Chapter Eighteen: The Watchtower
Fillip watched Arietta descend the stairs of the inn, her long blonde hair tied in a tight braid behind her back. She walked toward the bar through the din of late morning conversation between travellers. Whisper sat at the bar lapping a mug of warmed milk. Arietta smiled, then reached under the bar and took out a bottle of mead and two mugs, then stood next to him at the table and poured, sliding one to him. “Mind if I sit?” she asked softly, sitting.
Fillip reached over and took her mug, draining it and slamming it back down on the table. Then he reached for his own and sat back with it. He took a sip and watched her carefully.
Arietta sighed, folding her hands anxiously on the table. “I hope you know, Fillip… I’m not a bad person. At least, I don’t mean to be.”
“You’re a slaver,” he said dully. “You help kidnap and sell people.”
“It’s a life that came to me,” she said under her breath, eyeing the empty mug before her, her eyes far off.
“You could get any job,” he said. “At this inn, for instance. You can live a normal life.”
She shook her head. “It’s not as simple as you think.”
There was an awkward pause. Then, Fillip said, “I didn’t tell your secret, but my friend read my mind with some weird magic and he knows everything.”
Arietta straightened, looking around with a worried expression, “where are your friends?”
“They took Zelena with them to the watchtower, to save the prisoners taken by those slaver friends of yours.” His face was emotionless in response to hers.
“My sister?” She tightened her hand around the empty mug, “they won’t hurt her, will they?”
“I believe Reverence has her best interests in mind,” Fillip drained the rest of his mead and reached for the bottle, pouring himself a half glass.
“They should be careful around Zelena,” Arietta said seriously. “She’s—not what she seems to be.”
“What do you mean?” Fillip perked up curiously, then added, “she’s not your sister, is she?”
Arietta shook her head.
Arietta shook her head again. “That’s all I’ll say on it.”
“If this is going to work,” Fillip told her, leaning in, “then you need to be honest with me. No secrets.”
She looked around the busy room nervously, then took the bottle of mead, which was nearly empty, and took a swig. Just then, a black shadow of a raven swooped in through the cracked window and landed in a swirl of magical mist, cawing, and hopping on the table next to Fillip. Arietta jumped and nearly smashed the bottle on the ground. Fillip reached out a hand as the raven proffered its leg, where a roll of parchment had been tied. He took it, and the raven cawed again, then dispersed like a cloud being pushed apart by a strong wind.
“What was that?” Arietta asked in shock, a hand on her breast.
Fillip unrolled the parchment and a second piece fell to the table. Arietta flattened it. It was a map of the area, with a section of forest circled, several miles from the Grinning Gnome Inn. The note was written and signed by Oszaren.
“Looks like we don’t have time for another drink,” Fillip said, standing and taking the two papers, then crossing to the bar to put a hand on Whisper’s shoulder. The tabaxi jumped, and Arietta trailed after him, looking concerned. “Whisper, we need to go. Arietta,” he turned back to her, “you need to stay here. We have to go help our friends.”
“Don’t let Zelena fight,” she said quickly.
“Fight,” Whisper repeated, standing and leaving his milk on the bar. He conjured a small flame in the centre of his palm, looking excited.
“Fight? Why?” Fillip asked suspiciously.
“Just—don’t. She can’t control it.”
Fillip thought for a moment, then grabbed her arm and pulled them both out the door. “Then you’d better come with us. Let’s go.”
Once they were outside, Fillip transformed into a large replica of the golden stag they’d seen on the road. Arietta nodded tensely and grabbed his neck, pulling herself onto his back. Whisper trotted off and returned a few moments later with his donkey. If Fillip wasn’t a stag, he would have suggested a horse was much faster, like perhaps the one they used to pull their wagon. Instead, he shook his antlered head and felt Arietta wrap her arms around him tightly as they set off at a steady gait, the wizard tabaxi following shakily behind them on his trotting donkey.
Shale, Keelan, Oszaren and Reverence took the time waiting for Whisper and Fillip to scout around the watchtower in search of entrances. They finally decided the best way to get the prisoners out would be to climb the tower and pull apart the rotting shingles on top, then lower them down on ropes while the rest fought whatever abominations resided within. If they could distract them long enough, they could get the prisoners to safety. Perhaps, finally, one of their plans would be successful.
