Tristeza House was built by one of the greatest and most tragic of the Kordova family’s patriarchs: Alderlard Kordova, the first in a long line of family engineers, architects, and builders. A few decades after the Weeping War five wealthy nobles gathered their individual investments and used Alderlard and his blueprints to build a manor house along the river in an area of Cormanthor called the Verduran woods where they could enjoy their privacy while keeping close to Tragidore, Shadowdale, and the Ashaba River.
Over the weeks the construction site was plagued with mysterious accidents and mishaps that resulted in several unexplained deaths. Alderlard undaunted continued his efforts with singular purpose but when it was well after the promised deadline for the keep's completion the five nobles returned to find the manor finished but Alderlard had gone mad during its construction.
Over the decades the house has had several owners and occupants many of whom are rumored to have met with some tragedy or betrayal; the most recent occurred during the godsfall when the unfaithful Tristeza couple poisoned one another with drink during an ugly love affair over the same Woman. It is has since been referred to as Bitter Manor. Whatever the name, it is said that the manor house has an extensive network of secret rooms, halls, and sub-levels engineered by Alderlard the mad that have not yet been discovered or occupied in decades.
(Fifty Years ago… Feast of the Moon)
“Are you sure the Zhents are in there?” Dern Fosimuth, cleric of Gwaeron Windstrom asked Rhoma Vistani who looked at him incredulously. Doubt did not often come between the members of the Golden Watch, but ever since Dern announced his imminent departure from the group and from the Harpers, he was becoming more hesitant in his actions and overall less willing to venture far from Tragidore. In truth Dern did not want to accompany them on this bounty at all but eventually acquiesced when Taergan Flinn convinced Dern he would only be there to heal and provide medical treatment to the group if necessary.
Rhoma the Golden Watch's wizard nodded a silent answer to Dern’s question, looked out from her vantage, and could hear the signal from Branda Tulles, their rogue which indicated to Rhoma that Branda and her lover Igneous were in position near the bridge. As usual the half-elf Taergan was nowhere to be seen; searching the stone bridge for traps or similar subterfuge she mused.
The early evening was overcast and a chill breeze was beginning to blow gently down the Ashaba Valley causing the Manor Houses’ sparse foliage to wave subtlety. The effect seemed hypnotic to both Rhoma and Dern.
Inside the old manor house the leader of the Zhentarim River Lords, Jonark Uptal awoke to his magical ring signaling an alarm. Instantly awake he drank a potion, took up his pack and weapon, and began to kick awake his two companions.
“Hey what the hell?” protested Cassomir, a middle-aged wizard for hire out of Dagger Falls. “A simple ‘wake up’ would have done just a well and with better results I’m sure young-master Uptal.”
The Daggerdale wizard had an annoying ability to find just what agitated you the most and be able to exercise it as often as situations allowed. Jonark hated his youth but ignored the wizard and turned his attention to Tanodar, a beast of a man and cleric of Bane whose anger and reflexes warranted more careful arousal.
“You two get up, I need you to focus or we are as good as dead. This exchange is important and everything I have worked for, everything I have sacrificed has led me to this exchange. So don’t mess it up.” Jonark barked as he gathered his alchemy as well as the precious soul-gems. “We have company.”
“Is it your contact?” asked Cassomir belting on his components and taking up his walking-stick as Tanodar gathered his heavy mace and trusty steel shield.
Jonark looked up at a cracked window overlooking the eastern forest canopy and considered the time of day, it was just after dark. A purplish glow had settled in the eastern sky.
“No, it is too early.”
On the other side of the cracked window the alchemist Taergan Flinn watched this scene play out. He and his fellow Golden Watch members had tracked the River Lords to the manor house earlier today and waited for just the right time to strike. Taergan was vain, fancied himself independent, and would not suffer the Harper code; he instead preferred a straightforward information gathering approach. They called it reckless, Taergan said it was because of his gold-elf blood that he was just naturally ‘adventurous’. Let them believe what they want; Taergan was here to find out what made these individuals such people of interest in the eyes of the Harpers.
