The Tide of Shadows - Chapter 6

Adventure Date: October 15, 2010

Last Updated: July 28, 2011


The Stalkers trudged on through the late evening. There was little chatter. The rapid darkening and the quiet woods were not conducive to small talk. Even Kat, taking point, was a bit subdued.

Pelias had finished fussing over Shribryn; ensuring she was all healed from the last combat. She had finally quieted him; by latching on to his arm and holding on his hand as they walked. A small rain had begun to fall, further banishing any conversations.

Finally they arrived at the top of a toll. Looking down, they could see the lights of the inn below; perhaps a fifteen minute walk away. It was a largish building with a porch at the entrance doors. Light shone through the windows although no sound could be heard. A lit lantern emitting a pale yellowish light hung on the post sign. Those with sharp eyesight could discern the picture on the sign; a black cloaked, pointing hat witch on a broomstick. The stables were visible in front of the inn, but no livestock was out. A little ways behind and to the side of the inn was a cottage-like building. Beside the stables was what appeared to be a smaller cottage.

"There it is. The Wiccanish Inn. We stop here as suggested by the Blackhammer commented Ska'arr.

The group moved on. As they descended a cackle sounded overhead startling the group. The Beast gave forth a growl. Wings swishing, out of the night, a midnight coloured raven swooped to land on Raven's shoulder. “Corn, corn” it distinctly said.

Almost immediately it hopped to the ground facing her. With a squawk, it tilted its head as to stare at her with one eye. It seemed to be saying, "Well here I am. What are you waiting for?"

The monk reached into her pouch to take out some corn kernels. She held these out to the bird, palm open. It quickly pecked a few, seemed to nod approval and with a final squawk, flew away into the woods.

“Well, a raven for Raven” commented Kat. “Old friend of yours, dar'lin?”

“Actually yes” softly replied the monk. She was looking in the direction which the ebony bird had flown. “His name is Blackheart.”

“Just like your cheek tattoo, eh dar'lin. Fond of black hearts are we?”

Raven did not answer.

Ska'arr spoke up. “All right people. The inn is close. There is warmth and rest waiting. Let us continue.”

The Stalkers reached the inn. “Curious” noted Kat. “There is no noise, no music, no laughter or loud cursing. Sounds like a morgue, not a fun- filled drinking spot.”

The inn door opened into a small corridor, which led into the main taproom. At this juncture stood a tall slim, somewhat pale complexion man in a bartending apron. He greeted them as they entered.

“Well met all. You must be the Stalkers. My name is Lorith. Welcome to my establishment.” He gave a little head bow.

“You know us, knew to expect us”? demanded Ska’arr, a little surprised.

“Yes. Your ,er, friends told me to expect you. Tell me, did you perchance pass a caravan on the way here?”

“We did, but it had been ambushed by orcs, goblins and worgs, which we managed to defeat.”

“Ah, pity. Yes those humanoids are getting more numerous and more aggressive each season. Something must be done soon. Well, forgive my manners. Please enter, sit, and dine.”

They followed him into the dining area. There were three small tables, and one large one. The smaller tables each had a lone traveller, who seemingly paid them no attention. Lorith led them to the larger table.

“Please sit. Supper tonight is stew, bread and sweetmeats. The mead is on its way. Now as to sleeping arrangements. The large cottage has four separate single rooms, the smaller one has two doubles. Upstairs are a variety of rooms, singles, doubles, triples. What will you have?”

“We will take three upstairs, a single, a double and a triple” answered the big ranger.

While Lorith and Ska’arr and interacting, Kat was becoming more tense.

Something here does not fit. No bar maids. No locals. Quiet clients. Empty stables. Must warn the others to be vigilant. She looked to the others.

At the same time, Scuro felt unease, as if he had just missed something important.

There is something about those other guests, Ro-Lund-Do. Something out of place, but at the same time familiar. Can you not feel it?

Yes,. I also sense something odd about our host, but I just cannot seem to pin it down. So let us stay on guard.

He looked at his companions to determine if anyone else had the same suspicions. Only Kat caught his questioning look which she returned with the barest discernible nod.

Soon the food and drink arrived and they fell to, eating and drinking heartily. The stew was thick, hot and delicious with an unusual meat flavour that resembled pork. In time, they went upstairs to their respective rooms.

The females had the triple, the two priests shared the double while Ska’arr took the single with the Beast.

No sooner had the Death priest laid down his backpack, and then Pelias turned to speak to him. Ro-Lund-Do motioned for silence and spoke first in a low whisper.

“Be on guard. Something is amiss. Listen!” Amazed by the spoken urgency, Pelias followed the instructions. Time passed in silence; enough so that the priest of Mystra was beginning to suspect his friend’s behaviour. Then they both heard it; the sound of shuffling by their door.

By the time Ro-Lund-Do prepared his cross bow, the door was burst open. Even as he fired, he recognized the person as one of the clients in the dining hall.

The bolt bit deep into the attacker's shoulder. It did not even slow down his rush. Arm extended, he rammed into the necromancer, knocking him back. It was a powerful strike, more so than expected from such a non muscular arm. It hurt.

A strange lassitude appeared to flow down Ro-Lund-Do's entire body. His motions began to slow.

No- Must not allow this! The Death priest exerted his formidable will power to overcome the newly forming paralysis. His body responded to his will. Now there was just the pain.

The stranger's attacking Ro-Lund-Do first allowed Pelias time to fling his offensive magic.

A blue star shaped magic missile struck and bore its way into the intruder. This was immediately followed by another. The attacker fell as the arcane energy sizzled its flesh. But not once had he uttered a sound.

Now the two priests could hear the noise and commotion in the hallway and the other rooms. Shribryn's warnings, Kat's taunts and Beast's growls were easily distinguished.

Pelias looked down at the other cleric. “Shribryn? He asked, torn between staying to help and rushing off to help the young Bedine girl.

The necromancer waved him on. “I’m fine. Go, go to her.” Pelias rushed out. Ro-Lund-Do slowly arose. Placing a hand on his bruised side, he infused himself with healing Death energy. Now free of pain, he knelt beside the seeming lifeless intruder.

Attack me will you? Hurt me will you? Well let's just make sure you are dead.

As Scuro had these thoughts, he drew out his dagger, preparing to slash the attacker's throat. As he turned the head to expose the throat, the touch felt wrong. He still cut through the throat.

Fornicating devils! Do you recognize that, my alter ego? Its…

Yes- not human. It is ghoul flesh. This is a ghoul. The other attackers must be ghouls also. Now we know the cause of that weakness a moment ago. We must be careful. We were lucky, very lucky. Its touch can paralyze. Since we know they are ghouls, we can try to control them.

Let us not tell the others, at least not yet. These are not free-willed ghouls. Their silence verifies that. Ghouls always snarl, screech and snap when fighting. They have been commanded here by someone.

All the more reason to dominate one and question it.

Even in the instant that Scuro and Ro-Lund-Do conversed with each other, the sounds of fighting intensified.

Quickly, let us join in to gain control of a ghoul. Since Pelias is aiding the females, then we will…

Aid Ska'arr. Ro-Lund-Do finished the thought. And if we are too late now, and he has succumbed to the attack, well then there will be only us to rummage through his belongings. I especially want to inspect that book of his mother's that he keeps reading without letting others examine it. His heritage, he calls it. And perhaps Beast will become our dog.

Oh, my young alter ego, my mind melds to your mind. You are becoming more devious. That is good. Let us go now.

