The Beast Within

Chapter One- Inconsistencies

The ground was shaking violently. Ancient stonewalls surrounding them started to crumble and peel off like wet clay. Large boulders began to collapse and drop all around them. The deafening shriek from the now demised King of Shadows still echoing thick in the air.

Well, certainly nobody mentioned anything about this.

Leela Imarr cursed under her breath. She dived sideways, avoided being hit by the large statue just in time. A few short stride behind her, Ammon Jerro caste another protective shield charm. Debris and stones hit the invisible barrier a few meters above.

" I can't hold this very long, Leela. Gotta hurry!" His voice was fainted under all the commotions around them.

"Where are the others?" Leela shouted back.

"Somewhere, I have no idea!" The warlord barked back.

"Here! Casavir found the exit!" Zhjaeve's voice drifted across the thickening dust.

Leela gave Jerro an affirmative nod and continued moving towards the exit. Following the callout of their Githzerai companion, they carefully dodged the falling rocks, slowly moved past an archway and headed up a steep slope.

More stone crumbled over them. Smaller rocks began to fall through. Sweat broke on Ammon's forehead. Trembling, he caste another protective shield charm, looked like his spells were about to run out. The air genasi took a deep breath, pondering the ideas of running instead of pacing through the Vale at snail speed.

Out of the corner of her eyes, something caught her attention.

A hand.

Even through the dust and flying debris, across the opposite side of the platform, it was instantly recognizable to Leela: long, slim fingers, minor scratches and scars here and there, the same hand that ran through her naked skin, wrapped between her long, silver braided hairs, sending shivers down her spine a mere few nights ago, on the top of the Crossroad Keep's wall, under the blue moon….

But it couldn't be……that couldn't be right…

"………Bish……Bishop?" Ignored Ammon Jerro's snarled of warning, Leela dived out of the protective shield and quickly ran towards the hand. Sure enough, behind the large fallen statue, she found the dark hearted ranger, half crushed by the collapsed wall soaked in blood and very close to dead.

"Nonononono…Bishop…" Gathered his head and gently placed on her lap, the air genasi's heart twitched. Despite his betrayal, she still loved him deeply, with all her heart and soul.

"What……what are you doing here? Why did you come back? You left…before the battle even began, you should had hidden in one of your save trail by now. Bishop…wake up, talk to me!" Shaking, Leela began to sob uncontrollably, pointlessly tried to wipe the blood from her lover's face. Her mind went blank, suddenly, her own survival, the collapsing Vale, no longer seemed important.

The seemed lifeless body beneath her stirred. Eyes flickered, Bishop murmured: "…Leela?"

"Thank the Gods, you are still there!" Leela exclaimed: "Don't move a muscle! I will figure a way to get you out— "

Bishop rose his hand and gently touch the druid's arm: "…don't. There is no point…"

"No, I am not leaving you, I am not leaving you here!"

"Go, Leela…You should go…"

"Did you hear me? I AM NOT LEAVING YOU!"

Bishop gave her a weak and twisted smile, his gathered strength once again slipping away. His hand moved from her arm to her chin, touching tenderly.

"Go, ladyship…I am not worth it…I do not deserve…" The ranger's voice trailed off, his eyes lingered on Leela's now tear streaked face, but no longer focus. The air genasi stared at him for a moment with disbelief before let out a heart-breaking scream. Her grips around Bishop's body tighten, holding it, dared to let go.

"No, no, NO! You can't go, don't you dare, Bishop! BISHOP!"

Above her, something crumbled down. Ammon Jerro yelled out. But she no longer heard, nor cared.

And then, total darkness.

Leela Imarr flew her eyes abruptly. Suddenly gained conscious, she inhaled, gulp down the air on the top of her lung.

She soon realized she was lying flat on her stomach. The surface beneath her was rock-like and slightly moist. The air smelled damp and moldy—not exactly the atmosphere of the Vale as far as she remembered.

The druid tried to contract her finger. It was when she noticed every inch of her muscle as in pain. She wiggled a little, the tearing sensation down at her chest nearly sent her back to Abyss. She tried to recite any useful wordless healing spell from the top of her head, but out of shocking horror realizing she couldn't recall any.

Confusion started to bubble up. What was going on? Where was everybody? Where the Nine Hell was she? Well, judging by the pain she had just experience, Leela seriously doubt she was dead. But…how did she get here?

