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Sep 6, 2008

Cold Blood: Session 37

Sheen peered down into the hole. “Is everyone all right down there?” Joris looked up at her plaintively. He was covered in slime.

“Anyone have a rope?”

“I’ll take care of it,” Kalenthor said dismissively. He mumbled and gestured. There was a loud popping noise and Joris reappeared with Tulio standing on the edge of the pit. “A little flashy, perhaps, but effective.”

“We should ask Riskin what to do with these bodies,” Sheen said. “I’ll be back.” Haden followed as she left the Steelheart foundry and walked back to the Flamebacks’. Talan stooped to examine the bodies.

“I’ve heard of this before,” he said. “Deepspawn. They can create copies of anything they eat.”

“So, are these really dwarves at all?” Joris asked. “They certainly look like it, even on close inspection.”

“They are simulacrums, nothing more,” Kal explained.

“Father’s beard, what in blazes?!” Riskin demanded, appearing in the doorway behind Sheen.

“They attacked us,” Kalenthor said quickly. “There is a deepspawn down below.”

“Deepspawn. Don’t that just . . . huh.”

“What are we going to tell Hoskuld?” Sheen asked.

“The truth?” Kalenthor offered, puzzled.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine, Sheen,” Haden said. “No need to baby him.”

“I wasn’t . . .” Sheen started.

“Of course you were,” Haden insisted.

“He’s just never been very good with the bizarre and supernatural,” Sheen explained. Riskin rigged up a pulley system using some of the junk lying around and began ferrying things from the pit.

“Ain’t that the truth,” the dwarf said as he worked. “Even afore his leg bummed out on ‘im I was always the one goin’ to the surface an’ whatnot.”

“Let’s get out of here,” Sheen said when they’d finished cleaning up. “We need to get back to the surface and look for the enclave.”

“We’ll need a new lead, though,” Kalenthor said.

“I wish I had something, but I don’t.”

“Well, someone’s had a busy morning,” Hoskuld remarked when they reappeared pushing a wheelbarrow.

“Yes, we’re considering going into banking,” Kalenthor said, his face deadpan. The dwarf looked like he was considering laughing for a moment.

“Sheen, I got somethin’ fer ye. Took me all mornin’ to find it, but . . .” Hoskuld pulled an amulet over his head and handed it to her.

“Oh,” Sheen said. “Well, um, thank you.”

“Don’t mention it. Oh, and this. A human feller left this not fer ye a few weeks back.” Hoskuld handed Sheen a letter. Haden stared over her shoulder while she opened it and read it. “Said he was yer brother.”

“Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it,” Haden said.

“Seemed nice enough, a bit dodgy, but a human down here’s got that right, I guess.”

“Everyone I know is ‘dodgy’,” Sheen muttered. “This Tarsem fellow wants me to go meet him. It sounds like he may know something about the Elan enclave. We probably need to risk it.” She folded the letter and put it in her pouch. At that precise moment, there was a bright light and a loud crash, followed by elven cursing. Kalenthor began to laugh.

The dwarves fumbled for weapons but Kalenthor waved them away and crossed the room to a pile of armor, where he pulled a suit of chainmail out of the way. Mal gave him a cross look.

“Oh.” The warlock said. “Hello.”

“Hello again, Maloranserani.”

“Another elf?” Riskin asked. “Ain’t you got any dwarven acquaintances?”

“I do,” Sheen said, “but they have the sense to stay home.”

“So, is there another dire turning point that will dictate the fate of the planes?” Kalenthor asked. “Or is this just a social call?”

“Do I know you people?”

Kal sighed. “Not remotely, it would appear. You should probably come with us again until you remember.”

“Is he always going to be popping up like this?” Haden asked quietly. Talan shrugged.

“If you folks are headin’ back to the surface, I can take ye as far as Skullport. I want ter settle things with Xundorn.”

“Let’s go,” Sheen said. “I’m sorry it was such a short visit.”

“It was a pleasure making your acquaintance,” Kalenthor announced.

“I’ll see ye again soon enough,” Hoskuld said. “And tell yer Ringhammer friend that I’ll be having that suit to him right away.”

“I will,” Sheen said.

“You hurry back, Riskin, armor don’t make itself!”

