The pearl, so perfect in symmetry and prized for its beauty and associations with illusion magic; as Cren Tosh fed a pearl to his crystal drake companion Baktoon the creature began to dim then disappear. Baktoon would remain in this state for a time or until Cren fed it a different gemstone.
It was two nights after the lacedons attacked at the behest of the necromancer, the Mermaid Sword arrived at Aithelar’s small, shallow harbor. Shadowy docks skirted the shores of the small bay in a rough horseshoe with clustered fishing boats on one side and trade wharfs on the other. The air had a stale salty taste that prompted Cren Tosh to pull a bottle from his haversack and drink deeply of the elvish wine he had procured from one of the three traveling ladies.
For Cren Tosh this too was a type of homecoming; while his human heritage could be traced back to the Netheril, a fact Cren’s father never failed to remind him of, Cren’s mother was a Llewyrr elf, elves native to the Moonshaes. While Cren had no memory of the islands however he was surprised to discover a comfortable ease that came with the Moonshaes- like a pull from elvish wine.
Around the half-elf the crew was preparing a night dock as individuals from his group took up sentry duties knowing that if something were to go wrong it would be while they were disembarking and unloading the cargo. Speaking of cargo it was Cren’s idea to have the three highborn women and merchant accompany them to the town’s high keep. Now that there had arrived however, that may not have been a good idea. The threat of an ambush was large in front of them but so was there danger in being left behind.
“I will be glad to be on solid ground Cren.” Harsk said from behind deep circles, it did not look like the dwarf had not slept more than ten hours the whole journey. “I am exhausted. Tell you true I am ready for some of that ‘lordly hospitality’ Panthras advertised.” He said exasperated.
Cren Tosh looked down and smiled at his dwarven counterpart, “I hear they have an alchemist at the Keep Harsk, a cute former priest of chauntea who might be able to help in that regard, maybe remove your exhaustion.” Cren teased.
“As long as it is not rage drops this time.” Harsk lamented.
Standing atop the forecastle Jerit McCaugh watched as Aithe materialized through the night’s
Jerit turned to signal to the captain when is eyes happened upon Meghan’s. She seemed to hold him in place with her gaze almost against his will, but what was strange for Jerit- he welcomed it. Jerit felt helpless in her regard but at the same time comforted. Their intimacy on the Mermaid Sword was intense and brief; they would not likely get another chance to come together again, it was an experience Jerit longed for again.
“I must apologize.” came an unsuspecting voice, the even-toned words of Shar Auvryndar. The drow had materialized out of the darkness like the town had, but unlike the town Shar was vibrant and alive.
Jerit shot his eyes away from Meghan. “Wha what? Oh hey Shar, you know it’s not widely accepted to sneak up on someone; especially since we are expecting trouble.” Jerit said obviously unnerved at his own lack in awareness.
“Nevertheless Jerit before any more time passes my friend I want to extend to you my sincerest apology.” Shar said, his purple eyes expressing a brotherly love for Jerit McCaugh as well as for Meghan Gundwynd.
“My friend,” Jerit said at length. “Let us put our energies toward getting the cargo to the keep and put this unpleasantness behind us as men shall we?”
With a clasp of the hands and a smile, Jerit and Shar let the matter dissolve.
From the shadow of a nearby woodcarver’s shop the anti-paladin watched the Mermaid Sword make berth. His mind swirled with the memories of that vessel during the godsfall before coming to the Moonshaes. How poetic he thought.
“Cargo?” he heard the man with the lantern ask a woman on the deck. The anti-paladin listened blocking out the eminent voice of the remarkable sword at his side.
“For the keep,” The woman, presumably the captain of the Mermaid Sword, said with no hesitation, “ten carts.”
