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A Memoir of Demons & Angels


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A Memoir of Demons & Angels is now on FanFiction.net





This story is about Amara Chidi, the child of a demon and an assimar. Which blood will prove the stronger? The answer will not just affect the warlock herself, but may change the fate of Faerun and several planes of existence.




Note: This fiction is for those of us who wanted to the original storyline of the Knight Captain to be more fully realized through Mask of The Betrayer. It's rated M for some language and situations.




Here are some screenshots to whet your visual appetite. :)














Check out some more screenshots of Amara and the gang at this link:



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It is easy to kill.


I know some make very different claims: “Once you kill, you are changed†or “Kill and the remorse will kill you.†But cruelty is built into us mortals as much as kindness ever was. How many children pull the wings off a firefly just as easily as cradle the creature gently in their soft hands? You can't say that “They don't know any better.†Children choose what seems best. Shame or remorse is only possible once you know that there are consequences—that the limits of the world do not reside in your own desires—that the firefly knows what it's lost.


I'm starting to sound like a priest, or a prim sage who measures the world by letters and ink and paper.


Well, I don't have the purity of a holy woman, nor the detachment of a scholar. I have been in the thick of my times, and the world has changed before my eyes. We are all a part of something new, whether you believe in destiny, choice, or chance. A silver shard struck my chest, set me on a course I did not want to follow. I have been bound by my blood, but have also found freedom. I have seen the Abyss and wielded the power of gods.

While I would be content keeping these pains and pleasures, fears and wonders all to myself, I cannot. I write because it is the only thing I have left to give. Many ask me questions: some I can answer, many more I simply do not understand. One thing I can say is that the stakes I fought for were no different than for anyone else who walks beneath the sun. Every moment demands that we cradle the firefly, crush it, or let it slip away. I leave the judgment to you—and no other.


Amara “Half-Blood†Chidi




Chapter 1


Who knew such small places can have such an impact on the larger world and still disappear into obscurity? West Harbor, the unremarkable swamp village of my childhood, has been the scene of staggering conflicts. After every disaster, the Harbormen rebuilt; the only collective memory that endured was a simple credo:“Wars always come.â€


My mother, Esmerelle, arrived in West Harbor on one of those clear winter nights where the sun, in a cold fury only gods can get away with, burned every cloud away, so that none of his heat grazed the ground---at least, that's what I imagine.


A short, slight figure concealed in a red cloak, knocked on the door of one house on the edge of town. Daeghun, only slightly shorter, answered the door and drew her inside. He was well-favored in the sublime way of elves, but there were wrinkles in the corners of his large, moss-colored eyes that spoke of seeing many things in his long years, things that would leave marks.

The elf pulled her into a tight embrace. Neither of them spoke.


Daeghun guided her towards the chair closest to the hearth, the warmest seat he had. Snow glazed the windows, making crystalline shapes across the surface. Esmerelle studied the shapes on the window as she removed her cloak.


Daeghun watched Esmerelle as he waited for her to speak. He felt the rise of her belly, saw the wobbling footsteps, but Daeghun was not one to ask questions. He could wait until she told him what he needed to know. He always waited. That's why he had lost her...why she always came back.


“I'm sorry to come to you in such a manner, Daeghun,†her voice held the same strange tone, as if she held a hummingbird captive in her chest, “but I...had little choice.â€


“I hope you come here of your own will, Esmerelle. I have missed your company.â€


“And I yours, my friend.†She smiled. Whatever had happened to her, she still could sooth or inspire with little more than teeth. Many fell for the promises they saw in that smile, but Daeghun was one of the few that knew her radiance stemmed---in part---from celestial heritage. Even though

Daeghun knew its source, it always held the promise of every good thing, a reflection of her character as much as her lineage.


A trick firelight tinged her pale hair with flames.


When Daeghun spoke, it was a response to her unaccustomed silence, “Would you like something to eat or drink?â€


She shook her head and looked back at the hearth. There were sudden tears in Esmerelle's eyes, but she did not look away from the fire.


“Ha! Instead of greetings I give you tears---how weak you must think me...â€


Daeghun sat beside her, gently took her hand.


Her eyes watered again as she look at Daeghun, “I have so many regrets...â€


“We can compare, then.â€


Esmerelle squeezed his hand like a child grasping at a parent for comfort after the terrors of a nightmare. “First of all, I never treated you as well as I should have, my dear, dear friend.. But I mean to make up for it. I did so many things because I wanted to be good, but now I see that many of my actions were rather vain. You were right. And now I, Esmerelle, Paladin of Ilmater, am heavy with a demon bastard. “


She laughed, but there was no joy or warmth in it.


Daeghun 's eyes flashed. “Did he force you?â€


Esmerelle gazed at Daeghun with a haunted expression. “No---the Crying Lord help me---it was my own doing.â€


She looked back at the fire as the words rushed out of her. “When you settled here with Shayla, I went back to Neverwinter to visit Duncan.†she look at his face, but Daeghun did not protest the mention of his half-brother, or of Esmerelle visiting him.


Esmerelle continued, “I made my way north and east, searching for information on the King of Shadows. I went alone, but I soon met a man on the road. He was very tall and darkly handsome, though I couldn't tell you anything more than that. Wait...his eyes...they were oddly bright. Either he or I was under an enchantment that made me forget his actual features over time. He asked me strange things, and seemed to know too much about me. Every time I thought I was rid of him, he'd show up again. Well, he saved my life from some shadows. I was grateful, and when he showed me tenderness...I could not help myself. After we lay together, I turned my head for one moment, and he was gone. I started to suspect some power at work. I went to a temple, and the priest told me I was with child. Yet he told me with no joy, for we could both sense the demonic blood mingling with my own. Then there was no doubt that my lover had was a fiend of some kind. I couldn't go back to Neverwinter. I have been wandering since then, but I am too tired to go any further."


She looked at him with a fear he had never seen before. “I am afraid, Daeghun . Not only am afraid of the father, but I'm afraid...of myself.â€


Esmerelle didn't have to say anymore. Daeghun knew what she might do, even if she did not say it.


They held each other for a long moment.


“Stay here, Esmerelle.â€


“I can't ask you to do that.â€


“You didn't. I offered. Shayla would enjoy your company as much as I. And when the time comes, she knows about such things. She is a midwife here. You won't be doing any of this alone.â€


“But the war—I can't be nursing a babe in battle.â€


“We will do what we can. But we are all subject to nature. Worry about the babe, and then we'll deal with the King of Shadows.â€


Esmerelle moved from the fire to the window which, round as she was, made the sweat glisten on her forehead. Her mind wanted to pace, but her body wanted to remain right where it was, “I cannot sit still when the world is falling apart.â€


Daeghun put a hand tentatively to her belly. Esmerelle let him, but she pressed her lips into a thin line.


He knew enough about childbearing or know when one is about to be born, “You are making life instead of taking it, Esmerelle. Isn't that what you always wanted?â€


“Not like this. I don't want to breed some new horror into the world. There is enough already.â€


“The child cannot help who its sire is. But you are strong, Esmerelle. Your blood will proved the stronger.â€


“Do you really believe that?â€


“You must believe that because this child will need your strength, especially with such a...heritage to contend with.â€


When her yellow, beacon eyes met his, she was every bit the woman he had gladly left everything for so long ago, “I will stay until it comes. I suppose we've survived worse things than births.â€


Daeghun smiled.


It was a smile I would never see.




I was born with two horns. They are dark, delicate, and long, much like the horns of an elk. Not many people have gotten close enough to appreciate them, though. I know they have power, if only to threaten. They have gotten me out of as much trouble as they've led me into. There were times when I considered taking a knife to them myself, but those instances have been fleeting and are far from me now.


Not only do I have horns, but my ears and incisors are also pointed. My hands manage to be elegant and deft even with an extra finger on each hand. Mother was fair of complexion, hair, and eyes like most of those with celestial blood. My skin is dusky and my hair is black. And my eyes...a vivid green.


Daeghun wrote to Duncan soon after I was born. Duncan showed me this and several letters concerning my mother after my trial. In that letter, Daeghun described how my mother screamed when she first gazed upon me and vowed to those present that she would never touch the 'demon spawn'---me.


Duncan wrote back and offered to visit West Harbor, but Daeghun said that it was unnecessary. Though Daeghun did not give a reason for refusing his brother's offer, I have my own assumptions. Either my mother was in hysterics and Daeghun wanted to maintain her dignity, or Daeghun suspected that Duncan might harbor some feelings towards her and didn't want to burden Esmerelle any further in her ...delicate state. I don't think Duncan loved her. If he had, he would have come to West Harbor, damning Daeghun all the while. I think the kindness Duncan extended to me at the Flagon was partially due to his own feelings of guilt from leaving Esmerelle and me in his brother's frigid hands.


I don't remember this, but I know it from the letters. If I had been in my mother's place, I probably would have killed a child that looked so...tainted. It is always easier to rid yourself of responsibility than to take it on. But I was much more dramatic when I was younger. The worst my mother, the holy paladin, could do was ignore me.


Then she was dead. I wasn't two summers old. The only happy thing I can remember of her was when she would sing. I was a babe, but I remembered.


Daeghun told me my mother died to save my life. Far more likely was the possibility that she saw her chance to leave this world heroically and did so. The war with the King of Shadows was a means to her own martyrdom. I hope that she sleeps soundly on Ilmater's bloody bosom. If she had lived, my mother would have been too sincere to conceal her hatred of me. Such a fate somehow seems far worse than enduring a foster father who became as cold as the depths of the Mere from the loss of the two women he loved most...and the third he could never touch.

An untouchable heart is what raised me, and so I learned to be untouchable.




The first time I saw the demon was in a dream.


I was seven summers old when I dreamed of a man whose features I could never remember in the light of day. The tall man---but every adult is tall to a child---stood on a precipice. I didn't know where. He motioned with his finger for me to step out onto the edge beside him.


His skin oozed a clear-blue, jelly-like substance.


I tottled, trusted this fellow, even though he seemed quite...odd, and looked down.


“What do you see, Ikenna?†His voice was quite soothing.


“My name is Amara.â€


He lightly touched my horns, “Not here.â€


I saw fire elementals melting snow, making a river that flowed around a place where buildings were stacked right next to one another. People crowded the tiny houses. There wasn't a wood or field for miles and miles...


“I see a city. I think,†I tried not to wipe at the place where he had touched my horns.


“You will see many.â€


“Besides West Harbor?â€


“Oh, yes.â€


“Will I get to meet Elminster---†I squealed.


“---You will meet greater men and women when you are ready, Ikenna.†The man gestured at the cit below us like a man swatting at a fly, “You have a destiny that no one will understand. You will have to learn to wield power, or it will be taken from you. But do not worry, child,†He touched the lel of his garment. Though I did not recognize the cut, nor the color, I knew it was immaculate.“I can teach you how to command others, even in the farthest reaches of the planes. You have reached the age of choice among your Father's people. All I require is your permission.â€


I, Ikenna, looked at the man with a hungry look, “You know my father?â€


“He is the one who sent me.â€


“Can I see him? I would like to see him...â€


“Not now. But please Him, and He will take you away from this rotting world.â€


“Does he love me?â€


“He would like to.â€


Well, I thought, he couldn't be any worse than Daeghun, “What will I have to do?â€


“What is necessary. Your training must begin immediately.â€


“Do I have to agree now?â€




“Will I have to leave?â€


“Not for many years. I will teach you through your dreams. But you will your village only when you can defend yourself.â€


He touched something to each eyelid, and then my forehead, making some mark there. “Will you swear to serve your Father and be bound to his service?â€


I did not hesitate, “Yes.â€


“You have to say it. You must bind yourself with your own words.â€


I narrowed my eyes, thought for a moment before I spoke, but I then spoke very deliberately, “I swear to serve my father. And he will come...and claim me as his own.â€


The man laughed. It sounded like the shifting of large animals from foot to foot, “What is the human saying: 'Out of the mouths of babes'? The deal is made, but you have bound your Sire as well. Quite amusing. You already know your business. I am eager to see how this all turns out.â€


Tears came into my eyes, but they were tears of blood.


I felt...aware...as if I had never opened my eyes until that moment. I saw the cliff was made out of patterns, squares, and spirals of something tinier than human eyes could see. The man's skin, with its strange jelly, I suddenly understood. The jelly was to to help him transition from plane to plane, one form into another. It made him luminous---his name sprang to my lips---


He waved a hand in front of my eyes, “You will never remember your pact nor me when you wake, but I will speak to you and teach you through your dreams. Now wake, Ikenna, and make your Father proud.â€




I never really belonged in West Harbor, but neither of my parents would have either. I didn't have Daeghun's patience and love of the slow-moving swamp. Mosquitoes bit me. I was frequently ill since my body did not have the same immunities as the native stock. Many a Harborman thought my frequent bouts of illness proved I was 'unnatural.' At least those suspicions were correct, in a way. Meaner gossips whispered that giving birth to a demon drove my mother mad, and that I probably would have killed her with the evil eye if the King of Shadows had not beaten me to it. The most shameless rumormongers even suggested that I had survived the attack because I was the King's own get.


For those who require the attention or affection of others, this situation might have been unbearable. It always seemed natural for me to inspire fear and trembling in other mortals rather than intimacy. I think it had something to do with the dreams. While I could never remember what these dreams were about, they gave me a certain clarity about the waking world, as if I saw the village and everything around it from alien angles. Strange pattens lay over events and people like fine spider's webs, rubbing off from one person to another. I couldn't understand completely, but I felt power—the call from worlds waiting, hunkering just past the corner of my eye. Sometimes the other worlds sang to me with voices that made me cry because of their terrible, poignant beauty. Other times, I would get horrid impressions of darkness and heat so fetid that I put my hand against my mouth to to keep from gagging. I learned to avoid the blacked spot of ground near the center of town that no one—not even the gossips—spoke about. That place made me physically ill and caused my hackles to rise.


What else can I say about West Harbor? I hear people speak of 'home' with warmth, or a yearning to go back, or somehow re-create the happiness and the sense of belonging that define what 'home' is supposed to be.


The best I can say is that it could have been worse.


So I left. Those who have heard of me know that I left West Harbor to find out why the githyanki attacked the village to possess a shard hidden in the Mere.


I knew that my powers were not that of an ordinary mage like Tarmas, so I tried to kept it a secret from the grumpy mage until I had to use my blasts against the gith, bladelings, and duegar slaves. Maybe that was why Daeghun was so insistent that I leave for Neverwinter. He must have suspected that my powers were from another realm. These powers might threaten the village if I could not control them. Daeghun may not have loved me, but he knew me better than even I knew myself. If I would have stayed, I probably would have hurt him and the rest of the village—probably unintentionally—but Daeghun knew I was also capable of cruelty. It was in my blood, as he had reminded me my entire life. I knew which blood he meant. Truth be told, I was eager to get away.


I was eager, ready for something grand and bloody to begin.


