Haden looked up at the temple ceiling, to where the ornate pillars gave way to an elaborate fresco of the night sky. Mystra’s church in Silverymoon was not large, but it seemed that the faithful took their religion rather seriously just the same.
There was no service ongoing and the great hall echoed with emptiness. Near the altar, four humans were deeply engaged in discussion, two older men and two young women, all dressed in elaborate robes.
“Who’s this?” Haden asked, turning to Joris. From behind the cleric, the elf Kalenthor grinned.
“This should prove . . . interesting.”
“No, you see, these inscriptions use the modern syntax. I’ve seen enough fake Nether Scrolls to know one when I—“ one of the men said as they approached, gesturing with a golden scroll. His robes were blue and white, naming him as a senior cleric. He broke off mid-sentence and all four humans turned to regard the new arrivals.
“Joris!” one of the women yelled delightedly and rushed forward. She wore the robes of a junior cleric and had familiar facial features.
“Cyneley!” Joris said, returning her hug and patting her on the back. “Everyone, this is my sister, Cyneley.” Kalenthor bowed deeply.
“Joris?” the senior cleric demanded, tossing the scroll onto the altar with an annoyed gesture. His expression grew even more irritated when this failed to produce any reaction.
“Kalenthor, you rascal!” the other man, a truly elderly little academic, cried.
“Hello, Miresk, you old fossil! How have you been?” the elf said heartily.
“I thought I was doing well until I spent too much on that phony Nether Scroll.” Miresk sighed and adjusted his glasses. “Oh well, won’t be the first time, probably won’t be the last.”
Kalenthor chuckled urbanely. “Better research beats more research. I seem to recall SOMEONE telling me that, anyway.”
“Oh yes, that was me, wasn’t it?”
“JORIS!!” the elder cleric roared, silencing the elderly academic. “Where in the HELLS have you been?!”
Haden snorted. “Funny you should say that . . .”
“Oh, it is, hmm? And just who are you, then? Who are all of you people and what are you doing in MY temple?”
“Thought it was Mystra’s temple,” Cyneley muttered, earning herself a furious glare.
Haden leaned in closer to the senior cleric, grinning and displaying his overly-sharp teeth. “I am Haden, Lord of the Court of Stars. This is Sheen, my companion, with the ranger Talan and the eldritch enchanter Mal. I believe you are already familiar with Kalenthor. Joris has been assisting us in our adventures. Who might you be?”
“Prestin,” Sheen said. “Joris’ father.”
The cleric shied away from the teeth just a bit. “I . . . um . . . yes. Well met, all of you.” He leaned sideways to glare at his son. “What happened to your other . . . companions, Joris?” Haden stepped out of the way.
“Dead, sir,” Joris said stiffly.
“Ah,” Prestin said. “Well I am sorry for your loss, of course. I know Jerris and his woman were dear to you.”
“Thank you, sir,” Joris said.
“I met Joris in Redlarch, that’s a village not far from Waterdeep. They encountered an owlbear,” Sheen offered when no further conversation seemed forthcoming.
“Really? I thank you for saving my son, then, at least.”
Sheen blinked. “The owlbear was already dead by the time I arrived,” she corrected conscientiously. “Though it took Joris’ companions with it.”
“But you never made it to Waterdeep,” Prestin said accusingly. “Osryd went there and back and found no trace of you.”
“We were sidetracked searching for missing villagers. Together we explored the home of the wizard Morard, where we found an inter-planar portal that landed us in Avernus,” Sheen explained.
Sheen nodded. “We did eventually find a portal that let us leave the Hells, but it landed us in Sigil.”
“Sigil! Astonishing!” Miresk interrupted. “I haven’t seen the City of Doors since I was a young man!”
“You never told ME you went to Sigil,” Kalenthor complained.
“Didn’t I?” Miresk asked. “It was just for the one weekend . . .”
“Your mother was worried sick,” Prestin snapped. “None of our scrying turned up anything.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Joris said. “I wanted to send word.” Miresk glanced at Cyneley and took the young woman’s arm, drawing her away and out of the hall.
Prestin turned to look at Kalenthor. “Did you have any luck with Arviragus?”
“My Lord, I regret to report that for the time being the helm and Arviragus have eluded capture. Three days ago, the helm was in the possession of a frost giant near the Old Man Tor in the Evermoors.”
“A frost giant?” the other woman asked. “In the Evermoors?”
