I spasmed.I saw a sky made of fire, a landscape as vast and desolate as any I could have imagined, but so real that the heat seemed to singe every hair, every follicle of my flesh.
Dear gods, protect my soul.
Strong arms reached out from the furnace, dripping blue-green flames. I put up my hands, saw them become transparent against that burning, exposing the bone beneath.
"Open yer eyes..."
No. I kicked and bit and tore into the hands that tried to burn me.
But the sulfurous hands pushed me down, shook my shoulders until I thought the joints would tear out of their sockets. I held onto those arms until I felt the blue-green, molten world shift into the starless darkness of eyelids.
The smell of the sea and the docks tainted the air with the familiar mixture of salt and sweat and stale ale of Duncan's Flagon. Only then did I open my eyes.
I watched in silence as dawn made a lurid path through the rooftops, spilled hot and red through my window. The bed covers lay discarded on the ground. My body as well as another naked shadow rose against the paler mattress. Real arms wound tight around me, pinning my arms and legs, either to keep me close, or to keep me from moving.
The square jaw, bull-neck were there, even if couldn't make them out their definitions in the indiscriminate dawn. I could still feel the course hair on his chest against my back, the massive curve of his shoulders and thighs, which dwarfed my own dimensions. I wanted to spread his body across the bed, stretch my hands, feet to meet his...
"...Cormick," I whispered, turning my face, my body toward his. His eyes were bright lights after the strange, otherworldly darkness of my dream. I looked into them until I found our chests rising in one rhythm.
This is what's real. "You can let go now."
Cormick laughed, kissed my neck, "Can I now? Ya tried to kill me, girl. Can't say I like it, but then, I'm not the ranger."
He extended his wrists, showed the bite marks on his forearms.
I ran my tongue behind my fangs. All I remembered was making love, falling asleep, ... something blue-greenin my dreams... so I kissed the bites with a look as apologetic as it was confused, "I guess...I must have remembered who was in my bed."
He squeezed my backside, "Ya didn't seem to mind when ya pulled me into it..."
I yawned, arched my back, "In case you haven't noticed, I'm not much of a lady." I grabbed him by his neck, pulled his body on top of mine. Having an extra digit on each hand made my touch keener. As I ran may hands all over the muscles of his broad back, I always noticed the smattering of freckles on his shoulders, the mole on his left shoulder-blade, the round scar of an arrow that had missed his spine by a fingernail...
With a chuckle, Cormick stood. Naked, shaggy, and beautiful in the way I has learned men could be, he wagged his finger at me.
"You want me to beg?" I asked, sitting up. I took advantage of my own nakedness by crossing my hands behind my head, "I'm not above begging. I want you all to my own selfish self."
The light poured into the room, lighting everything in gold. My eyes switched from their night vision to normal sight. The red-gold wallpaper seemed to gleam, as if it were remembering dawn.
"Ya have me, Amara..." He kissed the space between by breasts, "...every part."
"Where to stake my claim?" I murmured, appraising his bare body. "How bout here ...and here...and oh, I couldn't forget here."
He pulled away from my chest, rubbed his nose against the scar the shard had made on the day my mother died, "Tell me how ya got this..."
I pulled away from his probing, put a hand over the old defect, the only mar on my otherwise smooth skin. I didn't like looking at it, let alone have someone touch it.. "What? I thought you were off duty, Marshal..Further probings can wait until later. "
Cormick laced his arms together, "I don't like secrets."
I crossed my arms, deliberately imitated his stance, "Good thing I'm not keeping secrets then."
"Really? Then please explain the gaping scar that almost splits yer chest in half."
I gave him a withering stare as I covered up the wound and my body with what remained of the bedclothes, "Get dressed, Cormick. Uphold the laws that keep us one step above savagery..." Then I softened my eyes, my voice, "Now, dear one, is not the time to talk about old wounds..."
Looking into my eyes the whole time, he leaned down, pushed the covers away, deliberately kissed the puckered, pale cross above my heart.
I wound my hands in his curly hair, concentrated on the sensation of his lips against the only place where my skin, with its secret scar, was forbidden to him. He liked a challenge-well, I presented more than enough of that for twenty men... An image of us, years from now, flashed through my mind: two graying, wrinkling, more-or-less content people, and even then, I knew he'd still go after the tender spots I was always trying to hide.
My voice was fond as I twirled a dark lock between my fingers, "Stupid, stubborn Harborman. That scar...is just where I tore out my heart, set it adrift in the sea until the right man came along to put it back again..."
"...The Princess of the Lost Heart...I think I've heard that story...Without a heart, the Princess becomes something deadly. Isn't she tall, and dark, with green eyes that cut right through a man like a basilisk's glare?" I rolled my eyes, "And black hair," He tried to pull my hair behind my ear, but it was too dense, "thick and smooth as flax? A voice like a siren's? Her look maddens every admirer, but I heard it's with her voice that she weaves her spells, and so voice and beauty, which should enchant, only deal destruction and death."
"I heard a slightly different version. The Princess, who's not really a princess, but an Enchantress, deals out deal out death and destruction-oh, yes-but only so she can find her heart. Good thing I know where my heart is...my heart is right here," I tapped his chest, sucked on his nipple.
He sighed in pleasure, "The only thing I wonder is if yer going to enchant me or-"
"Fuck you?" I threw his knickers at him.
He shimmed into them,"Does this mean ya won't propose?"
I pretended to trace Lathander's circle on my palm, "Gods forbid. Or you'll start asking me to make you dinner, or maybe darn your socks...Princesses don't do that sort of thing."
"I thought ya weren't a princess?"
I narrowed my eyes,"I'm a noble now. Manual labor," I chuckled "is what servants like you are for, my dear."
"So that's what keeps all these strapping folk around? Cheap labor?"
"You should talk to Sand. Before the Trial, we talked about what would bring our little gang together...Power, coin, simple boredom? I like to think it's common purpose, maybe affection. While I may not understand why, I won't belittle their motivations-unless I have good reason for being suspicious. I'd rather trust. And be disappointed. Because there is nothing that any of them can do that I can't recover from. "
"One more speech like that, and we're not leaving this room."
"Too many opinions this early in the morning?"
"...I'll have to marry ya. Or fuck ya."
I banged lightly on his chest, "Quit that!"
I pushed him out of the bed. He made a loud thump as he fell.
"Ow, " he laughed, still splayed on the ground."Yer already mean to me. Marry me."
"What?" I looked down at him, "You want me to push you out of bed every day?"
He sat up, placed his arms on the bed as he looked at me, "I'm not joking, Amara."
I sighed as I rolled off the bed and climbed onto his lap, "I can see it. You're really serious. I've never been proposed to, but even with my limited experience, I'm pretty certain it's a little...soon. We only just started being close-as in the naked kind of close. You-we've-been completely unexpected. I will be happy if you keep exceeding my expectations," I kissed his forehead.
He held my chin in his hand, "I like things as they are too, but I keep thinking of the future. I don't know how much time we have. It might be fast, but there's no time limit on these things. Either it's right, or it's not...And we're right." Both his hands cradled my face, "I've never had it so right..."
I mussed his hair, "Cormick, getting married is for people who have futures and broods to look forward to. You do know my father is a demon and that I'm a warlock, as well as all that stuff about being the Kalach-Cha and the Shard-Bearer. I don't know if I can conceive, or if I should, with the shards throbbing with some extra-planer electricity-"
"-That's my point. Despite everything, we've managed to find each other," He placed his cheek against mine. "That don't happen everyday."
I tried to look out the window, but could only see a small patch of gold-flecked sky, "This war's a long way from being over."
He spoke low into my ear, "There are always wars. The only thing good about them is that even the worst one's end."
"After lots of destruction. After lots of death..." I looked past the horizon, as if I could see the future written in the air, hovering above us.
