Chapter 20: Ignoring Blood
Five Years Ago
Shale yawned and rolled over in her sleeping furs as the first rays of morning light peered through the curtained windows.
“Good morning,” Kelek said softly, smiling and brushing his lips against hers.
“Morning,” she smiled back, brushing her hand along his side.
He wrapped his strong arms around her and pulled her closer to him, planting a firm kiss on her forehead, then pressing into her lips again.
“I have to go,” she murmured through the kisses.
“No,” he whispered, working his way down her neck.
“No, really,” she insisted with a laugh, pushing him off her and rolling out of the furs to dress. He watched her for a while, content to lay in bed.
“When will you be back?” Kelek asked.
“It’s a quick trip,” she told him, pulling back her black hair and weaving it into a thick braid, “I should be back tomorrow afternoon at the latest.”
“Alright,” he groaned, getting out of bed and dressing.
She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Get the children up, before I leave,” she said, then picked up her pack and stepped into the other room and started on breakfast.
Kelek mumbled something and went to get the children.
They ate together. Shale leaned in and kissed her children each in turn: Lonnis, the oldest, her seven-year-old son with a constant grin on his curious face, then the two girls, Farin and Ki. Though they looked very much the same, their personalities were miles apart. Her sweet, middle daughter, Farin, who was always the fighter. Five years old and so much ferocity. Then her youngest, Ki. The girl with a thousand dreams, always imagining up another world in her three-year-old mind.
“I love you,” she told them all, and then she left.
Shale made the short trek back to Triel after leaving the noblemen, who had paid her well to guide them the faster way through the Reaching Woods. The day was bright and sunny, and her stomach rumbled with hunger, but she wanted to get home, so she continued through the outskirts of the town until she reached the southeastern side, avoiding the foot traffic on the roads. She was nearly home when she heard the screams.
Shale dropped her pack and ran toward the town.
It didn’t take long for her to see the bodies. Men, women and children. Bloodied bodies scattered in the fields and outside of their homes. She didn’t stop to look at their faces. She pounded on tired feet to her house, screaming, “KELEK! KELEK!”
She pulled to a stop on the next street over. The bodies on the ground, the bodies of neighbours and friends, they were—moving. Stirring on the ground, though many had arrows in them, and others had their heads smashed in by something heavy. Blood and brains and guts leaked out of the moving corpses as they stood, shuddered, and began moving toward the centre of town. She went silent, not sure what would draw them to her, if anything.
No, no, no, she thought desperately, throwing herself against the side of a house to keep from view as a few more corpses shuffled by. She saw Maydeen, the kindly old woman who always shared her garden potatoes with them. She was moaning, a large gash across her throat bubbling crimson. Shale gasped and the woman turned her dead eyes in her direction. She ducked, cursing herself, then waited until she heard the corpse move past her. She caught a glimpse of Anear’s thirteen-year-old son, face pale and unblinking, staring up at the sky, his hand twitching and mouth moving wordlessly. He was on the ground at her feet, but he was starting to turn.
She clambered over a tall fence and ran through Maydeen’s garden, then climbed the other side and landed in her backyard. “Kelek?” She whispered frantically. “Kids?” She crept into the house, which was dark, and strung her bow, moving cautiously.
She searched the entire house and found no one inside. “Idiot,” she hissed. The children would be in lessons, across town. Kelek would be at the temple, helping the men fix the roof there. The temple, near the town’s square.
Not daring to put the thoughts in her mind, she bolted out the front door and ran through the town of Triel, the streets nearly empty as all the undead gathered in the centre of town. For what, she had no idea. She saw no sign of what creatures had killed them, nor if there were any living survivors.
Stop, she told herself, there are survivors. Her family was smart. They would have gotten away. The children would have been taken into the cellar at the first sign of danger. Kelek would have hidden inside the temple. Or, maybe he was still on the roof. She slowed as the density of undead became too many, then snuck past, looking toward the centre of town. She saw a flash of red, then heard a booming, magically enhanced voice speak out in a harsh, guttural language she didn’t know. The figure floated up several feet above the gathered corpses.
She hid and glanced out to get a look at the one who had destroyed her home.
