Legends of Belariath


Air Purification IV

Zweihanders are made of metal

Phylacteries are made of clay

Bravery is made up of foolish acts

Which somehow saves the day.


Whispers among the common folk often become the stuff of legends, especially if it has a kernel of truth buried within it. Sometimes, those legends become real all under their own accord, as if Tymora wove herself into the tale, so the outcome would be as She would have it. Other times, legends are based on lies promoted by those whom need something to believe in, something beyond themselves and their limited abilities and experiences. Things like heroic dragons are legends. Hobgoblins chasing away thieves from a human holding, only to be slain in the attempt but giving the family a chance to escape - also a legend. Priests whom become the first of a long line of queens due to a badly cast metamorphing spell? Pure fiction.

Unfortunately for me, Elminster is all real.

Now, I have no clue if you have been following along closely enough or not. Truly, I care not either way for it is your flesh that shall be torn asunder if there was something in my tale that would save you from a hungry sphinx. Scoff now, if you wish, but THOSE are more real than Elminster, and far more aggressively dangerous if you decide to be flippant. Besides, those whom do not ask you a riddle are usually only interested in your gizzard, and not your supposed "good looks."

Do not ask how I know these things, just accept them. You would not ask Driz'zt Do'Urden if he knew how to hold a scimtar, now would you? And stop sniveling like a feebleminded ogre who has caught a cold. It is miserable to behold, and makes me want to kill things again. no more whimpering like a spanked piglet from you? Much better. I will continue now.

Our party of adventurers looked more like a caravan after we left the inn. Perhaps more like a pilgrimage, as we did not have THAT many wagons available to us, but we did have quite a few people - clearly over a solid twenty, not including myself or the former prisoners of the Zhentarim we were escorting. My tremors were beginning to take on a pattern: once in the morning, one around midday, and the final one close to the midnight hour, usually around when I was trying to sleep. The sheer aggravation it caused me was naught compared to dealing with that blasted sweet-tempered priestess almost constantly. She had taken my "appointment" as her sworn protector to heart, and was by my side on a regular basis. Severely hampered by disability and lack of spellcraft as I was, she was confident I would defend her until my death. Snickering abounded when my allies passed me being cordial with her. They knew my feeling about elves, as did she.


Before I continue about my journey to rendezvous with the archmage Elminster, perhaps I should give you some back history on why I hate him so much. It would be useful, considering my normal names for him would be in untranslatable hobgoblin or barely coherent ancient elven. They seem to have the best insults for one such as he. Then again, most of the best insults period are in hobgoblin. They have made an art form of it. Once more have I digressed from my main topic. I apologize... on second thought, I take that back.

Elminster the Sage. Wizard. Chosen of Mystra. Guardian of tomes so old they make him look like a young babe again. Savior of many. Defender of Faerun from dark and treacherous enemies. You'll note that all these comments about him make him sound like some sort of hero that standard heroes may only dream of becoming. I could go on with the various glorious and wonderful names and titles bestowed upon him throughout his lengthy lifespan. I have studied him for years - ever since I was allowed to study, in fact. It just seems, however, that many of the texts concerning him seem to be lacking.

As you see, they are missing Elminster the Shady Ass Bastard Who Decided That HIS People Were Too Important To Risk And So He Gets A Ringer From The Other Side To Do His Dirty Work For Him. They are also missing Elminster The Crotchety Old Goat Who Thinks He Is Mystra's Gift To All Mages. And they intentionally miss Elminster The Pipe Smoking Stank-Breathed Nuisance. See? A lot of things they are missing about Elminster the Sage. Not just the fact I do not like him, or his allies, or how he suckered me via applying for my personal assistance through my Liege Employer has anything to do with it.

Hey! Don't pass out on me from shock!

You honestly believe that everyone on the planet has a great love for Elminster? Think again, and think again HARD. I do not believe that all the forces inside of Faerun bear your great sorcerous savior the same adoration that you apparently have for him. You might want to consider all the places he has been where he has dueled others... and then just left without a single word. No offers to help rebuild, no consideration for the families whose crops might have been affected by an errant incantation.

And do not even START with your nonsense of "oh, he has other more important things to do." If anyone knows about "importance," it would be I. If one is so powerful, then they have a responsibility that comes with that power. Him, and many others like him, seem to believe they are above the needs of others. Much like yourself, it seems.

