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Chapter 4. Loose Ends

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Chapter 4.1 Home at Last

Orion lets himself into the boarding house with his ward key and trudges upstairs to his room. The exertion of the past however many days is beginning to catch up with him. When he reaches the top of the stairs, he hears Madame Garah’s door open.

“Em, is that you?” she calls to him. “Oh, thank Tymora! We thought you had been killed!” She comes out, a lamp in her hand. Orion blinks in the bright light.

“No, I’m fine. I found a job… I was working for Lord Maernos.”

“Lord Maernos! Just look at you! You’re near death! Is that blood on your head? Come on; let’s get you in bed before you fall down. What has Lord Maernos gotten you into?”

Lending him an arm, she guides him towards his room. The young mage is too tired to dissemble. “I went into the Blue Alley to get something for him,” he tells her. “It’s for his temple…”

“I’ve never seen a man so hot for religion!” she says, opening the door. “It’s one thing to give proper worship to the gods, but it’s another thing all together to send young men to their doom in death traps like that Alley.”

She takes his pack and his staff from him, and sits him down on the bed. “You’re lucky to have come out alive. I’ve a good mind to go down to that bank tomorrow and give Maernos a piece of my mind.”

“No, don’t do that. It’s not that bad.” He tries weakly to wave her off, but she persists in fussing over him.

Studying the gash in his head, she pokes at it causing him to wince, and then mutters, “You’ll get a scar out of this one, I just imagine. Let me get some water to clean it up. I’ll be right back.”

She goes out of the room, taking the lamp with her. The darkness falls around him, and it becomes very difficult for him to keep his eyes open. Every time they close, he sees the blue, glowing paving stones of the Blue Alley stretching out in front of him. A snatch of song runs through his head: “All alone, all alone, with the maiden of stone…” He hears Nallana’s voice: “I’ll bet you say that to all the girls.”

“I’ll be back for you, Nall,” he mutters groggily. “I swear it.”

When Madame Garah returns, she finds him stretched across the bed, sleeping soundly.

Voices call to him from the darkness:

“Orion!”

“Orion!”

“We call to thee!”

“Come to us, anointed one!”

In the shadows, he senses an immense power.

“Reach out!”

“Claim the power!”

“We await thee!”

He steps into the darkness and reaches out his hand…

Orion awakes with the dim light of a new morning coming through his window. His robes lie carefully folded over his storage chest, and his boots are placed neatly beside it. Putting a hand to his forehead, he can feel that his head has been bandaged. It feels much better. His stomach growls and he recalls that he has not had a hot meal in some time. He throws back the covers, swings his legs over the edge of the bed, and sits up. A feeling of dizziness washes over him, and he has to close his eyes for a moment before it passes. He stands up slowly, and puts on his robes. He grabs his boots and sits back down on the bed to put them on.

The pitcher by his bed still has some water in it. He pours it out into the basin and splashes some in his face. Smelling his robe, he thinks it could stand a good laundering. He could probably use a bath too, before he goes to see Lord Maernos. First things first, though, he can smell the scent of fresh bread wafting up from Madame Garah’s kitchen. After breakfast and a bath, he will be ready to report to his employer.

He looks down at his backpack and recalls his dream of the night before. “Lord Maernos first,” he thinks, “and then the tome…”

Chapter 4.2 The Moneylender, Redux

“Yes, Master Orion, Lord Maernos will see you right away.” Brisbane bows deferentially towards the young mage and gestures towards the door. His behavior towards Orion is completely altered from their first meeting, and borders on obsequiousness. The change does not appear to have cost him anything in personal feelings, though-as if rudeness and deference were all one to him, just part of his job.

Orion opens the door and steps through. The room is mostly as it was before except that the statue of the dwarf maid has been removed and no longer dominates the top of the desk. Lord Maernos stands, and smiles pleasantly at the wizard. “Come in! Come in, Orion!” He motions towards one of the chairs, “Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I confess I had begun to worry about you. I’m very glad to see that you’ve made it back safely.”

Orion takes a look around the room, and takes a seat in one of the chairs. "Yes it was a little rough through the blue alley, I ended up staying in there a few days extra. " Nodding towards the desk, Orion says, "I see you've been redecorating? Get a new center piece for your desk?"

Maernos seems momentarily confused, but then his face lightens in comprehension, "Ah! You're referring to the statue of Haela Brightaxe! I had just purchased that piece for the temple from a-- um, collector. It's on display there now. Quite a nice piece-- it dates back to the Kingdom of Delzoun before it was overrun by orcs. The lines are not as elegant as the statuary we find in the ancient dwarven nation of Shanatar, but--" He laughs, "But that's not you're here to discuss. Did you find the helm? Was your mission a success?" He sits down behind his desk and leans forward eagerly.

Orion nods his head, and pulls the helm from his bag. He places it on the table, "Yes, I found the helm. And the dwarf..." He chuckles, "Didn't seem to do him much good."

Maernos takes the helm up eagerly, and studies it in fascination. "Yes, this is it! This is certainly the one!" He looks over at

Orion, "You say the dwarf was dead when you found him? I suspected as much..."

Orion waits for Maernos to finish ogling the helm, "So what's so special about this helm?"

Maernos looks away from Orion back to the helm, and turns it slowly in his hands. "It once belonged to the dwarven hero, Kjirin Brightaxe. She was a devotee of Haela Brightaxe, so this will become part of the exhibit with the statue, once I have an expert verify my belief that this was indeed Kjirin's helm."

He sets the helm down on the desk, and smiles at Orion. "You've done the temple a great service. When you're ready to go, I'll have Brisbane withdraw the funds for you. First, though, I would like to hear all about your adventure. You say it was a bit rough, but I'm sure that's a modest understatement. What happened?"

Orion gives Maernos a brief sketch of what happened, leaving out minor details like him getting knocked out by the gravity trap and such embarrassing mishaps. He also leaves out the part about the Tome for now, and goes quickly to the finding of the helm.

"Then I came to the room where the helm was. It was a small room, and on one side the dwarf was lying there, his arms folded across his chest. In the center of the room was a tall statue holding chains. At the end of the chains was a young lady, she was dirty, and was out of her mind. She said that her name was Nallana. I think she might have been married to Keilier Twistbeard. She said she used to be a guard at Piergeiron’s palace. She's on the verge of going mad, if she's not there already. She told me that the statue would come to life and attack anyone who tried to free her. I was too hurt to make the attempt, but I promised her I would come back."

Maernos shakes his sadly. "That poor, poor girl. Keilier must have been insane to do something like that. If you do go back for her, let me know. Perhaps I can enlist someone to go with you."

Orion feels a weight lifted from his shoulders. "Thank you. I would be very grateful for any help. I feel I owe the girl something. She filled my water jug for me, and... and she told me the truth about the statue when it might have been better for her to lie."

"Yes, yes. I understand. Honesty is a rare trait these days, and to tell the truth under such circumstances..."

Orion feels a slight twinge of conscience, and hesitatingly launches into the story about the helm. "There was one thing that happened to me while I was there that was very... disturbing, but at the same time exhilirating..."

Maernos raises one eyebrow, but says nothing.

Orion explains about the dragon door, and the puzzle he had to solve. "...so, after satisfying the dragons in that door, I walked into a long hall with columns running down the center. I heard voices calling my name, and when I investigated further, I found there was a secret door. What was in this room, I still do not know, because it was pitch black, and there was no noise other than the voices I was hearing. As I felt my way around like a blind fool, coming nearer to these voices, I found that they were emanating from a book. I took my prize, and when I finally examined it I found that it was a book that taught a completely different history of Faerun. It is very intriguing, and I have only scratched the surface."

Maernos frowns. "That's curious. You say the book was calling to you?"

Orion nods in agreement, "By name. They also said, 'It is he, the chosen one!'" Orion does his best to imitate the voices.

Maernos raises one eyebrow, "Did it say chosen by whom?"

Orion shakes his head, "No, it didn't.."

"Does it say who wrote the book?"

"I believe it was written by a disciple of Shar."

"Shar?!" Maernos shifts uncomfortably in his seat. "Do you have the book with you now?"

Orion pulls the book out of his pack, and sets it on the table with a loud thump.

Maernos reaches for the book, but thinks twice. Reaching into a drawer in his desk, he pulls out a pair of soft leather gloves and pulls them on. Then he pulls the book round to him and examines the cover. "Yes, this is definitely the symbol of Shar. A purple circle surrounded by black." He flips the cover open to the first page and reads the warning written there out loud: "Those not called: peruse this book at thy peril. Thou hast been warned..."

