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The Way of the Hunter - Taking Stock (Chapter Ten)

Author: 
Alya Elvawiel
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
361

The Greycloak army is scattered among the fortress ruins, moving rocks, shifting debris, painstakingly excavating. Their leader, a tall, well-built man, oversees the operation atop a pile of boulders. Occasionally, he shouts out an order, but he largely lets his men get on with their work. His dark eyes are troubled, and his brow is etched in worry.



It has been a ten-day since their Knight-Captain and her allies were transported magically by the sage Aldanon to the King of Shadows’ lair. A couple of days later, their scouts patrolling the edges of the Mere of Dead Men reported hearing a sound like crashing thunder. Even from Crossroads Keep, they could see the murky pall of shadow over the Mere in the horizon dissipate. The oppressiveness in the air around them had also lifted, and the Keep had rejoiced at the apparent victory of their Knight-Captain. Everyone started busying themselves, organizing a massive banquet to celebrate the triumphant return of their heroes. Crossroads Keep had never looked so festive. That kobold merchant, Deekin, had even got together with the bard in Sal’s inn to write a celebratory song. With preparations complete, they waited to welcome their Knight-Captain home.



And waited…and waited…



An uneasy silence had fallen on the Keep as Lieutenant Kana sent some scouts to try and determine the whereabouts of their heroes. With all their Knight-Captain had gone through, no one ever doubted that she would survive this final battle – until now.



The report from the scouts were not promising; the remains of a dark fortress, crumbled beyond recognition. Did they manage to get out in time? A patrol of Greycloaks were sent, with the unenviable task of trying to recovery anything – or anyone – from the ruins.



“Sergeant,” Sir Nevalle joins him atop his vantage point. His voice carries his usual business-like quality, but his blue eyes are clouded with worry. “Anything to report?”



Bevil shakes his head. “We found nothing along the perimeters, Sir, but with the help of the mages you provided, we have managed to clear a path to the heart of the fortress. Hopefully we will find some clues there.”



And not dead bodies. The highly probable outcome is not lost on either man, but neither of them mentions it.



Nevalle looks down at the Greycloaks, scrabbling over rocks and boulders, lifting slabs of stone. The mages are casting spells that are either raising or disintegrating anything that obstructs their path. “I wish I could have provided more help, but Neverwinter is – unable – to offer more aid.” The knight’s carefully chosen words are not lost on Bevil. As soon as his wounds were healed, Lord Nasher had happily traipsed back to his castle in Neverwinter. The threat to his realm eliminated, he had no further use for Crossroads Keep nor for its Knight-Captain, and he had left them after a glorified speech that offered his pseudo-sympathy for the loss of their leader. It took a lot of persuasion from Nevalle before Nasher was finally willing to allow him to bring a handful of mages to help with recovery efforts.



Bevil looks at the handsome knight as he surveys the scene. His jaw is set in a grim line, and he runs his hand nervously through his blond hair. The member of the Nine is visibly torn between his oath of loyalty to Neverwinter, and his urge to do what is right. It angers Bevil that the powerful nobility can so easily and thoughtlessly use and discard people as they so wish. He rubs his face tiredly, and feels the coarseness of his three day old stubble.



“How are you holding up?”



“Eh?” Bevil starts absentmindedly, still rubbing his cheek, surprised by Nevalle’s question. “What do you mean?”



“You grew up together in West Harbour. This must be hard for you.”



Bevil puffs out his cheeks and exhales slowly, his broad shoulders rising and falling. “She...does mean a lot to me,” he manages, feeling more than a little awkward confiding his feelings to a knight he barely even knows.



Nevalle looks into the distance, his azure blue eyes soft. “What was she like?”



“…Beg your pardon?”



The knight’s gaze remains fixed on the horizon. “She’s such a strong character. I’m just curious where she gets it from.”



Bevil eyes Nevalle uncertainly. “Well…” he begins haltingly. “She was always a bit of a tomboy, as far back as I can remember…she used to have mud fights with me…” He pictures them as children, she and Bevil wrestling in the dirt, while poor Amie stands to the side, dodging splatters and threatening to tell on them. The memory induces an involuntary smile. “Nope, no dolls and flowers for her.”



Nevalle smiles, too. “So did you two learn how to fight together?”



“Oh, no,” Bevil shakes his head. “Daeghun, her foster father, took her away when she was…how old? Twelve, I think…” he remembers their tearful farewell the day before she departed. He had asked how long she would be gone for, and she said she didn’t know.



“But we will always be friends, I promise,” she had said, and they had made their childish pact to be friends forever; they spat into each other’s hands and shook on it.



