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Biographer's Notes: Valygar


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4. So Many Pretties….



It's raining outside, but I cannot hear


For the windows are barred in my room


I dreamt that homelessness is my doom


And I have seen a friend of old in that dream….



-Naljier Skal



Magical glitter had dissipated… Leonora felt the marble floor with her soles and wondered why she was barefoot. Then she realized that like all things enchanted her boots were consumed when she was transferred to the Spellhold. Despite the grim turn of the events Leonora grinned thinking it lucky that she had a tunic and pans of plain fabric under the posh robes. Otherwise she'd stood in the middle of the Spellhold oval reception area nude…



Tolgerias still held her, his right arm sandwiched between her side and her elbow. Judging from his glance examining her outfit, the Archmage was thinking about the same thing. He must have transported a number of prisoners, pardon, patients, here and knew how the magical defenses worked in this place. How did they call it? A House for Magically Deviant? And the magically deviant were to come here for their own protection and the protection of the society? Leonora sighed. This little detail showed her clearer then many words that the Spellhold was about punishment and humiliation of the unfortunate magical dissidents, not about protection.



Anger rose in Leonora's heart against the Coweled Wizards and since Tolgerias was the closest representative her rage turned against him. The Marquise adjusted her left arm slightly, bent it and aimed her elbow just under Archmage's lowest rib. Her palm closed into a fist, yet stayed lump and relaxed. Her right arm was lightening fast though and flew with all force connecting onto the fist. Leonora's unrestricted bony elbow shot and hit the target. Tolgerais, unaccustomed to physical attacks like the majority of the high-level mages, yelled out in pain and frustration and jumped away from Leonora, hissing the insults. Marquise laughed…



But Leonora knew it was a mistake as soon as she felt first hard pulses waking in her temples. She had lost her concentration and in few minutes she'd be facing the painful consequences of her rapid spell memorization. Just as a bodily haste harms and wears off the person, skipping proper amount of rest after spell memorization rapes the mage's mind. Leonora knew that, but she hoped there would be Valygar's arms supporting her and comforting her through the inevitable pain.



A small and grumpy dwarf appeared in the doorway and a puzzled look spread across his face when he noticed Tolgerias. “My Lord Tolgerias… Ahem… We are very much honored…But why did not you leave the prisoner with Perth…â€Â



Tolgerias interrupted the dwarf with an irritated: “Lonk, mind your own business! Go fetch Wanev. There is a patient of importance with me…â€Â



“Wanev…yes Wanev… I will fetch the boss at once, Master Tolgerias…†with many bows the dwarf retreated from the reception and disappeared behind a great oaken door. Leonora felt that something was out of place in the Spellhold. Why was Lonk so confused? It seemed that Tolgerias shared her suspicions. The tall wizard paced the marble floor nervously, chewing his lips and mumbling quietly…



The voices came from somewhere behind the great door. “I am sorry Master, but he is an Archmage from Athkatla itself… “ whimpered Lonk. The other voice coming in short, barking sequences ignored the pleas: “I am NOT to be disturbed when experimenting.†A roaring sound and a burning smell came immediately thereafter. Leonora sighed in relief, when she heard Lonk's voice, still humbly apologizing. After all a scorcher is not enough to seriously hurt a dwarf… But she had no time for contemplation's.



“It's not Wanev's voice… Something funny is going on here…†exclaimed Tolgerias and started a teleportation spell. But the door swung open and his jaw hang in mid-air and his words froze without leaving his lips. Indeed the person (for Leonora cannot name him as a man or an elf, a dwarf or a gnome, and certainly not as a hobbit, or any kind of a known monster) stepped over the threshold. Leonora's instinct was to run and she did just that, then dropped to the floor and slipped behind a large couch.



“I am tired of fools intervening into my studies here!†roared the stranger at Tolgerias. The energy emanating from the imposing tall and well shaped figure was swooping the Archmage off his feet. He turned very pale and mumbled: “I am sorry, Master… I just wanted to see Wanev… I will return to Athkatla immediately and you will be unhindered…†The stranger's chin lifted as he burst into laughter. “You will go to Athkatla? And then come back with a bunch of imbecile Cowled Wizards? No, that's not going to work. “ He pronounced then a single, terrible word and Tolgerias's body felt to his feet in one lump mass.



The stranger could be only one person – the evil mage, Irenicus, whom Melirinda was chasing. His power was above all possible and impossible boundaries. Marquise would lock herself into a duel with Tolgerias or any other of her former brotherhood. But attacking this one, even after full night sleep and after she had prepared the deadliest spells she knew was in the best case a suicide. At worst – a long painful torture.



Leonora knew the only way she was to keep her life. Against the intensifying pain she drenched herself to her feet and gave Irenicus with empty excited glance. Leonora knew that she looked like hell, her eyes bloodshot, her hair in disarray and her speech impaired by pain, so she was perfectly equipped for her favorite disguise of a brain dead drunk noble. She was dizzy from horror and weakness, so she propped herself against the couch, which somewhat, but not altogether limited her swaying. Leonora doubted that anyone looking at her now would call for a second opinion regarding her state. Marquise started talking at the enormous speed, interrupting herself with silly giggling:



“My dear, my dear! By Mystra, the trick like that should have enormous success at the Lady's Jeestev's Tuesday salon… Would you mind if I ask if poor Tolgerias is still alive and just pretending or…†and her voice became dramatic whisper, “or you have indeed killed him?†Without waiting for an answer, she continued: “You must be Elminster, yes? I guessed right? Only Mystra's Chosen can have enormous power like that… May be you are one of the unknown sons of Mystra? I have heard from very knowledgeable people, that Mystra was getting around no less than Bhaal in her times… I am such a fan of yours! â€Â



“Lonk! Get this cretin out of my sight,†commanded Irenicus shortly, and rushed out of the door without giving Leonora another look.



The dwarf commanded to Leonora: “You, Lady, move! I have a chamber for you. My name is Lonk the Sane and you shall treat me with all the respect if you want to get your walk…†Leonora was too exhausted to laugh at Lonk the Sane. She followed the dwarf, holding to the wall and resting after each step. The corridor was impossibly long and the grayness of the fainting spell was closing around her, when a slender arm wrapped around her shoulders and kept her from falling.



Eyes, clear, transparent golden-green, like gemstones called chrysolites watched over her… Leonora did not know how many hours she was unconscious, yet she remembered the pair of beautiful elven eyes, belonging to the male sitting on the floor by her bed, his legs crisscrossed and his head resting against his arms, interlocked behind his head. He was leaning backwards absolutely at ease. While ageless, as majority of elves, there was a shadow and sadness in his features, betraying trials he had faced and showing that the years lay between his present and his youth.



The elf looked at Leonora and a shy smile curved his lips, chasing away the shadows in his eyes… “Violet…your eyes are violet...how pretty!†exclaimed the elf and then confided to Leonora: “There are so many pretties…†Leonora was not ready to speak again, throbbing pain still breaking apart her head, so she left the remark without an answer… The elf made few passes with his delicate hands and they were covered for a moment by the blue and golden glimmer. Then the elf extended his hand to Leonora and opened his palm: “For the pretty Lady… It's violet as your eyes…†the excitement in his voice was genuine, giving to a cheap purple gem unusual charm… “Thank you…†managed the Marquise, unable to blew the elf's pride at his art. “It's very pretty… But may be you wanted to keep it? “



“No, no†the elf shook his head intently. “Bad things happen when a Noldor takes too much pride in his work and loves the gems of his making too much… High Prince Feanor, he had loved his gems and was proud of them and we had been cursed for this love and this pride…â€Â



“Oh, no, Naljier Skal, you promised not to tell this tale to anyone, but me!†Leonora looked in the direction of the owner of the high-pitch voice and there stood yet another visitor. A tiny gnomish girl. She crossed the room skipping and climbed upon a narrow bench serving as Leonora's bed. Next thing Leonora knew was that she was staring at her own self…only dressed into a shiny white outfit…



“Now I am…now I am a White Lady of the Noldor!' Leonora finally recognized the illusion spell for what it was. The girl had a talent beyond her years… Naljier blushed and got up to his feet in one smooth graceful motion: “Dili, you had been listening too much of my tales lately…†But Dili was paying no attention to the bard. She turned to Leonora and explained her, imitating the intonation of a chanting scald: “The White Lady of Noldor, she was called… ahem… Ar-Feiniel…â€Â



The elven name gave the gnomish youngster some difficulty, but it did not discourage her: “She was pale, like the Ladyship, and her hair was dark, like the Ladyships' and she was never clad but in silver and white…†Naljier's ears turned incredible deep pink, reminding the Marquise beautiful sunsets over the Sea of Swords… The bard pleaded: “Dili, the Lady is very tired, may be we can leave the tale for another time…†The gnome made a very cranky face and shifted from the white-clad Leonora's image to her own tiny and charming self.



“You do not want to continue the tale because “her heart's love was given to none?†asked the gnome watching Naljier attentively and putting a finger into her mouth to help with thinking. Leonora stroked the girl's dark curls: “You know, you do not have to change to other people… You are the most beautiful little girl I have ever seen…†The girl was really happy with the crude compliment and she curled up by Marquise asking why she was sick, and where she is coming from and if she knew her mommy and daddy…



Naljier sat by the gnome and tried to help Leonora with answering some of the endless questions… Leonora closed her eyes falling down a deep dark shaft, Dili's and Naljier's voices coming from afar… Her dream was of a child playing on her laps; he looked up at her from under his wide dark brows and she recognised those dare, sarcastic brown eyes...

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5. . The Spirit Wandering



I dreamt that you saw me in a dream


How wonderful and strange is that?


At least you were laughing


When you woke up…


Naljier Skal



A gentle voice was singing… Leonora smiled: she did not have a memory of falling asleep with a lullaby, yet waking up, listening to unknown words was a pleasure. Unknown words? She shook off the dreamy state and finally saw the back of the blond head pressed against her bunk.