Shale set up her crossbow trap at the front door in case anything tried to break free. Keelan impatiently paced as they waited for their companions. Shale spent the time checking old footprints through the forest, but the foot traffic was sparse. Oszaren used his eldritch sight to scan the perimeter for magical traps, and Reverence tried to comfort Zelena, who looked bored but surprisingly uninterested in the whole thing. Shale still didn’t trust her in particular.
Finally, a golden stag burst through the trees and Arietta dropped from its back. Fillip transformed back into his half-elf form and greeted them, and a few minutes later, Whisper appeared atop his sweat-lathered donkey.
Oszaren and Shale relayed their plan, and they all agreed to it. Whisper dismounted and put a paw on Keelan, causing his plate armour to glow brightly. Fillip pulled Arietta aside and whispered to her, and the woman reached out for Zelena and pulled her into the forest to hide.
Shale checked her arrow trap a second time, then went to the door and inspected it for traps as Whisper began climbing the side of the tower. “Anything?” Keelan asked impatiently.
“It’s hard to tell,” Shale said slowly, sliding her fingers along the edges of the door. “I’m not an expert with these sorts of things, but Oszaren said he didn’t sense anything on the door.”
“Good enough for me,” Keelan said, pushing Shale aside and kicking the door open roughly.
There was a loud bang, then a sucking, whispering sound that consumed the warmth in the air as clawing black shadowy hands began grasping and reaching through the door.
“Holy shit!” Keelan swore, jumping back and drawing his sword as he tried to step out of their grasp. “You said it wasn’t trapped!” The hands began grasping his legs and climbing up him and he tried to swing, but his blade sliced through mist.
Shale turned to Trigger frantically. “Grab the paladin!” She shouted, drawing out her bow and looking at Oszaren, who was staring into the tower with a tilted head as if seeing something within. To her, there was only darkness. Keelan began casting a spell over himself, his armour still glowing from Whisper’s enchantment, as the hands continued to wrap around him. The whispers were all around them, seeming to come from no direct point.
Shale released an arrow and it skittered against the stone. How do you fight a shadow? She thought desperately. Trigger sunk his teeth into Keelan’s thick leather boots and began pulling him out of the shadows.
“Try to lure them out!” Fillip shouted as two bears formed around him and flanked Keelan and Trigger protectively.
Oszaren shot a black cloud forward and it swirled inside the watchtower. Over what, Shale couldn’t see. Then, she heard the laboured moans and shuffling as rotting corpses staggered to the door and passed through the grasping hands harmlessly.
Raised dead, Shale thought, shooting another arrow and catching one of them in the shoulder. It paused for a moment, then turned it’s white, dead gaze on her. She’d sensed the undead while they travelled to the tower, but unfortunately there were many kinds, and she couldn’t discern what they were until they were right in front of her. She felt her sanity quiver as memories threatened to push their way to the forefront of her mind.
Oszaren was so focused on his spell within the tower, that he noticed the walking corpses with startled realization once they had perked up, seeming to lose their lethargy as they neared their targets. The warlock stumbled back, and the shadowy whispers of hands continued to expand and reach out as they all backed away.
Shale’s arrow trap shot four consecutive arrows as the undead shambled forward, sticking into three and barely slowing them.
Pieces of shingles from the roof of the tower came scattering down as Whisper dug through it to get to the prisoners. Shale hoped he could get them out quickly.
Reverence danced around the clinging shadow hands and shot air fists at the walking corpses, pushing them back momentarily. Shale shot arrow after arrow into the bodies and Keelan took out his crossbow and followed suit until they were littered with shafts. Trigger began pulling at Oszaren to draw him out of the shadows, and the warlock shot blasts of green light into the corpses, but still seemed distracted by something within the tower. Whatever he’d cast the black sphere over, he was waiting for it to escape. One corpse exploded and flew back, leaving only a leg behind as Reverence hit it with a compressed burst of air. Then, he pulled out his spear and flipped it, smashing it into a corpse as it stepped out of the protection of the ever-growing shadows, and sent its arm flying off, then pierced it through the eye with the point of his tail. Fillip’s bears clawed at the shadows but didn’t dare enter them, and the druid shot stones from his slings, which bounced off the corpses.
