Chapter One: Duty
Davra Siava, Knight Captain of Crossroad Keep, was home at last.
One by one, her companions had left her, but not without reluctance. First had been Okku, returning to his slumber deep in the barrows beneath Rashemen. Next had been Safiya, returning to her birthright, the tower of Magi calling her with more urgency than friendship. Last had been Gannayev of Dreams, the beautiful hagspawn who walked sleeping minds. They had parted ways at the Rashemen border, their goodbyes heartfelt. He claimed he would visit her dreams to catch up. She had laughed and said she would hold him to it. He gave her a wink and watched her ride over the hill out of sight, into Thay.
It had been a hard trip. Months on horseback, but she had endured with Torm's grace. The Golden Way through Rashemen linked to Thesk, then Cormanthor and the border of Sembia as she skirted the scorching sands of the Anauroch until she had crossed the border of the Sunset Mountains and had set foot onto the Trade Way. She had ridden at a slow pace, knowing that it was useless to tire out her horse for a memory. She thought of home with tightness in her chest, the memories of Neverwinter driving her forward.
Now she neared Crossroad Keep, her home during the War of Shadows. The Keep now overlooked lush farmland, and she passed patrolling Greycloaks as she rode. She did not draw attention to herself; she instead let the sights overwhelm her, the prosperity of the area bringing her a peace she had not known. She slowed the horse to a walk as she neared the Keep, the memories of the place washing over her.
The sun was setting, painting the waving wheat in the fields a lush orange as the horse clopped up the road to where the stronghold squatted on the overlook. The walls were imposing, but she could still see in her mind's eye the bolts of magic that had ripped chunks from the stone and taken good men's lives. She hoped to see how they fared now, if nothing else. It was full dark by the time she reached the walls, her gelding nickering at the other horses he could hear in the stables.
She lifted her hands to the cloak's hood and pulled it back from her dark hair, now tinged with streaks of white that wound their way through the thick braid that tumbled down her back. A spray of silver feathers over each pointed ear revealed her heritage, as did the intense, over bright stare of the green eyes that were topped with arched, dark brows. Heavy plate armor could not hide the hilt of a greatsword that peeked between her shoulder blades. She was every inch the stern picture of the returning Knight Captain as she walked her horse into the revealing torchlight of the Keep's gate.
"Identify yourself!" came the cry. She lifted her head, pleased to see that the guards had not slackened in her absence. The face under the conical was stern, no-nonsense, but not familiar.
"I didn't train you," she said, her rich voice tinged with amusement. "So you must be new. Tell me, is there anyone who remembers the Lady Davra?"
The guard almost dropped his torch. "You are the Lady Davra?"
"One and the same. Please, friend, open the gate that I might enter and get out of the saddle. It has been a weary journey from Rashemen."
"Milady, forgive me, but I need to confirm your identity. The Seneschal will want to know of your return. Please, wait here."
She inclined her head, and the face disappeared. She heard running footsteps, and then silence. Her gelding whickered, no doubt sensing rest and shelter nearby. She soothed him with a pat to the neck as she dismounted, waiting.
The gates creaked as they swung outward, revealing a stocky dwarf with a shaved head, his beard braided with an intricate mass of gold rings, one for each of Tyr's tenets, if she remembered right. She felt her grin spread until she thought her face would burst from it as the dwarf stopped cold, slack-jawed at the sight of her.
"Is that how you greet your commander, Khelgar?" she said, her voice a rough bark as she held back her laughter and her tears.
"I thought it was a joke," he said. He stumbled toward her as she knelt to hug him, pounding his back with enthusiasm. "I was ready to beat the living daylights out of some fool claiming to be you. Can't say I'm still not ready to beat the daylights out of you, what with that stunt you pulled."
He pulled back to look at her, his eyes bright. "Three years. Where have you been?"
"That's a long story, and one that's best told over a hot meal and cold ale. Are you going to allow me into the keep now?" She gave him a crooked grin as she stood, grasping her horse's reins.
"Considering it's your Keep, and has been since you left, I'd say that's a fine idea." He shouted to the walls. "Everyone, turn out! I want parade formation! The Knight Captain has finally returned!"
