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Mar. 3rd, 2010

Tordrin

1 Eleasis 1372 - Late Afternoon

"I won't say I told you so." Thralia and I hadn't had a chance to have a real conversation, privately, since the arrest at the Midsummer Festival. I almost wished it had stayed that way.

"Funny, seems to me you just did." I waved her in from where she stood in my doorway, and we sat at my table.

"Someday, she'll understand that you saved her skin," she said. It was the closest she would come to trying to comfort me.

"I was rather hoping she'd understand now." I leaned my elbow on the table, propping my chin in my hand.

"She's young, Tordrin; you know that. We talked about that."

"Not that much younger than you were when I recruited you for the Harpers," I pointed out. I got up to get a wineskin that I'd purchased at the Festival. I'd meant to share it with Ralenthra.

Thralia rolled her eyes. "That's different."

"Oh? Do tell," I said as I poured Thralia a cup of wine.

"I was graduating from college. I had a normal life, a normal upbringing, a real education; I was ready. You said yourself to Eaerlraun that her situation was 'delicate.' At the age most elves--even most drow--are finding themselves and figuring out what they want from life, she was busy finding food and figuring out how to dodge driders. And yes, the fact that she survived at all is admirable, even remarkable, but emotionally? She is in a very different place from you or I or almost any other elf at her age. She wasn't ready for you." Thralia thumped her cup on the table to emphasize her last words.

"I was getting through to her, Thralia. She was starting to trust me."

"Please. You were pushing her; considering your Harper skills combined with your natural charms, I'm impressed she held out as long as she did. Not many would."

I shook my head. "If it weren't for this debacle, we would've been fine. I would've earned her complete trust, and sooner rather than later."

"Well, there's nothing we can do now, save wait for them to return. Maybe she'll come back with a clearer head. Maybe Seledra can talk some sense into her. That girl's about the only creature that's got any kind of hold on May--I mean, Ralenthra. It is Ralenthra, right? I can't keep track without a scorecard anymore." I glared at Thralia for a moment. "Well, am I wrong?"

I sighed and went on. "Listen, Thralia. I think I need to clear my own head, as well."

"You . . . you're not thinking of going after them, are you? You can't do that!" Thralia was alarmed.

"No," I said. "I'm just going down to Baldur's Gate."

"Ah," Thralia said, more calmly. "When will you request leave?"

"I asked Eaerlraun this morning, and he's approved a week's leave. I'll probably be back sooner, though. I also spoke to Jasper about my absence. He grumbled a bit, but he said you were the bigger draw, anyway."

"I see." Thralia has a way of clipping her words when she was irritated. Folding her arms over her chest was another good sign. She resented that I'd made the arrangements before talking to her, but I doubted she'd fight me, after everything that had just happened. "Will you take Venye with you?"

"No, this is personal travel; I won't need him, and I'm sure you'll be able to keep him busy here."

"There's something you're not telling me." Thralia narrowed her eyes at me.

I smiled. "I can't put anything past you, can I? There's no reason not to tell you, though. I'm thinking of going to Evereska. But that will have to be a longer trip, and Eaerlraun might be more reluctant to approve it. I need to make some preparations and get in touch with some people first."

Thralia looked surprised for a moment, and then nodded. "I'd almost forgotten, with all that's been going on lately."

"It wasn't appropriate to leave the team while we were still in the field, but since we'll be based in Silverymoon indefinitely, I figure it's as good a time as any. And I can't put it off too much longer if I want to have any hope of finding my parents and brothers alive."

"Of course. So then, when do you leave for Baldur's Gate?"

"Tomorrow, first thing. I'm already partly packed." I gestured to my bag in the corner. "I've hired a local wizard to cast a portal for me, so I don't have to spend half my leave on the road."

We talked a little further; we needed to discuss how to handle Harper business--and what changes to make in Sun and Moon's repertoire--during my absence, brief though it would be. And we discussed a potential timeline for my trip to Evereska, provided Eaerlraun would approve a longer sabbatical. When we were just about finished, Meree knocked on the door to let us know it was time to get ready for the evening's performance.
Tordrin

Midsummer 1372 - Evening

"All right Agent Windweaver. Tell me what you know." I'd known Nim Tagen for several years. He was usually more pleasant than this.

"Captain, I'm sure there's been a mistake. If you'd only let us investigate, I'm sure we'll find that it's some sort of plant . . ."

"I'm not in the mood for your games, Harper! Nor will I give you time to manipulate the evidence to clear your little drow whore. Perhaps your infatuation has clouded your judgment, but let me assure you that we do consider her a serious threat to Silverymoon's security. As you should already be aware, we can execute her merely for having stolen the Lauthaul token. If we choose not to, the best fate in store for her is life imprisonment. Now, whether or not she, or her accomplice, the druid, ever see the light of day again may depend on you, Agent Windweaver. Do you understand?"

I took a deep breath. Both girls were counting on me, and they didn't even know it. "Yes, Captain Tagen."

"Now, Agent Ma'frejya has already informed us that the girl comes from Menzoberranzan and operates under three primary aliases: Corael Sh'aneth, Dhavra Drii Upoth, and Mayurra Aerynrae. Is this correct?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Now, can you tell me what is the girl's real name?"

It was a delicate situation, but I had to keep my promise to her. "To the best of my knowledge, it is Mayurra Aerynrae, sir."

