Legends of Belariath


Air Purification III

Recollecting the past has never been what I would call an entertaining aspect of my life. Surely, there are some moments that shine in my thoughts like beacons of lighthouses. Other moments would I prefer to forget, but they have left indelible stains upon my heart and soul. (Well, if I have a heart or a soul, they are surely disfigured by some of these moments in time.) It is the same with most sentient beings, and quite a few non-sentient ones. I cannot say I am unique with having "highs and lows" in my brief but violently blood drenched career, but I am quite certain that many could not give the same range and depth as I could within such a short span of time. I have heard of one young woman - a thief - whom has more enemies than I do, but she works at it. Then again, so do I. This could bode a distinct problem for me in later months...

As I have told you, I was "enlisted" by Elminster the Sage himself (with the encouragement of my Liege Employer) to help rescue a small party of elves from a known Zhentarim stronghold. I, for one, was extremely reluctant to assist those in bed with the Forces Of Good, but I was not given much choice. After having been stripped of my tools of the trade, I was then shackled and made to keep up with my "allies." (Let us call them wardens, for that is what they truly were.) Given no clues as to how this mission was to take place, I used my unsubtle influences in the towns we passed through to get in contact with those whom knew me well enough to trust my own judgment. In the end, such was a wise thing, for the campaign to get in and out of Zhentarim Keep went completely awry from the get go, and without the timely aid of my own comrades, would they all have died horribly. I have yet to mention the misfortunate events of our night-time invasion of the Keep, for the main reason I am trying to remember all that happened. As well, you may wish to contact some of the others whom went in and out.

The mission was a dire success, I must agree. Dire, because we were hunted down repeatedly by Zhentarim troops in order to kill us all, or worse, bring us back to the Keep itself for interrogation and sacrifice. That part would have been modified to do which priest or mage got hold of those whom dared defile the sanctity of their forbidden fortress. I have no doubts in my mind had those sorcerers gotten a hold of my good friend the dark elf, he would have been carved up and fed to imps to give them more power. I know how the minds of such as they work, which is why I made sure to behead them all when I found any. At the last battle before we managed to escape the confines of the Zhentarim's power base, a well timed scroll managed to turn the tides for my allies... and those with us. It, however, cost me much more than I had realized to cast it. Given the fact I was out of practice, in physical - and I discovered at the time of the casting, magical - bondage, and under a lot of stress, I managed to throw something into the evocation I should not have, and paid for it with a comatose state of two days, and tremors which lasted me for weeks afterwards. The excruciating pain lingered for a few months. That was to be expected, and no amount of alchemical aid could have saved me from any of it.

Still there was the fact I was laid up, in a wagon, destined for an encounter with Elminster while I was nowhere close to being in the best condition I could be. This did not make me happy. In no uncertain terms was my half-dead carcass at the mercy of others - so much so I could not slit my own throat. One brave ranger in the gathering sent by Elminster sought to comment on it, thinking I could not strike at him directly or indirectly. He was right in one respect, I could not even lift a finger in rage, because of the agony I was going through. My priest whom I had known for a few years, however, took exception to this mockery and cuffed him for me.

I was so proud that day I would have cried, had I not been in so much pain. The cleric threw a chimneysweeper's haymaker at the man, catching him in the jaw so hard the ranger took flight for a few brief seconds, crashing on the hard dirt road at least a man's length away from the wagon. That was beautiful, it truly was. None challenged the cleric's intent on this, although a few made mention to talk to his immediate superiors about his dread actions. Words came out of his mouth I never knew existed, that day. And they were more than enough to cow the cowards whom Elminster trusted to keep me in harm's way and out of action.

As I said, I was proud of my ally that day, indeed.