I shouldered my pack, stuffed with the meager things I thought I needed, and walked out of West Harbor. I did not look back, but as the sounds of the swamp swallowed every hint of the village, I widened my eyes, certain that every snapping twig and bird call was an enemy just out of sight. Never before had I felt my own vulnerability so keenly.


...And I was supposed to protect this bloody shard? I didn't see how I could prevent some swamp monster from making a necklace out of my innards.


While I was stomping my way through the swamp, certain that some doom would come clutching at my feet, I came upon an inn. Sweet Mystra, I had never been so happy to see a battered, ill-drawn sign of a frothy mug beneath the boughs of a stylized willow.


Just outside the inn stood a dwarf and several men. They were bandying back and forth. It was none of my business, but they saw me as I tried to sneak unnoticed into the inn.


“Hey girly,†one drawled. He was clearly drunk.


I turned.


“Demon girly,†his friend corrected, making Tymora's kiss with his hand. “You'll have to wait your turn until we finish with the ankle-biter.â€


“Ankle-biter?†The dwarf shouted, brandishing his ax,“Aye, that's where I'll start, lad...â€


I tried to summon some powers, but when I aimed my hand at the nearest man's head, one of his goons rammed his elbow into my stomach.


He stood over me, “ I had hoped for more fun from a demon.â€


“You...son of a bitch!†I growled as I bit into his earloabe.


He squealed. “Get her off me! Get her off me!â€


I ripped his ear off. Keening all the while, my assailant held the side of his head as blood poured down his neck. I spat out his ear and wiped my mouth on my sleeve.


Then I grinned.


“Fuck this,†one of the men shouted.


Then there was only me and the dwarf, who looked me up and down the way I had seen men appraise horses they were thinking of buying.


“That was a good wrangle. It's been too long since I've seen a man get something bitten—in a fight.â€


“I've been in a tussle or two,†I said as I spat, trying to clean out my mouth.


“How about ya tell ole' Khelgar over a over a pint, lass?â€


When we sat down to drink, The dwarf was surprisingly genial. The dwarf held his own in the brawl, and I always respected someone who could handle himself in hand-to-hand combat. Though he was shorter than his would-be-attackers, his zeal more than made up for any advantage bigger folk might think that they had.


I was accustomed to people making a warding of some sort to draw my ill luck away: Tymora's kiss or Lathander's circle. Though it was obvious Khelgar knew what I was (he called me a 'tiefling,' a much more neutral term than what I am normally called), it didn't seem to matter. That violent dwarf wasn't afraid of me. All he cared about was if I had his back. And when the bladelings and duegar showed up at the inn, I didn't hesitate to fight beside him.


Perhaps I had been in the swamp for too long—tussles were one of the few things that relieved my boredom. As I raised my sword, and let out a primal yelp, something told me Daeghun would not have approved.


“Fuck you!†I screamed at the dark dwarf in front of me. There were just some words that were universal, for he aimed his hammer at my kneecaps.


Khelgar and I fought off our assailants and sat back down to enjoy the rest of our evening amid overturned tables and shattered glasses. Sharing the remaining bottles of whiskey, we toasted our bloody partnership. He was quite impressed with the amount of liquor I could consume in one sitting. When he was fairly drunk, and I was still sober, he told me about wanting to become a monk, but I shrugged it off as just drunken rambling.


A few minutes later Khelgar was out cold, snoring like an old hound.


A dwarven monk! Well, it was no more ridiculous then a half-demon warlock trying to make her way in this crazy world.


I put my hand to my head. The drink was finally getting to me too.


And so, my isolation was ended as Khelgar Ironfist and I set out to Fort Locke. I'd like to say that we strode down the road like the Knights of Myth Drannor, but in truth, my temper was shorter than the dwarf's pinky finger. For one, I was doe-eyed. I wasn't used to dealing with another person's wants and needs. Privacy was paramount with Daeghun, and we let each other be for days, even weeks, depending upon his mood. I just wanted to For another, according to Khelgar, I was as green as a fawn still sucking on its mama's tit. He was right. I had never left West Harbor before. I was unaccustomed to trails, to sleeping on your back beneath a sky that could be starry and inviting one night, rainy and bleak the next. I wasn't accustomed to minding the direction, sheltering against the weather, or watching out for ambushes. My boots were as worthless as slippers.  I had to wrap my feet every day and rub the blisters at night. I didn't complain to Khelgar, but he often had practical advice, or just a sympathetic shake of his head.


“Lass,†he said, his head was practically wagging in perturbation, “We need to get you some proper gear at the Fort. “Do you ya even know how to defend yourself—besides biting?â€


I nodded. I made a gesture with my hand, pretending to throw lighting from my hands, “If that doesn't work, then I can always use my assets.â€

He looked me over, “I hope yer meanin' those horns.â€


I smiled, “No man is going to approach me with that on his mind. Well, only if he was disturbed.â€


“There's a lot of twisted men out there, lass, who would only be interested in what's below your neck. Yer not in West Harbor no more.â€


It was the first bit of fatherly advice I had ever gotten. I thought I would be angry. While I scowled at the old dwarf, inwardly I was quite pleased as I rubbed my foot.


“All I'm sayin' is kick 'em in the groin! Men are more apt to behave like gentlemen if they've been softened up a bit.â€


“Should I test that technique on you?†I raised my heel.


Khelgar laughed from the tips of his toes to the crown of his bald head, “Now yer learnin'!â€

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Chapter 2



As we neared Fort Locke, I felt a pinprick just over my left temple, followed by a red glare in my left eye.


I pointed in the direction of the glare, “What in the bloody hells is that?â€


Khelgar squinted against the glare from the sun, and then scanned his dirt-colored eyes in the direction I had indicated, “I just see trees.†His tone implied that gazing at trees was anything but important.


“Are you telling me you don't see a red glow, or feel like someone's holding a pin to your temple?†I rubbed my temple for emphasis.


Khelgar looked at me as if I had sprouted wings, “This is why I don't use magic. It's always 'Ah! my head aches,' or 'Ah! That spell did a number on me back,' or 'Oh! It's so hard to concentrate in this armor.' Bah! All ye mages ever do is learn how to whine.â€


“Fine. The next time you ask me to blast something, maybe I'll be too busy scratching my bunions to notice.â€


I walked in the direction of the glow, wondering if what I was seeing was real or whether my injured feet had turned gangrenous and made me see fairy lights. Since every step sent a jolt of pain up and down the my bloated feet, the going was quite slow, and soon even the dwarf's shorter legs overtook my long but wobbly strides.


Once Khelgar and I crested the hill, we saw a group of humans circling a girl. The glow settled around her head like a crown. I blinked, and both the ache and glow were gone, but the girl remained. It could have been my pain or the great amount of alcohol that the dwarf and I consumed, pickling my brain, but I could have sworn that this girl had a tail...I didn't tell Khelgar. He wouldn't have believed me, anyway.


As I knew from experience, men didn't form mobs around some scared thing unless there was something they needed to be egged on to do. I met Khelgar's eyes as he seemed to draw the same conclusion and wrenched his ax from his side before either of us spoke.


When the patrolmen lay dead around us, from the dwarf's ax and my hellfire, I pushed my dark hair out of my face, and examined this girl. She indeed had a rat tail and goat-like horns. That explained the mob. That was the first time I realized that I could detect some beings from the the Lower Planes. Fortunately, the discomfort and glow that went with the ability dissipated as quickly as they appeared. If only the blisters on my feet would vanish as readily...


“So, you have demon blood,†I said by way of greeting.


She pretended to notice my horns for the first time, but she had been studying me out of the corner of her red eyes ever since Khelgar and I arrived. “No. Devil blood. Big dif...I'm Neeshka, a tiefling, and I'm guessing you are too.â€


I smiled, enjoying the girl's attempt at sarcasm, even amid the bodies of those who probably would have killed her, if Khelgar and I hadn't followed my demon-sense. “When you first looked at me, Neeshka, could you see a misty glow or feel odd sensations?â€


Neeshka shook her head, “Ah. No. My tail itches though when I'm around holy rollers, but for demons or tieflings, no. Thanks for the help. I tried sneaking around the village idiots,†she gestured at the dead men, “but my potion gave out, gave me away. Can I...travel with you? You're a tiefling---you know what will happen to me the next time there's no one to arrive in the nick of time---â€


“We don't need her kind with us!†blurted Khelgar.


“I am her kind, Khelgar, and we've had a bloody good time, haven't we?â€


“Aye,†he spat, crossing his arms at Neeshka.


They glared at each other.


I smiled, elbowed the dwarf, “Let's just see what happens, then, eh?â€


The dwarf met my gaze. He made a noise between a growl and a sigh.


I pointed at Neeshka, “You can come with us as far as you'd like, but we're not skipping down the countryside looking for flowers to sniff. We're on our way to Neverwinter, and you'll be in more danger with us than, well, pretty much anywhere else.â€


“Well, you saw the trouble that traveling alone got me into, but I'm not helpless. I'll back you up.â€


“More like stick us in the back,†Khelgar warned.


“Khelgar, maybe you need to skip through the daisies for a bit...â€


Neeshka laughed, “Aw. Maybe sing a little song...â€


“Dwarfs don't sing,†Khelgar sputtered. “We only chant on special occasions, like wars...and weddings...and rock throwing competitions.â€


I had questions for Neeshka even if Khelgar kept eying us from time to time, shaking his head, and muttering dwarven curses to himself involving demons and their mothers. Neeshka was willing enough to chat in her high, girlish voice, but it soon became apparent that she was older than she appeared to be and was knowledgeable of surprising things—both of Neverwinter and of the wider world. And I was so curious...too curious,as Tarmas often warned me. You'd take the lid off the pot just to see what's cooking.


There was also another reason I wanted Neeshka to come along, though I didn't admit it to myself at that time. She was a tiefling. I had no siblings, but...I might. I couldn't help but be curious, to compare our appearances. Neeshka 's eyes and short hair were reddish-brown. Her skin was lighter than mine with rust-colored birthmarks around her face and temples. My skin was cooler, darker, and did not bear any of these marks. She didn't have extra fingers, but she did have a tail. My horns were much longer and curled around to the back of my head, while hers were short and near her temples. I also had slightly pointed incisors, but an otherwise bright smile. Her teeth were small and her smile was sly. My features were squarish and set off by full lips, but Neeshka's features were more rounded and her lips thinner. Her voice was very high, but mine was rather low. It was doubtful we were kin.


I also noticed that she was beautiful—not despite of her horns and tail, but because of them. I began to wonder how I looked to others. Did my features create some beauty of their own?


...But it comforted me to think that if I could not be beautiful, I would settle on being powerful, fierce, and widely feared.


Once I got shoes.




As Khelgar, Neeshka, and I walked into Fort Locke, all I could think of was not the excitement of knowing that each step was the first into a new world, nor being in a fort with real solders instead of a militia, or how the walls were covered with the bound hands, the symbol of my mother's god---oh no. Amara Chidi had but one concern: how quickly I could find a merchant or a cobbler.


I hobbled up to the first person I saw, a man in heavy armor and dark, curly hair. His armored back was towards me, so I gently tapped him on his rather wide shoulder, hoping he could recommend a likely trader, or failing that, a decent healer...


He turned.


Was every man a bloody half-giant---


I recognized him by his ready, crooked smile. “Cormick!†I blurted. “I'll be damned!â€


We had not spoken face-to-face since I was a child, and that was when he left West Harbor to join up with the Watch in Neverwinter. He always seemed like the tallest, quickest, liveliest man who ever walked to me and everyone else in West Harbor. His even features and liquid eyes earned him the reputation as the handsomest man in the surrounding countryside. The years had only added to his looks by filling out what had been a gangly frame. But even when he was gangly youth, he beat that beast Lorne at every Harvest Fair competition. Now, Cormick's wide shoulders matched his height. Now...even when Cormick wasn't smiling with his lips, it was always there in his eyes. When you looked at him, you wanted to know what he found so satisfying.


...Because it certainly wasn't me.


He shook my hand, the way that Harbormen greet each other. His big fist nearly enveloped mine, “Little Amara, I haven't seen ya since ya were, well, shorter. And I was more like to tell on ya for cussing.â€


After I returned his handshake, I realized that, in my discomfort---or was it excitement---I had pulled my robes up past my knees. Fearing that my gnarly feet were exposed, I smoothed the robes down as I spoke, “You'd never tell on me, Cormick, or I'd have to tell your folks just what their boy does in the Starling barn at midnight—â€


“Alright,†Cormick put up his thick hands in a gesture of surrender, “No tattling.†A man that large had no business being so...approachable.


Neeshka's tail twitched, “Aren't you going to introduce us, Amara?â€


“Cormick, this is Neeshka, and this is Khelgar Ironfist. Cormick is from West Harbor too. Though now...he's not.†Since Cormick and I shook hands, so did Neeshka and Khelgar, although I don't think they were accustomed to the greeting. Cormick had to stoop to accept Khelgar's squeeze. Neeshka offered an eager but rather limp wrist, smiling at Cormick until Cormick had to remove his hand.


Though there was a certain awkwardness, the Harborman accepted their greetings warmly. I never knew Cormick had such a knack for putting others at ease with a gesture as simple as meeting their eyes, grinning until all the tension was gone, “Anyone traveling with Amara will find nothing but welcome here, if I have anything to say on the matter.â€


“Where can we find grub, lad?†asked Khelgar.


“The pub's closed, but you're all welcome to a share a bottle at my table.â€


“Do you live here?†I asked, shifting my weight from one foot to another, hoping he lived within a very, very short walk.


Cormick shook his head, “No, I'm here on Watch business.â€


“See that tassel,†Neeshka said, pointing her hand to the black tassel around Cormick's upper arm. “That means you're a Marshal, Marshal.â€


“If I would have known, I would have bowed, Marshal Cormick,†I bent at my hips, and flourished my arm the way I had seem traveling players imitate a noble bow.


Cormick shook his hand at me, “Hey, no funning. Ya may have to deal with ranks someday.â€


I laughed, “If that highly unlikely scenario occurs, then I'll expect you to curtsy, sir.â€


He out his gloved hand to his bearded chin, as if he were considering it, “Just as long as I don't have to wear skirts. So, what are you doing out of West Harbor, Amara, besides making me grin? Daeghun always kept a pretty close eye on ya. Is everything alright? Or are ya running off to Thay? Or maybe Zhentil Keep---â€


I touched his forearm. “Then you haven't heard...West Harbor was attacked right after the Harvest Fair. The militia held off the assault, but...Daeghun thinks that they were looking for something. I'm headed to Neverwinter to find out what.â€


Cormick was suddenly very serious, “Who attacked?â€


“Not Lizardmen, or anything else you would expect. There was a strange-looking mage who had dark-skinned dwarfs and foreign swordsmen fight for him. They certainly didn't come from the Mere, or anywhere else I've ever heard of. Even their language was...swishy.â€


“The dwarfs were duegar, as near as I can tell,†said Khelgar.


