"The contract will stay open, unless you kill me or the Client. Your choice is obvious." – The Assassin
The party was on the road North of Amphail, headed to Lockridge Monastery near Triboar to deliver the only remaining orphan child from the Ravenstone attack – Nincy Nesper. They fought and defeated some trolls, tracking their base-of-operations to be two hours west of the road, two days from Amphail. That night, however, they had learned a dark secret – Arentian had his finger severed and his belongings stolen, as the group discovered that a pair of assassins were pursuing the party for a 100 000 GP bounty. They spent the next days in tense anticipation, fearing ambush at the slightest hint of activity. On the road, they met a traveling mage named Zephyr Zanzibar, who trekked along with his Air Elemental companion named Toot. Engaging the man in discourse, they learned that he was travelling from the High Forest, searching for his mother who disappeared ten years ago. They learned that his mother was none other than Virro Lithelon, a purported high-ranking member of the Wizard's Guild they tracked – and presumed were responsible for the giant attack on Ravenstone. Much more was gained from the discussion with Zanzibar, though, as he told them, too, that the name of the guild was Alkahest, and that his father was Szass Tam, Lich-King of Thay. The party told him the basics of their investigation, and when he learned that they, too, sought Virro, he insisted on traveling alongside them. They now had two traveling ally companions: Alamathar, the Dwarf Battlerager-Cleric, and Zephyr Zanzibar, the Mage.
Setting in for the night after a long afternoon of discussion with Zanzibar, which he finished with a ritualistic set of stretches and flail-maneuvers. T'avin took to pouring over the book he was writing about the Ear Seeker Orc Tribe in the Ardeep Forest near Ravenstone, while Thaldrak and Enthoril tried their hands at learning Giant and Draconic, respectfully. Thaldrak was making remarkable progress with Giant, but Enthoril struggled with the ancient scratches of the Draconic script. Meanwhile, Kay spent his time investigating his map, doing his best to deduce the busy tactile script ribbing over the creased parchment. Arentian, meanwhile, listened to Enthoril lecture the sorcerer about the moral ways, though these lectures were peppered with Enthoril's lessons on the Draconic tongue and often interrupted the flow of knowledge. Zanzibar spent his time in meditation while Alamathar complained about the lack of booze.
A few hours into the night, Alamathar stood with Arentian facing south along the road, as the pair discussed the journey. Suddenly, though, a crossbow bolt flung into the neck of the dwarf, while another embedded itself deep into Arentian's chest. Immediately, the sorcerer dropped like a sack of bricks, crying out in pain for a split second before the rage-filled howl of Alamathar pierced the night. Immediately, the others awoke, springing up from their bedrolls. Zanzibar cast a spell of Fly on Enthoril while T'avin cast Haste on Thaldrak and Kay. Immediately, Alamathar ran to the first assassin, who was crouched behind a boulder. Her face was covered by a thin mask, a black skull covering her face. He was shortly followed by Enthoril, who used his newfound flying speed to jet overtop the battlefield and reach the rear of the assassin, who was now sandwiched between a raging dwarf and paladin – flying justice! The dwarf slashed at her with his spikes, doing what he could to pin her to the rock, to no avail. She danced about and slashed down at him, one blade shiving between his collarbones as he crumpled, dying, on the ground. Enthoril struck down at the woman, slashing at her forearm and stabbing into her gut. She cried out in pain as the longsword bit through flesh, retaliating in full. Her shortsword found a slot past the man's shield as the blade sunk deep into his bicep, and he suddenly began to tremor, uncontrollably vibrating.
Meanwhile, T'avin spun about as Kay rushed forward to the second assassin. He launched a firebolt straight toward her, as it connected perfectly with her face, sailing clear above the head of Kay. Half of her skeletal mask splintered away, leaving singed skin and a grimace of contorted pain. The woman buckled with dizzying pain after the blow, and regained her strength just before Kay sent two daggers sailing – one missing wide while the other embedded deep into her thigh. She stood straight and with shaking hands scattered about her crossbow bolts, grabbing one specific which she levied toward T'avin and fired… though it sailed clear over his shoulder and disappeared into the darkness.
Thaldrak rushed forward to Arentian and stabilized the man, as he stood straight, gasping for air. Zanzibar ran past the Dwarf to the assassin firing at T'avin, and cried out an incantation as a 100-foot line of bluish-white light cracked through the night, electrocuting the woman and exploding a tree some sixty feet behind her. Thaldrak drew out his bow and fired, as well, sending arrow after arrow into her knee. She clung to life as T'avin and Kay finished her off – daggers and firebolts flung at her buckled form – but not before Zanzibar cried "Do not kill her!". Just in time, they stayed their blows and sent the woman spinning into unconsciousness.
