Chapter 27: Whisper’s in the Dark
Shale turned as she ran for the door and shot an arrow back, hitting one of the cultists. The men were scrambling back, trying to reach the portal where Rezmir had escaped.
Past her flew an orange blur and she turned to see, blessedly, Reverence sprinting through the door flanked by three lizard people. “Hi,” the tiefling said back to her. The lizard folk ran in and began attacking the cultists, heaving spears and javelins.
One of Fillip’s two spiders was brought down, and the other lashed out angrily for its fallen ally. Next to it floated Oszaren’s spectre, who drove his sword through another enemy. They were quickly overtaking the cultists. Keelan was still barely on his feet, constantly being knocked back, his wounds stitching together by Fillip’s healing spirits flittering over him. Whisper looked to be in poor shape and was flanked by two cultists. The taller of the two hit him over the back of the head and the tabaxi fell. The other scrabbled to grab him by the feet and started dragging him toward the alcove.
Shale turned her bow to the man and shot him with an arrow. The man fell and Whisper’s legs hit the floor limply.
With Reverence’s help, they were able to divide the rest and take them out individually. If Rezmir hadn’t fled, the fight would have gone much worse for them. As it were, they prevailed. Rather than killing the final man, Oszaren knocked him unconscious and tied the man’s hands. He went over to the ether-ed Borngray next and bound and gagged him. Without ceremony, Reverence went to Whisper’s unconscious form and began digging through his robes with a determined look on his face. The lizard men watched with interest.
“What are you doing?” Fillip asked, sounding exhausted as he stepped under his own healing spirit, a spot of blood on his forehead healing up.
“Looking for—what’s mine,” Reverence growled. He was looking for his amulet.
Fillip flicked a hand, and the healing spirit hovered over Whisper and the tabaxi stirred. Cursing, Reverence stood and shot Fillip an angry glare. “Reverence? What do you want?” Whisper asked, rubbing the back of his head and staring up at Reverence.
“I’m taking back what’s mine.”
Whisper stood to his full height and Reverence looked about to knock him back down.
“Give me the amulet,” Reverence said seriously.
“No.” The wizard said.
“The portal,” Keelan said over the argument, and Shale looked at him and nodded.
The paladin and ranger ran for the alcove and through it, letting Reverence and Whisper’s fight dissolve from their ears. The small tunnel opened into a small room with a circular stone platform in the ground with a border etched in glowing blue runes. The room looked ancient and was carved with intricate patterns. Shale could feel the magic pulsating within the moment they’d stepped inside. Mist coalesced on the ground and seemed to swirl and emanate from the platform. Fillip appeared behind them a moment later. “The portal,” the druid said.
Shale and Keelan nodded. “How do you think it works?” She asked.
“Maybe a word?” Keelan suggested, “or you have to touch something in the circle?”
Fillip shrugged. “Our proper spellcasters should be the ones to look at it. You know, the ones who read all the books.”
Shale had to agree. “Oszaren might know,” she said, knowing nothing would draw Whisper and Reverence from their argument for the moment.
Fillip called for Oszaren, and the warlock came through looking harried. “We have two prisoners we need to interrogate about the cult, and the lizard people have just left.”
“Look at the portal,” Shale said. “Do you know how it works?”
Oszaren finally seemed to notice the room and began to pace around it carefully, his eyes glazing to green as he searched for traces of magic.
Sensing the investigation would take a while, Shale left the alcove and saw Whisper hesitantly handing the amulet back to Reverence, who snatched it out of his hand and immediately placed the chain around his neck and tucked it into his robes. The skull rested over his chest where it had before tried to burrow through flesh. “Don’t use it,” Whisper warned him, but the tiefling ignored him and spun on his heel to find Oszaren. Shale pointed him to the warlock and came through to search the room.
