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The following bits of writing are snippets of ideas, character profiles, and tales from an alternate FR world. Down the rabbit hole A man wandered toward a hovel on the edges of a hamlet past the Evermoors. The tall sharp spikes of the mountains gently covered the sun from the east, away from the eyes of the stranger. The summer rains had fallen this early morn, and soaked the ground he walked upon with a silvery sheen. The brown leathery hat and cloak he wore kept him from being completely soaked from the drizzle that was becoming torrential. To the west was a significantly deep valley that tucked so comfortably towards the hamlet. He unrolled a well worn map from his belt pouch and looked carefully at the crude representation that was his map. It was purchased from Yartar, a small town south of Silverymoon. The stranger couldn't risk getting caught by authorities that were surely at the City of Silver. He was not too far now from his destination. "Longsaddle" he quietly muttered. Much Time was lost skirting around south through the High Forest but he felt a handful of elves was safer then possibly having to deal with the white queen's highly trained agents. He traced his hand on the ground over the prints of elk and rabbits. Why so many rabbits? Several dozen footprints of rabbits all over the edges of the High Forest and all the way from the path to and from Evermoors vast growth of bushes and trees. One solitary elk and two dozen rabbits? Odd pairing, thought the stranger. He then heard the crinkle of branches near him. His hand went to his dagger sheath as he turned towards the sound. The large doe-like eyes of a pale white rabbit looked up at him. It had made no sounds yet it stood on it's back legs. The rabbit came up to his knee. It wore a red and black handkerchief around it's neck and it had a strange round golden object in it's small paw. "oh my, you're not welcome here.. oh well, it's time for me to go." The rabbit looked at the odd object and then subsequently jumped into a rabbit hole that appeared out of nowhere. His vision blurred as pain shot through the stranger's back. As he fell , he heard a whisper near him. " a another one.. where are you from? " Looking into the looking glass Have you ever seen a rabbit smile? It's one eye was bright green, the other a dull moss color. It blinked a bit in the hole to adjust to the darkness. Bella rather enjoyed this fuzzy form. She bent her ears towards the sound above her, while tucking the round gold object back into her pouch woven into her current form. Regweld and Bidderdoo, her brothers had stayed in Mithril Hall to defend it's halls with it's dwarven inhabitants. That was over a decade ago and all communications had halted soon after. She knew what that meant. The halls were sealed by the Dwarven Clergy to stop all access to the surface. Couriers were sent throughout the realms to the ones deemed allies to the lands north of Cormyr. She listened while thinking of events past. Bella heard the whistling of two arrows impact a body, and then slight thump as the body fell to the ground. A groan and a slight shuffling of feet as she heard steel being drawn and then silence. She leaned her long ear towards the earth above her and heard a thick elven accent speaking the common tongue. "a another one.. where are you from, hunter?" "urgghh, I'll tell you nothing, bastard elf!" Bella heard a gurgling and then complete silence. Sound of parchment being unrolled , then silence again and then she felt a magical presence.. The elf muttered to himself. "signed by the Pasha.. but why?" Bella heard a popping sound and the presence and the scent of the elf was gone. She was distracted easily in this form. She was going to be late again to the meeting. She hopped quickly downwards towards the meeting place. Harkle tapped his long furry white foot impatiently. He adjusted the spectacles on his face and looked at a contraption mounted to the small hall. The fireplace danced its light upon its metallic surface as the gears on it shifted and one of the two think metal rods moved forward making a clicking sound. There were three others in the diminutive room with Harkle. A deep black rabbit with a scar over its left eye, a very long haired grey rabbit adjusting it's right leg as if cramped, and a white/brown rabbit with a small crown upon its head, looking regal as a rabbit could. Bella hopped into the chamber, bowing her little head to the others. "sorry, I'm late again." A meek smile appeared on her face. The black rabbit sighed and commented " Harkle, why must we meet as rabbits?" Harkle replied," Well, oh great lord magician.. if I made the door any bigger, someone would notice and we wouldn't want that." A look of disdain appeared just for a moment on Harkle's face. The white/brown rabbit chuckled and then spoke. "Let us get our discussions finished; I do have my nieces to entertain and I do wish to appear to them as a furry creature of the forest. I would have much to explain." The rabbits all chuckled and smiled and the meeting of the lords commenced... Night of the rabbit Bella Harpell really enjoyed being fluffy. Her rabbit form afforded her freedoms her human body could not give her. Her white and greyish coat was luxurious and she loved cleaning herself just so she could feel the soft fur on her body. The big advantage of it, of course, was that she could be very stealthy and eavesdrop on conversations without being noticed. She had perfected the polymorph spell to a degree where the spell no longer started affecting her ability to remember her true form or the sensations of being in either self. Bella chuckled to herself at the discomfort of the Lords in their fuzzy selves. She grinned childishly to herself at the usual complaints especially from the wizard Khelben Blackstaff Arunsun. He was so serious all the time, so she couldn't help but chuckle at his discomfort as he scratched himself. He was not quite used to having fur. The wizard definitely felt out of place in his rabbit form. Maybe he felt vulnerable due to him not being able to cast spells while changed or perhaps he felt that the form obscured his masculinity. Bella was simply the host, a timekeeper so she managed to amuse herself in the complaints while the Lords discussed various issues and edicts that involved various factions in Faerun. Bella remembered back to when she had managed to trap One of Manshoon's clones into a rabbit form while Elminster threw him into the gnome's magical wooden sphere. Now, she felt the presence of the magic sphere once again. Unknown thieves had stolen the sphere hoping to free Manshoon's clone from it without any avail. It had powerful magicks imbued upon it and only Elminster and a few others knew how to unravel that dimensional space within the orb. (Author's note: Manshoon, a powerful archmage formerly of the Zhentarim) The black rabbit was not pleased at all. He did not know how long he had been trapped inside the orb. Manshoon the cute fluffy black rabbit was itchy.. He rubbed behind his ear with his back foot and thought about a another lost opportunity to escape his now prison. He had to admit Elminster was a clever old man. The puzzle lock outside the orb could only be opened by a bard. Being a warlord, he didn't know of any willing bards that would allow him to go free. Manshoon wasn't a weakling.. but there was only so much a strong rabbit could do.. He squinted in frustration and squeaked out a cry of rage. The other rabbits stayed away from him but they seem to giggle a bit at his despair. Nothing seemed to make sense in this place.. He could speak still but spells simply did not work or did not work like it should.. He was trapped and couldn't cause harm to anything within the orb. He had managed to catch one of the rabbits to question it and had accidentally strangled it to death. Ever since then, the rabbits gave him a wide berth.. Manshoon was unsure if they were truly rabbits or transformed like him. There was just no way to tell.. Was the orb bordering on a faerie realm? The meadow spread out for miles, and then beyond it, green hills and bountiful fruit trees.. Fields of wheat beyond that, and then more of what seemed like a cheery always summer like forests. All of the damn creatures could also speak but he could never get them to say anything that would be useful to him. He could hear the voices outside the orb as the meadows shook. This place was affected by outside forces. Someone was shaking the damn orb again. Manshoon shook his head in frustration and sat down on his hind legs. His ears pointed downwards, his big red eyes glazed over by boredom.. Unseen The dark-skinned man stepped lightly and surefootedly in the dense forests of the Hullack. The road had taken west through the barren rocks of the Thunder Horns. His eyes focused downwards towards the tracks he had followed through the Anaurach and beyond to Cormyr. His orders were simple. Locate, identify, and track the Agents with the silvery dove and harp symbols. And then report back using the magical orb given to him by the tattooed one. Nargoth was a talented killer and tracker. He was trained by the elite of the Calimshites, and contract killers of Amn. He had gotten weary of the whimsical musings of the petty nobles of his