I've posted this long story before, but had it deleted because I wasn't happy with it at all. Fixed all the grammatical errors I could find, changed some things, added some more content and intend to use this to get my title should I ever reach level 50. Enjoy it, hate it, be indifferent, whatever. Just felt like posting it :? This story right now is 65 pages long in microsoft word, 10 point, courier font and not even the slightest bit finished. Will be posting in parts.
The dream returned. Every night it was the same. It never changed. Jenera saw the pulsing blue light and found she was bound to a cold surface. She could not wake up, could not escape the shadows. The rotting hand, blood dripping from its claws, closed in around her throat and Jenera was infused with pure agony.
"Jennie, Jennie, wake up!"
She heard the distant voice, pleading, tinged with worry and love. The scene flashed in and out of existence, pulsating like a heartbeat. Suddenly everything went black. She opened her eyes to see Lazus's terrified expression. She clutched the quilt to her bosom and began to sob. He pulled her head to his shoulder, stroking her hair and murmuring words of comfort. As she tried to stop crying, Lazus lifted Jenera’s chin with his finger and looked into her eyes. She lowered her gaze and avoided the questions that were plain on his face. He wiped away her tears with his handkerchief.
"Are you alright, sister?" he asked.
"I'm alright now, Laz,” she said.
Jenera realized then that the sun was high in the sky and everyone in the house had been up for some time. Lazus was already dressed in his pristine vestments, the holy symbol of Lathander, shimmering in rosy pink hues, hanging around his neck from a gold chain. She loved to tease him about his gaudy outfit, but just did not have the energy this time. Instead, she climbed out of the bed and wrapped a wrinkled chemise around her shoulders. Her brother began to sit down in her favorite armchair, carefully removing various arcane implements she had strewn across the seat the night before. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Jenera picked up a brush from her nightstand and tried to straighten the tangled strands.
"Why are you looking at me like that, Laz...?" she asked.
Lazus continued to stare at her.
"I said I was fine."
He snorted derisively. She sighed and continued to tug on the brush. Of course, she knew exactly what was coming next.
"I am worried about you, Jennie,” he said.
He can be so predictable at times, she thought to herself.
He jumped up from the chair and began pacing the length of the room.
"You don't eat or sleep enough and spend too much time with your nose in between the pages of a book....," he began to lecture.
Suddenly, he turned on her and his hand came up ready to slap her face. She stood her ground and gave him a fierce glare, a spell on the tip of her tongue, but to her surprise, he lowered his hand and just continued to pace.
"What do you see in these dreams every night?" he said out loud.
"It’s nothing, Laz, just dreams,” she said, waving away his concerns. "You have dreams too, I assume?" she quipped, hoping to lighten his mood.
He looked at her then, his eyes cold and lips pressed thin.
"Yes, well, my dreams do not have me screaming in my sleep and waking up in hysterics!!" he sputtered in anger.
Jenera felt her mouth drop open. Never in all her life had Lazus yelled at her before or, for that matter, had the urge to strike her. He had always spoiled her with too much affection and patience. She wondered what could be pushing him to such a brink. She had never seen her teasing, lighthearted brother so furious. She watched him as he left her room and closed the door lightly. Then she heard him slam the door as he entered his room down the hall. Jenera was left staring at where he had been, brush in hand, her hair still a tangled mess.
After a few minutes of hoping he would come back, Jenera walked over to her chair and sat down. With a deep sigh, she drew her knees up against her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs, frowning as the late morning sunlight caused the crystal in her hand to sparkle with ferocity. Shuddering involuntarily, she pulled the chemise closer around her body as chills went down her spine. Without warning, Jenera felt the tears come to her eyes again and rested her forehead on her knees and sobbed. She was so tired of being afraid, so tired of the nightmares that wouldn’t go away, so tired of keeping what happened a secret. But Lazus couldn’t know for she didn’t have the courage to tell him.
* * * * * * * * *
Lazus punched the wall of his room until his knuckles began to show bruises. He tore at his neatly made bed and knocked aside the personal altar he had constructed for his prayers to Lathander. Ripping the mantle from his shoulders, he threw it at the closed window with a snarl. He gritted his teeth and took several deep breaths. He paced back and forth, talking to himself.
“It’s not her fault. Just remember that, Lazus. Why can’t she tell me what her dreams are? I could help her. No, she probably thinks I’ll go looking for those who hurt her and I think she’s right.
His anger faded as logic took over his thoughts. Lazus tossed himself onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling with his hands clasped behind his head. Just a few moments later, he sat up and leaned his head against the wall.
“When will I stop failing her?” he said aloud.
Lazus slowly opened the door to Jenera's room and forced himself to enter it. His eyes were still red from a bout of bereaved tears as he slowly looked around to the disheveled mess that had been his sister's room. Her unmade bed, her clothing, her nightstand, with books by the pile...
