Part I—Chapter 8: Adventures in Swordplay
"Am I the only one hearing this?"
Emily looked frantically back at her companions, who were all examining the contents of the Hall of Sleeping Kings. As Deekin had told them, the room they were now in was home to the great kings, queens, and sorcerers from the ancient northern lands, preserved in all their skeletal glory. Though dead for hundreds of years, the sign at the entrance which read "Leave Sleeping Kings Be!" was splattered with fresh blood, indicating that the sleeping kings woke up every now and then. Since they seemed to be stationary for the moment, Emily and her friends had decided to have a look around. Each had been drawn to what interested them, and Emily had been led to a glowing red longsword resting in the undead arms of one King Bolon. A sword which she now believed was speaking to her…
"Yes, I am speaking to you, you foolish human. Take me out of this brute's hand and away from here!"
Emily looked back at the sword, her brown eyes wide as saucers. She pointed an accusatory finger at the blade. "You are not speaking. That's impossible! Right, Deekin? Sharwyn?" She sighed in frustration. "What's the point of having two bards if neither of them is around to share their bardic knowledge?" she muttered angrily as she marched over to where the two were standing.
Sharwyn was reading the placard above the remains of a ghoul. "'The Vivisectionist.' Well, that certainly sounds ominous." The bard shivered in disgust.
"'Revisionist Balorthon,'" read Deekin from another placard. "Hey, Boss?" he asked, noticing Emily's approach. "Does you think this guy was storyteller like Deekin? Changes boring stories so they be more interesting, maybe?"
"I don't know, Deekin, and, my apologies, but I don't really care." The cleric placed a hand on each of the bards' shoulders. "Guys, I think the glowing sword over there is talking to me. Can you come look at it with me and prove whether or not I'm going mad?"
"You? Mad?" screamed the sword from its perch. "I swear I shall go mad if I suffer one more decade of staring at this room! That is what it means to go mad!"
"No, Boss, Deekin hears it, too."
"Yes, dear cleric," Sharwyn said, patting Emily gently on the head. "You mind is intact. Daelan!" she called to the barbarian, who had stayed near the entrance examining the doors. "We're going to go talk to a sentient sword now. Would you like to join us?"
Daelan followed them to King Bolon's throne, his brow furrowed. "The locking mechanisms on these doors are very strange," he said. "They don't seem to be able to be manipulated from the outside or inside, so how do they close?"
Sharwyn sighed and tossed her long red hair at him. "Really, Daelan, Emily has found a magical talking sword, and all you can think about is door locks?" Daelan looked at her with a hurt expression, but when she winked at him he grew confused and decided to look at his boots for a while.
Emily meanwhile was attempting to start a conversation with her newest acquaintance. "Err…. Hello, Sir Sword. My name is Emily Emeraude. Umm… do you have a name, or shall I just call you Sir Sword? Because if you prefer something else, it's fine, just tell—"
"SHUT UP!" yelled the sword. Emily could swear she heard it sighing, though without the presence of lungs she couldn't for the life of her figure out how that was possible. As she pondered the details of the respiratory system of an inanimate object, the sword continued. "Far be it for me to make a simple request and hope that an adventurer might simply do as they are asked for once, but no. We have to have introductions! Fine. My name is Enserric the Grey, one time mage and adventurer, now a spirit trapped in this blasted weapon. You'll forgive me for not bowing."
"Your spirit is trapped in there?" asked Emily. "How long ago was this?"
"I don't know," Enserric droned. "I didn't get sucked into a calendar, you see. Honestly, does this really matter? Just take me away from here!"
"Look, sir, I'm a cleric. I might be able to get you out of there. Do you remember anything about how you came to be trapped in the sword?"
"I'm sorry. I was too busy dying to remember the specifics of what was happening to my soul at the time. Anyway, I'm sure it's been far too long for your healing spells to have any use, so please, I beg you, take me away from here! Use me to chop all your enemies to ribbons, we'll have such fun!"
Emily looked down at the mace in her hand. "Well, since I'm not exactly proficient in swords, that seems to be out of the question. What shall we do then? Debate the great mysteries of life?"
"Well, now, that could be fun. My intelligence is considerable, and I… am… very… bored! Just take me with you, and we can talk about anything you want!"