surroundings. Nargoth found himself in Thay after many years and landed this ludicrous set of contracts. He gently rubbed the ears of his victims weaved into his bolt quiver. His prey was skilled but fell easily to his dagger and crossbow. In comparison to unarmed merchants and nobles, this particular prey satisfied his blood-lust. It had taken him much patience and skill to track the six so far into the summer months of Flamerule. These Cormyrian fools had no idea they had a traitor in their midst. He smiled to himself. It had been almost too easy to get through the borders with the supplied false documents. Nargoth focused and narrowed his eyes at the trail. His well worn dark green leathers hid him well in the forest. It was easier to see in the Hullack with its vast sea of trees obscuring the sunlight. This elf he was tracking was going to be too easy. The trail was easy enough to follow like the others. This particular one had taken him longer than the others. His elven prey had travelled from Tilverton and moved south off the road into hills and now finally into the forests. The only thing of note on this one was the ivory elm bow the elf carried. The elf moved with grace and precision yet his boots betrayed him, leaving prints that Nargoth had easily retraced. He had almost lost the trail thanks to a travelling circus obscuring the elf's footprints after they had both departed Tilverton. "Stupid clowns". Cormyrians and their idiotic summer festivals... His brow furrowed at the trail. The elf's trail had become those of an elk. His hand moved to his crossbow but it was already too late. He felt the blood in his mouth as four arrows plunged into his chest pinning him to the tree behind him. His vision blurred but he saw a lithe figure approach him. An elf with long dark hair pinned into a ponytail, and that ivory elm bow in his hand. Nargoth saw the elf's silvery blue eyes and then the scarf around the elf's neck. Wasn't those the colours the Carnival was flying as it's flag? His vision dimmed and the last thing he heard was .. " Stupid clowns, eh? " Tale of two kittens Iskkari carefully dragged the small body into the shadowy corner of the alleyway. There were many alleyways like this one in the intertwined streets of the dock ward. It's night vision saw the sails of many ships off its docks. The summer brought merchant and trade ships from all over the realms. All had trade agreements with the massive city. It was as if it existed as a crossroads for all nations. I suppose you could call it a place of amnesty. The City of Waterdeep was split into six distinct sectors, each with its own regent. It licked the blood off its mouth slowly savouring the sweet blood of the small child. The sounds of hundreds of customers at the dock marketplace drowned out the shrill cry and whimpering of the child now lying dead in the shadowy corner. Iskkari decided to stay in its lithe form for at least a while longer. Who would notice a small black kitten in a city of millions? A tall man with a perfectly trimmed moustache and equally eloquent goatee stood to bask in the remaining sunlight at the tower balcony. He quietly sipped a rather ancient calimshite wine in a crystalline flask. A silver ring with a green jewel reflected off the sunlight on his left hand, a similar silver ring but with a black gem adorned his right hand. The black silken robes he wore flowed almost unnaturally on its own; his grey cloak barely covering a bandolier of nine magical wands on his belt. Khelben Blackstaff Arunsun never left anything to chance, and he felt the presence of the otherworldly entering into the city almost immediately as it arrived. He pulled an ivory figurine of a slim cat off one of his many bookshelves filled with spellbooks, lore, and other magical things. He whispered "Kathazul", and the ivory figurine took a smoky form and then a grey lynx half the height of a man stood in front of Khelben. "Bring the doppelganger to me alive, I need to inquire it about a few things." Kathazul gave Khelben a soft growl and leapt out of the tower. It would hunt again, and it was happy. Trials and Tribulations The Year 1365, Nightal. The sky was fluttering with shimmering white crystals of wet snow. The winds carried through the night swiftly and fiercely. The sounds of the wilderness were drowned out by the songs of the banshees. A shawl of chain and leather covered the man's face, and his metallic ashen helm covered the rest of his head. His body was covered in a combination of dark steel and was completed by black chainmail sleeves. His tunic was torn and ancient but bore the ancient symbols that once represented the lord of Justice. His gauntlets clenched the stone casket as his thoughts wandered through the past. The creatures of the Lurkwood felt a chill in the air and it was unnatural. They ran to find shelter away from the wailing. Something dark had awakened. "Sir Knight? are you alright?" A man with long blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail spoke to the esteemed Knight-Captain of Myth Drannor. "I was lost in thought, Nevir.. I will be fine." The Knight Captain Bertram spoke softly to the other knights, and pointed towards where the undead horde had appeared from. The dozen spread into defensive ranks and cautiously rode past the bodies of the skeletons and zombies that had assaulted them. The warhorses snorted their dislike of this place to the knights but followed their orders. "Captain, something doesn't feel right about this manor. The horses seem to be losing discipline here. Something has them spooked." "I know, Nevir. I felt a presence when the undead ambushed us. I don't understand how they got so close without our priests knowing." Bertram observed his fellow knights circle towards the large manor. He was told to bring the treaty to this place to the Amn ambassador. It was suppose to be a simple errand, not this unusual ambush. Loleth Manor was what the map indicated. He pulled his white-furred cloak tighter to his body. It was unnaturally cold here. Too cold even with the snow coming up to their knees and the winds howling like a rabid wolf. Bertram beckoned to Nevir and the two slowly approached the dark manor, their weapons drawn. Tears streamed from starry green eyes of the elven maiden. Her hands were bound behind her with a crudely shaped rope. Beside her was her daughter. A lass of mere 10 years of age also bound and gagged. Both sat on antique dwarven made dining chairs. A steel chandelier shaped like an owl was lit with many candles , casting the darkness away from the room, casting the two in silhouette. The room was squarish in shape, twenty-five by twenty-five and cathedral-like ceilings. The owner of the manor, the ambassador laid behind them in a pool of her own blood with a dagger through her neck. It was no longer the Loleth Manor. A shapely figure knelt besides the blood. Her pointed tail curled slightly upwards. Her sultry voice echoed quietly through the room. " Why did we have to kill her, Atrius? She was so pretty and polite. I wouldn't have minded bedding her and of course you could always have.. " A wide grin came across her face, her small horns slightly pointed forward. "Don't be so distracted, tiefling. We have a task at hand and I can sense the knights from Myth Drannor are coming. Remember our agreement, tiefling. Kill Lady Amberyn in front of the lead knight and take the girl to the location I showed you and your debt to the Lich is done." Atrius stared at the tiefling girl, his eyes glinting green in the darkness. The tiefling shrugged and nodded her head and drew her slim blade from it's sheath. "What did this knight do to your employer that you want his family taken care of.. ?" A strange smile appeared on the face of the one called Atrius. "It is in need of a champion and Bertram fits the role perfectly. Between you, myself, Bertram, and the pirate, we'll be able to find what it requires. Get ready, tiefling. He approaches.." "Those in the thrall of the crystal will be corrupted absolutely." The jagged crystal cut deeply into Beltram's chest. He screamed in agony as it bore into his chest like a dagger with sawteeth. He felt the blade draining him mentally. It was as if the crystal was taking his memories from him. Beltram couldn't remember what happened after he confronted the tiefling and the sorcerer at Loleth manor. Everything was blurred and his mind was in chaos. He felt a slight wiggling sensation from his spine. All he could hear in his mind was " shhhhh, just let it all fade into darkness. No need to remember. Now, if you would kindly hold your head back……. " The shadows crept all around Beltram but there was a quiet, unemotional voice in his mind telling him to stay calm. " I'm sorry, templar that I had to turn you into this but I do not have much of a choice myself in what I do. But listen carefully... I've made plans and with your newfound abilities, you'll be able to gather what we need to break from this entity that controls us both now…." Sometime later in the outskirts of the all-encompassing desert of Faerun, three shadowy figures walked their way through the sandstorm. The three wore leathery masks to keep the wind and deadly dust away from their faces. One was thin, obviously female but wore a hood over her head, an another towered over the other two as if an Oak