A figure broke out of Oszaren’s spell and came lunging forward, pushing through the moving corpses. It was fleshless, with gray skin pulled tight over its skeletal, humanoid form. It wore a tattered hood and spoke in a strange, hushed language. This was the leader, the one controlling the bodies of the dead.
Shale redirected her arrows at it, casting her hunter’s mark over its form and shedding it in a blue-lit symbol only she could see. Oszaren backed up and began blasting the leader with eldritch spells, ignoring the corpses.
“Whisper!” Fillip shouted up as more shingles fell over the edge, “blow these fucking zombies out of here!”
The tabaxi peeked over, noticing, it seemed, for the first time the corpses and the crawling shadows. He raised a paw over the edge and a tiny swizzle of light zipped down and exploded in a massive burst of heat. Pieces of the corpses flew in every direction and one of Fillip’s bears disappeared from impact. Shale nearly lost her footing and covered her eyes from the fire. When she looked up, Oszaren was laying on the ground, unconscious. Only one corpse remained, its arms missing. The leader hissed and retreated into the tower, seeing its defenses worn. Fillip raised his sling and shot the final corpse through the head, felling it. The shadowed hands were all that remained of the defenses now. They grasped onto Oszaren and started to pull him toward the door while others overtook Fillip’s second bear. The animal roared as it was overwhelmed by the whispering shadows, then burst into light and disappeared.
Keelan quickly ran to Oszaren’s body and dragged him away from the shadows, slamming a heavy hand over his chest and healing him. Oszaren gasped as the burn marks over his face and arms healed over, and he kicked his legs free with Keelan’s help. Shale ran past them and aimed her arrow at the leader as it shrank into darkness. She breathed, and the moment slowed as the creature’s pale-yellow eyes stared at her. She felt cold. She released her breath and the arrow shot true. It slammed into the creature’s forehead. It wailed, and with a sickening thump, it collapsed to the stone floor, permanently dead. Or, so she hoped.
Oszaren got to his feet and shouted, “DISPEL!” A bright light flew from his fingertips and slammed into the shadows, creating a dome over them and pushing them back. The whispering hands retreated into the tower, sliding and crawling, until the darkness was sucked back into a point in the centre of the room. They all ran into the room and saw a stone circle with carved runes. As the last lick of darkness seeped into it, the light of the runes faded.
Oszaren went to check the body of the leader while Fillip headed to the treeline to find the twins. Keelan made for a ladder in the corner of the room, which led up to a trapdoor. He climbed cautiously with his heavy armour, testing his weight on each rung, then slammed an elbow repeatedly into the wood until it cracked.
The bottom floor of the watchtower was circular, and across from the doorway sat a stone box flanked by two stone statues. Shale felt drawn to them, and walked to the one on the left, gazing up at the hooded figure. There was something familiar about the carving. She looked down at its base and could see a dirt-covered marking. She brushed it with a hand, revealing a symbol she’d seen before, carved on the base of a tree, and as the brand she used to mark her quarry. It was a bear’s paw with a star in the middle of it. Gwaeron, she thought, looking back up at the statue, with its familiar, smooth features. She glanced over at the other statue, a cloaked woman with one hand reaching back to draw an arrow from its stone quiver. “This place was made for rangers at one time,” Shale said, her voice echoing.
“Do you know who that is?” Oszaren asked.
She turned, and saw the warlock was the only other person with her. The rest had gone to free the prisoners, or gone outside, without her noticing. She nodded.
“How do you know them?”
Shale reached a hand up and pulled the scarf off her head, letting her lavender dreadlocks tumble around her shoulders. “They saved my life when I was young,” she said. “I ran away, and they taught me how to survive alone in the forest. They taught me to fight, and to shoot a bow, and to track. They’re—well, a deity. Made to protect the rangers.” She remembered the lavenders on the graves.
“Open it,” Oszaren said, pointing his chin toward the stone box. “Perhaps it’s meant for you.”