Cormick smiled. I could feel the tickle of it against my neck, "That is what yer meant to do, Amara. See what's coming, and bear it. Me, I need a little hope. I'm pretty certain that someday, we'll look back at this, and grin, and remember all the wonders we saw together rather than the pain."
I wrapped my arms around him, flashed my fangs, "While our demon brood looks after Ma and Pa in their twilight years?"
Cormick laughed, "Why not? I only see dawns before us, love. Always, no matter what happens."
"...You're a bloody sap."
"I'll take that as a 'maybe' cause I'm too stubborn to give a straight answer-'"
My eyes met his, "Even if you can take on Luskan armies, gangs, gith, and criminals, do you really think you can handle Daeghun as a father-in-law?"
"-I'm just being honest."
"Yer being pig-headed."
I made an oinking sound.
"I'll turn ya into bacon. And eat ya up."
"Cross my heart."
I raised both my hands in a gesture of surrender, "...We can discuss your proposal later-when one or both of us isn't bare-ass naked," I slapped his backside, "Now, git, and hurrythat fine ass back to me."
His white-toothed grin, his I'm-going-to-do-all-sorts-of-things-to-you look, made me smile long after he was gone.
I felt weightless as I lay back in the bed, smelling his scent. I wanted to be enveloped by it, as his arms had enveloped mine. I wanted to run out of the Flagon naked as a babe, shouting, Cormick, Cormick. My heart belongs to Cormick.
He was the same boy I knew, and now brave, funny, tender man. And he came to my bed. Didn't even hesitate, caressed every...(sweet Mystra) of this body. He even wanted to marry me, the fool. I stretched my fingers, all twelve digits, remembered the feel of his skin, even the coarser cloth of his uniform, the black and white of his marshal's tunic.
Think, Amara. Being a warlock, I dealt with fiends and the possibility of death every day. When you hazard your soul every moment, it lowers the odds of having a stable home life-just look at poor Owal. I was fond of Cormick-no, I adored Cormick, but...marriage? That involved a whole other world of complications involving...financial stability...and...babies...
I swallowed. I'd rather face a dragon. Or two. Or ten.
I took my time getting ready...My dark robes, Sir Nevalle's fine gift, were covered in dirt and dried blood, so I slipped on my old suit of chain mail after a hot bath. While a part of me thought the mail was probably unnecessary, the other part recalled that twice already I had been caught half-clothed in compromising situations. In the Solace Glade, I was ambushed by assassins while wearing a paper-thin robe. And then I had to fight the gith-in this very room-with nothing on but a night shirt. Since circumstances indicated that the less clothed I was, the more likely I was to get attacked, I decided to be cautious, and slip on the chain mail. As I yanked to get the familiar weight of the mail over my head, I got a quick glimpse of my face in the mirror- it was a good thing I did. I pulled my mad hair into a knot and slipped on my boots, bought in Fort Locke, with a fond grin before thudding downstairs.
Everyone else had alright eaten, and many were still recovering from last night's festivities. It had seemed like all of Neverwinter crammed into Duncan's Flagon last eve: singing, dancing, making a holiday. This morning-afternoon, really-the only sound coming from the common room was Khelgar's stuttering snore from the far corner. Duncan had already chased away the stragglers and the drunkards . The tables and bar had been polished to a high gleam. I could smell my uncle's rolls baking. My stomach rumbled.
Shandra was the only one awake in the common room. She sat at a table, making a face at the plate of hot rolls. She didn't have on her armor yet, but a padded suit with the top laces untied.
Shandra rubbed the sleep from her own eyes, and looked at me from crown to heel, "Well, you look like as content as a cow that's just been milked."
I grabbed a roll from her plate. It was oven-hot, so I blew on it as I tossed it from one hand to another, "If you're waiting for a 'grope and tell,' forget it. You know that's not my style." I looked around, "Where's the butter?"
"If you hadn't spent all morning waking up half Neverwinter, Kalach-Cha, you might have had a chance to have a bit of butter before the rest of us ate it. Next time, you might want to use a silence spell. Or I'll gag you myself."
"Have a cup of tea. Everything seems more marvelous after a cup of tea-"
"I don't want any tea. I want—"
"Cream?" I bit the roll.
We both laughed.
She wiped a tear from her eye, "I want Casavir to ravish me. Again and again and again."
The roll was swarm and crusty, and I chewed slowly, "And you are telling me because-"
"I am used to men, well, approaching me. I want someone to say things like 'Wow , Shandra, your hair is very shiny, I want to run my fingers through it...'"
"I don't think that's Casavir's way. If he doesn't approach you, then you're going to have to talk to him."
She rolled her eyes. "Talk to him? Say, Cas, sometime before our next battle, I was thinking we could have carnal relations. It takes the edge right off..."
"I'm certain we can arrange something at the next sparring match. Who knows what might develop when you get all grunty and sweaty."
"Hm... A little moonlight, a little hand-to-hand combat," Shandra counted each on her fingers, "I'm in-as long as it involves me, the paladin, and the removal of clothing."
"Don't worry, Shandra, I'll make it an order, if necessary."
She laughed, imitated my voice, "Sir Paladin, yo will get into that bloody bed, and you will make sweet love to Shandra until her bones twitch."
Casavir cleared his throat. We knew it was him because only the paladin had such distinctive phlegm.
Shandra and I looked at each other like two babes caught with our thumbs in honey.
Casavir had just come from the kitchen, and was wiping his forehead.
"Morning, ladies," I couldn't tell exactly how, but I knew Casavir had heard every word Shandra and I had said. There was something in the way he said morning ladies, with those the raised cheekbones.
The paladin paused before continuing, as if he was well aware of our discomfort and was making a joke of it, "Amara, you just missed Sand. He has to get some special item to finish the spell he's working to repair your horn. And Shandra...Khelgar and I were going to spar after lunch. You are welcome to join us-as always."
Shandra turned red, gulped, and nodded. A stay hair fell in to her face in a very charming way. I think she wanted Casavir to push the stray lock from her eyes and gaze into them soulfully.
As I looked at Casavir, I could see why Sandra wanted him to run his hands through her hair. Something about the paladin looked...different. He wore just a simple shirt and trousers. His sleeves were rolled up, as if he had been working. I guessed he was the one who had buffed the tables. Out of his normal plate mail, he looked like the young man he was rather than some battle-hardened solider. I had never seen him look more handsome.
I was about to say so, breaking that tricky conversational ground, but Casavir spoke instead.
"You look well, Amara. Even with a broken horn."
"It's all the exertion she got yesterday," blurted Shandra, who punched me good-naturedly in the shoulder.
I gave them both my warmest, widest grin, "Exercise is good for the soul."
Casavir did smile, "And good for the body. Though some forms of exertion are better than others..."
Shandra's mouth hung as wide open as a barn door.
"Is there a form in particular you have in mind, sir?" I asked.
"...Fencing." He said seriously.
"Anyone who's ever fenced knows you have to use every muscle, for the merest flicker of a wrist can cut through the best defenses, or leave you wide open to your enemy's attack. A good fencer makes it look instinctual, but it requires control to know when to build tension and when to release-when to feint and when to flurry."
"...It sounds like you've fenced a time or two."
"Everyone needs exertion. "
"But wouldn't Tyr be quite upset if you spent all your time...in...sword play?"
Casavir looked up, "As long as we do our duties, and cause no harm, Tyr is quite...lenient to his paladins. And forgiving when necessary."
I laughed. "Have you stood in great need of forgiveness?" Then I regretted my words, remembering our conversation in the temple..
The gleam went out of his face for a moment, "When the sin is great, the need for forgiveness is greater."
"Are you still talking about...swords?" Shandra suddenly asked.
"He's talking about battle."
"Yes, facing demons," Casavir added.
I arched my eyebrow, "Facing demons...I always wondered about that expression. When I was a child, I though it meant I was hard to look at because I was so vile."