As soon as the three female Stalkers entered their shared room, Kat quickly locked the door. "Listen, dar'lins. Something is amiss here. I suggest we take turns guarding while the others rest. Okey-dokey?"

"I trust your judgement Kat" replied Raven. 'Should you think it necessary, then we will set up a watch. Shribryn?"

"I see no reason not to" answered the Bedine. "I will take first watch. Please get some rest sisters."

It took a little time for Kat and Raven to prepare for bed. Finally they lay on their beds and attempted to sleep. No sooner had they closed their eyes, when Shribryn's shout galvanized them into action.

She had sensed the vibrations of several feet walking on the hallway floor, purposely towards their doorway. “Sisters awaken” she cried, even as their door was being broken down. The others, always fully alert, leaped up. By the time the door was broken through, Kat stood on one side, swords at the ready, Shribryn at the other and Raven facing it.

In the doorway stood two of the downstairs’ clients. The women could now hear more sounds of battle; the release of Ro-Lund-Do’s crossbow, the incantation of Pelias, the snarling of the Beast.

All seemed to happen at the same time. Shribryn’s jambiya slashed down the first intruder’s arm even as she ducked under its striking arm. She then rolled up, slashing again and withdrew deeper into the room. She hoped it would follow her in, allowing the other two more room to fight. It did.

Kat and Raven contested the second intruder, but unlike Shribryn, they did not fight unscathed.

“Hey ugly, you want a piece of lil ole’ me?” taunted Kat as her swords raked parallel furrows on his chest. “Well then, dance with me first.” Perhaps it was overconfidence or perhaps there was little fighting room, as now Raven had moved in closer to engage, but the intruder lashed out with both arms.

One caught Ka on her side, sending her reeling away. The second caught Raven on her chest, pushing her back. All the while the two intruders made not a sound.

The blow just increased Raven’s anger and determination to eliminate this male. But Kat recovered first. Springing up onto her feet, she leaped forward, her twin blades cutting to the left and to the right, once again causing gashes. “Hey ugly, two step time.”

This distracted the intruder, who turned to face the gnome. A fatal distraction! As he turned, Raven’s foot kicked out. Striking the intruder squarely on the knee, it smashed the bone. Even as he began to collapse, the monk was on him. One stone-like fist crushed into his throat; the second into the back of the neck. He continued to fall, now lifeless.

“Ah, Raven, I still wanted to dance with him” complained Kat.

"I suspect there will be more of these dancing partners waiting for us" retorted the monk.

Shribryn had backed until she was against the wall. Her desert dagger had ripped long gashes into the attacker's chest and arms as she kept dodging his flaying arms.

Pelias ran into the room even as Kat and Raven were moving in to help Shribryn. His quick mind immediately appraised the situation. He released his magic from the doorway.

Again the blue Mystra style magic missile formed and slammed into the stranger's back, causing him to arch back in obvious distress but he issued no cries of surprise or pain. This pause in his attack allowed Shribryn to cut a deep gash into his side.

Pelias was quickly ready with his next magic. A single arcane word of power formed a small sphere of acid. Even as it finished forming, he threw at Shribryn's opponent. It was a direct hit. The acid sphere released its contents. Acid ran down his back, dissolving flesh as it did so. The man convulsed as he died. The room began to fill with the odour of acid corroded flesh.

"Shribryn" called out the young priest, rushing to her, "are you hurt?"

"No, Pelias" she replied as they embraced. "I am well. And you?"

"Listen me lovey-dovey dar'lins Kat interrupted. There will be time for this later. Now there is still some dancing to do. Follow me and the Raven bird."

Even as she spoke, the sounds of the Beast's growling intensified and again they heard the sound of Ro-Lund-Do's crossbow.

Ska'arr was exhausted. The battle in the fog, fighting those orcs had drained him physically and emotionally. Killing orcs always brought on a highly emotionally charged adrenaline rush, for which he paid for heavily later. Combine that with a long march, a good hot meal and a chance to lay down in on a real bed and he could barely keep his eyes opened. No need to keep watch with Beast with him.

He flopped down on the cover, not even removing his travel clothes. He closed his eyes and began to drift. Soon his mother's face appeared out of the darkness-'awaken my son, awaken! She began to scream in warning. The ranger's eyes snapped open. The screaming was actually the loud growling of the Beast. Even as he sat up, the door was bashed open. In the doorway stood two of the clients from downstairs. Noise and shouting could be heard from the corridor. Ska'arr banished all sleep as his adrenaline hit battle mode levels.

His chain was too far away so he drew out his hand axe and leaped to the aid his of his war dog.

The Beast was leaping in to bite at the ankles and legs of one attacker while leaping out to avoid the flailing arms. Ska'arr's boots helped him jump the distance to the doorway.

"Incoming' he cried out as his axe chopped its way into the shoulder of the second attacker. The intruder took the strike without a sound. He hit the ranger a blow in the chest with an open palm; hard enough to knock the ranger back.

As Ska’arr started to move back in, a strange feeling overtook him. His muscles refused to obey his commands. In almost no time, his whole body could not move. He toppled over, landing against the bed such that he could watch events as they unfolded but helpless move.

He watched as the stranger approached his now helpless body. He watched as the Beast, sensing his helplessness, became more frantic. He watched as Ro- Lund-Do suddenly appeared in the doorway, sounding some kind of incantation in an unknown language. He watched as his assailant turned to charge at the priest.

It’s charging us! No time to attempt control!! Shoot~ shoot!

The priest just had time to lift and fire his crossbow. The quarrel caught the already wounded disguised ghoul in the chest, knocking it back into certain death.

At the same time, the Beast knowing there was help, changed tactics. It leaped up, bearing down the first intruder. Massive jaws closed in on his head and bit down, crushing through the skull bone. Then as easily as a terrier shakes a rat, the large dog, lifted up the body and shook it, easily shredding the skull. Then it took a guard position beside Ska’arr warily watching the priest and the doorway.

Is he dead or just ghoul paralyzed? Check him.

The priest neared the growling Beast. “Easy boy. Let me help. You know me. Easy.”

The huge mastiff-wolf guardedly allowed Ro-Lund-Do closer. He knew that this person treated him as a kind master would. He knew that this person liked him and had helped his master not too long ago. So he allowed him to touch the master.

Ro-Lund-Do felt the pulse in Ska’arr’s neck beating slowly. Just paralyzed. So we are only here to help. The book will have to wait.

“Listen Ska’arr. I know you can see and hear me. It is a slight paralysis and it will pass very soon. There are no other wounds. I cannot remove it but you will be just fine.”

The Stalkers were running down the hallway towards them. They appeared at the doorway, Kat leading.

“Beanpole! What….”

“I’m fine. He’s fine. He will be up and about shortly. Don’t crowd in-it is making Beast anxious.”

The war dog had begun snarling again. He knew these were friends but with his master not up and about he could not watch them all for signs of hostility so better to keep them out. Raven took command. "Kat- check out the downstairs, but do not engage unless forced to. Shribryn, Pelias, check out the other rooms on the floor. Watch each other's backs. Everyone search for Lorith, our proprietor. Go!

They scrambled out. She turned back to the necromancer. "You are certain that he …"

"Yes Raven, I am" he interrupted, a bit hotly. "I am a cleric. Healing and all associated with it is one of my specialties. He sees and hears us just fine. His heartbeat and breathing are strong. His paralysis will wear off soon. Unless you have some way to remove it. No? Then it will wear off in time. We just have to give him that time."

The beautiful black-haired monk stared at him as if debating something in her mind. "Right. We give him the time then."

