Chapter 5

Under the dark of the Neverwinter night, Aerrellun made his way through the warehouse district. He walked quickly and cautiously, mindful of his surroundings. Although he was confident he could handle anyone who wanted to rob him, he preferred to keep a low profile.

He arrived at a nondescript door and knocked three then two times. A small window slid open in the door. A hesitant, almost frightened voice spoke from behind the door.

"Whadda ya want?"

"I am Aerrellun. I have an appointment," the drow responded quietly. The door opened revealing a thin human who beckoned him to enter.

"Bostor will see you in a couple minutes. Please wait here," the man said and disappeared through another door in the room.

Aerrellun looked around. He stood in a small, dirty room--a room one would expect to find in the decrepit warehouse district. He smiled to himself. All he had seen so far was a carefully planned mask to mislead unwanted visitors. The unremarkable appearance of the building and the seemingly helpless doorman disguised the headquarters of one of the richest underground information dealers in Neverwinter.

The drow slowly sat down on one of the chairs, secretly hoping it would support his weight. Surely at least ten crossbowmen were watching him through hidden ports in the walls. He calmly relaxed against a wall to dispel any thoughts that he was nervous. Nervous people tended to do rash and unpredictable actions. Bostor and the guards undoubtedly knew that. By appearing calm, the guards watching him would relax as well, reducing the chance that a quarrel would find his heart fired by a jumpy guard.

A door opened and the thin man appeared. "Bostor is ready to see you now. Please follow me. Make no sudden movements and keep your hands at your sides." Aerrellun followed the man through the door, down a short hall and through another door. They stopped in a large, luxurious room. Thick red carpet covered the floor and walls. Light shone through a high, domed ceiling. Expensive paintings, sculptures and statues were displayed around the room. Six guards were visible, standing around the room. Aerrellun estimated possibly two dozen more were stationed behind the walls, watching their boss.

"Welcome, Aerrellun, to my humble establishment," a voice boomed, breaking the drow's attention from the decorations. "Please have a seat!"

"Vendui', Bostor. An impressive welcome mat you have in place," the drow responded as he sat down in a chair opposite Bostor.

"Aye, thank you! Although Nasher's guards could not take this place, it is even more assuring that they do not even know where I am!" Bostor was seated behind a large, ornate desk. Aerrellun reflected that Bostor's wealth had had a noticeable impact on the human's girth. Bostor made a living dealing in information. He had inherited the business from his father who had in turn inherited the business from his father. Ironically, how the business had been created was one of the few facts that Bostor did not know.

"I have heard much about you, Aerrellun of Skullport: accomplished mage, thief, and alchemist. Parents deceased from natural causes. No other relatives. No children; never married. Former owner of a booming business, Ar'Thon's Alchemy, until it closed about eleven years ago. I would wonder, why it closed, and why does such a skilled drow as yourself require my services?"

Aerrellun tried not to appear unnerved as Bostor listed all the facts. The drow silently rebuked himself for not preparing himself for this event. He vowed it would not happen again.

"I had my reasons, and my business is my own. As for your services, do you have the information?"

"Aye, I do, and it has a high price tag attached to it: eighty jewels. Do you have such funds with you?" Aerrellun nodded. The high price was one thing he had expected. At the drow's nod, Bostor reached into a pocket and pulled out a small, folded piece of paper. He handed it to the drow, who unfolded, read, then placed it inside his robes.

"Is the information satisfactory?"

"Aye, it is, Bostor." Aerrellun pulled out a small burlap bag. One by one he placed eighty jewels on the desk. When he had completed, he stepped back as Bostor inspected the gems. The human made a hand gesture and a robed man walked into the room. The man cast a quick spell and nodded to Bostor. The drow recognized the spell as a magic detector. Bostor grinned at Aerrellun and spoke.

"You don't become one of the richest information dealers by being careless. Your payment is good. We shall have a drink to finalize this transaction!"

Another man entered the room carrying a tray with a bottle of wine and two glasses. The tray was laid on the table and Bostor filled the glasses. The mage cast a detection spell on the wine and nodded to Bostor. The human raised his glass in a toast. "I wish you good luck in your task, Aerrellun." The two drank and Aerrellun was dismissed. The drow concentrated on walking calmly, hoping his actions betrayed nothing. He began counting in his mind, "One, two, three, four..."

Bostor motioned for the wine and glasses to be removed.

"Don't drink that wine, Henre. I do not know how he did it, but the drow poisoned it. I certainly do love my special antidote."

The large human began placing the jewels in a bag when he noticed a small vial on the chair the drow had been sitting on.

"Hmm, what have we here? Did the famed Aerrellun just lose a vial of poison?" The liquid inside the vial slowly changed from blue to pink...

"Fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight..." Aerrellun counted as he walked through the streets of Neverwinter--far away from Bostor's archers. A bright light came from the warehouse district, followed by the boom of an explosion. The ground shook awakening both animals and people. The commotion died down after a few minutes. Aerrellun reached into his pocket and withdrew the slip of paper Bostor had given him. He read it and replaced the paper in his pocket. He began walking back to his inn. With a smile on his lips, he whispered quietly to himself, "The Grey Company."

It was long past sunset when the trio reached the Inn at Longsaddle. Their horses resting in the stables, they entered the inn to find the place was packed with weary travelers-- unusual for these parts. Strongbow and Lyrianda edged through the crowded room while Nalynn went to see about accommodations for the night.

"Greetings, Ralph! Have you room for three more?" she inquired.

The frazzled man looked up at her and smiled as he recognized the Elf, a frequent client.

"Aye, Milady Nalynn, I have a large room available. If ye don't mind sharing, the room is yours!" he exclaimed.

"What is going on in Longsaddle?" she asked as she pulled out her small silken gem pouch. "It's surprising to see so many travelers here."

"I cannot say for sure. We hear rumors and such. It seems that several inns in the realms have been ransacked and destroyed. By whom and for what purpose, I know not." he explained.

She smiled as she handed him two gems. "Ahhh, well their misfortune is to your benefit, is it not?"

He grinned as he took the gems from her. "Aye, milady. If this keeps up, I'll have sufficient funds to build an addition to the place." He handed her a delicate key and pointed toward the stairs. "Your room is at the end of the hall. It's the finest. If you can wait a few moments, I'll have the maid go up and prepare it for you and your friends."

Handing him a few pieces of platinum, she replied, "And be sure there's a bottle of fey waiting for us -- with three glasses. Some food would be nice as well. Nothing fancy, perhaps a basket of potato sticks. I have used your recipe often since you gave it to me." She said with a smile.

With that, she turned and headed back to her friends. "Our room will be ready shortly," she informed them as she sat down. "According to the innkeeper, we have gotten the last one he had available." Strongbow slid a goblet of fey toward her.

"I took the liberty of ordering this for you, Nal."

She accepted the drink greatfully and took a sip, savoring its delectable flavor. She saw the maid come back down the stairs. "I believe our room is ready now. Let's head up."

The three Elves rose and went to their room. The beds were turned down, and on the table sat a bottle of fine fey and a large basket of freshly prepared sticks. They dropped their packs and dined, enjoying the sumptuous feast. Finishing the last of the fey, they climbed into the waiting beds.

Soon, Strongbow heard only soft breathing from Lyrianda and Nalynn. He lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling for what seemed like hours. Glancing over at the two females, he rose quietly and in whispered chants, warded the room as a precaution. Satisfied, he returned to his bed and slipped into reverie the minute his head hit the pillow...

...Dark ominous clouds gathered over the small town of Red Larch. Shadowy forms emerged from the clouds, swooping down on the village and back up again. Lightning flashed, buildings exploded, and fires broke out randomly here and there. The thunder caused by the ozone laden bolts rolled through the hills and valleys surrounding the small settlement. The view changed to reveal three figures fleeing the devastation the storm was causing, Strongbow's mind recognized his friend, Camris. With him were Randow and Dinalqua... The scene changed...

...A dark multi-legged creature crept through the woods... Searching, then, as if she could sense his unconscious gaze... His mind went blank...

...As his vision returned, he saw Neverwinter, it too was being destroyed. The proud keep that once stood guard over the city-state was in smoking ruins, walls fell as Strongbow dreamed. Screams of panic, and of the dying filled his thoughts, and the ground sank to let the cold, icy waters of the Sea of Swords lay claim to the city... and again the scene changed...

...Strongbow and Rayella stood in a massive bubble containing a small moonlit glade, their arms around one another, gazing down on the planet Toril. A black wolf stood guard in front of them. Only a small hemispherical crater was left, marking where the glade had stood. Tears streamed down their cheeks as the planet that they had called home for so many years faded into the distance... But this one small piece of it they would keep... forever...

She thought Strongbow would never drift off to sleep. Laying there in the dark, feigning slumber, she watched as he cast spells of protection over their modest room at the Inn. After what seemed an eternity, he laid down and was soon fast asleep. Silently, Nalynn rose from the bed and searched the pockets of her cloak. Finding that which she sought, she stole quietly from the room so not to disturb her slumbering friends.

Nalynn headed down the stairs and back into the tavern. The place had emptied out considerably as the hour grew later. She scanned the room until her gaze rested on the strange creature back in a dark corner.

He was clad in black garb, situated as far from the firelight as was possible, or so it seemed. She purchased a glass of fey from the barkeep and made her way over to the stranger's table.

"Quel undome, morier. May I join you?" She asked, using the Elven reference of "dark one."