amongst a sea of saplings, and the last wore dark clothes underneath his cloak, his eyes peering further away then the other two could see. The woman turned to the one in dark clothes. "see? I told you it would be here." A slight grin appeared on her face, her fangs glistening slightly even in the storm. The man nodded while looking at the glass tower they were close to now. The giant spoke finally. " I wonder why this piece of glass is so important to the Pasha. It just doesn't make any sense and my gut is telling me we shouldn't be here." " And where is that damned dark one? He should have caught up to us by now.. At that point, the smaller man frowned at the giant. He gestured at the secret entrance in the smooth glass substance. He thought quietly about Artium and only could agree with Lanius, a giant of an Orc. He didn't trust the shade, and probably never would. His reliance on power and manipulation troubled Acastus. Their organization was ruthless but only when absolutely necessary to achieve a goal or task at hand. Their last quarry together was what he could consider a civilian assassination yet Artium derived so much joy from torturing the woman as if a cat toying with a mouse. Artium claimed he didn't care for politicians hence the long torture but Acastus knew it was simply his nature. His senses tingled entering the tower. There was something wrong. "What are these stipulations on the contract?" If shadows could scream, it definitely was doing so. This place the three had entered was unnaturally cold, and damp. Droplets of liquid fell with a loudness of a boot stomping on a stone floor. Their dark vision afforded them very little sight in this dark corridor. There were no visible light sources yet one could peer into it and make sense of the depth at least. The tiefling mouthed her concern to Acastus. "It's too quiet here, you can hear my hooves." Acastus nodded silently. He knew Loleth was dead on. It was an unnatural silence here. The winds outside seem so far away, and their footsteps seem amplified in this strange place. And he knew Loleth never made a sound with her hooves unless she wished it so. He strained to listen and tried to ascertain what was beyond the corridor. It was obvious that nothing had stepped into this tower in ages. The cobwebbed ceilings extended far and there was an odd shimmer above all around them. Silence broke when Lanius spoke with his deep guttural voice. "Where is that damned shade?" He was to meet us here after the contract…" Loleth kept close by his side, watching the hall that they were now leaving. The hallway led into a massive crystalline stairway. One path led skywards while the other led downwards into a pit of darkness. The metal of it glimmered almost maliciously in the near darkness of the hall. No shadows were cast here. It didn't bode well for the three. Their powers relied much on it. Acastus was fairly certain that this place was magical in nature. Something was blocking his vision. His senses should have gotten used to the darkness by now, but it was still difficult to see and Loleth who usually saw darkness like daylight also was struggling to gaze into the darkness. It was Lanius and his keen sense of smell that noticed the strange metallic scent coming from below. "Acastus.. There is that scent the courier told us to look for. We should be getting near the target now. All they had to find this place was an ancient map, and a description of the target. It had taken them over a month to find this place. They were fortunate to find a sorcerer in Gwynneth, the main isles of the Moonshaes who knew of this place. An old wormwood tree box with mithril joints long as a man's back. The Pasha was quite the collector and it didn't seem out of place that he would want some old artifact to add to all of the other artifacts in his collection but where had he sent Artium? He had never sent the four on a task separately. Loleth took point and headed downwards, Acastus followed close behind her, with Lanius at their backs. The scent grew stronger as they descended down the glass tower. They moved downwards at a steady pace. The stairway seem to last forever. How deep had they gone? Acastus felt a twinge from the back of his neck, and he reacted instantly. "click, click, cliccck." He leaned as black bolts with a vinegar odor whizzed by his face, barely missing their mark. Lanius, with agility odd for an orc of his size, pulled Acastus by his cloak behind him while drawing his massive two-handed mace. Loleth somersaulted forward and five flashes of metal sped away from her in a blink of an eye. They heard a deep gurgle and a language foreign to them. Lanius snorted and muttered " damn duergar!" The three saw a sea of movement from below. Loleth drew her ivory dirk, while Lanius moved forward after spitting in disgust. "bleech.. I hate the scent of dark dwarves." Acastus moved a few steps back and drew his short bow. His senses were still tingling . It wasn't just the duergar here. There was something giving him a migraine.. It was if something was digging into his head. Globes of darkness appeared all over them and complete darkness surrounded them. Acastus heard a crunch as Lanius hit soft flesh with his mace and a deathcry from one of the duergar. He saw Loleth blink out of existence and then heard the gasp of the few duergar nearest to them. Acastus closed his eyes and relied on his keen hearing. Two arrows fired towards the duergar and he heard a grunt as both arrows connected with an audible thunk. The familiar sound of metal against bone and sinew. Acastus put away his bow and unsheathed his short swords. He heard Loleth gasp for air and then silence. He heard a loud thump as Lanius fell unconscious to the stone floor. Acastus felt a sharp pain as something begin to dig into his thoughts.. Thoughts he had kept locked away. The darkness started to fade and he saw Artium with a slight grin on his face, the box in his hands.. Standing next to him, a trio of tentacle-faced monstrosities with dim glowing yellow eyes, wearing black robes. His limbs felt limp and he felt his swords slip out of his hands. The world begin to spin as he realized the mist all around them, the scent of rusty steel imprinted in his nostrils. Then it went black. "The seas of fate await you." "thump" "thump" "thhuump" Acastus felt his heart pounding in his chest, and felt the bright light on his face. The shimmer made his eyes strain, and it made the sharp pain in his head amplify to a fervour. A shadow crossed over him blocking out the light. His small shiv was in his hand instantly as it gently grazed the metal armour it touched in front of him. "Relax, you are safe for the moment. I mean you no harm." The man's light blonde hair woven into a long ponytail was what Acastus saw as his sight started to adjust to the sunlight. He could smell the morning dew upon the ground, and the scent of horses nearby. The human was well built. That much was obvious. The full plate armour he wore bore the insignia of two lions holding a shield. A cormyrian knight? Where was the hell they? "Are you well enough to stand?" the man asked. Acastus glanced around anxious about where his companions had gone. "The others who were with me... did you see them?" He sat up slowly as his limbs felt numb and his head continued to beat as if someone was pounding his head with a set of clubs. He still had his gear with him at least. Well, mostly everything. His secretly sewn pouch in his leathers was gone and with it, the last payment paid in diamonds by the Pasha. "You were alone, with your face in the river. I would not have seen you if it were not for Mr Wallaby here." He motioned to his brown and grey warhorse who also had the trappings of the twin lions holding a shield. "I am Nevir, a Knight of Suzail." "The Sword is to the north of us and we are just west of the farsea marshes." (The southern ridges of the Anaurach is also referred to as The Sword) "My patrols lead me through here. You are very lucky I happened by, it looks as if you've swallowed quite a bit of the swamp waters." Acastus tried to recall what happened. He remembered seeing the trio of hideous tentacle-faced creatures and then a sharp pain in his head as if needles were being thrust into his skull. Loleth confronting Artium with her daggers, and Lanius falling into a depth of darkness. And then flashes of light, a weight on top of him, sound of metallic boots, crunching of bones, gurgling choking sounds and then a voice whispering "if you would kindly hand that over." He wasn't sure if it was all in sequence. There were other flashes mixed in with those images. The cold night air as he low crawled through the retinue of Thayian patrols through the sandy flats to Narfell, just west of Thay and then the dead run into the forest of Lethyr. He could hear the horns ringing in the distance. Very likely, The Red Wizards had discovered the body of Sextus and sent patrols and their scrying wizard eyes to find the culprit. It's in the forest of Lethyr where He first encountered the odd little halfling named Silus. Without Silus's maps and his supplies, Acastus might not have made it out of Narfell that evening. Dried bread, and sour wine made for the meal that long evening but it was the first taste of freedom and he liked how that felt. Acastus found out a few things