“She was gone for nearly ten years,” he continues. He remembers how alone he felt at times; his brother Lorne had left to fight in the army, and the Mossfeld brothers were mean bullies. Amie was a sweet companion, and a good friend, but they didn’t share many interests, and she was always too busy as Tarnas’ acolyte. “When she finally came back, she was trained in the ways of a monk. I could hardly recognize her.” The skinny, boyish little girl with dirty red hair and freckles on her nose had blossomed. Bevil remembers how he had just stared at her, at her new womanly curves, her refined features, her full lips. Her gangly tramping gait was replaced by a smooth, fluid grace when she walks. But one thing about her has never changed: her piercing green eyes, so foreign-looking – and the gleam of mischief in them.



“The first thing she did when she came back was to push me into a puddle of mud.” Bevil laughs at the recollection, and Nevalle joins in. “She sounds like quite a character,” Nevalle chuckles, as his gaze falls on the horizon again. “I would have liked to have known her better,” he adds wistfully.



Bevil feels a sudden pang of jealousy. Could Nevalle be smitten with our Knight-Captain? He wouldn’t be surprised; she seems to have that effect on men. She is no conventional beauty – break her features down, and her eyes are too sloped, her nose too small, her mouth unspectacular. But when one looks at the whole picture, she is strikingly attractive in her own special, exotic way. Her skin glows with a rich bronze tan no matter what the season. He has heard rumours that her mother’s father came from a land far to the east, on the other side of Abeir-Toril, and it is this unusual aspect of her heritage that bestows on her an uncommon allure. When she returned to West Harbour, she became the centre of attention for all of the single, and some of the married, men in the village. Bevil himself feels a profound attraction to her, but once it was clear that she still sees him as the Bevil of her childhood, he has decided to keep his feelings to himself, fearful of what awkwardness could do to their friendship. Which was probably all for the better, since she would come to him at times to escape the suffocating attention from the other men.



Bevil recalls the night after the Harvest Fair, barely months after Alya’s homecoming from her Daeghun-imposed exile. They had finally turned in for the night after their revelry, Alya, Bevil and Amie on a high after winning the Harvest Cup. Then those creatures had attacked the village, and poor Amie…Bevil can still see her, bathed in a column of flames, writhing in agony till the end. Afterwards, Daeghun, being his usual cryptic self, had sent them off on some errand in some swamp ruins. Then, Alya had to leave West Harbour again.



With a shudder, he remembers how those creatures had come back a few months later. They had abducted him, tortured him…those knives cutting under his skin, forcing him to reveal Alya’s whereabouts. And, cowardly traitor that he is, he had told them. It took him a long time to get over the trauma and guilt; his wounds are gone, but he was scarred mentally. Only when word came that Alya had become captain of her own keep, was he spurred into offering his services. He had apologized profusely to her for being weak in the face of the gith, and she was so understanding, so kind, he had sworn there and then to serve her with his life.



“Sergeant,” the clipped voice of one of the Greycloaks brings Bevil back to the present. “We have gained access to the keep’s heart.”



“What did you find?” Bevil asks earnestly, as Nevalle steps closer to listen.



“I think you should see it for yourself, sir…”



***



With a Greycloak leading the way, Bevil and Nevalle negotiate the fallen debris and rocks towards the centre of the fallen fortress. Bevil is impressed with and proud of his men; they have cleared a massive amount of stone in a short amount of time. He steps into a ring of broken columns that mark the main chamber of the destroyed keep. More Greycloaks and mages are at work here, removing the huge quantity of rubble littered everywhere. Only one lone wall remains standing on one side of the chamber, like a giant gravestone for the fallen structure.



“My lords,” their Greycloak guide says, motioning Bevil and Nevalle to the centre of the clearing they have made. There, laid out on a large sheet of canvas, were five bodies.



His heart hammering in his chest, Bevil steps closer to inspect the corpses. Their bodies are broken, their faces pale and covered in dust, their eyes lifeless and staring. He recognizes their empty faces: the female sorceress, the gnome bard, the githzerai cleric, and the elven wizard. The last ‘body’ is the metal construct Grobnar had so lovingly repaired. With its master forever silenced, the hulking blade golem is no longer animated.



No Alya. Bevil breathes a sigh of relief that he instantly feels guilty for.



“Sand…” he hears Nevalle say from behind him. The knight kneels down, and gently closes the moon elf’s inanimate eyes. Head bowed, he mutters a silent prayer. Nevalle is not a fan of the wizard’s abrasive personality, and has, on more than one occasion, been on the receiving end of Sand’s acerbic wit. Nevertheless, he was a wise counsel, and largely a good elf, and the loss still saddens him.



“Are there…any others?” Bevil asks the Greycloak hesitatingly, not sure if he wants to hear the answer.



“No, sir,” comes the reply. “But we still have a section to clear.”