“Was anyone killed?â€


“Your parents were fine the last time I saw them, but yes, there were a handful who fell. Amie was one of them.â€


Cormick's eyes were filled with kindness, “Gods...Amie? Everyone thought she was going to be a great mage. What a waste....Ya know, she was the same age as my sister would've been... You and Amie were of an age, right?â€


“Near enough,†I said. I didn't say that Amie and I had never gotten along. She was always Tarmas' favorite apprentice, and reminded me every day that she would be as great as Khelben Blackstaff someday, while I would end up joining some freak show just to put meat on the table.


“Amara, do ya have any notion of what they found so important? I know there was a battle, several battles, that took place there. Maybe they were looking for an artifact? Something from those old ruins...â€


I shook my head, motioned at the people walking by who might overhear, “Not here. How about we uncork that bottle you we speaking of?â€


Cormick nodded down the dirt road, “Follow me, then.â€


We ended up at a cottage on the end of the road. As Cormick unlocked the gate, he spoke amicably. “A widow was kind enough to offer her home to Neverwinter. Apparently, her late husband was a Cloak. he died in the last war---the one with Luskan. She's staying with her son on the other side of town. A very fine woman. She checks in every morning to see if I need any meals brought, or laundry done. I think she brought in some bread and sop, if yer hungry.â€


“Does a dwarf have a beard?†Neeshka grinned, patted Khelgar on the head.


Khelgar huffed, pulled away from her touch, “What a question! Of course he has a beard. We are born with beards, the way demons are born with horns!â€


“But not necessarily tails,†I added.


Khelgar waved a dismissive hand at me, “Yer a different breed than this chit. In more ways than one.â€


Neeshka struck a pose that drew all attention to her tail. If I would have struck such a pose in West Harbor, I would have gotten stoned.


While the three of us were talking, Cormick unlocked the door, and pushed it open. He gave me a look as I walked by him, as if he was sizing me up. I wondered what he saw.


It was a simple, but comfortable cottage. The floors had been washed, and the Marshal took off his boots before heading inside. Khelgar and Neeshka did the same, but I didn't---I still didn't have boots to remove. I followed Cormick as he led us inside. There were yellow curtains on the windows, which reflected a cheerful light on the walls, probably the widow's doing. There was a wooden table and chairs.


Cormick motioned at the table.


“I'll get that bottle,†he said before his head disappeared into a cupboard.


The rest of us sat. Cormick came back with wine, cups, sop, and bread. I helped him set the table. As Khelgar and Neeshka busied themselves with the food, Cormick sat across from me with a contented sigh.


But he cocked his head to one side as he crossed his arms, bringing one hand to rest against his chin, “What's the great secret, Amara? Why was West Harbor attacked?â€


I put my hand into the the hidden pocket in my robes. I could feel the shard thrum like the strings of a mandolin as I my fingertips grazed it. It had the shape of a silver piece that had been warped in a tremendous fire, with veins of crystallization running along its surface. My sixth finger, rather than merely denote my nature, made me keenly aware of the things I touched. Each hand had this extra digit, but they were so well-formed that, if you looked at my hands, you would soon forget that there was an extra digit hovering at the edge of my palms, if you noticed the oddity as all. These hands would just seem...articulate.


I looked around out of habit, and once I felt no one was peeking in through the yellow curtains, I held the shard up so everyone could see it.


“Can't you...feel it?†I asked, tracing the shard's surface with my ring finger. Besides the vibration, I could feel something volcanic and yet malleable.


“Clanggadin's nethers!†Khelgar swore, “I've seen no ore like that before.â€


“You want a closer look?†I tipped my hand in his direction, lighting up his bald head with the shard's pulsing brightness, “I don't think it'll kill you---â€


The dwarf pulled his hands into fists, the way he would hold up his hands to defend his face in a fight, “Keep it away. I'll have nothin to do with metal that's been warped with witching.â€


It had an opaline shimmer that was reflected in Cormick's dark eyes as he studied it.


“May I hold it?†Cormick asked.


“Me next,†said Neeshka.


“Oh no,†I said to Neeshka, “you are to forget that you every saw it because if it comes up 'misplaced,' I'm not asking questions, I'm coming after you.â€


Neeshka swallowed, but her eyes lingered over every facet of the shard.


“Go ahead, Marshal,†I said.


Cormick held up the shard, which looked quite tiny in his hands, but I felt...incomplete. It was as if something in me yearned to be close to it. Ever since I took the shard into my bare hand back at the ruins, I felt a little less substantial when I had to hand it over to another. The magic user in me wondered if I was under some enchantment ... Though I responded to the shard, wanted to hold it against my skin, I did not like the idea of it---of anything--- having power over me. Part of what kept me on on this task was the hope that in Neverwinter I'd be rid of this odd bit of silver.


Would I return to West Harbor, then? I couldn't think of that place without thinking of Daeghun, and the watchful stare, the expectation that I would become something awful. I couldn't help but wonder why Daeghun entrusted the shard to me when he trusted so little to any hands other than his own. Was it a test? Gods knew he had done that often enough. All my life he had been poking and prodding, trying to determine my character, and bend it, like I had seen him treat a sapling that threatened to overwhelm the oak that gave it life.


“Amara,†Cormick out his hand on my shoulder, his face was filled with shard's light, “Ya alright?â€


“It just seems very...small,†I said, nodding at the shard.


“Yeah. A small thing to invade a village over, but wars have been fought over lesser, stranger things,†Cormick cradled the shard as if it was a blastglobe that would explode at any moment. He seemed eager to lower it back into my hands, sighing enough to lift his wide shoulders as I tucked the shard back into its hiding place.


“What do ya feel when you hold it?†he asked.


His question surprised me. It wasn't a question I expected of a man as big and Cormick was. Someone like him never had to step into someone else's boots, if he didn't care to.


I met his dark eyes with my green ones, “In one word ...Power. That's why I've got to get to Neverwinter. It's only a matter of time before someone will take it. And use it.â€


“What does it do?†Cormick asked.


I shrugged, “It certainly doesn't change half-demons into pretty girls,†I grinned. “But I think it feels...like a part rather than a whole, if that makes any sense...â€


“You're right. It hasn't changed a half-demon into a pretty girl...It's change a pretty girl into a fine woman.â€


“You don't have to flatter me, Cormick. I know my own reflection well enough. If anything fair ever came from the Mere, it's you, and you know it.â€


He laughed, “Now who's the flatterer? Come on Amara, yer mother was supposed to be the most beautiful woman who ever lived.â€


“...And I don't look anything like her. It's alright, Marshal, I never wanted beauty---â€


“Ya didn't want the shard either, but ya have both. The question is : what will ya do with them?â€


“You're starting to sound like Daeghun. I plan on doing my best, Marshal, as we all are...So, where are the patrols? Something's going on here in the Mere...or else Neverwinter wouldn't have sent you.â€


“I heard lots of rumbling,†Khelgar spoke between sips of sop, “but most of it just seemed to be tales.â€


“Most of it is hearsay,†Cormick agreed, “but there are too many things happening. Well, ya've seen what's been happening in the Mere. To folk who know it, ya can almost smell it, like a decay lying over living things, choking them off from the earth, the air, even the water, which is the lifeblood here... But Neverwinter can't investigate the Mere because our forces are spread too thin. The orcs are making a grand stand at Old Owl Well—we've barely been able to hold out, and Callum, the commander there, won't hold out long if he doesn't get aid. Lizardmen are stirring up mischief further north, harassing farmers and other folk. Neverwinter itself is overrun by thugs and gangs. There's more trouble there than the Watch can handle. The Luskans may be smiling at us now, but they will piss on the treaty the first chance they get. And if that happens soon, we won't be able to stop them.â€


His dark eyes met mine,“That's the truth, as I see it. This world is full of woe. I think it'll come out right, but not before we're all just about broken. I wish I could tell ya different, but there it is.â€


“Might as well blame you for reporting bad weather,†I muttered, still thinking on what he had said.


“If it's really as bad as all that,†Neeshka crossed her legs, “then we certainly can't go to Neverwinter without an escort.â€


Cormick nodded, looked back at at the fort's headquarters, “Until the commander is found, I can't leave the area—â€


“You're confined here?†Neeshka asked. “Why, I can't imagine what you do when you're all cooped up, whittling away the time...†she sucked on her pinky finger.


Khelgar snorted, “Nothing with you, that's for bloody sure, unless he wants to lose his pouches.â€


I cleared my throat, “Why don' we help you out, Cormick? You would have assistance with your troubles, and we would have...you.â€


“It's a deal, then, though I think I'm getting the better end...†Cormick looked at Neeshka, “...just as long as I get to keep my pouches.â€


He winked.


Neeshka giggled.




Luckily, the fort did have a cobbler. He was an ancient-looking gent, and he squinted at me as if he had trouble seeing my features, or just didn't want to believe what he was seeing.


As my feet were measured, both Cormick and Khelgar emphasized how important feet were both for traveling and for fighting. After taking my first steps in my new boots, I needed to put another layer of fur in the heels until my feet healed, but the boots themselves seemed study enough.


I stomped, “I always thought an army marched on its stomach...â€


“That's only dwarfs,†Neeshka quipped. “Their bellies are so fat they don't even need legs to move. They just roll.†She made her hands do a rolling motion until she nearly fell over.


Now that I had the requisite footwear, I was more than happy to march off into the direction of the graveyard, where the commander was supposed to have gone. Since all of us had been in fights before, the tombs and the bandit camp, that we ran into along the way, were quickly dispatched. Blood and bodies, even the rotting bodies of undead, seemed like nothing out of the ordinary. If I knew killing things could be an occupation, I would have left West Harbor much sooner.


And my skills were already improving. I was learning which blast to use to most effect, depending on the opponent. Also, in West Harbor, since I just did things, somebody always seemed to grab onto my apron strings: Bevil, or Amie---well, Amie just wanted Bevil---even the militia. I tried to defer to Khelgar at the inn, but he he made it clear that he was out for a good row, so he trusted my advice and my initiative, and followed my lead because I always had a strong opinion and a way of 'getting things done.' I had to keep the dwarf from getting into too many brawls, but I once I got used to the idea that I could lead, it worked. And truth be said, I liked responsibility---probably because my foster-father had always given it to me grudgingly, yet Daeghun always held me to the highest standards, even if he assumed I would fall short of them. By assuming responsibility for our group, I was upsetting Daeghun's expectations, which, I must say, gave me the all kinds of warm and fuzzy feelings.


Here, though I was the youngest and the greenest, I still had a will, but I deferred to Cormick. To be fighting at the side of 'Good ole Cormick,' as we called him in the Mere, was something that made everything else seem worthwhile. I felt like I had accidentally walked into some tale of adventure---his tale. I would be content to be a supporting character.


We stumbled upon the bandit camp on our way to find the commander.


Neeshka opened locks and picked apart traps in a way that was a little uncanny. I kept imagining her in Neverwinter, which is where she came from, sneaking around people's homes when they were sound asleep, pocketing precious heirlooms with the same joy that she displayed as she unlocked warded crates and lockboxes.


Every time she would uncover a trap, Neeshka would widen her eyes at Cormick, or do something that was clearly meant to draw his attention. She was very pretty, and I would not have blamed him for...responding. In West Harbor, Cormick always seemed to have a lady or two on his arm, or following behind him like cats wanting a piece of fish. As Neeshka did everything but jump into his lap and purr, Cormick somehow managed to acknowledge her attention in a platonic way, as if it were all in good fun. The only thing that kept Khelgar from upbraiding Neeshka's behavior was Cormick's way of getting round it. However, the dwarf did manage a dart or two at her when he thought no one else could hear.


When the prisoners were free, and the camp was destroyed, we found a likely campsite. Setting a fire, we rested beneath a cloudy sky.


It was one of those nights where large, fast-moving clouds veiled the sky, but the moon came out from behind them every now and again to remind the world that there was something behind the darkness—something full.


Khelgar and Neeshka were already asleep. It had been a long day. And we still had to find the commander tomorrow.


I had first watch. I took up a spot where I could lean against a tree. I was still learning how to stay sharp after having to remain focused for many hours. I set my jaw, but it didn't help my concentration to have the Marshal sitting by the fire. My eyes kept wandering to what he was doing. Still wearing his plate, Cormick cleaned and sharpened his great sword. He was soon sweating.


“Don't you get uncomfortable in that?†I said across my shoulder.


He wiped his face, “Yes. I'll have to take it off before long.â€


I raised an eyebrow, “Too bad Neeshka's not here to help you.â€


Cormick shrugged, “Neeshka is a lovely woman, but I am a marshal. I arrest folk who steal, even if I like them,†He put down the sword.


I ran my fingers over my chin, “But don't tales of true love usually involve overturning impossible odds?â€


He grinned, “Then I'll have to keep an open mind; I wouldn't want to miss my true love, if she happens to steal my pouches.â€


“...More like your breeches.â€


We both laughed.


I turned fully around, and Cormick had already closed the distance between us. I noticed that even his walk was quick, even after the long day. I also felt lively, but I thought it was due to that rush that battle always seemed to leave in my bones.


I looked up, for he was at least a foot taller than I, and I was considered a tall woman, “So, Marshal, entertain me further. Tell me what you've done since leaving West Harbor."


Cormick smiled, “Riding dragons. The trick all in the saddle.â€


I looked at him from beneath my brow, “Stop teasing.â€


“Alright. I 'defend Neverwinter from her foes.'â€


"Is that what you wanted to do when you left?â€


“No, but I got pulled into it.â€




He coughed, “It was a lady.â€


“Really?†I snickered.


He sighed, “Yes. I had a terrible passion for a woman who worked in the Watch. Joining up was a way to make her...take me seriously. I'm sorry my reasons aren't nobler, but there it is.â€


I ran my hands through my hair, trying to imagine this woman that someone like Cormick would want to follow, to impress. “Was she...impressed?â€


“...Until I started to rise higher than she did.â€


“Oh...†What a harpy, I wanted to say. “But you stayed on,†I did say, “There must be something that compels you to stay. Unless the Watch is teeming gorgeous women.â€


He smiled, “Did ya ask this many questions in West Harbor?â€


I looked at my nails, which were rather dirty, “Why do you think Daeghun kicked me out?â€


Cormick swayed from one foot to the other, trying to lean his great bulk to a more comfortable position, but made a face, “Here. I have to take off this damn plate before I can listen properly. Mind yer eyes.â€


He walked over to his pack, stripping all the while.


I turned my back and told myself that I needed to be more mindful of possible ambushes that might emerge from treeline. I tired not to think of naked backs, or anything else that I might see if I turned around...Sweet Mystra. I fanned my cheeks, which felt like they were burning with fever.