Tagen looked away for a moment. "I was hoping I'd convinced you not to lie, Agent Windweaver." He looked back back at me grimly. "Do you think you people have a monopoly on information? We know that this girl is wanted in the Underdark for crimes ranging from petty theft to treason. We know that during her time in the Underdark, she participated in surface raids with a band of mercenaries, which would have been grounds to deny her entry to the city, had the Nailo girl not vouched for her under false pretenses--and I'm sure I don't need to remind you what sort of penalty Miss Nailo can expect for that. We know that she is an associate of Nimos Talerlir, head of the thieves' guild in Everlund. And we also know that she apparently appeared out of nowhere in Menzoberranzan a little over ten years ago, and none of her known associates really know who she is. Personally, I'm for gift-wrapping the girl and sending her back to any of the various groups that have posted wanted notices for her, but unfortunately, I have to wait for approval from my superiors." The captain stood and leaned forward with his hands on the table. "Now, give me a damn good reason not to put her in chains right now and throw her in our deepest dungeon."

I swallowed hard, but I tried not to show any emotion. Ralenthra would be so angry, but they already knew anything I could've have told them to deflect them from her full story, and they were ready to lock her away for it. Her fate might--almost certainly would--be better if they knew the truth. I looked Captain Tagen in the eye, and hoped Ralenthra would understand why I had to do this.

"Her name is Ralenthra Ilphukiir. She is a surface drow, a fugitive from Cormanthor."

"That's a start. Why is she a fugitive? If her own people want her dead, why should we harbor her?"

"She's an Eilistraeean, and she is the only known survivor of a large-scale attack on an Eilistraeean enclave there."

"Lucky girl." Tagen sneered, but sat down again.

"Well, we believe there may be other Eilistraee followers still in the area, who simply weren't present at the ritual that was attacked, but none of them have communicated with the clergy at the Promenade."

"I see. And when was this purported attack?"

"Twelve years ago."

"What a coincidence. And the girl told you this?"

"Yes, but I verified it independently. I have documentation available," I said, resigned.

"Very good. Please have all relevant documents sent to me within the hour. I thank you for your cooperation, Agent Windweaver. You may go." Tagen opened the door for me. How polite.

"Captain." I nodded curtly as I exited.

Apr. 17th, 2009

Venye

Midsummer (Venye Talaviir)

The Dancing Goat

Breakfast at the Dancing Goat was of the usual high quality: runny eggs, a tomato wedge, and a boiled slip of ham. The company was better, as I dined with Miri and Falco. The latter had thoughtfully picked up some fresh melons to supplement the fare, and was casually cutting them into bite-sized portions for the three of us with his dagger.

"I haven't seen you much lately," remarked Miri.

"Eaerlraun's been having him run across town for Sharindlar knows what," said Falco. "But as usual, it's all very secretive, so he can't tell us about it, right?"

"Right," I sawed at a limp piece of pork. "So what have I been missing?"

"Food!" declared Falco. "Wonderful food!"

"This?" I held up the flopping slice of meat with my fork. "We've had better."

"Of course we've had better, you daft coal elf! I mean outside the walls of this er…fine establishment," he finished, catching sight of the proprietor. "Tell me," Falco lowered his voice, "have you ever had a cream horn? They're divine. A wonderful bakery in the market district sells them; tell him, Miri!"

"Oh yes," my sister said. "You have to try them. That cream filling is absolutely magical!"

"You'll have to take me there. But first, tell me how you've been keeping in my absence. Not up to too much trouble, I trust?"

"Of course not, "Miri bit her lower lip. "I've just been helping Tordrin with--" She cut short.

I glanced around in case someone had stepped within earshot. "Helping Tordrin with what?"

"I can't say. I promised him. It's all very…secretive. But it's not bad, I promise," she said, the last words rushed.

"We believe you, lass. But for Sun and Moon's sake, it's better that we leave the secret business to your brother, eh?" Falco wrapped his arm affectionately around my shoulder. "You best leave that to the professionals, isn't that right, love?"

"Yes," I nodded, and I thought of Eaerlraun's plan. "Quite right."

********************************

The Festival Grounds, Silverymoon

Festivals pulse with opportunity. For the innocent, the opportunity to experience thrills and excitement in a relatively safe environment. For the not-so-innocent, the opportunity to take advantage of the first group. I wasn't sure which of these groups Tordrin belonged to today, but I figured he was my best opportunity to begin carrying out Eaerlraun's instructions.

"So you don't want the tokens?" I had asked after returning from the Shining Scroll.

"No. Nor the scepter replica," the High Harper of the Silver Marches answered.

"It's a fake?"

"It is, unfortunately. You can tell from its lackluster aura, as well as the visible molding by the handle."

"And the Lauthaul tokens? Are they also--"

"They are distressingly real. They and the actual scepter went missing from the palace earlier this week."

"A scepter bearing Alustriel's seal, a replica of the scepter, and missing Lauthaul tokens. Something significant is underway…"

"Yes," nodded Eaerlraun. "We'll be making inquiries soon enough."

I knew what that meant. More nights on patrol. Away from Falco.

Eaerlraun caught my look. "Don't fret, Venye. I know we're thin on resources. Fortunately, this business with the scepter provides us with an excellent opportunity to test our new recruits."

I cleared my throat. "We have new recruits? Does Miss Thralia know? When did they join?"

"No, she doesn't. And neither do they, for that matter."

I wasn’t quite certain how to answer that.

The Lord of Moongleam Tower leaned forward. "Here's what I want you to do…"

Sun and Moon performed on a newly constructed stage to an audience of happy festival-goers, but for one exception. Tordrin, who had gained leave from Miss Thralia to skip the early performance, paced an anxious line in the ground at the periphery of the audience, looking outward. Periodically he would scan the crowd hopefully, then resume his pacing. Finally, he took his leave, striding deeper into the fairgrounds. I followed, gambling that he might lead me to my quarry.