Though he was a long distance away, she could see he was a man. He had white skin and a bald head inked with black tattoos, though it was hard to make out his facial features. Around him floated a crimson red robe, and in his hand, he held a flashing orb of light. The corpses looked up at him with dead eyes and listened to his foreign speech.
Shale tore her eyes away and crept through back alleys until she reached the school, and saw the front door had been smashed in. Forcing the tears away, she leaped through the splintered wood and peered inside. It was dark, the lanterns gone out. “Lonnis? Farin? Ki?” She said in a hushed, strained voice. “Kids?”
There was a thump, and she raised her bow in an instant to the noise as a figure rose and moved into the light. Kelek.
His eyes were white.
His dark skin was a sickly colour, and a few arrows feathered his back. He looked at her without seeing, moving toward her. She stepped back until her shoulders touched the wall, shaking her head as he tilted his and shuffled nearer. “Don’t,” she croaked, tears streaming down her face. “Don’t, Kelek. I—I love you. Please.”
Kelek stood a foot from her, then opened his mouth as if to scream, jumping toward her with supernatural speed. She dropped her bow and felt his body slam into her and knock her to the ground. He was stronger than her, even in death, and she felt his arms clawing at her neck, threatening to choke her.
She gasped and fumbled for her belt, where she kept her dagger. She felt the hilt and grasped it, lashing out, stabbing Kelek’s arms where they held her. He screeched inhumanly and pulled back, and she rolled up and onto him and stabbed him in the chest and torso, over and over, the blade making a sickly sucking sound as she drew it out and slammed it down, drew it out, slammed it down. Her arms were soaked by the time her husband’s white-filmed eyes finally stared up at nothing, his hands dropping and his mouth going slack.
Holding back a sob, she quickly kicked off him and crawled away, toward the cellar door. It was closed. Standing shakily, the dagger still clutched in one hand, she turned the knob and the door creaked open without resistance.
She descended the stairs into the cold basement, but there was no one hidden inside.
Numb, she climbed the stairs, leaving streaks of Kelek’s blood along the wall as she ascended. She stepped through the shattered front door and came face-to-face with Paelor, the children’s lesson master.
His eyes were white and dead.
He lashed out with his hands when he saw her and she cursed herself for leaving her bow on the ground as she kicked the elderly man to his knees, then grabbed his head and sharply turned it, dagger still in hand, breaking the neck. The corpse dropped, and she saw his original wound was a stab mark to the back.
She heard a moan and turned her head as several figures shuffled out from around the building.
“NO!” She screamed. She couldn’t hold it back this time. “No, no, no, NO,” she sobbed, clutching the dagger in her sticky, blood covered hands. It was her children.
Lonnis, Farin, Ki, and several other children, all with dead eyes, all pierced with arrows. Dead. Undead. They reached for her as they moved forward on tiny feet.
Shale dropped to her knees and waited for them to come. “This is it,” she sobbed, letting her dagger clatter to the ground. She forced herself to look up, to meet each of their eyes with her own. Ki. The three-year-old with the fanciful dreams, still unsteady the way she walked. Farin, the fierce one, her hair now matted with blood. Lonnis, the boy who never stopped asking questions, his jaw broken and a deep gash along his forehead. She raised her chin to the sky and closed her eyes, waiting for the pain to end.
No. She heard the voice in her head. It was a voice she hadn’t heard in a decade.
Get up, Shale. Don’t let it consume you.
Then, everything went quiet. She felt her mind clear, and she opened her eyes. She dropped her hand and darted for the dagger again, the wet hilt slipping in her hand. As Lonnis raised a dead hand at her, she grabbed her son by the neck and thrust the blade into his un-beating heart.
It was at that moment that the darkness, and the madness, claimed her.
Shale awoke to angry shouts of accusation. “There’s a murderer in our midst, and we demand justice!”
She crawled out of her bedroll and pulled on her heavy winter cloak, as the morning was a chill one, then strode over to the disruption. The cultists stood on one side over the body of the fallen half-elf, with the smeared message “tread carefully” still written on his face in blood. On the other side stood many members of the caravan and the dwarf merchant was trying to placate them.
“We will look into it, but we can’t spend more time in Daggerford,” the Dwarf insisted.