He balled his fists, not wanting to admit she was gone, though she had been for several years. He berated himself daily for not being there to save her, unable to protect her as he promised, unable to even bring her body home for burial or resurrection. With a sigh, he began cleaning her room, though he could not understand why he felt the urge to do so. He opened the doors of her wardrobe to put away a stack of robes and his eyes fell upon a pile of leather-bound books, each one with a different number of marks on the spine. He picked one up and flipped through it with a morbid curiosity.
Must be one of her spellbooks, he thought.
He soon realized, however, that it was a journal-- that they were all journals, and the number of marks on the spine put them in chronological order. He picked up the first journal and opened the stiff cover. Slowly, he began to read, resurrecting his lost sibling-- not in the way he would have liked, but in a fashion.
30th Day of Eleasias, Highsun, Year 427
I hate birthdays. I do not ever remember liking them. Mother enjoys dressing me up in stiff, fancy dresses with too much lace and tying up my hair in silk ribbons or fixing it in the latest style. She invites all the daughters and sons of local lords to these elaborate, expensive parties, hoping year after year that I will become a socialite. How I wish I could hide in the library today. Lazus will be coming by to fetch me if I do not head home soon. One more year and I will be allowed to wear the full robes of the mages and pursue my own studies in the many branches of magic. I believe I shall choose invocation. How wonderful would it be to become a full-fledged battle mage, fighting by Lazus's side? There goes the city clock. I must hurry home.
1st day of Eleint, the Fading, Year 427
Lazus infuriates me sometimes. I am writing this as I attempt to dry out my wet robes and my ruined books! I stopped at the fountain only for a few moments to hear the bards sing. He had no reason to dunk me. Oh, how he chortled to himself! I will get him back for this! I am putting one of my pet spiders in his bed tonight.
Lazus laughed for the first time in months as he recalled that day. Jenera's face had been priceless when he had calmly returned her spider. He continued to read.
23rd day of Eleint, the Fading, Year 427
Lazus is no longer an acolyte! I am so proud. He looked handsome in his vestments as he knelt at the altar, pledging his undying service to Lathander. Mother could not stop crying and Father's smile could have lit a candle. I am so glad I have him for a brother.
26th day of Eleint, the Fading, Year 427
I am so angry with myself. I should have paid attention during lectures but my mind kept wandering. Not only did I receive a scolding, but I also am not allowed to participate in the next potions discussion and I will have to work doubly hard as not to fall behind. When will I learn not to daydream? Lazus teased me unmercifully until Father bade him to leave me be. I should have never told him. It is so late and the house is so quiet. I like nights like this, alone in my room. Perhaps I will be able to finish that book on drow I dug up at the magic shop. Everything in life is so fascinating.
1st day of Marpenoth, Leafall, Year 427
There is a crisp scent to the air. Winter will soon be here. I should be at the guild helping teach the new apprentices, but I begged illness. I have this strange feeling of late, my head feels taut as a bowstring. Maybe my brother is right and I am spending too much time cramming forgotten histories into my brain. Perhaps I can escape to somewhere quiet and peaceful now that the bluster of summer days has passed. Everyone will be glad to see me leave my books for a few days.
4th day of Marpenoth, Leafall, Year 427
Lazus is being sent out to all the small farming communities to spread the word of Lathander. I am not allowed to leave the city, what a bother. I really wished to go with him. The guild will not allow an apprentice to leave the city without proper supervision so I cannot escape the din of the city as I had wanted. Planned to go browse the shops some today, but it is past midday and I have yet to stir from my room. I feel this severe lassitude when he is away. I would prefer his teasing to this loneliness. I should not depend on Lazus so much, but he is all I've got. I have not gone to mother or father to talk and be comforted since I was a child. I always feel as if Lazus understands me better.
9th day of Marpenoth, Leafall, Year 427
Mother exasperates me so. She has voiced her opinion of my choice to study magic quite negatively and quite loudly. She would rather see me wed to some boring, stupid lord or a wealthy merchant. It is obvious Father wishes the same, but he would never keep from me what I desire most. Is studying magic what I desire most? I am counting the days until the final test. I hope I shall pass. I have heard stories from the youngest mages that make my skin crawl, and though I know they are just having their fun with the apprentices, I will not deny that this feeling in my stomach is nervousness. Strength of mind, heart, and spirit is so important to those attempting this path, and I am sadly lacking in all three. Is it because I have been overly coddled or is it because I am just a weak person inside? There are so many things I wish to know and learn and I have lost patience for those who cannot seem to satisfy my inner lust for knowledge. I WILL know and find answers for myself.