Meanwhile, Enthoril was engaged in a bitter blade-to-blade combat, striking out at the woman and nearly knocking one of her shortswords from her grasp. Soon after, Thaldrak and Zanzibar appeared nearby, and she appeared desperate. Quickly, she drew out a dagger, slashing at Enthoril. The blade sunk into his chest and he winced in pain, his hands still trembling. Soon, she was outnumbered, though, and before all was said and done, she had fallen unconscious, sunk with the blows of Thaldrak, Zanzibar and Enthoril, the Flying Justice, himself.
"Stand back!" Enthoril cried out, "Who has rope?" Thaldrak held out a few feet of hempen rope, his pack still strapped on – as he had needed his healer's kit. Tightly, Enthoril wound a complex binding about her ankles and wrists, Thaldrak tugging at the end to the point that her hands grew pale for lack of circulation.
Meanwhile, T'avin stood above the crumpled woman on the other side of the road, staring down at her broken form. Remembering Zanzibar's call to spare her, he sought a way to restrict her motility. Looking down at her wounded knee – from which two arrows of Thaldrak protruded – he stomped on the joint. Red blood flowed from the wound as a sickening crunch resounded through the camp, though it was barely audible above the crackling that was the remnants of the tree thunderbolted by Zanzibar. Kay appeared, then, from behind a boulder. He tied the woman with rope, though instead of using brute strength, weaving a knot so elegant that not even T'avin – who stood over the woman – could follow his finger movements. Zanzibar appeared, then, and reached down to feel the woman's pulse a few minutes once the knots were tied. The others had already begun dragging the other woman to the camp, and were examining her belongings.
"She's dead." Zanzibar said, grimly. "I thought I said to keep them alive!"
T'avin shrugged, his eyes opening wide at the accusation, "She was alive when I found her!"
Enthoril appeared, then, his arms crossed – and no longer trembling. "They have a way of killing themselves! Check them for poison! Perhaps something killed them when you weren't looking. Check the perimeter for beasts, as well!"
"Holy shit…" Thaldrak's voice resounded from the camp as a low whistle followed. The others dragged the body of the second woman there, joining the Dwarf as he poured over the assassin's equipment. Vials upon vials of poison or potion were stacked upon an empty sack, together with a few blades, bolts and light crossbows. T'avin took the possessions of the dead assassin to add to the pile, which now contained a number of gemstones and gold pieces … as well as two peculiar metal amulets, which appeared to contain thirteen sockets, though only one was filled with a ruby.
More peculiar, T'avin found, was a small scroll case. Taking the object and examining it in his hands, T'avin held it before the firelight. Carefully, he opened it, starting to see a thin, chalky dust. Once the capsule opened a few millimeters, though, T'avin's fingers were forced away violently as the dust burst into the air, spreading ravenously like tentacles that constricted about everyone standing before the fire. Immediately, they coughed and hacked, Arentian – who was doing his best to recover from the brutal assault and gather his senses – fell unconscious, immediately. Alamathar – who had been stabilized and healed by Thaldrak – vomited over a rockface. Enthoril went from person-to-person, muttering a small prayer to Torm as he placed his hands upon them, doing what he could to cure the poison. Immediately, their lungs and vision cleared, as Thaldrak broke the silence "God dammit, T'avin, what did you do!?"
But the sorcerer was already again preoccupied, as he held a piece of paper in his hands. "Huh. Huh!"
"What is it?" Thaldrak asked.
"A note about our dear paladin friend…" T'avin stated, as he held the note for the others to see.
"What? Show it to me!" Enthoril called out, his voice lined with distress.
T'avin read the note aloud:
"What? Mallus Thundertaker? What so I take thunder?" Enthoril balked. The others looked at him, suspiciously, though T'avin's gaze shifted to the other side of the note, where he continued to stare at another would-be message.
"Give me the note," Enthoril began, leaning forward to take it from T'avin's hands. The sorcerer pulled back, eyes wide.
"Is your name really Enthoril?" T'avin said, curiously.
"What? Yes!" Enthoril responded, frustrated. "Yes! Enthoril! My name is Enthoril!"
"What is your real name?" T'avin replied. "What is your full name?"
"Enthoril! Enthoril is my name."
"No," Zanzibar cut in, "Is Enthoril your first name, or your family name?"
"Enthoril!" The paladin repeated, his voice rising with ire as his face screwed up with frustration. "My name is Enthoril, really! Why are you not trusting me, I have done nothing!"
"Do you have a last name?" Thaldrak asked, jumping in.
"My name is Enthoril!" The paladin spun on the Dwarf.
"OK well my name is Thaldrak," The fighter placed his palm on his chest, "I have no last name, just my clan name – Battlehammer." He then gestured outwardly to the paladin, "Do you have a last name, yes or no?"