The air genasi took a deep breath, gathered strength and made another attempt to drag herself into sitting position. Almost as soon as she left her head, several voices whispered and echoed around her, followed by an invisible force pushed her back to the stone floor, at the same time, the tearing pain from her chest sending another shocks through her body in waves. Something wasn't right there. Someone wanted her to remain there, pin to the ground, in what seemed like a large chamber.

And there was another thing. The heavy feeling, used to accompany with the Silver Shard inside her body, was gone. Instead there was something, or someone within that void. Something Leela could not pin point. Careful not to stretch any more muscle, she slowly moved one of her hands upward and reached for the familiar scar on her chest. Instead of the familiar fainted old wound that had long healed, her fingertips felt some dry blood, and a rather large recent inflicted gash wound. Someone, or something, had cut open her body and removed the shard.

Fear began to creep down her spine. Where the Nine Hell was her Gith Sword? Risking her head being slammed at the floor again, Leela raised her head and did a quick scan around her. There were a few strange looking pillars around her and a skeleton nearby. But no sword, or weapons of any kind in sight. It was gone.

The druid sighed, now she was no longer sure if she was dead.

Gods, she felt hungry.

When was the last time she's eating anything?

How long would she lye here, before her internal organs started devouring themselves?

Suddenly, somewhere out of her sight, there was a faint 'puff' sound. Leela's back immediately went rigid.

Someone had just teleported themselves into this chamber. Was this person friend or foe? By the Hells, she really hoped the person wasn't any old enemy of hers. Judging by her present states, chance of her being slice in half without even able to defend herself, was pretty high.

A series of drape rubbing sound, accompanied by some thudding sounds and wing flapping noise (aye?), told Leela this person was moving towards her. She held her breath, praying whole heartily there would be a hand reached out to her instead of a cold blade slashing through her body.

The person stopped near her, bend over, whispered quietly at her ears: "Ssh..Stay still. I mean no harm. Just…stay still."

She stood up and began to murmur some incarnation. The air around Leela stirred and shifted. Voices circled her body sighed and then vanished. Suddenly the invisible hands that pin her whole body against the floor were gone.

The druid relaxed, slowly dragged herself into sitting position.

"Arh…thanks, you had no idea how good it felt!" she sighed.

"No problem!" The person stood in front of her chuckled. It was a girl, who looked a few years younger than her. She was quite beautiful—golden-shimmering-skinned, large auburn eyes and dressed in well-embroidered magenta silk robe, even with the elegant tattoo all over her bold head. She tilted her head and stared at Leela curiously, watching the air genasi carefully checked the surroundings. Not very far from her, a creature, which Leela registered was a homunculus, flapped its wings, and also squinted at her with immense curiosity.

"A Red Wizard of Thay?" Leela Imarr caste the homunculus another glance and rubbed her temple: "Wow, you don't see one of those at Sword Coast everyday…."

"You're from the Sword Coast?" The girl's face instantly lightened up: "I read about that place! They said it is the most prominent part of Faerûn! Trades, piracy, different races and all those legends! Gods, you are actually from there? What in the Nine Hells are you doing down here?"

"You tell me." The air genasi shrugged: " The last time I check I was in Vale of Merdelain, with large boulder falling over my head…. Where am I?"

"You are in the deepest part of the The Barrow."

"Wha—where?" Leela puzzled.

"It's an ancient burial mound, in Rashemen." The girl approached, bend down and gently checking the Arcane ranger: "This underground cave was full of spirits. We should not linger here long. Are you in the condition to walk?"

Leela tried to stand up, but the tearing pain from the gash on her chest once again split through her body: "No."

"Humph…where did you get those gash from…Gods, they certainly look horrible. It's a wonder how you survived…" Frowning, the girl gingerly covered her wound with her hand and murmured some carefully chosen healing spells. A shimmering blue light emitted from the tip of her finger. Almost immediately, the pain eased: "How about now?"

"Better." Staggering, but she managed to get onto her feet this time.

"Excellent." The girl's lips curled up: "Then let's go!"

"Wait, wait, wait." Leela stopped the Red Wizard as she was about to head to the exit: "Before we go, I figure you really should answer some questions."

"Did I just tell you—" The girl took a deep breath.

"Yes. But you are practically a stranger to me. As much as I am thanking you released me from being pin down on the ground and everything, I really think we should at least exchange some basic information."

"….Oh, alright." The girl stare at her for a long minute before put both her hands in the air: "What do you want to know?"

"Your name, to start with?"