He grimmaces, then smiles up at Orion and closes the book. "I won't call his bluff. You say that the book offers an alternative version of the history of the world?"

Orion nods, "It's really quite interesting actually."

"I don't doubt it," Maernos nods. "I wish I were able to read it. Without knowing what wards might be on the book I would rather not chance it. My advice to you, though, is to keep this book hidden. You may not be aware of this, but the worship of Shar is forbidden in the city of Waterdeep. Many consider her evil. It's understandable. Darkness represents the unknown, and most people fear that which they do not know."

Orion nods his head, "I've only shown you because I thought you would know something of it. If you like, I could transcribe a brief summary of it for you"

"I would find that quite fascinating. Although I'm a member of the church of Selune, I think it's important to know something about all the gods." Lord Maernos leans back clasps his hands together in front of him, index fingers pressed together and pointing up. His head tilts back, and with the air of a professor delivering a well-practiced lecture, he begins to speak.

"I have made it my life's work to study all the religions of Faern. Each god and goddess is, after all, just a reflection of the One God, Ao. To truly know Him, we must know them all. Each one is just an aspect of him. It is as if His light were passed through a piece of quartz and broken into many different colors. Each color was originally part of that beam of light, but in this world we do not see the light, we see the rainbow. Some colors may not appear as beautiful, or as good, to us as others. In some cases, this may simply be a matter of personal preference; while in other cases, there may be something truly less pleasing about a particular color. Taken as a whole, though, it adds up to a beam of pure white light. We have to learn to see the rainbow in its composite character to achieve true enlightentment."

Lord Maernos brings his attention back to Orion and smiles almost shyly. "Sorry for the didactic tone. That was from a paper I wrote for the Philosophical Society. I firmly believe it, though, and that is why I would be excited to read as much of the book as you would care to transcribe for me."

Orion nods, "I wouldn't mind."

Maernos smiles, "That's great. My knowledge of religion is wide, but it lacks depth. I do, however, have numerous contacts in the different priesthoods, even some that are less than reputable. If you would like to know more of Shar, I can help you by arranging a meeting between you and a priestess of Shar in my acquaintance."

His mood becomes serious, "I have to caution you, though. The Sharrans consider themselves to be guardians of a secret knowledge. If they share that knowledge with you, you must guard it with your life. To betray their secrets would mean your death--and it would not be an easy death. Do not enter into their confidence lightly; because once you journey down that road, there will be no turning back.

"I approached them as a scholar rather than an acolyte, and was able to gain only so much knowledge as they would have the world know of themselves. I was never initiated into the deeper mysteries. Still, I found it a fascinating study." Orion nods, "That seems like it would be quite fascinating indeed...I wouldn't mind if you could go ahead and set the cogs in motion for that."

"I'll do that. Being a member of the Church of Selune, the devoted enemies of Shar, I was amazed at the difference in the way the two clergies present the story of creation. Each views the other as totally evil. Though my loyalty is to Selune, I sometimes find her clergy a bit too narrow-minded. Isn't it more likely that both light and darkness are required in the world? Though they are locked in an eternal struggle, neither could exist without the other. Surely the goddesses themselves realize that...

"I suppose that such a philosophical outlook is not for the True Believers of either faith, though. Partisanship is what makes horse races." He smiles wryly. "If the priests of Selune at the Temple heard me speak thus, they would probably require penance of me, so I trust you'll keep it under your hood."

Maernos pushes the book gently back towards Orion. "Keep it hidden, but keep me informed on your progress with it." "I'll speak to my friend and tell her about you. I'm sure she'll be eager to speak to you."

Orion smiles eagerly, "I too, am eager. Should I come back tomorrow and see what you've been able to come up with?"

Chapter 4.3 At the Temple of Beauty

After leaving the moneylender's, Orion walks across the city over to Sea Ward to visit the Temple of Beauty. The temple isn't new to him; he's seen it plenty of times on his wanderings about the city. It's a great gilded marble monstrosity, L-shaped, with tall, gleaming spires on the corners. Marble statuary decorates the entrances, beautiful nudes of men and women, and one painted statue with fiery red hair that is supposed to be Sune herself.

With such an opulent outside, Orion wonders what the inside must look like. He's never been through the doors before. That's a privilege reserved for the faithful or the very wealthy. Rumor has it that the priests and priestesses engage in orgiastic revels with rich patrons to reward them for their support of the church. The few priestesses of Sune that he's seen looked like they might be as high priced as the building. "I wonder what the body of a dead Sunite priest would be worth to them," he muses. "Hopefully, just gold."

He reaches the front steps, leading up to a set of massive bronze doors richly decorated with low relief carvings of couples intertwined in highly improbable positions. When Orion was living on the streets, it was a favorite pastime of the younger kids to come and stare at the doors, and try to figure out exactly what was going on in the carvings. Some of the finer details are enough to make Orion blush even now if he thinks about them.

On either side of the shining doors, and outshining them, stands a pair of very handsome guards. Their chiseled faces and well defined muscles look like something out of a painting, but they are dressed in an outlandish costume of burnished, decorative bronze breast plates, open-faced bronze helms with dyed purple horsehair crests, long purple capes and sandals. Their bronze shields and weapons look to be more decorative than functional with inlaid silver and shining gems covering them. Both guards stand at attention, looking off into space. Orion chuckles to imagine what the priests of Tempus must think of these dandies. Suppressing the desire to make fun of them, he approaches the one on the right to see if he can gain admittance to the temple. "Let's hope they're no worse than Brisbane," he mutters to himself.

Orion looks at the guard on the right, then smoothes his robes and addresses him. "Greetings, I am Orion. I was recently in the Blue Alley, and found something that I thought might interest one of your priestesses."

The guard glances down at him out of he corner of his eye, and without changing his stance, replies drily, "That doesn't seem very likely."

Pulling the Medallion from the sleeve of his robe, Orion shows it to the guard with a slight sneer, "How likely does it seem now?"

He holds out his hand, "I'll put it in the Lost and Found box for you. Maybe someone will claim it."

Orion holds on to the medallion, getting a little frustrated, "Maybe his mother will claim it. I found it on his corpse."

The guard drops his arm, and looks wearily at Orion. "Corpse, eh? Why didn't you say so?" He sighs. "Hang on a minute, I'll get someone." He reaches up and pulls on a golden cord that hangs from the portico ceiling. Orion hears the clear note of a bell echoing inside the temple.

"They'll be out in a moment. Was there anything on the corpse to identify who it was?" Orion looks at the doors expectantly, and then turns to the guard again, "There is an inscription on the back, to Gavin."

"Gavin, you say!" He calls over to the other guard who has begun inching his way over to hear what's going on. "Did you hear that, Seamus? He says Gavin is lying dead in the Blue Alley!"

Seamus abandons his stealthy approach, and walks straight over. "Really? What coulda killed him?" "What killed him?" the first guard asks Orion.

Orion shrugs nonchalantly, "I did the second time. Looked like he lost a fight against some zombies, and became the new recruit."

The two guards look momentarily shocked. The first one turns to Seamus. "He says he killed him." Seamus looks petulant. "I heard him, Rowan. I'm standing right here, am I not? But I don't think he meant to say that he took his life, just that he laid him to rest, so to speak. Isn't that correct sir?" Seamus gives Orion a friendly smile.

Rowan glares at Seamus. "I know what he meant, Miss Longears. Perhaps, you had better return to your post where you can hear better."

"Don't you talk to me that way, Miss--"

At that moment, a small panel of the brass doors opens up like a postern, and a lovely dark-haired woman steps out. "What's going?" she demands. Her shoulder-length hair frames a soft, round face with pale olive skin and dark red lips. The thin, rose-colored gown she's wearing clings tightly to her hips. It's belted at her waist with a purple sash, loose at the top, and cut to leave her arms bare. Her brown eyes flick impatiently from Rowan to Seamus.

The two guards blush, and Seamus begins to inch back towards his post. Rowan stands at attention and tells her, "Mistress Dhaera, this gentleman says he found something of yo-- of... that belongs to the temple. I thought it might be important." He seems reluctant to tell her anymore. The priestess looks at Orion skeptically, and then at the guard. Something about his attitude seems to convince her that she might want to hear more. She gives Orion a smile, and asks him sweetly, "Won't you come in, dear sir? Let's not stand out on the front porch gossiping like a couple of fishwives." She gives Rowan a pointed look, and then opens the door wider to allow the young wizard to enter.

