Table of Contents
Orion peers into the alleyway. The first thing he notices is that the paving stones glow with a blue light in the morning shadows. The alley is about fifty feet long, and ends in an archway leading to a corridor running perpendicular to the alley.
It's been four days since his meeting with Maernos. Orion has spent all that time preparing for this expedition into the Blue Alley, making purchases, studying new spells and thinking about the situations he might encounter. He even quit his job at the guild, and began paying his dues as an associate member so that he could devote himself to the task full time.
The morning air was brisk. An early cold front had come through carrying rain squalls and a blessed relief to the summer heat. Behind the rain was clear blue skies and a cooling breeze. It almost felt like fall, though the sun would heat things up by the afternoon, no doubt. The coolness lent an air of excitement to the morning, though, like the first day of fall classes.
Orion moves cautiously into the alley, pausing for a moment when he reaches the stone arch. Looking left and right, he sees that the corridor goes twenty feet in either direction before turning ninety degrees in the same direction he's facing. On the wall directly across from the arch is the carving of a human face, its eyes and mouth open in a silent scream.
Orion thinks for a minute, then turns left and walks to the end of the corridor, peering around the corner. The floor of this corridor is also blue, giving him a faint light to see by. Up ahead about thirty feet, there is a door on the right, an archway to the left just beyond it, and beyond that a stairway going up. He walks to the door, looking around intently. When he gets there he stops and listens. No sound comes to him from the other side of the door, but faintly, in the distance he hears something wail.
Orion puts his hand to the latch, and tries the door. It opens easily. Inside, all he sees is a packet of oiled paper lying in the floor. The paper appears to have been ripped, and then discarded. He notices a gleam of metal beneath the torn paper. Looking around the room, Orion walks inside and crouches down to examine the piece of paper, and what's underneath. The packet looks like the sort of envelope in which one would place important dispatches. The metal is steel, and might be the blade of a small knife.
Orion picks up the envelope and looks inside. He sees a small, finely crafted knife. Folding the packet carefully, he puts both it and the knife into his pouch. After giving the room a quick scan, and seeing nothing but dust and cobwebs, he returns to the corridor.
He continues up the corridor until he comes to the archway at the base of the steps. Peering around the corner, he sees that the side corridor goes about twenty feet before turning to the right.
Leaving the steps for later, Orion enters the side corridor, moves to the corner and peers around. Twenty feet ahead is another doorway, this one just plain wood. On the left side of the door is an archway leading into another side corridor. From somewhere up ahead, he hears a low moan.
His heartbeat quickening with the building excitement, Orion trepidatiously continues down the corridor, he takes a quick glance down the hallway to the left, and then stops to listen at the door. He hears the sound of footsteps moving very slowly as if the person were injured.
Bracing himself, Orion grips his staff, feeling the magic burn through his veins. He tries the door, mentally preparing himself for the first fight he has had in years. The door swings open easily, and beyond it he sees a shadowy form limping toward him. In the blue light from the corridor, he sees the robes of a cleric of Sune. As he starts to relax, he sees that the cleric is very badly hurt. His arm appears to be broken, and his foot is twisted. The skin of his face is torn and hanging loose, and there is something the dripping down the side of his face from a crack in his skull... The hairs on Orion's scalp stand straight up as he realizes that no one could possibly live with injuries like those...
The corpse shambles forward, its head lolling to one side. The stench of it fills the air and makes Orion's head swim. It's on top of him now and preparing to swing. Behind it, he can see another figure coming towards him too. Recoiling in horror, he brings his quarterstaff up and takes a wide swing at the creature, hitting it squarely on the jaw. He hears the jawbone snap, and the creature's mouth drops open at an odd angle. Unfazed, it raises its fist and swings straight down at him. Orion dodges back instinctively, and the creature misses. Striking again, Orion shoves the butt end of the staff straight into the creature's chest, cracking its ribs, but still the zombie shuffles forward.
He can see the second zombie right behind it, attempting to reach around and strike at him too. The second one is in a much greater state of decay, much of its flesh having fallen off, leaving the hollow cavity where its innards used to be completely exposed and its spinal column visible. It can't get to him, because the zombie priest is blocking the doorway.
That one strikes out again, this time hitting him hard in the chest. Staggered, he takes a feeble swing at the undead monster, and misses wildly. The zombie presses its advantage, hitting Orion a glancing blow in the shoulder. The mage is hurt, and wondering whether he has any chance of surviving the fight. In desperation, he swings his staff with all his might at the creature's head. The skull cracks open, spilling blackened brains down the monster's chest. He hears the neck snap, and the head flops over onto the creature's back. It stands for a moment, teetering and then falls backwards into the zombie behind it. The latter staggers back, momentarily blocked by the fallen corpse.
Orion stumbles backwards to get out of the monster's reach and quickly casts a spell. grabbing a bit of cured leather from his pouch and pressing it to his chest, Orion concentrates on the trigger words for his spell: "Gar'Mao N'fels". A shimmering red dweomer surrounds him, then fades.
The creature hobbles through the threshold, and seems to hesitate for a moment before swinging at Orion. The swing goes wild, and the monster seems to back away uncertainly. Orion presses his attack, but the swing goes wild and hits the doorjamb, nearly knocking the weapon from his hand. The zombie swings at his over-extended arm but he pulls it back in time.
Spinning around, the mage drives the butt of his staff straight into the hollow of the zombie's stomach and connects with its spinal cord, shattering one of the vertebrae. The zombie lurches forward, and the smell of decay envelopes the mage. It swings at him, but the blow is deflected by his magical ward.
Orion comes back with a glancing blow to the zombie's skull. Though a portion of its scalp flies off, it doesn't seem to faze it. Clasping both fists together the zombie brings them down on Orion's right shoulder, nearly driving the young wizard to his knees.
Stumbling away from the pain and confusion of that last blow, Orion nearly trips as he runs down the hallway. Spinning around with rage, he is overcome with the anger of losing, and he breathes in the world of magic. When he speaks, he is in a complete trance. He lifts his hand, and points a finger at the zombie, "Sima N Sile, n'Bie". A brilliant blue dart shoots from his extended arm, thudding into the zombie's chest. The rib bones in the zombie's chest shatter, and fly out in fragments. It stumbles backwards two steps and then falls.
Orion walks calmly back down the hall, and looks into the room that the zombies attacked him from. He sees another long hallway, the ever-present glowing, blue flagstones fading off into the distance.
More bodies lie on the ground up ahead. He walks forward cautiously, stepping gingerly over the two corpses of his fallen enemies. The other corpses also appear to be zombies. Two of them are shattered as if they burst open from the inside.
Amidst the wreckage of body parts he notices the gleam of gold. Bending down to pick it up, he sees that it is a necklace with a pendant. The pendant has the stylized face of a beautiful woman on it--a holy symbol of Sune. Turning it over, Orion notices that it is engraved on the back: "To Gavin, from Mom. Serve well, my son."
Going back to the zombies he destroyed, he searches the one that appeared to be a priest first. In a large pouch on its belt he finds a small collection of healing ointments, bandages and a stoppered vial. A smaller pouch on the dead priest's belt turns out to be a coin purse. It contains a handful of taols, one harbor moon, and two small gems inside a little pipeweed pouch.
