Table of Contents
Orion stands before the black crypt in the City of the Dead. A thin crescent moon shines down upon the tarnished brass doors, and the tortured figures on it seem to squirm and writhe in agony. They reach out to the young wizard as if beseeching him for mercy. A bat-winged demon opens his mouth in soundless laughter, and blood dribbles out between his fangs. A chill runs down the wizardís back as the demon suddenly takes notice of him. Its eyes begin to glow red, and it grins at him, gnashing its teeth. Its mouth moves soundlessly, and Orion hears a voice inside his head, "Blood calls to blood," it croaks. "Come to us!" The young wizard steps back in fright. His foot hits the edge of the step behind him and he begins to fall backwards.
He awakes with a start, and looks around groggily at the interior of his room. "What a nightmare," he thinks, rubbing his head. Through the fog in his brain, he tries to reconstruct the events of the previous night. He recalls the tomb robbing, and the tavern afterwards. He can still taste the ale. "Why didnít he stick to wine?" he wonders. Marcellus had insisted on buying him mug after mug. It was a good thing he had had someone to help him home--
A sudden jolt of suspicion hits him, and he begins to frantically search his robe, still on his body. He relaxes and breathes a sigh of relief when he finds the ring. Pulling it out of an inner pocket, he turns it over in his fingers and studies it. He gets up to use the window for better light, and suddenly realizes that it is past midday! He slips the ring back in his pocket, promising it some time later. A hunger pang reminds him that he slept through breakfast and lunch, so he runs a brush through his hair and tries to smooth out his robes as he hurries downstairs into the great room. Perhaps Madam Garah will cook him up something.
He finds her in the kitchen, scrubbing the flagstone floor with the help of Hedrik, a blind, teenaged orphan she adopted years earlier. She has her back to him and is using a brush broom on the soapy floors, while Hedrik stands waiting with a bucket of fresh water. Madame Garah stands up and nods to Hedrik. "Iíll take that, dear." Orion watches while she pours the water across the floor and washes the soap and dirt through small holes along the base of the exterior wall and into the street.
Hedrik picks up a staff leaning against a table, and suddenly turns towards Orion, smiling. "Good morning, Orion. I didnít hear you come down!" His gaze is focused somewhere above and behind Orionís head. Madame Garah looks up from her work, and says, "Ah, thereís our night owl. Decided to wake up, have ya?"
Orion laughs, "Yeah, it was a late night last night." He looks around the kitchen hungrily, "I was helping one of my professors with a project." He shakes his head, "Sometimes opening a gate to a different plane doesn't go as well as you hope..."
He shakes his head, "We needed a few more buckets than that to clean up that mess. Madame Garah, are there any leftovers from lunch? I never got to catch a supper last night?"
Madame Garah looks at Orion sideways and snorts, "I don't care where ya spend your nights, Em. It's nothing to me, as long as you don't bring the city watch home with you." She pushes her bodice up with the back of her wrist, wipes a strand of hair back from her sweaty face and nods towards a door at the back of the room. "There's smoked ham, cheese and bread in the pantry. I'll have Hedrik bring it to you up in your room--I've already cleaned the dining room."
Gathering up her broom and bucket, she squeezes her plump body past Orion, standing in the doorway. She wrinkles her nose at the smell of stale ale emanating from him. "Summoning demons with a keg of ale," she huffs to herself as she walks off. "It's no wonder they made a mess."
Orion looks back in time to catch Hedrik grinning at him. "I'll bring your food up to you in just a few minutes." The boy turns with his staff and makes his way to the pantry without faltering or bumping anything along the way. Orion used to wonder at the boy's unerring sense of direction until he cast a detect magic one day, and discovered that the staff he carries is magical. It was given to him by one of the wizards who live in the block behind the boarding house, Alcedor Kolat.
Orion nods to Madame Garah in thanks, let's his face cool down a bit and then turns to go back up to his room. When he gets to his room, he pulls the ring from his pocket, studying it absent-mindedly. He rummages through his drawers for his scroll of Identify, admiring how his handwriting skills had been improving. When he hears Hedrick coming up to bring his food he then puts the ring in his pocket and waits impatiently, until Hedrick taps on the door with his staff. "Here's your food, Orion!"
