Time seemed to drag impossibly slow. Anna went in and out of the bedchamber even though there was little she could do for Suzy. The maid herself had no interest in further talk. She lay quietly except for the moments when the child troubled her, but even then all that passed her lips was a tense, low moan. Anna left her to ponder the future in silence.
Xan mused in a chair by the fire, immune to anything around him. Anna almost wished for his ability to drift away; watching Luedre pacing like a caged cat did little for her nerves. Parda tinkered idly with the missing apothecary's equipment. He looked up with a strained little smile now and then, but he too had nothing to say.
"Where are they? What's happening out there?" Anna finally said.
She spoke more to herself than anyone, but Luedre paused and turned around.
"I do not know. What good is it to wait here? The beasts could be surrounding this place even as we speak. We should move, find somewhere more defendable."
Anna bit her lip and looked around. The apothecary's walls were made of solid stone, but the shutters were thin boards and the roof only made of thatch. Luedre had a point but she could think of nowhere else to go that would be much safer. Besides, Suzy needed to stay in bed.
"I wish Xan would wake up," Anna remarked.
Luedre glanced at him and a look of pain came over her face.
"It is terrible, seeing him in such a state. He needs to return home," she said. "Nothing else will heal him."
"I suppose your people have skills in healing that far outweigh our own," Anna replied.
"Indeed. But it is more than that. He needs his kinsmen, and that very energy which our home alone can provide. I...worry sometimes for him, wandering for years amongst the humans. It cannot be good for him."
Anna bristled slightly, although in truth she felt Luedre's remark wasn't intended as a slur.
"It must be the same for you though, surely?" she asked. "You are a Greycloak as well."
"Yes, but my life has been different. I do not travel as much as Lord Xan, and I spend much of my time guarding the borders of our homeland. When I am ordered away it is rare that I am sent alone. He however...I feel he has been too isolated. But I should not be speaking of such things."
It seemed a rather frank admission, Anna thought. But Luedre said nothing else and stood watching Xan quietly as he meditated on the fire.
The silence settled in again, somehow more painful that before. Anna stood to make Suzy another brew but she was interrupted by a hammering on the door.
"Let me in! Open up!" Finn's voice cried from the other side.
Anna jumped and moved towards the door, but Parda took her arm.
"No, don't! We don't know who's out there."
"It could be him—" she began.
"No, the monk is right, we must be careful," Luedre replied.
She drew her blade and slid closer to the door but the hammering came again.
"I'm serious! It's me, alright! They jumped us...Khalid's hurt! Just open up the door!"
Xan had risen to his feet but he offered no opinion. Luedre's face was set like stone but Anna could see her hesitating. Anna had no idea what to do, but she couldn't chance it. She dashed to the door, pushed aside the chair and opened the bolt. She jumped back again as Finn stumbled in, his face covered in blood.
"Dammit," he swore, slamming the door shut behind him. "They got to us...the others are holed up in the barracks, but I wanted to make sure you were safe. Never ran so fast in my life. Are you all right?"
His breathing was heavy and he leaned hard on his knees. He was just about to draw the bolt across the frame when the door shuddered with another knock.
"It's me, open up! They're out here, they're after me!" Finn's voice cried again.
"Fuck," Finn said. "It's them, don't listen to them!"
He struggled to get the door latched but whoever was on the other side had different ideas. After a brief scuffle the door burst open and Anna caught her breath as another Finn hurried into the cottage.
"You!" he shouted, spotting his double. "You've had it, you bastard!"
He drew his sword and the other Finn did the same. Anna stared in disbelief and even Luedre stepped back, uncertain what to do. Parda just stood with his hands over his mouth, looking on the scene in horror. But Xan seemed to break from his trance and spoke.
"You will both lower your weapons. We have no reason to trust either of you. Bolt the door and step away from one another."
"Yes, you may both be doppelgangers," Luedre said. "A clever ruse. But know this—if either of you make a move I will run you through without hesitation. Do as Lord Xan says."
The two Finns scowled but they did as commanded. Anna could only stare. Apart from the gash on the right-hand one's head they were entirely alike. Everything was the same, from the patch on the boot-toes to the stains on their cloaks. The injured Finn looked at Anna.
"Are you all right, love?" he asked again. "Don't listen to this one! It's me. I mean, I'm me."
"How—how can I tell?" she stammered.
"I don't know...ask me something!" he replied.
"Well, I...what do you like for breakfast?"
It was a ridiculous question, but Anna was totally at a loss. She tossed him a towel gingerly as if he'd been a lion. He scooped it off the floor and began blotting his head.
"Eggs and bacon," he said.
"Eggs and bacon?" the other Finn exclaimed. "Hells, half the coast eats eggs and bacon for breakfast! Lucky guess. Next thing you'll say you like a nice pork pie for your tea! He's the bloody monster, I'm telling you. Look, how's this—you knit in the evenings, you're making yourself a blue vest. You scent the sheets with rosewater cause you say lavender makes your nose itch. Your favourite song is Leonder's Flute and you always sing it when you're working. You think I'd know all that if I wasn't who I said?"
"Oh, bollocks!" the first Finn said. "He's been in my mind, love! He must know everything! All right, then—you like herring on toast for breakfast, but you almost never have it because you say the fishmongers charge too much. Really though you're just being tight. We had our first kiss in a tavern, even though I was with Safana at the time. And you rinse your hair with chamomile to make it more blonde!"
"Are you trying to get on her good side, or what?" the other Finn scoffed. "She'll likely tear your arm off!"
"Exactly. Who else but her real husband would have the balls to say something like that?" he claimed.
The second Finn groaned. "That's your plan then, is it? Gods, am I really that much of a tit? It's a wonder she doesn't slaughter the both of us right here!"
"Stop it, both of you!" Anna suddenly cried. "This is ridiculous. Xan, can't you sense anything?"
"No..." Xan said slowly. "But I have an idea. Sing The Battle of Giant's Keep."
He clasped his hands and stared levelly at the two of them. Both the Finns looked confused.
"Why?" the uninjured Finn said. "I thought you hated that song. Any time I sang that in camp you'd just tell me to shush."
"I do, but that is beside the point. Sing," he insisted.
"Suit yourself, then," Finn said.
He began to sing, but before he had barely finished the first verse Xan stopped him.
"That is enough," he said quickly. "Now the other, if you please."
"I don't know what this is meant to prove, but fine," the other Finn said, but he sang as bidden.
He sang in a rich baritone, his voice echoing the clash of steel and the fate of the doomed castle in perfect time. Anna's mouth opened slightly but Xan interrupted her before she could speak.
"Ndengina ta," he hissed, and Luedre was swift. Before Finn could even stop singing her sword had pierced his neck. Anna felt her legs giving way under her, both from the shock of seeing her husband run through, and the sight of his features melting into a slick-skinned grey beast. It collapsed onto the floor and the other Finn looked on in surprise.
"Damn," he gasped. "Mind telling me what that was all about? I'm flattered you liked my singing, but even so!"
"I did not enjoy your singing," Xan replied. "You have tortured my ears with your rendition of that ballad more often than I care to recount."
"So—what?" Finn said. "You didn't think he was me because he couldn't sing?"
"No. I didn't believe he was you because he could. You are always out of tune and have the rhythm of a drunken horse. I knew he was false the moment he opened his mouth."
Finn looked annoyed. "What the hells is that supposed to mean?"
Xan sighed. "You do not understand the mind. These doppelgangers can read thoughts and emulate their victims with complete accuracy—but therein lies their flaw. You honestly believe you can carry out a passable version of that tune, and therefore so did the doppelganger. But this creature is not limited to your physicality, and in this case he achieved what you could only attempt. Seeking perfection became his downfall."
Finn's mouth opened, but whatever insult he had died on his tongue. He looked somewhat confused by Xan's explanation and seemed to think the better of it. Anna might have been tempted to laugh but the presence of a dead doppelganger at their feet robbed the moment of humour.
"That was quite impressive, really," Parda said slowly. "And he's right, Finn. You...um, never mind."
"Great. So now the whole world wants to tell me I'm a tuneless git!" Finn exclaimed.
