Crossroad Keep finally! Torias was looking forward to trading in his dusty and sweaty clothes; first for a hot bath and then for a soft blanket. Patrolling with the new recruits had given him a vague idea of how his friend Kesh's masters Ginadh and Idrah, must have felt when she and her companion Shan were whippersnappers. He sighed. The memories of those three lonely days, he'd spent together with Kesh deep in the Anauroch, were almost as old as he was now.
After the first purification ritual that Zhjaeve had led them through, they unexpectedly felt as young as Mim. Mim, the tiniest member of Wolf's urchin gang, who now - though he barely had entered the inner courtyard - clung to his cape like a cockleburr.
"Unca Taaahbi!" There was an urgency in her tiny voice, when she resolutely pulled at him in a vain effort towards the far gate. Come ... come..." she insisted, resuming her tugs at his cape. "Anty Neesha sen' me. She aww sad... say, aww 'bout wife and def
say you save woof butt. Come! Now! Huwwy!"
Alerted by the simple but serious way she was delivering her message, Torias instantly dropped his armor and field pack. As he noted from the corner of his eye, one of his men wordlessly cared for his equipment. Good lad! He'd have to mention this to Kana, she was doing a fine job. "Where to, Mim?" he asked, sweeping her up into his arms.
"Bowwow house, huwwy!" she said, with eyes as big as saucers. After setting her back on her feet, he made his way to the troop's quarters.
"Torias! Praise Tymora, you're back!" Neeshka literally flew towards him across the corridor. Her face was pale, making the brown spots covering her neck and forehead look even more delicate. "Please
It wasn't my fault, really
Torias's discovery that Neeshka's jerkin was stained with blood and her eyes were reddened as if she had been weeping was cause for him to worry. "What happened, lass? Are you hurt?"
"No," Neeshka sobbed, "not me, it's Bishop! But Karnwyr - he won't let us pass!"
She desperately pointed towards the entrance to the ranger's quarters. His wolf companion, Karnwyr, was sitting in front of the door. In front of him at a safe, respectful distance Elanee was crouched. Her gentle words and friendly talking had no effect on him. With flattened ears, refusing to give ground, he snarled at the elf. No doubt his master was gravely wounded and he would let no-one near. Had Bishop set the wolf to guard the door? To Neeshka, that made no sense. "Not even Elanee's magic can get through to him," the tiefling lamented.
"Did you try something different, besides magic?" Torias wanted to know.
something different?" Neeshka blinked at him, puzzled. "Torias, this is a wolf a wild, dangerous beast!"
"Bowwow", giggled Mim, who had finally caught up with Torias and peered inquisitively at the wolf from her favorite place between the halfling's legs. The bard nodded. "That, he is. Tell me, Mim ... And how do you interest a watchdog if you want to sneak by him?"
Mim thoughtfully poked a finger up her nose. Then her elf-like face brightened up. "Mim's know, Mim's know, can I, can I
," she chanted, begging.
"Of course, sweetheart. But don't get nabbed by uncle Sal," he admonished, smiling at her enthusiasm.
"Sow not nab, unca Taaahbi," the little urchin proudly replied and snuffled. She then scurried off, to find something in the kitchen that wolves would like.
Neeshka, who had followed the conversation in bewilderment, groaned in frustration. "A juicy piece of meat," she ventured a guess.
With his hand on his hips, Torias looked up at her. "There, Mim figured it out and you couldn't? and you call yourself Neverwinter's best thief, hmmm?" He instantly stopped the teasing, when he saw the tiefling girl near to tears again. "What happened, Neeshka?" he asked softly.
"It has been so boring without you and Moss-Breath. The Moon Elf Wizard and Firehair had their daily quarrel in the library, the Tree Hugger and the Paladin were with the farmers and the Gnome was working on his tin man. So we occupied ourselves Bish and I."
Torias nodded to her. "Go on
"The old, tumbledown tower, Master Veedle hasn't rebuilt yet," not meeting his gaze, she looked down at her feet," we made a bet: Who'd be the first to reach the top
Bishop over the spiraling stairs inside or me climbing the wall outside."
"Yes?" he asked gently, afraid of where she was going with her admission.
"The stairs were rotten
" she let the statement hang, watching his reaction.
He looked up from the loyal wolf who was only guarding his wounded human companion. "He fell." It was a statement, not a question. His disapproval of their horseplay was hard for him to hide.