Emily eyed the sword warily. "You say you're intelligent, hmm? You know, I've heard tales about intelligent weapons taking over their users…"
"That be right!" chimed in Deekin. "Deekin reads tale once where big double-axe talks owner into slicing himself in half so axe can feed off life force! In fact, pictures in book look lots like your axe, Big Half-Orc…" Daelan glared at the kobold, but Emily noticed him slightly tighten his grip on his weapon.
Enserric sighed again. "This is all very much beside the point. Now, you seem like a strong willed young woman. Are you actually afraid I could somehow dominate you? That's nonsense. Pick me up, and let's go slice some heads off!"
Emily crossed her arms. "I'd love to help you, Enserric, really, but as I told you I have no need of a longsword."
"Please, please, please!" the sword desperately cried. "Sell me then, or… or I have a better idea! Let me change my shape into something more useful! I can turn into a dagger! Or a short sword! I can even grow as big as a greatsword, how about that?"
Emily considered for a moment. "Can you turn into a mace?" she asked.
"A mace?! Why on earth would I turn into a mace?!"
"Because I can use a mace. You said you wanted to be useful, right?"
"OH FOR THE LOVE OF MYSTRA, JUST PICK ME UP!"
At that moment, an ogre burst through the door nearest to them. He seemed to be running away from something, and he barreled over Emily in his rush to escape. As she fell to the ground, she dropped her mace, and it rolled underneath one of the thrones. Struggling back to her feet, she saw a large band of harpies enter the hall, hot on the orc's heels. The leader noticed her dazed expression, however, and the harpy quickly directed her followers to change targets. Emily took one look at the approaching monsters and grabbed Enserric from the skeleton's loose grip. The longsword felt awkward in her hands, but it was better than nothing. She moved to stand beside Daelan, and she could hear Sharwyn pulling her bowstring taut. The one thing she didn't hear was Deekin singing. Why isn't he singing? she thought with growing alarm.
"Umm, Boss? Deekin thinks kings be done with their nap time…"
Emily turned back to look at King Bolon, Enserric's former owner. His eyes began to glow, and creakily he stood up and pointed a long, bony finger at her. He was definitely awake, and he was definitely angry.
The door suddenly slammed shut, and Emily was sure she heard it lock. The skeleton took one halting step towards her and picked up a sword lying next to his throne. How many weapons do these sleeping kings have? Emily wondered briefly before realizing that leaning over left the skeleton off balance. Seizing her opportunity, Emily threw back her arms and swung with all her might… leading with the flat side of the blade.
"WHAT IN THE NINE HELLS WAS THAT?!" Enserric screamed in disgust as the skeleton fell to the floor. "I swear, woman, have you never fought with a sword before?"
"Can't say that I have!" Emily yelled back as she repeated the same maneuver on an approaching harpy. "I told you I wanted a mace!"
As the sword's flat side made contact with the harpy's head, Enserric cried out as if he were in physical pain. "Would you please stop doing that? It is absolutely humiliating!"
"I don't care how humiliating it is," Emily snapped, "it's working!" Another harpy fell, its skull smashed in.
"NO, NO, NO! Less bashing, more slashing!"
Emily rolled her eyes and proceeded to bash away at another skeleton. Having given herself some breathing room, she quickly used her undead turning powers to send a few of their adversaries running away in fear. A quick injury scan of her companions revealed no immediate causes for concern, so she plunged back into the melee. She even attempted a few slashing strokes to keep Enserric from screeching constantly, though she usually missed badly, prompting the sword to mock her ineptitude instead.
Soon enough, all of their enemies were dead. The first thing Emily did was march back to King Bolon's former throne and throw Enserric on the seat. "I've changed my mind," she said angrily. "You can rot in this room for all eternity."
Enserric started up another round of pleading, but Emily ignored him as she took stock of her companions. Deekin seemed no worse for wear, but Sharwyn was lying on the ground, her leg bent in a very unnatural position. Daelan was kneeling at her side.
"Please stay still, Sharwyn," the barbarian pleaded. "You're making it very difficult for me to pick you up."
"That is because I don't want you to pick me up!" Sharwyn snapped petulantly. "I am perfectly capable of walking. Just as soon as I figure out how to stand up…"
"Judging by the state of your leg, I don't see that happening without some medical attention," Emily said, bending down to examine the injured limb. Daelan looked on anxiously as the cleric cast her healing spell. In an instant, Sharwyn's leg was as good as new. "All better!" Emily pronounced happily, and Sharwyn stood up, grudgingly accepting Daelan's assistance. Emily watched the half-orc's gaze follow the bard as she began inspecting the considerable loot from the battle; when he noticed the cleric looking at him, he quickly busied himself with cleaning his double-axe.
