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The Ninth Portents


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Autor’s Note: This story is set in the future of the Forgotten Realms and many things had changed. It is connected to the Bhaalspawn saga by utilizing Bhaalspawn character and one of the NPCs. Is such an experimentation of any interest and/or value? Or am I overly fascinated by my new mind-toy? Please let me know. Corrections of grammatical irregularities are GREATLY appreciated.


The Ninth Portents


"When Nightal is almost at a close

There from the gate wall shall descend

A serpent to blow the Horn of Doom

At the graveyard Kingdom of Man.

If the Star of Storms is its brightest

When the dulcet ballad is played

Soundest ground shall be torn asunder

The tapestry forever frayed.

But if the Raging King has failed

To keep his five retainers true

Come 'morrow, the blessed sun will rise

And no chaos shall ill ensue."


Attributed to Alaundo of Candlekeep, Ninth Portents (copied from Frank Penka’s article, available for public viewing here: ‘http://www.candlekeep.com/library/articles/alaundo.htm’



1. The Visit


The old man snored in his fitful sleep, wheezing and coughing by turns. Hazer sighed and came to cover him with a blanket and take away the glasses that fell off his nose, when his head rolled to one side. A thin line of saliva ran from the corner of his mouth to the embroidered collar of his shirt. “Apart from that he is quite a neat old manâ€Â, she thought with pride, “and all due to my care. If I won’t tend to him, he’d go hungry and dirty for the sake of writing his stupid books.†She knew all about these books – when he was too weak to type, he dictated her passages and drove her to near madness by spoiling perfectly good paper with the odd fantasies of his. It was all about old magic, battles, prophecies: things that only kids and idle elders care about. To add to her frustration, more paper ended up in the trash bin than in the one thick folder lying desolately on an otherwise empty rosewood shelf.


The metal frame touched to the gaunt, lined cheek and the man awoke with a scream and caught her arms in a surprisingly sure grip. She fought him off, yelling: “Sir, Sir! It’s me, Hazer!†She had to yell, for he was getting increasingly deaf on his left ear. Sense finally returned to the Master and the dark eyes under bushy white hair regained their usual piercing, unblinking stare. In a way, she much preferred the weeks when he was twisted by his illness into an almost formless drooling thing. At least then she knew her duties and did not have a base suspicion that her ancient Master had desires not fitting for his age. Whatever it was… He had bought her thirty years ago, and it seemed that not a single new wrinkle appeared on his lined face ever since. He was quite obviously old but not aging… She did not find it strange at first, being a magical creation that was made to keep stable shape and features until her death at an uncertain later date. It was defined in Hazer’s manual as ‘when exhausts its usability’. After Hazer had a chance to observe sufficient amount of humans in Luskan, she had come to a conclusion that her Master Evarist was, a rarity if not an exception all-together.


“Stop staring at me, Hazer. Can’t you hear the door bell?â€Â


Hazer swam out of the room with all the grace that her wide, orc-based body allowed. She opened the door with a jerk and found herself staring down at a figure wrapped in a huge woolen blanket with a hood pulled low to completely shadow his face. “Cloak…†she thought puzzled, “this man is wearing a cloak! Must be another elven beggar….â€Â


In a melodious if tired voice the figure asked from the depths of the fabric’s folds if he had found the house of the Master Evarist Lant.


“Yes,†Hazer said tersely, her worst suspicions about the visitor confirmed – it was an undeniably elven voice. She produced a coin form her pocket; “Here, buy yourself a drink, and – “ The stooped Elf shook his head. ‘One more coin in my purse will not provide me with enough means to escape this desolate world. I came to see your master, Hazer.†The maid backed away slowly, letting the visitor through. He knows my name! Well, what else can one expect form an Elf! She superstitiously squeezed a charm in her pocket, making a quick prayer to Tymora to protect her from an eye of a Wanderer.


Bewildered, she followed the Elf, as he walked through the mansion taking the shortest way to Master Evarist’s study. Either he knew the house well, or the rumors about Elves’ strange abilities were true.


“Evarist…†the Elf said softly once he entered the room and saw the old man in his plush armchair. ‘So you are still lingering in this vale of sorrow, my old friend?†Evarist did not look surprised at all. A mischievous smile that Hazer had never seen crept on his pale lips and he gestured to her to take the Elf’s coat. Cloak.