Shale looked at it, then strode over and, with a heavy push, threw off the stone slab, revealing its contents. She took out a bag, which contained a handful of gems, then a tube, which, when she opened it, contained a fragile piece of parchment. She handed it to Oszaren, who quietly took it and raised one hand above it. “It’s a scroll of magic to do with transmutation,” he told her finally, handing it back to her.
Shale shrugged and walked to the ladder, ascending it. She had no need of scrolls. When she reached the top, she saw that Keelan had healed all four prisoners, and they were standing around thanking him and Whisper. “Whisper,” Shale called, and the tabaxi walked over to her. She handed him the scroll. “I’m not sure what it does.”
The tabaxi stared at it excitedly then nodded and put it in his satchel.
They helped the prisoners down the ladder one by one, all of them still weak from being fed small rations. There was a man and woman who were holding each other. They shyly introduced themselves as farmers from the area. The small, male gnome looked disheveled and tired. He didn’t give them a name but simply bowed and thanked them. Finally, the Harper stepped up, pulling on a tattered robe over his bare chest, “to whom do we owe our thanks?”
“What,” Fillip asked, entering the circular room with Reverence, Arietta and Zelena, “you mean, like a team name? We don’t have one.”
“Though it’s not—a bad idea,” Reverence said thoughtfully.
The Harper looked confused.
“What’s your name?” Oszaren asked, ignoring the other two.
“Ah,” the Harper smiled weakly, “my name is Carlon.”
“Carlon?” Shale said quickly. The name was familiar.
“You know Ackyn?” Fillip asked in surprise, reminding Shale of the man who sold them their wagon and helped them join the caravan.
Carlon also looked surprised. “Y-yes, I do. In Baldur’s Gate?”
Reverence drew out something from his cloak and Shale saw a flash of the Harper’s carved symbol. “Our interests—align—it seems.”
Carlon pulled the robe tighter to his chest and his gaze focused on the tiefling. “It seems they do.”
“How were you taken?” Oszaren asked.
The Harper sighed and rubbed his neck as if it pained him. “I was left for dead on the road by the caravan I travelled with. They suspected me of spying on them—which, for their sake, I was. I was tracking members of the dragon cult.”
“Let’s get these people back to the Grinning Gnome,” Shale suggested, and Keelan nodded and hurried off to get his horse, Whisper following behind for his donkey.
“We should discuss these things in private,” Oszaren agreed.
Shale helped the couple out of the door then turned to the gnome, leaving the Harper with the others. “What’s your name?” She asked.
“Ah,” the gnome smiled mischievously despite his tired disposition, “a trickster never reveals his secrets.” He had messy brown hair and a passable goatee, and his cloak was reminiscent of richer days.
Shale nodded. “Fair enough, but how did you get captured by the slavers?”
“Well,” he shrugged, then his eyes flashed up at her slyly, “let’s just say I was putting my hands in the wrong pockets, and I happened to find a very valuable, yellow diamond.”
“Understood,” she said seriously.
“You didn’t happen to find one around here, did you?”
She shook her head.
The young gnome reached up a hand and patted her on the arm. “You know, from one crazy person to another, it doesn’t hurt to smile. You should really consider it.” With that, he trotted off to Keelan, who helped him onto Ember’s saddle.
Shale shook her head, feeling confused, then smiled slightly, calling for Trigger. The fox bounded out of the long grass that had overgrown the side of the watchtower and nuzzled his face into her leg.
Oszaren walked over to Shale and handed something to her. She looked down curiously at a yellow diamond the size of her palm. “What is it?” She asked, thinking of the gnome and keeping it from his view.
“I found it on the wight,” he nodded to the doors, “the one controlling all the corpses. If you crush it, it will conjure an earth elemental.”
“Why are you giving it to me?” She didn’t even bother asking how one would possibly crush a diamond.
Oszaren looked at her for a moment, then said, “I think it will serve you best.”
Shale nodded and tucked the diamond away, reminding herself to keep it far from the little gnome with the wandering fingers.
Fillip transformed into a shaggy-maned palomino and Arietta and Zelena both pulled themselves up onto his back. As Keelan led them back through the trees, Shale paused behind the rest. There was a pale figure standing amongst the trees, cloaked in a dark green robe with the hood up. It raised a gentle hand when she looked at it, and she dipped her head. In her mind, she heard a soft, familiar voice say, well done.
