Chapter 1: The Cure That Cursed.
Within the confines of Helm's Hold, Darius shouted at the weak and broken form of Desther Indelayne. The former Watchknight of Helm was held in the firm grip of the half-human, half orc, Daelan Red Tiger. Darius did not hesitate as he lashed out again with a gauntleted fist, driving it directly in to the ribs. He took some pride in the strength that delivered the blow as he heard at least one rib splinter beneath the furious assault.
The Watchknight turned traitor of the City of Neverwinter, finally gave out the knowledge that the duo sought, confessing to the location of the cure, in one of the adjacent rooms. Daelen maintained his firm grip as Darius search revealed the precious cure to the Wailing Death that Desther and his false Helmites had unleashed upon the city.
"Daelan, put him down," ordered Darius, "Tie him up, and drag him behind us, unless he is willing to walk on his own two feet."
Daelan nodded as he pulled the coil of rope and began to bind Desthers hands behind his back, before wrapping a length around its neck and across its chest, "Run, and you'll choke the life from yourself," growled his jailor. No that anything other than death awaited his carcass, once it was dragged back to Neverwinter, to stand trial for the crimes it had committed against hundreds of innocents.
Desther stumbled along the corridors, as it was lead down the corridors and stairs of Helm's Hold, in to the courtyard. However, Darius could only stop and stare, before shaking his head. So many broken, bloodied and butchered bodies littered the open space and its flagstones, the blood having pooled and dried, staining the stones a deep burgandy color that not even the lashing rains could wash away. Men, monks, priests, and clerics, all and none had been spared.
Towards the large double doors that marked the entrance to the Hold, Lady Aribeth de Tylmarande, renowned for her faith in Tyr, as a Paladin of the Maimed God, also renowned for her beauty, stood with several dozen guards, and was relieved to see that Darius, Daelan and most importantly, to Aribeth, her lover Fenthwick Moss. The three men showed the signs of combat, in their wounds and the fatigued that laced their bodies. For Darius and Daelan, their cleansing of the undead that saturated Helm´s Hold had taken its toll. As had delivering a sound beating to Desther, the thing that they forced to walk ahead of them that they were unwilling to call by name unless absolutely necessary.
"Darius! Daelan...Fenthwick...I see that you have captured the Traitor."
Darius nodded as he lashed out with his foot, striking Desther squarely in the lower back, sending him flying forward, past them to land in a heap upon the ground. Guards, dressed in the livery of the city hoisted him back to his feet, before untying the rope that bound him, only to clap him in solid irons and chains. Without a word, they dragged the false watchknight and traitor towards the open portal that would lead back to Castle Never.
Fenthwick, his bloodied face, with a split lip and bruised eye, could only meet the gaze of the woman he loved for a few moments before he cast his eyes to the ground, the words were mumbled, but still audible, as Daelan and Darius backed away slightly from the lovers, "I'm so sorry."
Aribeth sighed quietly and gently embraced her lover, "It was not your fault. We are all to blame, in some fashion for not having realized what Desther truly was. However, we have the cure, and the city is saved. Praise be to Tyr." She pulled him into a tight hug then kissed his cheek, as he wrapped his arms around her, relief clearly visible in him as he held her.
Darius yawned and scratched his head before looking back at the Hold and sighing, "We need to get back to Neverwinter and arrange the distribution of this cure. Hopefully, nobody has heard anything about this."
"I hope Lord Nasher did what I advised," Aribeth turned and led everyone back to the still open portal that the guards had used minutes before, "I recommended that he order all those present to remain silent upon what had transpired, as it would not reflect well if the populace found out what happened."
"A wise course of action, my lady," said Daelan, "I hope he has done as you suggested, else there will be great anger and hatred that will have to be addressed upon our return."
The group arrived through the portal, opened within the Courtyard of Castle Never. While the portal closed, Desther seemed to realize what fate had in store for him, as he was dragged, kicking and screaming, hurling abuse, obscenities and threats at all and sundry, past the stake driven in to the ground, with tinder surrounding it at its base. The guards took great delight in ensuring that Desther tripped several times along the way to his cell, as they threw him in to the darkest and dankest cell that they could find, determined to do all that they could, to ensure that the traitor would have a short yet unpleasant as possible stay. It would only be a matter of minutes, before Lord Nasher would order his interrogation, at the hands of his best, to extract all information, using any means necessary.
Darius, a master of many arts, persuasion amongst them, offered to lend his assistance. Where others had failed to "persuade" the former Watchknight in to divulging any information, it took Darius only a few minutes, and a several dozen strokes of the short sword, to extract a full confession from the traitor. He took great pleasure in carving the man apart, while Desther screamed and shouted in pain and agony, as Daelan stood in mute silence watching Darius do the necessary.
Even as Darius had carried out his "persuasive interrogation," within the bowels of the Castle, Oleff and many others dispensed the cure to the masses, as Lord Nasher looked on from one of the windows of the castle. Fenthwick and Aribeth were nowhere to be found, having taken shelter in another part of the castle, to savor some quiet time alone with each other. Nasher looked out across the city and vowed that justice would be done.