"Oh, haven't I told you that yet?" The Red Wizard smacked her forehead: "Sorry, silly me! My name is Safiya. As you had already figured, I am a Red Wizard of Thay."

"What are you doing down here? Don't tell me you are taking an after-dinner stroll."

"No." Safiya laughed: "I was instructed to come down here by my mother. She wanted me to take you to Lienna in Mulsantir."

"Your mother? Lienna? Who?" Leela's eyebrow nearly arched to the ceiling.

"An old acquaintance of my mother, perhaps." Safiya frowned: "She didn't really explain to me who she was, really. All she did was asked me to retrieve you from the Barrow and take you to Mulsantir to meet this…Lienna person."

"Who is your mother?"

"My mother is Nefris. She's the head mistress of the Academy of Shapers and Binders, a relatively minor academy in Thaymount." Explained Safiya brightly.

"Gods, I am definitely very far away from the Sword Coast…." The air genasi shook her head.

"Forgive me if I am asking, but what are you doing down in the Barrow, not to mentioned this deep? This area is renown to adventures and grave rubbers. They steer clear of places like this. " Safiya's almond brown eyes looked inquiringly into hers.

"What, didn't your mother told you that?" Leela was surprised.

"N…no." Safiya shook her head, her eyebrow gracefully arched. It was when Leela noticed they were completely plucked and tattooed on: "I wondered why…humph… She gave me very little information about who you are or how did you get here, nor telling me why do I need to take you to see this Lienna person…. This is strange, very strange indeed….Don't you remember how you got here? "

"Beats me." Leela shrugged.

"Gods, with some cut that large on your chest, thought you might at least remembered something…" The Red Wizard paused and scanned around the large stone chamber: "And this place….this is actually the first time I've been here. By the Hells, look at these runes…I've never seen anything like this…" Half-dreamily, she approached the carved stone pillars nearby.

Leela loomed closer to another pillar. The carved runes seemed to glow in red under her eyes. Instinctively, she reached out her hand; her fingertips gently brushed the roughly chiseled symbol…

"No. Don't touch them! You might—" Safiya panicked.

It was too late. Leela's body stiffen. She was root at the spot. Several images zapped through the back of her mind...

i A young boy, who glared at her with eye full of mischief, laughed and ran away…

A woman, dressed in red robe, looked at her in admiration and love. She stood in front of a wall. A screaming wall… /i

"Hey, Y'alright?" Safiya's gentle pat on her shoulder drew her back to the reality: " You suddenly turned chalk white."

"…I am fine…It just…. there were some vision…" Leela shook her head. She tried to touch the rune again. The vision was gone.

"What did you see?"

"Something doesn't make any sense…" The air genasi frowned: "Are you sure you don't know any of those runes?"

"No. I don't." The Red Wizard caste another look at the pillars: "They looked….ancient. I definitely had never came across any of them in our library….. Look, we really should make haste. Whatever questions you were planning to ask, I suggest we wait until we get out of this place."

Leela agreed. They made their way towards the exit. The homunculus, who had been flapping around them but did not participate in any conversation for the whole time, suddenly squeaked, nearly sent the air genasi off the ramp they were standing on.

"Mistress, I think I hear something moving, in of the cave ahead. Lpsit and Sefi returned, perhaps?"

"I don't think so." Safiya tapped a side of her chin thoughtfully: "I sent them to find this Lienna person, just as mother asked. They could not have returned from the city this quickly.."

" Familiar of yours?" Leela grinned at the creature, which nearly toppled over with the excitement of being noticed.

"Arh…sorry. This is Kaji. Kaji, this is…?"

"Leela. Leela Imarr." The druid inclined her head.

"I am really clumsy, am I?" The Red Wizard blushed: "Been yakking with you all these time, never occurred to me I should asked your name first."

"Kaji seems…not really your usual familiar…" Leela caste a side glance at the homunculus.

"No, he's not. He's much more than that. He's….I made him from scratch, you see. I gave him names, taught him how to speak." Safiya smiled at Kaji warmly: "When you made something out of just twig and clay, they certainly means a lot more. He's more like a friend to me. A clever and eminently charming in his own way friend."

"I see."

"His linguistic is a bit off, but you can understand what he's trying to say." She gently tucked Kaji's ears: "At any rate, we really should get going. Those spirits might had been stirred and awaked as we speak. Then we really have a—" her voice was broken off by the suddenly violent ground shake.

"Oh, no." She sounded panic, colour seemed to drain from her face: "I think we've woke them up! Brace yourself. They won't let us get out of here that easily!"