"My name is Enthoril! It's Enthoril!"
"Yes or no!?"
"My name is Enthoril! Come on, this is ridiculous!" The paladin cried out exasperatedly, his hands thrown wide in frustration. Silence fell over the rest as they looked between each other, though Arentian and Alamathar sat, nearby. Alamathar still hacked, coughing, as Enthoril had no more energy to cure him.
T'avin turned his gaze back to the note, aiming to break the tension. "Huh, this is interesting…"
Enthoril balked, "Come on, give me the note!" Enthoril reached out for the paper a second time.
T'avin took a step back, holding the note behind his shoulder, "I think I'll hold onto this, for now…"
"What? Fine! Fine! Then you don't get anything else!" Enthoril gestured to the loot splayed out on the ground in a huff and moved toward the massive boulder where Alamathar sat, his arms crossed and brow furrowed.
Ignoring the paladin, T'avin continued, "There's some kind of coded message written on the back of the paper," He held it aloft for everyone to see. "It will take time to decode…"
Enthoril scoffed yet again, then moved toward the only remaining living assassin, dragging her to the nearest tree and tying her around it, as well as tying her legs into a leash-like rope that he held onto. Meanwhile, Zephyr Zanzibar had taken a shovel from Thaldrak's pack and began to dig into the tree opposite. Thaldrak, Arentian and Kay moved to help him, and after some time, they had dug a two-meter-deep grave into the hilly ground. They dragged the body of the assassin over, and Zanzibar removed two copper coins from a pounch on his belt. He placed the coins over the woman's dead eyes, and they filled the grave half-full. The mage held his hand up, then, stopping the burial, as he placed six more coins upon the dirt. He then motioned for them to continue, as they covered the grave, entirely.
"Zanzibar," Thaldrak began, once the man had finished a short prayer for the dead woman, "Why do you do that?" Zanzibar's masked, emotionless face turned to face him, glistening in the firelight. "With the coins?"
"Old tradition. Thayan. They say it stops necromancy. Stops ye being raised back as undead."
"And… it works?" Thaldrak asked.
"No." Zanzibar said, flatly. "Just tradition." He sunk the shovel into the Earth and walked the dozen paces back to his resting place, where he sat, rigidly, against the tree trunk to resume his repose.
That night, little restful sleep was had. During one of the remaining watches, Thaldrak heard a savage roar crest over the southern hill, though he could not pinpoint it's nature. Before they knew it, light was cresting over the eastern horizon as the grey clouds became lit with morning, and the devastation of the battleground became clear. In contrast, their situation was about to become a lot murkier, however, as the assassin awoke.
The rope tugged at Enthoril's arm as she moved about in her excessive bindings, and the paladin leapt to his feet. "She's awake! She's awake!" He cried out, and the others stirred in their sleep, stretching away the bruised fatigue from their tired bones as they gathered around the excited paladin, and the stirring assassin.
Her skin was olive and her hair black, matted in blood yet tied tightly into a ponytail that hung down to her mid-back. Her face was elegant, yet covered in scars. Her green eyes, similarly, were captivating with an exotic, dangerous beauty, yet sat like dead stones in their sockets. She chewed at the gag that Enthoril had stuffed into her mouth the night before, her brow furrowed as she looked about her captors.
"Well?" Enthoril kneeled and pressed his face within half-a-meter of the woman, "Who are you?" He removed the gag from her mouth, and she promptly spit upon his face. Enthoril gritted his teeth and pointed to the freshly-dug grave. Her hard eyes flinched, revealing a flash of emotion in a split-second before snapping back to Enthoril, silently cutting him down.
"Who are you?!"
"The Garrote." She said. Her voice was a lofty dove, yet it cut through the air like the sharpest of swords splitting silence. "Heartseeker Sisters."
"Tell us everything," Enthoril began, looking about. He pointed to the note that T'avin held in his hand, "What is that? Who hired you? Who else are you here with?!"
T'avin whispered to the others, "We already know who hired her, I think…" and he pointed to the S on the letter, "Salsalaniir." Thaldrak and Kay nodded, but Arentian and Zanzibar only stared at the woman.
"Oh just kill the bitch, already!" Alamathar shouted, between coughs.
"Let me try," Tavin said, stepping forward and beginning to speak to the woman. "It looks like you failed?"
"I would say otherwise." Her words, while few, said much – her tone ice-cold and calculating.
"Oh really? Because we beat you. Pretty easily, I might add. Looks like you underestimated us."
She laughed. Her laugh sounded like ice clattering about a crystal glass, sharp and cold. "Did you enjoy your food, this morning?"
"We didn't eat this morning." T'avin responded, his voice and eyes thin with suspicion.