Igneous and Branda hunkered low where the manor house bridge met the eastern shore. The Ashaba was calm and icy giving it a magical-like clarity even in the twilight hours. Together they could see Dern and Rhoma in position just as unconsciousness took them both. Like all magical forms of sleep it came suddenly and without prelude like falling into a well of darkness.
Alodia Nasadra emerged from obscurity out of the forest like a shadow. Intricate luminous webbing clad her lithe drow form without mind for protection but instead for seduction and coercion. A deadly viper curled around her off-hand while her entire right arm was a fantastic adamantine prosthetic limb.
The drow woman considered her sleeping victims but wasted no time and climbed up the side of the stone bridge traversing as would a spider on a wall to the manor house.
The moments stretched into several minutes making the wizard Cassomir more than a little nervous, many of his protections had expired and more were due when he broke down and asked, “Why don’t you tell us why we going through all this trouble Jonark?”
From the front door Tanodar looked toward the sudden outburst from the wizard, briefly stealing his attention from his post. Jonark went from irritated to irate but before he could respond Taergan Flinn boldly stepped out from the shadows of the upper level.
“Yes, please Jonark share with us why we are ALL here.” Taergan said, his words matching his tone of bemused curiosity.
The sudden presence of the half-elf caught everyone off guard, but since Taergan did not strike when he had the chance, bespoke much to the young aspiring Jonark about this individual.
“Who the hell are you?” Cassomir said now utterly paranoid stepping to the side placing a pillar between himself and the newcomer mumbling the words to more defensive spells.
“All right, I’ll go first,” Taergan said in the spirit of diplomacy. “I travel with four bounty hunters who are outside this very moment who are interested in the lot of you. I however come as myself and am most curious as to why you are so important.”
Jonark and the wizard exchanged worried glances then each looked to Tanodar who was suddenly and wordlessly clutching his throat. Blood stained his breastplate as it spilled silently from between the cleric’s tense fingers in a futile attempt to stop his bleeding. A few disturbing moments later the great cleric Tanodar, the Villain of Hillsfar was dead.
Deep in Dern Fosimuth’s mind the sentient sword Clarity urged him out his fascination just as Rhoma Vistani was doing the same; neither had any idea of how many minutes had gone by but there were now sounds of battle coming from the manor house. Dern prayed to Gwaeron Windstrom that Igneous and the others were not in dire straits and fighting without them.
Without heed to stealth or caution the cleric and wizardess ran toward the bridge only to find Igneous and Branda sleeping peacefully on a cold bed of moss, Igneous snoring lightly.
“And now you,” Taergan said as Tanodar was still in his bloody death throws, “I would advise the condensed version.”
After immediately identifying the half-elf as a neutral player in this game and the fact that Jonark was down one henchman left him really no choice.
“I am brokering soul-gems for Tragen Gundwynd’s Divine Amulet. The weapon of legacy from the Weeping War! A relic that has the potential to unite the dalesfolk,” Johark said, his passion was undeniable.
“Soul-gems?” Taergan began to inquire when no sooner did Tanodar breathed his last when a lithe drow woman entered the manor house like a whisper. She stepped over the dead cleric retrieving a deadly dagger from the man’s throat cleaning the blood off the blade with one fast flick with her adamantine arm.
“Shut up and play along.” Jonark instructed Taergan.
Taergan Flinn decided there and then that only one person was leaving here with the soul-gems. These gems, he remembered could be used to unlock more alchemical discoveries and if the Harpers didn’t know about them- all the better.
More out of habit than anything Taergan stepped into the shadows leaving Jonark who stood facing the drow woman. Cassomir, with newfound courage, stepped up between the two to translate the exchange.
“You have the souls of the men who hunted down clan Nasadra?” the drow woman asked through the interpreter wizard. During the Weeping War a famed unit of Torm clerics called ‘the Valiant’ were decisive in routing drow aggressors; most notably clan Nasadra from Myth Drannor.
“Were you able to recover the Divine Amulet?” Jonark asked before he revealed the truth of his findings.
Taergan was watching it all and knew instinctively that Jonark was holding back something and that Cassomir too was waiting patiently for a chance to act; Taergan took two vials between his fingers from his sleeves and began to mix them, in the other hand was a alchemy bomb.