Emily smiled to herself and walked over to Deekin, who had dutifully retrieved her mace from under King Bolon's throne. "Here be Boss's mace, but, umm… Deekin thinks Boss should take Yappy Sword, too."
Deekin's choice of nickname sparked a litany of curses from Enserric, which Emily ignored as she asked the kobold, "Why, Deekin? I clearly demonstrated my lack of swordsmanship in this battle. I think I should just stick to blunt weapons."
"But Yappy Sword be much more magical, Deekin be thinking. Look at it; it glows."
"The kobold is right; the sword is a superior weapon," Daelan said, looking up from his cleaning. "If it is simply a matter of being unfamiliar with using a sword, I would be honored to teach you, Emily. It is the least I can do after you saved my life."
Emily considered the half-orc's words carefully, and then shook her head. "I know I'm going to regret this," she muttered as she approached the throne. "Congratulations, Enserric," she said, picking up the sword. "Your lengthy imprisonment is at an end."
"No, no, no, your form is all wrong! I need to be moving more side-to-side, less up-and-down."
Emily glared at her new sword in exasperation. Daelan shouldered his double-axe and looked at the cleric with concern. "We've been at this for hours, Emily. Maybe we should call it a night."
Emily shook her head so fervently her curly hair whipped her face. "I'm not stopping until I can do this properly. What's the point of having a magic sword if I can't fight with it?"
"Boss was fightings with it, though," Deekin commented from his perch on his newly claimed throne. "Boss just fights badly, sort of."
"If you are referring to that hideous display against the undead, kobold, calling that 'fighting' is an insult to a most honorable profession."
"Oh, shut up, Enserric," Emily snapped. "You said you were a mage when you had a body; you're hardly in a position to be giving me advice about physical combat."
The sword made a sound that sounded remarkably like someone sticking his tongue out. Emily closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened her eyes again, she raised Enserric and assumed a fighting stance. "Please, Daelan, again? I'll never hear the end of it otherwise."
The half-orc sighed and nodded. "Very well, Emily. On my mark…"
"Deekin, another question, please," Emily requested absently as she focused on her next move.
"Okay, Boss! Umm… what be full name of really crazy wizard Boss be hunting?"
SMACK. Daelan parried Emily's swing.
"Halaster Blackcloak," the cleric answered as she backed away to prepare another strike. Sparring with Daelan had gotten rather dull after the first hour or two, so Emily had asked Deekin to quiz her about Undermountain's history to keep her mind engaged. It also helped distract from Enserric's constant stream of criticism.
"You're getting better, Emily, but your swing is still very stiff. Try to allow your body to flow with the blade," advised Daelan.
"Very good, Boss!" Deekin cried happily. "Halaster Blackcloak be correct answer. You is good student, Boss. If Deekin had cake, he would gives you a slice. But since Deekin sadly has no cake, Deekin gives you… another question! What building stands in place of old crazy wizard tower, maybe? This be Deekin's personal theory, Boss remembers…"
WHACK. Emily swung again and said, "The Yawning Portal Inn." To Daelan, she said, "Was that flowier?"
Daelan hesitated, a reluctant grimace on his face. This gave Enserric the opportunity to snort derisively. "About as flowy as a boulder. Oh, why was I fated to be found by so incompetent an adventurer?" he wailed.
"It was a little better," Daelan finally said as diplomatically as he could. Emily frowned and readied herself for a third try.
"Boss be right again! Deekin believe that why inn gots entrance to Undermountain. Hmm, Deekin thinks Boss ready for hard question, maybe. How many apprentices did crazy mage brings with him to Waterdeep?"
Emily blinked. She actually didn't know the answer. She frantically tried to remember and blurted out, "Five!" mid-swing. Rattled as she already was by Enserric's snide comment, she completely missed Daelan's axe and crashed into a tower shield lying on the floor nearby. The resulting clang initiated a stream of curses from Enserric and woke up their resident sleeping beauty.
Sharwyn sat up, startled out of her sleep. "What's going on? Are we under attack?"