"I...I apologize, Amara. Truly. I wasn't thinking."
"No need, Casavir. I like seeing you so...content. You haven't offended me. I don't think you could, if you tried."
"I probably could, even without trying, but I'd rather not-if I can help it."
Casavir did not wait for a reply. He nodded at us both, looking a little sheepish, and headed for the kitchen.
Shandra watched him leave, "I don't think I understood half of that conversation, but I got all I needed to...That man needs me. "
I chuckled, "Well, just don't make him sin too much."
"Or what? You'll ground us?" she said, pinching my ear.
"No. I'll send you to the Abyss..."
She laughed. "Oh. I'm so scared of the big, bad warlock. Who will save me from your terrible clutches?"
"Next time your house burns down, you better save yourself."
"I'll just squeal for the paladin. Gods, I didn't think I could be more attracted to him, but..." she sighed.
We both started laughing.
Shandra rapped her knuckles across the tabletop, "I still can't believe he just said that...What has gotten into that pretty head?"
"Maybe a prettier head," I gestured at Shandra.
"You know something?"
I shrugged, "I don't know anything. But he seems altered. What alters people more than...the possibility of ... carnality?"
"I think you're seeing things through those Cormick-colored glasses. If Casavir's changed, I'm guessing your head had something to do with it."
"-I don't mean anything bad by it like Neeshka's implied. You're the person Casavir's closest to. If you said something to him, he'd take it to heart."
"We only talked..."
"You have the irritating habit of getting people to confide in you. Casavir doesn't talk to anybody else. Things come out of his mouth, quite polite things, but I've never talked to him."
"About tactics, and Tyr, and necessary things: 'Shandra, guard your left shoulder,' or 'Shandra, be certain to keep your feet dry,' or 'Nothing, Shandra, I just need a few minutes alone to pray,' 'Shandra, did you help Grobnar scrub the pots?'"
"At least he's not like my foster-father. Daeghun could go for days-sometimes weeks-without saying a bloody word. Casavir's just... been through a lot. The distance is his way of coping. "
"Well, We've all been through a lot. I've lost my home, my family before that. My method of coping is to pant after the prettiest man I can, only he never smiles. Did you notice that? And when he does, he doesn't even show his teeth. Don't get me wrong, I'd still do all sorts of things with that frowning mouth, but I prefer a man who looks at least a little jolly. While I want him, I'm not certain I really like him. Am I terrible?"
"Yes. But that's why I like you."
"Amara, I really am happy for you and that grinning stud of a Harborman. Don't let my moaning fool you. Speaking of moaning-"
A hand brushed the jagged remains of my horn. Shit. A dull throb of pain reminded me that I had forgotten to ask Cormick about the dagger—the one that had killed Lorne.
"Shandra!..." I looked around, "Seriously, I have something to ask you."
"What is it?"
Suddenly, I saw Lorne's face-not the face of the man I had fought, but of him as a boy, when was red-headed and freckled. When he looked like Bevil.
I licked my lips, but it did not stop the memory of Lorne's stench from filling my nostrils. I punched my belly lightly beneath the table, commanding it to behave. Daeghun once told me that guilt was in the navel. It was an elven belief that stomach aches, and most physical discomfort, were due to one's state of mind and being rather than any physical cause.
As I rubbed my stomach, I had to face my guilt. While I knew that whoever threw the dagger was the one who actually killed Lorne, I was ready to-I thought I had, for a moment. I didn't doubt that his death was deserved, but I had never killed someone I knew before. I might as well have thrown the dagger myself.
"Did you eat a bad roll?" Shandra asked, concerned.
"No. When I fought Lorne, did you notice anything...odd?"
"Besides the fact that I had to watch while that monster tried to kill you? No. Why are you asking?"
"When have you ever known me to carry a dagger?"
"Never. So...how did one get into Lorne's back?"
"That's my question. One moment he was lying there, then that wind swept over us, and he had the ranger's dagger sticking out of his back."
"What? Bishop would only throw a dagger at you, not to save you."
"... Khelgar told me that Cormick had a plan, if things should go badly. Did you know about it?'
"Even if Cormick threw it, wouldn't he tell you? And why would he throw the ranger's-it doesn't make sense."
"Unless he wanted to frame Bishop, if anyone else grew suspicious."
"Cormick's too honest, Amara. If you ask him, I know he'll tell you straight."
"If it was Cormick, I'm going to be quite upset."
"What? That he loves you enough to do whatever he can to keep you safe? Yeah. It's unpardonable. I'm sure you'll find an appropriate punishment for him," she put a finger to her dimple. "I suggest starting with a strip search-"
I buried my head on the table...
I looked up, grinning like an idiot, "Yes?"
A young man stood inside the open door with a cap in his hand, "Master Aldanon has need of you. It is... urgent. He asks you to come with all possible speed."
"Alright. We'll be there in a moment."
The apprentice bowed before leaving.
I looked around the common area, saw only Shandra, Casavir, Khelgar, and Neeshka gathered around the bar, drinking tea or eating the last of the hot rolls. I went back upstairs to grab my remaining gear, and asked Shandra to wrangle together our 'little army.'
I needed to ask someone about the boy, Marcus. If anyone could answer my questions, it would have to be the sage.
As we neared Aldanon's house, there was a commotion outside. Two men stood in the walled courtyard. They seemed to be crouching over a third man, either to protect him, or hold him down. Several members of the Watch, most of whom I knew, kept looking from the three men to their sergeant with concerned faces. Some tensed their bow strings, others waited for the order to unsheathe their maces.
I ran up to the leader. I couldn't remember his name, but I knew his rank, "What's happening, Sargent?"
He saluted. There was something in the way he looked at me that made my stomach as tight and heavy as a boulder, "I'm sorry, Squire. It's Cormick-they've got Marshal Cormick!"
"That's impossible. I just saw him an hour ago."
"They've taken him hostage. A whole gang broke into Aldanon's place. Cormick tried to stop them, but that wand-its Aldanon's. The greedy bastards-who knows what kind of magic is in it..."
My mouth and eyes widened as I looked at the third man, the one on the ground, trying to see if I could see anything familiar.
I knew it was Cormick because of the black and white overtunic. I had helped him slip on this morning.
One, the brown-headed tough, kicked Cormick in the ribs.
I didn't think. I raised my hands- I called upon my power.
"Wait-" someone yelled, but it was too late.
Hellfire arced into the brown-headed figure kicking Cormick. I killed him instantly, but the other was able to aim a slim wand at Cormick's head before I sent hellfire into his belly. In the moment before the thug was consumed, some terrible magic issued from the wand's tip and tore into Cormick's chest like a column made of searing, blue-white light.
The spell burned my eyes. Whatever it was, it was potent. I could hear those cries of those around me, but once again, I didn't think. I ran.
"Cormick...what the bloody hells was that?" I coughed. Everything was happening too fast. I expected someone to appear and say that it was a joke-a terrible joke, and then Cormick would wag his finger at me, and then put his arms around me and say it was just a play to get me to marry him.
This, the numb pressing of my fingers against the brick wall, the cobblestones, wasn't real.
"Cormick, this isn't funny-" I said as I blindly groped for him.
In the sightless press of my fingers along the ground, I found a boot. I traveled up the leg, which ended short- a bloody, wet stump. I made a strange sound as I jerked my hand away.
I heard ragged breathing. As I bent in that direction, something grabbed my sleeve.
"...Cormick? Where are you?"
Even blind and light-headed, nauseous form all the carnage, I could still smell him.
Cormick pulled my forehead head against his, "Amara...Yer here."
"Yeah," I checked his body. There was only one wound I could feel. I put my hand on his chest, where the wand did its work. The wound oozed more blood than I though a body could contain. The blood spilled up over my hands, staining them a crimson I could now see all too vividly.
