“Are there any survivors?” Kalenthor asked.
“I sense no thoughts here,” Mal intoned. Sheen tapped Lady Margone’s fan against the palm of her hand.
“There’s nothing here.”
“I expect the artifact is gone, as well,” Kal sighed. Sheen walked past him up the stairs. Tulio and Tarsem both watched her, but she gestured them out of the way imperiously. Her eyes flicked to the door, where a human-shaped shadow moved, then vanished out of the light.
“Who’s there?” a voice asked.
“You first, my friend!” Haden called out as Sheen ducked behind a desk.
“Is that . . . Haden?” The shadow edged cautiously around the door frame. It was a tall man, rail-thin, with blue robes and white hair. He held a hand over his eyes as he squinted into the building.
“What the hell are *you* doing here?” Sheen demanded.
“Now, be nice,” Haden told her. “My apologies, every time you run into us she’s having a bad day.”
Eliath shrugged. “I’m looking for a devil named Betzalel.”
“Is that so? We’ve heard of this devil.” Sheen said. “What do you want with him?”
“I need to talk to him about the future of my soul. I swore fealty to him before I went mad. Afterwards, he lost interest in me.”
“So you’re trying to hook up with your old boss? Why did you come here?” Sheen pressed.
“Because he has been here. I would like to terminate the contract, if I can.”
Haden tried to grab Sheen’s arm, recognizing the expression on her face, but she shook him off. “Oh you would? How very nice for you. So sorry, but the rest of us are a little busy taking care of the dead bodies!!”
“Sheen, calm down!” Haden hissed.
“We should go back to Sigil,” she said. “There’s nothing more for us here.”
“Shouldn’t we keep looking?” Kalenthor asked. He had climbed the stairs with Joris, Talan, and Mal. The wizard looked perplexed.
“No,” Sheen replied. “It doesn’t look like any of them escaped.”
“What about Eliath?” Haden asked.
“What about him?”
Kalenthor frowned. “I confess that I’m not really understanding your attitude here. It sounds as though this man may have useful information.”
“He’s also the person that sent us to Avernus and started this mess,” Joris said.
“I see.” Kal said quietly. “Are you also seeking the gem . . . what was it called again?”
“Kal, shut up!” Sheen ordered.
“What did I say?” the wizard asked, perplexed. He turned to look helplessly at Talan. The ranger shrugged.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”
“Do you mean the Eye of the Dawn?” Eliath asked carefully. “Betzalel had me looking for that for years. It was while I was searching for the portal that I went mad. I may be able to help you.”
“No,” Sheen said. “We can’t know where your real loyalties lie—if you even know yourself. You haven’t killed anyone as far as I know, and that alone is keeping you alive. Keep your help. Whatever the price is, it’s too high.”
Eliath surveyed the rest of the group. “Does she speak for all of you?”
Haden shrugged. “I trust her judgment.”
“As do I,” Joris said.
Talan drummed his fingers on the hilt of his sword briefly. “My trust has to be earned. You’ve not earned it.”
“I understand,” Eliath said. “I’ll be seeing you.”
“Good luck getting your soul back,” Sheen said as the old wizard walked away.
“Sorry I yelled, Kal, but I thought you were about to tell him everything.”
“I’m not a complete fool,” Kal said crossly. “I do not envy that man his immediate future. However, I will be more mindful of my tongue.”
“I said I was sorry. He knows more than I like already.”
“To be honest, he seemed like a nice enough fellow,” Mal said.
Haden snorted. “He sold his soul to a devil. Nice doesn’t enter into it.”
Sheen looked over at Tarsem. “Are you serious about coming with us? If you have any gear you want to get, now’s the time. We’re heading back to the portal.”
Tarsem indicated the sword hilts protruding over his shoulders with a quick thumb jab. “I have everything I need right here. Where is this portal?”
“The one we know of is southwest of here, almost halfway between here and Silverymoon.”
“Yeesh,” Kal said. “More walking? And what do we do about the bodies?”
“We can’t do anything for them, and the guards will be along soon,” Sheen said.
“There has to be a better alternative than walking halfway to Silverymoon,” Mal whined.
“No there is not. Come on, I’d like to be gone before the guards do show up.” Sheen insisted.
“Are you sure?” Kalenthor pressed.
“I don’t understand why you’re making all this fuss. It’s a nice day.”
“I’m all for walking,” Talan said cheerfully.
Joris nodded. “If we do walk, we can stop at that one village and, um . . .”
“The Namers may know of a portal here in Waterdeep,” Tarsem offered.
“Not you too!” Sheen growled.
“Lissandra would like it if we found another portal for her, though,” Haden commented. Sheen’s face slowly turned purple.
“All right! Kal, you’ve got twenty minutes to scare up some horses. We’ll stop in Red Larch on the way, and I don’t want to hear any more complaints!”
“Right!” Kal said, and vanished down the street.
“So what are horses, exactly?” Haden asked.