In the corner lay stone platforms with a coffin in the centre of them. She went there first and knocked on the top of the stone slab. She couldn’t sense an undead presence except for that of Oszaren’s spectre, who floated lazily in the centre of the room awaiting further instruction from his master. On the walls around the coffin were stone reliefs of skeletal dragons with tattered wings outspread. There were no carvings of Tiamat here. She brushed off a layer of dust from the coffin and saw draconic symbols. “Whisper,” she called to the tabaxi. “What does it say?”
He stepped over lightly and examined the surface. “Here lies Strongor Bonebinder.”
“Bonebinder,” she said aloud. The name tasted sour on her tongue. “It looks like it’s been opened recently,” she pointed out the marks on the side of the coffin where dust had been pushed away. She pressed her body against it and started to shift the stone.
Seeing what she was doing, Whisper pushed his body against it as well, and the stone shifted and scraped until they’d moved it a foot away. Shale coughed at the dust and saw a human skeleton carefully laid out on a bed of stone, its arms folded over its sternum as though it had been holding something. “It looks like something might have been taken,” she said, and Whisper nodded and began inspecting the body with careful paws flitting about.
She turned at the sound of loud clattering and saw across the room that Fillip had explored and found crates of gold and gems and had pushed them over and began sorting through them.
“Look what I found!” Keelan said, trotting over from Valaxarim’s fallen body and holding up a smooth white stone. He passed it to Whisper, who took a break from the skeleton to turn the stone over in his paws.
“A sending stone,” he declared. “Its twin is out there somewhere. Only the two can communicate.”
Keelan nodded in interest and pocketed the stone, then went to take Borngray’s sword, which Oszaren had kicked aside when the elf went down. He admired the workmanship of the fine elvish blade.
“We shouldn’t stay here,” Shale warned, suddenly aware of the coldness of the place, and the depth of the stone above them.
“We have—people we need to interrogate,” Reverence said.
“How were things upstairs?” Shale asked. “You were able to get the gate closed, I presume?”
The monk shrugged. “I was able to fill it with bullywog corpses. So—yes—in a manner of speaking.”
“I’ve suppressed the portal, for now,” Oszaren announced, emerging from the alcove. “It’s a temporary solution, I’m afraid. Magic of this magnitude cannot be dispelled.”
“How does it work?” Fillip asked from his corner, now raking gold into bags. Shale wasn’t sure how the druid planned to get all the riches back to the castle above.
“It needs a command word to function,” he glanced over at the two unconscious prisoners, then looked to Reverence. “Can we get it from them?”
“Happily,” Reverence said darkly.
“Whisper, dig two holes,” Oszaren said, pointing to areas in the stone floor where the ground was broken up from centuries of erosion. “Keelan, can you lower them each down, so we don’t wake them? Fillip, break up the rest of those larger crates so we can cover the holes with wooden slats. Reverence, what do you need from us? How do you want to interrogate them? Borngray is second in command to Rezmir and has been running the castle. The cultist came through the portal with Rezmir and may have heard the command word.”
Reverence said, “First—I will interrogate the cultist. Then, I work on—Borngray. I will look beaten and worn and—pretend to be a cultist myself and talk to him—as a fellow prisoner.”
Oszaren nodded thoughtfully and Whisper began pulling up large portions dirt and stone and displacing it with magic.
When done, the tabaxi nodded to the floating spectre. “When will you send him away?”
The warlock sighed and walked to stand in front of the imprisoned soul. The ghostly man stared back unhappily. “Thank you for your service, though I know it was not of your volition,” Oszaren said, raising a hand. “I release you from our bond.”
The spectre tilted his head and gave a dark look, then closed his eyes and the body dispersed. Shale felt immediate relief, the tension in her chest she’d only just noticed, finally relaxed. She breathed deeply and went to stand by Fillip, who was now separating gems by size. “Can I help?” She asked. “I don’t want to take part in the…” she trailed off.
“Torture?” The half-elf asked.