"Well… did you enjoy your food, yesterday?"
Thaldrak turned to Arentian and whispered, "Take the rations to Max. He can smell poison, no?" Arentian's face brightened as he realized this, and he rushed over to grab at the food from the packs, then held it up to Max, who had already begun preoccupying himself with amusing Nincy Nesper. The girl looked at Arentian with cold, dead eyes, "Are we going to kill her too? Is she a troll?"
"Uhh…" Arentian stammered, "Go to sleep." He held the food toward Max, who sniffed it, but then his nose followed up Arentian's arm to his chest, whereabouts the poisoned bolt had struck him. The Tressym pawed at the sorcerer's chest, his eyes lined with concern. As Arentian looked down, he noticed something shocking. The wound hadn't healed. In fact, it looked worse, infected, even. Purplish-pink lines threaded about his chest and ribs. Immediately, the sorcerer paled, and covered the wound with his tattered clothing – torn from the battle with the trolls, the Calimshani, and the assassins.
Meanwhile, T'avin's discussion with the assassin continued. "Is the contract over?"
She laughed, "No. So long as I'm alive, the contract remains open. It's a two-sided contract."
Enthoril interrupted, then, "You, contact the Client for us! Tell him you have us!" She levied a cold, firm gaze upon him. "Who is he?!"
"We know who he is," T'avin answered his question, then continued talking to the woman. "Why don't you tell us what this means?" He held the encrypted note aloft.
"No." She said, simply.
"I don't think you're in a position to bargain…" T'avin began.
She laughed, again. "Nothing you do to me will come close to what will happen to me, anyway."
"Who is the leader of your organization?!" Enthoril asked. "Where are you located!?"
"Faerûn, of course." She gave Enthoril another deadly gaze.
"Tell us about this code," T'avin asked again. "Do you have a camp? Where is his stuff?" T'avin pointed at Arentian, who pointedly rubbed the wound on his chest.
"He likely flew away with it."
"He? Which he?"
"He." She looked at T'avin, silently. "If you keep me alive, you have no idea what's coming your way."
"He is Salsalaniir!" Enthoril balked, "And fine, send them! We defeated you easily enough!"
She laughed, for the fourth time, "Are you afraid?"
"You really should be." She smiled, "You found our amulets, yes?"
"I presume that's some kind of ranking system?" T'avin inquired.
"Yes. One of thirteen."
"And your leader… thirteen?"
"No, no… The Thirteen… he could kill each of you in his sleep. The way I see it, you have two choices, kill me, or take me with you to kill S. Your fate is in your own hands."
"I'd prefer not to kill her," Zanzibar stated, and Arentian and Enthoril nodded.
Immediately a discussion erupted, wherein Thaldrak and T'avin stated flatly, the choice was clear – if the contract stayed open, The Garrote would send many more, significantly powerful individuals their way. If they killed the assassin, it would remain closed. Take her with them, and they have no guarantee that she would not betray them at the drop of a dagger. Not kill her, and the contract remained open, plus they would have to deal with the dangerous woman.
"Look, the way I see it," Thaldrak said, "If we don't kill her, we're all at risk! Look how well-equipped they were, and they were at the bottom!"
"No!" Enthoril insisted, "We cannot. They do not follow our laws. They are beings of chaos. If we let them influence our decisions, how are we any better than them?"
"I agree, I don't want to kill her." Arentian said. Zanzibar remained quiet.
"Look, the way I see it," T'avin began, "If we don't kill her, we are putting the lives of thousands or more at risk. We have the responsibility of maybe the whole of the Sword Coast on our shoulders to find these Wizards and stop the Giants! If the Vonindöd is constructed, there won't be anyone left to make any laws!"
"That's right," Thaldrak nodded, "If we let her live, the contract stays open. That means anyone and everyone could be headed for us. We wouldn't stand a chance."
"I don't care! We cannot kill her!" Enthoril repeated, firmly.
"Look, man," Thaldrak held his hands open, pleadingly, "We don't have a choice! Like she said, we either go take on Salsalaniir, which could be suicide with her at our back, or the whole Garrote comes after us! We won't make it to Triboar! She even said, whatever the Garrote does to her will be worse than death… she wants to die!"
The assassin's voice cut through the air, "Your fate is in your hands." She repeated. "Kill me, or take me with you to the client. To do otherwise would spell your doom."
"No, we cannot kill her. I will not allow it." Enthoril said, yet again, placing his fists upon his hips. "It is simple murder, and that is a fact. We are about to pass through Red Larch, we can take her to the mayor there, or the guardhouse! They can exact justice."
"We can exact justice right now! She's an assassin!"