Orion opens the door to see the boy holding a platter with sliced ham, a wedge of cheese, and a chunk of black bread in one hand, and a pitcher of water and his staff in the other. He grins and says, "So, I guess you had a pretty good time last night, eh? Mom suggested you might be wanting some water." He steps past the wizard and sets the food and drink down on the nightstand. Orion pours some water, sipping it graciously. "How have you been Hedrick?" He asks as he sits down in his chair. He puts the plate of food on his lap and starts eating.
Hedrick's face becomes serious. He fumbles nervously with his staff, and stammers, "IóI've been alright. I've been thinking though... I've never told anyone this before, but... I want to be a wizard." He seems to breathe a sigh of relief now that the words are out, and continues hurriedly, "I know there would be difficulties because of being blind, but do you think that it's possible? Can a blind person become a wizard?"
Orion nods eagerly, "I think it is entirely possible for you to become a wizard. What kind of wizard would you like to be? Have a seat here and let's talk," Orion goes on to describe the various types of magic, and how different mages specialize in different types of magic, then returns to his original question, "What kind of wizard would you be?" He then starts to finish his meal, waiting for an answer.
"What you say about divination sounds good. The ability to see... that which is hidden from others." He stares into space, turning this over in his mind. "Which would you recommend, attending the guild school, or becoming an apprentice to a Master Wizard? I think I might be able to find a position with the Kolat brothers. Alcedor seems to like me..."
"I would recommend the school, jut because it allows you to learn a variety of skills from different teachers, so you get more of the experience. Perhaps after a few years of school, then go on to the Kolat Brothers and continue more specialized training there. If you would like, I can go with you to the Guild, and make sure you are well taken care of there..." Orion puts the empty plate on the floor, finishes his water, and starts flipping through his spell book absent-mindedly.
Hedrick contemplates Orion's words for a moment, and then says, "I'll think about what you've said." He sighs. "It won't be easy to get Mom to agree. She can be a bit over-protective. I had better get back to work now." He picks up the empty platter and the pitcher and moves towards the door. He glances back before leaving and smiles at Orion. "Thanks for your advice!" The door closes softly behind him, and Orion is left alone in his room free to return to studying his ring at last.
Orion waits a few seconds after Hedrick leaves, and then swiftly walks over to the door, locking it securely. He then turns around, and pulls out the ring and scroll he had been surveying earlier. He lays the ring out on his bed, and then reads from the scroll aloud. "Tel Sen H'Idtyn of Olg'rin." As he reads, the ink fades from the scroll, leaving it blank.
In his mind's eye, Orion sees the ring shrouded in black, and a flurry of snow swirls around the ring. Suddenly the gem on the ring glows a fiery red, and in an outburst of magical energy the snow is blasted away from the ring, melting away to water.
Orion stands outside a ramshackle tavern in the fading light. If it weren't for the light and noise spilling from the door out onto the street, he would have assumed the building to be abandoned. The shutters hang at crazy angles, shingles are missing from the roof, and the wooden timbers of the exterior are weathered and rotting. The Thirsty Throat Tavern is definitely a dive, the perfect place to meet a purveyor of stolen goods.
This is where Marcus told him he would be able to fence the ring they took from the tomb in the City of the Dead. Orion is to look for a man named Alek Lenter, a dark complexioned Amnian merchant. Alek owns a pawnshop in the Adventurer's Quarters, and, like many pawnbrokers, he deals in stolen goods on the side. He prefers to conduct business of that nature off-premises, though, so Orion was told to meet him here. Fingering the ring, he thinks to himself, "I hope it's worth it."
Stepping up onto the porch he enters the front door and is assailed by the smells of pipe smoke and stale beer. The tables are crowded in together, and the two-dozen or so patrons seem to pause for a moment in their conversations to give him a once over before continuing on with their rowdy talk. Behind the bar is a rather large, beefy looking man, a scar across one cheek and completely bald. He is carrying on a conversation with two of the patrons in a loud, gravelly voice. As Orion approaches the bar, he catches a bit of the bartender's narration, "...then I jammed my fingers into that orc-bastards nostrils, and snatched half his face up over his eyes. You shoulda heard 'im squeal! He'll think twice before he ever starts another brawl in my tavern, or he would if he had survived." His listeners dissolve in hardy laughter.