The fourth day of no pursuit brought a brand new enemy to us - rain. We had just left the realm of the Zhentarim, and it was as if some of those nature goddesses had discovered my weakness at that point and set to finish me off. I would not have been surprised if that had been the case, such was my aching. Lightning struck the road around us at times, and the horses were repeatedly spooked by claps of thunder so loud they made your ears feel bloody and stiff. More than once did my dark elf companion and his familiar (whom by that point had changed herself to look like a dark elf with lavender hair and fuschia eyes) check and feel for their eardrums to have burst. The party of adventurers associated with the archmage fared no better than my personal allies. For the first time since the routing of the Zhentarim, all were quite equal. Being soaked through with freezing rain, coated to the hips in clinging mud that WAS clay at one point, and dealing with a way lit with the crackling of bolts of purest rage above us all, there was no energy wasted over squabbling or dirty looks. All eyes were on the road ahead, except for mine. I was left warm and dry in the wagon - for the fat lot of good that did me. The jostling of the wagon made for a painful ride, exacting more bruises on my body than I thought I could fit. Being knocked unconscious by a particularly violent jolt was considered a mercy to me by the time half the day was over.

In some cultures, it is considered a sign of religious fervor if you fast for longer than a day. I, for one, call it foolishness if you do not have to. However, when I was belted by the siderail of the wagon, I involuntarily gave up my right to eat for three days, as my skull absorbed the blow but my body refused to accept that. When I awoke again, it was nightfall, and the rain had not become any less severe than when I first saw it. Almost the entire party was suffering from some sort of cold or influenza ailment, or had cramps of a sort. We were not a very happy group of people, so when the inn came into sight, the roaring cheer that came up from those around me shocked me into alertness rather swiftly, although trying to move was still out of the question. We managed to find the inn at a low point in their season, what with having had no customers for days, and a huge quantity of food that would spoil soon if it were not devoured. Some would call it a blessing that we found such a place, especially as the meeting place we were to go to was not the same as the first we had been when first meeting Elminster. No, the old ruddy fireball-casting goat had wanted a more serene place - that would take another two weeks to get to if we were going at the same lethargic and diseased pace we had been over the past ten-day. It was a unanimous vote to take all the rooms in the inn for our purposes. shelling out over 100 gold Mehrials for the privilege of having a base of operations in which to recuperate over the next few days.

Some days, the intelligence of that elven she-demon paladin of Labelas Enoreth amazed me. Amazed, in the fact she proved she had some. It was, in fact, her idea that not only we stay at the inn, but we purchase all the available rooms possible, cordoning off one area just for our party. She grudgingly even paid the way for my companions, whom in turn paid for our food and the feed for the horses. The rain decided to transform itself into a hideous downpour shortly after our having made ourselves at home inside the inn, so all of the others found themselves going through our recently acquired goods, trying to figure out what each item was. Well, the Friends of Myth Drannor and their ilk were, but those aligned more to my way of thinking had other things to work on. Namely, healing themselves and sharpening their weapons. They had no intention of being caught off guard again.

Quietly, did a small suspicion run through my body. Unfortunately for me, every time I tried to narrow down my cause of insecurity, a vicious and terrible tremor would strike my system, almost crushing the life from me. The priestess, whom had been a constant by my side, tended to me with the freely given aid of my allies. If nothing else, it saved them the trouble of having to cross swords with the group of do-gooders before it was truly necessary. As my anguish increased, so did my awareness that something was terribly wrong, and it had to be found soon. I spent my night awake, scouring my thoughts for any inkling of what the Zhentarim could have planned ahead for, or simply had as a standard precaution. Finally, at the dawn of the new day, with hail rattling the wooden shutters chaotically, the completed though sprouted from my brain and into my hands as a course of action.

Calling for a few comrades, I was helped down the stairs gingerly, although my patience screamed for me to rush down as swiftly as possible. There, in the midst of the booty we had seized, were the four things I had been looking for. Four rather nondescript gemstones, all of which we had taken from the beginning. The sleeping guards of the treasure looked at me in shock as, with my frail and fragile body, hurled myself at the four gems (each of which was in a separate pile) and flung them into the fireplace with such force you could hear them crack against the stone chimney, falling downwards into the ashes and coals. An uproar quickly filled in the space given to silence a moment before, and almost everyone flooded downstairs as one huge wave of cross-sectioned society. My body, only having had food in short intermittent moments, could not take standing any more, so I sat down by that table, suddenly with swords at my back and sides.