Darius had completed his interrogation, and had care to remove the stains of his labor from his armor, before they joined the duo, enjoying the rays of the evening sun upon them, coming in from an open window. Fenthwick had refused divine healing for the wounds he had suffered, even as Aribeth balanced a medical kit in her lap and sought to apply the healing salve to the bruised eye, "Fenthwick, lift your head so I can treat that eye."
Daelan said nothing, as Darius grabbed the arm of a passing handmaiden, and politely requested a bottle of wine and four glasses, to celebrate the end of the Wailing Death. Fenthwick sighed and turned his head but kept his eyes on the ground, "Stop being so grumpy Fenthwick."
Darius chuckled quietly from the doorway, as Fenthwick smiled a little and looked up at them. "I guess I should, but I cannot help but wonder what will happen once the people find out about Desther's actions. I'm sure someone saw him when we brought him back to the castle and no doubt somebody will eventually slip on what happened in the chamber."
"Calm yourself Fenthwick. Even if the truth is discovered, it is Desther who will die upon the stake, not you. Your innocence is clear to us all," said Daelan, as he eased himself in to a chair by the window. The chair creaked under his bulk, a two hundred and forty pound mass of muscle. While you can take the Barbarian out of the Frozen North, you cannot take the Frozen North out of the Barbarian. He longed to be out in the snow again, to feel it and the wind around him as he stalked through its plains and forests.
The handmaiden reappeared with the bottle of Elven wine and four glasses. She handed them to Darius with a shy flirty smile. Darius took the wine and glasses from her, ensuring that he brushed her hands, lightly with the tips of his fingers, while flashing a warm smile in return. The Handmaiden blushed, and skittered down the corridor.
Darius chuckled as the handmaiden retreated down the corridor. Entering the room, he closed the door with a nudge of his foot before placing himself between Fenthwick and the seated mountain of muscle, Daelan. Placing an arm around the shoulders of Fenthwick and the other around Daelan, somehow holding the bottle in one hand, and the glasses in the other, "Apart from a quiet celebration for the four of us, do you have any plans for the rest of the day?"
The camaraderie had grown amongst the foursome had blossomed in to friendship. The cold distance that had originally been present amongst their discussion and debates within the Halls of Justice had lessened and evaporated as they learned a little more about each other, and more importantly, came to trust one another. Granted, Darius Angelus, known commonly as the "Death Dealer," had a reputation that made him a difficult person to get along with, unless he called you a friend, you were best limiting your contact with him.
"With the cure being dispensed, and our day having been long indeed," paused Aribeth, "I thought that we should simply enjoy what quiet time that we have together, the four of us. Before we part company, and go our separate ways."
Darius filled the four glasses, before handing them round, first to Lady Aribeth, then to Fenthwick, followed by Daelan and finally taking one for himself, "To the end of the plague!"
A worthy toast as they raised their glasses in tribute, Daelan sparingly sipping at his glass, not a fan of such finery. He would have preferred a mug of ale, but he had to ask the question, although somewhat hesitantly, "Darius, were you... planning on leaving?"
Darius turned to face his companion turned friend, taking a moment to note the hint of sadness and to pick his words carefully, "With the plague having been cured, I have no real reason to remain in the city. I have," he paused uncertain how much he could reveal even if he was in the company of friends. "I have unfinished business with a certain someone, that goes back many years," Darius turned to Fenthwick, "But since this is over with, I believe that there is a wedding that I am inclined to attend, as a guest of course, if I could wrangle an invitation?"
The sudden commotion, the noise and chants that had grown from a quiet whisper in to the sound similar to the battle cry of an entire Orc clan, as Daelan turned and glanced out the window. The sight arrayed caused him to tense, "My friends, it appears that we have a problem."
The trio approached the window, clustering around it as they stared down at the massive crowd that seemed to be composed of any Neverwintarian capable of standing and walking. Torches, clubs, amongst them a few short blades and daggers, raised and hammered against the ground, even as the Palace Guards formed ranks to prevent them from breeching in to the castle's interior. The guards were growing somewhat tense and edgy, as more than one hand rested upon the hilt of a sword. The mob´s motive clear, as was what they chanted, "We demand Justice! The traitor must burn!"
It took only moments before the door slammed open, the foursome darted around in surprise, Darius's right hand descending to the hilt of the katana that rested upon his hip. His left hand had twitched but not drawn the blade that rested in its scabbard upon his back. It was a solitary palace guard, breathless and somewhat nervous, "As you are no doubt aware, my lady, we have a, ah, "situation," that requires your attention."
She nodded, pausing to retrieve her own sheathed blade resting atop a chest against the wall, "Lead the way," she adjusted the buckle as she pulled on the sword, moments before she turned to the others, "Come, I may need your help in resolving this peacefully."
Filling out of the room, they walked through the hallways of the castle, people moving aside to make way as the group not so much walked or hurried, but more marched towards the main entrance. With a single sharp hand signal from Aribeth, the doors were thrown open as the emerged, to catch the last of the sun's rays, blood red and orange, streaked across the sky. From the top of the steps, they stared out at the vast chanting ocean before them, an angry mob that demanded justice, and wanted to see justice done.