No book today. Raven's going to stay. She's always in our way. Very rhyming, no? Interfering slut. Oh hush up Scuro. Our chance will arrive, sooner or later.

Shribryn and Pelias continued down the hallways, checking each room. So far they had found nothing. Some rooms were locked. These Shribryn used her pick lock tools to open.

“Shribryn, you are certain you are not hurt?”

She turned her white pupil less eyes to him and smiled. It transformed her from pretty to beautiful. Her hand brushed along his smooth cheek and lingered.

“My desert gallant. I am well-no wounds, no pain. Perhaps later, you may examine me to verify my health-just in case. Now let us continue.”

The young priest found himself embarrassed and excited at the same time, by her words and especially her touch. He cleared his throat. “Yes later perhaps.”

They arrived at the last room to check. The door was closed but unlocked.

“This is Lorith’s room” declared the Bedine girl. His scent loiters in the air. Ready?”

At his nod, she burst open the door and stood to the side. Pelias had a spell at the ready.

The room was empty except for its furniture. Bookshelves lined along the walls. On the opposite side of the room, a door led to the outside balcony. The north wall contained a closed door. The south wall held an open archway. All was quiet.

Pelias started to step in. Shribryn’s hand on his elbow stopped him. She leaned against him, her mouth to his ear. He felt all tingling.

“No” she whispered. "You do what you do best. Have your magic ready to help me. Let me do what I am best at, which is sneaking into rooms quietly.”

Pelias held his breath as she moved noiselessly into the room. At times he lost sight of her in amongst the shadows, so well did she hide.

Shribryn did not notice anything or anyone in the room. There was no air movements, no floor vibrations. Her blindsense indicated she had reached the archway. As she turned her heads towards the opening, it also indicated that there was another room, filled with a large bed, another door leading to the outside balcony, a fireplace and a chest by the bed.

She waved Pelias into the room.

The young cleric of Mystra arrived to stand beside her. "Bed, fireplace, and chest" she pointed out. We will search them. Ready?"

It never ceased to amaze Pelias how, though blinded, she seemed to see as well as, if not better, than most sighted people.

Searching revealed nothing out of the ordinary on, under the bed and in and around the fireplace. The ashes indicated that the fireplace had not been used in awhile and the unused bed covers showed that the bed had not been slept in.

Approaching the chest, Shribryn expressed her desire to test the lock by herself. "It may be trapped. Stand behind me a ways.'

Her delicate, highly intensified tactile touch could not discern anything amiss. No traps. Now let us attempt to open the lock. Using her pick tool, she found, to her surprise that the chest was not locked. Too easy. Have I missed a trap?

"Stand back Pelias and be on guard. I am going to open it." And so she did. There were no surprises. "Come and look in" she requested. "What do you see in the sacks?"

Pelias neared the chest and peered in. There were six small sacks in the chest. Amazing!- she realized there were sacks here. Incredible girl. Please Mystra- give me the courage to confess my feelings for her.

He reached in and began to open the sacks. "Coins- copper, silver gold and even a few platinum pieces. All except for one sack which contains tiny gems- not seemingly expensive, put pretty. Red, pink, green and blue ones." He took out a deep red one and held it against her cheek. "This one suits your complexion. Ask for the red ones as your share- they will be exquisite as ear rings or pendants."

"Oh Pelias- thank you. What I miss most is seeing colours. All I have is my memory of them."

"Shribryn- I will, with Mystra's guidance, research for a spell that will enable you to see what I see for a time. Perhaps our friend, Ro-Lund-Do, whom we know now to be also a wizard, will help me."

"Pelias" she moved so close to him that he could feel her gentle breathe on his lips, "You would do that for me? To see colour again-even for a short time- that would be a wonderful gift."

He bent his head, so that his lips just touched hers. She did not pull away. He felt himself a washed with burning desires and strange excitations. He wanted to pull her into him but was afraid that such a move would alienate her.

He was just about to overcome his timid ness, when she grabbed at his arms. "Listen" she demanded.

He froze, alert, but could not hear any sound. "What…" he began.

"It's Whisper, talking to Raven. She sounds agitated. Quickly let us return! We will return later for the chest."

How she could hear and know this when he could not, he did not know. But in love, there is trust. And so he followed her back down the hallway.

Kat made her way silently down the stairs, keeping to the shadows. All was quiet and dark. The last oil of the lamps in the common room gave out hardly any illumination. Yet to her low light vision, it was as clear as day.

The common room was empty. No one was present. All seemed quiet. She continued on past the bar to arrive at the kitchen door. Her keen hearing captured the sounds of shuffling, rumbling and the sound of a meat cleaver chopping through flesh and bone. The repugnant scent of old meat stung her nose.

Noiselessly, she peered around the corner. The sight nauseated her. There were two disgusting humanoid creatures. Dressed in tattered, blooded-soaked, rotting clothing, malevolent fiery eyes gleamed as they worked. Bone white leather desiccated skin was drawn tight over a skeleton frame. Hands and feet ended in sharp claws. Long filthy black blood-matted hair hung past their shoulders. Their mouths were filled with long, jagged, needle-like teeth.

One was hacking away at a set of ribs-human ribs! The other was placing them in a large stewing pot, along with hands and feet. Human body parts were strewn along the blood soaked chopping table.

She felt her gorge rise as she realized what was in the stew the Stalkers had been served earlier. But the gnome was made of sterner stuff. Swallowing her disgust, she cleared her mind to what she now had to do. A sense of great rage at these monsters filled her. Raven had instructed for her to report back. And so she silently made her way back up the stairs.

Raven stood in the doorway of Ska'arr's room. From there she could keep an eye on the hallway, the stairs and the inside of the room.

"So" she addressed the priest, "what caused Ska'arr to become paralyzed? Any ideas?"

The Death priest had placed the ranger's paralyzed body in a more comfortable position. He now waited beside the Beast, patting the animal and reassuring it the his master would be all right.

Careful how you answer he heard Scuro's voice in his mind. Yes always he answered back.

"I can only speculate. It may have been a spell or when he was struck, he may have been injected with a toxin."

"Which either way, they may have wanted to take us alive, as prisoners" she answered back.

"Yes, that would be a reasonable conclusion."

I do not believe it was coincidental. Lorith seemed to be aware of our coming. It implies he was forewarned about us. Which may mean a spy in the Blackhammer's circle or we just happened to arrive at the wrong time.

"Another reasonable conclusion. So what do you think we should we do?"

"For now- we take control of this inn. I am tire of all this. I am angry. We have just finished a battle, walked most of the night to get here, and we are attacked again. We need to end this and get a rest. Regroup. We must find this Lorith person, question him and stop this. I am weary of always reacting. Time to be proactive and assert ourselves.

Incredible. That is the longest she has spoken to us-full of surprises this one.

Before the priest could respond, Kat made her appearance at the top of the stairs.

"Whisper, what news?" asked the monk.

"Two creatures- in the kitchen." On the way up Kat had decided not to inform the rest about the source of their supper stew. She was not sure how they would react and she wanted no distractions from the upcoming fight. Perhaps, with any luck, they may not find out and so go through the rest of their lives in blissful ignorance about the affair.

"What kind of creatures?" Raven queried.

Kat then proceeded to describe them. It was at this point that Shribryn and Pelias re-joined them in the hallway.

"I do not know such creatures. Does anyone here? Pelias?"

The gnome has just described wights. Yes I know. We will have to warn the others about their touch. We still need the Stalkers.