One of the rangers, a half-elven maiden with a short bow built for slaying, strode up to be with a raving fury on her lips, and scowl of a gelded ram on her visage. Demanding I answer her, she draped me up by my collar, rearing back a fist to strike me. Then, and only then, did I point at the fire. At first she did not look, but as her comrades and my own allies watched the flames in horror and shock, did she turn. And see. And blanch in abject horror. Within the four gemstones had been minor demons, whose only purpose was to serve as eyes for the Zhentarim. The jewels themselves were flawless, as to inspire keeping them, when in fact they were the molliated bodies of the demons we were witnessing in the flames, vanishing from this realm to go bad to whence time and place they came from. A cleric of Marthammor Duin inquired how I could tell what was going on with the gemstones, when none of them could. A swift cover story covered my tracks, as I could not very well explain to him - or any of them - my close association with those of the infernal and diabolic realms. I was already known for dealing with offworlders, so I thought that would be good enough for them.

Young and old viewed my tale as convincing enough, thankful that nothing worse had occurred. Main reason for that was with the destruction of the false jewels, their anchors on this world were gone. That particular breed of demon could not remain on this plain of existence under their own power. The Zhentarim were getting more ambitious.. .and more creative. That alone spelled out my fate - more dealings with the Red Robes were bound to happen. Those decoys were the Zhentarim's way of tracking us. Without them, they could not find us unless they sent out familiars or other more traditional methods of scrying our party - and those could be stopped readily enough with the right tools, conveniently provided for us by the fallen Red Robe warriors. As I was postulating new mystical defenses, a distinctly obscene seizure racked my body with tendrils of bone-gnawing anguish. Yes, MY day was just about done, as I fell to the floor, unconscious before I reached the stone of the inn's foundation.

After my having passed out, an argument broke out over the separation of the treasures and items claimed from the fortress. Two people - the cleric whom I had been fortunate to have befriended from before, and a strong-backed young, dark-haired knight from the far reaches of Faerun - carried my dead weight upstairs and laid me to rest on some dry mats on the floor, in case my thrashing would have thrown me off the beds. (Turned out, that knight had heard of me and liked my style, but never voiced that opinion in front his contemporaries. Wise, that one knight.) My allies, now having made their preparations against any siege (although the hail and storming winds would have dissuaded many from assailing us too soon), were demanding their fair share of the loot. After all, they reasoned, if it was not for them most of those in the inn would have been chowder for a beholder or some blood rune practice for an acolyte. The warriors of Elminster's cadre had a different spin on the tale, saying that it would have been a cleaner entrance and exit if those whom had come at my bidding simply did not show up and interfere with the hard work they had put.

Just like clockwork, the priestess whom we had all placed our lives on the line for, along with those others we rescued, interrupted the burgeoning argument, stating it ought be Elminster who makes the final decision, as it was his bidding whom they had all agreed to, whether actively or passively. Smirks and smiles rolled around the inn with half of the room, while the other half scowls and looked on with aggravation. None on either side expected Elminster - a known defender of justice - to actually be fair with the distribution of the booty, especially when some of the people whom took part were criminals themselves. The elven noble, distressed by such a statement, vouched heartily for Elminster's good name to be kept, and that all final judgments should be left for the time the archmage showed his true colors - whatever they might be. Until that time, the party sent by Elminster would guard the items... under watch by the noble and his friends themselves. This, of course, after the noble had made a count of ALL the items captured by the combined forces.

Let us say that I hate elves with a passion. Were it possible, I would have them all slain except for the dark elves of the Underdark. That being aired once more, I have to admit when I awoke and heard that news, I was shocked that an elf would even TRY to act fair on the behalf of my allies. That didn't mean I would not kill him if I could, just that it would be a very swift death. He had earned that.

My first real bath in days took place the day I woke up after the argument. To say I savored the experience does not truly capture the essence of my enjoyment. I, being brought up amidst squalor and filth as often as it could be arranged by some of my "trainers," did not leave that tub for a full hour. Every crevice, every nook, every cranny, every patch of skin I had was scoured repeatedly with the rough lye, and the powerful smell of it tickled my fancy like roast boar a starving barbarian. Drying myself off with a few towels, I made to unbraid and wash out my hair properly as well, for it was far past time for me to rework my long dreadlocks into a new configuration. Slowly and surely, did I begin to make myself look presentable for the first time in weeks, finally given time totally to myself. Extraneous whiskers found themselves shaved off and discarded, and even with a sadistic seizure that left me gasping for breath for minutes on end, was I pleased with my appearance.