Cormick shook his head as if shaking away sleep.
I shook him, "Don't you go to sleep on me. Stay with me, or-"
"Listen, Amara..." his hold was surprisingly strong. His hands were as cold as his vise-like grip. But he couldn't say anything. He just stared me with those dark, lovely eyes, as if memorizing my features, or noticing them for he very first time.
"Don't you dare look at me like that," I threatened even as I kissed him. At least this lips were still warm.
Cormick became terribly pale.
"Stay with me," I smacked his bearded cheek. "Cormick!"
His eyes sank shut.
"Cormick. I'll can't marry you if you don't stay with me, now. Just open your eyes, please. Cormick...look at me..."
Cormick made a gurgled noise from the base of his throat, as if he was choking.
My voice was an animal cry, "He's alive! Someone help him!"
I heard movement before I saw several figures stumbling to where we were. Casavir placed his hands out out his hands to Cormick's chest, and called on Tyr. After a long pause, Casavir closed his eyes, said something I didn't catch, but the blood still gushed through the paladin's careful hands.
Then the paladin took out a healing kit to stanch the blood. Casavir worked quickly, but I could tell he didn't understand why the healing spell wasn't working.
Neeshka came up from behind Casavir, "Why aren't you helping him?"
The bandage was already soaked. Casavir put another one on top of it. "Amara, hold this bandage tight," I held the bandage as tightly as I could. "Tyr sometimes heals, Neeshka, but not always. I'm not a priest. Cormick needs more healing than than I can offer."
Neeshka was still as she looked down at Cormick, whose mouth was slack, "You're a liar." She tried to push Casavir, but only managed to swat at his armored back.
"You can heal him, you just won't! And we all know why, don't we?"
The paladin looked into my eyes as I ran my hands through Cormick's hair. The sorrow and anger deepened the paladin's eyes to a thundercloud blue before he turned around, grabbed Neeshka's arms before they could slap him. He only looked at her, but Neeshka glared with red-eyed petulance that made me even more angry when I looked from her to Cormick, lying there in his own gore.
"That's unkind, Neeshka," Shandra reprimanded. "We don't know what that magic was that hurt him. And you're not helping anybody-especially not Cormick."
Neeshka seemed ready to say something, but Shandra's eyes softened. Shandra held out her hands, and the tiefling's sobs were the only sound for several moments.
I worked my jaw until I found my voice again,"Casavir, find Aldanon, and find out who did this..."
"We will," Casavir squeezed my shoulder briefly. "But I should come with you-"
I shook my head. "He's mine. The least I can do is be with him... Just-"
Casavir looked one last time at Cormick, "I will bring justice to them all, Amara. I swear it."
"Yes, we all do," said Shandra as she kissed my forehead, "Take him. We'll take care of the rest."
"Kill them," I said, "Kill them all!"
"Aye," said Khelgar, who waved his ax at the sage's house. "Come out, ya pixie-livered-"
"Khelgar!" whispered Neeshka. "We can't get the drop on them if you tell them we're coming."
As my companions headed into what remained of Aldanon's mansion, I looked at the Cloaks, "Don't just stand there, take the Marshal to the bloody Temple!"
Then I turned to Cormick, whispered, "It'll be alright."
The only response was fluttering of his eyelids.
I held Cormick's head. He was sweating, but his flesh was too pale, his skin too cold. I muttered every incarnation I knew that might help, but power from the realms below was never made to make mortals whole.
The solders carried Cormick to the Temple of Tyr, the same temple where where I had stayed the night before, contemplating my own death.
A Tyrran acolyte, robed in white, opened the doors, guided us to the rooms where the sick and dying were tended. No one was in the room until we entered, a solemn procession bringing in the wounded from the field-except it wasn't a battle that brought him here. He didn't fall by a gith sword or trolls or undead-it was a wand from an inept hand. Cormick had been weaponless, defenseless. He had probably thought that he could reason with them. "Let me put the old girl down-so we can speak like civilized folk."
When the Cloaks laid Cormick in the bed, I kissed his big, stubby hand, "Cormick..." It was clammy, oddly smooth. I knelt down, massaged his hand gently with both of my own, trying to keep what little life I felt in that pulse to remain there.
The solders left to get a priest, but I felt their accusing eyes boring into the back of my head.
I looked into Cormick's eyes, and I knew then that he was fading. There is a look, a pale sheen, that bleaches the skin of the dying. I had been the cause of it often enough to know what it was, but seeing it unfold in Cormick's face, a black anger rose in me. I couldn't love him, or I wouldn't be able to stand there as he, the great hero, the one person that deserved to live, was drained of life.
Cormick's gaze fixed on the ceiling.
I moved so that, if he could still see, he would look at me, "This morning was the happiest I've ever been. And that was because I woke beside you." It wasn't enough. There was so much more to say, just let me think...
One moment, he was Cormick-the next, he was...gone. The kindness, the life were gone from his dark eyes, and they looked just like bits of dim glass. The only expression that remained was a half-smile, as if dying was just as another thing to grin about. Or maybe he grinned for me...
I smoothed his hair, buried my face in it. As I smelled his smell, the familiar fragrance of mint, rather than soothing me, was like an accusation of what I had taken from the world. That smell would soon be decay because I had wanted it too much.
"Squire?" It was the same priest who had bandaged Cormick's hands after the fire in the Docks-the fire that Moire's gang had set. The one where Cormick burned his hands tying to save his friend...oh gods...
The priest looked at Cormick, "I was fond of that boy," he whispered. His voice creaked.
"Can't you help him?"
"I already tried every incantation. There is nothing more to be done. The spell that did this did more than just injure him-it prevents any healing from working. I am sorry."
I shook my head, "No."
"I've started prayers for his soul," the priest said without turning. The incense burned with a yellow pop, oozed smoke as the priest set it in a corner of the room. In West Harbor, Brother Merring did the same thing when someone died. It purified the air.
"Squire, won't you sit with me in the chapel? You look like one of Myrkul's Deaths."
If only, I thought. I let the priest led me away from Cormick's body, though I didn't want to leave him. I kept looking back at the door to the infirmary, as if I could see him through the door.
The priest tried to make his voice soothing, "The Marshal...was a doubting man."
"Cormick's...doubts need not disturb you any longer," I replied. While he was trying to smooth things over, I was looking for a fight.
"I'm afraid that's not the way things work, child."
I blinked rapidly, "Then inform me because I have no clue why were having a theological discussion when my friend is lying cold and dead in the next room."
"If no god claims his soul, he will be declared Faithless, and sent to the Wall."
My voice seemed to come from underground, "Is that your idea of comfort?"
"I don't like it any more than you do, but there are just some things that cannot be changed."
"I've lost him not just now, but forever. That's what you mean," I put my hands to my head. This can't be happening...
I turned my back to him, yet he kept speaking to me, "We cannot know someone's fate, as much as we may love, because we are not gods-only flesh that lives one, brief moment. Think of the eternity of time before you were born, or the eternity that will continue long you are dead. Our knowledge, our experience, is too limited, so we must trust in something to lead us down the right path."
"And who decides what is just? Priests? I though we were all 'just brief flesh,' if so, you're no more able to determine justice than a half-demon like me."
"Everyone will be held accountable for their actions, but not by me, but the gods, who are the only ones who can render judgment."
"I think Cyric would have a very different idea of justice than Ilmater."
"That is between each soul and their god."
Then there's no deed for a Wall to send the Faithless to-because there are enough gods to represent ever variation of human faith, right? So no one is really Faithless-only the gods who abandon us... "
"If you tread much further, you may tread on dangerous ground. I have already lost one who I was charged to save...
"Save the bullshit for the your sheep. Cormick didn't swallow it, and neither do I."
"If you really want to help, if you do love him, pray for his soul. It goes to to Crystal Palace as we speak. Perhaps a god may take pity on him, or recognize in his deeds."