Orion walks into the temple, taking a second to study his surroundings. "Thank you Ma'am." He is standing in large foyer with a vaulted ceiling. There's a colorful mosaic on the floor of a beautiful woman with brilliant read hair swirling around her head like tongues of flame. The walls are decorated with frescoes showing beautiful nymphs reveling with satyrs and other woodland creatures. One of the nymphs is painted to represent Sune, recumbent upon a bower, dressed in a diaphanous robe and holding up a goblet of wine with a 'come hither' expression on her face. Below the frescoes against the walls are couches with red and purple cushions on them. The priestess guides Orion towards one of these couches, taking his hand and saying, "My name is Dhaera Darklight. Come sit beside me, and tell me what news you have for us."

Orion sits, and looks directly into the eyes of Dhaera. "There's no easy way to put this. So..." He takes the medallion and places it in her hand.

She looks down at it, puzzled and turns it over in her palm. Bringing it up, she studies the inscription. "This belongs to Gavin. Where did you find it?"

Orion sighs, and looks away from the priestess, "I found it on a zombified corpse in the Blue Alley, after it attacked me. There were other zombies behind it, as well as the destroyed remains of a few other zombies. It looked like he died fighting them off, but was then brought down himself." He scratches his chin in thought, "But in my delving of the Alley, I saw no one who was capable of casting a spell to animate the dead. However, there was a statue that radiated very strong magic...perhaps that has something to do with it."

Dhaera's voice quavers, "You found it on a zombie? I don't understand. What would a zombie be doing with Gavin's holy symbol?"

Orion takes Dhaera's hand, "Well, I think it was his body. It was wrapped in robes, and looked every bit the part of a priest..."

Dhaera's hand goes to her mouth. "No! Not Gavin!" she cries. She bursts into tears, and collapses into Orion's arms. Her head is pressed against his breast. He can smell the scent of flowers that clings to her, and feel her soft body against him wracked by sobs. The pitiful sound of her crying echoes through the temple.

Orion's thoughts turn to his own mother, remembering how she died protecting his life, and he puts an arm around the Priestess. "If you would like, I have to return to the Blue Alley soon. I can bring his body back when I leave, though it will be hard for me to move it on my own."

She stops sobbing, and looks up at Orion, hopefully, blinking the tears from her long, dark eyelashes. Her red eyes and tear-stained cheeks only seem to enhance her beauty. "You would do that for me?

"Yes, I would be happy to do that for you."

Dhaera smiles through her tears, "Oh, thank you!" She throws her arms around him and gives him a big hug, then starts to cry again. "Poor Gavin! I can't believe he's gone." She seems to be settling in for a good cry, when suddenly, a soft, musical voice says, "Dhaera, what's wrong? Why do you take on so?" Startled, Orion looks up to see a tall woman with long, reddish-blonde hair, and bright green eyes. She is dressed in a turquoise gown with a peacock green sash wrapped around her waist. The woman looks at Orion coolly. "I have not seen you here before. If you are a new boyfriend of Dhaera's you are off to a bad start, I think." She is flanked by two muscular men dressed in nothing but short kilts and sandals, their bare, muscular torsos gleam in the lamplight as if they've been oiled. Both wear a slightly bemused, half-interested expression.

Taken aback, Orion shakes his head, "N-No, no one's boyfriend. Just the bearer of bad news..." He gently pats Dhaera's back, looking intently at the newcomer.

With a cry of surprise, Dhaera stands up quickly and curtsies to the woman. "No, My Lady, he's not my boyfriend. He brought me news of Gavin." Fresh tears roll down her cheek as she hands the holy symbol to the other priestess. "Gavin was killed in the Blue Alley. His body was raised as a zombie, and this young man destroyed it. The body is still there, but--" she points at Orion-- "he has volunteered to help me recover it. Perhaps Gavin might be returned to this world?"

The priestess looks compassionately at Dhaera. "I am sorry for your loss, child. Do not take too much comfort in such a hope, though. We have not heard from Gavin in over a month. It's quite possible that his spirit has passed beyond recall."

"We can try, though, can't we?" Dhaera asks, dabbing at her eyes with the sleeve of her robe. The priestess throws a glance at Orion, "Do you think it's wise, Dhaera? This 'young man,' as you call him, you don't even know his name."

Orion shrugs, and then folds his hands into the sleeves of his robes as he watches the conversation with interest. "I am Orion. I understand that you have no reason to give me trust, Milady. However, I have no reason to lie, or even be here other than to give this medallion to Lady Dhaera. This is not an item that someone would part with easily. If my help is not needed, I have many other errands to run before my return to the Alley."

"You intend to return with or without Dhaera?"

Orion nods, looking undaunted into the priestesses eyes, "I have other business that I left unfinished there, and I never break my word. I was alone on my first trip, and though it was trying, I'm standing here now."

The woman meets Orion's stare with one of her own. Her beauty is almost devastating, and he senses a power emanating from her. "And your other business, is that something you expect Dhaera to help you with? If so, it would be good if she knew ahead of time what she was getting into."

Orion shrugs again, keeping his hands in his robes to hide the clenching of his fists, "I did not expect Dhaera to come in the first place, nor do I expect her help with my other obligations. I would be more than willing to discuss this issue with you, as it is something I do not yet know enough about, though hopefully I will be able to find more answers in the Guild library." The priestess smiles sweetly, "Then let us talk for a few moments." She turns first to her bodyguard, "Domos, Morhaga, go amuse yourselves for a few minutes while I talk to this young man."

Then to Dhaera, she says, "Go to the Chamber of Artifacts and have Gloria give you the winding sheet. You will need it for Gavin."

Turning back to Orion, she says, "Let us sit here for a moment, and we shall talk. My name, by the way, is Lady Ssaeryl Shadowstar, High Priestess of the Temple of Beauty." She lowers herself gracefully onto the couch and pats the cushions next to her. "Tell me about your business in the Blue Alley."

Orion sits back down on the bench, "As I was exploring the Alley, I came across a young lady who was chained to a statue. She was quite mad, and kept raving about how the statue had killed someone before. I detected strong magic from the statue, as well as a magical spoon that the girl had been provided for sustenance. I managed to get some information from the girl. Her name was Nallana, and she was a guard in Piergeiron's palace, and apparently has been imprisoned there for years. I promised to come back to free her and take her to her family in Daggerford, once I found a way to defeat this statue."

As she listens to his account of himself, an amused light enters Ssaeryl's cat-like eyes. "You are quite the gallant, Sir Orion. A protector and rescuer of women. I suspect you of having a romantic streak." Growing suddenly serious, though, she goes on to say, "I cannot believe that Keilier has had this poor woman chained up in his dungeon all this time. Lord Piergeiron would be most interested to know that, especially if she served as one of his guards. Keilier may find himself unwelcome in Waterdeep when word of this gets out."

Orion looks at Ssaeryl, puzzled, "Keilier is not dead? Hm, perhaps before I take her to Daggerford I will take her to see Lord Piergeiron. Do you know anything of this statue?"

"I have no reason to think he is dead, but, to my knowledge, he has not been seen in the city for several years. At one time I believe he aspired to be one of the Hidden Lords, but was rebuffed. I think his ambitions may have shifted elsewhere.

"As for the statue, I have never been in the Blue Alley, but what you describe sounds like some sort of construct. Its powers would depend on the sort of material from which it is made, but I'm afraid that's all I know about them, except they are said to be very powerful. Consulting the Guild library would be your best option. I would go myself, but I believe it is best not to attract Keilier's attention. He might not react well if someone of power enters his little maze, and who knows what contingencies he has placed upon it. When you know more about the guardian, you may come back and I will do what I can to make sure you are well equipped to deal with it."

Orion nods, "Thank you for your assistance, Milady. I will go to the academy right away. Let Dhaera know that I will come back for her later tonight, so that we may go finish this task. She does not have to go any further than her...friend's...body, if she does not wish."

"I will leave that to her, but knowing her romantic nature, I would probably have to chain her to a wall to keep her from helping you," Ssaeryl smiles, and rises gracefully from the couch. "It will take all my authority to keep her from running off before you get back. Return as soon as possible and I will be prepared to assist you in anyway I can." She takes Orion's hand, and presses it. He feels a shock go through his arm, and warmth spreads up from his chest into his face. "Go with Sune, Orion." The priestess turns, and her gown swirls about her as she leaves the young wizard standing alone in the foyer.

Chapter 4.4 The Guilded Mage

Orion walks down the long aisles of books in the Wizards' Guild Library, looking for the section on constructs and golems. Finding it, he selects three likely looking sources, and carries them to a table to page through them. In the book, The Various Stone Golems and Their Construction, he finds the following passage:

Stone is one of the most common materials used in the construction of golems. The carving of stone is an ancient art well known in the ancient kingdoms of the Elder Races, as well as in the early empires of the humans.