Orion pulls the stopper from the vial, and takes a cautious sniff of the contents. It smells like apples and cinnamon. Parched after his long battle, Orion sniffs the bottle again. He looks down at the dead priest, shaking his head. Suddenly, the smell of the vial really hits him, and brings back memories of his house years ago, before his parents died. On cold days in the Fall and Winter, his mother would make hot apple cider for him and sprinkle cinnamon on top of it. He smiles at the memory and sips the potion, savoring the sweet taste. When nothing bad happens, he drinks the rest of it down in one long gulp. The drink feels as good going down as it smells. Orion feels rejuvenated. The ache in his shoulder fades and the bruise on his chest feels much better. He raises the empty vial to the corpse at his feet and says, "thanks, Gavin."
Replacing the stopper, and putting the vial back into the pouch, he collects all his new-found loot. Then, he steps over the corpses again, and peers through the archway into the other corridor. It parallels the one he's in and leads to a steep stairway headed up. Wanting to fully explore the ground level before he moves upstairs, he moves cautiously down the zombie corridor, past the corpses that had been destroyed before. The blue, glowing corridor bends to his right at an angle, and further ahead he can see that it comes to an abrubt stop. There seems to be a gate across it.
He continues to pick his way carefully down the corridor, and discovers that the gate is actually a railing. Beyond the rail the floor stops and all is blackness. Floating in the middle of the blackness he can see eight disks glowing with a blue light like the paving stones of the corridors. The disks are about five feet apart and stretch in a line running to his right. The closest one to him is about seven feet away. Far to the right, he can see a small landing and an open door. Air drifts up from the abyss below him, and carries with it the stench of decayed flesh.
Unable to go any further without going up, Orion retraces his steps back to the archway where the alley entered the covered corridor, and the carved stone face. It's well past mid-morning and the sun has made it over the rooftops, throwing its light into the corridor. Orion notices a gleam of reflected light coming from the mouth of the stone face. Orion steps closer to the stone face, examining the inside of the mouth. Inside the mouth, he sees a concave piece of clear glass. He reaches in to pluck out the glass. As soon as his fingers touch it, he hears a loud clang behind him.
Looking back over his shoulder he sees that a portcullis has fallen acros the end of the Alley, blocking his exit. The iron bars of the portcullis are bathed in flames. There is nothing overhead that the portcullis could have fallen from except the clear blue sky. Out of pure desperation, Orion tries to put the glass back into the mouth of the statue, hoping to reverse the blocked passage. It doesn't work.
Taking the glass back, he examines it to see what it is. It appears to be a lens of some sort. If it was part of a pair, the other one must be somewhere else. He brings the lens up to his eye to see how it affects his vision. He becomes disoriented for a moment and nearly falls down. Closing one eye, he sees that the lens really brings out the details around him, but if he opens his other eye, the dizziness returns. Slipping it into his pocket, he begins to study his predicament.
He does a methodical search around the area of the stone face, looking for some sort of triggering device that will raise the portcullis. Seeing nothing there, he goes out into the alleyway. He looks at the walls on either side that go up to the roofs of the adjoining buildings. One of them has a drain pipe running down from a gutter. It should be possible to climb up the pipe and work his way along the roof until he can drop down on the other side of the portcullis.
Grabbing the pipe with both hands, and pushing his feet against the wall, he begins to work his way up the side of the building, easily. Suddenly, though, his head hits something solid that nearly knocks him out. Wincing for a moment, he gets a good grip with his left hand, and reaches up to see what he's hit. There seems to be an invisible ceiling blocking his escape.
He reaches into his pocket for the lens he found earlier, and places it over his right eye, careful to keep the left one closed. Looking all around the alleyway from his new vantage point, he sees the glint of gold in the mud beneath his feet.
Orion drops lightly to the ground, and bends to examine the treasure. He knocks the mud away from it, and sees a gold coin with a rampant dragon on it. He flips the coin over in his hand and wipes away the layer of mud on the other side. There's the stamped image of a bearded man with an aristocratic nose, wearing a crown. Underneath the image is written, Azoun IV, and above it, the number 1362. It's a Cormyrian gold lion, the state minted currency of Cormyr.
Orion removes the lens and puts it back in his pocket. He walks over to the portcullis to examine it closer. The heat from the flames make his brow sweat from five feet away. To touch the bars would probably burn his hands. He's trapped. Looking grimly at the portcullis, Orion shrugs and returns to the corridor. There's nothing to do but continue on and hope for another exit.
He goes on to the right, and then turns left at the corner. He sees that the passageway continues for about forty feet before coming to an abrubt end. On the right he sees two identical, plain wooden doors. Orion stops at the first door, and listens. He doesn't hear anything. Trying the knob, he sees that it opens easily.
Opening the door, he sees that the corridor goes about forty feet before bending to the left at a forty-five degree angle. He walks down to the end of the passageway, and sees that where it bends, it opens up into an odd shapped room. It's like a triangle with the tip cut off. At the bottom corners are two corridors, the one he just came out of, and another one to his left, presumably going back to the other door in the hallway outside.
At the flattened tip of the triangle is a very strange looking door. The door itself is iron, but the doorjamb in which it is set, is ornately carved stone work. It has five rectangular sections, each about a foot wide and 3 feet long. There are two of these sections on either side of the door, standing one on top of the other, and a fifth section, lying down, forms the lintel over the door. In each section is a carving of a dragon, in various attitudes of repose. The bodies are in low relief, but the heads stick out about eight inches from the surface. The right eye socket in each dragon is hollow. The claw of the lower left one is also sticking out.
Orion steps up in front of the door, and begins to bend down to pull on the claw. Suddenly, the top dragon begins to speak. In a calm voice, he says, "We can be made to see our way to let you pass."
The higher dragon on the left side speaks with apparent satisfaction, "Opal does not look up to ruby."
The upper dragon on the right intones disdainfully: "The pearl rests not on the right side."
The lower left dragon comments with relief: "The ruby rests not on the right side."
The lower right dragon says matter-of-factly: "Ruby and sapphire reside higher than emerald."
Then the topmost dragon speaks again: "I keep the opal near me, but wear it not."
The dragon on the lower left holds out a clawed hand revealing five small stones: a black opal, an emerald, a pearl, a ruby and a sapphire. He states, warningly: "Choose well, or earn our wrath."
Orion considers the puzzle for a few moments. He takes the sapphire from his palm, and places it in the eye socket of the top dragon. It seems to smile and lies down contentedly.
Then he places the ruby in the eye of the top left dragon. It preens itself, and then stretches out like a cat. He places the opal in the eye of the dragon on the top right. It looks smug, and turns away as if it doesn't notice him. The pearl he places in the dragon on the bottom left, and the emerald in the bottom right. The former nods resignedly and curls up again. The latter stretches itself languidly and leans against the door as if it never had any doubts.
When the last gem is placed, a loud click is heard and the door rises slowly up into the wall. Before him is a short hallway leading to a plain wooden door. Smiling to himself, he moves cautiously down the corridor, and searches around the area of the door for any traps. It doesn't appear to be trapped, so he opens the door and looks inside.
The door opens into a long room running left and right with a row of eight pillars spaced ten feet apart down the center. The room is ninety feet long, and it's about twenty feet from the doorway to the opposite wall. It's twenty feet to the wall on his right and the second pillar is directly in front of him. The hallway that he's in juts into the room about ten feet, forming alcoves on both sides of the doors that are fifteen feet across and ten feet deep. He can't see into the alcoves from his vantage point.