I wasn't some boy-crazed maiden at her first dance. I intimidated everyone else—that's what these damn horns did. I touched the elk-like horns. If they couldn't instill fear, what were they good for? Well, if Cormick wasn't afraid, then I was at a loss. Grudging respect, even hatred, I could handle, but never...what? Attraction? Gods no. I wasn't Neeshka.


We were just the only ones still awake, and the Marshal and I were from the same place. That was why Cormick was chatting me up: we were finding familiarity, shared experience, which was comforting amid so much darkness, even if his experience of West Harbor was quite different than mine.


Cormick came up from behind me. He had on a loose white tunic and brown breeches---clothes any Harborman would wear. But no boots. I kept looking at those bare feet, the toes as stubby as his fingers, with foolish grin.


Sighing, he stretched beside me, “I feel as free as a babe.†He wiggled his toes as he crossed his legs, trying to get me to laugh, which I did. “Now, let me try the questioning: is that how it really was with Daeghun?â€


“No, he didn't kick me out. He just sent me on an errand that puts my life in constant peril. But, I wanted to leave—I've been wanting to leave for a while now. This business with the attack, once it's done, I plan on moving on.â€


“Well, since someday soon ya'll make it to Neverwinter. If ya want a guide, I'd be happy show ya around. It's very different than West Harbor.â€


“I'm dying to see anything. All these years, hearing stories, reading books, I want to see what these places are really like.â€


“What places?â€


“Well, Neverwinter first, of course. Then Waterdeep, the Sword Coast.---The Spine of the World and The Dales...Everywhere...I just want breeze through the world---like a gypsy. â€


He flicked my laces,“ Just remember to peel off those those comfortable shoes: gypsies usually prefer going barefoot.â€


I gave him a half-grin as I lifted my feet, displaying my new boots, “Not this gypsy.â€


Cormick and I talked until Lathander's eye rose up like a golden ball in the east.


When everyone else woke, we made our way to the graveyard where the commander had disappeared.


As we fought various shambling undead, I was once again amazed with how easily we were able to make our way into the crypts below. Neeshka held a torch and shot an occasional bolt from her crossbow. The Marshal was a very good with a great sword—far better than I was in close quarters—as was Khelgar with his ax. I did pick up a bastard sword from one of the tombs, a fine weapon. I had never trained with swords, but when I picked it up, it just seemed to...fit in my hands. I sensed some greenish patterns of magic woven into the sword, but nothing malevolent. Cormick and Khelgar showed me enough about positions so that I would at least hold it properly, rather than trying to wield it like a large butter knife.


We found the commander in the crypts below, and stumbled upon a shadow priest in an ancient room. After dispatching the priest, we brought the commander and his men back to the fort. Most of them were injured, but all of them were grateful.


On our way back, the acting commander of Fort Locke, Vallis, was waiting for us outside the Fort's walls with a number of armed men behind him. He was a well-muscled man of middling years, and was someone who kept his contempt for other people just barely in check.


Commander Tann leaned against Cormick, since the commander was limping enough to impede his steps. Another solder, who had a bandage over one eye, leaned against me in the same manner.


Acting-Commander Vallis stood in front of his men, holding his belt and smirking at me, “Too bad you didn't bring back a corpse, half-breed.â€


“I can still do that,†I pointed at him with my free arm.


“That wouldn't be wise,†said Vallis, “considering you're outnumbered.â€


I lowered my voice, “Vallis. I don't think you want to try my patience, unless you want your manhood to shrivel and fall off.â€


“She's a devil witch!†Khelgar shouted at Vallis' men. “I've seen it with me own eyes: given hale men a rot that eats them from the inside out.â€


Vallis' men began to mutter amongst themselves.


“Attack them!†screamed Vallis, “It's all a lie!â€


“Drop your weapons, solders, if you still hope to avoid bloodshed,†ordered Commander Tann.


Though the Commander's voice was weak from his wounds and captivity, all the men who were behind Vallis shaved their weapons. Several of those soldiers even walked over, helping Commander Tann to stand.


Cormick shouted as he strode up to the former commander, “Vallis, I represent the law here. Now put down those weapons and show yer men what a real commander can be. A man should pay for his wrongs.â€


Vallis leveled his weapon once at Cormick, “I know what happens to traitors. Better to die here than in a noose.â€


Cormick just looked at Vallis, “There's been enough killing today. Look at those soldiers. They know that. If trying to kill more folk going to prove anything to them?â€


Vallis aimed at Cormick, but the Marshal blocked it. He knocked the sword from Vallis' hand.


I send a bolt of hellfire into Vallis' shoulder before he could make the attempt to retrieve his weapon.


Vallis glowered at us and at the men he led into mutiny, who had betrayed him.


Commander Tann had Vallis hanged in the courtyard. I had never witnessed a hanging before, and I wished that had not seen even a traitor like Vallis kick and sputter at the end of that string. While everyone else seemed to watch the spectacle with varied responses, I turned away before it was done.


Cormick was suddenly beside me. He bent down when he spoke, to look into my eyes, “I never get used to the sight myself. But I don't think yer supposed to. Justice is always pretty...Cause ya have to be willing to deal out death.â€


He took one more look at the body, but I kept my eyes on him. I watched the sternness of the man he had become, even as I remembered his smiles from last night. I wanted to grab his face and tell him I wanted to be just like him...to be strong...


Most of the men gave us a wide berth as Cormick led me away from the courtyard.


But the Marshal leaned in close to me, “I just wanted to say that ya did very well—for a demon witch. The four of us make a rather good team...don't ya think?â€


I held up my hand, “...But they put 'Marshal' before your name for a reason. You don't have to explain, Cormick. It was a happy reunion. If we make it to Neverwinter, I will see you there. Just take care of yourself in the meantime.â€


Cormick put his blunt hand on my shoulder, encompassing most of it, “Amara, if I had no duties, I would go with ya in a heartbeat. But at least we're headed in the same direction. If ya want a job on the Watch, all ya have to do is visit me at the City Barracks. It's in the Docks District. And I happen to be a frequent customer at yer uncle's place, The Sunken Flagon.â€


I put my hands on my hips, “You don't expect me to join the Watch to impress a man, do you?â€


He smiled that bright smile as his other hand engulfed my other shoulder, “Gods no. Yer more than capable of handling the duty, but I'd like to know that we'll be seeing each other.â€


“Why?†I asked in all seriousness.


Cormick brought his hand from my shoulder to my cheek, “If I have to spill my guts...Alright. I fancy ya.â€


I looked around, trying to see if anyone noticed that Cormick had his hand against my cheek, “You seem quite certain.â€


“Ya seem quite suspicious.â€


“It is my way,†I held up my hand, extending all six fingers, touching my horns, my fangs.


His tan hand closed over my much darker one, “And this is my way.â€


“Someone will see,†I insisted.


“Men and women holding hands?†Instead of letting go, Cormick massaged my small, delicate hand. There was a surprising gentleness in his calloused, wide fingers, “There's no wrong in that unless ya find wrong in me—â€


I shook my head, “No, Cormick. You're all anyone from West Harbor ever wanted to be.†I looked down, “But...no one ever wanted to be like me. I'm being put to good use, but I'm not naïve. I know who the hero of this story is.â€


“Hush,†he said, “yer not hearing me, Amara. There are some things ya just know. In yer gut. In Neverwinter---â€


I gave him a stubborn glare.


He smiled crookedly, “Shall I shout it, woman?†he threatened.


“Uh!†I covered my ears, but couldn't help but smile.


Cormick laughed and pushed my hands away from my my ears, “Ya'll hear every compliment, sooner or later, even if I have to tie yer arms down.â€


“...Cormick...†I whispered as I squeezed his hand.


We looked at each for a good long while.


I opened my mouth to say something else, but Cormick put a finger to my lips.


“—in Neverwinter, Amara.â€


When Cormick finally turned away, I watched him, still head and shoulders above most of the people he walked past, until he disappeared behind a cottage. I considered running after him. I imagined catching up, throwing my arms around him, riding off into he sunset to anywhere, everywhere...


Gods. Its not enough to make me a warlock...You had to make me a romantic, too.




Khelgar and Neeshka were waiting just outside the Fort's entrance. I told them that we would go on without the Marshal. Neeshka was sad to see Cormick go, but was happy when I told her that we would be seeing him again. “Just don't be stealing anything that'll make him put you in the stocks.â€


Neeshka grinned, poked me with her elbow, “You say that like it would be a bad thing...â€


I looked at her from beneath my brows.


“Alright,†she squealed, “The Marshal may not be interested in me, but I need my fantasies, Amara.â€


“As do I.â€




“Do you really want him, Neeshka?â€


“Only...for a couple of hours.â€


I laughed, “You can find that easily enough.â€


Neeshka sighed, “Uh, are you paying attention? You're a tiefling, too. Most men wold sooner bed a goat, and the rest are just after the novelty.â€


“Is that true, Khelgar?†I raised my voice to include the dwarf in our conversation.


“I'm not sayin' a bloody thing!â€


Neeshka rolled her eyes, “That means 'yes' in dwarfish.â€


Khelgar put his hands over his face and hurried forward, “Just leave me out of it, ya pack of harpies.â€


Neeshka ignored Khelgar and turned to me, “You like him, don't you—really like him?â€


“Khelgar?†I asked looking at the dwarf who was now running ahead of us. Even with short legs, he was making excellent time.


Neeshka rolled her eyes, “No, dummy. I mean Cormick. You like Cormick.â€


“Maybe,†I said evasively.


Her rat tail swished as it did when she was agitated, “Amara, you'd be a fool if you didn't.â€


“This is just all happening so quickly. Yes, I like Cormick. But I know what I am. He will probably just forget me—or wish he had.â€


Neeshka looked at my face, “You don't want to hurt him? Wow, you're serious. I'm sorry, I'm just not used to all this, well, caring about other people. In my line of work, it just makes more problems than it solves...But really, I'm touched—well, that you're having these feelings, and that you're telling me. To be honest, Amara, I'm not too good when it comes to trust. I like you—not in the way you like Cormick—but I don't see why you have any scruples. If he was interested in me, well, I would have already have him on his back. But that's just me.â€

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Chapter 3


Chapter 3


Some things are harder to remember than others. I don't recall much from Fort Locke to the ship that brought us to Neverwinter. With every task, every chore, every battle, all my thoughts were bent on Neverwinter, the city I had never seen. By day and night, every person or lizardman was merely an arrow pointing toward the place where I could lay the shard in someone else's hands. Then I could be whatever I wanted to be, be with whoever I wanted to be with.

Despite being thrown into danger at every darkened bend, the world seemed full.

I do remember my first impression of Elanee, who had been following me ever since I left West Harbor. The elven druid reminded me of my foster-father, so I kept my distance, observing her as she had observed me in the muddy swamp. She was slender as a blade of grass, and her hair was as red as autumn leaves. Like Daeghun, she seemed to see through my skin as if deciding whether or not she could take me in a fight if my demon blood came to rule my actions. Yet there were moments she spoke to me as if I was still teething.

Elanee held  faith in the observable, natural world, while I kept seeing a world beyond the limits of her druidic vision—the real world. I tried to tell her that I did not belong here and did not understand how she could belong so utterly to earth and air and water—things that could so easily be moved or manipulated by a command or a gesture. I felt that everything was subject to change: the trees, beasts, people---even gods. When I told her as much, she smiled indulgently, as you would for a blabbering idiot who didn't know any better, and patted me on the spot between my horns.

“You're still just a child in many ways,†she cooed.

I gave her my most withering stare.

“Don't pout. It makes you look all pinched and grumpy,†She removed her hand.

“If you don't want me to look menacing, stop tempting me to be.â€

“What would your father say?â€

“I never listen to my foster father before, and am certainly not going to do so now.â€

“Aren't you grateful to him for taking care of you?â€

“Did you not see, elf? Daeghun barely stands the sight of me. I couldn't be grateful, even if I wanted to be. And that's the last that we will discuss 'my father.'â€

The druid was silent, but he gazed at me a long while.

“Very well,†was all she said before she let me be.

She never brought the subject up again—of that, I was grateful.


Neverwinter was not strange to my eyes, and the first sight of it from the deck of or ship made me dizzy. Maybe it seemed familiar because I had been so set on reaching it. Or perhaps Neeshka and Cormick had described it so well that the skyline depicted temples and castles I already knew by name.

What did surprise me was the sheer number of people. I never knew so many people could live like bees in a hive. I bet that most of these cityfolk could hear if a neighbor banged a hand against an adjoining wall. People lived together in the swamp because we had to; everyone needed to reply on everyone else when things got tough, even if you normally despised your neighbors. Crises, whether a fire, or a flood, or a harvest the needed to be brought in quickly, were one of the few times people didn't mind having me around. In the Mere, at least we knew our neighbors well enough to love or hate them. I was hated by some, but I that didn't stop me from turning up my robes and wading out into a flooded field to salvage that last bit of barley. Even Daeghun, who was loved the swamp far more than the people in the village, still defended them.

In the city, when an elf, a dwarf, a tiefling, and a demon walk down the street, while there are bound to be stares, signs, and wide berths, most folk soon recovered, and some didn't notice us at all.

That first day we entered Neverwinter, some shop started burning, but while there were plenty of gawkers, no one offered to help put the fire out. I had to push through the crowd just to get a bucket and drop it in the well. Elanee and Khelgar helped, but Neeshka looked at us as if we were the most hopeless chawbacons imaginable. A few Cloaks showed, and they put the rest of the fire out, but if we hadn't come, that shop would have been ashes.

We were ready for the comfort of an inn when we spotted the Sunken Flagon. The signs depicted a round flagon with a grinning mariner, holding the mug high and imbibing even as he sank into the sea. When we entered, all of us (except Neeshka) were darkened from soot. We must have looked like chimney sweeps to Duncan, so that might be why he played possum when I asked for him.

I assumed Duncan was an elf, like Daeghun, so when I saw the broad, half-elven barkeep with a soiled apron greeting the afternoon with a tankard, I didn't know who he was, but I was certain he wasn't my uncle—foster uncle—gods, what was I supposed to call him? If Duncan was anything like his brother, he'll make me sleep in the barn with the other animals for such a breach of fosterling etiquette.

It didn't help matters that, while Daeghun used every word precisely, Duncan spoke with an accent that was more akin to Khelgar's rough lilt.

The half-elf lifted his tankard,“Duncan, eh? What business do you have with him?â€

“That's none of your concern. Where is he?â€

He waved his hand vaguely, “About.â€

“Look, friend. I suggest you start helping me out, or I'm liable to smash that mug against your face. And that would be a damn waste of good ale.â€

He smiled, “It's really not that good.â€

“What would your employer say?â€

“He's say, 'It may be cheap, but drink enough, and everything seems grander. Women will sigh at ya, men will laugh at yer jests—you'll feel as rich as any lord.'â€

Then I saw: The nose, the mouth... they all reminded me of my foster father, if I squinted my eyes a certain way...