“It was one of you!” One of the cultists, a man with a shaved face and reddish hair grunted, glaring out at the crowd. “Who’s to blame?”
A burly woman with black hair and a scar across her face, one of the cultists who usually kept her hood up, stepped next to the man with arms folded. Whisper had told them her name was Hama, and she was the leader of the group in their caravan.
Shale hadn’t told her companions about what she’d seen Janna do, so they all had genuine looks of confusion on their faces. Oszaren stepped up next to Shale and whispered, “you didn’t have anything to do with this, did you?”
She shook her head and muttered, “later.”
She turned back and saw Janna was just starting to stir and rise from her sleeping furs, a look of pure innocence on her tiny, gnomish face.
“I investigate,” Whisper said, walking to the body. Hesitantly, the ginger-haired man stepped aside and allowed the tabaxi to check the corpse. He turned it over and pointed to the stab wound, which was a couple inches thick and through the small of the man’s back. “Short sword did this,” he told them loudly, so even the curious onlookers could hear.
The ginger man looked at Shale and her companions, pointing his finger accusatorily. “Was it one of you? We saw how cleanly you dispatched of those slavers in the inn. Or those spiders on the road.”
“Cleanly is a generous term,” Oszaren folded his arms and widened his stance intimidatingly. “We are fighters, sure, but we are not ones to cowardly stab someone in the back.”
“Exactly,” Keelan agreed. “Besides, what reason would we have to attack one of your men? There’s no motive.”
“Check the pockets,” Shale told Whisper, and the tabaxi did so, pulling out a full coin purse.
“There you have it,” the paladin announced, “there must have been a personal disagreement between this fellow and someone else.” He paused, looking around at the disguised cultists, “we will help you find justice for this man’s murder—”
“His name is Sadon,” one of the others cut in.
“All show weapons,” Whisper stood up from the body, pointing down to the ginger’s sheathed longsword. “Whoever have shortsword do this.”
“That’s half the camp,” Shale said.
Reverence turned in a flash and strode over to Janna, picking her up by her cloak and carrying her over to the fallen half-elf. She squirmed, her tiny legs kicking futilely through the air as he threw her to the ground before the cult. He drew her shortsword from its scabbard and held it up. “Here is the one we should be suspicious of,” he said slowly, examining the blade, which looked to be properly clean of any blood. “She is—new here. She carries the weapon—our tabaxi friend describes.”
“She’s not the only new one,” Shale said, pointing a finger at Azbarra, who now had a hood over his bald, tattooed head. “What about him?”
Hama threw a glance over to the red wizard. “He is not a suspect.”
“Fine,” Shale said sharply, “but we won’t find out who the killer is like this. We must continue our journey to Waterdeep, as Lai here said.” She gestured at the dwarf. “For all you know, it is as our paladin suggested: your guard Sadon was directly targeted, and now the crime is done, the murderer has hidden themselves. Look around you,” she gestured to the further encampment outside of Daggerford, the hundreds of refugee tents, “there are endless possibilities here. We must move on. You and your group can stay if you like.”
She said it firmly, and after a tense moment, Hama raised her chin and ordered the ginger-haired man to clean up the body. Whisper offered to dig a grave.
“Leave us to our grief,” Hama said, and the people of the caravan began to stir and go awkwardly about their business.
“You know, for people who want to end the world, they sure are sentimental,” Oszaren muttered.
Shale grabbed Keelan by the arm as they returned together to their smoldering fire. “I put the chain in his satchel,” she whispered. “Azbarra’s.”
Almost imperceptibly, the paladin nodded. She expected he would test the spell as soon as he had the chance.
She would tell her companions about what happened in the night, but not until she was certain they were alone. In the meantime, she packed up her supplies, stealing furtive glances toward Janna as the gnome packed her own belongings and shot angry glares at Reverence.
For the rest of their journey to Waterdeep, another five days of travel, Whisper spent much of his evenings speaking with the cult members, trying to decide what Azbarra’s presence could mean. Shale kept careful watch of the red wizard, trying to discern if his was the face she remembered.