(Orion skims through a long-winded discussion of the history of stonework to find where the author comes back to the subject of golems.)

Stone golems may be classified according to their size and powers. A typical stone golem stands 9 ft tall, and may be carved in almost any shape, although it is most often presented as a humanoid of some kind. They are most often used as guardians, but can also be commanded to perform tasks that do not require fine motor skills. They are excellent at excavating and lifting heavy objects.

As a guardian, the stone golem attacks with its fists, and is able to see very well in low-light conditions. It is immune to all magical effects, except for transmutation spells that effect stone. Transmute rock to mud will temporarily slow a stone golem, while its opposite, transmute mud to rock, will repair all damage that the stone golem has suffered. Transmute stone to flesh will not actually change the stone golem to flesh, but will render his surface more susceptible to damage.

All other magicks have no effect on these creatures. They are truly the bane of arcanists. They can only be brought down by beating them into pieces, and then the weapon used must be forged of adamantine or enchanted in order to have any noticeable effect. If it were possible to generate certain effects such as fire or electricity with the same intensity as that generated by a magical spell, the stone golem would be affected, but only to the same extent as a stone wall of similar thickness. For example, a stone golem dropped into molten lava would be destroyed just as quickly as a stone wall of the same weight and size. The problem, of course, is in generating such an effect by non-magical means.

One of the most remarkable abilities of stone golems is the ability to slow their opponents by means of the spell of that name. The stone golem does not cast the spell as a wizard would, but is imbued with the spell so that it is triggered periodically during combat. The method by which this is done is detailed below where I discuss the means of constructing such golems.

Greater stone golems are simply larger versions of the stone golem. A typical specimen might stand as high as 18 feet. By virtue of their size, they are much more difficult to destroy, but their magical immunities are no different. The slowing effect, however, is said to be much more potent.

Lesser stone golems, often referred to as stone guardians, are constructed of mud and brick. They usually stand about 6 feet high, and have a rounded stone in the center of their chest. At its time of creation, the stone guardian is keyed to a ring, also forged by the creator, and it will recognize anyone wearing the ring as a friend, not to be attacked.

Stone guardians do not possess the same degree of magical immunity as typical stone golems. Not having a brain or life force, they are immune to mind-affecting spells, and all necromantic effects. Poisons, diseases, and such do not affect them. They are also resistant to fire, cold and electricity.

Stone guardians are often imbued with the ability to see invisible creatures, but they do not possess the slowing effect of their greater brethren.

Perhaps the most unusual of all stone golems is the caryatid column. This construct has the form of a caryatid, a column carved in the shape of a beautiful woman, but it is in fact a type of stone golem. While a normal caryatid is most often used to support temple roofs, a caryatid golem would not be able to move if it were serving such a function. It may be disguised as a load bearing support, but the architect will have provided other supports for the roof, so that the caryatid golem is free to perform its function as a guardian.

The caryatid column is usually about 7 feet tall. It has the same magical immunity of a regular stone golem, but instead of being slowed or made more vulnerable by transmutation spells that affect stone, it is instantly destroyed by them. It is, however, more resistant to those spells, and only enchanted weapons can harm it.

The caryatid column's sole function is to serve as a guardian. To that end, it is armed with a magical, steel longsword that appears to be stone until the caryatid is activated. The caryatid is also able to see in the dark, but it cannot see invisible creatures.

The most devastating property of caryatids is their extreme hardness. Weapons that strike them are subject to shatter into small pieces. This can happen even to magical weapons, leaving a warrior facing a most deadly foe with no weapon.

(At this point the text drifts into a discussion of the use of animate object on statues and why such objects do not qualify as true constructs. Subsequent chapters contain formulas, spells and instructions for creating the different types of stone golems.)

"It is most likely a caryatid column then," Orion thinks to himself, closing the book. "This may well be tougher than I thought. Who knew it would be so resistant to magic?"

Leaning forward over the desk, he folds his arms into his robes, and dwells on the creature's strengths and possible weaknesses. "If I could approach it while invisible, I might be able to free the girl using a spell of opening without it attacking me. The transmutation spells that would destroy it outright are beyond my powers, although I might try casting them from a scroll… It would perhaps be well to have that as a backup option, but if the spell fails, then I would have to fight it, not an attractive prospect."

He sits in contemplation for a short while before rising to leave the library. On the way out of the guildhall, he stops at the scriptorium and alchemy lab to purchase supplies. He sighs somewhat over the expense, but the challenge of destroying or outwitting such a powerful foe is an added incentive to keep his word to Nallana.

It is late afternoon by the time Orion makes it back to the Temple of Beauty. The two guards give him no trouble when he requests to speak to Lady Shadowstar. He soon finds himself sitting on a blue velvet cushion in one of the inner chambers of the temple. Lady Ssaeryl sits next to him on the cushion, far too close to be comfortable. He can feel the warmth of her body beneath the thin gossamer robe she wears, and she casually leans against him during their conversation. She has a disconcerting habit of trying to hold his gaze with her emerald eyes. The attempted seduction seems completely unconscious, as if it is second nature to her. He steels himself inwardly against her charms.

"So, you have a plan for how you intend to rescue your damsel in distress?" Ssaeryl asks. Orion addresses the priestess. "Yes, my plan is to free the female while invisible, then I will try another spell that will hopefully destroy the statue for good, otherwise, it might be a quick flight out."

"What happens if you have to stand and fight?" the priestess asks.

Orion shrugs, "I don't plan on staying to fight. The goal is to free the girl, I will try to destroy the golem, but failing that we will have to fall back to the exit. Neither myself nor do I think Dhaera has the fighting skill to take that thing on toe-to-toe.

"I will free the girl first, and then Dhaera can take the girl to relative safety. Then I will stay to fight the golem, leaving only if I have to."

"How brave of you!" Her eyes shine at him. "I can place an enchantment on your weapons in case you find yourself left with no choice but to fight."

"Will you be able to make Dhaera invisible? What about Nallana?"

Orion smiles at the Priestess, "I can make one of them invisible. But hopefully Dhaera won't even have to walk in the room unless things go very wrong."

"I can give her a potion to drink, just in case. We keep supplies here at the temple." She smiles. "Dhaera is too sweet a girl to lose to something like that. You will take care of her, won't you?"

"I will make sure that she makes it back here."

"In better shape than Gavin..." she raises an eyebrow at him.

Orion shrugs, "I can not predict the future, but I do know that I will do everything in my power to make sure that she comes back alive."

Ssaeryl places a hand on Orion's arm and leans forward to kiss him on the cheek. "Very well, I will consider that a promise." She leans back and smiles at him. "Speaking of Gavin, I have allowed Dhaera to borrow a special item belonging to the temple. It is a winding sheet that will make it easier for you to carry Gavin's corpse. She will show you how to use it. You will find it much easier to flee carrying him in this manner."

Orion nods, "That sounds good, is she ready to go?"

Ssaeryl throws back her head, laughing and running a hand through her long, red tresses. She smiles mischievously at Orion, and says, "It took all my authority and a good stout rope to keep her from running off by herself after you left. She is definitely ready. I will go untie her so that you two can leave."

She offers Orion her hand so that he can help her up, and after rising from her seat leads him out of the room into a larger area of the temple having a high ceiling and decorated with plants. High stained glass windows let in colorful beams of light, and on cushioned benches arranged among the plants sit couples deep in intimate conversations.

Her bodyguards stand guard outside the door of the smaller chamber. She turns to one of them, "Domos, go tell Lady Dhaera that her escort is here, and she may leave with him now." Turning to the other, she says, "Morhaga, will you see Gloria and ask her for an invisibility potion? Tell her it is for Lady Dhaera by my orders. Thank you, gentlemen." She smiles flirtatiously at them, and they bow to her, smiling, before going off on their errands. Seeing the look of familiarity that passes between her and the two men, it occurs to Orion that the term "bodyguard" is probably very literal in this case. Any sense he had of having received special attention from the priestess evaporates. It is apparent that this is her usual way of speaking to men.

In a few moments, he hears a voice calling to him, "Orion! Thank Sune you have returned!" The Lady Dhaera runs to him from across the room, followed more slowly by Domos. She takes his hands in hers, looking up at him sadly with her wide, brown eyes. "I thought you had left for good." She seems on the verge of tears. Instead of the colorful gown she wore earlier in the day, she has on a demurely cut, black gown of heavy cotton. She appears to be in mourning. Over the gown is a chain shirt, and she has a buckler strapped to her left arm, and a small satchel slung over one shoulder.