After the bartender finishes his story, Orion asks him for a mug of ale. He takes a seat at the bar, and waits for the barkeep to bring him his drink. The bartender looks Orion over critically, and then runs him a tankard of ale from a keg behind the bar. "That will be one copper," the man tells him gruffly. Taking a sip, Orion realizes that the ale is definitely not underpriced.Grimacing, and putting the drink down, Orion looks up to the bartender, wiping his face off. He lays 1 Taol on the bar, "I'm looking for someone, I hear he frequents this bar...Alek Lenter?" The bartender deftly scoops up the coin, and nods his head towards a table on the far side of the room. "That's him over there." Orion sees a dark-haired man in the corner, sipping a tankard of ale and talking to a couple of ruffians.
Nodding briefly, Orion stands up and walks over to the table. When he gets there, he smiles toward Alek, "Hello, my name is Alastar, do you think we could talk?" He nods to the ruffians, not knowing whether or not to speak in front of them. The three men break off their conversation to look at Orion. Alek gives him a thin-lipped smile, his cold eyes studying him carefully. "Certainly." The other two hesitate for a moment, but at a sign from Alek, they get up and head to the bar. Alek gestures towards one of the emptied chairs, and says, "Have a seat. What's on your mind, Alastar?"
Orion sits, smoothing his robe out, "I heard you were the man to come to if you need to get rid of something." He says in a hushed tone. Slipping his hand into his pocket, he puts his hand around the ring, ready to show it.
"Whatever you do, Alastar, don't pull your hand out of your pocket and hand me anything. I'm sometimes watched here. Tell me what you have for me. Describe it."
Nodding, Orion takes his hand out of his pocket, "It is a gold ring, set with a garnet stone. It is beautifully made, and has the ability to keep one warm, and protect them from fire."
"It could be useful... Did you inherit this ring? That is, did anyone have to die for you to acquire it?"
"No one died when I acquired it, no... However, someone did have to die in order for me to acquire it."
Alek grimaces. "Tragic, but I'm sure he's in a better place. Well, then... let me think... If this item does what you say it will do, then it would be worth a little bit of gold to the right person. I will pay you 400 taols for it. Is this agreeable?"
Orion shakes his head, "I was looking for 600 taols at least...I understand the magic that went into making this ring, it's worth it."
"I'm sure you are right, and had you made the ring yourself, you might be able to get twice that for it. Given its... history, though, and, of course, my need to make a profit, I think that 400 taols is a generous offer. I don't wish to haggle, though, so let's just say 450."
Sighing, Orion nods his head, "That's fine."
"Wonderful. Now, then." Alek's tone becomes very curt and businesslike. "There's a certain method I like to follow for these transactions to protect my reputation. In the jakes below there is a loose stone in the corner to the right of the seat. After our conversation, you should go back to the bar for a bit, drink another ale or two, and then go down to relieve yourself. Place the ring under the stone. After you leave, I will retrieve it. Tomorrow, you will receive a package from me by courier containing 450 taols. That will give me a chance to have the ring checked out for myself. If the ring is not as you described it, unlikely as that is, it will be returned to you. Does this meet with your approval?"
Orion nods again, "Sounds fine to me. Have a nice day Alek, hopefully we can do business again sometime." With that, Orion gets up and heads to the bar, beckoning the barkeep for another ale. After about a half hour, and another tankard of ale, Orion gets up and walks over to the jakes. The jakes are accessed through two holes in the floor with ladders leading down to the basement level. Not used to drinking very much, Orion is a little unsteady going down the ladder, but makes it without incident. He finds the loose stone with no trouble, and places the ring in a hollow beneath it. After emptying his bladder, he goes back up the ladder.
Orion draws his hand across the smooth wooden surface of the quarterstaff. The sanding is almost complete. Once he has finished, he will work linseed oil into the wood to preserve it and give it a nice shine. Then the only thing left will be to attach the end caps to keep the wood from splitting.
It has been six weeks since he entered the City of the Dead, on his tomb raiding expedition. He used the money he gained from fencing the ring to purchase a length of ironwood to make himself a new quarterstaff. It has been a difficult job. The hardness of the wood made it tough to work, but when properly sanded it gives a very smooth finish. He caresses it again with pride.
The guild woodworking shop is deserted. It is probably past midnight by now, but he has no way to be sure. All the other students went home hours ago. Since he began working on the staff, he has spent many late nights in the shop, but he has still had to keep up his regular work schedule. The lack of sleep is beginning to tell on him.
He sets down the sanding cloth and yawns. His legs are so tired, he can barely stand. Sitting down on a stool, he wraps his arms around his bare torso and hunkers forward, chin sinking down to his chest. His mind begins to drift, and he has to shake himself awake.