Arentian looked deeply into the woman's eyes and spoke, "I agree with Thaldrak," He turned to Enthoril, who stared, jaw agape, "I've changed my mind. I've looked into her eyes. She's no longer a person. There's nothing there."
"Everyone deserves a chance at redemption," Zanzibar responded, flatly.
"But she will get none!" Thaldrak continued, "The Garrote will kill her – painfully – or she will eventually be executed, anyway! This is pointless!" Zanzibar lowered his masked visage to the ground, not responding.
"You are a dwarf! You are dishonorable! You cannot kill her!" Enthoril commanded, pointing a finger at Thaldrak's chest, then he spun about, facing the assassin. "By the Authority of Waterdeep, you are under arrest!"
"Whose authority?!" T'avin retorted.
"Waterdeep!" Enthoril shouted back.
"But… we aren't in Waterdeep…" T'avin let the words hang in the air, defusing Enthoril's previous statement.
"You are under arrest!" Enthoril spun back toward the assassin, who laughed, as he untied her from the tree and began to prepare her for transport.
"You are a fool who will drown in his own spittle, tears and blood." She spat at Enthoril, and the paladin raised his hand, slapping her across the mouth – though lightly.
Immediately, Zanzibar's face snapped up as his flail snapped from his belt. "You…" He said, his voice shaking. "Your paladin virtues… are disappointing. You call yourself a paladin?" The man stormed away, toward the cart, and walked to the other side.
"Fine," Thaldrak said, "Fine. But this is on you! This is all on you. This is your responsability."
Enthoril nodded as he stuffed the woman's mouth with rags and bound her tightly, hoisting her over his shoulder and bringing her to the wagon. Immediately, when she came within sight of the young girl, Nincy Nesper shrieked out in fear.
"No, no, no! Get the troll away from me!" She scrambled backward, pressing her back against the front of the wagon. From behind her gag, the woman laughed, screwing her eyes into a horrific visage.
"God dammit," Thaldrak cursed, as Arentian climbed atop the front of the wagon and reached for the girl, picking her up and placing her atop his own horse.
"Why can't we just kill her? Cut her throat?" The girl asked Arentian, who simply buried his face into his hands.
As they continued onward, the argument followed them. Thaldrak continued to try to pursuade Enthoril that the risk to the group, their mission and therefore the Sword Coast was too great to ignore. However, Enthoril denied this, staying true to his virtues and ideals, insisting that it was murder and murder alone without giving her to an authority figure.
"If you strike out at her, you will have to go through me!" Enthoril finished the argument with the bitter threat.
"This is what she's trying to do!" T'avin held his hands wide, "Split the group!" But his cry was met with silence. Immediately, he began to speak to Thaldrak in Message cantrip, conspiring to find a way to deal with the problem before more assassins found them.
Zanzibar apologized to Enthoril, saying that he 'let his emotions get the best of him', and the two exchanged sincere words of forgiveness.
The next day of travel was met with a tense silence, broken only by the occasional arguing, though no stalemate was broken between the paladin and the other companions. For Enthoril, it was murder non-withstanding – the woman must first stand trial. For the others, it was a matter of life-or-death, success or failure.
"You have to understand," T'avin said that night, as they prepared their camp for the evening, "Our mission puts so many lives at risk. It's going to put us in so many positions like this. You have to be willing to consider the greater good. Are you willing to perform an evil act for the greater good?"
"It doesn't matter." Enthoril said, flatly, laying logs over the sparking embers of their fire. "It's murder."
That night, Thaldrak thumbed his sword, considering the woman. She had spoken out, again, insisting several times that the party would meet their doom, perhaps that night. And Thaldrak didn't doubt it, not unless she was dealt with. He watched as Enthoril tied an elaborate system of knots around her legs, leading to a leash-like rope that he wrapped about his wrist. He had already removed the gag from her mouth, and when he finished, he looked about to the others. "Sailor's knots." He said, pointing. "So if you try anything, she will kick her legs," He tugged at the rope and her legs shot to-and-fro, "and I will wake up!" He rested his hand on the hilt of his longsword. "So don't try anything, or you'll have to deal with me!"
Thaldrak sighed, looking between the woman and Enthoril, who began to take off his armor for sleep. His repose was broken by the sounds of wretching, and Alamathar puked along the side of the cart.
"Ohh… I'm not te be feelin so good…" The dwarf clutched between the spikes on his armor to his stomach, and lay down underneath the cart, where he curled up into the fetal position. Arentian, likewise, felt terrible. Their wounds had spread, and a fever had taken them. Their foreheads were damp and warm. They had said nothing, yet, aside from the regular griping of Alamathar. Earlier that day, Enthoril had tried, yet again, to cure him, to no avail.