He hears whispering coming from somewhere, the sound of several excited voices, but he can't make out what they're saying. He moves into the room cautiously, peers around the corner into the south alcove, and sees nothing but dust and another wooden door on the back wall. Moving quietly into the alcove he searches the door, but finds nothing. The whispering continues unabated, but it seems to be fainter here.
He opens the door in the alcove, and sees a room twenty feet long by ten feet wide. It appears to be completely empty. Orion moves into the room, looking carefully for any traps or discarded loot. As he steps near the center of the room, the floor suddenly gives way beneath him, dropping him twenty feet to a clay floor beath. The fall knocked the wind out of him.
He sits up and takes a moment to get his breath. Looking around, he sees nothing but hard-packed clay with here and there a few good sized rocks. He uses his staff to help himself stand, gingerly favoring his sore ankle. Limping around the room, he does a thorough search of the ground. Turning over a rock in one corner, he finds a small leather bag. It clinks when he picks it up, and looking inside he sees that it's nearly full of Amnian danters. A nice haul, and worth the fall, perhaps, if he can get out of the hole he's in. Turning his attention to that task, he pulls a rope out of his backpack and ties it to a grappling hook. Tossing it up through the doorway, he pulls it gently until it hooks on the jamb. Using the rope, he climbs the wall easily and pulls himself over the threshold back into the room with the pillars.
Still limping, Orion walks to the other alcove. The whispering gets louder for a moment. He can make out the words: "It's him! He comes!" But then it fades again as he moves into the alcove. Here he finds another door, the same as the one in the other alcove.
This time, Orion checks the floor more carefully as he moves into the room. He breathes a sigh of relief when he makes it to the middle of the room and the floor doesn't give way. On the floor near the far wall, he sees a raised dais, about one foot high and five-foot square, that glows red in contrast to the blue paving stones of the floor. Above the dais are three crystal levers. He steps up onto the dais to take a closer look at the levers. They appear to be fashioned from solid quartz. Each one fits into a slot in the wall, and looks like it could be pulled down, to what effect he has no idea.
Walking back out of the alcove, Orion notices that the whispering gets louder again. He hears: "...is he! The one foretold!" Stopping in his tracks, Orion folds his hands in the sleeves of his robes, in a loud voice, he says, "Come out from the shadows, show yourselves..."
Several voices reply at once: "He speaks!" "He hears us!" "Come to us!" "Take us with you!" The voices seem to come from the wall across from the door where he first entered.
Trying to coax them out of the shadows "Come here, into the light." He steps closer to the wall.
A cacophany of voices sound in his head: "Come to us!" "We cannot!" "He approaches!" "Orion!" "Orion!"
Orion steps forward and examines the wall from whence the voices seem to come. In the cracks of the masonry, he sees the faint outline of a door. He pushes on the wall, and it gives way, moving in two inches before sliding to his left. Beyond the wall, it is pitch black. The light from the paving stones does not penetrate into the area beyond the secret door at all.
Orion casts a spell, summoning a sphere of light on the end of his staff, "Shirak!" The light shrinks from the darkness beyond.
He looks into the darkness uncertainly. "Come now, I have opened the way."
"We cannot!" "You must come to us!" "Take us!" "It is your destiny!" "Do not fear the darkness!" "Master of Shadows!" "We call to you!" "Come!"
Feeling that same tug that he felt at the Tomb, Orion dismisses the light and enters the hallway. "I will come."
He steps forward and senses that the room is wider than a corridor, but its exact dimensions are unknown. Moving forward hesitantly in the stygian blackness, he feels his way with his arms out in front of him, until he feels the touch of cold stone.
As he moves forward, the whispers grow louder and more exultant. "Yes!" "He comes!" "Master of Shadows!" "Reach out!" "Embrace us!"
He fumbles about, it's a stone shelf. His hand falls on the cover of a book, and a coldness enters his body through his fingertips. Grasping the book firmly, and pulling it against his chest, he turns and gropes his way back to the door, using his staff to feel his way.
As soon as Orion steps out of the room, the voices cease. He looks down at the tome held in the crook of his arm, and sees an ancient text. It has a binding of black leather, reinforced with tarnished silver, and inset with onyx gems. On the cover is a glossy black circle ringed with purple.
Barely able to contain his excitement, he strokes the cover lovingly. What manner of book might this be? Certainly one of great power, and it called to him, called his name. It called him, "Master of Shadows..." He says the words out loud and feels a thrill of excitement run through him. Blood of Shadows, Master of Shadows... some great mystery lies here, and one day he will solve it. For now, he has to complete his quest within this cursed place and get back to his room where he can study this book. With a great effort of will, he places the book in his backpack without opening it. Then, he moves on to finish his exploration of the area.
First, he takes a quick look around the pillared room. As he moves past the fourth pillar, he notices something odd about it. Looking closer, he sees that one section of it looks like a small concealed door. Pushing on the panel, he finds that it pivots into the column, revealing a small compartment. Inside the compartment is a leather bag. He pulls the bag out, and reaches into it. Inside is a small piece of glass connected to some wire. Drawing it out, he sees that the glass is shaped like the lens he found before. The wire wraps around it, forms an arch and then makes another loop. He pulls the other lens out of his pocket and places it into the empty loop, where it fits snugly. He places them in front of his face and then sets the arch down on his nose. The device rests firmly in that position, and he is able to see quite well through both lenses. The dizziness he felt before doesn't return.
Leaving the glasses in place, he continues searching through the hall. At the far end is an arched opening, leading to a round room with a high domed ceiling. In the center of the room is a waist-high pillar. On top of the pillar is a single gold coin. He looks around, for an exit, but the room seems to be a dead end. It contains nothing but the shortened pillar and the gold coin.
He walks up to the pillar to take a closer look. The coin looks quite ordinary, although he isn't sure what city mints it. There is a woman's image on the side facing up, and the year 285. The wizard makes a motion with his hand, and mutters, "Tect magi." The coin glows with a dweomer of abjuration magic.
He takes the tip of his staff and flicks it at the coin, knocking it off the pillar into the floor where it gives out a metallic cling. From the shadowy ceiling above he hears a voice say, "Congratulations." Orion looks up towards the voice, and asks, "For what?" His voice echoes through the chamber, but there is no response.
He bends down to pick up the coin and notices that it no longer glows. On the reverse side of it, he sees that it bears the symbol of the city of Waterdeep, a cresent moon over water. The coin is no taol, though. It must be from a time when the city still minted gold coins.
He slips the coin into his pocket, and returns to the small room with the crystal levers, looking about him to see what other magic is present in the Alley. The glowing floors, give off a dweomer of evocation magic. When he reaches the small room with the levers, the dweomer they give off is quite strong. It is transmutation magic.
He steps up onto the dais, and feels a moment of disorientation. The three levers are all in the upright position, fitted into slots in the stone wall. What mechanism they operate, he cannot tell. He becomes absorbed in studying the contraption. Lost in concentration, he pores over the machine, crawling on the floor to examine the dais, standing on it to examine the levers with his glasses. The minutes tick by. An hour or so later, he feels pretty certain that it is a teleportation device, but he has no idea where it might teleport him to.