My instincts proved right. When he reached the main thoroughfare, Tordrin straightened like a hunting dog. With a deliberate effort, he assumed a casual pose, leaning against a nearby announcement board. When it began to sag, he started, then quickly adjusted his collar and hair, wincing a little when the sign collapsed behind him.

The sound caused more than a few passersby to notice him, including Mayurra, who was garbed in an eye-catching lavender dress. She hurried to him, smiling. He leaned in, taking her hand, and whispered something to her. Something flattering, judging by her reaction.

And he had reason to be flattering. The kinswoman's outfit emphasized her figure, accentuating the curves of her rump in a way I wouldn’t have expected from one trying to keep a low profile. Had she gained weight recently? Then I recognized the art and the lie in the tailoring. A pocket! Had to be.

Tordrin produced a bundle, handing it to her. As she opened it, others in the crowd gawked at the unusual pairing of moon elf and drow. I drew my hood closer, closing to within a troll's length of them. I would have to adopt a more thorough disguise when I could find a concealed spot.

The thought had just crossed my mind when Tordrin spotted me. Irritated, he stepped between Mayurra and me so as to shield the message he signaled in Drow Sign: "You don't know us." Then, turning so the kinswoman could see, he motioned me over.
Thinking fast, I bent as if to knot my boot lace, hood covering my features. I reached for the wand in my cloak pocket and triggered a quick disguise, that of a young half-elf.

I scampered toward them, praying no one had spotted the change in pigmentation. "Yes, m'lord?"

"Find a courier, if you would, please, and have this sent to Mayurra's address," Tordrin ordered. "Then go tell Thralia that I'll be back in about half an hour." He dismissed me with a look that clearly told me to stay out of his business.

I nodded assent and ran off.

But not before lightly dropping a Lauthaul token into the crevice of his companion's clever bustle.

The previous night, I had asked Eaerlraun, "But is it wise to implicate good people?"

"They shall come to no harm," he assured me.

Reminding myself that Miri and I owed Eaerlraun our lives and that he repaid our trust many times over, I placed Tordrin's parcel in my pack and began searching for the flame-haired and hotter-tempered druid, Seledra Nailo.

I spotted her hair, as well as the rest of her, outside a Calishite restaurant, where a large line of customers massed in front. Getting past them required cutting through with a mixture of forcefulness and politeness. She slowed down, pausing to listen to the halfling cook ("Do you know Tomi from Neverwinter? Old mate of mine…"). I slipped behind her as she cut through the crowd of customers. When one of them inadvertently jostled her, I dropped a token into her purse.

Two down.

The half-orc Kronk was even easier. The stumblefoot was engaged in a loud competition with a shield dwarf by the benches in front of a pub's stand.

"Ye seriously think that ye can outdrink a dwarf?" slurred his companion. "Am I right or am I right?" he called to his supportive friends around him. They cheered, and he nodded in self-satisfaction, nodding so deeply that his head fell forward onto the table before him.

When he did not arise, Kronk raised his arms in victory and let out a powerful battle roar that clinked the discarded ale mugs around him. He looked as if he were about to say something, then he tumbled onto the ground beside the dwarf, where he joined his snores with his own.

A halfling darted toward them, reaching for Kronk's pockets.

"Halt!" I stepped forward, still in my half-elf guise. "Leave his coin alone." The thief skittered into the crowd, and I grunted in exertion as I tried to lift Kronk into a sitting position. When that didn't work, I tried hooking my hands beneath his arms from behind, granting me access to his pack without anyone noticing. From there it was easy to place the token and the fake scepter within. I pretended to struggle some more, then carefully laid the half-orc so that no one could reach his pack without disturbing (and hopefully waking) him.

I paid the barkeeper some coin for the trouble and left in search of my final target.

"It's all coming together," Eaerlraun had said, steepling his fingers. "They show great promise as a field team."

"Miss Thralia and Tordrin won't like your decision," I noted.

"They don't have to. Nevertheless, these dealings shall remain our secret, Venye. Are you comfortable with that?"

I bowed. "You know you can rely on me, sir."

"I know I can, old friend. That's why I've entrusted you with this. Now lastly, this 'team' could use some magical support. I've been studying the local talent, and I've found a promising candidate: a young human wizard, excellent grades at the Lady's College, flashes of brilliance according to his instructors, and well-regarded by the Spellguard."

"How shall I find him? There is no lack of human mages in Silverymoon who attend the Lady's College."

Eaerlraun smiled. "Not in the possession of a silver ferret as a companion."

Mar. 6th, 2009

Miri

30 Flamerule 1372

I had just finished dressing for the day when there came a knock at my door. It was Tordrin, wearing the same clothes I'd seen him in the night before.

"Good morning, Tordrin. I trust you spent . . . an enjoyable night, if not a restful one."

"Indeed I did, friend Miri," he said excitedly.

"And what is it brings you to my door before you even change your clothes?" I asked as I invited him in.

"Ah, I wanted to ask you if Thralia has given you any assignments for today, after rehearsal."

"I have a few things to work on, but nothing of high priority. I take you have something in mind?" We sat down at the small table in my room.

"Yes, I would like you to get in touch with whoever's handling the archives now at the Promenade."

I raised an eyebrow. "An interesting request. What are you looking for?"

"Everything they have on the Cormanthor enclave."

My jaw dropped. "Cormanthor? You really think that girl is the survivor, do you?" He and I had talked about the "Cormanthor survivor" before. He was quite obsessed with her, while the rest of us had long since moved on. It was a terrible tragedy, that we all still mourned, but there was only one vision of a survivor, and no one had much hope that she would still be discovered. Tordrin, however, felt a strong sense of personal responsibility with regard to the Cormanthor group, having been there for its founding. He had first told about me his theory a few days ago, at the wedding in Amalith, that the drow girl, Mayurra, was from Cormanthor.

