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Hero's Song - Chapter Four

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The Succubi turned as a small band entered the room. "Hssst," one said, "We have company!!" And, like all demon-kin of the Abyss, they attacked without thought.

They were cut down, eventually. The devil watched from the relative safety of his binding circle as the figures moved closer to them. A woman led them...she stepped into the light, her expression wary, and the devil had to arch an eyebrow in approval. The elves were a fair race, but this one's scarlet-haired beauty suited her. Her leather acoutrements were slightly outlandish in nature, but that suited her, as well. He nodded his head at her. "Greetings, fair one," he said.

She raised an eyebrow. "You're rather well spoken, fiend."

"We are nothing if we don't have our manners," the devil said, and nodded at the tiefling beside the elf-woman. "And greetings to you, little one."

"I'm not your little one," the tiefling female snarled, and the devil held up his hands placatingly.

"I am in need of your assistance, as you are in need of mine," he said. "If you release me from my bindings, you will be able to pass this doorway, and into the antechamber where the githyanki await you. I am assuming that is your intended destination, yes?"

The elf frowned at him. "Aye, it is. What promise do we have that you won't harm us if we release you?"

The devil chuckled. Ah, mortals. "If I tell you my true name, you will be able to command me to be released from this...prison. I am bound by such a thing and will not be able to harm you. Is that enough?"

The elf considered for a long moment, then nodded, decisively. "Tell me.

"My true name is Mephasm." He waited.

One of the men standing behind her leaned forward, and whispered in her ear. Mephasm watched him for a moment...a paladin, bound up tightly in plate and iron, and full to the brim with conflicting desires. The other man, next to him, an irritated expression on his face as he watched them converse; he stood close to the elf-woman, his hands playing with the bow in his hands, and Mephasm could see the growing thing in the ranger's mind...and heart... that disturbed him so. Interesting, thought the devil. I will have to keep an eye on how these things progress.

"Mephasm," said the elf, "I command you to be banished from this circle."

The devil smiled as the bindings shattered. "My thanks, fair one. Until we meet again..."

The tiefling glared at the devil. "We won't."

Mephasm sighed even as he faded from view. "If only that were the case, little one."

o o o o o o

I was a bit shaken, I'd have to admit. Dealing with demons was not my cup of tea, and while Neeshka was...well, Neeshka, being faced with a full-blooded Devil and making a pact with him left a weight on my shoulders. This was the real thing, like it or not.

I lifted my hand to enter the githyanki antechamber, only to have the door open before I touched it. The first thing I saw was Shandra...bound, gagged, and locked in a cage against the wall.

"Shandra!" She opened her eyes, saw us, and gurgled. From the look on her face, I could tell she was furious...and as of yet, unharmed.

I took a step forward and...stopped. Couldn't move. Blast it, I thought. I'm always caught by these damn spells...

The githyanki in front of me stood behind some type of energy shield. Her eyes were black and fathomless, and when she spoke it was like gravel acoss my skin. "Kalach-Cha," she said, "You have brought my shards to me."

"I haven't brought you shite," I spat. "You destroyed my village, your minions killed my friends, and you've dogged my steps every waking moment. And I've done nothing to you."

She held out her arm, and I was lifted off the ground, instantly. I heard a creak of wood and the twang of string, and realized that Bishop had attempted to draw an arrow into his bow; but he was held by Zeeaire's spell. Platemail creaked behind me as Casavir strained to move, and in my periphial vision I could see Neeshka, beads of sweat on her forehead as she struggled to lift a throwing dagger and toss it. Despite the un-dignified way I was floating in the air, I still mustered a glare.

"Nothing?" whispered Zeeaire. "You carry the shards of a silver sword on your person...profaning them with your touch. That is enough to warrant your death. But not before..." I felt a tugging, and then a tearing, slicing sound as my pack was ripped to shreds. My belongings scattered, but the shards...the shards floated in the air, past my face, towards Zeeaire," ...not before I take these back from you."

And suddenly, my chest felt on fire...I sucked in my breath as a glow begin spreading from the center of my breastbone. Gods!! It felt like my very heart was being pulled inexorably outwards, straining to fly free from my body, and it grew so intense I cried out.

"Stop it! You're hurting her!" This, from Neeshka.