about the outside world beyond Thay and realized that There were others like pappy who could be trusted. He figured out later that Silus was a Harper agent, and their lives tend to get very complicated very quickly. With a hand-drawn map and some dried rations, Acastus parted ways with Silus as the halfling was headed due eastwards where he did not want to be. His destination would be Uthmere, a coastal city where he could find a ship called the RavensClaw where he would find a passage southwest far from Thay. Acastus shook his head and focused on the present situation. "I could take you far as Tilverton if you wish." " I do have some supplies I could part with if you wish to venture through elsewhere." He had to locate his companions and find out what Artium had done. Acastus took the knight's generous offer of supplies and the knight Nevir bid him farewell with a knight's farewell. (a fist across the chest and a bow of the head) Now that he knew his whereabouts, Acastus found a shadow to jump into. The darkness enveloped him and propelled him a long distance to Memnon, city just outside the Calim Desert. He wasn't sure what to expect, as he had never failed a task assigned to him. How much time had passed between the City of Shade and the farsea marshes? The shadow door placed him on the outskirts of the city of Memnon. It was evening when it deposited him away from the general populace near a shadow cast by a torch of a guard outpost. The dark path had saved him two weeks of travel time. Acastus overheard the guards at the outpost. " a rather high bounty by the Pasha." The other guard spoke "indeed it is, especially for one of their own." "Well, the Pasha has no tolerance for betrayal." The first guard responded " It must have been quite the treasure for them to betray the Pasha." "Aye, hard to believe but when a reputable wizard comes bearing such a news, it's hard to dispute." It's then Acastus saw the wanted poster. It was a resemblance of him, Loleth and Lanius. Wanted alive for trial and questioning on whereabouts of the 9th shard.. Acastus didn't know what that meant but is that what was in the wormwood box? More memories of the past distracted him as he pondered the situation at hand. A year had passed since his escape from Thay. Acastus had managed to reach the RavensClaw where he met her captain. One by the name of Robert Laslo, also known to the shipmates as the Dread Pirate Robert. Acastus was never certain why he was given such a name as Robert was a polite soft-spoken captain and was certainly accommodating to him. The crew obeyed his orders unquestioningly so there was an aspect to this human he could not outwardly see. Acastus was not sure why but he felt at home on the decks looking out to the sea. They had seen much in their voyages. The many coastal cities and towns circling the fallen stars, well as their many encounters with other corsairs which taught him much of close quarter battle. The lessons that Robert taught him in tactics, use of small weapons, well as the many aspects of sailing. The RavensClaw always dropped off in a port in Dalelands where Robert would return with his son Jayne. Acastus learned to trust the crew, Robert and Jayne became an adopted brother to him. And at the port, he would see a girl close to Jayne's age, already blossoming into full womanhood waving goodbye on their journey back out to sea. Attractive to a human girl but there was something about her that bothered Acastus. It was as if there was an unnatural fire in her eyes, hungering to spring forth and set things asunder. And then the fateful day arrived with a one-eyed man named Elias and a ship called the Shimmering Maiden. "Into the darkness" Green eyes of the man sparkled wildly in the sunlight, and his unkempt hair whipped about as if it were a wild pony roaming about. Elias looked around the dock and pointed directly in Acastus's direction. "He'll bring about the citadels of the fallen ones." The ships, the "Shimmering Maiden" and the "RavensClaw" were docked side by side. Acastus caught wind of the not so subtle outcry and slowly glanced at the man. It felt as if time simply slowed down to a snail's pace. He heard whispering in his mind. "This is your memory, it is the truth. You will remember nothing else." The hissing brackish voices overwhelmed his other senses.. Acastus felt the damp cold stone under him. The voices were all in his mind, giving him a miserable migraine. His vision was blurred but he could make out the chains holding him in place. He listened to his surroundings carefully as his vision was blurred and he could not distinctly make out anything except simple shapes in his surroundings. Three voices, thick in accent, and one clear, cold, and calm voice amongst them is what he heard. "so this netheril device will drain his ability with time so I can transfer it to one of my others?" Acastus heard guttural indecipherable voices respond in a language he could not understand. The calm voice spoke in the guttural tongue and then paused briefly.. "I'll need to adjust the device.. You say that the alchemist still lives? ah, yes that would make sense. His daughter would make for a good hostage." "Well, for now we can simply implant the device, and hope the entity does not damage the ability of this one." The loss of memory is unfortunate though. His knowledge could have been useful assuming he would be willing to part with it." Acastus heard his own screams as he felt a sharp jagged blade gouge into his back. And then felt oozing tentacles touch the sides of his forehead and a flood of memories. He felt something slithering inside his back, and then to his neck, and an overwhelming pressure in his head. Then darkness came. The cool breeze awoke him. The slow shifting sound of the planks on the ship relaxed his muscles. Acastus looked up and he found himself laying near the bow of the ship. A slight migraine dulled his senses and he slowly sat up to a man standing near him, holding a mug of steaming liquid. "The journey is underway, are you alright? You've been laying here for quite some time. The crew felt I should check on you. I'm Captain Lorkhan, and you're on the Shimmering Maiden". "Have a rest, we have a long journey ahead. Here, have some Cormyrian willow-wood tea. It'll calm your disorientation." Acastus nodded and found himself sipping the tea. How much time had past and why did the hairs on the back of his neck tingle. He looked around and saw that there were other passengers. Why couldn't he remember? A young olive-skinned elven girl balancing on the ropes above, a human with a well-trimmed mustache and beard, dressed in seaworthy clothing and leathers, a tall stern woman with a cloak hiding her face standing near a comely elven priestess (by the looks of her) dressed in a velvet long dress, ones usually worn by the nobility, a human woman, shapely with curly red hair standing near the side. It all looked so familiar but something felt off about the entire situation. A voice at first just a whisper caught Acastus's attention. It became louder as the words kept repeating over and over again. "You must wake up. don't let them dig into your thoughts. Wake up! block their thoughts with your will. Think of something, anything.." Everything faded and he imagined a face. He saw a woman, her shapely lithe form, her perfect calm smile, and her eyes sparkled softly in the sunlight. "That's it. break free before they return." He felt the shackles loosen around his wrists and saw the green-eyed man looking directly at him. Then he felt the cold damp stone floor of the space there were in. Elias hastily handed Acastus a crumpled up piece of parchment. On it, a name was written. "Robert Laslo". "light into shadow" The green-eyed man blinked out of existence. Acastus managed to read his lips before he faded. "stay alive"... He vaguely remembered a package.. It was important that he took it back to Calimshan. He wasn't sure why but it held the answers to what was happening now. His memories took shape in blurry images. Why was the Pasha a woman? Or was it the Pasha? Who was it that he was working for? The only clear thing in his mind was the shape of the package. The grain of the wood was coarse as if it was built in a hurry. There was magic coursing through it. He distinctly remembered the odd tingling sensation on the back of his neck when he lifted it to put it in his travel pack. He carefully folded the crumpled piece of paper.. "Robert Laslo"? who was he and what was the relevance? Only seconds had passed since Elias had vanished. He heard a sound in the diminutive room he was in, and his hand instinctively grasped an object off the hay-strewn floor. There was blood, and a not so subtle shriek of a giant rat dying. He held a jagged nail in his hand. The nail was through the rat's skull and Acastus was poised to strike if there were more but there was but the one. He was famished , and stripped a bit of the rat's flesh for sustenance. It wasn't the absolute worst thing to eat.. He recalled it had been worse in the past. Small snippets of memories flooded his thoughts, and he could gather parts of the past when he escaped Thay. Acastus carefully glanced around his surroundings. Water dripped slowly off the damp ceiling, echoing loudly in the small chamber. He saw a small slithering creature donning