Chapter 2

"Chirp, Chirp." The crickets were going about their usual business outside of Tizer's bedroom window that evening. Everything was as it always was at night in Tel'Mithrim Glade. The only difference was in the state of the Elven leader's eyelids: they were open. He could not rest, even in his comfortable bed. Ever since he had entered his bedroom, a small knot in his stomach had formed and grown steadily throughout the night. He thought it odd because supper had been relatively small, as usual. The only time he felt stomach pains was after dining with the Axepeak Dwarves or the Edanea at KORT. They always eat such heavy foods, which, though quite delicious at the time, always upset his stomach.

Even while thinking of his last meal, however, Tizer knew that the pains were not from indigestion. The feeling was reminiscent of his encounter with a shade several years past while walking through the Lost Hills. The fear it had caused was so great that his entire body tensed up and he froze in place for several seconds. Only after he had fought off the terror that was slowly gripping his chest could he dispatch the creature with several well-placed fireballs.

Remembering this experience, he shot up in his bed and looked around the room. Shades were easily detectable through infravision because of their lack of heat. He did not see anything suspicious, but nevertheless he donned his cloak and stepped out into the hallway with nothing on his feet. He made his way to the dining hall and noticed the light shining on the floor through the large circular window near the roof. It was a deep blue, almost green, color. In all his years, he had never seen the moon cast such a strange light as that, even through storm clouds. Curious, he stepped out the front door into Tel'Mithrim Glade.

The first thing he noticed upon exiting the hall was that the forest was utterly silent. The crickets were no longer chirping and the forest seemed as though it were lying in wait, crouched in anticipation of the hapless creature that dares to step into its woody maw. The biting cold was the second thing he noticed. His feet became numb almost immediately upon standing in the frosted grass. He took a deep breath of the night's air through his nose and cold gripped his chest. Feeling moistness on his upper lip, Tizer held out his hand to feel for rain. The air was dry and cold as death, however. The Elf then touched his upper lip and saw that it was blood, trickling from his nose. Not wanting to stain his cloak, he returned to the guild hall and retrieved a cloth from behind the bar in the dining hall.

It was quite obvious to the Elven leader that this night was like no other. He thought of his guests, Edan and Jem, and swiftly padded to the guest section of the hall in his bare feet which were throbbing slightly, having been returned to the warmth of the hall's floors. Tizer stood outside of Edan's door and he heard soft breathing, as was normal for an Elf in reverie. He cracked the door slightly to make sure his guest was intact. Edan was resting peacefully in his bed. "Poor Edan... Rest well, mellonamin," whispered Tizer, remembering with a shiver the gruesome sight he had seen upon discovering his brother Tarion's mutilated body.

Continuing down the hall to the second guest room, Tizer let out a short sigh of relief at Edan's apparent safety. When he approached Jem's door, however, he heard nothing. He considered the possibility of her breathing more quietly than other Elves and cracked the door to her room. The bed was empty, though not disturbed. It was made as it had been when Jem had arrived. Shocked at the sight, Tizer flung the door open, dread welling up inside of him. He did not call her name, for fear of waking of Edan, but he searched her room thoroughly. Her belongings were not in the closet. It was as though she had never stayed at Tel'Mithrim Hall. Puzzled, the aged Elf went to the window and examined the latch. It appeared to be untouched. Jem had vanished, and so shortly after Tarion's murder, Tizer expected the worse.

Riklaun did not get much sleep the night before. He had stayed up much of the night looking for any clues as to why and who could have done this atrocity. He had gone over the building with a fine tooth comb and had found no clues, save one. Tarion had been alone when it happened. There were no foot prints outside or inside the building. Strongbow, Nalynn and Lyrianda wouldn't report from LongSaddle, Tarion's stomping grounds, for a few days. The same could be expected from Brisid and Taelsin who were in Neverwinter.

"Starrbolt, keep a watchful eye on the area. I am going to Triboar to see what I can find out. Make sure that guards are placed during the night." Rikalun said.

"Quel fara, Rik," Starrbolt called. He gave Rik a quick wave and went inside the dojo.

Riklaun walked to Tizer's home to see if Edan and Jem wanted to tag along. When he got there, Tizer was talking to Edan, Rayella and Lightning.

"Morning Riklaun!" he heard in his mind. Rik looked down at Lightning.

"And good morning to you too!"

"Rik!" Tizer said. "We've got some more disturbing news. Jem has disappeared. There is no sign of any struggle or forced entry. It looks as if she never slept in her room."

Riklaun went inside and looked around. "You won't find anything. It's untouched. she was not in here at all last night." Tizer said. "We did find tracks of hers that led to the guest hall where Tarion was killed."

"I did not see her last night. Edan, you are a tracker. Let's locate her." Riklaun said.

Rikalun and Edan gathered their things. "I'm coming along, Rik, if ye don't mind," Rayella said.

"Yea, me too," Lightning voiced.

Tizer watched as the three Elves and Lightning went out in search of Jem Val'istar.

"I hope they do not get into trouble." Tizer said. "But then Rik's middle name is trouble..." Tizer walked back inside of his office. Being the Captain had it's advantages, but right now he was dreading returning to the mound of paperwork sitting on his desk. Tizer looked at the desk and frowned. He grabbed his sword that hung on the back of his chair and left the office. He headed out into the woods to visit his long time friend and do some thinking. Lwynis would love his company.

The crickets chirping comforted Fenila as she waited in the dark woods. The dense canopy filtered the early dawn light, keeping parts of the ground in black shadow. Huffing a sigh of impatience, the Elf girl circled a tree restlessly.