"There, there, Dhaera. I told you he would return." Lady Ssaeryl places a caressing hand on her shoulder. "She's too sensitive," she says to Orion. "It's part of her charm." She hugs Dhaera to her with one arm.

Dhaera wipes away a tear, and smiles at Orion. "I am very glad to see you."

A little startled by the overload of emotion that has hit him since entering the temple, Orion caresses her hand, "Well, that is good to know. Let's get going, the sooner we can get Gavin and Nallana back, the sooner we can unravel this mystery."

"Before you go, each of you should hand me your weapon." Ssaeryl takes Orion's staff first, and holds it up in the air while reciting an invocation. "Oh, Sune Firehair! Our Lady of Love and Beauty! Bestow your favor upon this weapon, and help its wielder strike true against his enemies." A red glow surrounds the staff, and slowly seeps into the wood. When she hands it back to him, Orion can feel the power coursing through it.

"And now yours, Dhaera." Ssaeryl holds out her hand to the young priestess, and Dhaera begins to undo the sash around her waist. The blood slowly creeps up into Orion's face as he wonders exactly what sort of weapon the priestess uses. She hands the sash to Ssaeryl, though, and the high priestess repeats the invocation holding up the sash.

Orion looks on with interest, always eager to watch magic in action. "The enchantment will last for at least a half day," Ssaeryl explains.

Morhaga returns carrying a small vial in a leather cover. Ssaeryl takes it from him and hands it to Dhaera. "Orion will explain what this is for." Giving each one a kiss on the forehead to see them off, the high priestess wishes them well, and turns to go, offering an arm to Morhaga and the other one to Domos. The three of them walk away side by side, leaving Orion and Dhaera alone. Dhaera looks up at Orion, smiling eagerly. "I shall follow you."

Orion nods, and briefly explains the plan for when they enter the Blue Alley. "I hope to be able to free Nallana without having to do battle with the statue. It will be up to you to help her escape, though, if I have to stand and fight." Dhaera's eyes shine up at him with admiration. Orion gathers his things, and leads her out of the temple onto the streets of Waterdeep.

Chapter 4.5 Return to the Blue Alley

The sun has sunk below the west wall, and twilight has spread across the city when they reach the Blue Alley. A stray dog foraging in a trash pile by the side of Ivory Street growls at them as they pass. Dhaera edges closer to Orion. They arrive at the entrance to the Blue Alley. The blue light of the flagstones glows eerily in the darkness marking the way into the dungeon.

"Is this it?" Dhaera’s voice quavers.

Orion looks back to Dhaera and smile reassuringly, "Yes, this is it. Don't be afraid, we only have to get in and out quickly, and hopefully there haven't been any new additions since I left a couple of days ago."

Suddenly Orion hears a low, sinister laugh echoing down the alleyway, and a dry, sarcastic voice says, "Welcome to the Blue Alley."

Orion calls out into the darkness, "Keilier, I do not fear you. Stay in the shadows where you belong. What you have done here is wrong, and I will right it." He takes his staff and strides confidently into the alley, not looking back to see if Dhaera is following.

Dhaera hesitates for only a moment before following Orion into the dungeon. "Is that him?" she whispers. "Is that the man who has the girl chained up? Is he the one who turned Gavin into a... zombie?"

Orion nods, whispering softly back to Dhaera. "I believe so. He is the proprietor of the dungeon, that I know for sure." Orion reaches into his belt pouch and pulls out his spectacles. He fits them onto the bridge of his nose, and peers ahead into the darkness for any sign of movement.

Seeing nothing, he continues forward slowly with Dhaera following him, until they come to the end of the open section where it enters the enclosed corridor that runs left and right. Ahead of them is the stone carving Orion remembers so well, its face a mask of terror. Inside the open mouth, he sees the glint of gold.

Orion walks past the statue, working his way first to the body of Gavin. As he notes the glint he turns to Dhaera, "Leave that be, it's our ticket out." He then continues on confidently, towards the hallway where he fought the zombies.

Dhaera looks at the carving suspiciously, but gives it a wide berth. As the two of them enter the corridor to the left, they can still hear the dog growling back out on Ivory Street. Orion leads the priestess cautiously down the halls, making several turns and passing the stairway where he encountered the reverse gravity trap, until he comes to the door that opens into the zombie corridor. It is closed.

Orion stops, and puts his hand to his chin, pondering. "I left this door open when I was last here, so someone has been traipsing around. Be on guard."

Dhaera swallows nervously, and loosens the sash at her waist. "Do you think we might encounter something beyond the door?"

Orion shrugs, "Maybe not beyond this door, but it seems that something has been going on. Keilier did not address me like that when I entered the first time, and he is a powerful wizard. Be prepared for anything, and if it gets rough, make sure you get back to the temple alive." With that, he tightens the grip on his staff, and steps forward.

As he reaches for the door, Dhaera puts her hand to an amulet she wears around her neck, and mutters a soft prayer. "Sune, Lady of Beauty and Joy, grant us your blessing in the trials we face." Orion pushes down the handle on the door, and pulls it towards him. Beyond the door there is a sudden flash of magic, and standing in the hall before him among the fallen zombie corpses are two large rats with glowing red eyes.

Orion stumbles backward in surprise. Dhaera gasps, and he feels her hand in his back. She calls out in a quavering voice, "Sune! Give him strength!" A warmth floods Orion's body, and his muscles flex and bulge beneath his robes. He steps forward confidently, and swings his quarterstaff at the nearest of the two vicious looking rats. The staff connects with its skull, and sends the rat spinning. It slams against the corridor wall, and lies in a heap with blood running from its ears.

Orion grins in satisfaction at the effect of his swing. The grin becomes a grimace when the other rat leaps at him and nips him on the calf. There is a purple flash and a loud snap as Dhaera whips the rat with her sash. The rat cowers in pain. Orion strikes at it with the butt of his staff but misses. He tries to step, and feels his foot tangled in one of the bodies on the floor. Looking down, he sees a decayed hand gripping his ankle. He shakes it loose, but suddenly the body begins to rise from the floor.

As he steps back in disgust, the rat leaps at him again. Its fangs sink into his flesh. At that moment, Orion's ears are pierced by a bloodcurdling scream that echoes through the corridor. He wheels around to see what has happened, and sees Dhaera cower back through the doorway, looking in horror at a zombie rising up off the floor in front of her. It's Gavin.

"No! No! No!" she sobs. "It's me, Gavin! Don't you know me?" Its head lies over on its shoulder and the flesh hangs loose from its face where Orion bashed it before. The creature looms over her, raising a fist up into the air, it brings it down straight at her skull. The fist strikes her, throwing her head back against the stone wall. She cries out in pain and fear.

Behind her, Orion hears footsteps racing up the corridor. A shadowy figure appears in the doorway, there's a flash of steel, and a sword point thrusts through the zombie's flesh. "I've got this one," the newcomer yells, "you get the other one, Skinny Legs."

Looking up at her rescuer in confusion and gratitude, Dhaera pulls herself together and clutches at the holy symbol around her neck. Straightening up, she holds out her other hand in a sign of rejection, and intones, "In the name of Sune, I command you. Back, foul creatures!" The zombies are blown back as if by a wind, and fall to the ground like rag dolls.

Orion swings his staff, and bashes the other rat smacking it against the wall to lie with the other one. Suddenly, the two bodies begin to smoke, and in a flash of flame they disappear.

Orion laughs as the combat ends, feeling the adrenaline begin to fade. He looks up and says, "Is that all you have Keilier? You will have to do better than that."

Marcellus follows Orion's gaze, looking at the ceiling. "Who in the bloody hell are you talking to? Gone mad already, have we?"

Orion looks down, "Keilier, the one who runs this little maze." He then turns his attention to Dhaera, walking over to her, "Are you alright?"

"Y-yes. I think so. I'm sorry... It wasn't what I expected. He looked so... so ugly." She shivers in disgust.

Orion can see a black bruise beginning to form on her forehead. She puts a hand gingerly to the back of her head where she hit the wall, and looks at the blood on her fingers. "That hurt."

"Looks like I got here just in time," Marcellus grins.

Dhaera looks at him uncertainly. "Yes, thank you. I take it you two are friends?" She gives Orion puzzled look. "You didn't mention that we would have help.

Orion nods, "You could say that. We go way back." He then eyes Mark curiously, "Though I do not know why he was following us, or why he thought it was necessary to hide his presence until now."

Marcellus laughs. "You didn't think I was gonna let you haul all the loot out of here by yourself, did you?"