Turning from the stinking sickness, Thaldrak pulled aside Kay and T'avin, then motioned for the three to speak in message cantrip. Enthoril eyed them from a distance suspiciously and called out, "I've got the rope!"
Thaldrak asked Kay if he'd be willing to sneak up on the woman and "deal with her", or perhaps shoot her from a distance with a crossbow bolt. The halfling declined, though, saying "I've yet to kill another person," He looked back to the assassin, who seemed forlorn and pale before the dim light of the campfire "I'm sorry, I don't think I can. I'm a thief, not an assassin."
"Alright," Thaldrak said in their minds, "Then I guess I'll have to do it." But he looked over and saw that Enthoril had one hand on the rope, and the other on his sword hilt. Looking between the assassin and the paladin, then to the others, he thought for a moment, imagining drawing blades against the paladin. Part of him wanted to, just to deal with the situation once and for all. He wouldn't hurt the man, of course, but he couldn't be sure that his mercy would be reciprocated. He sighed, and lowered his blade.
"I'll do it." T'avin said, and he drew – for likely the first time – a dagger from his belt. Metaphorical fire blazed in his eyes as he beset upon himself with determination, crouching down – aiming to sneak. He tripped, though, and stumbled over the equipment of one of the others, drawing a loud CLANG. Everyone stirred, and Enthoril's eyes turned onto the sorcerer. Immediately, though, T'avin thought of the possible consequences if he failed, pictured his friends dead, their throats slit by assassin's daggers, as he lunged forward with the dagger, aiming to sink the tip into the woman's eye… but he missed. She moved her head an inch to the left, and the blade sunk into the tree trunk. She cried out, then, and snapped her feet back and forth. The others were about, then, standing before the fire, as Enthoril rose to his feet.
"STOP! STOP!" He cried out, "What are you doing?! STOP!" T'avin's blade lunged forward again, and this time it sank – with a sickening THUNK - into the woman's eyesocket and deep into her skull. Blood poured out over the blade and down her chest as Enthoril cried out.
"Look at what you've done! Why? Why did you do this?!" He drew his blade, though many of the others already had their weapons in hand. The woman twitched about, seizing.
"It was her or us," Thaldrak said, slowly. Enthoril spun on the dwarf.
"You are murderers! All of you!" He stuck his finger out and spun it between the party, turning to T'avin just in time to see the sorcerer's firey hands shoot a bolt of flame toward the woman's twitching skull, which exploded with a POP as the bloody corpse fell limp to the ground. The rope in Enthoril's hands went slack, forever.
"What's going on?" Arentian said with a shakey voice, crawling out from his bedroll. "Guys? I don't feel so good." He removed his shirt and pointed to the spreading wound at his chest.
The next days were filled with a tense silence. Enthoril spoke to no one, and rode 70 meters ahead of the rest. He had given Thaldrak specific instructions – if not orders – to listen to certain commands, but the dwarf seemed uneasy, unsure of the paladin's intentions or possible retribution for the actions of the previous night. T'avin, meanwhile, spoke to Zanzibar, and while the pair seemed to reach a mutual understanding, it was clear that Zanzibar did not entirely approve of his actions, though comprehended the necessity.
Meanwhile, Arentian and Alamathar both worsened as time went on. The silence of their travels was penetrated only by the occasional groans or wretches of the sickly pair, and as time went on, their situation only grew more dire.
After two days of hard travel, they eventually reached the town of Red Larch. The town was extraordinarily small, and nearly half of the 20-or-so building seemed in mid-construction. All about, men and women were covered in dirt or dust, carrying large pieces of wood or stone, tools hanging from their belts and pockets.
"You!" Enthoril called out to the nearest man, a sandy-haired fellow with no shirt and only overalls covering his body. His arms were covered to the shoulder in brown dirt, and he held several medium-sized wooden planks under his right arm. "Who is the leader here?" Enthoril demanded with urgency.
"Leader? We ain't havin' no leader fer a while, mister." The main looked up at Enthoril, confused. "On accounta the rebuildin'. Not much ta lead! Maybe the priestess is your best bet."
"Priestess? What's her name?!"
"Name?" The man repeated, still confused. At that moment, Alamathar stuck his pointy head out of the wagon and wretched green vomit across the dirt road. The man's screwed up his face with reflexive disgust as he looked back to Enthoril, "We're just be callin' her Priestess!"
"Alright, where is she?"
"Down the road there, mister." The man pointed a few hundred meters beyond. "In fronta the 'ol storehouse!"
Enthoril charged ahead, leading the others and the wagon to the direction pointed. Immediately, he noticed a half-elf woman coordinating efforts to patch up the second story of some great building, nearby. "Priestess!" He called out, "We are in dire need of your assistance!"