Marquise raised softly and looked at the singer. The elf's eyes were closed, his lips moved only just and his voice was so quiet that she was surprised she even heard him. May be she was dreaming? “Naljier?†He smiled and asked without a making single motion, even his blond eyelashes in peace: “I could not leave until I knew your name, dear Lady… Lonk the Sane does not know, and I'd rather not ask Jon.â€Â



“Leonora…†she thought of adding her last name and title, but then she was worried about many ears that the walls may grow in such a place and let it hang unsaid. Naljier was satisfied. "Leonora… I rather like it…†Leonora was at a loss of what to say to the elf who seemingly had no intention of leaving her side: “I am glad you do. So you are Naljier, noble soul?â€Â



“Naljier Skal and I am not a noble soul… I am a Noldor…†came a quick response and it appeared to Marquise that his face was paler for a moment. “I am afraid I do not know who Noldor are…†Leonora did not know if that would hurt the elf more or he'd be distracted of whatever troubled him. Neither thing happened. Instead, he answered in a voice of a bored schoolboy, repeating the same axiom: “None here does. We are elven nation from another plane, as that mad wizard would say.â€Â



“What mad wizard? Irenicus? He brought you here?†inquired puzzled Leonora.


“No, not Irenicus, though he is mad… May be all wizards are insane? No, cannot be – you are a mage and you are the most reasonable person in here…†Leonora asked surprised: “What makes you think I am a mage?†Naljier shrugged: “The way you were sick. Lonk said you were drunk, but I can distinguish an overexertion after taxing one's casting skills to the limit from a hangover… I have seen both before. May be you are the exception and all other wizards are crazy…â€Â



“You start sounding like someone I know… “ chuckled Leonora. Naljier did not join into her merriment. “You are well now, Leonora. I shall be going… Sorry about Dili last night, she can be very demanding sometimes. You still need rest.â€Â



“I loved chatting with Dili. Naljier, thank you for looking after me…and for the gem…†She almost forgot about the cheap stone. The mentioning of the amethyst, however, touched some cord in the elf's heart… His face was lit suddenly and he stood tall and proud and his weariness was gone. “I shall make a necklace for you, Leonora…â€Â



Marquise smiled sheepishly. If that makes the sweet madman happy, let it be the necklace. Naljier looked her up and down with his unusual golden-green eyes and promised: “I shall tell you of Noldor… if you would not cry… Dili always cries at my tales. I should not have told them to her.†Leonora chuckled: “A child who cries for a tale has a great heart… No harm comes to her through you, Naljier. I think she enjoys your company.†The bard slowly moved his fingers through his thick wheat-colored mane. “I would never imagined that I would end up in a house without windows telling tales to a child who can become anything at a whim. I wish there would be someone with more warmth here for Dili, than me.†And he again looked Leonora up and down. “ I am a lousy fatherly figure. I must go now, Leonora. Lonk would be making his rounds soon and he is not supposed to see me here, even if it was he himself who let me in. I will work on your necklace and we will come in the evening with Dili.â€Â



The elf was gone and Leonora walked her chamber aimlessly. She put her hand into the pocket, wanting to give another look to the Naljier's gem, but to her surprise she found a ring there. A clouded memory came to Leonora of herself falling by Tolgerias and pulling this very ring off his dead hand, while Lonk was shouting at her… She smiled: the Ring of Ram was not much of a trophy, yet it was better than nothing. It might serve her well one day. At least she was not completely helpless. The magical devices that the Cowled Wizards carried were apparently safe in Spellhold.



Leonora wondered what other kind of magic might penetrate the wards of this place. A thought, a crazy thought crossed her mind. There was something she learnt from a village witch, long ago in her childhood, before engaging into proper scholarly wizardry. “I wonder,†murmured Leonora, “if they counted on having a wise woman Naheena's student in this place…†Leonora sat down and prepared for an enchantment more ancient than speech of Men.



Slowly she imagined herself to become a spirit… Leonora herself was sitting still, yet the wandering spirit walked through the door of her cell, which Naljier carefully locked and proceeded to the oval reception room… Lonk must have cleared Tolgerias's body, but the space stunk of the recent death. Leonora directed herself to the exit. It was a terrible moment, for she could not live long with her spirit wandering elsewhere, and she knew not how the Spellhold magic would alter her communication and control… Yet she pressed on.



Not even a shadow of a shadow, the wandering spirit stepped through the doors. To Leonora's relief, the worst thing that happen to her was the burning sensation on her bare soles from the steps heated with the sun outside. The feeling was so real, that Leonora cringed, but the warmth of the sun on her skin and the touch of the fresh sea breeze made up for that first inconvenience. The wandering spirit run gliding over steps and passed unhindered by the shades and monsters who patrolled the entrance to the Spellhold.



The spirit slowed down trailing through the narrow, unfamiliar streets of the Brinnlaw, the dust swirling around its bare feet, the happy laughter tickling Leonora's throat…. She finally saw and felt the ocean. The sadness came to her when she comprehended the endless horizon, broken only by slender ships with tall sails and restful seagulls. Leonora's spirit called the closest bird.


-What do you want of me, cloud on the water?


-I need you to cross the ocean and come to a large City of Humans on it's other side…


-No. I will not do that. There is only water and air in between here and the City you speak about. I will have no rest or food. I will drop and die before your senseless quest is over…


-You will not. I would give you strength and I will see through your eyes and keep you out of danger. You will do what I say…


-Stronger is your will than is mine. I shall go. But what is there in the City of Humans over the ocean that you cannot find on this shore?


-You will look for a man…


-Finding a man in the City of Humans? I would not know one from another…


-He is tall and dark. And my eyes are your eyes… Go now, and let your wings be swift…


-I cannot disobey…yet you are mad…



Leonora watched the bird to speed away and the spirit wandering came back and she was whole again… And she said to Naljier that night: “I am no exception… I am a mad wizard as well. At least that's what a seagull thinks… Naljier did not respond, but looked at her with pity.






There is certain tenderness that a barefoot woman wakes in a man's heart. She stood there, a woman in a simple tunic, barefoot. The bubbling tongues of waves covered her up to her knees sometimes and sometimes left her standing on the wet sand and debris… Her dark hair was thrown to her face sometimes by the wind and she pulled them away with an impatient gesture, searching with her eyes the ships docked in Athkatla. For a brief moment Valygar saw her face and immediately he recognized it. He rushed to jump off “Gallanteâ€Â; crying: “Leonoraâ€Â, when a slender, yet strong arm caught him.



An motionless cold face appeared before him: “None is there, Count Corthala. The exhaustion and toil of the last few days are overpowering you. I suggest that you use this voyage to rest. There are many battles ahead.†Valygar would flatten Pier, but then, over the rogue's shoulder he noticed that there was only a shadow on the beach, though a very bright one because of the intensity of the rising sun. He nodded and walked away. Valygar tried to sleep, but the events of the last days were on his mind. Ever since Leonora was taken away from him it was one endless battle. No wonder he sees her as a shadow on the beach… Ever since she was taken away from him…

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6. The Enraged



Our fury will bring us victory


Our fury will burn our hearts


Our fury is valedictory


To the enemies we shall surpass…


Kivan Ashenbow


The wise say that the elven dialects are made for love and songs. The snobs among scholars prefer to use gnomish when writing philosophical tractates for they say this tongue possess clarity and richness beyond even elven. The jokers humor those scholars saying that surely, as far as food is concerned gnomish cannot surpass the language of hobbits. It is fashionable among the rebels of all races, except the drow to speak drow among themselves as a way of aggravating the establishment. Drow rebels speak elven or an ancient form of drow. Common is spoken by everyone and under majority of the circumstances. As far as the dwarven is concerned… It is strange really, since the dwarves are not eager to teach their language to the outsiders, yet anyone who just dropped a hammer on his bare toes usually slips to dwarven for few moments.



A clan of ridged mountain dwarves returning after a year-long mining expedition empty-handed would blush should they heard colorful expressions Valygar used to describe the Cowled Wizards and their cronies the moment Leonora and Tolgeiras had left the Sphere. Melirinda choked on the spell she was about to utter at this sudden and exceptional fluency of the ranger. As every well-educated and well-brought female she thought that the in-depth knowledge of dwarven was reserved for the scholars.



She shook off her stupor and surveyed the room, quickly turning into a battlefield. Tolgeiras said: three battle mages. It was not strictly true to her relief. One of the war wizards seemed to be already out of the battle, since he was laying on the floor surrounded by rapidly expanding pool of his own blood. Pier was bent over the body, pulling his slender dagger from the man's dead flesh… The hood of the rogue's cloak made his face completely invisible, but Melirinda noticed that he had apparently put on dark gloves…



Valygar and Tai Shen were less successful, than Pier. The orphaned ranger and familiar choose the same target, and now the were facing eight images of the same robed man with a wry smile. The two, showcasing similar fury and grace hit, clawed and slashed the images, trying to destroy them to get to the mage himself… Then a bolt of lightening threw Valygar back few paces and made Tai-Shen's fur to stand up and the tiger howled in pain. The charge then hit Pier, doing strangely little damage to the rogue, who was already aiming his short bow at the caster and robbed Melirinda of yet another attempt to cast. Kivan fall down and rolled, trying to avoid the speeding bolt, but it was enchanted to follow his moves and the elf stoically took the pain. He was back to his feet in a moment, blade out, shielding Melirinda from a line of fire, the second wizard trained on her. Melirinda clutched her fists seeing her lover being fried alive in front of her. The elf was still advancing and still not a single sound escaped his lips.



Crippling the caster's ability to use their spells was their only chance they had without a mage capable of bringing down the array of magical defenses the three Cowled Wizards had on themselves. Melirinda gritted her teeth and seeing that the wizards have faded into nothingness, as Kivan's blade was about to strike him, prayed to Sylvanus to reveal the invisible caster. She added also a small tiny hope that Sylvanus would grant the mage the most hurtful and painful death imaginable if they'd fail to defeat him. The mage was visible again, but neither Pier's arrow, nor Kivan's long sword scored a hit.



Tai Shen and Valygar resumed their bashing of wizard's images, after Valygar had a good laugh about the acid arrow mage had directed at him. The wizard was slightly disappointed by the absence of the desired effect, yet he shrugged his shoulders philosophically and prepared to chant again… At that precise moment, Melirinda was finally able to complete her incantation and the swarm of bugs appeared from nowhere stinging the mages.



Both wizards paled as they calculated that their protective shields would not hold long enough… The five fighters laughed and exchanged the triumphant glances. “Wait till Tolgeiras be back,†hissed one of the wizards making a clumsy swing at Valygar with his staff. Valygar parried easily, happy that now he knew which image to attack… The companions clustered themselves around the retreating wizards… The battle was almost over as far as they were concerned.