Orion shakes his head, "Still Mark, you didn't have to be so....ambigous about it." He then looks back over to Dhaera, "Are you ok to continue? We need to get Gavin in this sheet and get out of here."

Marcellus looks slightly irritated, but doesn't reply. Instead, he turns to Dhaera and gives her a slight bow, "My name is Marcellus. And you are..."

"Dhaera..." the priestess replies weakly. She closes her eyes and presses a hand to her forehead. "I don't feel so well." Leaning against the wall, she slowly slides down into a kneeling position. Head bowed, she whispers a prayer to Sune, "Lady of Love and Beauty, heal my wounds. Make me whole again." Her hand glows with white light, and the wound on her forehead closes. Standing up unsteadily, she says, "I can go on now. I will show you how to use the shroud."

She reaches into her satchel and removes a white sheet with arcane symbols embroidered on it in gold thread. Spreading the sheet out on the flagstones of the corridor, she tells the two men, "Pick him up and place him on the sheet."

Orion nods towards Gavin's body, "He's an old friend of hers, we're taking his body back to the temple of Sune, where they hope they can save him." He then situates himself to move the decomposed body onto the sheet, waiting for Marcellus.

Marcellus moves slowly into position, turning Orion's words over in his mind. He helps him lift the body onto the sheet, wrinkling his nose at the awful stench. When they are done, he steps next to Orion, and whispers, "What sort of reward is the temple giving you for this? Gonna cut me in on a share?"

Orion shakes his head whispering back, "We haven't talked about a reward, just lending a hand." He then looks over at Dhaera, "What next?"

Marcellus says nothing, but frowns slightly and looks from Orion to Dhaera and back.

Dhaera kneels beside Gavin's body, wincing at the smell, and begins to fold the sheet over him. Once she has the body covered up, she folds the sheet in half as if there were nothing in it. Marcellus raises his eyebrows in surprise. She continues folding the sheet until it is about twelve inches square, and puts it back into her satchel.

"I am ready now," she says to Orion. Her face is set in an expression of grief.

"Nice trick," Marcellus mutters. Turning to Orion, he asks, "Where to now?"

Orion chuckles, "That does make things a lot easier, now only one more thing to do..." With that done, he gathers his staff and looks over to Marcellus, "There is one more thing that I need to do here, there is a lady being held prisoner. She is guarded by a powerful magical statue, one which is immune to most magic, and only vulnerable to magic weapons. It will be dangerous, and there is little chance at a reward, so you do not have to come if you do not feel up to it."

Marcellus gives Orion an incredulous look. "No reward? Are you yankin' my leg? What are you here for then? Are you trying to tell me that you've come on an errand of mercy out of the goodness of your heart? Who the hell do you think you're talking to?"

Laughing, Orion looks directly at Marcellus, "I know who I'm talking to. I didn't ask you to follow me, and I didn't ask you to continue on. I'm here because rewards aren't always based on the weight of gold. You are here now so you can come if you are willing, if not, the way out is right that way," He motions towards the entrance with his staff.

The thief's face turns red with anger. "Women are a dime a dozen in Waterdeep, even pretty ones like this here," he nods towards Dhaera. "I can't believe you would come in here risking your life for nothing more than a bit of fluff."

Dhaera's eyes go wide with indignation. "Fluff?" She draws herself up regally. "I am a priestess of Sune," she says, haughtily, "trained in the book of A'Kballa da Zhameer Nafu! One night with me and you would be like a dog on a leash, panting to do my every bidding. All other women would seem to you pale imitations of the sex beside me. No man may have me as a reward for services rendered, though, unless I choose him from the desire of my heart." She looks at Orion uncertainly and continues. "That is not why your friend is here. He has a soft place in his heart for women in distress, and he has come to help me... and this other lady who has been chained up for so many years."

Orion steps in between the two, eyeing Marcellus, "Listen Mark, I made that girl a promise, and you should know that I never make a promise I don't intend on keeping. As for this," he motions to the priestess, "This is not out of my way, and I've already been here once. It's not just about the reward but the challenge. Not to mention that fighting a construct will be quite the experience, and not something that many people can do and live."

Marcellus seems about to make an angry retort, but then he just shrugs his shoulders. "Whatever," he growls. "I'm staying. Since you're not interested in a reward, I suppose that means I can keep whatever treasure I find for myself. Do you have a plan for how to kill this statue you're going up against?"

Orion nods, "I do. I will free the girl, then you and Dhaera will bring her to the exit. Once she is out of the way, I will destroy the statue and meet you there. Then we will be home free."

"Won't it attack us before we can get out?"

"No, I was in the room with her for quite some time and it did not animate. You will wait for the girl at the doorway, I will make it so that the girl won't be seen by the statue. Once she gets to the doorway, she will have to follow the two of you."

Dhaera speaks from the doorway where she has moved. Her shoulders are slumped, and she looks tired. "I have a potion that the high priestess gave me to turn me invisible. I am sorry, Marcellus, but I only have the one. Perhaps you should hide in the corridor outside the room while we go in."

"Yeah, I'll do that." He steps to one side, and motions to Orion. "Lead on."

Looking down the hallway, Orion thinks back to his last trip here for a few seconds, then starts on the quickest path to the Caryatid. He turns to the others, "This way, let's go."

Orion steps through the doorway, and turns right through an archway into a hall the parallels the zombie corridor. A stariway leads up. He's about to place his foot on the first step when a painful memory strikes him, and he hesitates. This is the stairway that had the reverse gravity trap on it. It triggered when he stepped on one of the center steps.

Orion turns around, "Mark, will you check these stairs? They were trapped last time I came through." He then walks back a couple of paces to stand with Dhaera, giving Mark room to work.

Marcellus looks skeptically at the stairs. "What sort of trap was it? Where was the trigger?"

Orion shrugs, "Don't remember, I woke up on the ground."

"It sounds like a magical trap. Can't you see it the way you were able to see the one..." he glances at Dhaera, "the other one that time?"

Orion nods, and let's the words of magic run through his mind until he feels the power burn in his veins, with a wave of his hand he mutters, "Tect Magi".

The entire corridor glows with a magical dweomer from the eerie blue light that is the trademark of the dungeon. After studying the stairway for a moment, though, he makes out a much stronger dweomer on the center stair. "Fourth step from the bottom," he tells Marcellus.

Marcellus unshoulders his pack, and walks up the stairway to kneel down beside the third step. He begins to test the trap, prodding at it gently with a crowbar pulled from his pack.

Orion turns to Dhaera, "So was Gavin your brother?"

Dhaera looks at Orion in surprise. "My brother? No! No... he was my lover. I'm sorry... I thought you knew that." She looks away sadly.

Orion laughs, "I thought as much, just didn't want that to be my first guess. You think you'll be able to bring him back?"

Dhaera's shoulders sag at the sound of Orion's laughter. "Lady Ssaeryl did not seem very hopeful," she replies in a whisper.

Orion pats her softly on the back, "Well, at least you can truly put him to rest. I'm sure Sune is showing him quite the time."

Dhaera seems about to pull away from Orion's touch, when two things happen. A loud clang comes from the steps where Marcellus is working on the steps, and they hear him excalim, "Oh, shit!" Then, suddenly, the floor just seems to let go of their feet, and the two fall headlong into the ceiling. They land with a thud, and Dhaera cries out in pain. Orion has the wind knocked out of him. Suddenly, the force holding them to the ceiling lets go, and they fall back to the floor.

"Are you guys okay?!" Orion looks up to see Marcellus perched on the top step. "Sorry about that. I dropped the crowbar, and it triggered the trap. I only barely escaped getting caught in it myself."

Orion shrugs, "I'm fine." He gets up and brushes off his robes, then offers to help Dhaera up. "You alright?"

Refusing his hand, Dhaera rises shakily to her feet. "I am alright. Just bruised and shaken." She steps away from him with a slight limp. Standing now as far as she can from the stairwell, she leans against the wall holding her sides. Her face turned away from Orion. It's obvious that she's in pain.

"Well... I'm really sorry guys." Marcellus calls down. "That looked like it hurt. The good news is that I think I've figured out how to avoid the trap. Just step over the fourth step."

"Oh... " he adds, "could you bring my stuff up to me when you come? It's there at the bottom of the steps." Orion sees the crowbar and pack lying on the floor with a few of the tools spilled out of it.

Orion gathers the thief's gear, and walks up the stairs, skipping the fourth step. He then waits for Dhaera at the top of the stairs.

The priestess walks slowly up the steps, holding her side. She very carefully steps over the fourth step and walks up to stand beside Orion and Marcellus.