12th day of Uktar, the Rotting, Year 427
I have not written in over a month, but there is reason. Lazus is a hero. He was out with a small group of warriors and mages sent out by Lord Piergeiron to stop a band of orcs and ogres that were terrorizing a large town to the east. The ogres had two of the mages down and the warriors were cornered. Lazus had been ordered to stay out of the fray, as he was the only one with the ability to heal injuries. Against orders, he ran into the midst of battle, dragged the mages to safety and was able to distract the monsters long enough for the warriors to get their advantage back. He came home with a bruised head and broken arm, but nothing could erase that proud smile off his face. He was publicly commended by church and state. It has been a month of parties and congratulatory words for him. He will be a hero to reckon with one day.
Lazus could not help but smile at his sister's adoration. He remembered how she would embarrass him at times with all the praise she heaped upon his head. He knew that if, somehow, Jenera was returned to the family, alive and well, he would never feel ashamed by anything she did ever again. It pained his heart to know that he never knew how much he had loved his little sister until he had lost her.
20th day of Uktar, the Rotting, Year 427
I do not think I will be able to write much in the coming months. Preparation for the final testing has begun and I have been running around ragged. All those who desire to take it this time around have been up to their elbows in spellbooks and components, history and cantrips. I am so exhausted right now, but I wanted to scribble down a few things before going to bed. I do not even have time to eat meals or read my books and I believe things will get more hectic with time. But it will be all worth it in the end. I know it will.
11th day of Hammer, Deepwinter, Year 428
Today is the first free day I have had in months. I managed to sneak out of the city and ensconce myself in the sparse wood nearby the druid grove. I badly needed some peace and quiet. It is rather cold, but my robes are warm and I am going to spend the day reading. Perhaps I will converse with the druids at the grove and learn more about Silvanus, Chauntea, and Mielikki. Most of all, I just want to rest. I wonder if I should have told someone where I was going to be. No, I don't want anybody to know where I am today. I am going to relish in my freedom. Days like this will be few and far between. I have been wondering the past few days whether this path I have chosen is indeed right for me. Time will tell I suppose. I am still very young.
Lazus turned page after page to find pressed flowers and leaves, sketches of what he discerned to be birds and other animals. He smiled as he read her attempts at verse and chuckled at the lopsided drawing of himself, with the words, MY BROTHER, scrawled in large letters underneath. He closed the book and placed it next to him on the bed. He eagerly reached for the next journal.
15th day of Hammer, Deepwinter, Year 428
Being sick is driving me mad. The healers will not let me study or read. Father makes me stay in bed and keeps coercing me to sleep. If anybody sees me writing tonight, I will get an earful. It is really late, almost dawn I think, so I should be safe. I enjoy Lazus's company and love him so much for reading me my books. I know he considers them useless and boring. But for some reason, I could not wait for him to leave tonight. I wish I could throw a tantrum. I want to get back to my books and studies and even potions' ingredients. I hate
He wondered at the incomplete thought until he realized someone must have come into her room that night and she had abruptly stopped writing. He flipped through more sketches and pressed foliage until he came to the next journal entry many months later.
26th day of Tarsakh, of the Storms, Year 428
I nearly forgot I had been keeping a journal with all that has happened. I have the day to myself so I will write a little something of my family and the events that have transpired since I last had time to write. Father is a successful merchant and mother carries noble blood on her father's side. We live very comfortably and as I think back on my life, I have never wanted for anything. I look like mother, with her dark hair, dark eyes, and pale complexion on a round face. I have an older brother, named Lazus. He is the exact physical replica of father, with his blonde, near white, hair and dark skin. We look so different from each other, yet if one were to see our entire family together; it is obvious we are truly siblings. I am very shy and I prefer to be alone most of the time. Lazus is jolly, funny, and has such a good heart. I adore him. He is my only true friend. Getting back to recent events, father made quite a successful trading deal with another merchant and he is wealthier than ever before. To please mother, he has arranged for a large manor to be built and sold our old home to the son of one of Waterdeep's many nobles. I will miss this room, but father has already promised me I may keep my old furniture. Her complaints could be heard all over the house about his decision. He has also told me he intends to have my room built identical to this one. Mother bought me a beautiful red silk robe with silver stitching on the sleeves that I adore and have already planned to wear to my testing day. The robe must have cost a fortune, but father only smiled and said I looked beautiful when I tried it on. For the first time, I was able to tease Lazus rather than the other way around, as mother arranged to have him fitted in white silk vestments and embroidered outer robes. Lazus, with his good works, bravery, and unchecked piety for Lathander, is being made a leading priest of his chosen deity. Dawnmaster Lazus Al’Medin. It has a nice ring to it. He will have to undergo arduous testing and have the approval of Lathander himself, but I am sure he will persevere. Even if he is not called to serve for many years, he will still be one of the youngest ever considered for such an honor. As for me, I was told today that I might be given the chance to take the testing earlier. My 17th birthday is not for three months, yet I can be a mage as early as within two tendays from now. Am I ready? I fear I am not and must give my answer in three days so preparations can be made. I can refuse and still take it in Eleasias, but do I want to wait that long? This choice cannot be made lightly. If I fail, I will be made to wait a year. I wonder if the praise for success is worth the price for failure.
