Host Tower of the Arcane

Marin's gaze darted nervously about the entrance hall of the Host Tower, searching for danger, but as far as she could tell they were alone, undetected. She took a shuddering breath, then tossed aside the embossed scroll they'd used to gain access. It landed in a corner, hardly hidden from sight, but such had been Torio's instruction.

Gann looked around curiously. "Given all I've heard, I'd have thought breaking into this place would've been more difficult. What exactly did your so-called ambassador do for us?"

"I'm not entirely sure, and at this point I'd rather not argue," replied Marin, reaching reflexively for her fighting knives. She stayed her hands, taking a deep breath. "I'd rather just find Casavir and get the hell out of here."

"Up or down?" asked Gann then. He looked to the stairs, "I don't know about up; the stories usually go on about how the damsels in distress are locked up in towers, but I'm not sure where to look for lost paladins."

"Very funny," replied Marin sarcastically. She nodded towards an iron-studded door that looked promising, "Although in this case I think you're right; everything I've heard about the Host Tower suggests searching for dank dungeons will be our best bet."

The door opened as they reached it, revealing a swarthy mage dressed in black robes. He looked up in surprise to see them but before he could react Marin threw a sharp kick to his stomach. As he doubled over she brought her knee up into his falling face, then smashed an elbow down to the back of his head. He slumped silently to the floor, the whole encounter over in seconds.

"Now what on earth are we supposed to do with him?" asked Gann mockingly, looking down at the unconscious mage.

Marin raised an eyebrow at him, pulling her cloak's hood forward again to cover her features. "Meaning?"

"Meaning he's going to wake up at some point," replied Gann. He clucked his tongue infuriatingly at her. "It's unprofessional, you know, leaving evidence behind you like that."

"I never said I was trying to be professional," replied Marin, searching through the mage's pockets but coming away with nothing of use to them. "Bind him and stick him in a cupboard somewhere. I'm not here to cause a bloodbath."

"But if you find one of them standing between you and Casavir...?"

"Different situation," replied Marin abruptly. Now that they were inside the Host Tower she was almost out of her skin with impatience to find Casavir, and Gann's light-hearted commentary was grating her nerves. She gave him a meaningful look, jerking her head towards the unconscious mage. "If you'd be so kind?"

Ten minutes and several stairwells later they reached what looked to be the dungeons, having left the unfortunate mage bound and gagged and stashed in shadows behind a statue. Three narrow corridors stretched off into the gloom – north, east and west – unlit but for a single guttering torch at the intersection where they stood.

Marin was moving to douse the torch when she suddenly shivered so violently even her tail shuddered. Gann moved to steady her but she waved him away, a curious expression on her face. She took two steps towards the northern passage, a step towards the western passage, and then moved back to where she had originally been standing. As she crossed the mouth of the eastern passage she shivered, then smiled, her tail shuddering again. "He's down this way, I can feel him."

"Are you saying you can sense him somehow?" asked Gann, doubtful as he followed her in sneaking down the corridor.

"No, I can feel his presence, literally," replied Marin, struggling to keep her voice to a whisper. "Paladins are blessed by their deities and carry with them an aura of... an aura of goodness, I guess. It doesn't mix well with fiendish blood – both sides can feel the presence of the other."

"That must make things, ah..." Gann paused delicately, "...interesting."

The look Marin gave him was unimpressed. "Neeshka's skin starts crawling when she gets too close to him, probably why she's never managed to pick his pockets successfully. My own heritage must be more removed than hers; at most, Casavir's aura just made my skin tingle."

Gann opened his mouth to reply and Marin flushed, moving swiftly to cut him off, "Just, don't. I know what you were going to say, and I don't need distractions right now. Come on, he can't be far."

"As you wish, dear lady," replied Gann, a mischievous smile on his face as he followed her down the eastern passage. "It was too easy anyway."

Gann held up his hand warningly and the two melted into shadowy alcoves on either side of the passageway. Ahead a dim light grew gradually stronger, bobbing along as someone approached. Voices drifted towards them.

"...I don't envy him, mate; he's in for a bad start to the day tomorrow..."

The other guard said something they couldn't catch, and the first gave a harsh bark of laughter. "Where've you been hiding out? Got moss for brains? You've any idea who he is?"

The other muttered something, and the first continued. "That piece of scum you're guarding is Casavir, one of the Knight-Captain of Neverwinter's lackeys. You know her, the one what put paid to Black Garius's plans? That keeps making the mages look like imbeciles, not that you heard that from me."

"You mean he's the one the orcs called Katalmach?" said the second, awed. "I heard about that, what he did in Old Owl's Well. I thought he'd be taller."

"You're missing the point, dolt. He's rumoured to have hooked up with that wench, got nice and cuddly-like with her, you know? And if the mages can't get to her, they'll get at her through others. Like her lover. Pulled him out of the rubble of that keep before the Neverwinter forces could get to him, the mages did. I can't wait to see what they're going to do to him tomorrow."

"But what I don't get is why now? He's been here, what, two years? Why not do anything sooner?"

"You really are an idiot, aren't you? The mages never do nothing without cause. The Knight-Captain went missing right after that King of Shadows guy fell; Master Thelonius was searching for her in the rubble when they came across him. She only came back, what, a year or so ago now? And the mages had to wait until they had an ambassador back in Neverwinter, right, to send her the bits and pieces. Else why bother?"

"I guess... d'you reckon they'll flay him? I saw a flayed man once."

From across the passageway Gann could see Marin's eyes gleaming red with rising anger. He tried to catch her attention, to tell her to let them pass unmolested as long as they remained undetected...

"Naw, I've seen the mages do far worse things to a man, and use magic to keep him alive while they're at it. I wonder if they'll—"

The jailer never had the opportunity to finish saying what torture he thought the mages would inflict on their prisoner. As they drew level with where Marin was hidden she exploded into action, her dagger leaping into her hand almost of its own accord and plunging into the jailer's unprotected throat. With a startled gurgle he collapsed and she bounded over his falling corpse, hitting the second in the chest and bowling him over. They went down in a flurry of tangled limbs, Marin flipping as she fell and wrapping her legs about his neck.

"Mercy, mercy!" cried the man, cringing away from her wrath.

"What mercy would you have shown him?" snarled Marin, grabbing the man's flailing hands and keeping them away from her face. She tightened the hold inexorably, choking him, his desperate flailing growing weaker by the second, then ceasing altogether. Even then she didn't release her stranglehold.

"Marin, that's enough!" said Gann sharply. He grabbed her arm, pulling her forcibly away from the man, then knelt and felt along his neck. A pulse still fluttered, growing stronger now that the pressure crushing down on his windpipe was removed. He straightened, swearing under his breath. "That was unnecessary, Marin. You'd have killed him, and for what? You heard him, talking to that other one... did he really deserve death?"

Marin knelt hunched over where she had fallen after Gann had pushed her away, breathing heavily as she tried to regain control of herself. "I... I just..."

Gann swore again, gingerly approaching her. "Are you alright? Are you hurt?"

Marin looked up at him, her eyes still gleaming, her anger barely held in check. "This ends here, tonight."