Reverence spent his days walking alongside Zelena, and the two seemed to have an understanding between each other, though it didn’t seem to progress much further, and Fillip and Arietta’s relationship seemed strained. By the time they reached the outskirts of the impressive metropolis of Waterdeep, Shale was happy to finally break free of the caravan.
Waterdeep was a massive, fortified city along the Sword Coast, with its sprawling Deepwater Harbour full of various ships and barges moving in and out of the area. The city was built into the side of Mount Waterdeep, climbing up the small mountain and otherwise spreading down to the ocean’s edge.
Shale stared out in wonder, having never seen the city before.
It was then that Reverence had another vision.
The ocean’s horizon was dark, the sky moving like a shadow toward him. He peered at it for a while and saw that the clouds were alive and approaching quickly. The ground vibrated, and the ocean rose up. A mile-high wall of water pulled back the shore, the ships being sucked into its wake. Then it rushed forward and slammed into the great city of Waterdeep. The water enveloped the city, dragging the buildings off the side of the mountain like flesh sloughing from a decaying body.
When the water receded, there was nothing, but broken stone left. The cloud of darkness continued to move forward. The cloud was thousands of flying dragons.
“A grim future, to be sure,” a voice said next to him, and he turned. “But, it’s oddly satisfying to watch.” The man next to him was a human with deathly pale skin and garbed in dark clothes, a finely cut tunic and trousers. He grinned, and his mouth was full of sharp fangs.
The vision faded.
“This city is full of pagans,” Keelan said as he spit on the ground and trotted Ember forward. The caravan reached the main southern gates and scattered, the long journey finally at a close for many people. The family with the cursed daughter, the dwarf in all his fine raiment’s, the ale seller in his grim fashion, all went their separate ways.
Shale lost sight of Janna amongst the crowd, and they were soon left alone with their cart, Oyn bidding Reverence farewell and good luck on his journey as he pushed his way through the market, handing his patched coat to the tiefling as a parting gift.
Fillip led their covered wagon after him with Zelena and Arietta sitting amongst the supplies, watching them as hundreds of people milled about. They left Fillip with the twins to sell his spices, and Carlon the Harper retreated, saying he had business to attend to. The rest of them followed the group of carts belonging to the cult from a safe distance as they pushed their way northwards through the town.
“I go to the academy,” Whisper told them, his common having improved a lot in his time on the road. “Send me message when you are ready.”
“What are you doing there?” Oszaren asked curiously.
“Try to join,” the tabaxi said, excitement in his face, his one eye blinking out at his companions. Then, he turned and mixed into the crowd of people, his bobbing ears soon out of sight past the buildings.
“We keep an eye on the cult,” Oszaren said to the remaining few, Reverence, Shale and Keelan, “but we don’t engage. Not until we know what we’re up against.”
They followed for another hour, finally reaching the upper portion of the city where the streets were cleaner and the smell less foul, and they were forced to drop back as the crowds dispersed and kept the cult in Keelan’s magical sights as he followed the chain in Azbarra’s bookbag. Reverence ran ahead to keep track of them in case the red wizard was to veer off in another direction.
Eventually, they were led to a large warehouse, where Reverence stood waiting for them. “They all went inside,” the tiefling told them quietly as they watched from a street away. “I saw Azbarra—show some symbol, and they were—let in. No one’s has come out since.”
“Now what?” Shale whispered, feeling anxious now that she knew where the red wizard was staying. Trigger nuzzled her boot.
“Now, we keep a constant guard on the warehouse and find a place to rest for the evening. We should talk to the locals and find out what this warehouse is used for and see when the next caravan is leaving Waterdeep.”
They all nodded, and Reverence offered to take first watch of the warehouse. The rest of them departed and found some rooms in the Open Barrel Inn. Then, Keelan excused himself. “I have my own mission,” he declared, and without any explanation, left the inn.
“Well,” Oszaren sighed, looking at Shale, “I guess it’s just us. Let’s talk to the locals and meet back at the warehouse in an hour.”
Shale agreed, and she and Trigger went out of the inn.
“The Lord of Waterdeep opened a trade route between Waterdeep and Neverwinter. After the near destruction of Neverwinter years ago from the volcano, they’ve been looking for ways to improve trade and fix the roads. I heard a lot of complaints from locals saying it’s a waste of their money, when the Lord should be focusing the city’s wealth on the poor within their own city,” Oszaren summarized to Shale and Reverence what he had found out.