“My lords!” A cry from the far side of the room. Bevil stumbles over loose debris with Nevalle close behind. They reach a mage whose garb identifies him as one of the Many-Starred Cloaks…Vale, Bevil thinks his name is. He had assisted in the battle to take Crossroads Keep from Garius. “We’ve found something,” he says as the two men approach. He leads them to where some Greycloaks and mages have lifted an especially large slab of stone. Underneath it, they catch a glimpse of mangled platemail.



The paladin.



Bevil moves around to get a closer look. Casavir lies in a pool of dried blood, all of which seem to be his own. The bulk of the bleeding appears to have stemmed from a nasty head injury, and a deep gash in his neck. Bevil examines the neck wound; a clean cut, from a single, deadly accurate slice. From the damage, this was probably what ultimately killed the paladin.



A flash of blue and yellow under Casavir’s head catches Bevil’s eyes. Kneeling, he pulls out a folded up piece of cloth, caked in the paladin’s lifeblood. Unfurling and shaking it out, Bevil’s breath catches. The distinct patterns on the material mark it as a cloak of a Neverwinter knight.



“Is that…?” Nevalle asks. Bevil nods solemnly. Alya’s cloak. He could almost imagine the heartbreaking scene. Alya battling to save the dying man, supporting his head with her bundled-up cloak as she tries to tend to his wounds. He feels a pang of sympathy for her, knowing how fond she was of the paladin. It must have been so difficult for her. He glances again at the dead man, and frowns.



There is something about Casavir’s face that is unsettling him. The others that have died have their faces locked in a contortion of wide-eyed horror and pain. Yet this paladin, who has been found pinned under a rockslide, bones broken, throat slashed, seems almost to be at peace in his dying moments. His features are relaxed, as if he could just be sleeping with his eyes open. And…Bevil couldn’t believe this…is that a slight smile frozen on his lips? His final expression appears to be one of serenity and acceptance.



But who could embrace such a fate? The dead man’s dimmed eyes, once so strikingly blue, appear to have been staring fixedly at something as his life faded. Bending over the body, Bevil follows the path of Casavir’s last gaze, locked on one corner of the last standing wall, looking at…



“Aldanon?”



Bevil straightens, and makes his way towards the sage, who appears to be preoccupied with something. He taps the old man gently on the shoulder, eliciting a small cry as he is startled from his thoughts.



“Huh? Who are you?” Aldanon asks suspiciously.



“Aldanon, it’s me, Bevil.”



“Ah!” A spark of recognition registers in the old man’s eyes. “Sergeant Bevil! Good to see you! I didn’t recognize you in that armour you’re wearing.”



“Um, Aldanon, I always dress this way.”



“Do you?” the old man asks quizzically. “Ah, then it must be your new hairstyle! I must say it suits you quite well –“



“Aldanon,” Bevil interrupts gently, not wanting to get dragged into a long conversation with the absent-minded sage. “What are you doing here?”



“Oh, conducting my research, of course!” says the sage merrily, as he steps over the body of a shadow golem without apparently noticing it. “This is such a rare opportunity, to be able to study how Garius summoned the King of Shadows, right where it all happened!”



“Uh, Aldanon,” Bevil says uncertainly, unsure of what to say. “It’s still a little dangerous here at the moment…there are falling rocks –“



But the sage doesn’t appear to have heard him, as he rambles on cheerfully about his work. “I am so happy my initial theory was correct, that this fortress was somehow immune to the life-sapping energies of the shadows, it’s like the calm eye of a storm…”



“Aldanon…” Bevil tries again. How does he tell the old man that he is getting in the way of their investigation?



“Already I have made some very interesting discoveries,” the sage continues, “and this portal here, why, it hums with magic even now.”



For a moment, Bevil is struck dumb. “P-portal?” he manages.



“Yes, this one right here!” Aldanon caresses a small, partly fallen stone archway. “Very well made, very good handiwork.”



“That – that’s a portal?” Bevil asks stupidly again, the implications racing through his brain.



“Yes! You know, gateways where you could travel from one place to another in the blink of an eye! Very useful for long distances –“



“Aldanon,” Bevil says, recovering his senses, a glimmer of hope in his heart. “Could anyone have transported themselves out of this place through that portal?”



“Of course!” comes the bright reply. Bevil could feel the faint twinkle of hope growing inside him. “From what I can gather it was semi-operational right till the end.”



“Do you know where they could have been transported to?”



“From my initial scrying, there seems to be numerous possible destinations,” says the sage, seemingly glad that someone is taking an interest in his research. “It looks to have been a pretty well connected portal. Of course, I would need more time to determine the exact destinations, perhaps even take some samples back to my laboratory –“



“Whatever you need, Aldanon,” Bevil says, “Let me know if you need help.”







The Way of the Hunter Chapter 10 - Taking Stock © Alya Elvawiel

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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