"I think, considering the circumstances your lack of bardic ability is the least of our concerns," Xan said. "You said the others were in danger? What has happened?"
"Yeah," he said with an exasperated sigh. "We made it down to the catacombs, but the doppelgangers were waiting. It was...well..."
He looked up and his words trailed off. Anna followed his eyes to see Suzy standing in the doorway of the bedchamber.
"I heard a racket. What's going on? Oh, gods, are they here?"
She noticed the dead doppelganger and her fists clenched hard on the door frame. Anna hurried to her.
"It's alright, we've taken care of it. You should go back to bed."
"Don't order me about. If I want to squat and squeeze out this baby right here I will do," she replied angrily.
Anna frowned but she turned back to Finn. If Suzy was determined to be stubborn there was nothing she could do.
"But what about the others?" she asked.
"They jumped us, like I said," Finn replied. "But it was us. Jaheira, Khalid, Imoen...they'd stolen all their faces. Not a pretty fight. We found the others in the crypts—seems like the monsters finally got tired of waiting. Khalid was hurt pretty bad. We got as far as the barracks when we were ambushed again. The others ran inside, but I needed to make sure you were all right here."
"How many of these creatures remain?" Luedre asked.
"Don't know," Finn said. "Six maybe? Five, if you count this bastard here. But there's no telling how many of them might still be skulking about in the keep. Or in the village, for that matter."
"You think they're down there too?" Suzy broke in.
She looked alarmed, as if she hadn't considered the idea before. Finn shrugged.
"No way to tell. Sorry, love. But if they're down there, we'll find them."
"We cannot wait here any longer, heruamin," Luedre said to Xan. "We cannot wait for these creatures to pick us off one by one. We must take the battle to them."
"Yes, you are correct," Xan sighed. "You go with Finn and Anna. Parda and myself shall stay behind and see to the woman's safety. If that is agreeable?"
He looked to Parda, who seemed entirely relieved to not be nominated for the duty.
"Yes, yes of course. I will see she gets her medicine. Don't worry."
"I would prefer not to leave you behind, heruamin," Luedre protested. "It might not be safe—"
"There is no safety here," he replied quietly. "Go. And be careful."
"As you command, then," she said, and nodded her head.
Anna wasn't really prepared to go back out into the cold and dark but they had no choice. She still had the wand Ulraunt gave her but no other weapons. She cursed leaving her good staff behind as the three of them hurried out into the night.
It was still black, a wall of darkness nearly deep as the crypts. A few lights were to be seen here and there in the towers of the Keep and they glowed like yellow stars in the featureless sky. Above them Anna could feel the heaviness of the clouds. Cold, wet whispers began to brush against her cheeks and melted on her hot face. Beyond the walls she could hear the angry roar of the sea. The storm was finally coming ashore.
"We'll get to the barracks first," Finn said quietly. "Don't...trust...anyone."
But how could they not, Anna thought? She couldn't even be sure if Finn was who he claimed to be. Almost in response to her thoughts a figure emerged from the darkness, dazzling Anna's eyes with his torch as he ran towards them. He wore the gear of a Watcher and Anna recognised him as the guard who greeted Finn when they arrived. For his part Finn seemed more cautious.
"Hull?" he said slowly. "Stand where you are, mate. Don't get too close."
"Finn," he breathed. "Thank the gods. They're here—monsters! They killed the captain, and even the old dwarf Reevor! I came back to the barracks and found them all dead!"
"How did you get away?" Finn asked.
"I didn't... May the gods forgive me. I...passed out on my post," Hull replied. "It's cold up on them ramparts you know, and I thought I'd bring a little whiskey along to pass the time. But when I woke up I realised that no one had come to relieve me. I went back to the barracks, thought for sure I'd be in for it. But then I found...oh, gods. Oh, gods."
The old guard wailed silently to himself. His face behind the grizzled, unkempt beard was pale and his eyes were glassy red. He kept looking around the courtyard distractedly as if he expected someone else to appear.
"Aye. But we were in the barracks just a short time ago. Where were you?" Finn insisted.
"I ran out again," Hull explained. "I needed to find help. I met up with Hendur on the wall, tried to tell him what was going on, but he just bloody attacked me! I tried to fight back...he was so strong. Too strong. The only thing that saved my arse was him slipping on the ice. But then he just...turned. Never seen anything like it in my life. Thought my old heart was going to give out right there!"
"Yeah, we know. Alright, you can stay with us. But we don't know who's who anymore. There's shape-shifters out there, Hull, and we can't really trust anyone. Mind yourself, aye?" Finn said.
"All right, then," he replied. "Don't know if you are who you're meant to be either, but I'm just glad to see another face! I'll take my chances."
They pressed on towards the barracks. Anna shied away from Hull but he seemed uninterested in her as he tromped along through the snow, breathing heavily underneath his helmet. As they hurried up to the building Finn drew his sword, and Anna could see why. The entire door had been bashed away, the heavy oak splintered as if it had been made of twigs.
"Damn, damn," Finn muttered. He paused for one moment on the step to peer inside, then dashed into the building.
The bunkhouse was long and narrow with a fire crackling at either end. Rows of rough beds lined either side, with a sort of common area in the middle. The tables were scattered with overturned mugs and the spilled remains of a cold supper, a testament to the last activity of the dead guards who lay at their feet. Two doppelgangers also lay dead, their green blood mingling with the guards' red, turning it a sick colour. But thankfully the bodies of their friends were not among them.
"They must have been attacked," Finn said. "But where did they go?"
"I didn't see anyone else out there," Hull replied.
He went around looking over the bodies of the fallen men, bending down as if he wanted to help them, or his eyes couldn't quite believe what they saw. But they were beyond their help.
"Perhaps we should split up," Anna said.
The suggestion was a bit foolish, but she wouldn't mind seeing Hull going off in another direction.
"To divide our forces even more is the last thing we would want," Luedre remarked. "And no doubt what these beasts have been trying to do all along. Their very nature is cowardice. No—we must find the others and engage them head-on."
"Yeah. Alright. Hull, bring that torch," Finn said.
He coughed a little looking at the dead men, his mind no doubt running over times past. They might have spent hours laughing together over a game of cards, or hated the sight of one another. But it mattered little just then.
"Maybe we can find them if we follow their tracks," he continued. "We'd better hurry, though, as this snow is going to cover them up before long. Let's get going."
It was easier said than done. Outside the barracks was a jumbled mess of tracks scattering off in different directions. The snow was falling fast and had turned the prints into vague hollows, making it impossible to tell one footprint from another.
"Wish Kivan was here," Finn muttered.
"Indeed, but we do not need him for this," Luedre said. "See here—a set of five tracks. The snow behind this one is disturbed, a trail of a cloak or robe, and his steps are wide and heavy. Ulraunt seems to have gone off alone towards the fortress. And these two walking close together, one taking short steps, the other staggering. And there is blood in the snow. Your Harpers. They went that way, and took the girl with them. I would imagine they were trying to get the injured to safety."
"You're right. Don't know why I didn't see it," Finn said.
"You did, but your mind is not clear," she replied. "You did not allow the tracks to tell you their tales. But never mind. The Harpers were heading towards the inn by the direction of their tracks. Let us follow them first and see if they are in need of aid."
The inn—Anna had almost forgot about the innocent guests. Could they know what was going on in the Keep? And even if they did, would they have any way of defending themselves? Firebead Elvenhair was still there, and an impressive mage, providing the doppelgangers hadn't eliminated him as well.
First impressions didn't bear well. The inn was dark, its windows catching the light of the torch and reflecting it like water. Finn tried the front door but it was bolted shut.
"Locked. Let's try the kitchen," he said.
They scurried around past the henhouse and up to the kitchen door. It too was shut and bound fast, but Anna offered to cast a spell. She cast quietly as she could and the bolt fell open. But before her hand could find the ring they heard the sound of the bolt drawing shut again.
"Who goes there?" a voice demanded from inside.
"It's Finn, and others. Who are you?"
"Someone who would prefer to keep you out, if you don't mind," the voice answered.
Finn scowled, but Anna recognised the speaker.