The mage, targeted by Kivan, Melirinda and Pier, made a sudden dash for the wall and opened a secret door… The trio pursued him and found themselves in a room dominated by a gigantic machine. Few narrow bridges led towards it. They were in the very heart of the Sphere. Bidding his time and hoping to shake of the magical insects, the mage moved along the bridge, away from the three companions. The wizard run fast, throwing glances at his pursuers far more often than he looked ahead. It was a mistake, since he came to a crashing stop onto a large iron bulk. The mage stared for a moment at the Iron Golem and three lesser ones, following their leader, hoping desperately that the golems were not the guardians of the machine… His hope dissipated as the huge arm-like shaft tore through his body. If it was someone else, the Cowled Wizard would find it rather comical, that the magical shield disappeared a short moment before the terrifying strike connected at his chest. But he was in no state to feel anything, even pain. He was dead from fear before his body was broken in half and launched into the air. The golems spotted the next target…



Kivan was flanked by Melirinda on the bridge. Pier was two steps behind and already let fly a couple arrows. Shoulder to shoulder the lovers stood, barring the passage of the advancing giant. The golem moved incredibly fast for such a large being and the retreat was very unlikely to succeed. Moreover, to start up the Sphere they had to get to the machine which meant bypassing the guardian golems.



Large shields and armor seemed inadequate in front of the iron mountain they faced. “Valygar! Get in here once you are finished with the wizard. We are in troubles!†called Melirinda.



“Get back,†commanded the druid, quickly weighing her chain mail against Kivan's leathers. “Will you marry me, if we live?†asked Kivan lightly. Melirinda coughed. “Yes or no?†insisted Kivan. “I will go to Shilmista and marry you on the top of the Daione Dun, singing like a nightingale if you get back right now…†growled Melirinda trying to pass by the stubborn elf… In a moment Kivan was standing behind her back and Melirinda sighed with relief, blocking the first blow with her shield and managing to score a quick hit… One of the stone golems started flanking her however, and to her distress the Blade of Roses met the charge, teasing the monster and luring it away from the druid.



On the narrow bridge neither Kivan, nor Melirinda could escape the direct, heavy blows. Melirinda noticed few dents appearing on her shield and her left arm was going numb of the impact as well. She could hear bangs behind her and the sick feeling clutched her throat every time when the booming sound of stone connecting on metal was not answered by quick buzzing of the metal blade cracking the stone… She knew, that already wounded by the mage Kivan, was weakening and that turning her back to the iron monster would be a sure death of her. She could not help him by anything, but preventing any more monsters breaking past her. With an angry battle cry Melirinda attacked the golem, the creature, which stand between her and Kivan.



Melirinda never had been happier to see Valygar, than when he and his now inseparable friend of a tiger plunged into the tight golem ranks. Seeing that Valygar could cover up her back, Melirinda twisted on her heals to see Kivan falling to his knees holding his shield high up. The stone golem did not look healthy either, but there still was some life left in him. Melirinda's scimitar cut at the impossible angle staying the blow, throwing the arm of the monster wide… Kivan looked up at her, smiled and collapsed. To Melirinda's horror the golem started tilting, as if his legs were not supporting it any longer, and its trajectory would inevitably land it on the unconscious elf. Pier rushed forward, crouched and dragged the elf out of the way, a moment before the stone bulk hit the bridge.



As Pier was getting back up to the straight up position, he unconsciously pulled his hood, which fall too low and obstructed his vision, and Melirinda caught a glimpse of a strange face. It reminded not at all the unremarkable face of the rogue, Leonora had introduced them only an hour ago. It had unmistakable sharp elven features, yet of some dark violet-grayish taint… Melirinda had no time to question Pier. She turned back to the battle, to help Valygar and Tai Shen.



The iron golem was holding out better than his clay and stone counterparts, yet even he was growing weaker under the sequence of furious blows. Figuring that the monster was almost dead, Melirinda rushed back to Kivan's side.



A healing spell. Something that every priest is granted so early in his servitude, yet something that cannot be overshadowed by any other ability, any other of the gods gifts, no matter how powerful or how destructive they might be. Melirinda took Kivan's cool slender hand into her palms and the pain pierced her heart at the sight of his closed eyes and bloodless lips… She thought of the warm sunlight in the midsummer, and she prayed for it to be poured into her lover's body. The druid followed Sylvanus on his wandering among all things living and asked the all-powerful nature to stop the blood pouring freely and to mend the broken tissues and bones, so that the full strength would return to the elf and he would be as alive and blooming as a young tree over a creek in the springtime… And her god smiled at her.



Kivan stirred and sat up, touching Melirinda's wet chick. “Daione Dun then…†said he quietly. Melirrinda shook her head slowly, almost in denial, and embraced him tightly. “If we live long enough to reach Shilmista… Please, silly elf, concentrate on the living bit for now…†whispered she into his ear. The sudden loud roar of machinery did not interrupt their kiss.



Slowly Melirinda returned back to reality and saw Valygar and Tai Shen walking towards them and a dark figure of the cloaked rogue sitting silently aside. She got up to her feet and Valygar reported: “Lavok did not lie. The Sphere is powered by the demon's heart. We will be back to Athkatla soon, unless he lied about the destination. If he did not, I feel obliged to get him out of this accursed place as he asked. I also hope that he might know a thing or two about the Spellhold.â€Â



Melirinda nodded: “Let's return to Lavok.†Valygar turned to Melirinda and said hotly: “Melirinda, it seems that we both need to get as soon as possible to the very same place. Our agreement was that I serve you until we dispatch off Lavok…But would you let me to be on your ship to Spellhold? I have to...â€Â



“Of course, Valygar,†answered Melirinda simply.



Lavok was trying hard not to die when they returned to his room. Valygar kneeled by the wizard and asked firmly: “I will let you to see Athkatla's sky again, Lavok, but you must tell me anything you know of the Spellhold…â€Â



“Spellhold?†the wizard spat the word with hatred. “Spellhold… so they went ahead with the idea. A clique of narrow minded, corrupted idiots! Cowled Wizards! I wonder how they even dare to call themselves wizards, since a baby frog knows more of magic than all of them taken together…â€Â



“I am not interested in your opinion on the Cowled Wizards†yelled Valygar, “What do you know of Spellhold?â€Â



Lavok coughed and muttered: “Nothing, my boy… They debated a warded place on a far away island. Somehow connected to the pirates, I believe. Wanted to send there anyone who demonstrated any degree of a magical gift. Too afraid of talent, of real studies… I would be the first one to get there, for sure that's why I build this…†and he gave the surroundings a loving look. "It protected me... “



“Why not just move away from Athkatla?†wondered Melirinda. “You will not understand…†smiled the lich. Melirinda shrugged. Indeed, she probably would not.



With a gentle push the Sphere landed. Valygar lifted the light body of his ancestor and carried him out of the doors… The sun was rising over Athkatla, coloring the roofs reddish. The air coming from the sea was fresh and warm. Valygar carefully placed his load onto the steps of the house the Sphere had destroyed. Lavok noticed the ranger's glance towards the half-demolished abode of some poor people… “I am sorry for this as well…†said Lavok quietly. “Good buy, Athkatla…†and Lavok Corthala, once a powerful noble, who was clinging to life for five centuries died on the steps of a ruined house in the bowels of his native city…



Valygar kept a moment silence out of the respect for the death. Yet he could not stay idle for long. Somewhere on a lonely island, lost among the sea was Leonora. Valygar turned to Melirinda and asked: “How much money do we have Mel?â€Â

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7. Voice of Twilight.



No words will describe my grief


My guilt speaks no language


Yet every day I live


I tell my sordid tale…


Naljier Skal



Many years had passed and still I remember vividly listening to you in the Spellhold. I asked you later if you had a record made of the tale, but you laughed at me. "Runes", you said, "have never been used by the Elves in the happy times. When those time passed away, then we recalled Daeron's invention and started writing like mad about our lost Valinor. About that time also we got used to burring our dead and putting inscriptions on their graves... Writing is a commemoration of what is no more. When I'd pass away, be my guest, scribe down what I told you. But promise me to leave the parchments unspoiled while my voice can reach your ear..."



Wherever you are my friend, now your voice sounds only in my memory. And Naljier Skal himself is but a sad twilight memory. The parchment is blank in front of me for I do not know if I should wait until the memory of your voice sounds no more in my ears. After all, what is the goal of me converting your living words into a black ornament, which would stay put on the white background? Whom do I know who'd care for a Noldor?


Leonora DeVallenzzi



Leonora was almost asleep, exhausted by the view of the empty waves, their twirling white caps doing little to cheer up the eternal coolness of the sea. “Land accepts little creatures like you, the sea ignores you…†said the bird, before Leonora lost the connection, ensured that its flight was straight and swift. Marquise looked at the opening door in surprise; she had forgotten fully Naljier and his promise.



The elf entered carrying a slick reddish cat, which immediately jumped down to the floor, then to the bunk and curled up by Leonora. It looked especially comfortable for a short moment, but then of course it get bored… Dili shifted back to her gnomish self and got a hold of Leonora's hand: “The tale, Leonora! He said he'd tell the whole tale! You will make him, will you? He would listen to you…â€Â



Leonora blinked astounded by the girl's capability to shapeshift and laughed. “I will do what I can, Dili, but it's up to our bard of how much he would tell…â€Â



Naljier's smile was grateful. He lowered himself to the floor, with the grace and easiness which hold Leonora's eye. For a moment it appeared to her that the elf was not pale and worn and wore gray attire of the Spellhold, but he was arrayed in rich silk and velvet, bright sword at his hip and the star shining on his brow… The green orbs glistened at Leonora as if sharing her illusion. Marquise shook her head breaking the spell and tickled Dili slightly. “I think Naljier is settling down for a long-long story, my dear. Are you sure you would not fall asleep?†Dili snorted indignantly and relied: “You only say that because you had not heard Naljier to tell stories. Even a halfing would not fall asleep…†Leonora shrugged her shoulders and addressed to Naljier teasingly: “oh, you have an admirer, bard. Now you'd have to work hard to keep up to the praise…â€Â



Naljier did not respond to the taunt, but started in a quiet voice, which picked up strength slowly:



My dear Dili and Leonora I thought all day (thankfully we are provided generously with time) how I can tell you my story and neither bore you to death with the history of my people, neither leave you wondering on what my words can mean. You know, that I am insane, so forgive me if my words after all would not make sense…†and a strange fleeting smile touched his lips at this last sentence.