“You’ll see when Kal gets back,” Talan said. “If you took Ari and doubled her in size, lessened and coarsened her fur and elongated her face, I think you’d have a pretty good-sized horse.”
“And, um, what do you do with them?”
“Most people ride them or use them to carry burdens or pull wagons,” Talan explained.
“Or eat them, up ‘round the Spine of the World, if they get snowed in,” Tarsem added helpfully. Talan gave him a black look. Kal returned only a few short minutes later. Haden gave the animals a dubious look.
“No complaining,” Sheen told him severely.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
They rode out of the city without any particular mishap, although Talan had to stop several times to help people straighten out and ride properly. Once past the outer wall the road widened and they settled down to an easy pace in the crisp winter sunshine. Haden dropped back to ride beside Tarsem, who seemed surprisingly comfortable on horseback.
“I know what you are,” the bard said carefully. Tarsem turned in his seat, his face filled with a mixture of surprise, confusion, horror and relief. “I snooped, I was worried you might be a trap of some kind.”
“Well, I wish you hadn’t, but I understand,” Tarsem said slowly.
“Don’t worry about it too much. Sheen’s a good sort when you get to know her, it just . . . takes a while. I was in much the same boat when we first met. Don’t be frightened of her. She won’t hurt you even if you make her really angry, it’s not in her. At the very worst, she’ll yell at you a bit.”
“I can handle that. I think.”
Haden reached over and slapped him on the back. “It was brave of you to go looking for her, not knowing what you might find.”
“Maybe. You love her, though, don’t you?”
“Heh. Guilty as charged.”
“Does that bother you?” Haden asked, curious.
“No, of course not.” Tarsem sighed. “I just thought she might be alone, like me, you know? I’m glad to see that isn’t the case—“
“Glad?” Haden asked. “And a little disappointed, maybe?”
“Maybe. You see a lot, Haden.”
“It’s my job,” Haden said. “I try to be good at it. We all spend a lot of time looking for someone we can care for. It’s not easy.”
“You said it.”
Haden smiled slightly. “I gave up on looking, and then she fell right in my lap. If you want some advice, it will probably be better if you tell her yourself, rather than waiting for her to find out.”
“I’ll do that,” Tarsem said.
It was late at night by the time they reached Red Larch, with both horses and riders beginning to drag. Kalenthor eyed the village blearily.
“When were you last here?” he asked as they dismounted in front of the Blackbutter Inn. Sheen did a quick calculation in her head.
“About a month and a half ago, I think.”
“It seems longer than that,” Joris said, “but I think you’re right.”
Sheen knocked on the door of the Inn, a little more politely than usual considering the lateness of the hour. After a minute or so the door opened, revealing the vaguely familiar face of Dhelosk Quelbeard. “I know it’s late,” Sheen said apologetically.
“And I thank you for knocking,” Dhelosk replied, opening the door fully and counting heads as the party filed in.
“We have horses . . .” Talan said quickly.
“We have a stable. I’ll wake the boy and send him out to take care of them. There’s eight of you? I have three rooms free tonight . . .”
“We can manage,” Sheen said gratefully.
“I can rustle you up some tea and leftovers, if you like.”
“That would be wonderful,” Talan mumbled. Everyone was too tired for conversation, so they ate quickly and quietly. Dhelosk pulled up a chair rather than seek his own bed and watched them carefully for some time.
“Headed for Waterdeep, are you?”
“We’ve just come from there,” Sheen said.
“I might have known. Always I guess wrong. Are you folks from around here?” Dhelosk asked, looking at Haden in particular.
“I’ve been here before, actually,” Sheen said.
“I thought I had seen you before. Luster, wasn’t it?”
“I was here, too, around the same time,” Joris said. Dhelosk studied the cleric’s face for a moment, then shook his head.
“I’m sorry, young fellow, but I’ll have to take your word on that.” Joris snorted and rolled his eyes.
“We went up into the hills looking for a wizard,” Sheen continued.
“Oh, yes, when those children disappeared.”
“We would have come straight back, but there were . . . complications. We did find them, though, all three of them. Unfortunately they all . . . died. But we were able to give them last rights.”
“It is as we feared,” Dhelosk replied. “The families will be glad to know the truth. When you didn’t come back, we figured the wizard’s business had gotten you, too.”
“Almost,” Sheen said. “We should get some rest.”
“The rooms are upstairs, the doors are unlocked. Make yourselves at home. On the house. It seems the least I can do for folks who tried to help us.”
They sought beds in exhausted silence and slept late. Two more days of riding brought them again to the portal in the Lost peaks, and from there they returned to the alley behind the Tenth Pit. The horses were not pleased at being herded through the portal and required all of Talan’s attention until they finally reached the house at Smith Street. The door flew open as they approached and Hexla bounded through, throwing herself on the ranger.
“You’re back! Wait until you hear my news! I’ve finally completed my research!” the witch squeaked.
“That’s wonderful!” Talan gasped, the air knocked out of him.
“Yes! I’ve discovered the secret of eternal youth!”
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