, indeed?" He tilted his head to regard me thoughtfully as he rose to his feet like a cat. He was a good four inches taller than me, and, to my sleep-deprived brain, this was another reason why I didn't like him. "And how is it that you can promise such things, lady? Do you know what the future holds?"

"I didn't say a damn thing about promises. I'm giving you a chance to get out of here, nothing more. Now are you coming with me or not?"

His mouth broke into a wide smile as he chuckled in response. The part of my mind that was still awake said he was toying with me, but the rest of me didn't care. All I needed to do was defeat the bear god, shake the witches until something useful fell out, talk to Magda, solve this mystery, get passage home, and make up for all the nights I'd lay in Casavir's bed fully clothed. Yes, that was a plan and a half. I'd work out the details along the way. I always had, and I'd a knighthood and a Keep to show for it. 'As well as a handful of dead friends and some horrific curse no one seems to want to talk about...' I cut the thought off before it could take me any further down that dark path. Denial was my friend in times like this.

"I think this exchange bodes well for our travels," Gannayev, as he'd introduced himself, replied with a smile, "You have a willing soldier at your side, milady." His voice was a purr, and a rebellious part of my mind smugly informed me that, had this been a few years ago, I'd be swooning by now.

"Then come," I said abruptly, turning to leave, "we haven't got a lot of time."

"In such a hurry to die?" he asked with what I assumed he thought was an innocent expression.

"If you must know, I'm in a hurry to get out of this one-horse town, away from those gods-damned witches, and back home," I snarled, stalking down the corridor towards the warden of this tiny prison, "And, unfortunately, Okku has put himself in the way of that goal and me. I'd advise you not to join him."

His next words weren't meant for me, but reached my ears anyway. When they did, they brought back a flood of memories of my flight from home and the confusion of events after I'd met the ranger that would eventually betray me. I could even remember the exact tone of his voice as he neatly summed up an argument between him, myself and Casavir. I hadn't known then just how much those two men would change my life, for good and for ill. Gann's voice, though, was different – he wasn't a lean, Luskan ranger with trust issues for one, he was...well, I didn't really know what he was.

Either way, he sounded just as amused as he turned to one of my companions and muttered, "Ah, I think I'll like this journey after all."

-+-+-+-+-+-

The sun's rays spilled over the land as the dawn broke. Okku had lain battered before us, the spirits he brought with him all but vanished, and his own aura distinctly dimmed. I'd signalled to the others to stay their attacks, and opened my mouth to offer him his life in exchange for answers. I hadn't expected that he would raise his head, his eyes half-mad with fear, and shout at me to take a blade and to tear out his throat. It hadn't been in the tone of a proud warrior who equates defeat with death. No, he'd been terrified.

I'd asked him why he was so anxious to die, but he hadn't the time to give an answer. Not before that...that thing took me over and shot its shadowy tentacles at the bear god and demanded that I drain him just like I'd drained that spirit wolf.

The shock of the sudden hunger rising up had been almost as bad as the hunger itself. The others, those I had taken with me to fight, they yelled at me to stop. Okku for his part was almost resigned to his fate. And perhaps that was what made me sum up every ounce of will I possessed and force the wretched hunger aside. I screamed in my mind that I would never be a slave – not to a city, not to a leader, and not to myself. Whatever this thing was, it would not take me. It was then I cried out with the effort, watched as its many arms released Okku and shrunk back as if physically struck, and I sunk to my knees, panting.

My breath had been dry and ragged, but I'd still managed to demand an explanation from the great bear, even as I found I lacked the strength to stand. The others had come then and helped me to my feet as Okku explained in its horrific entirety what had just happened. It was no less painful than I'd expected, to hear the words come from his mouth. I was cursed, it seemed, and marked for death because of it. I was arrogant enough, and recent events had made me foolhardy enough to laugh in the face of any enemy. But one that was inside myself? One I couldn't even see or touch or feel, much less kill? A cool, suffocating blanket of dread fell upon me as the enormity of the situation made itself known. I was a spirit-eater, doomed to walk the land until the hunger, madness or some kind soul ended me.

There was no cure. No spirit eater had lasted long enough for it to matter, in any case. Okku had promised me his company and loyalty, but I could see in his eyes that he thought the cause a hopeless one. It was as if the fates had teamed together, assessed my works over the past few years, and came to the conclusion that it simply wasn't painful enough. No, instead of letting me rest and enjoy the rewards I was due, they decided to dump me in the hands of two very unskilled surgeons and curse me, as if I hadn't endured enough already.