Giving up on finishing the sanding tonight, he decides to head back to the boarding house. He slips into his tunic, and pulls his robe on over it. It is late summer, but the nights are already becoming cool. Grabbing his pack and old quarterstaff, he makes his way out of the guildhall and onto the streets of the city.
Few pedestrians are on the street at this hour. Music still plays in some of the taverns and festhalls, though, and the patrons seem to be enjoying themselves. It's nearing the end of the trading season, and the merchants, drovers and caravan guards are having a last fling before heading out on the road. After this week, no more caravans will leave the city until after the spring thaw.
The sound of his footsteps echoes down alleyways, as Orion makes his way along the cobbled streets to the Adventurer's Quarter. Halfway there, a feeling of unease begins to creep up his spine and the back of his neck. This is hardly the first time he's walked the city alone, and he is not easily spooked. Something is wrong. Straining his senses, he searches for the danger, ears alert and eyes peering into the shadows on both sides of the street. He detects the sound of soft footsteps behind him.
He quickens his step, and the footsteps quicken to keep pace with him. Around the next corner, he stops and turns to confront his puruser. A slender shape slides around the corner of the building, holding to the shadows. "Step into the light," Orion commands, "or I will fry you where you stand!"
A low chuckle comes from the shadows, and a familiar voice says, "Can you really do that now, Skinny Legs, or is it just a bluff?" Marcellus steps out of the shadows, grinning.
Orion feels the tension wash out of him, and he returns the grin. "It is said, 'do not meddle in the affairs of wizards for they are subtle and quick to anger.'"
"It's also said, 'never turn your back on a thief for they are tricky and will steal your purse,'" Marcellus rejoinds.
Orion's hand goes to his belt purse, and he laughs on finding it still there. "What have you been up to, Marcellus? It's been a couple of weeks, hasn't it?
"It's been three weeks," the thief replies still smiling. He approaches Orion, and motions for him to continue. "Come on. I'll walk with you." The two continue down the street together in the direction of the boarding house.
"I didn't realize. I've been so busy at the guild."
"How is the quarterstaff coming along?"
"I should be done with it in another week or two."
"Will you be up for another excursion into the cemetary then?"
"Perhaps..." Orion sighs inwardly. Marcellus has been pressing him to go back into the cemetary since their first trip. He doesn't want to offend him, but he has felt a great reluctance to repeat that trip. Although it turned out well for him, it was only by lying to his partner and keeping the ring for himself that he was able to make enough to justify the risk. The last thing he wants is to end up sitting in a dungeon beneath Mount Waterdeep for robbing dead people.
"Well... if you don't want to... We should make a go at something more profitable, maybe. Get together a gang, and try our luck in the Underhalls? There's no law down there." He gives Orion a sharp glance, his face half hidden in the dark.
"True," Orion replies. He stops abrubtly and faces Marcellus, his hands tucked into the sleeves of his robe. "I'm sorry, Marc. I know I've been putting you off. Let me get this staff done, and then I can think about what I'm going to do next. The Underhalls... I don't know. I feel like there's something waiting for me out there, but I don't know where it's at. I... I feel like I have a destiny..." His voice trails off.
Marcellus is quiet for a moment, and then he coughs. "Well, maybe it's my destiny to help you find it," the thief shrugs. His mood shifts suddenly, "Bah! That's priest-talk anyway. It's about money, Orion. The ones with the money have the power. I'm tired of being on the fringe of everything. I want to be in the middle of it all. Maybe you do have a destiny, but I've always known that whatever I want out of life, I'm gonna have to lie, cheat and steal to get it. Call it my destiny if you like, but it's the one I've made for myself."
Orion resumes walking, pondering Marcellus's words. When they arrive at the boarding house, he turns again to face the thief. "Two weeks. I can let you know something then."
Marcellus nods, and looks away. "Alright. I'll be on the lookout for you." He gives Orion a brief nod, and then turns to walk away. "Until then!" he calls back over his shoulder.
"Goodnight." Orion sighs, and enters the boarding house.
Three weeks later, Orion walks down the stairs of the boarding house, looking around for Madame G. He finds her coming out of the kitchen with clean plates and silverware to set the table. She gives him a quick smile, and says, "Dinner will be ready in a few moments, Em."
Orion takes the load from her, and helps set the table. "Madame, I've been thinking, and I think that I am ready to find my own place...I was wondering, do you know of any jobs that I could do?"