"Master Firebead? It's Anna Whitehaven. Please let us in. There are doppelgangers hunting us."
She hoped her plea sounded sincere, but the bolt stayed closed.
"Yes, it's an unfortunate development," Firebead replied. "We've had our own problems with them. The landlord actually attempted to eat my head! Not a tick for good service, really."
Anna groaned. "Please, sir. Are Jaheira and Khalid there? We just need to get inside. It's not safe out here!"
She heard the sound of talk coming from the kitchen. After a moment the bolt slid aside, and Jaheira's voice was plain.
"Let them in. We can determine afterwards if they are who they claim."
Anna followed the others inside, but she stopped at the sight of Jaheira and the mage facing them down. The druid had her mace in her hand and her clothes were torn and stained with blood.
"I should inform you that my patience is sorely stretched now," she said matter-of-factly. "If you are doppelgangers, simply attack and be done with it."
"It's all us, but I don't know how we can prove it," Finn admitted. "How's Khalid? Is Imoen with you?"
"I'm here. I'm fine," a small voice answered. Anna looked to see Imoen crouched in a corner by some sacks. Her eyes had a glassy red that seemed to speak of more than their current troubles.
"Khalid is stable," Jaheira said grimly. "He is resting in the lounge. The guests have gathered in the library and Kivan is watching over them. We thought it best that no one wanders off by themselves, for many obvious reasons."
"Bet they must have loved that," Finn said. "Nobles don't take well to being herded like sheep."
"I daresay, but this lady here didn't give them much choice," Firebead chuckled. "I myself am happy enough to follow the Harpers' lead in this difficulty. Hopefully when all is said and done I may get a chance to study these creatures. It's an exciting opportunity!"
"My thoughts exactly," Finn remarked. "We killed another in the apothecary's. Xan and Parda have stayed with Suzy. We met up with Hull here, but it looked like you came under attack and we came to find you."
"Yes, the doppelgangers attempted to cajole their way in with another ruse. Fortunately they were transparent this time. But the barracks were no longer safe, so we decamped here. Ulraunt however was determined to return to the library. He said there was something he needed to do. We warned him about setting off alone, but he would not be stopped," Jaheira said.
"That's his problem, then. Got any plans?" Finn asked. "Beyond just stabbing at anything that acts suspicious, that is."
The druid sighed. "Unfortunately, that is almost the only plan. We have no means of unmasking these creatures beyond force. We thought to make the inn as secure as possible then wait till daybreak to make our next move. But the maid's condition makes that difficult. Would it be safe to move her here?"
"I don't think so," Anna said. "She should lie still. Besides, we don't have any way of guaranteeing the doppelgangers wouldn't make another strike if we were out in the open. Xan and Parda are with her, and hopefully that will be enough to keep her safe. But as for the other problem...I wish you could go to her. She could use a healer now, and a woman most especially."
"I am no midwife, though I would do what I can," she replied. "But I am reluctant to leave Khalid. Most of my blessings were spent stabilising his injuries, and I fear he could yet take a turn for the worse."
"So what we're saying is we can't go out, and we can't stay here. Fantastic," Finn grumbled. "We're really in a tight little poke, aren't we?"
"Kivan and I could go out on patrol," Luedre offered. "We have no difficulty with darkness. I would prefer to be out seeking the enemy myself, rather than stay caged here."
"I feel it would be wiser if we all remained here. Once you step outside the door there is little telling what might happen. But if you wish, then. Go speak with Kivan. For our part I think we have little choice but to spend the rest of the night here," Jaheira said.
Luedre nodded and exited the room. Firebead went to pick up a tray of cakes and cold meats that was sitting on the table.
"If that's decided, then I shall return to the library. In the absence of our host I thought my fellow inmates might enjoy an evening snack. All this excitement certainly works up an appetite! Do summon me if we come under attack," he said cheerfully.
"Yeah, we'll do that," Finn groaned. He ran a hand through his dishevelled hair and looked at Imoen. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"I'm not. They're dead," Imoen said briefly.
"Winthrop and Vera. They must be. The doppelgangers wouldn't leave them alive."
"We do not know that for certain, child," Jaheira tried to reassure her.
"Well, I do!" Imoen shot back. "It was them, for months. All the time I've been here. I knew old Puffguts wasn't acting right. That's why I sent that letter. But I never thought...maybe if I'd known... But I didn't even think! It's all my fault."
"You couldn't have known doppelgangers had taken over this place," Anna said. "Don't blame yourself."
"Maybe not doppelgangers, but I knew something was wrong," she replied. "Maybe it all wouldn't have gone so far if I'd spoken up sooner. Maybe...they might still be alive."
Imoen wiped her red eyes again. She pulled the kerchief from her head, revealing her short, bright pink locks for all to see. Finn's mouth dropped open, but whatever he was thinking he bottled it.
"Anna's right," he said instead. "How do you think I feel? I'm in the Flaming Fist and I never noticed all this going on right under my nose. They're smart. It's what they do. But we'll find them, and we'll make them pay. As for the others...well. We'll just see what we see, alright, flower?"
He crouched down next to Imoen and gave her a hug. She squeezed him back but her expression didn't improve.
"I think I might go lie down for awhile," Anna sighed. "If that's alright."
"Sleep is not the worst idea. There is nothing else we can do now, regardless. Perhaps we could take shifts," Jaheira said.
"I'll sit up," Hull offered. "Don't think I could shut my eyes now anyway."
"I'm not tired, either," Imoen said.
"I'll go up with Anna, then," Finn replied. "I could use a bit of kip myself."
Anna didn't reply, but she had an odd wish that he would stay behind. She took a candle and they went in silence up to her bedchamber. The fire was out and the room was dark and cold. The lone candle threw a strange light, making the posts on the bed appear to shiver under the counterpane.
"This has been one hell of a trip home," Finn said, bolting the door behind them. "Don't know why we didn't visit sooner."
Anna said nothing. She lit the lamp by the bed then placed the candle on the small card table near the fireplace.
"You all right?" he asked.
"I don't see how I could be," she replied.
"Fair enough," he shrugged. "Listen though, if you don't really think it's me here then I can—"
"No, no," Anna interrupted. "I'm not sure it matters much now, anyway."
"Well. Let's just try to get a bit of sleep then, aye?"
The room was too cold to undress, and it was doubtful there was anyone left at the Candlekeep Inn who would care about the state of the sheets. Apart from their boots they slipped fully clothed under the embroidered coverlet, leaving the lamps burning. Finn tried wrapping his arm around Anna but she wormed away involuntarily.
"Right then," Finn said, a little harshly. "Goodnight. I suppose."
He rolled over rather deliberately and Anna felt that knot tightening in her stomach again.
"Finn..." she said. "Did you know? About the baby?"
"Don't see how I could," he replied without turning around. "Suzy never mentioned it, and I'm no mind reader."
"But she seemed to think you might," Anna persisted.
"Well, maybe thinking that just makes her feel better," Finn said. "She was bound to feel a bit of a fool for having the baby of a man who's not around. Better to think I scarpered. Gives her some dignity back."
"That's a terrible thing to say," she remarked.
"The truth's not always pretty," he said back.
"Would you have stayed, though, if you knew?"
Finn rolled over and looked at her, his face half-buried in the pillow.
"I didn't really have a choice in leaving, you know. Gorion just pulled me from the bunkhouse one night, and that was it."
"I know, but...if things were different."
Anna didn't know why she was carrying on with the question. It changed nothing. Finn began to look annoyed.
"What do you want me to say? That I've had stayed behind and played happy families? You know what, I probably would have married her. But I wouldn't have been too pleased with it. I never wanted to stay around here, much less be married to Suzy. She's a harpy, and no mistake."
"I'm not sure what you were doing with her in the first place if you thought so little of her," Anna said. "Or perhaps I do."
That tone of frost was fairly plain on her tongue. Finn scowled.
"Aye. Like the village pump, eh? Every maid around has had a pull," he scoffed. "Me and Suzy had our moments. But she was just too bloody opinionated for my liking, that's all."
"Don't care for women with opinions?" she said coolly.
