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Prologue

Orion's earliest memory was of being on a ship out on the ocean with his parents. He was 3 or 4, he's not sure exactly. They told him that they were taking him to a wonderful city full of exciting sights. When they arrived off the coast, he saw two towering mountain peaks right by the ocean, and perched on their shoulders a large walled city with pennants fluttering from its high towers. It truly was a wonderful sight, and he fell in love with it immediately.

The city was Waterdeep. They took a house in Sea Ward and he spent the most idyllic years of his youth there. His parents doted on him, denying him nothing if it was his considered wish. They showered him with affection, sometimes calling him their little prince. He wore a small locket that his mother had given to him when he was born, and she often teased him that he carried their hearts around in it.

He showed an early aptitude for the use of magic, and they encouraged him in it, being masters of the Art themselves. They forbade him to display his powers in public, though, saying that it would make people frightened of him to see such a young child with such mastery. He remembers that the first spell he ever cast was a sort of illusion. His mother had read him a fairy tale before bedtime about a young girl and a wolf. After she left his room, he lay there thinking about the story and staring at the shadows cast on his wall by the street lamp outside his barred window. Weaving his fancy into the shadows he began to alter their shape, causing them to take on the silhouettes of the characters in the story and act out each scene. When he got to the part where the wolf tried to attack the little girl, though, the shadow took on such a menacing form that he cried out. His mother ran into the room to see what was wrong, and saw the hulking shadow of the slavering wolf. With a wave of her hand she dispelled the effect and the shadows reverted to their normal forms. He was still frightened, so she comforted him for several minutes. He still remembers the words she spoke to him: "My little prince, someday you will be the most powerful of all the wizards in the wide realms. When that day comes you will be able to make the shadows do your bidding. While you are still young, though, be careful in your conjurations lest you summon a thing from the shadows that you cannot control. Now go to sleep, and do not fear the shadows on your wall. They have no power except what you give to them."

After that he slept peacefully, and was never troubled by the shadows again until years later. Before that, though, he would suffer the most horrible tragedy of his life. When he was ten, a shadow of another sort seemed to fall across the faces of his parents. They appeared to be greatly troubled about something, and he often found them speaking in whispers to each other. From little snatches of conversation that he caught, he gathered that they were talking of selling the house and leaving Waterdeep. This made him sad, but something else he overheard one night frightened him terribly. He came down to the sitting room one evening after he was supposed to have gone to bed. He walked into the room just in time to hear his father say, "Whatever else happens, we must protect the boy. They will kill him if they find him."

His father looked up just then, surprised to see Orion standing in the door, his face pale and and knees trembling. He rushed over and picked him up, holding him close. "No, no, son! Not you! We were talking about another boy. We've been asked to protect him from some bad people, and we're very worried about him."

It was a poorly told lie, but Orion clutched at it, unwilling to believe that his life was truly in so much danger. "Do you think you can keep the bad people from hurting him?"

"Yes, son," his father reassured him. "We will do our best, but don't you worry for him. You are perfectly safe." His father hesitated for a moment as if choosing his words carefully. With forced cheerfulness, he continued, "I have some good news for you, though! A friend of ours is coming to visit us next week. He is on his way to the city of Silverymoon. Though smaller than Waterdeep, it is a far more beautiful city. He has offered to take you with him, so that you can see it too. It is a long journey and you would be gone for perhaps a year. We would miss you terribly... but it is such a great opportunity for you that we think you should go."

Orion could tell that there was something wrong with this. He had never seen his father lie, but he was sure that he was lying now. He looked at his mother, and saw the tears in her eyes. "I don't want to go! I want to stay with you!" He begged and pleaded with them to either let him stay or to come with him. They became upset, and finally scolded him and sent him to his room, where he cried himself to sleep.

In the wee hours of the night, he was awakened with a start when his door was thrown open with a loud bang. He sat up in bed and saw his mother rush into his room with a bundle under his arm. He could hear yells and screams coming from the rooms downstairs. He heard his father's voice call out in a language he did not understand, and then an explosion rocked the house. His mother slammed the door back to and muttered an incantation, then she ran to him with a fey look in her eyes. It was partly fear, but there was something else there that he did not understand until years later. It was the look of a hardened soldier going into battle.