She nodded, and he pointed to an overturned crate that had been too broken to use for roofing on the prisoner holes. “Rubies, emeralds and any of the larger gems in this bag,” he tossed her a leather satchel, which she caught and began dividing the riches.
Feeling at peace, Reverence leapt into the dark hole and landed in front of the kneeling black-cloaked prisoner. He tore the man’s bone mask from his face and tossed it aside, staring into his gray-green eyes with contempt. The man had just awoken and had to squint to bring the tiefling into view. A nasty gash on his head, dealt by Oszaren, was likely cause for a headache.
Reverence took slivers of wood from his robes and wrenched the man’s hands up uncomfortably where they were tied at his back. He grunted, and the tiefling took a single, thumb-sized sliver and slowly inserted it beneath the index nail. The man grunted again, and he stuck the wood deeper, drawing blood. There was a crack as he burrowed the splinter, and the man screamed horribly when the nail cracked. He took a second bit of wood and worked on the next nail, then the next, until all five on the man’s one hand were soaked in blood. The man screamed and his body shook despite his efforts to hold back from the pain, but Reverence ignored the cries. He focused on the work until it was done.
“Now,” the tiefling finally said, standing and walking around the man whose shoulders were hunched in agony. “Tell me about your job in the cult.” The man had gone quiet. It would be a long time before he could use his dominant hand, if ever again.
He shuddered and took a few long breaths, composing himself, then looked up at Reverence and spat. “My job is to die for the queen.”
“What an unfortunate job,” Reverence crossed his arms. “Where are the cult’s—headquarters?”
“Do your worst,” the man growled. “I’ll not tell you anything.”
“You’ve seen bad—but, you haven’t seen—my worst,” the monk warned. With that, he climbed the rope out of the hole and threw the rest of the slats off the top. He demanded a shovel, which Whisper instantly conjured, and the tiefling began to shovel piles of dirt onto the man’s head.
The man did not react. He simply bent his head to keep the dust from his eyes as more piles fell atop it. Reverence paused and tried to search the man’s mind, grasping his amulet and digging in, but the man resisted. A stone wall inside his mind kept him out. So, the cult trained at least some of their men against torture.
“I can help,” Whisper said, gesturing to the shovel.
Reverence nodded, and the tabaxi lifted the remainder of the dirt and dropped it around the man, pulling him up simultaneously with his spell until the man was buried to the neck. Reverence sat cross-legged across from him and tried again to penetrate his mind. The man grimaced, but there was no reaching him. “So,” Reverence sighed, “you will tell me—nothing?”
“Nothin’,” the man said.
The tiefling stared for a while, then stood and walked behind him, pulling out a dagger and crouching into the dirt to whisper in the man’s ear. “The cult has killed innocent people.” With that, he slid the dagger across the man’s exposed neck, cutting deeply to the spine and spilling crimson in a gurgling burst of final, gasping breaths that reached no conclusion.
He stood and looked to his companions. The ones who were watching. The warlock, the paladin and the wizard. “He knew nothing,” Reverence declared. “Let’s move on—to the next one.”
“I want to look abused,” Reverence said. “That way—Borngray will think—I am a prisoner.”
“I can make you look beat,” Fillip offered, he and Shale having packed up the rest of the treasure. He took out his disguise kit and spent the next minutes changing Reverence’s face to look bruised and bloodied. Reverence took a black cultist cloak from one of the bodies and draped it over his own robes, pinning it closed.
“A few—broken fingers wouldn’t do amiss.” Reverence wiggled his hands.
“I’m going upstairs,” Fillip announced, packing up his kit.
“How are you going to transport all that gold?” Keelan asked in surprise.
The druid shrugged. “I can change into a warhorse to carry it all, if you’ll help me load the bags.”
“Why not wait here until the interrogations are finished?” Oszaren asked.
“No offense,” Fillip raised a hand, “but I’m exhausted, and torture isn’t exactly my favourite way to wind down.”