what looked like a seashell slowly poked by him into a hole in the wall opposite of the metal bars that blocked his way. He saw what looked like glimmering of light from a small crack in the ceiling. His thoughts wandered wildly on his surroundings, his past memories, and the green-eyed man. It was hard to distinguish what was real and what was illusion. Perhaps a bit of both? It made Acastus uneasy. His powers of observation had always discerned something. or far as he knew, they always did. The metal bars were too close together and it was impossible to see clearly what was actually beyond that barrier. A migraine interrupted his train of thought.. He heard what sounded like a quiet dull throbbing in his head and then he was no longer in the damp room. He felt cold air in his lungs but it was dark. It was as if the landscape had turned monotone. The grass appeared white, and the skies were completely dark.. Acastus heard whispers around him. It was almost a chanting. It lured him forward in the strange alien environment. Various shadowy shapes shifted all around him, moving in and out of place, as if they were out of sync. Blurry remnants of creatures and beings fluttered in and out of existence. Then, he paused as his breathing seem to slow and he saw the breath exit out of his mouth in slow motion. "How curious, a another walker enters my realm". A darkness spoke and Acastus felt his limbs stiffen and freeze. The cold metal claws dug into his shoulder and sharp pain caused his entire body to tremble. He kept himself calm by allowing his breath to come naturally.. Why did this darkness call him a walker? "Oh, it's you.. You look.. different. How odd. You don't recognize me, do you? Acastus narrowed his eyes and then he saw the lightless visage. Two glimmering points of red orbs glaring back at him.. He could hear his heartbeat louder as it got closer...And then he heard a another heartbeat add to his own, and then a another.. His head erupted into pain.. It felt like he was falling forever as he watched a figure dressed in silver approach the darkness. The light was so bright. It was coming from the figure. Acastus heard a deep resonating voice speak. "He is one of us now, away with you!" He heard a shriek and vision faded. To be continued... The most important meal of the day (A tale written by M.G. a player in the rp.) The boy was unsure how long he'd been locked in the cell. There was no light beside the faint flickering torchlight coming from under the door, and no sound except the occasional skittering of rodents and insects on the cold, damp floor. His stomach ached and gurgled; longing for any form of nourishment. Nobody had looked in on him since he was locked in and nobody had brought food or water either. His cries had gone unanswered for what must have been days and he'd given up screaming and crying long ago. Dreams were the only company he'd had in this seemingly eternal torment. Dreams that were in no way a comfort to the boy who now huddled in the far corner of his small stone prison. The boy dreamed of a home; or what little he remembered of the place. Sunlight, white sands, and crystal clear waters welcomed him; the smell of salt on the wind filled his nose and the screeches of seagulls played a soothing symphony that made him feel light in his belly. There were people there with him as well; adults from the looks of them. Try as he might he could never make out their faces, and their voices; while familiar, were strange and phantasmal. All except his mother of course. Her voice was always clear and her face was clear as crystal. She was always smiling at him, reaching out to him, singing to him. Right up until the end. Such sweet dreams always gave way to the nightmares eventually. The reminders of the truth, of his failure, were always present in some way. Dreams of the home weren't nearly so vivid as the nightmares of their capture, the long journey to this harsh land and the endless captivity within. The people of this land called him and his mother "slaves". The fat, bald man with tattoos and fine red robes bought them with fist fulls of shining gold coins and took them to his massive estate. For a time the boy thought that the fat man was kind and meant to protect him and his mother. He'd built a pool in his oasis garden for the boy's mother to live in and the boy was allowed to visit her regularly if he behaved and completed his chores as commanded. His mother would smile when he came to visit her and the fat man, "Uncle Sextus" as he preferred to be called, would watch and dine nearby as the two swam and played together. It wasn't so bad of a life after all it seemed. It was late in the night when the boy woke in the servant's barracks to find his mother standing over him. She told him it was time to go home, that Sextus was a bad man and it was not safe here. The two ran through the labyrinth-like estate for what seemed like an eternity until they came to the courtyard. Sextus was there waiting with a dozen of his guardsmen. There they pried the boy from his mother and made him look on as they clubbed her over and over again. She fought back at first, grunting with the blows and lashing out at her attackers. They were too many in the end and her body curled into a ball on the ground, her grunts and curses replaced by weak whimpers. When Sextus and his men were finished the boy's mother no longer moved, whimpered, or breathed. Her broken form was surrounded by a growing pool of blood and the boy cried so hard that his voice failed him and his throat went raw. His screams echoed through the estate as the guards dragged him to his cell and left him there to rot. The boy woke to scream again only to find himself in the same dark cell as he has ever since that night. The echoes of his mother's whimpers and the cracking of the clubs still haunted him as he crawled, weeping into another corner of the cell. He was weak and helpless. Hungry and filthy. It was cold and damp down here in the dungeon and his throat was so parched that he was hardly able to even cry out audibly anymore. His belly ached so fiercely that he was beginning to consider eating some of the insects crawling around if he could even catch them in the dark. The sudden screech of the door bar and the rattling of keys startled the boy and he curled into a ball in his corner. Had they finally come to kill him? To beat him like his mother? Light poured in as the heavy oaken door swung open. It was painful and almost blinding to look so he buried his head under his arms with his eyes squinted shut and listened to the heavy, booted footsteps enter the room and stop just in front of him. "On your feet boy! Your master will see you now." the guard's voice barked loudly enough to hurt his ears. Before the boy could even think to move before the guard took hold of the back his ragged shirt, hoisted him to his feet roughly, and shoved him towards the open doorway. The boy staggered out into the hallway, blinking in pain at the light of the torches; light he hadn't seen in days. The guard was no more than two steps behind him, urging him forward the entire walk through the dungeon and up the narrow spiral staircase to the manor proper. Light poured in through the windows of the upper halls, blinding the boy even more as he struggled to adjust his vision. The guard led him out into the rear courtyard not far from where his mother had met her end and then around to the eastern garden. Every now and then another guard would pass by or a couple of slaves would move aside quickly for them to continue at their hurried pace. The garden itself was quite beautiful in the early morning sunlight. Statues of men and women of all different races, all of them carved from the most expensive stones to reflect the most perfect examples of beauty bordered the walkways. The hedges were meticulously well trimmed as well as all the other exotic flora scattered about. In the centre sat Sextus at a small round table covered with plates of fruits and other sweet-smelling morsels the boy had never seen before. The fat bald man rose, shifting his ornate red robes accordingly at their approach. "There he is. There's my little man." Sextus' smile beamed with a sickly sweetness as he gestured to the seat across from his own. "Come, lad, have a seat with your Uncle Sextus." The guard helped the boy into the seat with the same amount of roughness that he'd shown up to now and with a wave from his master he wandered off again back toward the manor. Sextus took his seat again, all the while smiling sweetly and staring at the boy with his beady black eyes. The boy did his best not to look up even as he felt the red mage's stare boring into him from across the table. He knew that if Sextus saw the raw hatred in his eyes that he would meet a fate very similar to his mother. The boy sat with his fists clenched tightly in his lap and his eyes downcast, hoping that this was just another nightmare, hoping to be back in the cell with the rats and the bugs. "Oh, my! Look at what a mess you've made of yourself, my son. We shall have clean you up before the day is out." Sextus leaned across the table and with two fat fingers lifted the boy's head by his chin and gazed lovingly at his pathetic, dirty, tear-streaked face. For an instant, the boy thought about grabbing a nearby knife