The anti-paladin, in service to the New Bane- The Iron Hand. Retreating from the scene and entering the rear of the woodcarver’s shop. The anti-paladin could hear the carts being brought about outside, heavy oxen pulling carts over the rough planks of the dock. Inside the woodcarver’s shop the anti-paladin was greeted with the sweet spice of various woods and oils as well as the stench and sweat of about four dozen thugs, cut-throats, and archers of the Iron Ring- rouges in service to the Grim Lord.
“It is time.” the anti-paladin said flatly.
Under the cover of night the ten carts, loaded down with over a thousand swords as well as goods from the Sword Coast plotted slowly up the gently sloping streets towards Aithe Keep. The drovers, one for each cart, looked no older than ten or twelve causing the group of five adventurers to quickly find themselves now responsible for the passengers, oxen, and drovers to the Keep. Shar could see how the street climbed up toward a ridge where sat the keep and how if he were to plan an ambush it would be…
Without warning from a side street a huge wagon pulled by six heavy draft horses loaded with thick logs lumbered out coming to a halt ten feet in front of the caravan blocking their path. Shar stood up just in time to watch a second identical wagon charge out from the rear blocking their retreat behind them. On the rooftops two dozen archers emerged over the edge of their perch to train their bows on the defenseless drovers, merchant, as well as the three highborn ladies. Behind the barricading wagons more brutish thugs took cover waiting. From around the first wagon-barricade came two mounted individuals.
“Drop your weapons to the ground or I will give the command and have my archers eliminate the women and children. Do it now!” the first rider commanded motioning with his arm outstretched his palm up and out in typical Baneite fashion.
The speaker was a heavily scarred and tattooed swordsman wearing black splint mail and vestments adorned with smug symbols. He was mounted on a black Pegasus whose wings burned with a blue crackling light and finally on the anti-paladin’s back was a sword that Shar recognized at once. To the anti-paladin’s right was a younger man perhaps the scarred man’s son or younger brother who was also wearing an identical uniform of black splint mail and vestments; he held a mace that looked like a viciously bent and serrated gauntlet at the end of a wrapped bone shaft. This individual was mounted on a hideous unrecognizable dire skeletal animal.
Surrendered weapons struck the ground with forlorn clamor and were hastily retrieved by several thugs from behind the wagons. Shar was pained to see his magic in the hands of such brigands but they did not take his staff. Looking around he had the count at forty-six including the mounted leaders, his darkvision was the best among his friends therefore after the quick count Shar signaled to the others.
To Shar’s left Cren Tosh was gathering his energies causing the air to thrum around them his crystal drake invisible and ready. Ahead on a separate cart Harsk was slowly reaching into his beard for something and beyond that, four carts away Megan and Jerit was quietly conversing. They were planning something. Shar would be ready.
“Jerit take my phantom steed to the keep,” Megan commanded.
“No.” Jerit protested.
“We are outnumbered go and warn Lord Haembar, we will hold them off as long as we can until help arrives- I have a task to perform.” Megan eyes bore into the Anti-paladin’s sword, her words left no more room for objections despite the fact they had at least two archers trained on each one of them. There was no time for delay.
Jerit McCaugh never saw what happened after he leapt high off the wagon, but the heat reminded him of a fireball. Before hitting the ground after his leap from the cart, Jerit activated Meghan’s phantom hippogriff underneath him lifting him immediately into the air. The sound of the combat below was earthen, like a giant pounding his fists on the ground. Jerit was grateful for being in the air.
In less than a minute later Jerit was inside Aithe Keep and in the presence of Lord Haembar of Aithe and his council, “My lord, my friends are in danger on the streets below! Minions of the Iron Hand! I implore you, gather what men you have and follow me!”
The anti-paladin watched with growing frustration because as he gave the command to fire most of the archers reflexively fired up at the fleeing mage; each of their missiles finding only air as they underestimated the speed at which the mage flew.
This gave time for the women and children to take cover under the carts as the remaining volley from the archers who did follow orders were only able to kill the portly commoner. The anti-paladin’s cohort Mack spurred his skeletal mount at a charge, closing the distance between him and the dwarf adventurer and the brash half-elf.