Shale nodded her head. She had found out much of the same thing. “The warehouse is owned by the Highroad Charter Company,” she told them. “This is the company the Lord hired to repair the trade route. Though, I couldn’t find their connection to the cult. It could be that the cult owns the company, but I can’t say for sure.”
“It could be,” Reverence said thoughtfully, “though it’s possible—the cult is simply—bribing them.”
“They certainly have the wealth for it,” Oszaren agreed.
“I also found out a bit about the politics of Waterdeep,” Shale began, “though I’m sure you already know a lot about it.” When Oszaren made no sign to speak, she continued. “The city is run by an oligarchy, like a council of Lords, but the Lords wear masks. All except one, whom they consider to be the Open Lord. His name is Dagult Neverember. He’s not very well liked, as you said.”
“Well,” Oszaren sighed, “we need to find out when the cult is leaving Waterdeep, if they are indeed leaving, and what their plans are.”
Shale spoke with the innkeeper and found some messenger boys, paying them each a silver and sending them with letters for Fillip and Whisper to tell them where they were staying. Shale took over Reverence’s watch of the warehouse, leaving Trigger behind at the inn, which made the fox antsy but kept him safe, and Reverence and Oszaren went out to the market to shop. When evening reached the city of Waterdeep, Whisper found Shale and left his fey owl to watch the warehouse while the rest of them convened in the Open Barrel over supper.
“So, now instead of the Devoted Blaze, you can call me a Disciple of the Phoenix,” Keelan announced proudly.
“Well, none of us actually called you the Devoted Blaze,” Oszaren began to say, but Fillip smiled at the paladin and nodded approvingly.
“Can’t afford academy,” Whisper said sadly, “will try tomorrow for scholarship and see if they pay for me or find me patron.”
“What do you have to do?” Shale asked.
The tabaxi shrugged and waved his paws grandly, “make good magic things. Look impressive.”
“Well,” Fillip nodded his head, “I have to go back out tomorrow and sell the rest of the spices. I’m thinking I’ll try another sector of the city, so I don’t oversaturate the market.”
“We don’t know how long we’ll be in the city,” Oszaren warned, “so don’t stray too far.”
Arietta and Zelena were sitting together at a different table, talking with one another and ignoring their group. It seemed the girls hadn’t found work in the city yet, but Shale would be happy to be rid of them. She still didn’t trust them.
“Oh, did I mention Carlon set up a meeting with the leader of the Harpers tomorrow, and we’re supposed to join?” Fillip said casually. “He found me later at the market and told me to tell you.”
“That’s good news,” Reverence said appreciatively, “perhaps—their organization will know more—about the cult’s plans.”
“What’s the leader’s name?” Oszaren asked curiously.
“Remalia Haventree.” Fillip filled them in on the details Carlon gave. They were to meet with the Harpers the following morning at the Yawning Portal Inn.
“Perhaps,” Reverence began slowly, “I should also tell you—of the vision I had—about Waterdeep.”
He nodded. “I saw an army of dragons.”
“Where do the visions come from?” Keelan asked, interested.
Reverence shrugged, and Keelan placed his hands on the table and Shale suddenly felt a trickle of energy run through her, compelling her to speak. Had he just placed a spell on all of them?
“If you—try to use a truth spell—on me,” Reverence said, taking out a book and opening it, “then I will tell you—nothing.”
“Just curious if it worked,” Keelan said innocently. “What makes you think this dragon army is real? What aren’t you telling us?”
Reverence looked down and pretended to read, so Oszaren waved a hand and the words on the book disappeared, leaving behind blank pages. Reverence slammed the book down and looked at them in annoyance. “I saw them in a vision,” he said, “I don’t know—how it works—or when it will happen.”
Seeing the tiefling would give them no more, Fillip got up and went to speak with Arietta. Shale decided to test the truth spell and looked at Keelan. “Keelan,” she said, and the paladin looked at her, “are you attracted to Fillip?”
The young man blushed and said, “I admire him.”
“Right,” Shale smiled, then got up from the table and headed upstairs to check on Trigger.