Standing up, and dusting off his robes, he decides that he won't risk being teleported into the middle of a volcano, or a drow city, or some equally horrible place. Perhaps another day when he's better prepared... Instead, he leaves the room with the pillars and goes back out to the hallway where he found the trapdoor in the ceiling. "Aranae pedes!" he intones. Small, barbed hairs sprout from his hands and from the soles of his shoes. He begins to scale the wall. Reaching the trap door, he pushes it open easily and pulls himself through.
Standing up and looking around, he sees a stairway going up and twisting to the right. He follows the stairs up, using his staff to help him climb, and favoring his right ankle. At the top of the stairs is a landing and a wooden door.
He listens carefully at the door before opening it. The room beyond is sumptiously decorated. A red carpet covers the floor, tapestries decorate the walls. They show scenes of well-dressed people eating, drinking and lounging amid sumptuous surroundings. Elegantly carved tables and couches are arranged to face an alcove on the right hand wall. The wall on his right has a narrow wooden door, and directly across from him is another wooden door like the one he just entered.
Orion walks around the room, looking at the furniture curiously. When he gets to the alcove, he looks in and sees a very strange sight. At the end of the alcove is a bronze statue of a man sitting in a chair. He has a long beard twisted and tied at the bottom. His eyes seem to follow your movement, and he emits a low chuckle, though his lips do not move. Between Orion and the statue, floats a silver vial.
Nodding at the statue, Orion says, "What's so funny?"
The statue seems to respond to his words, "I am Keiler Twistbeard, and you are my entertainment. Take this gift, for you will surely need it."
Orion steps forward boldly, and takes the vial, "Are you the person who created this place?" He says, examining the vial.
The statue merely chuckles.
Orion's face flashes with anger, "If I am your entertainment, then do I not deserve to know who I am entertaining?"
The statue merely chuckles.
"Why are you imprisoned here in the first place, do you not wish to get out, and be at rest?"
Again the statue chuckles.
"Well then, I have offered you my help, and my service, for you have no physical manifestation to do these deeds, you seem chained to this place. I have offered your outlet, and you turn me down. Enjoy eternity. I know there is something you want, as there is something I want. Perhaps in 100 years you will decide differently." Orion then turns to walk back towards the narrow door.
When he begins to move, the statue says, "I am Keilier Twistbeard, and you are my entertainment. Take this gift, for you will surely need it."
Orion turns to look and see if there is another gift in the alcove, but sees nothing.
Shaking his head grimly, he turns his back again on the statue and walks over to the narrow door. He listens for a moment, and then pulls the door open. There is a flash of light, and two eel-like creatures launch themselves at him from the doorway. They wriggle foward and strike at his legs. One of them bites into his leg attaches itself to his calf, just above his boot. The other one misses, but coils to strike again.
Orion strikes at the one on his leg, and hits it, but can't dislodge it. The other one bites him and attaches to his other leg. He feels faint as the first one begins draining his blood. Swinging at it with all his might, he bashes it with his staff. Blood splatters all over the red carpet, and it falls off onto the floor. He can feel the other one draining the life out of him. He swings at it, and knocks it lose. It flies against the door and splatters blood everywhere.
Relief floods him. He tries to take a step, but swoons and falls to the floor unconscious. As he passes out, he hears the statue chuckle...
Orion wakes up later... how much later, he isn't sure. He still feels very weak, but he's able to sit up. He pulls himself up onto one of the couches and sits down. He picks up his backpack from the floor where it fell when he was attacked, wincing at the effort. His stomach feels hollow. It must be well past dinnertime. He pulls out a packet of smoked meat, and some unleavened bread and makes an impromptu lunch, washed down by water from his waterskin.
Over where he fell, he notes that the narrow door is still open. The air around the opening shimmers slightly. He can't see into the room beyond. Rising, he limps over to take a closer look. Reaching out, he tries to put his hand through the opening, but it feels as though its blocked by a piece of glass. Sighing, he goes back and sits down again to think. Still feeling exhausted, he stretches out on the couch and closes his eyes.
Orion walks down a long corridor. It is pitch black all around him, but his sight penetrates the gloom and shows him all that is hidden within its depths. The staff in his hand pulses with power. Coming towards him he sees a man, crawling on all fours, groping blindly in the dark. When Orion steps before him, the man looks up suddenly with unseeing eyes. He stares about blindly in the dark, knowing that someone is there, but not knowing who. There is fear in his eyes, and it occurs to Orion that the man has good reason to fear him. They are enemies. The man did something to Orion which cannot be forgiven. Orion raises his staff, and the shadows around them take on shape and substance. They move towards the man, reaching out for him, clawing at him. Their touch causes him to writhe in pain; he screams out in agony. Orion smiles...
Orion wakes with a start at the dream he was having. He remembers it vaguely, the man in pain. He can't recall his features...
He sits up and wipes his eyes. How long has he been asleep? There's no way to tell. He feels only slightly better than when he laid down, but the rest seems to have done him some good. His ankle feels better, and he doesn't feel quite as puny. A few more days of bed rest would fix him right up... but here he is trapped in the Blue Alley.
He fishes in his backpack for some more food. He has plenty of that, at least, but his water supply is limited. He might have enough for one more day. His hand brushes up against the tome he found earlier, and he recalls the dream he was having. He drags the heavy book out of the pack, along with a slice of cheese and flips open the cover to begin reading while he chews slowly on the cheese.
The book is written in Thorass. The first page says: "Those not called: peruse this book at thy peril. Thou hast been warned." Remembering the voices in the shadows, and the pull that the book placed on him, Orion confidently flips over the next page, and begins to read..."
History of the Sisters of Light and Darkness
This was the birth of the world and the heavens. After Lord Ao created space, there was a period of timeless nothingness, a misty realm of shadows before light and dark were separate entities. Within this dim chaos walked the 13 Lords of Shadow, the Shadevari - children of the shadow.
Eventually this primordial essence coalesced into twin beautiful goddesses who were yin and yang to each other; they were so close they thought of themselves as one being. The Two-Faced Goddess created the heavenly bodies of the crystal sphere and together infused them with life to form the Earthmother, Chauntea. This new universe was lit by the face of the silver-haired goddess, who called herself Selune, and darkened by the welcoming tresses of the raven-haired goddess, Shar, but no heat or fire existed within it.
Chauntea wished to bring forth lesser beings, creatures who would crawl upon her surface, feed off of her and be her servants and worshippers. She begged for warmth so that she could nurture these creatures upon the planets that were her body and limbs, and the two sisters-who-were-one became divided, as for the first time they were of two minds.
Shar saw that these creatures, being mortal, must live short lives, filled with suffering, followed by eternal death. Silvery Selune, filled with vanity, and desiring, like Chauntea, to be worshipped as a goddess, contested with her dark sister over whether or not to bring creatures of such a doomed life to the world. Shar counseled caution, and pointed to the great evils that could arise from such a scheme. Her opponents were adamant, though, and so ensued a terrible battle. During this great conflagration, all the evils that Shar had prophesied came to pass. Selune, in her madness, created the gods of war, disease, murder, and death, among others. They survived to bring much suffering upon the living things, which were later brought into the world as her subjects.