"No, Sharwyn," Emily sighed sadly. "I'm just terrible at sword fighting."
"Boss also terrible with numbers," Deekin chimed in. "There be seven apprentices of crazy mage, not five."
"Right, seven," Emily muttered as she picked up the shield and moved it farther away from their sparring area. She turned back to apologize to Sharwyn, but the bard had already fallen back asleep, exhausted from breaking her leg so soon after being raised from the dead. Emily watched Daelan gently drape a cloak back over the sleeping woman and smiled. Daelan pretended not to notice the look on her face as he walked back over to her. "Are you sure—?" he began.
"Again," Emily said briskly, though she was still smiling, much to Daelan's discomfort.
"Okay, Boss, question number four. When crazy mage builds his tower deeper and deeper, what does he finds?"
Emily ignored Deekin's question as she solidly struck Daelan's axe. "You like her, don't you?" she asked the barbarian, though she was confident of the answer.
Daelan stepped back and dropped his eyes. "Of course I like her. I wouldn't choose to travel with her if I did not."
Emily laughed. "That's not what I meant, and you know it. I've watched the way you're always looking at her, rushing to attend to her every possible need—"
Daelan swung his axe at her, forcing the cleric to quickly parry. I didn't think we'd moved on to defensive maneuvers, she thought as she watched the half-orc try to compose himself. "I do those things because I feel responsible for her. I… I feel like I let her down during the ambush. I'm the warrior of our group. I was supposed to protect her, and I failed to do so. It is my fault that she died, and I will never allow her to be in that kind of danger again. I have to keep her safe…" Daelan's voice trailed off, his eyes fixed on the floor.
Emily regarded the forlorn half-orc for a moment. She shook her head, shouldered Enserric, and swung, hitting the barbarian squarely on the side of the head. He roared in pain, and Enserric screamed, "NOT WITH THE FLAT SIDE, YOU FOOL!"
Daelan rubbed his head and glared at the cleric. "What was that for?" he growled.
Emily shrugged, refusing to be intimidated by his obvious anger. "I was just doing what Sharwyn would do if she heard that speech." Daelan looked confused, so she went on. "Sharwyn is a very confident woman, yes?" Daelan nodded. "That's what I thought. Something tells me that she wouldn't take kindly to being thought of as a weak little woman who can't look after herself. I know I definitely wouldn't."
The half-orc was taken aback. "I… I didn't mean it like that. I've watched her in action; she's an excellent bard who's saved my life more than once. I know she can look after herself. I just… I just don't want her to get hurt, that's all."
Emily sighed and reached up to put her hand on the tall barbarian's shoulder. "I know that you mean well, Daelan. And I'm sure once Sharwyn thought it over, she would realize it, too. Everyone likes to know that they've got a friend watching their back. Just… maybe try to be less obvious about it. Let her get a couple of scratches and scrapes so she doesn't feel like you're keeping her inside a glass case of safety. One thing I've learned about bards is that they hate not being a part of the action."
"Boss gots that right!" said Deekin, looking up from his book.
Daelan eyed the kobold narrowly. "Have you been writing down everything we've been saying just now?"
"Pretty much. Deekin just wonderings… when half-orc looks at bard lady, does he like what he sees?"
"Yes, of course," said Daelan, surprised at the question. When Emily began to snicker, he blushed fiercely. "I mean no, not like that," he said quickly. "That is… look, I'm just glad she's okay. Can't you just leave it at that, Deekin?"
Deekin grinned mischievously. "Deekin makes no promises. Deekin must follows his muse."
Daelan rolled his head back and gazed up at the ceiling. "In that case, may the gods help us all." He put his axe aside and began to settle in for the night.
Emily sat down next to Deekin's throne, Enserric in hand, ready to take the first watch. "The answer was dwarven mines, by the way," she said to Deekin, finally answering his fourth question.
"Boss wins again! Deekin is very impressed by how much Boss remembers."
Enserric coughed loudly. "Yes, because the knowledge that Undermountain was built on the ruins of dwarven mines will be so impressive to the giant ogre barreling down on you that he will stop in his tracks and bow before your great wisdom…"
Emily shoved the sword deep into her pack and picked up her mace instead. I'm really going to need to find a sheath for that thing, she thought darkly as she surveyed the room. Otherwise this is going to be a very long adventure…