As she slept that night, her mind went back to the memory of a red wizard floating above an army of the dead, shouting in draconic. Was Azbarra the one she’d waited five years to find?
Chapter 21: The Darkness Descends
Carlon found the group of them standing outside the Yawning Portal Inn, a massive building with the large carving of an open-mouthed gargoyle in the doorway. Shale couldn’t help but be reminded of the reanimated gargoyles they’d fought in Dragonspear Castle as she nervously entered behind everyone else. Fillip had left in the morning to sell his spices, and Whisper was at the academy vying for a position with them as a student. They promised to report back to them later with their findings.
Inside, the octagonal room had tables and chairs along its perimeter, and in the exact centre of the room were steps leading down a level, where a wide and seemingly endless dark pit was carved out. Around the wall was a winding staircase that went up several floors into closed doorways. It was an impressive structure, and Shale would have been surprised if it wasn’t magic. The pit bothered her, but they had other matters to worry about.
Carlon brought them to a comfortable booth where a few people were already seated, and a man turned away from them stood and they all immediately recognized him as Leosin. “We meet again,” the monk smiled. “Please, sit. This is Arthagast Albrinter,” he gestured to a regal and handsome white-skinned human male, who nodded to them, “husband of our fearless leader, Remalia Haventree.” Remalia was also pale, and her skin seemed to shimmer. She had long, silver hair and the pointed ears of an elf.
A moon elf, Shale thought with interest. They were a beautiful, if somewhat sparsely seen, people, known for the mystery that shrouded them.
Remalia raised her beautiful face to them and smiled serenely, and the four of them sat. “Welcome, each of you,” she said in a strong voice, “and thank you for bringing Carlon back to us.”
They all dipped their heads.
“You have come at a good time, it would seem,” her husband said. “Later today, we have a meeting with many important people, those who have caught word of the cult’s dealings. We could use whatever information you’ve gathered. Leosin here has told us much.”
“Do you know if the cult is working with the Highroad Charter Company in Waterdeep?” Oszaren asked.
Arthagast looked to the other two and they all shook their heads, no. “I couldn’t say for certain,” Arthagast told them, “though we may find out more later today in our council meeting.”
“Seriously,” Reverence said, anger colouring his voice, “do you people know nothing?”
“We know only what our people have told us. That, and rumours along the Sword Coast,” Remalia said, giving Leosin a pointed look as if to say, who are these disrespectful people you’ve brought into our midst, dressed as they are in their dirty clothes with their lowborn speech?
“Who are these people you’re meeting with?” Oszaren asked.
Drawing her gaze from Reverence slowly, Remalia said, “we have made a tentative agreement between the Harpers, the Order of the Gauntlet, and the Emerald Enclave, a council to which the likes have not been seen in many generations, so deep and different have the rifts between these groups been. Now, though, with news of the growing cult, we have decided to set aside our differences and meet.”
“You’re only now meeting—about this?” Reverence demanded, leaning in to the table and raising his voice, “the world is about to end, and you nobles in your fancy silks with your noses stuck in your own business, are only now caring about the cult?”
“Until a few weeks ago, we didn’t even know the cult’s plans,” Arthagast said, his voice rising in response.
Shale wasn’t sure how long Reverence had been having his visions, but now she suspected it had been a while.
Remalia put a gentle hand on her husband’s arm and looked down at Reverence as if he were an annoying ant. “We are not so strong as you make think, monk. Our resources are not limitless, and the cult has been secretive and difficult to infiltrate, as we have seen with Carlon and Leosin’s experiences—not to mention your own.”
Reverence folded his arms. “Clearly—we know more about the cult—than you.”
“Which is why,” Leosin stepped in, trying to keep his voice calm, “we have asked you to meet with us. So we can exchange information, and decide what next to do about the cult.”
“Decide what to do?” Reverence barked a humourless laugh. “We need to destroy them. Nothing else can be done.”
“And how do you propose we do that?” Remalia asked, arching an eyebrow.
Reverence threw his hands up, “shouldn’t you be telling us that? Shouldn’t the Harpers—and the Order of the Gauntlet—and the damned Emerald Enclave—have these answers?”