They followed Riskin out into the maze of tunnels. Kalenthor raised his hands and summoned light, giving Haden a smug look. They had not gone far when Talan suddenly stopped, listening. “Something is close.”

“Goddamned minotaurs,” Riskin growled. “Lemme talk to ‘em.” He raised his voice. “Ye can’t sneak up on me, Telegonus!”

A gang of minotaurs, at least a dozen, filed slowly into the tunnel from side passages, cutting off any possible escape. The largest, covered in jet black hair, stepped close to Riskin and snorted at the much shorter dwarf. Sheen crossed her arms, braced her feet, and glared just as Riskin did the same. The minotaurs eyed the pair of them warily.

“I paid you last week, Telegonus. Surely you remember?” Riskin said. “It’s a privilege to use yer tunnels n’all, but it ain’t worth all that much.”

“Who are these?” Telegonus rumbled, shaping each word slowly and with great care. “Friends of yours?”

“I wonder if we can get some steaks off of them,” Mal said to Kalenthor in a sort of stage whisper that was clearly audible to everyone in the tunnel. Kalenthor bit his tongue, trying not to laugh, as Haden winced.

“We’re here visiting the dwarves,” Haden said. “Is there a problem?”

“You have not paid to use our tunnels. If you return to Spiderhaven, you have already been here once.”

“They can count?” Talan asked under his breath.

“I don’t recall seeing a toll booth,” Haden said, “so how were we to know?”

“Yes, you really should advertise,” Kal added.

“It does not matter. You will PAY.”

“Oh, just tell us how much you’re shaking us down for already,” Sheen grumbled.

“You pay 2000 gold. Each.”

“What is this all about?!” Riskin demanded. “That’s absurd!”

“You are just dwarf. They look like they have money.”

“How about we call it fifty gold, TOTAL, and we don’t reincarnate you as beefsteak?” Sheen demanded.

“Perhaps you should reconsider,” Telegonus replied, shoving his damp nose almost into Sheen’s face.

“I don’t really follow your logic here,” Haden said. “If we have money, that means we’re nasty customers in the first place, yes? Are you *really* sure you want to try taking *anything* off us? A few dozen gold, that’s just business, but two thousand? Each? That’s being a nuisance. It’s probably just easier for us to kill you.”

Telegonus surveyed his followers briefly. “We let you pass . . . free. This time. As a favor to our friend Riskin.”

“I ain’t gonna owe you fleabags no favor!” Riskin bellowed.

“Yes, we don’t want to cheat you.”

“Fine,” Telegonus growled. “Fifty gold.”

“And post a sign,” Kalenthor said. “Seriously.”

“Are you sure we can’t work some steak into this deal?” Mal stage whispered again. “What about milk?” Sheen quickly counted out fifty gold into the minotaur’s hand. Telegonus glared at Mal, snorted, and turned to leave, his gang following. Riskin resumed walking, clouting Sheen on the arm as he went.

“I knew that stance’d serve ye well one day,” he joked.

“Aye,” Sheen said, shaking her head. “Crouch of the pissed off little bugger.”

“So do you remember us now?” Kalenthor asked Mal.

“Unfortunately,” the warlock said.

“I thought it was impossible to teleport into Undermountain.”

“You don’t say.” Kal rolled his eyes at Mal’s newfound reticence.

“Right,” Riskin said some time later, when they’d gone up one hoist and reached the river again. “This is where we part ways. Best o’ luck to you. An’ Sheen, if this Tarsem fellow ain’t what he says, ye always got family down here.”

“I know, and don’t worry, I’m sure everything will be fine.”

“Just ye follow that tunnel there, it’ll take ye back to the shaft, then up an’ out.” Riskin gave Sheen a quick hug and turned toward Skullport. The hoist was waiting at the bottom of the great shaft, just as they’d left it. They climbed in and pulled the bell chain. A faint ringing sounded above, and after several minutes the platform began to rise.

“Is this thing safe?” Mal asked.

“Mostly,” Kalenthor said.

At the top, an unfamiliar squad of guards regarded them with great suspicion. “Hallo,” Haden said disarmingly.

“Well met . . . sir.”

Haden nudged Sheen. “Wow, did you hear that, he called me ‘sir’!”