"It sounds to me, from the description, that they could be wights, a form of undead" replied Pelias to Raven. "Other than that, I cannot say more. I did not study the specifics of the undead as I did the field of magic. I will attempt to turn them."

Hear that! He must not be allowed to turn them. We want to control them. From what the gnome said, they must already be controlled by someone. Wild wights do not act that way. Wild wights would have attacked us as soon as they sensed us here. They can give us important information.

Agreed-but we need the Stalkers more at this point. Besides I can neutralize any use of positive energy, with our negative one. We can still command them.

"Do not let them touch you. Do not let them contact you in any way. Wights can drain away your energy" interjected Ro-Lund-Do.

They stopped talking to regard him

"And you know this how, cleric of Amman-Ra?" Raven was the first to ask, with suspicion in her voice.

He responded. "You have just stated how. All Sun gods and those of Light regard the undead as abominations, which much be eliminated at any opportunity. Unlike our young friend Pelias here, priests of such deities, such as I, spend much time learning about the various undead, their habits, strengths and weaknesses. Oh very well said my alter ego. Hush Scuro. Let me finish. All the better to destroy them, failing that to at least control them. These are dangerous creatures; much more deadly than the zombies we fought."

"So what do you propose?"

"Well since Whisper said there were only two of them, she, you and Shribryn can hold them at bay, until I turn them. Once turned, with no place to retreat, they will be easy to destroy. Pelias can be my back up, in case my turning fails. Then he should attempt to do so. Sorry my young friend, but I have more experience in these matters than you. Let me try first."

"Not at all, friend Ro-Lund-Do" Pelias replied. "It sounds well." Raven turned to the other two females. "How does his plan sound to you, sisters?"

"Well beanpole sounds confident and seems to know what he is doing. And no one else has a better one. So let's do it, sooner rather than later. Right darlins'?

"I trust Ro-Lund-Do" Shribryn simply stated.

"Fine then. We do it but remember we want to find Lorith. I want to question that vile male. And I am hoping that he resists. "

At that point Kat interrupted. "Hey, what's happening to the dead guys?"

The dead attackers seemed to be transforming. Their non-descript human bodies changed into monster forms. Dead red eyes looked out from sunken sockets. The flesh became mottled and decayed, drawn tight overly clearly visible bones. They were completely hairless and their mouths showed sharp teeth.

Pelias spit out a spell. "Glamour, they were under glamour" he stated.

"What has happened? Tell me what has happened" demanded Shribryn. "I sense no changes."

"Our attackers were under an illusion" They have reverted to their true form. They are…"

"Ghouls" finished Ro-Lund-do calmly. They are ghouls. That explains Ska'arr's paralysis. Their touch has the ability to paralyze you."

"More of your undead knowledge, sun priest? Yes?" retorted Raven. "Well I tire of this. Let us proceed with your plan. Then search for that scum Lorith."

"What about Ska'arr? piped up Kat. Should not one of us stay with him?"

"Beast will guard him, as well if not better than any one of us" Ro-Lund-Do said. "Besides being he is ghoul paralyzed, he will be up in a very short time."

"Right then. Let's go kick some wight butt darlins'."

And so the Stalkers followed Kat and Shribryn back down the stairs. They approached the kitchen door. Once again Kat peered in. Nothing had changed that she could see. The wights were still busy chopping up human body parts and adding them to stew pots.

At Kat’s prearranged signal, the two Stalkers rushed into the kitchen. Kat went to the right side of the chopping table, while Shribryn went to the left side. This had the effect of herding the wights. The remaining three Stalkers followed quickly behind.

As soon as the monsters perceived the Stalkers, they halted their chores and rushed to the attack.

Shribryn tumbled underneath the wight’s claw attack. The creature actually spoke to her.

“I will kill you and then you will rise as my slave” it hissed at her.

Ignoring its words she sprung up after her tumble, twisting as she did so, to face its now exposed back. Her curved dagger scrapped down its back, causing a scream of pain. As it turned to attack her, she tumbled again, to repeat the process.

The second wight rushed Kat. It too spoke in a hollow voice. “I will gnaw on your bones, little gnome.

"Here, gnaw on this instead" she answered back. Kat had prepared her sling. As the wight charged, she released the stone. Her accuracy was uncanny. The stone struck the monster at its mouth. Teeth exploded, sending out enamelled bits in a cloud. Blackish, oozy blood sprayed outward. So great was the blow, that the monster was actually staggered backwards.

"Tasty, heh? Here have another one. My treat." She reloaded her sling. "Beanpole, cleric- boy, do your priest stuff. Oh no! So much for plan A- Shribryn, time for plan B.”

At those words, both the gnome and Bedine increased their attacks. Both twisted, feinted and slid under flailing clawed hands. Kat’s twin swords danced in and out, to and fro, slicing and stabbing. Shribryn’s curved desert dagger raked up and down the wight’s arms and chest. Both undead were pressed back by the intensity of the attacks.

The cause of Kat’s distress were the other three Stalkers, who, at the time, were busy vomiting.

Pelias, Raven and Ro-Lund-Do had followed in behind Kat and Shribryn. All three were intelligent and perceptive. One look at the kitchen, the large pots and the bloodied counters; they easily determined that they had ingested human meat in their supper stew. All three commenced vomiting but for three different reasons.

Pelias was filled with regret. Mystra, my goddess, cleanse me please, I beseech you.

Raven was composed as one could be while vomiting, but very irate. Will purge my body of this taint, then I will pound all those responsible into mush.

Scuro was full of rage! So much so that it spewed out, carrying the partial digested matter along with it. All Ro-Lund-Do could do was double over and expel his stomach’s contents. How dare they insult us so! Who do they think they are toying with? I will crush them. I will make them eat their own children. I will show them the true meaning of horror.

By the time the wights recovered from Kat’s and Shribryn”s onslaught, so too did Pelias. One look at the vomiting Ro-Lund-Do, told him that his friend was incapable of turning at the moment. He drew upon himself the divine essence of his goddess. A faint blue glow surrounded him. He held out his holy symbol to face the undead. “By the power granted to me by Mystra, Lady of All Magic, I command you. Be gone unclean. Be gone!”

As he spoke the holy words, the glow intensified. The wights, filled with a terrible pain, screamed out their agony; their minds filled with one thought: escape, escape from the holy presence.

The wights ran for the door. They ignored any the additional damage dealt to them by Shribryn and Kat as they raced past. They sped through the kitchen door into the main dining room and veered towards the outside door. Kat immediately gave chase.

As the two undead escaped, a large body jumped from the second floor balcony to land directly in front of them. An amazing dramatic leap. Beast growled his way down the flight of stairs. A spiked chain lashed out, splitting its way through a wight’s face, causing a detonation of bone, brackish blood and brain bits.

"I'm baaaa…ckkk" Ska'arr shouted to the Stalkers.

The remaining wight sped outside with Kat and Beast in quick pursuit.

Raven had recovered soon after Pelias. She had left the kitchen to help in the chasing down of the wights. Thus, only Ro-Lund-Do and Pelias were in the kitchen as the necromancer recovered from his vomiting episode.

"Well so much for our plan to control these undead. Scuro's thought emerged. There is still a chance Ro-Lund-Do thought back.

He sensed the wight. It was in range. Speaking in High Netherese, he commenced a rebuke, drawing on his internal Death force. A barely discernable pale grey aura surrounded him.

"Creatura di energia negativa, io sono il tuo Signore e Maestro, con la potenza della morte e non morte, paura e obbeditemi".