The stranger nodded his assent and drew back his hooded cloak, revealing a halfling creature. The scars on his face and neck ran deep. His steel gray eyes revealed much suffering endured through the years.

"What is it you seek from me, Milady?" he asked.

She looked around the room nervously, then returned her gaze to those cold eyes. "A name, sir? I wish to know the person to whom I speak."

He smiled sadly. "Ahhh, Milady, `tis best we not speak of names. Not here, in this place. There is great evil afoot in the realms and anonymity has its advantages -- for both of us," he added.

Nodding her understanding, she pulled a small pouch from her pocket. "Well then, perhaps you can tell me something about this." From the pouch, she removed the tattered remnant she'd found at the scene of Tarion's murder. She handed the shred over to the halfling. "I am a seamstress of some renown in the realms but confess I've never come across a fabric quite like this. The craftsmanship is exceptional, but its origins are a mystery to me."

The halfling examined the fabric with experienced hands. A solemn expression masked his thoughts.

"Milady," he started, returning the remnant to her. "This is no ordinary cloth. I'm not surprised you do not recognize its foundation. It is a most rare thread -- silk from a Drider's spinnings. Not often seen in these parts. In all my travels, I've only seen this kind of material in one place." He paused as an expression of loathing and hatred gleamed in his eyes.

"Where?" Nalynn demanded. "I must know. The bearer of this clothing had a hand in the death of one of my kindred."

He silenced her with a gesture. "Now hear me, and hear me well, fair lady. There are places and things best left unspoken and undiscovered. This," he gestured toward the cloth, "comes from a place such as that. It is a land as yet unknown to most of the dwellers of Neverwinter realms. A few intrepid explorers have gone off in search of this place. Most have never returned."

"You say most," she replied quietly. "Am I to assume you are one of the few who have survived the trip?"

"Aye, and I pray I never see the cursed place again!" he spat. Calming himself, he continued. "Heed my words, dear lady. Do not seek out this accursed land. Its inhabitants are few, but they are cruel and treacherous. Avenging your friend's death is a pitiful excuse for entering such a place. Accept his death and let it pass. To go further will only bring you great pain and may result in your own demise. Have not enough in your ranks already given their life's blood?"

"Sir, your warning is well-taken. But this is a matter of honor among the Elves. We must all follow our destinies, no?" she implored. "If we must enter this strange land, is there any wisdom you can impart? To make our search safer?"

He chuckled softly, a touch of irony in his voice. "Safety -- now there's a naive notion." He took her hand gently, his expression grown serious again. "Milady, there is a storm coming. It cannot be stopped and will strike with little warning. The one who rules the dark land is behind it; he has enlisted many evil ones in his cause. Only by wits and the grace of the one you call Correllon will you survive -- or die if that is his wish. Be cautious and alert. Never let your guard down for an instant."

With that, he reached into his pocket and removed a small bag. "This may offer you some meager protection. I make no promises, but it seemed to help me." He opened the bag and revealed a small, platinum ring -- plainly constructed and obviously worn. "Place it on your finger, never let it leave you." he warned.

She took the ring from him; placed it on the small finger of her left hand. It fit so perfectly, as though it had been specially crafted for her. "But, what if..." she started.

He drew his cloak close about him and ignored her as he rose from the table. He departed the Inn, leaving her sitting there, her unfinished glass of fey before her.

"Thank you, sir," she whispered. She rose from the table and returned to the room. Lyrianda stirred as she entered, watched Nalynn return to her bed. "Was it worth it?". Nalynn looked up in surprise. "Shhhh, we'll wake Von," Lyrie whispered. "Your meeting. Did you learn anything?"

Nalynn nodded "All of it bad, I fear. Oh, Lyrie, I fear for all of us."

Lyrianda rose and walked quietly over to her side and hugged her friend. "Is it as bad as all that, mellon?"

"Worse," Nalynn replied. "Now, go back to sleep. We need our rest. And we must find the rest of our friends. Soon, or all will be lost."

The two Elves crawled into their respective beds, but sleep came only after hours of worry.

The forest was dark--no moon, and a dense cloud cover blocked out the stars. A night truly suitable for the drow high preist. Dralennal moved silently, cloaked in his piwafwi, a drow cloak of invisibility, and his dark-Elven boots that silenced his footsteps. He walked farther into the forest before stopping in front of a ruined temple. He spoke a spell and a drow golem stepped from the stone of the wall.

"Find the one thay call Ebonstarr, and give her this," he instructed the golem, while giving it a rolled up parchment.

As the golem lumbered away, the continued on his journey.

"Now to find the place called Neverwinter and the acursed Elves who live there," he stated to himself, chuckling, a wicked gleam in his violet eyes.

Continue to Chapter 6