One of the tricks of the trade, and I've been deep into good master Durnan's
barrels this evening so take this as you will. But a trick of the trade, is
to have lots of different sources. I have connections all over, from the dark
pits of Menzoberranzan to the fluted spires of Leuthilspar to the snowy wastes
that surround Bryn Shander.
I won't say how I got this little gem; it takes a fair deal more than Durnan's
barrels to pry that secret out of me! But there are many ways, ways that a
skilled tale-teller has access to, that can unveil an intriguing tale.
She stalked down the path, her severe features made more so by her wrathful
expression. The few guards in her path blanched and fell back before
her. Only after she passed did they notice the twin ghosts trailing in her
The Captain of the Guard looked up as she entered his shed, his shrewd eyes
taking in her posture and the twin servants that drifted behind her
silently. He lifted his hand warningly, halting the elite watcher's
protective approach. Putting down the report he had been studying, he
waited for the interloper to speak.
His mind drifted, back through the last several years. Some had come to
help rebuild, those liches of renown. They had been here for a short
while, and their efforts had allowed some of the surviving vendors to
return to their places. But nothing more, and then they were alone
again. The survivors, left to eke out a living amidst the ashes.
Others had offered their assistance, but nothing concrete towards any
rebuilding effort. So why had he stayed? He could have money in any other
place, he was skilled with the blade. But he was still here, for reasons
that escaped him.
"Captain!" A harsh voice jarred him, and he dragged his eyes back from the
mists of memory to his visitor. His companion was tense, he could tell she
wanted to leap upon this insolent necromancer and gut her. And the watcher
would, at his signal, even if it would cause a nasty battle in his
office. But they could no longer afford to have the same hard-line
approach as in the past. Under the failed Baron.
He studied the woman again, looking past the ghosts. She was human, her
age indeterminable, aided no doubt by the nasty expression upon her
face. Her lips were pressed together in a thin line as she glared at him
"What?" he growled, dropping one hand to his dagger. He might be feeling
fatalistic and dejected, but he was still the Captain. And if she was here
to pick a fight, he'd drop her quick. His eyes flicked to his ally, who
nodded very slightly.
"You're wasting time here, Captain. Why aren't you in the city, overseeing
the rebuilding? What is this... hovel?" she asked, with a sneer in her voice.
He matched her glare with his own. "What's it to you?" he demanded
angrily, shame at his own failure mingled with anger at her approach.
"Because it's MY home, and you're letting it die!" she snarled angrily,
glaring at him frostily.
He half rose from his seat, hand clutching at his dagger, the royal dagger
of Bloodstone. To his left, the elite watcher half drew her bastard sword.
The necromancer smiled, a self-satisfied smirk as she gauged their
reactions. A gesture; the Captain and watcher tensed expectantly, but all
it did was dismiss the two ghosts. "Excellent, there is some backbone
still remaining after all this time."
"You've done admirably, Captain, both of you," she said, almost warmly as
she looked between the two. "You are intelligent and have assessed the
situation well. But this camp shows that you don't know how to rebuild the
city, nor make it live again."
He settled back in his chair. The question was obvious, it begged to be
asked. And she would expect it; indeed she had controlled the whole
conversation. With a mental shrug, he asked it anyways. "And you do?"
She nodded, her eyes never leaving his.
Off to the side, the watcher spoke up. Well, she laughed first, then she
spoke up. "And you do. Well, at least you have some flair. The others
haven't. But they all give up, they all leave hi... leave us," she
snarled, catching her slip at the end.
"That may be. But I know what to do, and your other would-be saviors have
not. If they did, they would be in control here already," the woman said,
sparing only the briefest of glances at the elite watcher.
"I'm in charge here," the Captain said, warningly.
The woman looked back at him, and leaned forward on the desk. "You're a
guard with a modicum of leadership ability. Oh, you're very good, that's
not an issue. But you can't beat a Prince of Demons with a force of city
guards. You can't rebuild a city by sitting here and waiting for it to get
done." It was stated as fact, rather than a challenge.