“I’ll go with you,” Shale quickly offered. “Trigger and I. You shouldn’t travel back on your own.” In truth, she was also exhausted, and did not have the stomach for more of Reverence’s schemes. The more she learned of her companions, the more uneasy she felt about the lot of them. A paladin who burns himself, a warlock who enslaves souls, a wizard who has no side on which to plant his allegiance, and a monk who tortures men. It seemed the druid was, surprisingly, the most normal of the bunch. She admired the paladin and could excuse some of his zealotry on his youth, and she understood some of the nature of Oszaren’s pact, but the other two were inexplicable.
Keelan helped them load the bags onto Fillip’s back once he was transformed, and he, Shale and Trigger left without another word, winding their way back through the tunnels and up into the castle. They met no trouble along the way.
“So,” Reverence began in a tired voice, looking across at the newly awakened Borngray, who was bound and gagged. The tiefling had just been kicked into the hole by Oszaren, the slats pulled back over the hole but leaving enough light for them to see each other. His hands were bound in front of him and he inched forward, pretending to be pained as he did so, and pulled down the elf’s gag. “What’s your role in the cult?” He asked, leaning back against the wall so they sat across from one another.
Borngray eyed him as the gag left his mouth and said, “Well, I run the castle for one.”
“Ah,” Reverence nodded knowingly.
“And what is your role?” The elf asked suspiciously.
“I have—recently arrived,” he said slowly, maintaining eye contact.
“I don’t see many tieflings about. New recruit?”
“Something like that,” the tiefling said.
“Interesting first day.” Borngray was testing him.
Reverence shrugged and waited a full minute before asking his next question. He cleared his throat first, deliberately. “Have they questioned you yet?”
Borngray shook his head. “First time being captured?”
He paused, then said, “No. You?”
“Third,” the elf barked humourlessly. “They won’t break me. Others have tried and failed, and these people have no idea what they’re doing.”
“Well, I hope we can—escape before it comes to that.” Reverence eyed the elf. “How do I know I can trust you?”
“I’m the one Rezmir came to help,” he said. “I run the castle in her stead, as you know. But, how do I know I can trust you, nameless cultist?”
“I kept Rezmir’s secrets—even in torture.”
“Hm,” he nodded thoughtfully. “Well, we’re in this together I suppose. So, how many of them did you see up there?”
“They didn’t let me see,” the monk told him. “Only one of them did the torturing. Broke my fingers.” He held up his hands, where Reverence had insisted Oszaren break them, assuring him that he could handle it, and they could heal him after.
“Did you see a way out?”
Reverence shook his head. “Surprise is our best bet.”
Borngray shifted in his bonds and said, “Well, we can start with this.” With a flash, a sword appeared in his hands, immediately cutting the ropes and freeing him. He held up the elvish blade, smiling.
Keelan, who had been studying Borngray’s sword where he stood guard near the pit, looked up as it vanished. “Um, everyone…”
Oszaren turned on his heel, seeing the paladin’s empty hands. “Get ready,” the warlock warned.
With a sigh, Keelan withdrew his own longsword and held it aloft, waiting.
Borngray motioned to Reverence, and the tiefling held up his hands. He cut the ropes and rubbed his wrists. “Now, we wait for one of them to come down. Then we kill them all.”
The elf sat on the ground and rested the longsword over his lap, a look of patience resting over his face. Reverence eyed the blade. “Ever thought of using a real weapon?”
Borngray chuckled. “And what’s your weapon of choice?”
“You’ll see,” the monk smirked, and sat next to Borngray.
“They’re not coming out,” Keelan hissed.
Oszaren stepped over to the pit and held up a hand, a spell spilling over the prisoner’s heads and freezing them in place. “Pull the elf out,” the warlock ordered, gesturing for them to cover their faces with the stolen cultist’s masks.
Keelan kicked the wood aside and jumped down, manhandling the elf and pushing him up to Whisper and Oszaren, who dragged him. Keelan grabbed the sword and threw it out of the pit, then clambered out himself.