“We may,” Remalia said firmly, “once we meet. Later to-day.” She said the words slowly, carefully, iterating each one. “I don’t know who you think you are, you group of mercenaries, but the cult spans wide and far into the past, and there is still much to be learned.”
“We don’t have time,” Reverence said flatly, ending the conversation there.
Awkwardly, the rest of their group watched the exchange, and finally Oszaren explained, “I think what Reverence is trying to say, is that we need to act now, before the cult resurrects Tiamat and brings destruction to our world.”
Remalia put a hand to her eyes and rubbed them wearily.
“There are many things happening in this world,” Arthagast said finally, “even above and beyond the cult, though your eyes may be too narrow to see it. Yes, the cult may be trying to end the world. No, they’re not the only ones who’ve tried and failed to do that very thing before. But, rash decisions and tiny feuds are not the way to go about defeating them. Until you learn that, you are of no help to us, or our council.”
“Damn your council,” Reverence said, standing and flicking his tail angrily at the four of them, “you are of no help to us. Have your meeting. Do what you want. But we don’t have time to sit around, watching you in your politicking.”
“Do you at least know when the cult will be leaving Waterdeep?” Oszaren asked, trying to overcome Reverence’s angry tone with his own, calm one.
“I believe I can help you with that,” a familiar voice said from behind them, and Janna the gnome strode up on tiny legs to their booth. “They’re leaving tomorrow. Hi,” she said in greeting to Remalia, Arthagast, Leosin and Carlon, “I’m Janna, and I’m here to join your council meeting. I represent the Zhentarim faction.” She cast Reverence a dirty look.
Remalia and her husband shared a look, and the moon elf nodded back to Janna. “Welcome, Janna of the Zhentarim. We will welcome your group into our council gladly. We weren’t sure we’d heard from you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Reverence said impatiently, still standing, “we’re not waiting around for this meeting—so give us the information we need—and we’ll be on our way.”
“Reverence,” Shale started to say, but Remalia raised her hand.
“Leosin,” she said, “give them each an invisibility potion to aid them in their search. I believe our discussions are over.”
Leosin hurriedly reached into a pack and handed the potions to Oszaren, who pocketed them and thanked the monk.
“Now, leave us,” Remalia said, clearly done with the conversation.
Shale gave Janna a nod.
Reverence snorted and turned on his heel, exiting first, Shale, Keelan and Oszaren following behind him, tentatively gazing down at the black pit in the centre of the inn. Strange. When they were back out on the streets, Keelan turned to Shale and said, “next time we’re meeting with a bunch of important, noble-type leaders, we’re bringing Fillip.”
“That was a disaster,” Shale agreed.
Reverence was already out of earshot, but Oszaren heard them and said, “you have to admit, it was a bit disappointing to find that, out of all these groups, we know the most.”
Shale was tired and decided not to argue. When Oszaren had walked away, she murmured back to Keelan, “let’s never let Reverence do the talking, ever again.”
Feeling dissatisfied, they followed Oszaren and Reverence back to the Open Barrel.
They sent a message to Whisper and Fillip again, telling them of their plans to sneak into the warehouse with their invisibility potions. They received a message back from Whisper via his owl very quickly after, and the message said he was staying at the academy all day to read books and wouldn’t join them in their infiltration. Fillip’s message came later and said he needed to finish selling spices before they continued their journey the following day, if indeed the cult was leaving Waterdeep. Shale decided to keep Trigger at the inn, locked in their stables.
With that, Keelan, Shale, Oszaren and Reverence went back to the warehouse and each drank an invisibility potion. Shale and Oszaren each had a spare for the ones Whisper and Fillip wouldn’t be needing, just in case they stayed longer than the one hour the potion permitted. Then, silently, the four of them snuck into the warehouse, sliding through the door.
Inside the large warehouse, which was a single-story building, were boarded windows and a few offices on one side with desks and papers. In the main, open area, there were at least a dozen carts being loaded with supplies by workers dressed in gray uniforms.
Shale felt Oszaren’s hand on her arm and he whispered quietly, “I’m going to check the offices for information. Listen in and see what you can find.”
Shale nodded, then realized he couldn’t see her and said softly, “okay.”