The woman looked about, spinning around to face Enthoril. Her white dress was filthy with dirt, but her brown hair shone with brightness and her eyes eager with life. She wasn't particularly attractive, but she had a certain degree of goodliness about her. "Oh?" She said, as she glanced between the group. "Who are you?"
"Travellers," Enthoril responded, vaguely, "We were attacked by assassins and two of us are poisoned."
"Assassins?" She said, and her eyes went wide. "I'm sorry, I don't know… we are rebuilding, we can't be of much assistance…" She looked around, nervously.
"Please, just have a look."
"Well, okay…" She walked over to the wagon, where Arentian and Alamathar lay. She examined the pair while Nincy Nesper watched.
"Are you a troll, too? Are we gonna stab her eye?" The girl looked at Arentian, as the priestess suddenly grew very uncomfortable.
Emerging from the wagon, she made her way to Enthoril, and asked, "Where are you from? Where are you going? Who were these assassins? This is dire, this is not something I can cure."
"Our mission is confidential." Enthoril answered, authoritatively. "What is wrong with them?"
"Well," She began, anxiously, showing a clear discomfort with the bloodied group. "The poison… it's… I've seen it. Once. When I worked in the temple in Neverwinter, a noble was nearly killed with something similar. Thankfully we saved him, with a spell of Greater Restoration. It's known as the Mark of Bane."
"You can't do Greater Restoration? We can't get to Neverwinter!" Enthoril quickly began to consider their options.
"No, no I cannot."
"Is there a priest nearby, or on the road who can help?" Thaldrak asked her.
"Aside from Brother Gee on the road south, no." She said. "A retired member of the Monastic Order from Lockridge Monastery. He has a hut between here and Amphail."
The party looked at each other knowingly, and groaned. "What?" Enthoril asked. "What is it?"
"We saw a hut when we were looking for the trolls," T'avin explained. "And we traveled past it."
"What about the Monastery?" Enthoril asked the woman.
"It's… possible." She said. "I can't say for sure. But that's your best bet. No one North of here to beyond Triboar could do such magic."
"Okay, let's go!" Enthoril charged onward, leaving the group in the dust as they still continued to discuss their options. They sighed, and began after the paladin, who still appeared upset by the killing of the assassin.
For several days, they traveled, doing everything they could to steal time from death, himself. Arentian and Alamathar worsened each day, growing gaunt and pale. Alamathar seemed to have a steady amount of resistance, but was more prone to vomiting than Arentian. The sorcerer simply seemed to be wasting away, growing thin and pale, clammy and tired.
A day away from the monastery, Enthoril noticed a great bird in the sky, a massive beast as big as a house, clutching something in it's talons… the severed head of a dragon!
Unsure of what he was seeing, Enthoril called out, "A dragon!" Immediately, the group spun into panic, but as they saw the thing Enthoril pointed to, they calmed. It was nearly a dozen kilometers away, far above the mountains to the West.
Looking at the thing, T'avin said, "That's not a dragon… but it's holding… a black dragon head." They watched the thing sail out of sight over the horizon, and continued onward. Their trail became challenging, as they rode up a steep mountainous incline, headed toward the Northern Sword Mountains. At one moment, the falling tongue of the wagon snapped in two, and they thought they'd have to walk it. But thankfully, Alamathar had a spell of mending, and could repair the wagon. On they went, and by the late afternoon, they were in the lower altitudes of the Sword Mountains. They stood before a thin, wooden bridge, then, and had to figure out a way to cross.
Eventually, they devised a method where Zanzibar would use the spell Tenser's Floating Disc to transport the wagon across, and Enthoril would lead the horses. However, much of the bridge snapped apart, and one of the beasts fell, plummeting to the ground… Alamathar's horse. The dwarf Battlerager-Cleric was too sick to care, though, and the only horse remaining was that of Arentian. Zanzibar cast Fly on Thaldrak – already before to get the dwarf across, once the wagon had made it – and the fighter simply released the horse from his bit & briddle, removing the saddle and slapping it's rump as it headed down the mountainside.
Enthoril nearly plummeted down to a rocky death, below, but T'avin – acting out of instinct – saved the man with a spell of Haste. Still bitter about the assassin, though, Enthoril made no motion to acknowledge this, and simply just grabbed the only horse who made it across, mounted the animal, and rode ahead of the troupe.
A few hours onward, they approached the Monastery. It was a glorious sight – two massive buildings of exotic architecture on opposite ledges of two different mountains, connected only by a stretching, thin bridge.
Snow capped the greenery about the place, and the upper-altitudes of the mountains beyond shimmered with the stuff.
The monastery seemed busy with activity – children and adults moved about, all of them bald and clad in yellow vestments, hauling equipment or carts filled with glistening stones. A trio of individuals had started to approach the party as they walked up the path – that had then turned to stony stairs as they marched onward – to meet the group.