Obviously, you have never seen the results of a mage battle not done in a place reinforced by protective wards. Scorch marks on walls, countryside furrowed from earthquake scrolls, crop land eaten from blight spells. And then you have the nerve to say that those whom wield magic in the service of Good and Light are above owning up for their actions? Oh, so you are not trying that nonsense. That is good - you show wisdom already. Not enough to keep me from slamming a mailed gauntlet into your gaping maw if you speak foulness against those whom do you know not of, but more than enough to keep from me snapping your neck like a twig.


Now, where was I?

Oh yes, on the road to Elminster's current residence. I am being nursemaided by an elfmaiden, and my body was not fit enough to walk on its own for more than a few minutes still. At least I could remain conscious for the day, and my ability to sit up and read was not hampered. Now, if I had only been given something to -read-, life might not have been as torturous as it was for me in the back of that wagon. When you have a sense of impending doom circling around you like vultures eyeing a plump young antelope carcass, you would like to have a few distractions before you go and meet the headsman.

(At this point and time, I was certain that Elminster had set this all up so I couldn't even spit at his shoes without a bout of coughing up blood and bile. After all, it was not as if the old heel could take me in a physical fight without using a single invocation, right? Sure, I might be arrogant at times, but I know how to size up my enemies. If you do not believe me, believe my body count. Despite the myths, the rumours, the denials, and the outright cover-ups, you KNOW what I have done. If you did not, you would never have come to me asking me about this.)

I knew from the exhausting pace we were putting on two things were happening: we were gaining ground on time lost because of the rainstorms and attacks, and we were using magic to do it. Not to say I did not mind moving a lot faster than previously, but it did not help me any knowing I was not going to be close to fighting strength when dealing with Elminster. I prefer to be complete and competent when facing those whom I hate, especially when they CAN summon a fireball the size of a dragon's wingspan against you. I have seen it, twice. I was dutifully impressed, but still not cowed. After all, Elminster IS mortal, after all.

The minions of the ancient crustmuffin - I mean the companions of the Sage - guarded the perimeter of our traveling band, while those whom knew me well were in a tighter barrier around the wagons and horses - those whom were not riding already. Given the rise and set of the sun, we were heading north by northwest. That alone brought me a modicum of joy, as the colder the climate would get, the better would I feel. It was - is - a by-product of the "training" I had when I was... lesser. All you need know is that all I ever learned about elves I learned from my "teachings." This one priestess, however, was seeking to prove them all wrong - even the part about how elves always vouched themselves as superior. Her humility was touching... all the wrong places. She managed to evoke passions of rage from my sanity I could not have contemplated before. Still, did I remain idle in such adversity, as slaying her now went against the conditions of the contract, as well as my own personal morals.

Each day on the road proved to be a trail in itself. Despite the lack of flare-ups between the two groups, there was an underlying tone of mistrust and animosity between them. It didn't help that half of it was based on me and my condition at the time, either. I did what little I could to mind the tempers of my comrades and friends-in-blades, but not all the time can one be patient with a host of fools leading you into unknown territory. During the nights, as my strength improved (with various spells from the cleric I knew and a few other bits of spare sorcery lying around my allies had learned) I offered to do the cooking for my people. As they already knew my rather subtle talents with the ladle, they gladly handed me the keys to their stomachs. They were not disappointed. Oddly enough, the elven priestess we rescued as well as one of the elven nobles actively joined us at our fires, watching my skill of the rotisserie unfold. The fact they chose to join the local outcast society boded well for our cause.

For our cause in the sharing of the booty, but not for my life. That, I was certain of, was already forfeit. I had no false pretenses about my contract with Elminster. I had by this time taken out one of his so-called "Harpers" in a fair fight, and was up for charges in at least three city-states for similar crimes against "authority." And to think, I never killed anyone there. I was grievously insulted by the process, but I could not do anything about it, due to the my line of work and my own standards about dealing with others. Whenever one of the members of the archmage's flock of overcooked geese made their way towards me, I simply made the hand motion of "dead man walking." One got offended and tried to attack me, but was stopped by the drow.