"What's going on here?" Darius questioned a nearby guard who stood at attention, but the curling of his fingers around the shaft of his pike, with his eyes scanning through the crowds, searching for anyone who could be doing more than just chanting.
"Someone leaked information about what happened earlier today. The people know about Desther, and what his false Helmites have done to the city. Every Helmite Priest, in every quarter of the city that the mob could find has been butchered. They've come here to call for the leader and the last of the Helmites to be burned at the stake."
Darius frowned, "It would be simpler to hang him. The stench of burning flesh has already filled the air, covering everything it has touched. The taint of this plague will not leave the city easily. Are they not sick of that disgusting smell?"
"When it comes to those charged and found guilty of high treason, the only punishment is death by burning at the stake," explained Aribeth, "Lord Nasher reduced the barbarity of the punishment for High Treason when he assumed control of the city. The traditional punishment, used to be far worse."
"In that case, let the people dispense their justice. He is going to die so let's just announce his crimes and execute him. I would like to be done with this messy business quickly." Darius said flatly. He had seen enough deaths caused by the Wailing Death. He had killed many when hunting for the creatures to recover the reagents needed for the cure. Those deaths did not haunt him, nor did he regret them, but he felt a pain inside for every innocent who had suffered, and die a slow agonizing death.
Lord Nasher himself, having received the cure only hours before, his loud and heavy, almost signature footfalls announcing his approach. Those atop the stairs parted before him. Darius took several steps back, ensuring that he remained just out of direct sight of the Lord of Neverwinter. Darius had never bowed to anyone before, and was not about to start. Neither was Daelan, but they gave the Lord of the City the space, as well as a respectful nod, from where they stood.
Lord Nasher paused for a moment, as he considered those standing around him. He acknowledge their presence before stepping forward, to stare at the wall of people, gathered before the Stake that dominated the center of the Courtyard, only a few meters from the Great Tree that had stood since the earliest days of the City of Neverwinter.
"How do you wish this to be handled my lord?" Aribeth asked.
Nasher sighed, "Bring Desther out, and prepare him to meet his fate. A fitting punishment for what he has done to the people, and my city."
A short pause ensued as the lord of the city stepped forward and raised a hand, requesting silence from the people of his city, "My People, my fellow Neverwintarians! A grave crime, a gross injustice has been carried out against you, against me, and against us all!"
It was the opportune moment for such a speech as the guards dragged Desther upon the end of heavy chains through the side door that lead from the Dungeons with four guards surrounding him. Lord Nasher took note of this, as he pointed with one hand, "There is the man responsible for the pain and suffering that has been inflicted upon you all. He is charged with High Treason amongst many other crimes, and has been found guilty of all that he is charged with. The punishment," he paused for a moment, as he pointed to the stake with his other hand, "for such a crime is to be burned at the stake till death takes him!"
A roar of approval rang from the crowd, of once peaceful men, women and children who crossed the line-separating human from beast, reverting in to a savage mob. Many howled at their victory, that justice would be done, and carried out with the full strength and fury of the law.
The guards lashed him to the stake, taking some care not to gag him, but using the irons chains to secure him firmly to the post, as ropes would have given way beneath the fires. Mulland the Administer stood before Desther, unrolled the parchment scroll, and began to read, loud, and clear, so that all those could hear the words and the judgment. The crimes, were many, and detailed, as was the punishment. Mulland took great delight, as he finished in addressing Desther, "Any last words before you burn, you traitorous scum?"
Desther his face broken, still covered in blood from his final conversations with Darius, the scars covering his body from the more "persuasive" methods employed began to laugh quietly, his laughter growing louder and more maniacal before he finally spoke between barks of laughter "The Old Ones whom I serve will grant you living hell, while I laugh and spit upon you all as you suffer!"
At a drop of Nasher´s hand, the first of several torches descended on to the wood and oil. The flames raged with the suddenness of an angered dragon as they rose, spreading to create a barrier of flame. Desther still chained to post continued to laugh even as the fires burned bright about him. The flames closed in and his laughter died upon his lips changing with a piercing note as the flames began to consume his flesh and the tattered cloth that he had been wearing. He wailed and shrieked, twisting, desperate to escape the touch of the fires that steadily devoured him, body and mind, to banish his dark soul to eternal damnation within the pits of hell.
Fenthwick was unable to avert his gaze, as he watched Desther's struggle end as the fires continue to consume the now charred body, dangling loosely from the chains that had bound him, and continued to burn what was left of his body. Reaching backwards, Fenthwick trembled slightly, as he leaned against the wall for support. Aribeth placed a hand upon his shoulder, and gave a reassuring smile. Lost in the beauty of her eyes, their color like sparkling gemstones, he returned the smile as he took her hand in his and gave a gentle squeeze.
"Come, let us go back inside. We need not see the rest of this," suggested Daelan, "The people have had their justice," as he turned towards the doors of the Castle.
They turned to follow Daelan inside, who held the door open when a single voice stood out from the mob: "Hang the traitor Fenthwick!"