Oszaren began kicking the paralyzed elf. He felt a few ribs crack before punching his face and thoroughly bloodying him. The elf moaned and started to shift as he fought the spell, and Oszaren grabbed him roughly by the shoulders and cast him back into the pit. They all heard the snap as his leg broke. Borngray’s breathing was laboured as he crawled to the wall and limped his way to a standing position, staring back up at them with an angry glare. A shard of bone protruded from his shin.
They returned the wooden slats to the top of the pit, then stepped out of view. Oszaren dropped the spell from Reverence. The monk immediately leapt at the elf and grabbed him by his jerkin. “What did you tell them?” he demanded loudly, eyes flashing red.
Hiding the physical pain well, Borngray shoved Reverence’s hands away. “I was out there for ten seconds,” he snapped.
“Obviously—that’s all they needed,” the monk growled, stepping back. “What did you tell them?”
Borngray was pale, his face sweaty, but he steadied his jaw.
Reverence jumped forward again and clenched his broken fingers into a fist, punching him across the face with all his strength.
“What in nine hells?” He swore as he took the hit and stumbled back on his broken leg. “We’re in this together, no?” He growled, his voice going dangerously cold as he summoned his sword. It flashed into existence and arced at the monk, but Reverence easily danced back and Borngray was too unsteady on his feet to reach him.
“That’s not what it sounds like,” Reverence hissed back, louder this time. “What—did—you—TELL—THEM?”
“I told you,” Borngray panted, looking as if he were about to faint from blood loss, “this isn’t my first prison.”
Ignoring him, Reverence attacked again, moving under his unsteady blade and punching him in the side. Borngray grunted where his cracked ribs were impacted. Reverence moved back again. “Look at me—look at you,” the tiefling said, circling. “Why haven’t they killed you?”
“They want information,” the elf spat. “Foolish initiate.”
Reverence slowed, dropping his fists. “I was sent here on an important mission for the cult.”
His eyes hardened. “Listen here, initiate. You don’t tell me who’s doing the bidding of the dragon queen. You don’t get to where I am by being loose with words. I told them nothing.”
Reverence nodded brusquely. “Then how do we get out of here?”
Borngray paused, watching the tiefling, his sword wavering in his hand before he lowered the tip to the ground. “I think we’re past that. Either we die now, or we let them torture us to death. Neither of us are going to talk.” He stared again, reading the tiefling’s face for any reactions.
Reverence remained stoic. “If I get us up there, then what?”
“Then we fight,” he said. “There were only three up there that I could see.”
“And then we use that portal.” He paused. “I have an—urgent message to bring back to them. If you don’t make it, then how will I—get through?” He looked down at the elf’s broken leg, then reached into the black cultist robes, where underneath he wore the robe of patches given to him from Oyn. He ripped a patch free and threw it on the ground, where it instantly transformed into a ladder.
Borngray raised an eyebrow at him appraisingly, then nodded. “Impressive.”
“Not all of us,” Reverence pointed to the longsword, “need a silly sword.”
“Our mission is the most important thing. If you reach the portal without me,” Borngray took a long, deep breath, steadying himself as he straightened, “then the word is Drazier. That will take you to the lodge. From there, the castle in the sky.”
“Very well,” Reverence said, shifting his shoulder under the elf’s arm and helping him to the ladder. “For Tiamat?”
“For Tiamat,” Borngray responded, clutching the rung and beginning to climb with difficulty. He peered over the hole and summoned his sword, climbing over the edge and swinging his blade.
The elf tried to push past Keelan while swinging wildly. Keelan spun in surprise at the conjured ladder. Reverence jumped from the pit a second later and slammed a fist into Borngray’s spine, stunning him with a reverberating spell. A second later, Whisper released three tiny missiles that zoomed and planted into the elf’s frozen back and dropped him. They all rushed over and stood looking down at the body. “Did you get it?” Oszaren asked.