At one point during the battle, Selune seized the advantage and reached across time and space to a land of eternal fire. Ignoring the pain of the blaze, which disfigured her horribly, she stole a fragment of that ever-living flame and ignited one of the heavenly bodies so that it burned in the sky and warmed Chauntea.
Stung by this treachery, Shar redoubled her attack on her injured twin and tried valiantly to snuff out all light and heat throughout the crystal sphere before her sister's plan should bear fruit. Again Selune betrayed her. She used her divine essence of magic as a weapon, tearing it from her body, and flinging it in desperation at Shar. Shar was caught off guard by such a ruthless and treacherous act. The essence entered her, and ripped an equal portion of energy from her. It reformed behind her as the goddess of magic, known now as Mystra, but then as Mystryl. Though Mystryl was composed of both light and dark magic, she bore Selune's taint and favored her first mother initially, allowing the silvery goddess to win an uneasy truce with the more powerful, but outnumbered twin. This was not enough for Selune, though. Consumed by bitterness at her near-defeat, she vowed eternal revenge.
The twin goddesses contested for eons as life struggled into existence on Toril and the other planets under Chauntea's domination. Though Shar remained powerful, she was alone in her fight against the tyrants. Selune waxed and waned in power, but drew strength from her allied daughters and sons, to whom she promised dominion over mortal creatures. Shar looked upon these creatures in their enslavement, and took pity on their suffering. She came to them during the night, when Selune was at her weakest, and offered them solace in the forgetfulness of sleep. All she could do to ease their suffering, she did, but she knew that it was not enough. She grew more determined than ever to break the dominance of Selune and her children. Seeking the aid of the ancient Shadevari she made war on the light, which had brought the mortal creatures into such a miserable existence. By spreading night through the universe again, she sought to bring those poor beings forgetfulness and peace. Her hope was defeated, though, when Azuth, a mortal whom Mystra had taken as her lover and made into a god over his fellow creatures, found a way to imprison the Shadevari in a pocket-sized crystal sphere located beyond the edges of the world by creating the illusion of a realm of shadows. The Lords of Shadow were lured to investigate, and before they discovered his treachery, Azuth imprisoned the Shadevari with the Shadowstar, a key of shadows forged by Gond. The High Lord then hurled the key into the endless reaches of the cosmos allowing the dominion of Selune and her children to continue for time eternal.
It is said, though, that in the course of time a great mortal would rise up to contest the dominion of the gods. He would ally himself with Shar, and to him she would teach him the Sacred Knowledge of Shadows. He would use his powers to free the Shadevari, and with their help, he would free all the mortals of the world from their bondage to the Gods of Tyranny.
Orion pauses in his reading. He had never heard the story of the gods told in this way. What he had always heard of Shar made her sound wicked. Of course, anyone who opposed the absolute power of the gods would appear wicked to them, though... He flips to the next page and continues to read...
History of Verraketh Talembar, the Shadowking
Verraketh Talembar was a bard of the Talfirc people in the Duchy of Indoria. In his youth he was traveling north of Indoria when he saw a great light like a meteor falling to earth out on the High Moor. He searched for the spot where the light fell and came upon the Vale of Ebenfar. Searching through the vale he found a star shaped metal medallion. The metal was still hot, but he cooled it in water and then attached it to a chain around his neck.
Unknown to Verraketh this medallion was the Shadowstar, an artifact created by Azuth to trap the Shadevari, the ancient Lords of Shadows. Posessing the Shadowstar gave Verraketh the ability to control shadows with his music. He became first a great bard of renown, then a great sorcerer, then lord of his own realm, and finally, he was transformed into the Shadowking, the greatest of all mortal wizards. The Shadowstar gave him access to the knowledge of the Shadevari, and such power as no mortal had ever known before.
With this power, Verraketh hoped to free, first the Talfirc, and then the other mortal creatures of Faerūn from the domination of the gods. He created a sanctuary in the region of Ebenfar, where the Talfirc could live without having to serve the corrupt priesthood of their native land. The vale was pocked with craters and fissures from which steam issued. The steam rising through the fissures created cacophonous music. This music suppressed the powers of the Shadowstar, but Verraketh altered the music, making it harmonious, by blocking the water flow to one of the fissures, so that the power of the Shadowstar was freed.
The Empire of the Talfirc could not suffer the 'heretics' of Ebenfar to live, and made war upon them. Verraketh led his followers in battle, eventually conquering the Duchy of Indoria. His labors were not done yet, for the priests of the Tyrant Gods urged the neighboring kingdoms to make war upon him, until one-by-one he conquered them all and freeing their thralls. Verraketh's magical powers were great, but his benevolence was even greater. He might have succeeded in freeing over all of Faerun, but his own son, Talek Talembar, betrayed him.
Talek was also a bard, and he had inherited his father's talent for shadow magic. He betrayed him when the Verraketh attempted to insure the freedom of his people by creating a new artifact known as the Nightstone. Talek disguised himself as a mute troll aiding Verraketh in the forging of the Nightstone. During a critical phase of the stone's creation he wove the cacophonic song of the vale into its magic. When the stone was completed he revealed himself and began to play the song, thus taking control of the stone from Verraketh. The two fought for a year until Talek finally slew his father. He buried him with the Nightstone and the Shadowstar beneath a cairn as tall as a hill. It is rumored that this is the same tor on which Iriaebor now stands.
The traitor, Talek, was later killed by a goblin's arrow in the Duchy of Indoria, a fitting end for a patricide. It is said, though, that the One who will rise to fulfill the prophecy will come from his bloodline, so that a distant son may right the wrongs of his father.
Flipping forward through the book, Orion sees that there is more history, but beyond that he finds a description of something called shadow magic, the power to bend shadows to one's will...
"When the wicked goddess, Selune, attacked Shar by hurling her magical essence at her, a part of Shar was torn away. The two essences combined became Mystra, the goddess of magic. She is composed of both light and dark. Taking the side of Selune, she ignored Shar's heritage. Those who call upon her, have taught for eons that all magic must be accessed through the Weave, the silvery lines of magic that are Mystra's heritage from Selune. They are ignorant of the underlying reality of Darkness. Just as the Shadevari were the first of Ao's children, Darkness was the first and most ancient power. From Darkness comes all else. The Shadow Adept uses the dark spaces between the Weave to work his magic. This power gives him mastery over the Shadows; he commands their very essence. But he is also able to craft illusions of great subtlety, dominate the minds of others and command the very forces of life itself."
There are spell descriptions, and formulas for creating magic items of great power. It would take weeks, or perhaps months to read through all the material here. If only he could leave now and take the book back to his room at Madame Garah's...
Orion sighs and replaces the book in his backpack. He draws out his spellbook, and begins to study it, preparing his spells for the day. After an hour, he closes the book, puts it back in his pack and rises from the couch. He still feels unsteady on his feet, but his water situation is too critical to allow him to waste more time resting.
He walks to the door across from the one he entered and listens for a moment. Hearing nothing, he opens the door and peers through. Outside is a landing, and a stairway leading down.
He walks down the stairs to a long hallway with two doors on each side and an open door at the end. The open door piques his curiosity. He walks to the end of the hallway, and looks through it. On the other side he sees that the paving stones end abruptly on a small landing. Beyond the landing is empty space. He sees the same blue, floating disks that he saw from the other side of the Alley and beneath them an abyss falling into blackness.