Yet he would not answer my question. "I just want to look into a few things, that is all," was his reply.

"Well, there's going to be a lot to go through. Do you want them to send the scrolls here, or do you just want an overview?"

"Hmm, a courier will take a long time. I think I do want to have copies of the records sent here, so I can go over them thoroughly at a later time, but for now, ask them to look for anything that mentions the name 'Ilphukiir,' and just give me a report." I looked at him in disbelief yet again. "Just trust me, Miri."

"Of course. I'll see what I can do." Tordrin got up to leave.

"And Miri," he said from the doorway, "this is just between us, aye?"

"Certainly."

After he left, I got out the mirror I used to contact the Promenade. I gave my request to an acolyte, and made an appointment for later to speak with the archivist via the mirror and receive her findings.

***

It was late before I had a chance to speak with Tordrin alone again. He was not spending this night with Mayurra, and returned to the inn shortly before midnight, just in time to join me in prayer, as he did upon occasion. Afterward, I told him what I'd learned.

"There was a great deal of correspondence between the Promenade and a woman called Vasiira Ilphukiir. She was not part of the initial group, but she became quite prominent in the latter years of the enclave, and seems to have been the primary recruiter among the Auskovyn clan. Most of the correspondence we have consists of recruiting reports." I was pleased to see a look of surprise on Tordrin's face. There's nothing quite so satisfying as giving him or Thralia information they didn't expect.

"I must have met the woman," he said, shaking his head. "I'm surprised at myself, that I don't remember. Was there more?"

"Yes, Vasiira wrote occasionally of a niece she thought was a potential recruit for the group. She does not name the niece in her letters, but starting about ten years before the attack, the membership rolls include the name Ralenthra Ilphukiir." Tordrin smiled. I had apparently gotten to what he wanted to hear. "I took the liberty of doing some further research from other sources," I continued, "because of the similarity of name between these two and that of the Vhaeraunian cleric who led the raid."

"I would expect nothing less. Go on."

"Vilryn Ilphukiir of the Auskovyn did, indeed, have a sister named Vasiira and a daughter named Ralenthra. Vasiira is reported killed as a traitor at about the time of the raid. Since she is known to us as a cleric of Eilistraee, we can assume that she was taken down during the attack."

"And the daughter?"

"Reported missing about twelve years ago, again, dating from the time of the raid. Believed to be still at large, and there is a standing reward for her capture, or any information as to her whereabouts. Vilryn Ilphukiir has publicly disowned her. She, too, is accused of treachery to the clan. Here's a copy of the notice."

"Very good, Miri." Tordrin said, as he rose to leave. "Good work, indeed. Thank you."

"You're quite welcome."

I knew better than to ask what he wanted the information for. If he thought I needed to know, he'd tell me. But I had a good idea. The wanted notice, after all, included a description.

Jan. 18th, 2009

Jaden

26 Flamerule 1372 (Moon Phase: Waxing)

She sleeps beside me, caressing my skin like a cool, sweet breeze. What a lucky man am I! This princess, this angel, deigning to spend these precious moments in my arms...it boggles my mind to think of how I could possibly begin to deserve her. I will never forget the first time I saw her...

Calimport. 1369. It was summertime. Sun and Moon had recently arrived during their tour of the Sword Coast and Meree and I, both being sorcerers, decided to explore the Caravan Ward to look for some magical talismans to buy there. It was night but Selune's light was hidden from us and I was feeling a little melancholy when I heard the chants of priestesses as they entered the ward. Carrying candles that no wind could put out, they made their procession, two by two and my angel was the last in line in her row, but the first in loveliness. It was the first time I'd ever seen an air genasi - I thought she was perhaps an aasimar - and it was Meree who saved me from the later embarassment of asking if she was an angel by telling me what she was and saying something about being hit by a thunderbolt. I later wrote a song about it that became our first big hit.

I let her go on her way, though she paused to look in my direction before passing me by. I accompanied Meree to the marketplace in a dreamlike state. The air, filled with spices and the scent of hookah smoke only added to the feeling of intoxication I was experiencing. My only purchase at the bazaar was a lovely silver amulet set with a large, flawless white pearl that I still have yet to give her. That night, I dreamed of a blue angel peering through my window as I slept. The next day, Meree went alone to the temple of Shaundakul to recruit her and Ariadne, sensing a shift in the wind's direction, agreed to join Sun & Moon and undergo training as a Harper.

I was so nervous and shy that I didn't have the courage to speak to her for a full week, not until I approached her with a song I'd written for her lovely descant soprano voice in mind. Our relationship had remained purely businesslike for the three years since then until she came to me just this night, saying she sensed a change of direction in the wind.

May all the world stand still, if only just to prolong these moments of bliss.

Jan. 11th, 2009

Venye

26 Flamerule

location: Dancing Goat Tavern, Silverymoon

Sun and Moon were finishing their rehearsal when one of the serving staff, a surly human male named Guff, approached Miss Thralia.

"Man in 215 wants to see you."

She raised an eyebrow. "Me, or the whole group? We're rather busy at the moment—"

He shrugged. " 'ow should I know? 'e says ta give a message to the blonde elf singin' downstairs. Somethin' about 'ow 'e loved yer 'arp solo the other night."

Miss Thralia and Tordrin exchanged glances. "Did you say 'harp solo'?"

Guff snorted. "Those ears of yours purely decorative, eh? 'At's what 'e said. 'E loved yer 'arp solo."

"Thank you," she said, handing him a coin.

He bit the coin and nodded, shuffling off.

"That should do it for tonight, everyone," she said. "We'll reconvene at supper."