“I heard many elves' and mens' opinion on what is the doom of Noldor. Many say Feanor is the sole cause of our misfortune, some unwise tongues blame Fingolfin for obeying blindly a noble oath he had given in following Feanor. Morgoth is of course is the favorite culprit for us Exiles, when we are in denial of how much in common we have with the Black Enemy. The mastery of our hands, the pride of our hearts, the boldness of spirit, the desire to rule in our own right – all that is in Morgoth as well… “



“But I digress, I digress my dear Leonora. Will you forgive me Dili if I repeat the tale of Valynor and the Trees? I can see it in your shiny eyes that you remember every word of it, because your humble elf could not force himself to tell you what happened after the Trees died, so he just repeated the tune of the happy times over and over to you. Yet you never complained, oh most gracious of the listeners. You have never complained. I promise I tell you the ending this time, Dili.â€Â



“I have never seen the world in twilight… It was the world before the rising of the Sun and the Moon which now adorn the sky of the Middle Earth, just like here on Toril. There always were stars, from the moment the Firstborn, the Elves came into being. We were children of twilight and since then we love the stars. The twilight world, the elders and those who never went to Valinor say, was different than the world after the Sun goes down nowadays…



Though some creatures and plants had seen ancient light of the two great lamps, Illuin and Ormal, which existed before the beginning of time, but the ages of starlight made them fragile and they clung to the ground, clutching for the warmth coming from the depth of the young world… Everything was subtle and quiet, birds and beasts almost mute, the wind was gentler even.



Now the land of the gods, Valinor was given the bliss of light. The Two Trees grew there, called into being by Yavanna , the goddess of all living things. And one tree, called Telperion, gave the shining light, bright and cool as silver. From the second tree, the beautiful Laurelin, golden light and warmth were coming to Valinor.



And Elves had populated this world, finding their ways in it. Yet the twilight was a hiding place for many things foul that the enemy, who at that time was called Melkor, bred: demons and balors and ghosts of all kinds. The gods, who dwelt in a sacred land of Valinor saw the plight of the Firstborn and they perceived that the mischief of Melkor had multiplied and that he sought the possession of all things fair to twist and spoil them and bring them to his servitude. At this time already he started perverting elves into orcs.



The terrible battle ensued between the gods of the light and the spirit of darkness over the rule in the Middle Earth. And Melkor was captured in the end and the world was free of his evil for a time.



Yet the world was hurting after the great battles and the gods feared for the Firstborn's destiny in the twilight. The promise of light was given to my ancestors and the summon was issued for them to come and dwell in Valinor if they so wish. Three elven nations: Vanyar, Noldor and Teleri headed the call and passed from the Middle Earth to Valinor.



And that's were I was born.

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8. My Prince



I am loyal to you my prince


Not because it's the law


But because my dreams


Are the same as yours, Feanor…


Naljier Skal



Naljier had intended a short pause, but he could hardly guess that it would be filled with the gnomish girl's giggling. Dili's round face was upturned, her red curls shaking and her mouth half-open in the most cheerful smile. She looked surprisingly happy for a little child locked up in a windowless, fearful place in the company of a melancholic elf and a destitute Marquise.



“What is the matter Dili? Are not you suppose to cry at Naljier's tales?†wondered Marquise absently. “No, not in this particular spot…†smiled the elven bard. “Apparently she likes the idea of me being a baby…â€Â



Dili shook her curls in an energetic denial. “Not a baby… My age… I would like to have someone to play with. I had two sisters and three brothers before they took me away. It was so much fun. I wonder if they miss me…†the girl's voice trailed off. Leonora stroked her head gently: “Of course they are. One day we'd find your family Dili…†Dili turned an adoring gaze to the Marquise. Naljier's glance was very cold and he touched her hand with disapproval. Leonora could read his eyes clearly: “Do not give a false hope…â€Â



Dili could not keep on the same subject, just like she could not keep to her own shape for too long: “So you were born, Naljier…†Naljier seemed not to hear, still arguing wordlessly with Leonora about hope and freedom. But Dili's voice was persistent and he had to continue. Leonora breathed in relief. She was scared by the intensity of his anger, by the way his emotions sounded clearly in her mind and by the depth of his hopelessness.



“I was born in Valinor… The light of the Two Trees is my first memory. And that of my mother carrying me as close to the glowing Trees as she dared and whispering the many names of the Telperion and Laurelin into my ears. The beauty and the comfort of the light were all my heart needed at the time and I was happy for many years in Valinor. Children like me, born in Valinor were numerous, since the Noldor were young and not yet weary of the world and its pleasures.



But slowly strange things started happening to me. First there were dreams of the wide planes lit dimly by the starlight. Then I was sad and restless. I started wandering away, not yet understanding what is the reason of my sorrow. My parents suggested few potential brides and talked about arranging a wedding. However not of women were my dreams. I cannot blame my mother and father for misjudging my heart's desires for at that time I knew them not myself. The result was that I wandered away from my home which I found unbearable wishing for new sights and peoples other then my kin. I left Calacrya and I passed through the Haven of Teleri and I searched Valinor. Often had I seen the twilight planes and hills in my mind, and I could not find the likeness of them in Valinor.



Until I came to the very edge of the Darkness, to the Outer Sea. There was the boundary between the fair world under the protection of the Two Trees and the mysterious darkness of the land our parents had forsaken. I had understood my dreams and I was puzzled. I was born into light, what was the Middle Earth to me? What was I to the Middle Earth? Why would it call to me? My nostalgia was brought upon me by the things I never knew.



In distress I wandered the cold shore of the Outer Sea, waiting like a fool that the waves would know the answer. There I saw Feanor for the first time up close. Before that moment I have no interest in the lords of my people. But there he stood, tall, unbent by the blasts of the cold wind. His face was turned towards darkness, and lit up by the starlight and his clear gray eyes. Feanor was handsome of the face and of a perfect statue, but that alone would not make people's eyes to stay on him and see him as a lord. There was flame and a great power in his orbs and you could say he was a chosen one from the aura surrounding him.



Was Feanor a madman? Of course he was. Just like me, just like all of us, born in Valinor and favored by gods yet dreaming of the starlit land, we had never seen. But Feanor was different from any of us who went to the shores of the Outer Sea and peered over the waves. He equated the world beyond Valinor with freedom, and Valinor with thralldom. He could not stand the idea of anyone having the will above his own, even if they were gods. And for that Feanor desired to leave more than pathetic fools, like I, who did not perceive the true cause of the strange unrest of the young Noldor.



Feanor spoke to me that day. “Hail, stranger,†said my prince to me, “you are not of my House, I knew not that anyone else chose this unwelcome land for travelling. Who are you?†I bowed low and told: “Lord Feanor, I am but a simple elf and my name is…Naljier…â€Â



Leonora noticed the pause and she wished suddenly to know the bard's true elven name…but he had used on Toril: Naljier…



Feanor laughed: “Even at the Outer Sea's shore I am recognized. Well met, Naljier Skal.†Then he was silent and I thought that I shall leave him alone to his contemplation, when he said quietly: “Varda had made the stars, Yavanna had made the trees… They both had created the light. None could make the light but gods… Maybe one can capture the light of gods and carry it over this frozen sea, to the wide lands beyond Valinor. Maybe one should not be tied down as a dog in the yard to enjoy the light? What do you think Naljier? Can we carry light back to the Middle Earth and settle anew the lands our frightened fathers abandoned?â€Â



And I replied: “Yes, my lord.†From this day my loyalty was to him alone and my heart was at rest. For I knew that Feanor would lead me back to the land of twilight as his father Finwe brought my father to Valinor.



I was born in Valinor… The light of the Two Trees is my first memory. And that of my mother carrying me as close to the glowing Trees as she dared and whispering the many names of the Telperion and Laurelin into my ears.

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9. Frozen Dusk.



Through the frozen dusk


I led you. I hoped for the best.


But you died in my arms


Smiling and stealing my rest.


You absolved me my sins;


You said that you were glad


That you have followed me


And you asked me not to be mad…


How many years shall pass


Before I will stop crying…


I lied when I told I loved


And you knew I was lying…


Naljier Skal



A pause followed. Leonora could hear all three of them breathing uneasily. Naljier was growing agitated, though his voice stayed even. Dili was full of anticipation and Leonora could guess that Naljier came close to the part of his tale when he previously stopped his narration. Leonora herself felt very awkward, as if she was a priest listening a confession. She suddenly realized that it was a confession, that Naljier was telling Dili and herself the truth he had never told before aloud. May be it was the truth he had never before told to himself.



Leonora shifted uncomfortably: “Maybe Naljier will continue some other time?†asked Leonora of Dili. However, to Marquise's surprise, both Dili and Naljier were adamant. “If you do not mind,†begged Naljier “I would tell it now. You are not too tired?†Then he added gently, in the afterthought: “or too bored?†Marquise shook her head negatively and for a moment she could not take her eyes away from his face. Golden-green shine of his glance surrounded her, reminding of sunlight on tree leaves in the spring. Leonora suddenly knew the game; she was unwilling to play it, but he would not let her to end it. Her eyes narrowed and she sent him a message that “never†was her answer. “I will never be able to warm you up or to comfort you…†Leonora hoped that he understood.



Naljier smiled and his features sharpened. His voice filled the small chamber again:



“After meeting with Feanor I came back home and knowing now that one day I will be leaving my love for it was renewed. I reconciled with my family and I got married as they wished. My parents according to the traditions of my people chose my bride. Meviél was her name and she was tall and slender and as fair as light of Telperion. It was quiet life until Feanor had announced the creation of Silmarils. To me these three huge gems, containing the light of Telperion and Laurelin were the continuation of his promise to lead Noldor home and take the light with them.