Madame Garah seems flustered by Orion's question. "I thought you had a job there at the guild. Are you in a bit of difficulty, then? I could loan you some money for a short period of time, or if you need to be late with a payment... but then, the money doesn't come from you, does it? What about the gentleman who pays your rent? Couldn't he help you out?"
Orion shakes his head, "I don't know. I only met him that one time...maybe I could find him and see if he could though...Do you have any leads as to where that money comes from?"
"I only saw him the day he dropped you off here. I get the money from a courier who works for the moneylender, Ultas Maernos." She looks thoughtful for a moment. "I suppose it was just charity, but it did always seem odd to me that a man should pick up a stray child off the street and pay for his schooling and upkeep. Such generosity is so rare these days, I suppose, that it makes people suspicious. It's a shame to think ill of it."
Orion nods, "Intriguing indeed...do you know where I could find Ultas?" He finishes setting the table, and leans back against a wall.
"I think his office is up in Trades Ward. He might give you a loan. His house is over in North Ward, but he doesn't see anyone there, not since he was nearly robbed."
Walking to the exit of the dining room Orion turns back to Madame G, "Thanks Madame G, for everything. I'm going to go wash up for dinner now."
"Then you won't be leaving us after all?"
"I more than likely will, I'm going to go see Ultas tomorrow and see if he can lead me any further towards my mysterious benefactor."
"Oh... well, it won't seem the same not having you around."
"No need to worry MG, if you ever need anything, I will be sure to let you know how to get ahold of me."
As Orion walks out of the dining room, he hears her mutter under her breath, "Which it wasn't me I was worried about."
Shaking his head, Orion trudges up the stairs, lost in thought. When he reaches the landing, he heads over to his room and begins cleaning up for dinner.
Orion steps out into the street on his first real day off in three months. He grips the new staff he fashioned for himself during those three months, and feels a keen sense of satisfaction. It's beautiful. Worth every copper it cost him, particularly since the coppers were so easily earned. He is headed to Trade Ward to the offices of Ultas Maernos, Banking and Moneylending.
Last night, he laid awake a long time thinking about this meeting, about the mysterious nobleman who has been providing him with his living for the past six years, and most of all about his dead parents. In all the years since they were murdered, he has never tried to find where they were buried. Fear kept him away. He wasn't a child anymore, though, and a sudden impulse takes his feet in the direction of the City of the Dead. He will visit Maernos later. First, he wants to visit his parents.
The sun is hot already and it's not even noon. A breeze from the ocean keeps the heat from being too oppressive, though. The city is crowded with people. The summer months are the peak trading season. It is now the middle of Elesias. Soon the sun will begin to fade, the snow will start to fall and the city will be nearly abandoned, as the traders return to their homes in other parts of FaerŻn.
As he passes Virgin Square, he decides to stop off and buy a small bouquet of flowers. A few coppers get him a small bunch of chrysanthemums from a girl in a stall. She smiles warmly at him, and he tips her an extra copper, then continues on his way, flowers in one hand, staff in the other.
He arrives at the cemetery to find it is less crowded than the city streets. It is too early for the strollers and picnickers. A grounds crew is mowing the grass with scythes--a somewhat eerie sight, Orion thinks. Pale and underfed peasants in gray woolen breeches and bare, sweat-streaked torsos, they look like grim reapers doing forced labor. They work in silence, and only the regular swishing of their blades can be heard as they cut through the tall grass.
Overcoming a superstitious revulsion at the figures, Orion approaches the closest and stammers, "Excuse me..." The man looks up at him with baleful eyes, but does not speak. "I'm looking for a particular grave. I don't know where it would be, but the people buried there died about six years ago, and they were--"
The man turns and beckons to him to follow. He shoulders his scythe and leads Orion up the gravel path to a small marble building that looks like a tomb. A gnome with a large set of keys on his belt sits in the shade of the portico, reading a broadsheet. He looks up over his paper at the groundskeeper and frowns at him.
"What is it Todd?" he asks impatiently. Todd merely shrugs and looks significantly at Orion. The gnome focuses his irritation on the young mage, and snaps, "Well? Are you going to talk or are you dumb, too?"
Orion steps forward as Todd wanders unconcernedly back to his work. "I'm looking for a grave," he begins.
"Aren't we all?" the gnome snaps. "What's your name, so we'll know what to put on the stone?"
"My name is Orion, but it's not for me, it's for my parents. That is, they're already in it, but I don't know where it's at--"
"When did you lose them?"