Along the street Iron Ring thugs emerged from the shadows moving for the crates of weapons heedless of the adventurers that were supposed to be dead during the first wave of arrows. Purple waves of color fanned out from a drow defender defeating many of the unsuspecting thugs, their forms lying unmoving on the stone cobbled street.
Archers on the south side of the street retrained their bows to the half-elf and fired. When this happened their arrows halted in mid-air, reversed direction and rocketed toward their shooters wounding each to a man. The archers on the north side of the street however focused all their poisoned arrows on one opponent- the woman inquisitor.
Meghan recognized the anti-paladins sword at once, it was Cauterizer- an evil intelligent sword responsible for bending wielders to its will. It was also her Mystra’s divine will that she and Shar were meant to come to the Moonshaes, to not just guard weapons to the islands but to capture Cauterizer and destroy it.
Arrows rained down around her one catching her in the shoulder while another created a think line of blood down her left forearm. Mystra’s calling left her no other choice; proclaiming judgment upon the anti-paladin for all to hear Meghan Gundwynd drew her weapon and asked Mystra for divine favor and aid in the coming conflict.
The anti-paladin named Arnivon drew Cauterizer and dismounted his black Pegasus and as he did lightning flashed as the Pegasus transformed back into an onyx figurine. Ahead came the woman heedless of the arrows around her, she had an aura of bright blue surrounding her stern features- an aura of goodness and loyalty. It was an insult to Arnivon who knew only dominance and strength in his service to the New Bane.
Behind the charging woman magic and weapons clashed between the Iron Ring and the adventurers. Farther sill, at the docks, the Mermaid Sword burned in her berth.
“Come to me you cunt!” Arnivon said. His words black with hate, “Let us have our contest of faiths and be damned.”
Her response came in a language Arnivon did not understand but nevertheless captured the meaning- strength and favor from her goddess in battle, pitiful really.
The inquisitor’s leading attack came down from the right, meaning to cripple Arnivon’s weapon arm; but the slightest of backward movement from the anti-paladin put the weapon just beyond contact. His counter attack placed her off balance but was not meant to be lethal- it was the first maneuver in a series of disciplines taught to him by the cunning sword.
As the anti-paladin and inquisitor fought, each of Arnivon’s attacks put him ever closer to execution as the battle for the thousand swords waged on in the background.
In the seventh cart Shar found himself pinned down by archers from both sides; he was helpless to stop the brutes from unloading crates of swords. Every now and again Shar would lob a glue-bag or alchemist fire but he could not see if his efforts prevailed. Shar could hear Harsk’s grunts and shouts; it sounded like he was doing well for himself. Cren Tosh’s familiar voice pierced the clamor of the ambush with magic spells then Shar heard something else. More warriors from the docks, loud and brash thugs finished with the Mermaid Sword. They came in two groups of six and seemed anxious to join their illicit friends already with a taste for blood. Then another sound, this time the rumbling came from up the street; it was the thunder of galloping horses- Jerit had returned with help from the keep.
Shar broke cover and looked up the street to in fact see five mounted high-guard veering down the avenue… then in the first second; breaking his line of sight was Meghan fighting one on one with the anti-paladin. Shar watched helpless as during the next second, Meghan swung for the anti-paladin’s weapon arm, but the vile swordsman stepped swiftly bringing his sword across in a vicious slash across her neck. At the end of the third second Shar realized what had just happened.
Jerit cleared a wide corner of the street just behind the Lord Cauldyth and his court just in time to watch as the anti-paladin’s counter attack cut off Meghan’s head. The alarming death-strike was accompanied by a flaming burst of fire causing no blood to spill or spray as the woman’s head struck the cobbled street.
Seeing that reinforcements have arrived Arnivon called for his black Pegasus and retreated to the skies and flew towards Dultann; Mack Snome following closely behind.