It might seem strange to you that three gems stirred my people and added to the hidden unrest so much. I saw your surprise when I made a gem for you the first time, Leonora. A simple purple gem, one that you can buy from a merchant in Athkatla for 20 gold pieces… Silmarils were greater and more lustrous than the most exquisite gem a dwarven miner ever brought to the surface. And what dwarven miner can find was created by gods. Feanor, the Prince of Noldor Elves, made a gem superior to the gems of Valinor. Of cause these gems were also but a shell holding the light of Yavanna…but we did not think of that then. We praised Feanor.



Melkor, the enemy, made himself free by his many lies. He concealed his hatred and malice behind a fair façade and pretend friendliness. Melkor's words were of forgiveness and unity, when there was more than one person to hear him. But if he was alone with a listener, he twisted the truth into poisonous lies. Melkor understood early the pride and unrest of Noldor and used it cleverly. His lies brought on a rivalry between the sons of Finwe, Feanor and Fingolfin, which resulted in Feanor being exiled from Tirion. For in an argument he had drawn his sword onto his brother.



Weapons. Do you remember the very first time you hold a blade in your hand, Leonora? Or a staff ? Or a wand? Anything that was created with the singular purpose to kill? The choice between life and death of another being is given to you as your hand closes around a hilt. A choice of a god. They were beautiful too, the first swords Feanor and his sons made. Light and slender, yet unbreakable, decorated with gems, singing in the air… I remember my elation as I swung a sword for the first time and plunged it into a training dummy. I did not know then that for years I would be sleeping with a sword by my side, ready to jump back to my feet and fight. I am ashamed to say that should I have known, I would still be exuberant wielding my first sword. It gave me feeling that I can protect myself and those whom I love from danger. And it mattered not, that there was no foul beast in Valinor, save for Melkor, whom I would never be able to kill.



Melkor's plans meanwhile ripened and he attacked and killed the trees. The darkness fell over Valinor. There was no mystery in this darkness, just pure horror. But my heart did not repent. And we stood there, a crowd, lit up by torches and daring not to miss a single word of Feanor. And he asked us if there was a difference now between the land of Valinor and the land of our ancestors now that the world is plunged into darkness? None, except that Noldor shall be free beyond Valinor. The gods approached Feanor, asking him to destroy Silmarils and release the light trapped in them to heal the Trees. Feanor refused for he loved what he had made more than gods wishes. As if in punishment for the pride came a message that Finwe was slain defending Feanor's house against Melkor and that the treasures of Noldor, including Silmarils were raped.



Feanor cried for his father's death, but it moved him not to humility; it moved him to hatred and anger. Feanor and his sons swore an oath to know no rest and pursue whoever carries Silmarils until they would return to the House of Feanor. Melkor, the thief of Silmarils, gone to the Middle Earth and Feanor was ready to give a chase. But he would not go alone. He spoke to Noldor and in the new darkness the decision was made to forsake Valinor. However the majority of Noldor were not eager to leave; my parents stayed behind and my wife would not go, but for me.



The Noldor who went, but were reluctant (and that was the majority) were led by Fingolfin. This was a bigger, slower host, while Feanor with his household, hot and daring were far ahead. My wife was heavy with our child at the time, so we were among Fingolfin's followers. I have seen Fingolfin then as a pale copy of Feanor, not a wise and fair man he was. I snorted at his slowness, at his unwillingness to leave Valinor. But I respected him at the same time for going against his will, for he had done so out of loyalty to Feanor, who after Finwe's slaughter was the King of Noldor, being the firstborn son.



To reach Middle Earth Noldor were to cross the Great Sea or seek a passage through northern land, frozen and barren. Feanor devised to loan ships from Teleri, our sea-going kin… Our former kin. Teleri would not surrender the ships to Noldor, neither would they join our march. Teleri were the last one to come to Valinor and their decision to leave Middle Earth was firm and set and never they hesitated after reaching the god's land, as Noldor did. Enraged Feanor ordered to seize the ships by force.



I lived among Teleri and I knew what were their ships to them. They were crafted and decorated, and beautiful names were given to them. Each of them was unique and magnificent. Teleri loved them as their houses, their land, their family. And they fought for them. Noldor attacked, I could not deny it. We were the ones to draw swords at our kin, or Feanor's host. It does not remove the blame from us, those who came later and found the battle joined already and rushed to help our own. We had spilled the first blood in Valinor, save Finwe and his men killed by Melkor. We killed our brothers for we wanted their ships. We betrayed the trust of our friends.



Thus was the doom of Noldor defined: we shall ever be prone to treachery and we shall perish of treason or of fear of treason. And the doom was close at hand. Feanor, growing suspicious of Fingolfin, who was mad that his hands were stained by his kin's blood, due to Feanor's recklessness committed the unthinkable. Under the cover of the eternal dusk, he and those who joined the fight with Teleri and were now bound to him by the same guilt, took the ships and crossed to Middle Earth, leaving the rest of the host. And he never sent the ships back to gather us. He burnt them.



Now only one way was left for the Fingolfin – the road through the North. We went. The frozen dusk surrounded us, our feet were unaccustomed to the broken land and walking through the snow, yet we went. In the cold desert one fire warmed us – the memory of the flames set to the ships of Teleri.



Slow was our walk, yet the weakest of us could not keep up. My wife was spent and she could not walk, but when I carried her she was freezing. There was no escape for her. So I stopped and put her on the ground and I made such a shelter as I could and I stayed with her, seeking in vain for any wood to set up a fire to warm her up. She died soon. Thus my family ended. Despair filled my heart and sorrows for the woman who had married me because her parents told her to do so and who never complained of what I had done to her. I wished that I loved her.



I laid by her and embraced her and closed my eyes drifting into sleep, hoping that I would not wake up. But I was stronger than cold and after many hours I gave up. I got up and I run after the host, catching up with them and surviving the whole journey. I walked as if in a dream, oblivious to the chill wind and my eyes were often frozen shut because my tears turned to ice on my eyelashes immediately. I helped others to rise on their feet again or to bury their dead. It was a frightful passage, but finally we have reached the sunlit planes of Middle Earth. But no joy had filled our hearts when we saw the land of our ancestors.



I went wild after we arrived to safety and fled the host of Fingolfin. I wandered alone, my mind lost and I saw the faces of those I killed. Until one day I entered the domain of Thingol. Melian's magic dispelled my fever and nightmarish visions and I was brought to Thingol's court, shivering and thin, a pitiful sight. I had been well for a while in the kingdom of the Thingol Graymantle, but I could not stay for long.



My heart was ever filled with pain, which diminished only when I was on the road. But this time I went not alone. Andali was my joyous companion, who sang of forgetting grief and leaving sorrows in the past. I loved her in the light of the Moon and under the Sun, which were created and placed upon the sky during my madness. We walked across the land and for a while I wished for nothing more than the endless road and my soul mate. Yet she was a Moriquendi, who knew not Valinor and for her the enchanted land of Melian was the place of bliss. She grew weary with me and when she could not see an end to the travel, she was gone. Thus was I alone again.



One day I say a Spere… A man exited it and greeted me in my own tongue. I was astounded, for never I had taken interest in men, but this one was different from any I had seen. The reason was that he did not come from the Middle Earth, he was from Toril. He taught me of the multitude of the worlds and he explained that he travels between them in the device he had created – that very Sphere. Needless to say that I was immediately attached to the man and without hesitation I accepted Lavok's invitation to join him.



“Lavok?†asked Leonora breathlessly…â€ÂLavok Corthala of Athkatla?â€Â


“Yes,†confirmed Naljier. “Do you know of him?â€Â

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10. Money.



And still there never seems to be


a single penny left for me


That's too bad


In my dreams I have a plan …





“How much money do we have, Melirinda?†repeated Valygar impatiently.



“Twelve thousand, nine hundred eighty four gold pieces.†Melirinda's measured voice did not deceive Valygar. He never knew Imoen, and Melirinda rarely spoke of her with anybody, even with Kivan, but the fact that the druid knew their budget to a penny told Valygar more than the most profound confession. Melirinda DeGranier dreamed just as hotly as him about crossing the sea separating Athkatla and the haven of Brinnelaw.



There was not enough money. For the first time Valygar really lamented that his useless ancestors had little financial talent. The ranger turned to Pier. To his surprise the man was still hiding in the shadows inside of the house, by some reason unwilling to step over the threshold. “Pier,†asked Valygar urgently, “Can you access Marquise's money?â€Â



Pier shook his head negatively. “Unfortunately not, Senior Corthala. Seniora DeVallenzzi made provisions for that particular case. As soon as she left Athkatla against her will, the palace's wards were activated. Everyone within the palace was teleported outside of it and none, but Marquise herself would be able to enter the palace until half-year would pass. Then her heir would be announced and her capital and real estate would be legitimately transferred to him. Until then I would not be able to obtain a single gold piece from her caretakers, even to organize the rescue party. I had argued with Seniora about that arrangement previously, but she was adamant. Seniora always loathed the idea of involving someone who cared for her into a duel with powerful groups she was working for in the past. Seniora Marquise foresaw that they will turn against her sooner or later. She was afraid that the ensuing struggle might hurt someone hot-headed enough to go single-handedly against the above groups.â€Â



Valygar could not quite place his finger on it, but he thought that Pier somehow hinted that he, Valygar Corthala, was the reason of both Marquise's demise and of her unwillingness to bring a hypothetical person who cared in touch with her underworld connections. Valygar was not sure he liked the message Pier's words gave him. On the other hand, Pier was too cryptic and vague for Valygar to interpret the monologue as Leonora's demand for him to stay out of troubles and leave her to her own destiny. At any rate, even if Leonora would tell that to him directly, he would not listen. So Pier can stuff his advice… Valygar was not yet done with defining where exactly the advice shall go, when Pier spoke again.



Pier addressed Melirinda this time: “Senioritta, I am not sure if you'd be interested in my help, since you know nothing of me, but I would wish dearly to join your party. My understanding is that you were promised a voyage to Spellhold, and that you had not yet raised necessary amount of money. I cannot access Seniors'a money, but as her majordomo I always carry around some for household expenses. This I give to you, if you promise to bring Seniora back to Athkatla.â€Â



Melirinda nodded. “Pier, I need all help I can get. Maybe I am not gentlewoman enough, accepting all you have, but I would welcome both you and your gift. Desperate people cannot afford too much pride.â€Â



Pier pulled his hand out of his pocket, producing a leather pouch full of coins. He made a move, as he was trying to throw it to Melirinda, but then he shrugged his shoulders and pulled the hood of his cloak down and stepped out in the light. “There is something you should know, before accepting me as your travelling companion, Senioritta DeGranier.â€Â



Melirinda had seen a drow before – a renegade priestess, called Viconia DeVir. Still she was stunned for a moment, staring at the elven features looking even sharper due to the violet-gray hue of Pier's skin. His hair was not shiny white as Viconia's, but brown; and his eyes were dark, rather than glowing red.