"They died in--"
"No, I mean when did you lose their grave," the gnome interrupts.
"I've never been to it," Orion explains.
"You never visited them?" The gnome sounds incredulous.
"They were murdered--"
"That's no excuse! Kids these days have no respect for their elders! What did you say their names were?"
"Well, how do you expect me to find their grave without their names?"
Orion takes a deep breath, "Their names are--were--Lhynivyr and Rhythanis Khelstar."
"Well, let me look in my book." The gnome pulls an enormous book out of a rather small pocket in his breeches. Orion blinks at the incongruity, but the gnome doesn't notice his astonishment. He sets the book down, taps it with the knuckle of his forefinger and repeats the names Orion gave him. The book opens of its own accord and there is a flurry of movement as the pages flip past one at a time, faster than the eye can follow. When the movement stops, the gnome studies the columns of names with his forefinger moving down the page until at last he shouts, "There it is! Lhynivyr and Rhythanis Khellestar and their son, Orion. Hmm... what are you doing out here? Youíre supposed to be dead."
"There was a mistake."
"Iíll say. Was that your brother?"
"I donít know who he was."
"Hmm... very odd. Not my business, though. If you find out his name, let us know so we can make the correction. Now, letís see..." He looks back at the book. "Died in Mirtul, 326. Buried in tomb 13, Lake Moonstar, quadrant four, grave 1232. Follow me." He closes the book, and returns it to the little pocket, which seems to swallow it like a snake. Then he sets off down the steps and up the gravel path without waiting to see if Orion is following.
Orion shrugs and hurries to catch up. They come to a long, low tomb surrounded by a colonnade. The front is dominated by twin bronze doors carved in low relief with idyllic scenes of rural life: peasants harvesting grain, plowing, carrying baskets of grapes... The gnome removes his keys, and begins unlocking and re-locking a series of intricate locks on the front doors. He moves so quickly that Orion is unable to follow the pattern, but at last there is a final click and the door swings inward. The gnome steps in and the tomb is instantly illuminated by light. He holds the door for Orion, and then closes it with a resounding clang.
Orion has a vague sense that the tomb is even longer inside than it is outside, if that could be possible. Instead of vaults, though, down each side is a series of doors. There were no doors along the sides on the outside. They walk down the right hand side of the tomb until they come to a silver door with a moon and star etched into it. "This is it," the gnome says. "Hang on to your stomach." He opens the door, and Orion feels a weird moment of dizziness and disorientation. Suddenly, he's standing outside a small marble building on a hillside overlooking a gleaming, silver lake. The hour appears to be late evening, and up in the clear, navy blue sky is a crescent moon and one bright star.
The gnome doesn't appear to be affected by the sudden change in scene. He immediately starts off towards the right hand shore of the lake. After getting his bearings, Orion hurries after him. He realizes after a moment that they are walking between small marble gravestones inset with bronze plaques. Row upon row of graves stretch out in both directions along both sides of the lake. The gnome begins to take note of the plaques and seems to be counting under his breath. At last, he stops and says, "Here ya go. Grave 1232. Lhynivyr and Rhythanis Khellestar. Enjoy your visit. I'll be up at the building waiting for you when you're done." Then he sets off, back up the hill.
Events having been so strange, Orion is somewhat at a loss standing beside the grave of his parents whom he hasn't seen in so many years. That time with them seems almost like another life, one lived by another person, a person unscarred by pain and loneliness. What would he say to them, if he could see them again? Would they recognize their little Prince, or would they look on him as a stranger? Would they be able to heal the hole in his heart? "It doesn't matter, he thinks gloomily. "That life is over, and they can no longer speak to me."
He kneels down to place the flowers on the grave. The marble stone appears to be carved with runes. He recognizes the Espruar alphabet--the runes of the elves--but the language is that of ancient Netheril. It appears to be a poem, or a hymn perhaps. He translates:
He had not realized his parents were so pious. He didn't remember ever having gone to church with them. Perhaps they had found peace in death, though. Maybe they were in a place where they could look down on him and see his struggles, and intercede for him when he needed help. He stands again, pulling himself up with his staff, and looks up at the sky. A cloud moves across the moon, blotting out all light momentarily. It passes, but a new feeling of sadness and loss fills him. "I will find the ones who took you from me," he says to the sky, "and I will surely make them pay."
"No, sir. You may not see Lord Maernos. He sees only important people. You may address any questions you have to me."