Tordrin put his mandolin down and joined Miss Thralia as she lowered herself off the lip of the stage. She made eye contact with me as they approached.

I nodded and took a rearguard position behind the two as they walked past. The body language of my field leaders was alert but not alarmed—no immediate threat. Nevertheless, old habit compelled me to scan the room for anything amiss: the band members were putting away their instruments and a lone barmaid swept the floor in anticipation of the evening crowd. Falco caught my sweep and shot me a questioning look; I winked at him; he worries too much about me as it is.

Miss Thralia and Tordrin led the way up onto the tavern’s second floor. The hallway was narrow; the walls were thin. The Dancing Goat’s clientele, present company excepted of course, didn’t seem the discriminating sort. The sound of heavy snoring rumbled through one of the closed doors. Another door barely muffled the intimate cries of a couple. I’d have to warn Falco about the walls here.

We stopped in front of room 215. Thralia knocked: two distinct measured raps that probably couldn’t be heard one room over, especially with the fun that couple was having.

“Enter,” a commanding male voice answered. Beneath the reply, I also heard something else: the song a sword sings as it unsheathes.

I grabbed Miss Thralia’s shoulder. She smiled back reassuringly. Nevertheless, she opened the door with unusual deliberation before stepping in. Tordrin followed, and I took the rear, making sure to close the door behind me just as deliberately.

“It is wonderful to see you,” said our host.

“What a pleasant surprise,” replied Miss Thralia. “We didn’t know you were in town.”

“But it is always good to see you,” Tordrin added.

“Come now,” said Moonlord Eaerlraun Shadowlyn, half-elven ranger, Lord of Moongleam Tower, and High Harper of the Silver Marches, returning his swords to their sheaths. “There is no need for formality between friends. Have a seat, all of you. Venye,” he turned to me. “Don’t skulk back there. It gladdens my heart to see you again. I trust Miri is well?”

I dropped to one knee, lowering my head. “Master Shadowlyn. Miri is most well. Thank you for your concern. We have not forgotten your kindness to us.”

Eaerlraun came near and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Think nothing of it. Having you here with us, working for a purpose, is more than enough thanks.”

He turned and resumed his seat at a small circular table set up in the room. “Now then. I understand that you’ve had an eventful trip.”

Miss Thralia nodded and told him of the happenings in Everlund, Olostin’s Hold, and Amalith. She omitted some of the more extracurricular details involving her interactions with the half-orc and Tordrin’s interest in the wee kinswoman, but emphasized their contributions at Olostin’s Hold, as well as the capabilities of the red-headed spitfire and her two cousins. (Eaerlraun seemed particularly interested in the latter, but dropped the subject when Tordrin mentioned they were studying under someone named Drogan at Hilltop, at which point the ranger grunted, “Eh, well there’s no purpose fishing in that lake.”)

When Miss Thralia mentioned Barundar’s death at Olostin’s Hold, Eaerlraun tut-tutted and when she told of Teaghen’s betrayal at Amalith he nodded grimly, “Unfortunate.”

After she finished speaking, he questioned us until he knew the events as well as we did. Then the Moonlord leaned back in his chair, steepling his hands together.

“The loss of Harper manpower troubles me,” he said. “We’re stretched too thinly across the Marches as it is; we can’t afford to lose agents.”

Tordrin nodded. “I agree.”

“I want you to focus more on recruiting in the coming months. Start with these three you mentioned: Kronk, Mayurra, and Seledra.”

Miss Thralia stiffened in her seat; Tordrin spoke immediately. “Sir, they’re intriguing candidates but they’re nowhere near ready to join us, especially at an emotional level. Mayuura’s position here is tenuous at best, and should she be pressed I fear she’ll flee the Marches in search of more anonymous haunts. Her situation is delicate and requires a gentle handling.” I suppressed the urge to snicker; fortunately, Eaerlraun’s attention was not on me.

“And Kronk,” added Miss Thralia, “has shown very little if any inclination toward serving our interests (again, the suppressed snicker on my part). While he has proven to be most capable, he has…questionable associates and a history of troublesome encounters.”

“Oh, you mean like Venye here?” asked Eaerlraun with a smile. “Or half your present company?”

Miss Thralia flushed slightly. “Your point is well taken, but at present we don’t even know where Kronk is. I must concur with Tordrin: neither Mayurra nor Kronk are currently ready to join us.”

Our superior nodded at this, as if in acknowledgement, but I knew from past experience that such objections wouldn’t sway him if he had his heart set on something.

“And what about the druid? Is she also unready to heed our call?”

Miss Thralia hesitated. “She may be ready, but her situation is complicated by a couple of factors.”

He nodded for her to continue.

“She works at present for Silverymoon’s civil service as a city druid.”

“A position not incompatible with our aims,” observed Eaerlraun.

“This is true, but her loyalties to Silverymoon and, and its…first son may supersede any interest she may have with us.”

“I see,” he said. “Lord Methrammar has taken an interest in her, then?”

Miss Thralia spoke slowly, “While I am not certain, I believe this to be so. They were quite frequently in each other’s company at Amalith.”

“Hmm,” he said. “Thank you for your report. All of you. I am pleased with your work and hope for your continued success. Keep an eye out for potential recruits. Is there anything further to discuss?”

Tordrin said, “I don’t believe so. Thralia?”

“No, I think that covers it.”

“Very good then,” said the ranger. “I’ll most likely speak to you again later in the week. I’m not in town long, but there is some business I must attend to.”

We stood to make our way to the door.

“And Venye?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Stay a little. I want to hear the whispers among our local thieves community.”

The request was not unusual, and as Tordrin passed me, he said, “I’ll let Falco know you’re running a little late.”