Unwrapped, the Elf appeared a frail and over-stretched thing to Hazer, like one of those pale shootings that grow hopefully from potatoes stored for the long Luskan winter in the dark of a household’s cellar. The similarity was only heightened by the bluish tint of the skin on his cheekbones. The Elf’s clothes were strange: a dark-blue tunic with a silver thread and seed pearls embroidery, soft tights and a belt, that made the tunic gather in lazy folds around the elf’s rather slender waist. The belt consisted of a multitude of ornamented and gem-incrusted buckles. But what made Hazer’s mouth to fall open was a sword in a peculiar scabbard quite casually attached to it. Well, it figured that this Elf, though no beggar by his garments, would wrap himself up in his cloak! Carrying a sword like this through the streets of Luskan could get a man arrested. “Or robbed,†she thought squinting at a large, unusual blue gem that glinted on the weapon’s hilt. “If that’s not some cheap glass imitation.â€Â


Unbidden, the Elf lowered himself on a loveseat by the hearth and dry-washed his hands thoughtfully. “Some tea if you please, Evarist. I am frozen to the bone and it is quite possible that I am coming down with influenza…â€Â


“Hazer, do brew up some fresh tea for us, my dear. Cherry for merry year, I suppose,†and, turning back to the visitor, he added with a smile that dismissed the concern in the Elf’s gaze: “Xan, in the eight hundred years that I have known you, you have been always coming down with influenza, but never actually had an influenza. For a sorcerer you are a surprisingly sturdy sort.†The last thing Hazer saw leaving the room was a wounded glance that Xan threw at Evarist.


Magical servants are not created to be curious, but Evarist never was up to date with maintenance, so Hazer’s soft ears stood up trying not to miss a single word of the conversation, while she was rampaging through the bags of herbs, looking for cherry tea.


“Eight hundred years,†she thought, “O, Tymora, eight hundred years…â€Â

“You know what year it is, Evarist,†Xan said softly and blew the steam away from his face delicately before taking a cautious sip. Evarist tapped the polished surface of the table with his fingers. “Yes. You know that I moved to Luskan in anticipation of that…†Evarist waited till Hazar retreated from the room before answering, but the maid listened hungrily, her hearing not impeded by the oaken door, that she closed behind her.


“You moved to Luskan fifty years ago, Evarist, and after that you have done nothing. O, I appreciate the help you had given my people over the last dark decades, but other than that you sat idly.†Evarist sighed. “Xan, you were the one who had told time and again that Evermeet will not hold and that the Elves are doomed. In fact, if I remember correctly, you told me that the whole of Toril is doomed. And now you are berating me for not bestirring these old bones to fight the prophesized serpent?â€Â


Xan got up and walked over to the window. He pressed his forehead against the cool glass and replied softly: “So I did tell you that the Quest is vain… But now… Do you know that I am well past thousand now? And still my fear of death did not diminish, because I see… I can see even Arvanaith ripped apart. You will never understand, Evarist. You were not raised in the ignorant bliss that the expectation of life eternal grants… â€Â


“Xan, I am the last person to console you in your plight. I’ve never asked for immortality. I was never prepared for it. I do not even like it – I stick out among mine kin like a tree stump solidified by ages to stone among the green grass of a new spring.â€Â


“I tried to live normally, Xan, like a human man I was. I loved women and cried on their graves promising to never love another… and I broke my promises because I forgot… I advised to great Lords that are now dust. I amassed and lost fortunes. I thought that immortality is eternal youth. “ He snorted loudly. “Immortality is an eternal twilight of old age. Look at me, Xan! I have been a seventy-year-old for seven hundred years… I do not even recall how to handle a sword properly. I am no warrior anymore, I am a sage by necessity, by the call of my age. And being a sage, I tell you Xan: let go of this obsession with eternal life.â€Â


The swishing sound, and that of the falling objects and broken glass assaulted Hazar’s strained ears and she burst through the doors into the room. A sword, an impossibly bright sword stretched in the air between Xan and Evarist, stopped by an ornamental hearth spit that Evarist held steadily in both hands. He roared and pushed at the blade. The Elf gave way. “Not a warrior?†Xan asked calmly sliding the sword back into its sheath. Evarist fell back into his chair watching the slender Elf angrily. Both men ignored Hazer now, too preoccupied by their debate.