Orion glares at the man speaking to him from behind the mahogany desk with growing anger. Heís in the luxurious front office of Ultas Marnos, Banking and Moneylending, standing before a well-dressed, narrow-faced secretary whose business seems to be preventing anyone from conducting business with his boss. The sense of loss Orion carried away from the cemetery is still with him, and the officious secretary obstructing his inquiries is beginning to tax his patience. "If you could just tell Lord Maernos--"
The little man gasps in feigned shock, "I do not tell Lord Maernos anything. He tells me, and today he told me that he did not want to be disturbed."
"Then if you could just look in the records yourself and tell me the name of the man who finances the payments to Madam--"
"You must understand, sir, that Lord Maernosís clients depend on his discretion. It is not unusual for a nobleman to maintain a child anonymously. It happens all the time. Our discretion in these matters allows the nobleman to fulfill his filial duty without compromising his position in the city."
This was too much. Orionís anger explodes "Listen to me, you rat-faced, priggish little bitch!" Orion growls, leaning across the desk. The manís face turns pale and he starts up from his chair, knocking it over. "The man Iím looking for was not my father. I know who my father was. He was murdered by thugs. I am just trying to find out the name of the man who helped an orphan get off the street. Now, go in there, and tell your boss--"
"Brisbane! Whatís going on out here? I told you--" Orion looks up to see an old man poke his head through the door of the inner office. "Who are you, young man, and what are you doing to my secretary?"
Finally getting results, Orion calms down and collects himself and his robes. Forgetting the secretary ever existed, he eyes Ultas. "My name is Orion, and I was just trying to ask this--"Orion waves his hand over to the secretary, "--who it was that took me off the streets and paid for me to go to school."
"Why would Brisbane know that?"
"He wouldn't, but he also wouldn't listen when I tried to explain to him that I wasn't some bastard child trying to find my daddy" Orion sneers, looking at the secretary, trying to control the rage inside him. Biting his lip, he looks back at the moneylender.
"I'm not sure I understand you then. If Brisbane doesn't have the information you seek, then what is your business here?" The man seems impatient to get the matter settled and get back into his office.
Orion shakes his head, trying to clear his mind, "This isn't Brisbane's office. I came here for your help, Lord Maernos."
Lord Maernos sighs, and throws a wistful look back into his office. "I suppose you had better come in, then. I can't afford to replace Brisbane, even if he is a 'rat-faced, priggish little bitch.' Brisbane, we'll be in my office. See to it that I'm not disturbed this time."
"Yes, milord," the secretary replies, abashed. He casts Orion a resentful glance as he picks up his chair and sits back down.
Lord Maernos gestures for Orion to enter the room. "Come on in, young man. What did you say your name was?" As Orion steps into the office, he hears a soft click as of a door closing, but he sees no doors on the walls of the office, just rows of books shelves laden with various tomes. The few titles he can make out are of a religious nature: holy books of the different religions, histories of the saints, etc. The wall space not covered with books is decorated with religious symbols: a silver crescent moon representing Selune, a statue of a blindfolded Tyr holding a scale, among others. Maernos takes his religion seriously.
Orion looks around the room with interest, reading the titles of some of the books, "My name is Orion Khelstar."
Lord Maernos offers him a chair, and sits down behind his desk. The top of the desk is dominated by a small statue of a dwarven woman dressed in chain mail and holding an axe. He pushes it to one side to give himself an unobstructed view of the young mage and then leans back in his chair. "Orion Khelstar? It sounds vaguely familiar. It's an Amnish name, isn't it? I spent some time in Amn in my dissolute youth. Why don't you start at the beginning and tell me your story, so I can piece together what is you want?"
Orion fills him in on his life story, though he leaves out some of the more personal details, like robbing graves and such."---and so here I am, finally in a position where I can try to get out on my own, and find the answers to all of these questions that have festered for so long inside me."
Lord Maernos listens quietly while Orion tells his tale. His expression changes to one of sympathy as Orion speaks of the death of his family, and his life on the streets. When the story concludes, he says, "Hmm... I think I remember this man you seek. He struck me as being a very pious soul. He was very concerned that you should be removed from the evil influences of the street and placed on a path of righteousness. We should have more such noblemen, those who may truly claim to be noble, philanthropists whose interests are not consumed by trade or power or the dissolute lives they lead. I, myself, try to do my part to help the less fortunate, though, like your benefactor, I do not like to take credit for my good deeds. It spoils the goodness of an unselfish act to mingle it with the baser motives of self-importance, don't you think? You should let this man keep his anonymity, and not try to contact him. I'm sure that he knows nothing of your parents, and while your gratitude towards him does you credit, I'm sure his purpose was not to earn thanks. He is piling up rewards in Heaven that cannot be measured in this world."