Marcellus grins uncertainly at the other two. "Nothing broken then? Good, good." He collects his tools from Orion, and then steps aside to let him pass. "After you."

Orion looks back to Dhaera, "Do you need to rest, there is worse fighting up ahead."

The young priestess leans against the wall, as tears roll down her cheeks. "I just want to get this over with and get out of here. You said we wouldn't have to fight the statue."

Orion nods, "I don't think we will. But I don't know what we will meet inbetween there. You have what you came for, you can leave now.

Dhaera's shoulders straighten, and she wipes away the tears. "No, I won't abandon you. You helped me retreive Gavin, and I owe you for that. Give me just a moment to catch my breath."

She runs her fingers through her desheveled hair and shakes out some of the tangles. Pulling a water bottle and a rag from her satchel, she takes a drink of water and then wets the rag and uses it to wipe her face and arms. "I feel a little better now. Pray, let's continue."

Orion nods, turns and begins walking down the hallway, towards the statue, "I'm ready to get out of here myself."

Chapter 4.6 Statue of Limitations

The corridor makes a right turn just beyond the stairway, and he follows it to another set of stairs that go downwards, curving around to the left. At the top is a short corridor and another set of steps that descend back to the right. From there, the corridor goes forward ten feet, before turning to the right again. The party arrives at the arched entrance of a medium-sized room.

The room is empty, and has no apparent exits, but Orion recalls the secret door he found when he was here before. It was in the far corner of the room and led to Nallana's prison. He goes to the corner where the secret door was, and presses on the broken corner of stone where he found the trigger before. The wall pivots inward making a grinding noise, and he can see into the room where Nallana was chained to the caryatid.

Everything is as it was before, except that the dead bodies are missing. Nallana lies in a heap on the other side of the room, sleeping. She wakes up with a start at the sound of the door opening, and cries out, "Who's there?"

Orion glances back over his shoulder towards his two companions. Dhaera is hanging back just a few steps, but at the sound of Nallana's voice she moves closer to get a look. Marcellus cannot be seen.

Orion whispers into the room softly, "Nall, it's me...Orion, I came back like I promised." He then looks around, "Mark where are you at? Did you see him go somewhere Dhaera?"

Dhaera looks back over her shoulder, and whispers, "I thought he was right behind me." She steps to the center of the room, so she can look back into the corridor they just exited, and calls softly, "Marcellus?" His voice echoes back through the hallway, "In here! I found something!"

From the caryatid room, Orion hears Nallana call out in a strained voice, "Orion? I... you came back?"

Orion calls back to Nallana, "Yes, I told you I would. Stay still and stay quiet for me, and I'll be right there ok?" He then turns to Dhaera, "Dhaera, stay here with the girl, keep her calm, I'm going to go see what Mark found."

Dhaera walks cautiously to the door and peers in. After assessing the situation, she moves into the room, and out of Orion's sight. Meanwhile, the young mage walks back to the corridor, looking for Marcellus. When he gets there, he sees that a portion of the wall on his right is swung inward near the corner. Looking through the opening, he sees a small room with a fire place in the far corner. There are two plush chairs on either side of the fireplace, and between them is a table with a small bowl on it. On the righthand wall is a shelf filled with books. Marcellus is busy pulling them off the shelf, rifling through them and dropping them on the floor. He glances over his shoulder at Orion, "There has to be something of value here."

Orion nods, and begins looking through the books on the floor.

"Oh, I've searched those already," Marcellus says. "You won't find anything in them. They're just books."

Orion chuckles, "I like books."

"Waste of time," Marcellus mutters, "but whatever." He continuous his pilfering of the shelf, while Orion sits down next to the growing stack of books in the floor, looking at titles, and flipping through the pages. The first one he picks up is titled, A Short History of Waterdeep, the City of Splendors.

He sets that one aside, and begins to go through the rest of them, glancing up occasionally to see if Marcellus has found anything. Most of the books appear to be on history, but there is one on the biological classification of animals and magical beasts, and a couple more on abstract philosophical topics in metaphysics. Of the history books, the most interesting are one written in the ancient language of Netheril, and another that appears to be in Espruar, the language of the elves. The former absorbs his interest for several minutes. His study is broken when Marcellus shoves a roll of papers at him, and asks, "What do you make of these?"

Orion studies them for a few minutes, but is unable to comprehend the writing, except that it appears to contain the formula for a spellcasting of some sort. Orion says, "I believe these are magical scrolls." He sets the two interesting books on the small table, then sets the scrolls on top of them and continues to search the rest of the room very thoroughly.

Next to the books on the table is a small bowl with some type of nuts in it. Beneath the table is a small wooden box. Orion points to the box, "Hey Mark, look at that!"

Marcellus has finished going through the books, and is examining the shield over the fireplace. He looks down at the box beneath the table and nods. "Yeah, grab it. It's kinda small, but it might have gems in it or something."

Orion looks at the shield, "You gonna take that as well?" He then puts the box, books, and scrolls into his pack, and gives the room one final look. He grabs a handful of nuts and slips them into his belt pouch.

Marcellus shrugs and answers sourly, "What do I need with a copper shield?" He appears to be becoming frustrated by his inability to find anything of real value in the room.

Orion shrugs, "Could be magic. We can take it now and find out later when we pool together the loot, or you can leave it and never know."

Marcellus scowls, but reaches up and unhooks the shield. The face is polished so that he can see his reflection in it for a moment. He unshoulders his pack and stuffs it down in it. "Might as well."

Orion chuckles, "You ready to finish this?"

"Yeah, screw it. Let's get your girl and go. This place is worthless."

Orion nods and enters the room. He sees Dhaera sitting on the floor behind Nallana pulling a comb through her hair and talking to her in a soothing voice. Nallana's head is tilted back and her eyes are closed in pleasure. It appears that Dhaera must have washed her face too, although some grime is still visible around her neckline. She looks much better than she did on his last visit. With a good soaking in a tub, and some clean clothes she might even be pretty.

Orion looks up at the caryatid, then down to Dhaera, "Nallana, are you ready?"

Nallana opens her eyes and looks at him, still smiling. "Are you really going to free me?"

"I just want out of here. After that..." she shrugs helplessly.

Dhaera looks up at Orion, her large eyes full of pity. "She can stay with me at the temple. We will help her get back on her feet." She gently strokes Nallana's hair with the palm of her hand." She's been through so much. She needs a safe place where she can rest for awhile."

Orion nods, "Ok. That will be good. But like Nall said, let's focus on getting out of here first. Nall, I am going to make you invisible, so that the statue cannot see you. I will then make myself invisible, so that I can fight the statue. Once you are free of the chains, I want you to run out of that door and straight to Dhaera. Grab her hand so that she knows you are there," He then looks up to Dhaera, "Once she grabs your hand, take her back the way you came, and go directly to the Temple. Mark will cover my escape, and I will come by when I get out. Ok?"

Dhaera frowns, "I was going to drink a potion of invisibility also. I suppose I can wait until she reaches me and then drink it." She stands up and squeezes Nallana's shoulder. "I will wait for you at the door. Run as fast as you can when the chains are off."

Nallana rises to her feet. "I am ready."

Dhaera hurries to the door, and waits for the battle of wits to begin.

Closing his eyes, Orion feels the fire of magic begin to feed into his veins. He lays his hand on Nallana, and whispers the words to turn her Invisible. "Invisibilitas!" Once she disappears, he stands back, and casts the same spell again on himself. As he fades out of sight, he reaches into his pack and fumbles around for his scroll case. He slips the knock scroll out of it, unrolling it with much haste. The scroll is invisible, just as he is, and he's unable to read it. Kneeling, he sets it down on the floor and flattens it out. Once out of his hands, the scroll becomes visible again. He reads it aloud, and points his finger at the assembly of chains. "Absolvi!"

As the chains on her ankles shatter, a transformation begins to take place in the statue. The stone, becomes supple, and almost fleshlike. The sword carved on its side becomes an actual blade sheathed in a scabbard. The stone maiden, reaches for the hilt and pulls the blade in one fluid motion. Nallana screams. The one chain still attached to her neck lashes around wildly, its metallic clanging echoing around the room.

Orion smiles as the battle begins in earnest, pushing his body to spit out magic as fast as it can, he slides the other knock scroll on the ground, and quietly recites the words, pointing at the remaining lock. Once the magic leaves his body, he quickly steps into the far corner away from the door.

The lock shatters, and the caryatid steps down off its pedestal in front of the door, swinging its sword at the place where Orion stood only seconds before. There's a loud clang when the blade strikes the flagstones. The statue straightens back up, and scans the room, looking for any sign of an intruder.