from the table and cutting those sausage-like fingers right off the fat old wizard's greasy hand. Sextus then poured a bit of crystal clear water from an ornate glass bottle nearby onto a red silk handkerchief and proceeded to wipe away some of the dirt and grime from the boy's face with his free hand. The entire time the wizard smiled lovingly, occasionally giggling playfully as the boy simply stared back with an expression as blank and empty as the nearby statues. Once pleased, the fat wizard released the boy and leaned back in his chair with a grin of smug self-satisfaction. Several long moments passed in silence as the two simply stared at one another. Sextus was smiling proudly as the boy simply stared back blankly, imagining the many ways he'd love to kill the wizard right now. The boy knew he could do nothing now though. The guards would be on him in the blink of an eye and he was far too weak and little to overpower the fat old mage anyhow. For now, it was all he could manage to mask his utter contempt and disgust. After a moment Sextus' smile turned to a somewhat mocking frown and for a moment the boy wasn't sure if the wizard might strike him. "I suppose you are just a little upset with your Uncle Sextus right now." the fat old mage announced a matter of factly and began to butter a slice of toast as he continued. "I can't say I'm surprised. I would be upset as well were I in your position." The boy tilted his head slightly and furrowed his brow. It surprised him that Sextus was suddenly attempting to be so nice to him after all that had happened. Was this some sort of game? A game like how cats toy with a mouse before finally killing it? Sextus had been nothing but nice to him since he and his mother had first arrived in this strange place. Right up until he murdered his mother and threw him in a cell for days. Why be nice like this? Why not just kill him? The boy did not understand and his confusion was plain to see. Sextus noticed the boy's expression immediately and seemed pleased with it as he waved his hand and took a bite of his overly buttered toast. "Where are my manners? You must be starving." the wizard spat out between slobbery bites. He waved his hand at a nearby slave girl, beckoning her over to the table. The boy had seen the young elven girl before in the servants quarters and throughout the estate. When she hurried over to the table she glimpsed briefly at the boy with a look of sympathy before Sextus piped up happily. "Fetch the lad a bowl of oats with honey and a few cherries as a treat." The wizard winked playfully at the boy when he mentioned the cherries. "Also some grapefruit juice to wash it down. He'll need his strength and breakfast is the most important meal of the day." The slave girl nodded and rushed off towards the kitchens. She was back in a matter of minutes with a small bowl of sweet-smelling porridge, a tiny cup with three cherries in it, and another similar cup of grapefruit juice with grains of sugar around the rim for sweetness. The boy's belly grumbled at the mere sight of the meal which brought a chuckle to the fat wizard's lips. Out of habit, the boy looked up at Sextus for permission before taking so much a single bite. When the wizard smiled and nodded the boy scooped up a spoon and began shovelling the porridge into his mouth as quickly as he could. He watched the elven girl wander off to another table similar to the one he sat at. The boy had thought they were alone in the garden but there were other people at two other tables not too far away. They were all dressed similar to Sextus but other than that he noticed nothing familiar about them. There was a little girl as well, close to his age but also far to well dressed to be a slave like himself. She smiled at him sweetly when she saw him looking at her. The boy's attention suddenly jerked back to Sextus as the wizard broke the silence between slapping bites of some strange fruit. "Now that you've got some food in your little belly I think we should discuss what happened the other night, hm?" The boy froze in between bites of the delicious porridge. For an instant, he felt as though he might be sick as Sextus smiled at him from across the table. He thought about trying to run before the fat man could grab him. His eyes began to dart about frantically for an escape route, but there were guards at all the exits and others patrolling nearby. He'd never get away. He was trapped. "Your mother, she was..... how do you say,...a whore." The red wizard rested his fat hand on the boy's shaking shoulder with a smile of reassurance. "A filthy fucking whore." he continued in a soft tone intended to comfort the boy. "Do you know what a whore is, my son?" The boy thought long and hard for a moment. It was obviously something you called someone that you didn't like. He remembered Sextus screaming it over and over again when they clubbed his mother to death. He didn't care what it meant. He knew his mother was no whore. He opened his mouth to speak but paused for an instant when he saw the butter knife nearby. Sextus was close enough now. He could just reach out, grab the knife, and stick it in between the wizards fat, sweaty, disgusting chins and be done with it. Instead, his eyes met the wizard's again and he muttered his response weakly. "N-no." "I would hope you wouldn't know what a whore is your age, young man." Sextus laughed. "A whore is a disease spreading woman. A woman who shares her succulent morsels, her sweet treasures, her divine warmth with any and all who will have them; turning those succulent morsels into stinking, fetid, swamps of bile." The wizard leaned back and folded his arms over his chest with an eyebrow raised at the boy. "That is what a whore is. That is what your mother was." The boy didn't believe that for a second. Maybe she didn't share her "morsels" or whatever they were with fat old smelly Sextus, but that didn't make her a whore. The boy noticed Sextus' eyes wander over to the elven slave girl as she headed into the kitchen again. He licked his eel-like lips and grinned evilly as he watched her disappear into the doorway and down the stairs. The boy guessed he was fantasizing about all the tasty food down there that he could shovel into his fat face. "Mmmm. Morsels that belong to me." Sextus muttered under his breath as he stared at the doorway to the kitchens. After a moment he turned his gaze back to the boy in front of him and smiled again. "You understand, right? Of course, you do; you're a clever boy." The wizard poured himself a glass of red wine and took a sip, savouring the flavour before finally asking. "What is it your whore mother called you? Axel? Atrius? Augustus?" "Acastus." the boy answered meekly as he took a sip of his juice, hoping the gesture would eliminate any expectation of him speaking any further. Sextus rubbed his highest chin between his thumb and forefinger for a moment as he contemplated. Finally, he smiled and pointed his finger at the boy with pride. "Your new name will be Vitale. Yes, that has a much better ring to it." The fat mage reclined in his chair in satisfaction as he repeated the name several times to himself. "From now on you will answer only to that name, do you understand?" Acastus blinked in surprise at the sudden order. Sextus would change his name? Why? What would his mother think? When the boy saw the look on Sextus' face growing darker with impatience he straightened his posture and answered nervously. "Yes, Uncle Sextus." The red wizard smiled and patted Vitale on his head like a proud parent. Just then a look of revelation appeared on Sextus' face and his jowls shook with eager excitement. "Since your whore mother is dead I think it only fitting that you have a new parent. Someone more worthy of the role, I think." the wizards smile was nauseating. "From now on you will address me as the father. Yes, your mother was a liar, a conniving schemer. Ungrateful is what she was. I provided for the both of you. She got what she deserved for trying to run away with you. You are mine. I saved you from her. You are my son now. Do you understand, Vitale?" Acastus shook with what he thought at first was fear but knew now was the rage. He wanted nothing more than to kill the fat mage right here and now, in front of all his guests and guards. He wanted to leap across the table and choke the life out of him. The boy's heart was pounding in his ears as he looked back at Sextus' smiling face, his little fists were clenched so tight in his lap that blood ran freely from between his fingers. It took all he had not to reveal his true feelings at that moment as he looked back at the fat red wizard and smiled. "Yes, father." "Very good!" Sextus squealed with elation. "Let us forget that old whore now. She is gone." The wizard watched as Vitale forced down the rest of his meal. "I think you and I will get along splendidly, you will see. As long as you behave and do as you are told you can be quite happy here. Would you like that, Vitale?" "Yes, father," Vitale answered almost instantly in a tone completely void of all emotion. He wanted to be away from Sextus now. The delicious meal sat heavily in his belly from his disgust at this monster before him. He would prefer a slow death in the cell to this hell. He knew now that Sextus never meant to kill him. Death would