I laughed as I turned on the priest, "Or he goes 'to the Wall.' I've heard that before. Want to know what I think about this Wall?" I took a step toward the priest, "It's a sham-a cock and bull story meant to scare children into saying their prayers and to go to temple, so that when they grow up, they are certain make their tithes. Right?"
I gestured at the empty benches. I kept stepping towards the priest, and he kept backing away, "That's not faith-that's manipulation. And you're telling me my Cormick may suffer the worst torment that the gods can concoct because he didn't spend enough time listening to your sermons?"
The priest stool his ground, "The Wall is real. And Cormick is in real danger."
I grabbed the priest's shoulders, I shook him-hard, "Then resurrect him. Reincarnate him...Animate him...I don't care. Just bring him back to me."
We ended up at the altar. A beam of natural light lit up the priest's face, "I cannot."
I tipped over the altar, sent the incense crashing to the ground, it left a tendril of heady smoke. Why did gods always need burnt offerings? "How much magic must there be in this bloody world, and it can't save one life?"
The priest looked at the desecration of his altar as if it were only a trick of his old eyes, "Death, painful as it is, but it is a part of life-"
"Do you want to find out?" I growled as I lifted the priest by his collar.
"That will not bring him back."
"He was murdered. You knew him. Isn't your heart on fire to think that his murders will sit tonight to sup, when he'll be lying in the dark alone.?"
"Death comes for each of us. It is why life is precious-we know it ends too soon..."
"Death may be natural, but an eternity of suffering is not right. It is not just!" My words rang into the rafters.
"It is not for mortals to judge."
I grinned until I felt my fangs expose white and curved, dangerous as twin daggers, "I'm not mortal, old man."
I dropped him.
A torch, carried by the priest, was our only light as he led our silent processional into the Temple's crypts. As we we walked further and further down the clammy, winding stairwell, the smell of embalming agents grew more and more distinct. Four acolytes carried Cormick's body in silence and placed it on a raised dais with an engraving of a raised fist on the base. When they turned away, they bowed before retreating back up the stairwell.
The priest set out more incense. I only saw his back as he lit several candles with his torch.
I felt helpless, a state I was never comfortable feeling. As I looked from Cormick to the darkness, where my night vision gave some idea of the untold number of bodies lay mouldering, a shiver touched my spine, "...Cormick loved West Harbor...And that's where I plan on taking him. I'll take him home."
My eyes must have glowed with a green phosphorescence, for the priest looked at me for several seconds. With my glowing eyes, fangs, and even a broken horn, he must have thought, Was it wise to bring her here?
"Once again, I am sorry for your loss."
"It is a loss for all Neverwinter," I said, tracing the stitching of my cloak.
"Come back the temple, child..." the priest said to me. "I will stay to perform the rites."
I shook my head, "Not while he's down here. We...we were going to be married..."
"Then stay for as long as you find the need to. No one will disturb you. I'll see to it."
The priest took the torch with him, leaving me with only a few candles and the darkness.
I only mentioned marriage because I was certain the priest would leave. See ,Cormick, more proof that I'm not good.
Cormick seemed to be asleep. The hand, my hand, that touched his cheek shook uncontrollably. He was cold, as cold as the stone around him. Yer shaking, Amara. I took off my cloak, put it across his shoulders. It was dark green, embroidered with silver thread by the women's circle in West Harbor. I won it when I won at the Harvest Fair competition. Cormick was the only other Harborman to win every competition of the tourney. How long had it been? Nine months. It wasn't yet summer, but last harvest already felt like another life...
Not one year. And now we had none.
I closed my eyes, grimaced as I shoved my fist my mouth so hard that my teeth bit into my knuckles. A sound came from me that I did not know I was capable of uttering. It was mournful, empty...I didn't know which was worse: being alone, or just realizing I would walk out of this room and never lay beside him again. I could do nothing as wave after wave of sorrow racked my body worse than any physical pain could have done.
It's my fault...oh gods...why do I only take lives...
I knew there wasn't time. I had so much to say. I didn't know where to begin. With prayers? With confessions? I -I did it - It should be me lying on this slab.
I wiped the snot from my nose. I'm not helpless, I thought as placed a hand against the smooth dais. I may not be able to heal, but, I could take his soul, lead it back to his body. There were evocations... I racked my mind. Didn't Owal do something similar?
I upturned my pack, spilling its contents on the ground. There, amid dry rations and herbs, was The Life and Death of Owal the Tongueless. I opened it...Yes. The exact details of the spells weren't there, but there was the basic structure. I could use it as a guide. My magic was spontaneous, a channeling of infernal energies, but it was, ultimately, a natural process. I did not violate any magical laws. The magic of a warlock wasn't like the studying that mages like Sand had to do for years before they could light a candle. All my life, my body just behaved like a tuning fork into other realms. I could see in in my dreams, even in the walking world-patterns of power-nets and webs...My magic was mostly that of containment and channeling. The necromantic arts, which dealt with death, were something I never pursued. There was no going back once that path was taken. Once you manipulated death, it altered something within the mage, as if it left a stain on the soul. It was what had destroyed Owal and everything he thought he loved.
From somewhere, a mental image of a raising spell formed in my mind as bright as daylight, as regular as a maze, which may have many tuns, but always has an end... It was dangerous, and there was no guarantee that what was raised would be completely Cormick, but... I buried my head for a moment in his dark hair. The rest of him was stone.
I smoothed his hair again and again. Was damnation worth it, if it brought him back to me-even if it was just a shell of what he was?
Pulling off the chain mail piece by piece, I piled my armor in the corner, rolled up the sleeves of my cloth undershirt. Gently, as if if I did not want to wake him, I pulled off the Harvest Cloak from his body. It fluttered to the carved floor, disturbing the layer of dust that had accumulated there after centuries of decay and corpses.
Avoiding his glassy stare, I pierced my own hand, the right one, with my incisor. The blood was hot and wet again my forearm. I stopped the wound with my hand. Each drop would be needed before the end.
I scrutinized a raising symbol from the book: a cross topped with a loop. With my blood, I traced the sacred symbol at each of the four corners the platform. According to the book, Owal said the symbols transformed the table into a "tablet of life," only then would raising be possible.
To bring a body back to life, I had to convince the other powers that the soul of the departed deserved to live. That is all the book offered.
I closed the book, closed my eyes. What am I doing? This is folly. I should turn away, march back up those steps, and go back to the sun, the day above. I should pray to Mystra, ask for forgiveness.
I remembered the altar I made to Mystra in my room back at West Harbor. Daeghun had even helped make a figure pf the Lady, hoping her influence might curve some of the ferocity of my soul. Lady of Magic, all the songs I sang, all the times I sat beneath your benevolent, carved gaze. I told her most of the things most girls tell their mothers.
I prayed that the magic would come, but instead of being a mage, my powers were everything that the Lady seemed to disprove of. Some considered warlocks no better than shadow mages-dangerous. They were right. Warlocks were dangerous. If we choose, we could tap into other powers besides the Weave. In other worlds, the worlds we warlocks tread across, magic was not always constricted by a Weave or a goddess of magic. Most warlocks chose easy powers, dark or wild magics, but I had always tried to keep my powers within Mystra's Weave.
Even if did not turn to those forbidden arts now, how could I leave Cormick here? If I didn't use every power at my disposal to raise him, I would always wonder...would always regret...
I don't know how long I was there, hovering between alternatives, but if there was anything I was good at, it was making decisions.
Holding up my bloody hand, I spoke:
"Lady of Mysteries,
Mother of Magic,
It was by magic that his life ended,
Let magic bring him back.
I was reckless with your gifts,
I have perverted the Art,
Forgive your servant
And I will do as you ask.
I will create wonders in your name.
Your Weave make all things possible.
"Powers of light, listen to me,
He has not been driven by spite.