Stymied for the moment, he turns away from the pit and takes a look at the first door on his right. It's not locked. No noise comes to him from the other side. He opens the door and sees a room that is 30-feet square. In the center of the room is a massive pillar going up to a vaulted ceiling. On the left wall near the back is a stone door.
The room is empty except for the pillar. Approaching it, he can see that it is completely unadorned. The door is set in a thick, stone door jamb with no ornamentation. Orion listens at the stone door for a moment. Hearing nothing, he tries to open it. There's no handle, so he gives it a push with his palm. The door doesn't budge.
The young wizard searches all around the door looking for some triggering mechanism. Finding nothing, he raps on it in frustration and speaks a command word known to work only in fairy tales, "Open sesame!" Still the door remains closed.
Orion removes a scroll from his pouch, and reads aloud from it, "Porta secreta." He turns slowly around in the room looking for any secret doors, but sees nothing. He looks up at the ceiling hoping to see a secret door hidden in the vault, but still there is nothing. Growing frustrated, he returns to the hallway, walking slowly up and down the corridor to search for any secret entrances to the room. On the west side of the hall, he senses a secret door perhaps thirty feet away. He doesn't see how to get to it, and it's unlikely that it connects to the room he's trying to enter.
Sighing in exasperation, Orion walks back into the room with the pillar. In a sudden inspiration, he casts detect magic. The stone door glows with magic, as does the pillar. Around the pillar at eye level appears a flowing script, glowing with a magical dweomer. He reads what it says...
My middle is the Heart of Alarm.
My last arranges locks of Golden Thread,
And sits upon the Morning Caller's head.
This is more like it, he thinks. Orion puzzles over the riddle for a moment, and then mutters, "Catacomb." There's a click, and the stone door opens with a gust of stale air. He smiles with satisfaction.
He peers into the room. In the far left corner, he sees a golden dragon about 16" high sitting on a pedastal. It rears up on its hind legs, foreclaws bared in a threatening manner, wings outspread and arched behind it. The floor is covered with a thick layer of dust, and he sees no footprints in it. He walks up to it and pushes on it. It feels pretty heavy. He could just barely lift it. Searching the rest of the room, he finds nothing else.
Orion squats down and picks up the statue. He is able to lift it off the ground, but staggers under the weight. Trying to walk with it is rather clumsy, but he manages to get it out of the door before he has to set it down and rest for a moment. After a resting a few moments, he picks it up again and wrestles it out into the hallway before he sets it down again. This time he decides it might be better to decide which way he's going before he bothers to pick it up again.
He listens at the second door on the east wall of the corridor, but hears nothing. Opening the door, he sees a room identical to the one with the pillar, but in this room the stone door is on the south wall.
"Inveni magicus." He casts detect magic and watches as the pillar and door glow with magic. Letters appear on the pillar, forming words:
And the end of every life.
Orion chuckles with relief at the simplicity of the riddle. "The letter 'e'," he says. The stone door clicks, and he smells the rush of stale air as it opens wide. Looking into the room, he hears the voice of Keilier Twistbeard once again, "If you would leave this place, bring the dragon to the south, and on its golden wings you will fly to the only paradise you will ever know." Orion notices that the southern area of the room glows with magic.
Orion goes back into the hallway and grabs the gold statue. He half drags, half carries it into the small room, but does not take it into the area of magic. "There. Wait for me while I do some more exploring," he mutters to the statue. His brow is sweating from the effort. It occurs to him that the statue is warm to the touch. It's not hot, but not cold like metal should be either. He gives the statue a pat on the head, and then walks back out into the hallway.
Looking at the two doors in the western hallway, he picks the one on his left. He listens at the door for a moment, and then eases it open. Inside the room he sees dust, cobwebs and a puddle in the middle of the floor.
He enters the room cautiously and begins a closer examination. He notices that the other door from the hallway enters this room. The puddle does not appear to be water. He shrinks back from it for a moment, but when it makes no move to attack he edges closer. Whatever it was, it seems to have been destroyed. He pushes at it with his staff, but it doesn't move. Looking around the rest of the room, he finds nothing.
Satisfied that this section of the Alley has been thoroughly explored, Orion returns to the hallway and moves to the landing overlooking the abyss. The darkness below is deep, but it doesn't appear magical. The blue glow from the paving stones illuminates the small area around the doorway, but doesn't extend down very far.
He utters a command word, "Shirak!" and a globe of light appears around the end of his staff, beating back the darkness below. He can see twenty feet down, but beyond the range of his spell is blackness. "Aranae pedis!" Stiff, barbed hairs grow from his palms and the bottoms of his shoes. He secures his staff through a loop in his pack, and begins to crawl down the wall of the pit like a spider.
As he moves down, the light shows him more of the pit. The stone masonry walls could be scaled by an experienced theif, but he is glad to have his spell to help him. He's gone seventy feet down before he catches a glimpse of the bottom. It's littered with bones, broken weapons and bits of armor. Finally, he is standing on the bottom, a clay floor scattered with rocks and the detritus of many failed attempts to navigate the disks above.
Orion begins to search the bottom. It's a veritable treasure trove of loose coins and assorted weapons. Many of the latter survived the fall. There's a stench coming from the center of the room. He moves cautiously in that direction and discovers the broken corpse of a halfling female. She's clad in leather armor, and there's a pack on her back with the contents half-spilled out on the floor. Mildewed packets of rations, a broken lamp, a length of rope (perhaps she should have used that) a sack of tools (probably a thief). There's a bandoleer across her chest that probably contained potions. He can see a residue where they've spilled their contents. Feeling of the pockets, he sees that one is intact. He pulls a copper vial from the pocket. Turning her over, he sees a waterskin slung over her shoulder that apparently burst when she fell. "I would have traded half my gold for a full waterskin," he thinks.
No sooner are the words out of his mouth than he catches a glint of gold. On her belt, he finds a ripped pouch, brimming with gold coins that look like the one he found on the pillar in the room beyond the dragon door. "Congratulations," he mutters to himself. "There's probably over five hundred gold here."
Gathering the coins up, he stuffs them into his pack and moves off, looking around to see what else might be found. Near corner below the landing, he discovers a set of bones clad in a black robe. He examines the desicated corpse closer and finds a spellbook in one satchel along with a scroll case. A corpse nearby appears to be that of a priest. Around its neck is a gold necklace with an upraised palm enclosed by a circle. On the palm is a pair of eyes, the symbol of some cult that Orion isn't familiar with.
He finds a few more coins in a pouch on the belt of the priest. It's been perhaps fifteen minutes of searching now, and he's beginning to worry about the spell he used to climb down. If it ends before he climbs back up, he'll be stuck down here in the dark.
He scales the wall, going up the corner below where the railing was. Reaching the top, he pulls himself over the rail and is once again in the corridor where he fought the zombies. He stops and wipes his brow, then takes a drink from his waterskin. He has maybe a pint left, he thinks. How long could he live without water? Two days? Three? He doesn't want to find out...
He walks down the hallway, past the zombie corpses and through the door where he fought before. Turning left, he enters the corridor that parallels the zombie corridor, and begins walking up the steps. When his foot hits the fourth step, he suddenly falls straight up and hits the ceiling. He pauses there for a moment, and then plummets back down to the steps. His head hits the bottom step, and everything goes black.