I'd wanted to cry, to scream out to the heavens at the unfairness of it all, but I'd learnt a long time ago that heaven either didn't care or didn't hear. Instead, I'd stalked back to the city gates, glaring at the townspeople as they recoiled in fear. The hunger growled restlessly deep within my soul. I could feel it, and now I could put a name for the cold, hollow emptiness in my chest.

And then we'd marched up the hill, weaving through the people that came to threaten, to shout, or just to gawk, and set our sights upon the Witches' high place. If anyone could tell me where to go from here, I'd reasoned bitterly, it would be those hags that ruled this place.

It was as teeth-grindingly awful as I'd thought it would be. The younger two spared no time in throwing all manner of insults my way, treating me like a creature from the abyss who'd bludgeoned my way into their town and was now demanding they put me up for the night. I suppose that wasn't too far off, from their perspective. Much to my satisfaction, Okku had managed to take Kazimika down a peg or three, but still the witches remained so utterly convinced of my place in the deepest level of Hell that I'd had to truly force myself to converse with them in a manner approaching civility.

What they told me no longer surprised me, but with every reference to the child's nightmare I'd apparently crawled out of, I felt another nail embed itself in my coffin. They told me the same as Okku. Every spirit-eater ended up the same. If they were not killed by another in a gesture of sympathy, the hunger they carried as their burden turned in upon themselves, and they were utterly destroyed. I could give into the curse, indulge the hunger and become the monster of legend, or I could resist as I had done today. I could deny the gnawing pain deep within my soul and watch as my body and mind wasted away.

I'd asked them how it happened, why it had been me. And then Safiya's hand had clamped down on my wrist as I moved to strike Kazmikia, who had told me in a voice thick with bile that 'few punishments are truly undeserved'. It had been a long day, and my patience was wearing thin. She tested my restraint further as she told me my fate was to die unmourned in some lonely crag, as befits any ravening monster. Safiya's hand hadn't moved, and so neither did I, though not for lack of trying. I took some small comfort in the fact that at least the leaders of Neverwinter hadn't treated me like this.

And so after a difficult and lengthy conversation, the witches told me to seek out the Wood Man. He'd fought the spirit-eaters before, and perhaps he could help me.

Or perhaps he would just kill me. Apparently that was a risk well worth taking where I was concerned.

I knew if the witches had their way, I would have been killed by Okku. Maybe that would have been for the best. My suffering would be cut short, and perhaps in Neverwinter at least I would be remembered for the sacrifices I'd made.

But no. While I lived and breathed I would fight. Whatever fate threw at me, I would take it and deal with it as I always had. I would cure myself, and then I would go home. I would have my happy ending. I'd left West Harbour with nothing more than a dream and a mission, and from those humble beginnings I'd fought and sent the King of Shadows screaming back to his own personal hell. A Rashemi curse was not enough to stop me.

This was my comfort, even as I sent the others minus Safiya on to the Sloop to rest while I talked to Magda to glean whatever I could about the women who'd done this to me.

-+-+-+-+-+-

"Just shut up!" I yelled, effectively silencing the babbling gargoyles that had burst through the portals in Lienna's 'secret room'. They seemed to shrink away from me in fear, which I supposed was an improvement upon a few seconds ago. "Now," I said in a slow, measured tone that allowed no misunderstanding, "tell me who you are, and what in the hells you're talking about. How do you know who I am?"

"Forgive us, good master," one hissed, creeping forward and flinching as though it expected me to strike, "our white lady told us to seek you out, to watch you from the shadows. And so we watched, in your keep, through your war, and in the umbral dark of Merdelain, our eyes were never far..."

Understanding hit me square in the chest. I was chosen for all of this even before I'd moved against the King of Shadows. The only thing that made me special, I reasoned, was the shard that had once been locked within my chest. And so, under the command of their mistress, the gargoyles had taken me back to Lienna, who had clearly been one of the women who'd removed the shard. That all made a twisted kind of sense. I didn't know what she needed the shard for, and I wouldn't much care as long as she'd left me alone, but no, she'd dumped me in a spirit-infested barrow where I'd apparently picked up an ancient curse. And so I was faced with two possibilities. Either she had no idea what she was doing by dumping me there and just wished to be rid of me, or she'd known that I'd become a spirit-eater. If it was the first, I was left with the apparently impossible task of finding a cure. If it was the second, then I still had to find a cure, but at least I knew who to blame.

And if she had intended for me to become the spirit eater, the question remained – why me? Once she'd taken the shard I'd have been as unremarkable as anyone else, and yet she'd chosen me to bear this burden, even after knowing all I'd endured as the shard-bearer.