(Have I told you I love having him as a friend? Smart, sharp, snappy dresser, good humoured... and a hero's heart underneath that midnight black skin of his. Considering what everyone thinks of the dark elven race, he is a rarity that shocked even me. We are almost total opposites in philosophy and intentions, but there are none whom I would rather have at my back in a swordfight - he never gets hit. (I know, because I have seen him fight.) His blades are like an extension of his charisma, of which he exudes. They whirl faster than my sentences in a verbal battle against a politician in high elven Imperial. His grace is such that it would inspire poetry - if any wrote some for a drow. Such pity few give him the chance he so obviously deserves. Oh well, at least he is not a killer at heart like some monsters I know... like me.)

At that moment, the two groups polarized, and all of them seemed ready to turn on each other as one mass, each protecting their chosen champion. Once more, that little elven damsel showed her pluck by standing in between them, and placing her gentle hands on both swords, told them they would be free to kill each other over her dead body, literally. Now, my friend the drow was going to back off, but he couldn't because she was holding his katana so tightly she would have cut herself had he moved. The other person - the paladin whom I keep referring to, as it turned out - was caught with her broadsword at the elfmaiden's back. This was not going to end cleanly, I was sure of it. Since it was proclaimed I was her sworn protector, I thought it best to do just that - protect her from herself.

That, as it became -very- clear to me, was going to be harder than it looked. And it started, of course, with getting out of the wagon.

As most of the people were all tense and looking at each other, it was relatively simple for me to go unnoticed out of the wagon. Simple to be unnoticed, but not simple to get out. I almost cracked my skull against the hard road when I fell out of it. Nothing like almost breaking your ribcage when moving from location to location to remind you of mortal frailties. (Not that I have -been- anything else, but still...) Getting up and dusting myself off, I was reminded by the gleam of sunsight in my face that my midday tremor had just recently passed, so I would be fine until dusk, at bare minimum. This was good, as my plan had to work perfectly the first time around or the priestess would perish needlessly. If she was going to die, I was going to kill her myself, so that would just not do. Walking towards the now primed cadres of adventurers, I announced myself in the loudest and most powerful voice I could that any whom dared to lay a finger on HER (that being the elven do-gooder priestess) -still had to go through me or suffer my wrath - whatever wrath I had left in my weakened body. A snort came from the ranks of the archmage's handpicked legion, someone whom believed that my boasts could not be backed up with brawn. I was almost certain they were right - UNTIL they opened their fool mouth.

Mouths were agape as I, with all my sweat-soaked and dirt-stained frame could muster, wedged and trod through the people whom were set against my best friend, reeled back a dark fist, and knocked that dumb ass fighter's fool mouth right into the back of his head. Sure, I broke ever single finger in my fist in the process, but as I did not have access to spells, it was worth the loss. The huge man's body went soaring head over heels only to land on his stomach, quite unconscious. (To keep track, he did not arise until the next evening. They kept him warm in a separate wagon from my own, fearing I would try to smother him in their sleep. That was a blatantly erroneous assumption - I would have strangled him.) My gaze must have borne some visage of my Liege Employer that day, for I have never commanded such fear in my life over those whom aligned themselves with Elminster. (It also helped the barbarian-sized man I had decked stood well over seven feet and had taken down an owlbear with no more than a few sticks in the presence of others. Did I tell you that I shattered my hand against his jaw?)

When the priestess gasped and ran over to me, she let go of the two blades, giving my drow companion the chance he needed to sheath his blades. His familiar, currently in the form of a drow herself. found herself holding him close, muttering in their language that he should never take such a risk again. The paladin herself had found herself confronted by the knight my people had befriended, and being berated for her mysterious lack of control and focus when around me. Between the familiar and the knight, there was no room for any others to get close to the severe tongue-lashing the original duelists were receiving for rash actions. I found myself agreeing with the pair of them silently, only to be cut-off mid-reverie by the elfmaiden, whom was FURIOUS with me getting out of the wagon and exhausting myself and getting into a fight with people and she had everything under control and...

You get the idea, I believe.