He has not avoided danger
he has not raised his hand without cause.
He had not given into temptation
nor has he led anyone into despair
He has not proved false.
He has not thrown away his life
He did not dawdle his life in meaningless pursuits,
He has not been forgotten
Give him life,
that he may do even greater things."
"I love him, Sune Firehair," I pleaded.,"Tymora, you have walked with him all his life-do no not let misfortune still his brave heart. By whatever blood in me is still holy, Ilmater, preserve his spirit. Tyr, if you can her me, rectify the evil done to this man. Torm, let me repay his loyalty. I took his life, Lathander. Do not let your child be guilty of his blood. Selune, by the love you bear the Morninglord, let your stars lead him out of death's moonless dark. Kelemvor, Judge of the Damned, let him live, that he might earn his reward."
Though there was a hum in the air, an aftertaste of something bitter, and I felt light-headed, if anything good listened, the only response was the echo of my own voice.
Cormick laid there just the same.
It's not enough. I wanted to howl. The blood on my hand was beginning to congeal. I shook it.
I unsheaved my bastard sword, held it up as I traced a hooped cross in the air just above Cormick's body.
You gods have abandoned me.
So be it.
My voice dropped into an ancient, infernal dialect. Each word emitted a vapor from my mouth, as if the room was suddenly plunged into the bitterest of winters.
"Mortality is a broken dream.
Eternity is where all power lies,
The strong are only subject to their own desires
A potent will makes all things possible.
Fix his soul within this shell.
Keep him from passing into peace, into knowledge.
Make him breathe,
the direst of curses."
I slit the wrist of my left hand, a parody of a grin.
My blood , rather than gushing, glowed as if on fire, but flowed as if partially frozen. The room filled with green light, illuminating the darkness, and exposing the rotting corpses of the crypt.
"Living blood to call to life what was once alive.
I dotted his eyes, drew careful patterns over every part of his body. Eyes, then forehead, mouth, Adam's apple, shoulders, heart, spleen, navel, groin, thighs, knees, feet, then his arms, his hands. My blood reflected the pattern of green snowflakes over his body and my face.
I held my hand over Cormick's still heart, "Rise..."
The elaborate patterns of snowflakes erupted into greenish fire. It traveled across Cormick's form as if his skin was coated with oil. Every part burned with bright flames.
I put both hands into the fire. The skin on my knuckles crackled from the heat.
"All you powers, heed me."
Multicolored light spread from my hands, encapsulated his body like a warped rainbow.
All the sound left the room, but the multicolored light surrounding Cormick darkened until it was dark even to my eyes, that could see through ordinary darkness. The darkness seeped into his body along the lines I had painted with my blood until his body disappeared within it.
Just as suddenly as the darkness appeared, it was gone. Everything was dark-natural darkness and candlelight.
It can't be done.
I wiped the looped cross into my own forehead.
"Take my soul, not his," I moaned.
His eyes reflected nothing: no hidden depths, no laughter...and no kindness.
All that remained on that pedestal was a defiled corpse.
Drained of blood and purpose, I swooned. And this time, no one caught me. I hit my head on the corner of the table and cried out from the pain, smearing a hooped cross, destroying any magic there. I curled my legs against my chest until I lost consciousness.
I dreamed. I lay on volcanic rock beneath a twisted tree.
Green apples fell unto my head. I bit into one. It was full of blood, dead flesh.
I tried to spit out the taste of burnt corpses, but I fell to the ground, convulsing.
"This is what knowledge is," the voice from my dreams whispered, "Poison..."
I felt a muzzle on my mouth, which kept me from screaming.
Even as the tremors made me curl my arms against my head, my knees against my stomach, the ground shook as it opened, divulging fire.
Marcus appeared in front of me.
When the boy's shadow fell on me, the tremors stopped and the muzzle disappeared, but I still tasted something putrid.
"Spit it out," the boy commanded.
The crack of lava sealed up with a hiss of steam.
He tapped my back gently as I coughed, "Now, I keep them at bay."
"Those who call you Ikenna."
The green feylight swarmed about me like halo,"That is my name."
Marcus waved his hand, and my power left me. "Why are you eating what they offer?" he asked.
"I have to..."
Marcus took my hands in his.
"Amara Chidi, look. See."
I shook my head, set my jaw.
I looked into his face.
Marcus's ancient eyes were like the darkness before the dawn of the world.
I knew. I was there.
No-I closed my eyes.
Marcus spoke with a voice unlike any I had heard him use, "Yes. Remember who you are. You have always Wandered."
I couldn't look at him-he was too bright, "What does that mean?" I asked as I shielded my eyes.
" The King of Shadows builds his army of dead on this plane. Your shards are from the only weapon that can harm him. You must reclaim it and wield it. There is no other way. In this time, in this world, that is your duty."
"'This time'? 'This world'? I don't understand. Have I done this before?"
"You are a Wanderer, like me. That is all I am allowed to speak of. You will discover more when you are ready."
I narrowed my eyes at this luminous figure, "My duty-I want no part of it. Do you hear me?"
"I will not name him here, but the Lord of the Triple Crown of Thorns has plans for this plane-and for you. This power you possess was given, but at a terrible price."
Tears stained my eyes, "I had to save him..."
"It was not the first time you asked..."
I started to deny this, but then I remembered. The man. The vision. The pact. "But...that was many years ago. I was a child. And it was in a dream..."
I saw Owal, aflame with power, Marim on her knee, pleading.
Marcus seemed to dim, to flicker. "Dreams are real...they're just real somewhere else."
I looked at the black, tortured landscape full of gnarled trees and misshapen things moving beneath their ashen boughs. How many times had I been here, stood on this obsidian rocks, seen the fire gush like rivers barely contained, erupting randomly and violently against a gray, sunless sky?
"Well, I don't think I can just ask Daddy to take it back."
"Amara, look around you. This power, the power that fuels this realm, will consume you and everything you hold dear."
I saw a dark, horned shadow with green eyes.
"Is this...my father's..."
"It is part of the realms he holds sway over, yes."
"First the shard, then the pact. My power...is it even mine?"
"Your true power has nothing to do with silver swords or infernal energies."
"What am I..."
An armored figure flashed for a brief moment behind Marcus.
"You must uncover that for yourself, but only when you have lost everything."
A statue with outstretched arms. A wall like a scar, stretching far past any horizon.
"I already lost everything..."
Marcus became the small, dark-haired boy I had last seen at my Trail, "You loved Cormick. Then fight for his memory."
I saw Cormick smiling like a fool.
I closed my eyes, "Are you asking me to just let go of the magic? Even if I could, I can't defeat the King of Shadows if I can't fight back."
"There are many ways to fight."
A sword made of silver materialized between the boy and me.
"Is this power you spoke of?"
The sword disappeared.
"Nothing can happen until you renounce your father's power completely."
"What will come in it's stead?"
I saw a blonde-haired figure holding a child with a blue-white star in her hand.
"It is your father that gives power and promises easily."
"How do I know you're not the servant of something else just as unpleasant?"
There was a pause. Purple light came into Marcus's eyes.
"You don't...but there is a part of you, Amara, that knows me. I cannot give you assurances. The only thing I can promise is more heartache, but trust that small part of you that still knows what must be done."
Three women made a circle round me, but I could not see their faces.
My eyes widened. Mystra...Was it all a dream?
Then the smell of the embalmed corpses reminded me of where I was.
I looked at my injured wrist. How easy, I thought. Just one swift motion of these fangs and the pain would stop. No more shards, no more violence...no more Amara.
I flicked my tongue over the indentation where palm met wrist. I'd rather die here than in some epic battle with-
I caught a glimpse of something lying on the ground. I let my eyes focus until I realized what it was: a bandage. It must have spilled from my pack when I emptied it, searching for the book.
Cormick's words echoed in my head:
"...Despite everything, we've managed to find each other," he placed his cheek against mine. "That don't happen everyday."