Pelias regarded all this, mystified. "Ro-Lund-Do, what are you...I have never seen or heard…" The necromancer, still concentrating, made a motion to signify "later- we will discuss it later."

Outside, as the Death energy washed over the wight, the effect was immediate and spectacular. Kat had been chasing the turned undead, taunting it. "Come back here dar'lin. Have a tasty treat for you." She had caught up to it just as the negative energy negated the turn. It reverted to its natural state. With a snarl it turned to attack her.

"Whoops, something just changed!"

As she went into defensive mode, a large growling Beast leaped over her, to slam with all its fury on the wight. Beast was not in a good mood. Enemies had attacked him, even hurt his master. He was full of wrath and finally he could vent it.

Knocking the wight down, the war dog's powerful jaws gripped the wight's head. Closing with incredible muscular force, huge fangs and sharp teeth were driven into the monster's face and skull. There was the sound of a soft melon being squashed. Beast continued to rip and tear at the now truly dead monster.

"Good doggie" barked Kat. "Good puppy dar'lin. It's dead. Come one doggie, let's go to master. Master dar'lin. Find master."

Beast stopped his worrying of the inert monster, to regard Kat. His frenzy had been assuaged a bit. Sniffing the air, he could not detect any more enemies. Any remaining ones would be inside the inn. With a snarl that could have meant 'follow me' he ran back to the inn.

The Stalkers gathered in the kitchen to determine their next move.

“The first floor is clear” reported Kat. “There is also a set of stairs behind these kitchen curtains leading down.”

“There is still a room upstairs that Pelias and I did not have time to check out” added Shribryn.

“First we must do something regarding these human remains” declared Pelias. “Give them some dignity.”

“I concur” Ska’arr nodded. “The best course would be to burn the pieces in the large fireplace. Treat it like a pyre. Say some prayers to guide their souls as they burn. Will you take charge of it?” Pelias agreed. “Yes, of course.”

“Good. Kat and Beast please guard, to ensure nothing comes up these stairs. Ro-Lund-Do, you do the same for the up stairs. Raven, you, Shribryn and I will help Pelias.”

And so they did. The sanctification and the burning proceeded without interruption and were over in a short time.

“All right Stalkers, let’s go and…” began Ska’arr.

Just at that time, the sound of a horn was clearly heard. In unison they all looked up towards the origin of the sound.

“An upstairs room” declared Ska’arr. “Let’s go everyone. Battle action. Be alert.”

Kat and Beast led the way. The war dog in anticipation of some enemy to tear apart; the rogue to be the first into whatever action awaited.

Once again the horn sounded; a deathly moan. It came from the end of the hall; from the last room, inside the north door across the open archway.

Beast arrived first; one step ahead of Kat, and commenced to scratch frantically and growl at the door; heavy claws leaving deep furrows in the wood. He knew there was an enemy inside. The smell told him.

“Stand aside, puppy dar’lin. Let Whisper open it. Then you bite whatever is inside.”

The lovely gnome rogue studied the lock and cursed. “Bane’s Black Balls! It’s been fused solid.”

The others arrived just as the horn sounded again, clearly and loudly.

“Stand back” ordered Ska’arr. Lifting a mighty foot, he slammed it hard against the lock. The door shook from the impact, bending in on its hinges.

When the noise stopped, a sound of running feet, then a door opening and closing could be heard from inside the room.

Once again, with grim determination etched on his face, the tall ranger kicked again. This time the door was blown open from the fierce impact.

Thick, dense streams and clouds of fog rolled out, filling the entire room and hallway. So thick was the fog that the Stalkers’ vision was limited to a foot or so. All the Stalkers except for Shribryn and Lord Scuro. Ska’arr remembered this.

“Just like at the caravan battle. Shribryn, be our eyes. Try to reduce or remove this fog. Ro-Lund-Do, use your magic as before. Help her.’

“Yes Ska’arr” replied the Bedine girl. “I am going to enter the room now. Friend Ro-Lund, guard my back.”

“Right with you, Shribryn” answered Scuro. Then he mouthed some gibberish.

There. That should make them think I cast a spell. Little Drac, need your help. The bat familiar ruffled the Netherese’s hair under the wide broad-rimmed hat. The familiar began to emit high frequency, well beyond the ability of humanoid ears to perceive. Its master's eyes were used as receivers for the echoes. Sight returned as Scuro used his familiar’s sense of echolocation.

Only his much experience in hiding his feelings and emotions prevented him from bursting a laugh at the sight. The Stalkers were carefully manoeuvring in order to contact each other. All moved like blind zombies. He resisted the temptation to shout ‘boo’ into Raven’s ear.

“We will be right back. Try not to crash into each other” he spoke to the group. Turning, he managed to glimpse Shribryn enter the room behind the door.

She truly trusts us my alter ego.

Yes. I find it refreshing. And she is ever so sweet in her trust.

The room was large. Lush carpets criss-crossed the room at various locations. Across the 15 foot width, across from the smashed in doorway, was a large fireplace. The room was 30 feet long from the west to east walls. The east wall held a fancy bed. A chest lay beside the bed. A window and a door that opened onto the balcony filled the rest of the wall. The west wall held a large closet and another chest. Otherwise the room was empty.

The necromancer stood beside Shribryn. They could hear the others shuffling outside.

“It appears to be empty” he reported. “Whoever or whatever was here are gone now.”

“I concur” she added. I can sense no motion of any kind.” She turned her milk white eyes to the necromancer. The rest of her face was veiled behind her chador. “Your magic is strong, to allow you to see so clearly.”

He moved so that his silver eyes were inches away from hers. So close that they could feel each others’ breath on their cheeks. She could not see the lustful glow manifest in his eyes, but she could sense the increase of his heart beat and flow of blood in his body. Desert gods! He aches for me…and, and … I find myself not minding at all. Oh Pelias-how can this be?

Oh by the Heavens. She is so beautiful, fresh and tempting. He noticed the quickening of her breath and opening of her lips. She would welcome me!

STOPPP!? Scuro’s mental shout halted his hand which had strayed to lift the chador away from her face.

Has your lust dimmed our brain? We have already discussed this. We agreed not to have any sort of relationship with the Stalkers. Fornicating devils! We are in a middle of a battle here. The rest are just outside the door waiting for us. You wish to throw away all we are striving for? Have you gone insane? Stop this. Stop this now.

You are correct. I acted without rhyme or reason.

Well yes, I would say so. Now get us back on track and avoid thinking with your gonads. At this point in time we cannot afford to antagonize the young lad. We are his 'friend', remember. We are supposed to be helping HIM seduce her. Although at this point she and he are doing fine without help. Now do what you were sent to do.

"Forgive me Shribryn. Something tried to command me; a magical trap of some kind perhaps” he lied easily. “I have now regained control. Let us continue with our objective and search out the room."

Shribryn could not help but notice the change in Ro-Lund-Do. There was now such a difference in his life signs that she suspected a completely different person stood by her. Even the voice sounded a bit off. The sudden change was enough to cool her ardour.

"Yes, I felt it as well. You are correct friend Ro-Lund-Do. Let us continue." I must think on this.

"First we do something about this unnatural fog."

With those words the necromancer headed towards the window. Nothing untoward occurred as he reached the window and opened it. The fog immediately began to flow outdoors. He opened the balcony door as well to increase the outward flow of the fog.

In a short time enough of the fog had vanished; enough that now sight was again possible. The Stalkers entered.