Reverence nodded and grinned, flashing his sharp incisors. “Found out—the password—and the location of their headquarters. A castle—in the sky.”
Oszaren nodded. “Keelan, can you heal him?”
Keelan sheathed his sword. “Why would I want to do that?”
“We could still get more information from him about the cult,” the warlock said.
“I don’t think—he will tell us anymore. He is not a man—to be broken.”
Whisper bent and pulled out the tiny darts in his back and began to bandage them.
“I think we should kill him,” the paladin said. “He’s evil.”
“We should imprison him,” Oszaren insisted.
Keelan bent and picked up the elf’s dropped sword, eyeing it approvingly. “I want this sword. If we imprison him, he’ll keep bringing it back to his side.”
The warlock looked at his companions unhappily. Whisper offered no suggestions, but Reverence and Keelan both seemed convinced. “We should keep a prisoner for the Harpers,” Oszaren told the tiefling pointedly.
Reverence shook his head. “We’re not going to—travel another two weeks back to Waterdeep. We have a—more important mission ahead.”
Oszaren huffed, but Keelan and Reverence shared a look, and the paladin bent and put an end to Borngray once and for all. He wiped his new sword clean on the back of the elf’s black robes and replaced it at his sheath. “Let’s go,” he said, and started toward the door. “We can talk about the portal after we’ve all had a good rest.”
Shale and Fillip spoke with Snapjaw, and the druid was able to negotiate a fair portion of the gold, except for that which the lizard folk wished to present as tribute to the Black Death, their dragon patron. Shale worried over their inability to find the sought-after book, and Snapjaw pointed them to a library that had yet to be explored. Fillip asked Snapjaw to relay to the Black Death that they would need to travel further to find the book and ring and hoped the dragon would understand. The lizard’s leader warned the dragon was impatient but promised he would speak on their behalf. The lizard folk had decided to stay as permanent residents of the castle.
Fillip went upstairs and found a bedroll. Shale waited for the return of her companions, anxious to tell Oszaren of the library, and to speak with him in privacy about his patron of death.
In the passing hour, Shale sat with Trigger, stroking his fur and staring at the stone wall, deep in thought. She only broke from her reverie when she heard the lizard people welcoming the rest of her companions upstairs. She found Oszaren, and after a quick recount of the information Borngray gave them, she pulled him aside.
“I need to know,” Shale said seriously, walking him toward the library, “is this the first time you’ve done that—thing? You know, where you pushed the soul out of somebody?” She made the motion of slamming her hand into an invisible chest.
The warlock looked over at her as they walked, his face looking guilty. “I—I didn’t mean for it to go that far. And, no, I’ve never done it before.” He swallowed. “It happened in the heat of battle.”
“I understand that,” Shale said truthfully. “And I trust you, Oszaren. That’s why I felt I could ask. Where is this patron of yours leading you?”
Oszaren sighed. “I serve the Raven Queen,” he told her. She’d heard the name before, though it was vague to her. “I’ve only heard from her a few times, that’s why I’m looking for books. If I could translate these—messages that she’s left behind…” he trailed off and rolled up his singed sleeve to reveal his snake tattoo. The one that glowed with his spells. “She gave me this. And my sword. And, I think that silver raven statue we found at Dragonspear castle. If I can find out what it all means, then maybe it’s something I can escape.”
Shale remained quiet as they entered through the small temple room they’d snuck into before, with the wooden statue of Tiamat in the centre. They continued to a second door and found the library with its row of dusty bookshelves and unused oil lamps.
“This—thing inside of me,” Oszaren said finally, “it’s not something I can understand yet. But I’m trying. I swear to you, Shale, I don’t feel good about what I’ve done.”
There was a pleading look in the half-elf’s eyes, and she felt a tightness in her chest. A nervousness of things to come. “I trust you,” she said again, and before turning to leave, added, “Oszaren?”
He looked up.