I tried to look out the window, but could only see a small patch of gold-flecked sky, "This war's a long way from being over."
He spoke low into my ear, "There are always wars. The only thing good about them is that even the worst one's end."
"After lots of destruction. After lots of death..." I looked past the horizon, as if I could see the future written in the air, hovering above us.
Cormick smiled. I could feel the tickle of it against my neck, "That is what yer meant to do, Amara. See what's coming, and bear it. Me, I need a little hope. I'm pretty certain that someday, we'll look back at this, and grin, and remember all the wonders we saw together rather than the pain."
The tears were hot and wet and sticky, but I still managed to affix that bandage to my injured wrist.
"I only see dawns before us, love. Always, no matter what happens."
I wouldn't let my hands tremble as I covered what used to be Cormick with my Harvest cloak, whose green was the same color of the grass of the Merdelain.
I left the best thing I ever knew on that blood-stained marble.
Like a waking corpse myself, I shuffled into the main area of the Temple. Each halting footstep was one footstep further away from Cormick, yes, but also a footstep away from my life with him, a world without his cleft chin, without his hair...It felt like the better part of me, my heart, was lying in those crypts beside him.
The walls of the temple felt like the damp walls of a crypt, closing in around me. I started to wheeze. I stood for a moment, put my hands against the columns until I could breath. I stepped outside. Slitting my eyes against the expected brightness, I took no comfort in the stark blue sky.
Shandra and Neeshka sat on a bench beside the entrance to the Temple, holding hands.
"Amara...Your horn." Shandra said.
I felt my forehead. My broken horn was now bone-hard, smooth, and whole. And sharp.
Khelgar and Casavir were talking by the fountain in the courtyard, but were silent once they saw me with a shared glance og consternation. Behind them, Grobnar was singing a sad song in his own language, cradling his mandolin.
Bishop was the only one who was moving, pacing really. As he chewed something, he looked into the park. When he saw me, he stopped chewing. I noticed that he hadn't been at the fight, nor the party. Not that I had missed him.
No, I missed him.
I closed my eyes. I wanted to scream, but I was too numb to do anything but murmur, "He's dead. Cormick's dead." It was the first time I said the words aloud, and they rang with a finality like that of a death knell. Like the churchbells that echoed through the temple district, signaling a world beyond us at work. Distant. Mechanical.
"That can't be," It was Neeshka's high whine, cutting through my thoughts like a wasp.
I moved faster than I thought I could, stopping only a mere inch from her reddish face, "Go into the Temple then..." I gestured behind me." Follow the path to the crypts. He's down there with the with the rest of the corpses. Do yo still want him, Neeshka?" I pushed the tiefling into the ground. She dodged me, though, but not before shooting a hot gaze in my direction.
I raised my hands.
The paladin grabbed my hands, pulled them out of the gesture for a spell of power.
I raised a fist, waved it in front of the paladin's face,"Don't say a...fucking word. That's what justice does. Puts you in the ground. he is, now. Dead meat. Rotting in the ground. Where's the mercy in that?" I sat. At him. At his mercy.
Casavir didn't wipe way the sit, put his hands on mine, but I l kept pulling away. Khelgar, Sand, Shandra, all of them tried to touch me. But I wouldn't let anyone touch me, anyone reason with me.
Bishop didn't speak, didn't move. His stillness was the only thing that was still in this, dizzying fucked up world.
I took deliberative steps away from everything, everyone but the ranger.
"Murder in the dark," I whispered, "Knife-work like this has your stench about it."
He rubbed his nose, the one I had broken. I realized it had been broken long before because of an older scar across the bridge. "Yeah," he shrugged, "I hated the godsdamned Harborman. I'll dance on his fucking grave when this is done. But this, nothing will ever bring him back. But you can make the ones who did this pay." He looked away. "We all have to pay, sooner or later. He just got his sooner."
I moved my neck from side-to-side,"You are some piece of work. Give me one, just one reason not the end you now."
Bishop took out a flask. "I know a bit about vengeance, and knife-work. This smells like a setup-one that got botched." Instead of taking a long dip, he help the flask out to me.
I took the flask, emptied it, but I couldn't taste anything. Only ash.
"That sounds like Moire," said Neeshka. "he's the bitch behind the fires. She already tried to kill him already. Maybe she never gave up."
"Moire...how do you know about her?" asked Shandra.
"You can't be a thief in Neverwinter and not know the gangs-mostly how to avoid them. She had it our for Amara, and Cormick-remember the present she left: a cloak with 'Demon Witch' in bright letters? She already failed and Moire isn't known for letting people slip away. It's likely she found...another way to solve both her problems."
"She meant that trap for me..." I closed my eyes, "It's my fault...Isn't it always?" I snorted.
Khelgar's voice rose, "Waggin our tongues isn't helping, when we should be waggin our fists-"
Casavir spoke, "Aldanon is missing, Amara. We know Moire had a hand in it but only that. There's nothing to show that the Marshal's death was anything but an accident..."
"An accident?" I removed my sword, "Those bastards who grabbed him, they just accidentally tried to take out a a Cloak in the daylight? Well, It wasn't an accident when I killed them. And it won't be an accident when I kill Moire." I help y sword u to the sky, darning anyone or any power to defy me.
"But the other shard is with a Lord named Tavorick."
"Fuck the shards! Fuck everything!" I spat. "I bet the Luskans paid that bitch. Well, there's only one way to find out." I took the sword to my hand, made a swift cut, let the blood dribble to the ground, then held up my am for all to see, "This is the only justice I will ever call upon. The only promise I will make. They will die. Every single one. I swear it."
The cut was deeper than I had expected. It exposed the tendon beneath, It would make sword-wielding difficult. It would scar.
"Your hand," Shandra said. "lease, let Casavir heal your hand."
I walked towards Moire's hideout. If there was anything I, Amara, the Shard-bearer, was good at, it was action.
When I tuned away, I knew something in me had changed. But I was too numb. The only thing I could focus on was an image of Cormick. Dead. The reaction to that was simple. I stormed off, remedying the wrong done to me, to Cormick.
Bishop stood behind me. He grinned, baring his thin lips at Casavir, at them all, before following me.
Neeshka ran after us, though at a distance.
Grobnar blew his nose loudly, "This is not what I had expected."
Shandra and Khelgar looked at the gnome.
"It doesn't change what's happened." Shandra replied. "Poor Amara...She looks terrible."
"She'll snap outta it, lass. It's what she does," Khelgar's eyebrow's knit together thoughtfully.
Everyone was silent.
"I can't condone this," Casavir felt everyone's eyes upon him.
"I don't think she's waiting for your permission, lad," said Khelgar.
Casavir put a hand to his head. "I can't help her..."
Khelgar tapped the Casavir's armor. "Go after her. She still needs ya-if not now-then later."
Cassavir merely looked at the direction I had gone.
Shandra did not fight the tears that came down her face, "If Amara can manage to be strong, so can we. Grobnar, you should go, tell Sand, let everyone know what's happening. I have a feeling we're going to need all the help we can muster."
Grobnar sighed, but nodded. He even saluted at Shandra before heading back towards the Flagon.
Casavir was silent, but his mind was in tumult. Mystra, he prayed, please keep her from harm...or from causing it.
Don't let her make the same mistakes I did...
Don't let her kill.
I paid a couple of urchins to point out the exact location. The Fihelis Estate. It was with a surprisingly short distance. It must be fate, I thought, guiding my steps.
People were walking on the streets, going on about their mundane lives completely unaware of the drama that had unraveled in such a short time in their beloved city. He died to defend this... I sneered at the people I saw. A fat man in butcher's apron, elbowing past a servant girl overloaded with baskets, a woman screaming a string of obscenities at a toddler, a noble matron clutching her purse to her chest when a beggar held out his wrinkled hand. Was Neverwinter worth it? When they did find out, that their selfish little lives could end up at the end at the edge of a sword, what would they do? Take what they could get, and flee. Few would stay, even fewer would fight.
