Stepping Into The Shadows

The morning, as Meliantha expected, brought more questions than answers.

As far as anyone could tell, Caelar Terathian was precisely as he appeared: a member of the secret intelligence apparatus of the Zhentarim, a follower of Bane, and an emissary looking for allies to stop Cyricists from awakening one of the more terrible non-divine threats the area had ever known.

All of that she considered, soaking in the hot spring below the keep. This was something of a secret as well – that this hot spring even existed. It explained why a small town like this even had a noble presence – this was rare enough outside of a place like Neverwinter.

She looked down at herself in the water, and frowned.  Since Arabel, she’d felt herself changing, and in the hot water, it had become more obvious.

“Where was this development when I was four and ten?” she asked. Indeed, for no reason, she had suddenly blossomed – her body was still hard with muscle, but her hips had widened a bit and she’d developed breasts – not huge, but more than she had. No longer would anyone make the joke about her being “flat as the plains”. Even so, she still considered her face horrific, and made a note to get something supporting, and possibly hiding them.

She rose from the spring, clean and with muscles feeling no fatigue, bracing herself on the edge of the spring’s channel, and the door opened. One of the retainers gaped at seeing her, naked, and she, equally surprised, covered her breasts with one arm. The other, moving without her conscious thought, searched for something to throw, but the door closed most of the way before she could.

His voice came through the door: “The Count would like to see you when you’re ready, ma’am.”

“Next time knock first,” she replied acidly, then followed up with “Tell him I will be there shortly. Do not describe in detail.”

Her hair dried, and dressed in the uniform that Loran had arranged for her, the pendant around her neck and visible, Chainbreaker on her back, she entered the Count’s study. His new seneschal, his wife and the captain of the guards looked up. All four smirked slightly, but withered as she regarded them darkly.

“What do you need, my lord?” she finally asked, breaking the tense silence.

“Um, er, yes. The Zhentish agent. What do we do with him? The report says he’s come covertly looking for assistance. Do you believe him?”

Meliantha thought for a moment. “Believe, yes. Trust? Not one bit. But if he’s telling the truth – and all the divinations we’ve had done say he is – then we can’t ignore the possible threat.”

The door opened again, admitting one more person: Kaldargahast, the War Wizard assigned to the keep. “Pardon, pardon,” the small, officious man said closing the door after making sure his finely-tailored robe wasn’t going to be caught in it, “just sending my report to Suzail. I’m waiting on the reply.”

Meliantha had done the same the night before – one of the powers of her pendant was to send short messages to someone she knew – but he probably had better ways of sending it. “You’ve used your spells on him, what do you think about our visitor?”

The War Wizard sniffed. “I don’t think he’s lying, but he may neither know nor be telling the entire truth. I can compel him to not lie, but not to tell everything – that requires more powerful magic than I have. I asked him if he was not telling anything about this situation, and he replied, “I have told you everything I know about the Cyricist threat.” Which, as I said, does not mean he doesn’t know about other threats.” Kaldargahast shrugged. “I do believe it’s up to the Gold Dragon here.” Then he got a faraway look, holding up one hand in the ‘wait a moment’ gesture the War Wizards used.

“And there’s my reply. Which was, effectively, that it’s up to you, Gold Dragon.”

“Well, then. I believe I will depart and take him with me. Alone,” she said, and then, louder, over the set of complaints, “to ensure that no one else is vulnerable to him.” They quieted, and listened. “He may not be a priest, but he’s exceptionally convincing, and I would prefer that as few people listen to him as possible. I don’t want him convincing someone to the faith of Bane through what seems to be reasoned conversation.”

The door to the cell opened, and Caelar Terathian looked up. “Ah!” he said, apparently delighted, “my dusky lady! Have you come to debate me, or is there good news in the offing?”

Meliantha, back in her travelling gear, walked in, dropping his backpack and clothes on the floor. “Good news. We’re leaving. You and me. I’m going to be investigating this with you.”

His smile widened. “Oh, most excellent, my lady! I assure you, I will be the soul of courtesy.” He rummaged in the pack. “I do appear to lack any way to defend myself.”

“Your weapons will be returned once we’re out of town. The Count required that as a condition of your release.”

He bowed, no mockery in his attitude. “I am most gratified.”  He pulled on his tunic and pants, then strapped on the boiled leather over it. Boots, gloves, a sword belt and a jaunty hat completed his ensemble, and he rose.

“Yours to command.”

“We will see,” she replied, and led him out of the cell.

Once past the town’s edge, she handed over the slender rapier and main-gauche they had found in his room. “As I said,” she informed him.

“Indeed,” he replied, placing them just so on his belt. “And now we go forwards! Is it not a glorious day? I awoke imprisoned, and now am a free man on an adventure with an exotic lady, going to save the Heartlands from madmen! I can’t wait!” Whistling, he headed down the road, then turned to look at her.

“Shall we? We’re travelling to the Vast Swamp, and time may not be our friend!”

Shaking her head, Meliantha moved to walk beside him. It would be a few days to the Vast Swamp, and she wasn’t sure how much she’d appreciate her new companion by the time they arrived.

Posted by Meliantha Demonblood

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