10th day of Mirtul, the Melting, Year 428
I have decided to proceed with the early testing. Not because of the praise or laurels, but because I need to know, once and for all, that I am doing the right thing. Working in a library or as a scribe can appease my thirst for knowledge, but something in my blood calls for a different life. I feel an undeniable attraction to arcane mysteries. So, I agreed to be a part of the early testing. I am to report to the tower of high sorcery, precisely at six in the morning, next tenday. I hope I am ready. If I fail, I do not think I will have the heart to continue on with my studies.
Lazus continued to read each entry, smiling at her accomplishments and commiserating with her disappointments. When he finally looked up from reading, he realized the sun was already beginning to set and that he had done nothing to tidy up the room. The shadows were beginning to lengthen and a crisp breeze was blowing the curtains awry. Shuffling to the window, he watched the last rays of the sun slip beneath the horizon and felt his heart skip a beat. Closing his eyes, he murmured an earnest prayer to Lathander, asking that he look after his sister in his stead. Lazus heard the door open behind him and turned to see his father enter the room. The once hardy figure of Avrar Al'Medin had gone slack, his once bleach-blond hair now peppered with gray. His bronze-toned skin had gained more wrinkles in the last year than he had ever had in his fifty-odd years of life.
"What are you doing in here, son?" he asked reproachfully.
"I was straightening up in here, remembering her," Lazus said. Then in a barely audible whisper he asked, "How is mother feeling?"
"She has begun to sit up in her bed and the nurse has an easier time coaxing her to eat, much to the cook's relief."
"That is good to hear; perhaps this wound has begun to heal?" Lazus answered in a questioning tone.
“This pain will never fade for either of us, son."
Lazus nodded numbly.
"I failed her, father," Lazus said miserably, "I was supposed to protect her..."
"There was nothing you could do," Avrar said, his voice shaking, but trying to be firm.
Lazus opened his mouth to disagree and decided otherwise when Avrar picked up one of Jenera's robes from the floor and placed it gently over the back of her armchair, running his calloused fingers along the ink-stained sleeve.
"You were busy with duties at the temple that day," he continued, “and she said she was heading out to bring you home for dinner. Neither your mother nor I expected her to never return..."
"I still failed her, father. Had I been there, I would have known she was sneaking out of the house."
Avrar patted his son's shoulder and tried to smile. As he turned to leave, Lazus grabbed him by the elbow and ushered him over to the unmade bed.
"I found these as I was straightening up her things," he said, gesturing to the scattered books. "They are Jennie's journals and though I should have respected her privacy, I was hoping to find something that would say where she went that day she...”
Lazus did not finish the thought and instead picked up one of the books from the bed.
"Come read this with me, father."
Avrar sat down on the edge of the bed next to his remaining child and peered down at the scrawling script of his daughter as Lazus opened the journal to where he had left off.
30th day of Eleasias, Highsun, Year 428
The months have passed and I am now seventeen. I never wrote about it so I shall do so now. I passed the early testing, though barely. I panicked at all the monsters and undead minions that were thrown at me. Though I knew they were just images that would shatter at a touch, my knees did not seem to stop shaking the entire time. My heart would not listen to my brain no matter what I wanted. I suppose I can now don this new honor with pride, I did earn the right after all. I have decided that for all events in the future, I shall always remain indifferent and neutral. Balance is important in the realms after all. At the same time, however, the master of invocation should have failed me for I was not prepared. I received high laurels for my studies, but books cannot prepare me for the world out there, which frightens me, yet also perks my interest. Lazus is never far from my side when I have cause to leave the city, but what will happen to me the day Lazus cannot be there to protect his baby sister? Will I be brave enough? Will I be strong enough? I expected a huge difference as I made the step from apprentice to invoker, yet nothing seemed to have changed. The part of me who still wishes I were a child safe in mother's arms had hoped for something like in those storybooks she used to read me at bedtime. I have made a decision to lock away my childish thoughts and dreams and close the covers of these journals until I have seen the world outside of the walls of my bedroom.
Lazus closed the journal and looked at Avrar. Tears were running freely down his wrinkled face. He heard Jenera's voice come back to him through her written words and that painful wound had reopened. Turning away from his son without another word, Avrar left the room. With a slight feeling of guilt, Lazus neatly replaced the books in the wardrobe.
