“It’s true, dear Mox. I can see it in your eyes. You know,” claimed Lucan, a knowing smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Beldor was a bit confused as he stood there amidst a steaming swath of cooling cobblestone. Mox’s shoulders slumped a bit. What was happening?
Beldor was still clutching the unconscious Anula to his chest, staring around at the Union soldiers. They glared at him with murderous intent. Cloud still stood there, staring blankly at the symbol clutched in his red-scaled fist. It seemed vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. Religion had never been an area of great interest to the dwarf.
“He is on the verge of a triumphant return!” Lucan shouted. In that moment, Beldor saw something in the man that he hadn’t noticed before – a smoldering, maniacal fervor. Pieces were falling into place, though too slowly for the normally sharp dwarf.
“What in the name of Moradin are ya talking about?” Beldor asked, more than tired of being in the dark.
Lucan let out a booming laugh and turned his wide-eyed stare toward the dwarf. “He comes, dwarf. He comes like a shadow in the night, hungry for knowledge. His will is absolute, his plans without flaw. Consider Melody. Her weak god of choice was Oghma, god of knowledge. Of course she would want his return brought to a halt. He is the antithesis of Oghma.”
Beldor stared blankly at Lucan as the man quickly became more unstable. Lucan calmed at the unfocused look on Beldor’s face. He sighed and slicked back his hair, finding some semblance of control.
“Vecna,” he said simply.
Beldor gasped, the final piece finally settling into place. Lucan was trying to resurrect Vecna? The god of deceit had nearly destroyed the land some hundred years prior. Why would he want to bring him back from the dead?
Lucan smiled as he saw realization dawn on Beldor’s blocky features. “That was what I was waiting for. Now that that is out of the way, let’s end this, shall we? I can’t have you roaming the land spreading rumors.”
Beldor tensed and prepared to run. He wasn’t that far from the gate. They were all dead, he knew that, but he would at least make a run for it.
“No…” Mox muttered, shoulders still slumped dejectedly. Lucan cocked his head curiously. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“I said, no,” Mox growled, raising his head to meet Lucan’s gaze. Lucan looked amused.
“You and that weak excuse for a god have used me, us, for too long. You steal us away from our lives,” to which Lucan barked a short laugh, “and imprisoned us. You put us through trials to test us and then your master blackmails us into service-” Beldor felt like he’d been punched in the gut as he realized what Mox was saying. The spell that had bound them – it had been cast by Vecna himself! He’d met a god and lived to tell the tale! “- We assist you in being elected, only for you to be done with us?”
Lucan opened his mouth to reply, but Mox overrode him.
“No, no more! I’ve had enough. I swore I would kill you, and I plan to see that through – even if it costs me my life!!” Mox thrust his arms to the side, ornate black robes billowing out wide, staff held high. He started glowing ever so slightly, a deep reddish cast emanating from his blue flesh. Lucan had the decency to at least look surprised.
The square began to buzz, low and persistent as it began to grow warm. The dim red light around Mox had turned molten and was beginning to give off waves of heat, causing the air to shimmer. Beldor didn’t know much about magic, but he knew it was time to go. He turned to run when the very air exploded.
He barely managed to hold on to Anula as his feet left the ground, soaring through the air in a moment of pleasant weightlessness. He opened his eyes against the heat just in time to see Cloud, back against the barrack wall as he stared in horror at the projectile dwarf. Beldor groaned and closed his eyes, trying to contort his body around Anula.
He hit Cloud – hard. It was impossible to tell, but it seemed like the dragonborn had taken a steel spaulder to the skull. The three collapsed in a heap. Beldor, after a moment, began to feel the air beginning to cool. He unfurled from around Anula and glanced around.
There were dead or dying men all around the square. Mox stood in a large, barren circle, panting heavily. Dust swirled around Lucan, whose fleshed had melted in places. His immaculate clothing was in tatters, mostly blackened and smoldering. The building behind him was most assuredly on fire and mostly collapsed.
Lucan grinned through melted lips.
“Not enough, little drow,” he said as he began casting his own spell in response. Mox stumbled backward, obviously shocked.
“Mox, run!” Beldor called out in vain, knowing Lucan would complete his casting before the dark elf could make it ten steps.
Beldor pulled his shield up, prepared to shield a groaning Cloud and unconscious Anula – when a familiar sound sang out from overhead. He looked over at Lucan sharply.
The disfigured man stood there, his casting aborted as he stared curiously at the arrow in his chest. He began laughing. Think he’s lost it, Beldor thought.