The door closed behind them.

“The thieves’ community has been quieter than usual due to increased pressure from Silverymoon authorities this past week. It appears that—”

Eaerlraun cleared his throat. “That can wait, Venye.”

“Sir?”

“The three we were discussing earlier: the half-orc, the drow, and the moon elf. Do you know their whereabouts?”

“The girls are easy. They frequent this very same tavern. I can get you home and work addresses within a day or two,” I said.

“Have it done. And the other?”

“Not at the moment. He may not even be in town.”

“Make inquiries. And let’s keep this between you and I for now, okay?”

This, also, was not unusual, for Eaerlraun was nothing if not circumspect. If he’s here, I’ll find him, sir.”

“I know you will,” he said, standing up. “Report back to me with your progress tomorrow night.”

I stood as well. “Yes, sir.”

********************************


27 Flamerule
location: the streets of Silverymoon

I had excused myself from a Sun and Moon performance to walk the city. My senses always feel clearer at night: the air seems crisper, the starlit streets sharper. The spitfire and the kinswoman's whereabouts had proven disappointingly easy to find. Miss Thralia had even told me that she expected to see both of them at the upcoming festival. The stumblefoot, on the other hand, had shown no sign of even being in Silverymoon.

Until I heard him clattering down the street carrying that human girl. She looked tiny in his arms, especially with the effortless strength with which he carried her. Yet the careful way he held her and the urgency of his stride indicated she was hurt—how badly I could not tell from my rooftop vantage spot.

Tailing them to the Shining Scroll was a simple task; he was so distraught over his companion that he didn't so much as look over his shoulder once. I followed from a respectable distance on the rooftops until they entered the storefront. From there it was a simple matter to descend to street level, approach the door, and let my slippers work their magic.

I pressed my ear against the door.

"Lay her here." A commanding voice, but smooth around the edges. Female. Had to be Xara Tantlor, the hydra-faced proprietress. This was followed by a pained groan that had to come from the girl. Clinking glass noises and soothing sounds from Xara followed.

I assumed a more comfortable position as Kronk poured out the story of his and Katri's botched blackmail attempt against the late Lord Aesir. I shook my head. While the caper didn't speak well of his the half-orc's judgment, it at least explained his tenuous connection to Xara. While Eaerlraun would forgive a number of blemishes in one's past, even he might hesitate at an overly chummy relationship with the Shining Scroll's owner.

"What is it?" our bumblefoot asked.

"Kronk, these things need to be turned over to the Silverymoon High Guard." My breath caught, and I drew nearer to the door. "You've trusted me this far with Katri's life. Trust me a little more."

A grunt in reply. I could practically hear the clockwork grinding in a vast expanse of near-empty green-skinned skull. Finally, "Katri will be all right?"

"Let her rest here for tonight. Find a place to rest and you can visit her in the morning."

Another grunt, followed by heavy, armor-jingling footsteps toward me. I leaped upward, catching the overhanging eaves an instant before the front door opened, flooding the stone steps with the backlit silhouette of a large and worried half-orc.

I watched him trudge down the street and pondered following him, but he had shown a disturbing lack of discretion in his time here, so he probably didn't even have a bunk to his name yet, much less a safehouse. Besides, he was going to show here tomorrow morning anyway, and Eaerlraun would kill me if I passed up an opportunity such as this.

Withdrawing a wand from my tunic, I flicked it a few times, concentrating on a very specific image: middle-aged human male, average height, average features, wearing the uniform of Silverymoon's High Guard. Image fixed in my mind, I tapped my head with the wand, and the air around me rippled. The darkened window next to the door reflected the features that I'd been concentrating on. Perfect.

Noisily, I approached the front door, cleared my throat, and knocked. When no one responded, a second knock elicited the clattering of someone cleaning up, followed by Xara's eventual answering of the door.

"We're closed," she said. Then she looked at me. "Oh, hello, officer. What can I do for you?"

"Funny," I replied in a deeper, gruffer voice. "I was about to ask the same of you. I was patrolling the area and thought I heard something from one of the houses around here…"

Her face betrayed nothing, and then produced a radiant smile that reminded me of Miss Thralia's, but for its disconcertingly swift appearance. "Silverymoon's defenders, as always, impress me," she said. "And from the High Guard, no less! I was just thinking that I might need their services right when you called, Captain…"

"…Mathis," I supplied.

"A pleasure," she curtsied. "Xara Tantlor, proprietress of this humble establishment."

I nodded. "And how may I be of service?"

"Captain Mathis, as you are no doubt aware, some of my clientele traffic in magical artifacts of unknown origin."

"Go on."

"Where they obtain such artifacts is not always disclosed to me, nor do I encourage acquisition through…illegal methods." She looked at me with the wide eyes of a little girl admitting to sneaking an extra sweet after supper.

I approximated the scowl I'd seen on many a city watchmen's face. "Ms. Tantlor, if you've come into possession of contraband of any sort, it is your obligation to disclose them."

"And I am always perfectly happy to assist the city in whatever manner that I can," she replied. "However…"

"However…"

"This modest shopkeeper would be most reassured if she had assurances against…undue prosecution."

"Your duty to Silverymoon should compel you to do what's right." That particular gem never worked for me, but it was worth a shot.

"And I do try to do right," she pouted, drawing nearer. "But it's so hard being good around such strong, powerful men such as yourself." She touched my chest with the tip of a delicately curled finger.

I stepped back in order to maintain character, and more importantly, the illusion. "Ms. Tantlor, this is outrageous. I should report you to my superiors at once!"

Xara sighed. "Dull, too." She walked behind the counter and reached beneath it to produce a worn satchel.

"Open it."