“Evarist, it says:

“Soundest ground shall be torn asunder

The tapestry forever frayed.â€Â

“Tapestry, Evarist, as we had agreed with you before, means the Weave itself. Weave that nurture my people even now, when we are reduced to Wanderers without lands and cities of old, without Evermeet…†Xan’s voice broke. “Without Evereska…â€Â


“Evereska fell before,†Evarist replied, but to Hazer’s surprise there was no edge left in his voice. Instead it softened and Evarist raised from his chair and wrapped his arm about the lanky elf’s shoulders leading him back to the loveseat and forcing him to sit down. “It will be rebuild…†he said soothingly. Xan shook his head negatively: “You have been saying it for the past eighty years, Evarist, and not a single stone was quarried in the Greycloak Hills ever since the last bombardment. The land is too inhospitable and some say… it turned vile and bitter. No, our last stronghold had failed. We can only hope to linger scattered. ‘Tis not at all like the life we were used to, but it is life, Evarist. If Alaundo’s Prophecy comes to pass, we will lose even that illusion of existence. I believe that faeries shall simply vanish into oblivion should the Weave break. It will suffocate drow in their caverns as well, when magic fails, but it is no consolation…â€Â


“You are a Moonblade wielder, Quessir. You can call upon your whole race to help you,†Evarist said gently, but firmly, “You do not need me.â€Â


“O, you know very well, why I need you. You were the dam that stopped the flood of Alaundo’s Prophecy once, you can do so again, if anyone can do it at all. You are my last hope…â€Â


“Hope is a strange word coming from you, Xan,†Evarist mused.


Xan looked up at him. “I am sorry to do this to you, but you leave me no choice… not that there ever had been one. I, Xan of Evereska, a Moonblade Weilder, call upon you, Evarist Lant, Savior of Suldanessellar and named Elf-Friend by Ellesime the Wise. Honor our allegiance or be damned.â€Â


Evarist sighed heavily and clutched his chest: “Must you be so dramatic? Stay for dinner friend, and then we shall talk some more about your … plans.†Xan nodded curtly. Evarist remembered Hazer’s existence and pursed his lips worriedly, seeing her in the room, but aloud he only said: “A light dinner tonight, Hazer. Quail if we have any… or trout. And no cream. My friend is quite worried about his heart.†Hazer looked doubtfully at the skinny Elf. If she were him, she’d rather be worried about anemia, she thought.

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2. The Locked Door


“Do eat something but this unfortunate peach, Xan. No need to add insult to injury,†Evarist suggested softly. Xan cautiously bit at a half-moon slice set on the point of his dagger. Before him stood a plate with an almost untouched partridge backed in a crust of herbs; small yellow mushrooms in wine sauce spilling from its golden breast. A half-dozen sorts of tender greens, some of which were quite purple surrounded the bird in artistic disorder, spruced with amber oil and dark aromatic vinegar. “I beg you pardon?†Xan drawled, “I have never known you to be a host who fusses until his guests fall over, exhausted by excessive food.†Evarist sighed. “You are free to starve in my house as far as I am concerned, but Hazer…†Xan’s eyes widened: “Golems, Evarist, even these strange modern variety, do not have feelings. They do their masters’ bidding and do not get pleased when the work is done well or upset when you scold them. That is their only advantage.†Evarist smiled with almost a fatherly pride: “Hazer is different.†Xan’s shoulder raised and fell the whole of half-inch: “You and your love of “curiositiesâ€Â, Evarist. Perhaps, you can finish for me then… to spare your golem’s tears.†Evarist grinned: “I missed your lordly manners, Xan; they are quite a rarity nowadays. Here is a proof for you,†and he exchanged their plates, looking roguishly over his shoulder. Xan sighed and took another lazy bite of his juicy bounty. Evarist savored a warm crunchy mushroom, shaped almost like a trumpet and sighed: “Xan, friend, you do not know what you are missing.†Xan shook his head in disbelief: “Facing the imminent destruction of this world, stuffing is not the thing I regret not tasting.â€Â


With sudden curiosity Evarist swallowed the succulent piece and asked: “What will it be then, Xan? What makes this life so worth living for you who is no woman’s lover, no man’s friend and austere in all your habits? Why do you love life so?†Xan’s dark-blue eyes blackened. “Why, you have cut the knot, Evarist. Indeed, what could I possibly miss?†Evarist reached over the platters and between two tearing pitchers of spiced wine and lightly squeezed the elf’s narrow wrist with his wrinkled fingers. “I am sorry. Perhaps you are right and food dulls the mind.†Slowly, as if his age returned to bend him under its weight, Evarist moved back and lifted off his chair. “Hazer,†he called. “Please clean the table and bring me the key chain from the study.â€Â