“Move, dark elf. This is your one and only chance!” called a voice from on top of the city wall. Beldor looked up and, much to his surprise, saw Rain standing there, another arrow knocked in her bow. Mox began stumbling backward, running toward the other three.
Lucan, still laughing, waved a hand casually at Mox. The dark elf ducked as he ran – but to no avail. A black blast of divine energy whistled through the air, taking Mox in the back of the head. He collapsed to the pavement. Lucan was moving toward them, his laughter steady and unnerving.
Beldor moved to intercept him, knowing he was their final chance. Lucan glanced at him and waved his way. A similar black blast veered toward the dwarf. Beldor desperately threw himself to the side, landing hard as he did. Lucan was beginning to cast another spell, obviously intent on finishing this battle – if it could be called that.
Beldor crawled over to Mox and put his shield up, images of his siblings flashing through his mind. Of his tough as nails mother, soft-spoken sharp-witted father. He would die in a manner that would make them proud, protecting his friends.
Something moved in his periphery, in a nearby alleyway. He looked over and saw a figure lying there, flesh almost completely melted away, hair gone and near death. At first, he thought it was a dying soldier who’d managed to crawl away from the epicenter of Mox’s explosion, however, something about the figure was different, familiar. It was tall, almost gangly.
The figure was whispering through cracked lips.
The scream from above him made his skin crawl, his stomach turn. He saw Rain looking at the figure in the alleyway, weeping openly as Lucan continued casting his spell.
The figure in the alley he realized, was Melody.
The horribly disfigured elf completed her whispering before Lucan could complete his spell.
A silvery line appeared behind Beldor, a rend in the air that twisted and widened. It quickly expanded. Beldor could see a copse of trees where before he saw city walls.
“Cloud! Get Anula and move!” He shouted as he began dragging Mox toward the open portal, their only hope.
Cloud rushed through the portal from his side, disappearing. Beldor was dragging Mox by his robes, Lucan’s face a mask of uncontrollable rage as he neared the completion of his casting.
Rain, in tiger form, roared in misery as she paced, staring at the now inert form of Melody. She, too, jumped through the portal. Beldor, with a final heave, tossed Mox through the portal and dove in after him, just as it collapsed around them. A sickening blackness seeped through after Beldor, turning his stomach and causing him to wretch uncontrollably – the magical remnants of Lucan’s completed casting. He knelt beside Mox, Cloud, and Anula while he emptied his stomach in the clearing.
The sickness subsided after a moment and he looked around, amazed they were still alive. It was quiet, but there were dozens and dozens of bows pointed at them. He was suddenly alert and knelt defensively over his companions.
“Why should I let you live!?” shouted Rain, bow trained on the four of them.
“Vecna,” Beldor declared, answering Rain’s inquiry regarding who had cast the spell on them. She drew a curved blade from her sash as she advanced on them. She stopped a short distance from the dwarf.
“You mean to tell me that you met the god of deception and he let you walk away?” Rain demanded.
“Look, I know it sounds crazy. It’s the truth, ask your friend.”
Rain looked to the man who had cast the spell of truth on Beldor. The man, visibly shaken, nodded his affirmation.
“Dwarf, I don’t think you understand what you’re saying. Our entire organization is founded on making sure Vecna never returns, and you’re telling me that he not only has, but you’ve met him? And you walked free with nothing more than a binding requiring you help his servant take over the city of Sallet?”
Beldor nodded, though less sure. When she put it that way, it did seem too easy. He thought of burying his axe in Lucan’s chest, bracing for the possibility of pain. Nothing. He was free.
Rain continued, “And now I’m expected to let you just walk free? Selûne bless you if you think that’s going to happen. Spell or not, you are partly responsible for the deaths of three of my closest friends.”
Beldor was starting to get annoyed. “Then why, Rain, are we still alive!? Why did Melody give her life to make sure we stayed that way?”
Rain rocked back on her heels, staring at the dwarf in shock. Her mouthed moved, trying to form a response.
“Listen, I can’t speak for the other three,” he said motioning to Cloud, who was finally recovering from taking a hit to the head, Mox and Anula. “But I have a score to settle with Lucan and Vecna. I’m not proposing we join you are your ‘organization,’ but I’m saying I’d be willing to work with you, understood?” Beldor told her hotly.
“Night’s Watch,” Rain muttered.
“We’re called the Night’s Watch. We formed up after the war and have been hunting small sects of wannabe Vecna followers ever since.” She looked up at Beldor, red-rimmed eyes resolute.
