Created: 6/30/2007 -- Last Updated: 7/18/2007
Chapter 1 -- Ill Met by Starlight
Chapter 2 -- Sand and Glass
Chapter 3 -- Interlude, with Foreshadowing
Epilog -- Turnabout, Game, and Match
“Hmmmm. I can see how such an enchantment could be useful allowing the night-blind,” at this he sniffed and glanced up at his human audience, “to travel in darkness without giving away their position or ruining the night-vision of better sighted companions.”
After pausing for a moment to see if the Paladin would rise to the bait, Sand shrugged internally and turned the ring to better catch the light. “The band itself seems to be a totally unremarkable silver alloy. The stone chips, I would say, are some sort of polished glass.
“The workmanship is adequate, but no better than it needs to be to take the enchantment. And yes, before you ask again, the whole thing is other-planar. Many things are, you know.
With that said, Sand held out the ring while half-turning to resume work at his alchemist’s bench. “In the future, if you are going to continue to concern yourself with the provenance of lesser metals and pretty rocks, might I suggest that you consult with the gnome or the dwarf? The ‘sons of stone’ are reputed to be quite good with such things.”
“What about the runes?” Casavir ignored the proffered ring, doggedly oblivious to the moon elf’s - rather pointed, Sand thought to himself – hints that show-and-tell was over. So much for Paladin’s courtesy, at least when comely young ladies weren’t present.
The elven wizard sighed, measuring out his words before answering. “They are not runes… though they do seem to be characters of some sort rather than mere abstract design. However, they are not Abysmal, or Celestial, or based on any other script with which I am even remotely familiar. If you asked me to hazard a guess, I would say that they are most likely based on the ‘secret cipher’ of some lost cult or another.
“That being the case, where did you say you acquired this entirely banal object of your attentions, hmmmm?” Sand faced back toward the Paladin and held the ring up between thumb and forefinger. Turnabout was fair play, and perhaps a question pointed in Casavir’s direction would inspire the tight-lipped devotee of Tyr to find other elves to badger.
“I… From the cloaked woman, the one they’ve been calling Lady Sera. Over at the Sunken Flagon.”
Well, well, was the Paladin blushing? Perhaps Casavir might have something interesting to impart, after all. Enjoying the taller man’s discomfiture, Sand said nothing, merely sniffing suggestively and raising an inquisitive eyebrow.
Chivalric need to protect the stranger’s reputation and reluctance to say more warred in the Paladin’s voice as he finally retrieved the proffered ring from Sand’s outstretched fingers, then continued with stiff embarrassment. “She lent it to me yesterday morning, before dawn, after I… nearly ran her down on the widow’s walk.
“I intended to return it to her that afternoon, but when I went to find her, she and her companions were gone. This was… disconcerting… considering things she told me about her origins. And her appearance. I… her hood was back, and I was able to study her face and hands by the light given off by that ring…”
“The illusion of light,” Sand corrected automatically.
Casavir nodded slowly, conceding the point, then continued, “In the illusion of light, she appeared as if she might be of moon elf descent. Perhaps with some celestial heritage, to account for her greater stature. The tattoos on her face and hands, a rose, moon and star… I believe each of these is held in esteem among your people?”
"Casavir, I hardly see where..."
"It's what I wanted to believe, what seemed to fit -- that what I was seeing were sigils of Devotion rather than warlock’s marks. There was something... serene but focused in her manner that I have learned to associate with the divine.
"But when we spoke, what she told me was that she was she was a combat hardened mage... and other things. A former royal bodyguard, which means at least some physical conditioning and weapons training. She... seemed to think it important that I… we believe she is dangerous. That she had killed one member of her party and injured another when they tried to subdue her while she was delirious.
"She said that our better course might have been to let her die. But...that wasn't the worst of it.” Of its own accord, the Paladin's hand moved to the hilt of his warhammer. “She implied that she was cursed. A former demon worshipper who has traveled the Lower Planes. We both saw her red eyes. You told me she smelled of death. If half of what she said was true, then she is a warlock, some sort of elf-demon hybrid, with active ties to the infernal."