He sighed, put down the tankard, “Aye?â€

I found it difficult to string together words that would make some sense, “We've never met, but...Daeghun, your brother—â€

Duncan regarded me with a stare that would have rivaled any of Daeghun's. They were brothers in more ways than blood, it seemed.



Duncan stood. He was taller than I expected. He looked at my boots, my hands, my horns, and lingered on my face.

He took a rag from his apron, and wiped off the soot from my cheeks.

Duncan nodded at the bar, “Come sit, lass.â€

So this was my foster-uncle. Not what I had expected, but since most of my expectations about a great many things had recently been torn as easily as a sheet of parchment, I soon recovered my tongue.

A less adaptable Kalach-Cha would have been raving in a madhouse or lying in a ditch by now.

“Duncan, I can't seem to recall, do you and Daeghun share a mother or a father?â€

“Father,†replied Duncan. “Daeghun's mother died a long time ago. His father raised him. When Daeghun was grown, his father and my mother...became close, and I was born.â€

“And you traveled with Daeghun?â€

“He wasn't always as he is now. Not at all. I'm sorry ya didn't get to see him then.â€

“Well,†I smirked, “I count myself lucky that he didn't toss me into the Mere.â€

Duncan met my teasing look with one of guilt, “We all grieved for yer mother.â€

I rubbed the bridge of my nose,“There's much I'm not being told. I know next to nothing about my parents or the man who raised me. I don't even know if 'Amara' is what she called me.â€

“It means 'grace.' She picked it out long before she met...†Duncan cut his words off, as if he couldn't say 'your father' or 'that demon.'

I leaned toward him. He smelled like stale ale and wood polish, “How do you know that?â€

“She told me.â€

What would my mother tell this sad excuse for a half-man anything?

Duncan seemed to read my mind. Maybe he was thinking the same thing,“Esmerelle was special.â€

“She was aasimar. Daeghun told that much.â€

“Yes. But ya probably don't know that both of her parents were also aasimar. Sometimes gods can give divine blood to their followers. Yer grandmother was born an aasimar, but yer grandfather earned his. They were drawn together. I guess their blood was from the same heaven. Esmerelle was their only child. Her parents dedicated her to the servant of their god, Ilmater. They tried to make a priest of her, but she was better at fighting than praying. She may have seemed small, but she had strength. I've seen her pick up a man twice her size and just, toss him, like a rotten apple,†He laughed.

“How did you meet?â€

“Here, in Neverwinter. Daeghun and I had just finished scouting for some southern caravans. We stopped in the city. Yer mother had just finished her training in the temple. She was young, but drew heads, even ours,†He blushed. “Ya don't need to know all the details...â€

“Wait. Daeghun and my mother?â€

He grinned, “Have a drink first, lass. How about everybody have a drink? Any ally of Amara's has a bed here—all free of charge. Just don't bust up the place too much,†He rubbed his hands at Elanee, “What's yer poison, pretty lady?â€

“None for me, thank you,†replied Elanee, sitting down awkwardly on a barstool. She didn't seem accustomed to being in an inn, or being hit on by grungy half-elves.

Khelgar ran a hand over his stomach, “I thank ya, lad, for your hospitality. I think I'll start with two mugs of your bitterest brew.â€

Neeshka rolled her eyes at Khelgar, “I'll have wine.â€

Duncan looked at me.

“Whatever you have, Duncan. Just keep it coming.â€

Duncan went to get us our drinks. Another man, named Sal, had to help Duncan carry it all.

Sal handed me a tankard of the latest season's brew. I took a sip. It wasn't bad.

I emptied the rest of it in one long draw.

“Ah,†I signed as I banged the now empty tankard on the bar.

Khelgar was the only one who didn't stare. He lifted one of his mugs to me, and then drank. He always tried to keep up. I wondered if drinking contests were as serious under the mountains as in the Mere. Folk in remote locations have to entertain themselves in some way.

Duncan widened his eyes at me, “Maybe ya should take it easy lass—â€

“There are some advantages to blood such as mine. Now, uncle, you were going to tell me about my mother and your brother...and you.â€

Duncan scratched his stubble, “We both fancied yer mother. It's part of the reason Daeghun and I are not as close as we were.â€

“Who did she choose?â€

“Neither of us. Like I said before, yer mother was special. She wasn't...made for mortals.â€

“That's true enough,†I muttered.

“Listen, lass: Esmerelle wasn't arrogant. She was the noblest, warmest, loveliest woman I ever laid eyes on. She just wasn't made to live in this world.â€

And you're nothing like her. I could hear Duncan's implication, even if he didn't say those words aloud.

I wiped at the some soot that still clung to my hand, “Do you know anything about...the one who sired me?â€


Duncan seemed done with small talk, so I took the shard out of it's hiding place. There was only one other patron in the other corner, and he kept his back to us. I don't think he saw anything but the bottom of his flagon.

The shard glittered in my cupped hands. I bent my head over it, trying to keep the light from being seen. It felt like sunlight on my skin.

“By the gods, Amara...I don't remember it doing that—â€

“So you know what this is?â€

He looked at me, and I could see he was being careful with his words, “I have the other. I keep it on me. Seemed safer that way.â€

“Where'd they come from?â€

“He shook his head. “That's Daeghun's business to tell ya. But I think it's past time to give ya this.â€

Duncan pulled a bundle out of his apron. He removed he layers of cloth until a shard lay inside. This shard did not glow like mine, but something inside of me called to the shard he held. I held out a hand to Duncan. He placed the other shard in it.

As I held a shard in each hand, they both lit like twin, silver stars. I closed my eyes. All I could see was the afterimage caused by my dark hands trying to contain all that light.

“Oh my, Duncan. I never expected to find anything of interest in your establishment, but now I'm glad that I decided to drop off your ale purgative.â€

Duncan looked at the door with a look of contempt,“Sand, you're dabbling yer nose where it doesn't belong.â€

“And your wading in things that will drown a sodden half-wit like you.â€

I blinked my eyes, and turned.

There was an elf in immaculate robes gliding toward us. I sensed archaic power, which looks like runes circling a mage's head. I was always anxious around other magic users—always afraid that they would look at me and discover my secret; Tarmas never guessed it because he just never considered the possibility that I could be a warlock. There certainly weren't any warlocks in West Harbor—besides me, of course. I didn't know what I was for some time. It wasn't something one shouted in the village square.

Most magic users assumed that I was a sorcerer, which made most most mages snort or sniff or dismiss me entirely. But this mage Sand was more powerful than Tarmas, and if his conversation was any indication, was much cleverer. I wondered those damned elven eyes saw when he studied me.

I returned his stare, smiling widely enough that he couldn't miss my sharp incisors.

“I don't see the family resemblance,†Sand said to Duncan, but kept his eyes on me. “Tanar'ri or baat'zu?â€

“Hells if I know,†Duncan muttered. “Just leave it be, Sand.â€

“You have two tieflings in your inn, and you expect me not to notice? My mind is not sodden with drink, unlike some,†Sand gave me another piercing look, and I wondered if all elves and half-elves had that same knack of peeling back my skin with their eyes alone.

“I mold the Weave, if that is the answer to the question in your eyes,†I said to the mage.

“Ah,†The elven mage sighed.,“you are not a brute like your uncle here. Hear that, Duncan? It seems like this girl got all the brains in the family,†He looked at the shards, “and the heirlooms, it seems.â€

“Can you try and identify them?†I asked Sand.

“Don't give them to him, Amara!â€

“Oh pish posh, Duncan. I am not thief or charlatan. Save your dramatics for a more willing audience like the pimps and sailors who frequent this fine establishment.â€

Sand held out his hands to me.

I placed the shards that throbbed silver-opal in time to the beating of my heart, gently into his delicate hands.

Sand's eyes widened slightly, “These are definitely magical.â€

“That's not what ya said the first time we brought them to ya,†said Duncan.

“That was several years ago,†Sand replied. “They must have been...activated recently. Let me cast a spell to see...â€

Sand muttered a magical incantation, and I could see the words from in the air and wrap around the shards—

Then there was a percussive wave and silence just before I was knocked off my feet.

Everyone in the Flagon was on the floor. Every lamp had been blown out.

Miraculously, Sand still held the shards, which gave the only light in the darkened inn.

“Is everyone alright?†I asked as I got to my feet. “Khelgar?â€

He rumbled, “Just fine, lass.â€

Neeshka's voice rose, “Fine because you landed on me! Get off, you fat oaf!â€

“Here, I'll help,†I heard Elanee reply.


“Right as bloody rain.â€

I could see Sand illuminated by the shard. He was breathing rapidly.

“That was...unexpected,†he said. “These shards are beyond my skills to identify.â€

“Do you know who could identify them?â€

“Yes, there is a sage called Aldanon. He lives in the Blacklake district. I would say go here immediately, but it is closed. There was a very suspicious murder of a lord. Until the culprit is found, no one can get inside. But you might have a chance if you join the Watch, or use...less savory associates.â€

“I was already offered a job on the watch by a fellow Harborman. Marshal Cormick.â€

“The Marshal? He comes to the Flagon. He's very amiable. I didn't know he was from the swamp. Well, if he can rise above his unfortunate circumstances, you may as well,†Sand gave me another thoughtful look. “You didn't say what sort of magic user you are, girl.â€

“What do you think?â€

“You're no mage, but I shudder to think of the alternatives.â€

Duncan ignored Sand's barb, “Daeghun always said she was a right smart lass, that why he was keen on making sure ya prayed to Mystra.â€

“Really?†I asked skeptically.

Duncan laughed, “Said ya were too smart for yer own good! â€

I sensed that under the jest there was truth.

Sand tsked, “For great minds, that is not possible. It is only those without control that are excessive.â€

Duncan spoke roughly to the mage, “Why don't ya leave my niece alone and go back to yer workbench, snake!â€

“Just stop by my shop, little girl, if you want to see what real manners are. But bring coin. My potions do not brew themselves.â€

Sand strode out of the Flagon as elegantly as he had entered.






It was levelheaded practicality that brought me to the Watch.


At least, that's what I told myself as I walked towards the barracks.


It's also what I thought as I asked for the Marshal, and was directed towards a closed room.


“Practicality,†I said as I smoothed my hair and knocked.


“Yes?†Cormick answered the door with his shirt half-off. His hair was wet.


“Marshal Cormick!†I tried to sound authoritative, “What if there was a war, Marshal?â€


Cormick narrowed his dark, molten eyes at me, “You...are evil incarnate.â€


“Well, duh: horns, fangs—it's pretty obvious, even for a clod like you.â€


“Huh,†he said, “I suppose it is. In that case, why don't we just let bygones by bygones, then?â€


“Maybe, just as long as I get what I came for. I wouldn't be evil unless I had some dread purpose in mind.â€


“I'll see what I can do, but I must be honest, I'll probably have to foil yer sinister intentions.â€


I leaned my weight against the door until it creaked open.


“Oops...I guess I'm clumsy as well as evil.â€


Cormick pulled me into a tight embrace, squeezed my waist. I could smell the soap he had just washed with—something with mint, a clean, sharp scent. I became aware of the lines of his body, which was very well-muscled. He was a fighter, after all. His skin was tanned from the sun to an almost coppery shade


Sweet Mystra, I could get used to this.


“We're in Neverwinter, Amara.â€


“That we are, Cormick.â€


“I like you still. Are you surprised?â€


“Yes. Good folk like you are supposed to kill bad folk like me.â€


“Wouldn't you rather I entice you to change from yer wicked ways?â€


“But I don't want to change. I don't even want to move...â€


He pushed us against the door until it closed behind my back.


“Oops. Well, not really...â€


I could hear a voice from behind the door, “Marshal, whatever it is that you are doing...I'd like you continue. But unfortunately, duty is a harsh mistress.â€


“I remember decorum, Lieutenant Roe, even when violating it,†Cormick looked at me and sighed as we untangled ourselves.


I leaned close to him and tied the laces of his shirt, “You're quite undone, Marshal.â€


He touched my hand, which lingered on his chest, “That may be.â€


Then Cormick laughed, and his crooked smile gave me one of my own, “Here, Amara, come meet Lieutenant Roe. He will be who you report to, if you are still wanting the job---â€


He opened the door.


“After being man-handled, I don't know...â€


“Unfortunately,†said Lieutenant Roe as he entered, “man-handling will be he least of your concerns on the Watch.â€


Lieutenant Roe was of age with Cormick. The officer was fair-haired and had a rough scar across the right side of his face.


Roe nodded, “Cormick told me you were in the militia. He also told me that you did in Fort Locke. I am rather curious how you will do here. A city like Neverwinter always has some group of thugs running about, staking out street corners. It's a part of life. That's why a city needs eyes and enforcers. But if these gangs start to work together, they become a force with a will. When they have a will and and a purpose, so must we. They want the city, and we are the only thing that stands in their way. If we fall, so will all of Neverwinter.â€


“And a weak Neverwinter is open to whatever might come charging in,†I said, “either with promises and flattery, or threats and swords.â€


Roe smiled at Cormick and me, “They train you well in the swamp. I just might suggest that the Watch step up its recruiting efforts round the Mere.â€


“From what I've heard and see, it seems like you should step up recruiting efforts everywhere.â€


“Would you like to start?â€


I waved my hand at my horns, “You need people who can inspire. While I can intimidate small-minded folk, that's about it.â€


Cormick scratched his chin, “But you handled yerself very well when things got tough—even avoided fighting.â€


I shrugged, “I just try and to say what seems most liable to get things done.â€


Roe spoke, “That's what the Watch is about. We can't be killing everybody. It takes a little...diplomacy. Still interested?â€


I smirked, “I can affect a pleasing manner when necessity requires it. When you have horns and other...peculiarities, gentlemen, you need all the skills you can dredge up.â€






The first time I went on patrol with the Watch cloak round my shoulders, I felt excitement.


The first thing we came upon in an alleyway was a gang of a dozen toughs.


“When did the Cloaks start recruiting drow?†someone drawled.


“When they wanted to get the job done,†I sneered.


Khelgar spat, “Ach! Drow are dark elves. Their skin is dark and their hair's white. They're mean—especially the women.â€


I tried to think of a diplomatic rejoinder, “In that case, thanks for the comparison. I am a very mean woman.â€


“Lady, why don't you just turn around? You don't know who you're messing with.â€


“No, you don't know who you're messing with. Bribes won't work on me, except to piss me off. So why don't you just turn around, slink back to whatever hovel you call home, and be thankful that you get to live for one more day?â€


Their spokesman laughed.


I flicked my wrist. Greenish-black hellfire arose from the tips of my fingers, dancing back and forth between them like some malicious pixie.


He stopped laughing.


“Learning from your mistakes is the best way to stay alive, kid. Remember that. Your first mistake was underestimating your opponent. Normally, you'd be dead by now. You can either bear a message to your 'leader'—or you can make a second mistake. I think you know where that will lead to.â€


The tough licked his lips, and I guessed he was sixteen, if that.