The Phoenix Tail was a bright coal compared to the dark of the evening as she entered the bailey, her horse taken from her by a 'cloak. The entire barracks had turned out for her return, and she made the effort to inspect the ranks, her hands behind her back as she walked in front of the soldiers standing at attention. She met the eyes of Light of Heavens, one of her lieutenants, and nodded.
"You have all proven yourselves to Lord Nasher by taking up the cloak. I'll not bother with formalities tonight, for you have duties that supersede anything I could talk about. Know that as I rode up to the Keep I was overwhelmed with the recovery you have made. You have my thanks, and you are dismissed." She brought her arm up to her shoulder, her clenched fist pounding her breastplate with the clash of metal. They returned the salute, the veterans with more zeal than the new recruits, and dispersed to their duties.
Her four lieutenants gathered around her. Bevil tried to crush her in a hug, stopped only by Davra's plate, and she laughed at the tears streaming down his face, her own cheeks damp. Light of Heavens was as reserved as ever, but her fellow aasimar could not hide the brightening halo around her golden locks. Katriona gave her a firm salute, her eyes sparkling in the torchlight. Jalboun gave her a curt nod, his lips quirking up in a grin. She was surprised to see him; he had said that the life didn't agree with him, but perhaps the special missions she'd assigned for him were indeed to his liking.
She clapped Bevil on the shoulder. "I'm starved, and I'm sure you want to hear all about where I've been."
Ale flowed in rivers that night as the soldiers off-duty celebrated their commander's return. Sal wiped at his eyes with his towel, handing her the first flagon of many as the cheer went up. He tried to see to her ease by leading her to a quiet table in the corner. She appreciated it; a hot meal would do her more good than the ale. She had settled into the chair when Khelgar thumped down opposite her, along with Bevil.
"All right, out with it, lass." Khelgar took a pull from his flagon, wiping the foam from his beard. "I want the whole tale."
"Same here," Bevil said. He propped his chin in his hands. "We thought you were dead."
"You thought she was dead, you weasel." Khelgar snorted. "I told you it'd take more than a great whopping evil shadow to off the Knight Captain."
"Settle down, girls, you're both pretty," she said with a smile. She took a sip from her own flagon, relishing the cool sweetness of the ale as it settled into her stomach. "Now, do you want the long version or the short version?"
"I'm sure you have a report for Lord Nasher with the long version," Khelgar said. "Let's hear the short version."
"I was kidnapped by the lover of a man named Akachi so that she could bind his soul to walk the earth again. I became what the Rashemani call a spirit eater. My soul was bound to the Wall of the Faithless and I was forced to reenact Akachi's assault on the City of the Dead to get it back." She sipped at her ale and glanced at both Bevil and Khelgar. Both had mouths agape as she continued. "Kelemvor, god of the dead, was grateful that I didn't actually destroy his city. I ended up defending it from those who would tear down the Wall and set ripples in motion that would destroy the balance of power on the planes."
Her lips quirked as she raised the flagon to her mouth once more. "I take it that now you've heard the short version, you'd like to hear the long version?"
Both of them nodded.
She stretched, her back aching from sitting so long. She stood to work the kinks of travel from her body. Khelgar was the only one who remained; the others had long since seen to their rest. Sal had taken a seat with them, but he was nodding off after all the excitement of the evening. She found it in her to pose the question that had been nagging her since she had last spoken to Ammon Jerro.
"Tell me, Khelgar, where is everyone else? Did they all just…leave?" Her voice was uncertain, tinged with the worry she failed to hide.
Khelgar looked at her, the large quantities of ale he had consumed not blurring his focus in the slightest. "Well, you know that Bishop was found dead, from what Ammon Jerro told you."
She nodded. "His soul was bound in the Wall of the Faithless. He seemed happy to finally go."
"Good. Damned traitor." Khelgar spat, his dislike of the ranger carrying on past death. "Grobnar was found in the ruins, too. His body was broken and battered. Daft gnome was trying to cover the construct."
Davra bowed her head. She had liked the bard. Khelgar's voice cracked when he spoke again. "Elanee was found as well. We buried her in the woods. I think she would have liked that. Zhjaeve was just gone. No one could find her."
"So much death." Davra shook her head. "I did not think to ask Kelemvor. Perhaps that was for the best. I was treading a thin line at the time."
She might have lost her mind had she seen her companions in the City of the Dead. She sent a prayer of thanks to Torm that he had seen fit to shield her from it so that she could complete her duty.