“Will you teach me to speak draconic?”
He looked confused but nodded. She thanked him, then stepped out of the library and went to find a bed.
Shale was wakened in the middle of the night by Reverence. “Come with me,” he hissed, and she followed him out, seeing he’d woken everyone but Whisper and was now leading them into a private room.
“What’s this about?” Keelan asked, glancing back.
“I think—you know,” Reverence said, seating himself on a window sill as they all found chairs or places of wall on which to lean on.
Shale remained standing. “Whisper,” she said, tilting her head. She’d been waiting for this conversation for a long while.
Reverence nodded and cleared his throat. “It’s time we made a decision—on what to do with the tabaxi…”
Keelan sighed heavily as Reverence began his speech.
The argument went on into the night until finally, unsatisfied, they all returned to their bedrolls and sleep found them. In the morning, the tension had grown so taut it was near bursting, a wedge that left room for a great divide amongst the members of their party. Shale felt it was only a matter of time before the streambed eroded the rock beneath, and they were in freefall.
The following day was spent exploring the remainder of the castle. Shale helped Oszaren pick a few locks in the library and they found one book that interested Whisper and Oszaren titled “The Dark Sermons of Strongor Bonebinder”. The spine of the book had barely kept together. The name matched the one on the tomb and spoke of experiments and research of dragons. Oszaren pointed out an experimental recipe for bringing dead dragons back to life, a sentiment that chilled Shale’s spine. They also discussed the timestamps of the Black Death’s movements through the swamp and concluded the possibility that the dragon was teleporting.
Once they’d moved on from the library, they spent a while combing through Rezmir’s chambers and found a locked wardrobe with a dangerous chemical trap to keep out intruders. They managed to retrieve another book, this one relating to artefacts and the Queen of Dragons. Oszaren read a passage about the coloured masks of the wyrm speakers, and Shale was reminded of the black mask Rezmir wore when they saw her come through the portal. There was speculation within the book that the masks were used to control Tiamat. If not that, then at least to control the dragons. They found a few valuable black dragon statues, which Shale took to later show to Fillip. Finally, Whisper found a vial and handed it to Shale. “If you drink it, it will bring you to an ethereal plane for one hour.”
“I don’t even know what that means,” she said, taking it and carefully tucking it away.
Whisper shrugged and Shale left to find Fillip in the great hall, stuffing their crate full of gems. While the crate was not in its boat shape, it could carry a large amount of goods. She gave him the statues and he added them to the wealth. She walked the castle alone and found Keelan converting the shrine to Tiamat into one for Kossuth and was passionately proselytizing to the lizard folk, some of whom seemed mildly interested.
They made preparations for their travels and spent another night in the castle. In the morning, Keelan summoned his warhorse, Ember, and they took the path back down into the caves.
They arranged themselves over the portal. Shale felt anxious and drew her blades, unsure of where this ‘lodge’ would be. They could arrive surrounded by enemies. They could be dead in a few minutes. She took a deep breath and called Trigger to stand next to her. The fox sat on his haunches, completely unaware of where they would go next. Sometimes she envied his ignorance.
“Ready?” Oszaren asked.
Everyone remained quiet but nodded.
Reverence stepped last onto the portal, closed his eyes, and breathed the word in draconic. “Drazier.”
The word hissed and echoed, and suddenly, everything seemed to spin. Shale steadied herself, feeling as though her feet might fly out from under her at any moment. Trigger yelped, and the spinning stopped just as it had begun. Everything was blindingly white, and it took a moment for her eyes to adjust from the darkness of the caves they’d left behind.
The air was frigid and there was a howling wind. Shale looked around the platform and saw they were atop a mountain, surrounded by pinewoods. The air was freezing, their vision obscured by a rushing blizzard. Around the portal were broken stones. Other, abandoned portals. She took a step forward into the wintery world, the icy chill creeping into her bones, and felt she may never feel warmth again.
END OF PART TWO