He tried to be in control, and gave me a curt nod. I don't think he trusted his voice.


“You are a smart lad. Just repeat this message to whoever you follow: 'The city belongs to the people. It does not belong to you, and it never will. You are as a traitor, if you keep terrorizing the citizen of this city. Here's your chance to become legitimate, or flee to more accommodating climates. But if you stay, I will find you. I will either haul you before a judge or I meet you right now. It matters not to me. You will end up dead, in either case. Sincerely, Amara Chidi.'â€


“Got that?†I asked.


He looked at me like I was plague-ridden, but he nodded.


“Run along now. And don't stop anywhere to steal a purse, or I will know—What's your name?â€




“'Sly Sy.' Hmm, How about you live up to that nickname? Go on, now, all of you.â€


The drifted back into the shadows, as those light on their feet were want to do.


Neeshka's tail thrashed back and forth, “Amara, that was unbelievably stupid. They'll put a bounty on your head now—on all of our heads, †she gulped and rubbed her neck as she watched for stragglers to finish the job.


I raised my eyebrow, “Don't you already have a bounty on your head, Neeshka?â€


“That's not the point. I didn't challenge the biggest gang-leader in the city the first time a Watchman's cloak was handed to me.â€


“I'm trying to...make an impression.â€


“You certainly did that. And soon we'll all be making an impression in the dirt.â€


“Come on, tiefling,†said Khelgar, “don't tell me the half-devil is getting scared?â€


Neeshka looked at each of us in turn, “Of course I'm scared. We all should be. None of you know how this city operates. Unlike the Watch, these people do not listen to appeals of duty or justice. They'll laugh in your face, just like that boy did. You've caught them off guard, but they will stop at nothing to take you—and us—out. They'll hit you where it hurts.â€


I grinned, “I won't let that happen.â€


Neeshka held up her hands in a gesture of surrender.


“Just be smart, Amara.â€





I dreamed.


I saw a wheel in the midst of an infinite darkness.


I heard the voice of my demon, but I could not see him, “This is the center of the multiverse, where there is balance between law and chaos, good and evil. At the center is a city. The City of Doors, which leads to every other plane.â€


“How many planes are there?†I asked.


“They are infinite.â€


Innumerable spokes shot out from the wheel.


“And Aber-Toril?â€


The many spokes became one. Rather than being solid light, I could see that it was composed of many dots, then of only one large, round dot.


“Is a planet. In a solar system composed of several planets. That solar system is part of a galaxy, which is a part of the universe—one of many that form the Prime Material Plane.â€


As he spoke, the dots once again grew into a spoke, and then reconciled into the wheel once more.


“And all that is one plane?â€




“Is there something that tries to keep all these worlds balanced: a force behind the wheel?â€


“No. Each always fights to dominate its own plane, or others.â€


The wheel turned, and it seemed like each spoke chased the other.


“Then what is power?†I asked.


“It is belief. Fiends must believe in their purpose as much as devas.â€


“And what is my Father's purpose?â€


There was a pause. The wheel stopped.


“To rule. He is different form other fiends. He knows that the chaos and maliciousness can be shaped into a weapon.â€


“To strike whom?â€


“Those who would bind. Your Father believes in freedom. And is willing to fight for it.â€


“Until all the planes bow to him?â€


The wheel suddenly started to burn. The flames were greenish-black.


“Well, just worry about one more...for now.â€


Everything faded into darkness.

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Chapter 4



Somewhere, I felt the weight of a book in my left hand.


A misty picture weaves around

While purity yearns for its sound—

Its voice is deadened by the tongue

Of lusty sirens lately rung.


In Neverwinter, my hair webbed a knotted maze against my head. I could feel the tangles, even if I couldn't see them. Fairy knots. They meant some wild thing had visited you in the night. Well, if a fairy was that desperate...


I sniffed. It was dark. Too dark for morning. Though the shutters of my window were closed against last evening's air, I could smell the heady, foreboding mixture of wood- and grease-smoke. Throwing off the blanket, I pulled the shutters open. Large pillars of gray smoke drifted towards the inn from the east---from the Watch barracks. Men and women ran away from it, covering their faces against the dark soot floating on the air like blackened snow.


I muffled my mouth as I began to cough. My eyes watered thick as old tears as I tied a pale handkerchief around my nose and mouth.


As mourners dance around the grave

The Jester stoops down to behave

Amid the scarlet birds below

Who throw him in the blackened snow.


Someone knocked.


Cracking the door, I recognized the lump of Khelgar's head. Between his hands, he twisted his ax with a rhythmic twirl.


I had slept in my armor, so there was no need for modesty. “Ready?†I asked Khelgar as I swung the door open.


He grinned, tapped his ax handle, “Aye. Everyone's in the common room,†He sounded gruffer than his normal rumble.


With practiced ease, I strapped on my belt, sword, and cloak, “Come now, Khelgar, where there's smoke, there's fire---â€


He rolled his eyes at me, pointed at the kerchief around my face, “Ya can't fight fire, lass. Ya just have to put it out.â€


I bent towards him. My face was wrapped, but my green eyes held his brown, “I am far worse than any fire.â€


He chuckled, “Just uncover yer face then. The flames will surely wither.â€


“Does that mean you won't come a'courtin?â€


Khelgar sputtered, “I have never courted anyone---except death.â€


“That's why I'm so fond of you.â€


Khelgar rocked his bald head as we walked into the common room. The dwarf's steps were heavier than mine, though he was smaller. Several patrons stood by the windows, which were becoming gray and opaque because of the ash. I looked around for Duncan, but he wasn't out front. Elanee and Neeshka stood like two slim shadows by the door. The red-haired elf wiped something beneath her nose. The flame-haired tiefling looked around as if she expected someone to try and knife her.


Towards the Barracks, it was dark as night. On the street, we were the only ones heading towards the inferno concealed in the dust. I summoned light to help us find our way. My greenish fire made our features stark and surreal against the waiting shadows.


The smoke was worse the closer we came to the Barracks. Elanee summoned a zone of sweet air around our heads, but it did not prevent the ash outside the protected area from blowing in. We were all covered with an identical skin of gray. My handkerchief provided some relief, but probably made me look like a bandit---a horned, dirty outlaw and his crew.


We came across the dull, rectangular blocks of the Barracks' wall. I sashayed up to the first figure to emerge from the ash, a Cloak at attention, though he didn't see us until we were a sneeze away.


“Stand back!†he commanded, holding up his mace.


I sighed, held up my hands.


The guard squinted at me. The ash made his features gray, so I did not recognize him. When he saw my horns, he suddenly saluted.


“Chidi,†he said, looking awkwardly at me through the dust, “the Watch headquarters are now in the Merchant Quarter. That's where you should head to. Quickly, now---â€


I felt the heat from the fire, even if its flames were hid beneath the debris, “Was anyone killed?â€


The solider coughed up so much phlegm that he had to spit before replying,“Yes... Lieutenant Roe. He's dead.â€


Khelgar spoke the question I couldn't ask, “What about Marshal Cormick?â€


The guard's phrases were punctuated with staccato bursts of coughing, “Cormick's alive. He's meeting with Captain Brelaina in the new headquarters. He also said that if were to see you, Amara Chidi, that I was to tell you to take extra care. Your life is in danger.â€


“Nothing new there,†my smile was lost to the soldier.


“We found this,†the guard held a folded length of cloth out to me. “It was nailed to the wall with a knife.â€


I stopped smiling as the cloth unfurled. It was a Watch cloak, ripped in several places. Across its length, someone had written in red paint or blood, “DEMON WITCH.â€


“Bastards...†Khelgar swore. He tensed as if he were ready to run off into the darkness to remedy the smirch against my honor.


I threw the cloak to the ground.


Neeshka, pinching her face all the while, recovered the ruined cloak. She pointed at the letters, “At least they can spell. That means it wasn't some random gang-banger.â€


“And the fire...†I said, “It's not magical, but it's too strong to be random.†I did not sense magic being used, but a nonmagical fire could burn just as thoroughly as the magical kind.


“Arson? Yeah,†Neeshka gave me a look that said I told you so. “That smell? Its like the stuff I've seen in...other places. Not on this scale, but it's something that burns really hot really quickly, and is easy to hide.†She held the cloak out to me. The word “DEMON†stood out like a brand.


“I don't want it---â€


“---Cormick might,†She pointed at the embroidery on the lapels. It was a marshal's insignia.


My mouth felt as if the heat had vaporized every drop of spit from my mouth. As I held the fabric in my hands, I looked at each of my companions in turn, as if to challenge them to contradict me, “I'll find whoever did this.â€


Khelgar rubbed the back of his neck, “We're all on your side, lass.â€


Using all twelve fingers, I ripped the cloak apart. The sound was lost in the chaos of screams and shouting that surrounded us, but I could still feel the fabric tearing beneath my fingers, “There's no fixing this, but I will fix the coward who wouldn't take me face-to face,†I threw the remaining bits of cloth to the ground, “Whoever this bitch is, she's scared. Good. Scared people make stupid moves, like threatening mine.â€


I stopped speaking as I shuttered. Every pore screamed that something 'wrong' was nearby. I laughed.


Khelgar eyed me, “Are ya...alright, Amara?â€


“Right as rain, “ I grinned again, but this one was feral. “We're being watched, Khelgar—probably for quite some time.â€


Elanee looked around, trying to see what was in the shadows. “Who would watch us in this mess?†she asked.


I looked around lazily and stretched, “It could be someone on the Watch or some other 'spectator.' But it's probably better to pretend that we don't notice—for now.â€


“How do you know?â€


I opened my mouth, but closed it and frowned. I had no idea.


Neeshka coughed, “I sure hope you're wrong—again.â€


Khelgar pointed at the blaze, “Hope all ya want, girl. It won't put out this fire, will it now?â€


“There's nothing we can do here. Let's go find Cormick,†I finally said.


The new headquarters was in a castle, but instead of looking at the tapestries or the fine stone-work that formed its walls, the world only came into focus when I saw Cormick seated at the end of a long table. As the Marshal raised his hands, a priest wound bandages around his fingers. The priest's eyes were focused on his work. Ugly blisters dotted Cormick's skin before the priest covered them, muttering an incantation to Helm for healing. I couldn't hear the words, but I did hear word “Helm†fall from his mouth with the inevitable weight of the executioner's blade.


I walked up to Cormick, “You're hurt...â€


He smiled before he saw me, “It takes more than a little fire to singe a Harborman, eh?†His dark eyes reflected the fire and torch light as he met my gaze.


“Depends on the Harborman. You may be exceptionable,†I smiled, “but you're not fireproof.â€


Cormick chuckled. His hands were encased in linen as if he wore white mittens.


Khelgar greeted Cormick, placing his hand to his neck in a formal gesture, “It's good to see ya mostly alive, Marshal Cormick.â€


Cormick nodded at the dwarf, “And you, Master Ironfist. Ya appear to be more intact than I.â€


Khelgar's mouth widened, “I'm not the one who's been brawling. Next time ya want to crack a skull or two, you just let me know.â€


Cormick looked at his hands, “This isn't from fighting.â€


Neeshka pushed her reddish hair from her face, pulled it behind her ears, “You're more of a lover than a fighter anyway.â€


I placed my hands gently over his bandages. Cormick blinked, but when he looked back into my face, his smile was all the better because I knew he smiled for me.


I tried to say how scared and relieved I was through my eyes alone. It was that moment that I realized how much I wanted to rub my hand over his cheeks, his neck, his chest to remind myself that he was...


I cleared my throat and addressed the priest, “Is it serious?â€


The priest stopped praying. He was fit a man in his middle years, but most priests of Helm were as much warriors as they were healers. He looked from me to Cormick, and back again,“He'll be holding his sword before long. But please tell the Marshal that he should avoid running into burning buildings from now on.â€


Cormick looked at the carpeted floor, “I heard Roe. No one can hear something like that and do nothing.â€


The priest put his hand on Cormick's shoulder, “It's not your fault he died.â€


The marshal shrugged, avoiding the priest's gaze, “So ya've been saying.â€


Soundlessly, the priest's hand dropped.


“Thanks for your help,†continued Cormick, “but I have a meeting. I'll stop by the temple later, if you want to have another go at easing my guilt.â€


“I can do nothing to help you there, Marshal,†The priest had a candid expression, and I guessed that he knew Cormick pretty well---well enough to finish his work in silence and then take his leave.


Cormick's bandages were dotted now with buds of crimson, “Is it painful---â€


“It's better than dying,†Cormick replied flatly.


“I'm sorry about Roe. I can't imagine...â€


“Yes you can. Ya've seen those around ya fall, and ya'll see more....Do ya regret joining the Watch now?â€


“Of course not,†I flashed a look from beneath my brows. “I only regret that you're hurt when it should be me...You said I was in danger, but so are you—especially with bandaged hands—â€


“I'll be alright, Amara.â€


“I'll keep you safe,†I said suddenly.


A short-haired woman cleared her throat from the other corner of the room. Cormick met my eyes, and I got the impression that I had to be formal in her presence.


“Marshal Cormick, is this the recruit I've heard so much of?†she asked.


“Yes, Captain Brelaina.â€


“Come here, Amara Chidi.â€


I stood tall, but kept my hand on Cormick for as long as I possibly could. He gave a half-smile as he motioned at the captain.


Brelaina had short, dark hair, but her voice, though feminine, was more like a politician's than a Cloak's. Her armor was the finest steel, and everything about the Captain seemed to embody what was civil and refined.


“I have good news for you.†She kept her hands rigidly at her side. “You have been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.â€


“...Thank you, Captain Brelaina. It is an honor to serve Neverwinter,†I bowed.


Her nod was the merest turning of her chin, “We will have a chance put that to the test. You will be leaving Neverwinter. There is a crisis at Old Owl Well that needs our full attention.â€


I tried not to wring my hands. Instead, I matched her politic tone, hoping to sway her, “Should I leave Neverwinter under the circumstances? Surely our efforts should be focused on locating the perpetrators of this horrible act?â€


“Those responsible for this terrorist act will be bought to the light, have no fear of that, Lieutenant. But there are other matters that need attention. There is a missing ambassador...and we cannot hold out against the orcs for much longer. You will go there, and do what you can. Find the Waterdeep ambassador, first and foremost, but then see what you can do for our defense of Old Owl Well.â€


“When should I leave, ma'am?â€




“But I this gang leader is hunting me---â€


“That is immaterial,†Brelaina interrupted. “You made a vow to serve this city. And that means going where you are told to go. When you are told to do so.â€


“It just seems as if I have just started to...to have an effect here...â€


Brelaina looked at me coolly, “Do you want to be the cause of another violent plot against the Watch?â€


“No, ma'am,†I muttered.