"Neeshka made it out. She's in Neverwinter, stirring up some trouble or another. Eventually, she'll wind up here until the heat dies down again. She's probably bothering Sand right now."
She gave a watery smile. "That's good to know. And…Casavir?"
Khelgar shook his head. "You remember when we ran from the collapse? He saved you, holding up a pillar. When we went to dig him out of the rubble, he was gone. The stone around him had been excavated, as though someone was looking specifically for him."
Davra swallowed at the memory.
Bright blue eyes, searing through her as he strained against the crumbling stone. The pillar was a central buttress, and the whole room would collapse when it fell. He braced it with his broad shoulders, trying to buy them time.
"My lady, you must run." Blood trickled into his eyes, but did not blur the feeling there as the room shook apart around them. "Run, live."
She had run, like a coward.
Shame coursed through her, a living thing. Her hands twitched into fists that creaked with her leather gauntlets, and she had to force herself to relax them. She looked at Khelgar. "Did you find him?"
"There are rumors. They say the Luskans got hold of him, tried him for murder. There was no ransom, not a peep from our official sources. You could try asking Torio, although she's not at the Keep any longer. At any rate, you'll need to report to Lord Nasher in a few days." Khelgar gave a shrug. "She's his advisor now, so you can kill two goblins with one swing."
He patted her hand, a knowing look on his face. "If anyone can find him, it's you."
She shook her head. "If Lord Nasher has duties for me, I cannot abandon them. My vows – "
"Lord Nasher has been looking for him, too, Davra. There is no reason why he wouldn't send Casavir's commander after him."
She tried not to nurture the spark of hope that lit in her breast. "We shall see."
Lord Nasher greeted his wayward Knight Captain with some surprise and not a small amount of pleasure as she knelt before him. He bade her rise, and gave her a long, appraising look before he spoke again. His eyes glinted in the light from the high windows, and she held herself very still under his scrutiny, careful not to return the gaze. As an aasimar, she had unnerved lesser men with a sharp glance, and she would not do that to her liege.
"Lady Davra, it has been some time since Neverwinter has seen you at your duty to the Weeping Eye. I assume that you were unable to return, and not unwilling?"
Davra brought her fist to her breastplate, snapping to attention from her parade rest. "My lord, I was unable to return, as you say. I have a full report for you, should you wish it."
"Indeed? I do wish it. Give it to my seneschal, and we will discuss what our next course of action should be. Tyr help us, for I have not found a way to do it until now."
"My lord?" she asked as he rose from the throne on the dais, beckoning her to follow him. She fell into step a pace behind.
"You rescued the city from a great evil, as you know. When Khelgar sent the runner ahead of you to let me know you were coming, I knew that I could not have you doing paperwork for the rest of your days, although I know you would do it should I wish it." He held up a hand, glancing back at her. "No, I have need of your services again, to rescue a companion of yours. A noble of Neverwinter."
"Casavir," she said, not daring to breathe.
"Just so." His look was sly, and he preceded her into his private library, the wall-to-wall bookshelves lending a stale, papery smell to the room that mingled with the leather bindings of the books. He seated himself behind his desk, gesturing that she should do the same with a chair on the other side. She settled into the carved wooden chair, her harness creaking.
He picked up what appeared to be a scrying orb, the opaque surface belying a hidden power within. Setting his fingers just so, he spoke.
"Torio, I have need of you."
A watery voice wafted up from the orb's depths. "At once, Lord Nasher."
Moments later, Torio Claven swept into the library, her skirts rustling. She stopped, dumbfounded, as Davra turned to regard her. She regained her composure a half a moment later, and Davra knew that if she hadn't known what to look for, she would have missed it. As it was, she regarded Torio with justified suspicion. After all, she'd been under trial because of the woman's machinations before, who was to say that she hadn't reverted to her old ways?
"It is good to see you well, Lady Davra," Torio said. Davra let her aura flow free, a wisp of it reaching out to touch Torio. She was telling the truth, and the darkness in the woman had receded since she had seen her last. She relaxed.
"You as well, Torio. I see that reformation suits you."
"Lord Nasher has proven to be a wise ruler. I am pleased to serve."
"Lady Davra has returned from Rashemen, Torio. We were searching in the wrong place."