Whisper paused and looked at the figure, then raised his paw and waved at it just as the pale figure faded and was gone. The tabaxi looked back at Shale curiously but said nothing.
Chapter Nineteen: Message to the Red Wizard
Carlon travelled with the caravan for the two-day trek to Daggerford, while the other rescued prisoners went their separate ways.
When they reached the outskirts of the town of Daggerford, Shale saw it was a small, but militaristic place with thick walls. Half the town seemed to be citizen homes and military barracks, the other half taken up by a large manor with exquisitely elaborate gardens.
“Oh, I’ve got to talk to whoever lives there,” Fillip said wistfully as they approached.
Outside the town were dozens of tents with refugees settling in, making camp and selling wares in a makeshift marketplace. Their caravan paused outside the town and made camp with the rest of the refugees. They left their cart with Oyn, then pushed their way into the overcrowded town. “Why so many people?” Shale wondered aloud.
“I’m—going to ask—around,” Reverence said, and the tiefling walked in the opposite direction, soon disappearing into the milling crowds.
Shale stepped up to a guard, who was standing sentinel by the gates. “Excuse me,” she said, “do you know why there are so many people camped outside the town?”
The soldier looked her up and down. He was of a height with her, and looked to be no more than twenty, with only the hints of a beard on his chin. “Not sure. Your guess is as good as mine.”
She looked back at him seriously. “Mines probably better.” She walked back to her friends, shaking her head. “How could they not know what all these people are doing here?”
“I say we talk to their government here to see what’s going on,” Fillip said.
Oszaren pointed his chin to the giant manor. “If memory serves me, the town is run by Duke Daggerford—the town aptly named after his family, who founded it generations ago. I’ve heard of this one. He’s not particularly friendly, and he’s rather young and spends most of his money on the finer things.”
“Sounds like my kind of man,” Fillip grinned appreciatively.
“You go,” Shale suggested, looking at Keelan, Oszaren and Fillip. “The three of you are better at diplomacy than Whisper or I.”
They agreed and headed off toward the manor, making plans to meet at the finest tavern in town later.
“I have some things I’d like to sell at the market,” Shale told Whisper. “Do you want to come with?”
Whisper meowed affirmatively.
They met a few hours later in an almost empty, lavishly built tavern with two parallel, roaring fireplaces made of carved marble and fine, stained woods. Shale was less surprised by the absence of patrons when they ordered their first drink and it cost her three gold, far more expensive than she was expecting. Admittedly, it was the best drink she’d ever tasted. She paid the barman reluctantly, and they all sat to discuss what they’d learned.
“There are—many rumours,” Reverence told them first, “among the refugees—of a green dragon—and armies of kobolds.”
“Sounds like cult business to me,” Oszaren said.
“What did you find out from the Duke? Were you able to see him?” Shale asked the other three.
“Same sort of thing,” Fillip said. “The peasants have come, claiming dragons burnt their houses down. He didn’t believe them, though. Says it’s not believable. That dragons will steal livestock occasionally, but mostly keep to themselves in this area. But, if this is cult business, their claims are likely true.” The druid paused. “I sold him some of our spices. He doubts the town will have enough supplies for the winter, so the refugees will likely have to move on. Their number has doubled in the last two months or so.”
“We must—stop them,” Reverence said seriously. “Soon.”
“The peasants?” Fillip joked.
“The cult,” Reverence reminded them all, “before—the world ends.”
Keelan added, “I met with the Duke’s advisor, Sir Lathandar Istaval.”
“The famous Paladin?” Shale asked, impressed. Even she in her forest guiding had heard of his adventures long ago.
Keelan nodded. “He agreed the cult was dangerous but didn’t have much for advice. He said they were partly responsible for his retirement.”
“So, we continue on to Waterdeep,” Shale summarized, “and keep our eyes up and alert for dragon attacks.”
“I also heard—the attacks were centred in—the High Moors,” Reverence told them, and Oszaren quickly pulled out one of his maps and spread it on the table before them, pointing at the large area to the northeast of Daggerford.
“Do you think that’s where their base is?” Shale asked.
Oszaren shook his head. “They wouldn’t attack so near their point of operation.”
“I don’t think—they’re that clever,” Reverence pointed out.