* * * * * * * * *
Avrar Al’Medin stumbled down the hall, not bothering to wipe away his tears. He entered his tiny room at the opposite end of the wide hallway and locked the door behind him. Leaning back against the door, he clutched his hand against his chest and breathed heavily, trying to lessen the severe pain. Wheezing, Avrar fell to his hands and knees and began to cough violently, turning red in the face from the effort to stifle the noise. It was several minutes before the spasm passed and he climbed wearily to his feet. He lowered himself into a chair by the door and wiped the blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. Hanging his head and closing his eyes, he tried to rest a few moments before going back to his office at the warehouse.
* * * * * * * * *
Lazus awoke with a start and clambered to his feet. He looked around a bit groggily and noticed with chagrin that he had fallen asleep in Jenera's armchair. The lamps had burned out and the streetlights outside gave the room an eerie glow. The clock ticked with a soft rhythm by her bed. He heard the servants moving about and the muffled sound of sobbing echoing down from his mother's room. He closed the window and carefully locked the door behind him as he left. Tucking the key safely into his belt pouch, he climbed the small set of stairs leading to large double doors and turned the handles.
"Mother?" he called.
Ilise swallowed her tears and tried to bury herself in her twisted blankets. Her dark hair, now mostly gray, usually done up so immaculately, was tied into a hasty knot and her pale face was ghostly white. Her dark eyes were red from crying and shadowed with dark circles. The lamps in the room had been turned down low and a small fire burned in the ornate fireplace across from the bed. Jenera's old dolls lay in a pile by her bedside and a half-eaten tray of food lay uncovered on the small table. Soft snores coming from a dark corner told Lazus the nurse was still fast asleep.
"Lazus, what are you doing up at his hour? I did not mean for you to hear me," she said as she fussed with her bedclothes.
Lazus moved quietly to his mother's side and sat on a small wooden stool. He took Ilise’s hand in his and squeezed it fondly.
"How are you feeling?" he asked in a low voice.
She smiled at her son through tears and reached over to pat his cheek as she had done when he was but a child.
"I am feeling better;" she said reassuringly, "the nurse your father hired takes excellent care of me."
"I am sorry I have not been home much, mother. I just could not stay...”
"I understand, Lazus. Your sister meant the world to you. Even now...when I think of her...I..." she stammered.
Her voice cracked and a moan escaped her lips. Lazus looked away as his mother sobbed quietly into the tangled blankets. He stood and fixed the sheets as well as he could.
"Try and rest, mother. I will fetch some hot tea from the kitchens for you."
"It is all right. I do not want tea right now," she said as she lay down.
Lazus held her hand until he was sure she had fallen asleep. Looking out of the window, he saw the sky lighten with the approach of dawn. With one last look at his mother, he walked over to the nurse and gently woke her. After whispering some instructions to her, he walked out of the room and down the main stairs into the foyer. The butler met him at the bottom of the stairs and handed him a cup of warm broth. Nodding his thanks, he gulped down the soothing liquid. He handed the cup back to the man, ran his fingers through his hair, and with a final sigh, headed out of the manor and towards the temple.
* * * * * * * * *
Outside of the Al'Medin manor, a lone figure watched Lazus head down the street and followed discreetly in his wake. He settled himself on a barrel by a building across the way and watched the young man disappear into the open corridors of the temple of Lathander. Removing his wide-brimmed hat, he fanned himself, and his boots tapped against the ground in tune with a song coming out of a nearby tavern. If everything went as he had planned, today would be a profitable day indeed.
* * * * * * * * *
A tall man lay sprawled out on the soft grass, his hands behind his head and staring up at the sky. An older man leaned against the trunk of a pine and looked down at the half-elf he had taken in as family and brought up to protect the balance of the realms. Ascuren wished he could think of something to say to his melancholy nephew, but the words escaped his mind.
“I leave you to your thoughts,” he said lamely and walked into the forest.
The half-elf shrugged in assent and continued to stare at the clouds. The sun reached its zenith and began to fall to its home in the west. Dranix had just begun to doze off when a voice whispered among the trees and startled him out of his reverie. He stood and forced himself to smile.
“I offer you greetings, Silvanus.”
Why do you stay so idle, Dranix Darkthorne?
“Forgive me, but I cannot give you an explanation. I just feel out of place this day.”
She watches you with sadness in her eyes. Your actions are not fitting of one that is a member of the high council.
“And how should one of the high council behave? Perhaps you can enlighten me,” he lashed out, annoyed.
The wind whispered angrily and then there was silence. Somewhere in the mountains, a lone wolf howled a mourning song. He mumbled angrily to himself, half-ashamed for speaking so impertinently, but also felt a slight satisfaction for his behavior. Dragging his feet, he wandered through the forest and found himself traveling a familiar path. Dranix wanted to lash out at someone, anyone. He kept walking and the hours passed along with his frustration. As the sun’s light dimmed and turned a reddish hue, he stopped walking and kneeled at a gravesite, the low mound of earth long covered by years of old and new grass.