Neeshka closed her eyes, once again fighting back tears. "That stubborn sod!" she sobbed, "why in the nine hells did he have to go on? He almost made it up to the spire before the whole thing gave way beneath him, throwing him down
She reluctantly snuffled into her sleeve. "Excuse me," she murmured then, trying to smile, "You must think I'm some kind of baby, but if he dies, I'll get the blame ... you know?" Then she went on; "It took me and two of Veedle's workers to pull him out of that pile of debris. One of the broken floor beams speared him. There was so much blood
" Her lower lip was trembling. "The men carried him upstairs into his room and I ran like the hells to get Elanee. And now that filthy beast of a wolf
That bastard Bishop won't let us in! Torias, what are you going to do about it?" She angrily stamped her foot.
It didn't take long until Mim returned. With merry laughter, she dashed along the corridor, carrying a package half as big as she was.
"Bowwow!" she chirped while sidling by the adults and approaching Karnwyr, who now took an interest in Mim's offering. "Yumm-Yummy!" she held it up for him to see and to smell.
Then she dropped the delicacy, the Keep Captain's supper, a stone's throw away from Bishop's room door. And Torias was quite sure, that the old wolf was grinning when he left to give way and dig in to the hearty meal.
The joists' worrisome moaning and the crescendo of the plaster raining down from the walls were an unmistakeable sign the old staircase was loosening from its fittings. He knew: it would slump down like a weary, old snake curling up to sleep. But at that point he would have reached a safe place up there on the wall. There were only three turns left, then two, then
suddenly his foot trod emptiness. He tumbled with a curse and ripped his hands when he tried to get a hold on the next brittle, splintering step. The final jolt made the last bolt, that had held the wavering staircase, break free from the wall with a shriek of tortured metal on stone.
Then there wasn't too much left that he could remember. Sky, clouds, walls, and splintered lumber all whirling around him faster and faster; stones, dust and a rolling crimson wave of pain, that washed away the reality ...
Someone entered his room and sneaked past Karnwyr. Who? Elanee, the tree-worshipper? She and the accusing looks she used to give him that's the last thing he needed! "Get out," he murmured, sounding quite unconvincing. Then he tried to open his dust-glued eyes. It felt like an eternity until at last he was able to stand the dim half-light in his room.
On the chair next to his bed sat - Torias. Cross-legged with his elbows resting on his knees and his chin in his palms, the halfling wordlessly watched him. "Bish," he finally said. "You're a lamebrain, really. If you wanted to know what fun it is to kick around with a shard in your chest why didn't you simply ask me?" He shook his head, sighing.
For some time there was only the crackling sound of the burning wood in the fireplace nearby. Then it was accompanied by a strange, raspy noise. The ranger was laughing gasping and coughing, but laughing nonetheless. And the red mark on the linen strip that Neeshka had wrapped around his chest as an improvised dressing, grew considerably faster. The man lifted the hand he had been pressing on the wound. Frowning, he watched the blood that was on it running into his sleeve.
"You're a gobshite, Torias," he groaned."You know that Neeshka's knowledge of healing reaches as far as her tail on a cold winter's night
and you're going to make me die of laughter." He coughed once again and spewed blood. "Damn, don't you want to do something about that?"
" What exactly are you thinking of Bish?" Torias asked, wanting him to admit he needed help from someone else.
"A healing would be great!" I have to draw a picture for this ass! was the ranger's unspoken retort.
Torias lifted the cloth and peered at the gash. Then he sadly shook his head. "This hole? No dice, lad! Maybe if you hadn't had the silly idea of setting Karnwyr at the door to keep us out, and pulling out that piece of wood before a healer could care for you; then I probably could have helped you."
"Torias ..." He meant it as a threat, but it failed miserably.
The bard didn't give in. "Look, I've been on patrol with the youngsters for almost two days. And I had to patch up half of them three times. I'm all run down. I don't know whether I'm coming or going," he explained. But before he turned to leave the room, he took off the red and golden glowing amulet he was wearing and handed it over to the ranger. "There you are! This will help you hang on until you come up with a way out."
Bishop was aghast. He stared at the closing door and the shining trinket that gave him just enough strength to stay alive. "Damn you, Tahvi
" he murmured. "Damn, damn, damn!"
Then he took a deep breath. "Elanee!" he roared as loud as he could.