Either way, I owed her a debt of pain. Yes, Lienna was dead, but the woman in red was, I assumed, alive. I was not a vengeful person by nature, but it took a special kind of person to forgive a crime as great as this. I wasn't that special.

"When the rocks smashed your bones," another continued, "we saved you from death! Had we not borne you away, you would have ended up like your comrades..."

Fear gripped my heart and turned my blood cold. My...comrades...?

"Her minions, more like!" the first gargoyle spat, "They followed her blindly to their deaths, like chattel, like willing slaves. I do not pity them!"

"Wait!" I demanded, my voice coloured with near-hysteria, "speak plainly. Are..." I swallowed heavily, preparing myself for the worst but refusing to believe it might be possible, "are my companions dead?"

"Yes. Dead. By now, they must be," the first said flippantly. I took a step back to steady myself. Dead. They were all...dead...

"No...only two were dead...perhaps three for certain." The third gargoyle piped up for the first time, and the adrenaline that filled me almost knocked me off my feet.

"Who?" I asked, my voice shaking but getting louder, "who was dead? Who did you see?" I couldn't think that way. I couldn't believe that perhaps I was as alone as I felt, that all of this was for nothing...

"The dwarf was alive, my brothers, do you not remember? He chased us, cursed us, but we got away," the first screeched.

"And the demon girl. She was with him," the second added. So Neeshka and Khelgar had survived. I wasn't entirely surprised. If anyone could have made their way out of that disaster, it was the two of them.

"What of the dead?" I snapped, getting impatient. I was glad for my friends who'd made it out alive, but I was kidding myself if I thought there wasn't one name in particular I was interested in. "Who were they?"

"A tiny man. The creature of metal tried to help him, but his body was fragile."

"And the woman with the green skin. She was crushed by the rocks." A cruel, cynical part of me that had been nurtured by the past few days thought that at if any were to die, it should be those I cared for the least. I had too little in common with Grobnar to consider him a friend, and Zhjaeve, though kind enough, had always been too distant and alien for me to get close to.

"You mentioned a third. Who was the third?" I asked plainly, my voice level and as calm as I could muster.

"A man, heavy with armour," the second replied. The air was knocked from my lungs all over again.

"No, brother, I did not see him with the dead. He could have survived," the first added quickly.

"But nor did I see him with the living," the second insisted. I couldn't deal with the uncertainty. My heart was pounding in my chest and I felt sweat beading on my brow. I had to know, one way or another, I had to know.

"Listen, you bloody creatures," I shouted raggedly, drawing my sword in a futile gesture, "just put your heads together and think for a second! Was he killed or not? Is Casavir alive or dead?" My voice was nearing a shriek. The gargoyles shrunk back in fear.

"We know not, lady! He was hidden from our eyes! His fate is a mystery to us, and so it must remain to you as well."

I closed my eyes and drew in a long, deep breath, then released it. It wouldn't do to take out my frustration on the only creatures that might actually know something useful. So Casavir might be dead. That also meant that he might be alive. As long as that hope remained, I thought, I could deal with whatever else this world threw at me.

"And of the others?" I asked in a surprisingly calm voice. "There was a mage, and - and a warlock. What of them?"

"The mage we did not see. And the other...the fearsome one...he followed us into the shadow realm, and tried to pursue. He was caught by the red lady."

"This red lady, who is she?" I demanded, knowing an opportunity when I saw one. "I have to...see her." Gut her, more like, but it wouldn't do to tell the gargoyles that.

"She is our mistress, lady. We cannot say."

"Then at least tell me what in the hells she wants with me!" I fumed, "Was it her who put me in that barrow?"

"It was us, lady, at her command. We dared not tarry, good master. We feared what lay within...feared it even more than our white lady and her red twin together..."

And now I knew. It wasn't much to go on, but I didn't need much. I vowed then and there that I would kill her for what she did to me. Lienna was beyond that, but her 'red twin' was not. There was no reason she could give that would make up for what she'd done to me. Perhaps if she'd made any attempt to explain her actions or give me any kind of warning I wouldn't have been so filled with white hot rage, but as things stood I wanted little more than to make up for the pain she'd caused me. Well, that and a pint of real West Harbour ale and a long, long rest with Casavir by my side, but one thing at a time...one thing at a time...

"But...but why did she do it? Why me?" I had to know. The mystery was gnawing at me like the barely contained hunger I kept inside.

"We were never privy to their schemes. But...we know when those schemes took root, don't we brothers? We know who planted the seeds in their minds. And we will tell you, if you let us leave in peace."

"I won't harm you, promise," I said robotically, "Just tell me."

"It was the nine hags...the Slumbering Coven. Lienna visited them, together with her red twin. They heard the hags' counsel and they returned with plans.