He leaned back on his heels and traced the rose he had had carved into the gravestone. He ran his weathered hands through the grass stems and sighed. As he was about to stand, a sudden shrill cry split the air and the druid smiled broadly as a gorgeous yellow eagle alighted on his offered right arm and stretched his wings. He pecked at Dranix’s hand in obvious affection and cried again. Noticing a note tied to the bird’s left leg, the half-elf pulled at the red ribbon and unrolled the short note. He had to smile in spite of himself when he saw the signature at the bottom.
Come to me as soon as you receive this note. I hope your bird is competent enough to find you where you are hiding. Adventure calls, my old friend. Let us find her once again. We must leave at nightfall and I hope you are able to assist me in my endeavor. I shall explain more when you arrive.
Curious to know what this was about, he tucked the note into his robes and stroked the proud eagle’s feathers for a moment. The bird tugged at Dranix’s sleeve and then opened his wings to fly. Ruffling his feathers once, he launched himself into the darkening sky, circled three times and soon became only a dark speck. Realizing that it was only moments before nightfall, he recited the words to a spell as fast as he could and disappeared into the gathering mist.
Lazus wandered down the hall, full of worry for his parents until he arrived at the large, circular prayer chamber that was open to the sky and the sun. With the blessing of Lathander, this particular room was always protected and nature’s elements could not enter to mar the glistening white marble surfaces. The room was already filled with acolytes and priests and several of them bowed in his direction and spoke words of greeting, but he neither saw nor heard. As the first rays of the sun bathed the chamber with a soft light, the followers of the Morninglord knelt in neat rows in front of the large altar and waited for Lazus to take his place. Kneeling directly in front of the altar of the sun, he raised his hands towards the heavens. Praying fervently, he spoke in a tone of reverence, thanking his god for the coming of the dawn. High Radiance Ghentilara nodded in approval.
The sun had risen to its own height above the horizon when morning prayers had ended. The acolytes moved on to their studies and assigned duties, and the priests shuffled off to their private quarters to prepare for the day's activities. Supplicants wandered the halls, requesting healing and aid. Many gave offerings and begged for the Morninglord's favor. Lazus reached his small chamber and studied the bronze door, tracing his fingers around the gold sun carved onto its surface. A passing acolyte stared at him wonderingly and went on her way. He started to open the door and abruptly changed his mind. With a swift turn, he headed towards the exit. He ran down the many corridors and rushed past people with hurried apologies. He ran between the ornate columns, lost his footing and slipped, tumbling down the steps to land sprawled out on the grass. As he stared up at the clouds with a dazed expression on his face, he heard a familiar laugh ring out from nearby.
He climbed unsteadily to his feet and his gaze fell on a tall man across the way. His wide-brimmed black hat was perched low on his head and hid his face. His long hair was clipped back with a silver clasp and he was very well dressed, from silk cape down to silver-tooled boots. Lazus tried to place the man in his thoughts for a moment and did not move from the temple grounds.
"Young Al'Medin, it is good to see you once again!" the stranger called as he approached.
Lazus stared at the man openly, finally recognizing who he was. The man went into a low bow, sweeping the hat off his head. As Lazus blinked in disbelief, Gantoris Rhovanion straightened and winked.
"Good that I am not a complete stranger after all," Gantoris chuckled, "how do you fare?"
"Forgive me; I did not recognize you at first. It has been long since you last sought me out," Lazus replied with a wide smile and then it vanished.
“As for how I fare, I will be honest and say I have had better days."
Gantoris nodded knowingly.
"Aye, lad. I heard about Jenera last year," he said, "Any word or new information? How are Avrar and Ilise?"
"No, everyone, even my parents, has given her up for dead. My parents continue to mourn and their health fades."
"Evil lurks more thickly around the Realms than usual and sadly it seems your sister found one of its sources."
Lazus bit down on his lower lip, chagrin and anger flooding his face. Gantoris plucked at his cape, giving Lazus a sympathetic look.
"Listen, lad, I don't know what I can do after so many years, but I am good at hearing word from the streets. I will let you know if I hear anything out of the ordinary," Gantoris said.
"I thank you, Master Rhovanion. I shall tell father I saw you. He often wonders to where you disappear. He has always spoken fondly of your kindness."
Gantoris waved off his thanks with a wink and a smile.
"Be careful where you step, lad!" he called as he walked away and disappeared down a side street.