She rolled her eyes and emptied the bag's contents onto the counter.

I suppressed a gasp.

"Where did you get these?" I picked up the silver lauthal tokens, found only in the possession of the most trusted members of Silverymoon's servants. Illicit possession of one was one of the city's few sure tickets to execution.

Xara flushed. "It was part of a consignment lot. I didn't notice these until after the deal was complete."

"Who was the seller?"

She paused. "He was new. Said he's come from the western settlements."

"His name."

"Captain Mathis, surely you must realize the fine line I straddle in order to protect my clientele's interests!"

"Ms. Tantlor, I don't care what or who you straddle for your business's sake! What was his name?"

Her expression turned cold. "He called himself Do'Urden."

"Was he—"

"The most famous drow in Faerun? Of course not. Like I said, I don't ask many questions of my customers. If he wants to call himself Elminster the Almighty, that's his business."

I examined the remaining contents on the counter: some tools, a ring, miscellaneous papers. A scepter caught my eye. The design on its head looked familiar. "Lady Alustriel," I breathed.

"Is that what it says?" Xara could have been discussing mediocre wines, or a piece of fruit that had turned rotten. "I see that mark frequently among the knockoff trinkets that less honest peddlers offer me from time to time. No, Captain. This cheaply-made paperweight isn't worth your time, much less my display space." She moved to take it.

I pulled it out of her reach. "I'm afraid that in light of the woeful lack of information we have about your mysterious seller, all evidence must be considered carefully." Xara's consternation at that drew me to ask, "Are there any other items from the consignment lot?"

"No," she said. "Now if you've nothing further to ask, the hour grows late."

I gathered the tokens, the scepter, and the other contents into the satchel. "I must return these to my superiors at once. Should we have further questions for you, someone will be dispatched to take your statement."

"I'll await with breathless anticipation."

I tucked the satchel away. "Your cooperation in this matter is appreciated."

Maintaining the coolness, she said, "The pleasure was mine, Captain."

I left the shop hurriedly, eager to report back to Eaerlraun. As I stepped onto the cobblestone street, I couldn't help but wonder why she had chosen that particular inflection.

Aug. 10th, 2008

Venye

20 Flamerule 1372 (Evening)

I was...a little behind schedule. Not wanting to raise the concern of the red headed spitfire Thralia wanted me to "keep an eye on", I had hung back and wound up arriving almost a full hour after she did. Of course I had to report to Tordrin on everything I'd seen while I'd been in Everlund. I'd had to make myself pretty scarce and the wee kinswoman I followed as she changed from identity to identity was actually pretty fun to watch. Mushiness between the pretty boy and the spitfire? Not so much. After about an hour of briefing Tordrin, were joined by Miss Thralia herself, who was still cranky because she didn't get any from the lumbering half-orc.

With the way things are headed, I'm almost willing to bet it's going to be one big sex fest when we get to our gig in the woods, what with Tordrin's obvious excitement after hearing my report about the wee one and Jaden still mooning after Ariadne and that business between the spitfire and her pretty boy. Even my darling Falco and I might finally get some quality time together if we're lucky. But not Thralia, the poor dear. Though if it weren't illegal, Taeghen would be all too willing to oblige. Ew.

Falco greeted me with a tender kiss and a much needed backrub when I got to our room. It was at that point that it dawned on me. It was ten years ago today that I received a contract on the life of Eaerlraun Shadowlyn and my life changed forever.

***

My twin sister Miri and I were orphaned at the age of ninety. Well, I guess we were. The only parent who stayed around, our mother, a drow priestess of Eilistraee, was killed by an operative in the employ of Skullport's matron mother Kesra Tanor’Thal. My sister had already begun to show promise in her studies as a priestess herself and I shudder to think at the other options open to her at the time. Meanwhile, I had proven myself to be rather shiftless, but good at taking things that didn't belong to me and staying out of sight. When I was a child, I used to steal sweets, toys, sometimes a doll or two for Miri. As I got older, I moved on to liquor, halfling leaf and erotica. However I'd never stolen when the stakes were so high.

It was her future or mine, and though I justified it at the time (just this once, just so we can eat tonight), I knew the moment I cut my first purse that there would be no turning back for me. Miri got to study with Qilué Veladorn in the Promenade while I stalked the shadows of Skullport, sticking to pick pocketing at first to survive, but we couldn’t afford a roof over our heads with simple petty crime, so the crimes got bigger. By my estimation, I went on to rob every important business in Skullport, not to mention the slaver’s rackets, pirate ships and caravans taking loot to the Matron Mother.

The scar on my left cheek was earned from an ill-thought out plan to try my hand at the "gentleman robber" angle. In my young and awkward way, I tried to seduce a female drow mercenary out of a tribute being sent to the matron mother. I was slashed in the face for my clumsiness, but she never reported me. Instead, when she rose through the ranks of House Tanor’Thal, she used that scar to identify me and hire me for my first assassination contract.

I worked alone as much as possible and whether I worked alone or with others, I had masks, disguises, false identities; even Miri didn’t know the full extent of what I was doing. When she discovered a contract from the Dark Dagger, she was convinced for some time that I had become a follower of Vhaeraun. Vhaeraun’s thieves steal mainly for selfish gain, not me. At least that’s how I rationalized it at the time when I took the contract. Robbery alone could have paid for a modest living for my sister and I, but I longed to stretch my limbs, to really see what I was capable of.