"Putting words in my mouth, now? That's not what I mean, and you know it. Just that she'd already made up her mind on every subject going, and gods help you if you happened to disagree. I just ended up nodding my head along every time she opened her mouth. No point at all."
"But what about the child?" Anna said. "You are having a child together, no matter what you think of her."
"What about it? He'll be born, then grow up to hate me. Makes no difference if I was around or not."
Anna groaned and looked away. Finn propped himself up on his elbow.
"I'm sorry, did I say the wrong thing again?"
"You just act like you don't care at all," she replied.
"And what?" he snorted. "Alright—how would you feel if I was over the moon? I'm going to be a daddy! We'll settle down here, and you can look at my kid and the woman who had him every day of your life. They'll come round for tea every night. Maybe we can even share a house! Would you like that? Would that be better?"
"Oh, will you just stop being such an ass?" she suddenly exclaimed. Anna threw back the covers and crawled out of the bed.
"Where are you going?" Finn asked.
"I don't care. Anywhere," she blurted, trying to tug on her boots.
"Alright, alright. I'm sorry," he said. "I just don't know what to say right now. And you're determined to pick me apart no matter what."
"And you give me no shortage of fuel, either. Would you just stop acting so...so..."
"Like me?" he said.
The word was sharper than she meant it to be. Anna sat on the floor staring blankly at her half-laced boots. She glanced up at Finn. He was sitting up in bed with his hands around his knees, looking at her with a grim expression.
"I'll try. But I've never been much use at that, love."
"Oh, Finn. I'm sorry," she sighed.
It was a sigh of utter weariness. Finn didn't move from his perch on the bed. Anna kept staring at her boots as if she expected them to move, to do something. To offer her an answer. But they were the same battered and travel-stained boots that had marched her up and down the Sword Coast, and they had no comfort to offer. Slowly she undid the tangled laces and pulled them off, one after the other.
Silently she blew out the candle on the table then crawled back into bed. Finn blew out the lamp and total darkness settled into the room. Anna could feel Finn next to her. She could feel his warmth, the movement of his body as he breathed. But he might as well have been a thousand miles away. That rift she felt between them hadn't healed, and it only seemed to grow wider.
A knock on the door woke her. Anna didn't remember being asleep but her foggy head told her she must have been. Finn called out and Jaheira's voice answered.
"It is nearly dawn," she said.
The druid didn't really need to say anything else, and she didn't. Her footsteps retreated down the hallway and Finn slid out of bed with a groan. The air outside the blankets was even colder than last night and the icy air felt like an assault. A thin grey daylight penetrated the curtains giving just enough light to see.
Anna put her boots on by touch, and there was no more dressing to do. Neither of them spoke as they made their way to the kitchen.
The fire was up and a kettle was steaming over the coals. Imoen looked round from the pot but she didn't speak. She didn't look much better than the night before, and Anna wondered if she'd slept at all. Kivan was standing near the big table, a cup of wine in his hand.
"Ay up, mate," Finn said to him. "You been out?"
"Yes. The doppelgangers appear to have retreated into the fortress. Luedre and I encountered no one on our patrol," he said.
"No sign of Ulraunt, then?" Finn asked.
"None. It was foolish of him to venture back into the library alone. I only hope he has not come to harm."
"If he does, it's his own damn fault," Finn said. "Suits him for being so stubborn. But what about the others?"
"They were still in the cottage. The woman's condition has not changed, as far as I know. Luedre has stayed behind with them," the ranger said.
Anna let out a low sigh of relief; perhaps the medicine was helping. But that was only one problem of many.
"How's Khalid this morning?" Finn asked.
"B-better, thank you," the man himself said. He walked in slowly, leaning on the door frame for support. His torso was so well bandaged he looked like a corpse half-dressed for burial.
"I do wish you would return to bed," Jaheira said, following close on his heels.
"I will b-be well enough, thanks to you," Khalid replied, giving her a little smile.
A half-smile flickered over her face in return, but she still insisted that Khalid sit in a chair by the fire. He obeyed indulgently, although by his face he was happy to sit down.
"Well. How about a bit of breakfast? Don't know about the rest of you, but I could eat a horse," Finn said.
Imoen was about to reply, but before she could speak something happened. Anna couldn't describe it much better than that—a force like a shockwave burst through the kitchen walls like a blast of air through an open window. The dishes on the table and the jars on the shelves didn't move, but Anna felt it going through her body like a physical blow. She staggered and grabbed hold of the table for support.
"What the—" Finn began, but he was interrupted by a scream down the hall.
Jaheira was closest to the door and she rushed to the library, the others in close pursuit. But by the time they all squeezed through the door there was nothing left but the corpse of a doppelganger lying on the floor, surrounded by several horrified guests.
"Looks like this fellow wasn't quite who he claimed to be," Hull said, sheathing his green-stained sword. "Lucky I was standing by, or all the hells would have broken loose."
"Aye, good on you, mate," Finn breathed.
"I should have guessed Master Folvar wasn't himself—I won that round of chess a little too easily," Firebead claimed. "That was quite the spell that tore through here. Not your doing by the look on your face, Mistress Anna?"
"No. Not me," she stammered in reply.
"A spell of reversal?" Jaheira remarked. "It must have been a powerful one indeed. I would wager this is Ulraunt's doing. I do not know how long it will last. We need to get to the library, now!"
There was a clamouring and a scurrying for arms and armour. Anna and Imoen stood in the entryway waiting for the others. They glanced at one another, but there was little to say. Before long the others were ready and they ventured out into the cold.
More snow had fallen in the night and the drifts were nearly up to Anna's knees. She lifted her skirts up as she floundered along, trying hard not to land on her rear as they rushed towards the library. The spell had summoned others too, and a pair of figures hurried towards them in the snow.
"That was a great turning," Xan panted, trying to catch his breath. "You felt it too, I assume."
"Yeah," Finn replied. "Looks like Ulraunt finally pulled his weight, no easy task for him."
"If these creatures have not shifted back, this may finally give us the chance we need to eliminate them," Luedre said.
"Is Suzy still in bed?" Anna asked.
"Yes," she replied. "The monk has remained behind to tend to her. Now come, there is little time to waste."
"Point the way," Hull said. "I haven't had a drop all night, and I've always got a temper when I'm sober! These things won't know what hit 'em."
"Damn right!" Finn replied. "Let's go."
The gate to the library was open and unguarded. The snow on the steps was fresh with no sign of tracks; whoever or whatever was in the library remained there still. They burst through the doors with a great clattering, making no attempt at stealth. The doppelgangers would certainly know the hunt was on.
"Split up, search all the floors," Jaheira said. "And take care—I hope this spell will last, but we must not count on it. Khalid, my love, perhaps you should remain here and guard the door."
"I will m-manage to k-keep up with you, have no f-fear," he said. "I have my armour on th-this time."
Khalid winked at her, and Jaheira looked almost surprised. But she gave him a resigned nod.
"As you would have it, then. But keep to the back, or you might not be able to dodge my mace!"
They split into two groups. Anna went with Finn to search the ground level while the other group hurried up the stairs.
"Fan out a bit," Finn said. "See if anyone's hiding in the shelves."
The walls of the Hall of Reference were covered with maps, showing details of far-off places like exotic Maztica or the scarce-explored jungles of Chult. They held little interest to Anna though as she scurried through like a mouse, trying to be silent as she could while clinging hard to her staff. But she saw no one hiding under any tables or behind any shelves.
"Empty, unless they have power to turn themselves invisible," Kivan said. "Let us see if we can find anyone on the next."
They found the great staircase again and ran panting up to the second floor. The rooms here were far larger with more hidden nooks and crannies, and with the lamps all dead the thin morning light made things difficult to see.
"Where do you suppose everyone is?" Imoen whispered to Anna. "I mean, there must be somebody."
Anna didn't reply. She prayed Imoen was right, that some of the monks survived the doppelgangers' intrigues and were left alive in that place. But a knife in the back from a comrade would be all too easy a death.
"I don't know. We'll just have to see if we find anyone," was all she managed to say.
She noticed Hull gesturing to Finn, and the two women hurried to see what he found. There in between the shelves lay the bodies of a monk and a doppelganger. The monk was slumped against the shelf but the doppelganger lay prostrate on the floor, its slick grey flesh turned black with fire. The surrounding books had been burned and the scorched smell hung in the air.