“You need to leave the city for awhile. You've been too effective. Now Moira's gang is targeting you. The only chance you have is to get out of the city for time...Don't worry, it'll be here when you return...Isn't that right, Marshal?â€


Cormick took a deep breath, but looked away from me, “It'll wait.â€


I cocked an eyebrow, “Nothing here can wait---â€


“I will, “ he said. “I'll handle whatever might...happen in your absence. I've been doing that for some years now.â€


“I don't want you cleaning up after me, Marshal---â€


Cormick tilted his chin,“---It's my job, Lieutenant. I'll do it, come hells or hurricane.â€


I was silent, but the look I cast at Cormick could have soured a custard.


Cormick sighed, “It's not all bad. Ya'll get to help Callum. He's a good friend of mine. He needs someone he can trust. I can't go, but I hoped you would.â€


I snorted, “So I go, against hopeless odds, because he's your friend. I'm starting to see a pattern, Marshal...â€


I looked at Cormick' bandaged hands, and then closed my eyes, “Of course I'll go.â€


“Splendid,†said the Captain, clapping her hands together.


Cormick stood, opened his mouth as I walked up to him.


My pulse pounded in my ears as I touched his lips with my hand, “I'll come back.â€


“I know,†he said.


I tried not to linger on the soft curve of his lips, the dark threads of his beard, but I did. I drank them like someone who had never tasted water.







We left the city out of it's eastern gate. Bringing up the rear, I looked back at the city's walls. Sentries stood in place along the battlements. I looked for a familiar silhouette among that throng of armored men.


As I turned towards the road, a lone, bareheaded figure raised his arms above the wall. His hands were bandaged. I waved. He shouted something I couldn't make out.


The solders all held up their weapons in a salute, and then banged their swords against their shields. They whooped.


I used both hands to raise my sword above my head.


I whooped back.


I had never seen mountains so high although Khelgar told me that they would be 'dwarfed' by the mountains he knew (he laughed until he bend red-faced over his boots). Neeshka started sneezing uncontrollably once we were out of the city, as if something in the air did not agree with her. Elanee, on the other hand, had to be dragged from every natural sight, every deer path. The fields and flowers might have moved me as well, especially since I had not seen such things since we arrived in Neverwinter, but as beautiful as they were, I looked at each as just another obstacle between me and getting to what I wanted---another path to take, another errand to run. The addition of the gnomish bard to our band barely slowed my stride, except when the gnome opened his mouth. I put up with it so that he could show us the way to the Well, but I had to pinch my ear to keep from falling asleep from his incessant stream of nonsense.


We were already motley enough to tolerate the gnome's presence, if not to love him.


Otherwise, it would have been very easy to get lost. Sparse deciduous groves dotted the mountainside as well as rocky outcroppings. Old Owl Well was actually a valley connecting two mountain ranges. It the only hospitable place to pass for miles. While it was a strategic place to have an army, Callum only had a handful.


Good luck. I 'humphed' to myself.


The first solider pointed us towards an armed fellow who was a head taller than Khelgar. His hair and beard were lighter than Khelgar's, but he didn't have a hair or thread out of place. I had never heard Callum's name spoken except with deep echoes of respect, so I saluted him as we approached.


Callum looked at us all before speaking, “I hope you're new recruits...†He had a voice, while not as refined as Captain Brelaina's, demanded attention because of its gruff sincerity.


“We've already been recruited, Sir,†I said, nodding at my cloak. “We come from Neverwinter to find the Waterdeep ambassador.â€


“What's your name, solider?â€


The title was still new, so I hesitated before speaking,“Lieutenant Amara Chidi, Sir.â€


“Chidi...†Callum looked up as he thought, “...yes. Marshal Cormick wrote me a letter about you. So you're from West Harbor too?â€


“Yes sir. Cormick's the hero from West Harbor. I'm merely the dregs.â€


“Were you friends with Cormick then?â€


“Not really, sir. I was still a child when he left our village.â€


“Really? By his correspondence, he seems to know you well.â€


“We have just lately become reacquainted since I have left the Mere and joined the Watch.â€


He studied my fingers as I rapped them against my sword hilt, “The Marshal mentioned you had...talents.â€


I grinned, “I am a magic user, Sir. And a half-demon. Both of those seem like rare qualities in most Watchmen. “


“Besides your friend here,†he nodded at Neeshka.


Neeshka held up her hands, “I'm no magic user, no sir. I'm just a law abiding citizen, doing what she can...and I'm not a half-demon. I'm half-devil. Devils are very law-abiding.â€


Callum smiled at both of us, “Should I be concerned by your parentage?â€


Though she didn't reply, one of Neeshka's hands went to the base of her tail. It was a nervous habit.


I shrugged, “I didn't have any say in that matter...â€


“That's right!†Neeshka nodded vigorously, “She lets her bastard sword do the talking...because she's a bastard.â€


Khelgar booted Neeshka's foot---hard. The tiefling let out a little squeal, then was quiet. If she didn't already have a reddish cast to her skin, I'm certain she would have been blushing.


Callum looked into my face, “Cormick said that if he were in a storm, he'd want you by his side.â€


I tried returning Callum's steady gaze, but could not, “The Marshal exaggerates---â€


The dwarf held up his gauntleted hand, “Marshal Cormick wouldn't say it unless he meant it. You may be from the same place, but he is a good judge of character. I trust him. That is why we have him recruiting, when he's not off on special assignments...Cormick may not be here, but there may be some help you could offer.


“What is it?â€


“We are overrun with the damn orcs. I need someone to break into their hideout and throw a little dissension into their ranks, so that they stop attacking out position here, at least until we can get more men.â€


“Do the orcs have the ambassador?â€


“That's likely.â€


“But why would orcs take such a hostage?â€


“Why would we?†The dwarf removed an unseen hair from his sleeve,“If the ambassador disappears, then we don't get any aid from Waterdeep or the Lord's Alliance, which we sorely need. Then it's only a matter of time before their raids succeed, and they take this place.â€


“Why would the orcs want this area?â€


“That's the question that needs answering. There's too much...organization to all this. I think we'll find out that some other force is at work here. Right now, we have many enemies. I hope it's not Luskan, but that would be my first guess.â€


“Any second guesses?â€


“Many,†Callum looked steadily ahead, “but it does me no good to speculate more than necessary. We need to focus on what we can do here---which is fight.â€


“And how might we be of particular use?â€


“Find their hideout. Behead their leader. Bring his talisman to me.â€


Khelgar practically beamed.


I cocked my head to one side, “Sounds simple, but I'm guessing it won't be.â€


“That is a very good guess. We don't really know the exact location of their fort. Also, you may run into...things other than orcs. There is someone harrying the orcs, but I don't know who or why. All I know is that captured orcs call him 'Katalmach.' It's an orc word that means 'one who loses himself in battle.' They seemed scared of him, but I can't reply on rumors. If you run into this Katalmach, tell him he and his men would do more good here than out on their own.â€


“Orcs!†Khelgar bellowed as he pointed down the road. His spit flew in foamy bits into his beard.


A low horn sounded, and the guttural cries arose to meet it. Then the orcs appeared from wherever they had been hiding, raising clubs, forked swords, and wooden shields. They ran faster than I thought such large, unwieldy-looking bodies should be able to move.


I called hellfire to infuse my bastard sword. When I unsheathed it, my hands and blade seemed made of unearthly flames.


The first orc to come at me let out a cry of fear and surprise when he saw my sword, and ran away. The second orc sneaked up behind me as I watched the first. I didn't turn, even when his hot stench rolled rolled over me and he raised a wicked spear at my back. Before the fatal blow could land, my magic struck out at the orc's spear, stopped it it midair for a moment before turning the wood and the orc into a flaming torch. The orc squealed, began rolling on he ground to put out the fire, but to no use. His burning skin smelled like burning pitch.


I turned, but the other orcs had been cut down. Three lay at Callum's feet.


“Handy...†Callum said to me. He didn't even sound winded.


“Not a much as you, Sir,†I wheezed.


Callum's smile was harder than most men's frowns, “We'll soon find out, won't we, Lieutenant?â€






Callum's directions led us through a valley much like every other valley we had crossed---except that the orcs lay in ambush. I swore as our group was beset by the foul beasts, but I had little hope.


Pouring out of the surrounding caves like bees from a hive, the orcs descended in dizzing numbers. We couldn't even run.


Dark blood soon spattered my face and arms, clumped my hair to my head. For the first time, I felt a tight knot of fear slip from my innards like a lizard on warm rocks. I sent up a silent prayer to Mystra.


Then I heard a horn sound. The orcs squealed in response. A small but heavily-armored force swept down the side of the mountain and began cutting the orcs to bits. We joined the fight, and soon all the orcs were either dead or fled.


One of these knights strode towards me. His armor gleamed through the orc gore.


“You seemed overrun.†His voice was deep, sonorous, and echoed through the opening of his helm.


I pointed my sword at his belly, “We would have finished them off without assistance. I'm guessing you want a 'thank you,' but not until I determine your motives...Katalmach.â€


The man removed his helmet. His hair was dark, but his eyes were a sky blue. His chiseled, even features shown beneath a sheen of sweat, “I am also known as Casavir, paladin of Tyr. If my lady would remove her sword tip, we might exchange more formal pleasantries.â€


No one had ever called me 'lady.' Well, besides the gnome. Neeshka suppressed a giggle, but scratched her nose. Khelgar cleared his throat. Even Elanee looked at the man with disbelief.


“Very well, Sir Casavir,†I sheaved my sword, looked at him again. Sweet Mystra, he was the handsomest man I had ever seen. And a paladin? Wonders truly never ceased.


Instead of wiping my hands and face, I extended my hand in the only informal greeting I knew. He'd probably have to wash after touching a demon spawn, but I did not trust my curtsy, “I am Lieutenant Amara Chidi of the Watch.â€


He took my gloved hand in his gauntleted one and bowed. If he noticed my extra digit, he did not show it. “We have both fought for justice on the field of battle. Tyr has made you my comrade this day. As your comrade, I must tell you to cease and desist whatever action you plan on taking in this region. We have tried to overrun the orc's stronghold, but return with too few. If you would not be among the grieved, or dead, do not go any further.â€


I was tired, but after the shock of victory I felt giddy---indestructible. “We will enter the orcish stronghold and rescue the Waterdeep ambassador.â€


The paladin shook his head once, “You will never find the way there on your own.â€


“Then get out of our way, or have one of your shields show us.â€


Casavir was thoughtful. When he finally spoke, his words had the ring of a pronouncement, “I will show you.â€


A blond knight shook her head, “No, sir. What will we do without you?â€


“Katriona,†Casavir replied, “go back to Old Owl Well. We've lost too many today. Go and help Callum's defense. I will return, if Tyr wills it.â€


“Yes sir.†Katriona turned way, but she looked at me in anger before she led the remaining men away.


The paladin looked at me gravely, “Are you willing to accept my aid, Amara Chidi?â€


“If you're willing to accept ours.â€


We went looking for the emissary, but found much more disturbing things. The orc stronghold extended underground. As we fought through layer after filthy lair, we saw unmistakable signs of some malevolent cult at work, egging on the orcs.


These shadow priests not only tortured people, but also performed unholy rituals. They were trying to animate the dead. I've sent many on their path to the dread city, but fighting a foe, killing to stay alive is the way of things. I don't kill for pleasure. I just prefer to make corpses than become one.


I had killed enough that bodies did not bother me, but what was being done to these bodies made us all cringe. In one cave, the smell that came from the corpses and unholy unguents made all of us cover our faces. There were bodies of civilians from Old Owl Well, the Neverwinter forces, and some of Casavir's people---even orc corpses scattered here and there. Only in death would such different kin cease caring who they lay beside.


The sheer number of mutilated corpses, spread wall to wall without regard for the souls that used to dwell there, made me realize that the stakes were deeper, sharper than I had ever suspected. I understood that the King of Shadows would not play by any rules, any notion of “fair.†There would be no mercy for anyone who lay in his path of destruction.


This abomination in the dark, this unmarked tomb, was what evil truly was.


As Casavir made a blood oath among the fallen, I did the same. The rest made vows by voice or in silence.


For better or worse, our fates were all tied together.






When we returned to Neverwinter, I think all needed to lighten our thoughts after what we had seen in Old Owl Well. We found an inn to stay the night in rather than on the ground, a place (according to the gnome) known for the quality of its ale.


As I enjoyed my fourth tankard, I patted Grobnar on his head. He beamed.


Casavir sat across from me at our table. He had a glass of wine, but he had not finished it. I had not expected him to partake at all, but I knew nothing about what paladins were or were not supposed to do.


“You wield magic...and a sword,†he indicated my blade.


I shrugged, “'A bastard sword for a bastard', isn't that right Neeshka?â€


“You're never going to let that go, are you?†she sighed.


“It was too witty—a step above your usual humor,†I grinned.


Casavir blushed, turned away.


I waved it off, “I'm not offended, Sir Knight, so neither should you be. It's the truth. I carry a bastard sword, and I am a bastard. There is an irony in that that would be a shame to pass up.â€


“I see the irony, lady, but I also see the insult,†Casavir was not just a quiet man, he was a thoughtful one. I don't think he uttered a word without thinking it through.


“Well, I don't know who my father is. I might not sing about it, but I don't hide that fact—although I couldn't really hide it if I tried,†I tapped a horn for emphasis.


“So, your father gave you your more...exotic looks?â€


“'Exotic.' Oh my. I'm going to have to find more paladins if all of them will say gracious things to me.â€


Casavir laughed.


“As far as I know, my father gave me the horns, the skin, the fangs, the fingers, and the eyes. I only know what my mother looked like from other people's descriptions, but I know I don't favor her,†I took a swig.


“What did she look like?â€


“She had a smile that lit up a room, yellow-gold eyes, pale skin, and blond hair. She was an aasimar and a paladin of Ilmater.â€


“A paladin---and an aasimar?†His cool eyes took me in a new light, a flash of sapphire. Casavir considered me with a clear, jeweled gaze before he spoke again, “You do have something of your mother's.â€


I tried not to turn away from his scrutiny, “What is that?â€


“Her smile. There is something innately...warm about your presence. I do not think that is a demonic quality.â€


“Thank you, Casavir. That's one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me. Sober.â€


“It is only the truth, Amara.â€


“I don't think I was 'warm' when I pointed my sword at you.â€


He really laughed.


“Since we are being truthful, I must ask. Callum said that Katalmach meant 'one who loses himself in battle.' Why did you feel the need to become lost?â€


Casavir became quite serious, “I don't know anyone who finds himself in battle. When I fought the orcs, yes—I suppose they could sense that I wasn't afraid to fight and to die.â€


“But you threw yourself into the fray, time and again, at every opportunity; that goes beyond merely accepting death—you seemed to seek it.â€


He looked at his glass, “Well, if I have sought death, it was to achieve something of value.â€


“Which is...â€


Casavir's voice was cold, “Dead orcs.â€


“I'll agree with you there, lad,†said Khelgar, suddenly becoming interested in the conversation.