As if in answer to my longing, assassination contracts slowly began trickling in, first and foremost from House Tanor’Thal. Most of the individuals had it coming, and I mollified myself into thinking that I was an agent for good, rubbing out that which was evil, making Skullport a better place. Plus, the assassinations paid more, which meant I could finally afford escorts at the numerous festhalls and Halfling weed to relax me when I had trouble sleeping. There was also the added benefit of becoming comfortable with the act of taking a life. After years of following trails and working for the right people, I finally secured a contract from the Dark Dagger to kill the mercenary who took my mother's life. In turn, I received a contract from House Tanor’Thal to kill the Dark Dagger agent who gave the order. I stole secrets from Salagor, Malakuth Tabuir and Grimmbold the Gith and sold them off, sowing chaos in my wake. After twenty-five years of working solely in Skullport, I caught the attention of a weakened Shadow Thieves Guild in Waterdeep proper, desperate to work their way back into prominence, as well as the Red Sashes, who were interested in hiring me on for vigilante work.

With the Shadow Thieves, I worked with members, though I retained my independent status. My most common partner was a young human up-and-comer named Alauneth Orrane. We worked well together and I would often marvel at her lack of scruples even as she was changing mine. I called her “The Black Viper” for her raven hair, ruthless efficiency, mastery of poisons and quick temper. The name stuck. Our partnership lasted for about two years and ended not only when I woke up in her bed with no memory of how I’d gotten there, but also to find that she had left for Baldur’s Gate. I was less worried about the possiblity that she had seduced me than that she had perhaps poisoned me, but as time goes by, I have found myself quite immune to any poison I have encountered and I have concluded that through whatever physical contact we had over time, she was slowly innoculating me for my own protection. She was gone for a year, and though she returned, we never worked as partners again. She rose up the ranks past me, and when her seniority was secured, she gifted me with a pair of slippers of shadowwalking after I turned down her offer to make me into a Shade.

I killed other members of the Shadow Thieves for the Red Sashes, as I believed most of them to be unworthy to live; and soon, through the Red Sashes, I received the strangest contract. I was to kill a renegade Harper named Eaerlraun Shadowlyn. A Harper, now that would be a challenge. I practically salivated at the thought of testing my skills against someone who might be my equal. Taking my time, savoring each moment, I tracked him through Waterdeep, watching and listening as he met with operatives and people in positions of power in both that city and in her dark shadow of Skullport. He was as eloquent in Dwarven and Drow Sign Language as he was in Common. He, like only too few others, was able to hide his thoughts from Salagor of the Secrets. I watched in awe as he defeated pirates at 3 to 1 odds in close combat, caught a member of the Dark Dagger about to pickpocket him and single-handedly negotiated the freedom of several slaves in Grimmbold the Gith's possession. Finally, the time drew near. He was staying at a room at the Deepfires Inn, the same place that Miri and I had made our home for some thirty years. Instinct and common sense told me not to "bring my work home with me", but I loved the sensation of danger, nay, of fear that coursed through my veins. It had been so, so long since I'd been afraid of anything or anyone.

I followed Eaerlraun undetected through the Citadel of the Bloody Hand into Harper's Hold and into his personal office. A single candle was lit; it was late, perhaps he was readying to sleep. No, I would not kill him in his sleep, I had to strike soon! I heard him mutter something under his breath and the heavy oak door behind me clicked five locks into place. Next, I heard the distinctive sound of steel unsheathing. But...he could not have known I was there. "Perhaps he is paranoid," I thought, "like any other man in his line of work." I drew closer, arcing my arm around him out of his peripheral vision and flicking my wrist so that my poisoned dagger would slash his throat quickly. In less than a second, his hand was on my wrist and I had dropped my blade due to one of his fingers manipulating my pressure points. He turned his head slightly and grinned devilishly in the candlelight. "Finally, you have come." he whispered. Panicked, I drew my rapier with my left hand; he followed suit by dropping my wrist and turning to me, one of his short swords already drawn in his left hand. We duelled; when I regained the feeling in my right hand, I switched the rapier to my dominant hand. As I began to gain advantage, he drew his other short sword and we began to make a shambles of his office. Harpers pounded at the door, but it seemed that not only had Eaerlraun intended to lock me inside with him, he had also magically locked his fellow Harpers out, so that they would not interfere. With two blades, he was even more formidable and I was not used to fights going on so long; I began to tire. Then he did the strangest thing. He quickly returned his blades to their scabbards and just as I thrust at him with my rapier, he caught my wrist again and banged it against the door until I dropped my sword. He then grabbed me by the shoulders and we tumbled to the ground. It all ended with him straddling me and holding my own discarded dagger against my throat.

Disgusted with my weakness, I spat, "Kill me!"

He chuckled softly. "If I kill you, who will look after Miri?"

I struggled underneath him. "What have you done with her?"

He flung my dagger across the room and it made a twanging sound as it stuck into the door. "What have I done with her? Fool, you're the one who has put your sister in danger! You've made a nice mess of things in Skullport, indeed, you seem to have made Skullport over in your own image. Disorganized, dangerous and underachiveing it's greatest potential. There are a lot of people that are very, very upset with you, Venye, and Qilué cannot protect Miri forever."

I moaned. All of this I had done to protect Miri and here this Harper was telling me that in the end I was dooming her by doing the very things I had started with the best of intentions.

He continued. "I can help you, Venye. I can help you and your sister live a better life, but you have to trust me." He grabbed my chin and made sure I was looking at him. "You're going to have to trust me."

"What...what do you want from me?" My eyes widened in amazement.

He got up to his feet and offered me his hand. "I want you...to keep doing what you do best, but you're going to have to do it my way if we're going to undo all the damage you've caused. Then...I might have more work for you. You'll be working for the side of good, Venye. I'll make sure you sister gets taken care of as well."

I thought about it; within moments, I took his hand and shook it in silent agreement. His word was as good as all the gold in Waterdeep and it has continued to be so ever since.