"It's Wulvis. At least he managed to defend himself," Finn remarked.
"Aye, but he's lucky he didn't set the whole place ablaze," Hull said. "Give me a blade over magic any day. Though I reckon he wasn't thinking too straight at the time, poor beggar."
"I don't think there's much else to see here," Finn said, rising up from the dead monk's side. "Hate to say it, but we really should get to Ulraunt. If he's the one who let this spell loose he might need a hand."
They hurried up the stairs heading towards Ulraunt's office. As they stumbled through the hallway though they found the way blocked. A doppelganger writhed in agony, clawing at his skin with those unnaturally long fingers. He turned towards them with eyes of a sickly pale blue and hissed.
"You...humans. You unleashed this curse. Mrendle cannot change! I cannot...I cannot see within you!"
"Nasty that, eh?" Finn said, drawing his sword. "But whatever pain you're in, expect a hundred times worse. You deserve every bit of it!"
"Why, fool?" The doppelganger hissed again. "We make our nests the same as any creature in this world. The birds in the trees, the bear in her cave. We nest within you, and you let us in so easily."
"So would say a parasite to its host," Kivan replied. "Do not attempt to justify yourself, wethrinaer. You are unnatural, and never meant to walk this earth. Your blight will be removed."
He had his bow trained on the fiend from the first, and without further word the elf let the arrow slip. It caught the doppelganger square in the eye. With barely a noise it fell backwards onto the rug, its body twitching like some grotesque puppet whose strings had been severed. Finn put his blade back in its scabbard.
"Nice shot," he said. "Kivan, mate—if you stay at my back I won't ever have a worry in the world."
Kivan didn't respond though his eyes looked pleased, a rather telling gesture for the taciturn elf. They left the doppelganger's corpse where it was and moved on again.
They found the Keeper's office without any further signs of monster or monk. But the door was wide open and no one was inside.
"Not here. Don't see any signs of a fight, though it's hard to tell in this place. He must have left. Where would he go?" Finn asked.
"A pity we can't track him in here," Anna remarked.
"Perhaps we can," Kivan said.
He kneeled down, his black eyes searching over the long carpet that ran the length of the hall. The ranger gestured with a finger, tracing the line of something that was hidden to Anna's sight.
"Dust," he said. "A trail of it comes from within the room. The man's clothes were filthy from his stay in the crypts, and there is just a trace of it on this rug. I can see the outlines of his shoes. He went this way."
"Where's he see that?" Hull muttered, peering down at the carpet. "Looks clean to me."
"We don't ask anymore. Just follow him!" Finn replied.
Kivan set off in the lead, staying crouched near the ground as he pursued his quarry. Swiftly he led them through the hall and into another passage, one leading up through the towers of the keep. The carpet ended but Kivan still managed somehow to stay on the scent.
"These are the monks' sleeping quarters," Finn said quietly. "I had a chamber up here before I moved to the bunkhouse. What's he doing up here? Can't think he just decided to have a kip."
"I don't know, but he isn't alone!" Imoen whispered. "Listen!"
Two men's voices could be heard up ahead. They were raised and angry. Anna recognised Ulraunt's bellowing but the other was harder to make out. The group pressed forward and the argument became clear.
"Just hand it over, now!" Ulraunt demanded.
"No," the other voice replied. "The stone will be staying with me, I am afraid."
"Then you won't be leaving here alive!"
Ulraunt sounded angry, near to a frenzy. Whoever he was arguing with it seemed like a battle was close at hand. Finn found the chamber and jumped in without asking any leave. Anna peered around the door and was surprised to see none other than Perthwaite, or Perorate as his true name seemed to be.
"We have guests, Ulraunt," Perorate said.
He seemed remarkably calm considering the circumstances. Ulraunt faced him with a staff, his puffy face red in anger. Anna glanced around the chamber quickly. There was little to see in the monk's cell—a rough bed stood in one corner, it lone wool blanket surely not warmth enough for the fireless room. A desk and a bookshelf were the only other furnishings. Ulraunt didn't take his eyes from Perorate.
"Finally decided to show yourselves, eh?" he said to the newcomers. "Well, stand back. This thieving bastard is going to get a mouthful of flame any moment."
"What's he got?" Finn asked.
"The stone, the stone!" Ulraunt bellowed again. "We're helpless without it!"
"Stone?" Imoen said.
"The Stone of Stillness, to be precise," Perorate said. He reached into his robe pocket and drew out an unassuming-looking crystal the size of a walnut. "It is what maintains the barrier that prevents teleportation from within Candlekeep. I knew the Keeper had it within his office. Rather foolish of you, to be sure."
"No one in their right mind would go rooting around in my office," Ulraunt claimed. "That place is warded up to the planes!"
"Perhaps you are correct," Perorate said. "Or perhaps you should concern yourselves instead with ridding this place of its doppelganger infestation. My spell will not last forever."
"You did this?" Finn asked, surprised. "Why in all the hells would you want to help us?"
"Consider it a parting gift. I never wanted to work with these creatures, that was Master Sarevok's decision. But to see such a beacon of knowledge as Candlekeep overrun by this vile pestilence is too much for any true scholar."
"Yet you'd leave us entirely defenceless?" Ulraunt snorted. "So much for charity."
"Yes, I do apologise. It is nothing more than a token gesture in the end. The fate of this coast is sealed in the ink used by the great seer who lies entombed below. There is nothing any of us can do now," Perorate said dreamily. "The blood will soon begin to flow like the sea, washing along this coast in an unstoppable wave."
"Again with that," Finn said. "Is that what Sarevok had planned all along? A war with Amn? All this time we've been banging our heads trying to figure out what he was up to, and it was just the obvious after all."
"But what is it for?" Anna spoke. "Sarevok is a Grand Duke now. What good could it possibly do him to see this coast laid waste? He'd lose all the power he's been scheming for, and most likely his own life as well."
"You would be correct, good lady, if his goals were that of some common grasper at the throne," Perorate replied. "But there is rather more to it than that. If only I had time to discuss it with you, but I must be elsewhere. I will say this before I go—demand from Ulraunt your inheritance. That is all."
With those words he fixed Finn with a look. Perorate's fingers ran over the stone in his grasp and it began to glow. Ulraunt cried out, but before any of them could act he vanished in a flash of light.
"Blast, tarnation, damn it all!" The Keeper exclaimed.
"He's gone, then," Imoen gasped. "At least he didn't attack. So he's got this stone, is it really that important? Who's going to bother invading this place, anyway? Amn won't care about us."
"Other than an army of doppelgangers, you mean?" Ulraunt snapped. "Think, girl. What we have here is worth more than gold to those with the brains to use it. We have books no one is allowed to see—magic tomes of twisted power, keys to lost languages that are better off dead, hidden histories that could bring down empires. We're not some lending library that keeps bored housewives up to their necks in tripey romances. We're isolated for a reason."
"But this Perorate took none of these things with him?" Kivan said.
"No," Ulraunt breathed. "That's not what he was looking for."
"So what was it?" Finn asked. "He told me to ask for my inheritance. We're in Gorion's chamber, too. That can't be a coincidence."
Anna looked up in surprise. Finn scowled at Ulraunt and the Keeper's expression was no warmer.
"Never mind that now, lad. We've got more important things to see to. Perorate said I wasn't the only one the doppelgangers were keeping hostage in the crypts. We need to get down there and free them!"
"Alright," Finn said, sheathing his blade. "But afterwards I think we're going to have a little talk."
Ulraunt didn't reply, and instead pushed past them like a bowling ball determined to knock over a row of skittles. They followed him from Gorion's chamber back down the numerous steps. Jaheira and the others were waiting on the stairs.
"There you are. Have you found any trace of doppelgangers?" she asked.
"Killed one, found another dead," Finn replied. "And we had another little encounter, as well. What about you?"
"None living. We discovered the bodies of two monks simply shoved under a desk," Jaheira said angrily. "But no doppelgangers were to be seen."