Her only answer to Jonark’s question was the Divine Amulet in one metallic hand and a potion, her means of escape, in a natural ebony hand. The act was intended to convey her level of readiness.
Seeing the object of his goal Jonark Uptal quickly quipped, “Unfortunately was I was only able to recover three of the five commissioned I’m afraid; I do hope that is not going to sour our exchange, I am more than…”
But before the translation was finished Alodia Nasadra moved swiftly to imbibe her potion but Taergan instantly rendered the contents of the vial inert. This sparked a flurry of activity from each individual as Jonark, Cassomir and Taergan moved to overwhelm the drow woman.
Meanwhile outside the Harpers, after gathering themselves, began crossing the one hundred eighty-foot length of the manor house bridge.
Alodia allowed Jonark a glancing blow with his mace across her metal shoulder so she could instantly slay the wizard with a quick throw of her dirk. It was a common tactic against unobservant sentries and overzealous wizards who thought they had the upper-hand, but it also gave Taergan the chance to punch Alodia in the face with an alchemy bomb. The bomb was laced with a sonic effect that caught the drow woman off guard and off balance.
Again Jonark came at the woman but was caught by the drow’s metal arm lifting him off the floor by his neck.
For the second time Taergan reached into his sleeves and produced three vials of liquid; components that were harmless by themselves until combined... Taergan splashed the three vials at the drow causing her skin to melt off where the liquids adhered to her flesh.
The drow screamed dropping Jonark to the stone floor. She turned her full attention toward Taergan who thought this had suddenly turned badly.
Alodia stepped toward the half-elf kicking the dead wizard Cassiomir as she did. From the wizard’s robes dropped a soul-gem. She bent over and picked up the gem with her adamantine arm causing intense pain as skin continued to burn off her flesh.
“You will pay for that!” Alodia screamed in drow lunging for Taergan with the soul-gem.
Outside, the Harpers assembled near the manor house's entrance. From here they could see the double doors to the keep were open and that there is a dead body just inside the entrance. Dim lights revealed the form of a large man when suddenly a dire scream of anguish issued from inside the keep.
Jonark recovered from his near strangulation and could not believe what he saw. When the drow attacked Taergan with the soul-gem all color was instantly stolen from them both, they were changing- no had changed. Jonark stood transfixed at the transformation wrought in the drow and half-elf then noticed the Divine Amulet lying unattended, check-mate he thought.
Jonark bent low, took the Divine Amulet and the soul-gems and reconsidered. “Please consider these gems as recompense for your troubles half-elf, although I think it a paltry sum considering what you have lost today. My hands are bloodied from them already and are lighter without them.”
Taergan Flinn could do nothing but stare at the ceiling of the keep in shock, he showed no sign of comprehension. Without further word Jonark took a dagger from Taergan’s possession, turned to Alodia who also shared Taergan’s look of disconnected shock, and drove the dagger into her temple.
“I’m sure you will able to convince your compatriots that you were successful in turning the River Lords against themselves.” Jonark said, “In the meantime… long life.” This last statement came with a laugh that followed his wake.
(Two weeks later… Mother’s Care Home)
Taergan Flinn, Mother’s Care Home first patient, awoke surrounded by The Golden Watch.
“Hey,” Rhoma said smiling, honestly pleased to see Taergan awake. “How are you feeling?”
|An Older Taergan Flinn|
Taergan was about to speak when he saw the uneasy way each of them looked at him.
“Fine, tired- please my flask, I need a drink.” He said as he laid his head back lacking strength until his flask entered is vision.
Taergan took it but stopped when he saw his hands- they were different, discolored and wrinkled. “What has happened to me?” Taergan said emotion welling up in his throat.
“Taergan,” Dern Fosimuth said. “I estimate that your battle with the Zhents has somehow aged you. Some strange drow magic judging from the battle scene; honestly Taergan you are lucky to be alive. If it was not for your half-elf parentage...”
“By my estimations Flinn it seems you have aged almost fifty-five years.” But whatever else Dern said was drowned out by Taergan’s now familiar dire scream of anguish.