I was scolded and admonished for my brashness and inconsideration to my own physical health. With my breaths becoming harder to draw the longer I stood on my own two feet, there was naught I could do but nod my head and hold my tongue in blasphemous silence. A strange inspiration pimp slapped my chest when I got back into the wagon, and without fully thinking things through, I went with it. In a calm and studious voice, I explained to the good priestess that it -was- my occupation as told by the others to keep her safe under any and all possible circumstances. As well, I forged onward, if I did not ensure her survival to meet the archmage, there would have been no true reason for my having assisted in her retrieval from the foul hands of the Zhentarim to begin with. With those two things in mind, there was also the fact her course of action was distinctly suicidal and someone sooner or later would have come to extract her from it - I just happened to be the first to do such. Struck with the power of my logic, she was unnervingly quiet as the camps broke for the road and we started on our way once again.

For the time being, I was satisfied to not have to hear her voice for a few moments, as I was very fatigued from my efforts of not to long ago. My body, as it seemed, would need to get some proper exercise before I could be even partially competent again. With that in mind, I threw off the covers I had been placed under in order to once more leave the back of the wagon so I could stretch my legs again. What I was not expecting was a tear-stained elfmaiden to leap into my arms while I was still lying down, bawling her eyes out against my chest. To be honest, I was terrified when I first saw her move so quickly, but my reflexes were not fast enough to throw up even a partisan defense. Good thing I could not (well, good for HER in any case), as the priestess was blinded by tears of frustration and fear, sorrow and unbridled rage all intermingled with horror at her capture at the hands of the Zhentarim to begin with. Holding me in a vice-like grip, her soft form wriggled against mine as her salty tears ran down her delicate elven face in rivers. Sure, I might hate the elven race for many things, but I know delicate when I see it. Her face was scrunched in a caricature of itself, twisted almost beyond recognition such was the maelstrom of negative emotion ravaging her internal landscape. I had suffered such torment and anguish before, but I doubt she had. For a change, I actually felt sorry for her.

Now, under normal circumstances, my normal way of solving such an issue would be a quick and savage thrust of cold steel between the ribs and into the heart, slaying her instantly. This, however, was so plainly not an average day the thought merely brushed my conscience once and dissipated. All I knew to do was to treat her like I would a lost and frightened child - I drew the covers back over me, and let her weep and sob until she stopped - which was how I found myself with an elf resting against my chest in slumber for the first time in seven years, but this time I had no opened lash or cane marks upon my back or sides to give her something viscous and salty to lick when she needed something to satiate her lusts. The little damsel of pointed ears and hated heritage would have never dreamed such people existed before the events of a few weeks ago when she was kidnapped and beaten savagely by her assailants.

It is people like them I kill for free. There is no need for them to take up valuable space that would be better applied to water oxen or mosquitoes. Besides, the wolves DO need to eat.

With her hair like a halo around her head, the elfmaiden's tender sighs of slumber echoed in my ear like the sounds of a tunnel collapsing in the Underdark. My eyes refused to close, and my hands found themselves stroking her back in a soothing manner, almost challenging her body to awaken under my ministrations. I may be a monster, but I will be damned and made high elven before I go back on my word to keep someone safe - even if it may be from their own nightmares. Not a peep came from her the entire night, and my tremors did not come to me that night either. The cleric and a few of my other allies, along with a ranger and a bard from the lists of Elminster's miniature phalanx came into check on her, especially as she did not come for dinner - as I did not either. (Food was not more important to me than seeing her rest peacefully.) With the sylvan elf's ceremonial and functional dagger, did I address every single one of them calmly and quietly, making sure they all knew harassing the priestess was quite off-limits.

Even the dark elf went away with a smirk on his face. Damnation, there went my reputation simply because I was doing my job. Oh well, it was not as if that truly mattered to me at that point. Two more days, and I was not going to have any reputation but one of human to ashes, for Elminster's site for audience was almost upon us. My own sleep did not come to the next day, as I remained alert all that eve to ensure her health was not as fragile as her mind state. The principle of it, as always, was that as her protector I had to make sure she was fast asleep and not slipping into an endless slumber which she could not be woken from. Twice in the night, she ground her body against mine in a way others would find sensual and kissed my cheek, muttering in the common elven tongue something about a favoured blanket of her youth. I could not believe I had fallen so low: from feared sorcerer to comfort fabric.

Dealing with Elminster was going to be a snap in this case. I would die of embarrassment long before he could get his hands on me.