Lazus shook his head ruefully and headed toward the manor. After waiting a few minutes, Gantoris peered around the corner of a building and made sure the young man had left. Nodding to himself, he walked toward the busy city bazaar with his usual cocky gait. He glanced at some of the wares on the tables and spoke words of greeting to the folk he encountered. He stepped into a large restaurant on the southwest side of the city and sat down at his usual table. He leaned back in the chair and dropped his booted feet on the clean tablecloth. A waiter came over with a glass of his favorite wine and eyed the tablecloth.
"The usual, Master Rhovanion?" he asked with a barely heard sigh.
"Aye. Make it two and bring another glass of wine. I am expecting company shortly."
The waiter nodded and disappeared into the kitchen. Gantoris sipped at his wine and absentmindedly twirled a dagger with his other hand.
A large personage, dressed completely in black, entered the restaurant only moments later. His hooded cloak shadowed his face as he swept his gaze among the diners. His eyes fell on the well-dressed man and he made his way to his table in the back by the kitchens. Gantoris saw him coming and gestured to the empty chair across from him.
"Have a seat, Nieman. Our meals should be here shortly."
"My apologies, Gantoris, I do not have time for a meal or to speak about days gone by tonight. I have the information you wanted, however," he said as he sat down, somewhat dubiously, on the small, rickety chair.
"Excellent," Gantoris said.
Both men lowered their voices and spoke in urgent tones.
"...is alive then...?"
"...I hope so..."
"...abandoned monastery...east of the city..."
"...any idea where...?"
"...only heard that something is going on there..."
They whispered for a bit longer and some of the patrons of the establishment began glancing over to their table with interest. Finally, Gantoris nodded at Nieman.
"Good work, lad. Sure you won't stay for a bite? The red snapper here is excellent."
Nieman shook his head, gave Gantoris a small salute, and walked away. The waiter came by with two platters and glanced at the empty seat and the departing figure in puzzlement.
"Man doesn't know good food when he sees it," Gantoris chuckled, rubbing his hands together.
"Leave them both, I intend to eat well," he said, gesturing to the waiter, "It will be a long night."
The waiter shrugged, put both platters on the table and left to get more wine for him.
Gantoris mumbled between bites, "...doesn't know good food when he sees it."
Lazus walked up the street, fully intending to head home and comfort his parents. Instead, he found himself heading east out of the city gates and into the small forest Jenera had loved to frequent. He lay down on the thick grass and tried to relax. He could see why his sister loved it here; the silence of the place gave him a sense of peace he had not felt in years. It was almost dark when he finally stood and brushed the dirt from his robes. He walked around the streets of Waterdeep aimlessly for a while before he arrived at the doors of the Al'Medin manor. As Lazus walked through the doors, he was nearly knocked over by a maid rushing in with an anguished expression on her face.
"Master Lazus, you must go upstairs quickly!" she shrieked.
"What is the matter?" he said, more calmly than he felt.
"Master Avrar collapsed this morning, shortly before noontime!"
"WHAT?!" Lazus yelled at her.
"Please hurry!" she squeaked and ran out of the manor.
Lazus made haste to his father's room and stopped at the open door. His father was lying in his bed, the bedclothes drawn up to his chin. His eyes were closed and his skin had taken on a yellowish-gray shade. His mother was sitting on a stool at his bedside, clutching his hand in both of hers, sobbing and praying to any god or goddess that would hear her pleas. Lazus swept into the room and Ilise fell off the stool in surprise.
"Oh, Lazus, you are finally here!" she gasped. She picked herself up off the floor and set the stool straight.
"What is wrong with him?" he demanded.
"I don't know. He looked so tired this morning when he came in to see me, that I begged him to get some rest. He collapsed on the stairs as he was leaving," she said.
Lazus placed his hands on Avrar's chest and they immediately took on a bright white glow as he wove a spell of healing. When the light faded, nothing seemed to have changed. Avrar's eyes were still closed, his breathing still hoarse and labored. He tried several other spells, frightened beyond belief when nothing seemed to work.
"Have other healers been contacted, mother?" Lazus asked quietly.
"Yes, I sent word out...why...can you not...do...anything for him?" she asked fearfully, her voice halting with every word.
"I do not know. My healing had no effect,” he said, his face going pale.
At that moment, a maid knocked on the open door and entered the room. She curtseyed and wrung her apron in her hands as she spoke.
"A druid of Mielikki and a cleric of Helm have arrived in answer to your request, Madam."
"Send them in quickly, Valiare!" Lazus ordered.
With another curtsey and a last look at Avrar, she vanished and a few moments later, an elf and a large man entered the room. The elven druid looked very young, with long blond hair hanging to his waist. His eyes were dark green, his skin light gold. The cleric was large in stature and made a very imposing figure. His black hair was cropped very short and his dark eyes spoke volumes. Lazus bowed to both in respect. They returned his greeting with bows of their own.