She shoved the bundle at him and commanded him to get up. He stared up at her, frightened by a tone of voice he had never heard before. She pulled him to his feet, and said, "My little prince, today you must grow up. You will have no time for childhood in the coming years. I have loved you as much as any mother could love a son. Keep that with you always." She pulled the locket he wore out from under his nightshirt and kissed it. "You will have our hearts always. Never take this locket off. It will be a remembrance of us. Now you must go!" He threw himself at her, clutching at her waist. With surprising strength she pulled his arms loose and pushed him towards the window. A motion from her hand shattered the glass, and she brushed it from the sill, cutting her hand. Below, he heard his father scream in agony. There were footsteps coming up the stairs, and the sound of doors being burst open.

"You must squeeze through the bars," she ordered him. "Go through and jump to the ground below. When you get to the street, run south towards the docks. Lose yourself among the people there. You must find a way to survive. It will not be easy for you, but you have the strength within you to do this. Go now!" She pushed him towards the window.

There was pounding at his bedroom door, as he squeezed himself between the bars. He could hear a chanting outside and the door burst open as he dropped to the ground. He twisted his ankle when he fell and sat down hard on the pavement. Looking up at his bedroom window he could see his mother's form silhouetted there. A terrible scream came from her, almost like that of a she-lion. "You will never have him!!" she screamed. Suddenly, the room filled with flames and there was another scream, not his mother's. Then a horrible laughter pierced the night, and Orion jumped to his feet and ran, terrified and sobbing for the loss of his parents.

Orion fled and soon found himself in Dock Ward. The night was well advanced, but gaudily dressed women walked the crowded streets along with drunken sailors and brawny dockhands. A cacophony of foreign languages filled his ears, sounding more like the chattering of exotic birds than human language. A squat-looking dwarf brushed past at a rolling gait. He saw a little man, shorter than himself, but with a wizened face that showed he was much older, lounging on a street corner, eying the passersby with a calculating look. "'Ere, boy!" the little man called out to him sharply. "What are you staring at? I'm not the one out on the street in me nightshirt!"

The people around them laughed, and Orion suddenly realized he was still wearing his nightclothes. He ducked down an alleyway, and opened the bundle his mother had given him. In it he found a set of clothes, including a warm cloak, and a small leather pack with a few days' worth of food in it. It appeared she had been prepared in case she had to send him out of the house in a hurry. Once more Orion broke down and cried, but then he remembered his mother's last words to him, and he dried his tears for the last time.

For the next few years, Orion lived on the streets and narrow alleys of Dock Ward. He learned the names of the gaudily dressed women and why they walked the streets at night. He came to know the little man and what his business was, and occasionally gave him the nod when the city guard was passing through. He made a few friends, and did his best to dodge the rougher bullies among the young toughs. He survived the best way he knew how, which sometimes meant begging coins from the rich, sometimes doing odd jobs for them, and sometimes stealing from them. Sometimes he could do no better than scrounging in the refuse heaps in the alleys behind the Dock Ward taverns.

His street life came to an end in his thirteenth year. It was late in the evening, and he was cutting through an alleyway. The sun had just set, and the lamps were coming on around the city. The light on the road up ahead was throwing his shadow on the wall beside him. Suddenly, three young toughs stepped out from between two buildings and surrounded him. He recognized the biggest as one of the bullies who had done the most to make his life hell.

"Here now… if it isn't Skinny Legs," the bully said. "Where are you off to in such a hurry?" He gave a nod to the other two boys, who moved up on either side of Orion. "C'mon then, Skinny Legs. Empty your pockets, so me and the boys can go have a drink."

Orion knew the drill. All he had to do was hand over his money and take a few cuffs and kicks, and they would go on about their business. Something inside of him rebelled at the idea this time though. He took a swing at the boy on his left and caught him by surprise. The boy went down with a startled yelp, but then the other two were on him. He fought like a cornered rat, but every blow he managed to land just infuriated them that much more. He was kicked and battered until his head was split, his lip was swollen and his ribs were bruised. In the end the bully was perched on his chest banging his head into the muddy pavement and cursing at him. He was sporting a split lip himself; his shirt was ripped and there was murder in his eyes. His companions pulled at his arms, though, trying to stop him.

"C'mon, Bill. You don't want to kill him, just teach him a lesson and let go."