“Yes, Lady Alustriel,” Kalenthor said, bowing deeply. “He claimed to be a servant of Gerti Orelsdottr. And he wasn’t alone.”
“Yes,” Sheen said. “We were very lucky we didn’t have to fight them. Haden negotiated with them and got Joris back.”
“There was a dragon,” Kal added.
“The Scourge of the Spine of the World is sending giants all the way down here?” Prestin asked, scowling.
“It certainly explains why the trolls are leaving the Evermoors,” Lady Alustriel said. Her voice was soft and musical, but there was thunder in it. “This is precisely why the cities of the North must come together. I should act on this knowledge at once. I thank you, Kalenthor Nailo, for bringing this to my attention.
Kalenthor bowed again. “Thank you, my Lady.” Alustriel swept from the hall. When she had gone, Prestin turned to the elf again.
“This news is disappointing, but under the circumstances I can hardly blame you.” The hall filled with awkward silence yet again.
“You haven’t introduced Kalisa, Joris,” Haden said mildly.
“I’m so sorry,” Joris said, coming out of his trance. “Where are my manners? Father, this is Kalisa. She’s my . . . my lover.”
Prestin steepled his fingers together in front of his chest. “Truly.”
“Honored to finally meet you,” Kalisa said shortly.
“The honor is mine,” Prestin rattled off from sheer reflex. “You know, Joris, your mother was certain she’d found a match for you in Waterdeep . . .” Joris opened his mouth to retort, but Prestin raised his voice slightly. “I know you’ve been . . .diverted from your original course, but I would hope you’d be intelligent enough to at least consider all of your options before making any . . . snap decisions. Your family is here to help you, Joris. This . . . woman may be the best you can do on your own, but with your mother’s help I know that . . .”
Kalenthor, Talan, Mal, and Haden all stepped back simultaneously. Sheen’s hand shot up to her mouth, covering her gasp of horror. Kalisa nudged Joris aside gently and drew herself up to her full height.
"The best he can do?" she asked sweetly.
“Perhaps I misspoke,” Prestin said. “I’m speaking of Joris’ lmitations, not yours.”
“Please don’t!” Joris hissed to Kalisa.
“HIS limitations?! I crossed half this world to find him. I would have fought all three of those giants AND the sorcerer, by myself, to save him. Would you have done any of that? If you claim to love him—as I do—then look to your OWN limitations.”
Sheen was a bit startled to see Joris turn from looking at Kalisa to look at her, his face full of pleading. “Are you going to let her stand up for you all by herself?” Sheen asked quietly.
“You’re more than you seem to be, aren’t you?” Prestin asked Kalisa. “I think I see what’s going on here.”
“Shut up!” Joris shouted.
“WHAT did you say?”
“I said shut up! Father. I love Kalisa, she loves me, and I don’t give a DAMN what anyone else in all creation has to say about it!”
“No matter,” Prestin said. “I’ll be rid of her soon enough.”
“Hah!” Kalisa spat. “It won’t be that easy!”
“And why not?” Prestin asked.
“Because I’m having your son’s baby!”
“You’re . . .you’re what?” Joris asked after several seconds of stunned silence. Kalisa wilted a bit.
“I’m sorry, Joris, I was planning to tell you earlier, but now you know. Your daughter grows within me.”
“How can you know that already?” Prestin demanded. Kalisa gave a frustrated growl and abandoned her disguise, spreading dark wings and fixing red-glowing eyes on the senior cleric.
“Because a succubus always bears daughters!”
“You . . . seducer! You stole my son’s heart! Get out! All of you, GET OUT!!”
“Why do you have such little faith in your son’s abilities?” Talan demanded.
“You’re one of them too!” Prestin shouted, waving a finger in Talan’s face. “Fiend-blooded betrayers!”
“What?” Talan asked, baffled. “I’m half-elven. Joris is one of the most honorable and wise men I have met. You must have very little faith in your own abilities, as well.”
“It’s because he thinks I’m weak, Talan,” Joris said.
Talan snorted derisively. “What he takes for weakness is compassion. Which he is sorely lacking.”
“He still believes I can’t truly serve the Lady of Mysteries because I’m not a wizard. But he still clings to the old Mystra—the one who DIED eleven years ago. But my Mystra, Midnight, she’s a goddess of good. And he just can’t accept that his Mystra is gone. So he takes it out on me. Well I’ve had enough,” Joris announced. “I came here to tell you that I was all right, and that I’ve got a new life in Sigil. Now I’ve done that. Goodbye, Father.” Joris wrapped an arm around Kalisa’s shoulders and the two of them walked quickly from the hall. Haden bowed ironically and followed.