be a mercy compared to this. Being stripped of his identity and adopted by the devil that butchered his own mother was worse than any death that he could imagine. Inside the boy prayed in that instant to any god or goddess who would hear him let him die. "Good." Sextus waved a guard over and stood up, brushing crumbs off of his robes. "Your first task as my son will be to clean the oasis of your former mother's filth. Remove the foul waters and all her belongings and fill the pool with fresh water by the morrow. Can I trust you with this, my son?" Vitale stood up before the guard arrived and swallowed hard, trying not to cry as he responded obediently. "Yes, father." Sextus smiled lovingly down at the boy until the guard arrived. "Take him to the oasis pool and leave him to his task." The wizard commanded with a wave of his hand and then turned and headed off in the direction of the kitchens. The guard gave Vitale a slight shove in the direction of the exit and the boy obeyed quietly. He felt weak again now as if there was a massive weight on his shoulders. He wanted to see his mother. He wanted her to be there when they got to the pool, but he knew better. His eyes never left the ground as they walked past the other tables full of strangers and through the halls of guards and servants. He could feel the warm streams his tears were leaving on his cheeks though he did not sob as he trudged on with the occasional shove from behind. He was in a living, breathing nightmare that he could not wake from no matter how badly he wanted to. Before he knew it, the guard turned and left and he found himself standing alone in what used to be his mother's pool. The once crystal blue waters now stood as a foul green pool with a stench he'd never encountered before. All the plants surrounding the pool were dry and dead and the décor had been left to the mercy of the elements. There were a few buckets and nets set out for him to work within his duties though he could not yet make himself approach the pool. The thought that his mother wasn't there anymore was too much to bear and the boy fell to his knees then and wept harder than he had since the night of her murder. He knew that nobody could see him. Sextus knew that he couldn't escape if he'd wanted to. The walls of the estate were far too high for him to climb. The fat wizard hadn't even thought it necessary to leave a guard to watch over him. It was near noon when the boy finally mustered the strength to rise again and make his way to the buckets and nets. There was a large decanter of water on a bench nearby for him to drink during his task and he gulped down nearly half of it on sight. His throat was still so parched from his time in the cell and the water felt quite refreshing. Reluctantly he picked up a bucket and headed over to the pool, sniffing back a few remaining sobs. He knew that if he didn't finish this task that his punishment would be severe. Sextus wasn't kind enough to kill him, he knew. Work was all he had to take his mind off of his woes for now. It was only when he had scooped several dozen buckets full of the foul green water out of the pool and he was standing waist deep in it that he saw it. The putrid, bloated corpse that was once his mother floated just a little over an arm's length away. His heartbeat seemed to die away in his ears and he couldn't hear anything around him anymore. This is not how she should look. She's supposed to be beautiful. Mother was beautiful. He realizes then that he cannot remember her face as it once was. She was just another phantom in his memories now. He couldn't remember her face and he hated himself all the more for it. She was supposed to be beautiful. He couldn't cry anymore now, though he wanted to more than ever. The tears wouldn't come to him. His eyes hurt him so, but he could not look away. He wanted to scream but his voice wouldn't come to him. They did this to her. Sextus did this to her. He couldn't remember her face. He couldn't remember her smile. The boy's eyes stayed locked on the corpse until nightfall. He hadn't moved. He was cold from the night wind when a few of the other slaves found him standing there. His eyes were empty and hollow, his face blank. The elven slave girl from before scooped him out of the foul water and held him close, trying to warm him. He didn't cry. He didn't move. She carried him back to the servants quarters, washed him and dressed him in clean dry clothes. She lay with him and held him tight, signing songs in the soothing tongue of the elves. The boy hardly noticed her though. They killed his mother and ruined her. Sextus killed her and in effect killed him as well. He would pay for it. Not now. One day when he grew older, stronger, smarter; he would ruin Sextus the way they ruined his mother. He would make them all pay for this. All of them. They took his mother away from him, they took his freedom, his life. He was cold and dead now. He couldn't remember her face and he hated himself all the more for it. Moment of silence Sunlight shimmered and reflected off of the multicoloured bits of glass and pearly white sea shells as a gentle, salty breeze brought the wind chimes into a soft, soothing chorus. The gentle sound of waves lapping the shore nearby could be heard along with the occasional screeching of seagulls. Warm light cascaded into the open doorway leading outside to a world that always seemed too bright and far away to truly see. There were others outside, he knew for sure. The phantoms without faces always seemed present in this place, towering over him, yet doing very little if anything to make him feel at all threatened. His mother was there as well, faceless like the other phantoms. The boy stepped outside like always and felt the soft warm sand between his toes. When his vision finally adjusted to the bright morning light the sky was bluer than he could remember ever seeing anywhere else. The crystal clear water of the sea nearby seemed to almost radiate light itself; white at first, then to gradually darkening blues as it grew further from the shoreline. The phantoms hovered over him as he tried to focus on their faces, but somehow the sun always seemed to throw a glaze over them. His mother reached down and brushed a stray lock of hair from his face and said something in that distant, hushed way that made her almost inaudible altogether. It was always the same when he found himself here in this place of serenity. The phantoms hovered around him speaking in tongues unknown to him. His mother faceless like all the others stood closest of them all, occasionally bending down to hug him or touch his face. As foreign as this place was, part of him always knew that this was home once upon a time. Still, no matter how comforting this place was to him, the boy always felt the imminent danger ahead. He always knew that soon it would all wash away in blood and shadows. As soon as this revelation struck the boy saw through the sweet serenity for what it really was; a dream of what once was and will never be again. Acastus woke in a sudden jolt, his hand instinctively reaching for the hilt of the Mythril short sword strapped to his back. It took a moment for him to regain his senses. The dreams were always so vivid, especially those that went back to his childhood. They were nothing more than memories that he couldn't recall when awake, but sometimes the smells and even the sounds lingered on for a few moments and almost convinced him he was still but a boy on a distant, otherworldly beach. The half-elf eased his grip on his weapon and rubbed a hand over his eyes and down to the stubble on his chin. He found himself sitting on the main deck of the "floating ship" with his back against the starboard railing. It was a familiar feeling; like so much else as of late. He realized that he must have dozed off while working on the hidden sheaths in his bracers for the punch daggers Jayne forged. In any sense, he decided he'd had enough sleep for one day as he rose to his feet frowning in frustration. Within seconds he was back to full alertness. He mentally chided himself for having let his guard down enough to fall asleep, to begin with. The danger was still too near for his liking. From what he could tell they hadn't yet reached mountains of "The Spine" but were still very far to the north. The day hadn't yet given way tonight but the sky was still heavily overcast and snow was falling steadily around the ship. Around it, the wind and the snow it was blowing seemed to move around an invisible barrier that encircled the entire vessel. The air within the vessel was certainly a great deal warmer than he imagined possible in this climate and it was a vast improvement to taking rest in snow pits. Still, he was growing weary of all the magic he was forced to endure on this "journey". After another moment of stretching and shaking the stiffness out of his muscles, Acastus made his way up to the foredeck. As he walked past the main mast he took notice of Misaki sitting in the crow's nest, staring out into the direction the ship was carrying them. Her expression was still hollow and filled with grief. It was an expression that he recognized well. Phaarkas' death had been hardest on the little bard for sure. He had tried to comfort her in the beginning. When he hugged her it only seemed to make