Nallana cries, "I can't get out. It's blocking the door!"

Orion yells back, "Nallana, stand still, wait for your opportunity, and be quiet so that it cannot hear you!" He then begins casting a transmutation spell on the statue, reading from another scroll. It is a difficult casting, much stronger magic than he has ever wielded before. He calls forth the dweomer from the page, hurling the spell at the statue. It staggers backwards, throwing both arms up into the air to ward off the magic. For a moment it looks as though the casting will succeed, but the statue straightens up and its eyes fasten on Orion, no longer invisible after attacking the statue. He quickly scurries to the opposite side of the room, as the statue moves toward him. The sword comes down inches from his back and clangs on the floor behind him.

Orion pulls the final scroll out of his case with a silent prayer that this time it will work. He steps back away from the statue and begins to read the lines, willing the magic to work. This time he is much more confident, the words ring out, echoing around the chamber. The scroll disappears in a flash of released energy and magic leaps from his fingers, enveloping the statue. It raises the sword over its head to swing at him again, as globs of mud begin shearing off from its limbs and falling to the floor. The arms break loose and fall to the floor, the sword strikes the body of the statue slicing through it. Slowly the legs begin to melt and it crumbles to the floor, wavering for one final moment before collapsing in a heap.

Chapter 4.7 A Slight Twist

Orion walks over the the pile of mud spreading across the floor, and pulls the sword from it. He wipes it clean with the hem of his robe, and admires its readily apparent craftsmanship.

Marcellus chuckles behind him. "Nicely done, nicely done. You made that look easy." The thief steps into the chamber, grinning and casting his eye about professionally, looking for any sign of treasure. His gaze comes back to the sword in Orion's hand. "Nice sword. Gonna keep it?"

Orion shakes his head, "Probably not. I Figure we can sell most of this stuff that's useless to us and just split the cash. I bet this sword will catch a good price. Going to keep a few of the scrolls and books though."

Marcellus smiles. "Sounds like a good plan." He looks towards the door. "What about the girls? Right before you melted the statue, I heard them running down the hall like they'd been set on fire."

Orion chuckles, "They are on their way to the Temple of Sune to get healed and cleaned up. We should stick around a bit and see if there's anything else we can find in this room, I didn't get a chance to take a look at it before."

"Alright... I'll start searching for any secret doors on this wall," he points to the wall to the left of the entrance. Moving his hands gently over the masonry, checking each tiny crack for signs of an opening, he begins a painstaking search of the wall, proceeding further into the room.

Orion nods, "I'll take this wall over here," He then moves to the opposite wall, and begins searching his way down.

When he arrives at the corner, he looks down at the bowl and spoon that Nallana was using, and recalls that the spoon was magical. He bends down and picks it up, then washes it off in the little fountain that trickles out of the wall. "Find something?" Marcellus asks from across the room.

Orion nods, "Yeah, this spoon might fetch a fair price as well--though it might be good to keep around if I ever get hungry--but no doors, you?"

Marcellus shakes his head, "Nothing. I'll keep searching this wall, if you want to take the one on the other side."

"Alright." With that Orion puts the spoon in his pack, and moves to the other wall, searching it for anything out of the ordinary.

He has to wade through mud to search the entire length of the wall, but by the time he reaches the door, he is satisfied that the wall conceals no secret compartments. Turning, he sees that Marcellus has also concluded his search, and is now studying the pedestal on which the statue was standing.

Orion walks up to the pedestal, "Something interesting here?"

Marcellus doesn't answer immediately. Walking slowly around the pedestal, he studies the geometric designs cut into its surface very carefully, testing it now and then to see if parts will pull out or push in. Finally, he stands up and stretches. "Bah! Nothing here either."

Approaching footsteps outside the door alert them that someone is coming. A voice calls out, "Orion, are you okay?" It is Dhaera. She appears in the doorway, smiling to see Orion in one piece. "Thank Sune you are okay!" Nallana walks up behind her, and looks impassively over her shoulder.

Orion smiles, "Yep, just fine. Just making sure there's nothing left in this room. I thought you were headed to the temple."

"I couldn't leave without making sure you were alright." She smiles sweetly and walks towards him. Her earlier anger seems to have vanished completely. Nallana continues to look on, her face betraying no emotion.

Orion smiles back at Dhaera, "Well thank you. As you can see, I was able to defeat the statue." He smiles proudly. "Now I'm just making sure there's nothing left in this room. If you want to go ahead and get back to the temple to see if there is anything you can do with Gavin, feel free to, I know that time is of the essence there, and even another day could be too late." After that, he turns to Nallana, "Nall, how are you feeling?"

As he turns his attention to Nallana, Dhaera suddenly grabs him by the arm, twisting it up behind his back. A knife flashes in her hand, and he feels the touch of cold steel at his throat. In a flat emotionless voice she says, "Do not move if you value your life." Glancing at Marcellus whose hand has begun to stray towards his sword, she says, "I will kill him if you interfere." Nallana continues to watch the scene unfold with a blank expression on her face.

Orion stands still, thinking of a way to get out of this. "What seems to be the problem Dhaera?"

A familiar laughter echoes through the halls. Orion looks up, "What's wrong Keilier, didn't expect me to beat your little statue, and now you're too afraid to come out here yourself?"

Keilier Twistbeard suddenly appears in the doorway in front of Nallana. He looks very much like the statue Orion encountered on his previous trip, but more corpulent than its shape suggested. His long, brown hair is combed back and hangs down to his shoulders. It is graying at the temples, and the hairline is beginning to recede. He is dressed flamboyantly in red robes with gold emroidered dragons on the sleeves and hem. A long, braided beard hangs down to his belt, and sweat trickles down into it from his round, ruddy face. There's a malicious glint in his eyes, and an evil grin on his face.

"Well, done my pet!" he leers at Dhaera. Her expression remains impassive. Turning his attention to Orion, he laughs at the young wizard's predicament. "You are hardly in a position for bragging, Orion! Still wish to beard the lion in his den? Learn wisdom, and keep your mouth shut for a moment."

"You've done well to defeat my statue... do you know how much those things cost?" he asks, irritably. "If I were a vindictive man, and I am, I could kill you just for that.

"The dungeon was built to be a testing ground, however," he continues, grudgingly, "and you have succeeded where others have failed. Such ingenuity should be rewarded... Were it also accompanied by due humility.

"Arrogance is a family trait among the fraternity of wizards, as I've observed on many occasions, so I will let it pass this once. Never return to these halls again, though, or I will see to it that you do not leave alive.

"You may take the women with you. Nallana was becoming a bit of a bore, not to mention that she was losing her good looks."

He turns to Dhaera. "Give him the dagger." She turns the dagger around and holds it before Orion's chest, handle first. "You may keep that as a memento. Remember what I said, though. Don't come back." With a wave of his arm, he disappears.

Dhaera shakes her head as if coming out of a dream. "What--? What's going on? Where did that man go?" Nallana slowly sinks to the floor, and begins sobbing uncontrollably.

Marcellus gives a low whistle. "So, that was the man himself! I guess we'd better grab our stuff and get out of here."

Orion chuckles, taking the dagger and slipping it into his belt. "Yes, that was him. Dhaera, the man charmed you and had you try to kill me. He's gone now. Seemingly, I impressed him." He then moves over to comfort Nallana, "It's ok, we're about to get out of here and you won't have to worry about him again."

Nallana allows herself to be helped up, but continues to weep quietly. "How can I ever be free of him, when he finds it so easy to bend me to his will?"

Dhaera walks over, and puts an arm around her waist. "Come with me to the temple. You will be safe there. Let's get out of this accursed place."

The four of them retrace their steps back up the stair ways they came down, and out again through the entrance to the Blue Alley. It is still dark outside. Not more than an hour has passed since they entered the place.

The two men accompany the women to the Temple of Beauty, and then continue on for a ways together in silence. At the intersection of High Road and the Way of the Dragon, Marcellus stops. "I'm off to bed now. I'll come by tomorrow so we can visit the shops and sell this stuff." He hesitates for a moment, and then adds, "Don't be angry at me for horning in. I thought we were partners. After we divy this up, we can go our separate ways."

Orion looks back at Marcellus, "Are you kidding? I'm sorry I didn't bring you in on this one, I didn't expect it to turn out being so involved, and I didn't think it would interest you. Meet me at the boarding house tomorrow after breakfast, and we'll decide what to do with what, ok?"

Marcellus considers this for a moment before replyng, "Alright, I'll be back in the morning."

Orion waves and watches him leave, then walks back to Madame Garah's, wishfully thinking there might be a scrap of food to eat.

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