"These things were determined to wipe out my entire keep," Ulraunt spat, barely stopping to slow down. "Spiteful, spiteful beasts. But with luck we might find some still alive in the crypts."
"Why would the doppelgangers keep anyone alive?" Imoen asked. "Do you think..."
Her voice sounded almost hopeful. Ulraunt spoke back to her, not slowing as he tumbled down the steps with his filthy robe hitched to his knees.
"Because they need us. Robbing someone's mind isn't an easy job, not even for these things. If someone's useful enough they'll keep them alive and keep feeding on them, like any old bloodsucker. Let's just hope we find someone!"
The crypts were the last place Anna wanted to see again, but dutifully she went in with the others. They hurried about with torches, calling out and listening for any response within the tombs. At last Anna did hear something, a faint scratching or crying from within a stone coffin.
"Here!" she cried out. "Someone is in here!"
Together Finn and Hull pushed back the heavy stone lid. A choking sob emerged from inside, and Finn helped a grey-haired woman to her feet.
"Easy now, we got you," he said, trying to calm her.
"Phlydia!" Ulraunt exclaimed. "Never thought I'd be so happy to see you, you daft old bat. Are you much hurt?"
"No...no master, at least I don't think... Oh, my, I need to sit down!" the woman rambled. "Where...where are those creatures?"
"Dead. Don't worry. Just try to take it easy," Finn told her.
"Oh, young Finnigan! It is good to see you again," Phlydia remarked. "Have you come back to stay with us? I'll make some of my nut cakes and mulled wine, and we can have a nice little chat. Although, perhaps..."
"Aye. Later," he said, a little grin on his face. "Hull, can you take her up to the library? See if she needs anything."
"Will do," Hull replied. "Come on, missus. Have you got any of that wine around? Could use a drop or two myself!"
The guard took her arm, and the woman began chatting with him about Turmish spice traders. Hull nodded along, though he looked somewhat confused by her cheeriness and choice of subject matter. The discovery seemed to lift all their spirits though and they set out looking for other survivors.
But although they scoured the tombs only three more monks were discovered alive. They pulled the cover from the sarcophagus of the last and a familiar face emerged.
"Tethtoril, by Oghma's Harp!" Ulraunt said. "I am glad to find you. I thought those things would have done you in for certain."
"I do think...they tried," he rasped. "Water...have you any water? Days now, forever...no water..."
They had no drink to offer him, but Jaheira had a potion of healing in her grasp. She gave it to the monk and he emptied the bottle fast as a wink.
"Master, they...they know. I think they know. May the gods help me..." Tethtoril said.
The monk seemed on the verge of tears, whether for his miraculous release or something else. He grasped at Ulraunt's hands and the Keeper squeezed them firmly.
"Don't worry about that now. What's done is done," he told him. "Let's focus on getting this place put back to rights first, eh? We need to get this lad back up to the library, now!"
"But what about..." Imoen began. "There must be someone else left down here! We can't just leave."
"Keep on looking then," Ulraunt said. "But I need to talk with Tethtoril. Let me know if you find anyone else."
Tethtoril clung on the Keeper, his thin frame easily supported by Ulraunt's bulk. The two retreated towards the surface and the others stood looking at one another.
"There must be someone else," Imoen said again. "Come on! Let's keep looking."
"Alright, flower," Finn said slowly. "We'll look. Here, why don't the rest of you head back up, too. There might still be doppelgangers on the loose up there."
"Yes, a good idea," Jaheira said. "We will speak with you soon."
Finn must have known who Imoen was searching for as much as Anna did. It seemed a hopeless endeavour, but they stayed with the girl as they went throughout the dead halls, calling and listening in turn. If any were left alive in that crypt, however, they did not reveal themselves.
"There must be, there must be," Imoen muttered to herself.
"They're gone, flower," Finn sighed. "If they were alive..."
"Don't say that!" Imoen suddenly cried. The echo of her words bounced off the stone then fell strangely flat at their feet. "Others were alive. They could still be here too."
"Well, why don't we take a little break?" he suggested. "We should see what's going on up top."
"No, you go on. I'll keep searching here," she replied.
"On your own?" Anna asked.
"If I need to," Imoen said sharply. "I won't abandon them. Winthrop, he raised me. He was like...like my father. Even if he's...gone...I won't leave him here. I just can't!"
"I didn't want to leave Gorion, either. But in the end there wasn't anything else to do," Finn said quietly.
Imoen frowned and her mouth pursed up tight.
"It's happening all over again, isn't it?" she whispered. "Someone is always out to get us."
"Don't say that," Finn said turn. "It's just bad luck. We got in Anchev's way somehow, and so did a lot of other folks. But we'll get him for this. He won't get away with it. Now, let's go. Let's get out of here for now. We can come back in awhile."
Slowly Imoen nodded, though Anna could tell she wanted to stay. Anna felt pain for her—now she must truly feel like an orphan. It was something she could understand. Even though her own father died when she was a grown woman, Anna had felt that loss as keenly as if she'd still been a child. There was no age to compensate for the loss of a parent.
The keep above had a strange stillness about it, like a fairy tale when a spell of sleep had been cast. The torches and lamps stood lifeless in the library and the cloudy daylight made everything seem grey, and drained of colour. Imoen and Anna set off towards the doors but they paused as Finn moved towards the stairs.
"Where are you going?" Imoen asked.
"Ulraunt. I'm going to have a word," he replied.
"Now?" Anna remarked. "But we have other things. Suzy..."
She was reluctant to mention the maid after their argument the night before, but she couldn't be ignored. Finn paused on the step.
"You go and see to her, then. I wouldn't be much welcome there."
"Finn..." Anna began.
"Come with me, won't you?" he suddenly said.
"Yes, if you want," she said slowly. "Imoen, can you...?"
"Yeah," Imoen replied, half-heartedly.
Anna hated leaving the girl alone but didn't feel that she could refuse Finn's offer, either. Slowly she followed him through the empty library. Their boots seemed to make an impossible noise in the corridors—was it really so loud, or was it only her ears? Even the sound of her own throat swallowing was painful. They reached Ulraunt's office and Finn rapped briefly on the door.
"What is it?" Ulraunt said sharply.
The door was open, and inside they could see the Keeper nearly buried up to his neck in miscellaneous papers. He glanced at them and looked back down again.
Finn didn't speak, and after an awkward pause Anna broke in.
"We didn't find anyone else in the crypt, sir."
"Tragic news, but not very surprising," Ulraunt replied. "We're going to need to tunnel a new wing in that place after all this."
"How many monks lived here?" she asked.
"Over a score, with guards and other attendants besides. That less than a handful of us seem to be left alive is unbelievable. How could I let this happen?"
Ulraunt suddenly slammed the papers down onto his desk, mashing them up in his great fists. His breathing was heavy and wheezed through his nose like a broken bellows.
"Try not to blame yourself," Anna stammered, surprised. "These doppelgangers were—"
"I wasn't talking about the doppelgangers, girl," he said angrily. "And I think the pair of you should leave my sight."
Anna's mouth still hung open, unsure of what to say in the face of his hostility. Finn though suddenly spoke.
"That bloke mentioned an inheritance. What is it of mine that you have?" he asked.
Ulraunt's wheezing grew louder. His fists didn't move from the desk but his eyes raised to Finn.
"Of yours? Nothing. Not one damn thing. You already took everything of value, and lost it."
"He was in Gorion's chamber, that can't be by chance," Finn persisted. "What did he mean?"
"Oh, why ask me?" Ulraunt muttered. He sat down hard and began roughly pulling out the creases in the parchment. "Is it gold you want? We have some in the coffers. Take whatever grabs your fancy, with my compliments."
"No, I don't want bloody gold!" Finn almost shouted. "This Anchev, the one who started all this. He came after me. Right here, before I'd even set foot out into the world. He killed Gorion, but he was after me. And now he sends all his minions back here, looking for something. It's something to do with this place, isn't it? Something that's buried here."
"You can see what's going to be buried here, lining the walls as we speak," Ulraunt grumbled.
Finn scowled. "This thing Perorate mentioned...is it something Anchev is looking for, too?"
"That would seem obvious," the Keeper replied.