“Well done you two” complimented Ska’arr. “Someone was here. Look for signs and a way out. Pelias, you and Kat check out the chests. Shribryn, you have the bed. Look for a way out, a trap door, something. Raven, Ro-Lund-Do, the fireplace is yours.”

With those words, he and Beast headed for the closet.

While Shribryn searched in and around the bed, Pelias and Kat had gathered at the chest beside it.

“Well dar’lin?” the gnome inquired.

“There is a magical residue, but nothing to indicate a strong aura of magic” replied Mystra’s young cleric. He kept turning to watch Shribryn.

“Hey, eyes front” the gnome ordered. “Don’t worry. I’ll let you watch my behind while I work” she teased, enjoying the blush that crossed over his face. Kat approached the chest, studying it intensely. “It is not locked.” She then examined and picked around the padlock and hinges. “Nor can I determine any kind of tricks waiting. Here we go.” So saying, she opened up the lid. The chest was empty.

“Ah bother” She did not hide her disappointment. She carefully checked for secret drawers and false bottoms. She found none. Whatever the chest had contained was gone now. “Ah bother.”

Shribryn had dismantled the bed and its coverings. She had found nothing. She then flipped the bed up against the wall to examine the floor beneath it. Again she found nothing.

“Hey desert girl”, she heard Kat calling. “Find anything dar’lin? No? Well join us at the next chest. At least that way Pelias here won’t have to be looking around the room while I work.” She chuckled loud as once again Pelias blushed hard.

Why does Ska’arr keep pairing us with Raven? I swear that he suspects something and is using her to keep watch over us.

Ah, my inexperienced alter ego. Scuro’s reply sped through their thoughts. How our sides have changed. Usually I am the one cursing her, while you control us. Your emotions are overruling our good sense- as indicated by your approach to that Bedine girl. Listen now. I, having done it many times myself, understand. He is doing as a good battle leader should do. He is pairing us up to complement our various expertise. Whether you appreciate it or not this busybody and our abilities do synergize. The fact that she is a pain in our butt is something to dwell on later. Of course, he could be doing both; acting as a good group leader, while spying on us. But he did seem grateful and defended us against her accusations. And did they not have a tiff awhile back? I now wonder. Perhaps it is not us that he is concerned with but her. Knowing how she feels about us, he pairs us to keep her annoyed. How Machiavellian is he? Hmm…

Raven’s voice cut through his thoughts. "This searching has found nothing. I cannot see up the chimney-too dark. Use your magic to help us. Could the chimney be used as an escape route?"

Ro-Lund-Do did as she requested, without responding. Her attitude repels men more than her superb beauty attracts them. Looking up the chimney he could see out through the opening. It was too narrow even for a gnome or halfling.

"Well?" she inquired. Not realizing the extent that she wished to find and deal with Lorith, her requests and inquiries grated him.

"Well, yes it could be an escape route." As satisfaction gleamed in her eyes, he finished sarcastically. "If one were tiny and able to fly."

Before her response, both were rocked and slammed against the wall by an explosion.

Ska'arr was rummaging through the closet. Clothes and attires flew out as he made space. There had to be a way out of this room. There had been definite footsteps. The state of the room attested that someone was occupying it. Answers to questions were needed.

The closet ended in a blank wall. Best began to growl at scratch away at the wall.

"Smell something, do you boy?" the ranger asked rhetorically. Carefully he felt around , hands and fingertips sliding softly , back and forth along the wall. There! He could just feel a small groove, signifying some sort of secret opening. He was just about to call for Shribryn's or Kat's expertise help when an explosive blast rocked the room.

Pelias, Kat and Shribryn had gathered around the second chest.

"So magic here as well, dar'lin? Kat asked the young priest of Mystra. At Pelias' nod she turned her attention to the lock.

"Let me see then" she talked to herself. Poking with her trusty tools and using her experience, she soon discovered the trap. A magical one. One set to release a burst column of flame as soon as the lock was opened.

"Ha, ha, got cha now dar'lin" she exclaimed eagerly. In her haste to reveal the chest's contents, she broke the number one rule of disarming magical traps. The trap could be a front. As the last click sounded, the turn of her pick lock indicated that she had sprung the mundane trap. She immediately recognized her mistake. It was a trap inside the trap. The magic now just set off a spark which ignited the explosive powder inside the lid.

Move your sweet butt, l'il Whisper she told herself as she jumped to the side. Only her speed and agility saved her from grave damage. The chest top exploded sending out sharp shards of heavy wood and metal flying throughout the room. The force of the explosion was still enough to slam her hard against the opposite wall. She lay dazed for a few minutes.

At the sound of the click, Shribryn launched herself at Pelias. Knocking the young man down, she covered up his body as much as possible with hers to shelter him from the blast she knew was imminent. Even as she readied herself for pain and hurt, a part of her mind could not help but enjoy the feel of Pelias against her. So much so, that she attempted to burrow into him, all the better to protect him of course.

Pelias stood watching Kat pick locking the chest. Suddenly Shribryn jumped on him and knocked him down. Before he could say a word, she had laid herself over him, and pressed into him so much that he found it hared to talk. But he was aware of her sweet scent as well as the softness and femininity of her body. It felt so wonderful. Before he could relax and enjoy more the sensation, his ears were rocked by a blast and he felt pieces of flying debris striking him.

Raven recovered first. She surveyed the room. Pieces of metal and wood were strewn throughout. Smoke seemed to ooze out of the chest and the air stank of burnt wood, and an acrid smell she could not identify. Ska'arr was just getting up, seemly unhurt. Beast was already nosing at Whisper, who seemed to be unmoving. Shribryn and Pelias were slowly stirring. Ro-Lund-Do was just now standing, shaking to clear his head, apparently undamaged.

"See to Kat. Now!" She ordered as she raced over to the entwined young people.

"Shribryn! Pelias. Talk to me. How fare you?" Their answers would help determine their injuries.

Just knocked about a bit, otherwise fine`` answered back Shribryn as she slowly arose. "Pelias…?"

"I am unhurt" the priest replied allowing Shribryn to gently help him to his feet. Even as the shock of surprise was wearing off, he could not but help enjoy the sensation of her contact.

The Death Priest joined the Beast to kneel beside the gnome rogue. "Whisper" he spoke softly into her ear as he gently lifted her head while preparing to convert death energy into healing.

He was fond of this lovely little gnome. Even his alter ego, Scuro, liked her attitude, humour and outlook. Never mind her fighting skills.

"Whisper" he called again, "can you hear me?" His other hand on her chest, had already detected a strong heart beat.

At these words she opened her eyes. Gnome dark blue stared into noble Netherese silver. Her freckles danced as she smiled up at him. "Hey beanpole, nice to see you again dar'lin."

At the sound of her voice, Beast gave her cheek a long lick.

"Ouch, that scrapes. Watch it puppy dog. Yes I'm glad to see you too O.K. dar'lin?" The grizzled war dog gave out a growl-bark sound "By Mask's ugly mask, I swear that dog understands me."

"You are not hurt?" inquired the necromancer?

"Just my pride dar'lin. Just my pride."

He gave her a big grin at these words. She was well. No need for any healing. He felt a large sense of relief.

She continued with that mischievous gleam in her eyes. "I wish to inspect what my carelessness has wrought. Also want to see what that chest contained. So, as much as I know you want to keep fondling it, when your hand releases my boobie, you can help me up.