Sometime later he regains conscious only to wish he were still out cold. His head feels like it has split wide open. He goes to stand up, but sits back down quickly when the pain in his head becomes excruciating.
Crying out in pain and frustration, Orion slaps the wall behind him with his hand. "The gods curse this place!" he growls. The exertion only makes his head hurt worse. He crawls over to the corner of the corridor and lays his head down on his backpack. His mouth is parched. He unslings his waterskin and takes a couple of swigs, then lays back down. He can feel the book he found earlier beneath the leather. It occurs to him momentarily to pull the book out and try to read for a little bit. His eyes close drowsily, though, and soon he is asleep again.
The man on the floor writhes and screams in agony as the shadows claw at him. Orion looks down on him, smiling. "You killed my parents," he says grimly, "and now you will pay the price."
"I didn't mean it!" the man wails. "Forgive me!"
Orion's heart is a stone within his chest. "Some things cannot be forgiven. If you could die a hundred such deaths, it would not pay for what you did to me. You destroyed my life."
"No, please!" the man calls out. He cowers on the floor, his face pressed into the paving stones, hiding from the terror of the shadows. His body shakes and wracks with pain. "NOOOO!" The last wail escapes him and his body slumps, lifeless. The shadows retreat from him, obediently awaiting a word from their master. Orion walks over to the man. He lifts the corpse with his foot and flips it over to see the man's pain-wracked face. It is his.
Orion awakes with a start blinking in the blue light. "Wha--?" His head throbs with a dull ache. He licks his dry, cracked lips and tries to swallow. His mouth has an iron taste in it, like blood. "What a horrible dream," he thinks. He takes a couple of swigs from his waterskin, swishes the water around in his mouth and swallows hard. There's maybe a cup left. Standing shakily to his feet, he feels weak. He raises his hand to the back of his head and feels a large lump. The hair around it feels stiff. Looking down at the steps, he can see dried blood soaked into the stones.
Going back to his corner, he sits down and nibbles on a piece of dried meat. He begins to feel that with some water to drink he might feel a lot better for his rest. If only he could find a fountain. Perhaps it's time to go back to the room with the dragon statue and see if it will take him out of here... and back to safety.
As he sits there thinking, he hears a wailing cry coming from somewhere beyond the trapped stairway.
Orion sits back down and puts his back against the wall. He pulls out his spellbook and begins to study new spells for the day, while munching on a piece of cheese from his pack. When he's done, he returns the book to his pack, and stands up. From his spell component pouch he takes a piece of leather and holds it to his breast. "Armatus magus." A red aura forms around him and then fades.
Turning his attention to the trapped stairway, he casts another spell. "Inveni magica." He sees the fourth step on the stairway begin to glow with a magical aura. "That must be the trigger," he thinks.
He ascends the stairs, careful to step over the fourth step. He breathes a sigh of relief when he makes it to the top. The corridor continues on for twenty feet, and then turns to the right. He moves up to the corner, and peers around it. Seeing nothing, he continues on. Forty feet away he can see another stairway leading back down and curving to the left.
The young mage retrieves his enchanted spectacles from his pocket, and places them on his nose. Walking down the hallway slowly, he searches both walls for any hidden doors. Finding nothing, he descends the stairs, which turn sharply to the left, and then back to the right. At the bottom is a short hallway that turns to the right. He follows it and comes out into a small room with a vaulted ceiling supported by a central pillar. There are no doors leading out of the room. It appears to be a dead end.
He walks to the far corner and begins searching for a secret door, or some clue as to a way beyond this room. He's sure there must be something else. As he examines the north wall, he hears a sound like someone singing. He can't make out the words, but he's sure that it's coming from the other side of the wall. Examing the masonry closely, he notices that one of the stones has a broken corner. He presses on the corner, and it pushes into the wall. There's a grinding noise and a section of the wall pivots revealing another room beyond.
He can hear the singing plainly now. Stepping into the room he sees a strange figure huddled in the far corner. From its long, matted hair and high-pitched voice, it appears to be a woman. She is squatting on her heels, and rocking back and forth, eating from a bowl she holds in her hand. In between spoonfuls, she's reciting a poem in a child-like voice:
She's crying with all of her might and main,
And she won't eat her dinner, rice pudding again.
Oh, what is the matter with Mary Jane?
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
He's promised her sweets and a daisy chain,
And a book about animals, all in vain.
Oh, what is the matter with Mary Jane?
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She's perfectly well, and she hasn't a pain
And it's lovely rice pudding for dinner again!
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
Beside her, a stream of water from a spigot in the wall spills down into a hole in the floor. Orion feels his dry throat swell with anticipation.
The poor creature has been chained to the central pillar in this room--a stone pillar carved in the shape of a woman-three chains run from the pillar to a collar on her neck and manacles on her feet.
Looking closer, he can see that the carving was intended to be a likeness of the chained woman, but there's little resemblance now. While the statue shows a beautiful woman in a flowing gown, the woman on the end of the chains is haggard, unkempt and clothed in rags. Her hair hangs down to her knees, her face is smudged with filth and her fingernails are long and sharp.
When she notices the young mage, she begins to whimper and then crawls towards him across the floor, her hands beseeching. "Please! Please help me!" she wails. "I can't get free! I just want to go home! Oh, please don't leave me here!" She breaks down and begins to cry, repeating her pleas for release between sobs.
In the corner to his right, Orion sees a corpse. It appears to be a dwarf, but its features are hidden behind a battered, black helm. His body has been laid out as if for burial, with his arms across his chest.
Orion looks over to the corpse, then to the girl "Calm down, first tell me, what happened to him?"
The woman continues to sob, "She killed him! She wouldn't let him free me! He tried, but she killed him! He was so kind..." Suddenly, her mood changes, and she says angrily, "He was a liar, though! He said I had been here three years. I'm sure it's only been one year! It can't have been three! It CAN'T!"
Her mood changes abruptly to one of puzzlement, and she asks calmly, "Or has it been ten? I never can remember."
Just as suddenly she begins to cry again, "I want to go home! Please get me out of here! Please!"
Shaking his head, Orion gives the girl a stern look. "Who? Who killed him?"
Becoming calm again, she says, "I did. She did. We both did." She gets a sly look in her eye. "I didn't tell him everything about her. I don't think he would have tried to help if he had known." Grief washes over her face, "I should have told him. It was my fault. I killed him." She begins to weep. "All my fault. All my fault."
The tears stop suddenly, and she looks at Orion slyly. "You'll help, won't you? You're brave, aren't you? Not afraid of her, are you? She's not so tough for a man like you."
She tries to look coy and seductive, but it's a pathetic attempt given the condition she's in. "I would do just anything to get out of here," she smiles at him, but then the smile disappears and she becomes angry again. Spitting her words out viciously, she goes into a rage. "I have done 'just anything' to get out of here, but the bastard walked out and left me chained to this god-cursed bitch, the coward!" She makes violent motions with her arms, rattling the chains. "Damn him to the Nine Hells, if I ever see him I'll rip his balls off and shove them down his throat."
The moment passes as suddenly as it comes, though, and she falls to the floor, crying silently, her shoulders shaking. "I... think... I might be... going mad."
Orion walks over to her (Careful to stay beyond her reach) and kneels down, "What's your name?"