“A drow!†Kivan's hand was at Melirinda's shoulder in an instant and he pulled the druid back, his other hand going for the hilt of his sword. “Kivan,†said Melirinda quietly, “I had fought by this man's side all day long and the only person he backstubbed was our enemy…â€Â



“If you are to have me along, Senioritta DeGranier, you would have to face an adverse reaction, like Senior's Ashenbow… I can put some make-up on and try to pass for a gray elf, but unfortunately any elf would see that there is drow blood flowing in my veins, “ continued Pier, not agitated by Kivan's reaction.



The calm tone of the drow and Melirinda's fair reasoning cooled Kivan's anger. He looked directly at Pier and said slowly: “Pier, you have to excuse me. My previous encounter with your kin, or rather with the results of your kin's raid was one of the most terrifying experiences in my life. I do not trust drow, I do not trust you, but until you move against any of us, you are my cousin. Put your make-up on and stay close to me. People would tend to see us as two elves, no more, no less. But remember - I am watching you.â€Â



Pier bowed to Kivan. “I am grateful, Senior. I am used to harsher treatment than being watched. Ironic it is that I who was born at the surface and have never met another drow, but my mother, have to carry the blame of my kin.†After saying that, Pier finally passed the pouch to Melirinda. He then produced a white statuette of a tiger and set it on the ground. “Tai-Shen, we will likely not be needing you today anymore…†the tiger looked at the drow and wailed, as if protesting the change in ownership. “We will find Leonora very soon… Now you may go…†The tiger melted into white mist and was gone.



While Pier was dusting up his skin with enough white-bluish shade to last the most fashion conscience damsel for a year; Valygar, Kivan and Melirinda were going through the content of their backpacks and putting aside everything they can manage without for sale. It was not very promising. Valygar stuck his hands into his pockets as if hoping to find a coin or two and his hand struck something hard and cold. With a gasp of surprise Valygar produced an intricate emerald incrusted necklace. “Oh…†Melirinda was speechless for a moment looking with amazement at the delicate jewelry. “I did not know you were in that sort of things, ranger…â€Â



“That belongs to Seniora DeVallenzzi, “ intervened Pier…He kept pause for long enough to imply that Valygar had apparently stolen the necklace, then continued: “Marquise does not make a habit of having pockets in her gowns… I assume the necklace was bothering her and she gave it to Count Corthala to carry as she is accustomed to…â€Â



Valygar's dark skin could not mask his blush; he felt like a mischievous youngster under the mocking gaze of drow's eyes. Another thought was burning his mind: this strange elf evidently knew every little detail of Leonora's intimate life and he was living at her house… The ranger can only guess if the drow came into his knowledge by watching others or by his own experience. Valygar felt that in any case Pier was not the person he'd like to associate more.



Valygar threw the necklace onto the “for sale†pile. “I am sure, Leonora would not mind… I think I know a way to raise some more money. I will meet you back at Copper Coronet in few hours…†and before Pier could interject and argue Valygar walked away.



“Count Corthala, “ the merchant's face was all smiles, “I am glad you had changed your mind. As I said before, we would have problems finding a buyer for a house in the Docks, but Umar Hills, Umar Hills is a very different story.â€Â



Valygar looked at the fat man tensely: “Do you have a buyer or you do not have a buyer?†“Oh, I do, I do … For Umar Hills that is. Hunting lodges are quite popular nowadays and I…â€Â



“How much?†interrupted Valygar abruptly. The merchant squinted at the grim noble. No fun doing business with this one, no fun at all. He would have to trade a tale of how he found just a perfect buyer for absolutely top price to his friends who'd appreciate it. This broken count will pay him his commission and to Nine Hells with him. As if he had not seen destitute nobles before…



“Two thousand, no less…†the merchant could not held back his pride. By his estimate top price for the cabin was one and a half… “Two thousand less my commission of cause, Count Corthala. If your Lordship is willing to wait for few more months, I am sure we can do better…†Valygar chuckled: “Two thousand less your commission is good enough.â€Â



Valygar walked into Copper Coronet at the same moment as Melirinda, Kivan and Pier. In the tavern the companions finally rejoined rather nervous Kelsey, Aerie and Jan. Aerie stared at Pier, squeaked and hid herself behind Kelsey, whispering something into the sorcerer's ear. Kelsey looked up at Pier in amazement.



“No panicking, “ said Melirinda quickly, before Aerie would go into hysteria on the account of Pier. Kivan was already walking towards the avariel. “Pier is our new friend and you have nothing to be afraid of…†At that moment Kivan finally reached the shocked girl and they went into a quick and emotional exchange in elven. Kelsey shrugged: “So where had you been? I have been running around town like a mad dog, looking for you… until Aerie, kind soul, suggested that I have a drink and relax…â€Â



Melirinda lowered herself onto a chair and said tiredly: “It is a long story, Kelsey, long story…†then she turned to Valygar and said: “I have over fifteen now…†Valygar produced a leather pouch from the depth of his cloak: “Here is another eighteen hundred, Mel. I say we'd visit the shadow thief contact right now… Yes, Mel?†Melirinda smiled: “I think we shall. How did you get money, ranger?†Valygar answered lightly: “I sold Umar Hills.â€Â



Everyone stared at Valygar and Melirinda digesting the exchange. “Valygar, why would you be so eager to go to Spellhold now and sell for that the precious cabin of yours?†inquired Kelsey. “Correct me if I am wrong, but your single ambition up till now was killing that ancient relative of yours…†Kelsey gaped, suddenly guessing: “Did you entered the Sphere without us? Is that were you all have been while we slept peacefully?â€Â



Melirinda, Valygar, Pier and Kivan nodded in unison.



“And that's where Leonora was kidnapped. She is in Spellhold now, that's why I am going with you…apart from the fact that I like your company…†explained Valygar. Or he thought he explained.



“Who is Leonora?†it was difficult to tell if Kelsey, Jan or Aerie was the first one to ask that very question.



“My fiancée,†answered Valygar firmly, causing the jaw of every group member (except for Pier) to hang low. Kivan and Melirinda exchanged a quick glance. Valygar, unhappy of the stares centered on him and seeing that Jan decided that if his mouth is wide open anyway, he might as well tell a related story, said loudly: “We must hurry, right, Melirinda?â€Â



“Yes. Let's go!†Melirinda immediately came to the ranger's rescue. The party members picked up their belongings and followed the druid to the exit.



Valygar saw Pier at his side. The drow said quietly: “I have heard many to make that claim in vain. It is generally a good idea to ask Seniora DeVallenzzi first… Then you will not feel foolish like others did.â€Â



“And you were among them?†Valygar snapped back.



“Oh, no… What can a destitute rogue like me hope for with a stunning and powerful lady like Seniora? My dear Count, I am not a dreamer…†answered Pier softly.



Valygar sighed. Another poisonous arrow aimed for his heart. For who was Valygar Corthala, but a destitute rogue?

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11. A Wrong Face to Wear


“This face is boring…Now I am…now I am…â€Â



Leonora smiled, watching Dili to change into a spaniel puppy. She applauded the child and said: “I can see that you have an affinity with all things red and curly, my dear.†Dili nodded and barked happily, her tail whistling in the air. “She certainly does…†agreed Naljier, coming by and making himself comfortable on the floor, by Dili and near Leonora’s feet. Leonora wondered if Naljier has ever sat on a bench or on a chair. The elf noticed her glance, propped his chin against his palm and smiled at Leonora. Marquise sighed.


“Boring!†Dili jumped up to her feet and asked: “What shall I be next?†“Leonora?†suggested Naljier. Dili giggled happily: “But Leonora is right here, I want to be something different.†“Tiax, the great Tiax will do…†laughed Leonora. Dili shouted excitedly and closed her eyes imagining Tiax.


“Naljier,†started Leonora tentatively, wanting to ask a question which kept popping up in her mind since previous night’s conversation. She did not ask it right away, because Dili was getting sleepy and Naljier looked exhausted by his memories. “Naljier, can I ask you something?†The elf smiled again: “Of course, Leonora.â€Â


“You told me that you knew Lavok Corthala of Athkatla,†said she slowly. “Did you mean you knew him in his human form?†Naljier frowned: “I knew him when he was a human. I…I discontinued our friendship when he became undead.â€Â


“Naljier, how old are you?†Leonora dealt with elves before, and Naljier started to scare her. An elf who knew Corthala 500 years ago and was not babe at that time could not look like Naljier Skal. She was afraid that Naljier’s story was a part of some intrigue and that she was unwittingly harming Valygar. After all Naljier mentioned Lavok…


The pseudo-Tiax burst out in laughter. Leonora startled. Naljier put his palm on her shoulder and answered quietly, looking into her eyes: “It is irrelevant, Leonora. The Firstborn of Iluvatar are immortal.†Leonora blinked. It started making sense. “Lavok Corthala craved immortality…†said she slowly. “Yes, and he searched the worlds where the immortals exist. I was such a creature and he wished to know of me. When I learnt what is it he is seeking I was not sure if I should admire him, loath him or pity him.†“And?†prompted Leonora. “I pity him,†replied Naljier simply. “I saw him to age, and to age in fear. That was an awful sight. His fear was so great that once he returned carrying a body with him. A body of his nephew. I should have killed him there and then. But I could not. I tried to reason with him instead, asking him to call the priest to restore the young man. He refused and his magic threw me out of the Sphere, and sealed it for me. He yelled: “Only one of my own blood shall path through this doors from now on. The one willing to give his life for the continuation of my research. He did not realize that all of his research was now centered on sustaining his own life. And as such was unnecessary in case if he’d simply allowed himself to die. And I never got a ride home he promised me.â€Â


Leonora squeezed his fingers lightly: “Have hope, Naljier. The Sphere is back in Athkatla at the moment and I saw Lavok. I think he finally gave up. And I know a person who is to inherit the Sphere. Once we are back to Athkatla we shall find a way to fulfill Lavok’s promise.â€Â


Naljier’s brows lifted in surprise and his green eyes filled with sadness. “I thought you understood… Leonora, there is no way out of here, but death. Please, Leonora, I beg you. It pains me to see you under the spell of a false hope.†Leonora met his glance squarely. “It is you who do not understand. We are going to get out of here.â€Â


“Yes! We are!†Dili was jumping up and down and then she hugged Leonora. Naljier turned away, and Leonora thought she noticed tears glistening in the corner of his eye. “Of course,†agreed he at length.