Mercifully, Zeeaire let me go. I gasped. "I think...that was the point, Neeshka." Instantly I fell to the ground, which was father away then I thought. I could move again, and I stood, holding my blades ready and facing Zeeaire's awed, horrified expression.

Zeeaire said, in a hushed voice, "You...have a shard inside of you."

The room seemed to tilt, grow fuzzy, come back into focus. I didn't doubt her words, but Daeghun, I thought bitterly.

"It's no matter." Zeeaire straightened. "I will rip it from your cold, dead corpse. Attack!"

And it began again. Dodge, weave, slice, tuck, roll, stab. Through it all, Zeeaire remained untouchable behind her energy barrier; until Khelgar was thrown bodily and smashed into one of the archways forming it, and the whole side crumbled to dust. I saw the shield flicker momentarily, and Zeeaire's expression become worried.

"The shield!! Attack the posts, it'll fall!" I scrambled to my feet and raced towards the other side. As I did, I saw a githyanki sneaking up behind Bishop, dagger raised. The range was aiming for a gith and couldn't hear his attacker in the noise of battle, and I was struck with a...well, quite a bardic inspiration. I drew a small throwing knife, took careful aim, and as Bishop's attacker dropped his arm in a downward slice that was sure to connect with the ranger's spine, I threw.

Nice aim, I told myself.

A dull wet thud and a gurgling scream told me the knife had found it's target. Bishop whirled and watched the githyanki writhe, my throwing knife imbedded in his face, then turned to look at me across the room. The expression on my face might have read something similar to: I saved your life. Remember that.

Then I turned, swing my arms back, and hacked at the archway posts that held Zeeaire's shield together. Khelgar had gotten the hint when he'd single-handedly...well, single-bodily...took out half of her protective shield, and together we smashed, hacked, and sliced while the others tried to keep the gith off our backs. And when the last post crumbled into nothingness, and my heart soared with triumph, the shield collapsed.

And Zeeaire leapt at me, screaming like a banshee.

We locked together, her hands at my throat...I swung blindly. She was actually choking me quite effectively, and I noted this in a somewhat distracted manner as my vision began to go gray. Lights darted in front of my eyes, and I could feel my swings getting weaker...

Then something smashed across the back of the githyanki's head and she screeched, her grip loosening. Boy, did I take advantage of that. I flipped her off of me, onto her back, and I followed almost instantly, straddling her weakening-form and pinning her arms to her sides with my knees.

Very deliberately, trying not to gasp for sweet, sweet air like a landed fish, I placed both of my blades against her throat, scissor-style.

She laughed weakly, her life crumbling without the magic of the portal to keep her strong. "You fool. We were not...your real enemies! And now you have weakened yourself beyond hope. You will die against the King of Shadows, Shard-Bearer."

"What do you mean? You were in league with the King of Shadows!"

She coughed and gasped. ", we were seeking to...remake the sword. To fight him! And you have...destroyed our outpost." She laughed, and continued on laughing until the last of her breath wheezed into nothingness.

She was dead. But, to give myself a small amount of satisfaction, I quickly and violently jerked upwards on my crossed swords, and her head rolled away from her body.

Bishop grunted. "I'll give you one thing, you've got finesse."

Casasvir frowned at me dissapprovingly, before turning to where Neeshka was already fiddling with the lock on Shandra's tiny prison. We all heard a snick, and then it was a rush to the cage to cut the ropes, ungag the girl and help her to her feet.

"Ye all right, lass?" Khelgar asked, looking up at her worriedly.

"I'm..ungh...fine, now that I'm out of that bird cage." Shandra looked a little worse for wear, but it seemed the gith hadn't harmed her outside of tying her up. Her blond hair was a mess, her face smeared with grime. She looked at me and smiled wearily. "You really have to let me rescue you sometime, or else I'll never be able to pay you back, you know."

"Oh, there'll be plenty of time to pay us all back once we get to Neverwinter, girl." Bishop sneered at her, fingering his bowstring.

"Wh..what?! all put me in danger! I'm not paying you a damn coin, Bishop."

He stepped closer to her, and smiled slightly, his voice thick with suggestion. "Then you can pay me back another way, farm girl. My bedroll gets cold at night, you might be able to fix that for me..."