Xan left his place too and walked toward the blind wall decorated with a large picture in a heavy golden frame. It was a view of a railroad peeking out of a tunnel in the mountainside to enter into a city of neat two-story houses lifted high above the nameless sea. The blue water dotted with white sails merged with just as blue sky. The painting would be a twin of many others that hang in the halls and rooms of nameless inns, if not for its size and the fact that the houses and mountains, bridges and boats were not painted, but at close examination, made of papier-mâché and had volume to it. Xan pressed at the frame and everything on the picture came into motion. Sailboats glided across the ocean, a small train jumped out of the tunnel and started making its way through the charming town, curtains swung, ladies and gentlemen bowed to each other and walked along the streets and a small red cat jumped off the balcony to the street. The inevitable and sad twinge of the music that is typically produced by rolling pins in musical snuff-boxes filled the room, obscuring the ticking and tweaking of the mechanism hidden behind the painted screen. Xan cringed. “You still have this atrocity?â€Â


Evarist smiled: “Yes, since you have forgotten for the third time to present me with a suitable replacement from your collections.†Xan sighed: “I reasoned that an Evereskan magical painting will be lost on you, with your love for this… thing.â€Â


Hazer walked in stiffed-backed and extended a thin chain to Evarist. It held but one key – a strange, twisted key made of silvery metal. “I am sorry that we did not finish the meal, Hazer, “ Evarist said soothingly, and nodded to the table. “I would like it clean as soon as possible, dear.†Hazer snorted quietly as she attended to putting the dishes away. But it did not occupy her completely. Out of the corner of her eyes she observed Master Evarist. For a while nothing happened. Master and his guest simply stood there, looking at the moving pieces on the picture. Finally the gilded papier-mâché sun touched the line between the sky and the ocean and disappeared through a groove. Master Evarist pushed the key right after it. Nothing had warned Hazer about what had happened next. The wall simply moved apart, the picture split neatly in two. In thirty years of dusting the frame she had never noticed any sign of a seam. But it was the contents of the softly-lit room that was hidden behind the wall that made Hazer to forget about the plates and even the uneaten partridge. She craned her neck to see better and her mouth hang open in wonder. Master Evarist noticed her stupor and motioned for her to approach. “Come here before you break one of your precious Shou Lung porcelain dishes…†Hazer obeyed.


A suit of black armor dominated one corner of the room, a full plate sate on a rack. It was engraved with elvish symbols and patterns, with lobster greves and gorget and a conical hauberk. A matching helm with bright white and red plumage crowned the suit; A pair of mailed gauntlets laid on a velvet pillow raised on a stand, which held a tall sword. The top of the leather wrapped hilt almost reached her chest and the grip was long enough for both of her huge hands and to spare. Behind the suit of armor, against the wall, someone carefully leaned an oval shield, pointed at the end, like a tear. It was black as well, with a wreath of red droplets painted in the middle and a band of crimson bordering it. There were more swords and spears in the room and a few great bows; chests, the likes of which one would imagine in some hidden cave, where stacked one on top of another. Some where opened, and Hazer saw clothes so richly embroidered that it made Xan’s tunic seem plain.


The walls were lined with red velvet and as many as three dozen portraits hang on one of them. Men in armor, mages in robes… Hazer recognized today’s guest, depicted with light spilling open like a fan from the points of his outstretched fingers. Opposite to the plate armor another large, full-body sized portrait stood on an easel. It depicted an elven woman, whose white dress contrasted vividly with the color of her skin. It was not as dark as Hazer supposed a drow’s skin should have been, rather violet-gray, than onyx-black. Perhaps it was how the woman indeed looked, or the artist took a liberty, but there was no mistaking this woman for anything but a drow. Her eyes were too red and calculating, her lips - too thin and hungry, her hand clutched too tightly an ornamental dagger on a silver belt. The lacework of the dress did nothing to make her appear softer, and neither did the four cream-and-blue roses that stood in a vase in front of the portrait. The most praised roses in Master Evarist’s garden. Hazer used to wonder where each blossom went after opening in all its glory.


It gnawed at her that Master Evarist kept a secret. Hazer did not care about the display of wonders no doubt connected to his past exploits. Any man of his age is bound to have a past. But the fact that he had done something as recently as two days ago, without her knowing about it, made her feel dejected. Evarist owned her, that’s true, but in a way she also owned him, through attending to every miniscule detail of his life for so many years. He had no right to hide anything from her… even if it was only cutting fresh roses and putting them in a vase in front of a drow woman’s portrait.