“Daemonfey,” Sand interjected dryly. “Also known as fey’ri. That would explain red eyes. However, the fey’ri are descended from sun elves and tend toward scaly skin and bat-wings, besides. No. From what you describe, and from what I saw after her screaming disrupted my sleep three nights ago, she’s more likely an elf-devil mix.
“Why are you staring at me, Casavir? You've indicated that she was at least capable of holding a trusted position. In addition, over the five days they were here, she and her compatriots played out their role of weary ‘pilgrims’ to the letter; avoiding inciting gossip, side-stepping attempts to pick bar fights, and resisting the urge to backhand Bishop and Grobnar equally. Not what one might expect from the chaos-born, not at all.”
“But I… But I sensed none of this,” the Paladin interrupted, anguish in every syllable. “Two nights ago, on the widow’s walk, I trusted her. Later, my first thought was that I had been very tired and was misremembering what she said, or that the amulet’s translation was somehow faulty. Or that she was mad. I did not sense that she was lying.” His voice fell to a whisper. ”Or evil. If she is a warlock and not chaotic, then she must be evil.”
“Not all those with infernal…”
"No! No matter what her heritage, she spoke in praise of kindness and noble acts. She thanked the three of us – you and Duncan and myself - for sparing her fellows the dishonor of being unable to prevent her death. Furthermore, her companions thought enough of her to continue to guard and protect her, even after she had been driven to attack them and was helpless.”
Casavir's shoulders squared as he visibly reclaimed his composure. “I cannot picture someone who gives and inspires such genuine devotion as a willing ally of our enemies. But the following day, she and her party were gone, without warning. And that night the Harborman returned and the Flagon was attacked.
“What if she was an unwilling spy, and my… our intervention broke her partially free from control long enough to try to warn me? Why else would she confess such things to a servant of Tyr, then disappear?
“She told me that she needed to be alone to finish a divination that could only take place at dusk or dawn – the time of shadows. Then she cut off our conversation… rather decisively. Perhaps that was when our enemy reasserted control over her. And I failed to notice because I needed sleep.”
“Well.” The moon elf tested the taller man’s proposals, and found them creditable, if not entirely convincing. “If she were devil-kin under compulsion… not necessarily by the King of Shadows himself, perhaps a pawn of the Githyanki or Luskin or even Thay… that would certainly explain why her companions didn't take her to any of the available temples to be healed.
“It does make a certain sense, however... never mind. Pass the ring back, Casavir, and I’ll do what I can to scry it for you and decipher those ‘runes.’
“Thank you. Now, before we continue, you implied earlier that Sera was not the young lady’s name – yes, I did notice, it’s just that at that point of our so enlightening conversation you had given me no reason to care.”
The elf sniffed, and continued before the Paladin could protest, "So, in the midst of your running the poor girl down, and her subsequent early morning soul-bareing, did mistress not-Sera happen to mention what her name is? Knowing that would help me with this sort of divination. Tremendously.”
“Aylenbrae Eteinne,” Casavir's deep voice stumbled as he attempted to reproduce the stranger’s exotic accent. “Or Spellwright Pwendomyr, though I think Spellwright is a title.”
Sand could not resist the urge to display his erudition. “Neither of those sound Luskin, though Spellwright is certainly a title one might covet in a mageocracy such at Thay,” he mused aloud. “Pwendomyr, though, that’s an odd one. Were you aware that Domyr can be translated as Doomed Traveler or Fated Witch in the drow tongue? Drow heritage fits the girl well enough, though she’s more than two heads taller than the tallest drow I’ve ever heard of, so it would have to be quite far back.
“But, enough idle speculation. Give me a moment to see if I have a scroll handy that will allow me to translate those ‘runes,’ and perhaps we can actually know something.
"Ah, there it is,” Sand continued, pulling the rolled document from a pile beneath the counter. “Now, Casavir, please move away from that shelf of extremely fragile potion bottles, and we’ll divine whatever there is to find out. You are aware that if you had told me what it was you really wanted in the first place, we would have been done by now?