“Joris . . .” Prestin started. Kalenthor bowed, interrupting him.
“I think, Lord, that he has made his choice. It would seem that he has some strength in him after all.” The elf turned also to leave, followed by Talan, Mal, and Tulio, leaving only Sheen behind. Prestin looked at her for a while. Sheen waited patiently.
“You know, I didn’t follow in my father’s footsteps, but it was so important that my children follow in mine . . .”
“Wouldn’t be much of a world if things never changed,” Sheen said.
“You helped him in Avernus?”
“We helped each other.”
“Thank you for that,” Prestin said slowly. “I’d appreciate it if you’d keep an eye on him for me.”
“Thank you. I’d like to be alone now, if you don’t mind.”
“He’ll get over being angry,” Sheen said, “and he still wants you to be proud of him. He’s still your son. He’s just walking in strange places you don’t understand.” She turned and left the hall, trotting through the street to catch up with the group. They had all stopped beside a fountain, where Kalisa was talking to Joris.
“I’m really sorry, but you know he would have found out anyway.”
“Don’t make the same mistakes I did,” Talan added.
“I won’t,” Joris said.
“You know, there’s a difference between being assertive and burning your bridges,” Sheen said.
“He started the fire,” Joris said. “I decided to let it run its course, since I couldn’t put it out.”
“Couldn’t or wouldn’t?” Sheen asked.
“What, you think I could have?” Joris demanded. His face was red and he was still breathing heavily. “He’s got to feel justified. Joris is only alive because of chance, and now he’s been seduced by a succubus! I was right all along!”
“I know you could have. You’ve been stewing on your anger for a long time, but how do you think he feels? How was he ever supposed to know what you wanted? Did you ever tell him?”
“I tried . . . I really did . . . I guess I never found the right words. Or maybe I never knew what I wanted. I just didn’t think it was fair that he should always decide.”
“It’s not entirely Prestin’s fault. Granted, it’s not entirely your fault, either.”
“You’re so lucky not to have a family,” Joris grumbled. Sheen blinked, startled.
Kal glanced sideways at Talan. “You know, I actually get on fairly well with my family.”
“I’ve heard that’s possible,” the ranger said. “I’m not sure I believe it. Of course, it gets a little harder when they’re all dead.”
Kalisa harrumphed loudly. “I’ve had just about enough of this,” she said, and threw her arms around Joris, kissing him noisily.
“This calls for a celebration,” Haden said. “Kal, my friend, know any good taverns in these parts?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. Follow me,” Kalenthor said smoothly.
“So what is it that you do, exactly?” Haden asked the wizard while they walked.
“Well, I teach at Miresk’s school sometimes. Travel a fair bit. Meddle in sinister plots. Nothing too special.”
“I know we’ve just met, but you seem like a handy fellow to have around.”
“Aside from the elf part,” Sheen added.
“Hey,” Talan protested. “Not all elves are bad. I got the good half.”
“If you’re still interested in travel, you’d be welcome to come with us,” Haden said. “Although I think Sheen wants us to go to Waterdeep to see some dwarves first.”
“I would love to travel off-plane again,” Kal said, his eyes lighting up. “My research has led me to believe that one of my newer projects may require some extraplanar resources. And Waterdeep’s nice, too. For a port city.” He shivered and looked up at the sky. The winter wind was picking up, and a dark cloud passed in front of the sun. Then the cloud began to break up, revealing dozens of dark shapes that settled to roost in the branches of trees all around them. A deafening cacophony of hoarse cawing arose.
Mal threw up his hands delightedly, nearly knocking Tulio out. “She comes! At last she comes!”
“Who is ‘she’?” Kal asked.
“Ever wanted to meet a Fey lord?” Sheen asked. “Well, now’s your chance. The Lady of Mirrors cometh.”
The square around them flared with brilliant light. When the glow had died a lovely women with butterfly wings hovered above them, her complexion as pale as a statue. She wore a diaphanous white gown and held a glass sphere in one hand.
“To mortals unseen, to ravens a queen
The lady of Mirrors as well
But you can’t find your way to the mother of fey
Or the long-hidden grove where I dwell.
So now I have come from a world growing numb
Where the darkness has reigned now for years
But the time now has passed to gaze into the glass
And behold whatever appears.”
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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