Lord Maernos leans forward at his desk and gives Orion a sympathetic smile. "If there is anything else that I may do for you that would ease your way in the world, do not hesitate to ask, but please don't ask me to expose this man's identity. My business depends on the confidentiality of my clients, and I am happy to carry out that duty, especially where I can discern nothing but good in its fulfillment."
Orion sighs, and nods his head, "I won't ask for you to reveal his identity, and I respect your integrity, it makes me feel much better about the things that I have just told you. About this man, I ask one thing. Let him know that I came looking for him, let him know that I would like to meet with him, for whatever reason. If he decides that he wants to stay anonymous, I won't bother you for information, but this way you save your reputation, and I still get my chance."
Dismissing that issue for now, Orion turns, "I'm looking for a job, I need to earn some money so that I may get my own place, where I can have privacy for my research. I work for the guild, but they don't exactly have the best pay."
Lord Maernos frowns. "A job? What sort of job are we talking about?"
Orion shrugs, "Any kind of job, I have graduated the guild and I am eager to test my newfound spells."
Maernos leans back in his chair and turns this over in his mind for a moment before speaking. "I don't like to ask anyone to risk his life... What you seem to be suggesting, though, is something in the adventuring line. Is that correct?"
Orion laughs, "I'm not looking to be your secretary, that's for sure. You have something in mind?"
Maernos chuckles good-naturedly. "I think you would be far more formidable in that position than poor Brisbane. You really had him scared... You know, I think you could probably do this. You're not easily frightened are you?"
Orion shakes his head, "When you've lost everything, you've got nothing to lose."
"Well... except your life, of course..." He picks up a quill from his desk and plays with it absent-mindedly, smoothing the feathers down with his fingers. Reaching a decision, he leans forward and looks Orion in the eye. "The job is dangerous, but I think you can do it. Take someone with you, if you have a friend you can trust, but the rewards will be greater if you go alone."
Orion furrows his brow in interest, "Ok, I'm interested. What are the details?"
"Have you ever heard of a place known as the Blue Alley?"
"No, can't say that I have. Is it a tavern or inn of sorts?"
"No, it's... well, it's like a miniature Undermountain. Some mad mage created it to tempt idiot adventurers to their deaths. A would-be Halaster, I suppose. It's worked all too often, although the occasional adventurer does walk out with an appreciable amount of treasure--no doubt looted from the corpses of previous failures."
Orion laughs. "So what in this dreaded place piques your interest?"
"Recently, a group of adventurers went in, and after several weeks, none of them have come back out. One of them was carrying an item that I had hoped to purchase from him. It was a helm., one with an enchantment that had been placed on it by an obscure dwarven god. I am a collector of such things. One day I hope to turn my home into a temple that will serve the priesthoods of all the allied races of the city. We have the Plinth, of course, but my home would become an annex to the Plinth after my death. The items I have collected over the years would be on display there, artifacts from all the human-kin religions."
"And you would like for me to go in and retrieve it for you?"
"Yes," Maernos replies. "That is the idea. I would pay you 250 taols for the item itself, but you would realize an even greater profit from other items found there."
"Ok. Is there anything about this place that I should be made aware of to be better prepared?"
"I have never been inside it, and I'm afraid I have no reports on what can be found there. There are lots of rumors floating around about it, but it would be best to speak to someone who has been through it before. I have heard of an adventurer named Tyler who recovered an item from there. I considered asking him to do this for me, but I wasn't sure if I could trust him. He can often be found in the Yawning Portal. If you talk to him, the less you tell him about your plans and purposes, the better."
Orion shakes his head, "No, I would rather not let more people than necessary know. Thank you for your time, and I will return when the job is done. Hopefully, I won't have trouble seeing you next time."
Maernos laughs. "I dare say you won't. I will leave orders with Brisbane to let me know immediately when you return." He stands up and extends his hand. "I wish you all the luck in the world, Orion. I will pray for your safe return."
Shaking his hand, Orion smiles. "Thank you." He turns to leave. As he walks out, he gives Brisbane a sharp glance, and then grabbing his staff, he walks out the door.