“You’d rather he called you ‘ma’am’?” Sheen asked. Haden gave her a disgruntled look. “Come on, you walked right into that one.”

“I’m such a bad influence on you,” Haden remarked.

“Do you have business in Waterdeep?” the guard demanded irritably.

“We are an advance drow scouting party,” Mal announced. “In disguise.” Joris covered his face with his hands as everyone stared at the warlock in horror—everyone except Kal, who nodded and smiled amiably.

“We just went down yesterday,” Sheen said quickly. “To visit the dwarves at Murkstones.”

“Oh? Which ones?”

“Hoskuld and Riskin Flameback. Please, don’t take these guys and their Comedian of the Year competition seriously. We’re adventurers.”

“Yes, apologies,” Kal said, relenting.

“I’m Joris Crownsilver. My mother, Goneril, runs the House of Wonder . . .”

“Good,” the guard replied grimly. “She can bail you out.”

“You’re going to arrest us?!” Haden demanded. The guard tapped the end of his truncheon against his boot thoughtfully.

“What, I’m not allowed to make jokes? I thought that’s what we were doing. Go on, get out of here.”

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Joris muttered. They hurried out of the cave while the guards sniggered unpleasantly.

“So what is next on the schedule?” Mal asked.

“We’re going to find Sheen’s brother,” Kalenthor explained. Sheen looked around for a while, orienting herself, then began heading toward Dock Street. She passed a festhall called The Hanging Lantern and found a small, shabby door just off the street. She knocked on it with her usual lack of restraint, causing the wood to flex in its frame.

“Hold on!” a muffled voice said inside, then the door opened just a crack, revealing a single eye. “Yes?”

“Are you Tarsem?” Sheen demanded.

“Ah . . . who wants to know?”

Sheen pulled out a folded piece of paper. “I’m Sheen. You left a note for me, remember?”

The man stared at her blankly. “Um, really? I . . . I’m sorry. Come in.” He opened the door slowly and backed away as Sheen trotted right inside. She made a pained noise when she saw the room. It was a mess, with clothing and other possessions tossed at random over the obviously second-hand furniture. The sole table was covered in used plates and bottles.

The single occupant matched the room, dressed in a floppy shirt that had probably once been white and patched trousers. He was small and lean, with shoulder-length reddish-brown hair and a beard that looked more like a poor attempt at shaving. His bright green eyes watched nervously as Sheen began to tidy up. Haden intercepted her and took several plates out of her hands.

“Stop that. Talk to your brother.”

“What am I supposed to say? We’ve never met before!” Sheen asked.

“I’m sorry about . . . all this, but I never thought you’d actually show up!” Mal waved his hands and the room began setting itself to rights, causing Tarsem to shrink back again.

“Where did you come from?” Sheen asked finally. “Where did I come from?”

“You mean you don’t know?” Tarsem asked.

“Not in the least,” Sheen said. “The only family I know about are a couple of dwarves.”

“Our parents were famous adventurers,” Tarsem said, twisting the sleeve of his shirt with his other hand.

“And?” Sheen asked.

“Um . . . and they did something to anger one of Halaster’s apprentices . . . Mandara, I think. She kidnapped you when you were a baby. Father and Mandara killed each other, and I guess the dwarves found you. Mother was already dead, she died giving birth to you.”

“Oh.” Sheen said. “Well, that’s reasonably straightforward. So how did you find me?”

“I’ve been . . . working for the Oghmanytes, letting them pay me back with divination.” Tarsem’s voice trailed off again. His discomfort and shock did not appear to be fading under the interrogation.

“You live here all by yourself? Don’t you have a family?”

“No. Well . . . I suppose I do now. Um.”

“You’re muffing this really badly,” Haden said to Sheen. She sighed.

“I’m sorry, I’m just not good at this sort of thing. Look, I’m not here to make your life difficult or anything like that. The main reason I brought all these people here is that we need to find the elan Enclave again and your letter made it sound like you knew where to find them.”

“Yeah?” Tarsem said. “Sure, I can help you with that. I’ve been keeping an eye on them, just in case.”

“Thanks,” Sheen said, smiling.