"Yes, the Coven! They lair to the east, along the shores of Lake Mulsantir...in the depths of a city, half-submerged beneath the waters."

And so, just like that, I had a plan. I left Lienna's secret room then, and told the Gargoyles to tear and destroy to their hearts' content. Lienna had given me nothing but pain, and had left me with more questions than answers. I cared nothing for her possessions, just as she had cared nothing for my life.

It was only as we neared the Sloop to join with the others that Safiya spoke up.

"I'm sorry about your companions, for what it's worth," she said in a quiet, unassuming voice. If she'd been anyone else I might have laughed at the empty gesture, such was my black mood, but I knew she was sincere.

"Not half as sorry as I am, believe me."

"This Casavir. He sounds as if he was important to you," she probed carefully. Had I been that transparent? I supposed at this stage it hardly mattered.

"He is important to me. Those gargoyles didn't know anything. If they didn't see him dead, then he's alive. I know him." Perhaps if I believed it hard enough, it would make it so. There was a long pause, and when Safiya spoke her voice held little conviction.

"Alright then."

It was the same voice I'd used to console madmen, and it told me that she thought I should be allowed to hold on to my foolish hope for just a little longer. That was all I needed.

We entered the Sloop, empty in the morning, and Safiya immediately went up to bed. I should have done the same, but there was something I wanted to do first. I got a stack of paper and a quill from the innkeeper, sat at a stained, battered-up table, and I wrote six letters, one after the other. The first was to the man in charge of Crossroad Keep (though I suspected it would in fact be a woman, and one woman in particular) briefly notifying him of what had happened to me, asking him to pass on my thanks to the men, and, as an afterthought, scrawled down a few instructions concerning the Keep. The second was to Kendra, telling her I was glad she was alive, that I hoped the baby was well, and that I was sorry for leaving her. There was a chance she died, but I figured there would be no one to deliver the letter to if that was the case. The third letter I wrote to Bevil, telling him to look after Kendra and saying what was, for all intents and purposes, a goodbye. I asked him to give Lisbeth a kiss for me, and told him that any money still in my name was now his, to spend on his sister and on Kendra and her baby. I also told him how much I was due in back wages from Neverwinter, and to claim it if he could. The idea of Bevil pretending to be my widowed husband in order to con Neverwinter out of the money it owed me made me smile for a moment. He deserved happiness, even if I was denied it.

The fourth letter was for both Neeshka and Khelgar, and spoke of my gratitude to the both of them for making my transition from farm girl to Knight-Captain as entertaining as could be. I figured that both of them had such strong senses of honour that I could expect whoever got the letter first to deliver it to the other. The fifth letter I wrote to my father. That one took longer than I'd thought. I asked him to forgive me for being such a burden, and thanked him from the bottom of my heart for all he'd done, and that I'd always loved him dearly. When death was staring you in the face, things were thrown into pretty sharp perspective. I'd spent so long resenting him, and now I regretted it more than I could have imagined. Still, I didn't write anything that would make him uncomfortable. I knew my father well enough to know how he felt about meaningless platitudes and the human way of showing affection.

Finally, I wrote to Casavir. And then I tore it up and wrote the letter again. And then a third time and a fourth until it was right. I told him not to try and find me, and that I was sorry if I ended up dying anyway. And then I told him it had all been worth it, every excruciating moment, because I'd met him. Finally, I told him I loved him, and that I was sorry I was too much of a fool to say it sooner. Poetry was useless at a time like this.

Then, I wrapped the lot up, and gave them to the innkeeper. I told him to find a delivery man, a horseman, I didn't care, as long as they were reliable, and to get the letters to Crossroad Keep. I gave him almost all the money I had, as well as a few trinkets, and said in no uncertain terms that I'd be coming back this way, and would be very disappointed, not to mention murderous, if I found he'd not done as I'd asked.

And then, I trudged upstairs and fell upon the bed that had been rented for me. The room span, and deep within me the hunger raged, but sleep was such a rare commodity these days that I didn't much care. As the clear, morning light streamed in through the dirty windows, my eyes closed contentedly, and I fell into a deep, dreamless slumber.

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The door moved open a crack, and a head of cropped, reddish hair crowned by two small, elegant horns poked around it suspiciously. It was empty, save for the man who hadn't moved for almost three weeks now. She felt strange, visiting someone who couldn't talk back or, well, acknowledge her in any way whatsoever, but Neeshka wanted to know what all the fuss was about. It seemed people were always coming and going from this room. Some were healers who had every right to check up on the only patient left from the great battle of crossroad keep, but others came as well, from trusted companions to random scullery maids who took it in turns to read to him for some bizarre reason.