“Still,” the warlock rolled up his map and tucked it away, “I say we continue on to Waterdeep. That’s where the cult members in our caravan are headed.”
“Do we know anything about green dragons?” Shale asked in the silence that followed.
“We have some research to do,” Oszaren said, looking to Whisper.
“Agreed,” Keelan said, then stood, his drink finished, “I’m going to stay in the caravan tonight, to keep an eye on it. No offense, but I don’t think Oyn is capable of handling a group of thieves on his own.”
Whisper stood and exited with the paladin.
“Where are Arietta and Zelena?” Shale asked Fillip.
“Shopping,” he said. “They should be along soon.”
Shale felt impatient, with the caravan’s plans to stay in Daggerford for two nights. She wanted to be on the road. In fact, she wanted to be in the forest. She missed the woods and felt guilty for leaving Trigger behind with the caravan. More than that, though, she felt lost. For years she’d been searching for the red wizards, and she suspected they were involved with the cult, but what happened once the one she searched for was defeated? Would she ever find him again? What happened when her vengeance was done? What did she have left to live for? Could she start over? Fall in love again, start a family again? Live alone as a hermit in the forest? Continue as a forest guide, living out her days helping others to their destination? The questions in her mind gave her a headache, and she excused herself, making the slow trek through the darkness back to the caravan outside the town walls.
Perhaps, she thought, it was better if she didn’t survive the fight ahead.
Early the next morning, their caravan received a new visitor who joined the cultists, adding his possessions to one of their wagons and greeting them. Keelan recognized the man immediately. “It’s the strange man I met in the temple of Kossuth, back in Elturel,” he hissed.
The man wore thick robes and had a hood over his head, obscuring any baldness or distinctive features.
“You think he’s a red wizard?” Shale whispered back, heart thundering in her chest.
“I’m sure of it,” the paladin told her.
Shale stared at the man, then pulled her gaze away, thinking desperately. Was this Gwaeron, sending her a message? Or was this fate? She looked around, then, and noticed Whisper had snuck off. Likely to speak with the cultists and find out who their new member was.
“I don’t like when he does that,” Keelan said suspiciously.
“I know,” Shale agreed. Whisper had proven himself when he’d saved half of them from the vampires, and he continued to prove himself their ally. Yet, there was still so much they didn’t know about them. So much they couldn’t communicate.
The others returned from the town soon after and Keelan filled them in on the new member of the caravan. A while later, a small female gnome wandered through their caravan wearing heavy furs that her tiny figure nearly drowned in. She approached the finally dressed dwarf in their caravan and began speaking animatedly toward him. The dwarf shook his head. “Sorry, but no,” Shale overheard him telling her. “Ask someone else.”
The gnome shrugged and passed by them, looking up at Shale, “excuse me, who runs this cart? Who’s your employer?”
Shale raised an eyebrow, arms crossed as she leaned against the side of their covered wagon. She nodded a head back and said, “Fillip, someone would like to speak with you.”
Fillip appeared a moment later from around the cart, Arietta, as ever, trailing behind him and blushing prettily. “Yes?” The druid asked, looking down at the gnome woman.
“Sir,” she said politely, shifting in her furs, “I’m looking for a spot on your cart. I need to travel with a caravan to Waterdeep.”
“Waterdeep isn’t far,” Oszaren said, stepping up.
“True, but it isn’t safe to travel alone, I fear,” she said. “I’ll pay you,” she added.
“What’s your business in Waterdeep?” Oszaren asked.
“Sorry, but my business is my own, far as I’m concerned.”
“That’s fair,” Fillip allowed. “How much will you pay us?”
“I can offer five gold,” she said, looking relieved.
“Make it seven, and we have a deal.” Fillip bent to her height and held out his hand.
She clasped his hand in her tiny one and shook it.
“We leave tomorrow morning,” Fillip said, then grabbed Arietta’s hand and they walked away together.
“What’s your name?” Shale asked.
As her friends wandered away to tend to other things, Shale touched Janna on the arm, making her pause. “I noticed your gaze,” she told the gnome, glancing purposefully over to the group of cultists who always kept themselves apart from the rest of the caravan. Amongst them stood the red wizard, hidden and cloaked. She caught sight of Whisper speaking with him.