“They have safe houses all over the city. There’s one that’s been really busy in the last week or two, a shop that prints broadsheets up in Castle Ward. Sharkroar Horth Shalark’s Broadsheets.”

“Sheesh,, that’s like two blocks from where we *were* looking,” Joris muttered.

“Thanks. I appreciate it.” Sheen said awkwardly. She looked over at Haden, who gave her a frustrated, ‘well, get on with it!’ gesture. “Look . . . it’s about time for lunch. Why don’t you come with us and get a drink and we can . . . chat.”

“I . . . I’d like that.” Sheen backed up, forcing everyone back out into the street, and Tarsem followed.

“So what is it that you do, exactly?”

“Oh, I just help the Oghmanytes to acquire information from . . . uh . . . libraries, lorehouses across Faerun. I guess you could call me a librarian. Or a sage? It’s not really anything formal.” Tarsem’s eyes slid sideways toward Haden and the others as they emerged into the daylight.

“Oh, these are my friends, Joris, Tulio, Talan, Kal, Mal, and Haden, my . . . um . . .”

“Fiancé,” Haden said.

“What?” Sheen said, stopping in the middle of the street.

“What what?” Haden replied, looking amused. Sheen opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again. Haden turned and winked at Tarsem, who actually smiled.

“Well . . . all right,” Sheen said finally.

“As for me,” Haden said, “I am a bard, by profession.”

“I’m a smith when I can find the time,” Sheen added.

“Explorer, meddler, wizard,” Kal said.

“I’m a professional burden,” was Mal’s contribution. Kal chuckled.

“I’m a woodsman, and this is my dog Ari.” Talan reached down and petted her. She bounced happily.

“I’m a refugee, mostly,” Tulio said.

“I worship Mystra . . . and a succubus on the side,” Joris said cheerfully.

“Worship is the new euphemism, is it?” Kalenthor asked as they went through the door of the Hanging Lantern.

“What, you don’t like it?”

“On the contrary, I find it delicious.” They found a large booth in a corner and sat down. A waitress appeared with a basket of bread and began dealing out bowls of stew.

“So what made you decide to come looking for me?” Sheen asked.

“Well, originally I was just looking for information about our parents. I didn’t even know you existed until I found out how Father died. The Oghmanytes knew you were still alive, but they couldn’t find you.”

“Divinations and Undermountain don’t mix.”

“You found out you had a sister,” Talan said. “That didn’t mean you had to go find her.”

Tarsem stared at him blankly. “She’s my family. Of course I had to find her.”

“I don’t mean to pry,” Sheen said, “but you don’t seem very . . . settled here.”

“I suppose I’m not, really.”

“I say that because I’m going to be leaving very soon. For, well, for Sigil. I suppose it’s not really much of a commute, I’m just used to thinking of the Planes as being a long way away. I should also probably warn you that I’m not exactly human any more.”

“You . . . what? Really?”

“Heh, I’m the only human in this little club,” Joris said.

“What about Tulio?” Kal asked.

“It’s okay, I’d forget me to If I was him,” Tulio grumbled, making a rude gesture.

Tarsem shook his head. “You’re still my sister.”

“I’m sorry things turned out this way,” Sheen said. “My life has been a bit peculiar. If you think you can hack it, you’re welcome to try, but otherwise you’ll probably be best off just forgetting about me.”

“I’ve put too much work into finding you to give up now.”

“We’re going to need a bigger house if this keeps up much longer,” Haden said.

“Maybe we can buy the house next door or something,” Joris said.

“Or we can shrink people,” Mall offered.

“Or . . . right . . .” Talan said, staring at Mal.

“Practical,” Kalenthor approved.

Haden reached out and patted Tarsem on the shoulder. “Welcome aboard. You know, we need some kind of official name for our group.” Then everyone started to talk at once.

“That is so heartwarming I could just vomit,” Mal groused.

“Well, until Tarsem joined up, I was going to suggest ‘Half Elven’. Just by the numbers,” Kalenthor said.

“Nobody likes Gatekeepers?” Joris asked.

“It’s a little . . . vanilla,” Kalenthor complained.

“Hah, you weren’t there to keep that gate.”