her crumble into his arms and sob uncontrollably. It wasn't the reaction he had hoped for honestly. He never was much good at consoling the grief-stricken. The half-elf took his eyes off of Misaki, deciding to leave her to her thoughts for now and made his way to the front of the vessel. The snowfall was still far too heavy for him to see any landmarks in the distance, but he figured he'd keep a sharp lookout just in case. He could hear voices back towards the helm and took notice of Runae speaking with Jayne. Judging from their expressions and low tones it seemed the topic was of great significance. Gabriella stood a few paces away from Runae like the loyal bodyguard she was. For a time he'd thought to ask her if she remembered anything from her captivity, but he'd grown weary of seeking answers and only getting cryptic riddles from the know-it-alls of Faerun. Acastus' gaze lingered on Runae for a long moment. If he'd wanted to he could have easily read her lips to glean some insight into her conversation with Jayne. "No, she wouldn't appreciate that." he thought to himself as he pushed the impulse away. His brow narrowed as he pondered the lovely high elf. It seemed that he cared a great deal for her welfare as of late and he was having difficulty understanding why. She had a certain effect on him that he couldn't discover the nature of. She made him feel …. at peace. She showed him affection quite regularly and it didn't make him cautious or suspicious of her at all. Quite the opposite really. He found that he often wanted her affection and enjoyed being in close proximity to her. When Runae's midnight blue eyes turned to meet his gaze he looked back out toward the horizon, hoping his staring hadn't made the priestess uncomfortable. The party sometimes seemed rather disturbed by his foreign mannerisms. It wasn't just Runae who had grown on him in recent months though. They all seemed to matter to him more than he had ever expected. It was something that had been weighing on his mind off and on for some time now. Runae stirring these... feelings he did not understand at all, his feeling of protectiveness of Misaki, his strange kinship with Jayne, and the fact that he hadn't just grown frustrated and killed Talon yet despite her incessant nagging and whining. Why hadn't he left them all behind a long time ago? Surely it would be easy enough to find all the answers he longed for if he were the only answers he had to worry about. What few answers he had been able to find only left him with a pit in his belly. Seven years was a long time to make a lot of mistakes. To trade one form of slavery for another. To forsake his own morals and sign on with slavers and murderers. Calimshan was a shit hole by even Thayan standards. Loleth was another one he didn't fully understand. The tiefling was treacherous for sure, but Acastus couldn't help but feel a strange kinship with her. She treated him differently than anyone else. It almost seemed like admiration. She seemed at times to want him to remember more than even he did. Despite her mercurial demeanour he couldn't help but sense a great deal of loyalty from Loleth. He knew that she was capable of betrayal, but somewhere deep down inside he knew she wouldn't betray him. More than anything the sense of familiarity disturbed him. Loleth knew him and he knew he knew her as well. This ship was familiar. People and places were familiar to him yet more foreign than anywhere he could remember being. Most of all; the party was familiar somehow. Considering the massive gap in his memory and all the familiar locations, people, and senses he wouldn't be at all surprised if he knew Runae, Misaki, Jayne, and Talon before all of this. Acastus suddenly realized that he had been pacing up and down the starboard deck while he was lost in thought. He leaned against the railing and closed his eyes, squeezing and rubbing the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb. Every time he tried too hard to remember anything his head felt heavy and began to ache. The half-elf pulled his last fresh apple from his bag and cut a thin sliver off with his dagger. After inspecting it for any discolourations or anything else unusual he put the piece into his mouth and began to chew slowly. The quest for answers that only led to more and more questions. It was like taking one step forward and two steps backwards. Everyone was missing memories and it was getting more and more difficult to sort the truth from the nonsense. The dreams sometimes helped, but more often than not they were unreliable at best. There seemed to be a kind of psychic link between the party and himself and most times the memories didn't only belong to one of them. Perhaps it had something to do with the strange "parasites" that had taken up residence along their spines. Acastus didn't fully understand their purpose other than mind control and perhaps also a likely source of memory suppression. The Harpell sorceress had performed some small surgery to delay the device's control over him and the others, but time was running out quickly. There was no real way to tell how long the full effects of the object could be suppressed. Would he feel it coming on? Would there be symptoms to warn him that he was losing himself? Even now he almost thought he could feel the device worming it's way up his spine towards his brain; slowly but surely. For a time he the half-elf thought that this parasite might explain how he'd chosen such an odd way of life after escaping Thay. Why else would he sign on with a fat, lazy hedonist like the Posha of Calimshan? In a sense, it was no different than living in servitude to Sextus. The only difference was that where Sextus had power by means of magical prowess and political influence, the Posha had secured himself simply by acquiring more wealth than anyone else in all the realm. The Pasha bought everything. His throne, his political allies, his women, his armies, and apparently even Acastus himself. What could the price have been? Now, having seen some of the memories himself, Acastus knew the parasite had to have come along at a much later date. His memories were far from complete at this point, but he knew that the decisions he'd made back then were his own. He just could not for the life of him understand why or how he'd made them. His lips turned downward into a slight frown as he took another bite of his apple. These thoughts were only making him angry and unfocused. He needed to keep a clear head. Working on some of his leather augmentations would surely help. Acastus knelt down and opened his bag. At the very top sat the bundled up cloak that Phaarkas had left him. He would need to make a few adjustments if he was to make use of it. His hand stopped short of pulling the cloak out when he remembered Misaki sitting in the crow's nest above. Seeing him walking around in Phaarkas' old cloak surely wouldn't help the girl in her time of grief. The half-elf lets out a sigh of frustration and closed his bag. He slumped the rest of the way down to a sitting position and ran a hand roughly through his short, messy hair. The cloak could wait, though he still wasn't sure why he cared so much. Phaarkas' death had honestly bothered him more than he would have thought possible. He hated leaving the old ranger behind like that. Every instinct told him to stay and fight, to stay and die if he must. Stupid as the instinct was. Acastus certainly didn't fear death, but he didn't welcome it either. Phaarkas was a friend. A mentor. Something that Acastus had only known in small doses in his life. Then the old ranger threw himself at death so willingly that it made the half-elf… confused. This hollow feeling in his chest was something he'd only felt once or twice before. He made himself watch as the ceiling caved in on Phaarkas and then the entire structure toppled in on his remains. He wasn't sure how long he's stood there staring before he remembered where he was. Reading the letter only made the pit in his belly feel all the wider. Phaarkas trusted him with the protection not only of just Misaki but the entire party as well. Why? Acastus was no good at protecting anyone. Every incident in his life up to this point that he recalled was clear evidence of that. Surely there was even more buried deep in that hall of smoke and mirrors he called memory. More thoughts to push to the back of his head. He lived for the moment. It was the only thing that he knew. Dwelling too much on things he had no control over would do him no good at all and only hamper his ability to stay alive..... and keep the others alive as well. Acastus ignored the slight throbbing behind his eyes and blinked back into focus. Misaki was in the crows nest. Jayne was wandering about the deck nearby. Runae was standing next to Gabriella, looking at him. Talon was in the cabin reading a book with her new pet dog. Loleth was below deck doing....... whatever it was she was doing. Satisfied with the current situation for the time Acastus rose to his feet and finished the last bite of his apple, tossing the core over the deck. He leaned on the railing again, looking out into the snowy oblivion. The wind helped him focus his thoughts into the moment and not the what ifs and what was, when, where, and why. Those thoughts only seemed to give him a headache anyhow.