Neeshka stayed to the shadows, waiting for any surprise attacks as Bishop and I finally made it to Moire's inner sanctum, which was a really a converted warehouse.
Moire wore a mask. I was surprised to see that she was alone. There were no guards. It was as if she had dismissed them. Her brown hair was richly woven into a complex set of braids-the latest fashion for court ladies, or one's who imagined themselves to be courtly. The pointed ears hinted at elven blood. Her dark clothing was expensive, but only imitated a darksuit. She couldn't go far in the dark with those garments with the glint of jewels and jewelry giving her away. I had a feeling it was years since she'd so much as lifted a change purse.
When she spoke, it as if she were addressing someone at court-that this was her court, at which we were merely common penitents, "I heard about your dear friend, lady. What a tragedy. But it was inevitable, don't you think? The Marshal kept sticking his nose in where it didn't belong. I kept trying to warn him, to warn you, but the Cloaks don't recruit the ones with brains. Only the muscle."She looked at Bishop. "Muscle-bound and stupid."
I removed my hood, "Is that a confession?"
"Maybe word just reaches my ears quickly."
"Who hired you?"
"I answer to no one. But perhaps you should reconsider who your friends are.." She turned toward Bishop, "If anyone can be called a friend."
"Who paid you to bump off Cormick?"
"That" she chuckled, "was pure pleasure."
I grabbed her by the throat.
"You won't kill me. You could even kill that Lorne, and he deserved it more than I ever did."
"Tell me." I tightened my grip until she couldn't talk, but gasped for air.
"Not so tight," Bishop whispered in my ear. "You'll knock her out before you can have any fun."
"There is nothing funny about dying," I dropped Moire, and she fell to the ground, coughing. She gave Bishop a look. Even with the mask on, I could tell she thought she knew something-she thought she knew him.
But I was too set on my task, "Do you think this is fun, Moire?" I murmured, "We can take a trip to Tyr's temple. There's a spot in the crypts, I saw it when I lay Cormick there..." I was so close to her that I could smell her expensive perfume. "You could bury someone alive down there-and no one would ever know. But unlike Cormick, I don't think anyone would care if you disappeared."
Bishop looked down at her without expression, "I can make her pay."
"Should I let him?" I pulled Moire to her knees by her braided hair, and ripped off her mask. Her face, thought she was half-elven, was unremarkable, easily forgettable. It had probably let her slip by.
Moire shuttered, shook her head. She started to cry, "Please, don't kill me. I'll tell you anything..."
I turned away from her in disgust.
Suddenly, she had a knife in her hand.
"Look out!" Bishop shouted.
I turned, and I struggled with Moire for her knife. In our fight, I embedded the weapon into her throat. She spat and gagged, fell to the ground. But instead of pulling away, I pushed all my weight against the blade until it was buried up to the handle, poking its tip through to the other side of her neck. Blood spurt like a fountain into my face. The half-elf looked at me with a dazed expression in her brown eyes. I pulled the knife out, and stabbed her again. I wanted her expression to change-I wanted to see fear in her face. I kept stabbing and stabbing until Bishop pulled me bodily off her corpse.
My chain mail was soiled with her blood and bile, but I didn't care-the knife was still poised to strike...
Bishop had to pull me close to disengaged the knife from my scratched, bloody knuckles.
I blinked. I knew I should be feeling something. All I felt was confusion as I wiped the blood across my chest.
"Come on, Mar," He pointed at the bloodstains, "You can't walk around Neverwinter with someone's blood on your chest. It might look suspicious."
I looked down at the chain mail and wiped at the blood. It just smeared even more.
"Just take it off."
I looked at my hands. How did they get all sticky...The scar I had made earlier throbbed in time with my heart-beat, which seemed to be racing.
"Mar-" Bishop snapped his fingers in front of my face, "snap outta that shit if you wanna live through today."
My voice seemed to come from far away, as if I had left it in that temple. Was I still there, I wondered, or was this just another dream? "Who said anything about living?"
" Don't get numb, get angry."
I kept my eyes on the floor. Dreams are real-they're just real somewhere else. "You're not real."
Bishop grabbed my chin, "Look at me, Mar. You're Harborman's dead. But those who hired Lorne who hired Moire are still out there. Don't you want to see them bleed?"
I looked at the mess on the floor. Suddenly, I realized what I had...oh gods...
I covered my mouth, "I feel...sick..."
"It'll pass," Bishop hissed. He pulled up my hands, yanked off the mail through one arm, then another. It caught on some of my hair. Instead of untangling the caught hair, Bishop pulled it out along with the mail.
"Ow..." I growled, grabbing my head.
"You're lucky you're not bald." the ranger wiped his hands through his short, reddish hair.
"Fuck you, Bishop," I had on my cloth armor beneath, which was unbloodied.
"Glad to see you back among the living, Squire..." he tucked my chain mail into a sack.
Before Bishop wiped the blade clean on Moire's rug, he pressed the hilt onto my forehead, leaving a bloody cross.
I raised my hand to wipe it off, but Bishop stopped my hand with a grin, "You're flushed."
"I don't flush. Only pale-skinned blokes like you flush." Still, I swallowed, touched my cheek.
"You're all warm, Mar." the ranger purred, "Cause now," he shrugged, "you're free. Now," he looked at the knife's keen blade, "you're bloodied." His eyes were as intimate as he tucked the knife into his belt, "Now...you're a killer."
I pulled away, "I might have stooped to knifing people, yes, but I did it for better reasons than you ever had."
The ranger chuckled as his yes gazed into some other time and place, "I said the same thing, once upon a time. But my story didn't have a happy end." He looked at me, spoke deliberate and slow, "But then I realized, almost everybody lives in fear of something. Death's a release-a gift for most of these pathetic sods. And some of us are just born with blood that burns-white-hot, Mar-in that moment between one heartbeat and the silence."
I watched him as he clutched the air with his fist. "That's almost poetic, ranger. Death as release...but, thank the gods I'm nothing like you."
He gestured at what was left of Moire. "Oh Yeah, honey bee? You're sting's much, much worse."
"No...Godsdammit!" I couldn't stop the tears, even as I pounded the ranger's chest. "No, no, no..." I chocked.
He held me tight, which kept me from hitting him. "No, fuck you, Mar" he barked, "You shouldn't, no one should feel this."
"All you do is feel." I sniped the knife from his belt, held it against his neck. "Maybe I should just give you a happy end. Or wold you fear it as much as she did? Maybe it's the only thing you've ever loved." I cut his skin, "The knife-point, the blood in your ears, searing, telling you that you're alive, finally, at last." I brought the knife to his crotch, "Me, I don't love anything. So I have nothing to lose. That makes me dangerous. So run away, ranger. Or shut your mouth. Get in my way, and get your balls cut. " I skid he knife further up his thigh.
I kept expecting him to move, to grab the knee or push me away. In close combat, he had the advantage. Instead he gave again, exhaled sharply as my hand moved. "...I like my balls as they are. But, oh Mar, that tickles... while you have your hands there...just move to the right," he moaned as if he were climaxing.
"Yes, yes, keep talking pretty, Mar. You'll make me come-" He thrust his his his forward, grinding at where my skin touched his.
"Well, if you're not going to help, at least let me help myself." He reached down toward his crotch, but I pointed the knife at his hands.
I sent the point through the flap of skin between his thumb and that first finger, nearly cutting the pale tendon in two.
He chuckled as he brought the wound to his mouth, sucking at the blood. "I'll wear this like a love-bite."
I looked at the wound, then at him. I got in close to his face, a mixture of pain and glee.
"Next time," I whispered, intimate, "you lose your thumbs."