Evarist absently peeled a drying petal off the rose and sighed at the portrait. Xan’s lips twitched: “The drow is not worth it, Evarist.†Evarist replied soothingly: “She is dead.†The whole exchange had a stagnant feel of a long-standing issue, debated over and over, and never resolved. Xan demonstratively turned away from the portrait and started raiding bookshelves pulling out plumpy tomes and skinny tubes stuffed with scrolls. Dust settled on the sleeves of his fanciful tunic. Evarist sighed again and attended to the chests.


Hazer remembered about the unmade table and hurried out of the room to prepare it for the men. It was obvious that they were going to study something. She hoped that Master Evarist would not forget his bedtime. It was a dangerous thing for him.


As the pallid winter sun rose over Luskan, Hazer knocked at the door, and before Master Evarist commanded her to go away as he repeatedly did during the night, she stuck her head in. ‘Shall I serve breakfast, Master?†the maid asked, trying not to allow disgust into her voice. The dining room was a mess. Maps and parchments were everywhere, and dusty books tuned upside down or opened and forgotten, with the pages standing up over the spines, like rays of raising sun over horizon on childrens’ drawings.


“Serve breakfast in the garden, Hazer,†Evarist asked in a weary voice. Hazer felt another jolt of dislike for the Elf. Keeping up Master Evarist through the night like that with silly stories about the ending of the world, serpents and horns of doom… Yet she bowed and hurried to set up for breakfast in the garden. The maid was carrying a tray of the fresh rolls, when she caught up to Evarist and Xan making their way to the garden. Evarist was leaning heavily on his friend, and both walked in measured, slow steps fit for an old man.


Xan only made a small pleased sound in his throat when two of them entered Evarist’s courtyard with Hazer on their heels. “He had been here as well,†Hazer thought, watching Xan step gracefully from stone to stone, that formed the paths, still supporting Evarist. Anyone who had come for the first time would spend a few minutes gaping at this sanctuary against Luskan’s clime. Evarist’s mansion was built around a hexagonal shaped yard, covered with a transparent dome. Inside it, everything had an immaculate look of a meticulously planned garden not striving to pretend to be a natural landscape. Above the carpet of grass and between gray and brown rocks the plans rose, leaned upon and hang down in the places chosen by a precise eye. Every tree, bush and ground flower was a different sort of rose: from the purest whites to the somber purples, from tender pinks to fiery yellows, from sweet creams to passionate reds. The sweet smell of flowers was contested by bitter aroma of fresh coffee at the moment, even after Xan cut two pale yellow roses and put them between the silverware, that crowded the table. There were creamer and tiny silver cups filed with cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, honey and red pepper; On the thin plates laid buds of butter and slices of lemon; A bowl of ice stood in the shadowy corner of the table. Among all this polished and engraved silver a small crystal flask with amber-colored liquor in it looked rather lonely.


Now, at least it has roses for company. With this strange thought Evarist moved aside the creamer so that Hazer could set the tray down. “Hazer, I would like you to bring a chair and a cup for yourself. The things we are going to discuss concern you as well.†Hazer noted with satisfaction and went back into the house. The last thing she saw was Xan picking up a flaky roll from the tray and biting on it carefully. Even before Evarist finished pouring the dark steaming coffee into thin porcelain cups, the roll disappeared. The Elf peered at his fingers as if wondering where did the soft crust and peaches, steeped in sugary syrup until they were translucent, go. Hazer smiled to herself: the Elf was a mere mortal after all. But the smile slid away as she heard Xan commenting quietly, believing her to be beyond the earshot: “I still do not understand why do you have to involve the Orc, Evarist…â€Â


Just as quietly Evarist answered: “She is no Orc, Xan, and you know it.†Xan frowned: “She looks like one, Evarist. Yes, she is clean, almost pristine and I know that inside she is not an Orc, being one of those insane experiments, but she scares me despite it. Maybe even because of it.â€Â


“I know,†Evarist nodded, “and yet I have to bring her along. You have never seen me when a fit of my illness takes me. I am helpless without Hazer, Xan, and I will not challenge our friendship by forcing you to become a wet nurse for me if… no… when I succumb again.†Sadly, Xan looked into Evarist’s face. Even in the weak sunlight of the winter morning the man looked pale and sick. Brighter lighting would turn him into the likeness of a dead man. When did he grow so old? Mournfully Xan placed a narrow palm on Evarists’ elbow and whispered: “I think you are giving too much importance to my lordliness, Evarist. If you want Hazer to come along, so be it. I have already challenged our friendship enough.†As Hazer appeared in the doorframe, holding a stool in front of her like a shield, Xan moved away, picked a lemon slice and dropped it into his cup. Dark and bitter, and now a bit sour, the drink tasted just like his thoughts.

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