Beldor nodded. “I know you don’t trust me, us, but if there is one thing I’ve learned in my years is that you don’t turn down a willing soldier. Now please, help me get my three friends back on their feet and we can discuss this like adults.”
Rain stared at him, obviously wary. Beldor sighed.
“Don’t trust me, trust Melody, your friend. She wanted us alive, which is, if I don’t miss my guess, why we aren’t lyin’ on the forest floor already, correct?”
Her widened eyes were all the confirmation he needed. With a brief word, a small group of healers moved forward and saw to his friends. He blew out a sigh of relief, almost collapsing as he finally began to believe they might just live to see another day.
The Next Day
“So you mean to say that the six of you planned to take Lucan down by yourselves?” Anula inquired from a tall chair inside the spacious command tent of the Night’s Watch.
Rain, still weary, though much more composed, nodded.
“The man was a ghost. We couldn’t ever get close to him. After months of tracking we never even glimpsed him. We caught wind of his intentions for Sallet and knew we only had one chance. Tal managed to ingratiate his way into his inner circle, gaining enough of a reputation to earn his way to the manor that evening. We knew the only way we’d have a chance to take him down was at the election. We just didn’t realize how strong he would be.” The still raw wounds of losing friends seemed to bubble up once more, her eyes welling up.
“Dendrick, Melody and Mylore, all dead and our mission failed.” Mylore, Beldor had learned, was the name of wizard that had died trying to take Lucan down.
“We only had one chance and we failed.” Anula reached over and placed a hand softly on her forearm. The platinum-haired woman smiled a weak smile at the halfling.
“We must move forward and find a way to stop him,” Rain said resolutely.
“How many soldiers do you have?” Beldor asked, his strategic mind trying to work through the problem.
“Some, but not enough to assault the city if that’s what you’re thinking. You saw what Lucan can do,” she said with a nervous glance at Mox. Mox hadn’t said two words since he’d been healed, instead drawing inward.
“Magic. What do you have in way of casters?”
“Selûne, Tymora, Oghma and Helm. We are closely associated with these four gods and goddesses. I, myself, follow the Path of the Moon and serve Selûne, as do most in the camp.” Beldor had been surprised to learn that most of the soldiers in the camp could transform like Rain, though they each had a specific form they could assume.
“It’s a start, but we’re going to need more firepower if we’re going to be able to retake Sallet and destroy Lucan.” Beldor said.
“‘We?'” Rain asked with a raised eyebrow.
Beldor looked to Anula, who immediately nodded. Cloud nodded with barely a hesitation. Mox stared at the canvas wall of the tent, not moving.
“Mox?” Anula inquired.
The dark elf focused on her and finally nodded. They were all in.
“I guess we’re all with ya lass, though each has their own reasoning,” Beldor told her.
“I appreciate that, and you’re right, we can’t turn down willing soldiers, especially when Melody saw something that I can’t know.” She opened her mouth to say more but was interrupted as a figure stumbled into the room, huffing and lathered in sweat. It was Talindar.
“Rain… He’s already…” the ranger gasped out.
Rain was on her feet, hand on the gasping man’s shoulder. “Tal, breathe.”
The man stood there, hands on his knees as he caught his breath.
“Rain… he’s moving already. We just got word from Bill that a mercenary band has taken over Calloway and they’re tearing the city apart looking for something. I did some digging and it seems they have ties to Lucan.”
Cloud was up and grabbed Talindar by the front of his jacket. “What’s the name of the mercenary band?” he demanded. Tal stared at him blankly for a moment, as did they all in surprise. “The name, Tal!” he demanded.
“Uh, Band of the Red Fist or Palm? Something like that?”
“Band of the Red Hand,” Cloud whispered, releasing Talindar.
“Lad, what’s wrong?” Beldor inquired, always wary of Cloud’s mood swings.
“We’re going to Calloway.” Cloud declared, staring off into the distance.
“Why? What’s going on?” Anula asked.
“We have to stop the Band of the Red Hand. I have to kill their leader,” Junry, the small lizard that was Cloud’s constant companion poked his head out of his jacket, staring intently at the dragonborn. The small lizard almost looked angry.
Beldor had a sinking feeling. “Cloud, lad, who is their leader?”
Cloud didn’t answer for a long moment. His face seemed to flit rapidly between rage and terror. He focused on Beldor after a moment, his jaw clenched resolutely.
“Val Born. My father.”
…to be continued