Then my stomach woke up, and pain struck me anew.

Questioning the wisdom of not hanging myself, I made my way downstairs without assistance. We had spent a total of three days now within this inn, and this was the first time I could remember walking anywhere myself. No manacles on my wrists, no spells to restrict my powers, no guards watching my movements. I surmised the bootlickers of the archmage believed me too weakened to present a true threat to their health and mission.

I hated to admit it, but they were right.

Finding myself a quiet place in a corner of the inn, the innkeeper's youngest lad of seven summers came up to me and asked if I would like anything. Normally, a flippant comment would be forthcoming given my mood, but hunger and the child's honesty slew that bile-filled retort from ever happening. I simply asked for broth, as I felt it would all I could keep down. When asked why in that way small children must inquire about everything they do not understand, I told a soft tale to the child about how I was sick recently from eating badly cooked food, dropping the names of some of those whom I despised in the other group of people I was with as the culprits. He giggled incessantly, and ran off calling out for his mother to get him some broth to serve me.

Children: the hope of my future. I have not any. I will have none. I simply like them for some strange reason. To date, I have not figured out why toddlers and babies seem to have this affect on me, but I find them soothing, even wailing bairns who need changing and feeding. Some may think me soft for such sentiments, but those some I notice have a habit of not speaking up while I was in their presence. Makes one wonder what "soft" truly is. At least the young will tell you what is on their minds, even if it does not make any logical sense. I discovered this by having the boy as a constant companion throughout my two hours of eating three steaming bowls of meat-bone broth, with a little buttered bread on the side when I could safely ascertain I could consume it without releasing everything.

When the priestess came downstairs and saw that, her eyes brimmed with tears, as if she was so pleased she could cry. Fortunately for all concerned, she did not. However, I took that as an excuse to foist the eager young man's attentions on another, telling him that the well-dressed priestess over there which her elven brethren would be more than happy to tell him a story or three. Running off at a high speed, he harassed her in that pleasant way pre-adolescents may possess, leaving me to finish my final bowl of broth in peace and tranquility.

Maybe, or so I thought, this adventure might end on a positive note for me, given the fact the rain was finally letting up. Our provisions were restocked, the innkeeper was now a rich man from our stay, and drier conditions would allow us to move at an accelerated rate - without having to look at our backs all the time. Even the most negative of my comrades was predicting a faster trip to the new meeting site, as now we were fully rested and prepared for anything. I neglected to mention they were not ready for a planar war, but as those were more rare than tarrasques it did not matter that much.

The next day we were going to go back on the road, given the weather held up well enough for us to get moving. And as the priests were making more than their share of praying and sacrifices of gold or baked bread - depending on the independent faiths - I had a strong notion this would be the last time I saw this inn for a long while, if ever again. Leaving here would be no great loss to me, but to make sure the innkeeper was properly rewarded, I took note of this locale, and made a mental note to send a recruiter down this way to converse with the good people here. There is, of course, no laws against having an inn you could stay at for free.

When the day broke, the sun shone down upon the rain weary land, the rainbows cast a beautiful glow over the heavens, and our party - in its respective divisions - set out on the road again for the meeting place. As we left the inn, I was placed back in the wagon, due to my tremors which although less violent, were more often. The lesser of two evils, I guessed. At least I could read some of my notes and make new ones - if I had been allowed to keep my writing books or my inkwell. Alas, I was without such resources, so I made due with hypothesizing a few new spells.. and keeping up conversation with that priestess and a few other women from BOTH parties of adventurers whom had struck a blow to Zhentarim Keep. When the conversation invariably fell to men and their failings, I started thinking about that dagger to the throat again.

Some things, it seems, never change no matter what one wishes - without the power of a djinni behind it, that is. Here it was: I was trapped in a wagon with four to six women, all of them talking about a subject I really did not need to hear, with no avenue of escape available. So I did the only thing I could - feigned sleep until the lie became the truth, and did not awaken until the next day. All I can say is that the early morning is good for finding solace within yourself, as long as you are able to enjoy it without interruption. That I was able to do, even though all I could think of was the fact every day brought me closer to the archmage, and what could easily be my last day on this plane.

Not exactly the best way to begin a day, now is it?