Janna’s eyes went hard. “What do you want?” She asked defensively, pulling her arm away.
“I only mean,” Shale squatted down in front of her and whispered, “I am also interested in the cultists and their red wizard, and not in a nice way.”
Janna looked at her for a moment, reading her face. “Alright,” she breathed, “I believe you. But,” she looked around nervously. Keelan and Reverence were nearby, speaking, “we shouldn’t talk in the open. Will you meet me tonight, at midnight? Outside of the camp?”
Shale nodded and stood, and the female gnome went to retrieve her belongings and load them onto the cart with Oszaren’s help.
Whisper waited until evening to speak with Oszaren in hushed tones, in elvish. Oszaren relayed the information to the rest of them. “The red wizard’s name is Azbarra Johs. He’s part of Rezmir’s inner circle. It seems he was the same wizard we saw in the encampment back near Greenest. There was something else about an elf prince, and that the cult plans to act in Waterdeep. Azbarra told Whisper that Tiamat would rise again.”
“We can’t let that happen,” Keelan said fiercely.
“Keep your voice down,” Shale warned, looking around their small fire.
Reverence and Zelena had gone on a walk, and Arietta was serving ale through the camps, working for Beyd. The rest of them were there. Still, she didn’t want to risk them being overheard by cultists.
“Oszaren,” Shale said quietly as the rest of them broke into separate conversations, “I need you to turn me invisible tonight.”
“Why?” The warlock asked. “What are you planning?”
She shook her head. “I’m not sure I know, yet. I just want to see some things, and I don’t want to be seen back.”
He hesitated, then nodded. “Alright. Come find me when you need to.”
“Thank you,” she said, absentmindedly scratching Trigger’s ear as he slept, bathed in the warmth of the firelight.
Shale watched the moon rise as the refugee’s fires went down to coals across the fields outside of Daggerford. When it was time, she snuck away from the caravan and waited for Janna to arrive, convincing Trigger to stay behind with some gentle commands and a bit of squirrel meat. The small gnome woman came rustling through the long grass, still burdened by her large fur cloak, a short while later.
“What is your interest in the cult?” She said as way of greeting.
Shale crossed her arms and looked out at the distant hills. “My friends and I were in Greenest when the cult attacked the town and stole everything.”
“What do you know about them?”
“What do you know?” Shale asked in response. “We’ve seen what they carry. You know as well as I that there are some travelling in our caravan.”
“I have a sponsor,” Janna said. “She’s very interested in what the cult is freighting and what their plans are.”
“Who’s your sponsor?”
Janna shook her head, sighing in the darkness. “I can’t say.”
“Well, if our interests are the same, perhaps she’d want to meet us,” Shale suggested.
“No,” Janna said firmly, “she wouldn’t.”
“It’s gold, gems, heirlooms,” Shale told Janna in the quiet that followed, “that’s what these ones are carrying, anyways. We’ve already snuck into their cart and checked the crates.”
Janna nodded. “That’s good to know. Makes me job easier. I wonder, though,” she gave Shale a sidelong glance, “why are they working with the red wizards? What do you know of them?”
Now it was Shale’s turn to sigh. “I wish I knew more. I’ve learned the red wizards have many sects and schools of magic. I don’t know which one this man is from, though I can suspect.” Necromancers, she thought, though she didn’t say it aloud.
“Have you seen any of the dragons they’ve rumoured about?”
Shale’s mind flashed back to the blue dragon, streaking lightning bursting from its open maw as it swooped over Greeenest’s Keep. She felt the piercing pain as Langdedrosa’s greatsword was thrust into her chest, narrowly missing her heart. “No,” she said. “No, I haven’t.” Absently, she rubbed a hand over her collarbone, tracing her hand over her shirt where, beneath, lay a jagged scar.
“Thanks,” Janna said, patting the back of Shale’s knee. The gnome’s head barely reached the height of her hip.
The heavily cloaked figure of Janna shuffled away, back to the caravan. Shale waited a few minutes, eyes closed, and face raised to the sky as though bathing in the moonlight. Finally, she turned and headed straight to Beyd’s cart, where she knew Oszaren would be sleeping.