She looks at him, the hair stringing down in front of her face, "Nallana. What's yours?"
Orion smiles, "I'm Orion. Pleasure to meet you Nall, who was it that just left you down here all alone?"
She sits up and draws back from him, "He used to call me Nall." She looks around, frightened, and whispers conspiratorily, "This is his place. One of them... We used to live together. I was a guard at the palace." In a sing-song voice she recites:
Little Nallana went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guards.
'A soldier's life is terrible hard,' says Alice."
"It wasn't so hard. I was good at it. He admired me, he said. He wasn't a very nice man, though. He was very jealous. I wanted to leave... he got made." She lifts the chains and drops them. "Now I have to stay."
"That's too bad. How do you eat around here? He looks over at the water longingly.
Her face brightens, "He gave me a magic spoon!" She holds up the spoon she was using to eat with, but then frowns. "It's not very good food though." She starts singing again,
She's crying with all of her might and main,
And she won't eat her dinner, rice pudding again...
"I never did like rice pudding..."
Orion holds out his waterskin, "Nall, I'm very, very thirsty, would you mind filling this up for me?"
She stares at the waterskin for a moment, and then looks back at the wizard. Her eyes have lost the wild look and she seems almost sane. "Orion, I'm very, very desperate to get out of here. Would you mind helping me?"
Orion holds out his waterskin, "Will you please fill this? Let me have something to drink, and we'll talk about how to get that done."
She searches his face for a moment. Sane, she looks like she might have been a kind person. Who knows what she would do in a mad fit, though? She seems to make up her mind about something, and takes the waterskin from him. She walks over to the north wall, the chains dragging behind her and scraping across the floor. She fills up the waterskin and brings it back over to him, squatting back down to hand it to him. "She would probably have killed you anyway. Maybe when you're stronger..." Her words trail off and a tear rolls down her cheek.
Orion scoffs, "Who is this "she"? Tell me what you wouldn't tell the dwarf."
As he waits for her answer, Orion drinks hastily from his waterskin.
She glances is up at the caryatid that forms the central pillar in the room, and pulls on the chains it holds in its hands. "Her."
"His weapons didn't have any effect on her... I... I didn't believe they would. I wanted to believe it, but he wasn't the first one to try to free me. Others have been here..."
"What do you think would affect her, perhaps I can get better prepared..."
"She was constructed of magic. It would take magic to destroy her. Fire won't do it, though..."
Orion sighs, and gets up, walking over to the dwarf. When he gets there he starts to search the body. The dwarf's body is in an advanced state of decomposition, and the smell is rather strong. Maggots crawl about on the body, going in and out of small holes. The splint mail armor that the dwarf wears is bent and crushed over his left rib cage. A broken battle axe lies on the dwarf's chest beneath his folded arms. There's an empty dagger sheath on his belt and lying beside him, as if it were placed there, is a light crossbow. There's a pouch on his belt.
"I took the pack... it had food in it. Not much, but it was better than gruel."
Orion looks over at her and asks, "Don't you have any family?"
"Not here... not in Waterdeep. The live in Daggerford."
"Inveni magica," Orion mutters. Nothing upon the dwarf is magical, not even the helm that he was sent here to retrieve. He turns slowly, scanning the room for more dweomers. The girl's chains glow with wards of abjuration and the statue glows with many layers of magic. The spoon and the spigot are also magic. He turns back to study the helm again. It looks rather battered, and the metal is blackened with age. Around the crown of the helm are set a number of black gems. Some of the gems are missing from their settings.
Orion turns to the girl, "Listen, I have to go take this helm to a friend of mine, I am going to rest, and do some research on this...I will come back for you when I can defeat this..." he nods towards the caryatid, looking for the right word, "...thing and free you; and I will take you to Daggerford.
Nallana smiles wanly. "I'll bet you say that to all the girls." She begins to giggle and the wild light comes back into her eyes.
She falls down in the floor, curls up in a ball and begins to sing quietly again in her childlike voice"
With the maiden of stone!
How will our heroine
Ever get home?
She repeats the same refrain over and over again, and takes no more notice of Orion. The mage bends down, and grimly sets about the gruesome task of removing the helm on the dwarf. Unbuckling the side straps, he manages to drag it off eventually, and stands up. The pale face of the dwarf stares up at him blankly.
The girl is still curled up on the floor singing to herself. He looks from her to the stone caryatid. "Did she ever really look like that?" he wonders. Out loud he says, "I will be back, Nallana. I'll come back and set you free as soon as I can." The girl doesn't respond. Sadly, he turns his back on her and walks out.
He goes up the curved stairway and back into the hallway. When he reaches the zombie corridor, he goes right this time and back to the area of the carved face. Looking down the alley, he sees that it is nighttime. How long has he been in this place? He's been unconscious so many times, he has no idea how much time has passed. At the end of the alley, the flaming portcullis still blocks his exit.
He continues on, turning left down the corridor with the doors leading to the Dragon Door. At the end of the corridor he stops. Somehow he has to get to the trapdoor above him. Why didn't he think of that when he was preparing spells this morning?
Fortunately, the trapdoor is still open. He pulls out his rope and ties it to his grappling hook. Giving it a couple of swings, he tosses it up towards the opening. It hits the side with a clang, and he has to duck out of the way as it falls back to the ground.
He recoils the rope, swings it around and tosses it again. This time it lands perfectly inside the hole. He pulls it a few times to make sure it holds, and then climbs the rope with ease. Pulling himself through the opening, he recoils the rope and stuffs it back in his pack. Then he proceeds up the stairs to the room with the couches where he had the fight with the blood-sucking eels.
As he crosses the room to the other door, he hears a low chuckle. He jumps, startled by the sound. Then he remembers the statue and turns to look at it. "I am Keilier Twistbeard," it says, "and you are my entertainment. Take this gift, for you will surely need it." Orion sees no gift. "I already have your gift, you heartless bastard. Why don't you shut your mouth." The statue merely chuckles.
The mage turns in disgust and continues on his way. Outside the door, he goes down the flight of stairs to his right, and then turns to the left at the bottom into the corridor that leads to the pit. Opening the first door on his right, he goes into the room with the central pillar. The door on the south wall is still open, and he finds the gold dragon sitting where he left it. Lifting it as best he can, he scoots it over to the magical dweomer in the south. It is visible to him even without his detect magic spell. As he brings the statue into the area, he feels a sudden dizziness.
His head swims for a moment, and everything around him is a blur. When his eyes come back into focus, he sees that he is standing in an alley off a city street--probably Waterdeep, but he's not entirely certain. Trash and refuse fill the end of the alley. Above him is a night sky. The exit to the alley is only thirty feet away.
Suddenly, he realizes that the dragon didn't teleport with him. "All that gold," he thinks... but then he realizes that he's lucky to be out of there alive. What if it had teleported him into a giant lava flow? He wouldn't put such a thing past the twisted bastard who built it. He adjusts his pack and walks slowly down the alley way. When he reaches the end, he smiles with relief. He's on Ivory Street just a block down from the place where he entered the Blue Alley. Walking up to the entrance, he sees that the flaming portcullis has disappeared. The Alley stands clear, inviting him to enter again.
Putting a hand to his spectacles to arrange them more firmly on his nose, he mutters to himself, "I'll be back."