Alright, she reasoned as she took a seat in the well-worn chair by his bedside, Casavir always had his share of admirers, whether he knew it or not, and he'd always been popular with the people in the Keep, the young women in particular, but still, it was weird to sit next to a comatose man who was probably just dying slowly anyway and talk to him as if he could hear you.

It was weird. Right?

Still, Neeshka had never been one to shy away from new experiences, and, she supposed, she owed him a goodbye.

"So," she started uncertainly, "you've been asleep for a while, huh?"

The cold, still room offered no answer.

"And I guess someone's already told you everything that's happened, right?"

Casavir's slightly parted lips didn't move. The bandages that encased his torso looked white and fresh, like they'd been changed recently.

"Well, just in case they haven't, you might as well know everyone's left. I mean Evie's friends from the south are still here, and your sergeant, but pretty much everyone else has gone home. Kana's still around of course. Don't think anything short of a forest fire would get rid of her. But at least Nevalle's gone. And the paladins went back to Neverwinter thank the Gods!" She paused, mid eye-roll, and searched his face in case she'd caused any offence. Quickly, she backtracked, "I mean it's good that they've gone back to...somewhere...nice...I didn't mean that, you know, I hated them or anything." She paused, wrinkling her nose and feeling about as awkward as she usually did when talking to the servant of Tyr. Even when he was unconscious, Casavir still managed to unnerve her slightly. Still, she was realising slowly, it wasn't his fault. He'd never been anything but nice to her.

"So yeah, everyone else is gone. But they held this service for the fallen before most of the troops left. I guess they felt they owed all the dead folk something. It was kinda nice. Everyone got in front of that monument thing in the front courtyard and Nevalle said some crap about dying for your country. Or something. Oh! He also said this huge bit about her, and he got it all wrong. He said – and I remember this word for word –" here she deepened her voice and put on as good an imitation of Nevalle's thick, high-class Neverwinter accent as she could hope for, "'She was beautiful and kind, a great warrior and a greater servant of Neverwinter, fearless and dedicated'. Can you believe that? I mean, it's one thing to bury her as a Knight and all, but to make it out like she was this...this servant to Nasher...I tell ya, if she were here she'd have given him a piece of her mind."

Neeshka sighed and pulled her knees up to her chin, wrapping her arms around her legs and feeling the following silence like a palpable force in the air.

"But I guess she's not here, is she?" the tiefling continued quietly, "Hells, that's the whole point of them havin' a funeral, ain't it? It was real pretty and all. Some families came. It's hard to remember they lost people too..."

There was a long moment of silence where she simply watched the paladin's chest rise and fall, her tail swaying idly where it crept over the arm of her chair.

"I'm not gonna be here when you wake up," she said, a little louder as though she wanted to make sure he heard, wherever he was, "but I guess you won't mind so much. I'm going back to Neverwinter, where I belong. There's not much keeping me here anyway. Khelgar said the same thing. In fact, he's going to the temple of Tyr to try and be a monk. I thought he'd given up on that plan, but apparently Evie'd said she thought he could do it. And, well, you know what he's like – he doesn't want to disappoint her, I guess."

Neeshka's head jerked towards the closed door as a muffled conversation drifted past in the hall. Then she looked back to the sleeping man on the bed and smiled to herself self-consciously. It was silly, she thought, talking to a man who might never wake up. The healers all said Casavir should be dead several times over, and every day he continued to heal was a miracle.

Paladins always had made her skin itch, she thought as she rose from her chair and made for the door. But this one, perhaps, was different...

"Look," she started, turning her head back and smirking, "I guess you'll probably come back to Neverwinter too, won't you? It's just...if you do, it'd be nice, is all. So...I guess I'll see you in the Flagon some time." Her broad smile made up for the doubt she felt.

If he ever woke up, Neeshka would be happy enough to overlook the fact that he and her were natural enemies. But as the days turned into weeks, she thought grimly, the 'if' was starting to get bigger and bigger...

Unbeknownst to all, Casavir slept. And dreamed...

A.N. So I might have lied about Evelyn actually killing the gargoyles. I haven't played the game in so long that I'd forgotten how that scene actually played out ^^. I'm sorry about the bitty writing in this chapter. If I told you it was on purpose to mirror Evelyn's fragile, disjointed frame of mind, would you believe me? No? Damn.

Next chapter – three days is a long time to spend on a boat to Ashenwood, so Evelyn finally gets a real conversation with Gann. After that it's off to Immil Vale where a snooze beneath that rock gives our pissed-off heroine more than she bargained for. Oh yes, and there's a kiss. Exciting stuff ;)