At the word 'boobie', a word in had not heard since his re-birth, delivered in such a playful manner, memories flooded his mind. So much so, that he lost focus of his immediate circumstances. Happy memories of happy bantering with Adrianna. In their private times together, the elf princess always referred to her breasts as 'her little boobies'. She would tease him by using phrases such as "Do my little boobies please my Lord?", "Please, my Lord, please my little boobies" and so many others. He was remembering his playful humorous responses.

Happy times when he could relax and forget the weight of political intrigues and responsibilities. Forget the duties involved in helping to run and control an empire.

Before logic could dictate his actions, he blurted out "Boobie? That's a boobie? And here I thought it was some kind of large wart. I was just about to clerically excise it."

He barely noticed Kat's surprised expression and jaw dropping at this uncharacteristic remark and his unfocused stare. His thoughts and concern now centered on Adrianna. So much so that even the screaming of Scuro in his mind could be suppressed deeply. So much so that even Kat's elbow in his stomach to refocus him went unheeded.

Oh Adrianna. I remember. More and more. Oh, my love. Someplace cold. You rest someplace cold.

So involved was he that he missed Ska'arr's approach just as Kat elbowed him.

"Kat…" began the ranger.

"Hey scar face. I am well. But something funny just happened to him" she indicated Ro-Lund-Do. They both looked at the necromancer, who seemed to be in a sort of trance staring at something only he could see.

"He seemed fine up to a minute ago", continued the gnome. Then he went into this trance-like state.

At that point, he necromancer blinked. "Hey Ska'arr" Ro-Lund-Do addressed the ranger. Are you well? Need healing?"

Kat looked worried. Ska'arr stared with concern. "How are you?" he asked peering He seemed to waiting for more odd behaviour. "Whisper seemed to think you are not yourself."

Hush Scuro. No. I know. I know.

"There seems to be a sort of magical trap in this room" he lied easily yet again. “It attempted once again to mentally control me, but once again I was able to hold it at bay. It tried earlier with me and Shribryn as well. Ask her. She will verify the experience." He continued the lie. "The sooner we leave this room the safer we will all be. But physically, I am well. Just concerned about the other Stalkers."

Oh well done Ro-Lund-Do. Well done, Scuro's voice buzzed.

“Well and good. As long as you are sure. Let’s check on the others. You are correct though. The sooner we leave the better, but first we must find the way out which I think I have.” He headed towards the others.

Kat kept scrutinizing the tall and skinny cleric. “I was frightened for you beanpole. You are sure all is well? Yes? Scarface is right. Let us finish this as soon as possible.”

A short discussion ascertained that the rest of the Stalkers were not injured. The chest held a scroll case inside which was a parchment. The parchment held the letters in alphabetical order but arranged strangely. The first six letters were inset into the tic tac toe spaces. As were the next six, except these ones had dots beside them which were placed in a clockwise rotation sequence. The last eight letters filled in the spaces formed by two large Xs. Again the last four had dots placed in a clockwise sequence.

“Some kind of code” suggested Pelias after some studying. “Not magical either.”

“Just wonderful dar’lin. All that trouble for just this?”

“Hang on to it” suggested Ska’arr. “Kat, Shribryn, come help me. I think I may have found the way our unseen friend took to escape.”

The three studied the wall behind the closet. “Yep, scarface, there is definitely a secret door here” confirmed Kat.

“Can you open it?” the ranger asked.

“Hey, does desert girl here have the hots for Pelias? Look how she blushes.”

“I meant open it without causing an explosion” continued the ranger, seemly staring at the ceiling seemingly with interest.

“Watch it dar’lin. Watch it.” Kat cautioned him. “Those are fight'in words.”

She deftly opened the door. The three Stalkers then stood at the entrance to a small 10’by 5’ space. There in the middle of the space was a trapdoor.

“Well we now know where our trumpet blowing friend went” stated Kat.

The ranger walked over to the trapdoor. A mighty heave lifted it, exposing a pitch black drop. The wind indicated it opened to the outside.

"Too dark to see how far the drop is or if any nasty surprises are waiting at the bottom" he informed them as they joined him.

"Not for me" replied the blind Bedine warrior. "Stand back." With those words Shribryn jumped into the opening. They heard her land and call up. All is well. I am out side the inn, near the cottages. I will attempt to check them out."

"Hold on Shribryn. I will join you. Kat you take a look around this room and then join and tell the others what we are doing."

"Wait scarface. You intend to jump down into the darkness. You are not like desert girl. At least she could sort of see the ground moving up to her and so brace herself. You will not have that advantage."

"It's fine Kat. I am getting used to and rather liking these leaps of adventure. Watch the dog for me. "He turned to Beast and pointed to the gnome girl." Obey!" he commanded and jumped down. The war dog gave out a whine.

"You and me puppy. You and me. Let's look around and save the others from themselves."

The 'others' were still in the bedroom. Raven was examining the new found parchment, trying to determine the code.

Pelias was in conversation with Scuro. "So friend Ro-Lund-Do, back in the kitchen, when you were attempting to turn the wight…"

"No my young friend, no" he lied smoothly, "I was not attempting a turn. That is why you did not recognize what I was doing. You had already turned it. I was trying to ah, gain control of it. I thought it could have told us much useful information."

"You can control undead? I did not study undead extensively. Is it teachable? Can I learn it from you? This is interesting."

"Ah, ah possibly. There is a wizard spell I can inscribe on a scroll for you as your sorceries abilities mature. But it is difficult and risky. I thought tonight, given the circumstances, it was worth the risk. Since, Kat and Beast killed it, I will not know if I was successful or not."

Well done my alter ego. A grand mixture of lies and half-truths. Keep them off balance.

"Hey, dar'lins, I heard my name. Talking about me behind my back?"

Pelias answered. "No. we were discussing that last wight, the one you chased after and destroyed."

"Oh, was going to ask you priests about that. A funny thing happened. It…"

"Where are Shribryn and Ska'arr?" asked Ro-Lund-Do, quick to change the subject.

"Huh- oh they jumped down the trap door, so they are most likely outside searching around or they are both lying on the ground with broken ankles or worse."

"What?" exclaimed Pelias. "She is, I mean, they are outside?" With those words he rushed out, obvious to where he was going.

His departure moved Raven to act. "He should not go alone. Here", she tossed the parchment, "I'll follow him. You two wait here." She dashed off.

"Bossy, isn't she? Well beanpole, just you and me, and the puppy of course. Now about that wight, all was going well, until it suddenly shuddered like and 'turned' on l'il ole me. So what happened there? You priests gave the impression that once turned, they would be easy pickings. Good thing puppy dog was there." She chucked the ugly scarred war dog under his chin, ignoring his warning growls. "Isn't he just the cutest?"

Make it good! Hush Scuro! "From what you describe it seems that the turning wore off. In hindsight, now I wish I had also attempted to turn instead of attempting control."

Excellent! Now if she verifies with Pelias, they will have the same stories.

Ordered to remain, they spent the next little while investigating and searching the immediate rooms. Kat was content to poke around and investigate whatever her curiosity asked at the moment. The Dupari priest spent his time examining the books now strewn about the rooms. But he could find none useful.

They heard the others below re-entering the inn and headed downstairs to greet them.

"Well dar'lins, what news?" the gnome wanted to know.

"I found nothing in my searches" responded Shribryn. "The others found nothing as well. The cottages are empty. They appear to have been empty for awhile."

"The grounds are too wet and dark to do a good tracking" added Ska'arr. "It appears we are alone in the inn."

"Yes Lorith seems to have escaped us. At least for now" spoke up Raven, her tone promising grim retribution.

"All alone? Maybe. We do not know what is below us" continued the pretty gnome indicating the kitchen stairs leading down.