“It's just sounds...uncomplicated,†I said.


“It was,†Casavir agreed. “I have no desire for complications.â€


“Then why leave?â€


“I...don't rightly know, lady. I'm waiting for Tyr to offer me some insight.â€


Khelgar poked Casavir with his elbow, “I think you just want a little a little novelty. Ye can only bash an orc head in so many times before it starts to get routine!â€


“I will have to disagree,†Casavir replied formally, but by the end he had a twinkle in his eye. “I never tire of justice—especially when I get to mete it out with my own hands.â€


“My, my,†Khelgar studied Casavir, “You've got some fire in you, paladin...Wanna fight?â€


Casavir looked down at the dwarf.


“I don't mean that I don't like ya, “ Khelgar put out his hands. “I just like a good tussle.â€


Casavir looked at me.


“Khelgar wants to be a monk,†I explained, “of Tyr.â€


Casavir pursued his mouth.


“You're practically brothers,†I muttered.


Casavir tuned toward Khelgar and patted his back. “Then I salute you sincerely, Khelgar Ironfist—not only as a fellow servant of Tyr, but I have fought with Callum, and if he is any indication of the strength of your people, you will make a staunch ally indeed.â€


Khelgar actually seemed to blush. He patted his beard. “Yer not bad at all, lad, even if you don't have more than two whiskers to yer name.â€





When the Waterdeep ambassador had taken a bath, dressed in his finest robes, and eaten a roast pig, he sent a message from Castle Never to Captain Brelaina. She read the contents of that note to us before giving us permission to enter the Blacklake district.


Cormick, of course, insisted on escorting us. As we approached the entrance into Blacklake, Cormick was waiting. He had been pacing back and forth across the cobbled street. When he looked up at our party, I saw a new, dark beard a growing thick on his chin.


He moved swiftly to meet us---I liked watching him move, even if he was too excited to be graceful.


When Cormick was close enough, I stretched out my hand, rubbed it against his cheek, “Hey handsome. Come here often?â€


His beard, rather than hide his smile, make it stand out, like a pearl in an oyster, “Not really. Actually, I'm waiting for someone---â€




He looked at me head to toe, “Only for a sweet piece like you.â€


“I bet you say that to all the demons.â€


“Demon? I could've sworn you were a celestial.â€


“You are obviously a bit slow. That's alright. I like my men to be good-looking, but as dull as a gnomish lecture.â€


I looked around, but Grobnar was too busy trying to catch a butterfly to notice the insult.


“You picked up a gnome, then? Why am I not surprised?â€


Neeshka sashayed up to us, “Aren't you going to say 'hello' to me, Marshal, or have you already spent all your greetings on the Lieutenant?â€


Cormick half-smiled, “Well, Neeshka, I am always glad to see you well, but I can't say 'hello.' You have to be a Harborman to get a 'Harbor hello.'â€


“And what's that?â€


Cormick pulled me toward him, dunked me, as you would at a dance, and kissed me on the mouth.


“You don't even want to know how we say 'goodbye,'†I said as I smoothed my hair,†I think it's illegal on a public street like this.â€


'True,†said Cormick as he kept his arms around me, “but sometimes ya have to bite the arrow...â€


I laughed, “You are ridiculous.†I looked at him very deliberately, “Of course, I like novelty: like ridiculously handsome men who are more than a little daft.â€


Cormick cleared his throat. He looked at someone behind me. I turned. Casavir made gesture of greeting at Cormick.


The Marshal nodded at Casavir, “I did not expect you back at the city, Sir Paladin.â€


“You two...know each other?†I asked.


“Yes,†Cormick answered, “Casavir and I both served with Callum. When I heard what was happening at Old Own Well, I must admit, I thought of you, sir. You were always thinking of the good, and how best to serve it.†Cormick offered his hand to Casavir, just as I had done at the Well.


Casavir smiled slightly as he took Cormick's hand, “And you have become a Marshal. How is your lady, Cormick?â€


Cormick smiled, “She's not my lady anymore, but I serve Neverwinter still.â€


“How do you know the Lieutenant?â€


“We both hale from West Harbor. She, Khelgar, and Neeshka happened upon me at Fort Locke. Now that we both serve the Watch, we have had a chance to fight together, and to catch up. So if anyone would like to hear a story about Amara, I'd be happy to oblige. Or make up something sordid.â€


“Ah?†Khelgar made the sound both a question and an accusation.


I smiled, “Don't believe a word he says. He's completely batty---always has been.â€


Cormick and I both met each other's eyes.


He turned his gaze to Casavir, “What brings you back?â€


The paladin looked at the sky, which was the same shade as his eyes, “Only Tyr knows.â€


Cormick did not push the issue, but I could tell by the tension in his face that he waned to say more.


“Casavir saved our lives,†I said to Cormick. “Without his aid, we would have been killed by the orcs. Instead, we were able to find the ambassador, but...You wouldn't believe it, Cormick. There were those shadow priests again. Even if it's just a cult, it's got its fingers in some horrible doings.â€




“They cut up the dead. They were trying to make them---something. More than just regular zombies or skeletons which are already bad enough.â€


“We made a vow,†Casavir added. “All of us---to find out what happened and to stop whatever force is behind this.â€


“Gods, Amara,†Cormick rubbed my hand, “If I knew, I wouldn't have let Brelaina send you there alone.â€


I gestured to the group around us, “I wasn't alone.â€


“This is bigger than you are, Amara---bigger than me, bigger than any one person. There's no sense in always sticking your neck out all the time. There's no point to it.â€


“I'm not,†I said as I pulled away from his hand, “I'm doing my duty---no different than you.â€


“You joined the Watch as a means to an end: to find out about the shards. You have no duty to Neverwinter.â€


“What the hells are you talking about? I've done nothing but risk my neck for this damn city. Don't you dare belittle my motives. I don't belittle yours.â€


“I do what I have to, not what I want to.â€


“Please, you think I wanted all this to happen? This may surprise you Marshal, but I didn't. I didn't plan on fleeing West Harbor, or running into you, or being pulled into any of this. I've seen enough. And I'm tired of being pushed around like some bleedin' game of marbles...I'm tired of being used---â€


“Have I used you?â€


“I'm just a...distraction. But hells, I'm likely to be wrong---might be that demon blood addling my thoughts. So why don't you tell me, since you're the great hero?â€


Cormick spoke slowly, but his liquid eyes were boiling, “If you think so little of me, then I'll be on my way.â€


He took a breath, then pointed at one mansion, “There is the sage's house. He is expecting you. I'll go inform the Watch, so you'll be able to come at go at your leisure.â€


When I did not reply, he continued speaking in that deliberate way, “There are rumors of strange things haunting the shadows. We need to have a force prepared, if...something should happen. All of you should be safe at Aldanon's---probably safer than anywhere else in the city.â€


Casavir spoke in the silence that followed, “It is good to see you, Cormick. We will speak another time.†He saluted.


Cormick nodded, “Be safe.â€


He looked at me, but I did not meet his eyes. When I finally allowed myself a look in his direction, he had disappeared into the darkened streets.


I turned towards Casavir, whose face went pale as we approached the sage's mansion, “Are you alright, Casavir?â€


“Of course, Lieutenant. I'm just thinking that we should go inside. Aldanon has been waiting for a long time, and so have you.â€


The door opened before we could knock.


Casavir was the first the enter. “Master Aldanon?†His voice echoed back and forth in the front room.


As the rest of us entered, we saw an old man studying Casavir's face, “Come in. It's good to see you again, young Casavir. You look just like your mother.â€


“So you say, sir, every time we meet.†The words, coming from someone else, might have been harsh, but Casavir made them sound both wry and affectionate.


Th old man wrapped his knuckles on Casavir's chest, “You seem sound. Are you happy?â€


Casavir thought before answering, “If one is sound, then one should also be happy.â€


“That doesn't necessarily follow, my boy. Soundness can be defined in various ways, but always speak of bodily conditions while happiness involves the overall state of being. So even if the body is whole, the person can still be incomplete. There's a fascinating tract on States of Being by some mage. I can't quite seem to remember her name. But it began with a J. 'Jacinda' 'Jim'? No, that doesn't sound right at all---â€


Casavir held up his hands, “Perhaps we'll speak on this another time, sir. It's taken the Lieutenant some time to get here. She comes from West Harbor, and she carries something no one else can identify.â€


“West Harbor, eh? So close to so much. It could be a number of things.†The sage tapped his finger against his nose. “Where are my manners? Here you stand in my home, and I haven't even met you---well, most of you...I'll start the introductions. I am Aldanon, so they say. Though I'm not really certain who they are. Well, if you're them, then you can call me Aldanon. I don't like nicknames like 'Al.' or 'Donny.'â€


I inclined my head, “I am Amara Chidi. And I come seeking knowledge.â€


Aldanon looked at me as if I were some text that needed to be translated, “Oh dear. You've got several problems. But let's begin with your original purpose, what the boy said. Bring me this item from West Harbor and the Meredalain.â€


I removed the shards from their hiding place and held them out to the sage. They seemed to brighten the dark curves of my hand.


“Oh my,†he said, “they're like a tuning fork. I'll have to run some tests, but they are definitely magical.â€


“So I've heard,†I replied as the shards' light twinkled over both our profiles.


After I had emptied the shards into Aldanon's wrinkled but firm hands, I felt like the sage was carrying away my arm or my leg instead of just glittery bits of silver. The shining seemed to pierce my head, made my breathing shallow bursts...


Casavir addressed Khelgar and Neeshka, “Master Aldanon did not forget you out of impoliteness. His mind just...floats. It has for years. He just follows whatever thread seems brightest.â€


“How do you know him, lad?†Khelgar asked.


“My mother was a student of Master Aldanon's.â€


“A sage?†asked Neeshka.


“No,†said Casavir, “she was a magic user. The Academy sent her to Aldanon to learn lore. She became one of the Many Starred Cloaks.â€


“And your father?â€


“He was a priest.â€


How did they meet?â€


“She came to the Temple for healing...and left with an even greater wound. At least, that was how my mother put it.â€


“Was he that kind of priest?†Neeshka asked.


“You mean the sort who has vows of chastity? Yes.â€


Neeshka smiled, “That must have caused quite a scandal.â€


“I imagine so,†Casavir looked around the room, and I knew he wouldn't say more until he was ready---if he was ever ready. He met my eyes, “Are you alright, Amara?â€


Aldanon showed up just at that moment. The sage's robes were singed in several places, and one of his assistants ran with a bucket of water into the study.


The sage dropped the two shards into my hand. I did not realize that I had reached out for them. I breathed deeply as I felt whole once more.


“I have discovered wondrous things, Amara Chidi,†Aldanon began. “The shards you brought me come from a silver sword. The githyanki craft such items. It is rare that such a fine instrument leaves their hands or is broken. They will do whatever they must to find the pieces. I'm afraid possessing them puts you in a great deal of peril. The last silver sword to exist in Faerun was possessed by the court mage of Neverwinter, Ammon Jerro. You should go to his Haven, if you hope to recover the artifact or learn more about its fate. You should seek out the location of his Haven in the city's archives.â€


But I haven't gotten to the best part,†Aldanon removed something wrapped in velvet from a glass case.


“It's a third shard,†He added it to the two already in my hand. “They belong to you, anyway.â€


“I don't see that---†I began, but when the third touched my skin, all three lit up the room like three silver suns that rivaled the yellow sun outside.


“See,†said Aldanon a we were all blinded, “they respond to you, are tuned into you. I don't know why, but these shards belong to you.â€


“That's impossible,†I said, hiding them in my robes, which I could do by touch alone. “Shouldn't you take them?â€


“Oh no.â€


“Why not? Wouldn't they provide a wealth of knowledge?â€


“Possibly, but I cannot tap into them. You are the only one who could manipulate them. But I wouldn't try that.â€


“Are you certain they are not putting me under an enchantment?â€


“What do you mean?â€


“Well,†I cleared my throat, “I feel...once a shard is activated, I feel complete only when the shards are on my person.â€


“Then you should definitely keep those shards, and keep them safe---as well as any other shards you may come across.â€


“Do you know what Kalach-Cha means? It's what the gith keep shouting at me.â€


“Let me see, let me, see...can you spell it?â€


I shook my head.


“Doesn't matter, I think it means 'Shard Bearer,' but I don't know the significance. All I know is that the shards are yours, for now.â€


Aldanon suddenly turned away. “Ha!â€


“What is it?†I asked.


The sage examined his bookcases, “'Where is it?' is the better question. If I had known you were...ah well. Necessity is the father of...something. Not me. My father was named Norwin. I'm just glad it wasn't me.â€


He clapped his hands, “Here! Look, child! What do you see?â€


“Books,†I replied.


He gestured at the dusty shelves, “These are worlds. Did you know that there is only a letter of difference between words and worlds. That's not a coincidence. No, no. It's a necessity...†Aldanon's hands came to rest on one book bound in indigo.


The gray-haired sage pulled the book from the shelf with the vigor of a much-younger man. He held the thick tome out to me.


Gingerly, I walked up to him and the proffered text. I half-expected it to explode.


He squinted at the book,“What is the title, child? The letters seem to have shrunk since last I opened it.â€


My mouth went dry, “Unholy Fire---The Life & Death of Owal the Tongueless.â€


Until I bought a book from a traveling merchant about various forms of magic called The Magic of Faerun (illustrated), I didn't know I was a warlock. It wasn't a particularly good book—there were too many large-bosomed women for me to justify keeping it around—except for one illustration. A man in armor threatened a pleading woman with hellfire as a fanged demon smiled over the warlock's shoulder. I never knew that other people could summon hellfire, though mine was green rather than purple. I kept imagining all sorts of stories to explain that picture—naive explanations at first: the man and the woman loved each other; he was blasting the woman only because of something the demon had told him, but he really couldn't do it. Yet the the more I grew, the more I sympathized with that fanged fiend. Maybe he was bound to the man, and resented it. Or maybe the demon face was a disguise, and the real person behind it had been cursed, and was only waiting for one brave enough to kiss him on the smooth flesh between his horns... I tore the picture out of the book that night I fled West Harbor. I still had it tucked away in my pack, even if the colors had now faded beneath my probing fingers.


The title of the picture was “How Owal Became Mute.â€


I gave Aldanon a penetrating glance, trying to see if the sage had read my thoughts, but he looked benignly at Casavir.


“You look so much like your mother,†he said to the paladin.


“I know, Master Aldanon,†replied Casavir. “I think it's time for us to end our intrusion upon your studies---unless you have somehow else to show us about the shards, or who might possess them...â€


“Sorry, child,†Aldanon replied, “The city archives may have information on Jerro or his descendants, but I that's as far as my knowledge stretches.â€


“That is more than enough,†I said. “Thank you, sir. And what about this book? Are you giving it to me for some reason?â€


“Oh, certainly...†the sage waved vaguely. “You'll figure it out---whatever it is. If you don't die first.â€

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