"Well, it's not fucking obvious to me!" Finn bellowed. "Just...stop. Stop all this bullshite. Gorion lied to me, I know that now. I wasn't some orphan he picked up in Baldur's Gate. What...what in the hells does Anchev want with this place? With me? You must know. Tell me that and I'll leave here forever."
Ulraunt rose up once more from his desk, an imperious man-mountain of glowing rage.
"You will leave here now, regardless!" he shouted. "You have no right to demand anything from me. Lousy, good for nothing bastard whelp. It was against my better judgement that you were ever allowed within a mile of these gates. I knew. I knew the moment I saw you. The curse has come upon me. But I respected Gorion enough that I let him try his little experiment. And look where it got us."
Finn and Anna both stared at the man, with entirely different expressions.
"What experiment? Fatherhood?" Anna said, dumbfounded by his tirade.
"Why do you ask? I imagine you've already seen it in action. But we're done with you now. Out, away. I want you and all your brood gone by nightfall! Take your curse and leave," Ulraunt commanded.
Finn began to reply but Anna somehow managed to drag him from the room. He had his revenge on the door, slamming it so hard behind him Anna thought the wood might snap in two. But there was no answering volley from within, and Finn stood seething in the hall.
"There's no blood like bad blood," Anna muttered, unsure of what to say. "Just...never mind. We'll go. Ulraunt is right on one thing—there really isn't anything else we can do here."
"Kill him. Rip apart that fat throat, pull his guts right out of his..."
"Finn!" Anna exclaimed.
His eyes had that strange black look about them, and for one horrible moment she feared he actually meant what he said.
"No. He won't give it to me, then take it!"
He almost seemed to forget about her entire existence. Anna stared at him, frightened and confused.
"Finn?" she said quietly.
Very slowly she reached out and touched his arm. At first he didn't react, but when he became aware of her presence Finn jumped like her touch was made of ice.
"What..." he muttered.
"Finn, you just said..." she began.
"Said what? Gods, it's blazing in here," he remarked. "Ulraunt had that fire up a little high for my liking. Tethtoril. Of course! Why waste time on that fat git? Tethtoril will help. Come on, he's probably in his chamber."
Without further word he headed off towards the sleeping quarters. Anna could only stare at him, unsure of what just happened. But then she scurried away and caught up with him quickly.
The door to Tethtoril's chamber was closed, but Finn knocked quietly.
"He might be asleep. Feel bad waking him up, but I'm not going to get much chance to talk otherwise," he said.
But there was an answering call and Finn opened the door. Tethtoril was indeed tucked into bed, though how much comfort that gave him Anna couldn't say. His cell was no more homelike than Gorion's chamber had been.
"Finnigan," Tethtoril said, reaching for the spectacles that sat on the bedside table. "Has something happened?"
"No, sir," Finn replied. "I'm sorry to disturb you right now. Did you need anything?"
"No, no," the monk said, his voice still sounding raspy. "Ulraunt has seen to my needs. But did you want something? There is a strange look on your face."
"Not too surprising. The master and me just had it out," Finn said ruefully. "He wants to send us all packing by tonight, though I don't know who's going to force us out."
"Ah," Tethtoril said, and pulled himself up in bed.
"Is there not a room with a fire for you, sir?" Anna asked. "It feels terribly cold in here, if you don't mind my saying."
A little smile flickered over his shrunken cheeks. "No, no. I am used to it. But what were you and Ulraunt fighting about? This really isn't a good time to poke the old bear, Finnigan," he chided.
Finn groaned a little. "It sounds so stupid now. You know what me and him are like, can't be alone in the same room without getting into a spat."
"Quite. Please though, sit down. There is a chair there, young woman. Finnigan, you may sit on the end of the bed, if you take care not to crack my old bones. There's a crock on the desk there, if you like."
Finn smiled, and the remaining traces of blackness seemed to fade from his face. He pulled the cork from the jar and offered it to Anna. Reluctantly she dipped in, but she smiled too after pulling out a red and white ribbon of peppermint candy.
"I thought you didn't care for these much," Finn remarked.
"Oh, I've developed a taste for them," Tethtoril replied. "After you left I had quite the stock sitting around doing nothing, so I sampled them a bit. Dear Vera was excellent with her boiled sweets."
"Aye," Finn said grimly. "Imoen's not taking that too well."
"I should expect not," the monk sighed. "But please, dear boy, tell me what is on your mind. But—could I trouble you for a glass of wine first?"
Finn fetched the monk a draught then sat down on the bed, mulling over a strip of candy.
"It's something that Perorate fellow said, just before he disappeared. He told me to ask Ulraunt for my inheritance. But when I mentioned it to Ulraunt he blew up in my face."
Anna thought the monk went even paler, and the goblet shuddered slightly in his grasp.
"I see," Tethtoril said.
"He was in Gorion's chamber, even. What was he doing in there? Do you know anything about this?" Finn asked.
He looked at Tethtoril with imploring eyes. The monk drew a long, shaking sigh and stared into his wine.
"I don't... No. Ulraunt might hate me, but I can live with that. But you, boy—I'm afraid you're not quite sure what you're asking for. What do you think that it is?"
"Search me," Finn shrugged. "But all the roads have led back here. Sarevok Anchev wanted something here, something from me maybe even. I never had a thing in the world, and Gorion didn't either, as far as I know. But there must be something. Perorate wouldn't mention it otherwise."
"Yes," Tethtoril mused. "Some things are worth more than gold, and weigh far, far more. But Gorion had nothing of material value. The only things left were his personal papers."
"Were they in his room?" Finn asked.
"They were...but Ulraunt took them all after his death. He burned them."
"Who gave him the right to do that?" Finn demanded.
"Calm yourself, Ulraunt only did as Gorion requested. Some things were not meant to be seen, not by you, or anyone. Gorion was not just an ordinary servant of Oghma like the rest of us, as I'm sure you know. He had ties and connections to things elsewhere, very important things. And even in the shelter of Candlekeep there can be prying eyes."
"So what then, there's nothing?" he said, frustrated.
"No, there was...something. Gorion gave it to me years ago for safekeeping. He wasn't a young man, and he feared that someday Oghma's harp might call him home. If he died suddenly there were things he didn't want left unsaid. I've kept it safe, but I never did think I would need it," Tethtoril said quietly. "There, in the bottom drawer of my desk. The letter sealed in purple wax."
Finn rose quickly from the bed, and after rooting through the monk's papers for a moment drew out a sealed letter. It was plump with folded parchment, and the name Finnigan was written on the front in faded ink. With shaking hands Finn broke open the seal and began to read.
Anna watched his face. He looked sad at first, then began to look confused. He flipped through the pages of the letter absently and his eyes grew red with tears.
"He says he loves me, here at the end," Finn choked. "He never said that to me in life."
Anna smiled a little and squeezed his shoulder. Finn drew a breath and continued.
"He says...he says my mother was an old friend of his, a lover even. I can't imagine Gorion with a lover! Her name was Alianna. She...got sick, and died. She didn't have anyone else so she begged him to raise me. Something about my birth shaming her family. Guess I really am a bastard after all, eh?" he laughed. "No mention at all of my father. But there's nothing...nothing at all that could tell me why all this was happening. Still...if this is my inheritance, then it's a pretty good one. Thanks."
Tethtoril had been watching Finn as he read with a surprising intensity, but his drawn face relaxed into a smile.
"Yes...yes. Gorion always was wise. If there is nothing else, then take that knowledge with you," he said.
"Aye. I will. But we'd better let you get some rest. Ulraunt has probably cooled off by now and forgotten all about us. Still, we can't stay here too long. There's things we need to settle. I'll talk to you again before we leave," Finn said. "Thank you, Tethtoril. You've always been a good one."
The thin monk smiled in return, but it faded away quickly. Anna and Finn left him to his rest.
"How about that?" Finn said as they walked down the hall. "I have a mother now. Alianna. It's almost like your name. I wonder who she was? Where she lived? I never heard of her before."
"I don't know," was all Anna could say.
"Maybe Khalid or Jaheira know. Gorion was in the Harpers, maybe my mother was connected with them in some way."