It was also obvious, given his situation. "How, then?" he asked, curious
despite his irritation.
She smiled again, the same self-satisfied smile. "Tell me, Captain, what
is the lifeblood of a city?"
He knew the answer to that; it was why he was out here. "Its people,
obviously. They keep the city going, give it life."
She shook her head. "No, they don't. But trade will."
He blinked in surprise. Stupid idea, except that this woman almost
radiated intelligence. She would have her reasons. Still.. "You can't
have trade without people!" he objected.
And her triumphant grin unsettled him. "And you can't get people without
trade," came her retort. "A city needs trade, commerce, or it can't get
people to come. It can't get people to STAY. They will come and leave,
without commerce. Inside the city, or outside the city, but it must be
trade controlled by the city."
"So, you are a trader who plans to restore the city?" he asked sarcastically.
"No, I'm no trader. But I will make trade happen, and ensure that it
continues. And through trade will come alliances. The Bloodstone that was
had very little commerce. The late Baron did everything possible to
discourage it. Tolls, poor roads, life-draining portals. Truly, I'm
astonished there was any trade at all!"
She caught her breath, and continued. "Once trade is possible, people will
come. They will return and they will relocate to reap the riches possible
through trade. The city can be restored. It won't be the city we knew,
won't be Bloodstone. But that city is dead, and the main branch of the
family to the east has no interest in rebuilding. Now it will be OUR
The watcher spoke up, harshly and almost jealously. "And your reward for
this, for the Captain agreeing to this?" she snapped.
The woman stared at the watcher, knowledge in her depthless eyes. "I will
rule the city, alone. Other details will be worked out, but the rule will
The Captain considered her, impressed despite himself. Then he nodded at
her, reaching a decision. She was right, he had no real strength in
governing or rebuilding. "If all of that happens, if you can make the
trade start and people return, then I will bend my knee to you. We all
will," he promised, shooting his assistant a look. She nodded reluctantly,
and he offered his hand to the newcomer. "We'll serve."
The Greycloak scouts kept a careful watch on the group. A dozen, mostly
humans, with a scattering of drow. Mostly necromancers, with a few other
mages. Each necromancer was accompanied by several ghasts. That was more
than enough to cause alarm in Greyhome. The one other human in the group,
some kind of craftsman, was barely noticed.
But the group headed out of the hills, and the elves resumed their usual
"A road up to there?" The mason craned his neck, peering at the plateau
above them. "You mean a path, don't you?"
"No," she said. "I want a road, wide and not too steep, for wagons and
"Not too steep?" he asked incredulously. "That's two hundred feet up! Even
with a ten percent grade, you'd need to start..." He made some quick mental
calculations. "Almost twelve hundred feet away! That's way back by that
wide spot there."
"You know how much fill that would take, woman? A ramp two hundred feet
high and twelve hundred feet long? The gorge is twenty to thirty feet wide,
so that would be... three million cubic feet of fill!"
"Mason," she said ominously, "your gnomic utterances don't mean anything to
me. What is the problem?"
"Look, moving that much fill, piling it up, packing it down. Getting the
clay or grinding the stone for the bricks, then laying the bricks. That's
work enough for hundreds of men for a year! I don't even know where you'd
begin to hire that many for that long. And if you can't hire that many,
it'll be years!"
A quick command, and her ghasts moved to her side. "The crew is already
here, mason. Untiring, able to work all day and all night. And if they
get damaged, there are plenty more to take their place."
Her eyes narrowed. "I hired you, brought you here to tell me how to build
this, how long it would take, how much it would cost. I don't have time to
waste. If you can't draw up the plans, tell me who can, and be gone."
The mason stared at her, taken aback. "I'll be damned, lady, you're
serious." He looked up at the plateau again. "What a project!" He looked
at the ghasts. "Damn, this could actually work." He pulled a sheet of
paper and pencil out of a bag, and started sketching, muttering to himself.