“It does make us sound like an old guy who cleans sheds and cuts the grass or something.” Tulio snorted stew up his nose. Kalenthor continued blithely on. “Anyway, I’m not the new guy any more! Now for the hazing! How do you feel about being a goat for a few hours?”

Tarsem gaped at him.

“We could get goat’s milk?” Mal asked.

“Well, I don’t know if I could change the gender, but it’s worth a shot.”

“If you want milk so badly, you could just order some,” Talan said.

“All of you stop!” Sheen shouted. “NO HAZING!!” The restaurant instantly went silent.

“Geez, Sheen, I’m the one that’s supposed to make everyone stare. Was I gone that long?” Mal complained.

Kalenthor grinned. “So, Tarsem, have you run across any particularly interesting texts? I’ve been researching ways to duplicate the inexplicable speed of a creature known as a choker, but thus far my efforts have been fruitless. I’ve upped the licorice content twice now, but I’m still having . . .”

“Kal, be quiet!” Sheen shouted again. “Come on, you maniacs, let’s go scare someone else for a while.” She vacated the booth and headed for the street, Kalenthor and Maloranserani following, still chattering. Joris, Tulio, and Talan went after them. Tarsem looked at Haden helplessly.

“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Haden explained. “You’ll get used to it.”

“Right,” Tarsem said.

Sharkroar Horth Shalark’s Broadsheets proved to be a stone-gray building covered in flapping bits of paper. If there were windows, they were completely invisible under the coating of newsprint. Sheen walked inside without so much as a second glance. The interior was dominated by a row of massive printing presses. One of the machines was still running, apparently on its own initiative, and the rhythmic thumping shook the floor. A pile of broadsheets had spilled out of the press and onto the floor.

“Shouldn’t there bee some workers here?” Haden asked. “Something?” Sheen climbed the stairs to a raised area in the back with several desks.

“Dammit!” she said, carefully turning over a dead body that she found behind a desk. A vast pool of blood covered the floor.

“It looks like someone . . . beat them to death,” Joris said seriously, looking over her shoulder. In the corner, a large carpet had been thrown aside, exposing a trap door and a stairway leading down. Sheen stood up with a growl, claws growing from her fingers, and stormed down the stairs. Kal, Mal, and Joris all made arcane gestures as they quickly followed.

Haden looked over at Tarsem. “You stay here with Tulio,” he said, drawing his rapier and descending the stairs. The room at the bottom was spacious and well lit, an octagonal meeting room by the looks of it, with a large table that was now overturned and split in half. Seven dead bodies were strewn around the floor. There wasn’t time to examine them, though, as the door at the far end of the room flew open. A hulking statue of blood red crystal burst into the room.

“What in creation is that?!” Kal demanded.

“It’s a psion-killer,” Sheen said. Its glowing ‘eyes’ watched her for a moment, then it charged in silence more alarming than an enraged bellow would have been. Haden held up a hand and sent a burst of sonic energy at the golem. The thunder deafened everyone in the room for a moment, but the psion-killer was unfazed.

“Don’t use powers against it!” Sheen yelled.

“You could have said that before!”

“Magic?” Mal asked.

“I don’t know!”

Talan struck a double-handed blow with Greenheart as the monster rattled past, scratching the crystal slightly. The monster slapped sideways with one of its heavy fists and knocked the ranger aside. Eldritch power flared in Mal’s hands and ended in an explosion of crystal shards.

“That hurt it,” the warlock said with satisfaction as the golem blackened and smoked.

“Unfortunately I’m not much for the explody magic,” Kal muttered. He spoke a short phrase and crouched to pound his fists on the ground. Bark and leaves seemed to grow from his skin as he swelled in size, changing shape. The golem punched him and he recoiled slightly, then struck it a heavy blow with a trunklike arm. Cracks appeared in the crystal as the golem staggered.

“Hit it again, Mal!” Joris shouted. The warlock’s eyes and hands glowed as he summoned another bolt of energy, taking the golem in the face and blasting it to smithereens.

“They’re all dead,” Sheen said from the other side of the room. “Even Aintzane, head of the Cullers.” She picked up something from the floor and held it out, a lacquered wooden fan in vivid red and black.

“I’ve seen that before,” Haden said quietly. “It belongs to my mother.”

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