"It's possible," she replied.
"Here, do you want to read it?" Finn offered, passing her the letter. "I want to have a look in Gorion's room, just for old time's sake."
Anna smiled a little and took the parchment. Her eyes glanced over a few lines but she felt uncomfortable reading the spidery script, like it was an intrusion onto Gorion's privacy. She followed Finn up to Gorion's chamber and sat by the desk as he looked around.
"Strange. I can almost see him in here," Finn said, low. "I used to sit at the end of that bed there when I was a little lad. My legs weren't even long enough to reach the floor. I used to watch him scratching away with his quill for hours on end, making marks in his books. I always wondered what was so interesting that it kept him from going outside to play!"
He laughed and Anna joined in. Finn leaned up against a wall and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Still, I don't know why he couldn't have told me all this before. Why make up the story of the orphanage?"
"Maybe he was worried you'd try and track your mother down?" Anna said.
"But she was dead."
"True, but she had family. And by the sounds of it, family that wouldn't appreciate an illegitimate son appearing on their step. Who knows. Maybe Gorion was right to protect you."
"Yeah. Maybe," he mused. "Maybe I really have got an inheritance coming to me. I could be rich. What do you think of that, eh? I'll buy you a castle or two."
Finn winked at her and she couldn't help smiling.
"Only two? Feh. And here I thought you might be someone impressive."
"Hey. Wouldn't it be something if it turned out Anchev and me were related?" he quipped.
"Don't even say that," Anna said quickly.
"It would explain why he came after me," Finn said.
"Why, because you were secretly Rieltar's son and he was afraid of losing his position?" she said. "Sarevok is older than you anyway, and it's usually the first born who inherits. It doesn't seem very likely."
"No, I suppose not," he agreed. "Well, why don't you let me have a look at that desk there. No matter what Tethtoril said, I'm going to see if there's anything left. Gorion had a few hidey-holes that Ulraunt wouldn't know about!"
"Alright," Anna said, and relocated to the foot of the bed while Finn began rooting through the empty desk. With nothing else to do her eyes turned back to the parchment in her hands. Strange, all these tales about the dead. It was nearly the Feast of the Moon, a time when folk gathered during the darkest part of the winter to share stories of those who had passed. It was a tradition carried on all across Faerun, in all the lands; there seemed to be something instinctive about remembering the dead at that time, when the sun was cold and nature at her rest. Family histories had been preserved that way for generations.
Anna remembered hearing their own tales as the household gathered around the great fireplace in the manor hall. Family and servants alike sipped mead and feasted on roast boar as they listened to the speakers tell stories filled with bravery and humour—how great-great grandfather Jony scared a giant bear away from his beehives with nothing but a stick and an old copper pot, or the time great-aunt Ionina spent months weaving a prized tapestry, only to use it to extinguish a fire that had erupted in her kitchen. In her pride she still took it to the autumn fair where it won top prize based on what little was left.
These were Anna's legacy, tales of people she never knew or could only barely remember. She wondered what tales Gorion might have to tell. Certainly greater deeds than her own humble country folk, but not any better for it, she thought.
She glanced up at Finn, but then her eyes were drawn back to the parchment. The ink on the paper was black, but something else was emerging slowly—another script, this one in purple. It crossed the lines of the letter making it hard to read. Some magic, Anna thought, triggered by Finn's own touch? She held it up to the light, confused, and without thinking began to read.
But the words made no sense. It was a trick, surely, some strange joke. A short, pained cry escaped her mouth, and she clung to the parchment as if it had been burned into her flesh. Finn turned back to her with a puzzled expression on his face.
"You all right there? What's the matter?"
Anna couldn't speak. She stared at him with a look that could only be given to a stranger. Tears flowed into her eyes, but she wasn't crying. The very air around her seemed to grow heavy and she struggled to breathe.
"What's wrong?" Finn asked again, this time growing concerned.
He went to sit next to her, but Anna jumped up with a shriek.
"What, what do you mean?" he exclaimed. "What's wrong? Why are you looking at me like that? It's me, really it is. It's only me."
Finn reached out his hands imploringly, but Anna backed up, stumbling hard against the door frame.
"No. No, you can't be," she gasped. "It's not right. It's not the truth."
"What?" he demanded.
Anna suddenly threw Gorion's letter at him and the crumpled pages fluttered down to the floor. Finn stooped to pick them up, his mouth still open in confusion.
"What the hells are you doing? I don't—"
But he paused. His eyes ran over the enchanted script and he stopped, caught half-way between rising and kneeling. Finn strained over the words like a man with dimmed sight.
"I don't...that's not..."
"No," Anna breathed.
"That just isn't right," Finn said.
He looked up at her crunched against the door frame, a strange, imploring look on his face. Anna couldn't respond.
"That's not," he said, and tears began to flow down his cheeks. "Anna—"
Finn reached for her again, but her reflexes were on a hair trigger. She leaped back and ran blindly down the hall. She fled down the great steps, taking two at a time, only by some miracle not slipping and breaking her neck. Anna could hear Finn's voice behind her, calling, but it was only like a dream. Nothing around her was real, and she fled with the instinct of a mouse running from a cat.
Anna burst into the cold courtyard. The snow was falling again from the grey sky, a thick, heavy snow that gathered on her clothes before it could melt. She ignored it though, still running blindly, stumbling and slipping over the ground. Anna noticed by chance the great drawbridge was open, and she ran right out of the keep.
"Anna!" Finn's voice still called, but she ignored it. Onwards she ran. Her eyes were red from exertion and her heart felt fit to burst, but still she ran. She needed to run. She needed to get away. That horrible beast of a letter was behind, and as long as she was running it couldn't catch her.
Once outside the keep walls the full blast of the storm hit her in the face. A great gust of wind rose up from the sea, whipping her cloak around her and nearly pushing her off her feet. The snow was driven like shot and it stung her face where it struck. She could see nothing at all, only a solid wall of whirling white.
Finn's voice was behind her still, nearer now than it had been. Anna made another push at speed, forcing her dead legs to move through the snow. The wind was screaming in her ears, angry that she was getting so far. A great blow struck her though and she felt herself pushed to the ground. Finn was on top of her and struggled to hold her against her flailing.
"No! No! Let me go!" Anna shrieked.
She kicked out against him and Finn swore. Somehow she managed to free herself from him. She struggled to her knees, then somehow found her feet. She began to run again but Finn caught her once more, driving her down to the ground.
"Stop it!" he shouted into the storm. "Stop, now!"
"Let me go!" Anna screamed back.
She clutched and clawed at his face like a demented woman. Finn struggled with her, his red face twisted in anger. Anna screamed and lashed out once more, catching him across the face with her fingernails. He swore and struck at her with the back of his hand.
The blow dazed her, draining what little energy she had left. She could only cry out helplessly for him to let her go.
"No!" Finn shouted in her ear. "You were heading right for the cliff!"
Anna froze, gasping, and looked over her shoulder at where he was pointing. There, just a few yards from where they lay she could see a slight horizon, a difference in colour between the white of the snow and the grey of the sky. She had nearly run right off the edge.
"Anna," Finn said desperately.
His face was red, mingled sweat with tears. He hovered over her almost as if they were about to kiss, but the distance seemed too much for him. He reached out instead, caressing her bruised cheek with trembling fingertips.
"Please don't," he begged quietly. "Please, just...say something. Anything. Please."
"I don't..." she gasped. "I can't..."
Anna couldn't speak. Her lungs were on fire and they racked painfully from the sobs that struggled to free themselves from her chest. All around the whiteness fell in a rush, covering the pair of them as they lay in the bed of snow. If they lay still it would cover them forever.
"I love you," Finn whispered.
Anna broke down entirely, giving way to her fractured sobs. She took Finn in her arms and he lay pressed against her, heavy and still as if he'd been a corpse. He didn't move, didn't speak, only wrapped her in a tight embrace as the snow drifted them over.
Ndengina ta- Kill it
Wethrinaer- Deceitful one
Author's Note: Normally I don't point out the many thefts in my writing, but I have to admit the scene with the two Finns was heavily inspired by an episode of Red Dwarf! :-)