Dili sang happily and a mischievous grin appeared on her face. “I am…I am the mean one!†Before Leonora or Naljier could react they saw Jon Irenicus in front of him. “Do not, Dili!†exclaimed Naljier. Dili was definitely amused by the elf’s terrified expression and she was still shapeshifted when real Jon Irenicus rounded the corner. “How dare you?†asked he coldly. The girl turned around and shrieked. She was immediately back to her own form and Irenicus gripped her hand. “I shall…â€Â


“But my dearest Elminster,†panicking Leonora hanged on the wizard’s arm, “the girl is such a big fan of yours, surely you can forgive her this small joke. It is a bad joke, of course but she is merely a child…†Irenicus shoved Marquise away roughly. He had an incredible physical strength, this man or whatever he was. Leonora flew few steps backwards and hit the wall. There she dropped to the floor breathless. But at least Irenicus was forced to let Dili go. “Run, Dili, run,†whispered Leonora. “You are becoming annoying, DeValenzzi.†A cruel smile curved Jon’s lips: “Very annoying.â€Â


Leonora’s heart went cold. He knew. All that time he knew who she was… “Leave the women alone,†commanded Naljier suddenly, stepping in between Lenora and the mage. “Oh, you are here too, fool? What a charming family! You are forgetting yourself, Gyrion.†Naljier’s eyes narrowed: “Am I indeed?â€Â


Irenicus extended his hand towards Naljier and chanted. Leonora recognized the spell. She turned away unable to see her friend’s death, but then she heard a collected quiet voice: “You tried it before, remember? You cannot unmake what was created by Iluvatar’s will. You cannot extract my soul, madman.â€Â


Irenicus laughed. “I am past the point when I thought I might use you, pathetic creature. The god’s blood is coming, I need you no more. You are not invincible, Naljier. Slain you can be, and slain you shall be.â€Â


Naljier said quietly: “Perhaps you should kill me. After all, I have seen those greater than you burnt to ashes in the pursuit of the same goal you have. I am the proof that you shall not succeed. So kill me if you hunger for blood tonight. But leave the girl and the woman be.â€Â


Irenicus clapped: “How impressive.†Then he added coldly: “I have not time for this. Say your goodbye to your…friend. It is touching that you two shall die together. I will pass your regards to Valygar, Leonora. And my deepest regrets that you were unable to meet with him.â€Â


“I think that would be enough to take care of you,†Irenicus made a subtle gesture with his wrist and chanted. After that he left the hall, while the two fierce looking skeleton-warriors materialized out of the thin air.


“Run…†pleaded Naljier, “please, run!†Leonora shook her head stubbornly. Naljier tried to push her behind his back, but she crouched and dived under the heavy sword the skeleton poised at her. Naljier thought the Marquise suicidal. Leonora was hanging for her dear life on the skeleton’s neck. The creature shrieked, puzzled and tried to hit her with his sword with no luck. Naljier had no time to watch and could not help: the second beast was on top of him and the unarmed elf had to rely on his agility to avoid the menacing sword. he ducked the hit and jumped aside.


The edge of the heavy shield hit her shoulder. Then the creature dropped its sword and its long sharp nails plunged into Leonora’s neck. Marquise coughed out the last commanding words. The blast of energy came from her ring and the scull exploded, sending herself and the pile of yellowish bones flying. She came back to her senses and heard Naljier’s desperate wail.


The elf turned towards her, ignoring the surviving skeleton. Leonora wanted to yell to Naljier to pay attention to the foe, not to her, but her lips would not move. As if in a dream, she saw the heavy sword to dig into Naljier’s shoulder. The elf’s tunic colored with blood and he fell to his knees.

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12. A Necklace of Purple Gems


My appologies for being mad

and for laughing your hopes away

Good night, my Lady. I wish we met

On a luckier and a brighter day.



Naljier Skal


Leonora’s stupor was gone, blown away by terror. She half-walked, half fell down towards the pile of bones and dust which marked the place where the first skeleton was destroyed and got a grip on the monster’s sword. It was too heavy for her slender arms, but Leonora yanked it free and ran towards Naljier. It seemed that the Elf and the beast were playing some childish game, the skeleton swinging the sword at its helpless victim and Naljier bending and twisting away. He had lost control of his right arm and his moves were much slower than Leonora remembered.


With a pathetic battle cry the wild mage overcame the last few paces separating her from the wounded friend and tried to grip the sword with both hands and swing. Never she suspected that skeletons had sense of humor. The yellowed collection of bones pointed a narrow finger crowned with a sharp crooked nail at her and made barking sounds, his jaw moving vigorously.


“Give me the sword Leonora,†asked Naljier in a low voice.


Shuddering Leonora surrendered the sword to the Elf. The skeleton was amusing itself watching the bloodied fingers of his exhausted opponent to close around the hilt. The fingers of his left hand. The skeleton amused itself, watching the broken Elf to raise from his knees, using the long sword as a support, his head bowed.


That was not submission though realized Leonora, that was a prayer. “Elbereth!†cried Naljier suddenly, swinging the blade up and forward, pushing it through the skeletons ribcage and backbone. “Elbereth,†repeated he quieter, so quiet that Leonora barely heard it above the sound of the cracking bone. The skeleton, divided in half, hit the floor. Naljier turned to look at Leonora, smiled and dropped the sword. Marquise embraced the bard and tried to slow the limp body of the elf in its fall.


Using her teeth and nails Leonora ripped Naljier's blood stained tunic, hoping beyond hope to see a scratch or two. She stared instead at the shoulder cut open, bared bones and a wicked cut slicing and punkchuring through the ribs. She noted the blood babbling at the corner of the elf’s mouth and the ugly whizzing sound accompanying the Elf's breathing. Marquise felt sick, but she could not faint, she could not let her hand tremble. If she will do nothing, Naljier will die. Leonora had to try, even if she had never dealt with the wounds that wicked.


Leonora heard sobs and trembling Dili sat down by her, stroking Naljier’s hair. The gnomish child was her only ally in the cold world. Leonora said as calmly and clearly as she could: “Dili, bring the cleric. Tiax, the cleric. Bring him here.†The gnomling sat for a moment watching Leonora to rip Naljier’s and her own tunic apart and to press the fabric against Naljier’s shoulder in a desperate attempt to stop red, sticky blood. “Go!†yelled Leonora. The gnome jumped up and ran.


Leonora could only press the fabric against the wounds and stare at the gray rugs turning red, and at Naljiers’ face becoming whiter and wither. She touched Naljier’s clammy forehead and pleaded aloud for the Elf. But what god would hear her from that forsaken place? She was taken by surprise when Naljier licked his lips and mumbled: “You have very salty tears, Leonora.†She was crying she realized. Naljier slowly opened his eyes and whispered that he cannot yet find his way to the Halls of Mandos. “Do not talk!†Leonora leaned closer, trying to hold his glance as it was his life.


Naljier smiled and pressed something into her palm. “I ought to make it longer, Leonora. But I am afraid I run out of time.†Leonora growled: “You are not going to die on me like that! Do you hear me Naljier Skal? Do not you dare!†He actually laughed. “My dear Leonora, are you now playing the same game as our kind host and telling death that you are more powerful than she?†Leonora bit her lip: The cleric… The cleric is coming, Naljier. Please, hold on.†His brow raised skeptically: “That’s what I love the most about you. You will not loose hope balancing on the precipice or sticking out of dragon’s mouth. You have so much willingness to live it almost scares me. But I love you nonetheless.â€Â


Lying was never particularly difficult to Leonora. “I love you, Naljier. Please, stay with Dili and me. For our future’s sake, “ she would promise him anything at the moment. One can stop the blood, but what good it will do if the spirit is on its way and is not interested in occupying the body?


Elf’s breathing now came in fast shallow gasps and he struggled for each, but he managed a smile: “Leonora, do you think I am that mad? To believe that you love me? And Valygar…†“My brother, Valygar,†Leonora felt rather helpless, and she thought she forgot how painful it is.


Naljier put his cool finger across her mouth: “Valygar is a rare name. Valygar Corthala, the last hope of my old friend Lavok, is not he? The very last Corthala? I thought it might be him, when you talked of the Sphere.†Leonora nodded. She forgot how guilty conscience feels as well.


She was delivered from the necessity to answer by the sound of two pairs of galloping feet. Leonora lifted her head and stared at Tiax chasing another Tiax, only dressed pompously in silks and gold and velvet. The well dressed Tiax came to a skidding stop by Leonora and started crying. The Tiax dressed in the Spellhold fashioned tunic and pans ignored his twin’s distress, ignored the dying Elf and half-naked Leonora. “You have stolen the persona of great Tiax!†yelled he pointing an accusing finger at Dili. Leonora dropped to her knees in front of the mad cleric: “Oh, great and all-powerful Tiax! It is said that you can heal by a simple touch of your hand. Do shame the imposter,†Leonora glanced towards Dili. “Prove us, you followers,†Leonora saw Aphriel, Wanev and Lonk hurrying towards the scene and united them and herself in one generous gesture. “Prove that you are the Great Tiax indeed – heal this undeserving Elf!â€Â


Leonora did not care for a mocking expression in Naljier’s eyes. He took a hold of a strand of her hair and made her bend towards him: “Leonora, do not.†But Tiax started a spell and Leonora’s glaring eyes fixed on the cleric. The chant was right, she felt it was right. But it bounced off the walls of the Spellhold and dissipated. As any other magical energy did. Leonora’s shoulders sagged and she gripped tighter to the bandages, now all soaked through with Naljier’s blood. The Elf knew. She should have known as well. Indeed those who build this prison did not intended to the inmates to be restored to health. They were meant to die.