"We were, Lord Nasher," she said, her voice a murmur. "I could have sworn that Luskan would have her too, but there was no word of her capture, and I can assure you that there would have been gloating from the dogs."
The venom in her voice surprised the paladin, but she made no comment. "Khelgar has apprised me of Casavir's situation, but I am at a loss to see how I might help."
"You are?" Torio's sculpted brows rose. "I would think that his lover would be the obvious choice to send, considering your prowess in combat."
"Casavir is – was – not my lover," she said, nettled. "He served Lord Nasher with the utmost propriety and chivalry."
"That is surprising, but of no consequence," she said waving an elegant hand. "As it stands, you are in a unique position to help Neverwinter with its little problem. They have taken one of our nobles without due cause, tried him without allowing us to answer the charges, and will not allow us to appeal for his release."
Her hands clenched again at the thought. Casavir would not give up Neverwinter's secrets, but there were all manner of tortures the Hosttower could apply, most unknown to the public at large.
"What must I do?" she asked. "I will serve Neverwinter, as I am sworn."
"Ah, but you will not be serving Neverwinter – not in an official capacity. We will disavow all knowledge of your rescue attempt, should you fail. Should you succeed, we might hold a private party." Her lips lifted in a small smile. "Lord Nasher will spread the word that you have fallen from favor for your lengthy absence. A lie, yes, but a necessary one."
Davra felt her lips twist in anger. "I cannot lie to further Neverwinter's ends."
Torio threw up her hands, as if to say, ugh, paladins. She looked to Lord Nasher, pleading in silence for aid.
"Torio is doing what she knows to be best, Davra." Lord Nasher steepled his fingers, tapping them against his chin. "I will not ask you to lie yourself, but we will spread the word that you have fallen from favor as a precaution against being implicated in what could become all-out war with Luskan. It must be seen that we are a neutral party in this, even if we are not."
Davra's lips tightened, but she bowed her head. "As you wish, my lord."
"Don't expect any more help that we will give you in this room. When the word gets out that you are no longer in my favor, you will be shunned on the streets of Neverwinter. I will contact Sand and have him accompany you, since he knows the layout of the Hosttower dungeons far better than even Torio. Is there anyone else you would like to accompany you?"
"If Neeshka is still in town, I would like her to come with me. Someone to help me pick any locks instead of ripping them off the hinges would be nice." Torio gave a delicate shiver at the casual mention of Davra's monstrous strength, another gift from her angelic heritage. "Someone should get word to my father as well, and let him know I still live. Duncan would be best."
"Word has already been sent to West Harbor. I dispatched a runner this morning before your arrival. If he does not join you here, he will join you on the road, I am sure."
He reached into his desk, pulling up a worn leather bag. It was frayed around the mouth, and looked shabby and worn, but she felt the unmistakable tingle of powerful magic as she took it from him. Her suspicions were confirmed when she reached in the bag and felt a number of objects, all of varying sizes.
"A bag of holding, my lord?"
"I try to think of everything. Sometimes I even succeed." He gave her a sardonic smile, crooked and filled with wry humor. "There are supplies and various items in there, as well as gold to start your journey. It is not as much as I would like to give you, but it is all I can spare without having to account for it."
"You are generous, my lord, and I thank you. I will do my best to bring back Casavir alive."
"Don't thank me yet. You might live to regret it."
"You are my liege, Lord Nasher. I do not regret my service. I am sworn by my vows to do no less."
"Greater heroes than even you have said as much, and they fell just as hard. I wish you luck, and may Tyr guide your steps in the darkness."
"Torm watch over you while I am gone, my Lord."
She rose when he did, dropping to one knee before him. He reached out and touched her head, and then she heard the ripping of cloth as her cloak tore. She looked up, and he held the embroidered symbol of Neverwinter, the weeping eye, in his hand. She bowed her head once more, her lips tightening as she rose to leave.
She would do her duty, regardless of thoughts against her.
A/N: I told myself I would wait to publish this and keep it going once Aquila or Obeisance finished, but I apparently can't keep my mouth shut on the kinkmeme. GOOD GOING SELF. Well, have an AU crossover, on me!
Also, I haven't forgotten about the other ongoing stuff. I swear. I've got four stories going simultaneously, and I'm just working on the ones I can when inspiration strikes. They will all get done...eventually. I update enough to keep you guys entertained at least, right?
Thanks for reading, as always.