"Where is he?" she wondered aloud. The crickets went silent, and Fenila heard the rustling of leaves a short distance away. "Kesdon? Are you there?" she asked. "You aren't scaring me, so just come out where I can see you." She walked around a large tree and gasped at the ground before her. A mound of bloody flesh lay at her feet. Broken bones were scattered around the pile. She recognized a leather bracelet near the mutilated body. She had given the bracelet to Kesdon on his eightieth birthday. In shock, Fenila stumbled backwards. After a couple steps, she felt a searing pain in her back. She let out a brief scream before claws ripped the girl's spine apart and shredded her heart. Her lifeless body did not hit the ground immediately. The mound of blood and flesh grew larger.

"Prey. It's what you do to little creatures. Pray. It's what little creatures do when they see you," the drider mused to herself. "You are terror incarnate. Lloth made you what you are today. If it was not for her, you'd not be in this mess. No, if it was not for Nalynn, you'd not be in this mess. Nalynn. The bitch. I'll see her burn for this. I will enjoy watching her beg for mercy. I will welcome her cry for a quick death. I will revel in her terror as she watches her friends die, by her hand. She will rue the day she ever came between me and Riklaun." Ebonstarr brooded over the thoughts as she re-read the scroll.

Ebonstarr curled up the scroll and placed it in her belt that held her sword. She had long abandoned her snake whip as it had fought against her after the transformation. Being a drider had its advantages, but also its disadvantages. Stealth being one of the former, strength being another. She had more strength now than she ever had. But she was losing her mind, slowly but surely. The impact of the transformation had set in quickly. After she had taken her first meal, she had felt disgusted by it. But slowly, that too had changed. She actually welcomed the hunt and slaughter of humanoids. Eating them only seemed proper. Her memory seemed intact. She still had her knowledge of spellcasting, but her priestess powers were gone. All that had made her into a priestess for Lloth was missing. She hated that. She hated Nalynn for it. "Nalynn will die... Very soon," Ebonstarr mused.

At the first sight of the figure, the guards at the gate expected the worst. Although the approaching figure bore no obvious threat, the guards shuddered just looking at him. Reinforcements were called so the guards standing atop the gate numbered ten. As he came closer, the guards saw a heavy cloak masked the stranger. A hood hid the figure's face completely. Once in awhile, the cloak parted to reveal only cheap leather armor. No large blade hung from his belt--only small pouches. The guards' tensions dissipated. This was no warrior.

When the figure arrived at the gate, the captain of the guards called out to him. "Welcome to the gates of Neverwinter. I am Captain Dalesin of the Royal Guard. Please state your name and business in our fine city."

"My name is Aerrellun and my business is private," the figure responded. At the sound of his voice, the guards' initial fears were reawakened. Crossbows were lifted on instinct. Dalesin waved his men to lower the weapons. Turning back to the stranger he said, "I apologize for my men's jumpiness. Your appearance seems to have unnerved them. Would you lift your hood so we might see your face?" The figure growled but did as was asked. Crossbows were raised once again as the pointed ears of Elves and black skin were revealed.

"Captain," Aerrellun said, "your men seem to be very jumpy indeed! I had heard that Neverwinter is a place where persons of all races are welcome. Would this be a lie?"

After a second's hesitation, Dalesin waved the guards to lower the crossbows again. "Nay, it is not a lie. All races are welcome within our city, even drow. However, some races are watched more closely than others. Enter the city and conduct your business, Aerrellun. I trust you shall steer clear of trouble, drow."

With a signal from the captain, the gates opened smoothly on their hinges. Aerrellun replaced his hood and entered the city of Neverwinter.

Willy was looking forward to the start of this day. It was a big day for him for today would be the young halfling's first time to go berry picking without his mother. For Willy it was another step toward adulthood. He tried hard to stay calm while his mother reminded him of everything she had taught him about the woods. She had drilled them into his mind so well he could recite them on command. "Always go into the patches down wind so as be warned of any danger that might lurk within them." "Always listen to the sounds of the woods, for the woods will tell you of any unseen dangers." Willy's mother covered everything not just once or twice but thrice to make sure Willy would be safe. When she finally thought the boy had listened she handed him his berry basket, kissed him good-bye and sent him off.

As the halfling stepped through the door, he sighed in relief. He didn't know how much longer he could have controlled his desire to be off on his hunt. When he came to the first berry patch, he remembered all his mother had told him and did as she instructed. Willy approached from downwind and listened to the sounds of the woods. When he was satisfied all was well he approached the patch and started picking the elderberries with care. He went from one patch to the next, but his imagination began to wander, for no longer was he picking berries but instead hunting the treasures of lost kingdoms.

Willy finally came upon the last berry patch and grinned in excitement. He was in a hurry to get through the thicket that surrounded the berry patch and claim his treasure. As the boy moved through the thicket he wasn't thinking of the rules of approaching from downwind or of listening to the sounds of the woods. He was thinking of treasure and the proud look his mother would have when he showed her his fine basket of treasure.

Willy stepped out of the thicket into the berry patch and stopped dead in his tracks. Something was wrong. He looked around to see what was making him feel this way. The halfling caught a movement from the corner of his eyes, but when he looked carefully he saw nothing. Willy told his body to flee but it wouldn't. Willy's mind screamed at his body to run, to run like the wind, but his body just stood there motionless. Willy frantically searched for the source of his fear. When it came into view terror ripped through his mind.

Willy's eyes focused on a bright shiny object. His mind calmed as he watched the object coming closer and closer. Willy identified the object as a dagger, a bright shiny silver dagger.

"Oh my," thought Willy, "what a pretty dagger! I wish I had one like it."

A dark, female voice spoke. "Don't worry, my dear. This won't hurt too much." The frozen halfling watched the blade lift into the air and arc toward him

A scream erupted into the quiet air of the woods, but as suddenly as it had begun, the scream ended. Quiet filled the air of the woods again.

Continue to Chapter 3