"True" verified the big ranger. "But we have all been through a lot in a short time. We need rest and recovery. My plan is to find a good defensible room upstairs where we can do this. Then in the morning we can finish the investigation of the inn and determine our next course. If Lorith is gone, then another night will not make much difference. Agreed?"

They were all agreeable.

"I know just the room, dar'lins. Follow me." They all headed back upstairs after the gnome girl.

Ska'arr held Ro-Lund-Do back with a touch on his elbow. "Need to speak to you for a moment."

Now what? Scuro's thought bubbled to the surface. "Yes Ska'arr?

"You are the only one else here with wizardly abilities, so I am asking for your help. I have decided to follow through completely on my mother's legacy. I wish to make Lord Faragut into my familiar. Are you cognizant with the familiar bonding ritual? Yes. Good. Then you realize that the last part needs a wizard's helper to enjoin the wizard and the familiar. Will you be that helper? Thank you. Here. The ritual ending specific for ferrets is near the front. You can look through it."

With those last words, the ranger passed him a spellbook; the one he had been trying to get a look at for awhile now.

Well, well, well; after all our plans to attempt to steal its contents, here it is given to us. What irony, hey my alter ego? And oh, what a great disappointment.

Ro-Lund-Do had scanned through the book, noting the obvious lack of certain spell and the overabundance of other types. Types that were of small use for him.

"You are a focused specialist of the conjuration school?" It was not a question but Ska'arr nodded anyway.

"As was my mother. It is part of my way of honouring her."

"I will be pleased to help." Good my alter ego. Keep on their good side. Make yourself helpful and useful.

"Again, my thanks. We will do the ritual in the morning. Now let us find the others before we are missed."

They found that Kat had selected the first room on the east. It was fairly large with three double beds. Only the hallway door allowed for entering and leaving.

Upon entering, the Death Priest could see Kat and Pelias huddled together, whispering.

"Good. I hope they are comparing notes. Their stories regarding my 'turning' will compliment each other. If indeed that is what they are discussing.

At the sight of the last two Stalkers entering, the gnome got that mischievous look which foretold of some approaching discomposure.

"Well now that we are all here gathered together" tittered the gnome, "I do believe this is the first time we all share beds together as a group indoors in a single room. This is a ground breaking event dar'lins. Three males and three females. So how do we do this? One giant group grope? Drawing of lots? Equal sharing? This sharing will help us all bond together, no? Is there a bath tub large enough for all of us? Do we all undress simultaneously? Singly? Alone or with help? Come on dar'lins, waiting for suggestions."

She giggled at their expressions. "Anyone want first dibs on me? Anyone immune to the fire of passion cause with me dar'lins you are going to burn? Hey Shribryn, maybe I'll start with Pelias, you know give him some experience, get him prepped for you? Whatta'ya think?"

Pelias and Shribryn looked embarrassed as expressed by their red flushed faces.

"Please Whisper, let us be serious. There is no time for such frivolous talk. We are all too tired and there may be enemies still around” responded Raven.

"Oh poo, Raven girl. Loosen up! Your human life is too short. You need to sing and dance more, be more gnomish. Hey, we all know that you keep threatening to pound on long, tall and skinny there. So go ahead, pound him beneath the sheets. Who knows, you can crush him to death between your thighs and pretend it was due to uncontrollable lust." At this point she started to laugh.

Raven turned to Ska'arr with a look that said' 'take control before I do something regrettable. Is she in her right mind or been possessed?'

"Raven's right Kat" spoke up the ranger, his voice forceful. "There is a time and place for such banter, but now is not the time. Take first watch with Ro-Lund-Do. Then Shribryn and Pelias, and finally Raven and myself” he ordered the watches.

The necromancer wore Scuro’s grin during the badinage.

Is she not delightful, my alter ego? She would have been a welcome addition at my court. The others do not realize what she is attempting to do. But we do.

Beautiful as she is, it was the imagery of Raven and we locked in any kind of amorous embrace, that made me fearful. I do not relish being crushed. Almost been there. Shribryn on the other hand…

Take deep breaths my alter ego, take deep breaths.

The Stalkers settled in. The room became shadowy as only a lantern was allowed to glow. Raven and Shribryn, each exhausted, fell onto a bed and were soon slumbering lightly. Pelias entered into his prayer position to ask Mystra for her blessings. Ska,arr sat near the lantern, mother’s book in his hand, selecting spells to memorize, as well as reviewing the morning’s ritual. The room settled into a silence.

Katharina and Ro-Lund-Do settled in comfortably by the shut door, alert and ready.

“Whatcha grinin’ at, beanpole?” Kat asked low-voiced with an infectious grin of her own.

"You. I admire your courage, your spirit and your camaraderie. Especially your humour. It keeps on reminding me about someone I knew long ago. Someone who was dear to me and who now I miss. Someone I had wronged."

"Hey beanpole, dar'lin, you're getting that funny trance look again. Was she as beautiful, intelligent and witty a gnome lass as I?" Her twitching nose made her freckles dance.

He let out a sigh. "She was more than beautiful. Intelligent yes. Witty? Yes but only expressed it in our private moments and no, she was not a gnome."

"So, long, tall silver, what happened?"

"Too long a story to recount now, if I ever do. Suffice to say I now have some regret for my rejection."

"So, any chance of going back to Dupari and making it up to her? If I felt that strongly about a lost love, that is what I would do."

He was silent for a brief second. He did not correct her misunderstanding. "No, there is no chance of that happening."

It was her turn to be briefly quiet. Then her freckles danced once more. "Look on the bright side beanpole. You still have lil, ole me."

He laughed. "And you Kat, any handsome, smart, rich gnome boy pining away for you?"

Her eyes twinkled. "Have not met any who seemed to meet my qualifications, not handsome, smart or rich enough all at the same time."

"You know Kat; something I have been meaning to ask you for awhile now. I never met a gnome quite like you before."

"Of course not dar'lin. I am unique in all my talents."

"No, no, I mean I never met a gnome like you before."

Her eyes lost their twinkle even though her grin never faltered. "Know a lot of gnomes, do we dar'lin?"

Not a lot, just a large number of former artisan and farming slaves. Not that I can ever tell you that. And none were as you.

"No, but in my travels, I have come across some gnomes, but they were either rock or forest gnomes. None appeared to be the same as you. None were as tall or as slender or had that greyish tone to their skin. So I was just wondering."

"Well then dar'lin, how's your history? I am a stone gnome. Hey, I'm in charge of the humour in our group. I said stone, not stoned. Don't try and be funny, it does not fit you, no matter how you protest that you have changed since arriving here. Anyway, after the fall of the Netherese Empire…you have heard of the Netherese Empire right?" This last part was in reaction to the necromancer going shock still.

"You have? Good. Well when the Netherese cities went crashing down, smushing all the commoners and grounders, the gnome slaves got together and left. They settled over all Faerun. A small bunch settled in the stony areas where they eventually became the stone gnomes. We are a small and reclusive bunch."

"Truly? Well that would explain it then."

Not really. But I cannot tell you what I am or why I am here. At least, not yet.

"Yes, truly. Besides in all MY travels, I never met a human quite like you dar'lin. Yes, I know, a genetic affliction, you explained. So I guess fate put us two unique individuals together." She grinned up at him.

Scuro relaxed. She was not going to continue to pursue the Netherese connection. "And I for one am glad she did." He grinned back.

They settled back into their watch which passed uneventfully. That night, all the watches passed uneventfully.

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