"My father fell ill and nothing I can do has helped him. Please help him," begged Lazus.
The druid nodded and walked over to the bed.
"My name is Kaelthoriaril. By Mielikki, I will do what I can," said the druid.
"And my name is Brinas. Hopefully your father can be saved. I have seen this illness before and...” the cleric of Helm cut off what he was saying, replacing his words with a look of sadness aimed at Ilise.
Ilise sobbed into Lazus's shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her shoulders in an attempt to comfort her. Kaelthoriaril took pouches from his belt and chose different herbs from each. Crumbling them into his palm, he chanted several elvish phrases and closed his hand into a fist. A dark liquid poured down into a wooden vial he held in his other hand. Holding Avrar's head gently, he tipped the vial to his lips, stroking his throat to coax the liquid down. Placing both his hands on Avrar's chest, he began to pray. It sounded as if the druid was singing and the sound lifted Lazus’s spirits. The sickly look on his father's face seemed to lift slightly and his breathing came easier. Lazus breathed a loud sigh of relief.
Brinas nodded at Kaelthoriaril in approval.
"I do not know if this will last. It depends a great deal on your father's constitution and his desire to live," Kaelthoriaril said to Lazus.
"As it always is when healing is done. I thank you," Lazus replied.
Brinas walked to where the druid had been and took a tiny clear bottle filled with a cloudy liquid from his belt. He gently opened Avrar's mouth and poured a few drops of the viscous liquid onto his tongue. He took the old man’s head in his hands and muttered under his breath. Lazus looked on, concern battling the interest on his face. Brinas recited the spell for several minutes, the words different from those Lazus used from the holy book of Lathander. As the incantation faded from his lips, Avrar’s body shuddered and he began to cough, his lips stained pink with blood.
Avrar looked around in a daze and tried to lift his hand toward Ilise. His arm dropped weakly to the bed. Brinas gave him a stern look and handed the potion to Lazus.
"This potion is very strong. He should rest at all times and be kept as comfortable as possible. As Kaelthoriaril said, it depends on him now. I truly hope he recovers," said Brinas.
Ilise sobbed her thanks and followed the healers out. Lazus dropped to his knees by the bed and held onto Avrar's hand. He pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve and carefully wiped Avrar’s mouth.
"I am sorry for causing you so much grief," he said in a hoarse whisper and coughed.
"It is alright. I just wish for you to get well. Mother and I need you."
"Maybe I just wanted to be with your sister too much, Lazus. It seems the gods have finally answered my prayers to let me see her again."
“Why didn’t you tell us you were so sick? How could you hide such a thing?” he asked with anger in his voice.
“I...didn’t think... it was...so...” Avrar gasped and wheezed.
"Please rest. I will be here,” Lazus whispered.
Avrar smiled weakly through his coughing and closed his eyes. Lazus carefully wiped the blood from his lips. Soon, his father’s raspy breathing steadied and he was asleep. He did not hear the prayers Lazus said for him. He did not know Lazus never loosened the grip on Avrar’s hand.
* * * * * * * * *
Gantoris went out through the east gates of Waterdeep and headed down the eastern road. He hoped the message he sent out earlier that afternoon had been received as he arrived at the intersection of roads leading east, north, and west back to the city. Making sure he had all his equipment and supplies for the journey in his satchel, he crouched back on his heels to wait. More than an hour passed by and the sun began to set. The purple gleam of twilight peeked through the grayish clouds. Gantoris yawned and stretched, starting to think he should head out alone. As he was about to step onto the road continuing east, a swirl of mist appeared at his feet, settling into a glistening pool. Gantoris peered into the druidic moonwell and saw, what seemed to be, a briar patch. A half-elf stepped out from the pool and bowed. His dark hair was tied into a tight ponytail, his one jade-green eye looking at Gantoris with warmth. He smiled and the jagged scar running down his other eye stretched taut.
"Ahh, Dranix, you received my message I trust?"
"It is why I am here, what do you need of me, my friend?"
"I have a little hunting to do and your skills will prove valuable should protection and a quick escape route be needed."
"And what exactly are we hunting?" inquired Dranix.
"I have been called upon to find a damsel in distress and save her from monsters, of course," Gantoris said with a wink.
Dranix roared with laughter and clapped his good friend on the shoulder. Gantoris joined in his mirth and the two friends headed down the east path and disappeared into the closing night.
* * * * * * * * *
The body of the beggar man shuddered and grew still, the warm blood dripping from the many festering wounds, congealing quickly. A robed figure hastily embalmed the more gaping wounds with a greasy salve and then ripped the chains from their fastenings. A flask of the cooling blood of its latest victim in one clawed hand and the dust of ground human bones in a pouch in the other, a hoarse language escaped its lips and with a flash of blue light, the body took a breath and rose.
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