“Instead of all these useless efforts…†whispered Naljier and Leonora knew what he wanted. She took his last breath in a kiss. Then she stood motionlessly, looking at Lonk and others placing the body into a rough sack and sewing its edges. She followed Lonk to the top of the tower and saw the sack to slip through a narrow window and drop down to the ocean. Lonk did not dare to stop her or to speak to her. She peered out of the window at the gray waves.


There was also a dark dot on the horizon. A ship may be. An image of a speeding ship came to her. She saw it few days ago, through the eyes of the seagull. A speeding ship, called “Gallanteâ€Â. She remembered that she angrily told the bird to stop ship gazing and fly to Athkatla. Now Leonora herself was gazing at the ship. May be it was that stupid “Gallanteâ€Â. It mattered not. Leonora opened her fist finally and stared in disbelief on what Naljier gave to her. It was a necklace of purple gems. "You should have made it longer..." slurred Leonora past the lump in her throat. "You should have."

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13. The Voyage of “Gallanteâ€Â


I crossed the sea because I knew

A maiden from another shore

Whose robes where white and blue

Who taught me laugh and sing and more


Kivan Ashenbow



“If I catch this look again, I’d throw her overboard,†Valygar shuddered at the sudden thought. Aerie yearned for pity from others, so it was only natural for her to give it and expect that it will be taken with gratitude. Still, he turned away and looked at the waves. His frustration was coming to full bloom. The sea was gray and cold. Better to scan the water than to watch large teary eyes of the Avariel. It was better to avoid glances altogether.


Melirinda became distraught lately. After she asked him for the third time today if he needed a sleeping draught, Valygar could not resist advising her to take it herself. She only nodded in response. Melirinda was in trouble, decided Valygar, dumbfounded by the unresponsiveness of the usually sharp-tongued druid.


Kivan was seeking loneliness aggressively. Might it been the fight with vampires that touched the Elf so deeply? Or was he like Melirinda preparing for the battle ahead? Or was there something else that Valygar did not know?


Kelsey was the only one in high spirits at the beginning of the journey and managed to pester sly Havarian into hiding. The Sorcerer was suddenly very interested in navigation and sea voyages in general. Kelsey then occupied himself with helping Aerie to go through the day without tears. Valygar suspected that the task included nights as well. However the moodiness of the five companions dampened even Kelsey’s spirit and he was re-arranging the scrolls in his favorite container for the second day in a row now, mumbling something under his nose. Curses most probably, thought Valygar. Aerie was helping Kelsey eagerly, agreeing to every change that he made to the order of the scrolls, even if he was returning them to the previous arrangement.


The ship is a small world. The ranger was reminded of that every time he ran into Pier. Their mutual misgivings grew and Valygar wondered for how long he will be able to keep himself at bay, under the stare of Drow’s mocking eyes.


A hooded and cloaked figure also present on the ship was called Sime. She was silent associate of Aran’s. Valygar figured that she might have been of Elven origin, judging from the way she moved and because of those enormous, green eyes of hers. Scarce as his knowledge of Sime been, it was more than anyone else knew of her. Aside for Pier, who seemed to posses secret information about each and every citizen of Athkatla.






“But to eliminate the Vampire’s Guild will take days! We do not have that kind of time, Linvail!†Valygar looked at the man of uncertain age, with unremarkable features sternly. Aran did not even shrugged. He started turning away, to show that the audience is at its end. Valygar slapped his hand on the Shadow Master’s shoulder and made the man to face him. He half expected that Aran would not look up at him, but the icy eyes pierced him causing almost physical pain. Valygar felt other glances as well.


No less than two dozen representatives of the Guild were there, in the shadows, in the secret niches, in the doorways, figured Valygar. And he was a target of just as many daggers, bolts and arrows, no doubt. But Valygar was well past the point when he cared. “Leonora, Leonora DeVallenzzi was taken. You do not want any harm to come to Leonora, do you, Aran?â€Â


Aran carefully removed Valygar’s hand from his shoulder: “I am aware of that. But Shadow Thieves are currently weakened by the Vampire’s Guild. Your actions at Spellhold are likely to cause a clash with the Cowled Wizards. Bodhi’s host is to be removed first and my Guild needs to be restored to its full power, in order to oppose the Wizards.†Valygar bit his lips, imagining Shadow Thieves and Coweled Wizards destroying each other. It was a pleasant thought.


“Valygar,†called Melirinda quietly. The ranger turned and he was surprised how the druid’s eyes were so similar to Aran’s at that moment. “Valygar, the sooner we will start our task, the sooner the ship will leave the port. We should go. Aran, we shall do your bidding, but after Bodhi’s eliminated I am expecting to have my ship ready to sail.†Aran bowed: “Yes, Madam.†Valygar was the last one to start moving after Melirinda. Someone clasped his elbow. A pair of green eyes stared at him intently. “Valygar, Leonora will be all right.†Aran came closer and his eyes darkened with discontent: “Sime, would you give me a moment with Count Corthala?†The hooded girl nodded and backed into the shadows.


“Valygar, you have been in the wilderness far too long. In this city, the secrets learned in a bedroom are not to be carried outside its walls. It is. . .dangerous.†Valygar’s hand tightened around the hilt of his katana. He scanned the Guild master. Now Aran’s features did not appear unremarkable to Valygar. Aran could be called comely, he thought, with his clean-shaven face, very clever if cold gray eyes and brown curls snowed with gray on his temples. A fold by his mouth could have given him a weathered look, but for sarcastic curve of his lips, which gave away a younger and hungrier man.


There was a neat air about the thief, almost too neat. If someone introduced Valygar to Aran, on the street he’d taken him for a sea captain or an officer, rather than a rogue. But that was to be expected, for only a man of iron discipline can subdue an Order of rogues for long.


Bitter taste filled Valygar’s mouth when he thought that Aran was the one who killed Leonora’s husband and saved her from an unfortunate marriage. This man was Leonora’s lover. “How many encounters like that there will be in the future?†thought Valygar. “Will there be a day when I see Leonora walking the street with a man who’d eye me with hatred thinking me to be the “former lover�†Aran chuckled, as if he read Valygar’s thoughts. That did little to comfort the ranger.


At that moment, Pier reappeared in the room and bowed to Linvail: “With your permission, Senior Linvail. I hate to interrupt your conversation with Senior Corthala, but the mage you have dispatched to remove the wards from the Vampire’s Guild’s door had departed and we have to strike before Bodhi and her allies realize that the entrance had been revealed. May I borrow Senior Corthala from you? “ Linvail gave a courtly nod. Valygar followed Pier unwillingly burrowing a heavy stare in the back of the Drow’s head.


Drow turned unexpectedly and smiled vaguely: “ You have a talent for making enemies, milord. You should have exercised more patience and tact with Linvail, after all he is only looking after his own business. And do not forget to thank Sime for staying Aran’s bodyguards, Valygar. You would have been killed for sure, if it were not for her.â€Â


“Great,†thought Valygar, “ A Drow teaches me good manners and I am alive by a Shadow Thief’s mercy.†On another day he would laugh at that notion.




The memory made him think of Sime, and of his never expressed gratitude to her. Valygar walked over towards the cloaked thief and spoke awkwardly: “ I was advised that I owe my life to you, milady.†Sime laughed merrily. “ Only doing my duty. Aran would not want you killed, Valygar, no matter what his lackeys might have thought.†Valygar’s brow raised. For one of Linvail’s associates, the woman surely was way too free with her tongue.


“Tell me about vampire’s layer, Valygar,†asked the woman. “Everything of relevance was reported to Linvail,†replied Valygar tightly. “Oh, I know, I know. The pawns were dispatched, yet Bodhi herself fled the graveyard. But what I want to hear is how it feels to face vampires, and how you fought them.†Valygar wandered why she was so intrigued. “You fight vampires just like you would fight any other creature of darkness,†answered he mildly and shrugged. The ranger was not quite sure that the thief was able to understand. His expression made Sime laugh even harder.


“You think me a thief, Count, do not you?†She threw her hood back and golden hair flew picked up by the fresh wind. “A Half-Elf,†reflected Valygar studying regular, but soft compare to Elven, features of the female’s face. “I am a ranger, just like you, Valygar. And before you ask, my connection with the Shadow Thieves is of personal nature and I am not disposed to reveal it. Now, if you tell me about vampires…â€Â




“The fighting was good. I never liked undead, thought they tricked death. None tricks death, when you bring it to them. It is enjoyable, yes.â€Â

“Killing is not enjoyable, no matter how much the creature deserves it. I enjoy only one thought - that an innocent will not be slain by the monster my sword struck.â€Â

“You are lying, Elf. You loved killing me.â€Â

“I did. For the first time.â€Â

“And the second time as well. I saw it in your eyes. You wanted to kill me over and over and now I know what you were thinking of at that moment. Do you see her, Elf? Not that innocent anymore after we were done with her, was she? Do you see her, Elf? I am watching her with you now, Elf.â€Â

“Dare not…â€Â

“Or, that coarser voice again. You are an Elf, you should sing, not yell. But you never were much of a singer, Kivan. It was so difficult to get a song out of you.â€Â

“I hate you.â€Â

“Louder! I do not hear you.â€Â

“I hate you!â€Â

“And was not it a pleasure to kill me? Did not you enjoy my blood on your hands? Did not you feel like you have won when you took my heart?â€Â

“No I did not. It was a foul deed, but I had to do it.â€Â

“Elven Ears are good for necklaces, did you recognize one pair? You did, did not you? And you remembered how you kissed it, such a romantic you are… Now that I think about it, the blonde’s ears will make a fine addition as well, when I get to her.â€Â


“Kivan? What’s wrong? You are so pale.â€Â

“I am afraid that I am not a sea going Elf, my star. I feel queasy, that’s all.â€Â

“Is that all? There was such a torment in your eyes when I walked in.â€Â

“It must be the dim light in here, Lirin. Do not worry, you need not worry. Come, sit with me, let me watch you. No, may be…may be it is better if you stay away for a while. You do not want to watch me getting sick, do you?â€Â

“Kivan, what are you talking about? I am a healer, not some sugary maiden. I can…â€Â

“Just leave, Lirin, please, leave.â€Â

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