After a moment, she left him, still muttering. The rest of the day, she
saw him wandering the gorge, poking at various piles of rock debris,
climbing up to the plateau and dangling long, knotted ropes over the
edge. When it became too dark to see, she found him by the fire. He had a
pile of rocks and was breaking them. Now and again, he would peer intently
at a rock, then touch it to his tongue. After a while, he pulled out more
sheets of paper, and started writing.
In the morning, he had a plan.
"It'll still take time, lady," he warned. "Maybe years, since I don't see
but a few dozen of them zombies. And you'll pardon my saying, you don't
seem to be in a mood for waiting."
"I'm not. Why so long?"
"Mostly, it's moving supplies. Oh, I've figured out ways to need less
fill, like dig out that crevice up there, so you don't need a ramp so
high. But it's still over two million cubic feet that'd have to be
moved. And if you want a good road, you'd need bricks 'cause there ain't
enough good rock to surface it, and that means doing a lot of lumbering to
get fuel to bake the bricks. AND bring the wood here. You'll need water
to settle the fill and make the bricks. And there ain't that much water in
the gorge, so that'd all have to be hauled in, too."
She frowned. He shrugged. "Even your zombies take time to walk places, lady."
She was trying to remember if there were any druids she could hire or
blackmail, when she realized another solution. At least, a partial one.
A pale young man, a perpetual pout on his face, wandered in their direction.
"Conjure up a fire elemental," she ordered.
With a deepening pout, he did so.
"You don't need fuel to heat the bricks, mason."
The mason grinned. "Woman, that's a right handy idea." He grinned more
broadly. "And I suppose a few dozen water elementals splashing around
would help settle the pile. Especially if they're heavy. Or a dirt
elemental, that'd tamp things down good."
"I don't see why not," she said. "Anthel?"
"You want to waste my elementals on common laboring," he sneered. "Make me
little better than a common laborer myself. Oh, it will work, I suppose,
although I'm sure there are far better uses for my skills."
She nodded. "That will be all." And carefully watched him wander away.
"Now that we've solved the problem of time, how much will it cost?" she asked.
The mason had been watching the elementalist, too. He gave a little start,
and said, "Hah? Oh, the cost. Not that much. The big expense would have
been wages, food and shelter for the crew. You'll still need to buy some
tools, iron, cement."
He handed her a stack of papers. "There's the plans, as agreed."
She looked through them. She wasn't surprised to see them filled with
sketches, odd terms, and strange calculations, since she'd watched most of
the night while he was drawing them up.
"These do not tell me how to build the road," she said.
"No, I didn't think they would," he said. "It's a huge project. To build
it, you need a master mason in charge. Someone who knows what he's
doing. Those plans, they'd tell him what I figured out."
She looked at him sharply. There was a twinkle in his eye.
"And how much would it cost to hire a master mason, for six months, or a
year? Or however long it takes?" she inquired.
"Well, I couldn't speak for others, but for me, why, the rate of pay you
promised to get me here and draw up these plans would do just fine. Along
with a favor."
"Seems to me you're building a mighty fine road here. A road for wagons,
you said, or trade caravans. And you want a big road. A road that goes
nowhere, right now. Longhollow don't need it. Bloodstone sure don't need it."
"It seems to me, lady, that you're planning on building a place for those
caravans to go. From the size of the road, you're building a
city. Strikes me that you'd need someone to make sure that city got built,
and built right. You hear of anyone, ever, that's gotten a chance to build
a whole city?"
She smiled, almost warmly. "Rebuild," she corrected.
He nodded, suspicion confirmed. "I've been to Bloodstone,
lady. Everything inside the walls will have to come down before it goes
back up. Unless you want to risk things falling down in twenty years."
"Never!" she hissed. "I will rebuild that city, and it will never
"I can do that as well as anyone," he stated. "I don't guarantee 'never',
though. Especially not to no one surrounded by necromancers with de-aging
She nodded. "Fair enough. Build me a road. If I like it, you will be
Chief Mason, or Chief Architect, whatever title you want, of my city."
He dipped his head. "You got it, Lady."
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