My blood turned to ice, and fire, and I could feel my face heating up. Khelgar shouted "That's enough of that tone, ranger!" Casavir took a step towards Bishop, his hand on his sword.

"Bishop, if you don't watch your tongue, I'm cutting it off," I said, without thinking...and then wondered at my own vehemence. I was speaking up for Shandra. Wasn't I?

"O-hoo..." Bishop laughed, and the sound felt like silk running over my skin. I shivered. He grinned at me. "Jealousy's a bit thick in this little band, isn't it? I haven't forgotten you, 'vanima'lindo.'" My heart stopped and my eyes widened at the elven words coming from his mouth. He moved away from Shandra, sliding past he did, he bent towards my ear. "Maybe instead of cutting my tongue off, you could watch it for me."

"I won't have you speaking to her like that!" Casavir's sword was about to leave the scabbard, and I had to do something because it was my responsibility, but I couldn't think past the thundering in my head and Bishop's large dark eyes...snap out of it! I told myself.

"Let's just get out of here. You're good to walk, Shandra?" Okay. Solution to Bishop was to ignore him, for the moment. Neeshka and Casavir took an arm each and half-carried Shandra towards the exit. I noticed Khelgar was holding something that looked like broken wood..."What is that?"

Khelgar looked at me guiltily. "Oh'm sorry, lass, it was the closest thing to hand, and I had to distract her or you were done." He opened his hand...clutched inbetween his fingers were the splintered remains of my fiddle, strings dangling helplessly.

Well, damn it. My fiddle. Daeghun had made it for me...which wasn't exactly a sentimental reason to hang on to it, but I knew that instrument. I had learned on it, knew all it's tweaks, had memorized the feel of the wood under my hands. When my pack had ripped it must have fallen somewhere, and naturally Khelgar had picked it up and smashed Zeeaire over the head with it. "It's...hey, it's okay. It's just a...just a stupid fiddle. Not magic or anything." I hated the quavering quality in my voice. "Damn it! It's okay, Khelgar, just toss it, I'll find another one when we get back to the city."

I gathered the remains of my belongings and followed the dwarf out, Bishop bringing up the rear, into the sunlight; my broken fiddle remained behind, just another corpse that lay as a testament to our battle.

o o o o o

We walked for what seemed like years, stopping to rest when Shandra needed it, (or when any one of us secretly needed it and used Shandra as an excuse). A day outside of the city, and we ran out of water, so we stopped at a stream to fill our canteens and wash up a bit. Looking like mud-golems is one thing in the wilds, but in the streets of Neverwinter...well, you can mug, kill, poison, murder, steal, and pillage, but there are just some things you don't do in a city.

Shandra sat next to me and sighed. "I'll be glad when we get back. I could barely swallow Sal's stew before they..took me...and now it's all I can think about."

As if in response, my stomach grumbled loudly, and we both laughed. I ducked my hair into the stream and tried to remove the worst bits of dirt and githyanki from the russet strands, wincing. "They never tell you about the dirt when they tell tales about adventuring. Or the walking." I wrung out my hair and plaited it again, feeling slightly more like an elf and less like a swamp beast.

"Harper...what Bishop said to you in the cavern? What was that? Some kind of insult? I don't know any other language besides common. But I can tell how upset it made you..."

I became very still. "No. Not an insult." I stared at my reflection...large, storm-grey eyes stared back at me, and the sun had browned my skin from our time out-doors. My face looked leaner since the last time I'd looked in a proper mirror and I sighed. Farther down the stream, Khelgar and Bishop were arguing non-sensically about whether you could hit a man in the privates during a bar-brawl or not, and Casavir was re-packing our gear on the bank while trying to keep Neeshka's hands away from it.

"I think we should be going," I said falteringly, not meeting Shandra's eyes. I knew I didn't answer her question, but she didn't probe, and soon, we were walking again and she forgot about it in the midst of trying to explain to Khelgar and Bishop that it was possible to go drinking at night without losing your teeth. Or making someone else lose there's.

Vanima'lindo, I thought. I suppose some words of elvish slip into your vocabulary when you travel like he would. He had said the words to disarm me, to dissipate my anger; so why am I wondering if there is more behind it than that? Why do I even care? Huh. Vanima'lindo. "Beautiful Songbird."

It was a long walk back to the Flagon.

Hero's Song - Chapter 4 © Avariel

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