The group was led by Brother Daweii, who introduced himself as the leader of the Monastic Order. They took the child, Nincy Nesper, who finally learned that her sister was not at the monastery.
"But, but Enthoril brought her here!" She cried out, her eyes brimming with tears. Enthoril stood rigid, a bit perplexed, forgetting the hasty lie T'avin had crafted and told when he had first rejoined the group from Waterdeep.
"No, girl." The man said, looking between her and the group. "I assure you, your sister is not here."
"But… but…" She burst into tears, sobbing loudly, and falling to her knees. Her hands covered her dirty face as her hair splayed about in a filthy mess, as she had gone unbathed since they departed waterdeep. The two others accompanying Brother Daweii grabbed her – from a distance – and carried the sobbing girl toward the Monastery.
"Brother Daweii, we are in dire need of assistance." Enthoril broke the silence, just as Brother Daweii was about to speak. "We have two who are poisoned, can one of you cast a Greater Restoration spell?"
The monastery leader considered the question in a long silence, then responded, "Come, I will escourt you to the mines. There you will meditate before the Center Stone. In silence. The Elder meditates, there. Perhaps he can help you."
He led the group into the mine, which he explained was Lockridge Mine, a place where rich minerals were taken from the earth. He gave little more explanation, and led the group down to a massive, illuminated stone. The stone was the size of a giant, and shone with a bluish-white hue. Big parts of it were a crystalline blue, shining with a transluscent glimmer. Within was a few exotic-looking, grey stones, etched with peculiar markings. Brother Daweii motioned for the others to meditate, there, and left them. They took a knee, and did as he instructed. Arentian and Alamathar struggled, and a few times, Alamathar had to vomit over the edge.
After a night of meditation, T'avin noticed a rune etched upon the stone:
They later went up above, back to the Monastery, where The Elder – a deaf, old man – agreed to cast the spell on Arentian, consuming the party's diamond that they had used. When asked whether they had another diamond, the Monastery said that htey had one, but that it was a sacred object. Brother Daweii said that the diamond could be earned if a feat of great suffering was performed for the Monastery. Elaborating, he said that two of their monks – Brother Oh and Brother Nesper – had gone missing on a monthly Pilgrimage to Shar's Summit, one of the tallest – if not the tallest – mountain peak in the North Sword Mountains. If the party could bring Brother Oh and Brother Nesper back, they could be rewarded with the diamond.
- The party were ambushed in the night by assassins. Arentian and Alamathar went down, but the party won out in the end.
- One assassin died in the battle, and the other was interrogated by the party. From her, they discovered that:
- The assassins were called the Heartseeker Sisters, a lower-ranking duo (13th) of The Garrote.
- A double-sided contract had been taken out on the party, on behalf of "The Client", who the party figured was Salsalaniir, based off of a note that had been written. On the note, Enthoril was mentioned by another name, and a coded message was written on the back.
- The party was faced with a conflict – kill the assassin in cold blood and end the 100 000 GP contract on their heads – of The Garrote, who would send more powerful assassins, or take her with them to kill Salsaniir, then pay out the rest of the contract. While most chose to kill the assassin, Enthoril insisted instead on taking her with them through to Red Larch, and possibly the Monastery.
- T'avin killed the assassin, and Enthoril accused the group of murder.
- Arentian and Alamathar had been poisoned by the Mark of Bane, a deadly poison used by the assassins that the party learned of from a Priestess in Red Larch, who was overseeing reconstruction efforts from an attack on the town two years ago by an Elemental Cult. Only a spell of Greater Restoration could cure the poison.
- T'avin used two scrolls of Sending to contact Lady Silverhand, who said that she could not provide aid for "at least a couple of days due to a developing situation in Waterdeep".
- Eventually, the party reached Lockridge Monastery. There, they:
- Met the leader of the Monastery, Brother Daweii, who introduced the place as the home of the Order of the Oculus, home to the Monks of Ilmater, who protect the orphaned children of the Sword Coast.
- Delivered the dishevelled Nincy Nesper, who learned her sister was not present.
- Discovered the Lockridge Mine, an old Dwarven gemstone mine run by the monks to maintain the Monastery. Inside was 'The Center Stone', a massive giant-sized gem/rune-stone affixed between the ceiling and floor of the center of the mine the monks used as a point of meditation.
- Found an elder, who cured Arentian of his ailment.
- Were asked to find Brother Nesper and Brother Gee, who had disappeared on a monthly pilgrimage to Shar's Peak, due West into the upper altitudes of the Sword Mountains. The leader of the monastery said that if they returned with the lost monks, they would consider providing the party with the Oculus Eye - a gemstone of great sentimental and historical value to the Monastic Order.