"I'll teach him a lesson alright," the bully growled. Just then he caught the glint of silver around Orion's neck. "What's this then?" He snatched at the necklace and ripped it from Orion's neck. "A silver locket, eh? I'll have that for my ripped shirt, then, you little puke," he said, standing up.

The blood pounded in Orion's ears and rage filled his chest. He lashed out with all his might, catching Bill on the chin and knocking him across the alley. The other two boys took a step back, and Orion thrust out his hand. "Give back that necklace, you bastard, or so help me I will murder you where you stand." Suddenly, the shadows behind Orion began to squirm and form themselves into horrific, malicious shapes. The shadows leapt from the side of the building and threw themselves at the terrified young toughs, long claws reaching for them. They shrieked and fled from the alley in different directions with the shadows still pursuing them. Orion stood there trembling with his hair standing on end. What had he done? His knees gave way and he sank to the ground.

Just then he heard a footstep, and looking up he saw a tall man with long dark hair pulled back and tied, standing before him. The man was richly dressed in royal blue velvet breeches and a doublet. A jet-black cloak hung from his shoulders, and he had silver buckles on his high black boots. A black cane with a gold tip on it was in his hand.

"You handled that very well, I think," the man said to him. He spoke with a slight accent that Orion did not recognize. "I don't think those boys will want to trouble you again."

Puzzled by the man's sudden appearance and his casual attitude towards what had transpired, Orion couldn't think of an appropriate response. Instead, his thoughts turned to his necklace and he began to search the ground for it. "It's gone! I think he took it with him!"

"Is this what you are searching for?" The gentleman stepped over to a shallow mud puddle and plucked the necklace out of the dirty water with his cane. "I'm afraid he broke the clasp," he said, examining the trinket. He placed his hand over the broken chain and muttered, "Emendo," then handed it to Orion. "I would put it back on, if I were you. You wouldn't want to lose such a valuable piece of jewelry."

"My mother gave it to me," Orion explained, defensively.

"Ah. And where is your mother now?"

"She was--she died."

"And your father, assuming you had one?"

Blushing crimson, Orion said, "I ha--I had one. He died also. They died in a fire."

"I see. That's terrible." The man's voice was dry and held no trace of sympathy. "And so you are left alone in the world to fend for yourself. You have a talent, though. I can see that about you. Did your parents know that?"

"Yes. They were teaching me."

"And there is no one to teach you now. A person with your talent should know how to control it. Those creatures you unleashed on your enemies may well kill them. No one will miss three little hoodlums in Waterdeep; Dock Ward is crawling with their sort. What if you had thrown such creatures at a nobleman though? One such as myself," he added with a mocking smile. "You see that that might get you into a great deal of trouble. I think you should come with me tonight, and tomorrow I will take you to the Watchful Order of Magists and Protectors-that is what they call the local wizards' guild. Well, they could hardly call it the Order of Power-Mad Spellcasters, could they?" he grinned. "Come with me, and you will eat well tonight and sleep in a clean bed for a change."

At the mention of a bed, Orion reddened and his eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"Now, now, boy, banish those thoughts. I'm not that kind of nobleman.

"Don't let the clothes fool you," he added, in a voice edged with steel.

When Orion still hesitated, he spoke more forcefully, "Come! You need training. You need a way to get off these streets where your talents will be wasted. I'm offering you a path out. I will take you to the guild, pay your way in and provide you with a place to live while you attend classes. After tomorrow, you will never see me again. What's the point of having money if one can't do the occasional generous deed?"

Orion wasn't sure whether to trust the man or not, but the offer was too tempting to refuse. He went with the man, whose name he never learned. He was led down twisting side streets to a luxurious villa in North Ward. Everything went as the man said it would. He had the best meal he had eaten in ages; he slept in his first clean bed in years; and the following day he joined the Watchful Order of Magists and Protectors. He was boarded in a small rooming house in Trades Ward run by Madame Garah. She receives his rent every month from a courier who brings it from a Waterdhavian banking house.

He is now in his sixth year at the guild, and has done very well in all his classes. As one of their top pupils he was able to find work in the guild doing mundane jobs at first, but now he has graduated to working in the scriptorium, the alchemy lab and the woodworking shop where wands and staves are crafted. He works the first four days of each week, takes off the fifth, works the next four and is off the tenth.

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